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. ‘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


Sunday, 30 September 2018

Write now, before it’s too late.

This is the *extended column, first published on Tuesday, September 11th 2018.

Last week I heard some sad news. As it has been reported widely, you may be aware of the news too. A BBC Radio 5 Live presenter and newsreader, Rachael Bland, has died. 40 years old, married and with a 3 year old son, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in November 2016. Rachael has been writing a blog and contributing to a ground-breaking and award winning BBC podcast, ‘You, Me and the Big C’.

I first encountered Rachael on late night radio. In 2008/9 I was regularly travelling between London and York, keeping an eye on my father who was unwell. I needed the radio to help lull me into sleep. At the time, Richard Bacon was a presenter on BBC 5 Live and Rachael was the newsreader. The partnership developed and a silly segment was introduced from 12.30am to 1am. Listeners took part and I became a regular contributor. This programme carried me through difficult and distressing times and the listeners became known to one another through social networking. Richard proved mercurial, but was kept in order by Rachael. Such was the ‘specialness’of these thirty minutes of radio, that members of the community were invited to a recording of the programme at Richard’s home and also to the recording of the last ever broadcast by the team, at the BBC Theatre. All in the early hours. It was fun, surreal at times and special.

Everyone’s lives have moved on and through Facebook, the community saw Rachael marry and have a child. Then cancer arrived.

I have no idea what this diverse group of people meant to Richard and Rachael. I thought that I must write to her to say thank-you for her radio contribution. She wouldn’t have known what it had meant to me. In the same way, in 2010, I wrote a thank-you to a friend’s mother who had been wonderful to me, a rebellious teenager with an unhappy home life. She replied, saying it was one of the nicest letters she had ever received and that she had no idea what she had meant to me.

Is there anyone you would like to say thank-you? Don’t leave it another week. Do it now…before it’s too late.

*I wasn't going to extend this article. All that needed writing was written. Except that I was invited to Rachael's Thanksgiving Service, held after a private funeral.  As we used to say on the radio programme mentioned, 'it was an honour and a privilege' to have been asked. It was a very beautiful, but heartbreaking service with two to three hundred people in attendance. Three other people who had taken part in the programme nine years ago sat with me, as a tribute to the part Rachael's talents had played in our very different lives. Her husband, Steve, has said, "at the time when Rachael's body was at it's weakest, her mind was at its strongest." The last few months of Rachael's life have left a priceless legacy. If you haven't listened to the podcast series, even if you don't have a particular interest in cancer and death, try to listen. The final two podcasts are extraordinary radio, due to the honesty and humour of Rachael, Deborah and Lauren. Thank you girls. This is my thank-you letter to you, with love.


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.

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’.


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.

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.


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 

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.


Wednesday, 30 May 2018


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

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. 


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


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.


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

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 


Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Intense 'hits' can become addictive.

This is the *extended York Press Wellbeing column, first published on Tuesday, January 30th  2018.

I was feeling fed up and my thoughts turned to chocolate. My thoughts nearly always turn to chocolate when feeling fed up. If not chocolate, something sweet. I won’t be alone and if it’s not something sweet to manage a negative mood, many people will turn to either shopping, drinking, drugs, gambling, sex, or even inexplicably to most people, self-harm. Something to distract one from accepting uncomfortable feelings and working through them. Compensation or a reward which quickly ‘hits the spot’.

*Self-harm presents images of scars, blood and burns and is certainly used to provide an intense hit, instead of managing uncomfortable or distressing emotions. But much of our everyday behaviour could be called self-harm couldn't it? If we've been diagnosed with something which could be helped by a change in our lifestyle, how many of us carry on as before, perhaps taking medication rather than changing lifestyle behaviours?  When we ignore the signs and make in choices and engage in behaviours that could be harmful, isn't that self-harm?

I’ve been writing a magazine article for Tidings magazine, a publication of Colostomy UK, about my reactions when my husband was suddenly taken seriously ill four years ago (happily he is fully recovered). Leaving the hospital at 10am in a state of shock and my mind all over the place, I craved chocolate and red wine. I could acknowledge that the wine was to ‘fuzzy the edges’ and was unwise, as I had to drive later in the day, but chocolate was an easy solution. My favoured chocolate is 90% dark chocolate, but that wasn't going to do. I needed something sweeter and more intense and turned to a Twirl bar with ‘An intense chocolate hit’ written on the side. It certainly does that, though it’s probably an intense sugar hit too. Another one and I was feeling better. Deep down I didn’t really want to eat all that chocolate, I just wanted something to take the uncomfortable emotions away. Twirl bars became my comfort food for a month and even now, when most days I can ignore the blue and yellow packaging, sometimes I give in. 

I’ve thought back to the earliest feelings of eating something sweet to make me feel better and up pops childhood experiences. *I can recall a 'stolen' digestive biscuit in an aunt's house, when I was bored and a sneaky lemon puff biscuit when I was stuck indoors unwell. 

I observe the behaviours still being played out today when I’m out and about. A crying child, a carer and instant gratification to “make it feel better”, usually food based. Most of us have done that and the message is absorbed at an early age. To make us feel better we need a treat and it’s often something sweet. 

* If the memories are not of something sweet, they may be of something that was fun. I recall a man with a gambling addiction. His childhood memories were of his mother having fun with him at seaside fruit machines. 
The need to do something 'to make us feel better' is connected with feelings of not feeling good enough, the driving force of multiple psychological problems rooted in childhood.

Cravings and planning the next ‘hit’ can be symptoms of addictive behaviour. If it’s getting out of control, seek help. Short-term gain, long-term pain.