It is over halfway through February and I am still in the first week of January and I don’t just mean in terms of mental preparation. Anonymouse blogging isn’t always easy, I have given a massive hint in my reflections to who I am, however, anonymity is really about plausible denial rather than complete obscurity, and I believe that sometimes you have to share yourself to be honest and relevant to a situation. While there is that line to walk, what it does, is that it highlights how compartmentalised life can become in our minds when in reality is somewhat more of a jumbled mess.
I got myself a blog planner, and I got myself a Filofax and I was ready to be much more organised and intentional. On the one hand, my decision to be intentional at the end of last year has been a success, on the other, my planning has been somewhat lacklustre in some areas of my life. On the blogging front, I have been haphazard, on the business front I have had a train wreck with regard to planning, and in other areas, I have been on point as they say. A very mixed bag indeed. I am therefore looking for what has led to such a disjointed picture across the different hats that I wear.
I am wary and reluctant to say “I was ill”, but I was ill and that has had a massive impact on my output capabilities. I am not physically or mentally able to sustain levels of productivity and output that I was capable of before getting ill. At the same time I am transitioning from what I was doing and had trained to do while accumulating years of practical experience to something where I am learning from the very start. I know that things are always bigger than they look in terms of learning new skills and new business ventures; but holy moley it’s a steep hill, and it looked steep before I got on it. So I am facing a challenge which while super exciting is more than I thought while approaching it with a reduced capacity, and that is something I had not adequately considered at the start of the year.
However, within the context of the super exciting and difficult challenge the switch to pen and paper has completely remodelled the landscape of my planning. Electronically my todo list would be part what I had to do immediately, the get milk and post the parcel of life, the put up shelves combined with the seal the garage roof ready for next winter type projects. A hodge-podge of here and now and projects. What going to pen and paper has done is clear my diary and to-do list of everything but firm commitments. If it hasn’t got a date or a deadline, doesn’t have set parameters and a what done looks like, then chances are I am going to not write it down or give it space in my head. Now, I don’t mean a task has to have all of those but at least one. Within that tasks are moved out into their projects rather than standing alone, so unless it’s time for that project I don’t see them. The upshot is things look really empty where once they looked crammed and I am even more relaxed about what needs to be done.
Working with pen and paper has made me consider more, filter more, assess and prioritise more effectively, slowed me down and forced be to be intentional about my planning. I also spend a lot less time unproductively working on the planning task because I haven’t got software to be playing with. There are some downsides in the practicality of adjusting on the fly because I have to rewrite things, but again that repetition does embed things in my memory better.
Assuming I got as far as planning. Creatively, I have failed to plan, maybe at all and definitely in a way that I can call effective. The point of my reflection, both this one I share and my private ones, is change. Either identify a change and recognise the positive development or identify something to change and how to change it. In this case what do I need to be changing. Very practically my time management needs to take account of my reduced work capacity. I do not like doing this, not one bit, however, revising my estimate of what I can achieve per set unit of time absolutely has to happen. Secondly, part of revising my capacity expectations is recognising the time to recover from what is going on. I have had physiotherapy, it has left me sore and exhausted for 3 days, the pain has disrupted my sleep too. My output ability has been lowered, and yesterday on Sunday the afternoon became a nap time, where I dozed on and off through a whole afternoon and early evening. I had to account for, accept that I was exhausted and that my physical exhaustion was also combined with a mental exhaustion from the situation and the activity from Thursday morning onwards.
Rather than being disappointed at the things I haven’t done, I am taking pride in what I have done, what I have managed to put in place ready and how I have managed to do little parts of projects and things. I had planned to do more, I had to write more, do some painting practice and I had planned to have more blog posts, sit down and let some ideas flow for future poems or short stories. However, that didn’t happen, I did spend great family time, connect with friends and keep putting the work for my biggest life goals for 17; my priorities. The hustle and flow of life, paying bills, eating shopping, they are not hindering me, they are essential to everything I do, creatively, professionally and socially. Which why when I went out on Friday Night I wore different shoes, and it is why I am really encouraged with how intentional life is working for me.
I am accepting for myself what I tell others, perfection is not possible. I also promised myself that my last reflection was too long and that I need to shorten them down for my own good as well as for the good of anyone reading.
It is mid-February and not everything is done yet, not everything is started yet, but progress is being made and I am not using those goals and intentions as sticks to beat myself up with. They are starting points and intentions that get to be reviewed and reformulated, they are not commandments set in stone. Perhaps, this is where I have made the most progress, and I cannot take full credit for that. I live in an environment where those around me no longer look to beat me down and remind me that I am a failure, a looser and a burden. Being out of a toxic relationship is not just about the removal of the abuse, it is about how you can get space and time to be kind and loving towards yourself because you can discover what kind and loving really means. In an abusive relationship, being unkind, putting you down and delivering consequence is what constitutes love, and you do end up being like that with yourself. You end up complicit in your own abuse and actually self-harm because that is what you think life is and how it works.
So while my best-laid plans may not be coming together quite how I would have intended. The overall goal is to be intentional, to have goals and chase them, and to flexible and adaptable to what happens on the journey. And to even revise goals if that is what needs to happen, rather than falling for the false meme stubbornness that never quits even when it’s obvious continuing has become a very bad idea (thanks to Seth Godin – the Dip for that advice). In pursuit of that bigger life goal of intentional living, I am pleased with my progress, in terms of my bigger goals, I am similarly pleased with my progress. For once I am deliberately, or intentionally, should I say, stopping to appreciate the successes and progress made and not look at what hasn’t happened yet and look for sticks to beat myself down, but to build myself up. Plans change, life happens, even with a good map the road is still unknown till you travel it and has bumps and turns you can’t see.
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.
There is a bed for you in my house
Always was and always will be
You are my son, my boy
I don’t know you like I once did
Your mum made sure of that
I’m sorry I don’t know so much
What picture to put on your wall,
Or duvet cover on your bed
Not your favourite colour
Or what you put between bread
16 is 3 years away, then you choose
I want to know so much
Who you’ve become and want to be
I want to listen, hopes and dreams,
Future romances, hear it all
But I need you to listen
Hear with wisdom way beyond your years
To assess the man sat holding back tears
Look me in the eye and see, find truth, believe
Meet you and let you assess
My past, my present and my legacy
I breathe in the hope you will not walk away
Take my hopes, my dreams, ….
I hear your voice and see your face,
So close but all those miles away
And I die a little as sunset fades,
Hope struggles to last the day
Stays alive my force of will
I wonder will that day come to be
Time will tell me, it may break me too
You grow from boy to man unseen
I had plans for you, for this, everything
I pray my body decides to last
To become your friend,
And havoc once more we bring!
With Love Your Father, … Me.
I remembered this last week thanks to a Facebook posting by hypnotist Elliot Wald, and reading my initial thoughts I felt that the subject needed another thought.
Initially, I felt that the prison of my mind had developed almost exclusively as a defensive response to real situations. Over time I have seen that there is actually a more complex interplay between the real and experienced, the feared and anticipated. I cannot separate the two, and perhaps they have a shared root and are why coercive abusive control is so effective. You experience consequences of behaviour, consequences are threatened and become implied, so you start to fear and anticipate based on the real experience using the evidence of a limited number of sufficiently traumatic incidents. It’s not worth the beating you got last time you did it, or even its not worth the beating you got last time you got caught thinking about it. This is clearly a less than unique situation statistically, but is a distinctly different class of anxiety and imprisonment.
When that relationship ended, it was the equivalent of the doors being unlocked and the place being shut – with all the power and supplies left on. Necessity forced me to leave the confines of what had been my life; for some things this was a welcome and much-wanted release, for others, it was a terrifying venture into darkness. The most common feature of this transitional period was fear. Fear because of the behaviours that had previously led to consequences and because I was conditioned to expect them, but also fear because when she found out what I was doing she retaliated and brought consequences. She did not want to relinquish control. I have said before her intention was to drive me to self-destruction and I firmly believe she thought she could drive me to suicide.
The reality was it took me a fair while to realise that I was in a prison, the early days were about coming to terms not just with what happened, while dealing, in a very practical sense, with what was happening, and then processing the implications this had about my past. Recognising that the marriage was abusive was difficult not only because it was 13 years of my life, it was because my marriage was no different to my childhood. I simply refused to believe.
However, once I began to accept that my behaviours had been conditioned over a lifetime of “consequence” avoidance when in reality the consequences were not entirely or sometimes even remotely predictable, I then was able to understand how I had imprisoned myself as a protective measure. Which is how abuse works, you do what you are told to avoid the consequences and to stay safe, however, over time what is safe changes and becomes more and more restrictive and the conditions that qualify you for safety increasingly unattainable. It becomes predictably random, you know when a consequence is overdue. Sometimes you even provoke a little to get a smaller consequence because you feel a big one is looming and you are in no fit state to take the onslaught.
Reading that back, it seems so simple, but in reality, it is crushingly complex. When you realise that you have a life full of conditioned behaviours and that you have predicated your choices on survival that realisation leads to a void of certainty and a sea of questions. Mostly these are things like, what do I really like to watch, what do I really like to do, where do really like to go, but they also include questions like who am I, what am I about. For me, when my marriage ended I lost what were core elements of my identity, husband and father. With those went the associated responsibilities of those roles. They were stripped away while my past was rewritten. So not only did I lose those identities, my legacy was erased as well. All I had done to that point in my marriage (and life) was recast and retold to fit the story that was being peddled and the identity I was being given.
Saying this was difficult is to seriously under report the extent of the effect this had. I was one text message from suicide. I felt I had nothing, my parents had passed away, I had no relations and friends were keeping a safe distance while my abusive ex lashed out at anyone associated with me with the fullest destructive force she could muster. Some were arrested, others nearly lost jobs, and real life damage was done in way that goes beyond he said, she said. This involved Police, Social Services, and agencies that were legally obliged to act on what she was saying on the possibility that it was true. Knowing all along that mud sticks and that damage could be permanent. I was physically lonely, and it was the internet that allowed some people to be supportive and miss a lot of backlash.
The upshot of the turmoil and change was that my prison had protective utility long after I could have left. I felt tremendously vulnerable, to the point I locked myself in. I felt unsafe, even in my own house, being arrested at 5am, having my door window smashed by her, and the threats made me feel vulnerable and seeing children playing reduced me to tears. My sanctuary was no fortress and I knew it. Still, I hid, literally and figuratively.
The prison of my mind was still intact. Life happened I moved away, but still she was there trying to destroy that chance. Of course, those efforts ultimately served to achieve nothing, and to those that engaged with them they simply reinforced my version of events. Reassuring as this came to be, I was stuck with a whole bunch of behaviours that were conditioned responses. The task is still working out what those conditioned responses are and then breaking them and engaging in what I call intentional behaviour.
2017 is my year of recognising, possibly more explicitly than ever before, that I need to make conscious choices about habits, and things that people probably don’t spend any time thinking about. Things like wearing different shoes, or what shoes I pick for which occasion. It is listening to music and reading books not worrying about any judgement of my choice, it is about watching a show I used to watch with her because I do like it and separating out the context from the thing as much as possible. I spend time wondering about places, like Sherwood Forest, on the one hand, I love it, but it is the place my children with her all went for their first holidays, and I went there with her. I have no desire to relive the past, and I want to build new memories. For now, I have decided that places are decided upon case by case. In this case, Sherwood is, very sadly, off limits, rather like the organiser she gave me for starting my first job. Whatever merits there are and utility there may be, it is not something to carry around every day. My future lies somewhere else, time to find a different forest and build from that place of peace, not an old one. The Baltic represents the opposite, we did not share that place, even though I went there with her, it was not our place at all. The Baltic was me and my son’s place, we shared the hours there and so it was okay to bring it into my new life because those memories are unsullied. My smiles real, no context other than loving time with my boy smiling enjoying himself. And, of course, the hindsight that I was giving him a unique life experience that will weave itself through his life. Just as he has woven himself into mine.
I have written about pictures and light switches, and how these are indicators of a peace, and of how my conditioned behaviours are changing over time. It is these changes that are driving my deliberate move to be intentional. I have managed, not out of any conscious move, to realise where I was and contrast that with where I am. This consciousness has brought with it the awareness that I am still carrying around habits and responses that were learned as protection from consequences.
This is most evident when I am placed under stress or duress, where of course, highly conditioned quick automatic protective responses are exactly what I needed. The ability to quickly move into a position or minimum harm and maximum defence with the least exposure to permanent damage is an essential that I no longer need. Rather like taking your hand off something burning hot, it is very difficult to unlearn what has been a very useful behaviour up until now.
So what of the Prison of My Mind? It is certainly not what it used to be, and becomes more derelict by the day. The truth is I still visit, and I stay a while, sometimes I stay too long, other times I wander into forgotten corners, however, for the most part, my visits are brief. Habits are changing, importantly I am settling into who I am, recognising what is the cowering protective me, and what is the living life me, and being the living life person deliberately until that becomes my habit.
In other ways I have to recognise, anxiety and the default to protective ritual, my fear of the unknown and my management strategies, are things that while intertwined with the protective learned behaviours have also established themselves independently. I have to assess whether or not I need to change these behaviours. Whether change is productive, useful or health and having decided what needs changing I have to work out what the replacement is going to be if a replacement is needed.
One day the prison will be a memory, I have a feeling it will always be a memory tinged with fondness and framed with a wry smile.