So I had this thought. This great thing happened at work and I paused for a moment to really feel it and it made me think, the pain doesn’t go, the guilt doesn’t go.
I remember reading an article about grief, about how people say time heals as if you go back to normal but that never happens, it’s always there. You live with it, it is part of you but it gets maybe a little easier to manage. Like when you have a duvet and you’re trying to stuff it back into the cupboard and it doesn’t fit, that it maybe gets a bit easier to manage or a bit easier to put away.
So I live with the pain like V our friend the musician. Last time we saw her she looked radiant with a stunning new short haircut. She told me that all her life, drink or no drink, drugs or no drugs, she has episodes. The highest of the highs, making music, being on stage, connecting with the crowd, and the lowest of the lows, I’m gonna kill myself I’m gonna kill myself I’m gonna kill myself. She was trying to shave her head and her husband grabbed her and stopped her and that’s why she’s got this groovy new haircut. My mental health training kicked in, I might have said have you sought any help but I didn’t actually say what about antidepressants although I was thinking that. Even though I don’t take them. Despite one evening after my little yoga/dance session listening to Primal Scream I was blind but now I can see and thinking, that’s what I need to do I’ll go on antidepressants! I can be happy! A flash of insight but I still didn’t do it. John said about V well without that maybe she wouldn’t make the music and maybe she can learn to live with it… I thought maybe that’s where the music comes from even though I know that’s a cliche, the whole tortured artist thing.
Anyway this thing happened at work where in the multidisciplinary team meeting, the patients’ families were on zoom. These people, it’s as if you’re watching the news and there’s parents of children who have been abducted and they’re making an appeal. Those parents just look so broken and that’s what these parents look like. I was moved, I thought I’d like to do something for them, maybe some meditation or relaxation. I mentioned this to the new family therapist who is full of compassion, she said she wanted to start a family group and so we decided to do it together.
The first week I taught them counted out breaths* and we did the Metta Bhavana and then week two I did shoulder shrug** and then I did relaxation through the five senses… imagining yourself on a beach or in a wood or garden and all the things you can see, hear etc… one of the men nearly fell off his chair. I knew that one woman had a lot of trouble sleeping so I told them about Jody Whiteley on YouTube and mentioned The Joy of Painting (also on YouTube) put on to soothe by the BBC during lockdown, my mother in law and my sister in law had told me that it made them sleepy and was relaxing. I watched an episode, my eyes filled with tears, what a good man, ‘There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.’
*Firstly become aware that you have four parts to your breathing, the in breath, a little pause at the top of the in breath, the out breath, a little pause before the next in breath. Next, count your next ten out breaths. Count only your out breaths. Notice how your breathing magically slows… Great for the dentist etc.
**First breathe out, allowing you shoulders to relax. Then breathe in slowly and deeply, at the same time slowly drawing your shoulders up to your ears, so that the top of your in breath coincides with your shoulders being fully shrugged up. Hold that tension and your breath for a moment, before gently releasing your outbreath and lowering your shoulders in a controlled way, as if you were lowering a weight on a pulley. Safety- be kind and gentle to your body especially if you have shoulder problems. Don’t do loads in a row- the deep breaths may make you dizzy.
A few days later the family therapist said to me the woman who couldn’t sleep had been doing the shoulder shrug and had put on Jody Whitley and went to sleep straight away. A few days after that she said to me, ‘She wanted me to let you know she tried your technique of relaxing with the five senses and she was asleep before she’d even got past listen to the sounds outside the room,’ (which is the beginning bit where you’re drawing yourself inwards)
I felt very moved. I didn’t say anything at home but later when I was in bed a couple of little tears came out, just indulging in the feeling. I felt like it was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my career. When you work with people who are so complicated and there’s loads of other people working with them how do you know if what you do makes any difference… But here was somebody who was suffering who couldn’t sleep, I taught her something and then she slept. Even for me with all my negativity it was impossible to argue with that. I made a difference. That was worth doing. I did something good.
The next day driving to work I thought that’s where the compassion and the healing that worked for the woman came from; it came from my own pain and guilt and suffering. That’s where the healing comes from or at least that’s where the motivation to help comes from. And I thought that’s kind of the real meaning of the word Alchemy.
This inspirational poem helped STEPS Autism Treehouse Coordinator Claire through the time of her son’s diagnosis.
Welcome to Holland – By Emily Perl Kingsley
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like you’re planning a vacation to Italy. You’re all excited. You get a whole bunch of guidebooks, you learn a few phrases so you can get around, and then it comes time to pack your bags and head for the airport.
Only when you land, the stewardess says, “WELCOME TO HOLLAND.”
You look at one another in disbelief and shock, saying, “HOLLAND? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I SIGNED UP FOR ITALY.”
But they explain that there’s been a change of plan, that you’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
“BUT I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HOLLAND!” you say. ‘I DON’T WANT TO STAY!”
But stay, you do.
You go out and buy some new guidebooks, you learn some new phrases, and you meet people you never knew existed.
The important thing is that you are not in a bad place filled with despair. You’re simply in a different place than you had planned.
It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy, but after you’ve been there a little while and you have a chance to catch your breath, you begin to discover that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. Holland has Rembrandts.
But everyone else you know is busy coming and going from Italy. They’re all bragging about what a great time they had there, and for the rest of your life, you’ll say, “YES, THAT’S WHAT I HAD PLANNED.”
The pain of that will never go away.
You have to accept that pain, because the loss of that dream, the loss of that plan, is a very, very significant loss.
But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you will never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.