Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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There’s something magical and mysterious about the sea. Calm and clear at times, at others it can turn stormy and attack with ferocious power. For seafaring people, there is the constant possibility of danger – they need always to be vigilant and, when the seas are tempestuous, to devote all their energy into survival. “All hands to the pumps” is the saying, when all that matters is keeping the boat afloat.
A client of mine was recently saying that for years he had felt like a fisherman in a stormy sea – powerless to stop the storm, just trying to get through it without his boat capsizing. Some bad decisions and a series of unfortunate events, had meant that he had been constantly battling with financial problems, health problems, and family problems. All his efforts had gone into keeping things going – he was the only one keeping the ship afloat – without him it would sink. All he could do was to live day by day, coping with what came up, hoping that it would get better.
While he talked about being under huge stress for a long period, also said that there were some very positive feelings that came from this experience, and these reminded me of Hemingway’s “The Old Man And The Sea”. He felt strong, powerful, and highly competent. He was surviving, and he was doing it on his own. He felt important, and noble – he was saving others who could not save themselves, and if, ultimately, he were to win the battle against all life’s vicissitudes, he would be a hero.
And he did win through. When he came to see me, things had settled down for him. He had a steady job and so financially, he was comparatively secure. His partner had emerged from a long period of depression and was rebuilding her life. His children were coming through their tempestuous teens, finding some direction, and talking about leaving home.
The trouble was now, as he said, that though he’d survived the storms, he felt as if he’d been washed up on a desert island. There was nothing for him to do. Things were much calmer, he was much safer, his family were OK, but he’d spent so long keeping the ship afloat that he didn’t know what to do instead. He had suspended his own life to cope with a series of ongoing crises and now he found himself wondering what the next problem would be, rather than being able to relax and enjoy himself.
He talked about feeling like a volcano about to erupt. In coping for all those years he had suppressed his own feelings and now there was a lot of anger starting to come to the surface. He had not felt able to share his feelings with his partner for fear of driving her deeper into depression – and so he had kept everything inside, and all the feelings were mixed up – he wasn’t sure who he was angry with, or what he was angry about – “loads of things” – “everybody” – “the world”.
He realised too that his relationship had changed out of all recognition – his ship, as he said, was barely afloat. He had become his partner’s carer, and she had become someone who he didn’t confide in – he didn’t trust her to be able to hold his feelings. And so, he realised, they had to start again – to repair the ship together – to get to know and trust each other again.
They had survived the tempest, but now they had to escape from the desert island.