The one thing that connects all humans in their need for a “good life” is connection. Each of us, no matter who we are need to believe that at least one person, somewhere, cares about us.
Ever wondered why some people who seem to have it all, are miserable? It’s lack of true connection, once they are rich / famous, they may start to doubt that they have true friends. A similar thing happens with “affluent neglect” – those kids that have everything that money can buy but their parents are absent or emotionally unavailable as they spend all of their time working.
Connection and friendship/love are protective factors against a whole host of mental health issues. When people feel disconnected and lonely they are more at risk of serious mental health problems. This is why one of the highest suicide rates are amongst the elderly – everyone they’ve loved has already gone. When people feel connected to someone, they are more likely to overcome lifes challenges. Every time I hear a story of someone managing to live a great life after a childhood full of abuse, there is always someone that they connected with, that showed them compassion and care – often a teacher, but it could be anyone within the community.
So find your person, or your tribe. Phone a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Join a sports club or do something that gets you out and about to meet people. Hold close the people you care about. Smile at random strangers, talk to people on public transport, laugh with your co-workers – you will never truly know the positive impact you have on them and they may need it more than you do.
Whats it about? Ellen Forney is a graphic artist with Bipolar Disorder. Her graphic memoir “Marbles” charts her unravelling into mania then her journey towards diagnosis and treatment, while this one is all about how to cope when your mental health isn’t great.
Why do I love it? Firstly it is a graphic novel aka comic so it is super easy to read and follow. It is also packed with great advice and explanations of the different kinds of therapies, how to pick the best therapy for you and how to cope in a mental health crisis. Although it is aimed at people with bipolar disorder, the advice within it is helpful to most people, and as a counsellor I teach many of the coping strategies outlined in this book.
F*ck Feelings by Michael I. Bennett MD & Sarah Bennett
What’s it about? The subtitle of the book is “One shrink’s practical advice to managing all life’s impossible problems” and that’s exactly what it is – covering everything from annoying family members, to wanting to make everyone feel better, to heartbreak and everything inbetween. And despite the title, they actually care about feelings a lot but recognise you can’t always get what you want – so will give you realistic alternatives to stop you being miserable.
Why do I love it? I adore the structure of this book which is basically – 1. Here’s what you wish for but can’t have 2. Here’s what you can aim for and actually achieve 3. Here’s how you do it. It is super practical, realistic and actually quite funny.
I also find that people can be miserable because they want people to change or for things to be different in ways that they can’t, and this book aims straight for that. Caution though – as the title would suggest – it is full of swears.
“A Straight Talking Introduction to the Power Threat Meaning Framework – An Alternative to Psychiatric Diagnosis” by Mary Boyle & Lucy Johnson
What’s it about? While not a self-help book in the traditional sense, I think this could be very helpful to a lot of people who are struggling to understand why they feel the way that they do. As it states on the title, this is the alternative to the medical model of mental illness – so instead of seeing mental ill health as a series of diagnostic symptoms (what is wrong with you?) it instead sees the way you feel/behave as a series of coping strategies because of something that happened or is happening to you. The idea is that the general patterns of ‘mental illness’ represent is what people do in the face of threat and talks about surviving or coping with certain life dilemmas, not about having certain conditions.
Why do I love it? Although the title is an absolute gobfull and hardly the most appealing – the book is actually really easy to read and understand and has questions at the end of each chapter for the reader to reflect upon their life experiences and how they coped. This is not only about trauma in the traditional sense but also about our lives generally, taking into account our experiences of discrimination, poverty and other aspects of power that we may or may not have. As a counsellor who reads a lot of mental health content, it is also my most bookmarked and underlined book.
Have you read any of these – what did you think? What other books would you add to the list?
Would you like to know more about mental health? Love reading?
This year I have decided that I would like to read one mental health / self-help book per month. It started with looking at my bookshelf and realising I could do with some much-needed external pressure to make it through my TBR pile! Will you help me? You don’t need to read everything – just read along with the ones you are interested in. No stress, no pressure! We certainly don’t want you feeling more overwhelmed trying to ensure you read and finish everything. I should also admit I am a massive DNFer (did not finish); this is probably to do with the fact I have ADHD and if something isn’t interesting me enough it is almost painful to keep going! So rest assured I will try my best to ensure there isn’t any “dry” books this year.
This is where we start: “It didn’t start with you: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle” by Mark Wolynn. This has been on my TBR pile for a long time. Have you read it? If not will you read along?
In conjunction with World Mental Health Day I am offering a free online workshop on Sunday 9th October at GMT+7 (4-5pm Brunei/Singapore/China, 3-4pm Thailand / Malaysia, or 9am in the UK). The workshop will focus on how to tell if someone you care for is not doing ok and what you can do to help.
To sign up please fill in your details below and I will send you the link
While a little bit of stress may be good for us to get working well, too much and we’re tipping into anxiety, panic then burnout. Too much stress and we lose motivation, it’s more difficult to concentrate and to remember things. Sometimes when we’re stressedout we keep jabbing at the thing we’re trying to do. We get frustrated and angry, and we can’t get anything done properly.
At this point you need to
Go do something else for a time. Then come back to it. If it’s your life overall that is stressful, try to find some time in your day where you can do something mindful or fun. This helps reduce your stress levels, and allow your brain to start processing properly. When I tell students this they sometimes say
“I don’t have time!!!”
But you do. Because by taking time out here and there and giving your brain some recovery time. You’ll actually be able to think more clearly, work will become easier and you’ll increase your memory and concentration.
For example, did you know that just 1 hour of gardening each week has been shown to reduce anxiety? Just this small amount of time each week can have amazing benefits.
What mindful activities do you do to relieve stress?
A Third Culture Kid or TCK for short is a young person who has lived for a significant amount of time outside of their parents home country. Sometimes called Transnational Kids or Cross Cultural Kids, their personal identity will be different from both that of their parents and the cultures in which they live. They become a hybrid of the two; hence the term “third culture”.
There are approximately 600 million people worldwide who live outside of their birth country for various reasons; some families only live in countries for a set period of time (e.g. diplomatic staff, military families, those who work for some international corporations), others move out of necessity (displacement due to war etc) and others permanently migrate to another country.
The diagram above can help people understand how they are different and similar to both their parents and the wider culture. They can use the structure to figure out what aspects of their identity come from where, and what they also find difficult. For example some young people lose the ability to speak their parents home language so can find it difficult to converse with grandparents.
How about you? Are you a TCK? What have you found to be the difficulties and the strengths you’ve gained from living away from your parents passport country?
2 months into Covid19 and I’m finally hitting a wall. A wall that most people I think have already ran into by now. I am so over every conversation, every news piece, every way this has seeped into our psyches. My brain is finally fuzzy with an overload of cortisol and I feel like I’m wading through toffee to do the simplest of tasks. This is a normal physiological reaction to an overload of stress. I am grumpy and I am stressed. It’ll pass and I’ll pop out the other side, I’m sure, but in the meantime here’s some things that would really help me:
1. STOP telling me to “stay safe”
Safety is the bottom rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is fundamental to our wellbeing. On a logical level I don’t feel unsafe right now. I’m doing the things that are asked of me and I’m generally healthy. But everytime someone tells me to “Stay safe” they are reminding me that I am unsafe – that I should be on the lookout for danger and that spikes my anxiety levels. And an overload of anxiety = not being able to think properly.
2. Please STOP telling me to [insert unsolicited safety advice in here]...
I’m not meaning Ministry of Health or WHO here. I’m talking about that bloke you know who is always reminding you to bleach your doorstep, that it’s all a global conspiracy or don’t buy stuff from China (which makes no sense and is tinged with more than a splattering of racism). Again I am doing all the stuff the MoH is asking of me. I am not putting myself in harms way as much as humanly possible given the threat is INVISIBLE! I don’t need reminding every five minutes that I should be feeling unsafe right now.
3. Please STOP adding my work email to your companies mass mailouts.
If I didn’t have contact with you before all this started what makes you think I care about how your company is dealing with Covid19? I don’t. And I don’t need you spamming me about a pandemic every couple of days.
I recognise the irony of writing a post asking people to stop talking to me about Covid19 and safety. And I also recognise that people need to talk about it to process what is happening. So take care of yourselves out there. Remember feeling like you’re wading through toffee is the new normal so take steps yourself to reduce those stress chemicals. This is what I need – what do you?
One of the main issues I work with as a counsellor is relationships and how people can become closer to the ones they love. Often they have gotten into patterns of controlling behaviour and seem to think if only the other person could change their behaviour then they would be happy. But relationships are not one sided and no-one has a magic control wand that makes other people do what they want them to do. So just as no-one can control you, you can’t control anyone else. The only persons behaviour you can control is your own. That is not to say people don’t try to – they will bribe, threaten, nag, criticise and punish to attempt to get people to do what they want. This doesn’t bring people together though, it tends to pull them apart. I may be going out on a limb here but I’m pretty certain you don’t like anyone trying to control you.
William Glasser in Choice Theory talks about 7 Deadly Habits: deadly because they are likely to kill any relationship, whether that be romantic or friendship. He also talks about 7 Caring or Connecting Habits which will bring people closer together. Both are below:
People are often quick to tell you what the other person has done, or not done. They get frustrated and possibly angered at the other person. Reminding them that the only behaviour they can control is their own, I always ask:
What do you want from your relationship? Do you want to stay together?
What are the main problems in your relationship?
What are you doing that are sustaining these problems?
What is going well in your relationship?
What is one thing this week you could do in terms of your behaviour that will bring you closer to the relationship you want?
Most people can think of at least one thing they can do. It could be as simple as eating together without playing on their phone, or asking how their day was. If you are in a rut with your relationship, give these a go. Reflect and make a small change today.
I finally finished watching the third season of 13 Reasons Why and I wanted to pick up something the (new) school counsellor says to Clay Jenkins.
He asks “how do you do your job everyday when nothing ever changes?”
She replies by telling him that he personally helped Tyler change by encouraging him to seek help. She says all she does is show up. Good days. Bad days. She shows up, implying that’s all most people need. Someone reliable they can talk to when things are tough. That and I believe someone who hangs onto the hope that things can and do change for people. That things can get better.
In the show Clay is that person. He is the keeper of secrets, the friend most people turn to when there is a crisis. He shows up. And you can see the weight of what he carries around.
You can also see that without all that weight he would be lighter, happier.
I’m not arguing that you should stop listening to your friends. I am arguing however that if you are a “Clay Jenkins” please speak to someone to offload, maybe someone like me, a school counsellor. You don’t need to tell us your friends secrets, just how you are doing so you don’t take on too much. Counsellors have Supervision to help them deal with everything they hear – use us to help you deal with what you do.
Grief is a funny old beast, usually reserved for loved ones who die, but can also sneak up on you for people who have left, for an incarnation of who you once were, or for a place or time when things were good; different. Living away from home can sometimes seem to be a never ending cycle of grief, renewal, loss & hope.
In many ways we are really privileged. There are reasons many of us came to where we are – usually the employment opportunities and pay is better than in our home countries, for one or both of us. Our Instagram feeds are filled with photographs of far off destinations that we are blessed to be able to travel to because of proximity, low cost and said better pay. Even when we’re not on holiday, we often live in countries where the sun always shines, looking like we’re having a fabulous time. According to our Instagram feeds. And it feels somewhat spoilt to talk about the other side of living away. Because living away is a choice that we make. We are not fleeing war or persecution. We’re looking for jobs, opportunities, adventures… no one forced us here. Even those of us whose employers told them they had to move had the choice to look for alternative employment. Granted the alternative could be unemployment in our home countries, but it’s still a choice and one that lots of people left behind may also make if afforded the opportunities we had.
But yet still. Despite how shiny our lives look there is an undercurrent. An undercurrent of not quite fitting in. Of finding people we connect with, who we love, who become family, who move on. People who inevitably leave. It’s like falling in love then losing that person year after year. When you stay in your home country, your family & your friends (for the most part) remain the same. Abroad we try desperately to make a connection to then find it’s ripped away. We find someone we want to hang out with, then discover they are leaving 6 months from now.
Some of us grieve for who we once were. We might have been someone in a previous life. We may have had a career, aspirations, achievements that other people knew us for. People knew our story. Yet when we move we are a story that hasn’t been read yet. A book maybe people aren’t too interested in. A book that has been placed on a shelf way at the back, that perhaps can’t be bothered anymore to try and be read.
With every move there are gains. And with every move there are losses. Unresolved grief can strangle us into depression and unsurprisingly many people who have moved multiple times can find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly mentally unwell. On top of this can come guilt for being ungrateful for the life you have. How can I be unhappy when I have all this? Why am I constantly angry even though I have all this? Which can send you spiralling further…
It’s okay to grieve and not feel okay. Talk it out with someone if you can. Find a therapist who understands transition and unresolved grief. Make a list of everything and everyone you’ve lost along the way – acknowledge what they meant to you & say your goodbyes again. Give yourself time to heal.
I bought these coloured lolly pop sticks a little while ago & finally got around to writing on them today. Each stick has the start of a sentence on it which the young people can finish.
Ideally they shouldn’t think too hard about what they answer. A way to do this could be to give them a sheet of paper & ask them to write down the first thing that comes into their head.
You could do a similar thing if you are into journaling and want random topics to write about. You could write things like – love, politics, family, religion, hope, tragedy, fulfilment etc on them and pull them out at random. You could colour coordinate them as well, so the yellow ones could be internal emotions say, the orange could be about relationships, blue about the world, green about self etc. The questions or topics you devise will depend on who is going to use them and for what purpose.
Mine will be used in counselling with young people so explore a range of emotions, wishes and coping strategies. What will you use yours for?
In light of the renewed interest in the allegations against Michael Jackson, I thought I’d post this discussion from back in 2013 when I was interviewed for a Brook project on talking about sexual pleasure within Relationships and Sex Education. As Steve also says, children and young people who are sexually abused or exploited do not have the words to say, nor sometimes even understand what is happening for them. Comprehensive sex and relationships education for all is essential in this regard to safeguard young people from abuse.
I recently read “The Happiness Project” by Gretchin Rubin and there’s a few things that have stuck with me from that book. Firstly – “the days are long but the years are short” meaning stop, look around or the world may pass you by (I think this really should be credited to Feris Bueller), secondly “happiness comes from growth” and thirdly if you’re looking for something to do to increase your happiness levels think back to what you liked to do when you were 10.
May crept up on me really quickly and I hadn’t really thought about what my May challenge was going to be. I flirted with learning French. Cookery. Blogging. Making videos (I even made one). But although I want to do more of all of these, I just didn’t feel like it right now. Then another truism from the Happiness Project crept in… “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”… voila – my friend has been dragging me to a fitness class on Sundays & today i discovered the art studio next door… And bought myself a calligraphy set. I already have a random assortment of stuff waiting to be used – I bought a sketchpad in Sabah Christmas 2016 which has been left untouched. A pencil case full of felt tip pens thrown into the cupboard. I’ve even got a book on how to do whimsical lettering I bought over a year ago… the time is clearly now. May is also mental health awareness month so doing something incredibly mindful & for no other reason than enjoyment seems to be the way to go. So here is my first attempt at hand-lettering- a quote from the Wizard of Oz. It’s clumsy as owt but I hope with a little practise to get better. Here’s to trying!
Today I’ve been making calm down glitter jars with some of my students. These are great for anxiety because mindfully watching the swirls of glitter can help bring you back into the present moment. Anxiety lives in the past or the future. People generally worry about things that have happened or things that are going to happen. This little jar can help stop those thoughts, even just for a couple of minutes. What do I need?
a water-tight jar
Clear multi-purpose glue (liquid)
and if you are anything like me, paper to scoop up any spilled glitter!
How do I make one?
Fill your jar to around 80% with hot water (I use it straight out of our water dispenser so its pretty near boiling – it has to be hot enough to melt the glue)
Add a touch of food colouring – the more you add the darker it becomes. As this forms your overall colour make sure you are happy with it.
Add glitter. There needs to be enough to swirl around but don’t overload it at this point – you can add more later if needed.
Stir in the glue to fill the rest of the jar. Keep stirring until the glue has dissolved into the water.
Put the top on (ensure it is secure) then tip and shake it gently. If the glitter falls to the bottom of the jar too quickly you need more glue. Add extra glitter if you need to.
Leave to cool.
Optional: super glue the lid on if you are giving this to younger children as I can imagine them tipping it out all over your carpet won’t be much fun.
Ideas for its use
Shake and watch the patterns as the glitter moves around
Count the number of glitter flecks you can see
How many colours of glitter can you see in the jar
Watch how the glitter floats and hangs in the air, imagine yourself doing the same
Shake the jar and breathe slowly and deeply while watching the glitter slowly fall to the bottom
Its that time of year again. People are selling up their belongings. Students are leaving to go on study leave. Both saying goodbye to friends and looking on post July to new postings, new jobs, university, new friends, new lives…
And us? The stayers are left in limbo watching the chaos around us. The frantic selling of toasters, of cars, of the remnants of lives. My house is populated with clothing that will never fit, a sewing machine I will never use, lettered ice cube trays, half bottles of cleaning sprays, jewellrey, bags, reclining chairs, kitchen appliances, books, towels, a lamp… items that didn’t make the transition with their owners. Owners, friends, who are scattered across the globe. Owners who used to fill my home with noise and laughter now leave inanimate objects in their place.
And we say “see you soon, yeah?” And we mean we look forward to seeing your posts on Facebook. Seeing the sanitised version of your messy new life. Cue photos of new friends in new places; laughing and smiling to ease the transition. To ease the homesickness for a place that no longer exists.
I can feel my breathing getting shallower and quicker. I’m nervous. I never get nervous. Six teachers, well five teachers and me – the only female – are sat on stage in front of maybe 200 students and staff… well maybe 100 but the lecture theatre seems full. No one comes with a banner for me like they do for Mr DJ Hanks to my right. No one chants my name loudly in support like they do for Mr Sargent the PE teacher. But I get silent smiles and silently mouthed “go miss!” – which comes with the territory of school counsellor. My heart warms. I’m supposed to be second up and my name isn’t called, DJ Hanks is up instead. My nerves worsen. He has TWO poems. One that is quite serious and the other, a brilliantly funny shout-out to all his amazing students. I’m cursing myself for thinking no-one would take this seriously.
What if I forget my lines? You’ve practised this loads and your poem is on the floor
What if my legs give way and I fall over? You’ll be fine, your legs are fine
Why did I write something so cynical? Cos you’re a woman and a counsellor – they will be expecting fluffy
Why can’t you ever write anything warm and positive?! Hahahahahaha
Ah no, they’re calling my name… Deep breaths, deep breaths, you’ll be great…
I walk up to the mic – I should’ve taken it off the stand and walked with it. But I left it there. I feel exposed. My poem is on the floor. I open my mouth…
What is this voice?! Where is the confident, angry voice I rehearsed with?! What is this overly emotional, pleading, sounds like she is going to cry voice?! And why do I feel like I am going to cry?? It’s okay, it’s okay. Don’t cry, don’t cry. Dramatic pause after each line. Deep breath, regain your composure. Look at friendly faces in the crowd! Ms Thacker is over there and is smiling and nodding. Focus!!
I end without tears and have never been so glad to sit back down in my life. The host thanks me for “a particularly emotional performance”. I chuckle. I vow to never do this again.