Monday, 30 September 2013

So... Who do you want me to be today? Dissecting intersectionality.

Intersectionality fascinates me. It's challenging and it's frustrating. But also inspiring. After all, it is our personal intersections that distinguish 'me' from 'you'. I must confess, it doesn't take much for me to get quite lost when it comes to thinking about identity and the many facets that we are made up of. 

Where do you position yourself? Is that how you want to be seen by others? By whom do you want to be seen in that way? Is this how you are seen? Might that change? At what times, and under what circumstances?

Introducing... 'the self'. (Controversial, I know). I am interested in how comfortably the different parts of our selves fit together. Maybe the traditional metaphor of the onion, whilst familiar, doesn't feel to be the best fit to our experience. How well do your different layers feel to sit alongside one another? Which layers are on the outside, and most visible? What is deeper within, and hidden? Are you more of a garlic? Or, do the parts that make up yourself occupy something less integrated and whole? Does your identity feel more fragmented? How do you do yours?

We are, I believe, all of us, complex hybrids continuously 'doing' self. Different components of our identities interplay, and they do this differently, depending on context. Where we are can define who we are. Or at least who we play.

In what environments are parts of you thrust to the fore, whilst others remain silent and shy? Are there circumstances in which parts of you feel squashed, or ignored? 

Where can I be my-self and what might that look like today?

What groups do you belong to, and what do you derive from these memberships? Do the groups you belong to tolerate your other memberships? To whom does it matter, and why? Sometimes belonging to lots of groups can, paradoxically, leave us feeling lonely and alone - where we feel unable to pick, and find it impossible to prioritise is a horribly uncomfortable space... 

I remember how being young and black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell. There were no mothers, no sisters, no heroes. We had to do it alone. 
Audre Lorde, 1982. 

We can be our selves, but then have our identities done to us. Some of us may have some recovering to do where people's assumptions, expectations or requirements didn't fit with the sense of ourselves that we held as authentic at the time. I see the self as fluid and ever changing. We are forever self-ing. Institutions, however, may require identity to be fixed, final and known about. There is much pressure to make distinctions and choices. 

What business of yours is it who I want to be today?

People may even lay claim to the parts of us that they see, and like. 

If only you knew about the rest of me...

And what about the roles we take on... When did these become our identity? It's worth thinking about how we all self-brand. Are you a lawyer, or someone who practises law? Are you a runner, or someone who enjoys running? These labels and badges whilst oftentimes worn with pride can, I fear, become heavy, and arduously adhesive, posing a threat to mental health and wellbeing whose degree should not be underestimated. 

Intersectionality, Sexuality and Psychological Therapies: Working with Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Diversity, eds. Roshan das Nair and Catherine Butler, 2012.  John Wiley & Sons.  

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning (Roberta Flack)

So what does 'coming to terms' actually mean?  It translates to mean different things for different people.  Inevitably.  We are so very different.  We have different ways of coping with what life has a nasty knack of throwing up in our paths.  What we seem to share is incredible, and often unimaginable resilience.  I am reminded of this every week.  

We do not choose to be born into this world, and we are destined to die alone.  My line of work is concerned, at the most basic level, with these two facts, and the infinite possibility that lies in between.  What will you do, with this one oh-so-precious life?

Loss is inevitable.  We take anything for granted at our peril.  Tomorrow may never come.  How sad that we are apt to value only that which we stand to lose, or which has already slipped through our fingers and gone.  One day at a time is, as most of my clients know, something of a mantra for me.  It encapsulates something I have been reminded of so very profoundly of over the last couple of years.  

The past is gone, dead and history.  The future may never arrive.  We have only this.  Right here, right now.  What are you doing with your todays?  Are you doing what you love?  Are you spending time surrounded by people who are important to you?  Are you making the most of your body, your mind and your talents?  If not, why not?  

Everything is in flux.  Nothing stands still.  Move on we must.  The whole time:  from this moment, to the next.  Clinging only causes us pain.  Letting go is eternally challenging.  What we love most we must first accept is not ours to keep, and then we must be prepared to surrender it, before it is snatched from us.  
We are all of us forever 'coming to terms' with these existential truths.  We do not invite them, but would do well to welcome them:  this is, I think, the key to thriving rather than surviving.  Life is hard.  We are promised a rough ride of it.  But this need not weigh heavily if we are connected to a sense of our own strength.  We are born with innate aptitude for life and it's pitfalls.  Unfortunately, most of us seem to have been wired to underestimate ourselves and must spend much of our lives trying to recollect a sense of our own fortitude.  
Loss throws us, and shakes us to the core.  It hits hard, and cold.  We none of us like to be reminded of our frailty, and impermanence.  And yet it is in these reminders, though untimely and unwelcome, that we are reminded of that which makes us truly human.  The ability to feel and bear our most difficult feelings. 

Pain is only bearable if we know it will end, not if we deny it exists.
-Viktor Frankl
The world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
-Helen Keller

I'm not sure we ever arrive at the destination 'Came to Terms'.  I haven't yet seen the sign.  It's all a work in progress.  Loss prepares us for more loss.  Loss reminds us of losses that we haven't fully mourned.  Grief is important.  In acknowledging endings, we may come to value those things that continue and appreciate that and those that mean something to us.  We needn't wait until we've lost something to come to recognise its importance.  Perhaps, as the trees shed their leaves, we might take inventory of those things in our lives that we would feel bereft were we to find ourselves without them. 

Pain is the most individualised thing on earth. 
It is true that it is the great common bond as well, 
but that realisation only comes when it is over. 
To suffer is to be alone. 
To watch another suffer is to know the barrier that shuts each of us away by himself 
Only individuals can suffer.

-Edith Hamilton

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

When life happens...

Whilst I don't claim to be a writer, I believe I have developed an understanding of writer's block.  Life has thrown me a few curve-balls of late, and though I'd dodged some and bounced with others, the combination in swift succession has, I confess, slightly knocked me off course.  

I know, at some point, I shall likely become philosophical about some of the less enjoyable moments.  For now it is perhaps enough to say that I'm glad they've passed.  And pass these things do.

My closest friends are, they know very well, my family of choice.  Handpicked and, I think, very well chosen, they have once again proved their worth (often very quietly) and reminded me of their indefinable value.  Friendships that endure, whatever the weather (including seemingly inescapable winds and torrential rain) are not only what matters most to me, they are what enable me to be me.  

So, here's a heartfelt thank you to those precious individuals I feel privileged to name my friends.  You know who you are.  And to you I am so very grateful.


Saturday, 14 September 2013


Predictive text is indeed a marvellous development. It has changed many lives, including my own.  Mostly for the better.  But not always.

Like when hysteroscopy became hysterectomy.  And I became nearly hysterical...  

I couldn't believe it.  Charlotte has just had the 'finishing touches' to conclude her massive surgical episode that began last summer.  The idea that she might be going back under the knife, was almost too much to bear.

It hit me hard.  My best friend is still a cancer patient.  She has been through so much, but this particular region covers a vast territory.  

Vast, and often frightening.  And that's just for me.  Sitting on the sidelines.  Watching.  Perhaps, there are times when it's harder being a spectator (I think the recently wed Scott Gardner would probably agree).
The hysteroscopy took place. And was unremarkable. Charlotte and I both cried with relief. The Tamoxifen is doing what it does best.  It's fighting the alien, and any descendants that might aspire to move in.  The battle strategy it adopts is quiet but ingenious.  It's a long road, and anything involving hormones is unlikely to be a smooth journey, but it's well underway and whilst energy levels may be low, the fighting doesn't cease.  
Time for another green juice?      

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

After the glory... comes the washing

A month ago I sat in a (rather marvellous) pop-up cafe on the Southbank demolishing baked goods surrounded by people I love having completed my first ever cyclosportive.  I was exuberant.  I had conquered Box and Leith Hills, and had raised a whole lot of cash in the process.  

Having had my place confirmed in February, I had a decent lead time before the big day.  And what a big day it was.  A seriously early start and a nerve wracking journey to the start which seemed like the other side of the world, at Stratford.  Many, many hours later, I finally called it a day, having had to wait for the adrenaline load to leave my system.

One month on, and I'm pretty much back into the usual swing of things.  Whilst my trusty singlespeed has got me from A to B several times a week, my roadbike has (I'm almost embarrassed to say) remained reasonably static, and remains adorned with my rider number from the big event.

However, I'm keen to maintain the fitness my ride prep necessitated.  It didn't happen overnight, and I trained harder than I knew possible.  The challenge now is to keep going, in the absence of a big fundraiser.  I have to want to do it for me.  I am reminded of the dilemma so often experienced, and even occasionally named as individuals prepare to graduate from a treatment programme.  

Working towards something tangible is often difficult, but far harder is keeping going after we've crossed the finish line.  For those of us in recovery there is no finish line.  We are forever recovering, and for that reason working a programme can be enormously helpful, if not vital.  We take certain steps, and keep going, for if we are not progressing, we risk returning to whence we came.  

The same goes for learning a new skill, or starting a new hobby.  The initial buzz and excitement can quickly wear off, particularly if we've developed this interest as part of a community or group from which we then separate.  Setting an intention is not always enough; we need to make a commitment, and the most effective way to promote self adherence is to identify the benefits of so doing.  

So, whether we're learning mindfulness, or wanting to keep fit, clean or sober it's good to know where we want to go, and why.  Then we face an important decision - to try and grasp onto intentions which whilst good our best endeavours are unlikely to be able to sustain in the changing weather patterns of our life circumstances and situation, or make a solid commitment, with study roots attached to the meaning and value we ascribe to whatever it is we seek to promote.  Don't just think about it...  Do it.  

Monday, 2 September 2013

The dubious pleasure

I am privileged to do the work I do.  I feel this at a cellular level most days that I work with clients.  I feel truly blessed to have found what feels to be my vocation.  I have been able to train to do work I love, and that I feel confident that I am reasonably good at.  In thinking about the relationship I have with my current career, I feel connected to my present purpose, and that feels tremendously important, providing me with both nourishment and reward.  

But my work is not without its challenges.  It is a great privilege to feel in touch with my talents and purpose, but not always such a pleasure.  The stories I hear each and every week are often horrific.  I derive enjoyment from my work, not from the content but from the process.  I never cease to be amazed and delighted by the depths of human resilience and resource, as demonstrated to me by those who have survived, and continue to survive, their stories.  I work with heroes, though many of them have yet to see an accurate reflection of themselves in the mirror that is this life.