As well as writing as Lukas Scott, I’ve written and directed a number of other projects. Here are a few you might find interesting:
‘My Heart was A Cauliflower’
BAC Counselling Journal, August 2001, non-fiction essay on experiences of heart surgery. See below for a transcript.
OutRage! An Oral History
(Cassell, 2000) non-fiction oral history of Queer Activist Group OutRage!
‘The Color Of His Eyes’
essay in Queerly Phrased ed Anna Livia & Kira Hall, (OUP 1997) non-fiction essay on the language polari
Growing Up Positive: Stories from a generation of young people affected by AIDS
(Cassell, 1996) non-fiction interviews/oral history
Impertinent Decorum : Gay Theatrical Manouevres
with photographer Denis Doran; Get The Rubber Habit! postcard book (Cassell, 1994) non-fiction
with Neti Neti Theatre Company; GRIEF – The play, writings & workshops (David Fulton, 1992) theatre/video script and research
Plays & other projects
Sex- Identity – Arts Council Internet arts residency with photographer Denis Doran, Channel Arts, Brighton 1995 collaborative creative arts project
The Memory Box – Arts Council commission with Tony Newton, Neti Neti Theatre Company 1994 co-written theatre piece in English, sign language and Bengali
Dolphins Can Swim – Homo Promos Theatre Company, Chelsea Centre theatre, London 1992 drama
Triptych – Homo Promos Theatre Company, Castlehaven Community Centre, London 1990 drama/monologues
I wrote an article on my experience of heart surgery while I was training as a counsellor. It was published in the Journal of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.
My heart was a cauliflower
At least, that’s what a cardiac consultant told me after I was admitted to hospital with a racing heart. He’d discovered I had a leaking mitral valve, necessitating surgery within twelve months. Although not the first thing on my mind, I was conscious of how this might affect my ability to continue both a counselling placement and my Diploma in Counselling, where I was a first year student. Would I have to leave the course? Could I defer for a year? Or was there a way in which I could manage my heart condition and subsequent surgery?
I discussed the situation with my course tutors and I realised it was ok for me to ask for help. It was a matter of talking through my concerns, and realising that I could in fact complete the course – that there was support availabl and that I could negotiate workload and attendance. I could also demonstrate a commitment to the course and work through alternative workloads – plenty of reading (of course!) but also the possibility of additional assignments if I missed much of the course. I also felt I needed the boundaries of the course, the deadlines for assignments and a timetable of work.
Placement supervision became more regular, and also occurred when I did not have a ‘caseload’ but needed to discuss my own effectiveness as a counsellor and reflect on how my illness and surgery affected the work and clients I was undertaking. My own illness affected the way I related to clients, particularly those awaiting surgery themselves, raising issues of transference, counter-transference, and congruence – to disclose my own impending surgery or not? As my placement was in a GP surgery, many of the issues arising impacted on me directly and how I viewed my own health. Indeed, the setting itself reminded me of how mental and physical health are closely connected.
Usually, clients were seen on a short term basis ( 6 weeks, occasionally longer) and so closure with most clients was self-contained. The ambiguity around when surgery might occur (I was given a notional timetable that covered six months) and how much notice I would receive (one week) raised ethical issues about when to stop taking on new clients, and to close existing ones. I was also aware of the tension for me in acting ethically, and my own desire to fulfil my required counselling hours for the course. I ‘loaded’ client hours earlier on into my placement so that I could be sure of fulfilling my requirements in good time before my surgery.
I was certainly more cautious about taking on new clients once I entered the notional ‘surgery alert period’, and did not take on new clients after being called in for pre-surgery tests ( allegedly 6-8 weeks before surgery would commence). In the case of one client, who had missed appointments which had been designated for talking about closure, I had to refer on to other counselors within the practice.
Twelve months’ notice of surgery gave me a good amount of time to plan my workload for the year. Like any Diploma student (!), the final year’s work seemed daunting – case studies, investigation projects, journal learning assignments and so on. A list of deadlines and a yearly planner helped me see which assignments I could do and when they needed to be in for – it seemed important for me to work as normally as possible, and the deadlines gave me something to focus on and a ‘normal’ structure to work within. I started earlier than I would have ordinarily, recognizing that there were some limits to the amount of work I could complete before hospitalization – other commitments (like my paid work!!) and also the fact that some assignments, such as a Journal Learning Assignment, could only be written later in the academic year. Strangely, I found that having the additional pressure of impending surgery helped focus my ability to work and the quality of my work improved. Frighteningly, I also had to consider that I might not ‘succeed’ in getting all my work in on time and what this might mean for me and my own ideas of ‘failing’ a course or assignment. I was relieved that I did complete my assignments on time!
My course involved a lot of groupwork, and meant that I was establishing relationships with other students on a working and personal level. I was open about needing to go into hospital, and this was accepted by all the groups I worked with, yet I was aware that for me it was a ‘problem’ in choosing groups – ‘I can work with you BUT you need to know I’m going into hospital…’ Looking back, I wonder how much this prevented me from entering into deeper relationships, or alternatively ‘freed up’ my presence, knowing that at some point my group and I would have to accept my absence. I was anxious that I might ‘miss out’ on some groups, particularly those that ended during my absence. In discussing my anxieties with those groups, I came to realise that the group dynamics would change anyway with my absence – that it would necessarily be a slightly different group. For me, it led to a very open and moving discussion about my own participation within the groups, with valuable feedback and reflection.
I had been seeing a gay, person centred counsellor for a number of months, originally prompted by the death of a very close friend. I returned to counselling after the news of my diagnosis, and generally saw my counsellor for about an hour a week. The process was important to me – although friends and family were supportive, I found talking to a third party helped me explore feelings I could/would not express to those close to me. To some extent a ‘positive face’ was necessary outside the counselling room, but could be dropped or explored more fully inside. Issues of my own vulnerability, relationships, health and self-image were also regular themes in the counselling. I had begun to explore my own fear about mortality in the session before being called into hospital, and had to cancel the following session – disappointing in some ways, but also a helpful acknowledgement of my own fears and concerns.
Being ill and person centred
Carl Rogers talks of a way of being, and I tried to include this in my own journey in ill-health. To me, it meant acknowledging my vulnerability, fear, illness, and seeing all of this as part of myself. Yet I also looked for that ‘self-actualising tendency’, that part of me which struggled to grow and thrive. Instead of ‘soldiering on’ or being morbidly concerned about my surgery, I learnt to ask questions, and to play an active role in my treatment. I listened to self-hypnosis tapes, tapes about surgery and healing. I took my drugs regularly, and I also allowed myself a (large!) glass of red wine every night. I met with heart surgery survivors, and blanched at their experiences of surgery and recovery, finding that listening to what was in store for me was uncomfortable, yet also believing that somehow the knowledge I gained would be useful.
When I was taken into hospital, I brought with me a ‘guestbook’ for doctors, nurses and visitors to sign so they acknowledged me as a person and not just a ‘patient’. In it I included Bernie Siegel’s definition of CURE – Crazy, Unique, Respectful and Exceptional. I didn’t just accept cheery encouragement from hospital staff, but asked awkward questions about treatment, care, and also attempted let them know how I was feeling (‘yes, Nurse, patients have feelings too!!’) Sometimes, I was congruent, empathic and non-judegemental – other times I was belligerent, self-protected, defensive, and in denial.
Much of that process continues today. In writing this, I’ve been able to reflect on an experience that has been terrifying, astonishing and revealing. It’s made much of what I have been learning on my course real for me, and the Counselling Diploma gave me a number of ‘spaces’ in which I could explore and reflect on my experiences which would not ordinarily be available to me. My experiences have informed my understanding of both the theory and practice of counselling .
I’m also aware that I made a particular choice – which was to continue with my diploma at this time. Others may choose not to. In recounting my own experiences, I wanted to share one type of choice, and recognize that there is support available for continuing a counselling course in circumstances such as mine. This support can come from tutors, supervisors, placements, other students, personal counselors as well as family and friends.
My experience has enriched my understanding of counselling, and allowed me some valuable insights into ‘both sides of the fence’, and experiencing what being human means to me.