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.

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.

 

groundingandcentering

The Possibility of Healing

I wrote this a while back and it was first posted on www.journeyingwithsensitivity.wordpress.com

Sometimes I am not sure what is meant when people talk about healing. So when I decided to try and write this piece I looked it up on wikipedia where it says: Healing – literally meaning to make whole – is the process of the restoration of health to an unbalanced, diseased or damaged organism. And here is what it says in my Webster’s comprehensive dictionary: Heal – 1) to restore to health or soundness; make healthy again; cure. 2) To bring about the remedy or cure of, as a wound or disease. 3) To remedy, repair, or counteract, as a quarrel, breach etc. 4) To free from sin, grief, worry etc.; purify: to heal the spirit – v.i. 5) To become well or sound.

Now it looks to me as if I need to understand and accept the duality of being healthy and being unhealthy which I am not sure I truly can… But for the sake of this piece of writing let us say, that there are processes that facilitate our minds and bodies to move from states of pain to states of less pain, from damage to undamaged, from unease to pleasure or peace, from ill-being to well-being. And that those processes are called healing. I guess we can also think of them as transforming, recovering, curing, restoring, regenerating, mending, changing or fixing.

That out of the way I will get started on what I actually wanted to say.

It is believed in different circles and faiths that spontaneous healing is possible – healing that does not happen from human medical interference but by divine forces or God’s grace. Amongst many others there is a group that I find quite interesting. It is an international gathering of people called Bruno Gröening’s Circle of Friends who do work on volunteer and donation basis to inform people about healing as well as collect documentation of healing that occurs. Below is a short description of their work but more information can be found on their website.

The Bruno Groening Circle of Friends is an informal gathering of people who have recognised the value of Bruno Groening’s teachings. These are passed on in hundreds of groups which meet around the world. Instruction is given for the proper physical and mental attitude necessary for the absorption of Divine power. The ”healing stream”, which is clearly perceptible in the body, gives help and healing, even in cases of chronic, degenerative and serious organic illnesses.”

From http://www.bruno-groening.org/english/default.htm

Stories of spontaneous healings have been told for thousands of years – maybe even longer. I do believe that healing can happen in ways that science and medicine cannot explain with their views on life and the world.

A question that intrigues me is, that if healing from pain, illness and distress is possible, then why does it not happen more?

I know that within myself there are intense contradicting forces. Parts of me long for peace of mind, a pain-free, energised body and strong health without inflictions like asthma, allergies, stomach problems, muscle tension, flues, inflammations and injuries. But there are also parts of me that hold pain and illness in great reverence. These parts fully believe that pain is a natural human condition and also something we need in order to learn. Caught between these contradicting parts I do not expect myself to have all my maladies spontaneously healed and then live a long and healthy life…

At the moment I am finding myself very inspired and excited about Stephen Donaldson’s three triologies about Thomas Covenant – again, as I went through this excitement some years ago as well. In the 7th book “Runes of the Earth” there are some interesting reflections on healing and I will just share some short excerpts to give a general sense of what I want to reflect on:

Anele’s hands trembled as he studied the Staff, and his blind gaze seemed to ache with yearning (…) How much recrimination and self-loathing had he suffered before he had fallen into madness?

The touch of the Staff might heal him as well.

(…)

In a small voice he murmured unsteadily: ‘I am unworthy of such astonishment. The day has not come yet when I may be whole’ His throat closed on a sob. When he has swallowed it he whispered: ‘Until that time, I must remain as I am.’

(…)

For a while, Linden could not stop her tears. The day had not yet come – she believed him; there was no falsehood in him. But the thought that he needed to remain as he was hurt her more than she could express. With the Staff she possessed the power to impose any healing that he might require. Yet he refused her. He was not ready – or his circumstances were not”

(p.467 – 468, Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson)

Here it seems as if there is much more to healing than just the act of itself; closing a wound, expelling illnesses from the body or mending a fragmented mind. That healing does not only affect the person healed but also the surroundings; we are presented with the idea that circumstances can be ready for healing as well, or not. That healing is not only about one person’s willingness and readiness but also about the bigger picture and deeper consequences for everyone involved.

In a cure-oriented society it may be hard to understand and accept that some people do not want healing. It may be even harder to grasp that there could be a deeper -even unconscious – personal or collective need for somebody not to heal and remain in pain or disabled. Most people within care and treatment professions are oriented towards helping, easing or stopping suffering; personally I think we need to talk more about the problems with involuntary treatment and artificial elongations of lives. The main character in the book mentioned above is a physician dedicated to helping others and following her journey of trying to see beyond the old man’s madness and refusal to be healed is fascinating:

She wiped her eyes on her sleeve. ‘Look at him,’ she told Liand. ‘He’s choosing to be this way.’ His madness, like his blindness, was necessary to him still. ‘If I try to heal him, he’ll fight me. And maybe he is right. He certainly has the right.’ “

(p.468, Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson)

The idea that we might need pain and illness for reasons we cannot yet comprehend can ease some of my personal frustrations a bit. Both as someone who regularly experiences physical pain and emotional distress as well as someone who cares about others and feel the urgency for relief from pain around me. I have times where I am completely overwhelmed by a sense of meaninglessness and of disillusionment with the state of the world. I rage against the forces – divine or human – that does not allow healing to happen where it seems so needed. But it helps me to read things like the book mentioned above, following a character’s journey towards greater understanding of the complexity of life. It can help me to connect with a part of me that humbly says: “What do I really know? And who am I to judge? How can I with my limited perceptions understand what is truly needed in the world?”

This does not mean that I stop caring or yearning to see change – or that I do not think I need to take action where I feel able. But I try to remember that all I can really do is focus on the here and now, do my best to honour my own values and trust that if I try my best, healing will happen when and where the people and circumstances are ripe and ready for the deep change that healing might be.