Threat levels…

I enjoyed the British threat levels hashtag that was trending a while ago. And because there was a little truth in a lot of the statements, I started thinking about my own threat levels and how frustrated I get with it.

It was such a relief to chuckle about those little things but it also made me think that this might somewhat explain why I feel at home in England. The social anxiety, political correctness, the tensions and the propriety obsession. I only feel like the odd one out some of the time 😉

Anxiety is more or less a constant companion for me. So any extra added anxiety or stress is tricky for me. I have noticed how other people can seem to enjoy getting stressed, worked up or scared e.g. watching scary films or having to rush for something or getting in to a debate. Like they get a bit high on the adrenaline. I really, really don’t. When I experience heightened threat levels I feel quite ill and it takes me a long time to recover – or get back to my normal uncomfortable but familiar level of anxiety.

Anyway I want to try and look at my threat level triggers and taking a bit of a humorous stance with them. Even though that might not come across in my writing.

So here is the ESMD* threat levels colourcoded overview:

Red alerts (things that make my body feel full of terror. Stress levels out the roof)

  • Waking up in the morning and realising I won’t be able to sleep any longer.
  • Bus or train arriving and it’s packed and i am having to quickly decide whether to get on or wait for the next.
  • Feeling like a tiny spider/aphid/fly is crawling around on my skin no matter how much I try to wipe it away.
  • The phone ringing! Here’s how it goes: withheld or unknown number I feel a little relief as I think I am less obliged to respond. Known caller – total panic and I spend so long trying to decide what to do that it goes to voicemail.
  • Voicemail icon showing up on my phone – do have to listen to it straight away? If I wait the icon just springs at me every time I look at the phone. I use the phone as a time piece – I start calculating whether I’ll need to look at the time any more that day. I put the phone away and for the millionth time start thinking about getting a pocket watch.
  • Looking in the fridge and cupboards and not seeing anything I want to eat. I decide not to eat – panic avoided for a couple of hours…
  • Getting dressed and having limited time to get ready and everything I try on just feels wrong and uncomfortable. Usually my hair then starts acting up too and my hands and arms start hurting trying to sort it out. Eventually go out the door ready to have a tantrum.
  • People getting angry with each other and saying rude things and I cant not hear it.
  • Penalty kicks in football. Or even worse: penalty shoot outs!
  • Packing for travelling.
  • Getting angry about something and not knowing what to do.
  • Something (read any thing) not going according to how I see it in my head.
  • Unpredictability.
  • Uncertainty.

Orange alerts (things that make me feel nauseated and slightly panicky. Stress levels elavated)

  • Whatching a knockout in a boxing match or a bad tackle in a football game.
  • A good book finishing.
  • My partner coming home earlier than expected. No matter how much I have been looking forward to seeing him. Luckily this rarely happens because he texts me advance so I know I have to make the transition from being on my own to being with him. I am just pure grumpyness if I haven’t had a chance to prepare myself. I am only a little bit grumpy and not for long when I have had time to prepare.
  • Being asked to make a spontaneous decision. Or just being asked to make a decision.
  • Feeling responsible.
  • In sports: The underdog looking like they are going to win but then something changes and they loose. I usually have to stop watching (beginning to think I just shouldn’t watch sports…)
  • A plant dying because I forgot to water it or its got some disease I can’t help it with.
  • Slugs eating little seedlings.
  • Food going off and I am having to throw it out.
  • Somebody knocking on the door.
  • Forgetting something. Usually after having reminded myself of it twenty times because I know I can’t cope with forgetting it.
  • Being around intoxicated people. A little bit easier if intoxicated myself but then of course even mild intoxication is like russian roulette (headaches, brain fog etc) so if I have anything remotely important planned next day it is not an option.

Yellow alerts (things that make me feel restless and uncomfortable. This is actually my everyday state… Thought it was normal till I was 24 and started doing bodywork, see blog on bodywork)

  • Opening my email inbox.
  • Finding my phone after having left it somewhere where I cant hear or see it for hours.
  • Encountering a friendly, chatty person and not remembering how I am supposed to respond because I hadn’t prepared myself for being sociable.
  • Enjoying myself with a friend and beginning to feel overstimulated and then getting annoyed with myself because I want to keep hanging out but I know I’ll be grumpy once I come down from being high on social interactions.
  • Waking up briefly for the 5th time in the night and feeling like I’m not sleeping properly.
  • My morning or evening rituals being interrupted by things like: being to tired to do them, having to get out the door a certain time to catch a bus and be somewhere, my hair being so tangled it takes more than 2 minutes to sort out, my skin being so dry and itchy/painful I have to put moisturiser several times after I have lied down to sleep.
  • Feeling ready to sleep after having been up and awake for 2 hours. You know that afternoon dip? Well, mine happens around 11am.
  • Trying to have a nap during the day but giving up after lying there for an hour.
  • Knowing full well that sugar and coffeine will not give me a boost of energy but trying anyway and then feeling sorry for myself when it doesn’t work.
  • Getting annoyed with people talking about having a coffee buzz or a sugar high (oh just go away will you).
  • Feeling guilty for getting annoyed with other people.
  • Not having interacted with anyone but my partner for a week and when I notice it I am not sure what to feel about it.
  • Feeling something and not knowing why.
  • Being told to: ‘just come around’ or ‘give me a call’ and then never doing it. Then being told again and starting to worry about how to explain that it’s not that I don’t want to, I just forget, because most of the time I’m fairly satisfied in my own company. Not that I don’t want to come around or have a chat but if it’s not planned, more often than not I just don’t remember.
  • People bumping in to me. Especially if it’s in a queue and I cant get away and they keep bumping in to me. I have this trick of stepping slightly out of the queue.
  • Bumping into people. It does happen!
  • Walking towards people on the street and they don’t move out of the way before last second and then they’d brush against me if I didn’t do massive avoidance manuevres.
  • People taking me seriously when I am joking.
  • Feeling unsure whether it’s okay to write ‘I  enjoyed the British threat levels hashtag trending’ without honouring the painful context it occured in.
  • Beginning to think too much about what I write or say…

*ESMD – Elisabeth Svanholmer Most Days

Sort of related:

I found this read below a while back and it made a lot of sense to me and resonates with my personal experience so I thought other people might find it helpful as well.

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.

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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. 

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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…

Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World by Ilse Sand

Finally holding the real thing in my hands.
What an amazing journey it has been so far; from meeting Ilse Sand in 2008 because she was one of the only therapists working with highly sensitive people in Denmark at the time, to reading her book the first time in 2010, then moving to England and realising how much I wanted to be able to share Ilse’s writing with people I met over here and while teaching and travelling.
Translating the book was exciting and hard work but the toughest bit turned out to be trying to find a publisher. In December 2015 things suddenly picked up and a contract was signed with Jessica Kingsley Publishers by the end of the year – and now it’s here! All those months and months of work made tangible.
It’s been a great privilege to work with Ilse Sand on getting her book published in English. I’ve learned a lot about how the publishing world works and feel a bit more confident about one day writing my own stuff and getting it out there.

Get the book here

Please note that JKP books are available in UK, US, AUS and Canada – choose your area in top right corner of the website.

More about Ilse Sand and her work: www.highlysensitive-hsp.com

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/highlysensitivepeopleIlseSand/

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When self-care bites

Yesterday self-care was like looking into the dark abyss – yesterday self-care meant making a painful decision. Only two-three options to choose from and they all sucked one way or the other… My head, heart and gut strongly disagreed on the way to go, so what to do?

When in doubt I listen to my gut.

Even though my head and heart make much better arguments, I have learned from experience that that wordless wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach is the one to go with.

I cried and cried and cried last night, totally despairing that I had to make this decision. I wanted to stick my head in the sand AND soldier on pretending everything would be fine. But there was no way around it. While I was dissolving in tears I had moments of hoping that the crying would sort things out for me. Or that I would have some amzing insight into a way forward. But the crying didn’t change anything. I still had my crappy decision to make.

My back injury has flared up and it means that I am in pain from the chest down. Doesn’t matter if I stand, sit, lie or walk – it hurts all the time, just in different ways. Pain killers don’t make a difference and the pain affects my cognitive functioning leaving me in a bit of a haze. It also hurts emotionally because I’ve been doing well for more than a year now and been getting back into ballet, so it feels like a massive set back. And the uncertainty is painful as well; whether this will last for months or if it will get better within weeks. Once it took over a year and the fear is always that it won’t get better this time…

Thursday and Friday this week my partner and I have put on a two-day course in London on Compassionate Communication Skills in Mental Health Settings. We’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and was excited when a friend, who is a certified NVC trainer, was up for doing this with us.

I woke yesterday hoping my back might get better during the day but as the evening came nothing had changed. I was feeling sad and moody, annoyed with myself for not having done enough to prevent this flare up…  I’d sat down with my partner to find something to watch together when I suddenly found myself saying “I wish we weren’t going to London tomorrow.” Until that moment I had been in denial about the effect the pain had on me. And it wasn’t till the words came out of my mouth that I realised I had to decide whether to go to London or not.

My three choices were: 1) to go and do everything as planned 2)to go but be less involved in the training 3)stay at home.

My heart wanted to go. “Go!Go! Go!” It said. “Everything will be fine. You can’t miss out on this, there is so much to learn.”

My head wanted to go but take it easy. “You need to learn to be more resilient and this is a chance to thicken your skin a bit. You can’t keep bailing out when things get tough. You might always be in pain so you have to learn to deal with it”

And my gut… My gut was just full of this sinking, wrenching feeling at the thought of the long drive, sleeping in a different bed, being nice and sociable, facilitating training, negotiating space and roles with my co-facilitators and keeping my head focused while managing my pain.

I knew my heart and head were right. I could do it. But it would undoubtedly be at a cost. All three choices would have difficult consequences.

At the moment I feel like I am in shock from being in pain again and I know that I would have to dissociate in order to go and do the training. I dont mind dissociating – it is very useful at times like this – but then there is always an aftermath that I will have to take care of. Maybe if I had had a week to gather myself it would have been more manageable.

So for now I have chosen to go with my gut, stay at home and get reacquainted with my pain-managing skills… 

 

 

 

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 😀

See more here http://wp.me/p5ELi7-3s

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 forgotten body

I think that the way society works today, it can be easy to forget the body. Even though we are bombarded with stuff about body image, food, exercise, healthy living and the importance of appearances, none of this really connects us to our body. Rather it disconnects us because it is all about how it should be, not how it is.
How it really is here and now, for us as individuals in our individual bodies.
What would we be without our bodies?
What could we do without the body?
The mind takes up so much of our time – even when we do physical tasks and exercise, we can easily find ourselves in our minds rather than our bodies. With screens playing such a dominant part in our lives, in schools, at home and at work we are forced to be in our heads, thinking, analysing, planning and entertaining ourselves using our head based senses (sight, sound, smell, taste). And the body-based senses get neglected.
The body based senses are not just in our skin. It’s our entire nervous-system which is connected to everything in us; our bones, organs, muscles, other soft tissue, fluids etc. I find the more I connect with my body the more amazed I become. Everything the body does – all the time! Everything the body experiences – all the time!
Even though my body presents me with limitations, challenges and suffering I still think it is an amazing mystery to be explored and celebrated…

After the floods

Thinking of ways to support the local area find its way back to some sort of normal…

The devastation is difficult to comprehend and people are still working hard to clean up. Rebuilding homes, businesses, schools and other community venues will take a long time. We all try and cope with the state of things in our own ways and there will be a continued need for support both practically and emotionally.

One way to support people in the beautiful valleys of Calderdale is to donate here Calderdale Flood Relief Appeal

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I love films and I love cinemas. My first memories of going to the cinema is from the wonderfully charming Øst for Paradis in Aarhus. I remember watching La Gloire de mon père there in the early early 90’ies and later many more arty and independent films from all over the world.
In my early teens I lived in Hornslet and the local cinema Kom-bi became my sancturary. There were films I would go watch again and again – such as La cité des enfants perdus – and this was also where I saw the Star Wars triology for the first times.

Even though I have some beautiful memories of watching films with friends, my mother and boyfriends, the cinema is a place I love to go on my own. Whatever my mood is, sitting in the dark and allowing myself to be absorbed into the stories, the action and the emotions on screen, is magical (unless its a really terrible film – but luckily I have not had too many of those experiences).
I can enjoy all sorts of genres but if I am feeling overwhelmed my prefered remedy is to go and watch either some macho action packed film or a thriller. Somehow that will give me a break from reality but also give me emotional release.

Now I live in Calderdale and what excitement I felt the first time I went to Hebden Bridge Picture House! The building is amazing and the interior made me feel at home, bringing back memories of Øst for Paradis. But during the floods on Boxing Day the Picture House was damaged…

Update on December 30th from Hebden Bridge Picture House

“Today, the Picture House and Town Council staff cleaned the foyer and kiosk, the Friends of the Picture House committee cleaned the balcony and a whole load of volunteers of all varieties, with power tools and strength and at very short notice, came and unbolted the sodden seats – removing all 257 from the stalls.
We are now in a position to open our doors, and would like to invite you all to our not-so-grand reopening on New Year’s Day, launching the January programme as planned!

During this period only the unaffected original balcony seating will be available, meaning capacity is reduced to 230. This also means access is limited for those unable to use the stairs – thank you for your patience during this time if you are unable to attend for this reason.

Heating will be limited (unless we can get hold of some giant plug-in heaters…), so feel free to bring along a cushion, a blanket and your good spirit – the show will go on!

Thank you for your support, generosity and hard work – we’ve been overwhelmed with your response. We look forward to seeing you all very soon!

Hebden Bridge Picture House Team”

Dear Friends of the Picture House and all volunteers, helpers and workers – thank you for bringing such an important part of the community back so quickly.

So now I am in the wonderful position of being able to combine my love for films and my desire to support the local area to bounce back after the flooding. On New Years day a group of us went to see the powerful film Sufragette. It was an atmospheric and slightly surreal experience. People in their coats and with blankets almost filling up the seats on the balcony and below us the bare floors and walls showing markings where the water had been. There is no real escape from what has happened but it was good to sit there and get a couple of hours relief and sense the spirit of this strong community.
And today I hope to go see Black Mass. Bringing again my blankets and hopefully I will remember my mug for a cup of tea to help keep my hands warm.

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