Cold, wet and miserable?

Gloomy and threatening or dramatic and wild?
Gloomy and threatening or dramatic and wild?

My morning’s dog walk could have been cold wet, dark and miserable. It was 7am, still very dark, raining, with quite a cold breeze.

Change Perception

Yet, it was really quite ok.  As I made way around one of my usual routes I found myself thinking about how much our perception can change our feelings about an event or experience. If I had been feeling grumpy and determined to experience my walk this morning as cold, wet, dark and miserable then that is undoubtedly what it would have been.  Instead,  it was enjoyable walking the streets in the half-light as the sun was coming up. I enjoyed seeing who was also out and about. The rain felt refreshing.   The air crisp and wintry.

Traumatic Experience

Unfortunately some experiences we are faced with my be too difficult or traumatic for us to shift our perception of them. The recent floods in many parts of the UK, brought on by similar rain to that I enjoyed this morning, will be an example of this.  Some people’s lives will have been dramatically impacted by what has happened.

Therapy for difficult memories

Sometimes experiences in the present can be too evocative of painful experience in the past.  We may be unable to move past the significance of certain events without professional help of therapy.  For example, significant anniversaries may be triggering past losses,  day to day events may trigger anxieties about past traumas.  If you have had an experience where shifting how you perceive it might be useful, therapy can often be very helpful in that process.

But this morning was happily one of those days when what could have been cold wet and miserable was refreshing energising and connecting.

Christmas Stress

Christmas StressIn the midst of the celebrations and holidays, whether religious or otherwise, I hope that you have had the opportunity for good times spent with people you love and care about.  Unfortunately for some people Christmas will  have meant a host of family arguments, relationship problems, disappointments, painful memories, losses and grief.

Stress at Christmas

There is a tremendous amount of expectation put on us at this time of year.  Expectations about spending time with people that we might actually not get on that well with for the rest of the year.  Along with eating too much, possibly drinking too much and spending too much money.  It undoubtedly can be one of the most stressful times of the year – Christmas stress.   As a therapist I have spent several weeks in the run up to December 25th talking to many of my clients about Christmas.  How they were feeling about it.  What meaning did they attach to the event.  Were they having the kind of Christmas they wanted?  Or were they under pressure to meet other’s needs.  How they might take care of themselves in the face of spending time with people where relationships might be difficult. Or deal with painful memories of events or of loved ones who are no longer here.

Improve your life

I’m also expecting an influx of calls following Christmas as many people reach the point of “this can’t carry on.” This is often the result of a miserable few days spending an intense amount of time perhaps with a partner or family member where things are not going well at all.  Where with the stress of Christmas all the problems in the relationship become heightened.

I invite you to give yourself permission to do what you need to do to take care of yourself.  This might begin by not adding extra pressure by thinking “but it’s Christmas, everything should be different.”  Although Christmas is heralded as a time of year of goodwill, for some people in some situations that is not feasible or even desirable.  If you need to do something different with your situation to improve your life then please don’t let the time of year stop you from taking action to change your situation.

It might also might mean contacting someone you’ve not been in touch with for a long time.  Telling someone something important. Deciding not to spend next Christmas with family.  Seeking out counselling for help with a relationship problem.

Christmas 2016

Stress at ChristmasThese last few days at the end of December can be lovely; with time for resting, celebrating in ways that are healthy and enjoyable, being with people you love and who love you.  Making meaning and finding ways to mark the changing of the seasons and the time of year that aligns with your beliefs and values.  If that hasn’t been your experience this year my encouragement to you is to reflect how you might have this for yourself next year.

Seasons Greetings and Best Wishes for 2016

 

Bereavement

Bereavement Counselling WilmslowHave you experienced a loss or bereavement recently, or know someone who has.? A beloved friend or relative? A parent or child? We can feel lost and not know how to express our condolences when we meet someone who has recently experienced a bereavement.  It can help to talk.

I provide bereavement counselling as part of my therapy practice.  In this post I wanted to provide some information on what you might experience if you are the person who has experienced the loss.  I also though it might be helpful if you know someone who is going through this experience.

When someone you know has recently died the world can suddenly be a very confusing and difficult place. You might find that you cannot stop thinking about the person who has gone.  Eating and sleeping may be difficult.  You might feel exhausted one minute and restless and agitated the next. You may think you should be coping better and be worried that you are not.

Thoughts, Feelings and Physical Sensations

It is quite normal to experience feelings of sadness, anger, guilt and helplessness when someone you know has died.  Along with these feelings people often find themselves experiencing anxiety, loneliness and fatigue. Sometimes the experience of losing someone can be shocking and traumatic so that the person may feel numb.

You may also find yourself feeling confused, being unable to believe the person is dead, or alternatively find yourself feeling a sense of their presence or hallucinations.  Repetitive and intrusive thoughts about the person and the way they died are also very common.

Difficulties with eating or sleeping and feeling restless are also normal, along with other physical symptoms such as a lack of energy, muscle weakness, tightness in the chest, hollowness in the stomach, dry mouth and sensitivity to noise.

All of these thoughts, feelings and sensations are  normal part of the grieving process.  Experiencing bereavement can be very difficult.  Each person’s response will be different, each person mourns in a different way.  Although it is a cliché time will bring relief from the intensity of the feeling.

Mourning

There is no time limit to the grieving process.  William Worden writes of there being tasks of mourning.  The first being begin to accept the reality of the person’s death – that the person you knew is gone and will not return.

The second task is to work through the pain of the grief.  Even though it may feel incredibly painful over time it is important to allow yourself time to think and feel about the death, to recognise and experience your feelings which will allow you to move forward.

The third task is to adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing. This is not about “getting over” or replacing but about adjustment to the changes in the person’s daily life.

Finally the last task is to find an enduring connection to the deceased while moving on with a new life.

Anniversaries, Christmas, birthdays important events will most likely be a time of remembrance and sadness.  Moving on with a new life does not mean forgetting – it mean being able to engage with living again and a moderation of the grief from it’s raw intensity.

Bereavement Counselling Wilmslow

I provide bereavement counselling in Wilmslow and in working with people I know that support through this painful process is very important.  For many people having family and friends available can be support enough.  Not everyone has this though and some deaths are difficult, possibly very unexpected, traumatic or difficult in some way. In these situations it can helpful to talk to a counsellor or therapist to help the person move through the grieving process.

How does Change Happen – Or Notice the Little Stuff.

I’ve been remembering some of my experiences of change. One that was very significant for me was a few years ago now. I had been walking my dogs first thing in the  morning and I was reflecting on my internal sense of self and how I was feeling on a day to day basis. As I reached the front door, I had a profound realisation that I was content with myself in a way that I hadn’t ever felt before. I was amazed and astounded by this realisation. I found myself thinking but when did I change?  How did this happen?  As I thought about the difference I was experiencing I realised I wasn’t able to identify any particular moments of significance, but that what had been happening was slow, incremental moments and shifts and change that I had not been aware of until then.

So, how does change happen? There are probably 100’s of books that have been written on the subject, numerous blog posts and theory about how it all works. The impact on people, how we cope and deal with changes in our lives or how we make changes for the better.

Change in Therapy

Clients often talk to me about change during their therapy.   If the desired change is something about self, what seems to be very common is a sense that we will know immediately when change happens.  And that the desired change will happen quickly.  There seems to be an internal expectation that people will immediately think about what they want to do differently and be able put that in place.  I suspect this is often because the distress of the current situation is difficult and people want things to be different and for this to happen quickly.   I see a lot of this with people I work with.   I often find myself saying something like “you’ve been thinking/feeling/behaving this way for x number of years – it’s likely to take some more time for you to make the changes you want.”

The two aspects I’m noticing most as I’m writing this post are about our expectations:

  1. about the speed of change and
  2. that we will notice immediately when we do change.

My “how to support yourself” tips from this post are that we have to learn to be patient with ourselves.  In some ways I often think this is one of the tasks of therapy.  To learn to be more forgiving of ourselves, to be more patient with ourselves, to have more realistic and kinder expectations of ourselves.  And notice the small stuff. I suspect that in my journey to being more content with myself there were numerous small shifts and changes along the way that I didn’t account or was aware of.  If I had been I suspect it would have been very helpful in motivating and encouraging me that I was changing.

I’m going to give a couple of examples of what I mean by “the small stuff”.  If I’m the kind of person who can’t relax until all the jobs are done I might find myself leaving the washing up until after I’ve watched that TV programme.   Or, if I’m really nervous around people and find it difficult to interact I might find that I say hello to one of my work colleagues in the kitchen at work instead of being silent. So my final tip is take time to do a self check and notice those tiny shifts in thinking, feeling and behaviour. They are important and over time can add up to the significant change you are working towards.

Have you made big changes in your life that you would like to share?  How did that happen?  I’d love to hear people’s stories of changes they have made.

 

What’s a Therapy Group Like?

Never, it’s not for me, I don’t have the confidence for a therapy group.

Probably just a few of the responses you might have to the idea of being in a therapy group with people you have never met before. And sometimes it can be the very fact that you do not know the other members of the therapy group that be so helpful.  These people most likely do not know you. They are not in a previous relationship with you:  a colleague, friend, sibling or parent, a partner.  They can give you feedback in a way that is not influenced by their history with you.   They may choose to share their responses to the issues you may be facing in your life. You will most probably find out that they have faced something similar themselves. You are not alone in your experience.

A therapy group can be an opportunity to gain support, to explore yourself and your relationships, to have a shared experience of connectedness.  There are different types of therapy groups and different configurations. Some meet regularly, often fortnightly or weekly for a couple of hours or so.  Some groups meet a three or four times a year for longer. Others meet as a one off for a weekend or longer.

As a therapist who runs a variety of different groups, I am often struck by the potency of the group experience for people.  Taking the step to join a therapy  group, to share intimate moments from your life can be a big decision for some people, one that I think reaps its rewards. Add to this of course, is the fact that I like running groups. I enjoy the interaction, the sharing and contact I see between people, the willingness to be open and support each other. I like the fact we nearly always find something to laugh about together. We enjoy ourselves and have some fun too.

I read recently that we are born into relationship – it seems to me that engaging in therapy with others is a natural way to learn about ourselves through relationship.

Information on my next therapy group can be found at Group Therapy

On Being 50

Aging

It was my 50th birthday about 10 days ago. In the run up to the big day I had been feeling pretty ambivalent about being 50. In the last ten years or so I’ve noticed physical changes.  Fitness is not as easy, I get stiff after unaccustomed exercise and my recovery time is longer, I get tired more easily, it’s not as easy to keep my weight at a healthy level etc etc. I’ve also noticed a few grey hairs (actually more than a few) and some wrinkles.

Fear of Death

And perhaps most importantly I’ve been having what I’ve been “calling existential panics.” I will be engaged in doing something, not necessarily thinking deeply about anything in particular and I will find that somewhere in my thought process my mind has turned to the idea of dying.  Then I experience a cold panic at the idea of no longer being here. A sense of what it might mean to no longer have a sense of my own consciousness, of there being no more me. Alongside this is a feel of the magnitude of history, the endless stretch of time flowing backwards and forwards.  I feel completely insignificant. My time on this earth has been but a blink of an eye. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling and pretty scary.

So in the run up to being 50 I’d been thinking about this experience I’d been having. What it will mean to have lived 50 years of my life. That I’ve almost certainly got less years ahead of me than I’ve lived. I was worried how I might feel.

Being Peacful

What a surprise.  I woke up on my birthday and it felt like a good birthday. Friends and relatives coming to a party to celebrate. It was about lunchtime as I was sipping on a celebratory glass of champagne when I had a very reassuring insight. I was reflecting on my life and what I’d felt like at 40, and 30 and at 20, Then I thought that I’d probably got about another 30 years or so ahead of me.  In that moment it felt like it might be enough. That another 30 years was a long time and that in that time I might very well  be ok with the idea of not being here anymore.  So, whilst I’m not ready yet and  I love my life I  also for the first time  had a sense that it might be possible to make my peace with death, dying and leaving.

A serious subject and something that faces us all in end. Have you anything you would like to share about your experience of aging and living?