I wish..

There are so many things I never heard.

That no one ever said.

There are plenty I did though..

Things that made me feel mad and sad.

Things that made me feel I was wrong, bad,

mentally unstable, unreasonable.

But I suppose when you are working with a system that doesn’t

have many options it is all about compounding a narrative.

It is not the system that is broken.

It is you and your child.

Oh but there are so many things I wish I had heard.

Things that would have given validation, clarity

even a bit of a plan.

Imagine hearing things that actually give you options and flexibility instead?

Outcomes..

Sometimes its thinking about the end goal and how we get there.

One that can take you there with positivity instead of shame?

Can we share the load?

Share our experiences?

Talk it through?

Can we collaborate and work alongside to come to fair and rational decision?

Embarrassment and shame can entrench us in our wrongdoings.

It is better to feel safe to see our errors, learn and move on.

Because mistakes are learning too.

If the outcome can be the same but with less distress, embarrassment and negative reaction then can we choose this? 

My House is Burning Down..

I’m a trauma therapist and I work with families of children who are not fine at school.  The more stories I hear, the more I am concerned that this area is full of psychological techniques being applied in ways which, unfortunately, can make things worse rather than better.

It’s a basic tenet of trauma therapy that a traumatic event needs to be over before a person is ready to process and recover from what happened to them. They need to be safe.  If they aren’t safe, then the first priority should be changing the circumstances to make sure they are safe. That’s because there is nothing wrong with a person feeling highly distressed when the situation that they are in is dangerous to them.  It would be far more surprising (and concerning) if they were calm.  Fiddling whilst Rome burns, we might say.

I use the metaphor of the burning house to explain this to people I work with.  If your house is burning down, and you go running to tell someone, you’re going to be frightened and distressed. Maybe you shout at them ‘My house is burning down! Help me!’.  If their response is to tell you to quieten down and concentrate on your breathing and that they’re sure it’s not that bad, you’ll get more upset and probably angry. You know your house is burning down! You need actual help, right now, not a breathing exercise! They aren’t listening to you!  You really need them to know how bad it is and they don’t get it. You’ll shout louder, or maybe you’ll push past them to get to someone else who does understand.   They might get angry with you then because they’ll say you’re being aggressive and ignoring them. If they have power over you, they might even punish you for your behaviour.

Your fear and distress as your house burns isn’t a sign of you having an emotional or mental health problem, it’s a sign that your survival system is acting as it should, to keep you safe.  That’s what it’s there for. It gets triggered when we are in dangerous situations.  Of course, it does also make mistakes sometimes – perhaps you’ve experienced a house fire in the past, and when the smoke alarm goes off in the house your survival system gets triggered even though it’s just the toaster.  Then we might want to intervene to help you feel safe again.

With children, there’s a tendency to assume that their distress, particularly about school, is always an emotional mistake. The assumption is that they are feeling the way they do in error, like running out of the house when the smoke alarm goes off.  This means that the solutions offered are calming strategies or anxiety management – or even being told not to be so silly, just join in and stop making a fuss. Adults do this with good intentions. We want to show them that the world isn’t as scary as they think it is. We don’t dislike the things they dislike, and so we think that if they understood the world as we do, they would be fine. To this end, we tell them that they are wrong to feel the way they do.

What this means is that when child is distressed about school, they are offered emotional regulation strategies. It’s assumed that the school is safe and the right place for them to be, and once they learn that, the better it will be for everyone.  The solution to the problem (from this perspective) is for the child to stop feeling distressed about school, and then everyone will be happy.

But school isn’t always okay, and one person’s experience of a school isn’t the same as another. For some young people, their school feels like a hostile environment, day after day. They find things like the pressure and comparisons, the lack of privacy, the frequent transitions, the playground and the way that people talk to each other extremely difficult, and that doesn’t get better by doing it more. This doesn’t have to be true for everyone in the school to be true for some young people. One person’s happy place can be another person’s nightmare (look, some people climb very high buildings for fun!).  Some young people feel unsafe and unhappy at school, but everyone is telling them that the problem is them and if they just did some more mindfulness or deep breathing, it would all be okay.  This is really confusing for them.

For them, it’s like the house is burning down. They are highly distressed, they don’t feel safe, and being offered calming strategies feels like they aren’t being listened to.  Not only will they not work, but they also have the potential to make things worse, because they tell the child that the problem is them.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a place for calming techniques – but it’s when the problems have been listened to, acknowledged and changes have been made. It’s when the fire has been put out. Now the house isn’t burning and the immediate danger is over, so we might be able to take some deep breaths and regroup.  At that point, we might need to calm ourselves down so we are ready to rebuild.  We might be ready to use the Thera-putty, or the breathing exercises, or a guided relaxation.  But they won’t help put the fire out. For that, we need water and a fire engine. Actual change.

Words: Dr Naomi Fisher

Image: Eliza Fricker (Missing The Mark)

To read more of these works please go to: https://naomicfisher.substack.com/

The Onlookers..

You’ve got a plan.

It’s working rather well.

You feel a lot lighter.

Everyone is happier.

But then come the questions.

Those generic ones you can’t answer.

(They show you their holiday photos.)

So you wobble.

You get snappy at bedtime.

Because you’ve let them in.

The doubts.

The what ifs.

The ‘normal.’

Right, time to regroup.

Hunker down.

No one needs the raised eye brows.

It just sends us right off track.

Certificate..

Whatever way you got there you got there.

You did the meetings

You did the coffee mornings

You did the small talk

You did the same conversation again and again

You did the forms

You did the emails and phone calls

You did the tears

You did the sleepless nights

You did the waiting

You did the frustration, sadness, despair.

You did the not a clue, no idea, don’t know.

It might not look like others end of term.

But you made it.

You got there your way.

Well done all of you

x x x 

The Teenager..

The teenage years.

Oh you’ve got all that to come..

How we pine for the cuteness

The days out

The pliable

The jolly.

The bedtimes, bath times.

But not me.

We did that x 1000

Oh no thank you.

Now we’ve got we never had..

Connections.

Hanging out.

Going out.

I even love them sighing.

Cringing.

Wanting me to leave them alone.

I am the most embarrassing person in the world.

I never saw this far ahead.

I could never see this time.

I didn’t think it would ever come.

But now.

They can’t stand me most of the time.

They are out and about.

The bedrooms a tip, the food is revolting.

There’s shoes in the hallway that don’t belong here.

The music drifting under the door is awful.

And it feels absolutely excellent.

Risk..

Trust ourselves.

Trust each other.

The foundation is consistency.

Our emotions, our availability, our communication.

Then you can have risk and autonomy.

This gives strength, to know ourselves.

What we need, what works for us.

To do it our way.

This is strength.

We are always available.

We are stable.

This is security and safety.

No rules?

But no bad behaviour?

No, because the environment is right.

We’ve all worked out what we need.

Through exploration, through having try.

We talk about it, but we don’t judge.

We figure it out.. Together but with autonomy.

Force Shield..

Something happened recently and it surprised me because I thought I was fine.

I fell apart.

And the thing was things are ‘good’

Our child is happy and well.

But this was it. I had space.

Space to see what had happened.

Space to look forwards.

And what was left?

Who was I? What had we become?

I can be anything now. So I lost myself.

I lost my way.

It was brief, very very brief.

The cracks had been there for some time.

And we had been so busy trying to do our bits.

And we survived but our force shield was left broken.

Exposed.

And I let things in.

Maybe I needed to?

And now I know that impact, fall out can happen at any time.

Usually when there is space.

So we start again.

We are going to build it up.

With fun and love.

A brand new force shield.

Pathways..

Terrible things happen.

Sometimes over years and years.

There’s stuff.

Lots and lots of stuff.

Stuff that makes you sick, sleepless, dizzy, angry, cynical, enraged.

Sad and really really disappointed.

Bad things keep happening.

History repeating itself.

No it is definitely not okay.

So I choose ways to clean it up.

I draw, I weigh lift, I muck about.

This sheds the load.

I let those I can off the hook (they didn’t know)

I empathise with loved ones (they were trying their best)

I write letters I will never send (screw you)

I stay away from public rants (never helps)

I love a ball slam (look it up, its the best)

Because my child needs me.

They need joy, enthusiasm, hope.

This is what I want to teach.

I still call out the nonsense.

I say sorry too.

And I clear the pathway.

I make it nice for them.

Tokens..

‘We are aware of the difficulties your family..’

‘As you are aware due to..’

‘As far as we are aware..’

Support must come from consistency and investment in families.

In individuals feeling they can trust, then share.

Of safe, nice spaces to access when they need to.

Feeling wanted and heard.

Time.

I am not aware of anyone getting this from a checklist.

#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

Why?

We ripped the rule book up.

It made us all sad and argumentative and stressed.

But sometimes it is hard to do things differently.

We worry about judgement ‘those looks’

What will people think?

But then I remember.

 “Why?”

“Does it really matter?”

Curiosity is your way in.

Curiosity is your connection.

But what do I know?

(Anyway l’ll stay in our lane, we don’t even eat dinner at the table)