The Observations and Obsessions of a Superego's Sidekick

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It’s Never Too Late To Learn An Instrument.

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I took up playing the piano at the age of 42, however my desire to learn piano goes back to my teens.  My siblings and I were allowed one extra-curricular activity and my first choice was ballet.  But I had a friend that I visited regularly and she played, so I got to have a little experience.  Nothing major, a few chords, chopsticks, you know the easy stuff.  But that desire remained and when we purchased a keyboard for the kids, I was probably the most enthusiastic beyond the initial novelty.  However keyboards are very different to pianos in that the dynamics of the piece are difficult to create with a keyboard, but it didn’t stop me and about a year later I started lessons and a year after that I got my own piano.

A big investment, but by that time I knew that this was what I wanted to do, and my passion for learning was strong.  That I suppose is a major advantage to learning anything new as an adult.  Often that dream extends all the way back to our childhood and it has become ingrained in our imagination.  And when the raising of our children becomes a little less hectic and we suddenly have more time for ourselves, these dreams come flooding back.  I’ve learnt to read music, simply because it’s an integral part of piano and of classical music study and performance and for the better part of the last eight years I’ve played classical music.  I have recently however started expanding my repertoire to pieces this side of the 1950’s.  And I’m currently learning The Cave by Mumford and Sons.  Who knows, one day I might get a chance to jam with a six-fingered banjo player.  Whether your instrument requires you to read music or not, I really think it is very helpful in getting a basic understanding at least, to help with the shaping of a piece.

But this does raise the question for me, can it be too late to start learning, especially with regard to developing any great proficiency.  My daughter started her piano lessons around the same time as me.  It always seemed to be much easier for her, than for me, despite the fact that I practiced ten times more than she.  Her fingers were so much more agile than mine.  I’m in no doubt that children and adults learn in totally different ways and perhaps that explains her ability to grasp what was in front of her faster.  Children almost intuitively learn and they’re not afraid to make mistakes.  Speaking for myself, I always beat myself up if I did something wrong, complete with headbanging the piano.  I’d over think the piece, apply reasoning and thinking strategies and the music became very wooden.

My friend and piano teacher passed away June 2013, and at that time I decided to no longer take lessons, to go it alone basically.  Sadly, I stopped playing for quite some time, it reminded me too much of Liz and didn’t help with everything else that was going on for me.  I’m back playing  again now, but still find myself thinking, I must talk to Liz about shaping this piece.  I still can’t believe she’s gone.

My daughter no longer plays, she simply lost interest and didn’t bothering practicing and finally stopped going to lessons altogether.  I guess making the decision later in life to learn is a big plus.  I still struggle with playing and learning new pieces, but I love playing.  And despite the fact that my fingers are not exactly long (I can barely span an octave), I muddle through, and I also take great delight in the fact that my favourite piano maestro Daniel Barenboim plays so beautifully with equally tiny hands.

Apart from the childhood dream fulfilled, there are many other benefits to taking up an instrument post childhood. It helps to reduce stress, and strengthens the brain, and yes there has actually been studies done in the area of brain power/learning music which show that the longer a person plays the stronger their non-verbal and visuospatial memory, as well as their ability to adapt to new information.  The reason for this and what appears to be unique to playing an instrument, is that it requires a wide array of brain regions and cognitive functions to work together simultaneously, in both right and left hemispheres of the brain.  Add to that playing and listening to music is one the greatest and simplest pleasures imaginable.

I think that the two most important decisions to make, are that you are prepared to practice consistently and that you choose the right instrument for you.  Not everyone can play anything, I have first hand knowledge of that.  I once considered the flute, but after trying one, I decided that I’d give it a miss.  If I was making any sounds from it, they were only ones dogs could hear.  Not forgetting my eldest son, who definitely has many other wonderful abilities, but persisted in torturing me throughout his primary education with the most appalling tin whistle playing ever,  which he eventually gave up to play the violin.  Oh dear god it was terrible, even worse than the tin whistle, think cats being tortured.  He now plays the guitar, much better, but he won’t be winning any awards any time soon.  When you think of a mothers’ love, it’s never stronger nor put to the test more than when they’re playing an instrument.  Make sure to try a few out, get the right one, it is after all a big investment and a lifetime commitment.  So if your tossing up whether to start, go for it, you won’t regret it.

For John

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“I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks…….”~William Shakespeare.

I had my last therapy session today, and I have mixed feelings.  A little sadness for an ending, very few of us embrace change easily, but I am certain that though my journey in your safe and inspiring presence has ended, I will continue to grow in my own loving care. My journey hasn’t ended, it is transitioning to a new phase and as my life moves forward, I meet many other transitions and I think I’m going to be just fine.

I’m thankful for the space, the tools and awareness and the ability to transcend beyond that awareness to a place of contentment and strength and growth.  I’m thankful for your humour, your wisdom and for pushing me just a little bit further than I thought I could stand.  For the safety and trust you inspired, when I was at my lowest and stripped raw.  I’m thankful for all the wonderful prose that brought tears to my eyes, not from sadness but from resonance.  And finally I’m thankful, for your teaching me, that I’m not alone.  That there is safety in numbers and there is always somewhere to turn.

I’ve learnt that forgiveness for me is not about accepting and condoning someone else’s actions or words, but in no longer giving them power over me.  That my greatest demons weren’t my past, but myself, all that pain, shame, guilt, grief and anger turned in on me, till all I could see was a worthless, loveless, hateful tortured soul.  Unworthy of any love or happiness.  A mask of acceptance to the world, yet inside a seething mass of self hatred.  I’m free from that today and if I ever feel myself turning in again, I have my toolbox, mindfulness, meditation, self hypnosis and breathing.  Concentrate on the breathing and mind follows till I can centre myself again and move on.  That which ails and troubles us, is not from without, but within and only we can make those changes.  It’s not our past or events or people that bring us to our knees, but how we process and internalize and turn that against ourselves.  External factors are not our enemy, but our mind can be, and it’s vital we make peace with her.

My last words to you, John was that you’ve given me back my freedom, something I haven’t had since my childhood.  The freedom to take risks, the freedom to say no, the freedom to not have to make apologies for my choices and finally the freedom to get to know and love the me that is, still slightly broken but oh so lovable and so worthy of everything life will offer and no longer seeking the need for approval or acceptance.

Happiness today for me is the simple pleasures in life, mesmerizing stargazing; playing the piano; making time for relaxation; gazing at a beautiful scene or image; beautiful flowers; wonderful memories, and looking to the past only as it makes us happy and reconnecting and touching base with my dear friends.

Thank you John, for helping me to make this all my reality.

And now I think it is time for a song dedication, I know just the right thing, how about a little James Blunt.  Yes!!  No, ok I can hear the moans and groans from here.  So that won’t do.  Well then how about that infectious and boppy Pharrell Williams song, Happy.  It seems appropriate and it’s playing away in the background as I write this.  Farewell for now.  So how about that certificate now.

For The Love Of Books.

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I grew up surrounded by books, my parents were avid readers and encouraged us all to read widely.  When I was twelve, my parents purchased a set of encyclopaedias.  I still recall vividly the visit by the sales rep with a few demonstration books, as we poured over the pages with such enthusiasm and anticipation.  An anticipation of a world opening up to us, and those encyclopaedias were still in the bookcase, where they’d always been when I left home for the last time.  Although I always remember reading, especially lazy afternoons, lying in the garden, my overwhelming passion for reading was ignited at 14, when I read for the first time ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.  No other school curriculum book, or for that matter any other book I’d read prior to that,  had that same hold as this gorgeous book.  For the first time in my memory, I could see the book coming alive for me in pictures, in my mind.  And that has been my guide to this day.

I’ve now a home and family of my own and like my childhood, books are everywhere.  There have only ever been two rules regarding books, don’t scribble on them and don’t damage them in any way.  They’re grown up now and I no longer have to remind them.  I’m guessing like most people I have my favourites, genres and authors, and I tend to return to them over and over.  However joining and belonging to a book club has opened me up to new and exciting authors and books.  I have one personal rule, if a book doesn’t grab me, I won’t finish it.  My time is too precious and passion for reading is too important to waste on a book, I find unworthy.  The greatest of books, take me on a journey, to a new place and time.  They’ve been my life line many, many times and have lifted me for the darkest hours and the darkest times in my life.  I owe them everything and to me there is a sacredness in reading, a very personal journey and great privilege in being able to read.  There was a time when reading only belonged to an elite few, and I wonder at how small their world and lives must have been.

Right now I’m re-reading for umpteenth time Pride and Prejudice, and before you all start saying, ‘oh she loves her romances’.  The only thing Jane Austen went dewy eyed and gaga over was real estate, Pemberley and to a lesser extent Rosings.  Any marriages that take place are swiftly pushed off the page to make way for Austen’s social satire, wicked wit and the glorious grotesques that grace the pages of this wonderful book.  Lady Catherine de Bourgh (of the piano “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”) one of her more unassuming proclamations, Mr. Collins, the loquacious and laughable parson.  But then I can laugh, because I don’t have to live with him, if I did have to live with him I think I would probably have punctured my own ear drums. The delightful Mr. & Mrs. Bennett, solo or in tandem and to a lesser extent the hapless and bitchy Caroline Bingley.

There are however two proposals which get more time than one or two sentences, the painful and cringe worthy fumblings and mumblings of Mr. Collins trying to woo Elizabeth Bennett and the first attempt at a proposal by Mr. Darcy….

(Cue romantic background Baroque/Classical music)

“In vain have I struggled.  It will not do.  My feelings will not be repressed.  You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

………..He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness then of pride.  His sense of her inferiority – of its being a degradation – of the family obstacles which judgement had always opposed to inclination,  were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed  due to the consequence he was wounding, …………… (music skids to a halt)

Yikes….you haven’t done this much, have you Mr. Darcy.

And just for good measure, he adds.

“……….Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related.  They are natural and just.  Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?  To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”

If you want to know where the pride in Pride and Prejudice comes from, he was shocked and stunned when she says no.

Jane Austen wasn’t a romantic, she was by all accounts a practical, acid tongued and occasionally coarse woman.  I think I like her.  Marriage for her was a contract, one of very few options for a gentlewoman of little means.  And this is very evident in her writing, Pride and Prejudice is a comedy of manners and Austen is at her greatest when she’s holding up a magnifying glass to the arrogance, vanity, stupidity and pride of many of the great characters in this wonderful and delicious book.

I tend to use my kindle a lot these days, apart from the obvious advantage of being able to store 1000’s of books in one place, it’s less likely than a mighty tome, to leave me concussed when I fall asleep reading at night.  However I often return to books, there is something magical about the act of turning a page in a book, a physical and emotional response and interaction, and an empathy with the characters and story that I don’t get in using a kindle.  There is a progression and immersion in books, that make you believe you’re living the story, that’s missing with an e-reader.  My kindle is a moment in time, disconnected and static.

E-readers do have a purpose but I don’t believe they will ever replace the book.  And thank god for that, I say.

So What If……A Perfectionist Finally Let Go.

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I’ve been going back over my old posts recently, two reasons primarily, the first to reevaluate my own personal journey.  The second to explore how I’ve developed as a writer.   So today I’d like to revisit an old post and explore it further in light of my recent experiences, my own story rather than my growth as a writer.

I do like what I wrote back then, it spoke to me at that time, of how I wanted my life to be and I recall a feeling of being uplifted on completing it, but did writing it make any difference, the short answer is no, not then, not for a long while.  We think if we say something often enough it becomes real.  If only it were that simple,  the reality though is that, we are what we believe we are and back then I still had to hit rock bottom before I could start believing in a better, happier, worthwhile me.  Why are some people perfectionists, in a nut shell, we have low self esteem, we strive to prove our worth, to ourselves and to others by reaching for unattainable perfection.  In believing in our low self worth we anxiously strive to prove ourselves, there is no in between, we’re black or white, all or nothing and success or failure.  Low self esteem patterns of behaviour are extensive, but for me I’ve always listened to and analysed the words or statements of others.  That was my trigger, my pattern of destruction, and believing myself to found wanting  fed this cycle of perfectionism/procrastination.  Words hurt, nuances and tones crush.

Harking back to an old mantra of our childhood and the schoolyard.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

If only we’d learnt to believe that, all those years ago.  But words have the power to be the most inspiring or the most destructive force on earth.  And the careless words of a thoughtless person, became the catalyst to all that came after for me.  Do I blame her, not entirely, not even mostly, if my own worth had been strong, those words could never have held that much power, but we all need to take responsibility for what we say and the consequences that unfold.  So were those words, derogatory, offensive or damning.  No they were fairly innocuous in themselves, but to me, with low self esteem and reeling from having just lost my job and security, they were overwhelmingly devastating and undermined everything I had worked hard for.  Those words only lost their potency in recent months, when I came to a powerful realization, so powerful that with the tears and release, went so much negative energy.  That was the moment when everything started clearing for me, when I accepted and let go.  In letting go of those words, everything else started falling away.  The need for approval, the need for constant company, the need to always say yes and the need to be perfect, all gone.

My inner demon is quiet now, I hardly ever hear from her, and if she does make an appearance she gets ever so quickly gagged and pushed to the back of my mind.  So how then too is the perfectionist in me fairing, I honestly don’t know, I haven’t been in contact with her for awhile.  That feels so good to say.

I’ve completed my Advanced Diploma now, although it very nearly became another casualty, what kept me going, the support and friendship of the three very wonderful women that I met through my studies, without them I would have pulled out, without a doubt.  The final part of my advanced diploma, a thesis on the practical application of hypnosis and hypnotherapy, was completed in April this year, was it perfect, no but I was happy with it.  And the best part of all of this was when I stopped worrying about how good it was, it freed me up to do a paper that my teacher thought worthy of publishing on his website.  Yeah I’m never doing that perfectionist rubbish again.

In letting go, I’ve also started taking more risks, and no longer living a life of ‘what ifs’, I’m ready to start working again, and to start seeing clients.  And best of all, I’ve grabbed hold of nerves and doubts and reconnected with an old friend.  To my memory, the sweetest and kindest boy I’ve ever known and it’s been great getting to know him all over again.  I could never have done all this two years ago.

 

Beyond Therapy

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I’m coming rapidly to the end of my therapy.  I was talking to a friend about it last week, she asked how I felt about it.   In the spirit of positive thinking I responded, that I was great and it didn’t bother me, but the reality is a bit different.  I’m scared, scared of retreating back inside me, with only my horrible critical self for company.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not admitting defeat, because I’m going to work very hard to stay positive and strong.  I’m on the usual drugs, antidepressants to lift the depression and anti-psychotics to stop me from getting too high and I’ve no doubt they’ve helped me considerably, but having someone to talk to about living with bipolar depression has been a god send and without the therapy I don’t believe I’d be anywhere near where I am now.

Therapy has given me the space to talk, cry, howl in pain, to strip my very being down to the basics and start rebuilding and accepting and really living.  It’s given me the tools that have allowed me to become once again, content, strong, independent and hopeful.  Recently I was asked to think about what makes me resilient, to write about it, I was excited at first but as I sat down to write, nothing came to mind.  I know I’ve developed great resilience but it was an unconscious enlightenment, I just was, I feel ready for anything right now.  But that isn’t enough, to have any hope of meeting depression head on the next time, I need awareness.  So I began journalliing, I forgot about an audience and wrote just for me.  What a powerful tool a journal is, to write as thoughts come to mind, no matter the order, as you release one thought another comes to mind and another.  What I’ve learnt is to be aware of all my thoughts, to challenge the negatives and challenge the critical thinking, don’t allow them to own you and never give power over yourself to any other human being.  Be your own master and let others be theirs. To own who I am and make no apologies, to love my own company and to allow that aloneness to energize and strengthen me, to find lots to laugh at and always be hopeful, nothing is insurmountable.  And finally hindsight, I’ve survived depression and suicidal thoughts, a few times now and I’ll do it again.  That’s what makes me strong right now, and right now is where I’m at.

But right now, I’m still in therapy…..

I’m not a fool, I’ve had several bouts of depression over the years, and I doubt this recent one will be my last.  If and when that time comes, will I be able to meet that challenge without my crutch, will I remember everything I’ve learnt or will I be doomed to repeat the cycle of pain and loneliness and descent down that dark and bottomless tunnel.  Journal, hindsight and challenging the thoughts.  Let it become my mantra.

When I first started writing this blog the superego in my byline was a very dear friend.  And yes he’s still a very dear friend and still capable of some amazing superego qualities (you’re smiling aren’t you, Exultatron).  I tended to live vicariously through him back then, to look to him for approval, he was the exciting to my questioning and doubting.  But as I’ve emerged that superego has slowly become me, the me I am right now, right this moment, the me I want to continue being, an exciting and wonderful future that is my doing.  I’ll still at times be that sidekick, because I’ll always continue to question, occasionally doubt, and maybe I’ll even hate me.  To ignore that possibility, is to put my head in the lion’s mouth, a dangerous folly. It is strange that this is my blog, my journey and yet I made myself invisible. Instead of being a participant in my own life, I became a watcher from the sidelines.

The observations and obsessions of a Superego’s sidekick.  I’ve come full circle, I’m the superego and occasional sidekick. I’m now an active player in my own destiny and this is my story.

Remembering A Sad Great Clown


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Don’t be fooled by me.  Don’t be fooled by the face I wear for I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them is me.

from the poem Please Hear What I’m Not Saying by Charles C. Finn

The world is reeling from the news of Robin Williams suicide.  It’s impossible for us to reconcile ourselves to the fact that this man who brought such joy and laughter to the world, could have been in so much pain himself.

If this teaches us anything, it’s that depression does not discriminate. from rich or poor, young or old.  Here was a man, so celebrated and loved, by family, friends and the world at large.  A wonderful and beautiful actor and comedian and by all accounts a man filled with such great kindness, and yet he was not immune. Depression and suicide, doesn’t make sense and there is no point in trying to do so.  Depression is not a life choice, but an illness that can strike at anytime in anyone.  And sometimes it’s a fatal illness, we need as a society to become more educated about the illness, to take it out of the dark ages and lift the taboo and then maybe many others who suffer in silence may be saved.

There has been outpourings of grief, sadness and support from across the world, but sadly there has also been condemnation as everyone tries to make sense in their own way of what has happened. But condemnation only seeks to diminish our humanity, and yes we are all capable of finding some level of compassion for others, if not understanding.

If you consider this, each and every one of us has felt despair and loneliness at some point in our lives, many have experienced the devastation of depression and for some the pain is so intolerable and consuming that they consider ending their own lives.  Some survive, others do not.  Look to your own experiences, open your heart and mind and just for a moment walk in someone else’s shoes.

Robin Williams has me laugh and cry many times, but never more so than now, as I recall the maniacal, jubilant and vulnerable man who was Mork from Ork.  I’m deeply saddened by his passing and the world is a little emptier and sadder for it.

Rest in Peace.

The Generation Gap

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My daughter announced the other day that her first anniversary is coming up.  First anniversary of what!  She’s only 19, when I asked her what she was talking about, she looked a little hurt and then a lot disdainful as she replied ” Neil and me are going out a year,, duh”.  She didn’t actually say “duh”, but it was implied.  And it doesn’t stop there, they have big plans.  Big soppy, drippy romantic plans, involving, scrapbooks, photos, etc.  Ah!!  My eldest son is the same, 3 years with his current wonderful girlfriend and 4 with the previous one.  He’s only 24, so many years of drippy romantic blah.  I’ve no idea where he got it from, his father is definitely not a romantic and I’m pretty sure I’m not overly so.

When I was their age, here it comes, none of my relationships lasted that long.  Oh I fell in love, body and soul, teenage love, but it never really lasted.  I hated the clinginess and worse the pedestal placing.  I got to getting sick of them fairly quickly, well ok nearly straight away.  Maybe I just liked the idea of being in love, but couldn’t handle the reality of it.  I think my longest was eight months, and that was only because we lived 5000 miles apart.  I think I was more interested, in meeting lots of people and having lots of new experiences, than being shackled to one person and doing the same things with the same people, over and over.  Maybe I was a little worse than most, but I think that was my generation, am I wrong.

So why is it this way, why are they in such a hurry to grow up and belong to one person.  Teens today have a much harder time of it than we did, I’m convinced of that.  Being a teenager in the 70’s and 80’s was a lot simpler.  Oh sure we had our concerns, the cold war was raging and that brought uncertainty, and then of course there was the Skylab which disintegrated and fell to earth in 1979.  I was convinced it was going to land on me, and yes the world did revolve around me back then.  Of course it didn’t occur to me that it was pretty big and it probably would hit more than me, in hindsight.  The world was a much bigger place back then, and despite that not as scary.

The internet has shrunk our world, and brought it all into our homes.  Everything is at a hands reach, places, people and experiences.  And never has there been such pressure to conform.  Teens and young adults are being constantly bombarded with what to wear, say, think and listen to, maybe being with one person is a comfort, safety and belonging  in an internet world.

A pet peeve of mine, as I segue into a rant is text speak and modern phrases that are peppering social media sites.  The first time I received a text full of text speak from a friend, it took me half an hour to work out, she was asking if she could call for a cup of coffee. Maybe she was just very bad at it.   Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, recently announced they’d agreed to a conscious uncoupling, what the hell, separate like everybody else in the same situation.  And then last week, my daughter told me one of her facebook friends had just announced she was polyamorous, what that, maybe she’s bisexual, I thought, nope wrong, it means she has lots of partners, at the same time, Mmmmmm, Yep, we had a word for that and it wasn’t polyamorous.  And anyway, why would you tell the world that.

So I guess congrats to my daughter and her lovely boyfriend, but don’t forget to be a teenager and have a ball, that’s what it’s for.  There’ll be time enough for everything being an adult brings, don’t be in too much of a hurry to get there.

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