My experience of the Healing Journey programme
(This is written by someone who finished Level 5 in November 2011.)
I remember when I first came to Paul’s Centre for my initial appointment with Beverley van der Molen, I was an upset wreck and didn’t know where to turn. After my chat with her, I thought “finally, somebody who understands how I feel”.
This was approximately about 6 months after my surgery I think, and until then, I hadn’t really received any useful help in dealing with my illness and actually, although I can’t fault my medical treatment, I found that doctors and other staff often made very unhelpful comments that made me feel worse.
Looking back at some diary entries from this time last year, I am struck by how often I mention techniques I learned during the HJ. For example, “Felt some bad thoughts intruding so managed to do some breathing exercises and then got on with focusing on work”. Every afternoon at about the same time, I started to feel bad. I was very sensitive to things people said (without thinking) and often crying at work.
Feeling much more like my old self
While I can’t say I’m feeling 100%, I certainly feel much more like my old self, although obviously it is difficult how much to attribute this to the HJ, how much to the passage of time (almost 2 years to the day since my surgery), and how much to medication for depression. I think it is mostly due to the HJ helping me to change my thinking, because I was having counselling and on the medication anyway.
In the past couple of weeks I have managed to cope with the death and funeral of a close family member much better than I was expecting and also other bad news. I think a lot of it has to do with a slightly shifted perspective about a lot of things which have been included on the HJ.
I particularly remember an image that Patrick (an HJ course leader) asked me to visualize – a mountain representing my problems; viewing it close up and then imagining it from above and then further away – it is still there, the same size, but looks different. I think that is how I see obstacles in my life now – they are there to be dealt with or faced up to (not ignored) but can be seen from different angles.
Seeing other people’s perspectives
I honestly have found myself seeing things more from other people’s perspectives (or at least recognizing that they may not see it the same way as me) and feeling a bit less inclined to argue or get angry about things which really are not that important. If I am stuck on a train or in a queue, the old me (before HJ) would have been getting stressed and thinking something like “God can’t these people hurry up, I can’t stand here for too long, I’ve had a major operation for God’s sake, I’m too hot, etc etc…..” whereas now, although I’m by no means a completely calm person all the time, I can think things like “oh well, I’m here, let’s look out the window, the sky’s a nice colour, what sort of bird is that? Now practice some deep breaths……..” and I don’t see it as wasted time. Instead I think of it as time to fit in some of my mindfulness or relaxation.
I think the main difference is that I’m not so wrapped up in “poor me” and am more able to enjoy being with other people and listening to them – and not think about my problems all/most of the time. The unhelpful circular thoughts have mostly gone. I put a lot of this attitude down to meditating which often is only 10 minutes per day but that is 10 minutes active non-thinking which has been able to settle my mind a bit.
I have found goal setting and “connecting” very useful. I have surprised myself by enjoying collecting money for Paul’s Centre and raising money for other charities. I have joined a community garden (I think I would have been very reluctant to join groups before – I even found it difficult going to yoga classes, let alone being part of a group of “sick people”) and am getting a lot of pleasure from that.
So a major thing for me has been being part of a group, and feeling listened to, and not being judged, and getting used to talking in front of other people about how I feel (or just talking in front of people). I have also booked an exotic holiday which I am not sure I would have done before.
I haven’t forgotten how bad I can feel on some days, but having these other things in my life to focus on during difficult times allows me to feel bad but know there will be an end to the feeling and that things will continue and won’t always be bad. I never in a million years thought I could get to this point when I think about how depressed, miserable and upset I was when I first came to Paul’s.
Experiencing a hospital appointment differently
A perfect example of how things are now occurred yesterday: I had a hospital appointment for an examination and to discuss my latest MRI results and ongoing physical symptoms. I always have to wait at least half an hour in a small, hot, busy room, and then I am always left on a bed in a cubicle feeling very exposed while the registrar finds a consultant to discuss things with.
If I am not upset while waiting, I am always upset and crying by the end of the appointment and go home feeling miserable. Yesterday I waited fairly calmly for 25 mins and discussed things calmly with the registrar, then waited calmly on the bed (for about 10 mins), practising my deep relaxing breathing after I noticed I wasn’t breathing properly.
By the time I got home I had almost forgotten about the appointment. I think this is a tribute to the course and the staff at Paul’s and I owe everyone there a massive thank you for helping me to cope with my life following my illness.