Tuesday, 30 April 2019

When injury changes life's priorities.

This article was first published in the York Press on Tuesday, April 2nd 2019.


Recently I embraced the Slow Movement lifestyle. Or rather, it embraced me. If you’re not familiar with the Slow Movement, it’s about living life at a slower pace. In the past, I’ve experienced slow food, slow radio and slow television. A popular TV series was made by the actors, Timothy West and Prunella Scales taking slow trips on canals. There is a Slow Movement website too. www.slowmovement.com

I didn’t plan for this change in lifestyle, but an acute attack of sciatica felled me in the garden and suddenly everything had to be done extremely slowly. To minimise pain, meant thinking of the consequences of every action I wanted to take. My life moved in slow motion. While I did not enjoy the discomfort, I did begin to appreciate taking life at a slower pace. Before every action, I stopped, thought and either moved or changed my mind. The new slowness of life, gave me time to reflect on the connection between my physical state and positive mental health. 

The first obvious change was that so little mattered. My diary became a mass of words crossed through. The important event, the vital trip, the crucial meeting, all had to be cancelled and guess what? The world didn’t end. There were inconveniences, but life carried on. I was more aware of my surroundings and took time to observe the detail. Venturing outside, making slow and steady movements, I appreciated each step, stopping and staring at trees, hedgerows, flowers, puddles and views. I thought of the similarity with the state of Mindfulness. That is, living in the present moment and paying attention to everything in that moment. It wasn’t exactly the same, due to breakthrough pain not being relaxing, but it did make me think positively.

Another thought process that was highlighted, was one of action and consequences. To stop and consider the consequences of actions is part of the development of emotional maturity.  It is different from knowing right and wrong. A person thinks about an action which may have unhelpful consequences, to not only themselves, but also other people. Spontaneity can be great fun, but not if the consequences cause harm and upset. 

Due to an excellent Chiropractor I have recovered. Lessons have been learned and exercises will be done. 


Sunday, 31 March 2019

The healthy use and unhealthy misuse of the imagination.

This article that was first published in the York Press on Tuesday, March 5th, 2019.  https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/17470564.column-use-your-imagination-to-banish-negative-thoughts/

“I don’t have any imagination”, said Anna* at a workshop on anxiety. Due to the content of her contribution to the workshop, I doubted this and said as much. She was emphatic and repeated firmly, “I don’t have any imagination.” I knew she was a writer and musician, so felt confident in challenging her self belief. Anna revealed that in primary school, a teacher once bent over her desk to look at her writing and said strongly, “you have no imagination.” Anna had carried this statement in her head for decades, despite evidence to the contrary. 

Anna came to mind when a friend, Richard*, recently claimed that none of his children’s multiple artistic and creative abilities had come from him. This was blatantly incorrect, as he was a master of DIY, car maintenance and house renovation. But he had interpreted his skills as those of engineering and wasn’t aware that creativity and imagination played a large part in his abilities. Richard also had a history of anxiety-based problems. What is the connection and why is it important?

The imagination is one of our innate resources and wonderful when used positively and productively. But imagination can be misused negatively and unhelpfully, often leading to mental health problems, arising from a poor internal dialogue. 

In my therapy practice, the majority of clients with depression and anxiety-based problems were misusing their imaginations and it was my work to discover helpful factual information, rather than listen to unhelpful imaginings. I would challenge statements that begun, “I knew this would happen”. “They think…”. “It will always…”. “I will never…” Then I could teach a client how to use their imagination more positively to achieve healthier outcomes. Often, a client would tell me they had no imagination, while it was all too obvious that they did. I used to enjoy saying to a new client, “I know you are creative, what is your work and pastimes?” Looking at me, as if I was some sort of clairvoyant, they would then recount their skills in music, writing, designing, diy, gardening, cooking, woodwork, acting, painting and craftwork.

The beauty of their answers was it then provided a basis to assist with the presenting problem. Their resources would provide the help they needed. 

*not real names


Thursday, 28 February 2019

Change, loss and grieving.

This is the extended* article first published in the The York Press on Tuesday, February 5th 2019


There is no subject on which everyone agrees 100%. It can be eye-opening that such diverse views are held on any subject. 

* Sometime I am astonished at the 360 degree views that can be held on anything. Everyday, politics, the Arts and ordinary news stories provide such a diversity of opinions. Any letters page in a newspaper or feedback on online forums and social media can reveal strongly held opposing views on any topic. While it's easy to understand some differing views, others can leave me open mouthed.  Another classic situation is family dynamics, when one family member will recall an incident in a very different way from another member. Many disagreements can follow and some for life.
Perhaps we should be more understanding of another person’s point of view, as we don’t know where their beliefs are rooted.  These were my thoughts when I read the vitriol directed towards Andy Murray.*

After a tearful Andy Murray was interviewed about his hip injury and future in tennis, there was a spectrum of opinions. I’m not a particular fan of the sportsman, but do understand the emotional challenge when we have to make life changes at times not of our choosing. It’s tough and takes time to adjust. 

Life events affecting ourselves or family, mean we have to make serious decisions, often leading to any future plans we may have, being thrown in the air, When we have some control over the timing of such decisions, it will present a challenge, but we have some control. When events mean that we’re forced to make unplanned decisions, it can be difficult, as we have lost control. Last week, I was talking with a friend whose life has been turned upside down due to her husband’s ill health. She is struggling to adapt.

In Michelle Obama’s inspiring autobiography, ‘Becoming’, she talks of the adjustment that she had to make, when her lawyer boyfriend wanted to go into politics. It wasn’t what she wanted and initially life in the fortress White House and her loss of control was challenging and she had to adapt. The former BBC Radio 2 presenter, Simon Mayo, is also coming to terms with life events, which were not of his choosing. Periods of adjustment can be experienced in stages. Shock, denial, anger, blame and acceptance. If these stages are familiar, they are the suggested stages of grief. Grief is about loss and can be felt about anything, a person, pet, work, ageing, freedom. I believe we often underestimate that in some situations, our emotional turmoil is due to grieving at loss. 

*Since the article was published, Simon Mayo has announced a new radio progamme on a new radio station. Publicity reveals that Simon has indeed gone through the stages mentioned above.* 

Disappointment and hurt can often lead to new opportunities, as long as our eyes and ears are open. 

* I return to my favourite saying from Helen Keller, " When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so often at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."*

Friday, 11 January 2019

Let's start the year with kindness.

This is the article that was first published in the York Press on Tuesday, January 8th 2019


Kindness. A month ago, I knew what the subject would be for the New Year column. It appears that I’m not the only newspaper columnist to have chosen it as a topic in the last couple of weeks. Writers express concern that there was a nastier edge in society in 2018. The Queen alluded to it in her Christmas Day message too. Our reflections have been motivated by the apparent increase of intolerance of others and their opinions. Even if one disregards second and third-hand reports, the filmed proof, live radio and traceable social media comments, makes one aware of strong animosity being regularly and freely expressed.

Of course, there are more outlets for people’s opinions, with twenty-four hour television and radio programmes to be filled and social media. Impulsive thoughts, which previously would have stayed in a person’s mind or go no further than anyone in the same room, are now broadcast worldwide. Sometimes it seems we are communicating in the biggest school playground in the world, with name calling and lack of respect for another’s opinion. The ability to be spontaneous without thinking and poor control over emotional outbursts, mean that more hurtful and insulting words are spoken and written than ever before. Adults are providing poor examples to children.

As a child I was taken with a character in the children’s book by Charles Kingsley called ‘The Water Babies’. The woman is called Mrs Do As You Would Be Done By. The name has come to mind recently. If we could behave toward others as we would like to be treated ourselves, it would be a good start. Avoiding the childish retort, “I didn’t start it, it was them”. Kindness is not difficult, is easily learnt and free. It can feel good too.

The sentiment is as old as the Christian, ‘Do unto others as you would have do unto you’. It features in all main religions. Buddism: ’Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.’ Islam: ‘Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you.’  Judaism: ‘What you yourself hate, do to no man’. Hinduism: ‘Treat others as you would yourself be treated.’

Let’s be kinder to one another in 2019 and in turn, kinder to ourselves too. 


Sunday, 30 December 2018

Boundary setting and self-regulation.

This is an *extended article first published in the York Press on Tuesday, December 4th, 2018.


A friend’s nine-month old baby is crawling and climbing, causing her parents some concern, as she has no awareness of danger. There has been chat about the merits of playpens and stair gates are in position. Another friend, who lives in West London, is concerned about her fifteen-year old son. The boy is determined to live a more adventurous life than his parents feel comfortable in allowing. Compromises are negotiated. These are illustrations of boundaries. Boundaries set by caring people, who are concerned as to the safety of their children. Boundaries set and moved by adults, as the child grows and learns how to set their own. Except some adults lack that ability. 

*It concerns me when I meet adults unable to use public transport because they were ferried around in cars all their childhood. They  have grown up with a lack of knowledge of how to use a train or bus timetable and sometimes with a fear transferred by a parent. Another immature response is when an adult says "I wasn't told" to a challenge that some behaviour has caused a problem. Some adults  do not have the capacity to think for themselves, to self-regulate, because they have always been regulated by others. This type of behaviour is at the opposite end of the spectrum to children who are sadly called 'feral', with no boundaries and also with an inability to self-regulate. The imagined background of such children is perhaps at the poorer end of society, but that is not always the case.

*I recall a period in education in the 1980s and the promotion of 'free expression' or 'letting children behave as they want to'. I ran a Toddler Group for twenty-two two year olds, no mums and two helpers. There was a routine ninety minutes of playtime, story, playtime and the children thrived. Social Services visited. They disliked the routine and I was sent on a course, where free expression was promoted. In an immature way, I mildly rebelled in one of the exercises, but was so frustrated. Social Services kept up the impromptu visits, but never found anything less than a room full of happy children and were unable to shut down the group. 

A healthy baby always kept in a playpen for months and years, would amount to child neglect. Teenagers think they are aware of all the dangers outside their front door, but adults, remembering their own near escapes from challenging situations, have different ideas. Initial boundaries are slowly widened to allow for healthy physical and psychological growth. Not giving boundaries can lead to wild behaviour, but films of wild animals kept in captivity, in too small a space for their needs, will show increasingly disturbed behaviour. Humans kept within boundaries that do not take their development into account, can develop mental health problems. Is too much ‘helicopter parenting’ leading to an increase in some of these problems?

A teaching tale: A king and queen had a precious son, but were told by a mystic, that he would be killed by a wild animal. They decided never to allow him outside the castle walls. They gave the child everything he could want inside the walls. This included a magnificent room where jungle scenes were painted on the walls. At the top of one wall, artists painted lions and tigers. One day a workman left the room with a tall ladder in position against a wall. The boy, wandering around the castle, came across the room and intrigued by the animals, wanted to get nearer them. He climbed the ladder, reached out to touch a tiger, fell off the ladder and died.

We learn how to set our own boundaries of behaviour. If we always relied on others for setting our boundaries, our emotional growth will remain stunted. 


Thursday, 29 November 2018

Putting a crisis into perspective.

This is the extended* column first published in the York Press on November 6th 2018.


I have been in Liverpool, attending the annual conference for Soroptimist International Great Britain and Ireland. www.sigbi.org. ‘Women inspiring action, transforming lives.’ There were inspirational speakers, who have worked their way through the most challenging of circumstances. Reports were presented by some of the three hundred and fifty clubs, about the educating, empowering and enabling work Soroptimist volunteers have achieved around UK and the world. Projects which are only a drop in the ocean of Poverty, Loneliness, Slavery, Abuse, Genital Mutilation, Human Trafficking, Imprisonment, Hunger, Hygiene, Disease and Education. *Making a difference. Transforming lives.

Returning home I found that the fridge freezer had broken down with resulting problems, my husband’s smartphone had broken, the car repair bill was massive and Christmas is just around the corner.

My husband became a little ’Dad’s Army’, along the lines of, “We’re all doomed.’ (* It was actually more Frankie Howard, "Woe, woe and thrice woe", but I thought younger readers might not remember that, so changed to Dad's Army. An older TV programme, but still regularly shown on TV. ) I stopped him and said, “I’ve just spent three days hearing about the appalling misfortune of millions of people worldwide. Please get this into perspective.” Irritating and inconvenient our problems may be, but life threatening or life limiting they are not.

* We are used to hearing about Third World Poverty, but surely in 2018, the UK should not have to have charities supporting Food Banks and Period Poverty schemes. The recent figures for the latter, enabling hundreds of girls to attend school are heartening.

Two speakers gave these words of  wisdom. The one time hostage, Terry Waite, spoke about appreciating the small, free things in life, when he experienced a moment of colour in his bleak, black and white, five years in captivity. From a momentarily uncovered window, he had managed a glimpse of a bunch of flowers for a few seconds. He also spoke about his mental survival being due to continually exercising and challenging his brain. Terry’s imagination saved him and he maintains that stretching himself mentally every day, keeps his brain from atrophying at seventy-nine.

A former UK police officer, Ellie Bird Lenawarungu, now married and working in Kenya, spoke about empowering villagers to enable themselves. More powerful than aid workers doing the enabling. I have heard similar from relief workers working in disaster zones. Teachers spoke afterwards, agreeing that if pupils had some part of a project in school, they felt some ownership and therefore respected the work more. 

One of the problem with teenagers and their mental health, may be that instead of adults empowering children to enable themselves, too many adults are doing the enabling themselves, leaving the children entering adulthood, lacking life skills. 

*In this busy world, it is generally easier and quicker in the short-term for adults to do tasks, but in the long-term, we disable our children, not making them able adults.

Empower and encourage others to enable themselves.


Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Anxiety and misusing the imagination.

This is the *extended Wellbeing Column, first published in the York Press on Tuesday, October 9th 2018.

Anxiety. A word that is increasingly appearing in the media. A fear of something, generally the unknown, allowing imaginations to run wild, creating emotional distress, sometimes leading to debilitating mental health conditions.

* Anxiety conditions and the misuse of the imagination have been around for centuries. 2000 years ago, Emperor Marcus Aurelius is quoted, "Many of the anxieties that harass you are superfluous, being but creatures of your fancy, you can rid yourself of them and expand into an ampler region, letting your thoughts sweep over the entire universe." In other words, stop imagining the worst and look at the bigger picture.

The first seminar I attended on Anxiety started with two scenarios about Presentation Anxiety. You have to make a presentation. You walk on the stage, trip over and drop your notes. On falling, you fracture your leg. Taken to hospital, you develop an infection and do not survive. Listening to this, we, the students, laughed. Then the lecturer gave another scenario. You walk on stage. You give a magnificent presentation. A television producer is in the audience and offers you a TV series. You become famous and very rich. We, the students, laughed louder. In fact, the lecturer suggested, neither of these scenarios would happen. The presentation was unlikely to be the best ever heard, but neither would it be the worst. The scenarios are the work of a misused imagination.

In my practice, I met people with a variety of anxiety conditions. ‘Born worriers’, always had a parent or main carer who were also ‘born worriers’. The behaviour was learnt and could be cognitively challenged and unlearnt.  Nurture, not nature. 

Some people feel anxious because they are unable to control a situation, especially one on a national or international scale. One solution is to find what part of the situation can be controlled. For instance, by writing a letter, joining an action group, signing a petition. Another solution is to confine a set time for doing nothing else, but worrying. Once a day or once a week. Realising the futility of wasting that time on something that cannot be changed, can work for some people.

*Some temporary states of anxiety can be helpful at times. It can heighten performance and sends some helpful hormones around the body. Too much though, will flood the mind and body, causing a shutdown. The example I learnt was that the spin cycle on a washing machine is needed in short bursts. It wouldn't work and would break down if it was on constant spin cycle. To have the brain on a constant spin cycle is damaging. Techniques can be learnt to help when levels of anxiety are felt to be rising to quickly and too high.

Recently I was driving to a meeting and had a serious puncture. I worried about the cost, the inconvenience and of letting people down. It all seemed unsolvable. Calming down, I put it into perspective. The unexpected cost was frustrating, but could be paid. Five years before, to the hour, my husband was having his life saved by the doctors in Scarborough Hospital. I used my phone to let people know what was happening. My absence could be covered. 

* This took a little time. At first, my emotional arousal prevented me from thinking logically, but I worked on it. Self administered Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT.)

“I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Mark Twain