The earthquake in Nepal this week has resonated deeply with me and I have not been able to get the thought of all the mountaineers up on Everest out of my mind, nor their families.
On January 1st, 1980 at 7pm, my mother heard on the radio that a climber had died on the Matterhorn. She telephoned the police in Zermatt to ask if it was my brother Jonathan Conville, it was. He had been on the North Face with a fellow climber who had witnessed the accident so there was no doubt he had fallen but what she was waiting for was confirmation that he was alive somewhere despite knowing that he had in fact died. Though the mountain rescue searched for him, they did not find him. They felt sure he had fallen down a deep crevasse on the edge of the mountain and was not alive. So the waiting began because it was not definitive news.
Waiting for news, waiting for a glimmer of hope, waiting for him to turn up and tell us he managed to walk out after all, and then eventually waiting for his body to be found. That particular wait was 34 years but that is another story altogether.
The events unfolding on Everest are part of a ghastly larger national disaster for Nepal. But broken down, each person affected has an individual story of desperation, anxiety, panic, disbelief and emerging grief. For those family members and friends who sit and wait for news, the situation is equally difficult because as a sister who sat and waited for news, I can say that it feels just as awful to be the one who waits. Some might not agree with that, how can being at home, in a warm house, with food and comforts ever compare to what the climbers or the people of Nepal are going through? All I can say is until you have experienced it, and I sincerely hope you never will, it is hard to comprehend the sheer terror of that wait. Sometimes doing something (anything in fact) is better than waiting. In the absence of anything to do other than sit by the phone, monitor social media and watch the news, one’s emotions run riot.
The sheer tension of the wait is an agony. It feels as though one’s life is on a knife edge.
The road forks, if the story goes this way, then all will be good, redeemed even, but if it goes the other way, then life will be utterly changed (even though we don’t know what that actually means at this point). It strikes me that this is true for every person who gets sick, has an accident, who finds a lump, who loses their memory and many more life changing things that can happen to any of us. They go to the doctor, have some tests and then wait for the results. They face the fork in the road as well, and the sheer terror of what the doctor might say and what that means induces the same sort of fear because these are life and death issues too.
The tension I talk about is contained in our physical body. It rampages through us like a tsunami. We can feel it in our guts, in our bones and it crawls over our skin like ants. It also makes us hyper vigilant. That is caused by the adrenaline running through our bodies liberally. Imagine being on a dark road at night, you hear something behind you, it’s scary. We all know what that burst of adrenaline feels like. It puts us in fight or flight mode. When you are waiting to hear news, you stay stuck in that scared feeling and it makes functioning very difficult, tiring and fraught.
With the hindsight of 36 years, I can say that one’s imagination is the worst enemy. In the absence of hard facts, human beings tend to make up a story to fill the space. Perhaps it is our defence against knowing or understanding the worst case scenario. We do it all the time in everyday life, but in the case of a disaster of this proportion, the stories we make up provide us with a glimmer of hope, a life-line, and against all odds and there will be some stories of miraculous events, people who survive through their own actions or pure luck. We no doubt remember such stories from 9/11 of people who survived despite the epic nature of that disaster. Hope is such a strong feeling and it can keep us going when everything looks bleak.
I think my dis-ease and disquiet this weekend has been recalling how our family reacted and dealt with my brother’s fall and also empathising with how the families of those trapped and alive on Everest may be feeling, as well as understanding how those who are now grieving for their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters or friends are suffering. I don’t want anybody to have to go through it, but there is no way around that, I so wish there was.
In finishing, all I can really say is that I am waiting with all of you for the safe return of those on Everest, and even though in reality I know that is not possible, I hold hope for each climber, each family and all their friends.
My heart aches for those waiting over all of Nepal and the wider world.
First there is the realisation you might need some professional support with your problems. As if that isn’t enough, you then have to choose a counsellor from an array of options including the type of therapy they practice, to the therapist themselves. Should you pick a male or female counsellor? What sort of training should they have? Should you select purely from their photos! Do they have a friendly face? What will happen when you meet them? It can feel overwhelming.
Here are five things which might help you think about it differently.
1. Firstly, the majority counsellors who have been on a reputable training will have been in therapy during their own training to become a therapist. The way it was put to the group I belonged to as a trainee therapist, was that every counsellor needs to know what a long course of therapy feels like, and what may emerge from it. How can we offer counselling if we have not experienced it ourselves? That made sense to me. Because a lot of the trainings are two, three or four years in length, the majority of us have sat in the ‘client’s chair’ for a long time. The other valid reason for this is if we are going to counsel you, we need to be sure we don’t confuse our own issues with our client’s problems. Therapy is one way of working out the why and wherefores of our own emotions and that keeps us fully available to you, the client during sessions.
2. At the first session, try and remember that you are meeting the therapist to see if you want to work with him or her. If you have an instant reaction to them, you might ask yourself, it is because they remind me of someone I know (who I have issues with). If the answer is yes, then you might choose to go ahead and try to work through those issues with the therapist or you might say to yourself, “No thank you, I will look elsewhere”! All professional counsellors and psychotherapists understand that happens sometimes. There should be no problem with you saying so. Counselling is a very chemical process, like all relationships, sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there. That is fine.
3. Counsellors are trained to make a contract with you. This is not a legal contract, but rather more a description of the agreement between you, the client and your counsellor. Some counsellors do it orally; personally, I do it in written form because I find it works better in my practice. What it outlines is where we will meet, for how long, what I charge and what my cancellation policy is. It explains about client confidentiality and in what circumstances I would have to break that (in the case of terrorism, or if a child or elderly person was being abused). In short, it is making everything about the counselling clear and open so nothing is hidden and there are no surprises for you, the client. If you are going to share your inner world with me, I want you to feel safe and held by the counselling process and a contact is just one way to let you know the process is transparent and contained.
4. Some counsellors use additional techniques to conversation. It depends on our trainings. I am trained as a practitioner of Psychosynthesis. Others may be Psychodynamic therapists, Gestalt therapists or one of the other many different modalities. Counsellors will often use ways of working we have been trained in or we may ‘borrow’ ideas from other forms of counselling to enrich our work. For example, when the time feels right and if a client wants to, I might use guided visualisation (a guided daydream to explore the unconscious), relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, drawing, making a time-line and many others. The important point here is these ways of working are only used when the right moment presents itself, they are not used indiscriminately.
5. Lastly, the relationship between the counsellor and the client is central to the work. Roberto Assagioli (the founder of Psychosynthesis) said that this relationship was the very heart of the therapeutic process. He believed that without trust being established in the counselling room very little growth was possible for clients. The importance of the relationship brings us full circle back to the second point, about the important of choosing the right therapist for yourself. I usually suggest client’s trust their intuition at the end of the first meeting. Learning to trust yourself is important and a very good place to start.
I hope this sheds some light on the counselling process, and should you be thinking of having counselling, the first step is to contact me, you can do that here. I welcome your enquiry and I promise I will endeavour to put you at your ease and make that first step less stressful.
Amongst the other feelings you are experiencing at the moment, are there any that you might be hiding or not admitting to? The reason I bring this up is that I am wondering if you are feeling guilty because you feel relieved the person you loved has died?
If this resonates for you, what’s it like to see the word relief, reflected back at you on this page?
It is really common to feel relief.
You may not feel brave enough to voice ‘the unmentionable’ for fear of being judged or worry you are the only one who feels guilty. You may have been through a torturous phase which might have gone on for a significant period of time. You gave up much of your own life to care for the one you loved, perhaps willingly, maybe not so, but either way it will have taken time, effort, emotional angst, patience, diplomacy, self-sacrifice, not to mention organisational and nursing skills.
But, even if you did it willingly and lovingly it does not negate the fact that you did ‘give up’ a lot. You might have given up your usual way of working, your time, looking after yourself properly or extra money which could have been earned. You possibly put your career on the back burner along with traveling, holidays, family time, dinners out or social engagements and you finally gave up visiting with friends during the last months and slowly became more isolated, possibly lonely and sad as a result.
You stood alongside this person and saw their slow deterioration, bit by bit losing more faculties, abilities, self-respect, dignity, charm and looks and possibly their sense of humor too. I am sure it was hard to watch that unfolding before your eyes.
Perhaps you didn’t speak about it, it may have been, ‘The Impossible Conversation’ and it was difficult or never the right time?
Some things are too excruciating for couples, parents or partners to bring up. Silence and secrecy can be a coping strategy, a way of getting through difficult times. Such strategies served a much needed purpose, and a very useful one at that, we should salute them, but they may not work so well afterwards.
Now though, it’s your time to rest, to reflect, to think, to reconnect with people, even to have fun, have sex (if you want to), to travel and to go back to work if you feel you can. You are probably thinking, "if I do have fun, what does that mean? Will people think I have forgotten him, am I not grieving properly, am I letting him or her down, am I not a suitable widow/parent/friend"?
When you feel ready to re-enter this changed and different world you find yourself in now, which seems to march forward without you, in spite of your grief, try and say to yourself, "I am allowed to rest, go out, meet friends, work more (or less), and have fun sometimes, it’s OK".
Remind yourself there is nothing to feel guilty about in embracing the freedom to do ordinary things that others take for granted. Grab the opportunities with open arms, this is your healing time, your re-engaging time, your catching up time and you deserve it wholeheartedly.
If any aspect of this blog today touches a raw nerve, and you are struggling with guilt or other unspoken emotions that are hard to cope with, do contact my counselling service. I will call you back and have a chat, and we can take it from there to see if counselling might be supportive for you?
Photo: Joshua Earle on Unsplash
If you want to, tell us about your own experience of feeling relieved below: