For me, it began when my own mind was changed and with it the opening up of my ability to be emotive. My Mind Change is quite literal. New pathways, new mental capacities, new thought horizons. Not just thinking different thoughts, but thinking in different ways. Unleashed potentials, to do and say and affect things in ways I could never have dreamed possible before. The story of "How I Changed my Mind" is still one with a mystery at its heart, because there are hidden players, external to this text, forces at work I have not spoken about…
This is that story
It begins in dark times. It wasn’t that I was suicidal, but I didn’t care if I was to live or die. Nothing to live on for. I emphasize that this is something more than simply a case of “depression” for People with Parkinson’s (PwP). We become affected by the constant negativity about the disease from the uneducated people around us, which can sometimes include, sad to say, from our carers, the medical profession and the media. Oh, how we are told that it’s all downhill from here until the grave. How we are all portrayed as sufferers or the disabled, as if the disease defines us collectively. Indeed this negative environment became for me the self-fulfilling prophecy. I was sinking... drowning… but that is yet another story too...
Into the Light.
My light at the end of the tunnel came when Parkinson’s UK started a scheme, paying for PwP to have a series of counselling [psychotherapy] sessions. My Parkinson’s Nurse and family encouraged me to take this opportunity. I was ready to try anything. Counselling or “therapy” is not something I have any experience of before or since, so I have little context, but I do feel I was extremely lucky to find a counsellor who I simply clicked with at the outset. Let’s call this lady Elle. It is with some melancholy that Elle and I will probably never meet again, as our sessions have come to a natural conclusion... and practitioner-patient formalities prohibit friendship... well, we said our farewells last week. Yet Elle is someone I will never forget and will have my true gratitude unto the end of my days. Because she gave me a gift, the most profound gift anyone can ever be given.
She gave myself back to me.
She unlocked my door.
She gave me the mind tools to open it wide and step through.
Out of Darkness. Into the Bright Light of Day.
There is always hope
I went into that first session having no idea what to expect. But I was prepared to put myself into Elle’s hands and trust in the process 100%. I was All In.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was not easy. In fact, it was very hard work. But Elle and I clicked quickly into a deep level of trust. In that room, I knew there was only the two of us and knew whatever I said, I would never be judged. I also knew that whatever Elle said was always exploratory, probing, but never meant to create new hurt or wounds. At the start, I did not have the emotional or mind tools to even understand the process itself, but I learned quickly...
As another aside, we talk about nurses as the healing profession. I do strongly believe it is beyond high time that we should extend that to counsellors too, and here I use the word to encompass all the great and astute listeners out there.
The big breakthrough came a few sessions in when she said something in context which hit me so hard and so deeply that I cried. I don’t mean I shed tears. I mean I cried. She simply said this in that quiet, caring, undemanding voice of hers:
“And what about compassion for yourself?”
I will remember those words for the rest of my life and, yes, the remembering brings deep emotions even as I write this. Because they cut through the defences I had erected like a knife.
And then I cried.
That was the first time I had cried in a very long time, perhaps since I was a small child. I cried without guilt. Oh, for sure, I had been crying (not italicized) and crying out in pain for years. That's not what I mean by crying. Crying is much more visceral, heartfelt, mindfelt, the tears and the snot, the non-verbal cries and moans of emotional pains, the one or two words which come unbidden and often start with “I… “. A cycle of damped reflections and reverberations when we identify the source of the pain in our own minds and come face to face with our fears, thus setting the crying off again. And again... Until everything is damped to just a murmur.
When you have truly cried you will know it. Because you will know you have let something inside you that needed to be released out. In short you will feel much, much better (do not conflate here my choice of word better with happier, for this is not my meaning at all), because you have come to some new understanding or acceptance of yourself or your predicaments.
You see, for me, crying is a healing mechanism. It is a relief valve, a necessary outlet for my emotional wellbeing. I think this must be true for all humans. Just as when we shed blood and intense pain at physical hurts, leading to the release of cocktails of hormones to help us survive, so too there are extremely good evolutionary and hormonal reasons for crying too. Of course there are... Of course there are..
Unfortunately, we live in a “society” in which we are told that crying is to be repressed, that it is unsightly, that it is a form of weakness. This cultural norm is very wrong on many levels, but just the act of repressing our evolutionary function to cry should tell us that it can only result in eventual damage to ourselves.
That first time I cried didn’t last long, precisely because I myself had been taught to bottle it all up too. After a lifetime of repression, it was not easy to cry for long and the cork was unconsciously put back into the bottle quickly. Too quickly.
Nevertheless, that first time really opened my eyes, opened my mind and opened my heart. As I continued to progress with Elle, it became easier each time. I began to look forward to my sessions with Elle simply for the opportunities to work at and find those things which could make me cry.
I am a man who can and does cry freely now. Without guilt. Am I a weak man? You decide.
There is one more thought I would like to share with you, one more secret.
We can also cry in thanks giving and we can cry for joy too.
Elle, I am crying as I write this due to our parting of the ways, but while melancholy, these are tears of shear pleasure in the remembrance of your gift. You helped me to find joy in myself again and enabled me to find myself in joy. You were the light at the end of my tunnel. I would have been lost without you.
My gift in return is to pass on the baton. To help others find themselves too, to help other people just to let go and learn how to cry again. There are so many people in my network, far too many to easily count, who I know are in real trouble or are really hurting and for whom a good cry would certainly do no harm.