Monthly Archives: November 2014

In Praise of Therapy 2

No, it’s not a Hollywood sequel. At least, not yet. It’s just that, in response a hundreds of requests (well, just one actually), I have decided to write a little more on therapy and how it has helped me to change my life. To do that, I need to describe in a little more detail, the early days.

From what I have been able to glean, my mum had suffered from ill health for some time; certainly during those 5 years we had together. My father was in the army during the war and, this former barrel maker, became a commissioned officer. He met someone whose family background, I understand, was Robinson’s Barley Water and wrote to my mum saying  he wanted a divorce. According to her elder sister, she then “gave up living” and I was left to “run wild”. She, meanwhile, was dying at a time when there was no welfare state. The prospect of abandonment must have been too much and, I now realise, she was in despair. That atmosphere was the prevailing one in the house, certainly towards the end.

Following her death, I was taken to live with my father’s eldest sister and her husband, the latter of whom believed that sparing the rod spoilt the child. So much so that, four years later, I was taken to live with other relatives and became part of their family. With no communication of any kind, after a further five years, my father returned only to sign me into the army at the age of 15 for 12 years. So, by the time I was 19, I had moved six times with all my worldly possessions in a suitcase. By which time, transience, insecurity and restlessness were built in. Which brings me to another pattern of behaviour which, after some time in therapy, changed following a specific session.

Throughout my life, I had had images in my head occasionally, one of which, what I always described as the “whale’s teeth”, was very scary. For those of you who aren’t aware, one particular species of whale has teeth like curtains of fine thread which it uses to sieve out the krill which are its main source of food. During one particular session, I remember saying “F…….hell, it’s the coffin”.  Dan told me that he had no idea what I was talking about and asked me to explain. I did so saying that the image wasn’t a whale’s teeth at all, but the stitching around the inside of a coffin. In those days, the deceased was “laid out” in the front room of the house prior to burial and, it seems, that I was taken to say goodbye. Interestingly, I have never had that image in my head again. Coincidence? Again, I think not.

In Praise of Therapy

Those who know me or have read my autobiography, “The Other Side of the Doors”, will be aware that I was, what would now be described as, a disturbed child and that I took that condition into adulthood. By which time, I had had a history of transience and broken relationships, following the last of which, I decided that this couldn’t go on any longer and  went to see a therapist. Over the next 13 years or so, Dan Twomey helped me to get my life sorted out such that I’ve now been happily married and lived in the same house for over 20 years. I have also done things I never dreamt that I could. So, for me at least, therapy works. So much so that I can identify specific sessions after which, whatever had previously bothered me, ceased to do. Last week was one of those in abundance.

Dan died 10 years ago but, left me with someone, Stevie, who I could call if any of any demons resurfaced. Well, one did recently and that has led me to slaying the most frightening one of all. However, like much therapy, it wasn’t a straightforward journey. Stevie explained by saying that I am trying, through an adult’s eyes 60 years later, to make sense of the chaotic situation a five year old found himself in when he too was trying to make sense of what was happening  to  him. Last Wednesday was the anniversary of my mum’s death and I woke up worried about things that I know had been created during those early years. I, later, talked to Stevie about this in what was one of the defining sessions I’ve ever had, followed by some “self therapy”. It is my blog today and a very personal one.

The witch’s hat was a piece of playground equipment about 3 metres tall. Imagine the skeleton of such a hat with the point set on a central pole and you will see that its movement is like a wayward roundabout. As children, we played on it in Southwark Park, between the house where I lived with my mum and the one I was taken to after her funeral. My mum was never mentioned again and, after a few weeks, I stopped visiting her family. In later life the “hat” petrified me. Images of it would come into my head and, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t face it down. I was just very, very frightened.

Lying in bed on Saturday and the “hat” came to mind. Now it’s important to realise that the play area in the park was situated nearer my old house than the new one. In fact, the former was probably only a five minute walk from the playground. In my head that morning, I saw the park as if it was a marquee with the pole of the hat supporting it and, such was the weight of the of the marquee, that it pushed the end near my old house higher and, thus, further out of reach. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get there. I also heard someone saying “Michael, you can’t go home”. I then thought about how, when I tried to face the hat down, it seemed as though I was looking into a very dark hole and one that I daren’t go into. It sent shivers down my spine. Yet it was very near to where I last saw my mum alive. Suddenly, a thought came to mind of a funeral where I was watching a coffin being lowered into another dark hole. My mum was in that coffin. No wonder I was so scared.

Now, I can understand how convoluted this may seem to some. However, after all those years, finally the “hat” no longer scares me. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Tackle Your Demons

Among my particular dislikes are damp, misty November evenings. I find them very depressing and reminiscent of events that I’d prefer not to remember. Which brings me, immediately for a change, to my point, that of tackling your demons. They are, after all, demons; that is, they aren’t real. It also means that the fear, worry or whatever other emotions they engender can be very real to the individual concerned and often, somewhat, baffling to others.

Now, as someone, who has tried to face down his demons over many years with some success, I can verify how good it is to do that and to the feeling that you can make decisions based on the reality of any situation and not your particular perception of it. That freedom can be very life enhancing although, in my case, it has come very late in life. That is not to say that I haven’t had some impact, just that it’s has been more of a struggle than it need have been. To provide an example, when I ran the city farm in Leeds, John Coop, who was our Finance Officer and excellent, all round, gofer, used to tell me not to worry so much. I countered by explaining that worry was what drove me. Because I worried, for example, about our financial situation, I was a very good fundraiser. Now, years of therapy have helped me to identify the root cause of my concerns which has helped me to identify the demon. Although, in this case I haven’t quite slain it, in many other areas of my life, I have done.

The result? I now have a much more stable family life and, at an age when most of my peers have opted for cardigan and slippers, I am now on my 6th career doing thing that I have dreamed of for many years. Two books published in both paperback and Kindle versions with two more over half way through. Crucially this person who, much as he likes people, has never really been able to ask for help, has started to do so. And, do you know what? They have responded immediately as if surprised that it took me so long to ask.  So, tackle your demons. After all they don’t exist in the real world.

Lastly, no one could let the last few days pass without mentioning the comet landing. Absolutely amazing and a wonderful example of what humanity is capable of. Just what I needed in these trying times.

Prejudice and Political Correctness

Prejudice is something that probably all of us exhibit to some degree. It is not a particularly pleasant human characteristic; even more so when those who are the subject of it have little or no control over the circumstances which form the basis of the prejudice. I, for example, feel quite happy to make my point about those who have chosen to believe in supernatural beings, when there is no proof whatsoever in their existence. This is especially so when they use their religious beliefs as the basis for their prejudices and/or trying to impose these beliefs onto others; the right to die a dignified death being a notable example. I will not, however, subject others to similar treatment when their circumstances are beyond their control. Example of these are peoples’ skin colour, gender, sexual orientation and whether they have a disability. So, what is my point in this diatribe?

Well, I look at the world and see what could be. Then I look at the world as it is and the difference is marked. Those who are wealthy seem to live by a different set of rules to the rest of us. Indeed, it seems that the wealthier you are, the fewer rules there are. Moreover, the justification for their wealth or earning power is that they possess ability, skills or abilities beyond that of the rest of us. That is often self serving nonsense. After all, if they were so good, would our economy be in such bad shape?  You can fill in your own answer here.  So, if we are to change things, where do we start?

Well as a writer (yes, I can say that now) and a public speaker, language is important to me as is how I refer to others. What others, for example, call “political correctness”, I say is referring to people how you would like to be referred to if you were in their circumstances. Therefore, “the disabled, “the unemployed”, “the poor”, “the old” is not, in my view, the best way to describe people. Firstly, because we are all, essentially, individuals and, secondly, because the appellation allows for categorisation which is often inaccurate. It also reinforces stereotypes and prejudice. So, in my usual pedantic way, the individuals concerned are “people with a disability”, “people who are unemployed” and so on. You will note that the “people” bit comes first as it is the thing which links us all together instead of dividing us, which is what the first set of descriptions does.

Now for the important part, especially for those who rail against “political correctness” and what they seem to see as its oppressive and stifling nature. In contrast, obviously, to being able to speak your mind in whatever way you choose. A recent study by researchers at Cornell University shows that, in creativity exercises involving mixed gender groups, people instructed to be politically correct generated a greater quantity of novel ideas than those instructed to be merely polite or given no instructions at all. It seems that, once clear guidance was provided on, for example, how members of the opposite gender ought to relate to one another, they felt more free to exchange ideas. So, political correctness allows us to treat each other with more thought and, in the process, get better results. Who would have thought it?

If you want further information, please read a copy of yesterday’s “Guardian” page 49 for a fuller report.

Perception and Reality

I firmly hold to the view that if more people based their judgements and actions on the realities of any situation instead of their perceptions of it, the world would be a better place. To quote Stevie Nicks, we should “Take on the situation not the torment”. Now that’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to see things from other people’s point of view. Obviously, we should. However, when their viewpoint is so at odds with actuality, we do occasionally, need to point that out. In addition, as a public speaker, I feel that language is crucial. This is all the more important when I see “so called” newspapers peddling distortions of the truth when they should be establishing and publicising the facts; along with some analysis. These distortions, of course, aimed at trying to influence opinion, often in support of their political viewpoint or current target. My own view has always been “Provide me with the facts and I can make up my own mind, thank you very much”. So, if we are to make informed decisions, we need to separate the perception from the reality and, in an effort to do this, I’ll start the discussion with a few examples that I’ve gleaned recently.

For a start I have, at last, realised that Spurs are not going to get their act together. There, I’ve said it so a few others among you can do the same by considering the following:

According to Ipsos MORI, a recent opinion poll showed that those surveyed thought that Muslims constituted 21% of the population. The actual figure is 5%.

According to The Guardian, there is about £10bn of unclaimed benefit but less than £2bn in benefit fraud; a figure that is less than 1% of total benefits expenditure. When did a tabloid report that on its front page instead of the sex life of some obscure “celebrity”?

A recent report by the UCL has stated that European migrants to the UK aren’t a drain on Britain’s finances but, actually, pay out more in taxes than they receive in benefits with a net contribution of £20bn between 2000 and 2011.

Lastly, many of those in receipt of benefits now have at least one person in the family actually working. They are, therefore, by definition not workshy scroungers. In fact, we, the taxpayers are subsiding their employers.

Unfortunately, we seem to be able to do little to prevent the tabloids from peddling their prejudices, so, perhaps we might do best to try to get the real picture from which to form our views. The world would, indeed, be a more enlightened place for it.

Why You Just Have to Keep Going

Firstly because, to quote the redoubtable Mike Primarolo when I said that life could be hard at times, replied that “It beats the alternative”, as indeed it does. However, it can do much more than that. If you are on the right track, it can help you to achieve your goals. Conversely, if you don’t keep going, you won’t.

Now, as someone who was good at helping others to change their lives, I wasn’t so good at doing the same myself. Not that I couldn’t and didn’t change, I did; often and a great deal. It’s just that I didn’t really believe that it was me in charge of the process. Furthermore, once I had done something important, I quickly took it to be the norm and not a big deal. Yes, I know now how silly that reads but, as ever, the journey was always better than the destination. Recently, however, there has been a change and I am starting to realise that I can actually set personal goals as well as realising them. Much of this has come about in two specific areas. The first is people I meet at the Professional Speaking Association who seem to have a higher opinion of me than I do of myself. For which, many thanks, it is having an effect. The other is in the area that is solely my own, that of writing.

Those who know me will be aware that I started to write my first book, then entitled “Never Too Late”, 12 years ago. I did this because I wanted my eldest children, Tracey and Matt, to understand why I had acted as I had. When I had finished the first draft, I talked to a cousin about it and her response was that I must have known that my life was not like anyone else’s in the family. Well, the truth is I did and I didn’t. Or, rather, I did but didn’t want to. Yet, I had been proud of my difference, it was who I was. Well, I tried to get the book published, without any luck. However, one of the agents I sent it to e mailed back to say that it was a good story, well told and that, if people had the opportunity they would read and enjoy it. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t get that opportunity as no one knew who I was. Balls to you, I thought, I’ll write another book and then you’ll know who I am. And that’s exactly what I did. Both are now available both in paperback and on Kindle. Not only that but books 3 and 4 are over half way through. This, however, isn’t as important as the fact that I am setting a target of finishing book 3, “Lessons from a Chequered Life”, by the end of January.

Interestingly, my youngest daughter, Ellie, entered a competition to write a novel of 50,000 words in a month. And did it! Before she was 18! The moral of this story? Don’t be afraid to set goals and do keep going.

At Odds With the World?

Anyone who knows me well will be aware that, for most of my life, I have felt at odds with the world. Childhood events meant that this was something that was thrust on me and over which I had no control. From then on, I wore my difference like a suit of armour; it defined me. Indeed, it was something that I was proud of. However, it came with costs which I was unaware of for most of my life.  Among those costs was empathy, which I have now discovered, and find somewhat uncomfortable.  The other, probably related one, was not realising that thousands of people probably feel much as I do and this, despite the fact that I have dealings with like minded people much of the time. Well, recently, that penny has also dropped.

Now, throughout that life, I have met people who have behaved well and others less so. Much of my work in the voluntary sector has been in getting people to work together in a common, usually, social cause and, in this, I have had some success. That is not to say that I  have only worked with people who agreed with me. What I haven’t done, however, is met  too many who were inherently nasty. Yet, there are people in the upper echelons of  government, business, commerce and the media among other sectors, who behave as if many, if not most, of us, are motivated by greed, avarice, envy or any of our other less appealing qualities; our vices, in fact. They then try to divide us on the basis that some are shirkers and some are strivers in life. Well, there may be people who are less keen on work than others, although that rather misses the point. Which is, whether we are motivated solely or primarily by financial reward.  The answer, like much else in life is that, it depends on circumstance and situation.

Now, as you will gather, I am heartily sick of people who use their power exploit others in order to create great wealth and more power for themselves while dressing that up as being the only way. There are alternatives, one of which is to create a society based on our virtues of co-operation, caring, sharing and a common effort towards sustainable goals. And for those who say that this will never work, I would challenge you to describe how what we have at present could be defined, by any stretch of the imagination, as “working”.