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Surviving the pandemic together: Words of Encouragement (10): *Get strong, and have vision*.

Words of Encouragement (10):
*Get strong, and have vision*.


In the UK we are more than half way through week one (at the time of writing, last week) of a type of ‘lockdown’ although we still have certain limited freedoms outside of our homes. I personally hope that our time at home will be longer than three weeks (retrospectively the update since writing is that it is likely to be several months), because we are almost a third of the way through and this pandemic is not abating, at least not yet. I think it would be a risk to life to reintegrate into society or try to establish some kind of ‘normality’ before the medical and scientific communities really get on top of this virus. 


I have a couple of points for us to think about today.

Firstly, our time at home isn’t the same as our time at home say during the Christmas holidays. While I encourage people to relax and enjoy what you can, I would discourage you from spending most of your time in escapism or binge watching box sets (although, I’m not saying don’t do that at all….you do need time to destress and sometimes that can help in moderation). This isn’t a holiday. Because if we all make it to the other side of this, there will be a lot of ‘picking up of pieces’ in our societies for those who don’t come through as unscathed as we might. So during this ‘down time’ we are making the choice whether we will become stronger and more resilient in ourselves so that either we can cope better on the other side, or so that we are able to help others in need…because without any doubt there *will* be a *lot* of need after this.


If you are in need of help yourself, that’s ok, don’t worry. I’ve been there, and we all oscillate between how well we are doing, so be kind to yourself. But as you have this time, be purposeful in growing in your resilience. Get strong.


Onto my second point, about having vision. Right now we are in the midst of a rescue mission. All around us groups and efforts are cropping up, and people are coming together to strategize and figure out practical ways of helping others through this collective crisis. However, I would urge you to lift your eyes and look a bit further than this. God willing, for all of us, there will be life on the other side of this in our societies and communities. And we will all have to get used to a new ‘afterwards’. There have been thousands of deaths, and there will continue to be casualties. Casualties of various kinds, for example the physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically wounded. People will be traumatised. People will be out of pocket. People will have financial difficulties, and perhaps even family breakdowns, children may suffer. Please take care of yourself, help others, relax and enjoy during this hiatus, continue to work from home and volunteer where you can while keeping yourself and family safe, but remember that there will be an afterwards, and hopefully we will all still be here and all be part of that. Society will be deeply wounded. People will be grieving. NHS and other health care workers across the world, bin collectors, frontline staff of various types will be utterly exhausted. Some of these may be your colleagues, friends, family, neighbours. It might be you (and if you are one of these frontline workers, THANK YOU ❤ ❤ ❤ ).


Get strong and have vision. Get strong for yourself and family, but also think about what skills you have that we will collectively need in the aftermath of this. Don’t fritter away all of your time with useless things. People are making a great collective effort to help each other *through* this, but we also need to be thinking about how to build ourselves and each other up for the continued efforts that will need to be made *after* this time away from the world.


Get strong, and have vision, help others and build each other up….try not to be afraid, but remind yourself that this is far from over…think about how you will endure and how you will contribute, and how you will use your time, today.

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A Christmas (Blog) Story (2)

The story so far (Work):

It’s nearing the end of the first full week of December, and I don’t know about you but I’m beginning to feel quite ‘Christmassy’ now. Christmas lights and trees and markets have been going up around the city since mid-November, but it’s only now that I’m beginning to catch the holiday feeling. This probably has to do with the fact that having not had time off work for summer this year, I have annual leave days to use, which means…..tomorrow is my last working day of 2019! (“Yay!” 🙂 ).

Last working week of 2019:

This week has been surprisingly interesting for my last work week before the holidays. I attended a training session in a beautiful office building that I hadn’t been in before in the city centre. Added to the fact that I was really engaged in the training and will have some new pieces of work to take forward, and the ideas I’ve generated so far have impressed my boss, I also had a great view of the central square and the ‘big wheel’ and Christmas markets from the window of the training room!

I’ve been tying up loose ends, and am well ahead of the game. It’s given me the chance to do some preparatory work that will help my boss so I’m pleased to be rounding off the year with some more quality work contributions. I have another external meeting tomorrow, and then probably some notes to write up, and then it will be time to wrap things up (just to be Christmassy about it 😉 ) and down tools for the winter.

Being ahead of schedule with my work has given me the chance to also go over my work logs that I keep for myself from this past year, and take a look back and assess the work I’ve done this year, and it is a good feeling to see that I’ve actually done some great pieces of work and have broadened my skills base as well as having helped out and contributed to other teams. Ok, so there may not be any pay rise, but there is a personal satisfaction in knowing that I have done my best and have gone above and beyond and have brought in some great results for my team and for wider strategies and can start 2020 on a positive note and with some new projects to get stuck into.

Health-wise this last week has been a bit of a challenge at times – other than the standard coughs and colds, I’ve had some other physical pain, and had to push through some of the c-PTSD challenges I have, so I am looking forward to the chance to give my body and mind a rest, to ‘reboot’ and spend some time in reflection and enjoying this Christmas season so as to be ready and prepared for a brand new year. It is a significant step forward for me to be writing in this way as a few Christmases ago I was in a very bad place emotionally and mentally – the depression and undiagnosed (at the time) trauma, made me feel that there wasn’t even a future to look forward to at all. So, this year is a bright change to be looking forward hopefully, and I am blessed to share a glimpse of it with you 🙂

The Christmas tree has gone up at work today as well, and it is beautiful. I’m so glad I get the chance to see it before I finish up tomorrow.

Over to you:

As you near the end of the calendar year, do you have any plans for looking back to review how your year has gone from a work perspective?

Whether you work from home, blog full time, have your own business, work for a charity, do voluntary work, work for a large or small company, or do something entirely different, it is a good time of year as you conclude projects and prepare for the new year to look over how far you have come and what you have achieved.

Even if it has been a difficult year for you work-wise, the challenges also present an opportunity for you to reassess how you do things, whether you are in the right place, whether you need to make a change and how, if there are any developmental opportunities for you and what lessons you can take forward into 2020 to help you learn, grow and thrive.

So, what have you learned from your working life this year, and what lessons will you take forward into 2020?

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The Pain will Not Defeat You.

It’s very easy for me to think of several periods throughout my childhood, teenage and adult life when I have felt like I was living while being ‘crushed’ and burdened by inner pain.

Intense emotional and psychological pain, fear, crippling anxiety, depression, low self esteem, rejection, helplessness, and feeling oppressed from a large part being ‘bullied’ (it’s such tame word for abuse) in childhood, for instance.

The physical pain from a nervous system all but wrecked by the overproduction of stress hormones, causing fight, flight, a sensitivity to pain sensations triggered by the smallest of things, in my brain, painful skin conditions, panic attacks, hyperventilation, dizziness, difficulty breathing, dissociation, stomach pains and physical ailments, nightmares, a brain / mind that feels like it is ‘exploding’ and might even self destruct.

And the mental pain from verbal and emotional abuse at an early and formative stage. The kind of pain that doesn’t come and go, but remains a constant for years, even as you try to make it through each day. The intensity of pain that makes you wonder whether there is a ‘way out’.

Can you relate? Do you know in your own life how tough it is, even if ‘on the surface’ it looks like everything is going fine, and even if other people think you have an enviable and ‘easy’ life?

There have been several times like that for me, that I have just had to endure, to cling on as the Grace of God holds and buffets me through the storm, and as He gently heals me through tough seasons of life. Enduring has been a challenge and in my pain and distress I’d find myself fearing that I didn’t have what it takes to keep going, fearing what would happen to me, how could I make it through, and so many other things. My reactions would be to focus on that excruciating pain, to cry out to people for help in my distress, and it was all so very hard.

Sometimes, the pain surfaces again, but the years of endurance are beginning to bear fruit. I realise that the gruelling years of suffering in these ways, even if they have been ‘invisible’ to others, have built my resilience. When you’re in the eye of the storm, thinking of the gain that pain will bring later is just an unhelpful cliché in the moment that does nothing to soothe the suffering. But just as an athlete, or as someone who puts their body through challenging exercises of endurance in time pushes past the pain to gain strength, definition, character, so too do we when we persevere through pain.

We push past our pain and develop coping mechanisms. And we cope.

But then we push past our coping mechanisms and begin to create.

We create avenues of growth, of learning, of character, of opportunity, as pain pushes us to exercise muscles of faith, as our character grows through endurance, we find in ourselves the definition of tenacity, and as we recognise that we no longer have to be oppressed by or negatively defined by our pain, we find a new, truer, deeper Identity.

WE become Overcomers.

When pain surfaces, we understand its familiarity. We no longer fear defeat, because we have pushed through every time, whether with tears or tantrums, or gracefully, but we have pushed through nonetheless to arrive at this point.

What have we learned? Mental endurance. Acceptance that this is an inevitable part of the journey but that it can be utilised as a means of growth and positive change rather than an instrument of suffering and distress.

We fall but we rise again. And with every instance of this we get stronger. Until one day we find that we are no longer merely lifting ourselves up, but reaching out to lift someone else up from the mire. WE train, and we become trainers. WE endure and we become inspirers. WE suffer, and we become overcomers. WE persevere and we change our futures.

When we take time to redefine our mental roadmaps, what the pain in our life means to us, then we change how we ‘greet’ it when it appears, we change its significance from being something happening to us, to something we can use for good. We face forward and get up again, knowing that we have always got up and we will get stronger, push onwards and not be defeated. We will become more agile in processing, drawing meaning from, and overcoming the pain in our lives. And as we do so, we use the same strength that took us through seasons of endurance, to propel us into being people who grow, who build, who teach, who equip, who serve, who inspire, who hope, who persevere with hope, who see opportunities in challenges.

The Pain will Not Defeat Us.

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Stay in Training – Recover with Focus.

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.

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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

 

Do you keep (mentally) fit?

It’s easy enough to talk about physical fitness. Even if people have issues around their health, weight, diet, conditions or lifestyle, there is such an open platform to talk about bettering ourselves physically. There is no shortage of diet plans, exercise programmes and encouragement to keep fit, physically. For people who have never exercised, there are initiatives such as ‘Couch to 5k’, there is a lot of talk about nutrition, vegan diets, making sure you get your 5 portions of fruit and veg a day, keeping active and training physically to look and feel your best. So, even if one isn’t particularly fit, there are plenty of resources available to help them to make changes and talking about fitness is seen as a positive thing in most cases. 

But what about mental fitness? We train our bodies, but do we train our minds? Do we make sure we get enough mental rest and exercise, and linked to physical health, do we supply ourselves with the correct nutrition, fresh air and exercise to help us to stay mentally well? Mental health is often viewed negatively, or as a ‘problem’, and even with things being more open nowadays, there are still societal taboos around talking about mental health. However, just as everyone has physical health that can be either good or poor, so too does everyone have mental health – which can be generally good, bad or variable.

Do you think of your mind in this way? Just as you would exercise your muscles to keep in good condition, do you also explore what are the best ways for you to exercise your mind, to stay mentally fit and healthy or to recover from ‘injury’? 

Chances are that most of us know that we need to pay attention to our mental health, but aside from seeking professional help, we don’t really know how. Staying mentally fit and looking after your mental health does not only apply to people with conditions, such as myself, like depression, anxiety and C-PTSD. Even if you have no diagnosable mental health conditions, you still have a mind, and you need to keep it healthy. What the mind is, is a more nebulous topic for discussion, but the way we think affects almost every aspect of our lives, including our physical health. 

Of course, seek professional help and support for mental health conditions or ‘mental illness’. But even if you consider yourself to be ‘fine’ mentally, you still need to stay in training on a daily basis. This doesn’t simply mean ‘brain training’ or doing things to improve your cognitive abilities, it also means giving your mind what it needs. 

So what are some of the things your mind needs to stay healthy?

  • Rest – just as our physical bodies need rest, we also need to rest our minds in order to stay well and to help process the multitude of information that we encounter on a daily basis. As well as good sleep, nutrition, hydration and exercise, our minds also benefit when we take time just to be still, and if you like to ‘meditate’ and allow yourself to be quiet for a while, free from distraction, noise, busyness, technology and external input. You might like to meditate on a Truth, a verse from scripture, or simply try to rest and allow your thoughts to come and go and settle.

 

  • Journaling  – our thoughts and emotions are intricately linked. Expressing ourselves through writing can be very helpful to externalise difficult emotions in a healthy and productive way, and can also help us to identify what we are thinking, how we ‘talk to ourselves’ in our minds, and to see whether we have any particular negative thought patterns that we need to address.

 

  • Talking – our minds process information received in a variety of ways, and this includes through narrative and through verbalising and sharing our thoughts with someone else. This is why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and other ‘talk therapies’ can be so beneficial for addressing thoughts, and the consequent feelings, emotions, beliefs and behaviours that result. Talking helps us to process our thoughts, put them in some sort of order, as well as receiving input from someone else who might be able to provide a healthy perspective or to offer constructive advice.

 

  • Close some ‘tabs’ – we live in an age of information, and just as technology can suffer from information overload, so too can our minds. We seem to have lost, as a society, the ability to ‘switch off’ and to concentrate on just one thing at a time, and apply all of our focus, energy and attention to that thing. Some of the most satisfying times spent whether at work, playing sport, or doing something creative, occur during ‘flow states’, when we are so absorbed in what we are doing, that time seems to pass effortlessly, we are fully engaged in what we are doing, are present and cease to worry as much about the past, or the future. If our minds are constantly having to flit from one ‘tab’ to the next, and if we have to filter and process several pieces of information at once, then we really aren’t allowing our minds the chance to get fit, strong and healthy. When you workout in the gym, you don’t hop from one machine to another and back again every few seconds. If you did, you probably wouldn’t stick at it very long, and wouldn’t be in great shape as you wouldn’t have allowed your muscles to train. Just as with physical training you require focus and planning, similarly with mental agility you need to exercise particular thought processes in order to form and strengthen healthy patterns of thinking, and behaviour. ‘Closing tabs’ doesn’t just mean on your computer, but also on your ‘to do’ lists, and minimising noise, distraction, and sensory input. Let your mind have the chance to rest and grow strong.

 

  • Be grateful  – our mental agility will increase as we intentionally practice looking at situations in a healthy way, and learning to problem solve and identify opportunities rather than just problems or barriers. Gratitude helps us emotionally, physically and mentally to stay well.

 

  • Create and play – engage your mind positively through creativity, and allow yourself to participate in an activity rather than passively absorbing information. You could colour, draw, paint, do a puzzle, word-search or crossword, play chess, play an instrument, design something from scratch, write a story, make a puppet, invent something, and so the list of endless possibilities goes on. Exercise your mind to not only take in information but to assimilate information, create new ideas and to engage actively in what you are doing in the present.

 

  • Read a book – reading stimulates the imagination, engages our thinking, provides a single point of focus for our ideas rather than the multitude of articles, clips, videos, images and posts that pop up on social media to vie for our attention.

 

There will be many more things you can do daily to strengthen your mental health and wellbeing, and if you have any ideas to share and inspire others please do comment. We cannot neglect the need to keep our minds fit and healthy. For without healthy minds, what good will healthy bodies do? xx

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