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  • On being & belonging - A sexuality story

    I would describe myself as a late bloomer. I was bullied and or insecure ever since primary school because I was different. Periodically away on mysterious hospital visits, returning in a wheelchair, having physio therapy in the library while the other children had PE. I think I took so long to arrive at the idea that anyone might find me physically attractive, that it was an unusually long time before I started to really think about sex, and it was still something shrouded in mystery for me by my mid teens. My fantasies generally centred around escaping the mundane working class surroundings I was born in to, and finding like minded people who accepted me. In this ideal world, someone was bound to fall in love with me. I think I legitimately gave more thought to the kind of dog we would get (a pug), than the sex we would have.

    During my last years of senior school I was teased horribly by a girl who told everyone I was gay. I was in an all girls Catholic high school, and our sexual education in the early 2000s was still limited to how a baby is scientifically made. In terms of sexuality and relationships, we were basically told that straight sex was for marriage, and gay any engagement in gay sex meant you were going straight to hell. My bully had come out by the end of our first year in sixth form. It was in the months before I went away to university that I really began to consider my sexuality, and wonder whether my feelings for people of the same sex came from more than a desire to be the object of my admirations, to be like them. Did I also want to be with them?

    Coming out to my mother was easy. While waxing lyrical about a singer I was particularly infatuated with during a walk with our family dog, she actually asked me if I had sexual feelings for this woman! I admitted it, and that was the last we really said on the matter. I was about eighteen. Now, I'm a 30 year old bisexual woman in a long term heterosexual relationship. In this sense, I think it has been easier for my family as they have never been confronted with a long term girlfriend. For them, my bisexuality has likely been pushed to the same dark corner of their mind where the fact that I have a sexual relationship with my fiancé lives. I feel it must be much easier to live as bisexual than homosexual, at least for those of us in straight relationships, as we can opt 'out'.

    My sexuality feels like it's only a part of a whole truck load of 'otherness' I have lived through ever since I was old enough to be aware of the similarities I had with other children – many of us lived with a lady called 'Mum', and my differences – most people didn't learn to ride a tricycle with a plaster cast on their leg! While all children enter the world with their own unique experience, it doesn't take long to develop ideas about what is 'normal'. In the playground, the tendency can be for those youngsters whose versions of normal fit nearest to club together and make those who don't fit feel excluded.

    'Other' can turn in to something beautiful. The old wisdom is that hardly anyone who had a smooth, uneventful school experience ever goes on to greatness. But, I know this can be of very little comfort to a fourteen year old staring at four more years of compulsory education. Who really wants to wait that it out for the time when they are empowered to go forth and find their people? Our society likes to think it has moved on leaps and bounds, and that we're living in a post phobic world where everyone instinctively knows that love is too hard to find for it matter how it plays out between consenting adults. The reality is, visibility can lead to targeting, and that just because the rules say we aren't to discriminate, every day life for LGBTQI+ individuals, including young people can still be fraught with danger, judgement and hopelessness.

    At the Albany Centre Conference on 'Being and Belonging' a host of guest speakers will be talking about the important work that is going on to support young people through the many things that can make it much harder to find your place in the world. Sexuality is just one of these things. You can join us on Saturday 25th March at the Rudolf Steiner School, Kings Langley. Tickets are available here, where you can also hear Albany Centre Director, Jon Wilson Cooper, talk more about what you can expect on the day.

  • Blue Monday

    Blue Monday, purportedly the 16th of this month, and for future reference, the third Monday in January, cynically, is something that was made up to encourage people to buy holidays.  I do not recommend any special measures in relation to this specific date.  I do think, however, that it is an apt a time as any to talk about things such as low mood, stress and the many other emotional well-being issues that might be more figural in the Winter.

    The Christmas break is over and done with, and whether you celebrate or not, the chances are that it has left its mark on your mental and physical state in more ways than one.  Christmas can be a hard thing for many of us to get through.  For those of us who were lucky enough to enjoy ourselves, that ‘enjoy’ might very well be euphemistic for over-indulgence.  You might be drinking more than you normally would and eating more than you really should, and while these things might feel a comfort at the time, they take their toll!  Even for those of us who don’t do Christmas, we still endure weeks of commercial hubbub, and maybe even some over-time to support the spike in annual leave for everybody else!

    So, as we trudge through January, not completely rid of our Christmas baggage and with the summer months’ miles ahead, what can we do?  Sky Travel will tell you to book a holiday.  I also have some suggestions with minimal financial impact.  

    GET OUTSIDE

    Of course, this isn’t always appealing when the rain is pouring and the wind is blowing.  On a clear dry day though, wrap up and get outside.  The combination of a natural inclination to stay indoors, along with the great British winter’s tendency towards low-hanging cloud means that we massively miss out on vitamin D.  It’s not only some rare sunshine that will do you good.  Even on the greyest days, a bit of fresh air, some gentle exercise, and some trees could do you the world of good.  If a solo stroll seems a bit naff, there are apps to incentivise you with anything from a temporary canine companion, to digital monsters, or tracked achievements for you to post on social media.  Many of these apps are free and are a great alternative to getting locked in to a gym contract that you may resent by February.

    MAKE IMPROVEMENTS TO YOUR DIET

    January is high season for dieting, but again – making a positive change to your diet doesn’t have to mean fad diets or subscription plans.  Simply making an active decision to eat smaller portions and pile more fruit and veg on to your plate can give you a massive nutritional boost and get you moving a bit easier. 

    TAKE SOME TIME OUT JUST FOR YOU

    December can be a struggle in so many ways.  Hosting a Christmas for family and friends can be exhausting.  Some of our family Christmases might be stressful or worse and many of us will find ourselves isolated, and further cut off from our usual support networks by transport strikes and the general unavailability of loved ones obliged elsewhere at Christmas time.  While the opportunity for an extended break might not be an option, consider taking a long weekend to do things that support you to feel at your best.  Perhaps you just need a few days in your pyjamas with nothing on the agenda.  Maybe you need to get out of the house to go somewhere other than work.  It can feel like there is so little room for small pleasures in daily life, and sometimes the only solution is to carve out this room for yourself. 

    SEE A COUNSELLOR

    The new year can put one in a reflective mood, for better or worse.  While many of the suggestions above might make small or big differences to how you’re feeling this January, counselling is always an option.  It doesn’t matter whether you feel like you just have the blues or if you have reoccurring feelings or patterns that you might like to explore; seeing a counsellor can allow you some time free from daily obligations, and is confidential.  Sometimes, I come to my counsellor with a specific thing I would like to explore, other days there might feel like there’s not much to talk about.  But you can guarantee I will still fill the time, and that often, the times when I feel like I have nothing to bring turn in to some of the most useful sessions!  

    Whatever you’re bringing with you to 2017, the things you like and what you would like to change, there are so many ways to take manageable, positive steps to get off to the right start. Remember, improvement doesn’t always have to mean big promises and massive change.  It can be as simple as taking some time to be kind to yourself.

  • Modern Life, and how Gestalt can help

    I’ve worked in education for quite a while, so for me, the autumn always represents a beginning and an ending.  The beginning of the new academic year, and therefore the beginning of a dash towards Christmas break.  It also signifies the end of what in July felt like a long summer, but now feels like a blink during which I failed to accomplish any of the things I had in mind to get done between then and when I knew from repeated experience things got busy once more.  Where did the time go?  I think this a common feeling among us.

     

    I think this time of year can signal a transition for many of us.  Even if your life doesn’t focus around term dates, you might have felt the summertime benefit of longer days - isn’t it nice to get home from the office and find that there are still some daylight hours remaining?  Or felt the benefit of lighter traffic, or fewer school children on the train.  With the last bank holiday a distant memory, many of us might be counting down the days till Christmas, and perhaps feeling that simultaneous guilt at wishing our time away, mixed with the acknowledgement that time seems to whizz by ever faster, whether we will it to or not.  I had every intention of sorting out the spare room this summer, but there the boxes remain, exactly where I left them in June.  And I don’t remember making a conscious choice not to deal with them, I just never found the time!

     

    I sat back and thought about the aspects of Gestalt therapy which support me as my life gets busier, and I would like to share some of them with you:

     

    Living with what is…

     

    The summer is gone.  Rather than lamenting those things left unfinished (or not even started), it’s more helpful for me to think of goals I did achieve - even those self-indulgent ones like taking a holiday with my partner, and making more time for my friends.  Living with what is is something I work with a lot in my own therapy.  I am here, at the end of the summer, and things are as they are through a mixture of the things I did and didn’t do, along with a huge helping of the stuff that was completely out of my control.  Instead of focusing on the unchangeable past, even the immediate past, I want to get better at allowing myself to appreciate what I have now; and if I can’t appreciate it, then accept it.  It’s a skill, rather than simple switch we can pull.  I know it’s not always as simple as going ‘Ah well, the spare room’s a mess, but at least we had a nice holiday’.  Taking a moment, and sitting with the things that you can’t change, and trying to put them in a context that helps you move on is always a good place to start.    

          

    Dismissing those dreaded shoulds...

     

    I find that a lot of my anxieties stem not from what my priorities and personality traits actually are, but what I feel they should be.  This actually fits in very well with my first point.  If I’m telling myself off for not doing something, is it because I have not done it or because I feel like I should have done it.  In these situations, it’s really important to ask yourself where that should is coming from.  ‘Shoulds’ or ‘Introjects’ as they are called in Gestalt, are things we have internalised through our upbringing and through society.  Very often, we won’t initially be conscious of the ‘should’ we are expressing, because we have swallowed this introject down so early and so completely that we cannot separate the introject from fact.  As a result, those deep-seated introjects can make life very hard for us.  Gestalt therapy can really support you to start picking apart your introjects in order to more clearly see where they are coming from, and if you really want to hang on to them.  Introjects to do with personal relationships can be very hard to deal with on your own.  For example, when a friendship becomes difficult for me, perhaps I am being leaned on too much, or I feel like I am only contacted by that person if they need something from me, I have a habit of taking on the ‘should’.  I should try harder to meet this person’s needs.  I have done some work on this particular should, and in a lot of cases I’m now able to remind myself that it’s not my responsibility to always undertake to try harder, and that my self-worth is not contingent on how useful I am to somebody. Perhaps it’s not the end of the world if I have a few less friends.      

     

    Recognising my patterns...

     

    When I first started therapy, I think I was expecting to see marked change quite quickly.  What I’ve come to realise after nearly a year of seeing my own therapist, and a year of studying is that very often the first step to dealing with any unhelpful behaviours or coping strategies is acknowledgement.  One behaviour I have noticed in myself is that when I start feeling overburdened by work or other commitments, I am unable to say no.  As a result, I am prone to continually working in the same overburdened state until I make myself ill or get injured.  If I were to outright lie to you, I would say ‘Since studying Gestalt and beginning my own therapy I absolutely never ever allow myself to be overburdened’.  What I can say to you truthfully, is that since studying Gestalt and having my own therapy, I am more able to recognise this as a tendency, and anticipate situations in which I might become overburdened.  I now consciously put boundaries and personal safeguards in place to avoid taking on too much, and support myself to see the saying of ‘no’, as something I sometimes have to do to protect myself, rather than to inconvenience others. Of course I still get caught out.  I’ve still spent a few Monday mornings wishing I had planned more recovery time into my weekend.  But, I’m now completely comfortable with the idea of being busy doing nothing.  

     

    This is just a snapshot of the personal growth and support I have gained through my work at the Albany Centre, and my personal therapy.  Whatever your pattern, the counsellors at Mosaic Counselling Services are available to support you.  

  • Gestalt, Mosaic and Me

    I am by nature inclined to time travel.  I can delve into the distant past, uncovering past mistakes, missed opportunities, regrets, and I can zoom forward to notions of the person I wish to be, in a future possibly unrealistically close to the present day.  I can get lost, and I can get stuck.  I can spend a lot of time in my head, and I used to spend a lot of time worrying about how to get out.    

    I first became interested in Counselling and Psychotherapy as a profession about five years ago.  I grew up in a family that didn’t like to talk, and talking was one of favourite things!  I also love to listen, and people would often tell me that I had a knack.  So I started an evening course, learning about counselling skills, and looking at various different modes of therapy.  I finished the course and found myself time travelling once again.  The irony of my anxiety about how I was going to move forward with my career goal of working in mental health was not lost on me.  I discovered The Albany Centre through the power of the internet, and by the end of my first visit through the big red door I felt I had found the place where I would learn to be the kind of mental health practitioner that I wanted to be.     

    Beginning my training with The Albany Centre was daunting.  As is typical for me, my first concerns were that there were going to be many people who were much further along in their careers than I was.  I was worried about not having as much to contribute.  But very soon I realised that as long as I brought myself, and was willing to be present and to be curious, I didn’t need to impress anybody.  I started living and working in the now.  Gestalt is the therapy of the now.  That, I think is what was first attracts me the most to the mode of therapy we’re all training in here at the Albany Centre.       

    I have always been an advocate of therapy, and I feel that everyone should have the opportunity to access it.  You don’t have to be in crisis to seek therapy.  I am in therapy myself, and can honestly say that a great deal of my most valuable learning has happened in therapy.  My own therapy will help me to be a better therapist because it helps me to understand myself and how I relate to others.  Understanding is a huge part of why I am interested in counselling and psychotherapy, and is why I truly believe that therapy is for everyone.  You don’t have to have a laundry list of the things that keep you up at night in order to seek counselling.  All you need is to bring yourself, and your curiosity.     

    This time last year, I had never had any therapy of my own, and I was only just aware of the work of The Albany Centre and Mosaic.  This year, I am preparing to get more involved in the work of Mosaic counselling services.  All of us who train at the Albany Centre, and who are involved in Mosaic services are supported through our continued professional training, through therapy and clinical supervision.  

    The Mosiac Counselling Service belongs to those of us training at the Albany Centre. It's chance for us to get real experience in running an efficent, affective counselling service; and for us to translate the knowledge, expertise and support we get through the Albany Centre into a key service to the community of St Albans and Hertfordshire.

    Real experience is the key here, not just for myself and my colleagues who are training but for our service users.  My own therapy has taught me that to bring 'me' is enough, and my hope is that those who experience Mosaic can feel that too.  Whatever it is, big or small, if it is, then bring it!  

    Practitioners at Mosaic, along with carefully selected guest bloggers will be contributing to the Mosaic blog on a monthly basis, covering topics which our service seeks to support such as depression, anxiety, stress, life choices, relationships and trauma.   I hope you’ll check back at the end of August to see what my colleagues have to say.