Happy Valentines Day Maggie Estep

In her essay Think of This as a Window Maggie Estep wrote “I fell in love with New York City one day in 1971 when I saw dozens of people blithely stepping over a dead body on the side walk.”

Photo from http://www.maggieestep.com/about/

Photo from http://www.maggieestep.com/about/

I read that today in The New York Times, in Maggie Estep’s obituary. A novelist, a blogger and a performer of poetry she died on Wednesday after a heart attack. Maybe her heart couldn’t take anymore.
You might see what I am alluding to in one of her poems:


To hell with sticking my head in the oven
I’m happy
I’m ridiculously vengenfully happy
I’m ripped apart by sunshine
I’m estatic
I’m leaping
I’m cutting off all of my limbs

I’m doing circus tricks with a fork.

Happy Valentines Day Maggie, I’ll miss you in the world.


‘It’s a strange pathology don’t you think,’ I say, ‘to want to be something other than who you are?’
Wynstan leans forward, places a hand on mine. He has seen my need and he will never shame me for showing it to him. ‘It’s the same old thing, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘All that we are not stares back at all that we are.’

Funder, A. (2011). All That I Am. Melbourne: Penguin Books.

All that i am

One day soon all that I am is going to stare down all that I am not.

That’s not a New Year’s resolution, although I am resolved to do it. So far I have not gained the upper hand over who I am not, not in the last year nor in any year preceding that. I am trekking in an unexplored yet familiar place, my own vast and muddled interior with no ribbon to mark the finishing line. I don’t know if that will make sense, the journey is a bit like being in the night during the daytime. Then there is the ubiquitous and persistent question ‘Are we there yet?’ Am I there yet? I trust the reply will always be ‘no’, in fact I can’t hear anything else. It is New Years eve and I’m indulging in a kind of remembering of who I am, right at home with paradoxes and polarities, while looking to myself for something more than my old patterns.

I don’t want to be something other than who I am, just more of who I already am. One day soon all that I am is going to stare down all that I am not. My New Year’s cocktail has equal parts of great confusion and awakening awe.


Empathy and what to say

A useful quality for this social time of year is empathy. Amid the merriment hurt feelings will be present, little wounds and abrasions will happen. For many the Yuletide doesn’t hold much gaiety. It can be hard to be jolly, especially in the face of so much happy-ho-ho. I can slip into feeling diminished or dismissed all on my own, let a lone in a crowd. It’s empathy that can welcome me back in.

“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame.” says Brene Brown. Shamed is how I feel when I am judged or criticised for not being how I am not. If I can not meet the demands and expectations of the season, for whatever reason, there are sure to be jibes. This three minute video is spoken by Brene Brown, I found it published on her site, thanks to friend who pointed me that way.

Empathy is valuable because often sources of sadness can’t be changed, darkness can not easily be brightened. Even when you don’t really know what to say, connection is possible just by saying “I don’t what to say…”

No solutions, elegant or otherwise

I find the term ‘elegant solution’ compelling. I think I would practically swoon if presented with an elegant solution for something. That’s funny though as I can not recall any elegant solutions in my life for anything. Elegantly is just not reflective of how my everyday tends to pan out, quirky is a better fit for me.

004I am setting up my own therapy practice, and as I am a student and will be working under supervision the emphasis is on practice. It is an unrefined sort of title to call myself Trainee Process Work Therapist – Working Under Supervision, and it sums up where I am. Now back to elegant solutions…

Over lunch I could hear someone at another table bemoaning that his elegant solution to a business problem had been dismissed by someone or some forum or another. On and on, if he said elegant solution once he said it twenty-seven times. The count is a rough guess rather than an elegant or meticulous tally.

Actually I have to thank the guy for rabbiting on, as I had to switch off my ears and I paused over my sandwich to think about what it is that I offer to clients.

Something meaningful? Another perspective? Support for emotional well being? Sense making? Dreaming? Connection? Insight? Self awareness? Nothing elegant per se, although the term per se is in itself rather elegant. Therapy, and life for that matter, is about the questions more than the answers or solutions. I mean a client’s questions, insightful though I hope my questions will be. I value curiosity over solutions, and my clients will have a chance to lean into discovering their own solutions.

In fact I think not knowing from a therapist is appropriate when working the complexity and wonder of someone else life experiences. Thanks elegant-solutions-guy-in-the-cafe for prompting me to step into a greater awareness around how I will, and already do, work. In summary I think I will be more gracious than elegant. I like that and I won’t be every persons therapist. I like that too.

“The best predictor of positive outcomes for any treatment is the quality of the therapeutic relationship” John Read, Senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Auckland

Distress is not an illness

distress is not an illnessDear therapist, counselor, coach, psychiatrist, psychologist, dear nurse, dear mother, brother, sister, lover, partner, husband, ex, wife, son, uncle, niece, nephew and aunt, dear cousin, dear friend, buddy, side-kick, acquaintance, soul mate, dear social worker, doctor, healer, dear train conductor, dear butcher, dear baker and dear candlestick maker,

Today I felt moved to let you know that distress is not an illness. You probably know that and sometimes I forget it. Today I am reminding myself, as well as you, that hardship is not an illness. Misery is not an illness.

Shame, suffering, sorrow, heartbreak, desolation
Misery, anguish and any sort of sadness…
Disappointment is not any illness.

Being inconsolable is not an illness.

I know I can’t define something only by what it is not, and there are ways of examining my world, if not appreciating it, other than to see illness. I might have to write another letter to the world on another day, and for today, let me say again that distress is not an illness.

With love…

Living with Suicidal Feelings – a workshop in Melbourne

There is a lot of focus on suicide prevention and another, perhaps more helpful, perspective is how to live with suicidal feelings.

Will Hall is an inspiring presenter with practical and innovative ideas read more about Will’s work here. I am thrilled to be organising this public workshop on 23 November. Please share with others who might be interested.

LWSF A4 poster V1

Another story of depression

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com.au/2013/05 /depression-part-two.html


Allie has written a part 2 to Adventures In Depression.
Remember the first installment?

There is something quite special about her work, simple and evocative. She captures something about depression that can be hard to describe to another.

I know that because a number of my friends shared Allie’s site with me. I am indebted to all of you.

I love discovering the words to describe no feelings again and again.

If you, or someone you know, needs emotional support call Lifeline on 13 11 14 in Australia. Crisis counselling is available around the world.

Under pressure?

The New Yorker magazine  July 8 & 15 2013

I feel tremendous pressure to frolic
The New Yorker magazine July 8 & 15 2013

Depression can be accompanied by a desperate need for change as well as an overwhelming powerlessness to achieve that change.

It is difficult for an outsider to understand that state, and it can be just as impossible for the one on the inside to be in touch with themselves. Listening is the task at hand, to yourself or to another.

This is not a time for judgments or for pressure. Pushing can make change even more difficult and increase feelings of helplessness. In a time of darkness and confusion, frolicking might not possible, and that’s OK, being is enough.

Some days just being is enough or, if you are an otter, floating is enough.

Happiness as a disorder

Our moods sit somewhere along a continuum, with melancholy at one end and happiness as the polarity. The more desired states are at the happy end of the range.

From the wall at Colonel TanThe pursuit of happiness is recorded as an inalienable right in the US declaration of independence. This century we are pursuing happiness more deliberately than ever before. The proliferation on self-help books on the subject are testament to out quest for happiness. Our consumption levels of anti-depressants has never been higher. Can you believe that …23% of women in their 40s and 50s take antidepressants” ? I have argued before that depression and melancholy should be regarded as normal rather abnormal states. Given the prevalence of depression, it would seem to be something usual, if not expected. Entirely normal. Depression is not something we seek or desire, but I believe it is a normal state, even as one we usually wish to avoid.

Psychology,as a discipline, has been around for a bit under 150 years. The focus has been on curing what has been regarded as abnormal, our neurosis and psychosis. Psychology is primarily concerned about those states which are not wanted, those we negatively value.

What a challenge to our everyday thinking it would be if happiness were regarded as a psychiatric disorder, a cause for therapeutic concern. I am delighted that friend came across this paper by Richard Bentall from 1992; A Proposal to Classify Happiness as a Psychiatric Disorder. Bentall argues

…that happiness meets all reasonable criteria for a psychiatric disorder. It is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, there is at least some evidence that it reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system, and it is associated with various cognitive abnormalities – in particular, a lack of contact with reality.

I love his thinking and how it addresses what I see as a societal attitudinal imbalance. On the continuum I mentioned, where one state exists the other must too. Reading Bentall’s paper makes me happy, there could be something wrong with me…

I particularly like in particular all bridges

Marilyn Monroe Fragments
Oh damn I wish that I were
dead — absolutely nonexistent –
gone away from here — from
everywhere but how would I do it
There is always bridges — the Brooklyn
bridge – no not the Brooklyn Bridge
because But I love that bridge (everything is beautiful from there and the air is so clean) walking it seems
peaceful there even with all those
cars going crazy underneath. So
it would have to be some other bridge
an ugly one and with no view — except
I particularly like in particular all bridges — there’s some-
thing about them and besides these I’ve
never seen an ugly bridge

Marilyn Monroe