At New Year, we celebrate the chance of new beginnings. Some of us resolve to lose weight or exercise more or drink less and feel pride if we succeed—or beat ourselves up if we don’t. But, either way, there may still be underlying feelings of unease, discomfort, or chronic sadness, which failure feeds and success fails to mask for long. That happens when the bad feeling—which may manifest as physical pain or depression1—is rooted in carrying on with all the other same old unsatisfying stuff that we were doing before.
In How to Liberate Yourself from Pain,2 a book I wrote with Grahame Brown, a leading consultant in musculoskeletal medicine, we described the fascinating case of Elena, who consulted Grahame because of exhausting pain in her neck and arms. She was a successful accountant in a happy marriage and childless by choice, which allowed her and her husband to take several holiday breaks a year and indulge in many luxuries. Despite giving Elena all the help and advice that usually shifted his patients on, nothing had really changed after five sessions.
"I was flummoxed," he said. "There was nothing organically wrong and it seemed that all her innate needs were being met. Then I thought to ask her, 'What would you be doing in five years’ time if you could be doing anything you like?'" She said at once that she would be working in her own pottery studio. On further questioning, it emerged that she was artistic from a young age but her father had steered her towards the steadier career of accountancy. Although successful, she had never felt fulfilled and had become even more dissatisfied of late. They discussed how she could work part-time, which she could easily afford, start attending classes to improve her skills and look into creating a pottery studio at home or elsewhere—all this alongside physical and mental exercises previously prescribed. Graham didn’t see her again but heard that she had set up a studio and that pain no longer ruled her life.
As a human givens practitioner, I commonly see clients who say they followed their parents’ wishes rather than their own when deciding on a career. Conversely, it may be only after trying out and even enjoying a career that deep dissatisfaction sets in. Fariba had been brought up in another culture and came to the U.K. to avoid an arranged marriage. She was highly educated, with a responsible job in finance. She had reveled in her freedom, then married in the U.K. and was pregnant with a much-wanted first child. Yet she was deeply depressed. "I used to be so smart and stylish and likable. Now I never bother with how I look or what I wear; I neglect friends and am rude to colleagues and I don’t even care. I am praying that this baby is not a girl," she said fiercely, "because I couldn’t bear her to have such a terrible mother as a role model."
It occurred to me to ask what she would be doing if she didn’t have these difficulties. At first, she shrugged and said, "I would wear make-up, take care over my dress, be kind to people …" Something led me to say, "No. What would you really be doing?" Her eyes suddenly came alight as she described her dream of introducing and celebrating her little-understood culture among a wider group of people in an entertaining, inclusive way, one that, as we talked it through, seemed eminently feasible financially if she started small.
I encouraged her to visualize the steps and the outcome, suggesting that, to make all this happen, she would need to start caring for herself again and be her former kind self with others, and wouldn’t it be especially wonderful if her child was a daughter to whom she could show the importance of having a loving and passionate nature and working hard for what one cared about. When she opened her eyes, she was glowing. "I am so looking forward to tomorrow!" she said. She didn’t need another session.
Not everyone can make sweeping changes to follow their hearts but ways can be found to incorporate something of our passion into our lives. The words of Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan, imprisoned without parole for "treason" are humbling and inspiring: "I have never woken up in prison—not once. … Wherever you lock me up, I will travel the world with the wings of my infinite mind."3
1. Griffin, J, Tyrrell, I and Winn, D (2004). How to Lift Depression …Fast. HG Publishing, East Sussex.
2. Brown, G and Winn, D (2009). How to Liberate Yourself from Pain. HG Publishing, East Sussex.
3. Altan, A (2019). I Will Never See the World Again. Granta, London.