It’s a very warm day here today, by UK standards, too warm to stay outside. So here I am, catching up on the huge backlog of blogs in my reader. Time was, I followed just a few mental health bloggers, reading everything. But I gradually added more and more feeds until now there is just too much to take in.
The trouble is, all of it is important — important enough for those bloggers to write about and share with the world, and surely important enough for me to read. Nevertheless, it’s a task in which I fail.
Two bloggers surprised me today by writing about much the same thing, quite independently (as far as I can tell).
Far more important than the warm weather, these bloggers wrote about warmth and friendship between people, and the part it has played in their recovery.
It is fashionable to professionalize closeness between people. Like the claim that Isaac Newton invented gravity, the references I come across to warmth between people often tend to imply that it was invented by, perhaps, Carl Rogers.
It’s true that Rogers did a lot to refine and define how warmth between people works in a professional setting, client and therapist. In a paper that originated in 1958, and was later expanded and republished in A Way of Being in 1980, he wrote (p. 179):
We are deeply helpful only when we relate as persons, when we risk ourselves as persons in the relationship, when we experience the other as a person in his own right. Only then is there a meeting at a depth that dissolves the pain of aloneness in both client and therapist.
That quotation is from the chapter Ellen West — and Loneliness, in which Rogers discusses the tragic case of a young woman who killed herself in the 1930s, and whose diaries and letters help to document how she felt about life and her struggle with what we now call ‘eating disorder’.
I can find the original 1943 account by Ludwig Binswanger online only in the original German: Der Fall Ellen West, at the Swiss Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, although a much later translation into English can apparently be found in the book Existence.
At one point Ellen wrote of being:
…einsam wie auf eisigen Höh’n
…lonely as if on icy heights
And later, referring to her anorexia:
…ich gehe zugrunde im Kampf gegen meine Natur
…I am ruined in the struggle against my nature
After her doctors gave up and discharged her, she survived for just three days.
Today I am reading stories of recovery.
Nova, at Snippets and Glimpses, once wrote
I don’t have any self at all. I am hollow. Empty.
I am a blank.
Now, in Letter to a Friend
I am starting to see glimpses of what recovery might look like.
…I’m not happy with where I am or what I’m doing…but those things are changeable. By me. By the choices I make. By the path I follow.
What makes that difference? Nova writes to her friend:
You have given me so much over the last six months. More than I would have ever dreamed and more than you could possibly know.
And Lola Snow, at Marine Snow, once wrote of:
…achieving and getting somewhere, even if that somewhere is a gloriously skinny death.
Now, in Add Meaning, she writes of enjoying life and making it meaningful:
I’ve signed up for a future, and now I want to fill it with things that give it meaning. Meaning to me.
What makes that difference? Lola writes of:
…people who understood how devastating it was to be ill and hopeless, and the impact they had on my life is something I will never, ever forget.
I go on about psychotherapy here, but psychotherapy is not life. Life, in the sense of being a person, arises out of the meaning we create in each other, out of warmth and acceptance — things that are very far removed from the qualifications and accreditations, the research and the theories, the diagnoses and the treatments that psychotherapists too often obsess about.
Warmth and acceptance create a kind of stillness, a sort of silence in which a sense of ‘me’, a sense of being, somehow crystallize, and that sense of being is recovery. For all its shocking power, that sense of being is a simple gift we all give each other. Rogers quotes Lao-tse on the subject (p. 41):
It is as though he listened
and such listening as his enfolds us in a silence
in which at last we begin to hear
what we are meant to be.