Setting Intentions

I started writing this post 10 months ago, a few weeks into the new year, that time of year when everyone is reflecting and hoping to manifest change in the coming months. I knew I wanted to invite change into my life but at that point I was too overwhelmed to think for more than a few minutes about it. I tend to start writing and soon lose interest but the reason I was drawn back to this topic was because, as the year comes to a close, I am reflecting on the intended and unintended things that I have experienced this year.

Now, ten months after I started, I am writing this from the echoey hall of a museum in Lisbon. Whatever change I had hoped to manifest I don’t think moving to Portugal was it, but I am trying to allow myself to not get bogged down in the things I can’t control or change. One thing I decided to change a few weeks ago was not to wait till the 31st December or 1st January to make a decision about how and what I wanted to change in 2020. I wanted to make changes immediately which I did but also to give myself time to really evaluate what I want and where I want to be, which I am doing.

One thing I decided to change a few weeks ago was not to wait till the 31st December or 1st January to make a decision about how and what I wanted to change in 2020.

There is something enticing about waiting till the very last moments of the year, or the first few hours of one, to announce a grand plan but in reality (for me at least) they are often too big and grand to last. My most effective intentions have always been ones which I knew I needed and would make me happy.

A few years ago, my intention was to go to the theatre more, which I did, last year I wanted to wear red make-up more which I also did. My friend told me she chooses a word she wants to define the year which I tried but have completely forgotten what word I chose! I will write it down next time. I like intentions like this, they don’t aim to completely reshape your life or demand you change your personality or body, they just gently nudge you, encouraging you to do things for yourself or commit to a theme for your year.

What I am trying to consider now is what intentions are most important to me, do I want to travel more or spend more time with my family? Do I want to continue to be impulsive and independent or do I want to commit to one person?  Will I move again or give myself more time in my new space?

I like intentions that don’t aim to completely reshape your life or demand you change your personality or body, they just gently nudge you, encouraging you to do things for yourself.

Maybe you don’t have these kind of brain scrambles when setting intentions, maybe you are one of those amazing people who sets your mind on something and just goes for it. I am one of those types who over analyses which is why when it comes to intentions it is easier for me to stick to things I want more of in my life than habits I want to pick up.

I think another part of it is being scared of setting something in stone, I have an all or nothing type attitude especially when it comes to achieving something to do with work.  Setting an intention to complete something or achieve something bigger and more life changing means you have to grapple with the fact you might not actually get it. It won’t fundamentally change my life if I stop wearing red eye shadow but if I don’t get to publish a book or buy a house then that will actually feel really crap.

In reality though these intentions don’t need to be any scarier, they just involve more flexibility and few small intentions along the way. Setting a big huge intention for 2020 is a great idea as long as you don’t expect yourself to have achieved in by the end of January 2020.

I’m still trying to work out what I want for the next year and the next decade. All I can say is that whatever I choose to work towards I won’t judge myself as harshly for not doing it perfectly. In the past my intentions have been about loosing weight, being better, making more money blah blah blah but the biggest changes happened to me when I gave myself space for them. When I let myself be slow or static and knew that was ok. Right now in this moment I am just hoping I reach 2030 with most of my teeth.

Holding your ACEs

ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) refers to negative experiences children and adolescents go through such as physical abuse, neglect or household dysfunction. Since the original research was done in the late nineties further studies have been conducted showing the negative impact they can have on the adults. Unsurprisingly, for children who go through some really fucked up shit they have some problems as adults. Those with a ‘high score’ (i.e. have experienced multiple adverse childhood experiences) are more likely to suffer from chronic depression, more likely to smoke, more likely to experience sexual assault and attempt suicide, there are a whole range of increased risks which (if you are in the mood for a downer) you can read all about here.

I never really accepted that my childhood was really fucked up, I went to a school where I could hide in plain sight. I was poor but there were poorer kids. Parental separation was really common by the time I got to secondary. A lot of my friends’ parents were alcoholics, used or sold drugs and only a few people outside my immediate family knew my mum would beat us in mad rages, but I knew my friend’s parents did the same sometimes.  Being surrounded by it normalised it, I didn’t know until I was much older that these were not the experiences most children lived through. I also had nice memories from my childhood, summers spent with my cousins at the beach and sleepovers with friends. As an adult, I used these to minimise the darker aspects of my childhood, focusing on what I did have and blocking out what was too difficult to deal with. Blocking the memories didn’t stop me struggling, I just didn’t make the link between them and my poor mental health.

Now as an adult I have found myself in a sector that supports children going through even worse things than I did. It sounds strange but it wasn’t until about 12 months ago that I realised why I might have been drawn to this kind of work. It doesn’t pay well, it is really hard and it is emotionally draining, but I have always wanted to help people. The irony is I didn’t want to help myself, I never looked after myself, I didn’t think I deserved it. Being beaten and threatened scared me into silence and made me believe I was a bad person, who must have done terrible things, to be treated like that. Combined with the neglect and deprivation that I lived through I didn’t have a healthy sense of what I need and deserve.  One of the most detrimental aspects of ACES is that often those who experience them internalise them and they manifest in a lot of self-hatred.

For anyone who hasn’t experienced it, it might be hard to understand why you would hate yourself because someone else violated you. For so long I was ashamed of my upbringing, I didn’t want people to know how poor I had was and the rest of my family didn’t really know how bad it was with my mum. I felt isolated by what I had been through which meant I wasn’t able to reach out to people for the support I needed. I didn’t know what being cared for was. I was too ashamed and shut down to address it even when I found myself in therapy.

My therapist tried and failed to get me to recognise that these experiences had moulded my mental health and perspective as an adult. Being confronted so forcefully and trying to stifle the memories and emotions exacerbated my problems, I internalised the conflict and went back to the coping mechanism I had relied on as a teenager – bulimia. It was after a lot more individual therapy, that I came to family therapy with my brother, where I finally felt safe enough to speak about and accept that the stress of my childhood was not my fault but had real affects for on me now.

But now that I am working to accept and properly process what I went through I feel so much freer. More open to admitting to people how hard it was for me growing up and accepting that I need to deal with it. Different experiences will manifest themselves in different ways but holding your ACEs (whatever they were) with care and compassion can help you manage where you are now. You are still that child, you need to give yourself the love and care you were denied in the past.

So, although I am still very early into this process I have found a few things particularly useful.

  1. Read “The Body Keeps Score”

If you are like me and you love a bit of context for your mental health, then you will love this book. Not only does it outline the physical impact of a huge variety of mental illnesses it also discusses different non-traditional treatment approaches. It was incredibly informative and opened me up to different therapeutic approaches, beyond traditional therapy. Big trigger warning though, it is not an easy read, it has taken me months to finish this book. If it isn’t safe for you then you can also access author Bessel van der Kolk through interviews like this one or message me and we can discuss the treatments without the case studies

  1. Do your research and look into specific therapies

I didn’t address my childhood experiences until I got into family therapy. It was not a purposeful decision, I went into it to find a way to discuss my eating disorder with my brother but the sessions became a space for us to speak about the trauma we had experienced. We had both shut it down in different ways and this was one of the first times we could speak about it in a healthy way. Therapy is sadly still a luxury not everyone can access but doing your research can avoid you ending up with the wrong type.  If you don’t have the means or motivation to get into therapy, then you can find lots of information online on ways to resolve or heal your childhood experiences.

  1. Don’t feel guilty about avoiding/removing toxic people

Whether this is someone from your childhood who you need to shift away from or someone you have met as an adult who triggers you, don’t feel guilty about taking space from them or removing them from your life. My guilt around doing this myself still surfaces, it is natural, but ultimately it is the healthiest choice for me. If I don’t put myself first then who will?

rupi kaur

i made change after change

on the road to perfection

but when i finally felt beautiful enough

their definition of beauty

suddenly changed

 

what if there is no finish line

and in an attempt to keep up

i lose the gifts i was born with

for a beauty so insecure

it can commit to itself

-the lies they sell

Talking as Self-Care

It has taken me a while to finish this post. The last few weeks have been really draining. I’ve swung from high to low on a daily basis, feeling empowered and out of control, struggling to manage myself and my mental health. I’ve been trying to bring myself back to the blog and see it as self-care but sometimes it is just easier to avoid things that are challenging or scary. Sometimes you’re avoiding them because it is the healthiest thing for you at the time. It isn’t always clear which category I am in.

I started this blog as an outlet to share my experiences but its hard to write about the things I have spent years hiding from everyone around me. In my most recent therapy session, I said something out loud which I don’t think I had even admitted to myself. I immediately burst into tears. Saying it out loud allowed me to just let go and be upset. I was embarrassed but it was necessary.

I have always been told I am too private,  like a brick wall, and I never really cared. I didn’t want people to know what was going on because I was so ashamed. For years I held things in and taught myself to hide what I really needed, letting it boil away inside me, till it burst out. I’d cry or get angry in situations that seemed unreasonable.  Talking to people I love and trust was a really important part of my recovery but I still struggle with it massively.

Talking as self-care is hard to define: in one way establishing boundaries for yourself (what you are willing or unwilling to share) is a key part of self-care but for me my boundaries can be so huge they can easily become barriers. Finding a safe way to talk about things is incredibly important but also goes against an instinct I have honed over decades. If it was easy I would already be doing it!

I spent 20 weeks in therapy and was told by my therapist at the end of it that they felt like they barely knew anything about me. It took a further 30 weeks of therapy with a new mental health team and a new therapist before I felt comfortable enough to talk about myself and how I felt. It still felt like I was trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, speaking with medical professionals was helping me develop a sense of security. It allowed me to go on to share what I was most ashamed of with my friends and family. Being able to say that I am really struggling in the moment is something I want to be able to do for myself. I’m not there yet.

It is much easier to write this now than it would have been a few weeks ago when I was at the bottom of a very hopeless hole. Every day felt like I was just trying to get my head back above water.  I am still on my way out of the hole but now I am able to write about it.

Talking isn’t easy especially about what you think people will judge you for but finding the right way for you will lift the weight of it.

If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying desbris in an already dangerous storm..png

Talk about it, write about it, read about it

 I’ve had plenty of bad experiences trying to talk to people about what I was going through. The therapist I spoke about often made me feel really misunderstood. Times before and since when I have tried to reach out I have been completely knocked down, been told by people I love they didn’t believe me, didn’t understand or called me a liar for not telling them earlier.

Not everyone is going to be able to listen or want to help. It isn’t their fault, it is just a sign that they can’t support you. Find people who can understand. Write to yourself about how you are feeling. Keep a diary or notes on your phone. Find a way to express what it going on and find communities who share your experiences.

Meditate

I know it is clichéd. Meditation has become the panacea for the world’s ills but there is a reason, it can really help.

I have always struggled with meditation, I still have to use guided meditations, as I find it difficult to settle my mind in silence. Using guided meditations has really helped develop my self-awareness, something I have always struggled with when I have been stressed or in crisis.

Have a look on youtube for some videos, have a listen, assess the narrators and topics and give it a go for a week. It won’t be easy to start with, nothing ever is, but meditation can help change the way you talk to yourself.

Don’t beat yourself up if you fuck up

  When you are struggling, whether it’s just a bad day or a full-blown mental health crisis, it can be hard not to get frustrated with yourself. Wishing you had done things differently. Wishing you didn’t have whatever condition is causing your problem. Be kind to yourself. You are not to blame for whatever is happening. You can’t beat yourself into changing. Look after yourself. Be nice to yourself and the motivation and strength you need will come eventually.

Look after yourself and if someone is making you feel bad tell them to fuck off!

Happy New Year!

 

p.s. As you may have noticed I love Brene Brown, look her up on youtube!

Self-care at work

The last two weeks at work have been long! I have quite an intense job anyway, I come across things day to day which most people on hear about in the news, but things have been especially bad recently. Working in the sector I do has made me very aware of secondary trauma and the need to “protect” myself and those that I manage from it but I can still get overwhelmed. In the last few weeks there have been a lot of things happening at work to add extra stress and the week before last especially got too much for me.

I had too many problems to handle at once, so I fell back into unhealthy coping mechanisms, and by last Sunday was in a very dark place. The problem I have with my negative/ unhealthy coping mechanisms is that they are so easy to use. They are easy because I relied on them for so long, they helped dull the problems I had, distracted me from what I didn’t want to deal with and helped me just keep ploughing through. But they don’t help long term, it might have shifted the problem but it is still there and the longer it goes unresolved the bigger and worse it feels. When you numb yourself to pain and stress you also numb yourself to excitement and joy. If you can’t feel the highs then how will you convince yourself there is anything better waiting at the end of the lows? Most likely you won’t, you’ll look to the same unhealthy coping mechanisms to avoid dealing with what feels too difficult to deal with.

I’ve seen where I end up when I keep ignoring things and just try to struggle through, pushing myself to a point where I can’t take it anymore, and I know now that it doesn’t work. I need to reassess and look after myself before trying to tackle the external factors which are causing me problems.

Whatever job you have there are going to be problems. If you work in a bar you’ll spend shifts dealing with rude drunks who treat you like scum, in a corporate business you are constantly having to meet targets and if you’re a nurse then… good god I can’t even imagine!

Anyway, the point is stress is contextual. Whatever job you have it can really impact your personal life and self-care is a really important way to manage stress at work. If you don’t find space to de-stress outside work you won’t be able to deal with the stress of work. Now self-care can be looking for a new job to get away from stress at work which is too much but it isn’t going to be immediately effective. Self-care can’t solve all your problems but does give a light relief. My light relief might be quite different to yours, but regardless of what it is, the important part is not what it is but recognising what is healthy and helpful for you. Self-care is regular practice which refreshes you, gives you a chance to enjoy something without judgement and lets you process and let go of the stress in your life.

Set up clear routines, having a clear process in the morning and evening are great ways of resetting after a hard day. Whether that is cooking, showering or reading it will be useful is setting a mental boundary between work and home. My colleague told me she uses the drive home to process her day at work and by the time she gets home she feels able to relax. On occasions when she has to finish a report or something and works at night she can feel the tension come back.  If you forget or miss part of your routine don’t beat yourself up about it, just keep trying to build self-care into your routines.

Give yourself a break.  Lots of work places don’t have staff rooms or don’t have set times for their staff to take a break.  Especially when your colleagues don’t take breaks or time for lunch it can be awkward for you too but you deserve break. Take the time you need, if you don’t have a table and need to use your desk put your computer on sleep, don’t let yourself be distracted by work or go outside and find a nicer spot to eat.

Make plans. I have just started this myself, I used an old meal planner book I hadn’t used to plan out my next two weeks. I wrote out all of the self-care I would do for myself, yoga every other day, laundry twice a week, phone calls to family, deep cleaning my teeth. As I have said I can easily get bogged down, come home from work frustrated, stay in my room watching tv and then beat myself up for not being more productive. This week I haven’t done everything I said I would on the list but I have done a lot of it and I’ve felt much better mentally.

Chair dancing. So this one is very specific to me but might work for you too! I get really unsettled in office environments, I like being able to move around and work with people face to face but that is pretty rare in the office. So when I am feeling frustrated or unsettled I put on my playlist of favourite songs and do a little lip-synch/dance at my desk. It is stupid and I sometimes worry that my colleagues will spot me but it makes me smile! For those 3-4 minutes that’s all I need.

Whatever you choose to do, give some of them a try and write down how you are feeling at the end of the day. This will help you reflect on what works and what doesn’t.

Pick me up buttercup

Self-acceptance as self-care

In the last decade or so there has been a series of laws bringing about greater equality for previously marginalised groups, but alongside these there has been a rise in politicians, celebrities and others vocalising their refusal to accept people outside the ‘norm’. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to live in a community which verbally, physically or violently denies your right to exist. Being bullied as a child really shaped how I viewed my self-worth as an adult, as the voices of those who told me I was worthless or “wrong” then became my own critical voice. Self-compassion and acceptance were crucial for me to overcome my own mental health issues and whether you’re battling internal or external bullies accepting yourself could be life changing.

I’m surrounded by accomplished, talented and kind people but often they’ll bring up conversations about what they haven’t done, how they have failed or that they aren’t moving fast enough towards their goals. I knew I had beaten myself up for my failures and flaws but after a conversation with my aunt recently, who has had a successful professional career, owns her own home, has travelled around the world, retired, retrained and leads a very fulfilled life, I realised how pervasive it can be. She told me she had been worried about not feeling she was capable of starting a side project, looking at this highly accomplished and experience women I realised how difficult it is for so many people to see their accomplishments and accept themselves for what they are not what they should be. Surely if I had all the things she had I wouldn’t mind about not writing a journal regularly or not having more success with a small business which was inspired out of a hobby she had. But knowing how little credit I have given myself my whole life I realised, I would be doing the exact same, I have made a lot of progress but I still struggle to accept myself as I am and not question my ability to succeed at anything.

Why is it that we can never see the talents and accomplishments others see in us? Why does praising ourselves or patting ourselves on the back make us feel like we are being big-headed, over-confident or smug?

Or maybe you think that you are just realistic? I remember having this conversation with my therapist, “how can I accept myself without judgement when I have failed and done bad things? How can I accept the things I know are bad about myself? I want them to change and if I accept them then I won’t be motivated to change them.”

Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand. In fact, your level of self-acceptance determines your level of happiness. The more self-acceptance you have, the more happiness you’ll allow yourself to accept, receive and enjoy. In other words, you enjoy as much happiness as you believe you’re worthy of”, Robert Holden, Happiness Now!

But acceptance doesn’t mean you can’t work to change things it just means you don’t need to hate on yourself for them. Beating yourself up for the things you dislike about yourself or your life isn’t going to make you feel any better! In fact, I spent so long hating myself for being such a horrible failure I became convinced that I would never achieve anything, I couldn’t imagine myself content or healthy, I bullied the hope and optimism out of myself.

But how does this link to self-care?

Self-care is different for everyone, what I do to make myself feel good (eat pickles, watch Moana or do some yoga) might not have the same impact on someone else (who prefers bacon, kick boxing and star trek) but the point of self-care is to feel better and remind yourself you deserve nice things.

If you don’t accept who you are and what you have achieved then how will you feel happy with yourself? No matter what you do there will always be something else that isn’t right.

Things will change, your body, your job, your relationships, your community, all of the things which help shape you will themselves look different and you won’t have any control over it…

Self-acceptance will allow you to go through changes and steady periods without judgement. Things will keep changing, you will change, you will achieve but you measure yourself exclusively on it, it will be part of the picture of who you are, not a stain you’re a trying desperately to wipe off.

Ways to practice self-acceptance

I really, really, really struggle with this. In therapy I did a lot of activities focusing on bad thoughts I had about myself and more accepting/compassionate ways I could think about them. I found it excruciatingly difficult and then felt guilty about not being better at it. But it helped speaking to other people about it, hearing that they found it hard too and being told the things they thought were positive about me so I could use that to

Since I am still very much on my own journey with this I will borrow some advice nd guidance from Oprah

Step 1: Making contact with your inner self

This implies paying more attention to self-care. Through meditation, self-reflection or contemplation, and the experience of quiet at least a few minutes every day, you make contact with your inner world. You learn to appreciate and enjoy it.

Step 2: Honestly facing your inner obstacles and resistance

Most people don’t like to face their weaknesses and flaws because they judge against them. But you are only human, and you will find that your sense of insecurity and anxiety represents feelings from the past that can be healed. In fact, they want to be released if you will give them a chance. The first step in healing is to look inside and let the process of releasing begin. Healing can proceed along many avenues, from therapy and support groups to energy work, massage, mind-body programs and various Eastern medical approaches.

Step 3: Dealing with old wounds

One could also call this advanced healing. As old residues of negative emotions are released, you find that you are stuck with resentments, hurts and scars that must be dealt with. Beneath the scar, such wounds feel very fresh. It takes help from someone else who understands the situation to go into these dark places—it could be a close friend, mentor, confidant, priest or therapist. No one can do this work alone, I feel, but I’m not underlining any sense of danger or fear. The work can be done safely, without anxiety, and once you start, there’s a tremendous sense of exhilaration, even triumph in the process. Just find someone who has walked the path successfully and sympathizes with you fully.

Step 4: Forgiving your past
You shouldn’t jump too quickly into forgiveness. It’s all too easy to pretend to yourself that you forgive old hurts and abusive treatment, when, in fact, what you are eager for is to escape the pain. The absence of pain, achieved through healing, gives you the right foundation for deep, lasting forgiveness. Self-acceptance is required first, and the realization that you—and everyone around you—have been doing the best you can from your own level of awareness. This can be quite a challenge when someone has hurt you deeply, but you can’t fully separate from wrongdoing until you accept that others are trapped inside a reality they can’t escape.

Step 5: Accepting where you are right now
This, too, is a stage you shouldn’t jump into too quickly. The present moment isn’t free of the burdens, memories and wounds of the past. They must be attended to before you can look around, breathe easily and love the moment you are in right now. A good beginning is to catch yourself when you have a bad memory and say, “I am not that person anymore.” For the truth is that you aren’t.

Step 6: Forming relationships where you feel loved and appreciated
The path to unconditional love isn’t meant to be lonely. You should walk it with people who reflect the love you see in yourself. You are likely to look around at some point and realize that not everyone among your family and friends is in sync with your aspirations. Without rejecting them, you have the right to find people who understand the path you’re walking and sympathize with it. They are more likely to appreciate you for who you are now, and who you want to become.

Step 7: Practicing the kind of love you aspire to receive
I encountered many people, most of them women, who were constantly waiting for “the one” to show up and sweep them off their feet. But the only way to realistically find “the one” is to be “the one” yourself. Like attracts like, and the more you live your own ideal of love, the more your light will draw another light to you. This single point, I am told, has helped the most people find their love.

If you spend time every day with one or two of these steps, you will find a practical road that takes you to more love than you have in your life today. The steps unfold naturally once you begin to devote attention to them. You were born to be perfectly loved and you are completely lovable. The loss of that status is what’s unnatural, not wanting to return to it, and the return means reconnecting with your true self. The path has been walked successfully for centuries, so I hope you take heart and join the fortunate ones who aspire this high. There is no better time to begin than now.