Yes, I am still here. Still living, breathing and blogging. Just fell victim to a couple of very shocking weeks (interspersed with some lovely moments, but very few and far between).
This week I’ve barely been able to tolerate daylight, let alone the computer screen – migraine like I have not had in a long time since my medication includes migraine voodoo concoctions … but … amidst my Barry Crocker of a week the week before and the ensuing weekend I became a bit disoriented and missed a couple of doses of my meds, hence the hole in the firewall (just to mix some more metaphors). Yesterday I went to the GP to get a medical certificate for work and stopped at the shopping centre on the way home. Talk about sensory overload! My world had not yet totally stopped spinning so I had this strange spacey kind of sensation as I was walking, the noises were louder and more jarring, lights and colours still bright, smells still sharp. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough!
Work has been crazy and exhausting trying to manage the politics and dynamics within the office. Don’t get me wrong – I like my job. If only work could just be about going and doing your job and coming home again, what a relief it would be! But there are systems and other people that one has to navigate to do one’s job. Equipment that one and space one has to somehow get adequate access to do it. Preferably in a way that lets you stay well without creating more stress than is necessary – which is where the battle lies at present for me. At present it seems that I am destined to bang my head against a brick wall and progress nowhere and to endure life in the office that gets claimed by miscellaneous team members to serve as their staff room – while my office buddy and I are trying to work in it!!!
But alas! These are not healthy things to dwell upon. The goal is to work out how to attack and push through. I had thought that we had had a strategy for the work one, but it is back to the drawing board on that one next week as it looks like this is rapidly fading into embers.
At present I am struggling not to dwell on the difficulties of the last few weeks. I grew frustrated that my usual seasonal dip in mood was dragging on longer than usual, but didn’t really look beyond it for other triggers until much too late. Sitting down with a friend a couple of weeks ago to go over what had been happening clarified things a lot more for me. One of the reasons that I am so focussed on work issues over the past couple of weeks has come about because through sitting down and working through my usual triggers and warning signs with my friend revealed that my workplace is simply loaded with triggers. There is little wonder that I have been struggling to emerge from my usual brief decline and regathering of mood.
It’s so easy to forget to go back to the basics when one gets busy. I can sort of see why Mary Ellen Copeland, the woman who designed the WRAP suggested that going over triggers and warning signs should be something that someone should do daily to prevent relapse. I’m not sure that I would ever go to daily, but I do know that I need to be going over my WRAP a lot more frequently than I do. The whole point of knowing one’s triggers and warning signs is so that you can be alert to them. It’s one thing to know them – but so easy to miss them unless you’re really watching.
So – What do you do with the shockers? Do you beat yourself up over them? There’s no point in that. To me, it seems you need to do is stand back and detach a little. Stand in the moment. Not the future. Not the past. Just the moment. Examine – and for me, it helps if I can find someone to help me stay in perspective … at least to get me going – and learn. This helps me to see cause and effect relationships; it helps me to learn and relearn trip hazards; it helps me see things specifically rather than looming ghouls and it leaves room to remember that there were a couple of good moments in the last fortnight too.
From there I can start with a plan. If the plan needs adjusting, then so-be-it, but perhaps – just, perhaps … next week can be a bit better …
If you have a mental illness do you tell your boss?
Are you obliged to tell your boss? Why or why not?
With discrimination rife in society and difficulty getting friends and family to understand what you are going through, what are your greatest fears in the workplace? Or the study environment? Or wherever it is you spend most of your productive time?
Does your illness affect your ability to do your job at times? In what ways?
Does your boss know? Do any of your colleagues? What led to them finding out?
Whether you are studying or working always consider ahead of time whether you are prepared to disclose your illness. If your current position is non-disclosure, consider carefully any occasions which might arise which might make it more necessary and under what circumstances you may disclose if at all.
Disclosure is always best done in a planned manner. You should have some idea what you are going to say, how you want to say it and how you are going to explain its relevance to your work. If you need some adjustments to your work conditions or some time off, it is best for you to come to your boss with some options that you have considered and reasons for your request. You need your boss to understand that you wish to be healthy and productive as possible and are trusting them so that they are able to best support you to reach a goal that is in both of your best interests. A large proportion of ‘Western’ countries, including Australia, provide legislation to support your right to this.
When you plan what to disclose think in terms of how you are affected by your mental illness more than your diagnosis. You may, in fact decide to disclose only the effects of your illness and not your diagnosis, stating that you have “a condition that affects …”. You may identify symptoms or you may simply describe what it does to you and how that affects your work eg my condition means that I have less energy than I used to have. This means that I have to be careful how I plan my time and that I have to take holidays at regular intervals throughout the year to maintain stable health. I need to be careful to use my meal breaks and leave on time so that I don’t become over-tired. Or my condition means that I need to take medication. When I change medications, sometimes I am more sleepy than usual and over-sleep or become very drowsy in the afternoons. Sometimes my speech even gets slurred and I sound a little intoxicated. So if I’m changing medications I need to take a week off, otherwise I find that I’m coming to work late all week and I sound as though I’m tipsy for half the afternoon and I don’t get much done and am at risk of making faulty decisions or overlooking things because my head is all foggy – especially in the first few days. After that I will be fine at work again, but might over-sleep a couple of times in the 2-3 weeks afterwards while my body gets used to the new meds. It doesn’t happen very often. I’ve only needed to do it 2 or 3 times, but each time I’ve been glad that I did.
You do not need to disclose specify personal or medical information if you tell them about anything at all.
You should also think about when to disclose. That is – when you are applying for a job, before a job interview, during the interview, after you have been offered the job and before starting, during the time you are employed after you have worked there for a while, if you become unwell and need to or never. There are pros and cons of disclosing at each point of the way. Sometimes your circumstances will have presented you with little choice to prevent awkwardness – you may have become unwell at work and have it become obvious that something was wrong or you may have symptoms that you are aware will soon become obvious if arrangements aren’t made to cater for your needs. Again, despite prejudice and stigma in some places you have legal rights to have your needs and confidentiality met and protected within your workplace in most western countries. Further, in Australia at least, if you become unwell because the employer failed to attend to your needs having been made aware of them, you are entitled to compensation under work cover. It is however, worth serious consideration whether or not you are going to disclose because unfortunately discrimination does still happen and there are people who do fail to respect privacy and you never know where they are until you find them.
Some helpful things to consider at each stage of the employment continuum.
Prior to interview
Why you might …
You are able to to discuss the organisations policies and support resources when exploring the prospective position
You are able to get an idea about your employer’s predisposition to your needs from the word go.
If you have restrictions on any key job criteria due to temporary limitations because of recent relapse/graded hours return to work plans.
Examples of Why you might not …
Risk of discrimination influencing whether or not you get an interview.
No work related needs arising from your mental illness.
You don’t believe that they need to know/believe it irrelevant to job.
At the job interview
Why you might …
You are able to address people after creating a positive impression of yourself and demonstrating your capability.
You can gauge their understanding of your meaning and clarify appropriate questions about your needs.
You are able to discuss with the employer positive traits that you bring to the team that you have learned through your journey of recovery.
You are able to discuss your needs and what your potential employer would be able to accommodate or explore during the interview process.
You can brief them as to whether your referees are aware of your condition and how it affects your work and offer consent to discuss previous workplace arrangements with other employers if they have gone well.
Why you might not …
Risk of discrimination in job selection.
You don’t feel that you have needs that require accommodating or can manage them without support from your employer.
You might worry about where information gathered by panel members will go and whether people are trustworthy to maintain your privacy.
Concern that even if you get this job, opportunities for advancement could be limited by poor understanding of your illness.
You might be well and consider it unnecessary at this point in time.
You might not want to distract the panel from thinking about your abilities by talking about areas of need.
When contacted with an offer of employment
Why you might …
You are able to discuss your needs without risk of missing out on the job due to discrimination.
You can arrange to enter the work place with a plan in place that accommodates your employment needs and commence as you mean to continue.
If required and with your consent, the employer can arrange appropriate mental health sensitivity workshops for managers or staff by organisations such as Beyond Blue or circulate general anti-stigma/population health information among routine organisation circulars, yet not make it obvious that it was for your benefit.
Allow development of appropriate support and mentoring systems.
Why you might not …
Fear of stigma, gossip and/or discrimination.
Currently well and don’t feel that you are affected at work.
Work does not need to know.
Protection of positive image and opportunity for advancement.
During the course of your employment
Why you might …
You decide that your employer is trustworthy.
You become unwell.
You encounter difficulties or are not performing to standard because of symptoms or medication side effects and need to offer reasonable explanation or require support, alternate work arrangements or time off for medication reviews etc.
You are being harassed or bullied.
Why you might not …
It might not be necessary.
Protection of positive image and opportunities for advancement.
It might result in harassment and discrimination.
You are able to manage your needs without workplace support.
Why you might …
Protection from gossip and discrimination.
Protection of positive image and opportunity
Lack of necessity
Why you might not …
Difficult to prove entitlement to compensation in case of illness, relapse or deterioration due to failure of workplace to meet needs for psychological health if they were not disclosed.
Relapse or need for hospitalisation might put your job at risk.
Might discover a positive attitude to mental health issues within workplace.
Legal obligations under occupational health and safety act where specific work related tasks are affected resulting in serious risk issues.
What did I do about disclosure to my employer with my job?
For me it was simple. I told mine. I disclosed at interview. I felt that this was necessary because I had taken my previous job without learning to manage my mental health well and my references would have reflected that in the answers to some of the standard questions that interviewers ask referees no matter how careful the referees were. I chose to take control of this situation at the time of my interview because having reached interview I could present myself as a competent individual in person, demonstrate that I was healthy and create a positive impression before and whilst disclosing. I also needed to disclose because I wanted to work less hours than the position entailed and needed to offer a good explanation. I told them that I had depression, how it affected me in terms of energy levels, concentration, seasonal patterns, medication changes and how I managed these things to be able to work. I spoke of arrangements that I had previously made with my former employer that had been helpful and asked if they would be amenable to such strategies. I also used the opportunity to tell them things that I had learned and accomplished through the experience of working, the determination and dedication that it entailed and the commitment to my job that resulted so that I could achieve personal satisfaction through working. In my case this had a positive effect and outcome, although it doesn’t always. I don’t disclose before I have the chance at interview to sit down and talk with the employer so that I can get a gauge on how they are reading what I am telling them and to avoid preconceived assumptions about what I will be like that are difficult to shift. There are always risks associated with disclosure, but my reasoning is that if they are going to discriminate when I am well, I would rather not have to deal with them if I were to relapse.
When I am in the workplace I lay low for a while and watch what goes on around me. As long as they are not untrustworthy, I tell someone if they are closely and directly affected by my health so that they are not left in the dark if I have to take leave at short notice. That’s usually only one or two people. Often they are among the first to notice that I am off my game, so it can work in my favour because when someone who I work closely with starts asking if I’m okay and comments that I’m not myself before I notice anything, it gives me a cue to step back and check my early warning signs and triggers. Over the course of years there have been a couple of people who have learned how to pick my good and bad days at least as well as I do myself and also to support and accommodate me through the bad ones and to lean on me in return when I’m good. I’m pretty limited in what I disclose to start with, but with proof of worthiness comes more trust.
My current situation in my new workplace is new to me. I have always had employers who were fiercely protective of my privacy before. I have little in the way of evidence about my current manager, only the report of one other worker about two specific occasions of breached privacy. I have, however worked in a place where it has been possible to work with my information kept private and so I am prepared to stand for my rights in both privacy and in workplace accommodation now. If I expect the respect of others, there may be times that I need to stand up and remind them what it entails. This is however new to me and the workplace is one with strange dynamics.
Habits. My life is full of them. Good ones. Bad ones. Helpful ones. Ones that I have resolved to end a hundred times over, yet continue with. I have things that I do because I like to. Things that I do because I have to. Things that I do because that’s just what I’ve always done. Some I maintain consciously, some unconsciously; and some are maintained by failing to maintain others. Habits.
I spent yesterday afternoon pottering in the garden. Among my many little chores I spent lifted bulbs from some pots.
Now, I am very new to gardening. My once black thumbs are currently oscillating between a brown and occasionally get a very slight hint of green (until I forget to water the garden for a few days in a row). There is no science going on – it’s all experimentation … almost. I do occasionally look things up on the net. After I write this post I will be looking up what you do with bulbs after you lift them.
Which brings me to the some of the reflections that I had yesterday as I waxed poetical in my head and got very grotty at the same time.
I have never grown plants that were bulbs before. So this year was certainly an experiment. Some grew and some did not. I believe that I probably planted some upside down, but can’t confirm that. I probably over-watered some … they rotted in the soil. Others grew and didn’t bloom. I am not keeping bulbs of plants that did not bloom. Some grew and missed a few days water and got hot wind and died while others did quite well. Some even made it to bouquets for friends.
Yesterday came to the beginning of stage two of my experiment with bulbs. I went to the pots that held the plants that had bloomed that I had liked and decided to lift the bulbs. Not quite sure of the correct procedure I began to burrow. Now the first pot was not so difficult. They were tulips. The second pot I did just to get rid of the bulbs because I still wanted to keep the pot, but needed to get the bulbs out. They too, were easy to find. The daffodils gave me no trouble. And then I came to these other plants – whose name I do not recall – but the bulbs were in little nests that were distributed unevenly around the planter box and while the upper couple of bulbs in the nest were of reasonable size there were also bundles of little balls – I assume new bulbs – that would often fall free and needed fishing for. It took a lot of work to sift through this pot to lift the bulbs.
While I was doing this it struck me that If I were this thorough with everything, much of my life would be a lot simpler. I would not have forgotten to take my medication yesterday morning had I refilled my dosette box when I emptied it. I would not get weary looking at the mess in the kitchen as often if I were in the habit of cleaning up after myself as I went more regularly. I would be exercising regularly by now instead of simply planning to start within the next month. I would not grow weary from lack of sleep. In short, I would be more scrupulous about my habits. Certainly it’s laborious. Yet, there is a purpose to these habits the same as there is a purpose to my clearing the pot. I am seeking to be in the best of health so that I can get on with living and doing other things. Just as I was clearing the pot so that I could plant something new in it that would grow over the summer months. There is a purpose to maintaining habits that are mundane that is anything but.
The second reflection came to me while I was battling one-handed with my bush rose whilst watering it. I was attempting to remove the spent blooms – I’ve been taught to do that, but don’t do it regularly enough so there are lots at present. They’re all over the bush. Some of them were impossible to get to without doing battle with thorns while working one-handed. Others, within reach while able to be grasped and eventually detached, were not easy to remove. I also managed to get spiked by the tree regardless. Ouch. How different the bush rose was from the geraniums which simply slip off the plant with the slightest pull.
I am much more like the bush rose than the geranium when it comes to surrendering my bad habits. How much simpler life would be if when I noticed that I needed to change I were able to simply let go of the old ways like my geraniums. But, no. For me it is work. It requires effort and often shakes up the petals of some of the other flowers during the process. Occasionally, not just the dead rose came off with the pulling, but some of the good ones beside as well. I think my roses are very much like my habits. They grow without effort and bloom. Often they serve a good purpose, but then are no longer needed. Other times they just are. But when they are past their usefulness and deadweight, burdensome – they do need removing. Sometimes it can be done while I’m doing other maintenance like the watering, but I think that I am going to have to go out soon and pull them off myself deliberately. One at a time. Not a job that I see as stimulating, but to encourage the bush to be productive and to keep it looking healthy it needs to be done. Now I just need to take the same path with my troublesome habits and learn to tackle them one at a time and replace them with helpful ones.
Will I be as meticulous in dealing with my dead habits that are no longer blooming as I work at being with my flowers? Will I dig and sift as thoroughly as I looked for my bulbs when it comes to removing them?
Again I set my resolve to commit to tackle my environment and not let it get out of control (The kitchen, living area and study are cluttered again and the floors are past cleaning time). My dosette box should never be left empty – I used to be good with that. There are a number of other things that I need to sit down and map out.
Which plant holds the flowers that are hardest to remove in your garden? Just how carefully are you prepared to dig out your bulbs?
I think I still have black thumbs in the habit garden and it’s time to green up. What colour are your thumbs?
A while ago I spent some time blogging about how we can talk to people about Depression – or about mental health issues in general. But I left out a very important group of people. Kids.
How do you talk to kids about mental illness? How am I going to explain my Depression to the important children in my life? How do you explain it to those in your own? While people often worry about upsetting kids or frightening them by talking about mental illness – and I’m talking about the kids in your family or very close to you here; the facts indicate that most of the time children worry less about something if they understand it. Providing them with opportunities to talk and to find out what they think is happening is important. So is clearly and simply explaining what is actually happening in a way that they can understand.
But finding the right words to explain what needs to be said in kid language is a tough business. Plus, adults struggle to share their feelings. Again, accurate and age appropriate information are the best way to go – and this usually goes down best coming from a parent or another adult family member or close friend of the family.
So – how do you know when and how to do it?
If they ask questions about your or the other person’s health – this is a good opportunity. A number of resources suggest strategies like asking the child how they are feeling at the moment, if there has been an incident recently then perhaps ask them how they felt when such-and-such did this-or-that; or even if they thought you or the person were acting differently lately – depending on the age of the child. But whenever you do – pick a time and place where you’re all most likely to be comfortable and feel safe and where you won’t be interrupted.
It’s suggested that you explore the child’s understanding of what’s going on – not just accept their first reply because they could easily just repeat someone’s words without clearly them. Plus it’s important to know how they learned what they do know. Also, make sure that you’ve understood properly what they have told you.
Ask questions that are open – that is, they require the child to do more than say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Try to get them to say what they think in their own words.
Be ready to reassure them. They might feel awkward. They might feel distressed or disloyal or angry or be afraid of causing worry or getting into trouble. Make sure they know that this is okay.
Now when you come to the explaining part:
There are lots of good resources take a look through some of them to prepare yourself for the talk or use them with the child. (Please see links at end of post).
Keep some coloured pencils or pens and paper or some play dough handy. Something that you can use to illustrate what you are telling them about or that you can ask them to draw something to help illustrate a point or a feeling. You may also write down thoughts or questions or plans together later (or draw their understanding of things for you when you are exploring what they know).
Think about examples of illnesses that children are familiar with that could be helpful in your explanation eg asthma, diabetes, broken bones, colds, chicken pox (some will depend on what they or their friends/family have had). Be specific in the comparison that you make eg asthma and depression both have triggers and physical signs even though they happen in parts of the body, both can seem to come out of nowhere … ; it is not like a cold because you can’t ‘catch’ it.
Or a common example is to compare the body to a car with different parts – different things work together to make the whole car work, but if something goes wrong then it can make the whole car run badly or not start. In the case of Depression … (a good example of such an explanation can be found in Talking to Children and Young People )
The big ideas to communicate no matter what are:
Mental illness is nobody’s fault
It’s not YOUR (the kid’s) fault
It doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t love you or care about you anymore
It is not your responsibility to make the person better.
You can’t “catch” it
Just because someone else in your family has it doesn’t mean you’ll get it
It happens to lots of people, in lots of families – not just this person
The person won’t be like this all the time
There are treatments like medicine and people to go to for special conversations and doctors who know about this illness
It’s not just about the person thinking or feeling differently. What is happening to the chemicals in their brain is different.
Here is a summary of an outline that I found about how to explain Depression to a child in an Australian COPMI program booklet.
Children can sometimes understand the impact of your illness more easily than they can its cause. This means that it may be best to describe what the depression does to you rather than what depression is.
So you might tell them that Depression can cause:
no energy (making it harder to play)
difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much (making it harder to get out of bed or keeping you up late at night)
crying a lot (sometimes when there is no apparent reason)
losing or gaining weight (because you don’t feel like eating or you eat too much)
not enjoying the things that you used to (means that sport or dancing or cooking or whatever it is doesn’t make you smile anymore)
make you tired and cranky (can make you get grumpy at the children for no real reason)
What does your depression make you do?
Depression is an illness. It’s like having a cold or having asthma except it affects your brain. Your brain controls the things you feel, think and do.
Everybody feels sad sometimes.
Everybody thinks bad things sometimes.
Everybody has things that they wish they could do, but can’t.
What makes your/this child(ren) sad?
What sort of things do they think about?
What do they wish they could do but can’t?
When someone has the illness called Depression, they can feel sad for a long time and not know how to feel better.
Depression can stop people being able to do things that they used to do and enjoy.
I hope that this gives you some ideas for some starting off points. Seriously – do take the time to check out some of these links. The first three have really informative and detailed guidelines in them. The resource lists include children’s storybooks, links and all kinds of things and the other links have some wonderful things in them too.
I have found some other FANTASTIC resources for parents, siblings, extended family and close friends of children who have parents (or family members) with a mental illness. Even one about babies for those with bubs or planning pregnancy. There are more out there just waiting to be discovered.
COPMI stands for Children Of Parents with a Mental Illness. It’s Australia’s national project over this area.
I do. Mine haunts me. I can never seem to beat it.
There are the odd occasions when I do really well against it and I win. It feels great. I could walk on air.
Sometimes they last for a short stretch of time – a few days, a week – two if I’m lucky. I could fly.
it all comes
And it’s not just me who is affected.
It’s not a small thing with small consequences.
What happens, you ask?
Okay I’ll ‘fess up.
I don’t wake up. Or if I do – I drop right off back to sleep before I can haul by backside out of bed.
Then I am late for anything that I have on for the day – visits, appointments, ….work.
And we’re talking regularly 30 – 40 mins late during the mid spring and autumn – and every now and then it’s a couple of hours. It affects other people when that happens – workers, patients … if I don’t get my work done it slows down the process of referrals going through, information getting to people in hospital and their treating teams for planning, people going home. It means groups can’t run or other people have to cover me. I nearly lost my last job over it. Even when well I’m often 10 – 20 mins behind my start time. I survive because I start before my boss and I always work back – but I can’t keep it up.
And it doesn’t seem to matter what time I ‘m supposed to start – I’ve adjusted starting times. It’s simply the process of getting out of bed and waking up in the morning.
Once I’m up, my sensory routines are helpful. I’ve started to experiment with some mindfulness exercises when I get time – which help a lot. But actually waking up and getting out of bed is jolly hard work.
The other thing that happens to me is that I lose time in the mornings. I do. Even when I’ve gotten up on time and have been running on time something happens – I space out in the shower or getting myself a drink and meds and time just vanishes.
I started a new experiment earlier this week that I think holds promise for the latter issue – I’ve started using a mindfulness breathing meditation exercise as soon as I get up that goes for about 10 mins to raise my level of alertness. If it keeps working at keeping me focused, I’ll be writing about that in a couple of weeks. But for it to work – I need to get up in time to have time to do it. It doesn’t need to be earlier – because I’ve worked out that I do everything else more efficiently when I do it. But I need to get up.
At present I use two alarm clocks set 5 mins apart – one to arouse my attention if I am in deep sleep so that by the time the second goes off I won’t sleep through it even if I sleep through the first. Part of me wonders whether it’s worth investing in a bed vibrating alarm clock – they make them for deaf people. It might be uncomfortable enough to help me move out of bed more easily. Has anybody ever used one?
I know the rules – go to bed early and get up and the same time every day. I’m awfully undisciplined at doing that.
Take your meds at the same time every day. I tend to get lazy and just take them on the way to bed – which admittedly is probably half of the problem. There are some very sleepy meds among my cocktail.
Every day is a new day with no mistakes in it – yet. Thank you, Anne Shirley – but other people remember and I need to work out the best way to deal with their memories and keep myself focused on the present so that I don’t drown in fright.
So here it is. My arch-enemy. The alarm clock. That moment in time that I’m supposed to get up. To get moving. To get started with the day.
Please – anybody with your own ghouls – what helps you haul yourself out of bed every morning?
The black dog had been pulling at the lead all week.
My work satchel was dragging down on my shoulder.
I was walking towards Woollies to buy the makings for dinner.
Then I saw it.
The massage therapy place in the shopping centre.
It was clean.
It was respectable.
It was affordable … with minor adjustments
And it was THERE!
And in only a moment so was I.
“Do you have an opening?”
There was an opening.
What did I want?
“Upper back, shoulders & head please.”
Back, shoulders and head I got.
I went in with my muscles aching, my shoulders set like concrete and my neck so tight that I’d not been able to comfortably look over my shoulder in days.
I came out uncrimped and able to move.
I happened to be lucky last week. I had a little money that I’d not budgeted on having. I couldn’t always just do that. Besides, I’m not usually the type to let someone I don’t know give me a massage. (Seriously, if you’d heard me coming on Thursday you’d have gotten out the DW40 ready to get rid of the creaky noises when I arrived)
The problem is, however – I have trouble getting a massage at all. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me – but when I say “massage” around my family and friends, they all turn around and say, “yes please!”
Yep, you’ve got it. I’m the one who grew up with the sooky Dad. The one that played sport too hard too far into his 40’s and 50’s and then moaned about the aches and pains all week. I was trained to massage my father’s legs when I was six or seven … and I am not exaggerating. There is no need.
My brother, who had once helped, grew callous and demanded payment at some stage, but I was still too gullible to get out of it – or figured it was easier to put in 5-10 mins of back or head massage than to listen to him grovel until he gave up. In the end I got to be not too bad at it and when I hit Uni and somebody taught me anatomy, I actually became quite good. Now, this was all fine and dandy for the family and the friends – but it did bugger all for me.
I’ve tried to interest some of them in learning, but do you think I’ve had any success?
The thing is – it’s not that hard to give a passable shoulder massage that will make someone very happy that you took a few moments out of your day to share it. There are only a few basic principles that you need to follow – and these are consistent pretty much anywhere you massage.
Apply pressure in long, slow, firm strokes.
Start light and increase pressure slowly over time.
If you’re worried about whether you’re working your strokes to quickly – slow them down, just keep your pressure even.
Except with specific muscle groups, plan to work the muscle along the grain of the muscle fibres ie the direction that the muscle goes.
Work from the surface muscles toward the deeper ones.
Always stay away from the spine, throat and other sensitive areas.
If it causes pain – stop.
Here is a rough picture of some of the muscles of the back:
If I were looking to spend five or ten minutes just helping someone to unwind, I might start by finding the bony landmarks on the person’s back and think about where the muscles are in relation to those bones. The spine is usually visible down the centre of a person’s neck and back. The easiest way to locate the shoulder-blade is to start at the tip of the shoulder and to trace it around with your fingers. Notice that the shoulder-blade has two bony borders along the top. This is because it’s not shaped only like the 2 dimensional triangle that you see in drawings, it has another edge – a bit like a fin (but not quite).
So, say a person is sitting in front of me – here I start by running my hands straight up the back to the neck one after the other, avoiding the spine and moving from the centre to the edge – first on one side, then the other.
I then follow this by focusing on the muscles coloured red and green on the left hand side of the illustration – initially the red Trapezius muscle which is large and often carries a lot of tension. I would massage predominantly in the direction of the arrows – in upward strokes along the muscle fibres.
After these muscles have been freed up a bit and feel less tense, then I might move my attention to the deeper muscles. If the muscles are not freeing, I would turn my attention to the blue muscle – Latissimus Dorsi. A person’s lat’s are large and often carry a lot of tension also, so you may need to break up some of this to get anywhere with the Trapezius. When working the Lats, I use a wide surface of my hand or forearm with long firm, upward and oblique strokes and then smooth them down and go back to the Traps again.
By now the person’s muscles are warmed up, so they are also tolerating firmer pressure as I target deeper muscles and the upper muscles are relaxed enough so that the pressure reaches them. The principles for the muscles of the deeper layer muscles are pretty much the same as the ones I use for the upper layer ones. The only exception is that I will often spend some time after warming up the Rhomboids (pink) working them across the grain of the muscle (ie across the muscle fibres, not along them because the Rhomboids get really, really stiff sometimes and need help to free up).
The other muscle to have a good look at that people love having worked is the Levator Scapulae. Again, just work it up the grain of the muscle fibres. It’s also helpful to just press on it at about the base of the neck for a few seconds or so. Also working the muscle inside the triangle at the top of the scapula is easier once the muscles are warmed up.
But if the deeper muscles look too confusing, don’t worry – even if all you do is loosen up the upper layer of the person’s back – most people will thank you.
What part of your hand you use is up to you – I often knead with the flat edge of my thumb while I rest the heel of my hand on the person’s back. I might sometimes use the heel of my hand to massage. Depending on the person and how long I have been massaging for I may gently use my knuckle. You can also use your forearm.
None of the stuff I’ve shared today is particularly scientific or text-book. Simply hands-on learning. But I think that people being able to help each other break up muscle tension is worthwhile. So is nurturing.
When it comes to massage, all I can say is that lots of people like a treat. See if anything that I have learned adds anything to what you know – and please … you’re welcome to share your tips with me.
I don’t know about you, but I was very sceptical about relaxation exercises for a long time. I would always think back to school days when guidance counsellors would take us through guided imagery sequences featuring a calm blue ocean or some such scenic place and tell us how we relaxed we were while the class clown made farting noises, his followers giggled, the teachers reacted and everyone else just rolled their eyes and waited for the session to finish. At other times, attempting to relax has been more stressful than relaxing because the facilitator just wasn’t on the same wavelength as me. I find it annoying when that happens.
It took a long time to realise that relaxation was a skill that required practice. It has taken longer still to discover that there are many different types of relaxation exercises that you can do. Recently while looking for a site for someone, I found one that had a variety of sound tracks for relaxation exercises ( http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/index.html ). I decided that I would sample all of the relaxation exercises on this site to see what I thought of each of them – to give each a chance. Today, I’d like to share with you a little about the exercises that I did and my thoughts on each.
I thought that these were very useful. Each of them was effective, and they were particularly effective when used in series. The educators recommended that for those with anxiety disorders, your levels of anxiety will reduce by doing breathing exercises regularly as maintenance – and I can believe this given the difference that it made in the amount of tension in my body.
For those who do not have anxiety – like me … I did my mood diary scoring after I did relaxation exercises and my scores were significantly higher than they had been on any of the recent days leading up to these times. I have been experimenting recently with http://www.moodscope.com which is a computer based system – so I was not simply giving myself a better score out of 10.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a favourite of mine. It essentially involves tightening a group of muscles, holding them tight and noticing the tightness, then releasing the tension entirely and noticing the absence of muscle tension. You then systematically work through to the next group of muscles and do the same thing.
I will usually start with my toes, progress to the soles of my feet and calves, the upper foot and shins, my thighs, my butt, then my hands, wrists and arms, elbows and biceps then shoulders; then I go back to my trunk and tighten and release my abdomen, then lower back, upper back, chest, shoulders (again), front of neck, back of neck, tilt neck left then right, then I work through my face so my forehead, nose, cheeks, mouth, jaw and tongue (pressed against the roof of my mouth). Then I finish by either breathing exercises for a while or by standing and shaking out my arms and legs and stretching. But that’s me and that takes anything from 10 to 20 mins depending on how many repetitions you do of each muscle group. Sometimes for really tight groups, I’ll repeat the actions a couple of times eg shoulders.
The progressive muscle relaxation sequence on the All About Depression site goes for 8mins40sec and is nice and efficient while still covering what needs to be covered (http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/pmr/pmr1QT.html ). I found it satisfying and was pleased with the result at the end of the session.
I need to be frank here and admit that I am not someone who is a great fan of guided imagery sequences. I find someone else’s descriptions of a place that they think should be relaxing for me to be kind of distracting. I’d much rather be left to breathe or if there needs to be an image, then I’ve done sequences where the person guiding the sequence has left room for the person relaxing to select a place they like and guided by asking questions like “what can you see?”, “What can you smell?”, “Look around you and explore the colours.” I found that kind of guided imagery more engaging.
I came to this exercise expecting it to be grossly annoying and to loathe it. It was actually one of my favourites. I’m not sure whether it was because of the sequencing of the exercise, or the conscious repetition of phrases (I repeated most of them in my head because I found that doing it out loud made it difficult to breathe deeply and evenly), but this exercise really worked for me. I want to go back and learn the phrases and the sequence to use at any time. http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/phrases/phrases1QT.html
Mindfulness Oriented Relaxation Exercises
Mindfulness is about being ‘just in the moment’. In this context, the relaxation exercise is about focusing oneself on relaxing just into the moment. A lot of the rationale for this is that a lot of distress occurs surrounding things that have already happened or have not happened yet and that sometimes the sadness, anxiety, pain or negative feelings are easier to bear in the immediate moment if we are not contemplating past or future at that point in time.
This is one of my favourite relaxation exercises. It starts out with breathing, then gradually asks you to notice things with your other senses, in particular where your body has contact with other surfaces, the feel of your clothes and the sense of the weight of your arms and legs as you’re supported by your chair (in my case) or where ever you are resting. I loved the sensation of my clothes on my skin as I was breathing – I was wearing a particularly soft shirt the day that I did the exercise for review. A definite must in my books (http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/mindfulness/mm21QT.html ) although regulars will know that I’m a fan of mindfulness as a strategy in general.
Mindfulness with Guided Imagery
Remember what I wrote earlier about guided imagery? Well it’s no less true where the imagery is attached to mindfulness strategies. That said – in the first exercise Sending Thoughts Away on Clouds (http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/mindfulness/mm31QT.html ) I found the clouds a great way to dismiss unwanted or intrusive thoughts – the idea being that where a thought that was a distraction from the scene or your breathing came into your consciousness, you were to send it away on a cloud. I could picture this as though just blowing the thought away. Sending Thoughts Away on Leaves (http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/mindfulness/mm41QT.html ) didn’t feel as natural, although it kind of worked. In this guided image I was taken to a clear forest stream to enjoy it.
The final image was quite different in what it did with distracting thoughts. In this the idea was to be Sorting Into Boxes (http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/mindfulness/mm51QT.html ) thoughts that intruded, the boxes being one for thoughts, one for emotions and one for sensations eg aches and itches. This was more bizarre to start with and I found myself distracted by the boxes – but after a while I settled down and just focused on my breathing again and that helped. For a while however, I think I was almost inventing itches and filing the thought ‘this is stupid’ over and over again. Once I went back to breathing and visualisation the boxes became background scenery – a bit like a picnic basket when you’re not actually eating. I can imagine this being helpful though if you were being flooded by intruding thoughts and feelings – you could just label them without processing them and put them to the side by the rules of the exercise without it being an intrusion on what you’re supposed to be doing – which is staying in the moment, just breathing and picturing a scene.
MY TOP 3
My favourite three out of these audio tracks in no particular order would have to be:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Why not take the time to try a few? What were your favourites?
An area that is starting to grow in mental health is an intervention called Sensory Modulation. It is used in a number of different ways and some people use it only in part. Some people may have come across ‘grounding techniques’ and ‘self-soothing techniques’. There is a cross-over between Sensory Modulation and distraction as a technique to deal with difficulties. It is a sub-branch within the world of Mindfulness and involves use of activity and engagement of the senses for therapeutic purposes. It is a big area for Occupational Therapists, Diversional Therapists and is starting to feature in Nursing literature, particularly for use in hospitals to try to find ways to reduce people’s levels of distress without having to resort to extra medication and seclusion. Studies are showing promising results.
Despite the way that we usually talk about five senses, we have actually have seven senses. We are used to thinking of our senses in terms of taste, touch, sight, smell and sound. However there are two more that we very rarely talk about.
The first of these is called proprioception. Proprioception is communication between your muscles and your brain. This is how your brain knows what your muscles are doing – when they are stretching, flexing and where your body is in space. It is proprioception that enables you to match the position of one arm to the position of the other with your eyes shut.
The second is a vestibular sensation. This is what gives us our sense of balance and the sense that we are moving in space like when we are in a car. It is also the sensation that gives us the feeling of dizziness and nausea when it is out of kilter.
Some people also differentiate between deep touch and light touch when working with the senses because your body often responds differently to the different types of touch. Think of the difference between being massaged and being tickled.
What is Sensory Modulation & how does it work?
Sensory Modulation involves using different types of activity or stimuli to calm or alert one or more of the seven senses. This in turn can feed into the way that a person is feeling or reacting to a situation, a stressor or the environment. So if feeling anxious and having anxious thoughts churning over through ones head someone might choose to do something that they know will engage the senses in a soothing way for them eg using a rocking chair, listening to music that they like that has a tempo of approx 60 beats per min whilst being mindful of the sensations; or they may choose to ground and/or distract themselves with something that alerts the senses and redirects their attention, perhaps using the tension in their muscles by going for a run or walk, again engaging awareness of the movement of the muscle groups and the engagement of the senses with the environment around.
Essentially, you take control of your senses and use them to serve your advantage.
Mindfulness & the Senses
Some of the ways that you can use your senses with mindfulness include:
Grounding techniques are active techniques to help you to orient and focus on the present and to distract or self-soothe when you’re feeling distressed. When you are feeling ‘out of sync’ they can help emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. If you know what you respond to best – you can even be prepared for times of crisis or for prevention if you are feeling triggered.
Some activities that people use to help ground themselves include
A hot or cold shower
Eating hot balls or sour balls, chilli, lemon – alerting tastes
Using a balance ball
Wearing weighted item eg back pack, ankle weights
Petting dog or cat
Warm or cold flannel to the face and neck
playing with a stress ball
Holding or chewing ice
Jumping rope or doing star jumps
Running or walking
clenching and unclenching muscles (isometric exercises)
playing drums or other musical instruments
Rocking in a rocking chair
Listening to music
Other activities that can be used for self-soothing or for orienting and alerting oneself capitalise on the calming and alerting features of the stimuli. Some examples of these include:
Calming Sensations Alerting Sensations
Hot shower/bath Cold or cool shower/bath
Holding/petting a pet Holding ice in hand or to face
Warmth of fireplace Being in a cool room
Wrapping in a heavy blanket Wrapping in cool bed sheets
Soft materials/textures Rough or prickly materials/fabrics
Rocking in a rocking chair A bumpy car ride
Swinging on a swing Spinning on a swing
Slow rhythmic motions Fast and/or jerky movements
soft/low lighting Bright or flashing lights
Decaf herbal teas Drinking coffee
Chewing gum Biting into an icy-pole
Chewy or crunchy foods/ lollies Sour or hot foods/ lollies
What to do with these activities – A bigger picture
The idea then is to consider the primary areas of difficulty that you encounter. Do you
Struggle with negative thoughts
feel triggered by something …?
Think about a) things that you can use to alert or distract yourself;
b) things that you can use to do to calm or comfort yourself;
c) things that you can do to help improve the moment; (something you enjoy, a treat, something to make you feel better)
Often you may need to do all three in that order – but not always. Regulating your reaction, however, may be more than a single step process.
What senses do you respond to most strongly?
Different people are more responsive to different senses. Some people love touch. Others squirm. Some love movement. Others enjoy scents. We’re all wired differently. How do you think you are ‘wired’? What are your preferred senses for comforting and alerting yourself?
Think about what kind of movement you enjoy (eg exercise, rocking chair, doodling, shopping, cleaning, theme park rides, skating, building, sports activities)
What kind of Touch & Temperature do you like (eg massage, sitting by fire, shower/bath, knitting, sunshine/shade, lotions, playing instruments, art, fiddling with things, doing your hair, heavy blankets/quilts)
What kind of auditory/listening stimuli you like (eg silence, running water, music, rain, relaxation soundtracks, wind chimes, theatre, a purring cat, people talking)?
What kind of visual stimuli you like to look at (eg scenery, photos, lava lamp, movies, window shopping, reading, fish in a tank, art)?
What kind of scents do you like or respond to (eg scented candles and oils, coffee, perfumes and aftershaves, flowers, fruit, herbal tea, fabric after being hung out to dry, chopped wood, forests)?
Think also about what kind of gustatory, tastes and chewing sensations you respond to (eg chewing gum, crunchy food, sour food, sucking a thickshake through a straw, yawning, deep breathing, listerine, blowing bubbles, hot balls, drinking coffee or hot chocolate, fizzy drinks, sucking a lollypop)
Making a Plan
When you have thought about the types of activities that you respond to. Make a note of half a dozen things that you think would be most helpful when you are distressed.
Why not set aside a place or a kit where you have some if not all of those things ready to go and on hand when and if you need them?
Knowing how your senses work can help you tap into them better for relaxation, recreation and for giving yourself a jolt if you need one. I have found ideas from studying this stuff that are great for my recreation, rest as well as helping me when I am worked up or struggling to focus. I hope that it’s useful to you also.
If you are interested in more information, information about making a sensory kit or a questionnaire about your sensory profile, please leave me a message in the comments and I will get something back to you.
(Credit to a lot of the lists goes to a combination of published resources that I have referred to, some of which have no author attached, majority of examples listed resourced from Tina Champaign’s website)
I live with a black dog. It follows me everywhere. My philosophy now is that I need to plan for its needs when I plan for my own. I also need time out and restful places to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine on my shoulders.