Thin Slices of Anxiety: Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) illustrated…

300x600An article in The Guardian struck me quite forcefully today. It highlighted the value of a book that I have come across before – its pictures representing a personal struggle against anxiety in a way that speaks to me – and to many others who have to find ways to manage the feelings associated with those generalised anxiety disorder (or GAD). The lack of confidence, indecision and sheer panic. The inability to move forward, or to see a positive future.

Thin Slices of Anxiety by Catherine Lepage is highly recommended for those with direct experience, and those working with clients who exhibit ‘symptoms’. To have GAD is not simply to feel overwhelming anxiety and panic, but to feel guilty about having those feelings. Many with GAD feel judged – their lives, on the surface, can seem enviable; ‘What have you got to be anxious about?’ the question many fear. Rebecca Slater, in her Guardian article says:

Anxiety

Illustration by Catherine LePage: the Periodic Table of the Elements of Response. Photograph: Catherine Lepage/Chronicle Books

“It’s almost impossible to explain the pervasive feeling of all things – all decisions, all possible outcomes, past, present and future – cascading through my mind, folding into themselves, forming a tighter and tighter ball until it feels as though all room to move or act or breathe has been squeezed out.

 

And on top of it all, that paralysing guilt of being anxious, being miserable and wanting, despite my privilege and comfort in life. Explaining that is hard. But somehow, through her simple words and pictures, LePage has found a way.”

Sometimes those with anxiety just need to feel the solidarity of knowing others have the same thoughts whirling through their minds, often at the worst possible times. GAD can isolate people socially, lower self esteem and confidence and put up a wall between a person and their loved ones.

Do take a look at Catherine’s book if you get the chance. Her imagery captures her own experience, and she offers the comfort that, ‘thinly sliced and illustrated, emotions are much easier to digest.’

 

The Brain with David Eagleman -What is reality?

TheBrainHere at The Terrace we like to keep up with the latest thinking, especially when it comes to matters relating to the way we think and act, and what makes us, us.

Earlier this year we saw a documentary in a series that explored how the brain, ‘locked in silence and darkness without direct access to the world, conjures up the rich and beautiful world we all take for granted.’ In other words, reality is what our brain tells us it is; it is our brain that sees and hears, not our eyes and ears.

We are fascinated by new developments in neuroscience, and David Eagleman’s series, and the book that accompanies it, offer an accessible way into what is a complex subject.

If you didn’t get a chance to see it, do take a look at David’s website HERE and if you get the chance, take some time out to watch him explain his work  in this video. You can also access more of his work via YouTube.

And let us know what you think – we would love to hear your views.

 

Guest post: Words are tools of healing by Vivienne Tuffnell

41Z6WYh-WXL._UY250_Our thanks today to our guest blogger, writer and poet Vivienne Tuffnell, author of a number of wonderful novels, including Strangers and Pilgrims, The Bet and one of our favourites, Away With the Fairies, all dealing with the human condition in a mystical and spiritual way. Her short story collections are full of mystery, with supernatural elements and a deep questioning of what it means to be human. She has written and spoken of her own struggles with depression and has just published a fabulous selection of her prose pieces from her popular blog Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. These essays challenge, question and nourish the spirit, offering support to others in mental and emotional distress. Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking is available from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Just words

No one listens to me.
But then I have nothing to say
I have not said a thousand times before.
I’m dying for someone to hear
My silent screams
And offer help.
I’m searching for the words:
The right words
The magic words.
They’re just words;
They hold no power
To save or damn me.
Just words: no more.

I wrote this poem about ten years ago and I would say now: I was wrong. I wrote that poem before I discovered quite how powerful a tool the written word can be for self-healing. The process of reading and the process of writing have effects that I believe are much greater than we’re prepared to imagine.

I began writing almost before I could read; I used to sneak in to use my father’s typewriter, trying to write down my stories, believing that somehow the hitting of the keys would magically reveal the words. And words were magic of the finest kind, because they could transport you from a dull bedroom on a rainy November day when it’s too cold and wet to go out and play, to, well, anywhere in the entire universe. From being read to as a tiny tot, to trips to the local library twice daily during the long summer holidays, I devoured books. I started trying to create them too, from a very early age; I wrote my first novel when I was ten. I read English and Latin at university, which was so sobering I didn’t read much at all in the first year after graduating and it was another two years after that before I tried writing fiction again.

The other constant in all those years was depression. I experienced my first brush with it when I was about six. You might extrapolate that so much reading and so much writing were the cause of the depression, but it was more that they were the result of it. I read and I wrote to escape the yawning, gaping maw of the void that is depression. The times I experienced the most severe bouts of depression were ones where I could not (for whatever reason) read or write.

Recent advances in science have allowed us a sneaky peek into the human brain without slicing off the top of the skull; this means it’s now possible to have some clue about how our brains react to certain experiences. Most curious are fairly recent studies that involved MRI machines, volunteers, and sequences of words and pictures or sometimes other factors. These include  The emotion potential of words and passages in reading Harry Potter – An fMRI study and
Love, Pain, Money, Cocaine Light Up Same Area of Brain.

What is clear is that there are things going on in the brain that are beyond what we had previously thought. It gives great scope for pain relief and other beneficial results.

In the original version of the film Total Recall, memories are planted in a person’s brain to give them the illusion they have had a wonderful holiday. It’s a matter of an hour or two to create weeks’ worth of memories and the associated benefits on a person’s well-being that a great holiday would bring but without the need to travel or take time off. That’s what a good book can do, too.

As a reader, I crave books that can bring me relief from the inner darkness, but not by providing me with unremitting sweetness and light. There is something obviously false and unsatisfying about books that contain no conflict, no peril, no risk, because life isn’t like that. Some demand to be able to buy books with a Happy Every After guarantee (generally romance) but I doubt that this is a wise choice. Knowing beforehand a book will have a happy ending robs the reader of the experience of literary catharsis, of suffering with the main characters without being certain of relief. It’s the experience that brings the changes in the emotional state, not the outcome.

As a writer, I use my writing to explore how I feel and think, and the expression of my inner life in stories is one way I cope with my own sometimes fragile mental and emotional state. Yet there is both catharsis and a kind of creative synthesis that goes on, largely unconsciously, in the creation of a novel. When I write, quite often I don’t know how the book will end until it comes to me during the process of actually writing it. I often don’t know what the main themes of a book are until it is complete, and sometimes not even then. The feedback from readers sometimes brings me insights into what the book is about that I had no conscious clue about. One of the things I have found most rewarding as an author is that readers have found the books have affected them in profound and positive ways. It could be said that the books have been agents of healing and of comfort. It’s something that makes the process so worthwhile, doubly so, for the writing of a book is a process of catharsis and of inner healing for me; to know that it has this effect on readers enhances my own experience

613N30NIieL._UX250_Thanks once again to Vivienne. Do check out the links to her work and let us know how you feel about the ability of words to comfort and heal…

Vivienne’s Amazon page

Zen and the Art of Tightrope walking

Guest post: Living a real life again – on giving up a twitter addiction for Lent…

Brooke Sheldon

Today we are pleased to welcome Brooke Sheldon as guest blogger to let’s talk! Over the coming weeks we will be offering a variety of writers, thinkers, therapists and anyone interested in well being the opportunity to talk about something of importance to them and to give their thoughts on how we can support our own emotional and physical well-being in our increasingly fast paced world. Here Brooke writes of her decision to leave the twitter-sphere for the 40 days of Lent, and the results – some surprising, some less so –  of her experiment. Social media addiction, affirmation and validation can be replaced by something far more meaningful….

social-media-addictionIn February, on my blog, We Are the Books We Read, I wrote a post about giving up Twitter for Lent. I decided to take a break because it had become an all-consuming vacuum, a fake symbiosis. I truly believed that those who ‘followed’ me were as absorbed in my life, thoughts, exaggerations, petty complaining and bitching.

Result One. The first thing I noticed after logging out was the increased time I had every single day.  Very quickly, I had literally hours to fill. Where once I updated the feed every few seconds, I now had time to look at a draft of the book I’ve been working on since 2011. That’s right, 2011 and while I’m still not finished all these 40 plus days later, I have completed more editing in this time than in the last six months. I had wrongly believed Twitter to be as reliant on me as I on it and that I needed Twitter to be a validated as a person.

Result Two. I started thinking again; ideas, realisations, sentences, comments, interactions and experiences all materialising in forms greater than 140 characters. The world opened up. I noticed the life around me and I revelled in the mundane.

A few days into Lent I wrote in my diary, the trees are budding with flowers and new leaves. Life is coming back into the park by the bus stop. A few days later I wrote, the storm last night has blown the flower petals all over the ground. They look like snowflakes against the dirt. Observations like this have been out of character for me in recent years. Sad but true.

Result Three. Increased time to read, to watch films, to engage with creative mediums. Don’t misunderstand, I never stopped engaging with these activities but there was always the tug of what was happening on Twitter. The need to see what everyone else was doing, thinking, emoting etc. debilitated the enjoyment.

Result Four. On Twitter nothing has changed. The same conversations are happening, the same arguments are repeating, the same causes are being fought for, the hatred of various people is maintained – the continuity is familiar but falsely safe, disappointingly prosaic and invidiously narcissistic.

What I find curious is the numeric stability of followers to my account. There has been fluctuation yes but not as much as expected considering the only Tweets appearing were those automatically generated via my blog. Inconsistently, the unfollowers have mainly been those who assert (allege), in their biographies, that they are followers of Jesus, belonging to Christ, and other variations. These are people (accounts) one could expect to understand the path I had taken.

This brings me to Result Five. Did anyone who follows me, notice I was gone? Did they open the app, or the website and think, ‘gee, I haven’t seen Brooke around lately, I wonder where she is?’. My bio states my intention, but was the message read? Was anyone interested?

Initially, I vainly wanted the email alert saying someone had “DM”’d me, I wanted the email saying someone had mentioned me in a Tweet and not one came. I can honestly say this was a problem. Yes I said where I was going but no one said ‘hey, good choice’, or ‘good luck, see you after Easter’ and I felt let down. I felt like no one cared.

What I’ve realised is that in the reverse, I was (am) the same when people stop using Twitter. I wouldn’t notice they were gone until someone asked about them. We, as humans, are so wrapped up in our own concerns we take little time to be the shoulder to lean or cry on. We spend excessive time putting our happiness in the hands of strangers who communicate in 140 characters (or less) and we allow the control of that 140 characters to determine our worth. Honestly, I am happier without that little blue bird smothering me.

I was going to write “there is no way to avoid Twitter these days” but this is what social media types want us to think. Those who seek to saturate us with various social elements don’t want us to realise that smiling at someone in the street, giving up a seat for a pregnant lady or picking up a piece of rubbish is a social act. The ‘socialverse’ wants us, nay, insists and forces our engagement, through screens big or small and tell us that to not do so is unnatural, deviant.

On day one I thought I would be desperate to open the app and pick up where I left off. Now I realise, like any addict, I wasn’t in control and the desire for Twitter manipulated me every minute. Twitter is a tool to use and this had become reversed. The biggest realisation from this experience is that I am okay as I am. I don’t need validation via 140 characters.

Our thanks to Brooke. Do check out her lovely book review blog We Are the Books We Read .                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Poetry IS mindfulness – so soothe the mind & feed the soul…

images (7)Earlier this week, The Huffington Post published a Daily Meditation – it was entitled Poetry of the Earth and featured a poem by John Keats  – On the grasshopper and cricket. It got us thinking about how closely poetry is connected to mindfulness and meditation practice. For to read a good poem, that speaks to your heart and resonates with your soul is truly to be living in the moment. It is a moment of pure emotion, stillness and intensity.

We have posted articles which include a poem to illustrate a point, or to encourage mindfulness, on this blog a number of times. We hope that at least one of them has struck a chord with you, especially as we have tried to choose works that distill what it is to be still in just a few lines. We recommend that you read the poem through a couple of times, then read it aloud (or mutter it under your breath if you feel more comfortable, or are in a public place) feeling the words in your mouth. How often do we actually concentrate on what we are saying? The way the syllables feel on our tongue, in our throat, on our lips? To read a poem is to be mindful, don’t you think?

So today we have chosen another favourite by the poet Wendell Berry, who has featured on ‘Let’s talk!’ before. In What We Need is Here, Berry expresses what many of us sense in the fast paced world most of us live in. We aren’t asking for more, or new or exciting. We are asking for quiet and to find a calm place where we can really see what is important……

What We Need Is Here

Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

What do you think? Do you have any favourite poems that you turn to in times of worry, or crisis, in order to reduce your anxiety and focus the mind? Perhaps you write poetry, in which case we would love to hear from you and find out a little about why you feel it is an important way to express yourself. Do get in touch!

Shell Shocked Britain – The First World War & inter-generational trauma

Shell Shocked jacket high res jpegAs we approach the first Remembrance or Armistice Day commemorations of the First World War centenary  it is appropriate to be mindful of what exactly we are marking on Sunday, and on the 11th of November 2014. Yes, we are offering up our thanks to those who gave their lives in the Great War and subsequent conflicts, but we must also remember those who survived, lived, and are living with the aftermath of the war.

In Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s legacy for Britain’s mental health, Suzie Grogan looks at the impact of the First World War on the men, women and children who survived it. How did those four years of conflict affect the way we view the mental health of those traumatised by their experience of war, whether directly or indirectly?

Dr Peter Heinl, in Splintered Innocence and others have long studied how ‘neuroses’ can be transmitted from parent to child, replicating traits down the generations.  It has not been easy, as data is limited and follow-on studies of those diagnosed with shell shock or what we would now refer to as ‘combat stress’  is very limited, or non-existent.  Work with Holocaust survivors, however, has offered greater consistency in the results of studies into the intergenerational effects of parents’ traumas. Published work has suggested greater vulnerabilities to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in second and third generation survivors. Responses to a traumatic event – whether in conflict situations or a personal trauma such as bereavement or serious illness can be more marked in the children of traumatised parents.

Arthur Addison, shell shocked soldier

Arthur Addison, shell shocked soldier

Suzie Grogan was inspired to write this book when she discovered that her shell shocked great-uncle Alfred Hardiman had killed his ex-girlfriend and himself in 1922. His act sent shock waves through his community and through the generations of his own family, but it was not an isolated case. She discovered that her grandfather had also suffered from shell shock, along with tens of thousands of other men who fought in the First World War. Identifying other members of her family who had subsequently experienced mental health issues, and acknowledging her own periods of depression and acute anxiety,  Grogan was keen to examine how the events of 1914-18 continue to resonate with us 100 years on and in doing so she uncovered new material to chart the many tragedies with their roots in the conflict.

Shell Shocked Britain looks at:

  • the direct effects of shell shock on the troops and their families,
  • the different medical approaches to ‘cure’ shell shock, including electric shock treatment, hypnotism and the talking therapies, as well as ‘miracle’ cures.
  • The impact of the1922 Committee Report on Shell Shock that was supposed to change the way men were treated in future conflicts.
  • the devastating air raids that brought the war, literally, into the domestic lives of the Home Front, killing civilians as they stood in the streets and wrecking the Upper North St school in Poplar, East London, killing 18 children.
  • The lingering after –effects of the Spanish influenza virus and the horrors of an outbreak that killed 200,000 in Britain alone as war continued to rage.
  • why thousands turned to séances and spiritualist church and how the rise of the Eugenics Society had direct links to the conflict, with leading thinkers supporting unthinkable responses.
  • how tragedies such as that perpetrated by Alfred Hardiman and suicides in general increased even into the 1930s.
  • the legacy of shell shock and lessons for future conflicts – 1914 to 2014

In the book Suzie Grogan asks tough questions of her 21st Century audience. We are told not to attribute modern views on historical events, but, she maintains, these are our close kin – parents, grandparents and great grandparents. For hundreds of thousands of people the trauma of the Great War never left them, and in the modern army highly trained men and women still break down, coming back to a civilian life for which they are ill-prepared.

To ensure children are protected from the higher levels of family breakdown, substance misuse, domestic violence and homelessness  that affect troops now as they did 100 years ago, it is important, as this book highlights, to use the next four years of commemorative events to remember those who continue to struggle with the fallout of war, and support them.

Suzie Grogan is talking at the Taunton Literary Festival on 11th November 2014 and for Taunton Association for Psychotherapy on the 14th November . See suziegrogan.co.uk for more details

Philotimo – ‘let’s talk!’ about a Greek word for our times…

thalesLast week we watched a video that really spoke to us here at The Terrace. Released by the Washington OxiDay Foundation it takes just 15 minutes to explain the Greek concept of Philotimo – something considered to be the highest of all Greek virtues and which determines and regulates how someone should behave in their family and social groups. It is a word that Greek children are still brought up to understand and an idea that they are taught to respect and use as a guide when making choices in their lives.

It is difficult to translate literally, but the very famous faces in the video describe how for the Greek people it means, broadly, ‘friend and honour’. It means duty, compassion, sacrifice. Doing what is right, even if it not in your own best interests. It means something larger than yourself and is about opening your heart and doing things for the good of your community. It has been credited with some of the greatest advances in culture, but with no direct English word to encapsulate its meaning the sens of the word has been lost to all but Greek speakers.

Here at The Terrace we would like to find a way to support what the Foundation seeks to achieve with this video. At a time when we seem to see nothing but horror and injustice in the world, this is a message to take forward to show how humanity can come together for the greater good. Do take a look and let us know how you feel when you have heard what everyone on this film has to say about ‘philotimo’. Since ancient times the Greeks have always been a very special people and despite recent economic struggles this concept remains a strength as the country rebuilds. Is this the time to learn from Greek philosophy once more?