Saturday, 1 September 2018

I really really need it. Do you? Or do you just want it?

This is the *extended article, first published The Press York, on Tuesday, August 14th, 2018.
http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/16409102.column-do-you-know-your-wants-from-your-needs/


A marketing e-mail popped into the in-box. The subject read, ‘The Hot List - the five must-haves to add to basket now.’ Really? ‘Must-haves’? Must I? I opened the email to see what I couldn’t do without - NOW. ‘A trophy jacket you need now.’ The word ‘trophy’ was a new one on me for describing clothes, but aspiring to be a winner, I must have the trophy jacket now. The ‘anything-but-ordinary’ bra. Yes, I must have that, as I don’t want to feel ordinary wearing a piece of clothing most people won’t see. ‘The loveliest kid’s dress.’ Obviously another ‘must-have’. My granddaughter must be the loveliest in any company. ‘A genius washbag’. Pretty material, pretty functional, pretty much like other cleverly designed washbags. But I ‘must-have’ the one that hints at being clever for purchasing it.

I don’t need these items, but I must have these things, otherwise I’ll won’t feel good enough. I’ll click on the order form now and buy them with my credit card. Easy. They will arrive and I may or may not use them. Strangely I won’t feel any better than I did before I read the email. I may even feel worse.

*The fear of being thought, 'not good enough' is a driving force behind the majority of unhelpful and emotionally driven behaviours. These in turn can become mental health problems. A mental health problem often shows in symptoms of sub-threshold Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), where the emotionally driven behaviour is the result of a traumatic reaction to something based in childhood. It's not just feeling 'not good enough' in the present day, it's about carrying those feelings for years, decades, perhaps even a lifetime. I have read hundreds of articles, case studies and life stories. In over 90% of them, the person reports childhood feelings of 'not being good enough', often blaming other people. These feelings can lead to unhelpful behaviours or more helpfully, the driving force behind success. I have a brilliant friend in their seventies, who has been mentally unwell for two years. Through their life, no project, whether domestic or professional was good enough, with mental exhaustion as a result. Their behaviour is emotionally driven by a fear of their father's anger at 'not being good enough', as a child. It's sad. They are not alone. On the other hand, a child growing up with feelings of 'not being good enough', can, as they mature into adulthood, develop a 'I'll show them' attitude and achieve success. 

One of the first credit cards on the market decades ago, came with the slogan, ‘Takes the waiting out of wanting.’ It fulfilled that statement and with thousands of other credit cards available, the nation is now sinking under a sea of debt. We spend our time buying things we don’t need, with money we haven’t got. Short-term gain, long-term pain.

The wail from children can be heard every day in shops. ‘I need it, I really, really need it.’ Adults can be heard saying it too. Adults who may seek help wondering, “I don’t know what’s the matter with me, I’ve got everything I want.” They may have, but they don’t have everything they need.  What are those needs? The giving and receiving love and attention - healthily. A meaning and purpose. Being stretched and feeling a sense of achievement. Being part of a community. A feeling of security. A sense of control. Time for privacy and reflection - though not too much.

* Returning to the feelings of 'not being good enough'. If, for any reason, a child at some point in their upbringing, felt that they were 'not good enough' to get a need met, as mentioned above, their ability to manage those feelings in adulthood can result in emotional immaturity. Sometimes, it can be a perception and not the truth, but the result can be the same. Hence, some adults behaving like children. Also why some adults are 'Chasing Rainbows', in their often exhausting, damaging and pointless search to have those childhood needs met in adulthood. That was then, this is now. The past can never be changed, but the present can.

Needs are for now, wants can wait. So can the ‘must-haves’.

©AlisonRRussell2018

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Life changes and needing someone to talk to.

This is the *extended article first published in The York Press on Tuesday, July 7th 2018. 

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/16352807.column-making-friends-at-the-spurriergate-centre/


The recent Press headline shocked and saddened me. ‘York’s Spurriergate Centre has suddenly closed.’ Memories of February 1994 returned.

*The Spurriergate Centre offered a variety of community-based services including a child-friendly restaurant, separate cafe, shop and counselling. While it was based in an old church and had a Christian ethos, the welcome was for everyone. 

I had moved to York from Buckinghamshire in January 1994 and remarried. I knew nowhere and no-one, other than my new husband, who had unexpectedly relocated in the previous October. My daughter had married and moved to Belfast and my son was studying in Kent. I left twenty years of friendships and an excellent job with Waitrose, a supermarket which didn’t arrive in York for another sixteen years. Due to its absence, my working life changed beyond my imagination. 

*If Waitrose or John Lewis had been in York in 1994, I would have transferred without any difficulty. I may have dropped to part-time, but it would have been most unlikely that I would have left the Partnership. With their generous working conditions, I may still have been there or collecting a useful pension. Another retailing establishment would probably have employed me, but working for an ordinary company rather than a Partnership Company, would not have been easy, which is why I chose to do something completely different.  I knew enough about myself to know that I didn't want office work, but enjoyed an ever-changing environment with a variety of people. What about hotel work?

I allowed myself two weeks to settle in before looking for work. Deciding to find an agency for reception work, I looked in Yellow Pages. Turning to Agencies. the top box advertisement was for York Nannies and Nurses. Bingo! As a trained nursery nurse I begun a busy life caring for children all over the city and environs.

* I hadn't given a thought to returning to childcare. I worked short-term in private homes over a fifty-mile radius, ran university creches and ended up doing elderly visiting too. Late one Friday morning in June 1996, the phone rang. It was the Agency asking if I was interested in an unusual job that afternoon. It would have been so easy to tell them I wasn't interested, but I didn't.

This culminated in life-changing work at The Retreat Psychiatric Hospital, helping a mother with a new baby. Six years later I qualified as a psychotherapist and opened a practice in York. But I digress.

In the first few months of 1994, my husband was at work and I had little interaction with other adults. My greatest concern was that in a personal  emergency, who could I talk to in York? Who would listen? One day, walking around the city, I found The Spurriergate Centre. Entering, I had a coffee, a delicious piece of cake and sat at a table with a stranger. The jigsaw of my new life was now complete. I felt at ease, as I had met people who would have time to listen if I needed them. I also went to the library and found out about groups I could join and in time made new friends.

* There wasn't enough room to write this in the original article, but one of my major concerns was what would happen if the marriage didn't work out. I could ring friends, but it wasn't the same as having them around the corner. The months went by and all seemed well, but I remained concerned that I could be stranded away from everyone I knew if anything happened. I can still recall the extraordinary relief when we made it to our 1st anniversary. Now our Silver Anniversary is around the corner and despite rocky times due to work, health and family problems, we're still going strong.

The internet makes such a life change easier these days, but one to one personal contact is important. Hence the new ‘Chat and Natter' initiative in some Costa cafes, for people on their own who need to connect with another person.

A recent letter in The Press from the Trustees, says that some of the services at Spurriergate are still available. That is good news.

©AlisonRRussell2018


Saturday, 30 June 2018

Living in the moment or for the moment?

This is the *extended article first published in The Press York on Tuesday, May 22nd 2018

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/16234934.COLUMN__Live_in_the_moment__not_for_the_moment/ 

Those readers who use Facebook, will know that about once a week, they will post a memory reminder. It will be text or a photo from some years before. Always a surprise, the reminders can induce a variety of emotions. Quite often I have forgotten the event I was writing about or am shocked at the passing of time since making the posting.

This week, the memory reminder was from 2011. “I stepped out of the back door, still wearing pyjamas, fed the birds, looked at the flowers and trees and breathed in fresh air. Then realised I had spent over half my life in flats. I hope I never take my home and life for granted. Carpe Diem!”

Seven years have passed and I still count my blessings every day.  *Well, I try to. The best self-inflicted 'kick up the backside' is to remember some very dear friends who haven't been as fortunate as I have been, to make it this far in life. 

There have been many changes in circumstances during that time, happy, sad, concerning and exciting ones. Very little has been planned.

* In situations when we think nothing will change, we need to remind oneself that change is a constant and that much that has happened in the previous week, month, year was not planned. I've quoted John Lennon before, but it's worth repeating, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

The terms, ‘living for the moment’ and ‘living in the moment’ have different meanings and different outcomes. Finding happiness and contentment is more elusive in ‘living for the moment’. 

Expectations can be unrealistic, outcomes disappointing and happiness missed in passing moments. Many of the clients I helped, were ‘living for the moment’. The moment when there would be resolution for a past event in their lives, often an event in childhood when they were left with a feeling of ‘not being good enough.’ That moment had either never happened or didn’t provide the resolution if it had done so. It couldn’t do. The people, places and context have changed.

* If resolution is about revenge, the result is not always was was wanted or expected. Short-term gain can lead to long-term pain.

A man was explaining his frustration at continually failing to find resolution to a feeling from childhood. I said, “Well, you won’t, because it’s a hopeless task, like chasing rainbows. The pot of gold is only an illusion and you are becoming deluded chasing it.” “You’re right,’ he said.  "It feels like I’m running backwards and forwards to a well, trying to fill a bucket with water, that can’t ever be filled.” This is why my book is called, “Are you Chasing Rainbows?’, rather than ‘Are you Filling Buckets.’

That morning in 2011 I was ‘living in the moment’ and without trying, was also experiencing Mindfulness. Those moments haven’t stopped and are precious. They cost nothing. Simple pleasures.

©AlisonRRussell2018

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Friendship

This is the column, first published in the York Press on Tuesday, April 24th, 2018.

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/16172952.COLUMN__Get_by_with_a_little_help_from_your_friends/

I have just returned from a short holiday in Wales and met up with one of my friends from college days. We’ve only been able to meet a handful of times over the past decades, but in her company, we’re eighteen again and anything can be shared.  No pretence, no judgement, just true friendship. When I read problem pages and people write that they don't have any friends, I feel a sadness. I'm not sure what I would do without my friends, some of whom I have known since primary school. As the decades pass, I can identify with the truth in the saying that friends come into your life for, ‘a Season, Reason or Lifetime’. Sometimes that lifetime is too short.

Thinking about friendship brings to mind the word, ‘sharing’. Reflecting on the time spent with friends, it’s been about sharing the present times and past times with all the challenges, difficulties and fun times too.  Together we’ve laughed and cried and had some extraordinary experiences, as well as mundane. I hope I have been able to support my friends, as they have supported me. 

The days of spending time talking on a landline are dwindling and email and social media are taking over. Some say that friends on social media are not true friends, just superficial. I disagree. My Facebook friendship groups span six decades. When my husband was seriously ill in hospital, the Facebook community provided genuine support. I didn’t feel alone. I do understand that it’s not for everyone and that, sadly, as with all means of communication, the internet can be abused. 

On my own in middle-age, I was thankful for keeping in touch with friends, even the once a year Christmas cards. One friend was a man, who I had known as a teenager and also on his own. Unexpectedly, a mature friendship grew and at our Blessing service two years later, the poem’ Friendship’ by the 17th Century Quaker, William Penn, was read. This is part of it.

“a true friend discloses freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously and continues a friend unchangeably.”  

Time passes quickly. If you haven’t been in touch with a friend recently, get in touch soon. 

©AlisonRRussell2018

Monday, 30 April 2018

Changing attitudes - would you be a friend to yourself?

This is the article that was published in the York Press on Tuesday, March 27th, 2019. It was not published online.

In the recent bad weather, we arrived at our favourite cafe for Saturday breakfast. The flood barriers had become stuck over the entrance and the staff couldn’t remove them. My husband helped and finally the job was done. I set out the tables and chairs, while the staff turned on the coffee machine and ovens. The fire was lit and soon we were able to eat a delicious breakfast.  All hands on deck, helping one another, during a time of exceptional weather. Community pulling together for the greater good, demonstrated all over the county, in the challenging weather conditions.

The following week we met with the usual early morning crowd. People were understanding about the previous week, except for one person who moaned and complained about the cafe opening late. They couldn’t have their breakfast exactly when they wanted it. Afterwards, it occurred to me that if their attitude had been different, they could have helped too.

Taking the opportunity arising from a cancelled meeting, I went to the cinema to see ‘The Darkest Hour’, with a mesmerising performance by Gary Oldham as Churchill. The venue is undergoing renovation and after the film I started to descend three flights of stairs with another woman. I commented on the improvement of lighting and other decor. Unfortunately she didn’t have anything good to say and moaned all the way down to the foyer, where a light-hearted comment from me about the weather outside, was met with further negativity. I felt quite drained and thought that I wouldn’t like to spend too much time in the woman’s company.

The subject of loneliness is mentioned regularly in the media. Circumstances can be difficult for many people, but there are those who do not help themselves by only complaining and speaking negatively. Sadly, this further alienates them, as friends, family and neighbours find being in their company draining and difficult, so visits become less often and shorter. A vicious circle is set up and generally, blame is apportioned elsewhere.  

A question we should all ask ourselves is, “would I want to visit me and spend time in my company?” If not, can we change our attitude? The answer is “Yes!” and then enjoy a more helpful outcome. 

* A man told me that he didn't have any friends. It was difficult for him to tell me why he thought this might be. I suggested he imagined that he was taking me into his local pub and as we walked in, we noticed him sitting at the bar. I suggested we go up and say hello. He immediately said strongly, "No"! I asked why we shouldn't say hello. His rely was immediate. "I pinch all my friends' girlfriends.". We were then able to have a discussion.

*It's called The Observing Self or as I prefer, our personal CCTV. Not always comfortable to view, but helpful if we look and learn.

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Maya Angelou

©AlisonRRussell2018 

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Something extra - ground breaking BBC podcast on cancer and mental health.

Nine years ago I met a young woman called Rachael Hodges. She was working on a late night radio programme on BBC 5Live with Richard Bacon. At a challenging time in my life, which meant difficulty in sleeping, I became a regular listener to late night radio, especially the Richard Bacon Show. Rachael was the sidekick, keeping him in order and helping provide huge entertainment, especially for a small band of dedicated listeners at 12.30am. I'm asleep at that time these days.

Life moves on and there have been many changes for everyone. Rachael still sometimes works on late night radio, though at the moment she can be found on Drive Time at 17.00pm with Tony Livesey. Since 2009, Rachael has moved with BBC5Live to Salford, married Steve Bland, had a child called Freddie and developed a particularly complex type of breast cancer.

Since her diagnosis and using her journalistic and broadcast skills, Rachael has been writing an award winning Blog, 'Little Me, Big C'. After connecting with other bloggers with cancer, three of them have created some podcasts for Radio 5Live called, 'You, Me, Big C'. The podcasts were launched this week. They were motivated by finding that there was little out there for women in the 30s/40s with a cancer diagnosis.

I have listened to 'About the head' podcast today. In my opinion it is the most open, honest and helpful conversation that has been made by people experiencing cancer. No psychobabble, just raw honesty. I haven't been diagnosed with cancer, but have learnt a lot listening to three amazing women. Personally, I believe it to be groundbreaking and post it on here to help others, which is the whole purpose of this blog.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p060fcqm

©AlisonRRussell2018

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Who are you really? Is your childhood label past its sell-by date?

This is the *extended Wellbeing Column, first published in the York Press on Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/16044808.COLUMN__Time_to_ditch_the_childhood_tags_that_hold_us_back/

I have been reading and thoroughly enjoying, an autobiography by the actor, Stephen McGann. At present, he can been seen playing the doctor of ‘Call the Midwife’, a BBC TV series written by his wife, Heidi Thomas. The book is titled ‘Flesh and Blood: A history of my family in seven sicknesses.’ *Personally I think it's one of the best non-fiction books I've read (listened to).

Stephen’s life story has been beautifully written and in an unusual style. With a degree in medical science, Stephen has written his life story and that of his family, through the eyes of seven medical diagnosis that affected his family through one hundred and fifty years.  Seven chapters full of medical, family, social and cultural history. As I ‘listen’ to books, I also have the bonus of hearing Stephen McGann voice.

*Fascinating, when through his wife's discovery, he finds a great uncle and ship's fireman, mentioned as a survivor on the Titanic in 1912.
Horrifying, as it becomes clear that he and one of his brothers were part of the crowd at the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
Movingly poignant, when reading about his wife's illness in 1998, which touched on my own personal experience with my husband.

Why do I think the book is worth mentioning in this column?

Stephen is the youngest of four brothers with a younger sister. The McGann brothers are all well known actors. As he was growing up, Stephen was ‘the sick one’, or ‘the weak one’. A quieter child with respiratory problems which gave him his family identity. Certainly not a child destined for a career on the the stage. But he refused to give in to his medical problems and fought against living up to his place in the family as the sickly one.

As I listened, I was reminded of adult man with anxiety problems, who through childhood, was used to his mother introducing him as. “This is Peter, our anxious one.” Now grown-up, he was reinventing himself and due a suggestion made by Dr Robert Winston on a TV programme, had made a list of all the positive characteristics he knew he truly was and kept it as a reminder in his wallet. 

Oliver, the youngest boy of four children, was experiencing an apparent school phobia and wouldn’t leave his mother at home alone. There was no phobia, but a fear of leaving his mother, who said on a daily basis, “I won’t be able to manage without him.” One reassuring conversation between his mother and the boy changed everything in a day. * I was making home visits to Oliver's mother, when I realised what was happening. I suggested that she spoke to Oliver about how she was looking forward to him going to school and reassuring him that she would be okay. Later that day, he went out in the car with his siblings and father to the shops. Something he wouldn't do before the conversation with his mother.

*I was 'the naughty one', with it's own consequences.  In the majority of cases, I don't agree in blaming our own troublesome actions on other people and thus negating adult personal responsibility. It is used as an excuse when losing control over a situation.  I do think there are reasons behind our problematic actions. Recognise a reason, do not use it as an excuse and then take control. Too many adults with mental health problems are having internal dialogues as the children they were labelled.

Are you still believing an unhelpful identity given to you in childhood? It’s time to stop. If we think like the children we once were, we may well behave as we once did. Is your family label past it's sell-by date?

‘Careful the things you say
Children will listen’
From Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim 


©AlisonRRussell2018