September Starts…

42BD1866-11C1-427F-8347-AFB173B64BCE.jpegSeptember has always felt like a time for new starts to me.  A time to take stock after summer, re-set and make a new beginning before the end of the year.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I have spent 19/33 years in an academic setting and the fact that in two weeks’ time I go back to school to begin an MA in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy.  I am so excited and nervous and a bit overwhelmed with how amazing this opportunity will be. 

When I found this course two years ago I thought that it sounded PERFECT but I closed the door on my longing because it seemed too demanding, financially and in terms of time (it is three years on a part time basis) and also places are limited and the usual gremlins of self-doubt crept in.  God had other plans though and at the very end of last year it became possible financially and I am so grateful and lucky and here we are.

Since the end of my honeymoon in May and throughout summer I have been taking stock, resting up where possible, reading the things I enjoy and finding time to quietly reflect on the big Life Changes coming my way. 

August saw the arrival of my niece who is naturally the most perfect and gorgeous baby ever to live and she is ADORED and a large portion of my time has been spent helping to look after her when I am able and if not (stupid work) staring at pictures of her and talking about her at every available opportunity to anyone who will listen.

Other things I have been:

Doing:

1.       Organising our weeding photos and actually displaying some;

2.       Joining a new Church – Croydon Vineyard which has been renewing for me;

3.       Gardening – we grew lettuces and tomatoes in abundance, everything else has been rather disappointing!

4.       Protesting – I went to the Anti Trump Protest, this will get a post of its own.

5.       Whole30 – ing again (July);

6.       Joining and then leaving a gym because I went three times.  Nope.

7.       Aunty-ing.

8.       Having a minor op on my foot and some enforced down time which meant I could do a lot of…

Watching:

1.       Dr Who – I am almost through season 10 before our new Lady Doctor starts!  Eeek!

2.       The Handmaid’s Tale – could it be any better?  BUT what is going to happen to June now?!;

3.       Call The Midwife (I had not seen the last two series).  I just adore this show;

4.       Victoria – just finished season 1 so no spoilers please.  I have a massive girl-crush on Jenna Coleman so I am loving it;

5.       Dear White People – so good.

Listening:

1.       Following repeated recommendations from my friend Madge I FINALLY made  time to check out Gretchen Rubin and I have basically spent the last three months binge listening to her podcast – Happier with Gretchen Rubin.  This podcast started in 2015, there is one episode a week and as the name would suggest is about how to make you happier.  Not one to do things by halves I went right back to the beginning and I am now almost up to date.

Reading:

If you follow me on Instagram I post a round up of all books finished in the last month so I won’t re-list here BUT following on from the Podcast above I am in the process of reading Gretchen Rubin who writes about happiness and habits and have so far finished:

1.       The Four Tendencies – a book about how we respond to internal and external obligations.  Rubin believes that everyone can be divided into one of four groups – Upholder (meets both outer and inner expectations), Questioner (meets inner expectations and will only meet outer if the “why” makes sense to them), Obliger (meets outer expectations but struggles to meet inner expectations unless there is some accountability) and Rebel (will meet both inner and outer expectations but only if they want to).

2.       Better Than Before – a book on strategies for changing habits.

3.       The Happiness Project – a Memoir where Rubin spends a year working on a project to make herself happier.

I love learning about myself and trying to improve and grow as a person so these Podcast and books have been something I have really enjoyed digging in to over this summer.  I have now decided as it is September that I will be starting my own Happiness Project because:

1.       it sounds like fun;

2.       like this is a good use of my time and energy; and

3.       It will hopefully help me figure out this new season of part time work and study. 

Just for those of you out there who may be familiar with this work: I am a Questioner and it seems hilarious to me that I ever questioned this at the beginning of the summer!

This has been a season of introspection for me and I am now ready to start anew and put some of these thoughts and plans into action.  For those who are interested I shall keep you updated with my Happiness Project and my new routine in the coming weeks 😊

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Why I Therapy – Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

pexels-photo-265702.jpegIt’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week so I thought I would do a couple of blog posts along this theme, sharing my experience and knowledge of mental health and therapy.  If this isn’t your bag, feel free to ignore, but also, if you think it’s helpful, or remotely important, feel free to share with others who might feel the same.  Thanks.

There still sees to be a bit of a stigma about talking to a professional amongst certain people in the UK.  Some people seem to imply that you must be “crazy”, “a bit wrong”, have “loads of serious issues” or, that you are a bit weak, certainly weaker than them, they manage just fine without needing to talk to a stranger, thank you very much.

I call fear and nonsense and maybe an unhealthy little dose of pride.  People are often fearful of that which they do not understand.

I have integrative therapy with a lovely lady called Debby every two weeks and I have done so for almost a year now.  I just talk about whatever I want to talk about for fifty minutes and we explore why I react in a certain way, why I think or feel like that.  I am better for therapy not because anyone around me is doing anything differently but because it has furnished me with a greater understanding of my feelings and reactions to things that have happened in the past or are happening now and I can now choose to respond to them or view them in a different way.

Therapy can be hard; you are working on your understanding of yourself and changing and growing in the process.  That can be scary – self-examination leading to change and growth requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to explore parts of ourselves or experiences we might prefer to keep under wraps.

Some people seem to think that therapy is a bit self-indulgent unless you have “real issues”.  I get that.  It’s something I struggled with at the beginning, I mean, I am a very lucky, very privileged middle class white woman with no mental health diagnoses, a happy marriage that is a partnership, a loving and extremely close family and lots of friends.  What could I possibly need to go to therapy for?

That little judge-y voice in there – the way I talk to myself sometimes – that’s part of me I don’t like very much.  It is something I have explored with my therapist – why do I place such high expectations on me and my behaviour, why do I feel I need to subscribe to “should’s” that I would never prescribe to others?

Ann Voskamp writes in her book The Broken Way:

“If we all listen long enough to the voices about who we should be, we grow deaf to the beauty of who we are.”

I just adore that.  You might be telling yourself that you are defined by something that happened to you, or that you “should” feel a certain way about your experiences or your situation.  You might feel that you have expectations to uphold, a role to play.  You might feel completely unable to do that, that you are useless at the roles you are playing and you might be feeling very alone, very fearful and be believing lies about who you are and who you can be.

“Harry Potter: Professor?  Is this all real?  Or is it just happening inside my head?

Dumbledore: Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

For a long time I lived in “should”.  At first, that was fine, no real cracks were showing, I was firmly along a path in a career that was wrong for me, telling myself it was right.  As time went on that charade started to catch up with me, it’s very draining living a false life.  It lead me to become very anxious, to lose my voice, to retreat into myself as protection and to react with fear, something that was very unlike me before.

I tried to ignore and supress or swallow my “negative” feelings, not just about my career choice, but any negative feelings about any aspect of my life – I couldn’t quit, I shouldn’t be angry (ever), I always overreacted and I should never feel sad, it was all my fault, I was handling everything wrong and I just needed to TRY HARDER.

I won’t go into the grisly details of this period of my life but needless to say, I was not myself and I certainly was not living my best life, nowhere remotely close.  I became a bit of a shell of myself to be perfectly honest – putting on a brave face to acquaintances, distancing myself from all but those closest to me and never being truly honest about how I was feeling.  During this period my anxiety was at its worst: I had heart palpitations and a mild panic attack and so I went to see my GP to explain how I was feeling as a first step.

My GP was really good, I know that isn’t everyone’s experience, but they gave me time and listened and didn’t make me feel silly for crying.  The GP offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy on the NHS – which is strategies to change the way you think and behave.  This can be really great and very helpful but for some people it may not be enough and a talking therapy either alongside or instead of CBT may be preferable.  I didn’t take up the offer; I just knew that my anxiety was largely being caused by circumstance and I needed to make some changes to improve that, which I did.  I will say though that it was the first time I had someone completely impartial listen to me say how I was feeling and they didn’t try to fix it with platitudes but accepted it and suggested some help – that for me was liberating.  I felt as though my feelings had been validated and that someone had acknowledged that the situation needed to change.

With thanks to my incredibly supportive husband (then fiancé), family and friends (shout out to the Berlin crew who were there at one of my lowest points), I was able to start to accept how unhappy and anxious I had become and make some changes (including quitting my job and starting therapy). Since that time I am so MUCH happier, more secure and less anxious and I’ve found my roar again.  I am more “me” because I have learned to feel my emotions, not supress them and because I have a greater understanding of myself.

Talking to a professional is completely different to talking to family or friends.  A good therapist helps you to see yourself more clearly, because you work towards being more you when you are with them.  Therapists listen, they do not judge and they do not give you advice.  They might provide you with tools to use or a different way of thinking about something but they do not tell you how you should think or feel (I did quite enough of that by myself).  I have found that sometimes it is so helpful to have someone completely impartial empathise with your feelings and your experience, your truth, it has certainly given me the confidence to become more accepting of myself.

If you are feeling a bit lost, a bit scared or just sad talking therapy can be really beneficial.  I would say however, that always, your starting point should be talking to your GP, they will be able to talk through options with you, and if you are asking for treatment on the NHS will be the gateway for that.

I know that therapy can be a scary and daunting world to navigate and as such I will be compiling a little blog as a “signpost” to help navigate the world of therapy a little later this week.  For now though, if you feel like you need some help, even if you’re telling yourself that you shouldn’t – please ask for it, I know it’s scary to ask for help, we live in a culture that promotes self-reliance, but as Dumbledore says to Harry:

“Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it”.

We might not be at Hogwarts (sadly) but I do believe that Dumbledore was onto something here (“Great man Dumbledore”), so always, always ask.  Please.

***

*Please note that this blog is based on my own personal experiences and any opinion is my own*

**Harry Potter quotes are from The Deathly Hallows by J.K.Rowling and in my (not so humble) opinion an awful lot of wisdom can be found in Harry Potter, so if you haven’t read it – get on with it**

 

 

Numbing Out

“How are you?”

“Fine. Busy!  You know! How are you?”

“Same, busy, tired!”

How many of our conversations start like this?  When perhaps what you want to say is: overwhelmed/sad/frustrated/feeling taken for granted, or: generally quite content but I do get ridiculously cross when my lodger puts things in the wrong recycling receptacle – just me?

January to July I studied every Saturday, the first step toward a new pathway working in a therapeutic environment.  Learning about counselling theory and skills, but mainly learning about myself – identifying my actual emotions.  “Fine” and “Busy” are not emotions, they are things we say in order to not name our emotions.

I haven’t blogged for a long time. Nearly five months.  I could say that I have been busy which would be true; but I have managed to find time to watch five seasons of The Good Wife, almost five seasons of Parks and Recreation and all episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale.  Thank you for your understanding and non-judgment of my life.

I had a big chunk of time off in between finishing my old job (Hallelujah!) and starting my new one – five whole glorious weeks when I completed assignments for college, read, gardened and visited friends with young children.  I kept promising myself that I would finally find time to attend to neglected activities: journaling, Bible study, and writing.  I didn’t though – I felt like there was a block: there was nothing there, I couldn’t connect to anything.  I couldn’t seem to sit with stillness or quiet for long, I had to be occupied, either out and about doing things with friends or around the house, or getting lost in a different world.  So, I spent many hours binge watching episodes of The Good Wife whilst promising myself that I would get around to the most important things “later” or “tomorrow”.

I was disappointed in myself and angry that I was not utilising this precious and luxurious time nourishing my soul with the things that are important to me.

One Saturday at college we did an exercise: examining our relationships and how we form, maintain and end them.  Unless it is with my very closest people I avoid conflict; I swallow any “negative” feelings, telling myself that I “shouldn’t” feel like that.  I try to ignore and forget about my “negative” feelings which means that patterns repeat and issues are not resolved.  This leads to feelings bubbling over or getting to the point where the relationship ends because by the time I talk about how I am feeling the issues seem insurmountable or the other person is surprised by my expressing such feelings when I have seemed perfectly happy up until then.

*

I thought about my relationship with God and with myself, two relationships that often come at the bottom of my “to-do” list when they should be at the top.  I am someone who likes to help others (ENFJ, Enneagram Type 2) but this can often be at the expense of myself.  I reflected on the “shoulds” that I feel others place on me or I place on myself, in counselling terms we call these our “conditions of worth” – these are conditions that we think that we should meet in order to be worthy of love.

I realised (again) that I was exhausted and constantly doing things in order to please other people and to please God as if God was this big master Judge who is never pleased with what I do and I always must do more.  I was angry about the restrictions and expectations that I felt were placed upon me and I was resentful.  I had disconnected from myself and therefore from God; I didn’t want to get still and quiet and listen to my soul and hear what was going on.  I didn’t want to simply “be” with God or myself.  I wanted to numb and avoid feeling.

Maybe you do this too?  You disconnect from yourself when things feel overwhelming?  Shut yourself off to keep safe in some way?  Maybe that’s by not going out and seeing people or by throwing yourself in to work or like me by binge watching things on Netflix? However you do it you avoid listening to your heart and that is never good.  It will make you sad and tired and resentful.

Talking about my feelings each week made me realised that I often struggle to identify my own, but can quite easily help you out with yours.  I realise that I numb in order to avoid feeling emotions which I have decided are “bad”.  I had a long hard look at myself and started my own personal therapy.  As my acceptance of my own emotions improves (less swallowing feelings and pretending they are not there, more acknowledging and trying to deal) and my awareness of myself deepens, I have noticed that my connection with God seems to have been strengthened.  I am finding talking to God easier again and I am excited to keep nurturing my relationship with myself and with God.

There’s something there about knowing ourselves and knowing God and how the two are interconnected in a weird and wonderful way.  You need to get quiet and still to know yourself and to know God; otherwise you can’t hear that small quiet calm voice over the loud screams of all.the.things that demand your attention first.

Tuning in to our inner voice can be hard if you haven’t done it for a while.  How do you know who you really are?  Have your likes and dislikes, your wants and needs got lost somewhere on the way? Are they just a reflection of what you think you “should” like to do? In order to tune into that voice I would start by thinking about something that you loved to do as a child before you learned to grow out of it.  Maybe it was painting, or gymnastics or ballet or colouring or writing stories?  Whatever it was, start doing it again.  Does it still bring you joy?  If yes, great – keep doing it – add other things that bring you joy and make time to be quiet (however uncomfortable) with yourself.  If it doesn’t?  Stop doing it, try something else.  Maybe being by yourself in the bath listening to Rod Stewart brings you joy.  Great: do you.

When you start doing you it’s like realising you’ve been holding your breath and now you get to exhale.

*

After I wrote the first draft of this blog post I read the book Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen which put into words better than my own everything I had been feeling.  Almost every page I turned down a corner or underlined something.  This book will remain with me for a long time.  Jennie writes:

“Time with Jesus causes us to feel secure in our identities.  By listening to his voice, we recognise the lies that promise fulfilment elsewhere.  Do you want to know what you truly believe will satisfy you?  Look at where you spend the most time.”

Food for thought indeed.