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Shedding our shells on the Camino de Santiago

15 November 2016

My Life My Choice Inspections Coordinator Chris Alexander reflects on walking with the #CaminoLB…

With the USA Trumping Brexit we could easily despair. How can we move through the uncertainty that lies ahead? Whatever way you voted, we are now destined to live in ‘interesting times’.

The standard responses of blame, finger pointing, and pathologisation are not effective ways to move forwards.

I recently watched Dr Abraham Twerski’s YouTube clip on responding to stress. He talks about stress in relation to how lobsters grow. Lobsters are soft and squidgy and live inside a shell. When a lobster needs to grow it goes under a rock, casts off its shell, and produces a better fitting one. The lobster will repeat this process throughout its life.

The stimulus that the lobster needs to grow is that it feels uncomfortable. If lobsters went to the doctors to complain about their discomfort the doctor would find a remedy to pacify the discomfort, thus negating the need to grow. But if we can use adversity to our advantage we can grow through it. Furthermore, if we can work with the discomfort of encouraging others to face adversity, we might be onto a winner.

It is dangerous for the lobster to shed a shell before growing a new one. When it is vulnerable after shedding a shell, the lobster seeks refuge, care and comfort to protect it. In this case from an external source, ‘under a rock’.

Human beings can be like lobsters. We too need to shed our shells so we can grow and reach our potential. But we often blame other things, point fingers at people, or seek a medical solution to a ‘problem’ instead of accepting that the normal human experience is often painful.

In the UK, like most of the West, we cover the pain up with things like alcohol, overworking and diagnosing ourselves with more and more elaborate perceived problems, and then we finger point and blame. But we can be different, and in different environments we can explore different ways of being. One way could be to take responsibility and be a rock for someone so they can shed their shell. This can be one of the most beautiful things we can do as human beings, guarding someone while they are vulnerable so as they can grow.

However, it is painful to watch someone whose shell has not fully hardened leave our protection. Especially if we realise that we are no longer needed in that part of their life. There is a sense of risk and danger in these times as the person who has just grown will be testing out how strong their shell is and what they can now withstand.

One of the best places for personal growth to take place is away from the routine environment. This allows new ways of being to emerge and be explored.

Recently My Life My Choice went on an adventure to the Camino de Santiago to walk with the Justice for LB campaign. The adventure allowed the shedding of old shells and new ways of being for everyone present. For myself, it was one of my first opportunities to be a leader. Everyone else experienced a similar level of growth.

Dawn said: “I was worried about the walk, but am so proud that I achieved it. We are My Life My Choice and we don’t let anything get in the way.”

Paul said: “The best thing was getting over my fear of flying, and doing something new – long distance walking and going to a foreign country. I think we are the only people with learning disabilities from the UK to have walked the Camino de Santiago. We are definitely the only self-advocacy group who has.”

Shaun said: “For me, it meant spending positive time with people who are supportive, getting to know new people and getting to know people I already know a bit better.”

People with learning disabilities need to personally grow like the rest of us, shedding their outer shell when it no longer suits them. Restless and uncontained behaviour exhibited by someone with learning disabilities could very simply be in direct response to an outdated care plan.

People with learning disabilities often need support but all too often that support can become stifling. If we keep people with learning disabilities trapped under a rock that we once provided for protection, it will become a painful prison that nobody would want to grow in. In the uncertain times ahead that we face as a planet I hope we are all able to take a leap of faith and shed our collective shell rather than stagnating in a shell that we have outgrown.

On the Camino, walking away from the normal routine of life allowed a level playing field to be created, where we were all growing as individuals. Energy from this experience has emerged and has led to new ideas and ways forwards. When someone is growing they are not contained within any shell, this is a beautiful and a powerful process to witness and be with. Seeing someone become a true induvial with the support and nurture a group protecting them like a rock as they grow.

Before this trip Shaun had never been abroad. Now he tells everyone he has “caught the travel bug.”

Campaigning for the fair treatment of people with learning disabilities can easily become negative, and we can begin to inhabit uncomfortable negative states of mind. Shaun admits that after he met fellow walker Rosie, whose epileptic learning disabled son also died whilst being cared for, he became depressed because “nobody gives a crap.”

He said: “First it was Southern Health, now it’s Mencap. It seems like nobody cares about us.”

But by being there for each other, we can support each other to shed the negative states of mind that are keeping us restricted.

When I spoke to Sara about why we were walking in the Camino, she said it had been a quite spontaneous decision. But that she was reflective and simply exploring what was coming up; for her and the campaign as a whole. I commend Sara and the Justice for LB Campaign for opening up a positive space that allowed undirected and unrestricted growth full energy to emerge, and being comfortable with what emerges. It has allowed the shedding of an old way of being for the Champions and myself and begin to explore a new way of being.

As Shaun said, “We did have a whale of a time. There’s no doubt about that.” But I also believe we created a level playing field along the lines of personal development, growth, and exploring a new way of being.

Returning from the Camino into the US election results, and with the uncertainty of Brexit ongoing, it is important that we have outgrown our shells. We are all going to need to grow bigger and stronger if we are going to preserve the peaceful civilised society that we have created. Personal development and growth will bring us together irrespective of views and beliefs. Deepening our own personal development by supporting others to grow might just be the way forwards that the world needs.

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We would like to thank everybody who supported us to go on this trip. We could not have done it without you!


Categories: Justice for LB
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