Monday, 11 October 2010

As one door closes another one opens.

Some time ago during a rare quiet moment while I was working with the volunteer manager at my local hospital she had asked me "what dream job would you like to do if you were able to have the opportunity?" "Art therapist", I had replied. She explained they do not have many opportunities for that kind of role but she would try to find out for me. As I believed you needed to have a degree to do that kind of work I thought no more about it.

There is a familiar old saying "as one door closes another one opens".

On the very same day last month when I had received a letter bringing so much despair to my life, the hospital volunteer manager had been contacted by the acting head teacher of a very special school which is situated in the grounds of the hospital. They provide a homely and welcoming environment in order to support, care and manage children’s physical, psychological, educational and social needs from the ages of 0-16 years. They use a structured programme of care and treatment usually in a non medical setting. They are a highly specialised inpatient paediatric/psychiatric unit, providing assessment and treatment of serious chronic illness using holistic, medical and psychological models of treatment. Due to the unique implementation of a joint medical and psychological inpatient approach, they can sometimes offer treatment for a child/young person and their family if other treatment has not been successful. They wanted to meet me.

A week ago last Thursday I went for my for my first interview there. Miraculously I awoke after a very rare good nights sleep, minus depression & found myself climbing out of the bed on the right side, for the first time in ages. I was so nervous but I need not have worried. The deputy head teacher was so compassionate, just as you would imagine for some one in that position. She was impressed by my portfolio of work & willingness to help in any way I could. She invited me a long for a second interview where I could meet further members of the team including both nurses & teachers. They required an artistic person to support their full time teaching staff on one of the wards. I was a little taken aback when she asked me to attend the children's cancer ward where she needed to do an assessment for a child's educational needs.

I did not want to let anyone down. The children's needs & care are paramount. I could not say no but I was not sure if I was capable of providing the right kind of support to their so precious lives. This was a duty that requires you to be totally giving. No thoughts for self, no introspection, no insecurities, no gender issues. Recently my creativity had felt blocked & my emotions had been all over the place, which made me vigorously question if I could or should pursue this role even though it was potentially a golden opportunity to pursue a dream.

I went to the children's cancer ward on Thursday for the second interview. It proved to be a day which could change me for ever. In a world of total flux & uncertainty the one thing those courageous children could have some control over was their education. By offering them the chance to continue their education the wonderful staff gave them hope & belief they have a future. The staff quickly build up a very close relationship with the children.

They are an incredibly supportive, intuitive team & seem to have a second sense of how the children, their families & also their colleagues, are feeling. If they did not care or feel for the children in their care they would not be doing the job. All the staff care deeply & sometimes the emotions get too much for them when a child's health takes a turn for the worse. When this happens they have a quiet room to go to away from the children & their loved ones, as its vital they avoid distressing the children & their families. This was the part of the job I feared I may not be able to cope with. I had previously naively assumed these staff somehow possessed a special ability to control or hide their feelings from the children in their care. When a student, volunteer or new member of staff joins they always try to establish if the new team member has any emotional link with the ward such as Leukaemia in the family. This way they can better understand how they may react in certain circumstances so as to provide the best possible care for the children.

While speaking to the staff leader I felt it appropriate to tell them about my beloved nephew who had leukaemia twice & subsequently needed a heart transplant. I told them of all the wonderful medical care he had received then. When I told her his name she remembered him & his Mum. She had worked there many years & he was a patient when the ward had first opened some 19 years or so ago. It all looked very different now. I was amazed she had such a memory as they must have seen so many patients over the years. When she asked how he was doing now we both shed a tear as I had to tell her he had tragically passed away this year after his heart finally gave out. He had been an inspiration to all who had meet him & touched many lives with his marvellous outlook on life. He lived life to the full, cherishing every moment. Music was his great passion & he fulfilled his dreams by becoming a very successful DJ.

I never imagined one day the circumstances in which I would find myself visiting the same ward in which he had received so much compassionate care. I am not sure if I will be successful or if I am right for the role of supporting the staff in this ward but with the memory of my nephews courage, I am going to give my all, to every day.

The staff leader who I briefly worked with Thursday morning said those who come to the ward have their outlook on life changed for ever & she was right.

Surfing emotions

Last week the tsunami of sadness that washed over me finally abated. I am trying hard to learn how to surf with the waves of emotions I am prone to rather than allow myself to be totally immersed in them, if that makes any sense? It is all very well being driven by my heart but I also need to be mindful to learn to use my head as well.

I have continued to receive some really heart warming support from my friends. Several phone calls & emails lifted me. My surfing needs a lot more work but every time I have failed I have managed to keep going & learned a few valuable lessons along the way.

Dependency is unhealthy. When you make anything the focus of your whole life, you create a deep seated fear of losing it. Ironically, your neediness can often make you lose what you most want to hold on to. If you invest too much of your emotions in only one aspect of your life, such as work or relationship you can set yourself up for pain. When you experience a loss in that area you are likely to experience emptiness, loneliness & depression. I have invested so much in my friendships & creativity. They both mean so much to me & I was so frightened I had lost them. In my case my art society group of friends had become like an extended family to me & I perhaps placed too much value on those friendships. I was also able to reaffirm how valuable true friends can be.

I realised I had begun to cut myself of completely from my creative friends, as it was all too painful. The thought of people blanking me who I had once thought were my friends, even if they may only be small in number filled me with dread. Equally if friends were too compassionate towards me I feared their kindness may dissolve me into a pool of tears. I felt anxious that my vulnerability may add fuel to those who were trying to smear my reputation. The endless self analysis I had put myself through beating myself up that what had happened to cause my depression was my entire fault came to an end last Monday, in what proved to be a tumultuous week.

I visited a very good friend who runs an art gallery & tutors many of my creative friends. I made sure I went when the gallery was quiet. I had actually introduced her to our art society in the days when it was so special. She was one of the first ladies the man who has caused me such pain had fallen out with & continued to behave so cruelly too. He had actually done her a favour because she found the confidence in herself to start up a successful new venture right at the start of the current recession. We have similar values; we appreciate all our friends & treat people the way we would like to be treated ourselves, with respect & kindness.

I was quite afraid I would have a panic attack just going back to her gallery as I had been going there one evening a week for informal tuition & a chat for quite some time. Many of our Art Group also went there too, including one who was very supportive of the guy who had hurt me & had been instrumental in my distress.

We talked for ages over a nice sugary cup of tea. So many of the experiences I had been going through she had felt too. The big difference was she has none of my T baggage or health issues. She has been so supportive of me when I finally came out to the world as needing to transition. If I am honest she was everything I wished I could have been. A wonderful Mum, supremely talented with a great husband, two teenage children, a loving family. Last year she had tragically lost her beloved Mum just as her new life with the gallery was proving such a success. Her life had experienced great change too.

We talked about so many emotions something I had never ever been able to experience in my previous existence when I was perceived to be a man. It was quite beautiful & life affirming. It was simply two girl friends together, totally platonic. She succeeded in helping me break the continuous never ending loop of depressive thoughts I had been beating myself with for weeks, in a way the medical team who had come to my rescue in recent weeks, my parents & other friends who had all tried so hard to help me had been unable to solve. She gave total validation for so much of the feelings I had been through & installed renewed confidence in me, that I could find the strength in me to turn my creative life around once more.

Peaceful thoughts