Lets say it

Sometimes there’s something we want to say, but having our name/online identity attached to it means that we don’t.
So here’s your chance.

Say something.

Poppymayhem.sarahah.com

Shopping for Counsellors

Choosing a counsellor is an important process. However it’s one that we often don’t get to have, or one that perhaps we don’t feel we can do.

Counselling is a deeply individual process, and much of it’s success depends upon the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client. It has to be a good “fit”.

We very rarely buy clothes or shoes without trying them on to check the fit and how we feel in them, yet how often do we allow ourselves to have introductory or initial sessions with a number of counsellors to see how we feel with them? Even if we are in a position to do so. If our counselling is via the GP, or NHS, then a choice of counsellor may seem impossible. But it’s still important.

We rarely continue friendships with people we don’t feel comfortable with, we don’t open up to them in the way we do to others – so why think a therapeutic relationship with a counsellor would be any different?

It can feel odd to “try someone out” and then reject them and choose someone else. We’re kind of taught that that’s not really a nice thing to do in relationships – even one where we are paying someone to listen to us and entering into what is essentially a business relationship. We aren’t making a new friend here, even if the counsellor may end up knowing up better than most of our closest friends.

If you have the opportunity, take introductory sessions with counsellors. Some do this face to face, some over the phone or skype, often at a reduced rate, occasionally even free. Maybe this would be useful even if you’re entering into a situation where you don’t get to choose your counsellor – it can give you a sense of what type of situation and person works for you.

Try counsellors of different modalities, unless you know what modality is your cup of tea. Psychodynamic is very different to Gestalt, open-ended person-centred is different to short term Solution Focused.

You need your personal unique fit, to your emotional curves, bumps and dimples. How you feel with that person is important. Do you feel safe, do you trust them, can you be honest with them, can you allow them to challenge you, can you be vulnerable with them?

What is your instinctive feeling during that first session?

Sometimes we just like people, or dislike others. Sometimes they remind us of someone, and this can help or hinder the process. Sometimes we can’t pinpoint where our feelings of yes or no come from, but it’s important to listen to and take notice of.

One counsellor does not fit all.

It’s okay not to get on with one and want someone else.

Don’t run an emotional marathon in ill fitting shoes.

Self Care is Sexy

So I last wrote about lists and tasks and getting things done and how important that is in my fight against the Goblins of Anxiety.

And sometimes it’s not enough…

Sometimes the most important thing to go on the list is Self-Care.

Amongst some of my dearest is the saying “Self-Care is Sexy”

Because we think that self care gets a bad deal. Plus we need reminding ourselves. We’re fine with telling others to look after themselves, but frankly a bit shit at taking our own advice.

Self-care can take many forms. From a duvet day, to seeing friends, from a decent meal, to getting away for a holiday, to a bubblebath, to a nice glass of wine or steering clear of substances for a while to appropriately prescribed medications. All dependent on what’s going on, what you will allow yourself to do and what time/energy you have available.

Self care is personal, just because someone else swears by meditation, running, the gym, crafting while watching trashy telly, doesn’t mean it will work for you. You need to experiment and be honest with yourself about the results.

self-care

I really like that tree from – https://imaginethatyou.wordpress.com/ – while not everything on there is on my self-care list, I like the idea of having a “Self-Care Tree” like this. May have to do this!

There’s also a list somewhere along the lines of – have you eaten, have you slept, have you drunk some water, have you got some fresh air, have you washed – which can be handy when those goblins are running rambunctiously in our minds.

After a number of days of not getting enough sleep, heart palpitations and my digestive system shutting down to the point that I lost 4lbs in as many days, I phoned my doctor and after a chat about what was going on and what I was experiencing, received a prescription for a low dose sedative as a temporary measure.

I’ve been medicated a few times to varying degrees and for various lengths of time. And while I’d rather not, I have no problems with it. It’s like I’d rather not take paracetamol because I don’t want to be in pain to begin with. But if the pain is there, I’m damn well going to take the pills – and look at why I’m in pain and try and address the cause. Natch.

So self care then! Put on your own mental health oxygen mask first before helping others. Healer, heal thyself (then the rest of the D&D party if they ask nicely).

It’s not selfish, or arrogant, or lazy or indulgent to do self care. It doesn’t mean you’re failing.

I’m also not doing the “if you would only have an organic flax seed smoothie every morning and meditate for an hour then you’d not need medication” bollocks, because frankly shut up with that crap.

Whatever works. As long as it doesn’t actively harm you, or others, go for it. If there are things that absolutely must get done, get what support you need to do them. Push anything that can be pushed back by a period of time, and treat yourself.

Donkey and Pride

Friends know about my “slight” obsession with task lists and getting things done. There’s a reason for this.

Living with anxiety goblins, I need weapons with which to fight them. I need an array of weapons. They are sneaky clever fuckers, and they learn to fight back. They have over 40 years of my life with which to attack me with and they wield my dark moments like pros.

It was while studying counselling and psychotherapy (and being the client, and being the therapist) that I learned I wasn’t a failure at life, I had an anxiety disorder. I’d spent most of my three decades up to that point comparing myself with the people around me and wondering why apparently inconsequential things knocked me sideways, why I just couldn’t seem to cope with life as well as most, and why fear seemed to rule me and be my initial response to pretty much anything.

I’d attempted to cure this by staying away from situations that caused fear. Seemed a reasonable response… but it made my world so very small. I self medicated for over two decades to numb the overwhelming physical symptoms of anxiety – until it became a habit and addiction that was deeply entwined with my sense of self. And the fear remained, attached itself to other things, attacked me with the coping mechanisms I was using and I eventually realised this just wasn’t working. I needed to change. I was dying from the inside out. Existing but not living, surviving but not thriving.

So slowly, so very slowly, I started facing things, pushing back the boundaries of my comfort zone, doing things just because they scared me (tandem skydive for one! Singing solo in public for another), but choosing them carefully, building up slowly.

Starting to study counselling was one of these things. I didn’t consider myself particularly academic after failing my A levels (forgetting the huge personal and mental health issues I had going on at the time). I gave myself a hard time. I struggled to give up the habits and addictions holding me in place.

Another thing about me, relevant to this post is that I work in images, in stories and characters. If I can frame something with a character and story then I can understand it better.

And thus we get to the point of this post.

While studying what ended up being half a Masters Degree in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy, I came across a part of my brain that seemed utterly set on sabotaging me. I had to deal with this, I’d invested a lot of money that I didn’t have in this course and wasn’t about to lose it just because part of me wasn’t playing the game.

I investigated this part of me and eventually found an image that just fitted. At the bottom of all this, hiding under the Sabotage and the Fear was Stubborness. There was some part of me simply, firmly, consistently saying, “NO”.

No, not going to do that, not going to look at that, no no no you can’t make me.

The more I tried to force the issue, the harder it stuck, like a psychological finger trap. I realised I needed to be clever. The image that I discovered was that of a donkey digging it’s back heels in.

stubborn-mule

Pulling and pushing at the donkey just made it worse. I realised, in an obvious epiphiny, that I needed to motivate it. I needed to find the right carrot…

And for me, that carrot was pride. The Golden Glittery Carrot of Pride (because making something slightly silly is fun!). I thrilled in getting praise from my tutors, from getting good remarks on my essays, for having work done by the deadlines and research ready to show the group. I suddenly realised that I’d rarely felt proud of myself before and it was a powerful intoxicating feeling. One I wasn’t willing to give up.

I thought long and hard and about what made me feel proud – and it’s an ongoing process. I am by no means a workaholic, but I do like achieving things. I have discovered a very competitive side; with myself.

The question isn’t “What makes me feel proud?”, rather it’s “What will make me feel proud TODAY?”

Because it changes. Sometimes it changes throughout the day. And that doesn’t matter. What matters is developing an honest and congruent conversation with yourself about what’s needed, what’s possible, and what, if this is something that will assist you as well, will make you proud. Doesn’t have to be work, or studying. It can manifest in any and every area of your life and activities.

Sometimes it’s going the extra mile. Sometimes it’s just getting out of bed. Sometimes it’s having that self-care day and staying in bed with movies. Sometimes it’s reaching out to people and sometimes it’s riding out that dip on the rollercoaster.

Getting that donkey onside is a powerful weapon against the brain goblins.

So that’s why I have a constant task list. That’s why I put things on there just to tick them off. That’s why I sometimes say that I can’t rest, I can’t get that treat until after that thing. Because I need and crave that feeling of Pride. Which luckily doesn’t manifest by overdoing it, that’s Stupidity, not Pride. There’s no pride in running yourself into the ground, there’s only exhaustion. Pride is working within your means, and discovering that your means stretch just that little bit further that you initially thought.

As the hashtag says, #thisgirlcan. (please adjust for gender identity preference of your choice)

And there’s only one way to find out…

Henry and Liza

I’m not normally quite this prolific, but I’ve been in need of distractions lately. This isn’t a personal post as some of them are, but more a general pondering that was sparked by randomly coming across this song again –

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with straw.

The straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza, The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long.

Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it.

With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?

With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, an axe.

The axe is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza, The axe is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.

Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, sharpen it.

With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, with what?

With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.

The stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza, The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.

Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, with water.

In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, dear Liza? In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, in what?

In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, in a bucket.

But there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole

——

It occurred to me that this song is actually a pretty good analogy for anxiety and depression. 

Not being able to sort things out yourself, asking for help but not taking it, circular arguments justifying the position of stagnation. Helpful advice from people that sometimes actually doesn’t help or is turned aside (sometimes with good reason, sometimes not). 

In the lyrics of the song I always felt I could sense the growing frustration of both characters as Liza’s advice is constantly thwarted and Henry’s problems aren’t accepted.

When we speak up about our fears and restrictions sometimes we don’t want help. We want acceptance. Helping can (intentionally or not) sound like “can you just be better so I don’t have to deal with this please.”

Not all the time.

But sometimes.

And the helper doesn’t get to choose when.

It can be agonising for the one struggling if the helper is someone they care about as often we don’t want to upset or offend them by being negative about their well meaning offer.  We want them to be reassured that they are in fact helping us, so we try and hide the fact that we are still in the same place. This all takes yet more mental energy.

Then it gets complicated.

Acceptance says, “yes this is rubbish and you’re still worthy of love and attention and time.” Sometimes help can be given after enough acceptance. Sometimes not. Sometimes acceptance can even condone the state of doing nothing. There is no perfect list of instructions here.

There wouldn’t be a song if Liza sat down and said something along the lines of, “wow, stupid bucket, that sounds really shit, shall I put the kettle on?”

But maybe that’s what Henry needed.

Life analogies from sewing

I’m spending a lot of today on my sewing machine making and adapting kit for an upcoming event. To distract from my oh so achy back, I amused myself with sewing analogies that can apply to other areas of life too.

  1. Before you start, make sure you have enough thread. If you run out part way through you may not ever finish your project.
  2. Snapped threads happen. Try not to let them discourage you. Thread your needle again and carry on.
  3. Do your research. Time spent planning and figuring out isn’t time wasted. Yes you can jump straight in but you’re unlikely to end up with exactly what you want.
  4. Follow your dreams. Yeah doing your research is great and sometimes diving straight in is more fun!
  5. Invent, adapt and overcome! As nice as it is to end up with there the exact idea we had, adapting and changing as we go along can often lead to something better.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s oodles of help out there and generally people like to be helpful and useful.
  7. Sometimes your sewing machine will just hate you and you’ll never know what you did wrong.
  8. Going slow is better than unpicking. It can be gruelling but sometimes slow and careful is best.
  9. Sometimes your stitching gets away from you and you just have to cope.
  10. Tidy up your loose ends. It makes a real difference.
  11. Knowing when to stop is a very under appreciated skill….
  12. Measure twice, Cut once. Or your kilt ends up too short.

Easy to forget

It’s easy to forget how powerful the grip of anxiety is.

How despite all the measured deep breathing and rational calm talking, it refuses to lessen it’s grip on both mind and body.

How it feels like a spear through my chest. A physical weight and pressure in the centre of my chest both external and internal, through to my spine. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it feels like a balloon slowly expanding and taking up the space where my heart and lungs should be, making it hard to breathe.

It’s easy to forget how laboured my heartbeat can get at times, feeling like a knackered horse struggling to get up a hill, it’s erratic beats doing nothing to soothe and reassure.

It’s easy to forget that the words in my mind at this time aren’t real. Aren’t based in fact, but are my own fears and insecurities reflected back to me. They swell in my throat making casual socialising almost impossible to navigate.

It’s easy to forget that we can find evidence to anything if we look hard enough. Easier to accept the words spoken so passionately and evocatively. Best protect yourself against what is to come… it’s hard to keep fighting against the words when the physicality accompanying them doesn’t fade…. surely if your rationality and logic was correct you’d feel better by now….? And so it goes on.

Times like this, the dark and scary part of the ride we are all on, just hold on, remember to breathe and wait. Just breathe, that’s all that’s required today. It doesn’t last forever.

But it’s easy to forget.

Ship to Shore

A recent chat with a friend got me thinking in metaphorical terms about where I am in my life at the moment. There’s a limited amount I can say about my current situation as it doesn’t just involve me so forgive me if I seem particularly vague in details.

I’ve always used images and metaphors to describe emotional and pyschological states, it’s just easier. The image that came to mind currently (probably partly due to the set of Robin Hobb books I’m currently storming my way through) was that of being on board a ship.

So here I am on board this metaphorical ship. Between lands. I’ve put myself aboard this ship, I’ve set it’s course, and I’m partially in charge.

There have been other times of limbo and change where I haven’t felt in charge at all, where the metaphor that came to mind was an extended periods of falling, occasional pauses on juts of rock before having to fall again and just waiting to land and preparing myself to deal with wherever I found myself.

This isn’t like that. It’s more controlled and I can see land ahead of me. New land that I am both excited and terrified to explore.

Yet I’m not completely in control. I may set the destination but there are currents that can sweep me off course or delay me. There are events on the land behind me that affect the course of the planks I sail upon. No one controls the winds or the tides.

So I stand on my metaphorical ship, looking at the metaphorical shore that lies ahead of me, thinking I know what awaits me, what I can build there, while deep down admitting I haven’t a clue, not really.

The metaphor has some roots in reality. I’m moving to another city as I can’t afford to keep living in the one I’m in. Not without living in a shoebox or sharing with strangers, neither of which I’m prepared to do; I’m too old and too antisocial for that. The nearest city that starts to come close to my solo budget is a good hour away from where I currently am. It’s a big change, and all the preparation and organisation in the world can’t really ready me to start a new life alone in a place I barely know. As a perfectly happy introvert, the work of creating a new community and social circle is one of the most terrifying things I can imagine. Yet that lies before me also.

There are things I can do. I guess a metaphorical equivalent of preparing fishing lines best I can and hoping the fish are curious! Then it comes down to standing on deck, hoping for a kind wind and friendly people where I dock.

But for now I stand on board, hand on tiller, waiting and at the mercy of some currents that could yet see me drifting off course.

My weekend with the NHS

I’ve hesitated in writing this because it felt indulgent.

But then I wondered if a positive NHS post was worth me and maybe others considering me being indulgent. So here are a few moments from my story of a weekend being looked after by the NHS.

I went to Worthing Hospital on Friday 21st April 2017 at Midday for a routine but pretty major surgery – a subtotal abdominal hysterectomy for one large multiple fibroids that couldn’t be treated any other way.

When my anxiety kicked in waiting for to be collected for surgery, I was able to stay in a small consulting room rather than the main waiting area, my friend was brought to me, and this made it easier for me to both allow and control my feelings.

When lying on the hospital bed clad only in surgical gown and a blanket I felt incredibly exposed as the reality of the surgery came closer with every tick of the clock. The tears came and the anaesthetic room receptionist was immediately there with tissues, she held my hand and chatted to me for as long as she was able to. Throughout my little wait in that room on that bed, she kept checking on me, including me in conversations with the medical staff who came and went. My details were checked a further few times. Each time they apologised about having to go through things so many times, but better certain than not! One of the ladies told me she was assisting on the surgery and I asked a favour. I had no idea of the reality, the size and shape, of what was being taken from me. I asked if it was possible to get any details. She said she’d try. After surgery that lady came to find me on the ward to let me know she’d weighed the thing in question and gave me it’s mass. She didn’t have to do that.

The ladies administering my anaethetic were delightfully batshit, without being unprofessional. They made me laugh. Not an easy thing considering how much I hate needles. She told me how I would feel when the anaethetic was administered and the cold tingling feeling in my right arm is the last thing I remember until I woke up two and a half hours later.

When I woke some surgery, someone sat by my bed for an hour and a half as I drifted in and out of coherence. They answered the questions I was able to form, gave me water and didn’t leave my side. She told me what the time was, and that my friends were waiting for me in the ward that I would be taken to.

During that night I was constantly checked on, medication taken, stats recorded and comfort given when the lack of sleep and the sounds of distress from a very elderly lady who wasn’t in distress (they checked many many times) got too much for me.

I was encouraged and helped by a very cheerful and friendly healthare assistance to get up, wash and dress and sit in a chair.

A nurse held bags of bodily fluids in order to take me for a walk around the ward.

I was quietly allowed to have one more visitor than was usually permitted.

They moved me to a quieter ward the second night as they knew I’d struggled the night before.

They ensured I had everything I needed and knew everything I needed to know in order to go home on the Sunday afternoon as I was desperate to start recovering in my own home. When I say “I” in this paragraph, I mean my friend…. I was incapable of organising my own two feet at this point, but they knew I was in good hands and utterly eager to go home. However, the choice to stay a further night was there and was mine.

All of this care. All of the medication – pain meds, anti clotting injections, wound dressings – that went home with me. Everything used during my stay. This was all free. I only had to focus on my healing and my recovery. There was nothing else demanding my attention, nothing else to organise, no future bills, payments or insurance to organise. I was able to have this operation despite it not being life threatening (although it was life affecting). Yes, there was a wait, but a few months for free surgery and excellent care. I think I had a lucky experience.

When I was called a couple of weeks later in a follow up call, after all the questions had been dealt with I told the nurse how happy I was with my care, how everyone I’d come into contact with had contributed to my feeling supported and looked after.

The only negative thing about my encounter was the surprise and gratitude in her voice when she thanked me for this and I wondered how often she and her colleagues heard it.

NHS, you are amazing. We need you. I hope you are given the attention and value you need to survive then thrive.

 

Recovery

As I enter into the next phase of my journey – the ‘new me’ that woke up from the general anaesthetic, minus the misbehaving 750 grams of my body, the me that has to obey a pain medication schedule or face the consequences, the me that has to find the balance between activity and rest – not too much and not too little of either – I am already learning so much after just a few days. 

1 – Don’t think you can do without meds. Get your schedule and stick to it. Know what you are taking and when you are taking it and put whatever measures you need into place to remember. You may not think you need that dose. But you will. Preemptive meds are sexy and clever.

2 – Someone who can be in charge for those first few days is utterly invaluable. I genuinely couldn’t find the words to thank Ju for her help – she got me home from hospital, worked out my meds schedule, made sure I took them, made sure I rested, hugged me (and took the piss) when I cried, and gave me the daily injections I need (even you tubing how to do them properly) – I tried to thank her, but I was crying too much from the gratitude I felt and crying is still physically painful. I think she got the point. 

3 – You are capable of more than you fear and less than you want. Listening to your body is key. Slowly and gently is key. Don’t be afraid to give things a try but for goodness sake be slow, sensible and careful! It’s easier to take longer (or try another time) that it is to recover from hurting yourself. There are so many things that can wait or be done a gentler way.

4 – You will be grateful for the strangest things. I nearly cried the first time I picked something up off the floor. That makes me SO less helpless! That said, the weight of the doors on my block of flats leading to the outside world are not something I’m able to deal with yet so I can’t go to the corner shop alone!

5 – Low days happen. And they are just as important as the days where you exceed your expectations. Sometimes there will be a reason. Sometimes there won’t. And that doesn’t matter. What matters is listening to it. Giving those emotions time and space and acceptance. Of course they aren’t as nice and fun as the achievement. But they are just as much a part of it. They often contain the most powerful lessons of love and nurturing. As an old counselling adage goes “don’t just do something, sit there!”

All our journeys are different. We all heal at different times and face different challenges. It’s not a race. 

I am already stronger than I gave myself credit for. But that includes ensuring I have enough tactical retreats to regroup and regain strength. Strength is measured differently now and I appreciate it so much more. 

Previous Older Entries