I’ve been wrestling with quite a few issues over this past month. And I’ve just discovered that I’ve got an unexpected week off, this coming week. All my clients are either going on holiday, have other medical appointments or have jobs around the house that need attending to. This might just be the kick up the bottom that I need.

The matters that I’ve been wrestling with, in no particular order, are:

  1. What am I going to decide when my treatment/investigations start up again in September? Am I ready, both physically and mentally, if more surgery is needed?
  2. What is the next book going to be about? I’ve got two ideas floating around. Will it be a direct follow up to Lines, or something completely different?
  3. Am I too old to still be a counsellor? I see the direction my professional body is going in and I find it hard to square that direction with my fundamental beliefs of what counselling is all about.
  4. Do I still want to manage a direct payments package? Do I want something less stressful. Or is this just a sign of my weariness, tangling with issues 1 to 3 above?
  5. Can I do anything to make Steven appreciate 1970s disco more?

The first one is a bit of a no brainer. What’s the choice? Carry on or stop? Carrying on comes with no promises, but stopping does. I don’t want to stop and die before Steven can name each member of Tavares and knows all the words to Strut Your Funky Stuff. So, I suspect the autumn will bring more backless gowns, more cameras up the willy, more catheters. The new costumes and accessories of my life.

For the next book, I was planning on picking up on the theme of stoicism. I’ve carried on the research and found even more relatives, doing incredibly stoic things. I’ve also discovered a branch of the family that I fear, if I include them in the book, I will be cancelled. Researching one of my great grandmothers, I found a whole branch of her family that emigrated to America in 1770. That led me to discovering Ichabod Quinn, the grandson of the original migrant. I came across a fabulous American archive site that holds letters from ordinary citizens and it had half a dozen letters that Ichabod wrote to his wife who was left to run the farm whilst he was away fighting in the Civil War. They are shocking and touching in equal measure. He is obsessed with the welfare of the pigs and doubts that his wife is fulfilling her duties in tending to them. But the letters also reveal that the Quinns had slaves, most notably a man called Tom, who was the only person that Ichabod trusted to look after the pigs. I’m finding it deeply uncomfortable encountering this history, but it happened and I have to decide whether it is a story to be told.

I keep harking back to 1999. At the time, I was working for a local counselling agency. My first young, male client was a chap called Charlie and quite quickly within the agency, the management decided that I was pretty good at working with young male clients and it began the best time of my working life. Over the space of a few months, I got several referrals, all young guys in their early twenties and totally unexpectedly, I discovered my niche. They became my main client group for the next ten years. 22 years on, I am 22 years older and I’m not sure that I serve that client group as well as I used to. The world has changed. I don’t understand their reference points as much as I did. Perhaps the generation gap has grown too wide? And I don’t belong in my professional association anymore. My copy of Therapy Today arrives and it goes straight in the bin, without leaving its wrapper. Even without the generational problems, I’m expected to work with them in a way that goes against everything that I believe about the nature of the therapeutic relationship.

I don’t really expect to give up the direct payments package. Like with the cancer treatment, what’s the choice? It’s the same old, same old, really. After 12 years of this, I’m tired of the endless micro management and distrust that my council seems to have towards all its clients. The anticipation of threat haunts me. The other day, I ordered Steven a new bookcase from Amazon. At the checkout, I accidentally used the direct payment card instead of his. I immediately rectified the error and transferred the money accordingly, but sweated buckets, awaiting the phone call from the direct payment’s manager who surveils your online activity from her computer screen. Nothing happened, but history has taught me to be wary: “Mr Neary, my job is to protect the public purse.”

The good news is that I can snap out of my weariness and naval gazing with the opening bar of a disco classic.

After all, who can lie on the sofa, meditating about mortality, slavery, one’s career and the petty bureaucracies of local government when Sylvester starts telling us that You Make Me Feel Mighty Real…

Come on, Steve. Put your dancing shoes on.

6 thoughts on “Wrestling”

  1. Petty local government bureaucracy sums it up so well. Although at the same time it is not always for the feint hearted. Common sense and common decency are a rarity in systemic care making it at best of times a tightrope walk, and at worst an outright war for unprepared and outnumbered families. Your legal outcome gave my family and I’m sure many others too, that intangible inner super strength (when at our sleep deprived psychologically broken weakest) needed to win systemic battles when they descend from nowhere, dark foreboding and uninvited. You showed the silent majority watching on that Bournewood can still be done.

  2. I agree LS. Mark did lead the way in helping families to stand up to local government bureaucracy. Although for some of us the battle can sometimes be so overwhelming that the war is lost before the fighting begins. Although saying that Mark’s story helped when we we faced with our son going into respite for good. We owe him so much.

    It is very difficult to fight your corner while still caring daily for your loved one. Especially when you are pensioners. We do though. It is frightening and emotionally draining thinking about our son’s future. Hoping and praying for a good friendly loving home for him when we are no longer here. It is the stuff of nightmares!

    We have however been given a new psychiatrist who is so different from our previous one, who did not believe in Paula McGowan’s legacy of ASK. LISTEN and DO when talking to carers. I complained but it did no good. The old union song of ‘You can’t touch me I”m part of the union” now applies to doctors working in the NHS.

    Mark do write another book. I have enjoyed your work.

  3. Hi Mark, always find your words ring so true with us and the rest of this little community. We read your latest missive just after the “charity” that runs the care home our son lives in has given all those that call it their home, three months notice – evidently it loses money and it is not compatible with commissioners’ requirements – yet funnily enough brutal Assessment and Treatment Units are? Our son’s house was in just too beautiful a setting, can’t have all that lovely real estate wasted on a bunch of severely autistic people, even though they can appreciate nature in a way us neurotypicals can only imagine. So, in our mid-sixties we will be embarking on the “direct payments battle” as we will never trust another “don’t care provider”. Future? Let’s just get through the next few months….

  4. Too true but your musical references especially always gives us cheer. Euan is non-verbal but has (what we think – a cracking taste in music). 80’s Techno is a particular favourite – New Order especially but he is very eclectic. When you talk about who else will share Steven’s taste in music…..it is all about the communication and the mutual enjoyment in those songs when we can’t always walk in their shoes….Take care Mark, and keep writing…..

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