Going to the gym for the first time in years…

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

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

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

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

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.

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Grieving every day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or become an activist. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World by Ilse Sand

Finally holding the real thing in my hands.
What an amazing journey it has been so far; from meeting Ilse Sand in 2008 because she was one of the only therapists working with highly sensitive people in Denmark at the time, to reading her book the first time in 2010, then moving to England and realising how much I wanted to be able to share Ilse’s writing with people I met over here and while teaching and travelling.
Translating the book was exciting and hard work but the toughest bit turned out to be trying to find a publisher. In December 2015 things suddenly picked up and a contract was signed with Jessica Kingsley Publishers by the end of the year – and now it’s here! All those months and months of work made tangible.
It’s been a great privilege to work with Ilse Sand on getting her book published in English. I’ve learned a lot about how the publishing world works and feel a bit more confident about one day writing my own stuff and getting it out there.

Get the book here

Please note that JKP books are available in UK, US, AUS and Canada – choose your area in top right corner of the website.

More about Ilse Sand and her work: www.highlysensitive-hsp.com

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/highlysensitivepeopleIlseSand/

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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

After the floods

Thinking of ways to support the local area find its way back to some sort of normal…

The devastation is difficult to comprehend and people are still working hard to clean up. Rebuilding homes, businesses, schools and other community venues will take a long time. We all try and cope with the state of things in our own ways and there will be a continued need for support both practically and emotionally.

One way to support people in the beautiful valleys of Calderdale is to donate here Calderdale Flood Relief Appeal

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I love films and I love cinemas. My first memories of going to the cinema is from the wonderfully charming Øst for Paradis in Aarhus. I remember watching La Gloire de mon père there in the early early 90’ies and later many more arty and independent films from all over the world.
In my early teens I lived in Hornslet and the local cinema Kom-bi became my sancturary. There were films I would go watch again and again – such as La cité des enfants perdus – and this was also where I saw the Star Wars triology for the first times.

Even though I have some beautiful memories of watching films with friends, my mother and boyfriends, the cinema is a place I love to go on my own. Whatever my mood is, sitting in the dark and allowing myself to be absorbed into the stories, the action and the emotions on screen, is magical (unless its a really terrible film – but luckily I have not had too many of those experiences).
I can enjoy all sorts of genres but if I am feeling overwhelmed my prefered remedy is to go and watch either some macho action packed film or a thriller. Somehow that will give me a break from reality but also give me emotional release.

Now I live in Calderdale and what excitement I felt the first time I went to Hebden Bridge Picture House! The building is amazing and the interior made me feel at home, bringing back memories of Øst for Paradis. But during the floods on Boxing Day the Picture House was damaged…

Update on December 30th from Hebden Bridge Picture House

“Today, the Picture House and Town Council staff cleaned the foyer and kiosk, the Friends of the Picture House committee cleaned the balcony and a whole load of volunteers of all varieties, with power tools and strength and at very short notice, came and unbolted the sodden seats – removing all 257 from the stalls.
We are now in a position to open our doors, and would like to invite you all to our not-so-grand reopening on New Year’s Day, launching the January programme as planned!

During this period only the unaffected original balcony seating will be available, meaning capacity is reduced to 230. This also means access is limited for those unable to use the stairs – thank you for your patience during this time if you are unable to attend for this reason.

Heating will be limited (unless we can get hold of some giant plug-in heaters…), so feel free to bring along a cushion, a blanket and your good spirit – the show will go on!

Thank you for your support, generosity and hard work – we’ve been overwhelmed with your response. We look forward to seeing you all very soon!

Hebden Bridge Picture House Team”

Dear Friends of the Picture House and all volunteers, helpers and workers – thank you for bringing such an important part of the community back so quickly.

So now I am in the wonderful position of being able to combine my love for films and my desire to support the local area to bounce back after the flooding. On New Years day a group of us went to see the powerful film Sufragette. It was an atmospheric and slightly surreal experience. People in their coats and with blankets almost filling up the seats on the balcony and below us the bare floors and walls showing markings where the water had been. There is no real escape from what has happened but it was good to sit there and get a couple of hours relief and sense the spirit of this strong community.
And today I hope to go see Black Mass. Bringing again my blankets and hopefully I will remember my mug for a cup of tea to help keep my hands warm.

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Self Care rules!

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:

Summary

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.

Self-care rules

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.

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The Yellow Book

Today I went to London to spend some time celebrating the project RethinkYourMind and all the people who had contributed to the creation of The Yellow Book and 4 singles.
I went without really knowing what to expect; what kind of people would be there, what kind of atmosphere and attitudes there might be. I was pleasantly surprised by the speeches and I walked away feeling quite encouraged. There was no romanticising of mental health struggles yet there was very little talk of illness and much talk of hope, the individual journey and individual needs, of support, of possibilities, of de-stigmatising, of creativity and expression and of working together.

I left thinking of two things; the power of celebrations and the potential of arts.

Even though I didn’t know anyone there and I felt nervous and uncertain I was quickly engulfed in a sense of community. I thought about how nourishing it can be to get together to celebrate something we care about – not just to give credit to individuals but really feeling what we are able to do together. Not only to reassure and give recognition which can be nice but too often evaporates quickly; no, I am thinking more of a sense of collectively creating a pool of energy from which we can draw strength.

I think we have lost some depth in how we celebrate in our modern busy lives. The traditional celebrations like birthdays, Christmas and similar special holidays have become commercial adventures or just time off work. There is something to be said for ceremony and rituals – structures that reminds us that what we are doing is special and sacred. And telling stories and sharing visions and dreams can help us connect more deeply with each other.

It was a brief event and it would have been lovely to head to a pub to continue conversations that had begun and connect more with people who were there.
I would also have loved for there to be more time to hear the music that has been created by this project, maybe an exhibition to create more shared experiences with the amazing artwork that is in the book.

But even in its briefness this event seemed more meaningful to me than many other events I have participated in. It seemed full of beautiful possibilities. I was inspired by the bringing together of so many different people from very different walks of life.

It seemed to me that we were a very diverse group of people and I am a big fan of diversity. It creates uncomfortable tensions but also possibilities for learning new things and finding new understandings. But most of all I think diversity is essential for creativity. Creativity doesn’t discriminate – we can all be creative. And it is often in the tensions between known and unknown, between joy and pain, that I feel inspired. I create when I am trying to grasp something that is still incomprehensible to me, when I try and express things that are on the edge.

So the second thing I was thinking of was how art and creativity has the potential to build bridges and can offer shared understandings where words of the rational mind fall short.

I think that much stigma and fear around mental distress could be transfigured with and through arts – because arts has always managed to go to the spaces where madness lives. Like madness, art is connected to the irrational, the emotional, the other-worldly, the spiritual, the natural, the collective subconsciousness, the innovative, the unusual and the extraordinary. In the arts madness is celebrated and explored – and some even see it as necessary for the process of creating. Art can offer meaning where madness has caused havoc. Art can offer safe ways of expressing the seemingly inexpressible. Art can cross the gaps created by our differences because it helps us find what we have in common and connect us in our shared humanness.

I just want to finish these reflections by giving thanks to the people who put work and effort into this project. I think The Yellow Book is lovely, inspiring and useful.

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