Sunday, 29 November 2015

Thought for the day: stormy waters

I sat down on a bench, overlooking the sea.  It was a stormy day, and the waters were turbulent.  I watched as the waves crashed against the sea wall, then spilled over onto the promenade, calmly rolling back to become part of the turbulent sea once again.  What was turbulent became calm, then became turbulent once more, before becoming calm again.  I thought of how much this resembled life.

Sometimes we feel like we have been swept along by events, like they have their own momentum and we have lost control.  As much as we resist the current of life, it pushes us back further, until we feel we are making no progress.  Then, the waters become calm once more, and it is easier for us to get to the shore.  We can focus on how far we have been pushed back, or we can concentrate on getting to where we want to be.

Recently, I've been struggling against a strong current in my own life, unaware that, given a little time and patience, the strength of the current will decrease, and I should just allow myself to be pushed back.  In essence, I was pushed even further back by struggling against it.  Now, the storm is passing.  Enough of a calm has taken hold for me to realise that I just have to let things be, to take the time to repair my damaged vessel, and find my way back to shore.  The storm may rage again, but I will at least be back on dry land.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Stop torturing yourself!

Sometimes, we feel something that we judge to be wrong.  Does that stop us feeling it?  No.  Rather, our judgement of ourselves leads us to feel worse, to keep feeling what we originally felt, with an added side serving of guilt.  We may try to repress the original feeling, only for it to fight back stronger.

I can't tell you that, over the past couple of months, I've felt something I judged to be wrong.  No, I've felt a whole host of different things which, to me, seemed wrong.  Like everyone else, I have an internalised code of conduct, or set of morals, and feel that I occasionally fall short of the standards I set for myself.  The important thing to realise is that many of these conditions we impose on ourselves are not our own.

The time or place within which we grew up may have had a specific set of core values.  We may be influenced by a strong identification with a system of belief, religious or otherwise.  Alternatively, we may be reacting against behaviours we have seen in others, judged to be wrong, and promised ourselves we would not emulate.  All these things, and more, could be governing how we feel about our thoughts and actions, or how we feel about what we feel.

I've always thought that the easiest way to tell if we are imposing too many conditions on ourselves, is to monitor our use of phrases such as:

"I should..."
"I must..."
"I have to..."

Clearly, sentences which start with these words are conditional.  If we're imposing all of these conditions on ourselves, it that fair?  The resulting impact on our self-esteem, should we fail to meet our own conditions, would suggest it isn't.

If we concentrate on the feeling itself, is the feeling wrong?  Is the feeling driven by a perfectly reasonable and understandable human emotion?  We might just be judging ourselves a little too harshly.  Maybe the feeling isn't wrong, but rather the timing or the context.  In other words, the feeling might be understandable and reasonable, but the context makes us feel that it is inappropriate.  How, exactly?  What makes the feeling inappropriate?  Is the feeling directed towards someone for whom we shouldn't feel that way?  Are our own expectations, and those of others, being compromised by the way we feel?  Have we lost control of our thoughts and actions, due to how we feel?

I'm not going to pretend I have all the answers, because that is far from the truth.  Instead, I'll tell you something I believe to be true.  Whatever you're feeling right now, however difficult it is for you, and however much you torture yourself by saying you shouldn't feel it, is valid.  How you express it, and under what circumstances, is where it becomes either appropriate or inappropriate but, again, this is based on your own internal code and that of others.  We are allowed to make mistakes, to fall short of our own standards.  We are allowed, essentially, to be human.

There is a reason why you feel what you feel right now.  Within you, there is a need to feel that way.  Give yourself the permission to feel it.  Allow yourself to be human.

Thursday, 26 November 2015


I watched, from a distance, as nine people linked arms and danced, can can style, to Frank Sinatra's rendition of "New York, New York".  They seemed to be enjoying themselves and, for reasons I won't go into here, I couldn't be a part of it.  Not for the first time that evening, I felt alone: completely and utterly alone.

In some ways, it was a good thing.  I'm not the best when it comes to asking a lady to dance.  It just happened that the courage required to ask some of the ladies to dance was less than the courage needed to deal with feeling so alone.  It's not a feeling with which I'm unfamiliar, and it's a feeling I've had to explore this week.  Looking into that feeling was distinctly uncomfortable, and led to the revelation that my life has mostly consisted of me feeling excluded or rejected.

Earlier in the evening, I'd asked someone to dance who I hadn't asked previously.  That's a big leap for me.  I know her from the lessons that are the main thrust of the evening, of course, but I'd never danced with her during the intervals before and after the intermediate lessons.  She immediately brightened up, and maintained her smile throughout.  I was surprised when she insisted our hips should bump together convincingly when performing the arm jive movement, but complied with her request.  Mindful of the rules of the venue, I bowed and thanked her as the song ended, and walked away, feeling utterly alone once again.

I'd previously developed a close friendship with someone in the class: someone who, for a while, made me feel a lot less alone.  Through a series of errors and misunderstandings (on both sides), that friendship recently came to an end, and I suddenly felt more alone than I had in a long, long time.  Worse, it felt like I had been rejected, again and, due to the composition of the venue and the existing friendships between those within, the loss of one friendship had led to me feeling excluded, unable to spend time with other friends I've made at the class.  I should be used to this feeling by now, but it doesn't get any better.  It never gets any better.

For a brief time, I felt that I should stop going to the class, that I shouldn't put myself through this again.  The catch is that I love to dance - something that came as a surprise to me.  I don't know if the close friendship that existed previously can ever be as close again.  I doubt it.  I don't know, at this point, if I have lost a friend forever.  Ironically, I once said to this former friend that I hate it when people just drift out of my life.

Maybe I have to come to terms with the right of another person to either accept or reject me.  It's their choice, after all.  I can't pretend that being rejected doesn't hurt, though.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Thought for the day: breaking down a wall

Earlier this evening, I took part in some counselling skills practice.  The rules surrounding these things mean I can't tell you under what circumstances this happened, or identify those with whom I was partnered for the exercise.  What I am going to focus on is the fact that, yet again, playing the part of the client was uncomfortable for me.

There were a number of issues I could have chosen for the skills practice, and I chose what I thought was a minor issue, the one which I thought couldn't possibly trigger difficult feelings within me.  It was foolish of me to forget that fairly major issues can often hide behind those which seem to be of relatively little importance.

As the practice came to an end, I was asked how I felt.  I replied that I felt exposed, vulnerable.  When I was asked where I felt vulnerable, I deflected the question.  The truth is that I felt the shield with which I had been guarding myself had been taken away, and I'd been hit by a truck.  I was asked if I wanted to continue, and replied that I'd rather the focus was put onto someone else.

I seem to be talking in metaphors, but that is my way, and I have no better way to describe how I felt.  I would liken my feelings to those that are felt when a wall is knocked down, we see how things look without the wall in place, and wonder whether the wall should have been left standing.

During the session, I'd made mention of wearing a mask - another metaphor.  To deal with situations in which I feel uncomfortable, I take on the characteristics of someone more comfortable and confident in that situation.  Maybe it's an act, and maybe it's dishonest, because maybe it's not really me.  Or, it's an aspect of who I am, and only comes to the fore when needed.

Yeah, I'd much rather talk to other people about themselves than about me.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Today, I took away your power over me

Today, I took away your power over me.
I decided to reject the things you've said.
Your words describe the world as you see it,
And not as I see it through my own eyes.

Today, I saw the good in myself.
Admittedly, I saw the good in you too,
But you won't convince me that your truth is mine.
Your truth belongs only to you.

Today, I thought of you with kindness.
I considered how much you must be hurting,
But this is how I've thought of you all along,
And still you chose to attack.

Today, I took away your power over me,
And while our relationship has not imploded, like a dying star,
I will not accept your negativity.
Holding on to it will bring neither of us peace.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Being an introvert, and how I cope with it

Some time ago, a close friend of many years mentioned that his clearest memory of our teenage years was how I would walk into a room full of people, choose a corner, and stand there looking like I wanted to be anywhere else.

I thought about this recently, when I joined a dance class.  This is added to a counselling skills course I'm doing, and a martial arts class I've been attending for over five years now.  I'll tell you a secret: these places are full of people, and I'm still absolutely terrified when I walk into them.  I'm not sure I've become any better at hiding it.

A low point was the death of a close relative a few years ago.  I did my usual thing of appearing to calmly carry the weight of my grief but, when I arrived at the leisure centre for a martial arts class, I looked through the window in the door to the room, saw all the people in there, turned around and walked back to my car.  The massive courage it took for me to walk into that room had gone, replaced by one clear thought: "I can't do this."  I'm just thankful that I made it back to my car before the grief hit fully.

You might see me walk into a room full of people, or exit that room and, if you're particularly observant, notice that I appear to feel a little uneasy.  Wrong.  I'm absolutely terrified.  You might notice that, for a while, I'm unusually quiet.  I'm still listening to you.  Believe me, I'm listening to you.  Every one of my senses is heightened because, as silly as it may seem to you, the situation feels threatening to me.  I'm just one man.  The numbers are not in my favour.  I'm not going to tell you why that's important.  Let's just say that experiences from our early lives affect us, and leave it at that.

Again, if you're observant, you'll see the point where I visibly relax, where I might even smile and share a joke with you, and you'll notice, when I'm leaving, that I'm scared once again.  So, what's happening during the point in the middle?  What's happening is something that it took me many years to figure out.

For the time that I'm talking with you, practising kung fu with you, dancing with you, or practising counselling skills with you, you're the only person in that room with me.  If someone else grabs my attention, they temporarily become the only person in that room, and then my focus shifts back to you.  It's a trick, I guess, but it's one I've been using successfully for a while now.

I still haven't found a way of coping with entering, or exiting, a room full of people.  Anything more than three, and it's a problem.  You'll probably notice that I'm more of a listener than a talker, but I hope you don't mistake it for a lack of intelligence.  If you ever see me after I've had a few pints of beer, you might think I've had a personality transplant, if such a thing were possible.  I just want you to know that it takes a great deal of courage for me to be there with you, that you have my full attention and, if you're one of the people on the periphery, I'm not being ignorant or rude.  I'm just coping with a difficult situation in the best way I know.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

I don't have a heart of stone

My sister is going home.  She lives at the other end of the country, so we don't see her very often.  This time, there are reasons to feel conflicted about her leaving, though it is probably better not to go into them here.

I was fine until I had to say goodbye to her.  What changed things is that she decided, this time, to give me a hug, and I could see that she was trying to hold back some tears.  I maintained the composure that my family have come to expect from me, got into my car, drove, and lost that composure.

I have a number of things on my mind right now.  I must deal with them alone.  My fiancĂ©e, who I love dearly, is on the other side of the world.  In itself, that is a difficult thing for me to deal with.

I can think of one time in particular, when I was supporting someone who was dealing with difficult feelings, that it affected me.  I won't say anything more about the person or what they were going through, because I am duty bound to protect their right to confidentiality, but it was a heavy burden to carry.  That time, I drove home, looked around my flat, felt the loneliness more than ever, and my own feelings made themselves known as I sat down.  The time difference meant that the woman I love would have been asleep, and I didn't want to wake her, but what I needed was to hear was her voice, just to hear that she was okay.  Again, the person's right to expect confidentiality meant that I couldn't tell her about the burden I was carrying, but hearing her voice would have made me feel a little less alone.

Like many men of my generation, I was taught that a real man is solid, dependable, not given to displaying emotion: being tough, being able to shrug off whatever life throws at us, is what makes us men.  We've been conditioned to maintain the appearance of someone who is in control, with only a vague notion of how that looks.  Unfortunately, many of my generation saw their parents go their separate ways, often being left with little or no contact with their fathers, so the idea of how a man should conduct himself became blurred to the point of becoming indistinct and confusing.

I remember the first time I watched the Rocky films.  My brother was a big fan of these films, and is still, as far as I know, a fan of these films.  Sylvester Stallone portrays a boxer - a man who would, for a lot of men, be the pinnacle of manliness.  You would expect him to be tough, able to take on life's challenges and carry the whole world on his shoulders, so to speak.  The important thing about the Rocky films is that we see this paragon of manliness feel emotion, break down, and become otherwise weighed down by life's challenges.

Realistically, I don't have to justify how I feel.  Maybe letting it out would not have been the best thing for my sister, who seemed to be quite emotional anyway, or anyone else who is affected by what is going on.  I'm conditioned to deal with these things, present the appearance of being unaffected, and deal with my feelings in private.  That's the part that no one sees, with just one person being a notable exception.