Dreams, Hope, Narratives, Spirituality, The Inner World, Ways of Being

For Soz. With much love. Stories.





“We are  our stories. We tell them to stay alive or to keep alive those who only live now in the telling.” History of the Rain  Niall Williams.


Last Tuesday was my mother-in-law’s funeral. She was 89 at the time her death and died old and full of years. We miss her a very great deal. She cast a long shadow over the family. Mostly a benevolent one! I don’t believe in Resurrections. Nor in life after death. Nor in Heaven and Hell. She did and it gave her great comfort as was apparent in the funeral service she had carefully planned. She was Heaven bound with all that meant for her, including the possibility of a return to a new Earth in a new body in some future post Rapture state.

For those who are left, we are faced  with a gap. “Death”, wrote Stoppard, “is the absence of presence.” Her departure from our lives leaves a large absence. We visited her most weeks in her nursing home, never knowing quite how she would be. Sometimes very bright. Sometimes in bed, feeling sad. But always knowing us. Holding us in her mind. Probably in her prayers.  So how do we keep her alive in a way that doesn’t prevent her from being free? There is a myth, which I can’t locate, that says that the departed stay with us as long we need their memory. Not necessarily chained to us but still available when needed. A sort of spiritual Mary Poppins. When their memory is no longer needed then they are free to go home. On this basis Soz (my mother-in-law) will be around for some long time. There are children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will be shaped by Soz’s memory. Even if they are barely aware of her presence, she will shape their lives.

Freud, in his paper, Mourning and Melancholia, says, “The fact is, however, that when the work of mourning is completed, the ego becomes free and unfettered again.” I read this as an affirmation that I shall continue to be nourished by my memories of Soz. That I am made richer by her presence in my own psyche. Where she is a welcomed guest.

I shall greatly miss you, Soz. Rest well. You earned it.


Aylesbury, Borderline States, Counselling, Dreams, Hope, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being


In our creative writing class last week we were asked to write a short piece about Time. for some reason the formula above cam e in to my mind. Im not sure whty. I don’t usually remember formulae. But it prompted me to do some thinking. Then i n the coffee shop recently i heard two people talking. One was talking to his friend about going on holiday.

“If it’s just the three of us, then we get along fine. We all slot into our roles and it works very well. Then my son comes along and everything changes .I’m not sure why. I guess we’ll just have to try and make it work.”

This reminded me of the Speed / Distance /Time  formula. Which them lead me on to musing about our psychic equations. The relationship between the different parts  of ourselves. The Ego / Id / Super Ego  combination of Freud’s work.  Or Melanie Klein’s two positions. Or Jung’s ideas about our shadow side. (All this whilst drinking my latte.) It was almost cold by the time I’d finished my reverie!) That we are  not single entities. We know this to be true in our bodies. They are designed to work as a system, not as separate little kingdoms. The speed / distance /time formula is also bot relationships within a system.

And the problem with systems is that they challenge our omnipotence.  Whilst my eyes know, logically, that they have to rely on my ears to help them, a part of them would love to declare UDI from the rest of the body. (Fortunately this doesn’t often happen!) So in the inner world. My love cannot function without an awareness of my hate. And vice versa.  My patients have to face this tension. My ability to help them comes at a cost to their omnipotence. By seeing me thee is an acknowledgement that they need help.

So, with all this as context, here is the piece that I wrote for my class.

Time is furious. She thinks that she reigns supreme. Controlling all galaxies, empires and lives. She measures our mortal span. Three score years and ten. She defines our galaxies .Defines the star Sirius, for example as being 8.6 light years from Earth. bt she cannot rule alone. If she is to be useful, she has to be  in relationship. In this formula she is defined by Distance and Speed. Much as she resents this fact, it is True. To be useful she must share with Distance and Speed. And they with her – which gives her some satisfaction. Distance needs her along with Time. Speed the same. In a perfect world, Time would be supreme. But this is not  the case. So like a haughty dowager,  treating Distance and Speed as her servants. Ignoring the fact that she is dependent on them. Thus keeping intact her fantasy of self-sufficiency. The doxology comes to mind. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” Time is always relative.

In my preparation for this blog I found this quotation. I think it sums things up very well. (I\m only glad i found it  at the end of my work, not at the beginning otherwise I might have felt I had nothing new to say!)

“There is no Jesus without Judas; no Martin Luther king, Jr, without the Klan; no Ali without Joe Frazier; no freedom without tyranny. No wisdom exists that does not include perspective. Relativity is the greatest gift.”  (Chris Crutcher, King of the Mild Frontier.)

Counselling, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Spirituality, Ways of Being

Tall Tales 2

story tellerThis is a continuation of my piece last week about the way in which we use stories. I told the story of the very different way in which my wife and I use stories. Both ways are “true” but reflect the different emphasis we place on facts. My family saw stories in the same way as ancient bards saw them-as a way of conveying an inner truth. My wife’s family uses stories to illustrate an external truth- such as Boyle’s law or something similar. I suggested that we had needed to learn to hear each other’s stories and not dismiss them because they did not fit our particular schema.

As both a psychiatric nurse and a counsellor I hear lots of stories. I hear from my psychiatric patients that the IRA are out to kill them. Or that they are controlling the events they are seeing on the television news. The patient who believed this was deeply troubled by her belief. She saw herself as being personally responsible for the deaths she was watching.

Another patient whom I see for counselling was badly treated by her mother as a child. Her father apparently did not intervene to stop the abuse. One consequence of this is that my patient has a chequered history with men. Her story is that she must be a very wicked person to be so deservedly punished. Another patient comes and tells me about their difficulties in a rather detached tone of voice-as if describing someone else’s  life. Yet when associating to a dream, their responses were much more affective. Some real feelings began to emerge.

What links each of these people is their use of stories to illustrate their truths. My work is to listen to the stories. To hear them, value them and help my patients think about the ways in which these stories are used. So my psychotic patient was expressing both her horror at what she was seeing. Her own horror at her own history. And, perhaps, an awareness of her own capacity for violence. Or a fear of her belief in her capacity for murder and hatred. (“Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams.”)

My patient who sees herself as wicked is, in part, using a story to protect herself from confronting the way in which her parents treated her. Easier to believe that I am wicked than to have to face the knowledge of my parent’s cruelty. This knowledge raises too many difficult questions. Similarly my ” detached” patient tells stories in a remote, sardonic way which protects them from the knowledge of their emotional emptiness. (“We are the hollow men. We are the stuffed men.”)

My work, with my patients, is to honour the stories. And to help them find new ones which tell a new story. Not to rewrite their histories, which would be dishonest. But to find stories which reflect a new truth which is true because they are renewed. And need a different story.

Counselling, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Spirituality, The Inner World, Ways of Being

Twilight Zone

Mediterranean_Dusk_by_DenisOlivierT.S Eliot wrote that April is the cruellest month. I’m not sure that I agree with him. I find January dispiriting if not cruel. November, at least in the UK, has bonfire night to look forward to. This is then followed by December and Christmas, which in its turn is followed by New Year. All events which keep the dullness at bay. We see friends and family whom we may not have seen for the rest of the year. We get to spend days with them, not just hours. (A pleasure when we like the company!) We meet them again and see how much or how little they-and we- have changed. If there are children, of course, their changes are more apparent. The jump from a baby in arms to a toddler is huge. So, too, the jump from gauche teenager to poised young adult. Then the visit is finished and all our lives go back to their previous pattern leaving mixed feelings. Sadness that people whom we like are not here but a relief at “getting our house back”.

It is this mixed state of mind that dusk represents. I prefer the word “twilight” since it carries with it a sense of light and darkness simultaneously. Dusk has a more distinct feel of “thin darkness”. (This distinction is borne out by the roots of both words- dusk being associated with darkness whilst twilight retains a sense of there still being light around.) I find January to be a twilight month. The days are very slowly getting longer, but it is still a long way to Spring. Work has started but it is not in full swing. Some Christmas food is still in the fridge but pasta is slowly replacing Turkey. The house still has its Christmas tree up but the needles are dropping. It is an alone time. There is no comforting Christmas warmth nor yet the hard cleanness of Winter. (One can quite see why animals hibernate!)

It is this “aloneness” that has caught me this month. I am struggling to tolerate it without sinking into melancholy which is more than usually present this year- for a variety of reasons. The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott wrote “The relationship of the individual to his or her internal objects, along with confidence in regard to internal relationships, provides of itself a sufficiency of living, so that temporarily he or she is able to rest contented even in the absence of external objects and stimuli.” (The Capacity to be Alone 1958) What Winnicott is saying in slightly technical language is that our ability to be by ourselves rests on the quality of our inner life. If we have a good, strong sense of “self” then being alone does not become threatening to us. We know who we are and that we can exist alone-certainly for a limited time. C.S. Lewis wrote of Narnia that it was always Winter and never Christmas- because the White Witch had frozen everything. This is Freud’s melancholia writ large.

And the only way to avoid melancholia is to freeze anything that lives, moves or feels. To paralyse anything that might threaten my equilibrium. But as the White witch found in Narnia, there is always Aslan waiting to restore hope and feeling. (Which is what we call Life-messy, painful, worrying but Alive.) So, as the Jewish toast has it “L’Chaim”- to Life!


Not always Black and White

I had a memory of seeing Jimmy Saville with his hair dyed Black and White. It now seems a prophetic picture, in the light of the recent allegations about him.His division of his hair into two distinct halves is suggestive of a split in his mind as well as his hair. As if the separate parts of him could not come together. It seems probable that he did not know why his sexual preferences were as they were. Why he preferred young people to adults. We will never know the answer in his case- assuming the stories are true. It seems equally likely that we will never fully understand what motivated his altruism either.

A patient was talking recently about the point of self knowledge. They questioned its value, seeing curiosity about oneself as self indulgent. One simply was what one was. One behaved well or badly and lived with the consequences. I suggested that this left my patent very vulnerable. If they had no understanding of why they behaved in any given way, how could they know how they would behave in similar circumstances again? George Santayana is credited with  saying that “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” We do not know why jimmy Saville behaved as he did. It is also highly likely that neither did he, responding simply to drives that he found in himself.Had he been able to understand his past, his future might have been very different.

The psychoanalyst Melanie klein noticed that young children have to separate their Love from their Hate. They create a “good mummy” who is nice, kind and giving and a “bad mummy” who is none of these things. They do this to protect themselves from ambivalence, which Klein suggested would overwhelm them. A sign of emotional maturity is that we know ourselves and can tolerate our shades. I can be both loving and cruel; generous and mean; gentle and vicious. I can make choices because I know I have to. and I know that I can.

The sadness for Jimmy Saville and many another is that they choose to keep themselves hidden from themselves. Thus putting many at risk-not least themselves.Image