Sunday, 21 October 2012

I just wanted to say...

Tonight I realised that for the last 18 months I've been repeatedly saying "this is the best my life has ever been" and "this is the greatest I have ever felt." Every time, I think the world couldn't possibly be any more wonderful than I already know it to be, and that surely my life couldn't get any more incredible than it is at that moment, but every time I find that I'm wrong. Love and happiness, in their many guises, continue to find me every day. Sometimes life seems so beautiful that it overwhelms me and makes me cry, and sometimes it moves me so much that I just have to share it with you all. Have a wonderful week, everybody. :)

Friday, 28 September 2012

Fu*k: Part 2

In my last post, I attempted to explained that sometimes our words can reveal little clues as to our deeper beliefs, such as the supposedly badass graffiti sprayer who couldn't bring themselves to swear. But I feel that post was incomplete, so this is sort of a 'part 2'. What I really should've included when writing my last post is that sometimes what we don't say has the potential to be equally revealing.

During one particularly bad time a couple of years ago, a friend of mine came home to find me sitting on the living room floor, with my head in my hands, breathing heavily and violently shaking with a dangerous combination of rage and (emotional) pain. I know that doesn't sound like much, but when it comes to expressing my emotions I'm normally a very private person. For it to get to a point where I will allow someone to actually see me like that means that there is something severely wrong and that I've reached breaking point. My friend realised this, and kindly sat with me into the early hours of the morning, listening patiently as I told her through choked sentences of my overwhelming desperation to end my life. When I eventually began to calm down, I realised that she was clearly disturbed by what she'd just witnessed, so in a bid to reassure her that I was getting help, I asked her to come along to my next appointment with my psychologist.

In a later appointment, after meeting my friend, my psychologist asked me why I'd brought her along. I replied that I'd asked my friend to come so that she could see that I was getting help, because I felt I'd frightened her that night and I didn't want my own problems to impact anyone else. I also explained that I thought it might be useful for my psychologist to hear another person's take on the situation. Now, her response might not sound particularly extraordinary, but it's something I'll always remember, because, though it was by no means the first time that I'd been shown my current mindset at work through my words, it was the time when all of our work seemed to finally fit together in my mind. She spoke carefully as if considering my reasons, ticking them off on her fingers as she went, saying: "Ok, so... something for your friend... something for me..." then she looked at me in mock puzzlement, and with a smile, asked "but what did you do for you?" I remember just laughing. In that instant, everything suddenly seemed to fit into place. In being made aware of my mind's processes as they unfolded, I felt like I'd finally come to a full understanding of my problems. I had just watched it happen, right there. It hadn't even crossed my mind to do anything that might benefit myself, because I'd never felt worthy enough to allow myself that kind of consideration. As I'd experienced so many times before in our appointments, once I'd been made aware of what I'd just said (and in this case, what I'd just unknowingly implied through what hadn't been said), I sat there in a kind of stunned silence as the meaning of my own words and the underlying reasons for my problems suddenly seemed to become so obvious.

A year later, I was at a workshop about childhood trauma and a new therapy aimed at resolving its lasting impact into adulthood. The man leading the workshop, a psychiatrist called Bob Johnson, worked with many people who had suffered abuse at the hands of their parents during childhood, and used a new kind of talking therapy that he'd developed to help them break out of the mindset that the abuse had trapped them in. That's where I first heard someone put into words what I'd come to learn myself through conversations with my psychologist. "If they talk about mum, ask them about dad!" proclaimed Dr. Bob. "And if they talk about dad, ask them about mum!" With this, he implied that often a person's true problems lie in a place where they're too scared to venture initially, or in a place that they've become so used to avoiding that they're not even aware of it themselves. Other times, the problem is in plain sight all along, but is something that has become so much a part of ourselves that we just can't recognise it. All that is really needed in this case is someone with the skill to realise what's being hidden (often unintentionally), and who can make the right enquiries to safely steer a person towards uncovering and understanding a truth that even they themselves may never have fully realised.

As I'm sure we all know, language is a great tool for conveying meaning, but the idea I've tried to get across in my recent posts is that sometimes there may be more to a sentence than we first realise. Anyone who was forced to endure torturous months analysing every imaginable aspect of poems in their GCSE English anthology will know what I'm on about... But even in real life, in a normal setting (as opposed to a mental health setting or an English class), with a bit of effort, occasionally we can unpick a little extra meaning in our words. Personally, I find it important for my mental well-being to understand what's going on inside my own head and why, so wherever I can, I try to use the ideas I've described in this post and the last to try to gain a little more insight into my own thoughts, and to what might be going on under the surface of my mysterious brain.

If you treat it like one giant puzzle, it can even turn out to be quite good fun. :)

Saturday, 8 September 2012


Yeah, I bet that looked like an intriguing title, didn't it? Well, now you're here, you might as well read this.

To the right is a photo I took down Frog Walk, a little cut-through alley near my house in Sheffield. For the last few weeks, I've walked through here every morning on my way to the lab, and I always find myself drawn to this particular piece of graffiti. I often spend the rest of my walk contemplating what the mind of the person that did it might be like. And my thinking always starts in the same way:

Surely anyone rebellious enough to don a pair of wellies, walk into a river and spray something as antagonistic as "fuck compromise" under a bridge wouldn't think twice about swearing, so why on Earth did they feel the need to censor their graffiti? 

I then go on to assume that, unless they're as big a fan of irony as I am, it likely wasn't a conscious decision to write "fu*k". I mean, if you were standing in a river about to commit a petty crime, would you stop to think "Swearing? I say! God forbid my choice of language ever make me appear a common scallywag. I shall proceed to replace one letter with a star in order to protect the delicate sensibilities of the good people of Sheffield."? Probably not. Unless you're a Southerner incredibly posh, in which case you probably got your butler to spray the graffiti for you. "A little higher, Jeeves!"

Anyway, it always excites me to imagine that this seemingly unconscious censoring might allow me a tiny glimpse into the mind of the graffiti sprayer, and my thoughts wander off in all sorts of directions as they analyse all the different aspects of the two painted words and what sort of clues they could give as to the person that did it.

Though you can't really accurately conclude anything just from two spray painted words, I find this kind of thing fun to contemplate, and it kind of brings me on to another one of the many things I learnt whilst working with my psychologist. I learnt how to listen. Properly. I've always been pretty good at listening and understanding, but watching the way she listened to what I was saying in our sessions made me realise that the kind of listening most of us do is so basic. We don't listen to words, but to sentences as a whole, so that we can understand the overall meaning of what a person is saying. And, of course, this is an incredibly useful skill to have, but by listening in that way, we can miss a lot of information.

In conversations with my psychologist, she appeared not only to be listening to what I was saying overall, but paid close attention to my exact choice of words and how I said them. She would often pick me up on something specific that I'd said and ask me about it. Most of the time I hadn't even realised what I'd said, or that my phrasing had been so revealing of my thoughts and emotions. Sometimes, before asking me about it, she'd repeat what I'd just said back to me, and when I heard my own words coming from someone else, it shocked me to realise what I'd just said and how, if I just paid a little more attention, the language I used so obviously reflected my deeper beliefs.

Through the conversations we had during our appointments, I came to understand that the exact words people use can reveal a lot about how they feel, or what they think. When I realised this, I felt like I'd discovered some wondrous hidden level of communication. A level that is right there in front of us the whole time, but that few people ever notice. As we are used to taking meaning from sentences as a whole, this allows us a multitude of ways to convey the same idea. Because of this, the exact words we use are not particularly important individually as long as the sentence overall enables us to put across our opinions. And so when people are talking, they just use whatever sets of words and phrases that their mind gives them in order to convey the general point they're trying to make. I've found that, in certain situations, the exact phrasing and choice of words subtly changes depending on what a person believes or how they are feeling deep down, and if you pay close attention to this, you can start to decipher a little more information as to what might be going on in that person's mind.

Of course, this is won't be true or possible for all situations, and most of the time it's too much effort to bother; but ultimately, the words you use and the way in which you use them has the potential to be more revealing than you realise or intend them to be. This little bit of knowledge is something I use often now, not just to help me understand other people, but also to understand myself, how I'm feeling, and why I might be feeling that way; because as well as working with speech or e-mails, it works with your own thoughts as well. :)

PS. If our unknown graffiti sprayer can't bring themselves to swear openly, I'll bet you a tenner they're not nearly as much of a badass as they're trying to portray or make themselves feel. Either that, or they are a master of irony for compromising their own "fuck compromise" message in such a way... In which case, I applaud you, anonymous sprayer of graffiti.