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.
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.
Just thought I’d share some of the things I’ve enjoyed reading this past week.
Not necessarily enjoyed in the sense that they made me feel uplifted. More that they all feel like important reads for different reasons.
Clicking on the titles should take you to the articles and blogs.
First a couple of things related to the medical model of Mental Health
ALL IN THE BRAIN?
By Richard Bentall
Exploiting The Placebo Effect: Deceiving People For Their Own Good?
by PHIL HICKEY on FEBRUARY 16, 2016
Related to the blog above here is something about a trend I find quite worrying
Reading it left me feeling angry and despairing as my own experience is that my chronic pain and migraines started after being on (and coming off) Olanzapine. So then I do appreciate that there are resources like this next one available out there on the beautiful world wide web.
And finally here is something I’ve been wanting to share for a while and this seems as good an occasion as any.
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
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.
As I tend to write about things at great length, I have decided that from now on, I will do short summaries of my blogs. In the beginning of them.
I believe I have some great things to say but I know all about lacking the concentration to read lenghty stuff. And I want to make my writing as accessible as possible to as many as possible. So here is the short version of Self-Care Rules:
I see self-care is an important part of life and it is not something we are taught much about. We are told to look after ourselves but what does it really mean?
I think we need to figure that out for ourselves. We need to decide what we want to achieve by looking after ourselves. Do we want to comfort ourselves, do we want more energy, do we want to feel loved and happy, do we want to find peace and calm or excitement?
I don’t think there are any rules when it comes to self-care; I think we have to create our own guidelines and draw from our wisdom about ourselves. I find it helpful to check in with myself using body work but other people may have found things that work for them – like going for a run, having a chat with a friend, cleaning or cooking and so on. Once we are able to check in with ourselves and find out how we are doing and what we need in the moment we can decide what to do. What kind of care to give ourselves. Sometimes self-care may be to stay in bed all day and sometimes it may be to commit to doing a marathon. It will be different for each of us at different times.
I like lists but mainly as inspiration for those times when I am fuzzy headed and can’t think of things that might be helpful. A list can help me remember and spark my creativity.
The last thing I want to say is that I think it is important to be at the receiving end of the self-care you give yourself. I find this part difficult because I have to be in two modes at once. I have to be responsible, caring and giving as well as receptive and open.
The long version
I am a passionate fan of self-care – of looking after ourslves.
Two things have happened recently that made me think of writing a blog post about this passion of mine.
First of all I came across a post on facebook where a woman expressed her frustration with being told to look after herself. She recognised that people who said this to her were well-meaning but it made her really frustrated. She explained how it made her feel isolated and that people were really saying that she had to look after herself beause no one else would. In a society that is rapidly becoming more and more individualistic we can’t expect others to have the time or energy to care for us or support us anymore. And often people who do do the caring – either in work life or personal life – may find that nobody is caring for them.
Being a big believer in taking care of ourselves reading her post threw me a bit. I started worrying about how people might receive it when I say “take care” or “look after yourself”. Whether my friends might find it too imposing or holier than thou. I could also feel myself getting a bit defensive and wanting to respond to the post. But after I let the uncomfortable feelings settle, I started to see this womans point. And it got me re-examining my stance on self-care.
The other thing that happened was getting an email from Healthy Minds asking if any of their volunteers were interested in coming in and talk about self-care for the radio show. As I was already spending some time thinking about the issue, I thought doing an interview might help me structure my thinking a bit and maybe also write something.
And here I am.
So what does it mean?
What is self-care? Well the obvious answer would be “to care for yourself”; so I guess it then depends on how we understand the word to care. It could mean to support, to take an interest in, to empower, to look after basic needs, to comfort or to keep an eye on. It could mean to love. When I care about somebody else it is almost always because I feel some level of love for them; I want them to be okay and to feel loved.
But we all have differerent associations with words. Caring might mean something very different to somebody else.
When I was first introduced to the idea of looking after myself I was in my early twenties and it was all to do with my mental health, learning to manage my illness, revolving around stress and symptoms. And that was great – becoming aware of how being stress felt and how it affected me was very needed at the time. But it took years for me to figure out what to do about it.
Stress and anxiety had been my main mode since early childhood and I hadn’t a clue how to look after myself. I hadn’t had any clear rolemodels to learn from either and I am sure I am not alone in that.
In a post industrial society, we grow up with this pressure to produce, achieve, contribute, earn a living and prove our worth. And looking after ourselves becomes about having fun, having loads of exciting experiences like travelling or about being fit and eating healthily. Nobody talks about what it really means to look after oneself – what it looks like under all the generalisations and health guidelines.
So I struggled for years with how to look after myself – and what it meant. My head was overloaded with all these rules and input I got from my surroundings telling me what self-care was.
Self-care had become all about what I “should” do – what was “right” and what I was supposed to do to feel better. But even this idea of “feeling better” seemed vague to me. Self-care was like an empty mantra and even though I tried to do the right things it didn’t make much difference to my general state of being. I was caught in this language of right and wrong and feeling guilt and shame when I didn’t do what I should or didn’t do enough. Even though I was trying to look after myself, my language and attitude towards myself hadn’t changed. I was pushing myself and blaming myself for things not getting better. The same vicious circles which I had been caught in in my teenage years – now they just had a different theme.
Today I believe that there are no rules to self-care. No right or wrong. It is something deeply individual and even within the individual it may need to be something very flexible as well.
But how did this way of thinking come about?
I started meeting people who cared about me – without having to. People who weren’t family or friends, people who just seemed to like and value me with no strings attached. These were people working in mental health and they really didn’t have to like me. They could have done their work without liking me. And I did meet health care professionals who kept the so-called proffesional distance and clearly neither liked or disliked me – but also didn’t connect with me in a meaningful way.
Defining self-care for ourselves
The people who did connect with me, taught me something immensely valuable – that it was possible for me to feel safe and calm with others and eventually within myself. They showed me a lot of trust and as my trust in them grew I found myself beginning to trust myself. It felt like a circular thing that happened in the relationship – I trusted them and they trusted me and somehow the emotional experience grew to the point where the rational realisation came: that if they found me trustworthy and I trusted their judgement it had to mean that I could trust myself.
Trusting myself I slowly began to take my own inner wisdom more seriously.
So I started to think about why I would care for myself, what I wanted, what I wanted to achieve by self-caring. What I wanted it to do for me.
I thought about times when life had felt worth living, when I had enjoyed being me. These times seemed to be about feeling connected, feeling close to others or to myself or to nature. Also it was about things feeling meaningful – not in a rational way but on non-verbal level. Moments of feeling alive.
I think this will be different for each of us. For some it might be about feeling at peace or feeling happy or content, for others it might be about feeling safe, nurtured or comfortable. It could be that you want to feel excited, to feel able or full of energy.
But for me looking after myself means to support myself to feel connected with the things that makes life meaningful to me. Like having deep and authentic conversations with other people. Or being able to walk in nature and enjoy the sounds, sights and smells. Or to lose myself in a piece of music or forget time as I am painting or writing.
These things doesn’t just happen by themselves. I have to look after myself, create the spaces where they can come along.
What do I actually do?
If there are no rules, how do we know what to do? If we don’t have a manual or a list to follow, how do we get started?
Don’t get me wrong – lists and guidelines are good. I have them. But I have made them up myself and I see them as inspiration rather than rules. When my head is fuzzy and I am low on energy remembering what I can do to support myself can be hard. Having a list to look at can help remind me what has been useful at other times. And maybe it can help me come up with something that is relevant for me now.
For me things are very changeable. I will have different needs at different times. Sometimes I will have more than one need and I will have to prioritise – and quite often I will have opposing needs which is when it gets tricky. Chosing to do one thing can feel like a betrayal to other needs that parts of me might have.
The pathways to getting what we want out of caring for ourselves, may look very different at different times and in differents situations.
For me the key is to tune into myself, into my body and my soul-feeling. I find it helps me to do physical grounding exercises like body-scan, tension-release, bouncing or swinging arms. It helps me get into my body. And then I can ask myself something like: How am I really right now? How do I feel? How is my soul? How is my body? What do I need? What am I longing for right now?
But I imagine there are loads of other ways to check in with yourself e.g. go somewhere you feel safe, listen to music you like, do mindfulness or meditation, go for a run, clean or have a chat with a friend.
Sometimes I can’t connect with myself and I might have to just do something that I find normally works and then see what happens. Hence having a list of things to do.
But when I do manage to connect with myself I will listen inward and get a sense of what might be a helpful way forward. Checking in is something I try and do in the mornings in order to create a day that feels balanced. Some days I will have to re-assess my needs and maybe do something different than what I had hoped or planned.
My need in the morning may be to spend time with my plants sometimes during the day – but if I get into a conflict with my partner I may need to do something more physical to channel my agitation. Staying flexible and aware takes some practice and I am still learning.
And to bring it back to the Facebook post I mentioned in the beginning I have a growing belief that self-care does not exclude receiving care from others. Rather the opposite. It is not either/or but both/and.
We care for ourselves by inviting and allowing others to care for us too. And caring for others can sometimes be like caring for ourselves. Giving love and support and feeling needed, are some of our most essential emotional needs as humans. So allowing ourselves to give and receive care is part of self-care in too, I think.
My (not so) secret ingredient to self-care
When I was nearing my thirties this is how far I’d come in my self-care journey. I knew what I was hoping for and I knew I needed to tune in, be aware and stay flexible and creative.
Sometimes I felt I was doing well but a lot of the time I still felt like something was missing. That I wasn’t really good at this self-care thing and that it was too much hard work with not much effect.
One of my main priorities in my self-care regime had been (and still is) regular massages. Getting a massage does a lot of things for me – and it had taken me years to learn to recieve a massage, to feel okay with being touched and to relax into it.
Knowing what it is like to not feel safe with physical touch, I continue to treasure massages as if each one is a little miracle. But finding a good massage therapist is key – it is more about the person than the actual technique they use, I think.
Anyway – back to the secret ingedient.
If possible at least once a month I would go have a therapeutic massage with a woman who I felt very safe with. And one day while I was lying there, I thought about why in the massage, I found it so easy to get to the place I was looking for when self-caring.
A lot of my ideas around self-care had come from receiving different forms of massages and doing bodywork – it seemed like the portal and the foundation.
How I felt when receiving massages was the measure which I would compare other things against. Did I feel as safe, as connected, as peaceful, as blissful, as loved, as gentle?
So what was it that was happening when I received massages, that didn’t seem to be happening when I was looking after mysef in other ways? What am I doing here that is different?
And then I had a lovely, simple epiphany; I was on the receiving end. I was just lying there and all I had to do was be open, relaxed and receptive.
I thought back to the things I would do to look after myself and how I was always in giving mode, in caring mode, responsible mode. Somehow I wasn’t able to be in giving and receiving mode at once. And so my self-caring efforts would often be a bit wasted. They’d be good for me, no doubt, but they didn’t go very deep or have any lasting effect.
I keep getting massages and I keep practicing being open and receptive, so that maybe I can do it in other situations too.
I keep working on my self-trust because I think that it is the key to being more receptive to my own self-care. If I can trust that what I am doing is okay, then I may relax with myself and slowly become more open.
I readily admit that I am still not very good at being on the receiving end of my own self-care.
I have to keep reminding myself.
And be gentle with myself – accepting that more often than not, I just can’t.
Underneath the frustrations with my own inability to trust and receive, there is a sense of sadness.
Feeling the sadness helps me move away from judging and pushing myself.
And I know that looking after myself is going to be a life long journey.
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.
I have been a big fan of colouring-in all my life. I first came across colouring for adults in the form of colouring-in Mandalas for all ages in Denmark about 5 years ago and I still have some of their books on my shelf. There is a little overview of these books here.
A year ago I noticed the colouring-in for adults began to trend here in the UK – particularly promoted as a mindfulness tool. Which I think is great – only problem for me is the designs I have come across.
I have looked at more than 15 different books now from different companies and even though I really like some designs and there is a fair bit of diversity I have a problem with the unfinished look with most of the prints; they are not framed. The designs go right to the edge of the pages – so in my minds eye the continue beyond the page which just doesn’t work for me. I need contained and finished designs if it is going to feel mindful to me. To exemplify what I mean here are two examples of designs going of the page (found at http://www.coloring-pages-adults.com/coloring-zen/)
And here is an example of what I would see as a contained design (again found at http://www.coloring-pages-adults.com/coloring-zen/)
As a child I sometimes created my own designs and then coloured them in and in recent years I have thought of taking that up again. But it just stayed a fleeting idea – like so many others. Yesterday I saw a call for contributions to a colouring-in Calender by Rethink on twitter and it got me thinking again. Having a project and a deadline can be helpful for me to get started on things. So I began drawing and doodling. The drawing below is just an initial and u finished attempt. While I was working on it I felt the desire to create my own little booklets and cards using my preferred mosaic technique – it would be such a nice thing to give as presents and to offer people when I do training within mental health…
Destigmatising and demystifying the experience of hearing voices is something I feel very passionate about. I myself have always heard voices and I was lucky enough to have a family that did not think it was unusual or problematic. My mother is avid about not correcting children’s experiences or imposing ‘reality’ on them, so I was allowed to enjoy my invisible friends and talk to spirits of nature, gnomes, elves, fairies and trolls.
But eventually I was confronted with ideas of normalcy and what kind of experiences are acceptable to talk about – and what not to talk about. I was around 8 years old when I started realising that not everybody has these experiences. And as I tried to fit in more, be more normal and push away the things that seemed to set me apart from others – my sensitivity and the voices and beings I could sense – I began to loose the sense of meaning and magic.
My life with voices is a long story that I won’t share here and now. A short version is in the book “Living with Voices: 50 Stories of Recovery” by Romme&Escher. But the essence of my journey has been the realisation that I need meaning and magic to counterbalance the pain and overwhelm of being in this world. Being sensitive and sensing things that others don’t, are both parts of what makes life worthwhile. And I need people who not only accept my experiences but actually are curious about them and help me find ways to express my inner world.
It was through relationships with other people that I began to find a language for my emotions, my fears and shame. I found out what it means, how it really feels, to feel safe. I found out what belonging tastes, smells and sounds like. And I started looking for and creating spaces, where I could experience safety and belonging.
One of the people who has walked along side me on my journey is Trevor Eyles. For more than 10 years he has worked to promote the Hearing Voices approach in Denmark and the rest of the world. He has supported both mental health workers and people who hear voices (and voices) to find ways to work together and change people’s relationship with the voices. He cares deeply about this work and he has helped set up numerous Hearing Voices groups. He has been a great mentor for me and many of my values around collaborative approaches to mental health are founded in working with him.
The interview below is a good and grounded introduction to the Hearing Voices approach. Tools that I have found helpful in working with voices are: Non-Violent communication, Mindfulness, Body Awareness Therapy, Voice Dialogue and the Maastricht Interview. Many good resources can be found on InterVoice’s website.