Compassion for the Christmas Monster

Every house has a monster at Christmas. You know, the one who gets stressed out and is basically a nightmare to be around. Full of tension and trying-so-hard-to-be-happy that they couldn’t spot authentic happiness if it slapped them in the face? Well, this year that’s me.

Who am I kidding? It’s me most years!

Last year I somehow managed to escape the fate of the Christmas monster, probably because we glided through the holiday in a drunken stupor in my Dad’s absence. The first Christmas is always the hardest apparently and especially as my Dad was a Muslim and didn’t drink it seemed only right to go through a painful Christmas period the only way us Brit’s knew how – with an abundance of alcohol. It’s funny how the emotions play on the brain, as though they zap energy from painful times so that the memories don’t stay fixed, a kind of protective mechanism from enduring suffering maybe. It only became apparent today when we were asked what we did for last years celebrations – my Mum and I looked at each other cluelessly. We didn’t know. I later discussed this with my brother – he didn’t know either. None of us knew what we ate, if there had been a tree or if we had even exchanged presents. Come to think of it, the only thing I do remember is doing the Christmas shop… Wine, Whisky, Amaretto – could this be the reason why we don’t remember?

The fact of the matter is that I don’t remember being a monster last year, which is refreshing because when I am in the guilt ridden state of not-being-able-to-step-out-of- being-a-monster it seems like I have spent my life that way and that I will always be that way, but thankfully, that’s not reality. This very example of what we can all remember from last year demonstrates how these are all just tricks on the mind – that we can think that we will be in our current state for ever and that our life will be shaped this way, but in reality this isn’t true. I remember managing to pull myself out of a dark depression with this thought when my Dad had died, but I also remember how difficult it was to believe it, against the odds of how I felt at the time.

The thing is that sometimes we are monsters. With emotions running high and the pressure to enjoy family holidays it can be so challenging to not turn into a monster and today I just didn’t have the strength in me to keep it calm.

I’m lucky to come from a forgiving and compassionate family though. With a brother who takes me out for a gin and tells me to not worry because tomorrow is another day, and a mother who comes to tell me she loves me, hugs me and tells me that I’m forgiven for the way I’ve behaved lately –even though I have not earned either of these actions. These things made me melt. Knowing that I didn’t deserve to be treated so nice after being so horrible and knowing that I was still loved for all my worst traits. It’s this compassion that melts the hearts of monsters and brings them back into the love of life.

If you have a monster this year, show them some compassion.

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A Little Bit Of Perspective at Christmas

I read a lot of books. Usually about 5 at any one time because I need to switch around a variety to stay engaged. Typically in my reading portfolio there’s a business book, a self development book, a science/research type book, a book about spirituality and a novel of some kind. The novels are usually about someone’s life story or life events, obviously because I love analysing human behaviour.

Recently I was recommended ‘The Girl On The Train’ by Paula Hawkins. I’d seen adverts for this book plastered all over the place – most notably the displays at train stations – and I noticed that there’s a lot of hype about the book at the moment. It made me wonder why. From what I read, I wondered if it seemed quite reflective of the situations that many people in modern western society find themselves in. Popular books usually hit a common note with it’s audience if it resonates with them, usually through the stories or the characters. That thought left me feeling quite sad about the society that I live in. Let me summarise the characters to give you an idea why.

There was:
A alcoholic who is avoiding the depressive life’s she’s created for herself and appears to drink as a way to numb the pain – at least from what I can make out.
A woman who has narcissistic behaviour and uses intimate relationships as a way to fill the gaping void of grief for the death of her brother that she hasn’t fully deal with.
A mirage of other characters who live in the illusion that they’re happy because they have a job in the city/own house/status quo happy relationship (inc baby in one case) even though their secret thought patterns are very negative.

The book is very well written and the author did a great job of creating character depth and drawing the reader into the situations. However, I simply couldn’t finish it because the reality of the situation made me feel so deflated. In one sense it’s a compliment to the author because I was clearly so drawn into the book that it was evoking such a depth of feeling within me. However, the feeling itself was depressing. It made me realise how inept we are as a culture of dealing with certain life events. The very popularity of the book made me wonder if we face an epidemic in western societies – a subconscious apathy in the illusion of happiness?

Lucky for me I already had another book to switch over to: ‘In Order to Live’ by Yeonmi Park. This book is about a girl who escapes life in North Korea. It talks about the famine and what it was like to live through starvation. How she and her family would risk their lives and walk for miles to receive less food than one UK family might throw away in a week. This girl has to repeatedly physically fight off men who constantly try to rape her while she is trafficked across borders like a commodity. She’s 13.

In the second book there is no opportunity to create significance out of hardship, because everyone is in hardship so there’s no difference. However there is a strong sense of compassion and human intimacy between the characters, which together with the hardship seems to create a wealth of emotional resilience.

Both these books made me ponder about psychological trauma and the significance of it in the perspective of our lives. I believe that it’s necessary to acknowledge and validate a difficult life experience in order to process it. But I wonder how much quicker this process would be if we didn’t have the opportunity to claim significance for the story. I wonder if this perspective on life might make someone think differently about their situation.

As we come closer to Christmas, I remember how difficult last year was. A quite Christmas day with a gaping void that so many painful emotions swirled around in the absence of my Father. What I remember most though, is how we talked about missing him and how the conversations always ended with gratitude. We were grateful that we had such an amazing person in our lives for so many years. We were grateful that we had each other. We were grateful that we had our health, a roof over our heads and food on our table. It’s easy to say thanks flippantly but when we allow ourselves to immerse in the situation of others, that’s when we can really feel gratitude. I wonder if the characters in The Girl On The Train might think differently about their privileged lives if they woke up every morning with the excruciating pain of life threatening hunger? Or if they were separated from their family and anyone who spoke their language, in to a trade channel that constantly tried to rape them? I wonder if we might think differently about our own pain if we could see it through the perspective of others?

Even if we are missing someone at Christmas, have hardship or ill health it’s valuable to remeber that there are people in the World who don’t have food, safety or shelter at one of the most joyous times of year.

Wishing you a Christmas full of gratitude x

Physical Abuse – Could Lack of Emotional Validation Be The Cause?

I know the news isn’t the most unbiased picture of what’s going on in the World (especially not in the UK at least). However, the most recent headlines are ones causing me to wonder why certain events seem to be happening on mass. One if of wide spread sexual abuse in the UK Football Association and the other is the rise in self harm cases in children and young adults in the UK. Both abusive acts on the body, either towards the self or another person’s body. Both violent, abusive and harmful acts against the body. When I take a step back and look at these acts, I wonder if they’re both physical expressions of pent-up negative emotional energy? Possibly committed because of inner turmoil that hasn’t been addressed for whatever reason.

I can relate to inner turmoil because of my own challenging life events. When I was in my most destroyed state, I was pretty toxic to those around me. Angry, reactive, sometimes out of control as I spun around firing out a whirlpool of negativity. Blaming and shaming anyone who came in the vicinity of my pain. I’ve also been on the receiving end of this toxic behaviour because life has a tendency to offer us mirrors of our state, so when I was in my most destructive state I happened to meet people who treated me very negatively. And in true irony of the Universe, I’ve also been on the listening end of this behaviour as many people have sought counsel from me as they confess to their own pain and how they express it. (I mean what did I expect when I named my blog ‘Trauma on Tour’).

Through expressing, receiving and witnessing these emotional expressions of inner pain I’ve come to wonder if our lack of basic emotional expression in the Western society could be the cause of this abuse. That due to the lack of expressing the lightest of emotion that we’re now starting to witness a pressure cooker effect? That what might have been a little bit of pain from shame or blame, has been held on to, suppressed and refuelled in the mind as it churns over again and again and again.

With the fear and the shame that cloaks our society it’s difficult for someone to come forward with any emotional expression. God forbid someone might be overly happy in the office. Or that they might cry in public. Or get passionate about a project they’re working on. I don’t know about you but I’ve spent most of my life trying to find acceptance in the fact that I’m naturally very emotionally expressive. It’s difficult because it means that I get attacked or rejected often, regardless of the emotion. From “what are you so happy about?” to awkwardness from friends when I spent a few days in bed depressively grieving my Dad’s death. For some it was such a shock to see such depth of emotion that our friendship never got over it. Could it be that some of us have got into the habit of naturally suppressing daily emotions that the build up is now starting to splurge out? That the level of toxicity in the physical act reflects the darkness of the wound inside? Could the epidemic of male on male abuse in the 80’s be the result of suppressed pain that was experienced in the earlier years of these men – as women’s empowerment took hold of the mothers of those abusers – omitting them of the love or attention they required as children? Could the self harm in young adults be the result of emotional vents which aren’t getting validated in a world of technology? Could this lack of validation be causing a pressure cooker effect on a conservative culture that’s on the brink of exploding?

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I think it’s about time that we got over the shock of emotional expression and instead started asking why. Otherwise we’re never even going to get close to the answers and we’re never going to figure out how to proactively avoid such behaviour. We can start today by checking in with how we feel right now. For me, that’s scared. I’m scared about publishing this article because I’m worried it will rustle features, causing people who also feel scared to attack out at me for opening up this subject. The thing is that I know that those attacks are just opinions that come from other people’s pain, not mine, and besides words don’t hurt me. Emotional acknowledged and  validated, lesson understood, reflection made and compassion developed. But what happens when we suppress that emotional energy? Where does the pain go if we don’t let it out?

Photo Credit – Buzz Andersen

3 Values to Live Your Life by. From my Father, a Good Man

Nothing can quite prepare you for the phone call you’ve always dreaded. The panicked voice from a parent, relaying direct information down the phone.

“There are three paramedics resuscitating your Dad”

It was all my Mum had to say.

I got up from the cafe I was sitting in and heading down the escalators with the phone to my ear.

“Ok. I’m leaving now. I’ll be home in 3 hours”

“Ok” She replied and hung up.

I called my brother, he was on his way home too. It would take him 1 and ½ hours to get to our family home and in the space in between my Mum would sit and wait. Luckily a neighbour and friend went round to comfort her. The ambulance outside giving something away.

It took me 3 and a ½ hours to get home. Straight up the motorway from the bottom of England to the middle. I have no recollection of the actual drive apart from the vague feeling of the rush I had within me to get there and get there fast.

As I pulled up, there was a silver van outside my house. There were two men sitting in the front seats wearing black suits. Men from the morgue. I knew. I’d known all along. I’d known he’d had died before I got in my car and drove, but I hadn’t allowed myself to entertain those thoughts in case they sent me off the road spinning.

The rest of the evening was a blur. Each one took our turn to say goodbye to him before the men from the morgue took him away. Some family friends came round, someone made us food, and then all of a sudden it was dark and it was just the three of us. My Mum, my brother and me. Standing outside the house in silence.

I remember the night clearly. The moon was a waxing crescent and the sky was clear, the stars shining through sharply.  We all paused there, outside the back door, my Mum lighting up a cigarette. We stood in silence at first, no one really knowing what to say about the loss of someone so great. Not just for us, but the world. To lose a man of such good values, a local hero. Before long we were talking about what my brother and I had learnt from him, values which had been installed in us to live through a legacy. Values demonstrated without words and through actions. Values that will stay with us forever.

  1. Have integrity. No matter what the circumstances, my Dad would always come through on his word. Even in the most difficult situations, and trust me if you’re a community Doctor there are many difficult situations. Integrity was something that was installed in him and he expected of those around him, his children included. It was practised daily in our family life, something that my brother and I thought was the norm of society. It’s only now, as adults that we realise that it’s somewhat of a rarity in the world these days.
  1. Be compassionate to others. I never truly understood what compassion was until my Dad passed away but looking back I know that he completely embodied it. There was the time that a grief stricken family tried to sue him for an error that wasn’t his, only for him to say that “People act in unusual ways because of grief”. There’s also the time when a patient with psychiatric problems waited in his surgery car park to attack him, by slapping him across the face with a belt. All he would say is that it wasn’t the patient’s fault, and that they just needed some help to get on back on the right track. At the time I felt puzzled with him and angry at the people trying to do him harm but I can hear his voice clearly respond to me “You never know what someone else has been through, and maybe if you did, you might see things differently”.
  1. Have courage to stand up for what you believe in. The most admirable thing about my father was that he always stood up for what he believed in, no matter who he was up against. Amongst many strong and positive beliefs, he believed in providing the best health care possible for his patients, a value that would often come up against boards of directors when discussing health care budgets. My Dad would never compromise his values and he wouldn’t sell out on his patients, even if it meant losing his job over it. It took a tremendous amount of courage for Muslim Egyptian man to exercise these values in predominantly White, Catholic, ‘old boys school’ type environments but my Dad didn’t see the differences on the surface that many of us do. He just focused on what was important at the time – ‘what’s the best for the patients?’ Then he stood by it and fought for it.

The death of a parent, a spouse or any family member is always a difficult part of life, but what got us through the darkest parts was the reflection that we had such a decent man in our lives. Of course I would have loved to have my Dad around for another 30 years, and I miss him every day. But in the 30 years that he shared with me he gave me some of the best gifts I could have ever wish for – good values, and for that I’m grateful.