Monthly Archives: July 2012

DON’T FEED THE FEARS!

In June 2010 we decided to return to South Africa after nearly 8 years in the UK. To do this, we decided to wrap our return within a positive approach. It was not a decision to be ignorant, but to not be bogged down by negativity. This was a choice, our choice. We had enough to deal with. To pack-up our lives and travel back, start-up new lives and to introduce our girls to the place(s) that we still called home. Our choice included avoiding News24, not to tolerate the doubters, sceptics and poisonous realists who did not understand our decision to head south. These were unwanted, unneeded. They would not understand the values that we embraced and our need to return home. We were not going to take their fears with us or be burdened by their demons.

Obviously we lived in South Africa before for more than 30 years , followed the news and were informed by friends and family over the years about the good, the bad and the ugly. We had a good idea about what awaits. This decision was also informed by my personal and professional belief that life’s real enemies and ghosts are often not the external ones, but the internal. I am conscious as I write this, that there are many who have been hurt or lost loved ones due to crime or has decided to move elsewhere due to fears about physical safety. I never judge these decisions, but cannot take their scars as mine. Just as in my professional capacity, I would “be” with those who bring their fears, tears and broken hearts and souls to me, travel with them to a place of healing but not take their pain or angst as my own.

On Friday past, this attitude was put to the test. We woke just after 3 a.m. to find that someone attempted to break into our garage. It was so unexpected. Over the last 2 months we have been consumed by my diagnosis of a brain tumour, the upcoming operation to remove it and the related fears that pounced upon us. In the light of the next morning we inspected the scene of the attempted crime, almost bemused by the intruder’s audacity. It was my wife who commented, “I thought I would be more scared”. I assume that after dealing with the depths of emotions and staring into the unknown, we were not going to become victims of either crime or fear. We are not going to feed the fears … not unnecessarily anyway …

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stopthesmellyflowers

I have been brought back to my writing pad, after an initial enthusiastic start more than a year ago. It is probably the realisation that writing is in the first place an inner communication in response to life’s curve balls that needs expressing. Seeing the letters and words flowing on my laptop screen in a way makes sense of the uncertainty and unknowing that confronts one.

I have always attempted to bring a smile or an alternative view to the table. Probably deep down, my psyche has always embraced the idea of the trickster or the modern-day clown, even in serious conversations in my profession as clinical psychologist. Although it can never exist (for me) without the framework of respect and love for my conversational partner and the realities and emotional experiences that inform their lives. As I have worked for many years with people with memory problems and/or dementia…

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Regret

Regret, like guilt feelings, has never been one of the guiding principles in my life. It feels like such a waste of emotional energy. And still, people end up with regrets and stuck with questions about what they could have or should have done in the past. Obviously we make wrong decisions or don’t take opportunities that come bouncing our way. But to not move on or to look at what you have in your present just makes that you miss the next one. I have once read that in the Jewish Wisdom writings, there are four guiding principles to a meaningful life. It is to life, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy*. This sounds much more like my glass of wine, much more carpe diem.

Thinking about it, there is something I do regret. Maybe it will sound silly, but I remember it so vividly and with so much detail that I have to admit that I should have dealt with this differently.

It was January 1996. Yip, 26 years ago and still heaviness come over me when I think back. It was in the early evening that I arrived at my grandparents’ house in Bloemfontein. They were living in a retirement village as my grandfather has become frailer and not the strong man who once had Western Transvaal colours in athletics. I was driving from Kroonstad, where my parents lived, to Stellenbosch to start my Masters degree in clinical psychology. I planned to spend the night at their house before taking on the 10 hour journey to the winelands, the beauty of mountains, oak trees and a new adventure.

Despite the great excitement, I was irritable. The fly in my wineglass was that my Opel’s car radio lost the will to live and I was not looking forward to driving through the Karoo in silence and with no faceless companion. My bag of mixed tapes was going to remain unplayed. Thus after a quick meal of rye bread, salami and some meaty paste (in true German style), I returned to my car to get some sound and companionship for the next day working. But it remained silent. My lack of DIY skills blatantly obvious. I recall my grandmother coming out to give some gentle support, but with more encouragement to leave it and come inside. That is my regret. My grandfather died a month later and I missed the opportunity to spent time with the man that was my role model, whom I was named after.

I think I will allow myself this one. Maybe everyone needs one stick to beat themselves up with.

*From Harold Kushner’s book “When All You’ve ever wanted Isn’t Enough”

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Running the African Leg II

Anton explains the reasons behind his decision to run the ‘Sad & Nuts Half Marathon’ (If you feel you need more clarification, read on)” [First published on the 12th of April 2012 as part of the Just Dump It Project – http://www.just-dump-it.com/2012/running-the-african-leg-ii ]

There is a difference between watching from the sidelines and participating in the race. Apart from that one requires more energy than the other, I am starting to realise that there must be other differences. Like a puppy let out in a field full of rabbits, I find it difficult to just sit back and watch with a mouthful of popcorn. Actually that’s completely untrue. However, I have made my peace with that slightly over-weight figure in my sub-conscious now sporting new running shoes. I won’t regard myself a runner yet, but I have come to terms with this life in motion business and am jogging along to the mixed tape.

So inspired by the Dumper Runners (it is Dumper and not Dumping?), as well as wanting to contribute my share to Graham and the McMillan Nurses, I went in search of a race. Probably as I did not make my decision on a Thursday night after football, I decided on a half. Now, I know want you are going to say, “Why a half and when you can order a proper pint?” I can only answer by saying, “Sober reason”. Yes, sober reason can be overrated and less exciting, but doing my first ever “run” longer than 10 km, chances are that half of me might just survive.

I took a leave out of the Dumper Runners’ pamphlet in deciding to find something with which I can personally connect. I mean why else would they have entered the only marathon in the world that you have to run in drag and clogs? The answer came to me via a brief Google search. Could there be a better race for a psychologist than the “SAD and Nuts half marathon”?! OK, it is abbreviated from the SAFARI Dried Fruit and Nuts ½ marathon, but still (http://www.safarihalfmarathon.co.za/). Ideally this would have coincided with the Rotterdam Marathon, but joggers don’t have the breath to articulate choices. So, I will do my half part, aka the African Leg, on the 1st of May. However, in an unusual show of commitment, I have entered a second race to add to the mileage. On the 21st of April, I will do a local mountain trail run (http://vista.org.za/). Some say that 12km of this feels like a half marathon.

In doing my research on this running business, I have consulted a few local experts and hope that some of these might also be helpful to the Dumper Runners in Rotterdam:

1.      To stay motivated, find a running partner. Ideally one that’s always keen to run, have few excuses on cold mornings, is willing to set a fast pace and doesn’t mind if you drink his or her pint. The only problem with mine (called Viggo), is his embarrassing habit to relieve himself when we encounter other runners or walkers.

2. Find a trustworthy weather forecaster. This would exclude someone consulting bones, sticks or crystal wine glasses. Weather-consciousness makes sense if you consider that during the summer, temperatures might still be in the high 20’s (Celsius) at dusk and this week it snowed on nearby mountains, while temperatures might soar into the low 30’s over the weekend.

3. If running in the early morning between vineyards, be on the lookout for snakes as they may come out after a cool night to warm up in the sun.

4. Moisturise. I know it is not sexy to smell like Oil o’ Oregano (although it might in Rotterdam), but looking like a raisin is not required to run the Dried Fruit and Nuts half marathon.

5. Be cautious when nature calls and it is a number 2. Some form a cacti, especially the more phallic shaped ones, might be embarrassing to explain and painful to be removed at your local surgery.

6. Take in enough fluid. Especially on hot days. However, make sure you are upstream from wherever it was where you took that dump.

7. Although Zola Budd has gained immortality with her barefoot running (the original ankle biter?) and local long distant taxis are often referred to as “Zola Budds” (in local cockney rhyme fashion), good running shoes are essential and clogs are discouraged. Good practice is to check your running shoes for any creepy crawlies that might have stayed the night.

8. Map your progress. This could be in the form of distance covered, personal best times or weight loss. This may act as motivator as you still have the strength to write.

9. Get your family and friends onboard. This would reduce the number of people laughing at you when you are being dragged behind an overexcited dog chasing a cat with a bit of cacti stuck to your behind….

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Running The African Leg

Anton takes some time out from training to talk about salty treats and brotherhood“. [First published on the 15th of March 2012 as part of the Just Dump It project – http://www.just-dump-it.com/category/featured/antons-odyssey ]

It is a strange place in a man’s soul that lights up when he embraces that thing he hates. For some it could be finding a real job. For some it could be gardening tools. For some it is dressing up in drag at your daughters’ birthday. For me it is running. Yes, I have to admit it. The pointless, scurrying from point A to point B and back to A. To scuttle, to locomote, to dart, to jog, to ramble, to trot, to sprint or by which other name you want to call this physical exertion. I mean if there was a ball to chase, it would make sense. But carrying my torso forward at speed, with lungs burning and sweat dripping, I just hate it.

But at times there is a place in a man’s soul that lights up. It is a place often forgotten or locked up after Aunt Let’s traumatic tennis lesson in 1979 in the blazing hot sun when you realised you hate playing tennis. Yes, it is place in a man’s soul that often received very little attention, as it cannot be used to fix something, to show off something or to “braai” (bbq) something. It is that place in a man’s soul where his Purpose is snacking on salty treats and carrying a bit of extra weight.

There is a place in a man’s soul that lights up when his Purpose is rudely awakened by an intruder. That intruder can be a realisation (“hey, I like wearing drag!”), a loving mother’s voice (“why don’t you get a real job?”) or that Intruder can be a friend’s cancer (the least sexy bastard in the intruder line-up). But when it comes knocking and your Purpose arose from its deep slumber, there is just one thing to do. That thing you hate. That thing that unites the other Purpose slobs into a brotherhood. Then you put your running shoes on and you fucking run!

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Hitchhiking to Rotterdam 2

(First posted on the 21st of February 2012 as part of the Just Dump It project – http://www.just-dump-it.com/2012/hitchhiking-to-rotterdam-2 )

Planning your hitchhiking route through Africa takes a fair amount of skill, research and alcohol. Basically the same stuff that goes into planning a run in Rotterdam. Although the minor differences include crossing 17046 km of territories with varying degrees of friendliness, hiding small bribes in various bodily cavities and managing your goats well.  Goats? Did I not mention that local custom dictates that contribution to charity events has to be in goat currency? Although the other challenges would be a light run in the park, goats make me nervous… and finding a suitable ride could prove tricky…

Given that the Match of the Day map nowadays does not venture much further south than Fulham (although Mr Redneck might fondly recall printing Euros at Portsmouth and Southampton), a brief geography overview might be in order. Travelling nearly 1180 miles north, South Africa’s borders are shaped by both the Oranje (celebrating our Dutch roots) and Limpopo (celebrating our African roots) rivers, which allows our neighbours from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to visit if they can overcome their crocodile phobia. If one reach these beautiful countries (from the tropical east to the dry Kalahari Desert in the West), one has to face the challenges that each presents. In the case of Mozambique there is the unfortunate issue of human-lion contact (see insert below), Zimbabwe has Bob (some might prefer the lion contact) and Namibia has Brad and Angelina popping babies.

That leaves Botswana as a possible gateway to the rest of Africa. Unfortunately Botswana is populated with the one animal that makes me more nervous than goats. Donkeys. Yes, donkeys.

Before making assumptions about the inherent good nature of these grey beasts or my inherent anti-donkey notions, I need to point out that the African donkey is far removed from its cousins that populate places such as Pennywell or the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary. African donkeys are beneukd (meaning: bad spirited) and bedonnerd (see beneukd and add tooth ache). What makes them even more bad-tempered is the African Brake-System (ABS) they are subjected to.

In order to ensure that one’s donkey does not abandon thee in the bush and without essential belongings packed on donkey-cart, ABS entails tying the above mentioned donkey’s front legs together. Thus, donkey cannot run off. On the down side, being chased by a hopping donkey can be a deeply traumatic experience (see “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” for an accurate depiction).

It appears that I am landlocked. My challenge seems to be over before I even lifted a thumb. Further disheartening is that directions north include entries such as “Turn left at شارع بورسودان‎”, “Pass the old Elephant Tree cautiously” and “Do not feed the evil spirits”… However, I foresee the biggest challenge to be the 200 wineries and grape producers around Stellenbosch that I have to pass first…

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Hitch-hiking to Rotterdam Part 1

Africa correspondent Anton Bohmer talks about his imminent journey to Rotterdam…and his left nipple … (first posted on the 6th of February 2012 on http://www.just-dump-it.com/)

Some people are classified as “mad” when their behaviour are bizarre and the opposite of public expectation. Others see this as an essential component of normality. So when I heard about the Just-Dump-It project, my first instinctive thoughts were, “madness … as expected”. It also triggered all those old insecurities of being left out, not being chosen, ignored, labelled as having 3 left feet. Being 10 000 sea miles away, slightly softened the blow … slightly. Not that I ever thought that I would have the commitment to get my lazy butt off the deckchair and willpower to put my Long Island Ice Tea aside to put on running shoes and train for a marathon in Rotterdam. I mean, just look at that cute little umbrella …

But despite my rejection issues, distance from Euro-zone and idle inclination, there was a sharp twinge in my chest. It took me a while to recognise the source, but when I did, it made sense: The spot where Graham’s shoulder once hit me on an unfortunate Thursday night, just below the left nipple. And just next to, what I call, Joe’s special place …

Although the awareness did not bring tears to my eyes, it suddenly brought a feeling of loss. How I miss those Otter Ales … and the Old Vic’s free Thursday night chips … sigh… and those guys … uh yes … them …  Somehow, the feeling did not stop there and I realised, I have to be a part of this. I need to contribute, I can make a difference. I need to get to Rotterdam. After all, my star-sign is Cancer…

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The Brain in the Mirror

I have been brought back to my writing pad, after an initial enthusiastic start more than a year ago. It is probably the realisation that writing is in the first place an inner communication in response to life’s curve balls that needs expressing. Seeing the letters and words flowing on my laptop screen in a way makes sense of the uncertainty and unknowing that confronts one.

I have always attempted to bring a smile or an alternative view to the table. Probably deep down, my psyche has always embraced the idea of the trickster or the modern-day clown, even in serious conversations in my profession as clinical psychologist. Although it can never exist (for me) without the framework of respect and love for my conversational partner and the realities and emotional experiences that inform their lives. As I have worked for many years with people with memory problems and/or dementia, my interest in neuropsychology and what I can offered for both clients and their families have developed my interest in neuropsychology.

This makes my current position so ironic.

For many years I focussed on other people’s brains and the factors that may impact on it or bring about change to it. However, it is now I who am sitting in the patient seat. The brain on the neurosurgeon’s computer screen is mine. And it is staring at me.

Let me go back a few steps.

Driving back from work in middle May, so I am told, I had an epileptic seizure and ended up in a barrier in the middle of the road. I am still thankful that no-one was injured or that I did not sustain any serious injuries. I was further told that I had another 2 seizures on the way to hospital and that I was unconscious for a few hours. All of this is completely blanked from my memory. Amnesia is what I would call it in my office. My first memory was of being wheeled out of a MRI scan and seeing my wife in tears looking down at me. It was so unreal, actually thinking about it, it still is.

Initially I was told that I must have eaten some contaminated (pork) meat and that it must have allowed a parasite to enter my body. Somehow this little alien found a place of residence in my left frontal lobe and I was in a hospital bed for a week to be monitored. I felt like healthiest person on the ward! As I have just completed 2 half marathons in May and have been running regularly, it felt more like  unreal, almost some kind of experiment as I did not have any more seizures and otherwise felt fine. However, the meds soon did the trick to make me feel awful!

After the initial course of treatment and more scans, it became clear that it is more likely that my new “best friend” was a tumour and not the alien parasite. A further 2 months’ waiting time, anti-epileptic meds and a follow-up scan were suggested to clarify the diagnosis. That happened this week and the news was not brilliant. We had the name giving ceremony yesterday and it is now officially called Glioma. Of academic interest is that my friend Glioma is quite a rare find as its full name is Oligodendroglioma. Not that the rarity of it is a comfort, I would rather that it gets extinct altogether!!

Anyway, that’s where I am. Questions about treatment and further interventions will be answered in time to come. But for now, I am trying to dress my tumour up as the clown and asking it to tell me some funny jokes.

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Whose Reality is it Anyway?

When our family return to South Africa after 8 years abroad, my wife and I enjoyed the return (among other things) to familiarity. The familiar was picked up by our senses, the sight of mountains, the sounds of African accents, the tastes of wines and foods that we have been without for so long and the feel of the sun on skin that the northern hemisphere cannot match. Our daughters (both under six at the time) enjoyed the change with us, especially as time with grandparents and family filled their waking hours with attention and fun.

It was however in their subtle comments and questions that we noticed how they were adjusting. Our familiar was their brave new world. It did not bring fear, but curiosity, amazement and occasionally puzzlement. After a few days in Johannesburg our youngest reflected proudly after a loud cough, “This is how I cough in Africa”

After criss-crossing the country southwards, stopping over at family and friends en route to our new home, we were frequently asked, “Is this also Africa?” For a young pair of eyes, there is surely a lot of it! Stopping at a farm stall in the Karoo, the bright December sun was beating down on the dry earth, a few rusty drums and a row of “Aalwyne” (cactus of the Aloe family). A small voice from the back of the car asked, “Is this where Dinosaurs live?”.

How reality can be different for those who might have different experience and perceptions from our own. The things that brought us home brought our kids into a world open for interpretation. What we took for granted challenged their understanding. It mostly brought smiles and laughs to our journeys, but at times the sad realisation that their friends and our old house in England was far far away.

These attempts at understanding reminded me of a visit to a nursing home that I was asked to do some years ago. I was due to assess a new resident in her early eighties who had significant memory problems and this at times caused her some distress in her confused state. She was sparkly, had a good sense of humour, but did not like being asked questions that tested her memory, orientation and concentration.

In such situations, I often make use of what the environment presents – family photographs being a personal favourite. I picked up a framed picture marking a recent family get together. There she was second to the left, a daughter at each end and son protectively next to her. With a big smile, she named her children. “And who is this?” I asked cheekily.“Oh that’s my mother”. Her smile did not waver.

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A day in the life of a memory traveller

I make no excuse for being a bit of a nerd when it comes to memories, my own and those of others. I like to photograph them, arrange them, revisit them and share them. When I meet up with old friends, we dig up some old memories (some of which are a bit torn at the sides and a bit battered) and attempt to paste them back together, to remember the lines that were spoken and the laughter that accompanied the events, the places and the people that fleshed out those memories.

If not for memories and the ability to make new ones, we will stay unconnected from others and from ourselves.

You see, I see memories as the basic building blocks of who we are. Identity is that which we conclude from our memories. Meaning is the conclusions that we reach about who we are, where we belong and with whom we relate. Memories are obviously not fact or truth, but in part interpretation and in part based upon “real” events. One will therefore have memories that are not complete. Only through the input of others do our memories grow more to better represent what might have been or who we might have been.

But what happens if the memories grow skew or if they fade toward the centre? What happens when certain traumatic memories dominated the light everyday ones that kept us whole? When I come across people who are judgemental and overly critical, I wonder how their memories about a time, country or other people have been shaped in such a simplistic way. Where are the memories that might be the exceptions to their singular line of thought on people who are different from them?

I also come across people who has aged in ways that now cause their memories to slip away from them. Sometimes parts of their historic past(s), but most often their recent past keeps being forgotten. What they said or what was said to them, where they placed their car keys or if their mother is still alive, what the had to eat or if they had eaten. My empathy does not take me into dispair, but rather curiosity about what remains remembered. What are the core memories that we need to embrace to keep us who we are? What should not be forgotten to hold onto meaning?

Maybe it should not be this serious. Maybe it is just about remembering to smile when you hear a child laugh, to stay warm when your body feels cold and to remember to stop and the smell the flowers.

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