Sunday, May 27, 2007

On Shopping And Being Rude...

Pen-y-Ghent, Yorkshire Dales

I am rubbish at shopping. Really, spectacularly rubbish. Although I dabble, I remain an unreconstructed lefty when faced with the opportunity to become a proper player at consumerism. I balk at the opportunity to hand over sums of cash in return for a fleeting glimpse of happiness. God knows I see enough ordinary human misery in my job to realise that consuming like there is no tomorrow brings little more than debt and a hollow feeling that you have just been had.

Obviously there are times when I have to go to a shop and buy things. My general rule of thumb is that if something comes in a brown paper bag I can manage it. Anything bigger, and it means that somebody is trying to sell me something and the rubbish shopping thing kicks in. I can just about handle the over stimulation of the senses that goes on in a large store. I can switch off to the ‘buy me,’ ‘no, buy me instead’ from every product. What I can’t handle is the fact that every single transaction with a sales assistant has a psychological ulterior. Nothing is as it seems in the world of shopping. These people are trained to take my money. I am trained to understand unspoken and psychological communications. It is a match made in hell and makes me a little unruly.

I survived Ikea this week, with barely a scratch. Well, just one minor hiccup:

Me: (very loudly) who in their right mind would buy a suite in such a dreadful colour?

Kooky hypnotherapist: perhaps that man sitting behind you?

His partner was clearly quite taken with the dreadfully coloured suite. He smiled at me conspiratorially, and so I rather suspect he wasn’t. I said sorry quite a few times. I think I just about got away with it.

I left Ikea empty handed, apart from a battery operated milk frother which cost £2.50 and I am really rather taken with. No need now for that hugely expensive cappuccino maker.

I was feeling quite pleased with myself that I had managed a full circuit of Ikea without falling out with my companion, ( although the kooky hypnotherapist is particularly difficult to fall out with), without stropping like a twelve year old and having only slightly offended one person. All in all a good shopping day. (I know we didn’t actually buy the chairs we went for, but that really is a minor detail. Not having a nervous breakdown is a good shopping day as far as I am concerned.)

I took a call from The Husband on the way home. I had to meet him at a local bathroom shop because, apparently, we have an urgent need to fit a new bathroom. I was bemused. We have lived in our Old-Lady-Style-House for 4 years, in the full knowledge that it needs redecorating and that neither of us can be arsed to do it. But suddenly WE NEED TO FIT THE BATHROOM THIS WEEKEND.

(Ouch, so sorry for shouting, but that is what the message said.)

So I met him at a major retail outlet and frankly it was a bridge too far. Sensory overload. Too many special offers - a veritable Woolworth’s pick ‘n’ mix of taps, fixtures, fittings and toilet seats with sweets embedded in them. (What's that all about then?) The background music was way too loud, and I maintain that 70's disco music is only appropriate for.....well, a 70's disco really and then only under sufferance. It was all too much for me.

I felt sorry for the twelve year old assistant who tried in vain to interest me in her lovely (?) bathrooms. She should have been sitting in a park drinking Diamond White with her friends. I should have been somewhere else sticking pins in my eyes. I ended up sitting on a toilet rocking gently whilst The Husband translated her sales speak to me, and I told him to tell her to speak up and stop mumbling, as if she were the one with the hearing problem and not me. I can’t imagine how rude she found me. Sorry little sales girl. It really wasn’t your fault. I think my Old-Lady-House has turned me into a grumpy old woman.

Operation Bathroom started yesterday. I shall be glad to have rid of my Old-Lady bathroom. I already have sciatica and greying hair, and was concerned that the shell-style bathroom suite and maroon patterned tiles would soon start looking quite attractive to me.

I escaped Operation Bathroom with my son. The two of us took a wonderful walk up Pen-y-Ghent and I began to feel human again.

The workings of capitalism are clever. They needle our inherent desire for satiation, knowing that when it is within our grasp they will needle once more. We sublimate our core relational needs into the need to consume, and neatly side step the issue of built in disillusionment that accompanies the built in obsolescence.

I would like to claim that this is why I hate shopping, but that would be just too pompous. Really, it’s because I am rubbish at it. Very, very rubbish.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Anyone For EBT*....?

You may be aware that there are plans afoot to expand access to psychological therapies in the NHS. This is a Good Thing, in my opinion. You may also be aware that there are plans afoot to ensure that CBT will be pretty much the only therapy on offer. This is a Very Bad Thing in my opinion. Perhaps you already know that. We have had some stimulating discussions on this blog about the pros and cons of CBT. See here and here if you want to catch up.

I have worked with a number of clients who self harm; who will routinely cut themselves as a way of managing a deeper distress than the physical pain of a wound. I have a friend who does this. She is exceptionally bright. She runs a successful business and has a broad CV. She knows more about psychology and psychotherapy than most, including many who work in the field. She invests in her personal development, and has an awareness and intuition that make her a valuable friend. She also cuts herself.

We present to you a joint post, on cutting and soothing, from the perspective of the one who cuts and the one who listens to some of those who cut. Find her words here.

There are a number of techniques that therapists are taught to use with those who cut. These include:

  • Challenging the negative self talk, and replacing it with a positive internal narrative
  • Distraction techniques, like going for a walk or a run
  • Using an elastic band to inflict pain without damage
  • Stabbing a melon with a large knife (!)
  • Taking a bath with aromatherapy oils

These techniques don’t work. I know, because in my early days I have encouraged people to use them and have been dismayed at their lack of effectiveness.

They don’t work, because they absolutely fail to understand the purpose of the cutting. They fail to take account of the simple fact that, for those who do it, cutting soothes. That cutting has an effect on the physiology of the individual, and provides an experience that going for a run or pinging with an elastic band simply can’t replicate.

People don’t cut because they are attention seeking or histrionic. They cut because sometimes it is the only thing that soothes. Everyone who relies on self-harm for comfort has a level of significant internal disorganisation, resulting from either early trauma or lack of attachment in their early years.

This is hard for a therapist. We sit and hear the level of distress, the despair, the hurt and the pain and we feel overwhelmed. We may feel the distress ourselves. We feel pain at watching another in pain. We feel frustrated with ourselves that we cannot relieve it, and then we project that frustration onto the client for not making the techniques work for them. We may feel intolerant at their impotence and at their apparent inability to soothe themselves. We may pick up the projected impotence and feel like a failure at not being able to help. None of this is easy for a therapist.

And so we come up with yet another technique, the purpose of which is to soothe our own feelings of impotence or inadequacy. We Try Hard. It ceases to be about soothing the person in front of us, who is still in despair. The person who cuts knows that they are causing the therapist despair. It hurts them. They know that we are Trying Hard. They leave feeling misunderstood and blamed, confirming a belief that no one can help and they can only find respite through self-harm.

I have found something that sometimes works. It is not a technique. It is not a clever psychological trick. I have learnt that when I walk in their shoes, I start to understand what cutting gives them. I start to understand the primal experience, and recognise that inflicting deep pain on oneself can be physically soothing. It is a very different experience for each person who cuts, and it is not helpful to try to come up with a universal theory to explain the whys. For some people it is about manifesting psychic pain. For some it is about control. For some it is akin to a sexual experience. I have heard people say that it is like having an orgasm, only better. There is no doubt that the physiological experience is as important as the psychological one. Neuropsychologists are starting to research the possibility that cutting releases oxytocin – the same hormone that is released at the point of orgasm. It is possible that cutting performs a function of affect regulation.

So if I could sit alongside the person who is telling me of their pain and their need to cut, if I could walk in their shoes without acting out my own frustration, impotence or discomfort at my own distress, what effect would that have?

We know that to be in the presence of a self-regulating other is soothing in itself. We learn to tolerate our own deep despair by having another tolerate it for us, and show us that it is indeed tolerable. Neuropsychology tells us that when this happens in childhood positive neural pathways are formed, which allow us to continue to soothe ourselves in distressing moments when the other is not there. The secure attachment facilitates the production of oxytocin, serotonin and possibly other neurotransmitters. For those of us who don’t have enough of this experience in childhood, it is hoped that therapy can help us to develop it later in life.

So if the therapist can be a truly self-regulating other alongside the person who cuts, and a holding witness to their pain and distress, this will soothe. And as the relationship strengthens, the attachment will enable the other to internalise the positive object that is the therapist.

There may be time then for techniques. Or perhaps for simply saying “I don’t want you to hurt yourself. I want you to be safe because I care about you.”

I have grave concerns about CBT being the only therapy on offer for people who rely on the NHS. With many clients and issues it simply doesn’t work. With some clients it is positively harmful and reinforces their self blaming pathology. If you want to hear what this is like for users of NHS mental health services, read this excellent post by PatientGuard.

* Elastic Band Therapy

Saturday, May 19, 2007

And Now I Feel Hungry....

I have been tagged by the lovely Dandelion, which gives me an excuse for a lazy post whilst I pretend to watch the FA cup final. I find football unbelievably dull when I have no interest in the outcome, and how does the neutral observer choose between one stupidly rich team and another stupidly rich team?

The tag is to name your five favourite eateries in your location. So here, in reverse order, my top five eating out joints in Yorkshire.

5. The Angel Inn, Hetton.

Modern European food, with lots of seafood on the bar menu and a great venison in the restaurant. The Angel often picks up awards, and always gets a mention in The Observer Good Food guide. According to the Observer it is ‘miles from anywhere, but nonetheless worth the drive.’ Actually, its only miles from anywhere if you don’t live nearby. For the rest of us, it’s a great local restaurant.

4. The Fountaine Inn, Linton

Modern British menu but this is much, much more than just a pub lunch. The quality is superb, portions generous and they make it a point of principal to use local produce (including a fabulous local cheeseboard.) Their lamb shank signature dish is the best I have tasted. A must visit, next time you are in the Yorkshire Dales.

3. Harlequins, Cowling

More modern European. Really superb food but in the most odd location. Cowling is a one road village with very little to recommend it, and you could be forgiven for driving past Harlequins without giving it a second glance. But the menu is wonderful and the food is some of the best in Yorkshire. Slightly pricey for us at about £45 quid a head (we are tykes, after all) but a favourite of mine for a special occasion.

2. Prashad Chaat House, Bradford

The Patel family started this chaat house on a small side street in Bradford to serve traditional Gujerati food to the local community. Serving chaat, puris, dosas and some fab specialities (like deep fried coconut balls) the Prashaad is building an impressive collection of awards. It remains true to its roots: small, unassuming, unpretentious and with prices to match. The food is fabulous. If you are lucky Bobby Patel will dance around the tables to the background bhangra. He is really quite sexy, which is just an added bonus really.

1. The Kashmir, Bradford

If you like curry, then trying to pick out a restaurant in Bradford is like wandering around one of those wonderful old fashioned sweet shops: you could almost weep at the choice. Bradford curry goers are a parochial lot. There is a serious competitive edge between the hard core restaurants, and friends have been known to fall out over which one is best. We always end up at the Kashmir, and always in the downstairs room which one reviewer has described as ‘having the atmosphere of a high class public urinal’. Dispense with the cutlery and eat with the fabulous pile of chapattis that accompany every dish. If you get them on a good night the food is unbeatable. If you get the best chef’s night off, when the food can be disappointing to say the least, no worries: just go back another time. You would be hard pushed to spend more than £15 a head on a 3 course meal so you haven’t broken the bank.

I shall dispense with tradition, and not tag anyone. If you fancy it, please consider this a tag. The only requirement is that you include the following list and add your link to the bottom.

Happy eating.

Nicole (Sydney, Australia)
velverse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB (San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
Selba (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Olivia (London, England)
ML (Utah, USA)
Lotus (Toronto, Canada)
tanabata (Saitama, Japan)
Andi (Dallas [ish], Texas, United States)
Todd (Louisville, Kentucky, United States)
miss kendra (los angeles, california, u.s.a)
Jiggs Casey (Berkeley, CA, USA! USA! USA!)
Tits McGee (New England, USA)
Kat (Ontario, Canada)
badgerdaddy (Ludlow, Shropshire, England)
Dandelion (England, Great Britain)
Ms Melancholy (Yorkshire, UK)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I Like Thyme With Chicken....

I have had some back pain today. Just a little more than I find tolerable (although The Husband claims that I am a man when it comes to tolerating pain.)

I went to the first aid box at the complimentary therapy clinic where I work, hoping it might contain something to ease the pain.

I found a collection of Bach remedies, some arnica (gel and pills) and a bunch of thyme. I took the Bach remedy for 'disappointment' and went to Boots for some Nurofen.

My back was much less painful as a result. Please don't tell my colleagues.

PS. I was joking about the thyme.

On Meeting A Stray And A Badger...

My meeting with Stray came via email, following a post about a smear test I seem to recall. It passed without incident.

I met Badger a few weeks later, introduced by Stray via her blog roll. Enjoyable indeed, but still without controversy.

So how I wish I wish I wish I had met them first in the flesh and not the cyber world. As their housemate did. Read it here. And then see if you dare visit them ever again.

PS Not only has Badger won the coveted Post of the Week for her post on Tourette's, but Stray has won the coveted GBA(S)Fiction festival, over at The Moon Topples. Such talent, and all under the one roof.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Congratulations Lovely Badger...

Last week Badger wrote a beautifully evocative piece about living with Tourettes, and the very wise jury at Post of the Week have judged this the best post from a very tough short list this week.

Well done Badger. I am most happy for you indeed. So if you have ever wondered what it is like to have an itch....that is scratched but never eased, then go and read the wise words of Badger.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

On Meetings And Ruptures...

Have I ever told you that I live in sleepy little backwater? Maybe just the once or twice? I love where I live. I love being out in the Dales within a half hour’s car drive, walking my imaginary dog or cycling with the children. (I am allergic to proper dogs, but imaginary ones don’t make me sneeze or wheeze.) I love staring at the hills whilst I wash the dishes, and driving up through the mist in the valleys on winter mornings into the glorious sunshine which lights up the hues of green on the moors. I have spent the best part of twenty years living in cities around the country.

But I miss my friends. I miss having people to call on for a chat, or a coffee or a beer on a sunny evening. People who challenge and excite and stimulate me. I have some lovely colleagues who do all of the above, but none of them live near enough for a “let’s pop out for a beer” phone call.

I am astonished to find that blogging is replacing these kinds of friendships for me. Through blogging I have met the most stimulating people. People from all walks of life, who are a constant source of pleasure and surprise.

One of these people I have met in ‘real life’ and is fast becoming a dear friend (hey, BoBo!) Two of them I chat with daily via email or gchat and are fast becoming very dear friends (hey Stray and Caroline!) Many of them I email occasionally for stimulating and interesting discussions (too many to mention…..)

Sometimes it can be hard to make a relationship using only the written word. We rely so much on non verbals to aid our understanding of the other. A tone of voice, a slight look of shyness, a feeling of insecurity that silently passes between us, a teasing smile that indicates I was only joking really. With the written word we have only our words and our unconscious self to play clever tricks on our minds.

I am in my tenth year of working as a therapist. When I first began I wanted to soothe people, in the way that I had been soothed during my dark years by my therapist. But we cannot just soothe. That is not how relationships work. They are full of fractures and misunderstandings and our dear unconscious reminding us silently that people cannot be trusted, do not care for us, will never be there when we really need them. These ruptures form the very basis of the therapeutic process. It is through these fissures that meaning erupts, overwhelming us with its presence until our conscious mind can take a hold and truly make sense of them. I have learned, sometimes very painfully, that the rupture is the heart of the relationship. Whilst close, loving contact is beautiful, it is through the rupture that we really learn to be alongside each other in our painful existential aloneness. A carefully held rupture is an exquisite thing to behold.

We are all forging something new here, in this little blogging world we inhabit. We are learning a new way of making relationships. Friendships that can hold incredible value, but that need tender care at times because the rupture is so much more difficult to hold when we cannot be physically present.

And so to my lovely bloggy friends, and to those I am yet to meet, let’s hold the ruptures with tenderness. They are just as important as the times of meeting

Friday, May 11, 2007

On Tit-being-ness...**

I started to watch Obedient Wives on TV this week. Based on the insane ramblings teachings of one Laura Doyle, who wrote The Surrendered Wife, the programme followed the lives of a number of women who have achieved total domestic bliss by handing over control of their lives and their relationships to their husbands. If you have a penchant for being treated like a juvenile domestic slave, then I could see how it might appeal.

It was really, really funny for about three minutes. After that I found that pushing cocktail sticks under my finger nails was more fun. I can’t bring myself to critique it. You know it's pants.

Predictably, it featured a deeply unattractive misogynist who had travelled to Thailand to find a wife, because ‘Thai women know how to treat a man’. That reminded me…..

…..when I first moved back to Yorkshire I made contact with two old school friends, whom I had not seen for 20 years. We met at one of their houses for dinner, partners in tow. A lovely evening ensued, involving copious amounts of wine and fond reminiscing about our school days and how much the old town had changed. I told them that I had driven past The George* – a grubby side street pub famous only for its bar room brawls and after hours drinking.

“It still looks as rough as a bear’s arse” said I, “but it’s now got a Thai restaurant above it. Isn’t that weird?”

Total silence. You’d think that a therapist might have just picked up on something, but no, I ploughed on regardless.

“I expect some ugly fuckwit has bought himself a Thai bride, and tied the poor cow to the kitchen stove” said I.

“Yes” said friend-whom-I-had-not-seen-for-20-years. “Actually, it was my dad.”


*Names have been changed to protect the innocent

**Thank you to the lovely Caroline for coining this phrase.

Monday, May 07, 2007

How Times Have Changed....

A recent conversation between a friend of mine and her 11 year old daughter.

Daughter: Mum, can I have pole dancing classes at school?

Mum: Pole dancing classes?

Daughter: Yes, Miss B is teaching us pole dancing.

Mum: Miss B is teaching pole dancing?

Daughter: Yes, on a Monday after school. But if I go I have to be free on Monday the 7th of May because we are doing a display.

Mum: You are doing a pole dancing display?

Daughter: Yes, in the Town Hall Square.

Mum: Miss B is putting on a pole dancing display in the Town Hall Square?

Daughter: Yes, can I do it?

Mum: (stunned silence)

Daughter: Pleeeease mum. It’s for May Day.

Mum: Ah, (relief) Miss B is teaching you May Pole Dancing darling.

Daughter: Yes, that’s what I said. Pole dancing. Can I do it mum?

So to my friend and her lovely daughter, I hope your pole dancing goes down a treat today. And mind not to get the ribbons caught up in your legs when you go upside down.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why Does Play-Doh Smell Of Marzipan...?

We have just spent a wonderful evening at the Bridgewater Hall, listening to Colin Carr playing Bridge's Oration, Natalie Guttman playing Britten's Cello Symphony, Ralph Kirshbaum playing Elgar's Cello Concerto and Yo-Yo Ma playing Walton's Cello Concerto. The concert was part of the Royal Northern College of Music's International Cello Festival. We heard four truly stunning performances. Although Elgar's Cello Concerto really belongs to Du Pre, Kirshbaum still made me weep.

As the music flowed through me I became quite fixated on the percussion section. The bloke playing the timpani had both hands occupied for most of the night. There was another chap with a snare drum and another kind of drum; he had a couple of snare rolls and a few bangs on the other drum. Next to him was a chap with a couple of cymbals. He got to have a go at the end of both the Elgar and the Walton, but I don't think he was needed much for the Bridge or the Britten. (My memory may be letting me down here.) However, he had to slip over to a xylophone type thingy (which may well have been an actual xylophone) during the Walton which I guess kept him on his toes.

And finally, there was a young woman with a big J. Arthur Rank looking gong. She wasn't wearing a toga though. She gonged a couple of times during the Britten and I think once again during the Walton. I got to thinking about being a percussionist. She was turning the pages, and I realised that she would have to be able to read music so she could see when it was time for her to gong. I know that reading music at that level takes a lot of skill. I once turned pages for a pianist friend who was playing Prokofiev's Sonata for Violin and Piano and I could barely follow the music to turn in the right place. Heaven only knows how he actually played it. So I am guessing that the gong woman could read music at a very high level.

But with all that skill, all she gets to do is gong the once in a 30 minute piece of music. And the problem is, if she gongs in the wrong place it is a complete disaster. Ergo, she has to be both competent and confident. So, I wondered, if she is both competent and confident, and can read very difficult music, why doesn't she play an instrument where she gets to play a bit more of the time? Even the bassoon had more play time than she did. What prompted her to think 'I want to be a percussionist. In fact, I want to be the gong person'?

I'm not saying that being a percussionist is easy. Not at all. It just seems that it is both a responsible and yet a potentially dull role to play in an orchestra. I eagerly await correction from my erudite blog readers.

As a little aside, the evening was slightly marred for me by my current acute sense of smell. I have been finding many ordinary smells quite offensive this week. I walked past someone eating a hot dog in the street on Friday, and felt nauseous. I had to leave our staff room ten minutes later because someone was eating soup for lunch. (Perfectly nice carrot soup, but I couldn't bear the smell.) Tonight I was sitting next to a woman who smelled of marzipan. I tried to get my son to swap places in the interval but he couldn't be bribed. I thought it might be her perfume, but son suggested helpfully that perhaps she was made of Play-Doh. I was tempted to squeeze her leg just to see.

If I didn't absolutely know better, I might think that I was pregnant. (I'm not.) When I was pregnant I couldn't bear any strong smells, apart from the smell of rubber which I craved and would frequently pop into my local bicycle shop for a deep sniff. Is there another explanation, dear readers?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Will Mrs Johnson Please Make Herself Known...

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

I have a proper confession. I suffer from a 'mail opening' disorder. It stems back to the days when money was seriously tight, and opening mail would invariably propel me into a panic as to how I was going to give this person the money they were asking for and that I didn’t have. (I have been a student of some kind for over half my adult life. Enough said.) And so I developed a habit of just, well….piling it very neatly in the corner and ignoring it until its presence became too much to bear.

Now the mail is much less scary but the habit persists and I still have a monthly opening ceremony. (All of my professional mail goes to my office, which I open immediately and sort out straight away. See, I do know how to do it. I am not completely stupid.)

Last Monday I had a ‘mail opening’ day. The euphoria of having beaten the pile into submission is short lived, as each opening session generates a list of things to do. Last Monday generated a list of 13 things that required my URGENT ATTENTION. Nothing life threatening, you realise. Just Things That Need Doing. I spent this Monday URGENTLY ATTENDING to the pile of Things That Need Doing.

Most of them were easy to deal with and very, very satisfying. Oh, the joy of filing a piece of paper that has been dealt with. Its almost too much to bear. A couple of them required me to part with money. I went on-line and checked my bank balance, peeping between my fingers with only one eye open. I cannot deal with the things that Require Me To Part With Money until I have some money. I calculated that this would be March 21 2008. Back on the To Deal With Later pile.

Final piece of paper. A solicitor’s letter from British Gas demanding that a woman that I have never heard of pay them money for gas that she has apparently used at my address. This woman does not live in my house, unless The Husband has her tucked away in the under stairs cupboard for his fickle amusement. The woman I don’t know of has surely not been using gas in the under stairs cupboard?

I rang British Gas. It took me 20 minutes to get through. Their goddamn ‘hold’ music was so quiet that I couldn’t hear it on speaker phone, and so had to carry on with my chores with the phone tucked under my ear. I happen to know that this is dangerous and can cause a stroke. I briefly drifted into a fantasy where British Gas had to compensate my son with millions of pounds, thus allowing him to grieve in a luxury home in Florida, because his devoted and adoring mother dropped dead whilst waiting for them to answer the f***ing phone.

Eventually I got through. Lots of talking. It took them 25 minutes to tell me that it was a mistake, a fact I was already aware of when I rang them up. I told her that I was already aware of said fact. She proceeded to explain how the mistake had been made. I drifted into oblivion for a while. She assured me it would be rectified, and we would not receive any more threatening letters for people who do not live with us.

This wouldn’t be quite so bloody annoying, were it not for the fact that this is the third time this has happened in the three years we have lived in this house. And each time the threatening letter has been addressed to a different person, at my address. Do British Gas think that I am running a safe house for people who don’t like paying their gas bills? Yes, that must be it. I am running a safe house and they are on to me. It can’t possibly be that privatisation has left them unable to run a piss up in a f***ing brewery, because we all know it is the public sector that is inefficient and poorly managed. Privatisation brings only milk and honey for shareholders and increased efficiency for the rest of us. Yes, that must be it. I must be running a safe house. Now, let’s just check that under stairs cupboard….