Philip Francis Anderson
Transcript for podcast episode 15
Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.
So I’m delighted for this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast to be joined by Philip Francis Anderson. Thank you for joining me Philip.
P: Thank you very much
C: You’re welcome. So Philip produces and hosts a podcast called Against The Odds, and he has a particular passion for telling the stories of people who have overcome barriers in order to achieve things, and has his own story of facing and overcoming barriers. So welcome Philip, and thank you ever so much for joining me for this conversation.
P: Thank you
C: So having listened to some of your podcasts and some of the fabulous stories of people who’ve really overcome some significant challenges, I’m wondering what it is that motivates you to want to tell people’s stories?
P: A number of things really. One of them is to create a liberating experience for people who’ve been marginalised, offering them encouragement, of being believed in, to people who haven’t often been believed in the past. Trying to provide that liverating platform to people I think is a great motivator for me. Seeing them expressing themselves in a positive way as a result also brings satisfaction for me. One thing that I often found when I was putting together this podcast is it was a new departure for me in terms of broadcasting, because even though I’d had periods in radio and working in radio when you are in that more challenging sort of position, talking to MPs and local councillors and giving them a bit of a run for their money, is a huge difference than active listening and being entrusted with the keys to people’s lives and life stories, which requires a lot more of trust, I think, between the two. They have to trust me, and I have to trust them.
C: Just listening to you talk about that then, I think there is something very different, isn’t there, about being entrusted with somebody’s story, and there is an honour in listening to somebody. And it can be really inspiring to listen to somebody’s story, and I wonder if you have any examples of people, or of someone, who’s story has particularly inspired you?
P: The types of story that do inspire me are accounts of true suffering. One story in particular has been the story of Wayne Pugh. He was crowned Staffordshire Hero 2019. Now Wayne’s had a number of near-death experiences. From almost get-go, the age of 8 he sadly was involved in a serious road traffic accident that almost cost him his life, and then sadly he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 12, and then sadly he lost his eyesight suddenly, overnight, at the age of 28. He was given only 4 days to live 4 years after that, when they found that his kidneys were failing, well, one of his kidneys were failing. The sometime after that his pancreas was failing. He managed to get a transplant for both. A kidney is not so rare, but an actual pancreas is very rare, and he was offered two in the space of 2 hours.
P: Which he said is incredible, because I think from what I can recall, I think they only do about 4 pancreas transplants a year. But what’s so striking about his story is, he never gave up. He never gave up. And this resilience, despite him not having a belief in God, although he did say he did use the power of prayer, during one of the times when he was waiting to go down to theatre. But he said “I’ve been given a number of chances, and it’s enabled me to appreciate the sanctity of life.”
P: And that really is the most moving thing really. But that’s a story that really stayed with me, and it’s one that really moved me to tears, in part, when we was actually recording it. And Wayne says “are you going to keep that in?” and I says, “yes”.
C: And there’s something very real in your accounting of that, about the fact that he did actually end up having a chunk of time where he didn’t get out. And sometimes I think the kind of hero-narrative, of people who are facing difficulties, often are, you almost hear the story a bit truncated. So those really difficult times when someone isn’t feeling like they’re overcoming, gets kind of cut out of the film or the paperback version. And actually it is the case, isn’t it, that triumph and that resilience comes through a story that has really difficult points in it, where it doesn’t feel like somebody’s overcoming. And they kind of work their way through that.
P: I think with Wayne he recognised the issues, and he recognised what it meant for him, and I think that’s half the battle, because there is this attitude that pervades with certain people depending on circumstance, but it’s the “woe, pity me” sort of reaction. And until you’ve experienced something, you don’t always know how you’re going to react. But the beauty of it was, the fact that he’d recognised what had happened, and he could have choosed to give up or move on, and he choose to move on. He said, “life’s for the living, and one of the things that he had learned to do is to get his smile back.”
C: So what’s your best hope for the stories that you tell? What are you hoping will be the outcome of telling them?
P: For whoever to find peace of some kind. I remember one guest saying to me, how sharing his story had helped him to compartmentalise everything. It enabled him to turn the page, to move on.
C: So it helps the person who’s telling the story, as you say, to work through some of that, and as you’re describing to put it into chapters
C: So I know Philip that your motivation comes in part from your own experiences, so I wonder what kind of barriers you’ve needed to overcome?
P: I will give you a little bit of a list. They include my visual impairment, my hypoglycemia, alcoholism, and early trauma and rejection. The visual impairment really has been a barrier, but not of my own volition, of my own making. I think the barriers have come from society and parents, that have created a problem, created a demarcation. They’ve spun this web, they’ve spun a web around me. So there was an embarrassment that they had to hide away. I think there was a lot of emphasis on the disability, rather than on the ability. So there was a lot of negativity when I was growing up. Around my visual impairment. Things like, “you can’t do this, you can’t do that.” I remember once making my father a cup of tea. I would have been, what, 11, 12? And when he found out I’d made it, coz I was so pleased I’d done it for him, he sent it back to the kitchen and asked for it to be remade. But not by me.
C: Gosh. And had he even tried it at that point?
P: No, he didn’t want to.
C: Yeah. That’s the kind of thing which really sticks with you doesn’t it, those sorts of moments, potentially.
P: It still brings a tear to my own eyes really whenever I recount it, even though I feel as though I’ve dealt with it. It still pulls at the heartstrings somewhat. Such a young age, you’re impressionable, you’re developing. You look to your parents as examples, as models, for all sorts of reasons. And to be told you’re incapable, it’s almost saying you’re an accident at birth. You sense their regret, very early on. It gives one a complex. However people try to perhaps hide that, but it does give you a complex. I found when I was growing up, one of the things that I noticed was that it was affecting my friendships in some ways, because I didn’t know how to accept a compliment from people. Because I had all of this negativity from a very early age. My parents didn’t believe in me, which led to me not believing in myself. So when people would pay me a compliment, I didn’t believe them either. I would just have this disbelief written all over my face, doubtlessly, and I would verbally articulate my thoughts and say “really?” As I got older and I was mixing more with adults, I found they got quite cross sometimes. They would say “I genuinely meant what I said”. But it didn’t always help. I found as though that traumatic experience had already sowed the seeds of doubt very early on. That had a profound impact, mentally psychologically, emotionally, on me. It affected me in so many different ways, as though other issues weren’t bad enough. I already had problems with my hypoglycemia. It’s not diabetes, some people confuse it with diabetes. If my sugar levels dropped, which did happen quite often, and at the beginning I didn’t know that was the reason, because I didn’t discover I’d got hypoglycemia until much older. It can affect concentration. People couldn’t understand that at school. And again, I was labelled a ‘problem child’.
C: I can imagine that that could have masqueraded as all sorts of things that people would regard as potentially behavioural, like you lacking concentration, you’re not thinking clearly. Does it have an impact on memory?
P: Yes, very very much so. I suppose this is more cognitive. But if my sugar levels are low, I can read something at least 4 times and it still not mean anything. And yet other days, I’m as acute as a pen-knife.
C: That is the case with quite a lot of conditions, isn’t it? That people will say that they have good days and bad days, or that things are easier on one day than another, and it’s not always to work out why, but for the outside world, that can lead people to think that it’s not as bad as you’re painting, because “well, sometimes he manages”.
P: That is true, that is absolutely true, but often it’s the case that they only ever see you on your good days. If I’ve got an interview with people coming up, or if I’m talking with people at the Open University, coz I’m back studying with them again, I often say that I find that remote studying and remote learning far easier than being in a classroom under a lot of pressure surrounded by competition and always wanting to get something right. So being free of all of that has helped me, but whenever I’ve had to make a call to the OU about something, and I’m not feeling my best, I’ll postpone it. I will just deliberately postpone it until I feel ok, because I know I will end up getting into a verbal tangle. Because the moment I sense stress kicking in, that has an impact on my sugar levels. Instantly, because obviously it affects the heart rate, and before you know it, I find that a lot of my energy has consumed by other things rather than by my cognition, and that’s the thing that ends up suffering, because all the energy’s required elsewhere.
C: There’s a loneliness that I think occurs sometimes with chronic conditions in terms of you were saying that you tend to postpone things, and I’m thinking of people whom I know and have known who struggle with particular things, and if all their bad days are alone, and people only see the good days, there is a sense, sometimes I think, of being very much left by yourself with the thing.
P: I think so. And people don’t often see your loneliness, your sadness, the things that you’re experiencing. And then, all of a sudden, you react in anger. People are very quick to pounce on that, rather than being curious, they are more inclined to be critical.
C: I think that would be a good piece of advice, to actually be curious rather than critical, I think.
P: The one thing that I didn’t discuss with too many people, but it did have, again, a big impact on me, was alcoholism. I never actually told anyone I was going to give up drink, but certain people who knew me at the time were seeing the effect alcohol was having on me. Again, it was something I used as an escapism really, and very foolishly, but I didn’t see it as being foolish at the time, as such. I never really, during my 20 or 30 years relationship with alcohol, did I ever choose to knock it on the head. I think there was once where I went 6 months, thought “ugh, ok, yeah, saved a bit of dosh.” There was no real conscious decision really behind that. But later on, I remember just losing the plot. Slamming this glass down after quite a heavy session and scaring my son, he was about 18 at the time. I just remember going into his room, waving this wine glass over my head and slammed it on the desk, y’know? From that day on it really upset me, it really worried me, I thought, “this could have been really more serious”. I could have really gone a lot further than that, and I think that was a turning point 4 years ago. That was a turning point for me, it was a deciding factor I had to give up. And I did. And I couldn’t risk losing my own son, at the cost of anything. *teary* I walked out that night and I planned on suicide, I just couldn’t deal with it. He was looking for me for quite some time, he didn’t know where I’d gone. I just walked for about 2 and a half hours, and caught the train to a friends, quite a number of miles away, paying by cash. Not using credit card, because, I thought foolishly, again I didn’t want to be traced. What with being blind it’s difficult to hide yourself really. 4 days away gave me a moment to reflect on the priorities in life, and what mattered. I rang him up and he came over and picked me up one Sunday. He told me he had another close friend of mine going around all the likely places I might be, asking anyone if they’d seen me. That was a very very traumatic time, and I have not touched alcohol ever since. I went cold turkey straight away, and up until that point, I think I was on 3 bottles of whiskey a week. But my son is the greatest treasure, for me. His mother and I separated and finally divorced, sadly. At senior school, when they discovered his parents were both blind, they made his life hell.
C: Oh, gosh
P: Because he was between homes, because he was between his mother and I, it made it very very difficult to always keep on top of it, but I take my hat off to him for the courage he showed. I nearly said to myself, had I not been drinking heavily towards the end, when he had got this gaming addiction, and the only place where he felt as though he could achieve, was through gaming and ‘corpsing’ behind the screen. Like me with my alcoholism, it’s breaking the cycle of denial. He didn’t recognise he’d got a problem. But eventually it came to a head and he realised. The friendship went from strength to strength and it’s as though we’d rediscovered one another. And that really helped. It really did.
C: Yeah. And restoration of that relationship, by the sounds of things, and both having had things to overcome, it sounds as if you’ve got back to a good place?
P: Oh absolutely. I know people have said it before, “if you didn’t argue you would never have the pleasure of making up”. I think you can also discover things about each other, if you listen in to each others’ chemistries. I have learnt a lot from that. It’s like with Wayne, you’ve got to appreciate the sanctity of life, and things can be very volatile at times. Seemingly in a very dark place. But friendships can be mended. Sometimes you’ve only got an hour to work with. An hour can sow the seeds for enlightenment to come.
C: Yes, yes they can. So of the barriers that you’ve talked about that you’ve needed to overcome, would you say that there are some of those barriers that have been harder than others?
P: Oh, I think there’s been a couple really. I think the early trauma I suffered and the rejection I suffered in early childhood was quite a big one, and I don’t think I ever really came to terms with it thoroughly even though I developed quite a resilience and a personality and a character. I suppose I developed a sharp tongue during my teenage years. And again that was a facade really, it was a survival mechanism I had to get me through it to divert attention away from what I was considering to be an issue, a major issue with friendships. Where people would pay me compliments and me not actually accepting it. Because I didn’t really accept myself. It wasn’t until much, much later when I realised who I was, and developing this identity, coz one thing I’ve learned is: patience. Understanding and empathy. So I think if I’ve not learned that from all what I’ve been through, *laughs*
C: You talked a lot about the challenges you had and the difficulties you’ve had, and high on that list comes that early trauma and rejection, and then the alcoholism, but the visual impairment, hasn’t actually featured in your description of the things that you’ve found most difficult. And that interests me, because I think from the outside, people might assume that that would be the big thing which you are dealing with.
P: It’s not me shelving it, or ignoring it, but that’s something that’s been present from birth. Therefore, is not a problem from where I’m concerned. I wouldn’t have put it on my list of priorities, or as high up on my list of priorities because I feel as though it’s extemporaneous, it’s outside where my issues occur, and I’m having to react accordingly, so so far as I’m concerned, the visual impairment isn’t as much of a challenge. But the other experiences that I’ve actually encountered and had had more of an effect on me, and I felt those for what they really are. That’s where I felt the tests have come. When people have challenged me as a person. And have called into question my abilities. Which has also threatened my existence, to a large extent. Of who I am as a person, my identity. What I stand for. I felt growing up that I had to, a large extent, find my own way in life, and I became quite defiant. Well, that trauma I spoke to you about, in early childhood, and the rejection I experienced, I was out to in a way prove first to my father that I was no failure, and I became very determined and it taught me to do things, and to try things. And to go the extra mile. Coz when you have a visual impairment, or whether you have any disability, I think people expect you to make mistakes. And therefore you have to do something 200% for each time, which is very exhausting, rather than 100%. So you’re always proving yourself. But it wasn’t until much later, til I found out who I was, and it was after that time when I quit alcohol, that I came to a realisation of my own identity. My true identity. And I discovered my sense of humour, I found I could laugh.
C: So was there something about having gone over the alcoholism that in the process of that and in the process of growing as a person, that you were actually able to let go of some of the defences and barriers that you had used to help you get through in earlier years.
P: I think the alcohol was a barrier to understanding, and I think it got in the way of so much, because I’d become desensitised to everything. I’d tuned out of a lot of things, but when the alcohol set in and I was totally and utterly under the influence, I would worrell in a lot of what had gone on in the past. It wouldn’t take long before I was in floods of tears. I didn’t enjoy drinking in company, because again, I needed that time, I needed it to be my time. I became very selfish. Alcohol made me into a very selfish individual, if I’m being honest. Even to the point where I… at the time I just denied who I was, and wanted to deny who I was. I think leaving boarding school and returning home and having to find my own feet in the big wide world, so to speak, with very little help from my Dad, apart from financial, which is not really what I wanted. I wanted the emotional elements of it as well. I wanted there to be a chemistry between us. I’d come home at weekends and he wasn’t always there. I sensed the rejection even more. Anything to get out of the way of seeing me. I was once more reminded of the fact that I was an inconvenience, I was an embarrassment. You know what they used to do in Victorian days, they had a child who had any form of disability, they used to lock it away. In terms of letting go, I think the moment I quit the alcohol, I realised what was really behind all of this, was, I kept closing the lid, the door, on everything that I had suffered, rather than actually dealing with it.
P: It gave me some reassurance that I’d still got my life. I was still here. God obviously had a purpose for me. I’ve re-kindled my faith in God. Found the fruits of the Spirit very helpful. Of love, lovingkindness, peace, joy, can all make a huge difference in one’s life. Having little to strive for, and a lot to live for. Buddhism teaches to let go of things that cause suffering. I think when you can identify what those things are that cause the suffering, then you will find enlightenment. You find that new experience, that liberation. And they do say, don’t they, that life is short, but it takes us a long time before we start living it.
C: Yes, there is some truth in that. I liked what you said a bit ago about having a lot to live for, but not a lot to strive for. There is something in that, isn’t there, about being able to step out of that place of feeling like you need to prove yourself. You were saying earlier that you felt you needed to prove yourself to your Dad. And moving to a place where actually, you don’t need to prove the world wrong, you can just do things for your own satisfaction. We can do the things that are things to live for.
P: Absolutely, absolutely. And only when you feel comfortable within yourself, can you actually do that. I found that over time, it is getting easier.
C: I thought there was a somewhat marvellous, I don’t know if irony’s the right word, about the fact that you had that real sense from your Dad of being rejected and being put ‘out of sight, out of mind’, and the fact that many of your achievements have actually been in the field of broadcasting, which is rather wonderfully the opposite of that. And I wonder, of those things that you have achieved in your professional life, if there are some that you’re particularly proud of?
P: My son is the biggest thing that I’m proud of. In terms of my own personal achievements. Nothing more gives you greater joy than bringing a life into the world. And watching it develop and concentrating on the nurturing. And I think it held a special moment for me, because I felt I didn’t get that nurturing. Being there for their first achievements, not denigrating. Because I knew then how important recognition of one’s achievements really are.
C: But you were able to use your experiences with your own father to guide and shape the way that you have brought up your son, and the way that you have formed a relationship with him. There’s something rather good in that, isn’t there? One of the things that you said to me when we chatted before, is that whilst your major issues or challenges have been around that early trauma and rejection and the emotional impact that has had, and the visual impairment has been a much lesser thing, one of the things that you’ve pointed out is that sometimes the reaction that you have got, as a visually impaired person, has presented challenges that have kind of exacerbated those internal challenges that you’ve faced.
P: Oh, absolutely. I suppose I called them my pet peeves.
C: So, I wonder if you have some pet peeves you could share, and also some advice to people who are visually impaired, or who generally have challenges that we would refer to as “disability”, although I completely take your point that the emphasis needs to be on the ability, not the ‘dis’ bit.
P: Indeed, I think there are several things that sort of spring to mind. People are very quick to make assumptions. It goes back to the point again, where, “be curious rather than critical”. Or, be curious rather than making assumptions. And treating us as individuals, as opposed to social stereotypes might help. There are times when assumptions are made. I like wearing my shorts all the time, I think it goes back to being a kid, I love that liberation and I love that feeling of not being restricted. The assumption people make when I go out in shorts and they’ll see me, if it’s inclement weather, particularly, they’ll say “has your carer sent you out like that?” As though I’m incapable of making choices!
C: That’s just rude!
P: Well it is, absolutely! Or if I’m particularly smart, and I tend to try and be smart, because that’s the type of person I am, my son describes me as very smart and casual. People say “ooh, has your carer dressed you? How smart you look!” And again it’s that detracting away from you and your abilities. You always feel like you’re just a shadow of something. Rather than as a person. Again, I used to grit my teeth. But I’ll share a couple with you. “I didn’t know blind people were allowed to have children.”
C: Ohh, gosh!
P: Yep, that’s a common one, “I didn’t know blind people were allowed to have children.” Or, when I was out with my child and he was about 6, I was taking him up to school on the bus. I remember this lady sitting opposite us and saying “you’re going to be a big help to your Dad when you get older.” And my son just turned round and said, “my parents haven’t given birth to a guide dog.”
C: Oh, well done your son
P: Well, I thought that! I gave him a hug at the time. Those little pet peeves, really. Going back to the shorts one, is it another genuine sense of caring, or is it just people being totally and utterly stupid? Rude! But, they forget that I’m an adult, I have thoughts and feelings and I’m capable of making decisions. But it does make you feel worthless if you let it. It could really drag you down, and it echoes of the past. What I suffered when my Dad rejected that first cup of tea. So it didn’t just happen within the house, the home, it happening all over society. It’s one of the reasons why I always work for myself. Because I turned what people might have termed as a disability into an advantage. I was showing them the positive side. Of disability. Taking the dis out of it and focussing on the ability. Looking at saying, well, my motto was “to every problem there is a solution.”
C: There’s a level of creativity that’s required, isn’t there, when you need to navigate the world in a way that it isn’t absolutely designed for.
P: That’s a very interesting point! Navigating the world. I like that. I think I tend to avoid situations as much as I possibly can now. That might give rise to more suffering. Where a lot more assumptions might be made. And if I do encounter these sufferings from time to time, it’s what do I do to try and deal with it. Again, it goes back to that point of “I don’t have to prove myself. It’s not me with the issue.” It goes back to a quote I made earlier about “it’s not the disability, so-called, that’s the issue, the barriers that society puts up, and they aren’t my problem.” And I’m not really keen to try and shatter them, destroy them. Because that would consume more of my energy. All I will do, is to try, whenever I am confronted by them, is to have always a solution of getting over them. Showing people that there is a way. Is an alternative to the barrier. Because you can end up making that problem your problem and that barrier your barrier. And it can be an excuse.
C: Yeah. I’m wondering where people could find your blog and your podcast and information about the other things that you’re doing?
P: The Against The Odds Motivational Podcast is available wherever you choose to get your podcasts. You can just search for ‘Against The Odds Motivational Podcast’. It’s essential you put the word “Motivational” in if you’re googling it, because there is a lot of podcasts called “Against The Odds”, and that’s an American one, and it’s for American Heroes. So people say “oh, I’m enjoying this interview, Philip! Blahblahblah.” I say [bad American accent] “do I sound like this?” *both laugh* Or you can just go to my website, it’s againsttheoddspodcast.comagainsttheoddspodcast.com.
C: Philip, this has been really interesting, thank you ever so much.
P: I know, it’s been a most enjoyable time, I’ve really enjoyed it, thank you for giving me the opportunity.
C: Oh, thank you very much, it’s been really good.
Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org You can find a transcript of this podcast at lovedcalledgifted.com and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.
Thank you for listening.