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…

Transitions

After two weeks on the road and working intensely in Ireland, I am now back home.

I am fortunate that I love where I live and I love my home life with my partner. I feel like I have been away from home for too long. Despite my relief and gratitude I also notice feelings of anxiety and restlessness.

Very unlike me, I got up quite quickly this morning after waking up and got a lift with my partner into the little town we live nearby. I had a meeting later in the morning and thought I might as well go to a cafe and wait.

I am finding myself still in the cafe – nearly 5 hours later. Been catching up on work, responding to emails and getting an overview of November. But I am also idling… Not really wanting to go home.

I think I am surfing the wave of energy that I have created while I was away. For me to cope with working intensely it is necessary for me to create these waves. And its exciting while it lasts – I get a lot done. But I cannot maintain such high levels of energy.

Sitting here, feeling my restlessness and noticing my reluctance to go home, I realise I am struggling with the transition. I don’t want to get off the wave.

I know I am overstimulated from all the experiences and inputs I had while in Ireland. I also know I am anxious about the coming month. And because of the busyness of the past 2-3 months – and the awareness of the busyness of November – I get a slightly constricted sensation in my body. A feeling of not being able to breathe or think – like I can’t hold the things  that I need to prepare for in my head. As if these things are just out of reach within my mind and a fear of forgetting something important starts creeping in. I find myself beginning to make lists to help me remember. I go over my diaries and plans repeatedly. I feel my ability to focus is slipping away.

Surfing a wave of energy – even when manufactured by myself – creates a sense of focus. I take one thing at a time and accept that I cannot prepare for the next thing until the present work is over. I find myself determined and capable in ways that are slightly unfamiliar. I was – amongst other things – able to deliver a 2 day workshop with my partner despite being ill with the flu. And in the 2 days off I had scheduled in for myself between work, I ended up being out and about rather than resting. While I realise some people might call this ‘flow’ to me it feels like a somewhat compartmentalised state of being.

Coming home I can feel how this compartmentalisation is crumbling. Daily life with daily chores, concerns and responsibilities, daily life dynamics with my partner and daily life dynamics within myself – it all makes me aware of the parts of me I have had to push to the side to ride this wave.

There is grief in transitions, I find. And frustration of having to let go of a certain state of mind. Learning to be aware of transitions and honour them has been important to me, but to do that I have to slow down.

I am apprehensive about the next couple of days. Will I crash? Will I feel caught in limbo unable to crash because we are going away again 3 times in November? What will this crash look like (physical illness, low mood, exhaustion or something else) and how will I manage it? What if I don’t crash – what will I do?

Earlier in the year I had plans to take 3 months out – a sabbatical. To clear my head, step back from my life and try to create space to rethink how I do things and see if I need to refocus. I had hoped it would be November, December and January. But work related things have come up that feel too important to pass it up. And then I planned a trip to Denmark and suddenly November and December feel full. Of good things but too full for me to properly take that step back.

I wonder if I will find the determination to make my sabbatical happen. I will have to commit to saying no. Maybe part of me feel anxious about stepping back from work. Like now – the fear of missing out when I don’t stay on the wave. But just in a bigger way – 3 months seem like a long time…

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.

I want to learn…

I want to learn to gently and lovingly challenge other people to think deeper and become more aware of the consequences of words and actions…
The problem is that I absolutely hate confrontation. And I know that once I say something challenging, no matter how mindfully I phrase it, I cannot control how my words are perceived or what the response is going to be. And then I am in the s*** because I will get so overwhelmed by the sense of misunderstandings and looming arguments. The intensity of expressed emotions terrifies me and has a very real physical impact on me. 
What I am beginning to realise is that it is painful to become more aware. So it is only natural that there will be resentment and anger. I have days where I wish that I could be less aware and I imagine that life would be simpler and I wouldn’t get so bloody overwhelmed. And then I think “who am I to want to impose more awareness on other people?”
But I want to feel able speak up when I am not being treated as an equal just because I am a woman.
I want to feel able to speak up when I hear and see others being treated as less worthy and less important.
I want to feel able to take a stand against the repeated humiliation of fellow human beings that goes on everywhere covered up as ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘humour’. For me it is never, ever okay to humiliate someone else – I believe that imposing feelings of shame on someone can have deep effects that can last a lifetime.
I have a deep longing for equal relating and equal interacting – not just for myself but all around me.
I want to learn to facilitate spaces where this can happen – where we move together from always (often subconsciously) trying to establish a hierarchy and who is more powerful and more important, to sharing power and responsibility with each other. 
I deeply dislike it when my neighbours shout at their kids. It hurts me physically. I can rationalise ‘live and let live’ and that the kids are used to it – it’s nothing to worry about. I can think compassionately about their situation. It doesn’t change how it affects me.  
Verbal violence – even when it is not aimed at me – affects me. For hours, sometimes days.
Interactions based on assuming inferiority or superiority in someone else confuses me.
When I notice people are responding to each other based on misunderstandings and getting more and more entangled in hurt and self-protection, I feel sad.
I have to learn to choose my battles – it’s a cliche, but I really, really do. Because battling does not come easy to me and it has a deep impact on me physically as well as emotionally.
I wish I could learn to challenge others to become more aware without stirring up battles. But I am not sure that it is possible…
Gallery

Grieving every day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or become an activist. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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/

wp-1466499550857.jpegwp-1466499561784.jpeg

There are things more important than surviving

This survival of the fittest idea…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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