Falling over …

Posted: Wednesday 2nd December 2020

On the homeward straight of my run last Sunday I tripped and fell over. Lying there on the ground, covered in mud, ripped leggings and bleeding knees, I noticed a dilemma about what to do next. Should I acknowledge what had happened, feel the pain and take a moment to recover before gingerly getting up and limping home? Or maybe I should jump up pretending it was nothing, hoping no-one had noticed, and prove I could run on unhindered by my painful limbs and bruised ego? In the end, I decided to be honest and just admit that I did fall, it did hurt and I couldn’t just continue running along.

After deciding on how to be in myself with what had happened, I had another choice to make about how to be with other people about it. When I did eventually get up and stumble on my way, my bedraggled appearance caught the eye of a fellow runner. She halted and looked over with a warm concern. ‘Are you OK?’ she asked. ‘I just fell over’ I shared. ‘O no, are you hurt?’ she enquired. ‘I’m hurt but I’m OK’ I said ‘but I feel such a fool, I never fall over, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’ ‘Oh yes’ she nodded in recognition, ‘I fall over about once a month on my runs, and it’s a horrible shock isn’t it? When we were kids, we’d fall over all of the time and just get back on our scooters without a thought… But you’re OK?’. ‘Yes’ I said. And with a kindly smile she said ‘OK, well take care’ and began to jog away.

Back at home later on, I got to thinking about ‘falling over’ emotionally too. Perhaps there are some parallels between the physical and psychological versions of falling over. We all fall over psychologically from time to time don’t we? And when we do, perhaps what makes all the difference is how we deal with our own dilemmas about how to be with it, as well as how our interactions with others about it go.

Looking back at my running fall, I reflected that my fellow runner had given me just what I had needed. And her response had so many parallels with how we at MyST try to respond to the psychological ‘falls’ of the children, families and carers that we work with. In attending to me, my fellow runner had noticed that I wasn’t OK. She had stopped what she was doing and for that moment had privileged my needs. She had listened and understood me. She had empathised and made a connection between my experience and her own. She had indicated a willingness to help but not assumed I was helpless. She had refused my invitation to agree there was something essentially wrong with me. She had reminded me of a time that I could fall and recover ok, and had gently reassured me that we can all do this.

At MyST, as well as attending to psychological falls in these kinds of ways, we also try to work with children, families and carers to create a context where falling over psychologically is understood as being ordinary, commonplace, and part of everyone’s experience. And with this type of shared understanding, we’ve noticed that it becomes easier for people to acknowledge their falls, to turn to others for support, and to bounce back. And of course, once we learn to fall and get back up again, then we become more able to take those paths which involve a leap of faith. So perhaps practising how to navigate falling over is an essential component of opening up new possibilities and ways forward. Perhaps we have to befriend falling over to fully grasp our freedom.

Falling over, done well, makes us braver and more resilient. It doesn’t have to diminish us. It can expand us. We don’t need to avoid taking the risk of falling over, but we do need to create contexts and conditions where we can recover and grow from the experience.

Jen & Jael

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