Going to the gym for the first time in years…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wolf we feed will get stronger…

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

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More about the event from compassionatementalhealth.co.uk

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

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

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

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

Read more HERE

Register HERE

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… 

 

 

 

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.

 

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Connecting the past and the present

This week my partner Rufus and I went down to London to facilitate two separate workshops together with our friend Anders. First day we looked at Using Mindfulness with Psychosis and second day we shared different ways of Talking with Voices and learning from the dialogue.

Anders came over to England from Denmark and it was quite special for me personally, to try and bring together two equally important worlds.

In recent months I have started to feel like I am finally settling into my present life with Rufus in England . Moving to a new country has been challenging and exhausting and I have wondered what I might end up doing with my time and whether I’d ever feel valued here the way I do in Denmark.

I have been very consious of not losing my connections to my previous life in Denmark, my friends and my family – and it has been a painful juggling act at times. It is tempting to just focus completely on the here and now; on adjusting, finding new networks and on building a future. But my sense of self is deeply rooted in my past – in those first 32 years in Denmark, in the people who know me well and value me for how I am and not just for what I do.

Since moving to England I have been travelling to Denmark regularly but it often feels disjointed. Here in England certain parts of me have become stronger and when I am in Denmark I experience other parts of me strengthening or I feel myself going back to how I was several years ago. My hope is that in time – and as friends visit me here and Rufus comes with me to Denmark -the sense of jumping between selves and worlds will ease.

The last ten years I lived in Denmark I was involved in the Hearing Voices Project in Aarhus ; participating in a Hearing Voices group, delivering training as part of a team (quite often with Anders) and making new friends. I found that I was able to do things I hadn’t considered as part of my path in life when I was younger: public speaking, teaching, openly sharing my vulnerability with others, support people to set up groups. I have gained so much knowledge and experience doing this work and it looks like I will be able to build on this here in England.

Delivering training with Rufus and Anders was emotional and affirming for me –  obviously it is amazing to be able to do things together with people you respect and care about. But each of them also represent significant changes and times in my life.

As always, delivering training is exciting but also presents some challenges and I find that I always learn something new – about myself, about the material we are working and about working together as a team.

We were all exhausted by the end of Tuesday – and rush hour commuting in different parts of London does add an extra layer  to the predictable tiredness.
I thoroughly enjoyed the two days and there is a sense of inspiration and possibility here in the post-training days.

Much gratitude goes out to everyone who came along and co-created the training. I truly believe that everyone in the room creates what happens: each person brings their own energy and whether people speak up or keep quiet, engange with others in the breaks or not – it all makes the day unfold just the way it does.