As long as I can remember, August means “holiday month”. My Grandad’s birthday was the 13th, and I remember as a child we were always away when we celebrated it with him. And indeed, August is when I am taking my main holiday of the year: two stints in France, my adopted country. So it was timely when the latest edition of “The book of Life” newsletter came through from The School of Life, an online project founded by philosopher Alain de Botton. It shares some ideas on “The Holidays When You’re Feeling Mentally Unwell”
I have long struggled with holidays, since becoming an adult I imagine - as a child they were rather idyllic, as I could spend long hours climbing trees, camping or staying up later to watch the stars. Later, those hours were spent on the tennis court or the golf course. And while I can yearn for the summer and the imagined ease it brings, the reality as an adult is this: holidays mean more time and space on my hands, and doing has always been easier than being for me. So I definitely related to the article pointing to the higher than normal pressure to be happy at this time of year; and I hear it with my clients too. Karen Horney had a wonderful expression, the “tyranny of the shoulds”, which might go along the lines of “I am in France on my only holiday of the year, I shouldn’t be so restless and unhappy”. That might be instead “I am restless, and I know this happens with me when I suddenly have a lot of space”, in other words, being with what we actually feel.
After my post touching on my concerns for the emotional well-being of cyclists last week, a few people contacted me: some sharing their own experiences of how they used training and competition to numb feelings or deal with distress; others questioned if it really was as bad as I saw it. I was particularly grateful for getting to know about this write up in The Washington Post: It details the heart breaking story of Kelly Caitlin, a young American cyclist who won multiple world track team pursuit titles and the silver medal at the 2016 Olympics.
I’ve little more to add this week. I read the article at a time I was already in touch with a deep sadness: client stories, and my own experiences with close friends and family have me thinking about our mortality, the fragility of life. It can lead to despondency, or as a client recently asked me “what’s the point?”. I totally get this position - yet when I read words like in Kelly Caitlin’s suicide letter, I fully understand how important it is to do what I can to support others in their pain...
“I cry,” Kelly wrote, “because I only ever truly desired Love. Kindness. Understanding. Warmth. Touch. And these things shall be denied, for eternity.”
...this gives ME a point, a purpose. But that doesn’t make it easy to bear sometimes.
Having spent some time recently putting in place a structure to create (and protect) space for my book project, today was the first of several whole days I had planned for dedicated, intensive writing. Ordinarily, this project will be based upon consistent ‘bite sized chunks’: a rate of 500 - 700 words per week and these short posts coming together after a two year period in to a book format. However, I am making a head start over the summer months - to gain some momentum and create a foundation upon which I can build over the coming weeks and months.
On a practical level, as I put the metaphorical pen down for the day, it has also been useful to gauge how long it takes to write a certain word count. I have written enough for several weeks of ‘posts’; and its been good to write some of the opening sections of the book in a series of 2h blocks over the day. I am in the flow and feel confident from where I am writing, and to whom.
Within the opening chapters I am giving some of the background story as to how I have arrived here: the career changes, the consequences of those changes and how the Buddhist dharma, meditation and psychotherapy have brought about (and helped me hold) a great deal of change - who Helen is and also how she relates to life and others. The writing allowed me to reflect upon my beginnings as a sport scientist and physiologist rooted in the body and the shift toward working with the mind within coaching and then psychotherapy. I found myself writing about the competitive and ego-orientated world of sport and how unhappy I found my athletes could be in their performance world. I felt a deep sadness as I wrote and I pondered “does it really have to be that way?”. It is some 10 years ago I was working in elite sport and I don’t sense much has changed since.
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