Thursday, 24 December 2020
Tuesday, 15 December 2020
How are you about handbags? This, gentlemen, is not just a question for females. Anyone who aspires to understand what the other sex (gender) is like, needs to know about handbags. A handbag is so much more than somewhere to store necessary objects while moving from one place to another, it’s more like an ever-expanding life’s work, a container of it, in fact. Without it, a person can feel bereft.
A long, long time ago, a friend of mine’s mother explained to me how handbags were there to oppress women and keep them under control. I remember feeling surprised at that idea, particularly as it came from a lady who was a generation on from me and who I wouldn’t have expected to speak in such a feminist way. I was the young deserving feminist after all.
Years later, her words came back to me as I ran for a bus/tram in the eastern part of a now reunited Berlin, slip-sliding my way across the snow and clutching my shoulder bag as I ran. I caught the bus - just - but remember thinking how much easier it would have been to run with both arms free, ready to either grab the handle of the bus or catch myself if I fell head first onto the ground if the ice proved too much for my balance.
I had time to reflect on this once again this week after experiencing another handbag disaster.
I had taken my own particular style of Pandemicitis into account as I prepared for a next-day outing. Clothes laid out, provisions packed, entertainment planned, etc. and the next day all worked beautifully. In fact, I was early. What a great sense of achievement and superiority I had and I was in such a good mood.
|The bag - a container of life|
My feeling moved seamlessly from my pride at being ahead of myself and so professionally in control to one of bleak despair. “How could I have been such a fool? Why hadn’t I checked and double checked? How can I possibly look after others when I can’t even manage such an elementary problem?” And so it went on.
I thought briefly - very briefly - of leaving it as it was but soon realised that was not going to be possible. Within minutes, I had the gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach that was not going to allow me to move on with my day until that bag was once more firmly within my grasp.
Small charge (all this, by the way, complies with coronavirus restrictions) was bundled up into the car and we made the reverse journey back home. I was edgy and finding it hard to concentrate and reminded a little of what physical feelings the effects of withdrawal can bring.
The return journey (third time within the space of 90 minutes) was quite different. I was relaxed, cheerful, chatty and even able to attempt to sing along to my companion’s small-scale musical needs.
In other words, I was back to being the person I usually am, with the only proviso being that, for now, I seem to have officially become an airhead. My brain more often than not seems to be completely empty.
Some may argue this is an age thing. It may be but it’s curious how it’s affecting so many people of different ages so suddenly.
Personally, I’d suggest it’s more likely to be connected with the haphazard lifestyle we’re currently experiencing. It seems to me as though we have no longer have a centre of gravity - either in the workplace or outside, we have no fixed agenda and, possibly worst of all, we have no idea when all this is going to end. And humans, as I have been reliably informed, cannot bear living with uncertainty.
I wrote last time on the ups and downs of of living in the moment and, to a certain extent, this is a continuation of that theme. My 10-months’ experience of living in the moment seems to have closed down that part of the brain that deals with planning, future and all that comes with being an adult. It was fun for a while, but I still want to be in charge of my own destiny while I can.
There is hope of an ultimate end to lockdown, with the vaccine potential moving ever closer although it seems we still have some months to go.
So, while I wait for my jab, I’m going to aim to return to full adult mode, listening to my gut instinct, being completely present in my body - that means being aware of your whole self: head, shoulders knees and toes and the bits in between - concentrating on the job in hand and taking this time to prepare for the future when I get my life back.
Meanwhile, until then, I’ll keep my handbag chained to my wrist.
By Lulu Sinclair
Monday, 30 November 2020
You remember when the talk was all about living in the “here and now”, a technique of mindfulness that helped us to focus on the present, rather than dwell on the past or what may happen in the future?
Well, here we are, living the dream. We are well and truly operating in the here and now on every level. It is no longer an aspirational part of our inner world, where we use it as a form of meditation to help us quell anxious thoughts. It has become part of our reality as a whole, as our inner and outer worlds collide. Who would have thought it?
Pre-March, the conversation was all about Brexit with Remainers and Brexiters still caught up in their particular argument and unwilling or unable to see the other point of view. The problem and the anger seemed insurmountable.
Now, Brexit is almost upon us and who’s talking it about it? It seems so, well, unimportant. It’s not of course. It’s hugely important and significant and may lead to extraordinary complications if a suitable deal is not done. It will have an impact on us long after Covid-19 is done and dusted. However, for all of us stuck in the here and now at present, Brexit is the subject few people are talking about.
I was listening to a recent TV interview where the interviewee pointed out that many people voted for Brexit because they believed it would give the UK its sovereignty and freedom back. The irony, she exclaimed! Brexit has not yet been fully finalised and here we are with less freedom than we’ve had taken from us during our time within the EU.
She has a point, one that I don’t think I can bear considering right now, so I’ll have to return to contemplating the increasingly limited things going on in my life and what I am - and am not - allowed to do.
I could, but of course I won’t. Like friends, family and clients, I am finding inactivity expands to fill the time. I am lucky to still see clients online and I relish the structure and the mutual support.
Usually, my role as a counsellor is to be supportive to my client who is looking to work through a problem. Now, we’re all in it together. My client still takes centre stage - each session is always about him or her, not me - but I am grateful for what I learn from them. They offer their own insights into how they are managing and it’s tempting to want to incorporate some of their own coping strategies into my own. It’s easy to see how boundaries, unless carefully watched, could become blurred.
Having switched to online work for the moment, I have a wider base of client. Most live in the UK but some are overseas and I have to admit I am slightly comforted when I hear first-hand that other governments seem to be in as much of a muddle about what to do as ours. Slightly comforted, that is, not entirely reassured.
I’ve also found it important to understand that not everyone is having a difficult time in this period. Some people have expressed a sense of satisfaction in the sense of: “Now you know how trapped I usually feel” and that’s useful for me to discover. Someone, somewhere, may be feeling the benefit of a situation I’m uncomfortable in.
I’m hoping a vaccine will bring this situation to an end because I don’t think it’s good for most of us. I don’t want to catch the fear I feel I’m being forced into feeling. I certainly don’t want to catch the virus, nor pass it on to anyone else but I don’t want to live (or, rather, survive) in this enclosed, unsatisfactory way. Fundamentally, I fear being made to feel afraid. It’s unhealthy.
For now, I’ll do as I’m expected in the hope that the situation will get better.
But, as I wander, clueless as a cloud (thank you, Wordsworth, for the inspiration), through the next few days and weeks until we all receive clearer guidance about our future direction, I shall heed that old saying more closely: "Be careful what you wish for."
Living in the here and now may not be quite as beneficial as it once seemed.
By Lulu Sinclair
Monday, 9 November 2020
The best quote of the US presidential elections surely has to be: "What the President needs to do frankly is put his big boy pants on.
I don't need to go on. If you have an interest in political affairs, you'll know the rest. If you don't, you won't care.
But what an expression. What a picture it evokes. I know pants is the American word for trousers so it’s not quite as much fun in their eyes as in my mind (I envisaged Superman-style pants) but even so it tells it as it is. It is time for Mr Trump to grow up and accept the situation as it is.
Mr Trump’s presidency has been fascinating because it seems extraordinary that a late middle-aged man (74) gained the highest office in the US while never appearing to be anything but a giant child.
He spoke simply and clearly without the use of big complicated words; his beliefs appeared to be black and white and, if anyone criticised him, wow was he cross! I'm keeping my language simple, as he did.
He kept everything simple, dismissing North Korea’s President Kim Jong-un as “rocket man”; taking a different view on global warming: “It’s freezing and snowing in New York - we need global warming” and making splendid boasts of his achievements and the reason why he was so popular. At one time, he memorably summed himself up, saying: “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”
I didn’t expect him to win first time round. I saw him as the larger-than-life Apprentice show boss with an interesting head of hair and an orange skin tone. He seemed to me to be quite a laughable character, not someone to take seriously.
I was wrong.
I am still trying to get my head around his appeal as a politician. Is it an aspirational thing - if he can do it, so can I? Is it that his self-belief is almost hypnotic or do people really believe he can do what he says he will do? Building a wall between Mexico and the US, for example, and making Mexico pay for it.
Certainly, he gave people hope when they felt they had none. He successfully appealed to the workers whose jobs had gone as globalisation crept in. Trump was the visual epitome of raging against the machine, I suppose.
He had a fair degree of political cunning, assuring supporters he’d “drain the swamp” and root out the perceived corruption in Washington. In reality, I’m not sure how well he did on that.
He use the phrase “fake news” to great effect and that helped block rational argument. You were either for or against him. A goodie or a baddie there was no in-between bit as far as he was concerned. In therapeutic terms, it's known as black and white thinking and means an inability to see a way of bringing together positive and negative qualities and only able to see in absolutes - there is no shade of grey.
And that is what we expect from children. Something is fair or not in their eyes. If someone is unkind to them, they bear a grudge, they want to hit back and punish the baddie. No surprise there. But surely that’s not something we expect from a president.
The surprise for me is that so many adults chose to vote not once, but twice for this man-child. If it is just because of his appeal, then I am quite lost. While, personally, I find his utterings and performance highly entertaining, I’m not entirely confident that President Trump was the ideal man for the job. But how can 70 million voters be wrong?
There is a glimmer of hope.
I understand calls to “defund” the police and the increasing normalisation of identity politics and the “wokeism” which comes with it played a large part in the decision of those who voted for Trump and against Joe Biden and the Democrats - something about which senior Democrat politicians are continuing to warn.
Phew, that’s a relief. Those 70 million people who cast their vote for the Trump this time around made a reasonable and rational decision and one I can respect.
I was beginning to get slightly worried that the people of the Western world had become so used to a man-child ruler that they wanted him to remain as president.
Looks like we're all ready to put on our big boys pants.
By Lulu Sinclair
Wednesday, 28 October 2020
We are now facing the threat, or reality, of another period of severely limited activities, social and financial deprivation and continued uncertainty.
It has been evident from the first period of lockdown that those who are fortunate enough to have adequate space - whether in homes, gardens, parks or the countryside at large - have fared better than those who don't.
The one thing we do all have, however, is the natural environment itself. It is a resource that needs to be made available to all but it seems there is still not enough understanding of its beneficial properties in keeping us fit, both physically and mentally.
Research shows that those who live in harmony with nature suffer significantly less anxiety and enjoy better health than those who are alienated from it. In the 1970s, the condition of Nature Deficit Disorder was formally identified by Richard Louv and, since then, there has been extensive research and a plethora of books and papers published evidencing the important way in which nature contributes to our overall health. Sadly, until quite recently, this theory was widely regarded as “alternative” and the benefits largely discounted.
Fortunately, luminaries such as David Attenborough and Simon Schama have begun talking eloquently of the risks to ourselves of becoming distant from our natural environment. It has perhaps taken the experience of lockdown to alert us all to the reality that we disconnect from nature at a significant physical and psychological cost to ourselves.
To explore this further, in September of this year I facilitated an outdoor woodland therapy session, working with my daughter who is an experienced Forest School Leader.
We brought together a group of 10 self-selecting adults who were interested in experiencing how spending a few hours in a woodland environment could affect their feelings and mood.
We set no fixed goals, but just asked that they tried to remain in the moment as far as possible and to be open and receptive to what was around them in the form of sights, sounds, smells and touch. We talked a little about the cultural, historical and transformative elements of woodlands and the way in which trees communicate with each other through their roots and leaves to warn of predators or other dangers. The example of nature is one of collaboration and community rather than division and dominance, thus making it more resistant to threat and increasing its chances of survival.
When we checked out at the end of the session, there was a tangible energy in the group which had not been present before and people reported feeling lighter, freer and inspired -
no-one wanted to leave!
Journalist and author Isabel Hardman tells of her own experience and mental health recovery through the aid of nature in The Natural Health Service, a book published earlier this year. If her excellent and thoroughly researched book was formally acknowledged, I believe that we would have an invaluable resource that could be prescribed by GPs as a valid medication and one that could be made available to everyone, whatever their personal circumstances or whatever the external threat.
Monday, 12 October 2020
Here at 96 Harley Psychotherapy, we are proud to be supporting many different people from many different walks of life. We consider we are privileged to be allowed just a small glimpse into other people’s world and would like to share with you some of their comments on how they have individually benefited from specialist psychological care. Kay Lawrence tells of her personal experience working with these clients.
"Last Thursday’s pay packet was the best money I ever earned! It was clean and I made it from my own hard work," said the young man referring to his £6.40 an hour pay. He was comparing that sum with his previous earnings of some £1,000 a day as a drug dealer.
The young man was part of an employability scheme which helps people back into work, having served custodial sentences, or having been homeless, or both. He was one of many being offered a second chance in transforming his life. The scheme called itself an employability scheme but was it just a job he was being offered?
"I never thought anyone would help me after I lost my kids, my home, and my freedom," said a 30-something woman who found support after serving a prison sentence. The charity which helped her is committed to finding a way of decreasing reoffending rates by helping women find another way of living that allows them to leave the "revolving door syndrome".
"Seeing the sunlight through the cracks of a shipping container and being in the sunlight as a real person in my own right is something that I can never truly describe," was the reflection of one young woman in her 20s who had been trafficked into sex and domestic servitude. She is now being supported as she receives trauma counselling and learns to adjust to her new life, living safely in the UK.
“No-one else would have been willing to take me on, train me up, and never mention my offences ever again,” said the man in his early 50s who is now part of a charity working with people who have years of repeat offending behaviour, culminating in homelessness, mental health difficulties and addictions.
“I’m now training to become a coach to motivate kids, who are just like I used to be! It all makes sense now. If I can do anything to help those kids achieve their real potential, then my own wounds were worth it,” said the young ex-gang member who is now coaching young people who have been failed by the "system". He and the team are helping to heal their clients’ unresolved traumas and working with them for the common good.
The connection with the "end users`' of all these charities and the charities themselves have a goal in common: they long for transformation and a "better way".
If I can distill equality down to its most pure form, I would suggest the key is that we should all have access to the things that give us the qualities of living well. Fairness, opportunity and parity are the common ground, as is the practical need for food and shelter. However, our emotional and psychological needs also need to be looked after. Who are we without acceptance and respect? Who are we if we are not seen and heard, valued and appreciated?
There is so much good news that can be found in surveys revealing the outcomes of charity work and community projects. We know it may not work for everyone but, if one person in a generation changes the course of their life path, then that sets about a systemic change for their descendants too, as well as those around them. I find this prospect very exciting! Supply the right conditions, and people who wish to embrace a new way will put in the leg work and do so.
Through our clinically and therapeutically informed work with charities and community projects, 96 HS remains committed to being a part of this good news. Partnering with organisations, we support the lifecycle of change, restoration and transformation in whatever capacity we can provide.
I asked a question at the beginning of this piece: Is it just a job? From my point of view, it is so, so much more.
By Kay Lawrence
These are some of the amazing groups we have been involved with since 2010.
- Pret Foundation
- London City Mission
- Justice & Care
- Caring for Ex-Offenders
- Working Chance
- Women in Prison
- Prisoners’ Advisory Service
- Talitha Arts
- William Wilberforce Trust
- Holy Trinity Brompton
- St Anselm Community, Lambeth Palace
- Dulwich Picture Gallery
Sunday, 27 September 2020
How are you feeling about facing a new lockdown? It seems as though we might be heading that way even if we're still at the "bespoke" stage.
Personally, I’m concerned. As a counsellor and, I hope, a caring member of society, I am worried about what emotional damage another lockdown would do to us. Will it really save us from this pernicious virus? Is it even right?
We are living in traumatic times. Babette Rothschild’s definitive book: The Body Remembers tells us that experiences of trauma can remain as a body memory long after the reality has faded. My fear is that those in charge have not given much thought how this trauma may affect its citizens of the future.
I'd like to share a personal story which explains my views.
For almost two years, I have been a devoted carer to a small child. I visited once a week as a family member until she was nine months old and then took over her care for two full days a week while her parents worked.
The arrangement came to an end in December of last year (to the relief of my body, at least) when she went to nursery full-time but I still collected and delivered and she came to my house so the steady, loving relationship continued.
Until March 23 of this year and lockdown when the relationship was abruptly severed and FaceTime became the “new norm”, a far-from-normal two-dimensional substitute.
She was puzzled; I was upset but we persevered. She enjoyed pressing the red button at the end and was fairly overanxious to use it. She wasn’t speaking so we were limited to my chatting and waving and her waving hesitantly back until she became distracted elsewhere. It was unsatisfying but better than nothing. This went on for five weeks.
Then came Barnard Castle and the trip by the elusive Dominic Cummings when everything changed. I decided, like many others, if he could interpret the rules in his favour, so could I. The child's father finally agreed that I could come and see her and take her for a walk as long as we were outside the house. That was okay by me. It was Spring and I could do with the exercise. It was agreed I would do that twice a week.
Now for the interesting part.
I drove over, parked the car outside the house and dropped off two bags of flour (remember the days when everyone was trying to bake and there was no flour around? I found a secret supplier) and went to drive off to park the car round the corner. By chance, I looked up and there was my little girl standing at her bedroom window looking out at me with a slightly puzzled gaze. She put her lovely chubby hand towards the window and hesitantly waved. I waved back with greater enthusiasm and then opened the door to get into the car. She continued to wave and then started to blow kisses. I drove off.
Some minutes later, I saw her in her full three-dimensional glory before she saw me. She was in her pushchair happily babbling to her father without a care in the world.
Her father stopped walking and she looked around with some surprise. Then she saw me and there was a slow dawning recognition as she gave a joyful gasp. This little person who is usually quite reserved and, at that time, hard to coax a smile from, was so overjoyed at our reunion that she tried to scramble out of the buggy and fling her arms round my neck. It was a wonderful moment for both of us.
Her father left us (socially distanced at all times) and we reverted to our easy one-to-one relationship. When it was time to go, her father met us and walked back with me to my car. As I said goodbye, she began screaming and tried again to get out of the buggy. I was distraught, too, but kept my screaming to myself.
This pattern continued for some weeks and there were difficulties, though not with me. She was desperate for the swings, saying: "Peeese" in the hope that, if she asked nicely enough, I'd open the gate. I explained but she didn't understand of course. When the gate was officially opened, she was hesitant, holding back, uncertain about other children and the greater expanse of play area.
We settled down and, later, I was “allowed” inside the house because restrictions had been lifted and the social bubble extended. (As I write this, I am astonished that phrases such as social distancing and social bubbles seem so ordinary. However did that happen?). The baby and I resume our relationship and I go over at least once a week to help out.
If the lockdown is tightened, I will still be all right, as will she. I have “carer” status so there will be no more exclusions for me. But what about everyone else. How will they - you - and your loved ones fare?
FaceTime, Zoom and other computer meet-ups can be useful and are good at times of need. But nothing beats real human contact. Three-dimensional life matters.
Monday, 7 September 2020
Do you have a family member or friend who is starting a new school or encountering a new form teacher any time soon? This may be of interest to you.
I’d like to repeat something told to me by a teacher. “Make sure your child behaves him/herself for the first term at least. Otherwise, the teachers will have made up their mind about that child and their reputation will be carried on throughout their school career - and possibly influence their future prospects.”
I was shocked. I was disturbed by the idea that still-developing personalities could be judged on a comparatively short-term acquaintance in a strange and unfamiliar situation. And what I found particularly unsettling was that the teacher - part of a team of professionals who has so much power over young lives - did not seem concerned about the approach.
Most of us know that we make judgments about one another in the blink - or even less - of an eye. That stems from way back when. Our reptilian brain - the amygdala - is on high alert in new situations to keep us safe from danger. It is the part of the brain that activates our fight, flight or freeze reaction and it is so fast to react that we are likely to be unaware of what is actually going on until we reflect on it moments afterwards.
An example we’ve given before is of someone walking down the street looking at their smart phone, not concentrating and being unaware of the world around them. They come to a road and are about to step off the pavement when something stops them and they stand stock still. A moment later a bus goes by and they feel the rush of air as it passes centimetres (or inches if you are still on imperial measures) away. They are shocked. As they feel a rush of adrenalin and an extremely heightened sense of awareness, they think: “If I had stepped out …”
The amygdala - their reptilian brain - has saved them. It is amazing and fantastic and astonishing to think that a part of our brain that has been here since we first arrived millions of years ago is still of vital importance to us. Vital, of course, in the truly literal sense of the word.
But (hu)mans cannot live by amygdala alone so, fortunately, we have the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex to complete the limbic system, and us.
What this means is the combined intelligence of the whole of our brain allows us to move from instinct through to emotions and memories (ie learning from experience) to reason, judgment, self-control or freewill and to manage the decision-making process. In other words, the whole emotional and reasoning experience that goes to make us a complete adult. I say “adult” because these parts of our brain develop as we mature - the prefrontal cortex will develop during adolescence and should be fully mature by the age of around 25.
Let's return to the school teacher meeting a child for the first time.
The child is likely to have mixed emotions because they are facing a new experience. Some may welcome it, some may be hesitant, some may be very resistant - however they are, there is every chance they will act different to how they might do in a situation to which they are used.
Meanwhile, the teacher - while clearly an adult in a physical form at any rate - who may be more used to, and more understanding of the situation, is also going to experience his or her own complex emotions.
It might be their first day in charge, they might be a last-minute stand-in, there could be unexpected trouble at home or, even, they are in a state of high excitement and can’t wait to meet the new intake. Whatever their emotional state, they will still make a judgment and it will still be instinctive and that judgment, so that teacher tells me, is very likely to stay with the child during their school journey.
I know I'm talking about an initial meeting but imagine that initial impression being stretched out over the next few weeks. The child who is compliant, keen, eager to please, may be easier to like. The resistant child who is determined not to give of themselves no matter how hard the teacher tries is likely to find themselves "dismissed" more easily, leading to more resistance and so the pattern continues. And that is what made me so sad.
This blog, I hope, will give some understanding to both sides of what may be going on within, even when we are unaware.
Perhaps parents and others taking children to a school for the first time could encourage their child (don’t frighten or threaten or the point is lost!) to understand the importance of first meetings and the impression they want to give. Urge them to give as good as they can, in every way. I'm not suggesting selling out their individual and precious souls but thinking about how they appear or how they might want to appear and see how the two can come closer together, if need be. The power, after all, is most likely with the teacher.
And teachers, remember these are little people (teenagers, too, however big they appear) with a long way to go. They may have stuff in the background of which you are unaware. May I ask you to aim to work with all those parts of your mature brain before you judge and decide the worth of the child in front of you. Use your instinct, your emotions and your reasoned training wisely. How you react to that child over the course of the term may have a strong and influential effect on their future - either good or bad.
Perhaps there’s a lesson here that all of us would do well to learn.
By Lulu Sinclair