THE PHOENIX SPEAKS

The Phoenix Speaks is a creative writing project for Phoenix Therapy Practice by our Writer in Residence, Marie Larkin. This is how she describes the project:

“According legend, the Phoenix lives for at least 500 years but in some accounts, lives for thousands of years. It is then reborn, through fire, to continue its growth in a new cycle of life. Whilst in most myths of the Phoenix, it lives in a magical world, I wanted to imagine it living in our mortal world, observing the generations of people that come and go in its lifetime.  It struck me that if the Phoenix could speak to us, it would have much to tell about what it has seen and learned about what it is to be human.

In The Phoenix Speaks, I write in the voice of the Phoenix, covering different aspects of life, with a focus on the difficulties and questions that frequently bring people to therapy. My hope for this project is that readers will find comfort, inspiration, understanding and an enjoyment of the magical world of words.”

Marie Larkin is an Integrative Therapist with over 20 years experience and has an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. She works with individuals, groups, runs workshops and presentations and writes and performs poetry.

We Are Phoenix

When people come for therapy, it is always because, on some level, something needs to change. Whilst it is true that there are often external influences in our lives that hinder our ability to thrive, to change what is outside of ourselves, when possible, can only go so far. The real transformation, the lasting change, comes from the internal shape-shifting, re-storying and realignment that we do. These are the changes that build resilience, that lead us to value ourselves, and relish without shame, the unique combination of strengths and flaws that make us who we are. For like the mythical bird, the Phoenix, there is only ever one of us.

There are legends spanning continents, religions and cultures that refer to a glorious bird that symbolises renewal, resilience, starting afresh. The earliest version belongs to the ancient Egyptians, who called it Bannu, and it was the ancient Greeks who named it Phoenix, closely linked to the Phoenicians. What links all versions of the Phoenix are its strength, long life, sparkle and wondrousness. But there always comes a time when it knows it needs to be “reborn” and so it builds a special nest where the old version of itself burns and from the ashes a new, stronger and breathtaking Phoenix emerges. At any one time, there is only one Phoenix.

As humans, like the Phoenix, we sometimes need a “nest”, a safe space, in which to stop what we are doing, take stock and rebuild ourselves. Unlike the Phoenix, we do not need to set ourselves on fire, nor, indeed, die, in order for this transformation to take place. And, as humans, we have the chance to share our safe space with another, or others. That might be someone close to us, who can help support us through troubled times. It can also be a therapist, who will sit with us, explore with us and help us work out what is truly ours to carry forward, and what needs to be shed in order to live as our most resplendent selves.

We inevitably pick up dust in our feathers, along the course of life. Sticky bits that slow us down, make going about our lives tiring or painful, create a sense of not really being ourselves and make us anxious. Therapists, irrespective of what model they practice, aim to help us understand what is truly ours and what we have picked up or been given to carry along the way: habits; ways of thinking; unhealed wounds etc. Therapists set out to create a safe space in which we can shake out our feathers and watch the dust cloud settle, be with us as we get used to the new feelings and mourn the loss of what was familiar, despite not being wanted. Above all, therapists want to help us rise from the ashes of our suffering and, along with our scars – for they are part of our uniqueness, leave the nest refreshed, enlivened and true to ourselves.

Marie Larkin Pheonix Writer in Residence

 

Shedding Shells

I am the Phoenix. I have been watching the world and all that lives in it for centuries. My eyes are sharp and perceptive. I can turn my gaze to the widest horizon or the tiniest atom of detail. I am fascinated by the diversity in what I see – so much that is unique and so much that is shared. The land, the animals, the plants, the people. For all their obvious differences, I have come to realise that they all have much in common: shapeshifts; changes; birth; growth; death; renewal; energy; inertia; connections; separations…and many, many more. In these pages, I will share some of what I have seen.

 

 One day, I found myself staring deep into the ocean and noticed a lobster, wriggling and jolting. I had not seen this before. I was used to watching them crawling along the ocean bed, either in groups or on their own. Creeping back and forth, going about the business of finding food, a mate or a place to rest. But not this lobster.

I watched for half an hour as the lobster’s shell split and it wrestled itself out of the hard casing then stumbled around in its new, soft, jelly-like form. It looked vulnerable and lost as it sought shelter. Over the next few hours, I was transfixed by one of nature’s miracles in action. The lobster took in water, grew in size, a new shell hardened around it and the lobster returned to life as usual, except bigger and stronger than before.

I felt deeply moved. As I was watching the lobster I kept  thinking about all the other life forms I have seen over the years. Cycles of strength and cycles of vulnerability. I thought, especially, about people, going about their lives and then, something happens to make them feel vulnerable and they want to hide. Sometimes, it can be a new challenge that comes their way, sometimes it is a wound or a loss that leaves them feeling as though they have shed their protective shells.

I have seen people try to battle on as if nothing has happened, only to become weaker, exhausted and more vulnerable. But I have seen others who, like the lobster, take in what they need to grow, find the sanctuaries they need to gain strength or heal and eventually, emerge bigger, stronger and wiser than they were before.

 Shedding Shells

 To grow, they need to shed their shells

The old ones are constricting

Their lungs and hearts and claws and legs

Can’t work with these restrictions

 

To grow, they need to shed their shells

Allow themselves to breathe

Their little caves are now too small

It’s time for them to leave

 

To grow, they need to shed their shells

And go out to explore

And once it’s done, once they’ve arrived

They’ll start to grow some more

 

But in between, they must take care

With their defences down

Their softness makes them easy prey

With hungry mouths around

 

The shark has learned to sniff out fear

And pick out any weakness

So they must keep themselves aware

And wait out in the deepness

 

Of a special place

A sanctuary

Away from prying eyes

Rebuild themselves

Now stronger selves

And then rejoin their tribes

 

But in between, they must take care

They’re fragile before they’re strong

But Mother Nature’s on their side

And urges them along

 

To grow, they need to shed their shells

So they can stay alive

Marie Larkin Phoenix Writer in Residence.

 

Why might I feel worse before I feel better when I start psychotherapy?

There can be many different responses to starting therapy. As many responses as individuals who are doing the starting. However there are also patterns, or similar ways of responding that can be loosely formed into a theory.

One common response is that I begin to “feel” more. And if what I am feeling is painful, that might lead to an idea that I am actually feeling worse. However it might not be “worse” but different.

Mental distress such as depression and anxiety that often lead someone into therapy can be understood as a symptom of somethingthat the person seeking therapy is not aware of. This something may be a belief (such as I should be strong), a feeling that is blocked, an action (such as tensing the body in order to stop a feeling emerging) or a behaviour.

Working with a psychotherapist, it is possible that I can begin to understand and experience whatmight be out of my awareness and howI am keeping this out of my awareness.  For example; howa feeling is being blocked (usually by some tensing in the body) or a belief not attended to and how this is influencing my present experience.

This process of gaining awareness can take time and requires support as often this “keeping something out of awareness” has been a way to psychologically survive difficult and traumatic experiences.

Dr Eva Coleman

Mental Health and Ill Health

Ruby Wax recently complained  that  now “everybody is mentally ill”.  In the past her signature piece was about her mental ill health, but now that mental illness  is more commonly spoken of, she feels that she is no longer unique in this respect.  Which is good.   It is important that the stigma attached to mental illness has been reduced.   The young royals have contributed towards this.

But there is still an assumption that either you are mentally well, or you are mentally ill. A sort of either/or.  Whereas in fact mental health is on a spectrum along which we all travel.  With physical health, sometimes we are well, sometimes we are not so well.  Similarly with mental health. Sometimes we feel good, content, resilient and solid, whereas other times we feel shaky, upset, distressed, depressed, anxious and/or fragmented.   This is normal.   Life events can shake us up and make us feel more vulnerable.   Close relationships with significant others can help us to feel strong, but when these break down, we can feel our emotional balance being upset.

Having said that, it is also true that some people are more vulnerable and less resilient emotionally than others.  This may be due to disturbances in their early lives, and /or simply different genetic make up.    We are all different and we all have different areas of vulnerability.  Whatever our childhoods were like, they will have contributed to our resilience, or lack of resilience.  When something disturbing or traumatic happens, are weable to cope with it, feel what we feel, and ride with the emotional turbulence rather than sink beneath it?  This would be resilence.  How we deal with our emotions can be a bit like surfing: wobbling, skimming, flying over, or falling down and feeling submerged by the waves.

Are we able to talk to anyone when we feel low and vulnerable, or do we hide away and try to pretend that our emotions are not bothering us, or that they are not there?

How we relate to our feelings is of critical importance in terms of our mental health.   Many people, learn, as young children, that they should be in control of their feelings and keep them in check.  This can lead to a negative self image and an attempt to repress feelings rather than befriend them, understand them and express them.

Therapy can help change our relationship with ourselves and with the world.  When we can accept ourselves, we are stronger and more able to allow others to see us, to get close to us and to support us.  We do not need to be ashamed of our feelings and our vulnerability.  We do not need to be afraid of what is inside us.    It is a strength to be able to acknowledge and own our weaknesses.  That is where resilience lies.

Dr Eva Coleman