Mr Mouse’s North Wales retreat to Hills and Valleys to find peace and solitude also took in some more well-known locations such as Swallow Falls.
From Monday 3pm to Friday 3pm stuck in Hospital doing my best not to die of boredom, with so much empty space.
The reality was I shut down. Just to be able to cope I had to not think, no internalise, not be in the moment, not fully present or engaged, and not full focused at all on the future, the past or the present to detach myself from reality and the enforced artificial rules of the situation and my disempowerment.
I survived, the week was an unpleasant dark shadow over my life, holding the time before it in a strange semi-suspense because I knew at some point, coming at short notice, everything had to park for a week. Sensibly, nothing unparkable could be started. Not quite on hold, but really going forward fully either.
Now I am out, I am of course liberated, I am free to do whatever it was that I was unable to do before. Which was?
That is the question, in March so much of what I was doing got ripped away, I hate the melodramatic sound of that. But a few months down the line, it feels more that way now because back then there was the promise that certain things were temporary, that the losses inflicted would be short lived.
Reality has dawned; and I am living with and adjusting to, the new landscape, the shifting sand of what abilities retained, and the extent of skills lost. Those projects are on hold while I have to go and re-learn skills that I need in life. From fine motor skills and co-ordination to emotional intelligence and resilience or understanding, it feels like everything has taken some sort of damage. It may not be impossible, but it is going to take some time.
Of course, I have sabotaged self. My remarkable apparent comeback at the end of May and my stubborn refusal to quit doing whatever I can has led people to think I am ok, after all, here I am living life. That is what you see.
How could they know, the physical pain, the emotional difficulty, the depression, the despair, the frustration of knowing you once could and now can’t; of course they have no idea. And, really, now words can tell the story of being trapped knowing its gone and you might not get that back, or the frustration of being expected to operate on a level you can no longer reach. There is no way to say, this life, the one I was breezing through with ease, no it exhausts me before midday, those things that I could cope with and a hundred more on top, I am crushed by half of them or less, and that finger tapping sounds like you are taking a sledgehammer to my head, but its ok.
The break is over, it is time to move on, step by small step, practice, fail, get up, fall over, get up, make a mess, clean up, carry on, and so on, and so on, every day, every day trying, just trying and hoping to work a little way back, a little way on the dream, and little bit better than yesterday.
Considering is a word that has cast a long shadow over me. All of my achievements come with the qualifier “considering”. I know that it is meant well and usually comes from a genuine place. But, this does not make it any the less crushing. I did well at my exams, considering, I did well at University – considering and even last year when I last competed, I did really well, considering.
Somehow, my achievements are unable to stand on their own merit. What considering means is that, although on the absolute scale this isn’t actually any great shakes we are recognising that it was harder for this person to reach a normal standard and we don’t want their effort to go unrecognised. It’s a lovely thought but ultimately I did a bit crap.
If it is not in the realm of achievement per-se, it happens in life where I did really well considering I was sick. Again, it doesn’t feel like there is a true appreciation that in this circumstance, as with others, actually I did well, full stop. The fact I was sick or at a disadvantage does not need to be mentioned unless it is to elevate the achievement, and perhaps this is my own perspective only, using the criteria of considering, does anything but elevate the achievement.
Last week I was crippled in pain, I did well to do anything, as it happens I did a few things and got more done than I would had I done what I should and rocked up at hospital to get the treatment instead of doing it at home myself. It wasn’t I did well considering, it’s I did well because I should have been in a hospital. In the academic realm, I didn’t do well considering my dyslexia, I did well despite it, and because of it, my appearance in the annals of those with a post-graduate education and a degree in the humanities and the sciences (yes 3 in all) is actually phenomenal. It was hard work, long work, rather like finishing top 3 in the 100m when you did 110m. That would not be they did well, considering.
Where I am at it is, I feel like consideration isn’t what I or people who face a challenge really want or need because it feels like it comes from the excuse side of explanations. It feels like you get consideration when you fell short and there was a reason you were below expectation or what was required. Maybe this is an academic thing where you can be upgraded if there are considerations like being ill. I have always wanted to stand or fall compared to my peers, and then for the fact I stood equal or wherever I stood despite the challenges or disadvantages that I faced in my individual journey.
I don’t like excuses, right now my year feels like the shadow of considering is darkening everything I do. I am behind, I am not where I wanted to be, and considering how sick I am and have been this may be a remarkable achievement, but at the end of the day its not enough of an achievement to be doing what it needs to be doing. The project is behind and hasn’t started to realise its income or get launched properly. Considering doesn’t change that opportunities have been lost and things have not happened while I have been ill because its my job and responsibility to get them done. It may be a cant, but I cannot make an excuse, I may have a reason but just as the world of bills and commerce doesn’t let me off, I don’t want to be let off by anyone else. Yes, admire what I have done facing what I have faced, but please, don’t attempt to tell me that what is not okay, is, because the harsh reality is, it really isn’t. In commercial reality, bills need paying, and considering doesn’t pay them.
Perhaps I am being harsh on myself, but this has been my reality till now, where I have been able to be ill and not lose everything. Which is awesome, but which makes me keenly aware that I could be making excuses and I don’t want that. It has been a tough week, mentally it has been impossible knowing what isn’t being done and what is slipping while I am powerless to stem the tide. It’s crushing and no amount of consideration is changing that. It is like school, when I broke my arm the homework still had to be done, growing up, you got ill, your chores were your chores and you did them, as an adult nothing changed, no one picked up what was my job.
I’m not sure where this is going, I started simply a little tired of hearing I am doing well considering, and I am. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t make me feel better, and it doesn’t change things. Where I have arrived is that, considering hasn’t changed anything because it’s been words, consideration has been nothing but a speech given to me. What, has changed is that, while those closest to me have stopped saying considering at all without me saying a word, they have instead picked up whatever slack they can for me, lightened my load to the point I have been able to do something rather than being crushed by overwhelming demands.
And I still don’t want consideration, I am tired, I hurt, I need to rest, I’ve pushed as hard as I can push today, I don’t want sympathy or for you to make excuses, I want you to make a difference, either be inspired by the achievement against the challenges faced or do something to lighten the load of someone you care about so they too can achieve. Lift them up to higher levels, not let them off with mediocre.
This last week, life happened, that pesky real life stuff that gets in the way of things you really want to be doing. The other issue is that I haven’t wanted to be introspective this week. The intrusion of my past has made me emotionally tired, I have wanted to move away from looking at anything requiring emotional engagement. On the physical level, I have a cold, which while being very normal is what I would call drag, it slows life down and makes it more difficult. Add in pain and physiotherapy work and I feel that the last seven days have had a cumulative impact.
Which is why I don’t write Monday Night Reflections in advance and schedule them, writing this on Tuesday would have resulted in a very different outlook. Life didn’t happen till Wednesday, my pain had been much lower, and my cold, if it had arrived had not announced itself. Tuesday morning, I felt emotionally calmer and settled after the reflection and the time I had spent around it. I was upbeat because I felt physically and emotionally peaceful, it was a very temporary situation. Pain wise I had noticed a relaxation over the previous few days and the accompanying symptoms had been much lower. I was really feeling much more like a healthy me than I had in months. By Tuesday afternoon this physical wellness had become me in a ball in bed, full of morphine and hallucinations with the symptoms back at full power. Those few days were kind of nice.
Which puts me, with my keyboard having struggled creatively to do, full of cold and feeling rather sorry for myself. Mostly I want to curl up in bed and sleep till I am better. Truth is, I could, I really could, it would not make much difference, I wouldn’t really be letting anyone down either. Most people would jump at the opportunity because they have the pressure, I used to have the pressure, where I would work long after it was advisable to the detriment of my physical, let alone mental well being. Like many I worked broken because I had no choice, no work, no money, that is the reality for millions that I shared for all my working life from the age of 13, and still do. I don’t work it has an impact, not so bad that we lose our house and starve, but you can tell the difference, its very tight on one wage and what I can cobble together when I am sick.
That is not my reflection. I have a friend, recent friend, still getting to know her, but she let me into her world and her struggles with anxiety and we were able to share and help each other. It is hard not to feel close to someone with so much shared experience and struggle. She is striking out, starting her own business and really pushing her boundaries, which is amazing and awesome. I have admiration and am supporting her a million percent because it is courageous to come from where she feels inside and get outside the house, so this is real achievement. There is a however, the however, is that I cannot share her triumphalism. Like me she has a lifelong battle with anxiety and self esteem, a less than stellar past and a storehouse of unhelpful negative experiences which can be used to beat her down, with the liberal addition of abusive relationships and life failures. I am envious because when things are good I cannot proclaim a victory. I am jealous because when I win over anxiety and am getting life done I never feel like the battle is over. I am always keenly aware of that inner dialogue and battle, the thoughts and emotions that are behind the scenes. The battle will never be over, and I feel like any proclamation of victory is both premature and provocation, like I am asking for an onslaught.
Thing is talking to her, privately, I feel that she too is premature, she still has the battles, right now she is winning and that is awesome, but the truth is the battles continue at various intensities. From the outside it may be inspiration to see anxiety, depression or mental health issues defeated, apparently lying dead on the floor bloodied, beaten and ultimately slain. This victorious cry is something that I long for, but is this reality or is it a fantasy? Is this vision of victory simply a collective delusion to which we have all consented to make ourselves feel like the there is a real light at the end of the tunnel, when in reality the battle is lifelong and to the death. Battles may come and go but the war is forever?
My experience is one of management. Anxiety and depression are managed not beaten. My experience of them will intensify and wane depending life and other things I may or may not control, so what I need is structures in place to help me deal with anxiety and depression as constructively as possible. I accept that there may be times that getting out of bed and eating a meal is the absolute most I can achieve that day. What I have sought to build are ways of making sure that on that day I do get out of bed, I do get dressed and I do eat a meal; in other words each day I give one hundred percent of whatever I have to give. Some days that one hundred percent could be outstanding, other days it will be less than impressive. I have had to learn to accept the massive difference between my very worse symptomatic days and the days where I can look like an extrovert genius who never needs sleep. Riding the waves of productivity and silence without blame or judgement is incredibly difficult. I have high expectations of myself and I have a good store of experiences that tell me that I am capable of achieving a lot at a high standard. The key is not to let success become a stick with which I beat myself down when times are hard.
I am not saying it is easy, in fact at the very height of success it can be struggling. For example, I was in the airport, waiting for the plane to fly to compete in my first ever European Championship, this was the opportunity. My ex had been a situation where this had been beyond a dream, my hobby would never be priority enough for me to spend money to go on a “holiday” on my won while the family did without. I did my hobby for fun, yet within a year of the split, here I was qualified by right and waiting for a plane to my first international competition part of GB team. My now wife was working and I had travelled to the air port on my own. Sat there you would think I was full of thoughts about the competition, riding the crest of a wave. In fact, I was broken, and sitting there having gone through passport control wondering what you had to do to leave. I wanted to go home and curl up and wished the world would leave me alone. I was scared, alone with no one to talk to. To this day I have no idea how I managed to stay in the departure lounge. I could be telling this story to make you feel better, the truth is. The whole way there I was telling myself to just go, just do it, it doesn’t matter. I told myself that last didn’t matter in my first competition, and that I had earned the experience, that it was a holiday to reward the work I had done. It didn’t help because I had struggled in the preparation. I had actually worked too hard. I had gone to train with a former world champion and world record holder; a coach of standing and significant cost was helping me for a couple of hours. It was just about affordable and to me and investment which such a big event coming up. By the end of 2 hours he stepped in and helped me get ready for free because I was so beat up. I had decided that my only chance of success was to outwork the competition, I believed I had no talent, but I did have hard work. I had completely overlooked any requirement to work hard and intelligently. Four weeks later I am in an airport, flying on my own to meet the team, staying in a different hotel because I could only confirm my place due to money at the last minute. I felt like disaster was a matter of time.
The best I could do on the way out was keep a Starbucks down, and not break down crying uncontrollably. I felt locked into a train wreck about to happen. This is my reality, this is my anxiety, and at the time I was not suffering particularly on a day to day basis. But this exceptional event had given anxiety the opening it needed to come on full. I cried the night before, I held back tears on the way to the airport, and I a was biting back the whole journey. On arrival I took a wrong turn in the hire car and was sobbing in a layby for an hour. Unable to even get my thoughts far enough to call my fiancée, when I did manage it, of course she was amazing and already she walked me through my steps to calm down and my solution.
Three days after nearly walking out the airport and sobbing uncontrollably at some toilet stop in the middle of nowhere I was flying home a European Champion. To tell the story as if the trip was a triumph over anxiety and fear feels like a betrayal, a lie I cannot tell to people, who like me, struggle daily. The reality, I believe is more liberating, more empowering, it may be a cheesy book title, but the battle is about feeling scared and like disaster is imminent and doing despite the fact you want to run. Management is about the disaster and realising it changes you if you let it, and only if you let it. This was once an incredibly hard truth to hold on to. I was not loved whether or not I succeeded or failed, in fact, love was portioned out in direct proportion to my success of failure, from a kind word to physical intimacy, it was always earned. Being loved just because I was me was something that other people talked about, it was not something I experienced, it was something I did, I knew that much. In this context failure was a big deal, and so fear was as more about a consequence than it was about something I imagined would happen, consequences were a danger, and they happened when you failed. The problem with anxiety is, it never takes account of context. In this case the situation could never have happened, I was always a hobbyist, I could never compete, never dream of it, too difficult, to much pressure, and it was unfair to ask my family to make that sort of sacrifice. I was a father and husband first and I had to honour those responsibilities. I took happiness in having a hobby, although I kept my pursuit solitary, or online where any interaction could be checked and verified. It was never worth talking to a person, although it happened and people tried to make friends with me, I knew the consequences, the consequences did happen. I knew it would happen but I was longing some sort of contact so I made sure I never said anything but how great she was and how wonderful life was. I since found out no one believed a word.
So I cannot be joyful and triumphant, even when I win a significant battle like that, it feels false. I feel like am betraying anyone who looks at the “victory” and gets inspired by the lie. If anything from my life is motivating or informs someone else in their struggles I could not live with that being based on a fiction. Reality is, that weekend was awful, I never want a weekend like that again. The night before I competed I cried, I cried so much I had a stinking headache, I was chronically lonely, I had been to the competition that day and felt immensely out of my depth watching the first day of competition; a feeling made worse by the procedure of registration of which I had absolutely no experience and no knowledge. The whole weekend was difficult, beyond my experience, boundaries and I was woefully unprepared.
Since then, lessons have been learned, and management of my debilitating anxiety and depression is being adjusted to make things possible and make my life all it can be. But it is a tremendous battle, and it is difficult. Seemingly simple things can be massively difficult. I never go to a new place alone, or if I am travelling to it alone I do everything in my power to make sure I have a familiar and friendly face when I get there. When travelling I will often set up way points with friends in case I need them. I did that last long trip, and I really valued that afternoon chilling with coffee, even tho I had an amazing time connecting with a friend at the event and meeting people I had competed with, it was a challenge and difficult. Even with all the lessons and all my best management techniques, it was difficult and I travelled with constant doubts, from what if it’s a joke and not happening to what if I embarrass myself, even with no possible reason for that to happen or be likely, and multitude of reasons running through my head why it was a bad idea to be there.
Which is my day to day reality, this month we are having people we have met over for tea. We know them a little bit and they are great, but inside I am terrified, scared of everything from the food I do being awful, me saying the wrong thing. I know so much of this fear is because of “feedback” and consequences from my life, parents telling me that I had embarrassed them or let them down, my ex-wife telling me why no one spoke to me, no one liked me, what people said about be to her, and how I was an embarrassment, from how I looked to how I acted, to the car I drove, how I drove, it was all a disgrace. I had always been a disgrace and a let down, I was always a disappointment, so according to my anxiety, why would that be any different now. And that is in spite of the evidence that, it was never true in the past and it is not true now, it still feels real. I hope, it feels less real as time passes.
This is the reality, there are victories and small wins, there are pyrrhic victories and defeats. That is life with anxiety, it may be gone for a while, mine always comes back, it may come back weak, it may come back strong, but it will always be there. At one time I may have thought anxiety a curse, perhaps it is, but anxiety is also essential to our survival, so it has been hard wired into our make up to have a concern that is future orientated. Survival is predicated on the prediction of danger and that involves fear via anxiety. After all if you never worried about starvation it is likely you would not store food, and when it ran out you would starve. Some people live where food is not massively seasonal and they do not have that anxiety and they do not stockpile or develop preservation methods. So it is with life, I don’t think it is possible to rid ourselves of anxiety. Anxiety is the dark-side, it has to be there, without it there then our positive drives have no roots, or perhaps we have nothing to run from. Perhaps that is why creative people are plagued, they are always running, and their creativity rests on a bed of anxiety and fear.
I am sorry I cannot proclaim, victory the war is won, I am sad that I may well walk to my door to get the bin and stumble and pause as I take hold of the handle, I will struggle to walk in public because I feel the stare because I am different, and I will hide in the familiar while seeking to achieve something positive.
What I mean is, sometimes Victory is getting out of bed, getting dressed and eating a meal, success can be simple, it can be words, it can be silence. Learn to accept success however small, learn to love yourself, however, alien that is, anxiety may walk our road for life, but we can, I know we can, make it travel with us and not let it root us to the spot in fear, we can be overwhelmed and still come back. I believe that, and like all rebellions my rebellion against anxiety is built on hope!
Every-so-often, I do look back at this Blog, read my squeeks and contemplate how things have changed. As the New Year approached I started to think about the future because material has been gradually accumulating, I even downloaded and printed out a blog planner, and started a blog ideas notebook just to help me on my way.
Any look at my archive shows that I started slowly; the issue was that I had started an abuse survivors blog, a valuable enterprise. I am not entirely sure I had any idea what that would entail or even if that concept had any real meaning. In all honesty, I really didn’t have a clue. As I came to review what I had been doing and think about what I want to be doing. It is fairly clear this is not a blog about how to survive abuse and has gotten further away from being obviously abuse related. I do, fairly often, feel a little guilty that my pages do not have links to helpline and resources, perhaps they should? I am not convinced that what I am doing here, and I because I did not really use any particular resources to get away or even really start the journey of dealing with my abusive past, I cannot personally recommend any particular resource. At the same time, I feel woefully unqualified to write any sort of how-to guide, I didn’t diary the journey, and I don’t think I have much to give on the practical side over and above the great stuff that is already out there.
However, while this blog is not an abuse survival blog in that it contains any practical guidance whatsoever, any resources or even useful links, it is a blog written by an abuse survivor. I had to explain this to myself, because this differential was far to apparently self-evident Which meant, when I thought about it, like many apparently self evident concepts, I did not see any immediate content of substance in that category. While a blog about abuse survival is going to explain itself quickly with its practical focus, a blog by an abuse survivor could be anything. I have seen those that are accounts, almost diaries of what living in an abusive situation was/is like for the victim. Without that central theme, the experience of abuse in real terms, not the rather glossy euphemisms that make it more comfortable, what exactly makes a blog, or anything, different because it was written by an abuse survivor?
In a sense I could be searching for my unique selling point; but there is something actually very different driving me to the distinction. By having the category, blog by a survivor of abuse, I am creating an explanatory framework which a reader can use to quickly locate any problematic material. Or in other words, when reading my material, and in that I have particular piece and poems in mind, knowing that their inspiration and root is in an abusive past explains what is going on so the reader can make sense of the world in which they suddenly find themselves. Hopefully, knowing the origin of the blog as part of my journey via the creation of a persona, Mr Mouse, who is in charge of trauma processing, and is a major part of the creative production team, gives context. It explains the lack of my favourite recipes, personal pictures and tells my reader exactly, I hope, what to expect.
Early on, I realised quickly that this blog had to be something growing rather more organically with me and so to be genuine would need to follow my journey. For me to be happy with this I had to have material I would be at least happy to show people. Looking at early postings I see mistakes and errors that make me cringe, I do not change them because the development of my skills is a core element of my creative journey. I am consciously developing my craft through reading and practice at a level that keeps the process enjoyable and spontaneous. Every entry is written on the move; I have no store house or prewritten material scheduled up to post. The closest I get is scheduling something written late for the next morning or separating up posts in the day when the have been produced at the same time. Monday Night Reflections often start the week before and come together over the Monday, where I schedule the publication time as a deadline to meet, other times I barely keep it posting on a Monday.
I guess I have been squeeking organically; I enjoy working on this blog. Ironically, if all I did was create for the blog I would run out of material to create for the blog because its not all stored up. To have a blog I have to live, to travel, to do life and do my life. My life – still a difficult concept to pin down too. Looking to the future, that is the problem. In blog life as well as life, I am happy where I am, the changes are really making what is good already better, making me more happy rather than dealing with problems. In my life I feel problems are either in process, or they are not able to be processed and I class as not in my control. If I cannot change or control them then I work hard to keep them out of my view and out of my thoughts or planning. I am contented with what I have, it is truly amazing on every level, and something the little council estate boy would never have been able to dream about. Which is another unique aspect, and another thing that gives me twinges of guilt.
When I read survivor stories too often the situation of the writer has broken away from the abuse at a huge cost, losing everything material and having to start a new life from the bottom. Something I identify with, although without children I cannot know the struggle that situation brings. More significantly than that tho, I had a means to support myself, at least in the short term. I managed to rent a beautiful furnished starter home only three quarters of a mile from where I worked. Although I had to sell my vehicle, I was able to finance deal one before it sold, so again my situation was significantly different. Finally, while it would be soon to say how even if we had a statute of limitation, I was able, in a fashion to generate enough of an income for me to keep going. Lucky for me the days of a meal every other or 3 days did not return and I could have the heating on. I firmly believe that my lack of material deprivation contributed massively to my ability to get through the situations I faced constructively; that and a well timed text message in my darkest days.
As I was declaring bankrupt I was already being welcomed into my new life, one where I no longer had to earn anything at all to be materially looked after, I was being gifted a circumstance that I had deeply desired, worked hard to create, but ultimately did not actually possess.
I cannot write a survivors story, there is nothing dramatic, in my mind, to tell. Detailing what happened with a blow by blow account would be a fruitless act of storytelling. Instead, I am focussed on building up.
Clearly, I am not using a reflective model here. This is what I have been considering, I have a blog, I enjoy creating and sharing, so I could just have a blog that is me sharing my creative output. That would be wrong, because I sincerely hope that I am adding something different to the picture. At the outset of blogging, I really wanted somone, even if it was one person, to know that there is a through, an other side to get to. Because I definitely felt that there was no end beyond continued darkness and suffering, that there was no through it for my situation. That darkness and feeling of despair was my path to suicide, I need to know there was a way out, any way out, when they were absent, my mind found the only left. Not healthy, not constructive, and not something I would want anyone to have to face. Statistically, I know that men in particular will make the same choice as me but unlike me will be successful. Suicide is the largest single cause of death for men between twenty-five and fifty.
From this I developed a mental manifesto, or a wish perhaps, but definitely a core message that drives me to keep blogging and around which my future plans are centred. I want to say that having an abusive past is ok, there is no shame, you are not alone. But also that trauma while it may haunt you, is not only faced by locking it away and never opening it again. Trauma does not go away if you ignore it, and that there are a multitude of ways of constructively making trauma something you live with without undue pain, suffering or distress. And that trauma definitely does not need to control your life and how you make decisions. However, at the same time that trauma needs to be constructively handled, it can also be a source of drive. Let your pain drive you to greatness is a cliché, but there is a hard-core truth right at its heart. For me, I write poetry exploring my feelings, I allow myself to relive emotional moments deliberately. I find, for me, this form of expression gives me back the controlling power. I also find the act of reflecting and facing elements I from my past helps me better marshal and rally my thoughts coherently. When I thing coherently trauma and reactive behaviours lose their control because they stop being amorphous scary unknowns. The spotlight I see them for what they are, the reality they no longer possess and the consequences they can no longer deliver. I believe that paralysis by analysis is a constructive tool and well as a destructive force.
Which leaves me with what was I thinking, and what are my plans. I do have things I want to creatively, I have already said that, and I want to share that, or at least some of that, and I have ideas of things I can do to enhance or add depth to this blog as an endeavour, while bearing in mind that blogging is not what pays the bills, and that while it is constructive self development there is more to me and life than what I can publish. Which at times, actually gets more difficult that it should, I tend to see creative finished product as the measure of my productivity and therefore my worth.
That is a practical answer, and is ducking the real question. When I think back at what I was intending to do when this all started, its clear I had no idea. I wanted to do something; no idea what, where or how. I wrote a few things and found myself in a black hole cornered with only one real direction available. I was going to be writing an abuse blog and spending hours immersed in creating a valuable resource, or I was going to be writing graphic reconstructions. Neither appealed, and I while I am confident I have the academic ability to produce a useful resource, the graphic story telling, not confident at all, and not something I would want to be learning and getting deeply into. What I did was open up, change things and then run with it to see what happened and did what felt right along the way. Very much how I had done things as a young man lacking purpose and direction, waiting for opportunities while working at something and moving along a road to see how the landscape would change. I feel it worked well, because, it was not as ambiguous as it probably sounds, it involved learning and working, and because I was open to suggestion, change and opportunity rather than making myself fit a certain model based on external expectations.
At the same time, I have grown into wanting this blog to have purpose a little more than being a repository. I sincerely hope that anyone who is going through a tough time, or is dealing with trauma, abuse or not, can draw constructively from what I have done to deal with what has been traumatic for me. I have felt that I can offer up the, if he can do it, so can I angle. Because I am not a superstar, I am not at a level far removed, and my attainment being accessible, I am able to be of a little inspiration. I would like people to enjoy what I do, spread a little happiness and find practical utility and insight through my contribution.
The last week, aside from the Monday Night Reflection, was very much centred around both the discussion of prisons of the mind and the practical development that comes from recognising them. The thought from Elliot Wald was an expression of a deeper collective consciousness, perhaps due to new year introspection, that how we think is how we live out or lives.
I am privileged because I have the opportunity to talk to people in a meaningful way, small talk is limited and our conversations, often online, are rewarding and thought provoking. On the one hand, it is absolutely awesome to share any wisdom and insight I may have, and for my story to be a useful platform from which to help others, however, the most rewarding part is hearing other people’s stories, their insights and their lessons learned. While we all walk our own paths, we travel with others for parts of our shared journey, and to stretch the analogy a little, we are traversing the same terrain.
By talking to others, leads me to marshal my thoughts, in the same way as when some one simplifies and explains what you are doing back to you and saying out loud reveals the rather ridiculous nature of what you are doing (think the plot of Skyfall), when you talk ideas over with others, these conversations make me think through what I am doing. This process extends long past the end of the conversation and this week I stumbled into a behavioural road block which is very much rooted in the life I no longer have. I never planned anything for weekends, when I did I always had them approved a long way in advance and where possible would purchase tickets long in advance to ensure that plan would happen. However, the activity had to be worth it, very worth if it was something classed as just for me, I had to be sure what I was doing was worth the consequences that it would bring, both in the lead up to the activity, during and after. I never left for anything without being in the wrong about something, there was always at least some sort of making up to do.
I rationalised this by saying that weekends were ring-fenced family time and how important it needed to be to sacrifice family time. I would talk about how this was the time to give back for the support of my wife and child which they gave freely without really knowing all the time how much they gave up for me. It sounded great, and I had the line down like I was giving a BBC interview, the reality was I dared not to think about not doing what I was told when I was told at weekend. What happened of course, is that I believed my own lies, and I believed the story to the point where the reality was lost.
In my new life I kept the sanctity of weekends because that is what you do, that is what “good husbands” do. I had no pressure and it was never an expectation, it was just how married life works. This week that behaviour was challenged, because my illness has changed how I do life, and how I am approaching everything I do. In some ways the difference is subtle, in others the change is marked. In my wife’s words, I have gone from hoping to qualify for a British Championship, to retired, to planning my assault on a World Championship Podium. What hasn’t changed through the process is my ability; the change is simply how I am thinking. Instead of hoping small, somewhere I managed to start dreaming much bigger.
Part of that change has been reflection, not just this blog diversion, but generally. The move towards what I called living intentionally. In a sort of irony, the onset of health problems, and in particular this latest bout which is now approaching 6 months in duration with no end in sight, led me to a different place from which to make my evaluations. Previously I was, at first, firefighting and in the immediate present, with the transition to life as it is now, its calm and supportive environment, the welcome of a new family and the warmth of acceptance of me as I am came a focus on the baggage of the past. The ongoing task is, much of it done by Mr Mouse of course, is that of ordering and understanding both what had happened, and what I am to carry forward from those experiences. This blog is a reflection of this, and it mirrors my development and journey in that sense. The past definitely needed facing and dealing with, and it will always be my past, so in that sense it may be like a garage, just as it approaches done, something may need to be done, but it can also be parked and sorted out another day too. It would also be a folly not to recognise that for me, my past is repository of material and energy, in the words of Eric Thomas, it is time to let my “pain push me to greatness”. If I am already in pain, then I can get a reward from it only if I don’t quit. So contrary to many memes in internet land, I do not only look at the past to see how far I have come, I go to the past as a library of inspiration, lessons, and even fuel with which I can go forward better equipped.
The reality of the week was one of quiet doing, and return to routine after the Christmas break, it was a welcome calm. The decorations are gone, the kitchen table a working mess again, the fridge less crammed, the slow cooker back on the counter more than in the cupboard and us both back to work. Consciously there was probably not a lot happening, and even trying to reflect I was conscious that there was not an event to focus on per-se, just the settling of life into its new rhythm. However, there is a big difference at a practical level, with me deciding to walk away from my career a little more completely. In fact, the only client from that life left will be a close friend who doesn’t pay anyway, leaving is hard to do. The truth is, I lost a passion for the profession, but love learning and will no doubt be involved, just more detached and more relaxed.
In this more relaxed week I had decided to think about my blog, the direction it was going and any plans to change it, make it better, and if I wanted to deliberately push for more readers, or just let it be and let it grow out of its own energy. Part of that has been Monday Night Reflection. When I first had the idea, it was vague, to put it mildly and I will be honest I have not put a particular amount of intentional thought into what this Reflection segment is about, going to do, the purpose it serves, or how it is different from Thinking Out Loud, if it needs to be different at all. I suppose the fact that it is so much longer could be enough of a difference, not sure. What I did do way back then was get on Amazon (Marketplace) and order a couple of books on reflection.
I finally read one of my books on reflective practice, and what struck me about it was that I got nasty flash backs to my professional training and the rather unhappy time that was. It was about reflection as an academic discipline to be marked. I did persevere with reading the book and it was a diversion, maybe not a great diversion, to look back at trying to fit something I actually tend to do in an amorphous way anyway into a box to get boxes ticked on the marking criteria. I remembered that actually, reflective practice, in the academic sense, was an incredibly false activity, rather like putting on a stage performance of a day in your life. You mash together an amalgam of reality and what you want reality to be so its is presentable and in a certain format. Reflection to learning outcomes had no reality.
We based our reflection on Gibbs (1988) reflective cycle, and as a framework it looks appealing, but in reality to use it and then write about it academically, you are going to have to forget about honesty and transparency and write from the Conclusion and Action Plan elements so that you can tick academic boxes. While I am not deliberately writing to this framework, I am clearly carrying it around deeply buried in my subconscious because every Monday Night Reflection I feel compelled to both conclude and have some sort of
point to carry forward. I am looking for something where I can vaguely or loosely go round the cycle, and I know it. As soon as I revisited the damn thing, I knew it was there all along just boxing me in. The question, of course, is what do I do with that. Using the cycle, feelings: horror and abhorrence at using any sort of framework, intrigue that it may be useful, Evaluation: right now, who knows, I need to think on this and do some Analysis: what analysis, it’s a framework what do you want me to say, how do I know if it is useful, it won’t be universally applicable, at best its going to help the publication process, but as a tool for life it certainly has massive limitations. Conclusion: there is no absolute conclusion, it is an open-ended process that can be revisited and done multiple times in multiple contexts, even just the applicability of a reflective framework is going to depend on the material and how far the development of thoughts on that material have progressed, my relationship to anything will change over time and therefore anything within the formal categories will shift too. Action Plan, I will think about it and probably pull useful elements out with a bit more conscious thought; more than likely I will be much more deliberate in my rejection of that which I do not want to do, is not useful to do or is not appropriate to do while recognising the root of any compulsion I feel to do those things.
Which drives me back to living intentionally. Reflection is my own thing, and I cannot escape it is guided and shaped by my learning experience, however, having spent time with the process of reflection I am better able to reflect deliberately in a way that I am comfortable with; or in short, intentionally. Without necessarily changing anything, my consciousness of what is happening is enough to move my behaviour from habitual to intentional. I feel this is okay because by being intentional I am also letting go of the sometimes overwhelming drive to change as if nothing about who I am is worth keeping. Which is coming from the messages of my past and not the reality of my present. By being intentional I can keep habits, behaviours along with patterns of thought and action just the way they are. The difference is that I can now be happy that I am happy with the situation, hopefully, lose the compulsion to change, and ultimately be content with any situation, changed or not.