By JC Clapham
It’s been almost two years since I last wrote a column, and loads of cool and some difficult stuff has happened. I’m excited to be writing again and to share how I’m living as a heartful and hopeful human.
Last year I came to realise that despite all of the work I’d been doing to strengthen my mental health and overall feeling of being well, I hadn’t yet tackled a core issue: I didn’t know who I really was as distinct from what I’d been told or thought I was, and I didn’t feel connected or safe with myself. My body, soul and mind were disconnected – they were strangers, and I can see now they had been for quite some time.
In the past ten years or so I’ve done so much personal development work. I’ve engaged with a number of psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health practitioners. I’ve done short courses in vulnerability, expression and self-management. I’ve let myself truly fall apart so I could build myself back up again. I’ve undertaken formal study and training in mental health, training and peer support, and I’d become a well-regarded writer, speaker and presenter in the field. I love all of these things and am proud of them. But they’re achievements – indications of what I’ve done, not my identity in and of itself.
There was also the anti-map I’ve had and been using as a guide for a number of years now: the path my father took some twenty-five years ago in ending his life. It was my Frost-like beacon of the way not to go:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– excerpt from ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost.
My appetite for growth and evolution has been enormous. A voracious reader, the number of personal development books and materials I’ve consumed has grown to demand its own bookcase, too voluminous for a mere shelf.
And yet despite all of that candour, that openness, that willingness to acknowledge my flaws and my strengths, it became apparent that I didn’t really trust myself or even know myself. Not truly, anyway. A sense of it, partial trust, was there, but not ‘all in’ trust.
Three books that were suggested to me completely changed my understanding and opened my eyes to where the real growth was to – and has – come from:
- ‘How to do the work’ by psychologist Nicole La Pera
- ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk
- ‘Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents’ by psychologist Lindsay C. Gibson.
These three books opened my eyes and my brain and spirit and body to so much knowledge and so many tools that have helped me enormously, and I’ll be sharing a lot of that with you in coming months.
It’s important to state here that my quest to figure out who the f*ck I am and how the f*ck I can reach a place of calm and peace, isn’t about blaming anyone or anything.
Yes, there have been some really challenging times in my life, and some really difficult people and relationships, but I’ve come to learn that blame isn’t helpful or constructive. It’s just further deflection and distraction.
When we divest ownership and responsibility for and over ourselves, we’re abdicating from our own life. Blaming says other people are the fault, and while they might have contributed in small or big ways to situations – and really caused us significant pain and hurt – the healing and fixing can only come from us.
No one else is responsible for who we are and how we are. We are what we allow ourselves to be. It’s not the provocations we might perceive that matter so much as the reactions that we get to choose.
In that spirit of claiming ownership of myself, I’m not going to write too much about what might have nudged me in the direction of feeling so lost and broken. I’m done with blame. What I am going to do though is write about what I’ve learned, how it’s helped me, and how I’m feeling about myself and my life nowadays (which is the best and most peaceful I ever have, yay!).
The books I mention above taught me about:
- The ages and life stages that have the most impact in shaping our psychological health (and it might be a cliché, but our childhood and upbringing truly IS so crucially important)
- The major impact that any perceived sense of feeling unheard or unsafe has on us
- The changes that occur in our brain, programming and our body when we feel unsafe on a regular or prolonged basis
- The increasingly-recognised influence that genetics have on us psychologically – we can inherit trauma – and most importantly:
- The things we can do in order to heal these wounds we collect, and re-start or re-shape healthy emotional, psychological and physical development.
It might sound trite and perhaps even a little saccharine, but the way I feel about myself is healthier and more constructive than it has ever been before.
I feel like I know who I am at my core, and how I can support myself to not only tread water and stay afloat, but also to do a little leisurely swimming and enjoy being in the water.
This level of trust in myself is a relatively new thing for me, and it’s beautiful, empowering and enlightening to feel and have.
In coming months I’m going to share with you a whole bunch of things that I’ve learned and found interesting, as well as what I’ve been doing to step into myself and reach a place, a comfortability with the undulations of this thing called life. I hope you might get something out of it for yourself or someone you care about.
Until then, be human, not concrete 🙂
*If this story has raised issues for you contact Lifeline on 13 11 14