Gratification

Feeling gratified… Feeling like you have achieved something meaningful, feeling pleased with – or proud of – yourself and maybe give yourself a treat. I have heard that our biology is supposed to reward us when we experience good things and I can see it happening in my own partner when he feels he has achieved something or done something that satisfies him. But somehow my biology does not work like that…

Or rather it doesn’t work like that with most things – things that seem to bring excitement, happiness and gratification to other people, quite often just fills me with unease and sometimes dull emptiness. When I have finished a job I don’t ‘feel it’. Somehow my body doesn’t know that I have finished a job, no matter how much I tell myself: ‘its done, you did it and you did well’. No flipping response…

September has really confronted me with this frustrating conundrum. My partner and I have been delivering at least 7 workshops this past month in very different settings – an activist gathering, a recovery camp, a well-being weekend for young mentors with sight loss and to a group of Mental Health Nurse students. I have felt incredibly privileged and inspired. But I have also felt very, very overwhelmed.

On top of this, I and my co-conspirator Mike have been working our a**** off to finish a translation. Its been an ongoing project this year but we had to get it finished before October. And today I did the last bit of editing and handed the book (Children Hearing Voices) over to the group in Denmark that is working towards getting it published. I have SO been looking forward to this day. The translation has been hanging over me for so many months and there have been many days where I have struggled through fatigue and fuzzy head to get the work done. I have experimented with ways to both relax and stimulate myself enough to be able to work. And now, today, its done. Done.

But I just feel a bit dazed.

No rush of excitement or them endorphin’s other people talk about. No serotonin or dopamine or whatever else is supposed to be shooting around in my brain… No satisfaction. No relief.

I remember the first time I finished a translation of a book  (Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World). Months of work finished. Didn’t feel a thing. Not even the relief I thought I would feel. It wasn’t till long after the book was published that a sense of gratification started creeping in – I am talking over 18 months later. And it wasn’t a powerful feeling, something I could get high on. Rather it was like a quiet confidence in my own abilities.

I get the same when I give talks. I don’t get high – I get drained and my satisfaction doesn’t come from it being over or from positive feedback from others. My sense of satisfaction comes days or weeks later – when I have had time to process what I have done, gone over the details, felt into my body and weighed all the things I did and what happened and I have decided how I did. Then I might begin to feel like I have done something worthwhile.

As I keep searching for ways to combine my talents with my passions I learn a lot about myself. I try and remind myself in advance that I won’t feel a sense of achievement so that I don’t get too confused – I tend to keep expecting myself to respond differently than I do. I also try and remind myself that rushes of adrenaline does not make me feel good and focused – it makes my allergies intensify, my body nauseated and everything in my head all jumbled up. To be focused I need calm and predictability.

In recent years I have come to realise, that if I want that excited sense of gratification I need plants around me. Growing plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables is my place of gratification – delayed gratification and sometimes uncertain because there are so many factors I cannot control when dealing with plants.

But there is nothing quite like the feeling of walking around the house or the garden to have a chat with the plants. Or harvest all the produce they are offering. Or look out the window and see the courageous nasturtium and unknown white lily-like flowers in my pots shining bright despite the stormy, wet weather.

Another way to work with my lacking sense of gratification is to treat myself. At which I am very good. I believe that by treating my body and my senses to good things – food, aesthetically beautiful things, loving touch and hugs or comfortable environments – I am telling my body that I am worthy of love, safety, beauty and harmony. Its like a wordless dialogue with my body – a body that keeps responding to the world as if it is a nightmarish hellhole. And I just keep telling it that there is more to life than all the overwhelm, fear and difficulties.

Going to the gym for the first time in years…

Trying to practice what I preach… Really enjoyed doing our ‘connecting with the body’s resources’ workshop at Leeds Beckett Uni today but afterwards I found myself feeling anxious and frazzled this evening. Partly because I haven’t been sleeping well last couple of nights, mixed with experiencing busy-public-transport-overwhelm twice this week as well as anticipating more busyness in the weeks to come.

So came home and felt annoyed with myself for feeling crap after a job well done. I absolutely love sharing my passion for bodywork and it feels incredibly important and meaningful so when I feel awful afterwards I can easily get a bit confused. But then I managed to get myself to the gym to calm my system down with weightlifting.

Getting back into this kind of workout has been a long time coming. And how I have missed it!

It’s been such a big part of my journey to coping better with life (and being me) and it brings back many memories. I prefer lifting weights using machines because I can focus on one part of my body and do everything slowly and controlled. I use my breathing very consciously (and very similar to Pilates or yoga practices) and I like using weights that are so heavy that I can only do 3×10 and the last set will make me shake. Afterwards I feel more solid, centred and grounded. And tired!

Video

Russell Brand talking mental health 

“Disconnected systems create disconnected people”

Been hoping he would get round to talk about these things in a nuanced way. 

And for the millionth time I am thinking to myself: “What a mad world we humans have created for ourselves. What is the point of all this madness?” And what keeps me sane and alive are the relationships I am blessed to have – relationships where I experience connection and meaning. Having those helps me accept that there may not be any point to all of this and even if there is I will probably never know. 

Compassionate approaches to Mental Health: Building Compassionate Communities – a two day event March 30 & 31

I look forward to contributing to and participating in this event.

I usually feel wary about conferences because they can be a draining experience for me; too many unfamiliar people, too much information and not enough time or space to have meaningful conversations or to process what I am experiencing. But I also think they are an important way to share ideas and passions. Conferences can offer us opportunities to connect with people with similar interests, we can find support and inspiration and new projects and journeys can emerge.

Rufus and I contributed to the Compassionate Approaches to Mental Health event in November and I went away feeling quite encouraged – both about the possibilities of working together with others to change the culture around Mental Health, but also about changing how we do conferences. For me it all ties together… If we want more equal, inclusive and supportive communities where diversity is seen as an asset, then we need to keep an eye on the spaces we create or participate in. Whether it be our workplace, the daily bus journey, conferences or a learning/school environment.

The wolf we feed will get stronger…

I am a big believer in the usefulness of awareness, constructive critical thinking and being responsible. But I also know that there needs to be a balance – I have had to work on not feeling responsible for more than I can realistically deal with. I keep finding that the serenity prayer is a helpful reminder – it helps me stop, consider, connect with myself and give myself time to figure out what I need to let go of (at the moment – we can always come back to something if we need to) and where my energy will be best spent.

wp-image-2092815862jpeg.jpeg

More about the event from compassionatementalhealth.co.uk

Compassionate Approaches to Mental Health is a two day experiential event designed to inform, inspire and empower people living and working with mental distress.

We’ve gathered influential speakers who are passionate about changing the script around mental health, challenging stigma and raising expectations.

Our aim is to bring together people and families with personal experience of mental health issues, frontline staff, commissioners, managers, clinicians, policymakers and Third Sector staff, to discuss what works for people recovering from a mental health crisis. We’ll discuss a range of approaches that move beyond a medical model, with a special focus on Open Dialogue, mindfulness and therapeutic communities.

Building on positive feedback from our event in November 2016, we’ll go deeper into the issues we explored to ask how can we build compassionate communities in our mental health services and our own lives.  And how can a mental health crisis become a meaningful turning point and catalyst for change.

Read more HERE

Register HERE

Healthy Minds Newsletter

I have been volunteering with Healthy Minds in Calderdale since I moved to UK and have found it a good way to be involved with the local communities. I feel excited about the new developments and thought I would share the latest newsletter.

2016-10-11-12-healthy-minds-newsletter-029-october-november-december-2016

Hello Self-loathing, my old friend…

Self-loathing as a belief system

Today I did a session on beliefs with a community team and one of the subjects that came up was self-loathing. 
It can be painful to witness somebody caught in cycles of self-loathing, it’s easy to feel powerless and frustrated and it’s only natural to want to bring relief. 

But if you think of self-loathing as a belief system it might become clearer why reassurance, pep-talks and affirmations either only brings short relief or at times might create more intense self-loathing. 

We hold beliefs because they help us make sense of things and organise our experiences. Beliefs can simplify the world for us or maybe they can give us a sense of direction. Beliefs can give us an excuse for doing things a certain way or for not doing something. All beliefs serve a function but it may not be immediately obvious what that function is. And it may be even harder to see how a distressing belief can be protective.

I believe that all people are born equal and hardwired for connection and it gives me hope for the world – whether it’s true or not I’ll never know. I also believe that most people are dishonest about their intentions – quite often because they are not aware of them and are living in default mode – which helps me be cautious and discerning about who I give my love and energy to. If I get too attached to this belief I start becoming distrusting and suspicious but if I can hold it lightly it helps me look after myself.

We might think of self-loathing as an emotion but I see it more as a state of being; a part of me that has its own perceptions and its own beliefs.

Quite a lot of my life I have believed that I was a disgusting, evil and horrible human being. I have believed that I needed to contain myself so that I wouldn’t pollute people around me with all the horrible stuff inside me. I have believed that I had nothing to offer to the world, that I was a problem to be gotten rid of and that I didn’t deserve love and friendships. I have believed that other people found me disgusting too and that they were just tolerating me in order to make fun about me behind me back. I have believed that I was cursed and that there was something innately wrong with me. I have felt incredible amounts of shame about my thoughts, my feelings, my body, my behaviour, my dreams and my personality. 

And at times I still feel these things. At times I go into states where my self-loathing beliefs feel like the only reality there is.

Letting self-loathing do its job

The experience of hearing voices has taught me a lot about holding reality lightly and accepting not knowing what the truth is. It has helped see how the world is full of realities, full of different perceptions and different ways of understanding these perceptions. Hearing multiple voices, each with their own take on the world, has made me more able to sit with the uncertainty of multiple realities.

So today when my self-loathing states visit me, I try to remember that they are temporary and wait them out. But I also try to acknowledge that they don’t come along out of the blue. I feel self-loathing for a reason.

Self-loathing does a lot of different jobs for me. Some of them may seem to contradict each other but it seems to me that it’s just an expression of different needs at different times.

Self-loathing gives me reasons why I at times feel disconnected from other people. It tells me why people don’t take an interest in me or why I experience being dismissed. 

Now the temptation might be to say: “But self-loathing has got it wrong. It’s not because you are disgusting that people don’t take an interest – they are just too busy, stressed and wrapped up in their own needs and feelings.” And yes that is a much nicer and more rational explanation but why are we so reluctant to admit that there may be some people who find me disgusting? It is extremely likely that there are people who I – for whatever reason – rub up the wrong way and they may find me horrible and evil. Self-loathing reminds me that I cannot please everybody and that there might not be any point in trying to.

Self-loathing keeps me in touch with my ugly sides. There is no hiding from self-loathing; it will remind me of all the horrible thoughts or impulses I have at times. There is no suppression with self-loathing.

Here the temptation might be to go full throttle on positive affirmations: “We are all unique and beautiful beings, blessed by life or a higher power and all of us worthy of love. You are not evil, I experience you as a caring and gentle person.” And I may express gratitude and acknowledge the attempt to reassure me but in a state of self-loathing I will also be thinking: “Well you don’t know me the way I do – how would you feel if I told you about my desires to hurt or be hurt or my thoughts of ridding the whole world of humans?” Most of us have thoughts or fantasies that we feel ashamed about and think we are alone with. When someone tries to reassure me, it can make me think that they are not willing to look at the horribleness of humans with me.

Self-loathing keeps me humble. Self-loathing gets intensely angry with me if I start thinking I am better than, special or a chosen one. Somehow it keeps me balancing on that edge of being unique and yet equal to everyone else. When I feel superior, self-loathing bombards me with my inferiority.

And I can hear someone argue: “Well surely there are other ways of keeping your megalomania in check? Staying humble could be achieved by other, gentler means.” And yes there might be other ways and that may work for other people, but I wonder why I should choose another way? Harshness and violence is a natural part of life, denying that it is part of me and not giving it a role seems problematic to me. I have no interest in eradicating self-loathing and keeping me humble feels like a good use of its natural talents.

Self-loathing keeps me safe. It allows me to give up and let go. If I am unworthy and unlovable what’s the point of chasing after love, of proving myself to the world or of trying to live up to others expectations.Things cannot get any worse so I can just stop trying and withdraw into my cocoon. Self-loathing and self-pity are familiar companions and I know where I stand with them; with them I am allowed to die and disappear.

Self-loathing tells me that I might have spent too much energy comparing myself to others. Self-loathing seems to get stronger when I – unawares – have been looking at other peoples achievements or the recognition other people get. 

Self-loathing encourages me to get clean; physically, energetically and mentally. It has very high standards – impossible actually – when it comes to ethics. But it seems to me that we need a lot more sustainable and ethically ways of living so I don’t mind that self-loathing helps keep me in check.

Exploring Self-loathing with others

Self-loathing can be a lonely place because the nature of it is full of tabboos and shame. Even though I have just made an argument for why self-loathing is an important part of my life, I also know how difficult it is when self-loathing takes over and controls your life. When it goes from being a state of mind or a part of you to being the only reality, your disgusting worthlessness the only truth.

I totally understand why people want to relieve the pain of self-loathing, why it makes us panic and go into fixing and reassuring mode. I myself am not that great at responding to expressed self-loathing. In the moment it can feel so uncomfortable, as if you’re getting drawn into this heavy, gooey, foggy swamp. It triggers off our caring instincts as well as our desire to stay hopeful and optimistic. How can we show empathy without making it worse? If we just accept and empathise are we not just colluding? Don’t we need to stand up to this kind of self-abuse?

I want to finish this blog with a couple of things that I have found helpful in terms of finding a place for self-loathing in my life. 

First of all there is the Voice Dialogue model which has helped me see self-loathing as a part of me that comes out at certain times. This helps me explore and be less angry with it or scared of it. One time when it got really intense I asked my partner to dialogue with this part of me. I had felt caught in cycles of anxiety, shame and overwhelm for a while and I could feel self-loathing working in the background. Having my partner talk to self-loathing helped honour it’s energy and bring it into the light which made it easier to deal with. 

Another thing I find helpful is when other people share their horribleness with me. When friends feel safe enough to tell me about tabboo thoughts or feelings they may have. It seems to me that self-loathing feeds off secret keeping and shame. Self-loathing seems to grow out of proportions when we cannot find spaces to talk about all those ugly things that live in us. 

I love the death-cafes movement. I would love for there to be similar initiatives around self-loathing and the darker sides to being human. 

Gallery

Grieving every day

As far back as I can remember I have experienced times of intense sadness. Feeling like a heavy weight is dropped into my solar plexus and at the same time as if some creature is clawing at my insides. It makes me feel exhausted and restless at the same time; exhausted with the unexplainable emotional pain and restless to make it shift. Mentally restless to understand it, figure it out and come up with a way forward. Physically restless because the pain is so uncomfortable; a sense of loss, violence and meaninglessness. As if I’m too empty and too full at once.

When I was younger the big question was always “why?”. 

Why am I feeling like this? What have I done? What have I not done? What have I done wrong? Is it me? Is there something wrong with me? Why would I be feeling like this unless I’ve done something wrong? 

I would be looking for what I might have missed. Scrutinise things I’d done, choices I’d made and how I’d treated people. 

As I grew older I became more aware of this individualised idea of happiness that seems to have rooted itself in our western minds. That we alone are responsible for our happiness; that happiness is something we can just choose, something that happens if we think the right thoughts or chant the right chants. Many seem obsessed with happiness and how it’s achieved and how to spread the happiness vibe. It’s a bestseller.

Grief, sadness and pain doesn’t seeem to have much value. They are responses to be gotten over or fixed. Find the cause and get it sorted. Pain is just a messenger about something you need to look at. Then you can be happy, be your true self free of pain. Happiness is the way and we can all be happy if we want to…

With all this in mind I kept scrutinising myself. What was I doing so very, very wrong? How to change my thoughts to change my world? Its just mind over matter, right?! 

I used to hide when I felt sad. Cause nobody wants to be around a buzz killer, a party pooper. I thought people didn’t like my philosophical questions, my ponderings about the point of it all, my quiet staring into space and unenthusiastic responses. Also I just felt too tired to face people. People often want to help and relieve pain and this would leave me with a choice between two evils; pretend people was helping me to make them feel better or be honest and make others feel restless and sad too… It can be a real dilemma so I chose to not be around people because I would feel responsible when my moods and behaviour made others feel powerless.

During me teenage years I was quite sure I wouldn’t be able to keep surviving my intense states of sadness and meaninglessness. But now I am 35 and I have made it through countless of these states. And I’ve started thinking differently about them. 

Realising I am not an island was one of the first big things to help me change my approach. I don’t know why we are being sold this idea that we a separate and disconnected. I know it feels like that at times and I know nobody is ever going to experience me or the world the way I do, but that doesn’t make me an isolated being. It just makes me unique. Like everybody are unique. But we are still made from the same matter – or clay as John O’Donohue calls it. We may be islands but we are all connected by water, by this world we are living in. Connected by our humanness; by bones, flesh and blood, by birth, illness and death. 

Once I realised this I started wondering whether this sadness was truly just mine…

The wonderful German word “Weltschmerz” can be understood in two ways. Either it could mean that you feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied with the world; that the world – or your view of the world – is causing you pain. Or it could mean that you are feeling the pain of the world. 

Believing that everything is interconnected and inter-existing makes my pain not just mine. My pain may not start with me. Sometimes it does yes, but more often than not the pain I feel comes from my relationships with people around me, from being aware of pain in their lives. And some states of sadness are about the world, about feeling the grief of living beings across the planet, the despair and vulnerability. Deeply sensing the frustration of people fighting for a fairer world or people trying to raise awareness about the impact we have on the environment. 

There is so much pain in the world. So much pain.

And many of us have lost the rituals and containers that could help us feel less overwhelmed in the face of this pain. Rather than thinking of us as interconnected and face the pain of the world, we think of pain as having an isolated cause that the individual needs to deal with… Or we simply try to distract and numb ourselves from the pain.

So what to do when one feels the pain of the world?

Probably this is one place where religions of different kinds have something to offer. Loving prayers and getting together with others to remind ourselves that there may be something bigger than us out there. Choosing to trust in a higher power can alleviate some of the overwhelm.

Or nurture a spiritual practice; some people find ways to protects themselves against feeling the pain and others find ways to bear it. 

Or become an activist. 

I don’t have a religion and I don’t have the discipline to uphold a spiritual practice. I can’t really see myself as an activist. 

So some years ago I decided to try and grieve everyday. To honour the pain and the sadness. Because what seemed to happen was, that I would be relieved when I didn’t feel the sadness and then feel resentment when it came back. So I thought that if I stayed in touch with it and felt it on a regular basis it might stop coming in these intense waves…

It sounds good in theory. But then life happens and I forget or I change my priorities. So sadness takes a backseat for a while but I can’t stop being who I am and I can’t stop feeling life so intensely. So sooner or later I am forced to feel the pain again. And I think to myself: What happened to grieving everyday? What happened to being in touch with the pain of the world and honouring it? 

I am coming through a time of business to more calm living and now sadness has hit me square in my belly. It’s so intense I forget all I’ve learned about this pain, I feel lost and overwhelmed. My mind gets restless but a voice inside says: Write about it. Write!

And I write and I remember. The pain, the many ways I’ve tried to deal with it throughout my life. I remember interconnectedness and I remember how much I feel everything. 

I remember how I’ve been wanting to write about grieving everyday for over a year.

And here I am writing. Grieving. And remembering why I believe in grieving everyday.

Some pain is personal and individual and recognising individual pain and it’s cause can be very important. But some pain might be universal and this kind of pain may need a different approach. Overall I believe we need to rethink our relationship with pain and sadness and not see them as villains to be conquered or avoided. 

The film “Inside Out” tells a story about how important sadness is for our humanness and how it can help us connect with each other. Being happy and enthusiastic is valuable but being in touch with pain and showing vulnerability is equally important.

We need to honour our shared pain, all that we’ve lost, all the hurt we’ve inflicted on each other and the planet. I believe that if we are in touch with pain and allow ourselves to grieve it can help us find ways to live more harmoniously in our communities…

There are things more important than surviving

This survival of the fittest idea…

Am I the only one who thinks we (as a human race) need to stop telling ourselves and each other that we have to be strong, be fighters, be resilient and prove our worth?

Am I the only one who doesn’t find it helpful to think of the world as a battle ground where you have to bulldoze or be bulldozed, fight or be dismissed?

If we keep pushing this idea on ourselves and each other (and the children of this world) the way our societies work might never change. We are just going to be locked in eternal battles, trying to impress each other, have our little piece of limelight, our little slice of security and resources.

I don’t want to fight to be heard, I don’t want to be a fighter to be taken seriously. I want to be seen as worth listening to even when I don’t shout or speak with big gestures.

Throughout my life I have found it so difficult to be alive, to be a human being in this world. But I kept hanging in there because of the important people in my life and I kept hoping that I would find ways to make it easier for me to be here.

The biggest turning point towards a more meaningful life was when I realised that I do not need to do anything, say anything or behave in a certain way to be okay. There was a moment where I felt loved, not by anyone specific, just deeply loved. It wasn’t a thought, it was a felt experience that filled my entire body – and in that moment I knew that I am okay just as I am, that being alive is more than enough.

This moment is still with me and I call on it to support me when I feel vulnerable, when I am intensely overwhelmed and experience myself as desperately displaced. I have a ring I wear when I want to remind myself of this truth; that I am loved and lovable just as I am in any moment.

I don’t have to justify my being here, I don’t have to please anyone, I don’t have to prove I deserve love, I don’t have to fit into any category to be allowed to walk this earth. All I need to do is just be me, all that I am and stay true to my values.

I trust in the way of the gentle soul and I believe in walking on the sacred ground below us with care and consideration.

I believe that we a custodians of this beautiful planet and not owners of anything that exists here. I believe in treating all things with respect and carefully thinking about our actions before we make decisions.

And maybe this will not make me survive the harshness of this world but I do not care. There are things so much more important to me than surviving – and eventually we all die anyway.

I may not be a great warrior who will change the world but I do not care. The world will change and who gets the credit is for others to fight over.

I refuse to live my life in survival or fight mode.

I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to be resilient, I don’t want to prove my worth.

I just want to live a gentle life and love the people who are close to me.