Waxing physically and philosically...

After literally years of deliberation, and as a result of some delicate and some less delicate prodding, this blog is my effort to organize - to bring together - my thoughts about my work as a conductor and as a personal trainer, to rant and rave as necessary, to celebrate the little things and the larger moments of brilliance, and to share some conductive magic and life lessons gained through 'waxing physically and philosophically'.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

NICE Conductors need not Apply

This morning Conductive World Market on Facebook let me know about an amazing job opportunity with Move & Walk, a holistic Conductive Education centre in Sweden that I have been following for years. They have programs for babies through to older adults, have found creative and holistic ways to work with the Swedish health care system and with other professionals, have done research and always present well at conferences.  Move and Walk Sweden

Though I'm not presently looking to move across the world for a job, the free spirit in me can't help but be interested... An awesome job opportunity with people I'd love to work with in a place I've never been - very tempting indeed!

In terms of my experience and skill set I am an ideal candidate for this job and have no doubt that I could be an asset to their team; as an added bonus I have have basic Norwegian language skills which would make their requirement of learning Swedish more easily attainable. However, the job posting specifically stipulates that they are looking for "a Petö graduate conductor".

I'm not precious; I'm not offended to the core of my being or anything, and in fact think it is more their loss - there are a lot of excellent and innovative 'non-Petö' conductors out there and I am extremely proud to be a NICE conductor. But this Petö conductor vs non-Petö conductor thing has been a thing since I graduated and it still makes me quite angry. It may not have been meant to be an excluding job post; perhaps I should give the person who posted the job the benefit of the doubt and assume she meant condutors trained in the Petö method vs specifically at the Petö Institute - but as I said, this has been a thing for a long time now. I think that we need to come together as a profession, and learn to judge each other by what we offer as professionals instead of what school we went to. And, I think us non-Petö conductors and our colleagues and the families we have supported over the decade and a half since conductors have been trained outside of the Petö Institute should probably stop being 'NICE' about this.

--The Five Man Electrical Band

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Anudder Tough Mudder...

Everybody's talking about Tough Mudder - and since I first heard of it I've been talking about it too, insisting that it looks awesome but that there was no way I could / would / or should do it.  My friend and colleague recently blogged about signing up saying that it was for the challenge and to give purpose and direction to her training.  Emy's blogs inspire me - and I read this and thought 'good on you honey, I'm not doing it'... Tough and Tougher - Emy's Blog.

So, as you can imagine, I'm still trying to get over my state of shock that I too now have signed up.  So why the change of heart, you ask?  To be honest, there has really been no change of heart.  I'm still terrified, I'm still not sure that I can do it and still believe that some of the course will be borderline impossible for me.  I still think that coming back from my wedding and honeymoon only three weeks before the event will disrupt my training and add further challenge to an already challenging event to train for physically and mentally.  So why did I sign up?

Was it peer pressure?  Yes and no.  Alexander runs a bootcamp, I train in; everyone from bootcamp is entering the challenge as a team.  But there was no pleading or judgement - everyone was cool with me saying no way hosé.  But everyone was doing it and I was starting to feel left out, and like I was letting the team down by not going.  So there was peer pressure, but as usual I was the jury of my peers, I was putting the pressure on my self.

I was also the one doubting myself -- I started to listen to what I was thinking - that if there were some things I couldn't do I'd be letting the team down, and that I'd never be strong enough or fit enough or brave enough.

How ridiculous - I was worrying about letting the team down if I tried and couldn't do everything or wasn't good enough, and I was worried about letting the team down by not trying at all.  What an awful lot of worrying.  And Alexander said - 'do it, don't do it, stop worrying, I just don't want you to regret not doing it'.

I remember the days of Canada fitness testing back in primary school - I was so unfit and fat and uncoordinated I was actually allowed (and encouraged by our school's gym teacher Mr C.) to sit in the library and read and was still given a participation certificate.  I was absolutely alright with that.  I was good at reading, not so good at running and jumping, and was happier to not try than to fail.  I'm still sometimes that way - but I don't like that about me and it is something I try to work on.

That's not me anymore.  Nearly 20 years after 'participating' in Canada fitness testing from the comfort of the school library I went back to show Mr. C. my certificate and medal for completing my half marathon.  He didn't care, but clearly I did.  I've done lots of things I was afraid of doing, gone here and there mostly by myself, tried this, challenged that, but I'm still afraid of physical challenges, afraid of getting hurt, afraid of not being good enough.  Alexander is right - I want to do this and am afraid.  (Yes Alexander - just like that cache at the top of Glacier mountain that we almost found - I wanted to but it got dark and cold and hard and I was afraid and I talked myself out of it and us back down the mountain - my only regret from our Canada holiday).

So why did I sign up? Because Alexander is right, I will regret not doing it - and the old me would have been alright volunteering in the event first aid tent, would have accepted that there are things that other people did and I didn't because I couldn't.  That's not me anymore - I was already feeling sidelined and left out 6 months before the actual event.  I was going to regret not doing something and it was my choice, not Mr C.'s doing, and it wasn't too late to change that so I signed up.

I honestly am still terrified and still doubt whether I will be able to meet every challenge on the day but I'm going to train for it, I'm going to go, I'm going to try my best, I'm going to 'give it all I got' and if I'm going to let the team down at least I'll do so stewing in mud and fun instead of sitting at home in a puddle of excuses and regret.  If you are interested, here is the tough mudder official video.

And this is not grade school, and this team is okay with my strengths and weaknesses just as I am with theirs.  And Alexander smiled with his mouth and his eyes when he said 'I'm glad you are coming - we are going to have so much fun together'.

Monday, March 19, 2012

It felt like home...

I often write about my experiences, trials and tribulations, of working conductively with people well and truly beyond the scope of traditional Conductive Education.  I am very passionate about this work and about what conduction has to offer a wide array of people and circumstances.  But, that said, when I start to work with somebody with a good old fashioned 'motor disorder' it really does feel like coming home; the tried and tested task series, rhythms, and ways of managing and solving things; the immediate connection and response from the person who suddenly realizes that they are working with somebody who really understands their body and it's seemingly random behaviour; the excitement that sparkles across their face when one of those tried and tested tricks is mastered and used for the first time - witnessing that moment when they let themselves feel positive, hopeful, and in control again.

And nothing makes me feel like I'm home in that professional capacity more than ataxia.  Yes, it was the subject matter of a special research project I did in 3rd year of uni, but moreover -- and despite the relative rarity of ataxia amongst other presentations of motor disorder -- I have had extensive experience and success working with people with ataxias including ataxia caused by rare genetic or metabolic conditions, accidents, strokes, MS, CP etc.

When I met SA, a woman in her late 40s with nearly textbook perfect ataxia and also another of my Enable Me 2 clients, I really felt that for the first time in a long time I had come home.  SA developed ataxia a few years ago as a result of Wernicke's encephalopathy causing Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a rare, degenerative brain disorder caused by an extreme vitamin B1 deficiency (please see references for further reading).  Everything about the way SA moves and processes movement makes sense to me, and more importantly everything about the way she responds to the tasks, the rhythm, the trick, the teaching, the conduction is predictable.

We planned on 5 weeks of intensive CE -- working on her ability to use specific tricks manage her ataxia through formal tasks and practical applications in her home environment followed by several sessions of community based practical application practice.  We started working, and SA learned quickly and responded incredibly well -- getting up from the floor and walking down stairs with control and without vertigo and balance loss, a rhythmic and nearly restored natural gait with arms swinging gracefully opposite legs and minimal foot slapping, hand writing becoming ledgible again, even exciting tales of spontaneous used of learned tricks. "I brushed my teeth standing up at the sink and could fix my hips even when my hand was vigorously brushing my teeth!" SA reported excitedly one day when I arrived. "I can feel my weight transfer to the foot I want to stand on and it makes me feel like I can dance again", she said.

And then the volcano erupted.  I suggested an outing for the following week that would involve train travel -- regaining independent train travel was one of the key goal areas SA had identified as key to  regaining her life.  SA had started talking about wanting to do more than simple exercises, she wanted to run and play tennis and go places.  She understood how the exercises were helping her but felt ready to move on; I knew that the time had come to get out of the classroom with her and into the world.  SA surprised me with not wanting to discuss going.  I was prepared to let it go and to continue as we were - her body, her life, her time frame; fine by me.  But I had already triggered something, there was no going back and the volcano erupted with an explosive raging vengeance I never in a million years expected from this shy, friendly, good natured woman.

She raged about the therapists and case managers and her mom all forcing this therapy down her throat and telling her what was important.  She raged about her mom, a wonderful woman in her mid seventies who by this point SA was referring to as a stupid selfish cow who just wanted to be free of the burden of caring for her, absolutely not the case.  SA's mom actually left the house during the explosion in tears because she was so tragically in the direct line of volcano fire.  Or perhaps it was too painful to hear SA say that if this was how it was going to be that she had no interest in continuing to live like this and demanding who her mom was to judge her for that.  SA raged on and on about how no one understood that she was unwell and that when she got better she would be able to do everything again; she kept saying "I'm unwell, why would I want to go jumping on and off of trains when I'm unwell".

And that was my last session with her.  In calmer conversation later that evening SA and her mom decided to stop all therapy and intervention for now even though they knew it was helping her.  They enrolled in a community computer course and a neighbour is supposedly taking SA to a local pool for some swimming and promised to be in touch at a later date to review, refresh, or progress the tricks we had been mastering.

I have never witnessed a volcanic eruption of this nature; not in a professional capacity anyway.  I have talked to other participants about their volcano moments when the pressure from emotions and cognition of their life and disability and prognosis erupted; about the moments when denial and reality could no longer co-exist and exploded in tears and fits of rage.  But I have never witnessed it up close and in person with one of my participants, with someone I worked intensively with, with someone I cared about.  Two years of hospitals and medicine and therapy and nothing resembling SA's life as she knew it before she got sick.  Two years of intervention; at the beginning the promise and hope of getting better (complete recovery is possible within a few months of Wernicke's Encephalopathy and very unlikely after that time); now only the possibility of learning to manage it better.  Two years gone and SA going through the motions of rehabilitation and therapy and CE to placate her mother and please the nice therapists, yet still SA thinks that she will wake up one day and that the brain injury will be gone, that her 'illness' will be gone, that she will be better, that everything will be as it was.

And for me, 5 weeks of working intensively with SA and missing her cues, misunderstanding her, not realising where she was at and what she really needed from me.  Today I was discussing the notion of healing with AS in the context of the difference between healing a person of their condition vs trying to heal that person despite their disability.  I hope to one day have the chance to articulate that to SA and to her mother, but I do not think that SA will come back to me or to CE.  I am very sad about that and feel that by missing something so important I have failed someone whom I really could have helped.  I felt like I had come home when I met SA -- when really I had missed an important turn and wasn't even in the right ball park.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's going on?

A few days ago I announced on facebook that I am excited about my new affiliation as the Sydney arm for Future Footprints Conductive Education, and that I look forward to working with Eszter Agocs and Future Footprints to provide viable options and alternative opportunities for individuals and families seeking CE in the greater Sydney area.  And as per my plan, this announcement attracted a fair bit of cyber attention (a plethora of likes and comments, some emails, and even some text messages), most congratulatory, but several expressing worry about their current service.  I would like to take this opportunity to explain more about what I am working on with Future Footprints and where I see things going in the future.

First and foremost -- it is business as usual for my current clients (so no, you aren't getting out of your 5:45am training DF, and yes FG and MD, I'll still be working with you oldies but goodies and CE for adults will always be the focus of my conductive education practice).

At present Conductive Education is offered as a specialty under my personal training business -- Transformations: Personal Training for Every Body.  It is one of the many services I offer, along side of the usual personal training offerings such as fitness, body re-shaping, weight loss nutrition, rehabilitation, and training for women during pregnancy as well as post-natally.  I also offer personal training to people with disabilities as a specialty within my personal training business.  And, to be honest, I blend CE into everything I offer -- for those of you who have spent time with CE, you know it is a lifestyle and a way of thinking, being, and doing -- so I can't really turn it off and don't really try to because I feel that the CE approach allows me to be a better personal trainer.

Mainstream personal training is and will continue to be an important part of Transformations; I love the diversity of my present business and am keen to maintain this.  There are certainly a lot of exciting things happening in disability and CE in Australia at the moment but please let me assure you that I have not lost focus on other aspects of the health and fitness industry.  I have just completed an awesome course in nutrition and nutrition coaching from Precision Nutrition and will be certifying as a 'Heart Moves' trainer (with the Australian Heart Foundation) to improve the quality and specificity of the services I am offering through Transformations, and am training under an extremely educated and experienced trainer so that I can continue to grow professionally (and fit into a wedding dress in a few month -- details!).

Over the past few years Transformations has been literally blessed with opportunities to offer CE and specialized personal training to people with disabilities through 'third party funding arrangements' -- Fighting Chance Australia funded CE for nearly two years and recently I have had a subcontractor agreement with Community Care Northern Beaches to provide personal training for their clients.  I am so grateful for these opportunities and have made efforts to give back continuously via pro bono work and above and beyond expected service -- this is made possible by these contracts keeping business going well.  Transformations will continue to seek creative and ethical ways to provide services to people who need them and to find ways to give back to the community twofold.

My subcontractor agreement with Future Footprints is another such opportunity -- it is not a merge with Future Footprints, and Transformations will continue to exist as its own separate entity.  Eszter is a passionate and forward thinking conductor.  She has been courageous in ways that I have not been and has succeeded in opening up her own CE centre -- the first private CE centre in Australia and dare I say one of the most thriving private CE centres in the world.  I have lots to learn from her in addition to a skill set that compliments what her business already offers.  There is a government funding opportunity that is available for children under the age of 7 with disabilities here in Australia called Better Start -- and somehow Conductive Education has been included as a service that families can use this funding for.  Eszter has figured how to work the system and her business is listed as a service provider for Better Start -- brilliant, especially for children living in Adelaide who are able to access her centre.  My subcontractor agreement with Eszter will allow me to offer CE funded by Better Start through Future Footprints Conductive Education here in Sydney.  Another conductor, Gabi Monus, will be doing the same in Canberra.  Good for families looking for CE, good for CE, good for Transformations.

And yes, the demand may well be bigger than what I can currently meet -- even better -- I'll gladly hire another conductor.  There were months when the Enable Me program was bigger than I could handle on my own and I gladly subcontracted another trainer to help me.  When one is excited and passionate about what they are doing there are ways to find extra hours in the day and make things happen.  We -- Eszter and I -- are of course growing our businesses -- but we are also working on what we see as the bigger picture.  We are working for Conductive Education and for the adults and children who want to access it.  And yes, of course if Better Start funding is good for business, it will make it easier for me to get adult CE groups running again.

And while we are on the topic of adult CE, yes -- Better Start is only for children under the age of 7.  But those of us following changes to disability services in Australia and getting excited about the pending NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) see Better Start as indicative to how the NDIS might run -- and more importantly, indicative as to what services might be funded.  Wouldn't it be amazing it Conductive Education was one of those services?  Showing demand for CE, having various CE programs and styles of service provision in the private and the non-profit sector happening around the country, and demonstrating that families choose to spend their precious funding on CE as funded through Better Start is an important political move with NDIS around the corner for everybody with an interest in CE, not just for children under 7.

Please keep your questions and comments coming -- and thank you for your support and excitement as Transformations takes on this new challenge.  I have big plans for Transformations, and it is exciting times for Conductive Education -- watch this space!


Monday, February 27, 2012

Is it CE? YOU tell ME! The long awaited sequel - part 2

This posting is a continuation from my last blog entry.  Now where did I leave off ... insights gained, and lessons learned and reinforced from working conductively with SJ, a woman aged 63 with severe depression and a pervasive personality disorder presenting as extreme de-personalization.  I will set the scene by saying that in minute but significant ways I have had at least comparative success working with SJ - on days when nothing works, I have to remind myself about things like even if I couldn't get her into the shower today, the showers she has most days that I am there are the only showers that she has been able to have in months; that sitting on a chair beside the dishwasher loading dishes that I rinse and hand to her one by one might be the only way that she participates in normal daily life that week; and that the handful of times I have been able to help her feel safe enough to risk going outside of her house are the only outings she has had in months.  I'm not claiming that I have solved this -- not in any way.  I want to articulate how coming in conductively has been helpful when working with SJ and to write about other things relative to the practice of CE that working with SJ makes me think about.  So -- in no particular order other than as they appear in my jumbled notes here are some points to ponder.

I miss having a team of conductors, or a team full stop, around me to problem solve with and to debrief with.  I've been working on my own for a long time but I have been lucky in my years to have worked with some amazing conductors in amazing teams.  We often talk about the group as essential to CE -- it is not just the group of people participating that is important, but the group of conductors, with their different strengths and personalities and ideas.  People other than my fiance AR to share my moments of brilliance, my tiny successes, my catastrophic failures; people with like-minded approaches to talk it out with, so I don't take it home with me; people other than me to wind me up and give me the strength to go in there for one more round.  I am so grateful for my network of conductor colleagues all over the world -- your cyber support, ideas, and emails sometimes literally keep me afloat

It is such a basic thing -- we find a way for our clients to do for themselves instead of be done to.  There are carers who come in and help SJ out with shopping and cleaning and fetching her medications from the pharmacy but when I am there she participates; she does; she is active not passive.  Yes I help her, but only when she can participate, and if she is not able to participate I leave.  The motivating factor might in this instance be that she doesn't want to be alone, but she participates in some way every time I am there.  When she says it doesn't seem real, I reassure her that it is real and that it needs to be done.  The carers tidy around her and she hardly notices -- it further de-personalizes her to be cared for.  When she is involved and active in her own care she becomes more engaged
    I give her choices.  I always phone when I'm on the way to make sure she is expecting me and wanting me to come -- a note in her diary is as good as a wink to a blind man.  She chooses to let me in (or not to), she chooses to continue having me come, and she has a contract with me that says that if she chooses to have me there she is choosing to participate.  She understands that I only expect her to be the best that she can be in a particular minute (ie orthofunctional) and she trusts that I will adapt the task to suit her particular minute and thus enable her participation and engagement.  I remember in first year university we had a lecturer (Jayne Titchener) who explained the difference between forward chaining (starting a task from the beginning and learning each bit until you get to the end which might mean never seeing the end or having the success) and backward chaining (learning the last bit first to give the experience of success and completion of the task).  She gave the example of a child with minimal motor control learning to do laundry -- having to sort the clothes by colour and by fabric, then getting the clothes and the powder into the machine -- tasks some of the children we were learning about would not ever be able to do -- vs starting the teaching process by getting the child to push the button so that the machine starts.  I think about this when working with SJ -- what bits of whatever we are doing will she be able to do today, that will give her a sense of participation and achievement?  

    I know to start with what she can do and build from there instead of focussing on what she can't do; I know to play to her strengths.  I also know to have back up plans for my back up plans and to be able to adapt to her mood and moment.
      We work with the whole person -- when I first started I had case managers saying that I wasn't to engage in conversations about how SJ was feeling or about her depression -- I was just to go in there and promote exercise and activity.  Which really didn't work -- she already has this surreal feeling of disconnect and non-existence.  Imagine me going in there and saying never mind how you feel, today we are going to do 5 sun salutes.  Imagine me going in there and not ever finding out that the only thing that keeps her going is the hope that one day she will be well enough to be a good grandmother to the grandchildren she isn't well enough to see.  We know that you can't separate a person's physical self from their emotional self from their psychological self -- we approach people holistically - which should be wholistically.  We understand that the what of a goal is not motivating without the why of a goal and that good conduction relies on connecting to the why.

        I have earned SJ's trust.  This is invaluable.  I think back to those moments when a child takes their first unaided steps with you in the classroom, or when that adult agrees to get down on to the floor for the first time so that you can teach them how to get up, or when that person with MS stays back to tell you what they are most afraid of -- those moments when you realize that the person you are working with you trusts you and you feel the weight of that responsibility as well as the gift of that responsibility.  And you invest further in that teacher-student relationship because they have given you this trust and it enables you to give more when you are working with them -- to push them that bit further; you are in it with them for the long haul, you are no longer just someone that they pass on their journey.  It is terrifying; it is humbling; it makes me work harder and helps me get in there and try again

        I cannot imagine what it would feel like to feel disconnected and de-personalized all of the time.  SJ says she looks at things and they don't look real, they seem flat, she feels nothing for them.  I look for proof that she is real, that I am real, that things around her are real so that I can present them in a multi-sensory way.  I plan activities that have sound and taste and smell and touch.  Things don't look real but if we get outside to her garden and she feels the soil or the overgrown grass and weeds the tactile stimulation sometimes grounds her
          I know to reward effort not just the end result.  I know to notice and celebrate tiny successes and achievements.  Over and over again my mainstream personal training clients ask me if I always get so excited about tiny things -- and I think about some of the people I have worked with over the years for whom the tiniest achievement was actually monumental and how glad I am that I was taught by other conductors how to notice and celebrate these things.  It is something special that we as conductors do; it helps our participants see value in their efforts and personal achievements large and small, and a day full of celebrating every tiny achievement certainly makes my days a lot more exciting and wonderful

          I choose not to give up on people, and even when I'm disappointed in the session or in myself, I try not to be disappointed in them.  With SJ sometimes we need to acknowledge how things went in a previous session so that we can move on, but she knows that each session we have a choice; we either build on the success we had in the last session or we wipe the slate clean and move on.  There is no judgement -- the expectation is that she is the best that she can be in that moment and some moments are bloody awful for her.  We wipe the slate clean and move on.  I can think of children that screamed the roof off of buildings for the first week of CE intensive camps that ended up being the kid who made the most progress by the end of the program.  We don't stop working with somebody because they are difficult, or because they fail, because we know that all it takes is the right thing said or taught int he right way at the right moment that can turn things around for that person

          Be prepared to be a learner, not just a teacher -- the teacher and the taught together create the teaching -- I admit I'm not an expert in depression and depersonalization; I challenge her to teach me about it and to share her experiences so that I can learn to conduct her better.  Condutor SM encouraged me to get involved with a craft project that SJ had mentioned -- I was worried that I couldn't lead it if I couldn't do it and SM told me to let SJ lead, to give her something concrete that she could teach me as part of her session and watch her thrive.  We learn to listen to our clients, to let them lead the way.  It always made me crazy to work with strict data collection tools that rated the success of CE based on whether a participant worked towards their goal as you predicted they would -- because we know that learning can take any number of paths, and that when somebody learns something the potential for what they can learn next expands exponentially.  With SJ I don't have a specific goal or agenda other than active participation and engagement -- and I let her lead the way and travel with her, and we both learn along the way.

          I am hopeful that things can get better for SJ -- she despairs that there is nothing can be done.  This is the message she has been given from the medical establishment who have tried to do things that haven't worked and have told her that they have nothing left to try.  I am hopeful because I believe that there are things that perhaps can change within SJ, tricks she can learn to manage her disability, skills or strategies or ways that she can personally and actively be involved in fighting this disease versus letting it completely envelop her, problems to be solved versus coped with, something that she can personally do to make things better for herself versus lying in bed waiting for a magic pill to be prescribed.  I am hopeful because I have seen these transformations happen with other people I have conducted -- it isn't about the diagnosis, it is about the transformation of that person from one who is done to to one who does.  SJ despairs that there is nothing that can be done.  I am hopeful that things can get better, and that my hopefulness is just contagious enough that she gets a bit hopeful too -- because then I'll really be able to work with her

          Thursday, February 16, 2012

          Is it CE? YOU tell ME! - the long awaited sequel part 1

          In my last posting I wrote about working conductively with LE, an adult with autism. In this post I want to share some thoughts and experiences about working with SJ, a 63 year old woman with severe depression and a pervasive personality disorder presenting as complete disconnect from everyone and everything.

          I have been trying to write this posting for a long time -- I actually have several months worth of jumbled thoughts and notes that I have been keeping for when I was ready to write this, and in fact thinking about writing this has made it impossible for me to write anything else.  In a nutshell that is what it is like to work with SJ -- she is an energy vampire who on a bad day sucks me dry rendering me emotionally spent and making it hard for me to do anything else, and even days that are good by her standards are still very draining.  Working with SJ makes me doubt myself and what I have to offer personally and professionally.  Many of my sessions with her are complete disasters with no discernable positive outcome or flicker of success.  Even on our better days I have this overwhelming feeling of losing the war despite winning a battle, a feeling I have not had professionally since working with a close family friend with ALS in her miserable last stages of rapid deterioration.

          SJ started working with me several months ago through the Enable Me program and has since chosen to work with me privately, twice weekly -- this is an important detail as it is a very full on and intensive way to work with somebody.  She demands a lot of my mental and emotional energy.  I'm sure she will tell you it is no picnic having me turn up at her door twice weekly with my high expectations, positive determinism, hope, and cheer in the face of this terrible illness that has made the thought of getting out of bed let alone participate in normal activities of daily life seem impossible for SJ.  She might not have a physical or neurological disability but she is one of the most impaired people I have ever worked with - and that again is a big statement coming from me.

          I should add that I like SJ -- I like her a lot.  In the moments when the real SJ claws past the depression and de-personalization she is intelligent, witty, engaging, has a sense of humour, takes an interest in me and my other clients and my life, shows me photos and tells me about her life before this.  My main purpose most sessions is to help create enough of a gap in or a distraction from the black cloud so that the real SJ can claw her way out, even if it is only for that hour or a small part of it.  There are often days, and recently weeks where I have only seen the depressed and depersonalized SJ.

          I don't know if SJ believes I can help her, but she would rather have me there than to get through her week on her own.  She has tried everything else -- every medication, several hospitalizations, several rounds of shock therapy -- and I guess my cheer and bossy insistance that she participate in life seems the lessor of such evils.  I don't know if I believe that I can help her.  I believe that supporting her physical health can only help her mental and emotional health, and we try to do this through basic activities like getting out of bed and moving, participating in anything regardless of how minute her participation is, having a shower and taking care of basic hygiene,  taking part in simple healthy cooking and eating something nutritious, and getting outside even for a few minutes.  SJ feels that she cannot do any of these things on her own, and there are many days even with me there that they remain impossible for her.

          I don't know if I believe that I can help her, but I know that I believe it is worth trying.  Her case manager believes that she will not get better and that I should brace for the worst -- he told me that there was nothing that could be done and that I could at best hope to make a moment better.  The mental health team feels that she is not responding to their intervention and the other day they said that they were supporting my work with her because it was the first time in a long time she had been willing to engage with someone even though they thought nothing would come out of it because nothing could be done.  My blood boils when I talk to these people -- how dare they write off a person, SJ, my client?  How dare they tell me that there is nothing that can be done just because they have run out of ideas? How dare they judge her potential based on their failure? How dare they pat me on the head when I'm excited about a tiny step forward or try to placate me by reminding me that this is how it is for SJ when I'm worried about a step in the wrong direction?  If they think I'm that silly and naive why the hell would the chuck me in on my own to work with her?  They have no hope for this woman, they do not believe that she can be helped or that it is worth trying, they 'gave her to me' as a way of clearing out their 'too-hard basket', and have stopped trying because she has not yet responded to their best shots.

          I believe that 'they' are wrong.  There -- I said it out loud.  Yes I'm 'just a conductor / personal trainer and they are 'the mental health team', and what do I know, but I believe that they are wrong.  I believe that they are blaming her for their failure and lack of solution options.  Even after awful sessions on very bad days for SJ I believe it is worth trying; and on days when I've failed to make a dent in her black cloud I leave wondering what else I could have done or said.  I certainly question what I have to offer her, and I'm not sure that I believe that I can help her, but that is not the same as not believing that she is help-able.  And I hear my mentor AB's voice in my head - 'if something doesn't work we find something else to try or another way to try the same thing - this is what conductors do'.

          If the student fails to learn, the tendency, says Feuerstein, is to blame the child: 
          'We have a stiff finger that goes only in one direction...  One of the great problems is to make this stiff finger more flexible so that it turns towards oneself, toward the teacher'.  
          The teacher has to ask himself, 'have I done all I needed in order to change this child?
          --Florence Minnis in The Transformers: The Art of Inspired Teaching (1990)

          I needed to get that out of my head so that I can write about the actual insights I've gained and lessons learned and reinforced from working conductively with SJ.  To be continued...