Please stop telling me to “Stay Safe”

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?

 

Self Care Planning

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The idea that we need to care for ourselves is not new but many of us still neglect it. Why? I think it’s because when times are good, like our physical health, we don’t take much notice of our mental and emotional health. We just potter on.

On the flipside some of us roll our eyes at the idea of self care while actually practising it. Self Care doesn’t have to mean sitting meditating every day, for example it doesn’t do it for me, but exercise where I can immersed in the moment does. For some spiritual self care will be about prayer, for others walking in the woods with their dogs will rejuvenate their spirit.

It also depends on how you are doing overall. If your emotional weather is generally sunny at the moment, self care is putting routines in place that can help you when your storms come. If you’re in the midst of a mental health crisis your self care routine may be as simple as focusing on ensuring you have eaten & had a shower. Something which isn’t as simple as it sounds when you are not doing okay.

Your support system is also really important to acknowledge – who can you turn to if the going gets tough, or to have fun with this week? Your support system doesn’t have to be IRL it could be friends online, helpline numbers or support services. There is always support out there, no matter how alone you feel.

So choose to take some small steps today to invest in your emotional wellbeing – it would be great to hear how you look after yourself in the comments!

When someone has crossed a line

If you feel uncomfortable, upset or angry when someone does something, chances are your boundaries – the actions you will tolerate towards yourself – have been violated. Some of us don’t want to challenge that person because we hate conflict. Some of us think that if we show them we are unhappy they will understand and not do it again. It doesn’t work. You need to be explicit and here is how:

For example:

I felt uncomfortable when you criticised me in front of my friends.

I would like you to talk to me in private if you need to tell me something.

If you continue to criticise me in public I will no longer be friends with you.

OR if you no longer want to be friends: to protect myself I will no longer ask you to come out with me.

Putting Condoms on in the Dark: How to make a furry box

I used to do sexual health outreach sessions in the city centre, and there is always problems with doing any kind of condom demonstration out on the streets as, well, you don’t want to be brandishing, what to many members of the public anyway, looks like a plastic penis…

Soooo I’ve made a ‘furry box’ – this has the advantage of not only being ‘discreet’ but it also helps young people practice putting condoms on in the dark.

They are also fairly cheap and easy to make. Before you start you will need:

1. A box with a lid – I use a photocopy paper box
2. Some outlandish fake fur
3. Scissors
4. Glue and/or staples

Okay-cokey – Ready? Lets Go…

Step One
Remove the lid and cut 2 holes in either side of the box so when the lid goes back on you can stick your hands through comfortably as shown below:

Step 2: Cover the lid with fur using either the glue or the staples to hold it in place.

Step 3: Cover the base with fur as above

And TA-DA! You should have something which resembles the one below.

Step 4
Stick a condom demonstrator in it and a load of condoms and challenge young people to see if they can put a condom on in the dark.

How does your behaviour affect your relationships?

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:

Controlling Habits.png

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.

A little bit deaf

About a month ago I was diagnosed with mild to moderate SNHL which means, in a nutshell, I am a little bit deaf. In both ears.

It is something which normally happens as we get older, it’s just mine was accelerated a bit. Cos clearly at 39 I’m still young! Well according to the Audiologist – who I clearly liked!

But what is, is. It’s not like I didn’t know it, not really. I’ve known I find it difficult to hear people speak when I don’t wear my glasses for years. Like it must be at least 15 years ago I first noticed it. My contact lenses had fallen out at work and I had to get within a metre of young people to understand what they were saying. (FYI that’s a lip reading thing NOT a woah the vibrations through my glasses help me hear kinda witchcraft).

So anyway after Jason telling me I was deaf for years, the hearing test finally confirmed it. Bilateral SNHL.

Basically I can’t hear you if you whisper. And sometimes if there’s too much background noise. I also can’t hear you if you cover your mouth then you speak. Also, apparently I have problems with the letters S and F and th sound meaning I may mishear you and make stuff up in my head. So sorry about that, please bare with me.

Today I’m trialling a hearing aid. I’m hearing sounds that I only just realise now that I haven’t heard for years. The opening of a cigarette packet, the whirling of overhead fans, the mutterings of Jason…

Only around 1 in 6 people who need one will get a hearing aid. I get it, glasses are acceptable; hearing aids aren’t. Many people do not want the world to know that they are disabled. Or old. Theres stigma. There’s not wanting to be treated differently. Or its vanity. Whatever.

Since telling my friends I’m a bit deaf, three people I know have told me their story. We are all around 40. We all have hearing loss akin to people at least 20 years older. So theres more of you. I know there is. We were born around the time the Walkman was invented. We laughed in the face of the warnings that told us to turn down our music. We danced by the bass speakers in drum n bass clubs. We never thought we’d get “old”.

There are so many people hiding their hearing loss so please, you people with perfect hearing… if you are given the option… ALWAYS use the mic.

Show up… but also look after you.

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 & Living Away

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.

Sentence Starters are…

…great for getting people talking.

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?