Staying Awake For Shavuot

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What Happened At Mount Sinai?

It’s a quarter to seven on a Sunday morning. I’m just back from shul. I’ve been there since six in the afternoon yesterday. You see, we are celebrating Shavuot, when we, in addition to eating hideous amounts of dairy food [particularly cheesecake, which I really don’t like], we do a full night of studying followed by a special morning service at sunrise, known as tikkun leyl Shavuot.

You see, Shavuot marks the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the Israelite nation at Mount Sinai, and there is an often told Midrash which tells of how the Israelites, in preparation for the receiving of the Torah, went to bed early the night before in order to be well rested the following morning, as the Torah was to be given to them at the first light of day. Sounds sound enough, doesn’t it? Proper good night’s sleep before a major event. Only the Israelites forgot to set the alarm on their iPhones and ended up oversleeping, and God had to wake them up. Not great, and as you can imagine God was decidedly unimpressed with this. So rather than just gently waking the sleeping Israelites, He – or She – did so by lifting up Mount Sinai and holding it over their heads, telling them that they had better get up pretty darn sharp or He [or She] would drop the mountain on them. A pretty rude awakening – but hey – it’s God, and I suppose God can do as S/He wishes.

So, to make up for this embarrassment, and to ensure there is no risk of oversleeping yet again, Jews all over the world stay up all night studying the night before the anniversary of this momentous occasion, and as soon as the sun rises a special service is held where the commandments are read out for all to hear.

[Also, being Jews, we get through an enormous amount of food on this night of study, but that’s a whole nother story..]

Now, I’m not someone who has a literal understanding of the Bible and of what happened at Mount Sinai, but I do like this idea of staying up for a whole night with my friends, learning lots of things, and having really fun and interesting discussions.

At my shul – which belongs to the Movement for Reform Judaism – we hold a joint tikkun leyl with one of the liberal synagogues every year, which makes this night even more interesting, as you don’t just get to argue and discuss with people from your own synagogue, but you actually get to do it with people from a different strand of Judaism. Although reform Judaism and liberal Judaism are both progressive strands of Judaism, there are also some very distinct differences, and that really adds a bit of extra spice to the mix.

This year the sessions I chose to take part in were a dialogue about conversion to Judaism – which, for obvious reasons, caught my interest, a discussion about whether God is dead and a more hands on creative session, where we made clay figures to try to express our own personal relationship with God. Trust me, at three-thirty in the morning, having not slept, there is nothing more fun than being allowed to regress to childhood and play with clay!

As the sun rose this morning, we all [well, us brave souls who had made it all through the night] climbed the stairs all the way up to the roof of our synagogue and held the morning service up there in the open, overlooking a beautiful but still sleeping London. It’s a very special service indeed.

There is a lot more I could write about this night of study, but to be honest, I’m so tired I could quite easily fall asleep if I stare at the computer for too long, and I wouldn’t want that to happen, as I’m going for another service at 11. I have contemplated going to sleep rather than attending this service, since, technically, I’ve already been to a Shavuot morning service, but this later one will have all of our little kids there, dancing and singing on the rose petal strewn floor of the Sanctuary, and it’s just the cutest thing ever. Noisy – but cute!

So for now I am going to stop writing and just focus on staying awake until it’s time to get back to shul.

All the very best, and if you are so inclined:

Chag Shavuot Sameach!

xx

PS. My memory of the above Midrash may very well be faulty, as my brain isn’t entirely alert and with it at the time of writing, so please don’t ask me to cite my source more specifically.

AN HOUR LATER:
On second thought, I think I’ll watch the service online, I don’t think I could possibly get my body in an upright position for long enough to get to shul. Just sooooooo tired.

EVEN LATER:
Did by some miracle make it to 11 o’clock service and back. Now: Bed, bed, BED!

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Sisters, Study-Avoidance & Melting Crayons

So I’m back from my trip to Sweden, and at the moment it feels like it has done me a world of good. It was simply great to spend a whole week with my sisters and their little families and just enjoy being alive. The weather was great and although we all took turns taking ill, all in all it was just really nice to hang out. We basically ate, watched my youngest nephew run around and ate some more. That is, that’s what my sisters and I did. The boys were busy digging in the garden, planting a hedge around it. And in between that we managed to watch a film, teach my sister’s dog to go on the slippery-dip and get my youngest sister and her man to understand how to solve the first two layers of the Rubik’s cube intuitively.

Oh, and my sisters and brothers-in-law gave me the super-awesomest prezzie ever; the new iPad [which I am, incidentally, using as we speak, in conjunction with my bluetooth keyboard].

I feel that this trip has really helped to reset my brain. I feel so much happier than I have in the past several months, and although I am still having flashbacks it’s nowhere near as bad as it was, pre-trip.

Since I’ve been back I’ve started a new course, and – true to form – I’ve excelled at the art of study-avoidance. I am feeling a bit unhappy about having chosen the course I have; a very basic psychology course about stuff I pretty much already know, but just want to get on paper that I do in fact know it. It’s very hard to motivate oneself to read material about stuff you already know, when the main focus ends up being trying to remember sources for future reference, rather than actually learning. That said, of course anything psychology related will always push your little grey cells into action, and you’ll realise you have thoughts and ideas you might not have had when you originally read about a specific study. In short; once I actually open the book, I do get quite into what I’m reading.. it’s just getting to that point of opening the book, which holds me back. There are always a million other things I feel I need to read; blogs, news, tweets, facebook updates.. You know how it goes.. And that’s before I’ve even got to the various iPlayer programs I simply must catch up on, not to mention the millions of YouTube clips I feel will enrich my life to no end..

I do slightly regret that I didn’t decide to do the course on the autistic spectrum which was also on offer. I would really have liked to have been reading that right now. But, I’m trying to use it as a carrot of sorts. If I manage to get through this course [ie find a way to utilise good days of fewer flashbacks, days when I have a reasonable level of concentration] then I’ll be allowed to do the autistic spectrum one after.

So, I suppose that’s all good. Especially the part where I am actually, actively, looking ahead, into the future. The last few months have been so rough, it’s been very hard to think like that, to imagine a time when things feel different, but right now things seems to have swung around for me a bit.

Also, since I’ve been back, I’ve been feeling a lot more creative. I have been working on my book, which is ever so slowly taking shape, and I find myself curious to find out where the characters will take me. And that’s always a good sign.

On top of that very specific writing, my sister and I also hatched an idea about setting up a collaborative writing site online, the idea being that you could go to the site, read something someone has posted and then take over the writing, or join in. I for one have several writing projects which I have started, but which are now mainly collecting dust on my harddrive. What you could do on this new site is to upload what you have written and invite others to complete it, or to co-write it with you. Or you might want to be someone else for a day [come on, we all have those days].. Well, you could go onto the site as a character and join in some playwriting, adding lines on behalf of your character. This is all still in its infancy, but, I only posted the idea late last night on another blog, and I’ve already had people contact me to say they would be interested in joining or starting writing projects.

Observant readers will have noticed that while I have written about how great it was to be with my sisters and how that’s really helped resetting the serotonin levels I’ve omitted to talk about seeing my father the first time in over two years. This is, of course, not by chance. In short, it was actually really lovely seeing him and his boyfriend, and spending time with them. But, knowing me, I tend to only begin processing these kind of encounters a while after getting back to the UK. So, keep an eye out and there will more than likely be an update on this particular part of my trip to Sweden.

In terms of not having therapy, well, there is no getting around it – that is still really hard. I miss my space to voice my thoughts. Of course I talk to my friends and I do my writing and all of that, but there just isn’t a substitute for therapy. Therapists definitely should not be allowed to have children! [..says the Therapist’s Daughter..] July – or whenever A. in reality decides to go back to work – feels very very far away indeed..

Anyway, me and my new iPad and bluetooth keyboard need to get to the library now, so I’ll leave you here for now.

Do be kind to yourself, and enjoy the utterly ESSENTIAL YouTube video below..

All the very best and more,

xx

I really need to try this, but maybe on a black or gray canvas, 
and just letting the crayons melt organically in the sun..

Flashbacks, Rubik’s Cube & Replacement Therapy

Had a couple of pretty good days this week. A blessed change, let me tell you. Even managed to go into town one day to do a bit of shopping. Can’t even remember the last time I did that. Didn’t stay out for a particularly long time, only a bit over an hour, but it was still good.

I’m flying out to Sweden in a couple of days time. I’m a bit nervous about it, the actual flight. I really hope it will be a good day of fewer flashbacks. That said, I have come up with something that does help me cope with them when I’m out and about; repeatedly solving the Rubik’s cube.

I kind of discovered it by accident. The Rubik’s cube had until January of this year been one of those puzzles I had never been able to solve, but always felt I should be able to solve. Then in late December I came across a video of Justin Bieber solving it. In about a minute and a half. Justin. Bieber. That really was the drop for me. I mean, seriously, if Justin Bieber could do it, then surely so could I? Right? So I set about figuring out how to do it. In fact, I even set myself a goal of being able to master the cube in less than 2 minutes, by the time this break in therapy is over.

Took me four hours of straight and stubborn trial and error before I finally cracked it the very first time. After that it took me more than ten minutes to do it, start to finish, so I carried on working at it. Slowly I got faster. I learned a few shortcuts and solve-time went down even further. And still I kept at it. Until I felt confident I could out-cube young master Bieber any time of the day. I’m now down to a semi-respectable personal best of 51 seconds. [I say semi-respectable, but of course I’m nowhere near the current world record, set by Feliks Zemdegs, at 5.66 seconds] (Ed.: New world record set by Mats Valk at 5.55 seconds in March 2013).

In the process of doing this, I realised that I had been having significantly fewer flashbacks, and that those that I did have, were much shorter, because my brain was already kind of half-way out of them, focusing on solving the Rubik’s cube.

So, in the last several months, I’ve brought my cube with me pretty much everywhere, and it really does make things easier. Up until I discovered this I would usually just stay in, because the things I needed to do to come out of a flashback were things that were either self-soothing grounding techniques, which – while very effective and calming – look very odd from the outside, if you don’t know what I’m doing – or they were things that could be done fairly discretely, but were down-right unpleasant for me [like using smelling salts or sharply snapping a rubber band against my wrist].

Yes, I look like the biggest geek ever sitting on a bus or train solving my cube over and over, but at least it is something that both works and isn’t nasty. Also, you’d be surprised at how many people strike up conversations with you, when they see what you’re doing. It’s such an instantly recognisable and iconic toy, most people have something to say about it.

Anyway, I’m hoping that this little trick of mine will make the flight to Sweden a bit less difficult. My sister and nephew will be meeting me at the airport, so once I land, I should be OK.

I’m staying with my sister for a week, and my other sister is also coming over, so I’m really excited about this trip. I’ve not seen them since my birthday last year. Also, I am hoping that spending time with my sisters will help me out of this pretty serious dip I’ve found myself in.

I’m also going to stay at my father’s for a couple of days. Feel a bit nervous about that. I’ve not seen him in about two years. We do keep in touch through occasional phone calls, but I’ve not visited him in the last couple of years. I’m hoping seeing him will be OK. I think going to visit him is a lot less emotionally charged than going to see my mother, who still lives in the house I grew up in, where there are reminders of the abuse I experienced all over the place. My father’s place is very different, in that respect. At the same time, of course it’s not just the place that is the problem with going home; it’s also the inter-personal conflicts this family trauma has caused that I have to deal with. And that, of course, is the same regardless of where I see my family. So, we’ll have to wait and see how it goes.

Really missing therapy at the moment. Actually not just therapy, but A. It’s hard trying to find a good balance; to not switch all emotions off in order to protect myself, and at the same time not allowing myself to go too deep into my feelings and risk getting stuck and acting out. So, a therapy session or fifty would be pretty darn dandy right about now.

I’ve had about a million people asking if there isn’t anyone else I could see while A. is on maternity leave. The truth is, that if I really wanted to, of course I could find someone to see short term. In fact, I considered seeing our newly appointed social worker at shul, for a while. But, the thing is – I do have other people to talk to. I have my sisters, my friends, even the Samaritans. So, it’s not just talking I need. It’s something else, too. It’s that special space that therapy creates, and most importantly, it’s the therapeutic relationship I have formed with A. over the last three years. [Three years today, I just realised – Happy anniversary us!] It’s not something that can be easily emulated. And I think that, as hard-going as it is – not having therapy, not seeing A. – it would frustrate me to no end, trying to create something similar to what I get from therapy. Looking for something different feels much more productive.

Anyway, it’s getting late.

Thanks for staying up with me.

All the very best,

xx

For more posts tagged Rubik’s Cube, including one using the Rubik’s Cube to talk about identity, click here.

My Life Today

My Life Today

Reform Judaism, Conversion & Finding My Own Path

It is now less than two weeks ’til I go before the Beit Din, the Jewish rabbinical court, for the formal completion of my conversion to Judaism. Prior to that I had to sit down and write a statement to the court about what this means to me.

I thought I’d share it with you.

~ * ~

Nearer to two years ago a lovely lovely lady called P. was the designated meeter-and-greeter at the doors of my shul. It was also the very first time I visited a synagogue. I introduced myself to her and openly admitted that I was very nervous as I had never attended service before and was worried about doing the wrong things at the wrong times. Without hesitation, and with what I now recognise as characteristic generosity, P. asked would I like to sit with her and her husband so that I could just copy what they were doing?

I’ve been sitting with them ever since.

These days P. likes to embarrass me by introducing me to people as “their star pupil”, when, really, the truth is that they – alongside the rabbis and my fellow J-Preppies – have been star teachers; have been people I have learned and continue to learn so, so much from. I have been exceptionally fortunate to have been befriended by long-standing members of the congregation as well as newbie J-Prep students, allowing me to not only stand on the sidelines, but to feel genuinely part of the congregation and synagogue life. A true blessing.

This past year has been a big year of learning, of spiritual growth and understanding, yet at the same time I firmly maintain that my Jewish journey did not start with the J-Prep course, nor will it end with it. Certainly, this year has been different to any other year, and my life has been truly enriched by it, but rather than seeing the meeting with the Beit Din and the formal conversion as the end goal, I feel that it marks the end of the beginning of my Jewish journey.

I came to the J-Prep course having never lit Shabbat candles, never made Kiddush, never affixed a mezuzah and so forth; I had a very bookish understanding of what Judaism is. I now feel that I have much deeper insight into what it really means to be Jewish, and have discovered that the things I had connected with prior to J-Prep; my faith in the one true God, the Torah as a religious compass and so on – all the things that had brought me to the J-Prep course in the first place – have held true for me and haven’t changed. But, I now also know and appreciate that Judaism offers so much more on top of that. I have discovered that many of the core principles of Judaism hold the same moral values as those passed down to me by my parents; the pursuit of justice, championing democracy, being generous to those less fortunate and being open to those different to myself.

I have been struck by the strong sense of community, the constant strive to make informed choices and decisions – even the freedom to challenge the texts we’ve studied – and they have all added a whole new dimension to my life and to the way I think about faith and religion.

Being Jewish means, especially this time of the year, to stop and reflect introspectively, to take a long, hard and truly honest look at what I can do to better this world through bettering myself. It means doing that very difficult thing; asking forgiveness. From God, from my friends, sometimes even my enemies, and, maybe the hardest thing of all; forgiving myself for those times when I have let myself down. To, rather than simply berating myself for my shortcomings, accepting that I am not perfect and never will be, but also recognising that I have been given the blessing of making a different choice in the future.

Even my choice of Hebrew name – Emunah אמונה – serves as a reminder to keep faith in my mind and to remain faithful, not just through words, but through actions and deeds; through actively doing what I can to help heal this very precious and beautiful world we have been given, whether it be through choosing Fairtrade products over products of unknown origin, making sure I recycle things rather than just binning them, or through taking on an active role in the setting up of a refugee drop-in centre rather than leaving it for Mr & Mrs Someone Else to do. It is a reminder that it’s not enough to just tell people that I am now Jewish. I need also recognise for myself and demonstrate to others that I am Jewish not only when I attend service or say my prayers, light my Shabbat candles or study Torah (all of which are, of course, integral parts of living a Jewish life), but that I am living Judaism in all aspects of my life.

To formally convert to Judaism is the difference between looking at someone else’s photograph album and being alive and present in the very moment that snapshot is taken.

Being Jewish is not just an adjective, it is also a verb.”

~ * ~

Click here to read about my meeting with the Beit Din.

Below is this year’s film from The Movement for Reform Judaism.


Yom Kippur, Leather Boots & True Repentance

 

 

My beloved and much appreciated Doc Martens

During the High Holy Days, and Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – in particular, there is a commonly observed Jewish custom of not wearing leather shoes. One reason given for this custom is that traditionally leather shoes have been seen as being more comfortable than other shoes, and on a day of such solemnity one should minimise one’s comforts.

Another basis for this custom is that it would be inappropriate to wear leather shoes on this day of repentance, as an animal had to die in order for those shoes to be made. To some degree I agree with this and thus, last year, I made the decision to not wear leather shoes throughout the entire High Holy Day period.

This year I’ve not been quite as observant in this regard,  mainly because my energies have been focused on things other than what clothes to wear and what shoes go with which outfit. But also, last year, while I did make a conscious decision to not wear leather, I couldn’t get this niggling thought out of my head: Why is it seen as inappropriate to wear shoes [or coats, belts, handbags and so on] made from leather only* at this time of the year? Surely, if you truly believe that one should not wear something for which an animals life had to be sacrificed, then this must be true all year round? No?

Now, while I’m not prepared to give up my Vans, Docs or other items made of leather, I have been pondering this idea, on and off, and wondering if there is not perhaps another way for me to honour the fact that an animal had to die for me to have those comforts? Or maybe an additional way?

So, this morning I got all of my leather shoes and boots out, and spent a good few hours cleaning, polishing and buffing them. I didn’t do it in order to make them look good – although that is a nice side effect, indeed – but to make sure I kept them in the best possible condition for them to last as long as possible.

I know this probably sounds like the seventh degree of madness, but while sitting there, doing this work, I really did feel an odd sense of connection with something other than just a pair of old Docs. I was sitting there, remembering all the times I’ve worn those boots, how much I love them, how they’ve been with me for such a long time – almost as if we’ve been on this big spiritual journey together, and that through caring for those shoes I was in a sense paying my respect to the animal from which they came.  And it felt meaningful.

Will I be wearing my Docs for Yom Kippur? Probably not.
But I do feel that the true repentance, or, rather, the genuine acknowledgement that these boots didn’t just spring out of nowhere, took place during those moments of connection – and came from a very real place.

xx

PS. If you enjoyed this alternative take on atonement, you may be interested in reading this piece, written by Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers  about how people suffering from an eating disorder could make teshuvah by not fasting on Yom Kippur.

The End Of The Beginning

It’s been a little while since my last post. Guess I just needed a bit of down time to myself to feel things through without writing things down. I’ve also been quite light on the journal writing, so it’s nothing personal. It’s not you, it’s me.

Had my final regular J-Prep session on Wednesday, including a lovely Havdalah [separation] ceremony to mark the transition between being on the J-Prep course and continuing our Jewish journeys on our own. There were hugs, tears, well-wishes, all the things you’d expect at a graduation of sorts.

I have mixed feelings about the course coming to an end. There were no tears on my behalf, but – as I said to my classmates – I think I was emotionally shielding myself from the idea of J-Prep being over by focusing on the fact that next Wednesday we’re all going on a walking tour through Jewish history in the East End, so goodbye wasn’t really goodbye.

This course has been different to any course I’ve ever taken. I’ve learnt a lot, but even more than that, I’ve grown as a person. I’ve had a place to explore my own beliefs and an opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings with other people being on a similar journey, and that’s been one of the best things with this course.

I came to the course having – naturally – read quite a lot about the religion, but it was a bookish kind of knowledge. What the course has given me is a more real way of relating to things. Also, throughout the course, I’ve more and more discovered how Judaism is about so much more than just religious beliefs and studying the Bible; how the emphasis on tzedakah [charity,  fairness, justice] and tikkun olam [healing or repairing the world] really fits very well with my own way of thinking, and the values I was brought up with.

Spent a good part of Friday’s therapy session talking about J-Prep and what it’s been like to be on the course, and one of the things I realised, sitting there talking about it, is that while I have really enjoyed being part of my particular J-Prep group, I’ve also got to know a lot of the people in the other J-Prep groups, as well as being fortunate enough to have been welcomed into the community by some long-standing members of the congregation, who have been very generous in answering my questions and sharing their knowledge and experience with me.

That I’ve been able to form relationships with people in all the different parts of synagogue life, and so, even tough the course is now ending, I will still be as active in my new community as ever.

Though I feel sad that J-Prep has come to an end, I also feel ready to take the next step; going to the Beit Din to formally complete my conversion and to move on to truly being a part of the synagogue community.

All the way through the J-Prep course I have said that my Jewish journey didn’t begin with joining the course, nor will it end with the completion of it, and that feeling has not change. This really is just the end of the beginning.

All the very best and more,

xx

PS. To read a lovely little blog post by one of my rabbis about her experience of J-Prep please click here.

To learn more about Reform Judaism in general, click here.
Or here to learn about how Reform Judaism views conversion.

What to say, where to start..?

Well, I’m still alive. That’s a start, I suppose. Has been a bit of a rocky road since I got back from Sweden, the highlight being doing laps around the place where I bought anti-freeze last time I tried to off myself, trying to work up the guts to actually go in and get it. Only by sheer coincidence I bumped into D, my ex-counsellor, and of course after that I simply couldn’t go and buy that life-terminating liquid. Not knowing how hard she worked with me to help me overcome my self-punitive habit.

Anyway, things are somewhat better now. I think. I’m currently seeing my GP on a weekly basis, as I’m still not trusted with more than a week’s worth of tablets at a time..

Earlier this week I had set up an appointment with my boss at the place where I’m volunteering, because I felt I wanted to explain my absence to her. I had, already at the interviewing stage told my then boss about my semi-regular cycle of major depression, but he has since left, and I felt I wanted to have a chat with my current boss about it. I was more than a little nervous going there, since my work environment is one where mental health is very important, and I wasn’t at all sure if my current boss would look on my history of depression as something that should stop me from continuing my work there; people have such differing ideas about mental illness, including depression. Some people view it as “the the common cold of mental illness”; something which most people have to go through at some stage in their lives, while others see it as something strange and therefore frightening. Luckily for me my boss seemed to fall into the former category. Basically, her view was that my going into a depression won’t directly affect my work, since if I’m too depressed I simply won’t be coming in. Also, we worked out this deal that when I start over I’ll only be doing the one shift a week, rather than the three days I had been doing prior to becoming unwell. My boss was really good, and told me that what she’d do is to not actually put me on the rota for the first month, so that if I feel I’m not quite ok to come in one day I won’t need to feel bad about it, since they’ll already be fully staffed.

Was meant to start a new course in May. But, for obvious reasons, I’ve not been able to study at all. Feels like such a shame, since I’d really been looking forward to this course ever since I finished the last one in January. I’m not entirely sure how to sort this out, but I’ve emailed my tutor to ask if it’s possible to either push the deadlines for the essays I need to write, or to defer completely and take the course the next time it’s offered (in the autumn). A part of me really wants to be able to just push the deadlines, but at the same time I have to be realistic, and I can’t know that a week or two will be sufficient time for me to get back mentally to where I need to be to do this course.

I finally worked up the courage to ask A. to increase my number of sessions. Up until now I’ve been seeing her twice weekly, but from next week I’ll be seeing her three times a week. I think this will be a positive change, especially since the additional session will be on a Wednesday afternoon, meaning that – hopefully – there will be a natural continuation, a flow, from my Tuesday evening session. I’m really curious to see how this change will affect my therapy.

What else? Well, I’ve decided to go home for a bit this summer. I’m flying to Stockholm, and then spending a night at a friend’s place before going up north by car with my youngest sister and her boyfriend. Roadtrip 2010, here I come!

Finally – to all my friends and to my wonderful wonderful sisters:
I am so glad that you’ve all rallied around me and given me such amazing support over the past several weeks. I feel blessed.

In the words of Ms Morissette:

“.. you see everything
you see every part
you see all my light
and you love my dark
you dig everything
of which I am ashamed
there’s not anything
to which you can’t relate..
..and you’re still here..”

Much love,

xx

Lyrics from Everything © Alanis Morissette

Paths and Journeys – An Entry About Life

I’ve got that Friday feeling. Well, really, it’s more than that, but for now, let’s just call it that. I’m feeling quite at peace for the moment, despite having had some very sad news recently. It’s that knowledge that sometimes bad things happen, and we can’t possibly understand why, we can’t find a reason no matter how hard we try. But, just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Managed to finish two mini-essays for my course. They’re not fantastic by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, I’d be surprised if I even make a pass grade. But right now, where I’m at, somehow that doesn’t seem to be the point. The point is that despite having had some very difficult things to deal with in the last few months, I did manage to write them. I could have just said that Nope, this is too much for me to cope with on top of everything else, I’m not even going to try. But I didn’t. I gave it a go. It may not actually be quite enough from an academic point of view, but, from a live-and-learn point of view this is really important.

I think these Big Things I’ve been talking about in previous posts have helped put things into perspective. But also, I have made slow and steady progress, even these Big Things aside. Just through staying alive and learning as I go.

I see life as something of a journey with many different paths. Life is not a race to get to the finishing line; sometimes you choose a path which is more winding than another, but even so, it’s still heading in the same general direction. Also a path is about the knowledge and wisdom you pick up along the way, and sometimes the longer, more winding paths will teach us more than the ones that run neatly ahead.

Just a thought.

All the very best and more,

xx

CBT, Irony & An Icelandic Wunder Woman – An Entry About Human Behaviour

As part of a course I am currently doing I have lately been brushing up on my understanding of various approaches to counselling and psychotherapy, and the other day I found myself reading a chapter on CBT.

Now, CBT not being one of the approaches that sits best with me for a number of reasons (at least not as a stand-alone approach), I soon allowed my mind to wander off elsewhere. Like a good pseudo-student I was still reading, I just sort of didn’t really put my heart and soul into it. I jotted down the odd comment here and there, but really, I was basically skimming, rather than studying. While I was doing this I began tapping the back of my pen against the desk and soon enough I had got into a rhythm of sorts.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, Icelandic wunder woman Björk decided to join in my little game of playful study-distraction. Naturally not in a literal sense, as this was all happening in the comfort of my own home, and Björk rarely happens to drop in on me, but a melody began playing in my head. (You know what it’s like; suddenly you get a tune in your head, and it just keeps playing on repeat.) At first I couldn’t quite make out which one of her songs it was, so I started humming along (as quietly as I could, as I severely lack in musical talent and wouldn’t want to frighten my unsuspecting house mates), half-singing, half-saying the words, as I happily tapped away.

I wasn’t paying any real attention to what I was doing, it was just one of those semi-automatic things that you find yourself doing and it wasn’t until several minutes later that I realised what it was I was actually singing..

“.. oh, and there is no map.. and a compass wouldn’t help at all.. there’s definitely, definitely, no logic.. to human behaviour..”

Now, if that’s not irony, I don’t know what is. Reading about cognitive behavioural theory, while internally stating to myself over and over that there’s definitely no logic to human behaviour.

xx

Lyrics from Human Behaviour © Björk

Library, Community and Therapy – An Entry About Feeling Safe

I am at the library. I’m enjoying it. It’s my safe place, my home away from home – the place I go to when things get too much. I like the semi-calm, the not-quite-quietness of this place. It’s a good place to be; I can think clearly here. I can feel freely.

I’ve only just finished a mini-essay on the topic of happiness, which seems ironic, considering that I am in fact not especially happy at the moment. Oh, there is no need to panic, I’m by no means in a let’s drink a litre of anti-freeze kind of mood. But I am feeling distinctly low.

As you probably know by now I live in a therapeutic community. Only at the moment it seems it is neither particularly therapeutic, nor much of a community. The latter is, naturally, in part down to me. I’m a member of this little household, and as such it is within my power to make this place more of a real community. Only my heart’s not really in it. I’m not all that interested in communal living. I like my independence, I don’t want to go on group shopping trips, nor do I feel a need to have all my meals with my house mates. This is – I feel obliged to point out – in no way a reflection on my house mates, but merely a statement about myself and where I’m at.

The second part [or the first, depending on how you look at it] – the bit about being therapeutic – well – that’s a little more complex. Or at least it feels like it’s somewhat more out of my hands at the moment. Yes, I do have good conversations with, hm, one of my house mates every now and then, and for that I am thankful. But, what I mean when I say that there is very little in the house that is therapeutic, I mean that the thrice-weekly house meetings have become something of a silent battleground. And, it’s not about my house mates, but, rather, about the two house therapists. Perhaps not solely, but certainly to some quite significant degree. At the moment there is an atmosphere in the house meetings which makes it almost impossible to have an open and honest multi-way conversation.

There have been a few incidents lately where the response to expressed emotions have been less than helpful, and in some instances (in my view) directly damaging. The comments from one or both house therapists have sometimes been so exceptionally defensive or dismissive that it appears to have killed off any desire to risk sharing anything even remotely personal in the meetings. In short, it doesn’t feel like a safe place to share things that really matter, because there is no knowing whether or not what you say will be heard with any degree of respect, or if it will merely be shot down.

There are several things going on in my life that I really ought to share in the house meetings – and I’m guessing this may be true for my house mates, too – but I choose not to, because I feel too afraid of what the response may be.

Naturally, therapist or not, a person is a person, and no one can be expected to respond in the right way all the time, but – on the other hand – I suppose my view is that there are some things that any person, therapist or not, ought to be able to offer another person. Respect is one of them. A willingness to listen, to really hear the other person, is another.

So, these two things; that I might not really be the right type of person to live in a community, and feeling that the meetings have become pointless and infertile battleground, makes me wonder if, perhaps, it is time for me to move on. Again, something I should probably be discussing in the meetings, but feel unable to.

Thankfully individual therapy is going really well. Damn hard work at times, but there has been some progress. Like I’ve said many times: I don’t think it’s meant to be easy, I think it’s meant to be worth it. And I believe that I have now got to a point in my relationship with A. where I feel that I can begin to trust her. To let her in a little more than before, perhaps – provided I can find the courage within to do so.

The other week I made A. laugh, and, silly as it may seem, that really was the moment when I felt that Yup, this is the right person for me to work with. I only wish there wasn’t so much time between sessions. When the meetings are good, and I can get something from them, then twice-weekly sessions with A. is just about right, but since they aren’t – well, I do feel that I need something more.

I feel that I need to just talk and talk and talk. Or, rather, I need to be heard and heard and heard. And I need a safe place where that can happen. An emotional sanctuary, a library of sorts.

xx