Tag Archives: PTSD

Self Care In A Pandemic (30): Build Your Resilience….As Gradually As You Need To….But Keep Building….

I find that despite the pandemic, there is something quite calming and anticipatory about the Advent season. As a Christian, a follower and worshipper of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as strange as it sounds ‘I look forward in anticipatory remembrance’ of His first coming into the world as the Incarnate Christ, God humbling Himself in Human form to be Emmanuel, God with us, and Saviour of the World!

Other people look forward as well as Christmas approaches to a time of rest, perhaps, with a few days off work, and possibly even the chance to spend time relaxing with friends and family. This year certainly looks different to what we are all used to, what with the pandemic and all! Yet, there is something about this time of year that can for many be both a season of calm and of anxiety.

For those of us who will get some time off work and time to relax, and for those of us who enjoy Christmas, this is something to look forward to, even though there may be particular challenges this year.

However, in a ‘normal’ year, there is also a sense of anticipation in a way that might bring us unease. When Christmas passes, we know that soon to follow will be boxing day, perhaps some more days of rest, and then eventually we will take down the tree, the decorations, and before we know it we will be ushering in a ‘new year’ and many of us will be back to work.

Preparedess:

I remember writing last year about how I was preparing for the start of the new working year as I finished up with work before the Christmas holidays 2019. Feel free to take a look through my posts from this season last year for inspiration.

At the close of a year, we tend to comfort ourselves with the anticipation of a new year. As 2019 was drawing to a close, many of us took inspiration from the thought of a ‘brand new year’ and a ‘brand new decade’, and I’m sure I’m not the only blogger who noticed and also wrote about the idea of 2020 vision being a concept that had been brought to the fore, and one which we could apply to our own lives.

Yet, 2020 has certainly not been something that any of us could have anticipated in our plans or vision for that year or the next decade.

Yet as we approach 2021, I would encourage all of us to have an attitude of ‘preparedness’. Let’s explore what this might mean, and what it could look like….

2020 and mental health:

If like me, you’re somewhat of a ‘veteran’ with mental health challenges (c-PTSD, clinical depression, generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks, etc), then you may already have had some ‘coping mechanisms’ under your belt which helped you and I to deal with many of the challenges of 2020.

I am inclined to believe that there will be a fair few people this year, and perhaps some among you reading this, who have experienced mental health challenges this year in the pandemic even if you hadn’t really experienced this before.

Perhaps many things have come as a shock to you, and like some of us before, you’ve experienced things mentally and in your body’s response to stress that ‘freaked you out’ a bit, I guess for want of a better phrase. Anxiety for example can be very scary when you don’t know what’s happening when you experience fight/flight/freeze, racing and intrusive thoughts and don’t have any idea if you’re going mad or about to faint or die, etc! It takes time, work and learning to understand what is happening to us and to find the right tools and techniques to get stronger and manage these unwanted experiences.

As we approach 2021, we may be faced with the uncertainty of what lies ahead, but we can begin to prepare ourselves and build upon our resilience even as the new year perhaps seems to ‘loom’ ahead of some of you. How can we do this? Let’s think about some options:

Tools for resilience:

  1. Begin to identify whether you have had any particular mental health or other health challenges, seek support and research ways in which you can make progress and build strength and resilience.
  2. Take a fresh look at your finances, and start thinking and planning ways in which you can better use your resources.
  3. Consider the opportunities that you may have to meet that at the moment seem like challenges – do you need to adapt the way in which you work, do you need to apply for a new job, do you need to change your day to day routine or consider your caring responsibilities?
  4. Build a network of contacts whether help from professionals or supportive friends so that you are not facing the new year alone.
  5. Re-evaluate how you have been spending your time, and what might be draining your energy, resources and mental wellbeing, and think of the small steps you can begin to take to make positive changes in your life.
  6. Think about self care as being part and parcel of day to day life, and build in nurturing activities every day. These can include looking at what you eat, your water intake, the information you are taking in or should leave out, whether you are getting time outside, time to reflect and be still, exercise, and whether you have time to do things that your mind can enjoy and grow from such as learning or hobbies.
  7. Find inspiration and mentors from the people around you or from what you read or watch online. There is no shortage of inspiring people if you just begin to look for them.
  8. Feed your faith and not your fear, and consider what you spend your time thinking about and how you can begin to change your thought patterns.

There are so many more things we can do to build resilience as we approach the unknown, and we can look at more of these later and in more detail. But for now, know that you are not alone, you are capable, you don’t need to sink under the pressure of the challenges we face, you have a safe and endlessly encouraging place here with my blog, and from someone who has lived through many real challenges, and there are ways and means for finding help, support and empowerment, even if you don’t know exactly the next step to take right now.

The fact that you are reading this and have read to this point shows that you are able to find a starting point for resilience building and seeking out positive and inspiring content and people, so keep taking those next small steps, know that I am right here with you, and never give up.

Ultimately, thought we need something far Greater than all our tools and techniques to get us through – we need deep, true and lasting PEACE which can come only from The Prince of Peace Himself, Jesus Christ, through Whom we can have real experiential Shalom – a Peace with God through reconciliation and forgiveness of our sins because of the Price Jesus paid in His flesh through His death on the cross and His Resurrection. Without Him, I could only have temporary fixes, but even in my darkest or most difficult moments in life, in His Hands I am always Secure and have an eternal and enduring Peace with God and a Love that strengthens me from within. I hope you know the true Shalom of Jesus too. Be blessed.

Peace. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (26): Be Kind To Your Mind…

Hi everyone, glad to be with you on this journey.

Do you ever find that you tend to write about the things that are challenging you? If so, you’re in good company 😉 I’ve titled this post ‘Be Kind to Your Mind’ precisely because this is the advice and help I need myself right now.

You know those times when outwardly things seem to be ‘fine’. Someone asks you how you are, and you reply ‘I’m fine’ as that generic and perhaps helpfully deflective catch-all phrase that barely touches the surface of how you actually are. A handy phrase for those social situations when you’re not entirely convinced that the person asking how you are actually wants to know, or is just offering you a pleasantry by way of an added extra to ‘hello’.

Well, in that case, ‘I’m fine’. Psychologically, my mind is going over various things (ah….I’ve become one of those people who then proceeds to tell you a little of how I actually am, even though you didn’t ask 🙂 lol. I guess that’s permissible in the blog-o-sphere where you can subtly tune out or close the page and I’d be none the wiser! I hope you don’t though 😉 ). Yes, as I was saying, I’ve been having ‘stuck thoughts’. Memories that made me feel bad at the time, things that seem to ‘trip me up’ from time to time. My mood has also been a bit of a struggle as I fend off depression. I’ve come a LONG way. I need to acknowledge that. A few years ago I was getting treatment for severe clinical depression, severe and debilitating generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks and complex (‘severe and repeated’) PTSD. You’d think a few ‘sticky thoughts’ wouldn’t be such a big deal, but when it comes to the mind, you can never be too kind to yourself.

You see, our minds don’t store all information in a linear, chronological or systematic way. Where events are tied to strong emotion or trauma or feelings such as shame, fear, fight and flight, freeze, disgust, self hatred, humiliation, rejection, abuse, even if looking back as an adult logically those things may not in the grand scheme of things seem all ‘that’ bad (for example the wounds of verbal abuse when growing up in front of peers) those events become memories that are stored haphazardly, chaotically and often tied to intense emotion. Now, if like me, you experienced a stream of such events over time, building up, and consequently knocking you down, wearing down your self-esteem, sense of identity, selfhood, worth as a human being, the result can be trauma, dissociation, body dysmorphia, depression, anxiety, and all that kind of stuff.

We can move from season to season, stage to stage, putting one step in front of another in life, but the ways our brains store information don’t always add up to a nice neat ‘film’ of events in our minds. Flashbacks occur when those intensely emotional ‘memories’ haven’t been processed and stored properly in our minds and they often recur again and again intensely until we get help to deal with them. It’s like a scene from a scary movie flashing on the scene of your mind and bringing forth an intense emotion.

Well, that’s a lot to deal with in one post….but I want this to be helpful for you and I both. Our minds are fragile things, yet they are also powerful. Maybe you’re going through a lot right now. Maybe you’re struggling to process things. Maybe your mental health is really beginning to suffer. Maybe you just need to know you’re not alone and you’re not going crazy.

So, here are a few pointers if you are struggling.

  1. Know that you’re not alone, and it is ok to ask for help. In fact, it’s more than ok, it’s heroic and brave in many ways. Find out what professional help is on offer if you need it. Please don’t wait and suffer as I did by placing a stigma on yourself. You’ve probably been through a lot, and minds need to be cared for just as much as bodies do. There is no shame in getting help. If you don’t need to go down that route maybe it’s worth calling a helpline, speaking to a trusted friend or family member, or joining a group of people who can help motivate you from where you are to where you want to be.
  2. Please don’t suffer in silence. Externalise things. Ok, so maybe point 1 is a bit too much for you at the moment, but there may be other ways of getting things out of your head, so to speak. Try writing things down, expressing things creatively or letting someone know maybe not in detail if you don’t want to yet, but just let someone know you’re going through a bit of a difficult time.
  3. Read to be inspired. Sometimes we can find great help and direction from others who have ‘been there’ before us, or who are going through something similar right now. I find that while in my peer group there may not be many people I can relate to about such issues, although there are one or two for whom I am grateful, I can find my ‘peer group’ from people’s lives stories, their blogs, books or videos online. There is so much out there to help, encourage and inspire, and if anything you will see that you are not alone. There will be someone out there who while not having an identical experience to you will have gone through something you can relate to and find strength from.
  4. Positivity. Try to fill your mind with things that will build it up and make it a safe and happy place to be. Get creative, look at beautiful pictures, watch an uplifting film, talk to people who are positive, read blogs and books that inspire and give you hope. With so much ‘doom-scrolling’ going on in 2020, your mind deserves a break!
  5. Share your positivity. Grow in those mental positivity ‘muscles’ by sharing your positivity by externalising it whether by telling someone something encouraging or writing it in a blog post and passing it on.
  6. Share what you have learned from your struggles. Similarly, there is much to be gained by sharing your lessons with someone who may be struggling in a way that you used to. Let’s all keep encouraging and helping each other up and using our words for kindness.
  7. Light relief. I guess this could refer to a couple of things – light levels and laughter. We all need to laugh and it can be so good for the mind, even in trying times. Also, in winter, try to get a bit of sunlight if you can or try not to wallow away in dark rooms in your home – turn on the light. Spiritually, I can always encourage you, particularly in this season, to Seek the True Light of Jesus Christ to light your life path and lead you safely on. 🙂
  8. It will pass. Know that whatever mental health or other struggle you are going through just now, it will pass. Try to think of your tricky thoughts as leaves upon a stream and allow the waters of your mind to take them gently away. If this is constantly difficult, you may need to get some extra help, and I hope you will find the right resources for you where you are, and if not in person, hopefully on the internet.
  9. Be Kind. It’s hard being a human. We often have to deal with a lot and it can impact our mental health. Be kind, kind, kind to your mind. Water it like a little flower, nurture it like a beloved friend, be kind.
  10. Keep learning, and keep up with your hobbies, and set small achievable goals. Ongoing learning and hobbies or creativity in general can work wonders for mental health, as can setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound) goals for ourselves. Routines are also good for giving our minds a predictable structure, which can also make spontaneity all the more fun when we break free from the patterns from time to time. But we do need a dose of structure, and predictability even if that is as simple as making your morning cup of coffee and then seeing where the day takes you from there if that is your personality type. But keep learning, play games that will help with your mental agility, ‘stay in training’ mentally, and you will build up that resilience.

And even if all of that is too much to take in at the moment, simply know that you are not alone, you are Loved, you are worthy, you are important simply because you are a human being and you are you. You are unique, you have so much potential, and even right now as you are if you are feeling broken, worthless, downcast or bad in someway, you are still valuable, a treasure, and I value you and know that you can do great things with that remarkable mind of yours.

So be kind, be kind to your mind. x

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Triumphing over Trauma…

Triumphing over trauma is a process. It isn’t always a ‘linear’ one, but it is very much a possibility.

One of the first key steps in overcoming trauma, or at least beginning on the road to recovery, is the very practical one of establishing safety and security. I don’t know if anyone can recover from trauma while in the midst of it – I don’t think that’s possible, is it? Establishing safety is therefore crucial.

Safety means getting out of the harmful situations and into a place of protection. It means that your physical wellbeing isn’t threatened by external forces. At this point you may be more than likely to experience the unprocessed experiences of your trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, chronic pain, sensory overload, breakdown and a whole host of PTSD symptoms. If you’ve come through this you’ll know how tough this can be and it’s vital to get support from a professional as well as to build up a network of caring individuals that you can turn to, whether from charitable organisations that exist to help trauma survivors, or friends and family members. This can take years, so don’t give up. It really does take time, but healing and recovery is possible.

Safety also means that your basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, etc. are being met and that you are able to establish some kind of stability, routine and perhaps also crucially to work through a care package with a professional.

It might take months, it might take years, it might take decades, but if you continue on the positive path of recovery then at some stage you will hopefully be ready to reintegrate socially, making connections and contributions to society. Routines are very helpful in any recovery process as it establishes a system for the brain to follow, which helps prevent ‘relapse’.

So say you, or someone you know, has passed through these stages and you are now ready to not merely survive, but to Triumph over trauma. How do you do this? Sometimes people say things, and they become helpful little nuggets of truth to help us along our way. One doctor once told me (and this wasn’t even a particularly helpful doctor as her manner was very abrupt and even hurtful at times, but even so she has left a productive input in my life in some way) that I needed to begin building up positive experiences.

It seems obvious doesn’t it? Yet when you’re in a tough and dark place and your brain has been ‘put through the mill’ of negativity time after time, then it can be very difficult to see how that is even a possibility. However, what the doctor said stuck with me, as obvious as it may seem, and I set out on a path to build up positive experiences for myself and this wasn’t easy to do because of the negative forces I was fighting against.

However, this my friends, is a significant key to becoming Triumphant over trauma. It’s not the only key, nor even necessarily the main one, but it is very important. Your brain in trauma is overcrowded and clouded with negative ‘reference points’ and your thoughts will keep lapsing back to these traumatic experiences, emotions and memories unless you give your brain, your mind, somewhere better to go.

Initially, as another doctor taught me, this might be in the form of visualisation, of very simple and short ‘positive experiences’ such as through ‘grounding techniques’, breathing exercises and focusing on gratitude. These are ‘easy breezy’ for many non-trauma sufferers, but for those who have had their brains turned inside out and upside down in somewhat of a nightmare, it takes real effort, perseverance, commitment, diligence and determination and will most probably also be accompanied by several tears, some sleepless nights, anxiety or panic and so forth. Push on through….the view is worth it on the other side!

Over time the positive experiences you are building into your life will grow in possibility. You can focus on your senses and begin to actually enjoy living, even if only for a few seconds at a time at first. Taste your food. Smell the sea breeze. Feel the fresh air wrap around you. See the colour of the autumn leaves. Hear the bird song.

You may then be able to integrate such positive experiences with ‘self care’ such as taking a bath, and taking care of your self. Gradually you may build up to include hobbies as creativity can help reduce chronic pain (such a blessing to me as a mental and physical pain reliever!) as it engages certain parts of your brain linked to concentration and pleasure sensations. This might involve tactile hobbies too such as gardening, knitting, cross stitch, photography, music, drawing, painting, singing, dance, adult colouring, cooking and so forth. It could also include ‘brain training’ by doing puzzles and quizzes and building up your time with these from seconds, to minutes to even hours as your concentration and ability to regulate your nervous system improves and is strengthened.

Hopefully in time the positive experiences will also come to include trusting friendships and social and emotional connections, social events even if just little baby steps at first (it certainly was for me), and then as you build and build and build upon your resilience, your mind will be mapping out many new neural pathways and connections of positive experiences that will at first soften the ‘relapses’ and then gradually over time become new ‘reference points’ for you mentally and emotionally. And after that, what could possibly stop you from being and living Victoriously and Triumphing over trauma?! 🙂 x

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The Dream of a Peaceful Mind…

Have you ever seen those pictures in magazines or online, of people relaxing in their ‘dream home’, on their ‘dream holiday’ or with their ‘dream family’ in their ideal ‘dream life’?

We all know they are posed by models, but what kind of image do they present to us? The people invariably look relaxed, peaceful, calm, serene, content or happy.

We look at such pictures and we are only partly taken in by the blissful surroundings. The other thing that resonates with us is how peaceful and calm the people in such pictures look.

Isn’t this part of our dreams for ourselves? We have all experienced situations when we have looked externally to someone or something to make us feel better, happier, calmer or more at peace. Have you also experienced the accompanying disappointment when things don’t quite match up to your ideals? Perhaps the family holiday you planned didn’t turn out quite like the ones in the pictures, and instead you picked up suitcases of stress, frustration and weariness. Maybe that new outfit or piece of clothing made you feel happy for a moment but soon the novelty of it wore off, and it felt old after a while. Maybe escaping by yourself to a quiet place in nature was also accompanied by not so pleasant weather, by insects and other less peaceful aspects of the great outdoors.

Peace of mind and happiness only partly relates to our happenings. When we envisage the life of our dreams, we need to take this into account. Some situations in life are just bad and we need to find a way out of or through them, there’s no doubt about that. However, perhaps we have gone through some tough times or struggles or inconveniences in life and have managed to order our external worlds and yet that hasn’t necessarily brought us the peace of mind that we have been searching for.

One example of this in my own life is when I bought my first flat, moved in, and then had a bit of a breakdown and c-PTSD, depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Things like this happen in life sometimes, and even if you are fortunate enough to get through life without any major challenges, you still have your own mind to manage on a day to day basis.

Whatever your journey has been so far, as we step into the new, we all could benefit from greater peace of mind.

This means being aware of the internal reactions we have, and finding a way to manage or overcome some of the more difficult things. It might take a bit of work, but the kind of mental resilience that helps us live more mentally peaceful lives is worth the time, effort and sometimes the tears and facing up to our fears.

It’s an on-going effort for all of us as humans in a world where we suffer, we are faced with ‘information overload’ sometimes, we face stress and challenges, yet as we move through this new year into what we hope to be one where our ‘dreams come true’ let us remind ourselves and each other that this does not depend merely on our circumstances but also on how we think. Is this the year for you to seek help and support to enable you to manage some of the difficult things in your mind? Is it the year to build up on what you have been learning in creating resilience? Is it the year to seek out inspiration? Is it the year to inspire from all that you have learned? Wherever you find yourself, things can be better, your mind can become a calmer and more peaceful place and it is worth putting in the effort daily to make it so. x

 

Don’t just jump on any train of thought – train your mind instead, and steer your course.

In recovery of any sort, it is absolutely essential that we get a hold of and harness our thoughts if we want to have a successful outcome.

Please bear in mind that I don’t say this at all lightly. Having experienced the nightmare of complex PTSD and severe generalised anxiety disorder and clinical depression, believe me when I say I know how incredibly tough it is to calm those intensely distressing thoughts. Tough, but not impossible.

You need more than muscle or physical endurance to get through a trial or a challenge. You need to set your mind on higher things. Things that are above your pain, above your problems and your circumstances. You need to tell yourself the Truth, and not give in to the despair of lies.

Our thoughts can lead us to all kinds of places. Sometimes those can be incredibly dark places such as low self esteem, depression, fear, phobias, eating disorders, relationship breakdown, self-harm, addiction, obsessions, suicidal ideation and even death. Such negative and intrusive thoughts can affect any of us, and it can be hard to ‘fight them off’. Self pity can lead to anger, bitterness and poor choices. Our thoughts can affect the words we use and our behaviour towards other people. These are certainly not trains of thought that any of us want to get on, but I’m sure that quite a few of us have experience of what it is like to be on such a journey through dark tunnels in our lives.

However, we don’t have to stay on that train. You don’t have to. The longer you are on it, the longer you will hear those ‘announcements’ from inside the carriage, loudly reinforcing that you are headed towards ‘destination nowhere’. Your fellow travellers will be headed in the same direction even if they get off at different stops. And the longer you are on it the more deeply ingrained those messages will become, messages that you may not even realise you are internalising and letting become part of your psyche.

You need to be aware of how detrimental, how devastating and damaging staying with those thoughts can be. They drive deep tracks into your internal processing, how you think of your life, your circumstances and these will inevitably affect not only your mental and emotional health, but your physical health too, as well as the choices you make and how your relationships with other people turn out.

But don’t despair. You are not your thoughts, and you can come back from it. I’m proof, although I’m a work in progress. Many of the negative things, the abusive words that pierced me in childhood became part of my internal processing. I believed the lies, and they damaged me greatly. Childhood is a very vulnerable time when we don’t have much resources or resilience to deal with what comes our way.

As adults, however, we can choose to get off the train and choose a new destination. I’m not saying that positive thinking is the cure to all of our problems, certainly not (as you probably well know, I believe Jesus Christ Is The cure!). However, we need to train ourselves, our thought patterns and develop new ‘tracks’ in our mind.

Think of the physical process of laying down a railway track. It’s a piece by piece effort, and similarly you will need to redesign your thought processes one thought at a time, reinforcing these as you go.

In your recovery you will learn a lot of valuable lessons along the way. You will need to work through things at your own pace. However, it is always helpful if someone can save you some of the heartache by giving you advice and the benefit of experience and hindsight as early as they can for you.

It’s best to decide ahead of time what your ‘go to’ thoughts are going to be, especially in challenging the negative thoughts you have been allowing to become part of your mental make up. You might not even realise that you are doing so. For example, do you allow yourself to dwell on thoughts such as ‘it’s so unfair’ or do you let them drift by and replace them with more productive thoughts such as ‘this isn’t what I would have chosen to happen, but now I have the power to choose what I do with it, and I will choose something productive’.

Thought patterns are so called because of their similarity. It’s unusual to jump from negative thoughts to positive thoughts without intention. For example one negative thought will tend to lead to another, and then another, until ‘tracks’ and ‘grooves’ are formed in our thinking: patterns.

A thought such as ‘it’s so unfair’ could quite easily lead to a stream of other such thoughts, forming a not so beautiful pattern of negativity. ‘It’s so unfair’ can lead to ‘victim thinking’. Whereas as children we may be victims because of our relative powerlessness, as adults, even if our lives are broken, we do have more resources available to us to find a way out. Where we can’t advocate for ourselves, others can, and if we’ve made it into adulthood, we will by default have some ‘tools under our belt’ simply because we have survived this far. We may not feel particularly strong, but we don’t need to be bound by victimhood. We can, at the very least, change our thinking. Victim thinking, such as ‘why me?’, or ‘this always happens to me’ can lead to an apathetic stance, one of ‘giving up’ – ‘what’s the use of trying anyway, nothing ever works out’. I’m not belittling such thoughts because I personally know from experience that they often come from a place of deep hurt but however long the journey of recovery is, we need to begin by acknowledging them for what they are, and then challenging them, followed by replacing them.

Here are some more positive thoughts for you to build upon, and reinforce daily, as you progress and persevere in your recovery over whatever your personal challenge may happen to be:

  • This isn’t what I would have chosen, but I can choose to do something about it.
  • It feels ‘too much’ but the lives of other people who have overcome difficulties testify to the tenacity and strength of the human spirit. If they can do it, I can too.
  • The pain feels too much, but I won’t add to my suffering by thinking negatively about my pain. I will look for the lessons in this tough time and will use them to help other people afterwards, or even while I am in the midst of this.
  • I am grateful to be alive.
  • I appreciate that I can do these (you fill in the blanks) things.
  • I am an overcomer.
  • I am a survivor.
  • I am determined.
  • Nothing is impossible.
  • I will use this difficult experience for good in the world.

 

As with weight lifting, where muscle is built and defined and strengthened over time, it also takes time to grow mentally tough. No one said the process won’t hurt, be challenging, or even gruelling at times, but when you begin to see those mental ‘muscles’ gaining definition and strength, you won’t want to look back, and in time you will want to train other people to be strong and positively minded individuals also. Just imagine what good this can do in the world!

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The now and the not yet…a noticeable shift…

The past few years have been characterised by exactly that: the past. Despite all of my determined efforts to push past life’s hurts and to build up my life, my body, mind, heart and spirit simply could not do this. Life had other lessons for me to learn, which in a sense meant being broken open for all of the hurt to begin pouring out.

The past few years have been intense at times: I went through a process of a lot of the pain and hurt and anxiety and depression that had been stuffed down and bottled up within me, ‘exploding’ to the surface in what felt like a breakdown. I was diagnosed with complex post traumatic stress, severe clinical depression and severe generalised anxiety disorder. It was pretty awful, and it had felt that way for a very, very long time indeed.

Do you notice that I said ‘had’? That is monumental. I notice even at the early stages of this new year a shift within me – within my thinking and within my heart. I may not be completely healed or whole or well or recovered yet, but the nightmare of explosions within my mind keeping me trapped and frightened in this unreality between past and present has in fact passed. Or at least it feels like that just now, and that is incredible. I didn’t know if my mind and heart would ever feel calm again and at one point I was feeling like giving up.

The noticeable shift is that my heart and mind are naturally inclining towards the now and the not yet rather than to the past. The past difficulties I have faced now are part of a bigger narrative, they are being processed, redefined and finding their place and in working on this I am allowing myself to find my true identity and to walk in it.

And as naturally as if I had always been this way (which I never had) I am able to ponder the present and the future (the ‘now and next’ as my mum says) without feeling crippled, pulled back or limited by the pain of the past.

It is perhaps for many people a simple thing, taken for granted to be in the now and the next, but it is a beautiful miracle for me, one which I would like to pause and to appreciate with you right now, even as we move into the not yet.

Be blessed. x

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A Mental Health Winter Survival Guide – Quick Tips for those tough days (7).

Medication: If you are taking medicine that is prescribed by your doctor, make sure you have an adequate supply, and that you are able to get your repeat prescriptions on time. Check in advance that you will have enough medicine for the days when doctors surgeries, pharmacies, etc. will be closed over the holidays so that you don’t run out. Ask someone for accountability to help make sure you are taking the medication as per your doctor’s advice, and if you feel foggy, hazy or forgetful, keep a log or tick off your calendar so that you know when you have taken or need to take your doses. If you need any help or advice regarding your medication please consult your doctor as soon as possible.

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A Mental Health Winter Survival Guide – Quick Tips for those tough days (5).

Grounding technique: keep a small, safe object handy for when you need to feel grounded. This could be something like a pebble or stone, something that won’t break easily, or perhaps some children’s ‘putty’ / play-dough that you can squeeze, or anything you think will help to ground you. Make sure that you can’t hurt yourself on it, that it doesn’t have sharp edges, won’t break if you hold or squeeze it, and that makes you feel calm when you hold it as a grounding object.

If you feel like you are experiencing anxiety, panic, dissociation, dizziness, confusion, intrusive thoughts or mental and emotional distress, use this object to help you ground yourself. Focus on how it feels to touch, what it looks like, observe it, the way the light touches it, its texture and so forth and focus intently on this safe object while calming your breathing. Keep it in your pocket or take it with you so that you can use this to help you when you need it. The good thing about a small object like this is that other people most likely will not even notice it in case you are worried about that.

Also, you can try the ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’ method as a grounding technique where you focus on being aware of your five senses. Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.

Stay safe and well. x

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The Beauty of Audio Books

I wonder if you’re a bit like me. If in childhood you caught the ‘reading bug’ and became an avid reader, transported from one world to another, and set on a course of imagination and possibility?

“When I was just a little girl…”

As much as I was an adventurer, a little girl who loved to play in nature, under this vast sky, some of my fondest memories also include being absorbed in books. I still remember vividly the big old library with wooden winding staircases that my mum and I used to go to when I was little, in the days when our library cards were actually made of cardboard 🙂 I loved the smell of books, the touch, the feel and the worlds within a world that I could embark upon to spark my own imagination. I loved books, everything about them. Some were beautifully illustrated, others were text only, but I had an affinity with them, as perhaps many of you did too.

My passion continued.

As I grew, my passion for reading, for literature, and for writing (I started writing stories and poems as a little girl) continued, unabated. I was commended and won prizes in school for my writing, and loved studying English, so much so that I went on to study English Literature as part of a joint-honours for my first degree (afterwards going on to complete a Masters in Human Rights, Women’s Studies, and International Development).

I loved reading, and I was introduced to a new way of looking at the world of literature through more focused analysis, intertextuality, literary theory, and so forth.

It was an amazing new challenge, however, part of me missed just being able to step into another world, through the gateway of reading, and to imagine without analysis.

Success and ‘Failure’.

I worked hard, studied and read a lot, put my heart and soul into my studies, and gained two First Class Degrees. I had achieved a dream in excelling in English Literature as a big part of my studies, and my identity, as it was part of the fabric of my being.

However, the victory would shortly give way to ‘failure’ in a sense.

My adverse childhood experiences from being traumatised from bullying and hate crime over an intense couple of years most particularly in the first two years of high school, coupled with having severe anxiety, and experiencing the stresses of young adulthood and looking for my first jobs, moving out, and other challenges, bullies in adulthood, close to 3 years of not sleeping, night terrors, and so forth all combined to trigger an ‘explosion’ in complex PTSD, and a few years ago everything collapsed.

My brain felt like it was exploding. Everything was terrifying. The smallest of things was overwhelming, and I didn’t know how I would take the next step or make it through life. I was devastated. My waking and ‘resting’ life was a nightmare, I was both awake during the daytime in a living nightmare even as I went about my day to day or tried to, and was unable to escape in the repose of sleep either.

And to make matters worse, reading had become terrifying for me. My head was exploding, everything was frightening and confusing and overwhelming, thoughts ‘screamed’ at me, sentences were a blur, I couldn’t focus, and when I did my mind couldn’t make sense of things, I was intensely fearful and didn’t understand what was happening to me. I knew I should be able to read, I had majored in English Literature as part of my undergraduate degree after all. And yet, I was broken, and could not read even one line in a book without fear and terror.

I could spend an age staring at one page, tears filling my eyes, the room swimming around me, utterly broken and devastated. What had happened? Why were books no longer a safe and comforting place for me? Why was my brain malfunctioning such that even reading one line in a book was a tremendous and terrifying ordeal?

Was it over?

Scrambling back up that mountain.

There’s a line in a song that encourages me: “Life ain’t over, life ain’t done yet, so get back up in your place, child’. 

That’s what we’ve got to do.

The song goes on to say: “When you feel like it’s the end, no mother and no friend could love you more”.

The song is about the faithful love of Jesus, and He carried me through it all and continues to. Suffice to say I got help, and after years of persistence, I started reading again….including for pleasure.

A new way of exploring books.

Although I write a lot as part of my professional work, and have managed to push through and excel (high functioning! 😉 ) in my productivity at work, and although I have started reading again for pleasure, it is not quite as easy for me to just sit down and read a book as it once would have been. I used to be a ‘voracious’ reader, and I would lose count of how many books I had read in a month, in a year. Now, however, I can count the books I have read in a year on one hand. Maybe I’ll get back to where I was, or move forwards to something new.

Recently, however, I have been enjoying new vistas of opportunity for my mind and imagination: audio books. I have embarked upon a free online borrowing system with my public library that allows users the chance to borrow audio books online, download them and listen at leisure – for free.

Once again I am able to get cosy on a cold winter’s evening, and absorb myself in a good book. Only this time, someone is reading to me. I can go about my tasks while listening, or I can close my eyes and imagine the scenes unfolding before me as someone helps to lead me on that journey with their voice. What a pleasure to find a new avenue into the world of books. Of course, it is nothing new, audio books have been around for goodness knows how long now, and with technology, they literally are at people’s fingertips.

The hope of new adventures.

Sometimes we all need a helping hand to get us through. Even Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress found comfort from like minded friends on his arduous journey. Like faithful friends, the narrators of audio books are helping me through, from the slough of despond to being able to see in the far distance a promised land, a ‘Celestial City’.

Audio books are a new gateway for me, into new stories, adventures and realms of inspiration. I can listen to the Word of God, Scripture, biographies, factual accounts as well as fictional stories being read to me.

There is comfort in this. When I was a little girl, I also enjoyed listening to stories on tape and read along with the accompanying illustrated picture books. Perhaps this is like the adult version of that. Another form, another gateway into the realms of stories, of human life, of imagination.

A word of encouragement. 

So what can you glean from my gratitude for and enjoyment of audio books? Perhaps that no matter what your challenge is, there is a way forward, it might not be the route you thought, it may seem like you are using a ‘crutch’ at first as you hobble on your journey, injured as you are, but nonetheless, as you persevere you may just find that what you thought was a crutch assisting you in your weakness actually turns out to be a blessing and a gift of comfort, strength and new possibilities as you continue on.

blur book stack books bookshelves
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What will you do with what happened to you?

We all have a story. A story to live and a story to tell. And no matter who we are, we all have light and shade on our path. You have lived. You have experienced. You have done things. And you have had things happen to you. Good and bad. Light and dark.

For some blessed souls, their experience has been one with more light than darkness, more protection than distress or horror, more hope and joy than pain, despair, anguish and loss.

So, what will you do with what has happened to you, whether good or bad?

We all have a choice to make. A series of choices. A lifetime of choices.

What happened to you?

For some among us, that question will be poignant, it will resonate deep within, it will touch our soul. We have not lived on the surface of life. We have not been allowed to. We have been hurt, we have suffered, we have known the laceration of spirit and identity that we seek so desperately to be healed. Is this you? You are not alone.

If what has happened to you in life has been mostly good, then I rejoice with you, and encourage you that you can use that too. You can use your strength to help and comfort the weak and hurting. You can give the love that was lavished upon you to those whose wells are dry and empty, who have all but given up on life. You can use the good things that have happened to you too. Perhaps it is the easier path, but you are blessed in it.

What do you do next?

At some point in our lives we have to make a choice. No matter what has happened to us, we all have to make a choice. Life or death. In the physical real as well as in the spiritual realm. I know this road is strewn with complexities, with difficult issues and with choice seemingly taken away from some people at times. You only need to look at the news to see this. But we all have to make our own choice. Life or death. Light or darkness. To step into the light or to stay crippled in fear in the darkness.

As I often say, I write for anyone who will read, I write for believers and non-believers alike; in fact, one of my most interested readers is a friend who is an atheist. Nonetheless, I can only speak the Truth that Jesus Christ is the Light that has extinguished the darkness in my life. Once and for all. A new life, a new heart, a new spirit, a new hope, a new mind-set, a new future, a new Identity, a new kingdom, a new everything.

We all have to make a choice. And how we respond to Jesus Christ is the greatest and most eternally significant choice we will ever make.

What are the burdens that you carry? Shame. Guilt. Fear. Anger. Turmoil. Terror. Self-hatred. Loss. Grief. Pain. Oh the pain. Death? He has taken the sting out of Death. He can bring healing and peace, liquid love into all of our dark and broken and crushed places.

‘He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds’.

‘By His wounds, we are healed’.

He heals the broken hearted and crushed in spirit.

Don’t I know it? I certainly do. For some the healing comes in an instant. For others, like me, it is an unravelling, layer by layer, bit by bit, but the pain, it does ease, the chains, they do fall off, the heart that was defeated, crushed in despair, feeling completely hopeless, useless, weak, unwanted, unloved, despised, rejected…this heart…my heart….finds a home….a HOME, a dwelling place in Pure Perfect Selfless Love….in Him.

But what if you don’t believe?

Things have happened to you. You perhaps feel far from what I am saying. It’s where you are right now. Do I have a word for you?

Yes.

What will your story be?

Things have happened to you. You have done things. You have lived, experienced, survived. So far.

What do you do when the pain is so great and you’re in a fog? What do you do with what has happened to you? I understand how deep these wounds, these lacerations, this anguish can go. I understand that the darkness in the world can feel like it has all but wrecked us. But it hasn’t.

You can choose.

Will your story be to be defined by what has happened to you? Will you be crushed by it? Will you merely survive it? Perhaps that’s all we can do at times. But we can still choose. Choose to believe in the impossible, in something better, in a purpose from the pain, and choose to use it. Even today.

What will you do with what has happened to you? Will you hope, and will you push through and endure the darkest seasons of recovery so that in time you will break through to the other side? Or will you accept the lie that this is all there is for you, you’re not one of the so called “lucky ones” in life? This isn’t all there is for you. Believe me, there is so much more good things than the bad we leave behind.

Will you endure the hardships, will you allow them to refine you and not merely define you? Will you dream so much farther than the depths and heights of your pain? Will you dream of helping one person some day with what you know, know deep in your soul…what you have survived….what you one day can conquer?

We can work with the surface, but only Pure Love can heal the depths. Can transform.

So, what is your answer?

What will you do with what has happened to you? Will you push through, will you ask for help, will you seek advice, support, counsel, will you do the really tough hard work that will help you to get better, at least better than you are now, and will you pass that on to someone someday, even today?

That’s my choice. I’ve been broken hearted and crushed in spirit. Heavy laden. Giving up inside. In a way that people don’t see on the outside. But healing is Real, it is possible, and even though the journey still can be tough, it is leading somewhere, and it has purpose.

But it’s a choice, our choice, to keep taking that next step. Will you?

man standing near mountain
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