Knowing When to Hold on Tight or Let Go?

An earlier post ‘let it rip’ gave a bit of an insight into where this one may be heading.

I had the good fortune to be in a lovely MRI machine yesterday. Oh, it is a sweet pleasure indeed…maybe not, but it got me ‘pondering’, again.

There was the awkward moment where I misheard the radiologist say “everything except for your boxer shorts”, what I heard was “everything but especially your boxer shorts need to be jettisoned from your fine physique”. Fortunately the radiology gown, some quick movement from me and a lazy eye from the operator saved any embarrassment. Well, until the damn gown kept getting stuck and I was lying with my legs spread directly in the viewing line of the radiographers.

What could I possibly have been pondering at such a magical time I hear you ask?

As a counsellor or with self development, is it best to ‘go to town’, which means really invest in the situation, problem or challenge? Or… look elsewhere to clearer paths and brighter skies in the hope the crap stays in the past if we race forward faster enough?

I was lying in this machine that was about 10 inches from my face. In support of this confined space I was then placed in this helmet thing that offered about an inch of space from my face. I was in this tight space for over an hour with this god awful banging and buzzing throughout the whole thing – and that was just the radio station that they were playing, but the machine made a far louder and definitely more intense acoustic version. All of this had been preceded by lots of information and questions about being claustrophobic. Well, I wasn’t until they asked that many times that I was soon feeling less than happy, as to be asked that many times could only mean that I should be freaking out so therefore perhaps I should oblige.

As a disclaimer my approach is solution focused, CBT, Mindfulness on a firm base of person centered counselling. When I work with trauma I do work along a narrative approach to explore unhelpful or inaccurate scripts before explore where clients need and want to go. There is a very strong emphasis and understanding in counselling that you rock up for a session and keep rehashing the crapness of what is going on and then it will eventually become less crap. An image that keeps coming to mind which possibly offers an insight into the weird and wonderful world of my mind is someone sitting in a bath of shite. So, would I ask that person to sit, savour, smell and taste the brutal and quite disgusting texture and reality that you are sat in a bath of your own shit. If you are made to sit in that bath for an extended period of time then you will continue to add to the mess that you are sat in. This then reinforces a sense of guilt, shame, frustration, anger etc. in yourself. Or, would it be useful for the person to take a moment to acknowledge that, yes they are in fact sat in a pile of shite, before exploring a preference of whether to step out and clean up or to commit further to the exploration of the situation. It’s a timing thing, I believe anyway.

Back to the MRI machine. How I dealt with it is perhaps one strong contender of how to approach ‘stuff’ or being ‘in a bath of shite’. That is, I acknowledged where I was, but I also clarified the whens, whys and hows etc. to reduce anxiousness through eliminating the unknowns. I then reassured myself that there was an end in sight, I simply had to get in and on with it and tap into my coping toolkit. I took my mind elsewhere, it in no part meant that I was running away or in denial of where I was or what I was experiencing. It was investing my energy and effort into where I wanted to go rather than amplifying the crapness and claustrophobia of where I was.

To summarise. This is again the pondering of a lifelong learner and curious mind of a counsellor. Primarily it is the ramblings of someone in pursuit of wellness and what this looks and sounds like for me but also those I interact with professionally and personally.

Like ‘letting it rip’ I do wonder if we absolutely acknowledge where we are and the challenges which we are faced with. I am leaning towards an increased investment in time and energy in exploring where we want to be, and then ‘going to town’ on how we get there, and stay there through developing resilience and an ability to cope along the long journey of life, not just one step at a time. That is not for every person and every challenge, but would certainly relate to a massive majority of my own challenges and the clients I work with.

How? It’s taking a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle with wellbeing at the front, middle and end. Connectedness with self, with others and our environment. It’s diet, exercise, mental health and a positive excitement and optimism about your potential and what that may look and sound like and how it would positively ripple in to the lives of those you care about and anybody else that comes in to contact with your contagious awesomeness.

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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJ76XfBVKq0 .  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.

Taking Your Meds: Mindful Movement

Mindful Movement: Know Your Meds And Then Take It.

Coping through Grief: The beginning and the endish…

The most common reason for not hitting the trails is I’m too busy and haven’t got the time. In terms of our wellbeing, especially mine, I can’t afford not to, and when I’m tired and busy that’s exactly the right time to hit the trails and recharge.

Imagine a little white tablet (in fact dissolvable with a taste that adjusts to your own preference…I’m thinking Banoffee Pie), that has seemingly limitless evidence to support its ability to prevent and manage; heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, dementia, stress, depression and anxiety. This very same tablet boosts happiness, sleep, strength and flexibility, self-confidence, memory, energy levels, immunity, creativity and relaxation. Oh, you’ll also live longer and it’s free. Well, these are just some of the benefits that come with regular exercise.

I am not one for labels and it may or may not resonate with you when I say Trail Running is my medication. Not, running, the gym and certainly not cricket, but quite specifically trail running. For me the mix in my meds that ‘rocks my boat’, is a steady dose of about 12k, with a smidge of beach and a mass of bush trails and a healthy portion of hill.

Keeping it up, but knowing when to up the dose.

Three years ago, almost to the day my family suffered a big loss. The grief was to put it mildly, painful. The day after and in the midst of making arrangements, without much thought I put on my running gear and grabbed my cash card before I stepped out of the house and started to run. Not as a mad man, or one being chased by a rabid dog, just one foot in front of the other. My journey started from Whangaparaoa and finished in Mission Bay after a swim (more of a less dramatic wade) across Wade River and a quick ferry trip from Devonport.  Needless to say this was far from my usual route or distance. The physical pain was a welcome distraction, as was the opportunity to step out of my thoughts and feelings. I was not running away from my problems by any stretch, I was coping with it as best I could. I had taken my ‘meds’ and the best therapy I could have asked for right then and there.

The endish… well that came from an unexpected source and time! This breakthrough was on my now less than trusty mountain bike. A few weeks ago my seat snapped clean off the post whilst sitting back into an awesome descent. When the seat gave way my crotch embraced a fast moving and well treaded bike tyre. With no feeling of pain at all, I assumed I was in shock, that was the only explanation for the lack of pain that I would have expected from the equivalent of a belt sander on my crotch. Turns out it was more of a glancing blow and my imagination was being overly dramatic. The bike mechanic who only 2 weeks earlier who had repaired the seat was the sole target of my inner rage.

A couple of weeks ago I jumped on the bike for a quick training ride. A tad nervous after my recent experience I couldn’t help but question if it was possible to get impaled on my own seat post, if the seat was to make a break for it again. Then my imagination floated unhelpfully to how would someone treat such an injury.

Anyway, the first few pedals in the bike was making all sorts of weird and wonderful noises. I would love to say it was groaning under the strain of the immense power I was exerting on my humble stead. The bike wasn’t happy, kept jumping gears and making a damned annoying banging sound. For this I allocated blame firmly with another bike mechanic.

The final straw to my ride was when I was peddling up hill, sounding like a one man band, with all the banging and scraping noises. A gent who, in my minds eye, had no physical right to overtake me, was doing so, whilst checking his Strava and eating a muesli bar. The cheek of the man to then smile politely as he greeted me good morning. The blame for this rested firmly with my work, as it took my time and energy away from exercising, whilst also still holding an unhealthy anger directed toward the two bike mechanics.

Well, the seat post incident, I knew the seat angle was off when I picked it up. I also knew this put too much pressure on the pin and was a matter of time before it would snap. It would have taken less than 30 seconds to fix this problem. I didn’t, so mechanic number 1, I’m sorry, my fault.

The banging and scraping noise, I had been told by mechanic number two that the chain was slack and needed replacing. This can and did do all sorts of damage because I chose not to act and ‘it’ll be right’. Mechanic number two, apologies my fault.

As for the fella that overtook me, apologies, my bad again, less chocolate and more exercise, simple.

The relevance of this may or not be obvious, but it was like a sledge hammer at the end of the last ride. I had externalised my grief and therefore power rested outside of myself and I became a spectator in my own process. With all my knowledge, training and experience in the very field of trauma, grief and loss I couldn’t seem to apply it to my own experience. I was blaming anybody and everybody, whether it made sense or not. As soon as I took back control and responsibility for my own wellbeing it is a very empowering mindset indeed.

For many reading this you too will have your own highs and lows throughout your own lives. You too will also know what running or being active means and does for you. It feeds and nourishes us physically,  mentally and spiritually. Keep taking your meds, its way better than any pill, it can get you through and you will be okay.

The Danger of a Label

The danger of a label: You deserve more than just an educated guess.

Whether its Dr. Google, Social Media, something else or a combination of them all, a growing challenge has emerged. The challenge is the eadocse in which curiosity can become fact. Quite often a label (diagnosis) is imposed by others who really have no place to deliver such judgement or diagnosis. I’m increasingly seeing young adults in particular, enter the room with impressive confidence, and having barely sat down, will state ‘ I have clinical depression and if I could crack on with the first of 6 CBT sessions that would be marvelous’. This has quite an impact coming from young ones as young as 11.

When this is delivered by a health professional a label can take on so much more traction. A recent example I know of was a young man who presented to a GP with a headache. They then conducted a HEADSS assessment (Home, Education, Activities, Drugs, Suicidality and Sex). They then conducted a GAD 7  diagnostic tool for anxiety. The result was then relayed to the teenager that they had Anxiety. The next day after a sleepless night he had 3 panic attacks, couldn’t cope with school and the family had already made an appointment with the mental health team for his anxiety. This young man had taken absolute ownership of the diagnosis, as had the family, due to it coming from a health professional. These symptoms and issues had seemingly appeared overnight causing a significant barrier in his life, both at school and home. The facts and reality were quite different. He did present with a headache. He had stayed up all of the previous night to start and complete an assignment that had been set some time ago and was now due. stressHe was simply tired and stressed, both normal and short-term responses.

 

What prompted me to put ‘pen to paper’ on this topic was a student that presented to me recently and for the first time. This young woman had been managing her bipolar for the last 5 years. This was confirmed on the young woman’s school medical records as well as known and being managed by her parents. The young woman who was sat in front of me was not like any client I have seen previously with diagnosed bipolar. After exploring the bipolar it was the specificity of the time line that quickly directed our conversation. The response was quite staggering. 5 years earlier she was sat in class doing her work as usual. She was then continuously distracted by a peer who continued to take her pencil, tap it on his desk over and over before throwing it on the ground. She would then pick it up and place it on her desk, where shortly after he would continue with his routine. The young woman had by this point had enough, and snapped at the young man to ‘stop it’. His response, ‘stop being so bipolar’. And that was it. It was later confirmed with her parents that they had never sought medical advice or challenged the young girls ownership of the label. There had been no symptoms or concerns of any nature before this point. She had carried this label which had continued to limit the incredible potential this young woman had. It didn’t take long before she made significant gains through an initial approach combining narrative therapy with a strong thread of strengths based exploration.
pencilNow, it is not the label that is the issue. Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar, ADHD and lots of other acronyms all exist, are very real and can all be addressed. It is being aware of who and where the label is coming from and whether they are equipped and able to deliver such a diagnosis. As a parent, be aware of a false diagnosis, and question and demand the right person with the right answers. It’s not to say they are wrong, you just deserve more than an educated guess.

Everybody’s experience is completely unique and one word doesn’t and won’t do justice to your own needs and reflections. The more authentic and original your discussion, the more productive and effective the time and therefore outcome.

Unpack the experience towards a way though, reclaiming power and control from the label back to the person, you. Just have a quick go at saying the below and take the time to reflect on how you feel for each, and then decide for yourself which platform you want to work from.

I am depressed or I feel depressed

I have Anxiety or I feel anxious.

words

Monkey: Return to Sender

When someone told me I could not only read a whole book in an afternoon, but that it would be a professional life changer, I had to see for myself. So, I read it, ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey’ by Ken Blanchard. Awesome, on a number of levels that I’m sure will prove versatile in meeting the needs and expectation of most readers. For me, the principles continue to inform both my personal and professional lives, heck even my parenting.

Now, it wouldn’t take a genius to suggest that referring to your employees or colleagues as monkey’s may well not be the best move you can make. That is not at all the context or positioning of the book. The monkey refers to ‘the next move’, not a personal dig at all. The message is a proudly positive one of empowerment for both you and those around you all.

monkey off back

It is my, your, our task to deal to our own monkeys and not owning the stress, anxiety or pressures of someone elses’.

I was reminded only this morning of a simple example of this in my own parenting. Like many families our morning routine is filled with action, organised chaos and excitement at the prospect we could all leave the house on time with a skip in our step and nothing going amiss. Quite a while ago now we celebrated the proud landmark of our toddler getting himself dressed. With immense pride we would walk him to day care, the shops, well just about anywhere to share this occasion with everyone and anyone. I am aware that from the untrained (slightly judgmental) eye, this may in fact look more like shoddy (even careless) parenting, as his T-shirt would be back to front, shorts inside out and shoes facing outwards. Regardless, he dressed himself and that is awesome, high fives all round. The point; my son’s monkey (next move) was getting himself dressed. This was one less monkey for us which dramatically reduced the number of times we forgot our keys or lunch. So developmental benchmark achieved for our son and some breathing space for his mum and dad.

One morning we found ourselves dressing our son, it had developed over a couple of weeks, but due to our own monkeys, our patience had reduced, therefore it was just quicker for us to get him dressed. When I realised this and set his clothes out, expecting him to simply continue to complete a task he was more than capable of achieving, he didn’t, instead tears and the prone position became the default. And in the blink of an eye I realised that monkey had been masterfully returned to his parents. We had inadvertently not just added a money to our own back unnecessarily, but dis-empowered our young fella from feeling able and competent at dressing himself. To then get frustrated with him for not dressing himself with efficiency and the right way out and colour matched would be completely unfair.

The most powerful step towards changing this momentum was and is to stop, take the stunned monkey off your own shoulders before acknowledging and naming it. In this case, if it’s not your monkey, make sure the right person has it, if it’s yours, then act on it and don’t try to fob it off to some kind-hearted rescuer, or inpatient parent, boss or colleague.

If you take on other people’s monkeys you are disempowering them in the long-term. Reinforcing a dependence on you, which is a bit of a slap in the face to the other persons own resilience and capabilities.If you hand your own monkey onto others then be prepared for short-term gain , long term loss.

The challenge and yet rewarding part can be reorganising the monkeys, so own those that are yours and support others to own their own, the earlier the better. This has always got to be developmentally appropriate and within the competency of those involved in the first place, so getting my young one to day care is my monkey not his for example.

What does this look like for a manager?crazy office monkey

A team meeting where you leave with all the actions needed whilst your team are left twiddling their thumbs until you have actioned their ‘next step’. A lot of work and stress, and it’s not even your own. If each team member leaves with their own monkey then you celebrate their strengths and competence, and therefore their confidence to grow and make energetic strides forward. Everyone is a winner when done appropriately and well. As a manager your time can then be spent on innovation and growth, which is a big deal no matter where you work, whether at a school or as a company CEO.