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.