The Liz Bentley Delivery Woman with Julie Andrews contemplating education

Two white woman smiling and embracing at a masters degree ceremony

Gold lame for Goldsmiths Masters Degree ceremony

This is a drunk me and Julie Andrews on our graduation ceremony at Goldsmiths in 2010, I think. Our Master’s degree in psychodynamic counselling. A course I was already lecturing on with no degree, just two GCSEs in English, music and a CSE in typing.

I left school at sixteen and didn’t do any more education until I was working at Marie Stope Annexe pregnancy and advisory clinic where Julie and I became the last counsellors to be half-funded for our diplomas in counselling. In order to work as counsellors for women who were pre and post-abortion. After us, they ditched the counsellors.

Working at Marie Stopes and training together Julie and I became firm friends. Over fifteen years later it was a delight to find ourselves snuck in on the third year of the Master’s degree course at Goldsmiths. £2000 we paid for a Masters degree. Brilliant. Bargain. And much thanks to our friend and course convenor for this opportunity.

We’d already been lecturing at the University. My idea of lecturing involves just me. No power points or notes or flip charts. Just me with a few books I may show punters. I prefer small groups. Intimate and experiential learning.

In that year I learned that academia was not all it was cracked up to be in my little fantasy. I didn’t enjoy it. The lectures weren’t particularly current and my tutor was the worst. I’d heard she was a tricky one as some of my students who I supervised on placement had had issues with her. When I was allocated this tutor, I omnipotently thought she would be okay with me. I’d win her over with my humour and years of experience as a psychotherapist.

Why did I think I could woo her and we’d get on? Why hadn’t I listened to my volunteer counsellors? Why hadn’t I told the convenor it would be difficult working with this tutor?

I worked my arse off with that bloody thesis and everything I wrote I believed was right to her was wrong. I rewrote to her suggestions only to find it was wrong again and she’d suggest I change it back. I paid extra for her time as I rewrote. Afterwards, I realised how unethical this was. I feared I would fail. I was so eager to please this woman.

My thesis became hers not mine. I rewrote and rewrote. Whilst I passed with 56 marks I was hugely disappointed and to this day I have not revisited the thesis. It was shite. I hated it. In fact, I think it has gone from my documents and I don’t believe I have a hard copy.

Now I wonder what the point of it all was. I wasn’t and never will be an academic. Whilst I learned so much in my research from the GP surgery I worked in, my personal therapy and supervision. I did learn however how a university deals with a tutor/lecturer (not mine) who is found by one of the students to have dementia. A sensitive and sad dilemma for sure.

The best bit about the whole experience was getting pissed at the graduation and wearing my gold lame trousers under the stupid black gown that cost a ridiculous amount to hire. Just like school, the best bits were smoking in the bogs and the end of year disco.

Einstein said: “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education”.

He’s damn right. I’d ticked a box, but at the end of it who gave a shite? I have never been asked for my certificate. What was the point? To have this wonderful photo of me and my friend Julie with her hand on my boob.

I worked at Goldsmiths for a few years later as a case management supervisor. I had the job with or without the degree.The money was shit but I did enjoy it. For a while.

My son is at Falmouth Uni in his third year of a popular music degree. I support from afar. His loan at the end will be around £50,000. What will his degree mean to him?

My daughter is a year away from her GCSE’s. I try to support her but can only help by listening and getting her help elsewhere. She hates school like I did. She’s more interested in tarot cards, crystals and appropriately hating her mother.

I have a new realisation that I am probably dyslexic. Our family laugh at me as I never get pan o choc right. Is it pan o choc or choc o pan? My brain will not withhold this. Even when I say it correctly three times over I’ll still get it wrong. But who gives a shit? Everyone knows what I mean. I don’t come back from the shop with crumpets. I don’t like choc pans anyway. Or crumpets.

Mental health surges when one struggles in our education system. The hierarchy, the bullying, the lack of self worth, the projection from over worked teachers and scared head teachers who fear losing their positions. The God of Ofsted. And now the restrictions, masks, no communal areas and crazy new exam procedures due to covid measures.

We are all funnelled into it, as Pink Floyd The Wall beautifully elaborates. We are statistics. Some thrive, but the emotional damage of being dumbed down, feeling stupid and not valued because you just can’t tick those boxes has long-lasting damage.

As I watch the changes going on in the further education college I work at it feels like I’m in a sinking ship. I’m too old to see what is on their horizon so I’m jumping off into more creative horizons. Soon to be free of all institutions.

I wonder how that will feel? I wonder whether I will miss it? Will I feel free? I guess not until my kids have left education. Maybe I’ll stay until then. Not lose sight of the reality.

Would I miss the staff I work with? I don’t miss my job in the NHS, I have memories of the lovely staff but I don’t miss them.

“All in all you just another brick in the wall” Pink Floyd.

(nb there were five attempted suicides last week at the sister college I work for)

The Liz Bentley Delivery Woman with Chad Varah, founder of the Samaritans

Liz and Chad Varah
 Liz and Chad Varah founder of the Samaritans

This is the first of my new blog ‘The Liz Bentley Delivery Woman’. I’d been wracking my brains with what to do after ‘Liz Bentley waiting for the Tesco Delivery Man’ and then it became obvious. I write about my own experience anyway, so why not just admit that the blog is about me. Me, others in my life and my experiences.

My first blog features me with the late Mr Chad Varah, founder of the Samaritans. I believe this photo was taken around 1990. I was a Samaritan for seven years including going into Brixton prison and working as a Samaritan youth project worker. I have newspaper clippings of me with a Mayor of somewhere and with Simon Hughes and the Samaritans but I can’t find them yet. What an inspiration Chad was.

In the photo we are in St. Stephen Wallbrook, the church where the priest and social activist Chad began his help line. A young girl in his parish committed suicide because she had begun her periods and feared she had an STD. That is the story that reminded me a bit of the film Carrie. As a psychotherapist, I know that when someone commits suicide it is far from straightforward, even with an explanatory suicide note. Always a reason for the reason and much beyond.

Chad clearly understood we needed more sex education and a place to talk when a person felt suicidal. He did it. One man setting up something almost too big now to cope with mental health let alone suicide as the NHS strips services so bare I can’t begin or indeed face writing about in this moment (some readers will know I worked in the NHS in Primary Care for twelve years up to 2014).

Chad apparently pulled away from his Samaritan organisation in 2004. He became disillusioned. It was no longer an emergency service, more of an emotional support for callers. We need both and the NHS provides so little. IAPT? What IAPT? Back in the early days of IAPT we were calling it DAPT. Decreasing Access to Psychological Therapies.

In my private practice usually by mid-December enquiries tail off and I get little interest again until around mid-January. This last year enquiries didn’t stop. On New Year’s Eve I had three messages from potential clients asking for help. I had to put a FULL sign up on my BACP directory entry (the only place that have my details). I was struggling to find the time or the energy to help the people contacting me to find alternative help when all my peers were also full-up and organisations I knew locally had and still have to my knowledge long waiting lists. One man I spoke with was told to stop calling the Samaritans because they couldn’t help him anymore. He had money to get help through his work’s EAP but just couldn’t find the right help. In the old days I would have directed him to the 24 hour Maudsely hospital where all would be seen by a specialised mental health team. Not now. Not anymore.

Why was I so interested in the Samaritans to become one of the youngest in 1987?

Is it really because I was at times more suicidal than my callers?

Is it because me and Dave McDonnell decided on a suicide pact age sixteen for when we were twenty-five?

Is it because my parent’s friend’s daughter killed herself but they didn’t talk about it but I knew, it had to be kept secret?

Is it because I came across the Samaritans in Southend when I was age sixteen and had been sexually assaulted in a house in the same street?

Is it because I watched the legendary film Harold and Maude when I was about sixteen?

Is it because my friend’s Dad who was the owner of Southend’s two sex shops took his own life?

Is it because I went to Glastonbury age seventeen and nearly went into the Samaritan tent because I was so unhappy and having a bad trip?

Is it because I nearly jumped out of a hotel room in Switzerland because my boyfriend was chatting up older girls in the hotel bar and I felt so alone?

Is it because I was diagnosed with MS in 1987 and did on some level feel I could relate to callers because I thought my life was pretty much over from the pictures in the tubes and the lack of support re my diagnoses?

Is it because a man on a Noel Edmonds Saturday live show didn’t attach his bungee during a live bungee jump?

Is it because after that I sought out the Dangerous Sports Society who had gone underground and had been banned from doing bungee jumping but I needed to do a bungee jump to know how it might feel?

Is it all of the above and more?

There is always a reason for a reason and a reason behind the reason and a reason underneath the reason, and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a life is worth living as the concentration camp victim Maude shows the suicidal teenager Harold in Harold and Maude.

The film ends with the Cat Stevens song ‘If you Want to Sing Out Sing Out’ it is such a great song. Oh how I love that film.

My fave lyrics but they are all special….

‘If you want to be me be me, if you want to be you be you’

So in this new blog I’ll be me. Cause I want to be. I’ve got a photo of my bungee jump. I’ll go and see if I can dig it out for another blog …..