Self-compassion & the importance of self-care. (SE Asia School Counselling Conference 2018.)

An holds a unique piece of hand crafted pottery in her hands. It depicts a woman kneeling and as she explains is has only had a base coat of paint on it; it is ready for the detail – the rest of the story to be added. Four women, she explains, were involved in the process of making the piece and how her heart breaks when sometimes they pop pop pop and crack in the kiln. Sometimes only half of the clay figurines survive. She talks of the sadness and tears that happen when a piece explodes in the firey kiln, or the door is opened too soon and they crack apart rendering all their hard work for nothing.

Then she raises her arm and smashes it against the floor. The clay woman shatters. A audible gasp briefly fills the room followed by an violent, oppressive silence. Tears start streaming down my face.

She thanks us for our compassion & for now truly understanding how she feels when she loses a piece. I’m not sure exactly how I feel, I just know the tears are hard to stop. All that work for her to smash it seems unfair to the women who worked to make it. I feel for the clay woman who lies in pieces on the floor & acknowledge the tears stem from knowing that I’ve felt that shattered and broken before.

We all have a story

There’s a word in Marshallese that I’ve been considering getting tattoed somewhere for a couple of years – bwebwenato – which basically means storytelling. Ri-bwebwenato means ‘story-teller’ – those elders who passed down stories from generation to generation.

As counsellors we are the Keepers of Stories. People entrust us with stories which are painful, humiliating, sorrowful and very personal. Also amongst these they may find joy, humour & meaning. We tell our clients they have a story which has meaning & is worthy of been listened to. Do we tell this to ourselves? Do we listen to our own pain, hurt & suffering? Do we reach out & care for ourselves when we are hurting, embarrassed, shamed? Do we treat ourselves in the same way we treat others?

If the answer is no. You treat your friends with compassion but not yourself ask yourself why not? Do you call yourself names out loud or berate yourself when you mess up? Then stop. Be as kind to yourself as you would your best friend.

YOU have a story.

YOUR story means something.

YOU are worth listening to.

Practise some self compassion.

72 Five Minute Stress Relief Ideas

  1. Cuddle your pet
  2. Do 20 star jumps
  3. Drink warm milo
  4. Walk around your house
  5. Smell your favourite perfume
  6. Stretch as high as you can
  7. Try to touch your toes
  8. Sing
  9. Dance to an upbeat song
  10. Be silly
  11. Look at a photo of a happy time
  12. Have a shower
  13. Have a snack
  14. Draw something simple & silly
  15. Go outside
  16. Listen to the birds
  17. BREATHE slowly & deeply
  18. Play an instrument
  19. Talk to a friend
  20. Scream
  21. Fake laugh for two minutes
  22. Laugh at something funny
  23. Watch baby animals on youtube*
  24. Moisturise your skin
  25. Wash your face
  26. Pray
  27. Talk to your siblings
  28. Do something nice for someone
  29. Send someone a text saying you appreciate them*
  30. Pretend you’re 5 years old
  31. Cry
  32. Shake your body
  33. Draw every noise you hear
  34. Listen to upbeat music and try not to move
  35. Skip
  36. Roll your shoulders and your head
  37. Write a list of all the things you are looking forward to
  38. Write a list of all the things you can do to relieve stress
  39. Change your clothes into something more comfy
  40. Watch a K-Pop video and try to copy the dance moves*
  41. Visualise your life after the thing causing you stress is over
  42. Write a letter to yourself
  43. Meditate
  44. Remind yourself about times you have gotten through stress before
  45. Take control of unhelpful thoughts – rationalise panic
  46. Tell yourself you can do this
  47. Organise your workspace*
  48. Try to think of a vegetable for every letter of the alphabet
  49. Do nothing*
  50. Write a poem
  51. Write down all your thoughts and worries
  52. Brush your hair
  53. Brush your pet
  54. Rock yourself gently
  55. Ask your parents/siblings for a hug
  56. Smell the flowers in your garden
  57. Take a break
  58. Write a list of your strengths (what would your best friend say about you)
  59. Do 20 sit ups / press ups
  60. Make a list of everything you have to do, PRIORITISE them and put together a schedule
  61. Try to balance on one leg
  62. Do a handstand against a wall
  63. Identify the source of stress & problem solve it if you can – ask is this worth stressing over?
  64. Make a song up as you go along about being stressed
  65. Write out motivational quotes*
  66. Make fun of this list
  67. Do some calligraphy
  68. Close your eyes and listen to your breathing – try to slow it down as much as possible
  69. Blow bubbles
  70. Blow up balloons & whack them around your bedroom
  71. Lie on the floor and tense then relax all your muscles
  72. Ask for help…

*has the potential to send you into a procrastination spiral so stay away from if you cannot trust yourself.

Originally written for The Wallflower Project.

A Letter to the Stayers

It’s that time of year again. Students with signatures all over crisp white school shirts. One day they are here; the next there’s an empty seat where your friend used to be. And this happens over and over again, until one day you may decide that what’s the point in making new friends – it’s only emotional investment to be ripped away. And it can be hard, so, so hard to see your group, once so close scattered across the globe. Instagram photos of new friends, of new adventures, of new lives, while you wander lost around the school, trying to figure out now where you fit amongst the cliques left behind. How do you approach those acquaintances, that person in your English class, or the others left here in limbo? Maybe you won’t bother. Maybe you will decide that hiding out in classrooms to ‘finish your coursework’ is a better choice. Maybe head down, headphones on in the ELC is a better bet. At least your grades will go up you think to yourself. But you are lonely.

So here it is. We don’t really talk about the emotional hardship, of the loss felt by those who stay. We know it is hard for those who leave. But for those who stay some of you will have lost 4, 5, 6, 7… countless people who were close to you. The school is the same but it’s not really the same. Pretending you don’t care is a coping strategy – creating arguments before they leave so it is easier to say goodbye only makes the pain worse. Tell them you love them. Tell them what they mean to you.

Remember there are others in school who feel the same; others that have had friends leave and may also need a connection. Think about the type of friendship you need (big group? 1 close friend?) Join a random CCA that you’re interested in (rather than what would “look good”). Say hello to the other people hiding out in the studyhall, the classrooms, the library. Think about what makes you happy and do more of that. Ask if you can sit in the canteen with friendly faces. Talk about school work if you don’t know what to say. Allow yourself to feel sad. If you feel overwhelmed speak to someone, a teacher, a tutor a counsellor.

Look out for each other out there– if you are lucky enough to have your friends stay – look out for those who don’t.  Invite them to sit with you. Say hello in the corridors. Ask them if they are okay. Our words are powerful and you should never underestimate the impact of a small gesture.

This post was originally written for and posted on The Wallflower Project

Do what you did when you were 10…

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!

Making a calm down glitter jar

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?

  1. a water-tight jar
  2. Clear multi-purpose glue (liquid)
  3. Hot water
  4. Food colouring
  5. Glitter

and if you are anything like me, paper to scoop up any spilled glitter!


How do I make one?

  1. 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)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Stir in the glue to fill the rest of the jar. Keep stirring until the glue has dissolved into the water.
  5. 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.
  6. Leave to cool.
  7. 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

Here’s a video if you need it:

How to make a Glitter Jar

See you soon.

Peter Pan Homesickness

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.

Leaving sucks but staying without you is harder.

“Can the new girl speak English?!”

Despite actually being English, I’ve finally come to the realisation, after many blank stares and “can you repeat that please?”s that English is in fact my second language. My first is Geordie.

My first experience of this was when I bounded like a Labrador puppy into see all the young people I was going to work with at Waan Aelon in Majel (WAM) in the Marshall Islands… what I thought I said was: “Hello!! I’m Aylssa, I’m the new Jessica! It’s great to meet you all!!” What they heard was something akin to whale noises, but of course they all nodded and smiled. They later asked my boss if I could speak English. “She’s from England”, he assured them, “she’s as English as the queen”… erm… My partner became my interpreter.

It’s hard though because there’s words that Geordies use as part of their everyday language which despite my speaking ten times slower now than is natural (Its really hard!) still pop out particularly:

Iz. Iz?! Do you know how hard it is to say “me”? I don’t think I’d ever said “me” until I moved abroad.

Yus. As in “where are yus going?”. Blank face. YOU. Where are you going?!

Howay. Canny. Lush. Numpty. Divvy. Skiving. Belta. Divvint. Gannin. Aye. Nowt…

I cannet help it lyk. Ah tark the wey ah tark …

“Pretend you’re on the phone!” my colleague pleads. I try. Honestly I try…

I told a story to a friend once about almost being killed by standing behind a jet engine taking off and losing a shoe… he looked at me blankly and said:

“I’m pretty sure that was hilarious but all I heard was babble babble babble babble hahahahahah hahahahahah”

Maybe I should take some English as an Additional Language Classes.

Facebook Fatigue

Bali is covered in trash again.
Click sad face. Move on.

Another person declares “me too”.
Hit angry face. Move on.

Donald Trump threatens North Korea.
Post a meme. Move on.

King tides devastate Majuro.
Type “stay safe”. Move on.

Neo-nazism on the rise again.
Tweet angrily. Move on.

100 dead in a suicide bomb.
Thoughts and prayers. Move on.

I know that this may sound cynical,
In a poem that’s supposed to be inspirational,
And I hope that it is generational,
That justice seems to unattainable,
And our inaction so un-explainable,
On issues so containable,

That we,
Just click a button,
Bury our heads
And move on.

Aylssa Cowell
January 2018
Jerudong International School Staff Poetry Slam Entry.
Theme was “Inspiration”.

 

The Poetry Slam: Challenge 1. Jan 2018.

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.

I come third.

Maybe I will.

Hello World.

I’m sitting in Brunei listening to thunder rumble on the horizon, Heather Horton on the stereo, on my patio in Rimba wondering how the hell I’m almost 40. Like how does this happen?! The days are long but the years are short… I still remember trying to pierce my friends belly button on the back of the number 57 bus in Newcastle at age 13… now I’m staring down 39 – so that was a third of a lifetime ago and I’m living in a country I had never heard of until I was 27, doing a job I vowed i would never do. Life is weird and so is this blog. Welcome.