"Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin"....the opening of "Listen with mother"; the radio programme that reaches back into my childhood. To be honest I have no recollection of sitting down to listen to it, but the phrase conjures up such strong associations I must have listened in; at least now and again. "Tell me a story" is a phrase from my own children's childhood and it guaranteed cuddles on the sofa and time suspended. Those are precious memories but also speak of a society that confines storytelling to childhood. But in truth stories are how we construct our world at any age; our self- beliefs, our organisations, even our nations.
How often we perceive ourselves through those stories; I was the naughty child or the good one, I was the clever one, the challenging adolescent, the moody one, the fun one and those definitions stalk us into adulthood. A delicate story is woven around us and we can find ourselves playing it out for all of lives for good or ill. But what if that story is of illness, of abuse, or neglect, of lack of love....do we need to carry those stories too?
In our recent and powerful masterclass on storytelling by Marie Ennis O'Connor helped us understand the power of stories in our lives; how we are hot wired to make sense of our world though story and that is true of all cultures. Our stories can serve us well of course, they can be positive and life enhancing but they can also be negative and limit our belief.
But we are not our stories, we can change them and find a different way to relate to them. But perhaps first we have to recognise them, to tell them and to have someone bear witness to them too.
My blog has been a vehicle for my story over the last few years. It's been a vehicle for my ups and downs, my bumps in the road and cul-de-sacs too. It's been a cathartic release, a place to shed tears and happily also share joy. And it's held the boundary of what I have felt able to share, the gap between me and the story. It's helped me retain a sense of myself as separate from my illness, the experience of cancer and allowed me to leave it on these pages and get on with living.
Storytelling in health and social care can help us relate to the impact of illness, to know how experiences impact, to understand how services work in a way that statistics never could. But the masterclass identified the importance of the story being acknowledged, being heard. And can we truly say those stories really change services? Are they sanitised into neat boxes and only allowed to reinforce our existing stories after all? The culture of healthcare remains remarkably intact in spite of a body of knowledge that points to the need to change. So perhaps it's time to look at the stories we tell ourselves, listen to those who are telling us clearly about what matters to them and start to weave some different stories, that speak of a service that listens, that cares, that works with people as partners in their care, that puts health and wellbeing at the core of its focus.
We can learn to deeply listen to the stories we are told and that we tell ourselves and, importantly, we can change those stories for ourselves, for our organisation and for our culture as a nation even. Brene Brown describes stories as data with a soul, what could be more important than that?