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  • A Saturday morning in September ...

    ***Trigger warning - this blog touches on suicide*** Here we are, in early September in the UK. It's a lovely day, with that gentle autumnal sunshine which is comfortable to be in. I'm having a nice cup of tea and thinking about the day ahead. And then I notice the date, and my train of thought takes a very different turn... It's September 10th which is World Suicide Prevention Day, so there are lots of posts on social media about suicide, as well as support and prevention, and groups to contact if you or someone you care about is struggling. Although it's sad to see this, it's also encouraging that nowadays there is support and signposting for people who are feeling suicidal as well as those left behind when someone completes the act of suicide. (Sadly, those left behind are often left with poor mental health, depression and a higher risk of suicide themselves). I'm going to say a little about my first experience of the impact of suicide, as a young child of 8. There is more to say another time, but for now I wanted to share this. So, on another Saturday morning in September, many years ago, I was still cosy in bed, drinking tea (my Dad always brought us up a cup of tea and a biscuit in the morning) and reading a book. (Yes, I know exactly which book) Mum and Dad would be going to work a bit later, and my younger brother and I would go to my grandparents for the morning whilst they were at work. The phone rang in the hall downstairs (we only had the one land line back in the day) and my mum answered. The next few sentences are still clear in my memory today - she was answering my Gran who had called , and without going into details, she was being told by my Gran that my dearly loved Granddad had ended his life. I remember my brother and I were taken to my other Grandparents which was still local and a good place to go. I have some memories of that Grandmother having whispered conversations in the church (I think they were decorating it for the Harvest Festival).She was obviously telling the other people something about what had happened, but no-one was speaking to us about it. Over the weeks and months ahead, no one really talked to us about what had happened and there wasn't the awareness or encouragement to talk about these things. There wasn't a school counsellor or Pastoral support worker for example. Being the oldest Grandchild by several years, I didn't have cousins to speak to about this either, and my brother was younger too. No one thought or considered that talking about this would be a helpful thing to do - that would have probably been considered the wrong thing to do, and my parents may well have been wary of upsetting us. I definitely didn't want to talk about it at the time - well not to anyone else. For sometime I would go to my Granddad's grave and 'talk' to him. At that time, there was quite a bit of secrecy and shame about suicide and mental health too. It just wasn't something that was talked about or understood well, (Suicide wasn't even decriminalised until 1961 in England and Wales) Looking back, I am able to see how my reactions and responses to hearing about my Grandad's suicide impacted on a lot of things that happened afterwards - but more of that another time. It wasn't until I began my counselling training many years later - now in my 40s - that I knew I had to face my long buried pain. It would be irresponsible and dangerous to have conversations with clients about a subject which I was unable to articulate at any level. I know that part of the reason I didn't train to be a counsellor sooner was because I knew I would have to talk about 'my stuff' as part of it, and I was far from comfortable about that. Those conversations were painful, but ultimately helpful. Instead of freezing or recoiling I could talk about what happened, and unpick some of the threads of secrecy and shame. It's just as well I did really, because my very first client brought their experience of suicide to our first ever session. Understandably, people don't like talking about suicide. If we think someone we care about is feeling suicidal, a lot of people worry that if they mention it, the person will then end their life. (Please don't worry that by asking any of those questions , you are going to 'encourage' or 'give someone the idea' about ending their life by suicide - you really won't). Likewise, if we know someone who has lost someone because of suicide, we are worried about upsetting them or re-traumatising them. Again, this isn't the case. The theme of World Suicide Prevention Day this year is about Creating Hope through Action. I'll include some links and resources below, but the main message I hope I'm sharing is that it is ALWAYS better to talk about these things, no matter what age people are, or when the feelings or event happened. Have a look through some of the info - it doesn't have to be anything big or dramatic - but just a gentle 'So, how are you doing?' and then really giving the person some time to reply can make a world of difference and enable you to be that light, that beacon of hope, to someone who might be in the darkest place. #WorldSuicidePreventionDay #WSPD #WSPD22 #

  • Do you know who the Prime Minister is?

    As I write this, on July 7th 2022, the current Prime Minister has resigned. It's a bit debatable when he is actually leaving, but he is going... I met a friend for coffee earlier this morning, and at that point the story hadn't broken, but there were a stream of ministers resigning. They said on the news 'By the time you have put the kettle on and made a cup of tea, another one has sent a resignation letter...' As we sat down to our drinks (Earl Grey tea for me, a Latte for her) I started to update her about some health issues I was experiencing. If you watch any hospital programmes, you may see sometimes that the medics assess someone's mental state by asking various questions - 'Do you know where you are?'for example. If someone is concussed, they might forget where they are and need to be reminded. I made a jokey comment to my friend about how I'd been having some memory issues, but at least I knew who the Prime Minister is. I went on to say 'Although today, that might not be the best day to ask someone that question...' I did get asked that question about a year ago and I'm pleased to say I got the answer right:). However, I want to share a bit more about why I got asked that question, and some of the roles and work I'm going to be doing going forward, As many of you will know, I do have some chronic health issues. During one of the Lockdowns, I'd got in touch with my GP because I'd noticed some cognitive changes. Long story short, after a few other appointments with different people and an MRI, I found myself at the 'Memory Clinic'. I then went through various tests and questions with a Clinical Neuropsychologist. She asked me various 'magic questions' (they have to be kept secret) but also asked me the question about the Prime Minister too. After the appointment, I went and found my partner (he'd almost melted in the car, I'd been in there almost 2 hours) and waited for results. A few weeks later, I received a letter with results. I've been diagnosed with something called Mild Cognitive Impairment, and other things are currently being explored. It can be a precursor for Dementia (not always though). This has led to me pausing my practice for the moment to give myself some time to think and reflect. I'm thinking about other work and roles that I might be able to do. I'm probably going to be writing more of these, and writing other stuff too. I've also taken on a role in the South West as a Join Dementia Research Champion. I've always been interested in research and have taken part in various studies and trials as a patient - for me, it's about bringing something positive out of a negative situation. And I know the more we learn, the more we can improve things for future generations. We have an increasingly aging population in the UK, and some of those people will sadly go on to develop Dementia. Researchers know that the more we find out about this disease, the sooner we can offer treatments and hope. Often people are diagnosed too late, but researchers are learning more about spotting signs and indicators earlier. So, one of my roles is about encouraging people to sign up for research (and it really isn't all about needles and white coats). So, if you're interested, I'm including the link below. In the meantime, I think it's time for me to pop the kettle on and make a brew. I'd best check out who is the Prime Minister again too :) #JoinDementiaResearch

  • On Mothering Sunday...mothering/smothering...what the heck is it all about anyway?

    If you're in the UK, this year Mothering Sunday falls on 27th March. Mothering Sunday has different origins than Mother's Day (which is celebrated in the USA) and is a much older tradition. The original Christian Festival was about remembering Mary, the mother of Jesus,(scope for a whole feminist theology blog there) and the 'Mother Church'. It's always on the 4th Sunday in Lent, and became a day when servants would be given a day off to go back to their mother church, which generally involved a visit to their mothers too. So, the origins aren't really anything to do about mothers or mums, but the focus has changed over the years so that it is often about celebrating our mothers. Okay - this doesn't mean that we have to celebrate, or do anything in particular. There are all kinds of reasons why some people will not want to mark this day. Their own mum may have passed away, or their own child. They may have a complicated relationship with their mum or children. If we are adopted, or bringing up step-children or unable to have children, that brings additional grief and challenges. If we were unable to bring our children home, or never met them - that again is tragic too. There are many more reasons and circumstances why mother's day can be difficult. It's okay not to mark it, it's okay to feel ambivalent or sad. I think for me. some of my musings are about quite what are we celebrating? And why? Have we fallen for a rose-tinted image of our mum as the perfect mother? Do we see ourselves as perfect mums? Or aspire to be one? There's often quite a mismatch between the fantasy and reality. Before I had my first child , I thought I'd spend at least some of my maternity leave crafting some precious baby items, and once they were born, walk around serenely with them in their baby sling...(I failed to make one baby item , let alone the range I had contemplated ) Over the years, through hearing the experience of others as well as my own, I think it's fair to say that pretty much all of us are far from perfect - being a 'good enough' mum is really good enough. And there isn't an ultimate blueprint for how to be the good enough mum - everyone is different. Everyone will parent differently, and make different choices as we are all parenting different children. It's good to share our experiences and things that are helpful, but we don't need to be prescriptive. Typically, mother's day can focus a lot on what our mothers do for us. Now there's certainly nothing wrong in that - it's good to appreciate our loved ones - ideally more than once a year though :). But I think it's important not just to focus on what our mums do for us, but the person they actually are - mums are humans too :) They certainly aren't perfect, or saintly, they screw up, they get things wrong. They have a life and personality beyond 'mothering' and it's important to recognise and celebrate that too. They also bring their experience and personality to the way they parent. Our relationships with our own mothers is one of our most formative relationships and can impact upon the people we become. Depending on whether we felt mothered, smothered or ignored and abandoned may shape our relationships with others - and how we feel about ourselves - for years to come. As mothers ourselves we may repeat the cycle, or do the exact opposite. It can be a tricky path too as our children grow to get the balance right- I can be the 'bad cop' of the parenting combo, but also fighting my children's battles - with maybe a hint of smothering :( In counselling, there's lots of different ways people might explore these dynamics and relationships. For many clients, the hardest bit can be getting started because we can often feel incredibly disloyal about talking to someone else about our mums,our families, irrespective of the quality of the relationship and whether they are still in our lives. But a lot of clients can find this work incredibly helpful. And counselling gives you that safe space to do the work. It's not a place of judgement, blaming or taking sides... And, whether you are a mother or a child - or both - make time to look after yourself and 'mother' yourself today too. (Please note inclusion of a nice bunch of flowers below)

  • Putting Christmas back in the box...

    I've spent some time today taking down the Christmas decorations. (technically I know they are supposed to be down by the 6th of January, but I'm living dangerously ) I was aware of some mixed emotions - 'ah well, that's another year over, done and dusted', remembering past Christmases when my boys were younger and would wake me only seconds after I'd fallen asleep (or so it seemed). I also felt a bit relieved in a way - I could get back to my 'normal' routine, the house would for a brief period of time look more spacious and tidier and I no longer had to aspire to be any kind of domestic goddess. I paused as I put away different tree decorations which we had acquired over the years. A lot of them have memories and meaning attached to them. There are some my children have made when they were little, one made by a dear friend who sadly passed away several years ago, others bought for special occasions. Precious memories - now to be all tided away. But then, I started thinking a little more. Did I really want to put Christmas in the box and pack it all away until next December? I think there's a lot about what we do, and how we are at Christmas, which is worth keeping and remembering in the year ahead. Instead of being so quick to make our resolutions, I'd like to encourage you to think for a moment. Obviously it can't really be Christmas every day, and I'm not suggesting you eat turkey or nut roast and mince pies for all of January but...Over the festive period we are maybe better about spending some time doing things we enjoy. It might be the time when we can give ourselves permission almost to take it a bit easier, have a lie in, or have a day lozzing about. We can cosy up on the sofa with a good book or watch a movie with family and friends. We can go out for a walk. We make time to do things we might not do very often (we always have a new board game on New Year's eve, but it often gets squeezed out of other days). Often, we're able to be a bit kinder to ourselves because 'it is Christmas', and we reconnect with people we have maybe lost touch with. We might even be able to leave our to-do lists to one side for a few days. Whilst I was pondering this further (and trying to untangle two sets of Christmas tree lights) I thought about how it's not really the end of the story. Whatever you may or may not believe about Jesus, as every parent knows, their child's birthday is just the start of the big adventure. If we see a nativity play we can tend to think with the arrival of numerous angels, shepherds and wise folk, it's all very scenic and happy endings all round. As parents, we might come down to earth with a a bump a few days later after we've given birth and the reality and responsibility hits us. It also struck me about how at the heart of the Christmas story is the sense of what it means to be human and what it means to be in relationship with others. Whether it's a little baby, a teenager or our best mate, how we connect and relate to and with others is so important, and often good and safe connections are what we crave and need in our lives. Here's to hoping we can all build better relationships with others, and ourselves, in the New Year.

  • Powering through the festivities?

    I contributed the article below to the Patient Access App, so you may have seen it already. If not, I'm hoping that this article might be useful for New Year - and beyond. I was writing about the impact of chronic illnesses on celebrating special occasions. Chronic conditions at Christmas and Beyond... It’s that time of year when we’ll all be ‘Simply having a wonderful Christmas time’ as the song says, isn’t it? Spending time with loved ones, presents and silly games, lots of tasty food and drink, as well as late nights and lazy lie-ins. What’s not to like? Right? If you’re someone who lives with a chronic illness or condition you may feel very differently about the festivities, and that’s really understandable. I’m a counsellor working with people affected by chronic conditions and I often hear about the things they will struggle with on a daily basis. I also make no secret of the fact that I live with chronic health issues too, so I understand how hard it can be. In this article, I’m going to encourage you to give some thought now that will hopefully help you manage the festive season so that you can enjoy it more too. There are lots of illnesses and conditions which fall under the umbrella term of ‘Chronic health’. This includes things such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and lupus. They can cause a wide range of symptoms including pain, ‘brain fog’ and over-whelming fatigue. Chronic conditions can lead others to assume that it’s easier to live with than an acute condition, which obviously needs to be urgently addressed. However, as chronic means long-term that alone makes it incredibly wearing. Imagine waking up every day, day in, day out, as exhausted as you felt the night before. Dealing with the side-effects of a medication for months on end. Or never feeling pain free, just ranges of intensity. It can mean that planning what to do that day or week is really hard because you can’t always predict how you will feel at a certain day or time. And again, that happens over and over. I want to consider how someone with a chronic illness might struggle with any 'big event' both in the lead up and on the day. You might recognise yourself in some of these; Overwhelming panic and stress can cause a flare up of symptoms – we may experience more pain for example. We may lose any good feelings or excitement about the days to come but have an endless and anxiety provoking to do list that may even keep us awake at night. We may find that the jobs that need to be done take more out of us than those who don’t have chronic health issues. We may find it hard to relax or pace ourselves and stay up later trying to get everything done. And of course, having less sleep doesn’t help at all. On the actual day/s we may have really high expectations of how we want the day to go. This can affect us in different ways; We may crash and burn – so we start off on a high of excitement which pushes us through the day at full pelt. But sadly, after this peak activity we will crash and burn out the next day, which can make us extremely fatigued, in lots of pain, and feeling very low. Or we might begin the day by feeling so anxious about the day, we feel really stressed, we are overthinking all the worst case scenarios which could possibly happen later and that stops us from really enjoying the special day anyway. Socialising can be tiring, especially if we are meeting up with people we don’t see very often. We might have to tolerate lots of ‘oh you look so well’ type comments, in which we are we smiling politely whilst feeling very mixed inside. It’s very difficult to keep that mask firmly in position sometimes. We may be sleeping at different times, getting too much sleep or not enough. We may well be eating differently and out of our ‘normal’ routine. All of this can affect us physically and mentally. We might have a few more beers or wines than normal to help us be in the party mood, but end up feeling low afterwards. Or we’re pressured into eating too much, or too rich food, that can have all kinds of impact. We might worry that we are letting people down/making a fuss or being a party pooper, especially if we can’t perform well enough. I think this year, there may be additional pressures on us all at Christmas – we may feel that we need to create the ‘Perfect Christmas’ with extra special celebrations to make up for the one we had, or didn’t have, last year. It’s really important to remember that Christmas really doesn’t have to be perfect – it can be ‘good enough’. It’s also not down to one person to create the experience – it really is okay to ask for help and delegate. Although the Big Day has passed, you might be feeling in a similar way about New Year's Eve. I’d encourage you to plan ahead – have a really good think about what you’d like to do. Then go through that list again, and take off anything that isn’t essential or realistic for you. Try and think how doing that thing could impact on you. What’s most stressful? Or takes most energy? (If you haven’t seen it before, look up the spoon theory, as I know that can be helpful.) . Remember to think about what you consider important to help you have a good day – it might be watching Call the Midwife, or a nice stroll on Boxing Day – plan those moments of joy too. If there are things that you feel are essential, have a good think about who you can delegate to do that task. Make sure you actually plan/block in some down time –just for you – and take it. Improve or develop that compassionate mind – be kind to yourself and accepting of your limitations. Pace yourself – you may think you can do everything from dawn to dusk for all of the Twelve Day of Christmas, but actually try and change your mindset so you can pause. Taking some breaks along the way and paying attention to your mind and body, will really help you reach the end of each day in a better physical and mental state. It’s okay to cheat. Years ago, as an aspiring Domestic Goddess, throughout the year, I would make fruit crumbles or pies, and then make mince pies at Christmas. They were all well received; they required more time and energy, which I had a lot more of in those days. Nowadays I buy the crumble topping to put on the fruit I’ve prepped, and I buy mince pies. (This also calls for a taste test or two before deciding which ones to buy which is great). And guess what? It’s still well received – family and friends are still enjoying nice food and drink in a welcoming home. Remember it’s okay to think about yourself and your needs in all this, you don’t have to keep everyone happy or fit in with everything. And here’s a few tips if you have a loved one who struggles with these issues… Be supportive and compassionate. Don’t assume they’re okay just because they look okay. Don’t wait to be asked – offer some help. They may well find it hard to ask for help. Try not to get frustrated/fed up/take it personally if they cancel plans. If you are wondering whether you have a chronic illness or condition, the GP could be a good place to start. But conditions can be tricky to diagnose. You might need blood tests or other assessments. If you get a diagnosis from the GP, or have a sense of what condition you might have, there are lots of charities and online resources available that can help. These often offer online or face to face support groups which can be really helpful too. This might help you to find out about some useful strategies or tools. Understandably our mental health can be affected by our physical health so sometimes people need support with this. Again the GP may be able to help – perhaps in prescribing medication – and support groups can be invaluable too. Depending on how your mental health is being impacted you might want to seek support from a therapist/s. The support you need varies for everyone. You might look at physical activity, massage or counselling. As a counsellor myself when I start working with someone – we’ll look at typical day/week, come up with a well-being plan, teach tools and signpost to other resources. There’s lots of useful techniques and resources that we explore together and come up with some helpful goals to work towards.

  • Getting ready to Hootenanny?

    As the bongs of Big Ben draw nearer, Jools Holland gets ready to Hootenanny and Trafalgar Square gets ready to stream the alternative London ‘event’ (yep the fireworks alongside the river have been cancelled), I wonder if you’re breathing a sigh of relief because this incredibly challenging year is coming to an end? It might be that you are feeling that this last year hasn’t really been one where much has been ‘achieved’ or not so many memories have been made. I think it’s safe to say that as well as the ‘normal’ ups and downs of life, the fact that everything has been lived and experienced within the context of a world pandemic, has added an extra level of challenge to the surreal game/film we have found ourselves in. I wonder how the lead up to Christmas feels for you? I think many of us may feel under more pressure to make the celebrations even more perfect because, let’s face it, last Christmas was probably not how we could ever had imagined it would be. And at the same time, the festive period can be tricky for people for all kinds of reasons. Even just being out of our normal routines and spending a lot of time with people we love dearly (but in small doses) can be hard work sometimes, and if we have experienced a bereavement or loss, have social anxiety, an eating disorder or any other issue, it can be that much harder – especially if we are keeping our brave/jolly mask on the whole time. Same old, same old? And, if we do have time to think about next year, in the build-up to this Christmas, it’s tempting to tell ourselves that nothing will ever change, we’re stuck in a rut or this is what ‘typically’ happens to us. Sometimes, we can be really hard on our own abilities and talents. We might realise we’re stuck but are scared stiff when it comes to changing things about and getting out of it. Sometimes we worry about the impact changes we make might have on others. Or notice thoughts become more pessimistic and go to the worst case scenario. There are all kinds of reasons someone will tell themselves that can stop them from changing and creating a better life for themselves. A lot of us lead really busy lives, and if we have younger or older family members to care for, that can mean we don’t actually have much time left over, and if we do it might be really hard to relax, and we feel incredibly guilty for taking some downtime for ourselves and can even think we are being selfish in wanting to do that. Too much like hard work? We might want things to change or improve, but think it might just be too much like hard work. We might even have lost hope that things can improve. So, we give up on trying. On the other hand, perhaps you ARE more of a New Year, New Start person – have you started contemplating your New Year’s Resolutions yet? Did you know that gym membership increases by over 12% in January, compared to about 8% in other months? And that the fall-off rate for those that join in January is higher than other months too? We start off really keen by resolving to go to the gym or swim or run everyday, or cutting out certain food or drink TOTALLY. This often goes well at the start. We’re high on adrenaline, feeling full of energy and buzzing for the day ahead. Everything is going well, and we’re confident this year is going to be our year. Fast forward a few weeks, and there’s been a dip. We might have lost a bit of fitness, found life getting in the way, and missed a couple of sessions at the gym, or there was a family event where we ate lots of what we might regard ‘unhealthy’ food. Now, take a moment to reflect on what you imagine might happen next, as I think it’s quite significant. What we often do is start by beating ourselves up and feeling angry and frustrated. We might feel annoyed (we’ve spent out on gym membership, new trainers etc) and it’s easy to feel we’ve ‘let ourselves down’. We often do this automatically without stepping back from that ‘inner critic’ in our head and telling them to pipe down a bit. Something like the scenario I’ve mentioned above then leads us to conclude that we have failed big time, totally screwed up and ruined EVERYTHING and what’s the point in trying? Not surprisingly, this is often the point where we lose our desire and hope for change. I believe there are other possible outcomes. Here are a few strategies to try that might help. 1. Don’t assume that everything is lost Instead, give yourself time to ‘regroup’, come back to yourself. Instead of criticising yourself, speak to yourself in a kinder, more compassionate way. So instead of telling yourself ‘you’re a total failure’ try telling yourself ‘okay, you’ve made a great start, you’ve gone a bit off course, but you can press that re-set button and start over’. 2. Perhaps rewind even further If we look back at those resolutions you wrote – what do you notice? Thinking about this now, can help support our progress when we start. I know that I get a bit over enthusiastic sometimes. I’ve had some physical health challenges and have had to build up exercise gradually. In the past, I could easily swim for an hour. So recently, in planning my new regime, I thought maybe a couple swims a week for 45 minutes would be a realistic adjustment. The medical person I was working with advised me very differently, which was a bit of a shock really. In hindsight, starting off with once a week for 20 minutes is a much more realistic, or SMART, target (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) And that is really key. If we allow realistic to mean ‘repeatable’ I think that helps – if we can repeat our change that builds up our self-esteem and confidence as well as silencing that inner critic. Start off with smaller steps and goals. And if a day doesn’t go to plan, remember you can start again the next day. 3. Remember you're only human Nowadays, if we are filling in something online, we often have to prove we’re not a robot/let them know we are human. Try bringing that awareness to yourself – we are all wonderful, individual human beings. The very fact of being human means we are not and never will be 100% perfect. And that’s absolutely fine. There are lots of online resources that can help you create positive change in your life – you may want to work with a counsellor or coach, but you can also think of ‘buddying up’ or setting some time aside to create your own wellbeing plan (many resources online for this too) and consider what are realistic priorities for YOU in the year ahead. Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

  • World Mental Health Day? What's that all about then?

    That's a good question. It's all over social media at the moment, with lots of hashtags and various images (some of which I'll be sharing on my Facebook page over the next few days.) I do think it's a really good idea that we have different awareness raising days/months. It can help increase conversations about the topic and promote charities and organisations that support people. I definitely think that there is more understanding of mental health and less stigma attached to it. But there's a few things I want to unpack... Just like the phrase 'A dog isn't just for Christmas', Mental Health support isn't just about a day. It's so important to make the resources available really embedded in our society and not just a tick box exercise, which for example an employer can sign off on whilst maybe putting pressure on an employee who is struggling with their mental health. There are some uncomfortable headlines around mental health topics. Sometimes we see uplifting stories or amazing fundraising events - all of which are great. But becoming more aware of mental health means becoming more aware of really sad statistics around suicide rates, the high rates of younger people who are struggling and the fact that there are socio-economic issues which have a huge impact upon our well-being. The theme of WMHD 2021 is 'Mental Health in an unequal world' which really brings it home that other factors need to be addressed. It can make for uncomfortable conversations but we really need to have those to help create change in our society. We need to acknowledge that more men end their lives by suicide, if you are poor your life expectancy is reduced, black people are more likely to be sectioned and if you're in the LGBTQ+ community , there are higher rates of suicidal behaviour and self-harm. That's not right and we need to work together to change this. And whoever and wherever you are, I'd like to encourage you to spend a bit of time thinking about what is good for your mental health. It's going to be different for everybody - some people go for a walk or run, someone else might want to meet up with a friend, some people work with counsellors and other therapists, do voluntary work, have a brew...But take some time to do it - your mental health is so important. #WMHD; #mentalhealthinanunequalworld #worldmentalhealhday2021

  • Seize the day...and smell the coffee !

    Or maybe that should be re titled as 'Seize the day...and taste the blackberry!'... So this morning I started my day earlier than usual. On the radio I heard Chris Packham encouraging everyone to get up 15 minutes earlier, and saying if we all did that how many more hours there would be to be spent differently. His example was about being out in nature and collective action on behalf of the environment. That is a really good reason in itself - we need to respond to the ecological crisis. Mine however, wasn't quite so worthy. I was intent on being an 'Intrepid Explorer' and going off on 'an Adventure'. Okay, there's a limit to how much of an adventure you can have on a Tuesday morning. To put this in a bit more context - last night I was reading some of 'Ice Cream for Breakfast' which is all about reconnecting with our inner child. The author really encourages us to live in the moment and do things differently. Instead of being in sensible adult mode they encourage us to be more playful and spontaneous in our approach to life. Of course we can't do that all the time, but it's really good to change things a bit. Leaving the house early this morning, I did really feel I was doing something a bit different and carefree :) It was a great time to be out. I got to see rabbits in the fields, watch various farm animals and spot a butterfly or two. I got in some early morning exercise which helped me just connect and ground myself better for the day ahead. I was reminded of doing this kind of thing years ago - my dad and I used to take our dog for a walk in the early morning, and I loved being a nature detective then. So I did that a bit too - Detective Joanna was busy looking for signs of seasonal change. I could see the leaves on a hawthorn bush were already turning an autumnal orange shade as well as spotting elderberries beginning to ripen. I also found some blackberries... Needless to say, I had a few blackberries for breakfast :) It was definitely a good little adventure, and I'd really like to encourage you to switch things about a bit...maybe #icecreamforbreakfast or even #blackberriesforbreakfast #wellbeing #mindfulness #grounding

  • But you look so well!!... I'm sure we have all heard that a few times before! Or slightly different versions such as 'well as long as you look alright, it doesn't matter what you feel like inside'. (Yep, true story) Or the person who 'helpfully' recommends a 'magic ingredient' that will make us feel such a lot better. Or the comparison with someone they knew who 'coped so well'. Sometimes we assume things about a person's physical and mental state because of what we can see. For example, if someone has their arm or leg in a cast or sling, it's reasonable to assume they've broken a bone. And we may well have an image or stereotype of what a depressed or anxious person looks like. They'll be looking a bit sad. Right? Well not exactly. As a counsellor I work with people who may be struggling with their mental health in different ways. But it might not be immediately obvious in what way they are struggling. Some physical illnesses aren't obvious either, there are a lot of 'invisible illnesses' both physical and mental that are hidden. And as a person living with chronic illness myself, I understand that there's often a lot of overlapping stuff where they can impact on each other, so it's often an area I support my clients in. We can feel under pressure from others - we should be getting better by now, or we don't want to disappoint someone or let them down. Guilt and shame can be in abundance. Instead of pacing ourselves or declining a request, we agree to everything and then afterwards collapse in a heap for a few days because we have overdone it. Looking at the picture above , we apparently see a person smiling broadly. We might well assume that they are happy. But, I'm wondering what's really behind that image. Often we may well 'plaster on a smile' whilst keeping our chins up. But really we could be masking what we are really experiencing. It can take time to judge how to share what we are feeling - physically and mentally. And that's okay. If we can find the right support , it can really help us come to terms with what we are going through. We might find we see others a bit differently too.

  • Time to talk...

    So today is known as 'Time to talk' day. This is promoted by many organisations, notably including 'Time to Change' and one of the key messages on this day, is that it really is okay to talk about mental health. Sometimes, this can be really tricky. If we are worried about someone's mental health we may be worried about how to talk to them about it - we are maybe worried about upsetting them, or saying the wrong thing, or even making them feel worse. If we are the person who is struggling, we can be really scared about opening up and being honest about how we are feeling. We may think we will come across as weak or pathetic, or we might not want to worry or alienate the other person. All too often as a counsellor, and in my life generally, I come across people who are really struggling to reach out to others for all kinds of reasons. It can be tricky to start the conversation, but often, just starting that conversation is the turning point for that individual. So, however you do that today, whether it's with a coffee or a tea, whether it's an old friend or a work-mate, in the gym or in the office, have the conversation. Make time to talk. Let's help to reduce the stigma about talking about mental health. #timetotalk #timetochange

  • "It's the most wonderful time of the year..."

    Because after all, we're all "Simply having a wonderful Christmas time", right? Hmmm....maybe not. Some people will have a truly lovely Christmas. But for many others, Christmas can be a really tricky time for so many reasons. For some of us, it will be our first Christmas without a loved one who has sadly passed away during the year - a very poignant time. Others may be experiencing a first in other ways - maybe the end of a relationship, or the first one where their children have left home. There is often a tremendous build-up to Christmas and heightened expectations in creating the perfect day. This can put lots of pressure on people in terms of time and money, many people will go into debt to ensure they can create the Christmas they feel is needed. Even if we aren't grieving a loved one, and manage our money okay, Christmas can be tricky for other reasons too. We're all out of our normal routine, often over-tired and somewhat emotional (and I don't just mean the children :) ) and then spend lots of time, with family members that we don't generally spend much time with - and perhaps don't even get on that well with - whilst eating and drinking a lot more than usual. And all the while, trying to ensure that The Day runs smoothly and we all have a perfect Family Christmas. I think it's really important to state that we really don't have to do Christmas like that. And, especially if we are struggling with our own mental health and well-being, it's really okay to look after ourselves. It's fine to leave an event early, or take some time out. We don't need to be pressurised into things that we aren't comfortable with - whether that's having yet another drink, eating more or spending too much. Instead we can give others the gift of time, or simpler, personal gifts. We may well find that if we do that, others will be relieved that they can relax a bit more too. And even if they don't , by doing this we are taking better care of ourselves, which will hopefully help us to start the new year in a more positive frame of mind. It might be a good idea to create some 'plan' of how you are going to take care of yourself over the festive season. And don't forget, there will still be some agencies offering support throughout this time. Hoping you can be kind to yourself and have a peaceful Christmas.

  • Time travelling...

    If you're reading this in the U.K. at 2 am this morning, British Summer time ended, and we all went back in time an hour. I'm wondering if you gained an extra hour in bed, or stayed up later? Did you have lots of sleep or end up getting up early? (If you have pets or young children, this is often the way it goes) The amount of sleep we get can be really important for not only our physical health, but our mental health and well-being too. We're now seeing links between how sleep affects how we function in many ways. It's often an area I'll explore with clients in sessions, because being sleep deprived can have emotional impact. Sometimes, you might hear people talking about 'sleep hygiene'. Don't worry, it's not about how often you wash your sheets, but all to do with the rituals and rhythm of getting ready for bed, in an environment that's going to aid peaceful sleep. So this includes things like reducing screen time, and using phones on a night-light setting, as well as those time honoured tricks like a milky drink. And it's important to be aware of our circadian rhythms, so keeping to a fairly regular bedtime and wake up time is important. The odd extra hour in bed won't have too much impact, but too many lie-ins aren't great for our internal body clocks. So it might be interesting to see if a different bedtime routine helps you rest better, if only to help you feel less tired when it all changes again in 6 months time. :)

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