Tales from times of exhaustion #4 – managing thoughts and feelings

The longer my physical struggles go on the more energy I have to spend on managing my thoughts and feelings.

Just did a mood intervention because I was finding myself spiralling downwards fast.

Body crashing, pain creeping into my neck and head, soft tissue stiffening up all over.

Thoughts of the pointlessness of it all, thoughts of the countless times when its been like this before, thoughts of giving up and just withdrawing – into myself, away from all my difficulties, away to some other world where I don’t have to deal with my limitations.

Feelings of intense inadequacy, frustration with myself – frustration with anything really, losing motivation to try to do anything, sadness about all the things I can’t do, anxiety about all the things I need to do and don’t know when I’ll be able to…

When spiralling down it can draw me into a state of mental and physical lethargy. In glimpses of clarity and awareness I realise I have to step back and try to shift things. Sometimes these glimpses are so short that I’ve forgotten about it the next moment. Other times they are long enough for me to actually make a move.

I had a big cup of sweet, creamy coffee and a big bowl of dark cherries (anti-oxidants, muscle recovery and sleep), melon (hydration, fibre), vanilla ice cream (combination of cold and sweet seem to stimulate my brain and clear my thinking, smell and taste of vanilla calms me) and dark chocolate (flavanols). And some pain killers.

It can feel like a failure when I can’t manage my pain and I have to take pain killers during the day. I try to manage my pain through a mixture of activity, stretching, heat and distraction and then only take pain killers in the evening to help my muscles relax in the night so I’m not too stiff in the morning.

My back is really vulnerable at the moment and the pain is draining me. I want to participate in a ballet performance this coming weekend and have been trying to pace myself. I have been struggling with my feet as well lately and my calves have been tight. So I skipped ballet Monday evening in order to have the energy for a class Tuesday and for the weekend. Tuesday evening I try and do all I know to keep my muscles warm and subtle and not strain anything. I’ve got my ankle support bands on. The room is warm and its generally a gentle class. Yet I manage to strain my left calf… It happens so quickly that I can’t do anything about it.

So now my mobility is even more limited. Forget about intense exhaustion, soft tissue that stays stiff no matter how much I stretch and move it, in-explainable pain everywhere and tightness that gives me internal claustrophobia. This is just a plain, stupid injury and it seems so unfair.

I feel infuriated and hopeless. Even if I wanted to do gardening or walking I couldn’t. I can just about walk around the house and up and down the stairs. As long as I don’t stretch my leg it seems ok.

I’ve got my feet up and am resting my calf in the hope that it will get well enough for me to do the performance on Sunday. It’s naive and ambitious but I am not willing to accept that something I actually feel like doing – when I generally don’t feel like doing much of anything – might not be possible.

It’s incredibly demoralising to do everything you know to look after yourself and yet your body seems to keep deteriorating… My bouts of low mood come on quicker, go lower and are more tricky to disperse. Shifting my state of mind means I have to believe its worthwhile. My energy is so limited that I am continuously prioritising and hoping that what I am choosing to do will be helpful.

When I feel low my thoughts and feelings seem to circle around themes like

  • me not feeling able to contribute to my community
  • me not being able to do practical chores
  • me not being able to relax
  • me not being able to socialise
  • me not being able to enjoy things I normally take pleasure in
  • me not being able to be present and kind when with my partner
  • me not being able to engage with things I feel passionate about
  • me not being able to do physical exercise without feeling significantly worse
  • me not feeling part of life around me

So overall feeling quite disabled and overwhelmed by internalised ableism… When I look at my feelings of inadequacy I find that there are certain areas (or needs) that I can focus on to help myself choose ways to shift my state of mind.

I feel disconnected and isolated so I try to think of things that can help me feel more connected without feeling overwhelmed. I feel purposeless so I can try and do things that are meaningful to me. I am experiencing so much pain and discomfort that actively creating pleasure for myself can bring temporary relief.

Meaning/purpose

  • doing small manageable bits of work like respond to one or two emails or messages
  • talking through work with my partner and requesting he take more of a lead on specific tasks so that I still feel involved but not overwhelmed with responsibility
  • set realistic standards for myself in work I have to do – simplify things
  • finding meaning outside of work e.g. appreciating days when I am able to do some weeding and caring for my plants
  • personal writing when I can even when it means postponing work writing

Comfort/pleasure

  • treat myself – finding a balance between eating and drinking things that comfort me but also sustain me (nutrition dense, supporting steady blood sugar levels etc)
  • check in with my body whether things I think are nice for me (to eat or do) are actually nice at the time. At the moment I can’t always rely on my previous experiences of pleasure. Being sensitised things I normally enjoy can feel very uncomfortable and overwhelming
  • being pain-free is not the goal. Pleasure and comfort coexists with pain – I can experience pleasure and comfort at the same time as I experience pain. So I cannot measure how successful an intervention is by whether it relieves pain but rather by other effects it might have – like lifting my mood, giving me a bit of energy, clearing my mind, making me feel calmer or helping me laugh
  • singing along to music I like. Most of the time I can’t cope with ‘the noise’ of music but when I can I find it helps me to sing
  • watching some familiar tv series – familiarity is comforting and it saves me from the unpredictability of watching new stuff
  • I am so grateful that the world cup is on at the moment. It gives structure to my day and I have something to watch that I don’t feel attached to so it doesn’t overstimulate me
  • buying stuff… This one is tricky and I need to do it discerningly as my decision making is really poor at the moment which can lead to more frustration than pleasure

Connection/belonging

  • accepting that socialising usually causes a minor crash but I have to believe it is worthwhile
  • being discerning about social media because at the moment it can make me feel more disconnected
  • forgive myself for not remembering or not having the head to respond to people I care about. Responding when I can and accepting that my responses are going to be short. Luckily most people I know don’t seem to take offence
  • savouring the views where I live and try and focus on the joy of living here rather than the frustration that I can’t get out into it much
  • connecting with myself and with parts of me that don’t get much space at the moment. Self-connecetion is tricky because it generally means connecting with uncomfortable feelings and sensations and then I have to spend a lot of energy on self-compassion. But I try and tune in and see if there is anything I can do to give space to parts of me – like my playful self – without it being too exhausting

Tales from times of exhaustion #3 – rapidly fluctuating

Having a rubbish day.

Have left the kettle boiling away 4 times now… Kitchen is well steamed. Have no attention span what so ever. And my coordination sucks so am constantly dropping things and misjudging my movements.

Don’t have much patience with myself on a day like this. Wish I could just lie down and sleep and not be aware of anything. But if I lie down I start thinking about all sorts. Especially all the things I want or need to do but can’t. So I am up and about trying to keep myself distracted without doing too many stupid things…

Last week I was in a swamp of exhaustion. This week I am fluctuating rapidly which is frustrating to deal with. In a different way than the full on collapse. Last week I was readjusting to a massive change in ability and energy. This week I am having to constantly readjust to my fluctuating mood, fluctuating energy levels and fluctuating tolerance of my environment. I can go from feeling alright to feeling completely overwhelmed within minutes.

I want steady linear progress. I want certainty and predictability. I want to know that if I do A then I will feel like Z or C… But no. Because factor K, P, X, F, Y etc plays in. It’s a bloody mess. If I do A at one time I might feel Z but if I do it an hour later or in a different room or on a full stomach or after having done B then it affects me differently. There’s no knowing when things are going to be ok for a while and when they’ll suddenly go to pots.

I am forced to be patient with myself and deal with the here and now as it is. Whatever the here and now is at any given time.

I’ve had good days and bad days this week. Good hours and bad hours.

Bad times are annoying. But good times have their own challenges. The temptation to start doing loads and getting a bit high from relief. Where as I should be keeping a low activity level and rest as much as I do on a bad day… But the restlessness has been stored up and is overflowing. So when my energy is better I inevitably do too much and then there is a backlash. I do need to take advantage of energy ups – I need to move and socialise because it helps my overall state. But I need to pace myself. Constant trial and error.

I can’t make plans and I can’t commit to anything because I am not reliable and I don’t like disappointing people. Luckily I’ve got a friend who lives around the corner who is understanding and who I feel comfortable around even when I feel rubbish. It helps me to avoid complete isolation. Because the less I socialise the harder it gets. Socialising don’t come easy to me anyway so I have to keep practicing otherwise it just becomes this massive hurdle to get over and I have to re-train myself to be around people which can take a while.

My therapist has talked with me about a concept called ‘the window of tolerance’ which I am finding quite useful. Thinking about my fluctuating mood and energy in terms of over- and understimulation helps me accept what’s going on and readjust in more appropriate ways. Finding that space where being me feels tolerable. Where I am not understimulated (feeling low and sad) and not overstimulated (irritable and confused). My window of tolerance exapands and shrinks. Sometimes it takes nothing for me to start fluctuating. Other times I can test my limits a little bit.

Having to rest and slow down is a lot hard work…

Tales from times of exhaustion #2 – how a day might go

Food is my focus. To eat at least 2 good meals throughout the day. But this takes a lot of planning. No energy for spontaneous creative cooking or hours of shopping and preparations. Also I have to cook things I will actually eat which can be tricky as my desire for food is diminished and changeable.

I don’t want to eat junk food – it’s tempting. Quick and comforting. But I know it will prolong my exhaustion if not make it worse. I do allow myself to have treats like ice-cream because it helps my mood. Overall I try to get vegetables and protein into my body.

Sometimes I prepare breakfast in the evening. Sometimes it works out that Rufus makes porridge and I’m up early enough to have some too. Then I don’t have to worry about eating for a couple of hours. If neither of those work out I’m likely not to eat till midday or early afternoon.

In order to have a proper evening meal I cook in intervals. Sometimes I start in the morning. I do some preparations for 20 min. Then a couple of hours later I’ll get a bit more done. My aim is to only have to do 20-30 min in the evening before we eat. On a bad day I leave the cooking to Rufus.

I try to slowly stop or lower my intake stuff I know can be straining for my body to deal with. Caffeine, sugar and dairy. One thing at a time. Caffeine is usually the easiest. Sugar and dairy I just try to minimised as much as possible without going cold turkey.

I loose my sense of time. I’ll get up between 8 and 9, figure out food in between rests and suddenly it’ll be afternoon. I try and remember if there is anything urgent I need to do or messages I need to respond to. I might get 1 or 2 things done – like a wash or some writing – before it’s time to do the last preparations for dinner. We eat around 7.30pm or 8pm and then I rest again.

Getting outside is tricky – too much going on, noises, people and bright light. It’s easier if I go with Rufus or a friend or if I have a task like getting cream from the corner shop or checking on the plants in the garden. I try and get out at least once doesn’t matter if it’s just 10 min. On a bad day I dont get out at all and I don’t always realise.

Any energy I have after sorting out food I spend on tidying and washing up. External chaos causes me anxiety and panicky feelings which are draining so I try to keep things around me as non-stimulating as possible.

Any rest I have usually means half lying down on the sofa and watching something. Something just entertaining enough to keep my mind from thinking and simple enough so I don’t need to really pay attention to follow it. I need to be in a state somewhere between distraction and low level stimulation. Too much stimulation and I have a melt down. Too distracted and I forget too many things and have a melt down.

When I’ve been still for a while it hurts like hell to get moving again. So it’s tempting to stay still. But I know its just a downward spiral of further exhaustion and pain. Too much rest creates problems too.

Figuring out what to do and how much to do is a constant puzzle. I have to try and trust my experience of having gone through this before. Because a lot of the time there is no instant effect of anything I do. No relief, no sign that it is helpful. So it’s hard to stick with what is sensible and what I believe works. Daydreams of drug induced highs or oblivion starts coming along. Dealing with physical exhaustion is as much about looking after my thoughts and feelings as it is about looking after my body.

Tales from times of exhaustion #1 – the initial readjusting

I wish my body collapsing on me would be as intriguing as this house collapsing. But it’s really not.

 

It’s been coming and it’s understandable but it’s still frustrating and depressing. I had hoped to catch it in time and I slowed down but no luck.
I am now trying to settle in to the state of things. Readjust to the current level of tiredness, pain and cognitive limitations.
My days more or less consist of thinking of something I need to do and then forgetting it. This include basic things like eating, drinking, getting dressed or going for a pee… Then remembering it again, try and decide if I am able to do it. I usually have a time frame of 20 min of activity before I will have to rest for X amount of time…
Am still managing to get out of bed every morning which is good. Mainly because the pain means I can’t keep lying down. Silver linings…
I am not able to get outside much which makes me feel sad. Having to do as little as possible and yet just enough to keep me from getting caught in unhelpful thoughts. My main mantra is ‘you’re exhausted and that is understandable’ – cause dealing with my body collapsing also means dealing with all kinds of internalised judgemental crap that I’ve been socialised to think.
Cooking and eating are my main priorities as well as keeping my environment neat so that it doesn’t cause anxiety, overstimulation and panicky episodes.
I am having to rethink my plans for the next months. Simplify, slow down and be sensible. And worst of all ask for help with stuff and rely more on Rufus than I’m comfortable with.
Hopefully this first week will be the worst – I know I can make a difference if I just focus on food, rest and manageable movement and I’ll eventually get out of this absolutely awful sense of being caught in sand. Like when you are dreaming and you want to speak, open your eyes or move and you just can’t no matter how hard you try. Same sense of heavyness and confusion.
Then I’ll just have to wait and see how long it takes to recover to a more acceptable level of limitations…

Migraines

Post migraine exhaustion…
Been trying to finish this tiny portion of apple-cinnamon-porridge for the past hour or more… Some migraines leave my body in a right state and it takes a couple of days to recover. I feel hungry but too nauseous to eat. I know that eating is the only way to stabilise my body so I keep trying.

I get different kinds of headaches. Having had headaches since childhood Ive learned to distinguish the different types and sometimes that helps me look after them better.

I also get different kinds of migraines. I get hormone related ones which are pretty awful but usually I can do some stuff. They feel like my liver has decided to stop working and my body is full of toxins and the migraine is a kind of rebooting of my body.
Then I get migraines from eating stuff I shouldn’t have though it’s not always easy to predict if I’ll get one or not… They feel like my stomach is shouting at the rest of my body and my gut stops working so everything else stops working too. It literally feels like the pain in my head has travelled from my stomach up along my spine and into my head. These ones often pass if I manage to get some salt and sugar and stabilising foods like butternut squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes. (That kind of food can also help with the hormonal migraines I find)
Then there are tension migraines that usually start as a headache and develop into a really bad headache with migraine like features.
And finally there are the m*****f***** evil migraines. The superior migraine of migraines. The ones where there is nothing I can do. Nothing brings relief. And I just have to wait and wait and wait. Time stops existing because there is only this moment of pain and then the next one. And the next one… And I whine and I moan because I don’t know what to do. But that doesn’t change anything and it’s too loud anyway so I stop. And even though I’m in a dark quiet room, everything is too much. My own breathing is too much. The sensations of my body is too much. Movements make me throw up. The throwing up is not like normal throwing up. It’s like my body goes into spasms and I can barely breathe. My body will keep trying to throw up long after it’s emptied itself. These migraines seems to be like a trauma response. If I’ve been doing too much and gotten too intensely overstimulated. It’s my body’s way of stopping me and screaming at me. At times it can feel like my body is incredible furious with me and that there is nothing it can do but go into migraine mode.

With some of the other migraines it’s a relief once they start receiding. But with this one the pain goes away ever so slowly and I continue to feel weak and nauseated. I also feel like it could get worse again if I do too much so recovering is a slow and careful process.

So I have to be patient and I try to accept that I have to slow down for a couple of days. Not easy, though. Things I need to do. Things I want to do.

In the aftermath of a migraine I try to appreciate the migraine as a teacher. It tells me about my limits (however annoying it is to become aware of limitations) and it teaches me patience. It also helps me refocus and think about what my priorities are – what is most important for me, here and now. It also teaches me to have a very nuanced perspective on pain and appreciate times when I am in less pain.

The ability to wait

There isn’t much fun about waiting… Though some people say that half the experience is anticipating it and preparing for it. I guess what I am talking about is the aimless waiting, waiting for something to change or shift or waiting for things outside of your control to come together. Some people talk about precious time being wasted when we wait – like waiting for the bus or for the washing machine to finish so you can take out the clothes in order to get on with the day.

I think the virtue of waiting is underestimated. There are some valuable skills in waiting. When you wait you have to surrender your idea of having control over things, you have to be with your restlessness and boredom and face your powerlessness. And I am not sure we do these things enough.

There seem to be a lot of energy in society spent on proving one is in control – that one is productive and efficient – and surrounding oneself with an air of busyness. Waiting and busyness don’t go well together. I think a lot of us feel urged to distract ourselves instead of waiting. Or we feel like we have to fill the time with something useful.

I think we tend to associate waiting with being idle. And being idle has got a bad name:

 

No wonder our adult parts – the conscientious, image-oriented and anxious selves – feel uncomfortable when we have to spend time doing nothing.

I also think many of us associate waiting with being told off as a child for being too eager, too excited and too demanding. Waiting was a punishment or a frustrating thing we had to do to get what we wanted.  How many of us has experienced an adult telling us to do this annoying waiting-thing and then sit down with us to figure out how to do it and what it’s like.

No wonder our inner children – the excited, impulsive and eager parts of us – feel like waiting is boring and an awful state of lonely restlessness.

So if waiting is more than being idle or being forced to delay gratification, what is it then?

As I get older people feed back to me how they appreciate my ability to wait, my patience. I wait for a mood to pass, I wait for the energy to shift in a difficult situation, I wait for the next wave of conversation to come (rather than create it), I wait for life to get less busy so friends and I can find time for each other, I wait for time to heal the cracks in suffering relationships, I wait for opportunities to come along. I have practised a lot of waiting in my life. Doesn’t mean I can always do it but I find that its a useful skill to have.

Waiting is not a passive state. Waiting, for me, is an attentive state; a caring, listening state. Listening in to my body, listening in to life, listening in to a situation. And trusting. Trusting that things change even if I don’t actively interfere. Even if I don’t ‘do’.

Because life is bigger than me and there is so much I do not know, so much I do not understand. I am seldom capable of confidently taking action because it is impossible for me to know what the ‘right thing’ or most appropriate thing to do, is. So I wait. And in my experience inevitably the thing to do comes to me. Like in some strange dance with life, the next step appears on the ground under me. And because I was attentively waiting I noticed it. Sometimes it’s other people who brings the steps, sometimes its something I read or ideas that come into my head. Sometime stuff just happens and I dance along. Then it slows down. And I wait again.

When I was younger I found this dance difficult. I judged myself harshly when I went through times of waiting. I shamed myself calling me names like avoidant, lazy, indecisive, unambitious and lacking drive. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, not contributing, not out there enough changing the world, fighting the good fight.

But getting older I realise it just didn’t ring true to me deep down. I don’t want to be super-poductive and ‘out there’ because I don’t feel that rushing towards the good life and fighting for change actually creates the world I want to be in.

I am still waiting for the words to describe the world I want to be in and how I imagine the journey there…

 

I really do think Self Care Rules

Getting proper rest when I feel overwhelmed can be tricky. After more than a month of looking after myself, I am finally able to have a fairly lazy day without
a) feeling guilty about doing nothing
b) feeling like I “damn well better rest so I can get better!”.
It’s such a silly tension; the to do list is just getting longer and longer and I just get more overwhelmed. But I can’t rest because the to do list is nagging at me and when I do do things they don’t feel up to my usual standards so then I get annoyed…
When I am in it I can’t see how its ever going to stop – how I can untangle myself from this paradoxical web. But one day at a time things get better. I do bits when I can, I schedule in time off, I make rules around social media and I get lots and lots of hugs (and cups of tea of course).
And then one day I find myself here; feeling pretty alright. Second day in a row!

So yes I really do think self care rules 😀

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Feeling the ground beneath my feet

I used to live in a state of constant overwhelm and anxiety.

Only I didn’t realise it at the time, because it was all I knew. I suspected something was wrong; the suicidal yearnings and impulses to self-harm were good tell tell signs, but I didn’t understand them as such. I thought I was being selfish and attention seeking and I did what I could to try and control these shameful things that lived inside me.

I thought that what was wrong was me, that I was a terrible, rotten and disgusting human being. Everything I felt, all the pain, powerlessness and confusion, I truly believed it was all my own fault.
I found ways of coping. Self-discipline and self-control were good ones – they made me feel like I was doing something to correct the wrongness. Escapism was good too. And lots and lots of it. Escaping from my body, my mind and my un-understandable emotions. Escaping into books, films, dreams, other worlds and relationships – anything that would distract me from me.

When I began to ask for help from others, I thought that what I needed was some sort of psychotherapy or drama therapy; something that would help me analyse and express my emotions. Something to help me create some order in my chaotic inner world. I didn’t have the money to get a private therapist so I asked for help from mental health services. This turned out to be a much more complicated journey than I could have ever imagined.

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 22.

With the diagnosis of schizophrenia came the obligatory psycho-education and CBT based group sessions. I was not impressed to say the least. I began to realise, that trying to get the help I believed I needed in the mental health system, was going to be quite a battle.

I did however find it helpful to start thinking of stress and stressors. This wasn’t something I had really considered before – I had been so focused on being strong, surviving and controlling myself. And I really struggled to see how my life should be stressful or bad. Others clearly had it much worse than me. But I came around to the idea that I was stressed and amongst other things showing physical signs of this. Fatigue, tenseness and eternal headaches helped me get referred to the Physiotherapy Clinic at the Psychiatric Hospital.

Now I have to say, that if I could choose only one big turning point in my journey towards a more fulfilling life, this was it.

In “Living with Voices” by Romme and Escher I write about my relationship with my physiotherapist: “During a 3 year period of on/off physiotherapy I experienced  building a relationship with a man, based on trust and mutual respect for the first time in my life (…) He helped me experience my body as a safe place and I realised how tormented I was by anxiety – like a deer always ready to take flight.
For the first time in a long, long time I felt able to be in my body, feel my emotions, think my thoughts, hear my voices and feel that whatever I was experiencing was all right, and that things were going to be okay. (…) Discovering that I could live through a whole hour without having a single self-destructive thought or impulse and once in a while even enjoy being me –  was very unfamiliar and quite scary. That maybe I deserved to live after all – and live without constant fear and pain. That perhaps there was a way of healing years and years of dissociation, of separating myself from myself and others.” (p. 149)

It was a long and slow process to get to the point I describe above.
The work my physiotherapist did with me was based on Body Awareness Therapy. It was a mix of simple massages techniques and physical exercises and it was all about grounding and centering. Everything we did was designed to help me stay in my body – become aware of my body from within.
I used to think I had loads of body awareness because I had been dancing for many years. But I slowly realised that there is a big difference between being aware of your body from the inside and being aware of your body from the outside. The body awareness I had learned through dance was all about observing myself and controlling my body. Being aware of my body, of my movements, of sensations and feelings from the inside was a whole different ball game.
At first it was frightening. I think I expected to be overwhelmed because that was how I had experienced myself for as long as I could remember. That, as soon I would come back to myself from my various escapisms, I would be completely overwhelmed with my sensations, emotions and thoughts.
I had to learn that I was safe in my body, that my adult selves could handle the things that used to overwhelm me as a kid. By doing gentle stretches and movements I could calm myself down, calm my senses and find peace.
In various trauma and anxiety work, there are strategies and visualisations we can use to create inner (or outer) safe spaces. This is what my physiotherapist did with me. Today if I get anxious and nothing else works – no calming self-talk, soothing exercises, no music or walking or distracting works – what I do is I revisit those sessions. I will draw the safeness I experienced back then into the here and now. The memory of this deep sense of safety is ingrained in my body, available to me when I need it.

I think it is vitally important that we continue to create body-memories as adults that can support us and maybe help balance out painful body-memories from the past.

Today when I stand in the woods on the hill, looking out over the valley where I live, I can actually feel the ground beneath my feet. I can feel how solid it is – or how muddy it is when it’s been raining, as it tends to do in these parts.
I am not just watching my feet on the ground, registering it as if observing someone else. I really feel it. I feel my feet in my socks, in my boots and the soles of the boots connecting with the soil or the stones. I feel the cold damp seeping through the leather and I feel the warmth of my blood trying to dispel the cold.
Experiencing the world and connecting with my surrounding from inside out is only possible because I have found a way to be in me – literally be in me, in my body.
It still takes a lot of work and I still get easily overwhelmed emotionally, mentally and physically. But knowing how to  ground myself and get back to my centre is the foundation of everything else for me. It’s my roots, my base, my starting point, my anchor.
When I get lost in fears, thoughts, fantasies, insecurities, expectations, excitement and busynes, my body is always there to bring me back to the reality of here and now. My breath is always here, my heart beat is always here and if I contract the muscles around my core I can feel I am here.
The simplest way to ground myself is just to gently tense and release my muscles – in my leg, hand, stomach or feet – to the rythm of my breath. Breathing out as I tense and breathing in I let go and relax.
This works for me.
The amazing thing about body work is that you can find your own way of grounding yourself, the possibilities are endless. But it might take some dedication and patience to find what works for you.

 

groundingandcentering

The perks of being a sensitive, worrying person – anticipating worst case scenarios

Some say you have to think positive for positive things to happen. That is not my experience.

And I am not sure it is something I want to try.
Because life happens – and yes our attitude towards things when they happen is important. How we receive things and respond to them is essential.

But to me thinking that I can affect things in advance by thinking positively is actually a bit scary. Cause what if I do all the positive thinking I possibly can and life still throws crap at me. Is it then my own fault? Did I not do it right? Did I not do it enough?
What if by thinking positive thoughts I am actually suppressing what is really going on in me? Will that not have consequences?
Being optimistic, trusting and hopeful feels good. I like it when I am able to do it. But for me it is not something I can enforce or choose. It comes from deep within, it is something which is nurtured to grow – not just by me but also by my surroundings.

I have been told I take things too seriously and that I think too much. And I do think a lot. But I don’t think it’s a problem.
In the past months I have been worried. Oh so worried. It has taken up a lot of my energy and my imagination have had me enthralled with all sorts of disastrous scenarios. And that may not sound very healthy to some of you.

But here is what you don’t know if you haven’t tried it.

When I arrive at the situation I have been anticipating I feel prepared for anything. Literally anything. There is nothing life can throw at me which I haven’t already thought through. 
And when things go well – as they most often do (partly because I am prepared) the sense of relief and gratitude is amazing.
And if things go really really well – if things go well beyond anything I could have expected or hoped for, if people are kind or things just flow effortlessly – it is the best high in life.
It is not a restless high. It is a blissful humbling high and a sense of being connected and looked after by something much bigger than me.

Highs and lows are the spice of life. If you don’t have them – create them!

Self Care rules!

As I tend to write about things at great length, I have decided that from now on, I will do short summaries of my blogs. In the beginning of them.

I believe I have some great things to say but I know all about lacking the concentration to read lenghty stuff. And I want to make my writing as accessible as possible to as many as possible. So here is the short version of Self-Care Rules:

Summary

I see self-care is an important part of life and it is not something we are taught much about. We are told to look after ourselves but what does it really mean?

I think we need to figure that out for ourselves. We need to decide what we want to achieve by looking after ourselves. Do we want to comfort ourselves, do we want more energy, do we want to feel loved and happy, do we want to find peace and calm or excitement?

I don’t think there are any rules when it comes to self-care; I think we have to create our own guidelines and draw from our wisdom about ourselves. I find it helpful to check in with myself using body work but other people may have found things that work for them – like going for a run, having a chat with a friend, cleaning or cooking and so on. Once we are able to check in with ourselves and find out how we are doing and what we need in the moment we can decide what to do. What kind of care to give ourselves. Sometimes self-care may be to stay in bed all day and sometimes it may be to commit to doing a marathon. It will be different for each of us at different times.

I like lists but mainly as inspiration for those times when I am fuzzy headed and can’t think of things that might be helpful. A list can help me remember and spark my creativity.

The last thing I want to say is that I think it is important to be at the receiving end of the self-care you give yourself. I find this part difficult because I have to be in two modes at once. I have to be responsible, caring and giving as well as receptive and open.

The long version

I am a passionate fan of self-care – of looking after ourslves.

Two things have happened recently that made me think of writing a blog post about this passion of mine.

First of all I came across a post on facebook where a woman expressed her frustration with being told to look after herself. She recognised that people who said this to her were well-meaning but it made her really frustrated. She explained how it made her feel isolated and that people were really saying that she had to look after herself beause no one else would. In a society that is rapidly becoming more and more individualistic we can’t expect others to have the time or energy to care for us or support us anymore. And often people who do do the caring – either in work life or personal life – may find that nobody is caring for them.

Being a big believer in taking care of ourselves reading her post threw me a bit. I started worrying about how people might receive it when I say “take care” or “look after yourself”. Whether my friends might find it too imposing or holier than thou. I could also feel myself getting a bit defensive and wanting to respond to the post. But after I let the uncomfortable feelings settle, I started to see this womans point. And it got me re-examining my stance on self-care.

The other thing that happened was getting an email from Healthy Minds asking if any of their volunteers were interested in coming in and talk about self-care for the radio show. As I was already spending some time thinking about the issue, I thought doing an interview might help me structure my thinking a bit and maybe also write something.

And here I am.

So what does it mean?

What is self-care? Well the obvious answer would be “to care for yourself”; so I guess it then depends on how we understand the word to care. It could mean to support, to take an interest in, to empower, to look after basic needs, to comfort or to keep an eye on. It could mean to love. When I care about somebody else it is almost always because I feel some level of love for them; I want them to be okay and to feel loved.
But we all have differerent associations with words. Caring might mean something very different to somebody else.

When I was first introduced to the idea of looking after myself I was in my early twenties and it was all to do with my mental health, learning to manage my illness, revolving around stress and symptoms. And that was great – becoming aware of how being stress felt and how it affected me was very needed at the time. But it took years for me to figure out what to do about it.
Stress and anxiety had been my main mode since early childhood and I hadn’t a clue how to look after myself. I hadn’t had any clear rolemodels to learn from either and I am sure I am not alone in that.

In a post industrial society, we grow up with this pressure to produce, achieve, contribute, earn a living and prove our worth. And looking after ourselves becomes about having fun, having loads of exciting experiences like travelling or about being fit and eating healthily. Nobody talks about what it really means to look after oneself – what it looks like under all the generalisations and health guidelines.

Self-care rules

So I struggled for years with how to look after myself – and what it meant. My head was overloaded with all these rules and input I got from my surroundings telling me what self-care was.

Self-care had become all about what I “should” do – what was “right” and what I was supposed to do to feel better. But even this idea of “feeling better” seemed vague to me. Self-care was like an empty mantra and even though I tried to do the right things it didn’t make much difference to my general state of being. I was caught in this language of right and wrong and feeling guilt and shame when I didn’t do what I should or didn’t do enough. Even though I was trying to look after myself, my language and attitude towards myself hadn’t changed. I was pushing myself and blaming myself for things not getting better. The same vicious circles which I had been caught in in my teenage years – now they just had a different theme.

Today I believe that there are no rules to self-care. No right or wrong. It is something deeply individual and even within the individual it may need to be something very flexible as well.
But how did this way of thinking come about?
I started meeting people who cared about me – without having to. People who weren’t family or friends, people who just seemed to like and value me with no strings attached. These were people working in mental health and they really didn’t have to like me. They could have done their work without liking me. And I did meet health care professionals who kept the so-called proffesional distance and clearly neither liked or disliked me – but also didn’t connect with me in a meaningful way.

Defining self-care for ourselves

The people who did connect with me, taught me something immensely valuable – that it was possible for me to feel safe and calm with others and eventually within myself. They showed me a lot of trust and as my trust in them grew I found myself beginning to trust myself. It felt like a circular thing that happened in the relationship – I trusted them and they trusted me and somehow the emotional experience grew to the point where the rational realisation came: that if they found me trustworthy and I trusted their judgement it had to mean that I could trust myself.

Trusting myself I slowly began to take my own inner wisdom more seriously.

So I started to think about why I would care for myself, what I wanted, what I wanted to achieve by self-caring. What I wanted it to do for me.
I thought about times when life had felt worth living, when I had enjoyed being me. These times seemed to be about feeling connected, feeling close to others or to myself or to nature. Also it was about things feeling meaningful – not in a rational way but on  non-verbal level. Moments of feeling alive.
I think this will be different for each of us. For some it might be about feeling at peace or feeling happy or content, for others it might be about feeling safe, nurtured or comfortable. It could be that you want to feel excited, to feel able or full of energy.

But for me looking after myself means to support myself to feel connected with the things that makes life meaningful to me. Like having deep and authentic conversations with other people. Or being able to walk in nature and enjoy the sounds, sights and smells. Or to lose myself in a piece of music or forget time as I am painting or writing.
These things doesn’t just happen by themselves. I have to look after myself, create the spaces where they can come along.

What do I actually do?

If there are no rules, how do we know what to do? If we don’t have a manual or a list to follow, how do we get started?
Don’t get me wrong – lists and guidelines are good. I have them. But I have made them up myself and I see them as inspiration rather than rules. When my head is fuzzy and I am low on energy remembering what I can do to support myself can be hard. Having a list to look at can help remind me what has been useful at other times. And maybe it can help me come up with something that is relevant for me now.
For me things are very changeable. I will have different needs at different times. Sometimes I will have more than one need and I will have to prioritise – and quite often I will have opposing needs which is when it gets tricky. Chosing to do one thing can feel like a betrayal to other needs that parts of me might have.
The pathways to getting what we want out of caring for ourselves, may look very different at different times and in differents situations.

For me the key is to tune into myself, into my body and my soul-feeling. I find it helps me to do physical grounding exercises like body-scan, tension-release, bouncing or swinging arms. It helps me get into my body. And then I can ask myself something like: How am I really right now? How do I feel? How is my soul? How is my body? What do I need? What am I longing for right now?
But I imagine there are loads of other ways to check in with yourself e.g. go somewhere you feel safe, listen to music you like, do mindfulness or meditation, go for a run, clean or have a chat with a friend.

Sometimes I can’t connect with myself and I might have to just do something that I find normally works and then see what happens. Hence having a list of things to do.
But when I do manage to connect with myself I will listen inward and get a sense of what might be a helpful way forward. Checking in is something I try and do in the mornings in order to create a day that feels balanced. Some days I will have to re-assess my needs and maybe do something different than what I had hoped or planned.
My need in the morning may be to spend time with my plants sometimes during the day – but if I get into a conflict with my partner I may need to do something more physical to channel my agitation. Staying flexible and aware takes some practice and I am still learning.

And to bring it back to the Facebook post I mentioned in the beginning I have a growing belief that self-care does not exclude receiving care from others. Rather the opposite. It is not either/or but both/and.

We care for ourselves by inviting and allowing others to care for us too. And caring for others can sometimes be like caring for ourselves. Giving love and support and feeling needed, are some of our most essential emotional needs as humans. So allowing ourselves to give and receive care is part of self-care in too, I think.

My (not so) secret ingredient to self-care

When I was nearing my thirties this is how far I’d come in my self-care journey. I knew what I was hoping for and I knew I needed to tune in, be aware and stay flexible and creative.

Sometimes I felt I was doing well but a lot of the time I still felt like something was missing. That I wasn’t really good at this self-care thing and that it was too much hard work with not much effect.
One of my main priorities in my self-care regime had been (and still is) regular massages. Getting a massage does a lot of things for me – and it had taken me years to learn to recieve  a massage, to feel okay with being touched and to relax into it.
Knowing what it is like to not feel safe with physical touch, I continue to treasure massages as if each one is a little miracle. But finding a good massage therapist is key – it is more about the person than the actual technique they use, I think.

Anyway – back to the secret ingedient.
If possible at least once a month I would go have a therapeutic massage with a woman who I felt very safe with. And one day while I was lying there, I thought about why in the massage, I found it so easy to get to the place I was looking for when self-caring.

A lot of my ideas around self-care had come from receiving different forms of massages and doing bodywork – it seemed like the portal and the foundation.
How I felt when receiving massages was the measure which I would compare other things against. Did I feel as safe, as connected, as peaceful, as blissful, as loved, as gentle?
So what was it that was happening when I received massages, that didn’t seem to be happening when I was looking after mysef in other ways? What am I doing here that is different?

And then I had a lovely, simple epiphany; I was on the receiving end. I was just lying there and all I had to do was be open, relaxed and receptive.
I thought back to the things I would do to look after myself and how I was always in giving mode, in caring mode, responsible mode. Somehow I wasn’t able to be in giving and receiving mode at once. And so my self-caring efforts would often be a bit wasted. They’d be good for me, no doubt, but they didn’t go very deep or have any lasting effect.

I keep getting massages and I keep practicing being open and receptive, so that maybe I can do it in other situations too.

I keep working on my self-trust because I think that it is the key to being more receptive to my own self-care. If I can trust that what I am doing is okay, then I may relax with myself and slowly become more open.
I readily admit that I am still not very good at being on the receiving end of my own self-care.
I have to keep reminding myself.
And be gentle with myself – accepting that more often than not, I just can’t.
Underneath the frustrations with my own inability to trust and receive, there is a sense of sadness.
Feeling the sadness helps me move away from judging and pushing myself.
And I know that looking after myself is going to be a life long journey.

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