“…she lived for it. She counted down the days to it. And when she returned it was abundantly clear to those around her – she had loved it… Very few of us would choose it. But crucially, when it comes to what makes people tick, it’s an example of how unique we are, how tailored our own particular needs are and how difficult it really is to prescribe a good time or an outcome or a service for someone else…”Rob Mitchell 
On Saturday morning I published a blog post about social care and Kairos time, and tweeted a link. At almost the same time (just two minutes before!), Rob Mitchell tweeted a link to a blog post he’d just published (please do read it if you haven’t already). Two connected and complementary posts, and coincidentally (ish) both headed by images of the sea.
Time is on my mind. I’ve just spent the long bank holiday weekend drifting about in Kairos time. And I’ve had plenty of time to reflect (because that’s what happens in Kairos time) on my series of blogs about time, and on Rob’s blog about prescribing ‘good times’. My reflections have prompted this addition to my planned series. A personal post about my time, and ‘me time’. About how we choose to spend time, and whether we have a choice at all.
I chose to spend my weekend in Devon, staying in a hotel on my own. A late decision, a last-minute deal, and a very timely break. Time writing, and time reading (Sarah Winman’s amazing ‘Still life’ for the second time – I adore that book). Time browsing in bookshops and sitting outside cafes with cups of tea and cups of coffee and beautiful, colourful food. Time walking alongside the river, and on boats on the river, but sadly not swimming in the river (I wasn’t brave enough to go in by myself, though it was tempting as the weather was glorious!) People watching and day-dreaming. Eating when I was hungry, sleeping when I was tired. Paying little attention to the clock. No demands on my time. No structure. No routine.
Unstructured time doing things that matter to me, and things that make me me.
I’m aware that while a few days on my own seems luxurious to me, the idea of such solitude horrifies some people, and the reality of longer-term time alone harms people too. Time to myself, by myself, is a deliberate choice for me, and I’m very conscious I have people I love to return to, and to keep in touch with while I’m away.
Smiles and nods and hellos on footpaths, waves from boats, and small exchanges with people on trains and in cafes and shops were enough face-to-face contact for me this weekend, but I recognise that for many people these transient contacts are lifelines, and such solitude is often imposed and unwanted.
The amount of time we want, and need, to spend with other people is as personal as the people we choose to spend our time with. When people spend a lot of time alone, it doesn’t mean they’re lonely. And when people spend lots of time with other people, it doesn’t mean they’re not.
Too often our social care assessments and plans don’t account for time with people, prioritising personal care but not human contact. And as a result, conversations are limited to exchanges between ‘care worker’ and ‘client’, and touch is restricted to ‘washing and dressing’ and ‘feeding’ and ‘moving and handling’.
Or, if the need for social contact is acknowledged, our solution is prescribed from local authority directories, which can usually be filtered by ‘offering service to’ (adults, carers, older people…) and ‘supporting people with’ (a learning disability, a physical disability, autism, dementia, mental health conditions…), but rarely by areas of interest (though there’s a good chance we wouldn’t know that anyway, because we probably haven’t asked). Befriending services instead of friendships. ‘Activities’ and groups for ‘people with..’ or ‘people who…’. Time with ‘people like you’ rather than people you like. Separating and secluding based on age or diagnosis, instead of connecting and involving people based on things that matter to them.
It may seem like I didn’t have a lot of purpose this weekend. But that was the purpose.
No map no directions no plan no agenda.
No deadlines to meet, no ‘outcomes’ to achieve.
Time to explore. To get a little bit lost. A few wrong turns. The odd dead end. Finding new places. Reconnecting with myself.
The only structure to my weekend came from bus times and train times and boat times. I love journeys. All mine were smooth and spot on time. Time to gaze out of the window next to me rather than having to concentrate on the road ahead (and what a view as the train clung to the coast beyond Exeter – I could physically feel my heart lift at the sight of the sea!)
I’m back at home now, back at work tomorrow and the kids are back at school next week.
The Kairos time of holidays replaced rapidly with the Chronos time of work. Days in the office mean early starts and more bus times and train times and ‘will I be there on time?’ and ‘will I be home in time?’ Days working from home mean hours in front of the screen with the clock in the corner, reminders that meetings are due to start, pop up messages saying they’re scheduled to end. 15 minutes until.. 5 minutes left… Agendas and deadlines. Plans and targets. Juggling my diary in a vain attempt to create more time.
And the Kairos time of holidays replaced rapidly with the Chronos time of school. We’re past the stage of drop off times and pick up times, but it’s still back to eyes on the clock in the mornings, endless letters and emails and texts home with dates and times to note, and numerous class WhatsApp group conversations that begin with ‘what time is…’ ‘when do…’ ‘is today…’ ‘remember tomorrow is…’
The structure and routine of my life. Time filled by other people, other priorities, other plans. Their time squeezes out ‘me time’, but equally this structure and routine brings meaning and purpose and connection, and it’s part of what makes me me too.
In social care we put people on pathways and make plans for (and not always with) them, with start dates and review dates. Support is scheduled and timetabled. ‘Outcomes’ are described in our words and measured on our terms.
The only journeys are through our system. The only destination is CARE.
We count hours and days, but how often do we make sure people’s days and hours count?
The people we spend our time with, and the places we spend our time, and the things we spend our time doing, are essential elements of our personhood, and absolutely personal. If we’re really going to practice in a genuinely personalised way, we must pay attention to how, and where, and with whom people want to spend their time, make sure they have a choice, and remember that the choice is theirs – not ours – to make.
 The Social Prescription We Need – Freedom, Rob Mitchell, Social Work, Cats and Rocket Science, 27 August 2022