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.

The ability to wait

There isn’t much fun about waiting… Though some people say that half the experience is anticipating it and preparing for it. I guess what I am talking about is the aimless waiting, waiting for something to change or shift or waiting for things outside of your control to come together. Some people talk about precious time being wasted when we wait – like waiting for the bus or for the washing machine to finish so you can take out the clothes in order to get on with the day.

I think the virtue of waiting is underestimated. There are some valuable skills in waiting. When you wait you have to surrender your idea of having control over things, you have to be with your restlessness and boredom and face your powerlessness. And I am not sure we do these things enough.

There seem to be a lot of energy in society spent on proving one is in control – that one is productive and efficient – and surrounding oneself with an air of busyness. Waiting and busyness don’t go well together. I think a lot of us feel urged to distract ourselves instead of waiting. Or we feel like we have to fill the time with something useful.

I think we tend to associate waiting with being idle. And being idle has got a bad name:

 

No wonder our adult parts – the conscientious, image-oriented and anxious selves – feel uncomfortable when we have to spend time doing nothing.

I also think many of us associate waiting with being told off as a child for being too eager, too excited and too demanding. Waiting was a punishment or a frustrating thing we had to do to get what we wanted.  How many of us has experienced an adult telling us to do this annoying waiting-thing and then sit down with us to figure out how to do it and what it’s like.

No wonder our inner children – the excited, impulsive and eager parts of us – feel like waiting is boring and an awful state of lonely restlessness.

So if waiting is more than being idle or being forced to delay gratification, what is it then?

As I get older people feed back to me how they appreciate my ability to wait, my patience. I wait for a mood to pass, I wait for the energy to shift in a difficult situation, I wait for the next wave of conversation to come (rather than create it), I wait for life to get less busy so friends and I can find time for each other, I wait for time to heal the cracks in suffering relationships, I wait for opportunities to come along. I have practised a lot of waiting in my life. Doesn’t mean I can always do it but I find that its a useful skill to have.

Waiting is not a passive state. Waiting, for me, is an attentive state; a caring, listening state. Listening in to my body, listening in to life, listening in to a situation. And trusting. Trusting that things change even if I don’t actively interfere. Even if I don’t ‘do’.

Because life is bigger than me and there is so much I do not know, so much I do not understand. I am seldom capable of confidently taking action because it is impossible for me to know what the ‘right thing’ or most appropriate thing to do, is. So I wait. And in my experience inevitably the thing to do comes to me. Like in some strange dance with life, the next step appears on the ground under me. And because I was attentively waiting I noticed it. Sometimes it’s other people who brings the steps, sometimes its something I read or ideas that come into my head. Sometime stuff just happens and I dance along. Then it slows down. And I wait again.

When I was younger I found this dance difficult. I judged myself harshly when I went through times of waiting. I shamed myself calling me names like avoidant, lazy, indecisive, unambitious and lacking drive. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, not contributing, not out there enough changing the world, fighting the good fight.

But getting older I realise it just didn’t ring true to me deep down. I don’t want to be super-poductive and ‘out there’ because I don’t feel that rushing towards the good life and fighting for change actually creates the world I want to be in.

I am still waiting for the words to describe the world I want to be in and how I imagine the journey there…

 

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…

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.

“That was just soooo like my mum!”

I had a pretty great moment when I was introverting the other day…

You know how you sometimes find yourself talking or behaving just like your mum or dad? Those freaky moments where you realise how deeply ingrained certain things are in you – you react to something instinctively and in that moment you get flashbacks to all those times your mum (or dad) did exactly the same.
The older I get, the more often it happens. Friends have started commenting on it too!
In those moments I can feel how my facial expressions, my body language and my voice are morphing me (involuntarily) into the spitting image of my mum. And I’m like “F**k! This is totally out of control, I’m just slowly turning into my mum and there is nothing I can do to stop it!”

One of the things my mum does, is make these sharp comments at times – my mum does not suffer fools gladly! I remember how when I was a kid I thought my mum was a bit too sharp with people and I would get embarrassed. I would try and tell her how it came across when she said those things and for the most part she took it on board. But it’s just part of how she is and today I am glad I didn’t manage to discourage her completely; she will still speak her mind and challenge people.
And now I find myself myself doing it! Sharp comments all around!

Initially when I get those f**k-this-is-freaky-moments it because of the embarrassment I remember feeling as a kid. And I think it’s a bit of a thing in our society really, not wanting to turn into our parents. Many of my generation have been pumped full of values like individualism, independence and progress – so being like our parents might feel like a failure, like we’ve not managed to free ourselves, find ourselves or evolve enough…

Anyway – back to that great moment I had.
I was standing in the kitchen – can’t remember exactly what I was doing but I suddenly found myself behaving like my mum. Again.
I noticed the initial internal teenage sigh and rolling eyes. But then I thought “Why does it wind me up? Why don’t I want to remind myself of my mum?”

What I’d just done wasn’t a major thing – it was probably just a specific movement or a response to being in pain. But a film came to mind. A friend had shown it to me a couple of months earlier. I don’t remember the actual film but I clearly remember the storyline; a young girl faced with the choice between her mother’s world and values or the values of her peers (there is also a tension between north American culture and south American culture). The daughter chooses her mother and reflects on this choice many years later.
This theme really struck a chord in me and it’s been brewing in the back of my mind since.

And at this moment, in my kitchen, it dawned on me… I don’t mind reminding myself of my mum, I don’t mind becoming like my mum. Actually if I had a choice about who to morph into, there is no one in the world I would rather be like. Though I imagine my mum wouldn’t wish that on me.

For years now I’ve been aware of this immense, unconditional love that I have for my mum, but as I’ve got older I am also able see my mum’s choices and behaviour in a different perspective. I have gained so much respect for her as a person in her own right. I can honestly say that she is the most fascinating and beautiful person I’ve met in my life so far and I feel honoured to be allowed to be close to her because she chooses her company with great discernment.

I am not saying my mum is flawless or good – she’s got plenty of imperfections and can be amazingly annoying. But when I think of her, speak with her (write with her as it is these days) or spend time with her, I can’t help but feel joyful that she exists.
If this is truly how I feel about her then there is no reason to freak out when I have those moments. Am I just a bit like her, then that is not something to feel upset about, rather it is something to cherish.
The irrational fear of losing myself and becoming her, suddenly releases its grip on me – being like my mum is no longer a possible near death experience but rather a celebration of my relationship with her. Because even if I wanted to, I will never be exactly like her. But in some ways, these glimpses of her in me is a way to always have her with me.

I hope from now on, I can enjoy those freaky moments when they jump on me out of the blue. I want to laugh about it with myself and with my friends and I wish for my voice to be full of gratitude when I say “that was just soooo like my mum”.

When self-care bites

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

When in doubt I listen to my gut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

I really do think Self Care Rules

Getting proper rest when I feel overwhelmed can be tricky. After more than a month of looking after myself, I am finally able to have a fairly lazy day without
a) feeling guilty about doing nothing
b) feeling like I “damn well better rest so I can get better!”.
It’s such a silly tension; the to do list is just getting longer and longer and I just get more overwhelmed. But I can’t rest because the to do list is nagging at me and when I do do things they don’t feel up to my usual standards so then I get annoyed…
When I am in it I can’t see how its ever going to stop – how I can untangle myself from this paradoxical web. But one day at a time things get better. I do bits when I can, I schedule in time off, I make rules around social media and I get lots and lots of hugs (and cups of tea of course).
And then one day I find myself here; feeling pretty alright. Second day in a row!

So yes I really do think self care rules 😀

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

Feeling the ground beneath my feet

I used to live in a state of constant overwhelm and anxiety.

Only I didn’t realise it at the time, because it was all I knew. I suspected something was wrong; the suicidal yearnings and impulses to self-harm were good tell tell signs, but I didn’t understand them as such. I thought I was being selfish and attention seeking and I did what I could to try and control these shameful things that lived inside me.

I thought that what was wrong was me, that I was a terrible, rotten and disgusting human being. Everything I felt, all the pain, powerlessness and confusion, I truly believed it was all my own fault.
I found ways of coping. Self-discipline and self-control were good ones – they made me feel like I was doing something to correct the wrongness. Escapism was good too. And lots and lots of it. Escaping from my body, my mind and my un-understandable emotions. Escaping into books, films, dreams, other worlds and relationships – anything that would distract me from me.

When I began to ask for help from others, I thought that what I needed was some sort of psychotherapy or drama therapy; something that would help me analyse and express my emotions. Something to help me create some order in my chaotic inner world. I didn’t have the money to get a private therapist so I asked for help from mental health services. This turned out to be a much more complicated journey than I could have ever imagined.

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 22.

With the diagnosis of schizophrenia came the obligatory psycho-education and CBT based group sessions. I was not impressed to say the least. I began to realise, that trying to get the help I believed I needed in the mental health system, was going to be quite a battle.

I did however find it helpful to start thinking of stress and stressors. This wasn’t something I had really considered before – I had been so focused on being strong, surviving and controlling myself. And I really struggled to see how my life should be stressful or bad. Others clearly had it much worse than me. But I came around to the idea that I was stressed and amongst other things showing physical signs of this. Fatigue, tenseness and eternal headaches helped me get referred to the Physiotherapy Clinic at the Psychiatric Hospital.

Now I have to say, that if I could choose only one big turning point in my journey towards a more fulfilling life, this was it.

In “Living with Voices” by Romme and Escher I write about my relationship with my physiotherapist: “During a 3 year period of on/off physiotherapy I experienced  building a relationship with a man, based on trust and mutual respect for the first time in my life (…) He helped me experience my body as a safe place and I realised how tormented I was by anxiety – like a deer always ready to take flight.
For the first time in a long, long time I felt able to be in my body, feel my emotions, think my thoughts, hear my voices and feel that whatever I was experiencing was all right, and that things were going to be okay. (…) Discovering that I could live through a whole hour without having a single self-destructive thought or impulse and once in a while even enjoy being me –  was very unfamiliar and quite scary. That maybe I deserved to live after all – and live without constant fear and pain. That perhaps there was a way of healing years and years of dissociation, of separating myself from myself and others.” (p. 149)

It was a long and slow process to get to the point I describe above.
The work my physiotherapist did with me was based on Body Awareness Therapy. It was a mix of simple massages techniques and physical exercises and it was all about grounding and centering. Everything we did was designed to help me stay in my body – become aware of my body from within.
I used to think I had loads of body awareness because I had been dancing for many years. But I slowly realised that there is a big difference between being aware of your body from the inside and being aware of your body from the outside. The body awareness I had learned through dance was all about observing myself and controlling my body. Being aware of my body, of my movements, of sensations and feelings from the inside was a whole different ball game.
At first it was frightening. I think I expected to be overwhelmed because that was how I had experienced myself for as long as I could remember. That, as soon I would come back to myself from my various escapisms, I would be completely overwhelmed with my sensations, emotions and thoughts.
I had to learn that I was safe in my body, that my adult selves could handle the things that used to overwhelm me as a kid. By doing gentle stretches and movements I could calm myself down, calm my senses and find peace.
In various trauma and anxiety work, there are strategies and visualisations we can use to create inner (or outer) safe spaces. This is what my physiotherapist did with me. Today if I get anxious and nothing else works – no calming self-talk, soothing exercises, no music or walking or distracting works – what I do is I revisit those sessions. I will draw the safeness I experienced back then into the here and now. The memory of this deep sense of safety is ingrained in my body, available to me when I need it.

I think it is vitally important that we continue to create body-memories as adults that can support us and maybe help balance out painful body-memories from the past.

Today when I stand in the woods on the hill, looking out over the valley where I live, I can actually feel the ground beneath my feet. I can feel how solid it is – or how muddy it is when it’s been raining, as it tends to do in these parts.
I am not just watching my feet on the ground, registering it as if observing someone else. I really feel it. I feel my feet in my socks, in my boots and the soles of the boots connecting with the soil or the stones. I feel the cold damp seeping through the leather and I feel the warmth of my blood trying to dispel the cold.
Experiencing the world and connecting with my surrounding from inside out is only possible because I have found a way to be in me – literally be in me, in my body.
It still takes a lot of work and I still get easily overwhelmed emotionally, mentally and physically. But knowing how to  ground myself and get back to my centre is the foundation of everything else for me. It’s my roots, my base, my starting point, my anchor.
When I get lost in fears, thoughts, fantasies, insecurities, expectations, excitement and busynes, my body is always there to bring me back to the reality of here and now. My breath is always here, my heart beat is always here and if I contract the muscles around my core I can feel I am here.
The simplest way to ground myself is just to gently tense and release my muscles – in my leg, hand, stomach or feet – to the rythm of my breath. Breathing out as I tense and breathing in I let go and relax.
This works for me.
The amazing thing about body work is that you can find your own way of grounding yourself, the possibilities are endless. But it might take some dedication and patience to find what works for you.

 

groundingandcentering