Journal post 27; 22nd April 2013

 

 

I began today feeling completely exhausted!  I don’t know if I am a bit under the weather at the moment, or it was because I was up till quite late the night before, writing – but either way, I felt like death. I told everyone at check in, though, and made sure I drank plenty of coffee through the day, in a bid to keep myself alert and participating. Having very nearly not come in, I was glad I did, as the day’s subject matter was introduced – existential counselling – my favourite! I was actually really pleased, for purely selfish reasons, that we would be talking about a subject that already resonated so strongly with me, as I knew it would be more likely to keep me lively for the discussion.

 

We discussed the basics of existential philosophy, the four givens – death, isolation, freedom and meaninglessness, and expanded as to how those subjects can be further developed for a counselling approach using the four dimensions of human existence – the physical, social, psychological and spiritual realms. The most prominent existential counselling theorists; Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, Emmy Van Deurzen and Mick Cooper, were discussed (I think I have mentioned all of them in previous journals at one point or another – they seem to be the counselling texts I am drawn to and take the most from) and  we – the group- read through a few texts together, prompting lots of lively discussion about how we felt about this approach. The exercise that followed from this discussion  didn’t sit too well with everybody in the group – maybe it was a little too morbid for some? But for me it was, although emotional, a breeze.  We were asked to imagine our death, consider what we would like to have written as our epitaph, imagine our funeral and contemplate our life and death, meditating thoroughly on them.  The exercise itself posed no problem for me – I visit these places daily, I think about them constantly. What was harder for me was sharing that with the group. You see, I like to think that I project a fairly sunny disposition, generally – I like to make people laugh, and think – I like to get people talking and enjoying debate, but what I do try not to talk about so much is my own private thoughts, as I feel that they are probably too dark to share.

 

I had a near death experience 13 years ago when my son was born. My heart stopped beating and I had to be revived, and I had the whole ‘floating above my body, shining white light’ thing that so many others talk of. I didn’t die though – the thing that pulled me back from the peaceful place was the fact that I had just become a mother, and I needed to see my son, and as such I spent the following ten years throwing myself into the role of mother and wife wholeheartedly, up until my divorce, anyway. I think I have also mentioned in previous journals, that I am not what one would describe as a ‘well’ person; constantly anaemic, a crohn’s sufferer and bipolar. I suppose it is living with these things and having been through what I have, that  gives me my general  questioning outlook on life – what is it all about? Am I living my life the way I want to live it? What if I were to die tomorrow? Or be incapacitated? What things give me meaning? I am quite sure that my experiences have automatically made me confront the concepts of the four givens, so as to not be afraid of them. Although, to a degree, I think that the questioning within me may have always been there – I have always counted Camus, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Tolstoy among my favourite  fictional authors, and I love to read books on philosophy generally.

 

Anyway, as I said, my funeral has been long planned – all of my close friends and family know what I want, I tell them regularly. The epitaph was a nice follow on from that thought – ideas that I had already toyed with – what I feel I am compared with what I want to be. I have to say that after the many years of therapy I have been in, I don’t feel too incongruent with what I want to be. Of course, I have more I want to achieve – this course would be nice, for starters! I think that the main difference of note between them  is the element of ‘fear’ – there are still fears that I have, and such I still don’t feel free to fully pursue the life I want to. But I am getting better at confronting them. Recently I have felt a huge shift within me, I think I have noticeably taken a step closer to being the person I want to be – maybe it is the feeling as the end of the course approaches, or maybe it is the fact that I have been on new ‘mind meds’, and that these ones actually seem to suit me quite well!

 

The recognition of the emotional journey that I feel i have gone on, the questions that I have asked myself, I think do undoubtedly affect my style within the counselling relationship. Although I have been working from a ‘person centred’ orientation,  I feel that the congruence required of the counsellor in this ‘school’ is very much in an ‘existential’ style, and that I do already include my perception of these issues in my style in the counselling room. Likewise, the freedom offered within this approach, the humanistic foundation of considering the client as whole and their experiences, what meaning or lack thereof do they gain from that, the autonomy that both the client and counsellor are aiming for – these correlate with the existential counselling values completely, to me.

 

Skills practise in the afternoon; being aware that I was using these principles as a place to come from, made me realize that actually this was completely natural to me – this is what I already do. It was a natural, flowing session, like any that I would have with a regular client within my placement. So, well – there I have it – I guess I could describe myself as an existential counsellor, but actually, one of the things that my ‘existential’ approach to myself has taught me is that I don’t like labels particularly, certainly not on myself – so I will hold off on trying to pigeon-hole myself for a while longer yet…

 

 

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Journal post 14; Monday December 17th

Our last session before the Christmas holiday!  Everyone else in the group seemed to be quite excited about Christmas – looking forward to the break, busy with planning and organising their festivities and the general feeling on check in on this morning was one of relief and excitement.

Except me (of course – always have to be different).

I am in a dark place at the moment. Check in with myself, where is my mood? Low, low, low…

I hate to sound like a humbug, but I just can’t seem to get excited about Christmas this year. I am trying, really hard actually, for the benefit of the kids, but it is hard, so hard. I suppose I feel that it just hasn’t been the same over the last few years – I used to be the Queen of Christmas – after all, I ran gift shops; My Christmas planning used to begin a whole year in advance, and the entire year was a build-up to December – my product buying had to be finished by april at the latest; floor plans and merchandising strategy in place by July, extra recruitment done by September, ready to switch into full on Christmas on November 6th. Then it would be two months of long days, Christmas shopping evenings and generally working flat out, combined with the hubbub of preparing  a family Christmas too – nativities, making mince pies and tree decorations – the things young children love about this time of year. I had to be supremely organised – which I was; I thrived on the business and adrenaline that this time of year meant to me. I loved it.

But in the last two or three years, it has gradually unravelled for me. The first Christmas after I separated from my husband was hard – but I coped pretty well – the kids were still small, and I had to keep the shops buzzing. Sadly, finding out about his new relationship and affair on Christmas eve, wasn’t my best Christmas present ever, but I chose to ignore it for the most part, and threw myself into the festivities harder than ever, determined not to let that spoil things. The last two years have been harder I guess, as I haven’t had the shops to keep me busy in the same way. I had worked every single Christmas in Retail for nearly 25 years; Cheesy Christmas music was force fed to me, forcing me to be festive and jolly. This year and last year have been the first ever, where I have not had to work on Christmas eve, and wish people a ’Merry Christmas’ a hundred times over!

This year Christmas will be very quiet for us, as my kids have reached the age where they really do not want to be involved in many family events, so it will be a small cosy affair with just the three of us, for the first time ever! How do I feel about that? Distinctly underwhelmed, worried that it will just be a day, like any other with the small difference of a bit of an extra tasty dinner! I am worried that I will feel lonely; which is probably why the exercise we did in the morning really upset me so much…

We were asked to ‘free write’ on the theme of ‘loneliness’, and this is what came out;

Empty evenings

Bored

Alone

Trapped in my own head

Four walls closing in

Feeling my thoughts take over

Inner voices filling the void

Fed up with my apathy and lethargy

Playing twisted tricks on me

This treacherous world is a cold dark lonely place

Uncaring

Untrusting

I need to hide; stay warm; feel cocooned

Shelter from the pain

Hurt

Cut myself off

Even though I long for contact, for touch

Is this insanity? Is this what it means?

I want to work out what it truly is

                                                                               But my head pounds

Spins

I need to shut it down

Silence the circular ramblings

The questions that are always unanswered

And sleep until it is all washed away

But then I wake up

And nothing changes

Still the same

The truth is; we are all born alone and die alone

The space inbetween spent chasing

Connections, commitment, communion

All of them distractions from reality

All meaning found is just a comforting illusion

A denial

Does that make me crazy?

Or do I have clarity?

We were given half an hour to do this in. I probably wrote for about ten minutes of that time, and spent the rest of it weeping to myself. I just couldn’t stop. The sadness it stirred within me was quite overwhelming; the awareness of the four givens (death, isolation, freedom and meaninglessness) and the weight of those subjects.

I has worried me. Am I resilient enough to do this work? Is this a temporary state, or will I always over empathise? Is there such a thing as ‘over empathising’? I always thought surely not, but now I just don’t know. I feel very, very delicate, nervous about the Christmas break. Even though this course has been such hard work, I need it so much – it is my only affirmation at the moment, the only thing that gives me validation in who I am – I was one of the last to leave at the end of the session yesterday – was that because I just feel that I need to be here so badly? Or because I was afraid of going home and beginning the holiday, and accepting that I do feel lonely at Christmas?

I can’t accept it, I just can’t. I am going to do something about it. I will report back in the New Year with positivity, I PROMISE. Myself