Sunday, 20 April 2014

An Easter tale..with a difference



Easter is an anniversary for me. It's three years since I was re-diagnosed with breast cancer. It seems like no time at all in some ways but also such a huge amount has happened, it feels slightly unreal still. Of course I had travelled the route before, I had adjusted my life expectations more than once, I had adjusted my self image too.

But more surgery meant I felt the need to go for reconstructive surgery. I prevaricated but finally decided to do it almost a year later. My prevarication was about going back for surgery, in effect becoming a patient again. But I also recognised it would not be past for me until I felt more recovered to my sense of self. My surgeon explained it would need more that one op as I had opted in part for lipofill. I think I blanked that bit. So when my recovery was more than I had anticipated I declined to go back. I can change my mind anytime I'm told ( not happening soon). I'm probably reflective of the studies that show when we offer person centred care, people often opt for less treatment. Interesting isn't it?
But why am I telling you this now? It's because I have opted instead to use a silicone gel insert to balance me when I'm out and about. OK too much information maybe but there is a point to this tale.

It started well when I purchased this ( I chose to not go with the NHS option, partly because it took me back to being a patient again). Its good to wear and I felt more symmetrical. But recently it seems to be trying to abscond. There is an Easter theme here as they are colloquially known as chicken fillets. So this dear reader is the tale of a runaway chicken ...fillet.

First time it happened I was staying in a B&B in Yorkshire on a course. My second morning I couldn't find the little blighter. I gave up in the end and such is my denial I convinced myself I hadn't brought it with me, it was safely tucked up at home. Until my mobile went during the course and the landlady of the B&B very sensitively told me of their find. I resisted my initial thought was to say just bin it ( they aren't cheap) so I could blank the whole thing and instead made an arrangement to pick it up. "Have you lost something?" asked one of my fellow participants. I could only nod, speechless! The arrangement was to pick it up from the doorstep and I had to focus hard on the course not to fret about the potential for wild animals to have run off with it, or a dog delivering it to its owner....and any other potential humiliation. However I retrieved it, wrapped sensitively in a nicely ironic Accessorise bag.  I had a relieved giggle and returned home.

But a few days ago it disappeared again. I was in a rush so went off out before i retrieved it and hadn't thought about it until I returned home later. There it was in the kitchen. My husband had spotted the dog in the garden with a strange half smile on her face.

 On further examination he realised it was the offending chicken fillet, having made a bid for freedom once more. Now had it been wrapped in prosciutto it would have been gone in one gulp and perhaps caused an obstruction too! But amazingly it was returned in one unmarked piece. I'm absolutely at a loss to know how it escaped and feel its trying to tell me something. Meantime it's on a short leash. And my plea is for anyone who knows me if you spot it, please discretely return it to me in an Accessorise bag preferably. And if you see the dog with it in her mouth, please take it off her . She is friendly and never bitten anyone...honest. Tune in here for future tales of the runaway chicken fillet, any training classes available that you know of, please let me know!

Reasons to be grateful.
It's Easter, the sun is shining and we watched a funny, moving and thought provoking Edinburgh Passion Play yesterday in the Princes St Gardens below the shadow of the Castle. It was set in contemporary setting in the run up to a YES or NO referendum. It was cleverly written and beautifully acted. The message that resonated most with me was that yes the outcomes of referendums are important but if its not in context of love then it's missing the point. I couldn't agree more. Happy Easter and whatever your belief system may it's message of hope, forgiveness and love inspire us all.



Sunday, 13 April 2014

Words tempted by a page



The Blog Tour!


Words tempted by a page

Of space to be free

A story to be created

Bursting to reveal themselves



Words shaping and

Forming as the unfolding

Truth emerges

Surprising and unburdening.



Thanks to Marie  for this blogging baton handover. It's been an  interesting process, never having thought about how and why I write before. I have valued reflecting on authentic writing and what that means for me. Here are my thoughts and insights on what writing means to me. To check out earlier parts of the blog tour look at these by Marie, Philippa and Catherine. Hard acts to follow. This time the baton has arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland.




What am I working on?

When Marie handed over the baton I was thrilled to be described as a writer;I am honoured to be described as that and also I still  don't quite believe it. I've come late to writing although all my life wanted to write a book. I trusted it would happen at some point and staring my blog in response to events in my life enabled my joy of writing to re-emerge.

This year I decided to write a book. I wanted it to be in a similar style to my blog, pursuing understanding and wisdom through a personal and professional lens. It was that combination that brought me to blogging, both working in and experiencing breast cancer.
Cara in her favourite spot
Koshka's come to bed pose!



So I am writing my story, what I have learned from it and how love is central to it.( ps do click on the love link-its wonderful). Its my middle name you see.

I write too in my work, especially around leadership and person centredness. I also blog regularly  on everything from lived experience of breast cancer to politics in Scotland and anything else in between really-including the cat Koshka and dog Cara. Never short of an opinion!




How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My lived experience blog is similar to others but maybe with a professional slant too as that's how it started. Perhaps I have an unusual  range of topics I blog on and that means some of my blogs are very different. I notice my most popular ones are when I connect to my heart most, either through honesty about loss and transitions or if I'm passionate about change in a campaigning sense. So it's when I'm at my most authentic, I'm at my best. 





Why do I write what I do?

I come to this blogging challenge fresh from a weekend studying the work of Shulz on FIROB. Essentially we were exploring where we personally sit with Inclusion, Control and Openness. It intrigued me and made me think about how this insight relates to blogging and writing as well as more generally in my work as a coach and consultant.

There was a line Marie used in her blog about blogging connecting her to the wider community and also to herself.Its so very true.

Social media can have bad press, how real are the connections or friends as Facebook would have it? Is the connection of a blogging community a true connection or is it merely a self publicity for the attention seeking, selfie generation? Twitter can enable ghastly forces who use the distance of the medium to spew bile towards others who have done nothing to invite it, other than to be in the public eye. That distance de-personalises to a degree that leaves people scarily dis-inhibited and less mindful of their impact.

BUT I have also felt the power of its connection, felt the realness of the contact that can reach across continents, generations, cultures and help build relationship in such a expected ways. I have learned from people I will never meet in person, I have laughed with them, I have grieved for them. We travel a road together which creates a bond, which especially recognisable when its broken by advanced illness or death. 


In this way blogging also exposes taboos, brings issues in to the open that society shuns. Becomes a safe way to share things you don't even tell your best friend, in that strange and compelling combination of intimacy and distance.

When I started my blog I had just been diagnosed again with breast cancer while I was director of a breast cancer charity. My reasons for the blog initially were to enable a deeper understanding of the issues of breast cancer from a professional and individual perspective. And it was that but also became so much more. It allowed me to make sense of this tangled mess for myself too. It tracked my feelings as it evolved, it was a repository for my feelings too. But all the time I was aware it was a also a professional blog- my professional window to the outside world. How much was too much, my constant dilemma. I have a commitment to authenticity, so it is always real and honest but what about the darkest places do I really want to reveal them? Will I be judged, excluded, rejected even if I am "too" open?

Perhaps whats interesting is what I have hesitated to reveal. Sometimes it's issues that are private to others which I won't share and that's only right I think. But what I also notice is that I have been less willing to share when I have struggled with my emotional well-being. How much of that is me and how much does this reflect societies stigma? 
Last year at the very time I was setting up a new business and needing to be at my most robust, I think I was probably at my lowest. It's perhaps obvious through my writing that my spark was diminished but I wasn't entirely open about how I was feeling. I finally realised that I felt stuck,  got help, told friends and family and emerged stronger- in time.

In reality I had had too much change and loss and needed to recover from it. Having twice had cancer now I do believe
haunted by the black dog
depression is a natural part of the recovery and it impacts at different times for people. the time has come for us all to challenge the sanitised version of breast cancer that the pink ribbon has become and be honest about that. I feel an element of guilt that I wasn't open earlier but I also understand how difficult that was, especially as I also wanted people to see beyond that to the value I brought as a coach and consultant. I know I'm not lesser because of illness physical or emotional. In reality it has added richly to the work I do as a leader of organisations, in writing and campaigning work  as well as in my coaching and consultancy. Like many others,I'm a wounded healer in a way and its made me who I am. Work in progress. And writing has helped me recognise and accept that.





 How does my writing process work?

I like to write in the morning mostly, on trains is a creative place for me too, and any time when my head is full of things to write but free of other clutter. I find myself itching to write at times but not having an opportunity to do it. When I'm in the middle of a writing project I can lose myself to it and risk neglecting everything else so I need to discipline myself both to create space and to free space too. We go to a small village in Bulgaria a couple of times a year. It has an undisturbed view of the Rila mountains.   I love writing there, I set up the laptop under the canopy, breath deeply in the mountain air and write with joy. If I'm very lucky the shepherds dog comes to join me and snores loudly at my side.


So writing has become my friend through good times...and bad. I'm delighted to have discovered a friend like that.



I would now like to hand on the blogging baton to Jan Baird Hasak @jhasak who I met through blogging and of course through the Journey Through Breast Cancer blog.
She lives in California and I love the honesty and compassion in her writing. When we first met on line she was in remission from breast cancer and it grieves me deeply to say that now she isn't. She tells a truth about metastatic breast cancer that needs to be heard. I'm just so so sorry she needs to tell it.



And EllenArnison @ellen27 whose book on blogging I read early on, Blogging forHappiness, in which she advises on how to blog and how blogging helped her through depression. Like me Ellen lives in Scotland. 
Ellen's writing is warm, honest, funny and full of the joy of family life and much more. I know you will enjoy it as much as I do. We met for the first time just this week. It's such a pleasure when online friends connect in reality.

Thank you both.

Audrey Birt April 2014

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Women in Scotland..how engaged are you?


A rainy Monday night in Glasgow and I was heading to the university of strathclyde for a Scottish women is business debate on Independence. An all woman panel and an all woman audience, talking about politics and constitutional change. Not an everyday experience. It was encouraging to see the good humour of the panel who were ; Annabel Goldie ( or Bella as I know her now!), Nicola Sturgeon, Johann Lamont and Ruth Wishart. Sally Magnasson chaired, having squeezed out a promise of good behaviour in advance. ( Nicola and Johann have previous on this!)
The discussion was energetic and stimulating. And if on occasion it flushed out the usual responses from both sides, at times we also saw the humans behind the policies. 
One questioner asked for politicians to be less partisan and Bella said but that's our job. Yes in normal circumstance it is but this debate is bigger and wider than that and probably why we all need to be more engaged. Men or women. 
We know statistics mould in the hands of the deliverer and we should not be surprised when if challenged they defend them. But what about the policies we would want to see and where is the best place for the power to sit to deliver them? Where are those discussions happening? Some of them did come up in that room but it will need more than politicians to secure that, we all need to play our role. Can we have discussions like this one but move beyond who will offer what and on to the kind of Scotland we want to see. To ensure the politicians are not just in telling mode but in listening too. 
On my way back on the train I realised what I would love to do is to be part of another type of event which involves discussions not only on what business needs but what our society needs. We aren't just an economy, whilst I  know its important, we are a society, a community ,a culture and constitutional change will impact on all of that.
So I'm calling to interested in women in the public sector, third sector and indeed no sector, to get involved too. Let's get together and discuss the Scotland we want to see, not merely a debate, a discussion where women can engage in informed discussion and and enable them to make their decision about constitutional change.
Interestingly the vote at SWiB event changed, a test was done of before and after. The yes vote lowest initially at 19%, the no at 55% and the rest undecided. By the end of the debate the yes vote was 31%, no had dropped to 52% and some of the undecideds remained. I understand that is not an untypical trend when people get the chance to engage with the information and range of opinion.
So come on women out there. Let's take the chance to learn more, engage and shape our thinking. Our vote is going to be pivotal, it's not just our future, it's our children's and their children's future too. We owe them to give this our full attention and make our choice with knowledge.
You can tweet me on AudreyBirt or leave a message on my blog if you want to help. And watch this space for more information...
   

Friday, 4 April 2014

For Margot..feisty and fabulous indeed


I was described once as feisty and fabulous. I have to admit I loved the description but it felt it was only something I could aspire to. I probably have the feisty part in the bag but fabulous ...I wish.
But today we lost a woman in Scotland who I believe fully fitted the description. Margot MacDonald was an Independent MSP in the Scottish Parliament. So popular with her Edinburgh electorate that even when she left the SNP she was still so popular she won her seat as an Independent. She started as the "blond bombshell" with her election in Govan in the '70s,a photogenic new SNP MP, the like of which Westminster had never seen. I find myself wishing to be a fly on the wall when she arrived. Although that particular career was short, what followed was a high profile, principled and colourful , in its best sense, career. 
I first met her when I worked in the third sector and we were setting up the Long Term Conditions Alliance. By then Margot, an MSP, had been open about her own diagnosis with Parkinson's which typically she has faced with courage and pragmatism. I admit to being a bit scared to meet her, a well kent face maybe but no push over. But her natural charm, quick mind and ability to grasp a good campaign meant all fear dissipated and I was under her spell.
She was, as many will testify, completely unbriefable!  She trod her own path. She was a shrewd campaigner, knew her brief and wasn't afraid to go for it. Her determination was always admirable- you just hoped she would be on your side.
Her support for women with breast cancer was through the Scottish Breast Cancer Campaign at the time. She was a powerful advocate for improvement in care and treatment. In the run up to the last Scottish elections, when I was Director of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, we held a debate on the issues for people affected by breast cancer. It was an impressive panel, including Nicola Sturgeon, who was then Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Jackie Baillie her  labour shadow minister and of course Margot. She was so impressive;she understood the issues, she argued her points, she was respectful to all opinions and kind to colleagues too. An awe inspiring campaigner and decent human being.
 It's no coincidence many of the people who paid tributes to her spoke of her big heart and kindness. It's always been my experience of her too. Last time I saw her was in the parliament. She came into what was then the members restaurant, held court, charmed us all and moved on in her motorised wheelchair. I was deeply saddened to see her deterioration but I was awed by ability to light up a room. 
I can't say I am a supporter of her bill, I have a natural disquiet when it comes to assisted suicide. As a former nurse I will always argue for better palliative care for all. But it was impossible not to have empathy for her argument, whilst witnessing the very real risk of her approaching the end and losing the light and dignity that burned in her so brightly. I do hope her passing was peaceful. 
And there is no doubt her bill has brought the discussion of death and dying from the shadows of the untouchable truth. I welcome that and personally hope it leads to better care and choice for us all when and if we reach that stage for whatever reason.
Perhaps the legacy Margot would have wanted most is the one that we face on September 18 in Scotland. From someone who in the 1970s who would have considered a campaign for an Independent Scotland a completely foreign concept, I find myself now seriously considering that yes vote. She was the first person I was really aware of arguing for independence and I'm sorry she won't be there to place her vote for something she believed in so much. But she has undoubtedly left her legacy not just for advancing the case for an Independent Scotland and many other campaigns for the issues as a society we don't like to confront but as a truly feisty and fabulous woman, may she inspire many more to come. 
RIP Margot. You will be missed. 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

What can you learn from the disruptive innovators?






It’s impossible to live in Scotland just now and not experience the impact of being told all the things you can’t do if we vote for independence. Undoubtedly there are a variety of responses to this and the polls would suggest relentless negativity is perhaps having a perverse effect than that desired. But there is no doubt it creates a sense of burden, a weariness, an undermining worry that could feed the poverty of hope we see in so many of our isolated communities. The Independence referendum is tapping in to the call for change I see in so much of my work and a campaign that  fosters a sense of helplessness can’t fail to have an impact.
The diversity of work I do in organisations and in health and social care and the people I work with make my life hugely interesting. And what I notice too is there are threads that join them all. The threads mainly are about how do we reach for more humanity in our work, how do we bring our values and work with integrity, how do we effect change as although we know the system is broken but it just feels too big. It’s probably at the core of all the conversations I have.
These are big questions and the danger of feeling something is too big is that we just set it aside. We put it off, we tell ourselves it can’t be done, we distance ourselves from those who think it can. We are flattened by the elephant rather than able to find ways to eat it. But history tells us we do evolve, we adapt to small changes all the time and even the big ones often awaken untapped resources and potential. But still it can be scary-what if we fail being a common question-especially in blame cultures.
Even if we haven’t heard the quote that “each system is perfectly designed to create the outcomes it produces” we know in our hearts that doing more of the same or indeed just trying harder (being sat on by the elephant?) is never going to be enough. But the sense of the scale of the challenge can stop us having the confidence to try even something small.
What I also see every day however are those who do create something new, who challenge the system to see another perspective, who see solutions in other places and aren’t too scared to give them a go. I heard the phrase disruptive innovation this week and it’s stayed with me. Many of those third sector organisations I work with have started as disruptive innovators, the people who are outside of the system but see a fresh perspective and approach that enables change to happen. I see those with lived experience bring their innovation and experience to shift a system from inertia. I see the mavericks within systems go around them and find new approaches that improve the outcomes for all.
In many ways social media is a disruptive innovation in health and social care. Seeing organisations like Patient Opinion and now CareOpinion putting influence into the hands of those who use the service, NHS Changeday emerge though social media and create a social movement, blogging communities like the breast cancer one I belong to being a global force for change, twitter connecting and empowering ; these are all exciting shifts we need to tap into.
Maybe the most important thing we can all do is listen to the disruptive innovators, learn from them and understand that we each of us have influence and not be afraid to use it.
Reasons to be mindful
This is an outstanding time in my country, with the possibility of constitutional change creating huge tensions and excitement too. My plea is that all sides of the argument treat people who live here with respect and sensitivity and listen to the call for change in our communities, that is cultural as much as its political. Whoever listens and responds to that, gets my vote.

Friday, 21 March 2014

In search of selfie


Even the dogs are at it!


Well who would have thought it, women (and men) are proudly taking their own photos of themselves without makeup and posting it on “tinternet”. What next I wonder? You need to get up early for a photo of me without makeup I admit. I’ve seen some views pros and against this latest social media trend and it has made me ponder on both.
I believe it started with celebrities in solidarity for an older woman (and it would be a woman of course) criticised for her looks at the Oscars. But it changed (perhaps in protest to the selfie indulgence?!) to do the #nomakeupselfie in support of breast cancer. Cancer Research UK and the other breast cancer charities Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Campaign have all benefited too in this social media/community led campaign. I have seen my exceptionally beautiful friends and family take part, post breast awareness information and text money too. They are awesome! I still haven’t posted mine and wasn’t sure I would until my friend Jackie posted hers-after week 5 of chemotherapy following her recent re-diagnosis with breast cancer. That’s when I realised, well yes it’s a bit of a fun gimmick but really its raising money for research into how to stop this happening to fine women like Jackie and that’s good enough for me. 
 
EEEEK!
But I also wondered how it must feel for others who must struggle everyday with other cancers, other long term conditions, who live with chronic pain, chronic  fatigue or struggle with mental well-being: who will do selfies for them? So many too will face the day with unknown and unrecognised challenges, they will do their utmost to hold down jobs in challenging financial times, they will suffer the impact of benefit changes, they will produce bucket lists and hope to fulfill them. My selfie therefore is for all of them too, sans makeup, in solidarity with all whose life has been affected by ill-health ;mental and physical. I salute your courage and maybe we need solidarity for everyone-an unselfie to say; I hear you and commit to supporting what matters to you. But what would an unselfie look like?
Reasons to be cheerful.
I had great family weekend recently culminating in a concert that included the rather wonderful Dixie Chicks. Regular readers will know my musical taste leans to the soulful singer song writer but I have an open mind and honestly love a sing along to a Dixie Chicks track. They were wonderful and in tribute to the fact later this year I’m off to see James Taylor, here’s amagical track of them playing together.