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Wellness: the rough-round-the-edges version

Jun 28, 2020

I suppose I’m supposed to say that as a therapist, I’ve thrived during Corona. I’ve put all of my own advice into practice. Exercised every day, meditated, took time for myself, focused on maintaining routine and found solace in my ‘self’…

A beautiful photo of someone else meditating…

But, fuck. that. shit.

I’m human and I have found this hard. I haven’t been able to exercise in the way I had intended to, I think I meditated once and was so annoyed with it that I have done zero formal meditation. I’ve been riding manic-level highs and absolutely floored by feelings of depression, isolation and boredom. My symptoms of Psoriasis have been all over the place and sleep has been, well, let’s just say it’s been on and off. Oh and i don’t fit my jeans anymore.

And yet, I can’t help feeling as though I HAVE thrived. I’ve shown myself that I can come through some very difficult times with my creativity, my motivation and passion for work and have even developed and nurtured existing relationships to a new place as well as new relationships.

Laura Rathbone
fumbling my way through highs and lows whilst staying true to my principles and goals

So, I am reflecting a bit on this process as we start to come out of the stricter restrictions and I start preparing to open up my clinic.

If I look back, I’m enormously proud of how often I’ve asked for help and reached out. Sharing my challenges with my friends, families and colleagues has brought me closer to many people and opened up the space for us to share together. Being vulnerable not only with your close family, but with new friends and colleagues has been incredibly empowering.

Knowing that I can show many different sides of myself freely has been important for me because I learned as a young teenager to ‘manage myself’. I learned through heavy social judgements and the verbal abuse of some of my school peers that showing people all of your character means you can be rejected.

So I have often felt more comfortable keeping groups of people separate, confiding certain experiences with one group and other experiences with others. Never really showing the whole picture to anyone. But, this pandemic showed me that to thrive in a world that doesn’t allow me full expression through multiple groups, I have to show my struggles to the people I do see and I had to be prepared for the outcome.

Running 'Cause I Can't Fly: "Anti-togetherness: The ...
Nicely ordered and separated groups

Of course there will be colleagues and people that watch my social media who think I’m over-sharing, or think I should show a picture of ‘having-my-shit-together” as a clinician, mentor and educator. I understand that. If you are taking the inspirational position in this ‘space’ then perhaps you find this presentation of yourself important.

But I don’t take that position. I believe that we should show our humanness as a way of busting through the myth of perfection. Showing vulnerability and fearing stigma is something that equalises us as all as dependent beings. But opening up and allowing ourselves and the people around us to fall, to struggle, to change their mind and need help is important because it means we are aloud to do all those things.

Being comfortable with my own vulnerability and feeling of unsafeness has been a huge life journey that was sent on a tail-spin when my life reduced down to four walls, one husband and two toddlers….All things I am very grateful for, of course.

How can we expect the people we work with to show us their vulnerability if we don’t understand respect what it is to show ours? Especially to show ours to strangers?!

I encourage all clinicians working with pain, go, find a stranger and tell them your darkest secrets. See how easy that is. THEN, you can explore specialising in pain.

The problem with showing vulnerability is that it requires enormous strength and bravery. Even allowing just the smallest part of your authentically vulnerable self is scary, especially if you have been rejected before or felt stigmatised and shame.

This is important because feeling stigmatised against and the internalising of that stigma (viewing yourself as devalued in society because of your pain) is a common experience for may of the people that come to our clinics with persistent pain conditions. Understanding and holding space for this in therapeutic moment is a vital physiotherapy and coaching skill.

We have to be careful that we don’t push people to share before they are ready or shift the burden of ’cause’ to ‘psychological factors’ in the way we set up our interactions, because this can feel aggressive and feed into the model of stigmatising.

Instead we are fostering the knowledge that our therapeutic space is a place where people can share their vulnerabilities. A place of compassion and human-ness.

When a person chooses to collaborate with me, they are coming to see me as a person. My knowledge and experience is why they come, but I am a person, a whole human. With worries, fears, needs and emotions. I will laugh and cry with people as we take steps and navigate their challenging and personal journey of managing their pain. Being vulnerable within my clinical practice has brought a huge feeling of closeness to the people that I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years and countered some of the more traumatic experiences that may people have had on their journey through the healthcare system. It’s important to a full view of your function and role in a person’s journey towards thriving in difficult and on-going situations.

A perfect and inspirational vision of human wellness, meditating and exercising and leaping into the joy of life can be helpful for some, but stigmatising and painful for others. Be human with the people you work with and let them feel your empathy.

The Scream Edvard Munch The Scream Edvard Munch Edvard | Etsy
The Scream: Edvard Munch 1893
Munch paints an experience of a scream whilst walking alone at night. He captures the human-destroying nature of fear and anxiety by painting the subject as a sexless being against a swirling background of the world. Munch showed us his more ‘neurotic’ self here and never repeated the style. Perhaps he aloud us a small and brief glimpse of his ‘self’ that was too modern for the time.
Nevertheless, this has become one of the most famous pieces perhaps because we can see ourselves in the desperate being clinging to the world in the face of fear.
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