Category Archives: Writing

“Are You Making Progress?”

Reasons why you should probably not tell your mother you’re seeing a therapist:

  • “Is it like hypnosis?” (“Mum, no.”)
  • “What do you guys talk about?” (This is tricky because we actually sometimes talk about her, heh)
  • “Are you making progress?” (Well if progress can be measured by the amount of tissue paper used… Maybe >.<)
  • “Maybe I should see a therapist too.” (….)
  • “I hope you’ll become positive and happy again.” (“Mum I AM still positive and happy.” “…Ok good.”)
  • “You’re also a therapist, couldn’t you just do therapy for yourself?” (“Ehhh…It doesn’t quite work that way…”)
  • “Do you have to finish the entire course?” (It’s not a course, Mum, and its not like Antibiotics…)

 

But amusing stuff aside, I’m quite glad to say that some of the intense and confusing emotions which emerged from this experience are finally beginning to clear (after almost 3 months!), and I can better understand what has been happening in my mind and body.

This is the short and not-too-much-info explanation:
So I learnt that our bodies store pockets of emotions which can lie dormant for years. These can include emotions from childhood and past experiences. And we never know what might trigger them. In my case, it seems that the impact of grief, as I witnessed a mother watching her child die, triggered my own stored emotions from earlier years, which have apparently been suppressed and unprocessed – Until now.

This insight has been very helpful in explaining certain things, such as why I was still feeling the intense sensations in the body long after the images and vivid memories of the session had faded.

It has also made me realise that everyone probably has their own internal battles. If I have been holding such intensity inside me for close to 3 months, yet still behave (almost) normally, getting up to go to work every morning, fulfilling all my duties at work, and meeting all my social obligations … It certainly has not been easy and I foresee that this journey could continue for a while more. It really is a reminder to be kind to everyone I meet, because we wouldn’t know what kind of storm a person could be holding inside themselves.

And yes… Even though I consider myself a rebel against the results-oriented nature of our society, I have to say… There has been progress ;p

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It’s Only Temporary

Does transience render all things meaningless?

I sometimes ask myself that.

But that would be the fatalist way to live, and I’m not inclined to think that way either.

So I make a choice.

I choose to see change and impermanence as pre-requisites for growth, for discovery, for connection. For meaning. Far from meaningless.

And because there are days and moments when it may be harder to remember this choice, to remember that impermanence is not cruel but can be beautiful, that change is not overwhelming but can be growth-inducing –  that’s when writing posts like these help.

A Little Thing

It’s a usual music therapy practice to greet each person in the group individually at the start of the session, and to say goodbye to each individual. It is a way to invite each individual into the group setting, and at the end, to thank them for their contribution to the group.

Well yesterday, I forgot to say bye to each individual kid after a session.

After the group goodbye song, the boys were transited to go toileting, then to go for their outdoor activity.

But one of the little boys decided otherwise – he apparently pulled his teacher back to the classroom, where I was still packing and clearing the area after their session.

I had turned around and there he stood, looking at me, somewhat bashfully.

Unaware of his agenda, I asked “A, what is it?” Not that he could verbalise a reply, but I knew he was capable of communicating through gestures and vocalisations.

When a few more moments had passed without him initiating anything, I looked at the teacher standing at the entrance of the classroom.

“Do you know what he wants?” I asked.

“He wants to say bye.”

BOOM.

It hit me then. Of course. I had forgotten to give each kid their individual goodbye after the session, perhaps unconsciously assuming that the goodbye song was good enough and that it wouldn’t make a difference to them anyway… Apparently it does!

Squatting to his eye level, I said “Bye bye A!” and held out my palm for a high-5. He returned the high-5 immediately, smiled and turned to walk back to his teacher.

Heart melts.

The little things do matter. A lot.

July 2018

So. It has been an eventful month, to say the least.

When I applied for this Friday off from work (about a week ago), I was feeling emotionally drained, fatigued and slightly jaded (even if I did not always show it). It made sense to take some time off, to regather my thoughts and feelings, and to perhaps reconfigure the WHY of what I’m doing.

It all started from 3 Sundays ago, when I received a call from a colleague tearfully telling me that one of our kids was in intensive care and not expected to make it through the next day. The social worker had asked if I would be able to have one more music therapy session with him?

Yes, I said. Of course. We made plans to go down first thing next morning.

I don’t think I had much time to prepare myself for it. I texted a trusted peer and shared my worries about doing the session. My worries about not being able to separate my personal emotions from my role as the therapist in the room. She reassured me that it was ok to show our emotions and that I could try taking deep breadths if it got too much to handle. I wrote about my emotions in my journal. Had some alone time in the morning before work, to ground and steady myself. That was about all the preparation I could do, I think.

The session itself started on an emotional high. Little D, not even 3 years of age, was in a comatose state, kidneys failed, his face swollen and puffed up, with machines and tubes all around him (But then this wasn’t something new, even when he was coming to school he was already surrounded by tubes and machines). It became quite apparent that the music was more for mum than for D. She started crying the moment the strings of the guitar filled the room.

Same chords. Just repeat. Hold the space, I told myself. C – G – F – G – C. Repeat. Mum took a call. Came back. Continued crying.

“We are here… Here with D…” A song to establish our being there. Our presence. Our being together. Humming. A space for comfort. And also because I didn’t trust myself to sing words continuously without breaking down or cracking with emotion.

“Is there anything you’d like to say to him?” I chocked out to mum, after some time of just playing instrumentally. A floodgate of emotions opened as mum verbalised what she seemed to have been keeping in. “You can go and do all the things you couldn’t do here…”, “Mummy has already tried her best, sorry…”, “If you want to go you can go, it’s really ok”… It felt like she needed that space, and perhaps even the presence of people who allowed her to say those things.

Keep playing, keep playing. Don’t stop the music. Hold the space. She needs to let this out. Even though my tears were salty, my nose was dripping grossly, even though my shoulders and fingers were tensed and tired from the continuous plucking.

When she seemed to have finished all she wanted to say… or at least reached a suitable pause… I let the song take over again. To gather. To validate. To comfort.

“Mummy loves you… Loves D…”. “Thank you mummy… for taking care of me.”

A voice for D, perhaps, who has never uttered a word in his life.

Hesitantly, I ask. “Are there… any songs he liked in particular?”

“Not really…” A pause. “Maybe… Can you sing You are my Sunshine?”

And we did.

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
when skies are grey
You’ll never know dear
How much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away

“D, I’m sorry I did not dare sing this song to you because I was afraid I would cry. You will always be my sunshine ok…”

Needless to say we were all emotional wrecks by this time. Yet, it felt like the right moment to wrap up the session.

“Can we sing a goodbye song?” – This, I had not expected.

“You mean the one we always sing in class?”

“Yes that’s fine”

It’s time to say goodbye
Goodbye to D, goodbye
Thank you for your music
And now we say goodbye

 

After we left, we heard that mum had brought D home. And D passed on at home the next morning.

How do I even begin to describe what the journey was like after that experience?

I moved through the world feeling numb, drained and fatigued for the next week or so.

I could not sleep, and woke up early.

I continued sessions but could feel that my heart was nowhere there with the kids in front of me.

I don’t know if it was grief, or emotional exhaustion. Or maybe a combination of both. I didn’t understand how everyone around me, my colleagues – could continue as normal when inside I felt so hollow and empty. I felt isolated – no one else could understand what that space felt like, what it felt like to be holding the space with music and connecting in those moments through song and music. I tell people “It was an emotional session” but that did so little justice to the experience that it became a chore to even try to explain.

Doubts also crossed my mind. Was I being unprofessional by investing too much of my emotions? I should not have allowed myself to get so deep emotionally? Is it a sign of my incompetence as a therapist that I’m unable to handle the emotions when it gets this tough? How do people working in palliative settings do it? Does this mean I’m not suitable to work in palliative settings?

But.

It’s getting better. Even though there were times when I thought it would not.

And I am glad I can honestly say: I’m very thankful for the privilege. For the experience. It has deepened my practice so much. To have been there, with the music, as the music therapist. When I started working in this job, I never imagined that I would get to do a session like that. And now I can look back and see how it has helped me grow, helped me know myself better, helped me truly appreciate what music can do.

The feelings may be difficult, but they can teach us so so much.

And the journey continues.

A Solitary Day

Just one of many much needed ones.

 

 

 

A friend and I were talking the other day about how, as introverts and sensitives, we really need our quiet and alone time, but even then we have a threshold. Try going a week or more without meetups with close friends or without any meaningful human interaction, and even the most introverted person I know would start looking through their whatsapp chats to see which friend they can ask out.

So as I post this and think about how much I need and love the solitude in my life, I am also fully appreciative and thankful for the people who make my life this much more meaningful.

Healing Conversations

Meeting up with a long-time friend last night after a period of hiatus offered me some new insights and perspectives on being in this world.

I told her that our meetup was very healing for me, for reasons I couldn’t quite articulate in the moment myself. “I don’t know… It just felt healing… on a deeper level.” I replied when she asked how was it healing.

It was only after some reflection and processing this afternoon that I think I came to some sort of explanation…

See, in my relationship with myself, I think I am at the stage where I can comfortably switch between roles, act them out accordingly, and give myself time and space to recharge, thereby reconnecting with myself, and maintaining authenticity and a relatively authentic relationship with myself. I may not always want to be outgoing and spontaneous, but if my job requires it I am able to tell myself that there is meaning in doing this, so let’s do it, and most of the time I am able to make peace with the different roles I have to play in daily life.

But, in my relationship with the world, I don’t think I always have this harmony or peace. In fact, there may be times when I might actually resent and blame the world for all my painful, conflicting emotions, my struggles with unworthiness and inferiority and inadequacy. While I can forgive myself for having to act inauthentically at times, I may not always forgive the world, that which has forced me to act in this way and which has imposed these struggles upon me (at least that’s how I see it).

And thus, having friends who represent a facet of that world, showing me that it is possible for at least a small part of that external world to understand, to not judge, to really LISTEN, to validate and see me for who I am, without expecting me to change to meet their expectations…

This longtime friend was just that, and I think that’s why and where I found healing.

Thank you 🙂