Taking Your Meds: Mindful Movement

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 Silent Partners of Counselling (SPOC’s) and how SKOOPER can help

You won’t struggle to find advice, apps and bits in between to help those reaching out for support, such as counselling. But what about the family and friends outside of counselling, you won’t find much if anything at all.

As a counsellor I’ve seen thousands of individuals and families over the years. When they are sat in front of me they are the all and everything of that space. For most of the counselling conversations it will be a deep processing and the development or strengthening of ‘positive seeds’, ‘food for thought’ or ‘reflection’. Whatever you want to call it, a huge amount goes on outside of the counselling space in between sessions. What is it like for the family and friends who are seemingly along for the ride? Kind of like a silent partner in business land, they have a huge investment, commitment and role in the whole deal but may feel shut out from the whole thing.

Every relationship and individual is wonderfully unique, so what works for one may be useless for another. However, SKOOPER may offer guidance on how to manage time as a SPOC (Silent Partner of Counselling).

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SAFETY of self and others is paramount. Know that if the counsellor has concerns over their safety this will be communicated to the right people after consultation with the client. If you have real concerns about the safety of your loved one then have a plan or at least a contact.  This would be knowing the contact number for the crisis teams specific to the age of the client, so in New Zealand it would be either the adult or adolescent team and the respective after hours process. Of course there is always 111 or the emergency service number of your country.

KNOW counselling and what it is and isn’t. Do your homework. I’m finding increasingly that this is becoming the case, and when folk first call me they have already checked my website out, read a few posts and really had a think about making sure they get the right fit for them or their loved one. This is just my point, being a part of such an important decision is incredibly powerful for all parties. The first session is reasonably stock standard in terms of contracting and getting a feel for the space and what counselling is and/or isn’t. This is usually a good conversation to have for those connecting with a counsellor for the first time, especially before moving on to the next point.

OPEN and honest conversations. Have a chat and agree what, when and how conversations will be approached post session or as it goes on. Do I ask questions and how do I approach them? That is best figured out between you, up front and honestly. People do all sorts and I’m fortunate in where my office is located, lots of café’s, restaurants and beaches. One example is a couple who meet up after one of our sessions (I will have seen one of them). The kids are with a child minder and they go for a meal. The first 10 mins is reconnect time, 20 mins is a bit of counselling reflection time and then they are pretty strict about the rest of the time being non-counselling related and them time. An example from a teenage client involved a toy. Children and teenagers are more than capable of expressing how they feel, if anything they can teach us a thing or too. What is sometimes a challenge is how to initiate it. Well, when they wanted to talk about something important the toy that was kept on a shelf would be turned around as a sign for their parent. Once spotted the parent would always say the same thing, “I spotted Bert, how about smoothie in 30”. The point is make a plan for what this period of time (whilst having counselling) may look and sound like for your family.

Be OKAY with the not knowing. If your partner will only give you ‘ít’s alright aye’ and then moves on with their day, then take a breath and respect their choice and let it go. One strong response could be ‘fair enough, know I ask because I care about you, but if and when you do want to talk about stuff, just let me know and we’ll do just that’. Trust the process and trust your partner or family member.

Remember it’s not PERSONAL. Counselling should never be gossiping and an opportunity to have a real moan about your partner, family member or boss, it simply doesn’t go like that. Counselling will largely centre around whoever is in the room itself, not talking about folk that aren’t.

Ease up on yourself. It can be a heck of a rollercoaster and pretty draining being immersed in your partners reflections and ongoing processing. So, look after yourself too. Keep connecting with those you want to spend time with and doing those things that you love to do. Protect times where the deep and meaningfuls are off-limits. Only last night I was walking with my family on the beach, when I started talking about some work I needed to do the following day. My wife calmly turned to me and just said, “Be present” with a smile. First time I have had one of my own blog posts used to bump me back on point. it’s okay, if not essential that you can just say ‘not now’.

Reflective Listening.  Post a session there is usually a fair bit of momentum still going on and words and language used may be a bit different from what you are used to hearing. Reflective listening does two things affirms your partner that they have been heard, but also invites them to expand further if they want and feel able. Using the same words simply reflect it back.  I intentionally left the question marks off the response, you simply reflect what they may have said and if they expand further, then great, if they don’t then that’s okay too. Phil Dunphy from the Modern Family gives it a go.

Lastly, say what you see and hear. If you notice positive changes, no matter how small, let them know. We all need to hear at times that we are on track, and it also just as good for you to catch the good stuff and how it makes you feel.

These are just a few points to think about, if you can think of any more then let me know, even if they won’t work in an acronym :-).

Hope its helpful and at the very least prompts thought and discussion.

Parenting: Being Here Rather Than There.

Present parenting, not presently parenting. If you do a bit of googling on this topic you’ll find two main threads. Either, some direction around Mindfulness, yourself and the benefits this may bring to your parenting. Alternatively, the bulk of content relates to situations like the one in the image below, there in body alone.busy-parentsThis post is about authentic presence. Mindfulness, meditation, being present, whatever term you want to use; the power of switching off from ‘there’ and really being ‘here’ in any relationship, but specifically with your young one, is truly incredible and an invaluable practice to incorporate into our lives.

What prompts this post? well I’m a counsellor specialising in working with children and adolescents, and work with a lot of families. It also helps that I’m quite passionate about what I do. However, what prompts this post is my reflection of the weekend just gone, and my greatest passion, my family and being the best dad I can be.

This weekend we did a lot of cool things, and every one of them together as a family. I also did a lot of DIY, chores and a spot of work. We did coffee, saw friends and then did the beach. We did a lot of very cool stuff. Interestingly, I have pictures on my phone capturing most of the weekend, except up to one key moment. I got back from an early morning mountain bike ride and every part of me wanted to just hang out with my boy. I wasn’t just still running on a high after the epic trails, or even a sugar high after the fine vanilla slice (or two) I had on the way home. I really wanted to just be with my boy. When he returned home and bowled through the front door, he gave me a big hug and said ‘I love you a big bit, wanna play?’ Now, this isn’t a glowing public show of the constant magic moments we have. The reason its so relevant is because usually he loves mum a ‘big bit’ and dad a ‘little bit’. I get it, his mum is pretty awesome. We then sat and played submarines, fishing and built a cushion house with an epic viewing platform. I was happy and so was my son. Loving me a ‘big bit’ was so profound, as I believe he had connected with his dad being genuinely present way beyond just my physical presence. How, I noticed how his hair swept across his face, I noticed the green specks of play doh in his hair. I noticed the chirpy bounce in his words, and boy did I notice how awesomely blue his eyes are. I wasn’t doing play time, I was being truly present with my son, and man it felt incredible. I was truly experiencing the moment, so it didn’t quite occur to me to find my phone and take a picture.

I recently left a good job in the city on a salary to be proud of. I would leave for the ferry before he woke up and would just make it home to kiss him goodnight. One evening I returned home just in time. I heard him then say to his mum, “is daddy going back to work now”. He thought I merely popped home for dinner before going back to work! Soon after, I left this job to spend more time with my family. But with increased time, I realised a lot of it wasn’t quite as I had hoped and expected. I was reminded this weekend to not mistake quantity of time with quality of time.

So, what is present parenting. For me it isn’t celebrating that you take your kids for an ice cream whilst you keep the work calls or social media updates ticking over. That can be doing parenting and a a whole heap of missed opportunities. Present parenting is when you don’t even know where your phone is. It’s when you realise that reversing your pretend boat into the sea, using your pretend tractor makes perfect sense. It’s when you stop, breath, notice and then capture how your young one sticks their tongue out when they are really concentrating. It’s when you watch them sleep once they have reached that deep sleep, where they look so insanely peaceful and beautiful. piratesIt’s those times when you are so lost in the now that you realise how found you really are. Playing pirates, fishing, shops and story time, completely free of charge and exactly what they want and need. Better still, as parents it is the most powerful lift we can have whenever we want… even cheaper and stronger than coffee.

What can we do?

  1. Look after yourself. Mindfulness is best incorporated into your everyday life, rather than a stand alone parenting strategy for your tool kit. I am a big fan of the app Headspace. Short, sweet and achievable, so a good chance that you’ll stick with it. headspaceOtherwise, find the space, time and for 10 mins find a Mindfulness exercise that works for you and keep doing it. Ensure that you eat properly, sleep enough, and exercise. You may need to be creative to fit some of these things into your daily schedule.
  2. Give more attention and less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most powerful expression of love you can give.
  3. Practice mindful listening. Listen to your child as intently as if you were listening to a piece of music or the sounds of nature. Listen with a gentle attentiveness and respond as necessary. Listening to your child can be like a mindfulness meditation.
  4. Let your children teach you a thing or too. Our young ones are the absolute Yoda’s of being present. If you watch their imaginative play hard enough, you too will start kids-n-natureto look around questioning if they actually are building a boat with their talking dog. They can teach you how to see the magic in everything they come into contact with as if for the first time every time. The sea, the sky, a butterfly, long grass, paint. They are on to something, so watch and learn and give it a go for yourself.
  5. Observe your own behaviour as much as you observe your child’s behaviour. Acknowledge the salty bits and capture the sweet bits. When capturing the sweet bits take notice of how you feel and what it looked and sounded like, and better still what impact did this have on those around you.
  6. Pursue balance and healthy boundaries, when it comes to work and home. The emails will still be there in the morning.
  7. Give yourself a break. You don’t need to take things too seriously. If you made a mistake in your parenting, don’t beat yourself up– instead see if you can laugh or at least smile about it. You’re human after all, and so is your child.
  8. Turn off the noise. Check out the ‘Look Up’ YouTube video to keep you thinking. When it comes to your young ones don’t use artificial distractions. Escapism, excitement and exploring new things, begins with you.
  9. Live by routine.Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. Let everyone relax into the predictable flow of a healthy and secure life.
  10. Promote the small stuff. Reclaim those missed opportunities. Brushing teeth, laying the table, putting the sun cream on, doing their hair. It’s awesome, do it together and notice the awesomeness of the small stuff, because they do.

For all those parents out there, you will know only too well, you blink and they are gone, so grab hold of every opportunity with both arms and feet, and savor every moment.

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The Danger of a Label

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.

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The Starfish Story

When I left PE teaching to take up my first counsellor position I was given a gift by a friend and colleague. This gift still sits pride of place in my office as a bit of a nudge and visual pep talk and reminder. It was a starfish in a small flax bag, that also contained a short story. That short story is one about a child on a beach making a difference, one star fish at a time. This is an adapted version of the original by Loren Eiseley.

The Starfish Story 2

This story can be interpreted to put across many different messages. For many daunting tasks and ‘to do’s’ can be put to one side due to procrastination or fear. This simple story illustrates the need and importance to break the seemingly insurmountable down into manageable pieces, and move forward one step at a time.

In counsellor land this may be that such a safe and supportive environment is provided that a client is able to deconstruct the big picture thinking and expectations, into bite size pieces that can be explored without the clutter of the ‘static noise’. This brings clarity which can bring positive movement, as if we get lost in the static noise and own the confusion that it brings we tend to stay put.

What may seem small and insignificant to you can be monumental to others. What may seem too huge and impossible to you, becomes possible if you concentrate on putting just one foot in front of the other, rather than getting caught up in how far away the destination is.

When it comes to the value of reaching out and helping someone, that really depends on the motivation that drives it. I have had the absolute honour of coming into contact with the most passionate and generous ‘helpers’ I can imagine as possible. It is not what or even how much they give and do, but the genuineness behind the action. When we do something because it’s good and we want to, with the only intended benefit being for the people we do it for, then it becomes a real gift with a heck of an impact. Yes, if it then makes you feel good as a byproduct then that can only be mother natures way of saying ‘top job’. Perhaps not so much if you are doing it to make yourself feel good and helping others is a byproduct. I believe this is the difference between presenting a connection, to engaging in an authentic and positive connection with others. You sure as heck can feel the difference, and you can be pretty sure they do to.