This time it’s personal

Having stoked up the fat reserves in preparation for the end of the world just in case it didn’t actually end but simply became a little more difficult to find adequate calorific resource and then of course as none of that happened, having to continue with the traditional Christmas over indulgence and not being one to flout tradition, I dutifully over indulged, now find myself sat at my laptop once more, overfull and under-creative.

Not in the least concerned as I’ve been in this position before at the start of one or two prior posts, I’ll let my mind wander and it’s good to wonder for those of you in the know, and type whilst the inspiration recovers from its festive pickling and wrests some semblance of continuity from the flow of words. Sometimes all you need is to warm up the ideas and let them flow.

The trick is to allow the creative mind to take over, welcome the ideas, give them space to grow and evolve and then once they’re fully in play, sit back and enter scalpel mode, poking, prodding and generally beating them into a pulp, subjecting them to the harsh conditions of re-readership to see how they stand up to the reality of providing a coherent communication of whatever it is that’s grabbed the current most-important-idea position to whoever it is that you want to believe the current importance you’re trying to communicate.

As this is now the fifth edition of that last sentence, I hope the tactic worked.

And here comes the thought. Every now and then you come across something that lets you know how far you’ve come along a road that you once thought difficult, if not impossible, to travel. As this is that somewhat nowhere-land space between the rush to Christmas and the re-start of the New Year, it’s as good a time as any to post about such reflective things. I’ve been lucky enough to have three of these float themselves past me over the last twelve months.

Important but in 3rd place:

One of few pinnacles in the Financial Services Industry, which as many of you know is the dwelling place of my alter ego, is the status of Chartered Financial Planner. It takes many years and more than a few exams. Including, which is rare these days, exams involving actual writing at a fairly high level of knowledge, (UK QCF level 6, whatever that actually is). Many professional exams, particularly of the continuing professional development kind, employ that famously U.S. armed forces tactic of checking knowledge by multiple choice questions à la WWI Army Alpha tests. Whilst acceptable, they rely on your ability to recognise the correct answer amongst a set of similar distractor answers, although to be fair many of the distractor answers are either ambiguous or just plain daft, making the written reworking of actual application of deep knowledge quite important in the pursuit of the old Chartered watsit.

Just before Christmas, I received my invitation to the Graduation Ceremony in London for 2012 Chartered Financial Planners. As I have only ever taken professional exams that were necessary for my career, rather than just badge collecting as it were, I’m really rather pleased as I never thought that it was something that I’d end up achieving. Having taken my first professional exams in 1993, it’s been a long journey.

A comfortable 2nd:

Then again, whilst wondering what I was going to write about this week, I did re-read a couple of my first ever posts from eighteen weeks ago on this, my first ever blog. I’m averaging 7.5 new followers and 117 views each week from 41 countries. Now I know that many blogs are doing much better than this especially as I’m following some of them. Nevertheless this is far better than I’d believed possible when I started.

Other than a short story in a school magazine which was no more than a paper pamphlet in reality when I was thirteen and again at seventeen, this is the first time I’ve written anything that anyone else had the chance to read. One of these posts even managed to get itself published in Perception the Cognitive Hypnotherapy quarterly e-zine that I mentioned in the last post. Check it out by the way, it really is quite good – the magazine, that is; you’ve already read the article, (said he hopefully).

So, anyway, when I re-read these earlier posts, I was quite impressed with what I’d written and can even begin to see how I’m gradually developing a consistent, if somewhat unique, (according to Tina Shaw, the Perception editor), writing style. As far as I can see, I’m taking a little bit of my experiences, overlaying some hypnotherapeutic philosophy, mixing in a little science and subjecting them to the Hadron Collider that is my imagination.

However, when my over-confidence subsides,  it all feels like it’s just vaguely relevant waffle. Ah well.

Without a doubt No. 1:

The realisation which strikes chords that resonate right down to the core, where it really matters and ceases to be vague or waffle, is a dramatic improvement in my skills. As you know I’m aiming to specialise in both fertility issues and chronic pain management. Now the fertility aspect is just plain fascinating and appeals to the part of me that left biology behind at school and pursued engineering instead of medicine. If you’re going to help with something, I’m not sure how it gets more important than helping couples fulfil one of natures most basic drives. Apart from anything else, it means that I might spend the rest of my life helping people get pregnant. Nice.

However it was the other side which grabbed me and allowed me to realise how far I’ve come along this long and winding metaphor of choice, (well it was time for the next music reference wasn’t it?).

One of the reasons that pain management is particularly important to me is that my daughter has a condition which means she suffers repeated bouts of severe abdominal pain. Until two years ago we had no idea she was even ill although looking back now it’s a little more obvious. Gill and I were called back from my pre-redundancy holiday within twelve hours of landing as Rachael was taken seriously ill and was in hospital under threat of emergency major abdominal surgery. She’s been learning how to cope ever since.

It won’t go away. If the prognosis is correct, this is a life-long deal. Bernie Siegel‘s famous quote rings in my ears ‘accept the diagnosis, not the prognosis’ although somewhere deep down I find to hard to do either. Whatever the deal, however long it’s going to last, my daughter is in pain and there’s nothing I can do about it.

At least, that’s where I stood two years ago.

As is always the way when you think you know something new, what you actually know is only the surface. A little knowledge which appears to go a long way. A total ignorance of just how much you don’t yet know for the simple reason that you don’t yet know enough to recognise that you don’t yet know what you don’t yet know. Unconscious incompetence.

Partly because of this and partly because Rachael is holding on so tight to her hard-won control, she is reluctant to let me do anything that might upset her balance and it has been very difficult to practice my new skills with her.

There have been a couple of occasions where she was willing to let me work with her. When she was last on high doses of steroids, I wrote a carefully worded intervention tailored for her counteracting the effects of Cushing’s Syndrome, (not named after our dearly departed Peter but rather Harvey who as far as I know is no relative). Whether it worked or not is up for debate but the side-effects of the steroids were markedly less than before.

Unfortunately, working with her pain less successful. Back in module four we learnt some amazing techniques to manage pain and I did manage to persuade Rachael to let me work with her. The problem was that the more we worked the greater the pain became and the less she could cope. Overlaid onto this is that one of the few symptoms which let her know if her condition has worsened and needs attention, is the pain itself. It is a vital warning sign. Without it she may suffer harm. This makes managing her own pain relief a tricky topic.

She needs the confidence to know she can switch any pain relief on or off when she needs and that she won’t inadvertently mask underlying and important symptoms. As her medication does no more than mask the pain, she can rely on this to fulfil the task in the way she needs. Because of all this and my own inexperience, I left the next move entirely up to her as she needs to make the decision herself as to whether to use hypnotherapy for pain relief.

That was then.

Two days ago she had another bout of severe pain. The usual tactics, including her opioid analgesics weren’t working and Gill tried persuading her to let me work with her. At this point I was going through my usual internal conflict of wishing I could step in whilst also giving her the space she needs, standing apart and trying to engross myself in whatever else was going on at the time. This time the whatever else was Knight and Day, a movie I had yet to watch which is quite unusual for once, so there was definitely a small part of me assuming that Rachael wouldn’t be up for it and I’d finally get to watch a movie that had been on my watch list but had never got high enough up for me to want to part with actual cash for the privilege. As I said, trivial but distracting.

Then Rachael decided that now was indeed the time.

Everything changed. I was working with a confidence that came from having had success managing chronic pain with my volunteer clients. She was still very sceptical but at least she was willing to try.

Hypnotic trance comes with a fixation on a particular thought or sensation. A focus that blurs the link between the conscious and the unconscious, removing the filtering of input and allowing a more direct communication. The trance doesn’t need to be deep, just deep enough.

Rachael’s fixation, her point of focus was, of course, her pain.

Make the pain the centre. That must mean that everything which isn’t the centre, isn’t the pain. If it isn’t the pain, it can relax without affecting the pain. If the pain isn’t under threat, it doesn’t fight back, get worse. It just is. Eventually, all that is left is the centre of the centre. Drop through that and there’s nothing. A kind of truce.

With nothing left, her body decided that it needed rest. She fell asleep before I’d finished. I let her quietly sleep for two hours and then, at midnight, we got her up and into bed. She remembered nothing at all until she woke later.

Of course, for Rachael the hypnotherapy was now cast as just plain weird. The apparent loss of control was too much, falling asleep recalling nothing. I pointed out that her meds would have kicked at that point and that I nothing I had done had hypnotised her into memory loss. Of course again, this just meant that it must have been the meds and not the hypnotherapy which had done all the work. We’ll never know which was more potent or effective.

For me, whether the hypnotherapy was the cause of the relief or not is irrelevant. All I care about is that she was hurting and her meds hadn’t worked. I talked to her for twenty minutes and she slept comfortably right through the night.

With sufficient practice, she could replicate this at will for herself.

I’m intending to replicate it at will for a living.

Bring on 2013.

I’m ready.

and the clouds parted © Tony Burkinshaw 2012

and the clouds parted
© Tony Burkinshaw 2012

16 thoughts on “This time it’s personal

  1. I’m just leaping in here – backtracking as it were, but this is a very touching piece, elegantly told. It’s amazing isn’t it, once one starts on the road to to discover and accept our innate human capacities; more wonderful than any fantasy and thus often a reality that many refuse to accept. More power to your quest. This is really, really important.

  2. Hey Tony, thx for the follow. Very great post, in the end your feelings as a father really got me! As you wrote in this post, feedback is important so I would like to ask you how you liked my blog entry and if you got any interests in gamification? I think you’re a great writer but could do two things to even improve your writing (or try to improve and judge by the feedback if it’s the right direction): First, you could use one image every two or three paragraphs to give the reader a little pause and a chance to reflect what he/she just read. Second, you could play with your pace of telling to make the journey to the end of your posts even more entertaining (and appearing shorter). Thought, thought, thought. Describe one thought with longer phrases using many examples and slow down by sliding left to the country house next to your story road finding the old oven in the traditional kitchen very mystical. Beautiful? No! No. No? Maybe rather beautifully designed without any thought of design in modern terms, the old oven rises my mood for this moment. I get back to the road. The story road, I follow.
    Do you see what I mean with the pace of telling? Maybe also the level of detail with is often related to the perceived pace.
    Then I got a rather “professional” question: Do you know “solutions-focused brief therapy”? I read about it in the very read-worthy book “sw!tch – how to change things when change is hard” by Chip & Dan Heath. I found it a very interesting thought to find the bright spots and replicate them to give the patient a way to live with his/her problem first and then constantly solve it. What do you think about it?
    Have a nice sunday.
    May the force be with you,

    • Hi Chris,

      I do know what you mean about the structure and pace of the blog. I’ve thought a few times about whether I should alter the way I write to try to improve its readability. The conclusion (for the moment at least) is that the posts reflect the route my mind takes and the pace of my thoughts as I get it all down into pixels on screen. I may change this in time but for now it seems to have appeal and is perhaps one of the things that differentiates it from other, perhaps better written, blogs. I deliberately only using one image per post partly because they are my own images and partly because the posts are narrative and the words are the appeal. I know this makes it harder for some to maintain focus which I suppose is why I also use Twitter and Facebook.

      Regarding solutions-focussed brief therapy, this is a phrase which has an element of media appeal and is one of those ‘phrases of the moment’. In my opinion, any therapy which is designed to identify and lead clients into a permanent solution in as few sessions as possible (typically 3-8) would qualify. Cognitive Hypnotherapy is an absolute classic in this regard. (I have to confess that I haven’t read ‘switch…’ yet).
      A word of caution is that I have come across several therapies which are attempting to market themselves in this space by offering a short term ‘solution’ whilst at the same time bringing clients in to the realm of subsequent multiple therapy sessions after the so-called ‘solution’. I guess all I am saying is that if the ‘solution’ on offer is only a temporary fix, then it is not actually a solution, it is more of a wound-dressing.

      Wishing you all the best & many thanks for your comments

      • Hi Tony,
        well it’s your blog so you can write it your way and I like that you confess you’re trying out different things. And I think that the right things fit and feel great in the right moment, so I think it’s right to keep it this way as long as you feel right about it.
        Maybe you should have a look into ‘switch… ‘. I know that it gave me a great deal of ideas and tools and especially energy to try to change things and not to lose faith when trying. And the feeling that if something needs to change, I am the first to change and take everyone with me that wants to change too. Also a great book but only available in German so far (at least I think so) is about work and how you make it not controlled by the others but by your personal goals and this way make it a meaningful activity for yourself.
        What I liked about solution focussed therapy is that pragmatism “where does it work and how can we get more of it?” as well as the question “If tomorrow all of your problems were gone, how would you feel?”. But I think the thing with all therapy (psychical and physical) is that this is only a temporary help and support. If it works the right way, it guides you on the way to solve your problems. But you always have to want to change yourself to solve your problems. Without that wish and commitment to change, you can take some medecine and blame the world for being a bad place going back to hospital. And many people I know prefer blaming everybody, so sometimes I give them little starting help by just doing something so that they have to stop blaming because they have to realize that I moved something.
        What are your greatest experiences with changing yourself and watching people change?
        May the force be with you & all the best to you,

      • I imagine it is hard for a father but you can only hope that she lets you help her and support her whatever she does. After all, her way could be the right (or one right) way for her. But you’re a smart man and you’ll make it, I’m sure!
        May the force be with you,

  3. Thanks for following me, Tony.
    I love your definition of unconscious incompetence: You don’t yet know enough to recognise that you don’t yet know what you don’t yet know. How true it is, and explains why people remain comfortable in their own level of knowing (or not knowing).
    When I was a teenager, my brother wrote for me in my autograph book: “What you don’t know won’t do you any good either.” My father was horrified and stated quite loudly that “What I didn’t know wouldn’t do me any harm either.” I think he subscribed to the same philosophy as many of my teachers: “Ignorance is bliss.”

  4. Pingback: What you don’t know . . . | Norah Colvin

  5. Love the dropping through pain you mentioned…. the essence of mindfulness 🙂 When we concentrate all of our attention to just the moment of it happening and don’t bring comparison into the story – where does the pain go?

  6. Pingback: Smorgasbord Posts From Your Archives – What You Don’t Know by Norah Colvin | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

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