Mental Health: Let it RIP or Perhaps Not!

With the many weird and wonderful experiences that are part and parcel of life, you can’t help but ponder stuff. In my case it’s also professional practice.

Quite often I support and encourage clients to take quite an ‘assertive’ approach to mental health and dealing to the challenges to acknowledge and then take control. That is definitely one way that has proven highly effective for all the clients where we take this approach. But there are ‘horses for courses’ that need to be picked wisely for the best outcome. I still see a time and a place for this style but now I’m pondering quite the opposite.

What if sometimes, for some people, fighting mental health head on is in fact giving it more power than less. You make it front and centre, the be all and end all. The worst thing is you can’t see or hear it, so you are in fact swinging blindly.

I am surrounded by surfers and surf beaches, which is perhaps why approaching stuff like a rip tide, may in fact be a good way to go. For those that don’t know what a rip tide is then perhaps google it. In short (or this will make no sense at all) this one is for kids, which is bang on my level .  In a wonderful world the tide and waves beautifully all lap towards dry land and return surfers and swimmers to terra firma. A rip tide is a sneaky little beggar that bucks the flow and creates an invisible channel that takes you out to the big blue sea. This takes those not familiar to a rip by surprise. Instinct is to swim like your life depends on it -because it does, I suppose- towards land. As you’d expect a swimmer is no match for the immense awesomeness of the sea. This is what got me thinking. Sometimes by investing all attention and effort into fighting the rip tide (mental health) you are in a battle where there is only ever going to be one winner. The swimmer eventually tires and then is in real bother. For the sake of happy endings and a hop, skip and a jump. Hasselhoff or The Rock pluck you out of the sea and holds you in a safe embrace.

The alternative and the best way to deal with a rip is to stop and as soon as possible take stock and acknowledge that you are in the shite, well rip tide. This being a metaphor for mental health. At each point you keep raising your arm high in the air calling for help. Help being family, friends and better still a trained professional. In the meantime, simply breathe and know that the calmer you are, the clearer you think and in the meantime tap into your coping toolkit and resilience to ‘calm your farm’. If you take it easy and either float out to the back you will eventually come right, you could end up in some pretty dark blue water, which is a tad unsettling, especially if you too were traumatised by jaws and then topped it up with an unhealthy dose of In the Deep. So, this is where tapping into your tool kit comes in. As, you swim across and parallel to the beach you eventually get out of the rip tide and back into the waves that are taking you on a fast track back to dry land. This being a place of relative calm, balance and positive wellbeing.

Finding a good counsellor is all about finding the right fit for you and a style that will work. As a counsellor it can only be a positive to be able to change gears and styles to best meet the needs of the person or people that sit in front of you. So, I’m still pondering when to ‘deal to it’ and when to take stock and swim across and out of a rip tide. Better still I will keep looking at refining the skills and resilience that would enable and empower my clients, friend, family and of course myself to find the right way at the right time.

See Beyond The Evil!

Friday 15th March 2019 will go down in history and not only in small, end of the earth New Zealand. One man killed 49 innocent men, women and children as they attended Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand. 40 Others remain in hospital, many of which are critical. This, in a city still getting up from its knees after a significant earthquake, and loss of lives, only a few years earlier.

The terrorist, traveled from Australia specifically and planned meticulously over a two year period a horrendous act of terror. The reasoning; NZ was the only country that was perceived as safe from terrorism, he wanted to change that and ensure fear and hate would reach everywhere.

This post is to remind us all to redirect our attention from the individual and devastation he had achieved. It is to see the police officers that raced in civilian clothes, whether off or on duty, to protect and care for the victims and community. It is to see the father who picked up wounded victims in his vehicle and rushed them to hospital. It is to see the nurses and doctors who responded immediately and continue to care for the victims around the clock. It is to see the flowers that create an endless tapestry outside the mosques and community centres placed by strangers. It is to see the vigils and genuine images of solidarity, love and support from a whole country and internationally. It is to the see the selfless acts of courage, bravery, kindness and generosity. It is to see and celebrate the far more powerful and present goodness that is in our country and world.

Acknowledge the devastation caused by individuals and the breadth of victims that has been left by this event and horrendous individual. It stands in stark contrast to the awesomeness of the masses and the goodness that should drown out the volume of such hatred and darkness.

It is there, see it, hear it and share it!

Part One: Tech & Relationships

Technology to find a relationship: Why not!?! (Part One) Technology and the pursuit of finding the one in the modern age

The next two posts are based on the topic I was asked to talk about on a radio station recently.

The loudest part of the question that hit me first was what on earth is going on with ‘the one’. Perhaps the definition of the one has changed… by perhaps I mean I believe it has changed and massively. We want everything and we want it yesterday!

The problem is, perhaps some looking are positioned on a lofty platform to their potential partner and with such a high bar it is not unlike a knitted jumper from your gran at Christmas! Well-intentioned but plain disappointing. A phrase that comes up a lot with all lines of clients is you get what you look for, well what happens if you are looking for the impossible! Can’t be overly surprised that you don’t find it and folk keeping falling short of perfection, if you achieved it how could they not, right?

Dr. Letamendi says in Time magazine, “Now that we can interact with hundreds – no thousands – of people simultaneously, we’ve strengthened the impact that others have on our self-value.”

Everyone and thing is so accessible, and along with a disposable mentality are we denying ourselves the opportunity to experience anything other than a swipe left or right for a quick hook up? Heck, for some I could imagine the glow of a mobile screen lights up a room whilst your having sex, fed by the driver that you deserve and are entitled to something better and now, well a couple of minutes from now.

Technology to find a relationship: Why not! Online now all the initial tick lists have been done, looks, hobbies, interests, profession, outlook etc. By the time you meet your date for the first time you know what their friends and family look like and more than likely with some careful examination of multiple Instagram photo angles you can see where they live, what they eat and at the very least inside leg measurement.

We have all become busier, society and individuals within it pride themselves on busyness. It used to be mundane chat about the weather but now its peacocking about how busy we are. We are busy some of the time and spend the other half of the time telling other folk how busy we are. Only the other day I was in a ‘meeting’ at a café with an agent sharing how busy he was for the first 20 mins. This was quickly followed by summarising a luxurious and indulgent weekend ahead and suggesting we meet for coffee the next day. Societal shifts and demands are nothing new. Folk are genuinely time restricted, unfortunately mainly due to being unfiltered in access to their employers and others. Holiday clubs, before and after school clubs are doing bloody outstanding business at the moment as parents put in the hours. Family systems and general lifestyles are informed by tech and then monitored accordingly.

The reality is technology opens massive potential and access to heaps and damned quickly. Technology isn’t the problem any more than the bygone fear that TV was taking us all to hell but at the very least taking our souls through the glass screen. It’s how we as humans utilise and interact with it, and ensure it is a tool to facilitate our lives as opposed to it being front and centre.

A recent article I read was holding Netflix to account for a sex famine in western marriages . Easy sentence? quite possibly, but does it stand alone in terms of what other factors need to be considered and blamed, heck no! It is a real issue in all avenues of relationships, whether romantic, family, work colleagues, kids and everyone else before, after and in between. We celebrate an increase in connectivity, but we are talking solely about tech connect not a wonderful human chapter in chirpy good conversation, banter, interaction or heaven forbid physical touch. The waters in all relationships are muddied, especially in terms of having an understanding of our sense of self and identity. We certainly know who we should strive to be like and how far we are away from a Kardashian or Ryan Reynolds. The benchmark for ‘normal’ has shifted. This disconnect has also perhaps seen a demise in any sort of rhyme, reason or any dose of reality to an accurate reflection of self. A culture of me, myself and I is rife and when you are fully immersed in that limited scope of cast members then that leaves sweet bugger all space and time for others. Do we have a hyperinflated view of ourselves and hyper critical view of others, especially partners? This in part again taps into a whole different world of social media etc. and the impact on relationships. Heck, just google modern dating. The first few pages before you get bored are ‘the rules’. Check them out, they are shocking, me, myself and I and absolute inflated sales pitch of entitlement without any need to give or try. If you ditch the rules you may just have a chance.

Sticking to Netflix and Sex. The article does elude to a raft of other factors that are worthy of a mention just as much as blaming Netflix or YouTube for diminishing sex lives. Increase connectivity equals unlimited access to you and your loved one. You’ll be hard stretched to find anyone that isn’t within inches of their mobile device when they go to bed, even if it’s to use as an alarm. Our attention is misdirected away from the very person or people we often love the most and it is shared openly and willingly with acquaintances, colleagues and bosses in their place. How sexy and connected to your partner beside you when your boss has just added another ‘small’ task to your already overwhelming workload.

There are a lot of distractions and really important things that people must fit in to an ever-decreasing window of time. Work, errands, jobs. Then there are the parents out there. I’d suggest kids would trump Netflix as the antidote to sex. The loving embrace at the end of the day isn’t always a precursor to magical sex, but an embrace of utter relief that you survived another day and nervous anticipation of the morning routine peering from around the corner.

I did see some words far from wisdom from a social influencer who was also giving advice which included, dating others and taking a break. Well everybody has a right to make their own decisions but for what its worth…don’t follow these, no, no a thousand times no!

Smart Phones function like a relationship wish list (for some). It gives you everything you need and want, and you just have to plug it in for an hour a day. It’ll show you pretty much whatever you want no matter how out there it may seem. You are just left to sit in surprised judgement of yourself as a ‘random’ inappropriate advertisement pops up thanks to the millions of cookies running in the background of every click. It’ll turn you on when you want it too and you can turn it on at the swipe of a finger. It can give you directions in pretty much any language you want, tell you the time or answer a question without being a smart ass. It won’t talk back or out of turn unless Siri is bugging out. There is not much it can’t do and again straight away.

Are we stuck in a game that many would scoff at the very idea of? With every bleep of the phone a big shot of dopamine rushing through the body, a feel-good buzz and validation, even if it is from an absolute stranger. I’m not sure anybody hasn’t at some point heard, behind a false smile suggesting no direct intent, “but I noticed you didn’t like it”. It matters! and the chemical blasts of the neurological system maintain the game and it is oh so very real.

If we pause for a second, are we losing something beautiful, exciting and organic in the shape of the development of love? Has it been dehumanised and transformed into something that is a tad cold and artificial, and for who, surely not everyone? Is it a cognitive process rather than one of the heart? The pursuit of convenience over anything else. A problem-solving approach is adopted rather than one of innocent and open enquiry into who is out there and how they may compliment you warts n’all. You should never stop learning something new or being open to being blown away and in awe of your partner. It doesn’t stop and/or start at the first hurdle, but a relationship grows in time and blossoms. What is our capacity or even willingness to see the highs but navigate relationship challenges.

Strong Relationships Include These!

10 Steps to a Happy Relationship

 (Part Two) … and then keeping them?

Food for thought for any relationship, whether you are starting out or you are living it up a fair few years down the track. Without being cryptic or confusing, I believe what underpins all of these is acknowledging that you are married, or in a relationship with somebody else! Celebrate difference and if you have someone that extends you rather than reflects you then heck you are on an exciting path for sure.

This isn’t a 10 step programme, that if followed to the letter, will guarantee love, laughter and eternal companionship. Everybody, and the journey’s they travel, are so awesomely unique that some will connect and others not. I would expect nothing more or less. Each aims to pose a question and reflection for us individually but also as a couple. It’s based on my experience as a counsellor that backs up or challenges what text books or training has told me. When I have seen or heard these points in action the relationships have been on a stronger footing.

  1. Feel Safe (Honest Communication) – You have got to feel safe in a relationship to get anywhere close to feeling like you want to be intimate, physically and emotionally but also in terms of relational stability. This is through open and honest conversations.  Folk are generally outstanding at the talking part, but god awful at listening. Listening means really taking it on board, not simply waiting for your next opportunity to speak. By listening properly, you will hear clearly and therefore have a fighting chance of discovering and understanding your partners wants, needs and expectations. Think dialogue not monologue!
  2. Drop the perfectionism. Everybody is perfectly imperfect, but certainly not perfect so give yourself and your partner a break. Tone down the ‘all or nothing’ philosophy of relationships. “You didn’t ask me about my presentation today, so you have fallen out of love with me”. Accept who they are as you would hope they do for you, within reason that is.
  3. Getting Physical: Physical touch is key to a significant relationship. Yep, this does include sex, but so much more. Giving a hug, holding hands, a genuine kiss. Oxytocin is released which has heaps of benefits such as feeling closer and even a stronger immune system. That doesn’t mean an early morning taser like attack with your ‘morning glory’ whilst sniggering both childishly and blindly optimistic. Check out the short post I put on for securing a good sex life.
  4. This ties into Love Languages, which I highly recommend you and your partner identify and use on a daily basis. Time, Words, Gifts, Touch, Acts. Look them up and explore yours and your partners, together. What does it look and sound like? I use this for all my significant relationships with my kids, family and wife. When I have taken a breath I turbo load this and do all 5 in a day.
  5. Your partner can’t be your everything and all the time. Respect your and their own interests. I asked a colleague at his retirement what was the secret to a long and happy marriage given he was passing his 50th year. He simply said, he salmon fishes and she loves her drama group. It made perfect sense and yes, I am sure they were understating how they nurtured so many years, of what I would describe as a beautiful relationship, but that was front and centre and he didn’t pause for a second with his answer.
  6. Do fun stuff. If a Kmart dash is the most exotic thing you tend to do on weekends, it’s time for a change. And you don’t need a ton of cash or vacation days. Choose to do something fun together. This could be watching a movie, going for a stroll, trying a new restaurant, date night, anything. Anything new and positive can help boost the happiness in your own relationship. For parents in particular, it’s oh so important to be more than mum and dad. Invest in you time, friend time, lover time and partner time. It’s tough but I see a large number of couples who have teenage kids and state ‘they have drifted apart’. Don’t make excuses, it’ll come back and bite you.
  7. Check and Connect – Reunited and it feels so good. When you and your partner reunite—at the end of a day, when one of you comes back from a trip, or even when you wake up—do something to show your love. When your partner comes home, for example, stop what you are doing (within reason) and devote just a few seconds to being completely present. Give them a hug or kiss, look in their eyes, and ask how they are. Not, all at the same time… it would be weird and awkward. Put down your phone, pause the TV…do whatever you need to focus even just a short amount of time on your partner. You both will feel much more connected.
  8. Be respectful. John Gottman is a pioneer on research about the longevity of marriages. In fact, in a longitudinal study, he was able to predict with 93 percent accuracy which couples would eventually get divorced. He has identified what he refers to as the four horsemen, which are predictors of relationship problems—criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The quick antidote for these is to simply be respectful. Rather than criticize, openly communicate without criticism. Instead of contempt, express disappointment without eye rolls or passive-aggressive comments. Ditch the defensiveness; it is important to take feedback so you and your relationship can improve. And rather than stonewall, listen to your partner and have a constructive conversation when things are not going as smoothly as you would like. Learn to communicate even your disappointments with respect.
  9. Just ask and LET IT LAND!. This one takes an open mind. Ask your partner, “What is one thing I can do this week to be a better partner to you?” The response may be surprising.  The goal is not to be defensive— “I already do that anyway!” or “Yay, I wish you would do that, too!” Instead, simply absorb what you hear and take steps to implement your partner’s desire (as long as it is within your moral boundaries). This is a great way to meet needs that you may not have even realized your partner had.
  10. Abide by the 5-to-1 rule. While you may think giving your partner a compliment will counter some negative “feedback” you provide, think again. The “magic ratio” is not 1:1, but rather 5:1. This means that in order to have an overall positive feel about your relationship, you need to have at least five positive encounters (actions, statements) for every negative one. The take home? Spend more time telling and showing your partner what you love and appreciate about them, laugh more, and spend more fun time together. When you do, the tough times are easier to get through.

Above all, be hopeful. Relationships, like life, have ups and downs. If you are in a downward slope right now, have faith: Things can get better. Put some time, energy, and love into your relationship. Focus on being the best partner you can be. Get help if you need it. And see the positive in your partner and your relationship.

You’ll have a better sex life if…

You’ll have a better sex life if… Taking the guesswork out of it

Now this came up in a recent conversation and is never too far away when talking about relationships. There are a few practice methods or modalities that practitioners use, not that you would be able to hear or see any real difference between them. I have always been fascinated by all and pick what connects with me and utilise with clients when I think the fit is right. Anyway, then there is cold, hard research that can join so many dots and even better challenge ‘old’ thinking towards ‘new’ ways, based on fact rather than assumption. John Gottman is a legend in that he didn’t settle for guesswork and that he really has done his homework (along with his team). He trawled through 1000’s of research papers and articles. He also observed relationships in real time as they played out in an apartment and they are just for starters. I certainly use elements of The Gottman Method having been though the training, but I find it a tad prescriptive as a one stop shop therapeutic process. I am however hoping to challenge my own view by continuing to learn more about this method, as anything so backed up by fact and best practice can’t be dismissed too quickly.

So, in summary (from The Normal Bar Study):

Fact: Couples who have a great sex life everywhere on the planet are doing the same set of things.

  1. They say “I love you” every day and mean it
  2. They kiss one another passionately for no reason
  3. They give surprise romantic gifts
  4. They know what turns their partners on and off erotically
  5. They are physically affectionate, even in public
  6. They keep playing and having fun together
  7. They cuddle
  8. They make sex a priority, not the last item of a long to-do list
  9. They stay good friends
  10. They can talk comfortably about their sex life
  11. They have weekly dates
  12. They take romantic breaks
  13. They are mindful about turning toward

Fact: Couples have a bad sex life everywhere on the planet.

Not local but… The Sloan Center at UCLA studied 30 dual-career heterosexual couples in Los Angeles. These couples had young children. The researchers were like anthropologists – observing, tape-recording, and interviewing these couples. They discovered that most of these young couples:

  1. Spend very little time together during a typical week
  2. Become job-centered (him) and child-centered (her)
  3. Talk mostly about their huge to-do lists
  4. Seem to make everything else a priority other than their relationship
  5. Drift apart and lead parallel lives
  6. Are unintentional about turning toward one another

The Gottman Institute certainly doesn’t leave you flapping in a place of , “now what?”. Check their resources out for either professionals and/or couples.