The first step being to sit quietly and peacefully and let your mind float. Ask for an image to come into your mind that is important for you to try and understand at that point in time.
There is no right or wrong image. It could be a cartoon character, an inanimate object, a person, situation or a fantasy. However, the image that came to my mind on this occasion was a moment in time, many years ago, when I was working with children and young people. I had been working with a young man who was expressing suicidal ideation and was so concerned I arranged for him to see a psychiatrist. I agreed to accompany him to the appointment because he was afraid.
Over weeks of working alongside this young man, let’s call him Billy, I had begun to understand he experienced an overarching sense of rejection. First by his parents, and then later by his peers because of his sexuality.
My image was of Billy sitting in the psychiatrist's room feeling scared and so alone, rejected and desolate trying to answer questions about his life and finally breaking down into heaving sobs as a way of expressing his heartache.
Now I have to reveal a bit about myself to help you understand more about this personal image I am trying to share and I hope none of you are psychiatric nurses or psychiatrists! I have two characters inside me. One is Ms Correct who first appeared in my adolescence. She is the one that installed in me a sense of right and wrong, importance of academic study, working hard, professionalism and always doing what is ‘right’. The second character was with me throughout my childhood but later in life was continually admonished by Ms Correct to the point she would disappear for long periods. This character is Gypsy Lee Free. She is the part of me that treads her own path despite the rules of convention, that runs barefoot through the grass to feel the dew on her toes and kisses frogs. Gypsy is my inner child that is constantly begging to be let out to play but she doesn’t always behave herself according to the rules set down by Ms Correct.
Now back to Billy. My Gypsy Lee Free heart hurt for him whilst my Ms Correct head was saying ‘better out than in’. At which point Billy flung his arms around me, buried his head into my shoulder and covered me with tears, dribble and snot.
Ms Correct was horrified as the whole thing about boundaries and touch, transference and therapeutic relationship was flashed up on her always present blackboard and pointed at fiercely with her pointy stick. This pointy stick moment happened at about the same time I became aware of the psychiatrist shouting at Billy to take his hands off me and telling him I was not his friend or mother. Almost simultaneously Gypsy Lee Free made a random guest appearance and simply hugged him back whilst passing him a tissue. She was arguing that he already felt rejected and Ms Correct would only reinforce that belief.
I knew I was in trouble, and I was. There was very little point explaining to a psychiatrist of all people about the wild wonderful carefree spontaneous woman that lived inside me and inspired me to random crazy acts. Acts like hugging a child when they hurt.
This was the image I drew into my journal using little stick figures to depict Billy, the Psychiatrist, Gypsy Lee Free and Ms Correct. I then reflected on compassion and how hard it is for us as nurses , therapists and professional carers to know where boundaries start and end and what compassion actually looks and feels like.
Was it that Gypsy Lee Free herself could not deal with his overt expression of pain so was being self-compassionate? What might have outwardly appeared as an act of compassion in comforting a distressed child could have been in reality self-soothing.
I realised the importance of this image to me at that point in time was about letting things go. Everything has a time and place in this universe - there is a time for Ms Correct and a time to let your inner wild child roam free to relish new experiences.
This is the point of a self help journal; it becomes what you want it to be. To safely record your innermost thoughts, disentangle feelings, or as a cathartic way of letting go of experiences. It can help you reflect, analyse and self supervise. It can also help you let out your inner child in a safe and boundaried way.
Have a go – you never know how it might help unless you try. I hope by revealing some of my inner world it will help you take the plunge.