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.’

 

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Mindfulness in autumn – and a poem by May Sarton

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Autumn in Orton (c) Suzie Grogan

We have written recently about how autumn can be seriously good for your soul, and indeed it can. However, for many it is a melancholy time, when thoughts of loss, or of letting go are to the fore. Some of the words we associate with autumn can feel sombre and muted – ‘fall’, ‘decay’, ‘mists’  – and tones are ‘muted’.

But today, as we start work on our autumn programme and gear ourselves up for our latest mindfulness courses, we wanted to use images of autumn as a focus and see this time of year as an opportunity to celebrate and treasure what has been and then let it go. There are ‘autumn words’ that are lively and full of joy – the ‘boisterous’ winds, ‘warmth’ of first fires and ‘blaze’ of autumn oranges – and as the poet John Keats said in his ode to the season – ‘Where are the songs of Spring? Aye, where are they? /Think not of them, thou hast thy music too…..

But letting go can be difficult, and takes practice. You have to learn to take responsibility, forgive and cease blaming others. And you have to live in the present moment, rather than filling your brain with concerns about the past.

We often like to choose a poem for mndfulness on ‘let’s talk!’ and today we have found a wonderful ‘Autumn Sonnet’ by May Sarton, a prolific American writer who died in 1995. She was known for her honest, open approach to her writing and her thoughtful expressions of what it means to be human.

If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep),
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep,
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure – if I can let you go.

May Sarton

‘If I can let you go as trees let go….’ what a marvellous analogy, with the recognition that autumn can be a time of recharge and the storing up of energy for new bursts of energy in the future.

Do you like autumn, or find it a time of year that prompts feelings of sorrow and loss? We would love to  know what you think.

Mindfulness courses taken by our specialist, Miranda Bevis begin on 1st October 2015. See The Terrace website for full details. 

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

Don’t leave it too late to live in the moment: Rooting our lives in the present

mindfulness-meditation-reduces-loneliness-older-adults-study-1343684974Have you noticed how quickly 2015 seems to be flying away from us? Someone mentioned it is just 19 Fridays until Christmas – which sounds terrifying, bearing in mind we hardly seem to have taken the lights down from the last one. There is an interesting article doing the rounds online called ‘How did it get so late so soon?‘, which examines the 21st century perception of time, and why it seems to pass more quickly now than even a couple of decades ago. It seems to be something to do with our need to multi-task simply to stay on top of all the demands made on us in the 21st century. It also offers a reason for the seeming increase in the speed of time passing as we grow older:

“There’s a suggestion that our perception of time may be in proportion to the length of our lifespan. Known as the “proportional theory”, this idea posits that as we age, our sense of “present” time begins to feel relatively short in comparison to our entire lifespan.”

So we were interested to read this poem, written by someone reaching the end of their life, and looking back over what they might change if they had the chance to do it all again. It seems to be an appreciation of making the most of every second, rather than letting chances slip by, lost into time we never get back.

If I Had My Life to Live Over
By Nadine Stair (age 85)
from Condensed Chicken Soup for the Soul
Copyright 1996 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Patty Hansen

I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax. I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.
I would take more trips.
I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.

I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I’d
have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I’m one of those people who live sensibly
and sanely hour after hour, day after day.

Oh, I’ve had my moments and if I had it to do over
again, I’d have more of them. In fact,
I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments.

One after another, instead of living so many
years ahead of each day.

I’ve been one of those people who never go anywhere
without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat
and a parachute.

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot
earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.

If I had it to do again, I would travel lighter next time.
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies.

As we wind down for the summer, taking time to recharge, perhaps we should reflect on this poem, and make the most of every minute. They pass so quickly….

More poetry for mindfulness – Beannacht by John O’Donohue

mindful-big-new-newOn this blog we have often highlighted the importance of mindfulness as a means to really engage with the world around us and to live in the moment – this moment. Mindfulness is becoming ever more ‘mainstream’ and it now regularly appears in the media, becoming something of a new ‘buzzword’ to support our mental health (as other terms, such as CBT have in the past). Here at The Terrace we have always recognised that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to our emotional wellbeing. Mindfulness is a practice that many find beneficial, but that doesn’t mean it is a panacea for all the ills in society. It requires practice and discipline, and for many of us with busy lives it can seem difficult to take the necessary time and space to really benefit.

But sometimes we can simply be in the moment, for  – literally- a few moments. Hearing a familiar piece of music, the smell of new cut grass, or bread in the oven, looking at a fabulous view; all these offer us the time to catch our breath and become as one with ourselves and the world.

John O'Donohue

John O’Donohue

Previously we have offered poetry by Wendell Berry, Pablo Neruda, William Stafford, John Keats and Mary Oliver as a way to reflect for a moment on what makes us happy and what is really important in the lives we lead. Today, we highlight the work of Irish poet John O’Donohue. Also a philosopher, priest, environmental activist and proponent of Celtic spirituality, he died, at just 52, in 2008. Some words of his particularly struck us:

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

This is surely a thought that should be with us at the start of every day?

The following poem by O’Donohue is indeed a blessing and at times of stress and anxiety offers an opportunity to meditate and calm the mind. We would love to know what you think, and how the words affect you….

Beannacht
(Gaelic for “Blessing”)

by John O’Donohue

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

And when the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Miranda Bevis is offering more mindfulness courses at The Terrace in the autumn. See our website for more details.

Building a relationship with reading….

downloadThe title of this post really has a double meaning and is inspired by the radio show Talking Books on 10Radio in Somerset. The guests today were in the relatively early stage of their relationship – newly engaged and very much in love. Clearly, they were not in need of our couples counselling, or Shaping Anger for Couples workshops but it was refreshing to hear that they were cementing their bond in a thoughtful and intelligent way. They had set themselves a challenge, a brave one, and it was something we thought you, our followers, might be interested in as a way to share ideas and subjects that are important to you with someone close.

Each person in relationship chooses five books for the other to read. It is as simple as that. Any genre, for any age. Yet it is so much more complex in reality. By choosing those books you are making a number of decisions and taking interesting aspects of your personality and relationships into account. Do you pick books you think will make you look clever? Or do you choose books that you grew up with and which remind you of key times in your life? Do you look over your shelves for books you think the other will enjoy? Or are you trying to trip them up? Are you being honest and authentic in your choices?

When you consider these points you can see it is not quite as easy as it first seems. How will each of you respond to the other’s list? What if a book that is your favourite is loathed by the other? Are you prepared to defend your choices in a constructive way? Or do you fear an argument? Have we put you off even considering this as a way to bring you together and offer opportunities for fascinating conversations?

We have, on this blog, often highlighted reading as a way to relax and to take you out of a stressful day. We have a page on the Local Bookshops site (see the link to the right) with a list of our favourite titles (we are always looking for suggestions) and our poetry for mindfulness posts are very popular. But we thought this was an additional way to make reading part of your whole life and at the same time learning a little more about someone you are close to. It doesn’t have to be a life partner – it could be a friend or work colleague for example. But we think it is a really interesting way to take you out of the routine of the day and into a conversation with a difference.

In fact, you could do it with music, or films. It will get you talking, and relationships are best nurtured by finding ways to communicate and make sure you are really understood and known by people who are important to you.

What do you think?

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 .