Sunday, 4 March 2012

Sometimes being strong means letting go

In the process of moving house I had two buyers pull out and it's come at a time when I've recently been made redundant, so I'm also in the process of looking for work. It would seem that all my plans are dashed. Facing up to that possibility requires me to let go of my dreams or at least postpone them. It forces me to re-evaluate things as they are and not spend my time dreaming about how I want them to be. It's made me realise how much time and energy I've invested in this 'project' and my ambitions.

The worst case scenario is that I stay put and muddle through where I am as I have been doing for many years. There are many positive aspects about staying put, not least of which is familiarity - I know people, the job market, the area, where to find things, where to go to do things. I've proved I can make it work for me here, so the prospect, though disappointing really isn't that bad even if on balance I would still like a fresh start in unfamiliar territory. Setbacks do not stop me trying again ad infinitum until things slot neatly into place. I've discovered that I respond to challenges and that in some areas of my life I can even enjoy them so have begun, albeit tentatively and cautiously, to seek them out.

What I don't want is to stop evolving, adapting and growing. Hence my reasons for wanting to move - I feel that I've learned as much as I can where I am and need to stretch my wings, but I allow for the fact that I might be completely wrong in that feeling, that there might be something new, inspiring, deeply wonderful and exciting right here just round the next corner.

Fortunately, I've had a third offer on my house and there is a possibility of a contract involving working from home, but there's still no guarantee either will come to fruition. Now though I find I am better equipped if neither happen.

What is true of such practical matters is also true of personal ones and relationships. Being prepared to 'let go' enables us to make the best of what is.

"Sometimes being strong means letting go" was on the cover of a card I received from my first counsellor as a farewell gift at the end of my course of therapy. Those counselling sessions were all about helping me to come to terms with the loss of my father. In the counselling I did a lot of 'letting go' - letting go of anger with him for dying; letting go of feelings of failure for not making more of him while he was still alive, letting go of guilt, letting go of not being able to see him anymore and letting go of not being able to pick up the phone to talk to him or hop in the car to see him.

During the counselling I also unearthed some deep rooted anger with him over things in my early childhood. I let go of that too, concluding that as some of his 'unfairnesses' hadn't occurred to me, let alone bothered me as a child I shouldn't let them bother me now. That time was long gone and since that time we'd evolved our relationship to come to understand each other, respect and accept one another and our boundaries.

As an adult I could understand why he failed me when I was a child and came to comprehend that he never never set out to do so, that he never meant to. He was human and had his faults and virtues just as I have. In wanting him to forgive me I learned I needed to be able to forgive him in return. I learnt too that I can still talk to him if I need to.

At the end of it all I found him again; that the process of letting go simply meant adjusting to new ways of connecting with him. It wasn't a finite end to my relationship with him, merely a new chapter, a new beginning. Such is only possible when we are strong enough to be able to let go of one view of the world in order to be able to open our minds to a different one.

Letting go of people because they need to move on is never likely to be easy when we care for them. The break up of relationships or a child leaving home to take their first tentative steps on their own in the adult world is often intensely emotional. However, if we truly care and love others, don't we want them to be happy? Do we really want to clip their wings, inhibit their progress, development, growth or freedoms? Even when a split is acrimonious, do we really just stop caring? It is because we care that it hurts, but this hurt is a normal thing to experience. Far better to wish them well and send them on their way than attempt to force them to stay. That way we can salvage some self respect and earn theirs.

Sometimes facing up to the real prospect of letting go can help us to find new opportunities; different and previously unimaginable viable and possibly happier solutions. Different never has to mean worse. It might not mean better, but then again it might... it just might. How will we ever know, if we don't try?

Above all the real lesson from these examples is that we must always be prepared to evolve, to adapt, to develop as life will always throw down it's gauntlets and issue it's challenges no matter how hard they are to accept; no matter how hard we may work to try to stay put and avoid them.

Conclusion? It is far better to adopt the attitude of an explorer than to live in perpetual fear of the unknown. By exploring, as a child might if placed in a large toy or sweet shop, we increase our choices and options instead of limiting them. Life can become exciting and inspiring. Yes, letting go can be agonisingly painful hard work and a certain amount of bravery to steal oneself to do so is often required but, it sometimes can be the wisest thing to do for the sake of our own well-being and to increase our chances of the happiest of futures.

Letting go of mental illness
Finally I've realised I've let go of something else - the label of being mentally ill. It in no way defines all that I am. For many years I introduced myself as a person with mental illness thereby stereotyping myself and instantly making people wary of me because of the number of the inaccurate, preconceived ideas that exist. I accept it has been a part of my life, but it is not the whole of it and if we want to be acknowledged as people with capabilities instead of people with limitations, the first step has to come from ourselves in promoting ourselves as people of possibilities rather than focusing on our frailties.

Admittedly as I get to know someone well, my health is something I share but it is no longer my top priority as it was when I was ill. For the most part it's luckily not something that's caused me much trouble in recent years because overall I manage my own health well. More often than not it only arises in conversation when someone asks what I take pills for, to which I answer, "to ensure I keep well."

It might seem a contradiction to readers to see me suggesting that not to advertise that you're ill when I advocate more dialogue about mental illness, but I don't think it is. We have a right to be seen as three dimensional people and not a list of symptoms or side show freaks to be gawped at for other people's entertainment. We have a right too to speak out about whatever experiences we encounter in our lives and about what we think would help improve mental health care and awareness - indeed I think it's essential that we do so. Such things need to be in the right place in the right way. Talking about mental illness is a question of individual need and timing - in the early stages of recovery I needed to talk a lot about my experience of being ill as it aided my recovery, now I don't except on here to try to help others. I do recommend caution in who to trust to confide in outside the medical profession. I work on the premise of who really needs to know these things and when? Then I think about how to tell them. This is particularly true of telling employers.

In October 2010 the employment law changed in the UK. It is now illegal for employers to ask about your medical history, there are few exceptions to this law (working with vulnerable people including the ill, elderly and children is quite rightly one of them). Employers are now not allowed to discriminate on grounds of who you are related to, race, gender, religion, marital status, disability or health condition including mental health conditions. Workers simply have to be able to do the work as outlined in their job description and contract of employment.

Hopefully these changes in the law will help employers see their staff's capabilities more clearly and it should enable all staff to let go of their habit of stereotyping everyone. I see it as a positive step on a long road toward better levels of understanding and equality. I would recommend declaring yourself to have a medical condition only when it is strictly necessary, particularly where employers and work colleagues are concerned. If your condition is likely to start to affect your work it is on balance better to inform them. Otherwise, why do so? Decent employers should be supportive, if they are not then perhaps it is better to find one.

It's perhaps one indication of the mentally well that they tend not to advertise their weaknesses, tend not to dwell on them even though, as I've pointed out in a recent article, everyone has them. They share such things only in confidence with those they feel they can trust. That realisation became a significant step toward my own recovery. By letting go of the label of mental illness myself I began to make great strides in realising what I could do despite my illness. Because I started to see myself as a person and not an illness it became easier to convince others of it. I began to be judged on my merits and earned the respect and appreciation that was justly mine. I am seen as a person now, not a label, list of symptoms or sideshow freak.

Letting go, really has made and can make that much of a difference.