If you’ve been enjoying my ‘Self Care in a Pandemic’ series (I think we’re on number 40 something already!), don’t worry, this is just a momentary pause in the proceedings while I share a book recommendation with you.
Today I finished re-reading Katie Piper’s very helpful book “Things Get Better”, for the second time.
I’m inspired and uplifted by Katie Piper’s input into the world. You may already know her story and journey of recovery from victim to survivor to thriving overcomer, as I see it, but if you don’t then I’ll leave it to you to do a little internet search to learn more about the woman in her own words.
I first read her autobiography, “Beautiful” a year or so ago, and I then read the continuation of that “Beautiful Ever After”. These are autobiographical accounts of how she suffered after extreme attacks, and how her experiences of life from rock bottom to receiving medical and psychological help, then finding faith which she mentions briefly, and finding in herself a fighting spirit to recover and then to set up a charity to help other people. She thought she would never have any kind of life again, but now is thriving doing work to help other people and even has a family of her own.
This book, however, “Things Get Better” is one which could probably be classified in the ‘self care’ genre. If you are struggling with anything in life, you are bound to find inspiration and practical advice to help you take the next steps forward, and know that you are not alone.
It has really helped me, as Katie starts out the book with a chapter on her experience of ‘Rock Bottom’ in life. Can anyone relate? She describes her recovery journey, and how to overcome set backs and plateaus and keep moving forwards.
If you are facing recovery of any kind, or have issues in your life that you are trying to overcome that you need some help and direction with then this is a very accessible book that may just help and encourage you to find and take your next step in your healing journey.
Even if you don’t think these things apply to you, it might be a fascinating read if you are trying to relate to someone else who is needing some help or support in hard times.
So, that’s my first book recommendation of 2021. I gained from it so much that I read it twice, and so I thought I’d share it with you as well in case you are also able to benefit.
Take care, and keep an eye out for the next blog post in my ‘Self Care in a Pandemic’ series. x
ANTS can be a nuisance. Automatic Negative Thoughts, that is.
They creep across our minds from time to time, and pester us. The thing is, for those over-thinkers like myself, ANTS can pester us with greater frequency and intensity than other people who find it easier to ‘switch off’ or not be so aware of or bothered by their thoughts. It’s not that we choose to be over-thinkers (why would anyone choose what can often be and feel like an affliction?), it’s just that’s how we are wired, and our brains are always ‘whirring’ with action, whether we like it or not. Many of us are also highly intelligent, creative, analytic and kind and sensitive souls. We know all too well the two-edged sword of positive and negative attributes to having a highly sensitive mind and disposition.
We may also have in common the condition of ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder’ which until you get a handle on and figure out how to train yourself to get on top of, really sucks! So my sympathy for any other sufferers out there. However, we are not our thoughts and we don’t need to be defined by our ‘conditions’, it’s just a part of our life experience, but so too is overcoming it, learning and growing from it, helping ourselves, and quite incredibly growing to the point of inspiring and encouraging others.
So, back to the infestation of ANTS. What do you do? I think, although I can’t be sure, that probably almost everybody experiences the nuisance of ANTS from time to time. Unwanted thoughts, memories, etc. flash through our minds and make us feel uneasy.
Something I have learned not all that long ago (and Katie Morton’s videos on YouTube have helped me to see this), is that ANTS become a nuisance for people like me, and perhaps like you, when we are unable to ‘shrug them off’.
Some people notice a negative thought, and ‘shake it off’ in the words of Taylor Swift, or just ‘Let it go’ (if you prefer the ‘Frozen’ theme song). For those of us whose minds, brains, personalities, characteristics or whatever it is, are more sensitive to what’s going on inside of our heads, we tend to think about the thought.
For example, take the negative thought that might stem from seeing someone struggling to climb down some steep steps in real life. Maybe you’ve seen something on a TV programme where someone has fallen and had an accident, or maybe somewhere within yourself it’s just something you fear, I don’t know, the mind is a complex place. A thought flashes by that the person you’re seeing in real life falls down these steps.
Now, for people who aren’t particularly affected by ANTS (and as Katie Morton helpfully points out in some of her videos), they might just think ‘Oh, that’s not a nice thought, I hope that doesn’t happen’, and get on with their life.
For those of us more hypersensitive, over-thinking, anxious types, we would feel the distress of the thought. We’d then probably feel guilty for having that thought. One ANT becomes two, and then they seem to keep multiplying. We think about the thought about the thought. We wonder if we’re a horrible person, we question ourselves as to whether we are a danger to society (which in most cases of normal but anxious people we aren’t in the slightest but we’re just over reacting to hidden fears of ‘what if’ – what if we’re the type of person we don’t want to be?), we try to ‘fix’ the thought, ‘erase’ the thought, we ruminate on the thought, we apologise internally, we perhaps are ‘triggered’ into remembering or thinking of other things we have seen, we then imagine ourselves falling down the steps, we kind of internally ‘freak out’ and all of a sudden we are surrounded by ANTS! Sometimes we may even ask for reassurance from someone we know because the thought has become so BIG and so ‘REAL’ to us!
If you recognise yourself in any of this, then take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are not your thoughts. I can’t explain the human mind, and sometimes upsetting thoughts come into our minds, but the problem arises when we start dwelling on them, fixating on the possible ‘meanings’ behind them such as what it says about you as a person (there is a place and time for such self-reflection, but not in an anxious, fear-filled, reactionary way), or ruminating on them.
These things can lead to a cycle of anxiety and / or depression. I well know.
We need to be able to ‘talk ourselves’ into a calmer place. Some ‘mind doctors’ 🙂 have given various helpful analogies of how to deal with such ANTS.
For example, take time to be still each day and allow your thoughts and mind to do what it does without judgement, stress or fear. It’s not easy, it takes time, keep at it.
Think of unwanted thoughts as clouds and simply let them drift across your mind. Don’t follow or pursue or chase them down, just let them drift away and replace them with a positive thought.
Or think of unhelpful, distressing thoughts as fallen leaves upon a stream and let them drift and be carried away by the current of the waters. Don’t grab them, look at them, pick them up or analyse them, just let them go.
Once we are able to cognitively grasp that we are not the conditions we may suffer from, that is to say we are not all of our thoughts, as some thoughts are like ‘fiery darts’ to our minds, we are able to better ‘diffuse’ the emotional intensity of the experience.
Maybe you have your own way of ‘dealing with’ ANTS. Perhaps you could combine the analogies noted above into something more light hearted and imagine a tiny ant sitting on a leaf, floating down an imaginary stream in a clouded sky and let them all just move past.
Learning not to analyse or overanalyse all of our thoughts can for some of us take a lot of time and practice, but the first place to start is to rid yourself of the fear that these ANTS are in control of you – they’re not, take back control, and steer your mind to more helpful, positive, lovely, excellent, noble, pure and just places. It can be done. Let’s get to it! And if these negative things bother you again, remind yourself ‘Oh, they’re just ants!’ 🙂 x
I realise as I come to write my 44th post in my Winter Survival Guide, that I need to encourage you to dig a little deeper, because it is precisely that – my Winter Survival Guide to encourage you. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that I’m writing this guide to help both you and I and to encourage us to stay well, healthy, happy, hopeful, positive and to make the most of this Winter Season. And although many of my suggestions are really helpful for most people such as taking care of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, as I have elaborated upon these and various topics throughout my other 43 posts, they are based on my core values and reflections upon life, which I have spent years discovering, figuring out and seeking to live out.
And as much as many of them can be universally applied, maybe what would be more meaningful for you is for you to figure out what you want and need out of this season, and what you want to give to it too based on your life and circumstances.
Maybe some or many of the things that matter to me will also be reflected in your own ideas, or maybe you will have other things totally unique to you and can use my Guide as just that – a guide to prompt you into deeper self reflection and discovery. I also know from experience that what we want and the realities of what we are faced with don’t always line up so perhaps even though what you are seeking is a Peaceful season, you may have to prepare yourself differently to manage potential stresses and anxiety, which I also cover in earlier posts. So maybe you could ask yourself:
What do you want from this season, and what do you want to give, or what would you like to desire to give?
As you reflect upon these questions, think about where you are in your own life just now and what matters.
What could some of these things be? Here are some pointers to help you get started:
A time of rest and refreshing.
Time to deepen your faith and relationship with God.
A time to heal.
A time to focus on mental health and recovery, and on staying strong in your recovery.
Connections, time with family and friends.
Reconnecting with ‘auld acquaintances’.
New adventures and experiences.
The hustle and bustle of doing a lot of things.
Learning new skills.
Sharing your skills.
Productivity in a venture.
Charity, helping other people and encouraging others to do so.
Time to spend doing your hobbies.
Time for planning for 2020.
Time to play with your children (or pets 🙂 ).
What matters to you?
As I draw my Winter Survival Guide to a close (there will be 50 posts in total in this series, so don’t worry, there are still a few more to go 🙂 ), I hope you find each post encouraging, inspiring and helpful. However, I hope it also prompts you to take time to think about what matters to you as you approach the Season for yourself, and to discover ways to make the most of it as you also seek to stay healthy and happy and I pray also that we will all learn to walk in the Truth and Light as we go forwards from here. x
Boundaries can in fact protect relationships and friendships- you need the time and space to look after yourself if you are to be there for others, and to be a positive influence; don’t feel bad for taking care of yourself, it is a good thing for others as well as yourself, but also respect others enough to kindly communicate those boundaries when you can.
We all know that life can be tough. For many of us, we’ve had to fight through some dark times in our lives, and having put so much effort into surviving, we find that in certain areas we are stronger – stronger than before certainly, and perhaps also stronger than had we not gone through what we went through.
However, I don’t agree with the phrase, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It’s got a positive sentiment behind it, but the fact of the matter is that the things in life that can crush us, challenge us and hurt us the most don’t in and of themselves make us stronger: it’s what we do with those things, how we respond, whether we sink or swim, and that’s where the training comes in.
What’s your problem?
I don’t use that sub-heading flippantly. It’s simply the case that we all have problems to differing degrees. However, for some of us, we have long-standing things that on a regular basis we have to work hard to first survive, then try to stay on top of, and ultimately to overcome so that we can move from surviving to thriving and helping other people along the way.
The thing is, as you may well know from your own experiences in life, that these processes are rarely linear. We have peaks and troughs, ups and downs, awful days and pretty good days. We might have days when we begin to forget that we have such problems, and others when there is no way humanly possible for us not to remember because those days are tough, so tough we may feel we can’t even go on in life.
So what is your problem? Is it chronic illness or chronic pain? Mental, emotional and psychological suffering? Poor health? Anxiety, fear, depression? The burden of being a carer? PTSD, panic attacks, social anxiety? An eating disorder, poor body image, OCD? Grief, abuse, relationship breakdowns, loneliness, isolation? Addiction? Confusion?……sadly, in this fallen world, the list goes on….
Whatever it is, my heart goes out to you, and I’d like to encourage you firstly that you’re not alone, and secondly that you are pretty amazing and have made it so far already. If you’ve made it this far with any of the above, or anything else you can think of that you would fill in the gaps with, then you probably have some idea of what tools and techniques you can use to help you on a day to day basis.
What’s your solution?
At the deepest level, I believe the root of our problems needs a solution that goes beyond anything we or others can do to help us. I believe we need God. However, on a practical and day to day level there are things we can do to help ourselves and other people even if that level of help is just to get by, to cope, to move forwards, to begin to get better, to be better than before.
We need to use the good days as well as the bad to take time to really figure out the healthy things that help us through. For some people, I realise you are all but completely dependent on other people for help and support, and I can’t imagine how tough that may be, but I hope and pray that the people caring for you are kind and supportive in every way.
For those of us who can for the most part do things for ourselves, even if we need help with that, then we need to be resolute in figuring out what is beneficial and what we need to maintain to help us in our recovery, in getting stronger, in our lives.
What could some of these things be?
Perhaps for example: emergency contact numbers, supportive friends and family, a daily routine, remembering to take your medication, a healthy meal plan and exercise routine, hobbies, mental health and self care resources and so forth.
Do I need to train on the good days?
Basically, yes. You do and so do I. By ‘training’ I don’t mean going to the gym or physically working out. What I do mean is that we need to persist in the healthy habits that help us move out of crisis, out of survival and into maintaining a more balanced day to day existence. Because no doubt, or at least in my experience it has very much been the case, those more difficult days can sometimes come ‘out of the blue’ and when we are not prepared, we might have an emotional response to coping with those difficulties that can be detrimental for us. If we stay in training, if we keep up our healthy habits, routines and practices, then on those difficult days, we are more likely to turn to those for help, we have a ‘fall back’, something that has become intuitive and habitual that can help to guard us against those less helpful, or even very damaging coping mechanisms.
So for example, my ‘healthy’ coping mechanisms are staying in a routine, breathing exercises, time in nature, keeping in contact with family and friends, taking medicine, training my mind with brain training exercises, meditating on Scripture, prayer, walks in the fresh air, creativity, some physical exercise and eating well. They can also include writing down my thoughts, blogging, photography, things to get my mind off my pain and my struggles and to grow stronger in a positive focus. I also have certain songs that are encouraging as music can have a really powerful effect and can make a real positive difference when we allow the right things into our minds. I might also turn to other forms of writing, I might plan my day, work to keep my home and environment about me tidy and calming, and read and think about affirmations that I have already prepared.
On tough days, all of our helpful coping mechanisms can ‘go out the window’. However, we are more likely to be able to reach out and grasp for at least one helpful coping technique if we ‘stay in training’ on the good days as well as the bad. I can see how far I have come, or at least begin to be able to see, in thinking about what I have listed as my healthy coping techniques. A few years ago they would most likely have been reaching out for professional help via crisis helplines, support workers, and key family and friends who knew about my struggles. Now, a few years on and I don’t even think of calling those helplines, I don’t need to, and part of that is the resilience and strength that comes from daily training and forming new and healthy habits and means of coping.
What about you? Reflecting back on your own journey, can you think of ways that you have grown and changed that might encourage you as you move forward?
Why do I need to work at it, even on the good days?
Why? Because when we struggle, ‘relapse’ or get into difficulty, we usually have emotional and psychological reactions, and sometimes these can be quite intense. We seek immediate ‘fixes’ or ways to numb the pain, block it out, cope with it, or to feel better some how. If we aren’t training regularly then we are more likely to fall into (or fall back into) unhealthy ‘fixes’.
For me, my unhealthy responses tend to be comfort eating, escapism through ‘binge watching’ shows, negative self talk which can trigger relapses into depression, PTSD, anxiety, etc. I also tend to isolate myself, retreat, avoid company, and try to ‘fix’ things psychologically by maybe watching or reading about other people’s stories online, but when I’m vulnerable I can end up in a dark place. Knowing this, and having experienced it, I realise that it is crucial to keep working at it on the better days, because then my healthier coping mechanisms will have formed pathways and patterns in my brain that make it easier for me to turn to them as a ‘fall back’ than to these other things.
Some people may turn to much more dangerous ways of coping with their pain and struggles. This might (*TRIGGER WARNING*) involve drugs, alcohol, self-harm, anger, lashing out, etcetera. This can quickly cause one to relapse and fall back into that hole they had tried and worked so hard to get out of. This is why we need to work at things everyday. And by doing so, we give not only ourselves a better chance of getting better, making progress and thriving but we also give other people the chance to benefit from the help we will be able to give them if we keep working at getting stronger.
Wherever you are on your journey, think about the positive things that you need to keep doing in your life to stay on track. Don’t be discouraged if you have fallen into that pit – call out for help, and keep getting stronger, stay in training EVERY DAY, and never give up. I believe in you. x
It’s a challenging one, isn’t it? At least it can be. We have ideas of how we’d like our lives to be, we see images of that ideal we think we should be working toward. And yet…sometimes we really are just muddling through and trying to deal with each daily challenge as it comes to us. Maybe you’ve experienced burn out. And if you have, maybe you’re more conscious of the need for self care and learning to look after yourself and being attentive not only to the needs of others but also to your own, even if this way of thinking takes some getting used to.
But even if you’re someone who never has and maybe fortunately you never will experience burnout as such, you are still faced with that ‘low level’ just beneath the surface feeling that things are running away from you, getting out of order, are not quite right. And in this case I’m not talking about when something major is happening in your life, but when things are mostly fine, ‘normal’, moving along as they should in the ordinary ways of life.
But maybe you notice that you’re not feeling just ‘quite right’. It’s not that you feel bad, it’s just that you don’t feel so good. Tiredness creeps up, you’re managing the expectations of others, your boss rewards your efforts for a job well done by piling up even more work on your desk because afterall, you’re the one who will do it well and without much fuss. You offered to do a favour for someone in need, but they maybe seem to take it for granted, and while you would normally love to be a ‘cheerful giver’ with the expectations of nothing in return, you notice that you begin to get frustrated, your attitude isn’t quite what it should be, and your energy levels are low. There are demands on your time, you seem to be saying yes to everyone else which means saying no to yourself as you just don’t have the time, energy or emotional capacity to manage everything.
Most of us just push on through. But if we’re not careful, things begin to build up within us, and we know we’re not quite ok, but we don’t know how to ‘shake off’ those feelings. Sometimes just stopping and acknowledging that we need to check in with ourselves as we would with a friend, or even a child, to make sure they’re ok, is the best place to start even if we don’t actually know ‘what’s wrong’ or how to resolve things.
Slowing down, learning to tune in to our own hearts and minds, and committing to strengthening and encouraging ourselves before we take on the next commitment that is about to be given to us whether we are ready for it or not, is so important.
Maybe we don’t know what the next step to feeling more like our best self should be but stopping for a moment to be still awhile, is a good place to start…
Another year rolls by (happy new year friends, btw). We each face this demarcation of time on our calendars and in our lives with a different point of view. For some among us, the year gone by has been a blessed one, and despite life’s daily and inevitable challenges, ups and downs, overall the happiness has been greater than the sadness, it has been a ‘good year’, and the future feels ripe with possibilities.
For others, the year may have been one with sorrows, loss, disappointment, from a variety of life’s hard challenges. you have made it through ….barely…and are not altogether certain just how to take that next step in life.
For many, perhaps, you feel the year has been pretty average, uneventful, nothing out of the ordinary, and that you have just drifted along, or just got on with what you had to do. Maybe your new year hasn’t been sorrowful, but rather stressful, busy, even chaotic, with barely a moment to yourself to think. Maybe it has just been ordinary, or a bit lacklustre.
I’m sure there are a myriad of ways in which we each reflect back upon the year gone by.
Regardless of how you feel about it, something that is certain is that going forwards, each of us have to make our way through this new year one day at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time.
So, no matter what your circumstances are, or what you feel inside, there are ways in which you can improve your day to day experience of your journey and find your ‘sweet spot’ in the day to day of living your life.
Apart from the big life decisions, changes or challenges you may be facing, what in the ordinary day to day can you approach differently, to make your life better?
In the next few posts I will be exploring some of the little ways I am making changes in my daily life, to make the ‘ordinary’ a little more inviting and special, and to bring more pockets of joy and feelings of connectedness in my every day living. I’d be delighted if you join me and even more so if you want to share your own insights too. Here’s to a blessed 2019 to us all. xx