I’d written some notes when the man sitting beside me picked up my journal and told me he was into graphology or the science of analysing handwriting.
“You’re not happy where you are and you’ll be leaving in a few weeks”, he said.
“I love my work,” I said vehemently, thinking he was real fraud.
And on the surface, it was true. I felt responsible in my position at the office and, although I didn’t realise it at the time, I got my self-worth from being in paid work. I was only working part-time but, trust me, in that time I was a workaholic, always wanting to be the best I could.
Unfortunately, while my head told me one thing, my body told me another. Although I returned to work, things didn’t improve. As I was the only person in the office, I’d have to catch up with all the word that hadn’t been done. The pain in my shoulders and arms would return, and so did the excruciating headaches. At the same time, I created a crisis at work. I got bored doing the same old work. Story of my life, I’m afraid. Once I master something and know how things work, I lose interest. On to the next project.
At my office, however, I started angling to become a union organiser. I thought I enjoyed working with people, which is true in one sense, but what I ignored (or tried to stuff into the closet) was that every time I went out to talk to union members, I had to gear myself up to plaster a confident smile on my face and really steel myself to sally forth and spruik about union matters. What I also never realised until much later was that I subconsciously created conflict with the union president precisely because he was a man who, to my senses, was large and overbearing. Actually, he was quite pleasant. My response was because he brought up stuff to do with my father, something I never realised at the time.
And looking back, I can see that this is how I reacted to every male boss I worked under. Since it involves others, I won’t go into detail except to say that I did not take any criticism well, I was impatient with being told what to do, and really resented the fact that so many male bosses seemed to undervalue the work of their women employees.
Headaches – Behaviour Modification
I did come across a tremendously helpful course which was run by the Psychology Department of the University of Western Australia, aimed at helping people with chronic headaches learn behaviour modification to bring their headaches until control. It was an eye-opener to me. We were all quite driven people, over-achievers, and – to my amusement – I found the dentistry profession was well represented at this course as people were so uptight and nervous around dentists that dentists got uptight and deeply stressed themselves.
It was also another eye-opener in how hard it is for people to change their ways. We had to fill in cards which showed the level of headaches each day and what painkillers we had taken. I remember the course co-ordinator being quite taken aback at the number of pills I was chucking down my throat, mainly because I was self-medicating to get through each day. One of the exercises we had to do was treat ourselves to something special that week and I had decided to get my first ever massage. I had booked with a male therapist and I was very nervous about the whole procedure. He told me to undress to a level comfortable for me and I made it to bra, knickers and petticoat. These days I’m happy to strip right off, especially if I’m having a wonderful Ka Huna massage!
The massage was blissful and I continued having them, with this therapist and then another one later on. I did find that the day after the massage I’d wake with a humdinger of a headache, a truly horrendous migraine which would lay me out for half the night and half the day. I came to realise, however, that it was all the tension I was releasing with each massage. As I started working with the behaviour management techniques we were shown at the course, the headaches gradually abated, for which – even today – I remain truly grateful.
However, and again I’m not going into details to preserve the privacy of those participating in the course with me, I did notice how people simply weren’t willing to change their lives in fundamental ways to relieve the headache problem they were suffering. I was so desperate, I was willing to take on board whatever was suggested. But others made all sorts of excuses. I remember one guy boasting that he’d had lunch, as if this was an amazing occurrence. We all leaned forward to hear the delicious details, only to find him saying he’d had a ham sandwich at his office desk. Our co-ordinator looked at him, then said: “Do you service your car?” He looked puzzled but said yes. Then she asked him if he gave it petrol and oil regularly. Again he looked puzzled and said yes, but we knew where Diana was heading. She said sweetly: “Then you treat your car better than you treat yourself!”
I think it was at this time that I decided I’d throw myself into any course I was taking, regardless of how I felt about it, with the intention of working with whatever I could pick up which worked for me. When I was taking part later in an Inner Child workshop, I’d notice that when a particularly challenging session was coming up, people would fudge it and not turn up.
At this stage, I’d like to say that, if you’re attending a course and you suddenly find you are making excuses to pack it in or skip a particular section, it’s a sure sign that it’s the very thing coming up that you’re trying to avoid which you need to face up to and attend. Because sure as eggs, it’ll be challenging for you but it is likely to lead to insights or changes which are fundamental to your well-being. It may be hard, it may be challenging, but I do feel the end result is really worth-while if you’re truly committed to growing your life.
The massages and treatments I received when the RSI was first diagnosed were, now I look back, the first cracks in the ice castle I’d built up around my family history. I used to get a massage with a therapist who’d comment on the anger he felt in me. So I would simply respond: “Who me?” I never showed anger. It was never allowed in our family. Emotional outbursts were simply forbidden, one of those unwritten rules in our family life. I simply never saw myself as an angry person. Now I look back and see those awful migraine headaches as the tool my body used to try to release the anger and pain I had locked in my body.
After my mother died of lung cancer in 1987, I found I couldn’t talk to anyone about the grief and anger I felt. People were embarrassed about a close family member dying, and shied away from any talk about losing my mum. I guess to I’d had so much experience of bottling up emotions, that I had no idea how to handle this loss. So I decided to go and get some counselling. I found a psychologist in Fremantle, went along for my first session, and I can truly say that my exchanges with this very kind, sympathetic woman were life-changing.
Lucy gave me permission to be angry about my family. It was a quite new concept to me, and I was quite overcome with guilt and shame the first time I talked about my childhood and the anger I felt about my father and the bullying and control I experienced throughout my childhood and into my ‘teens until I escaped to university.
Alongside this counselling, I was also pursuing other alternative therapies, as I was find out that each seemed to peel another layer from me, like peeling an onion. I was getting a better understanding of my body but, best of all, the RSI was less intense, although it hadn’t gone completely. And the migraines had abated considerably as a result of learning to modify my Type A behaviour and take a more relaxed attitude to life.
Actually, I look at all the various healing modalities I’ve followed and think I must sound incredibly neurotic. But when I look at the illnesses I’ve dealt with, overwhelmingly they seem to be structural and psychological. I think this probably reflects the years I’d spent locked down in loneliness, guilt and fear, and the way in which I tip-toed through the healing process in order to cope with what came tumbling out of the cellar where I’d, sub-consciously, locked all my pain and feeling of being so unloved.