livingwithablackdog

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Send in the Senses 23/10/2011

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.

The Senses

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

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
  • Breathing exercises
  • Yoga
  • Using a balance ball
  • Cleaning
  • Yard work
  • 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
  • Aromatherapy
  • Moving furniture
  • Holding or chewing ice
  • Jumping rope or doing star jumps
  • Stretching
  • Running or walking
  • Lifting weights
  • Push-ups
  • clenching and unclenching muscles (isometric exercises)
  • playing drums or other musical instruments
  • Pottery
  • Rocking in a rocking chair
  • Dancing
  • Listening to music
  • Waxing
  • Journaling

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

Massage/Deep pressure touch                                                      Light touch

Isometric(the muscles don’t move) exercises/yoga              Aerobic exercise

Leisure walks                                                                                         Power walks

Dusting powder/powder puff over your body                        Rubber band wrist snapping

Slow/rhythmic music                                                                        Fast paced/upbeat music

Calming sounds of nature eg ocean                                             Alerting sounds of nature eg birds

Humming/singing quietly                                                               Humming/singing loudly

Soothing scents (oils/lotions/candles)                                     Strong scents (oils/lotions/candles)

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

  • get overwhelmed
  • get voices
  • Get angry
  • Get anxious
  • Depressed
  • Struggle with negative thoughts
  • Feel disconnected
  • 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 gustatorytastes 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)

 

Hair Raising Therapy

I had only two posts for this weekend.

I had finished and scheduled them by Thursday.

My parents have come to visit – so I didn’t think I’d have time to blog.

But here’s the thing …

I’m too interested in the things I blog about to leave it alone.

I’ve enjoyed sharing some of my early experiences of Mindfulness.  I hope that some people have found it valuable and that it has helped some to grasp a little more clearly the concepts behind it.

Being present in the moment, self-aware and able to be aware of your environment or choose to filter what you attend to.  Being able to focus your attention, your thoughts and meditate on or observe things.  To be deliberate in all of this.

It is a refreshing experience and helpful for many things from distraction to relaxation, to stress management and through to managing early warning signs and symptoms.  If you’ve not had the chance to learn it, I would highly recommend it.  It is a more concrete skill than it sounds at times.

I have had fun today.  I enjoyed having my 5 and 3/4 year-old niece do my hair for me this morning (one must not leave out the three-quarters!).  When I got home (after driving for a quite a distance and stopping to get out of the car and fill up with petrol) I believe that I pulled 7 elastics and 2 clips out of my not-so-very-long hair (ie it had bunches sticking out in all directions).

I don’t think that she believed that I was really going to leave it all in until I actually left.

Playing hairdressers with one’s niece is a lot like a dare.  She knew I looked silly, and didn’t really think I’d leave her handiwork in – but wanted to see if I would.

What she doesn’t know is the kind of things I did to my own hair for the hell of it when I was in my teens and went out with still in just because I was bored.

My niece is good therapy for me.  When I am with her I forget to be anything but open to what she wants to do (except if it involves running too far or something against the rules).  I lose most of my inhibitions and allow myself to play like a kid again.  She lets me enjoy the moment in her company for just that little while – and while I am with her I feel whole.

She is my favourite anti-depressant.

What’s yours?

 

Mindfulness of the October Factor 22/10/2011

One of the factors that I have spoken of recently that has affected my mental state is the change of season.  I become more vulnerable to symptoms of Depression and need to be careful not to be taken captive by them and dragged back under the control of the black dog as he strains upon the lead.  October this year has been fraught with tension as the dog hauls away at the lead while I wrestle endlessly to bring him to heel and keep him there.  While each time he strains, I have brought him back – it takes a lot out of me and he knows it as he waits impatiently at heel for the next opportunity to pull away.  I have had a tiring month.

How do I know when things are starting to get too much?

One of the things that I have decided to work on is paying closer attention to the cues that my body gives.  It’s very easy not to be aware of these until I have a nasty headache, my shoulders ache, my muscles are all sore, I have a noticeably palpitating heart rate that makes my chest feel hollow and heavy or I feel exhausted.

I commented in my last post in closing about Mindfulness that one of the areas that I need to work on is that of noticing what is happening in the moment.  This is what I am working on at the moment.  To start with – to notice the cues that my body is giving me.  For instance, when is there a change in the level of tension at key points in my body like my neck, shoulders and jaw?  Am I breathing deep, medium or shallow breaths, what kind of rate am I breathing at?  Am I aching anywhere?  What is my heart rate like?

Now I don’t do this as a checklist and step through it or try to determine these things in a specific way.  What I am learning to do is to try to do what is called – in Mindfulness language – a ‘body scan’ at regular intervals.

What does a body scan involve?

Essentially all I do is start out by observing my breathing until I am into the mindset of observe – not control.  I then move my attention to my heart and notice and feel the rhythm of my heart beating inside me and the sensations that arise from that and enjoy that for a little bit.  From there, I start by noticing the feel of the clothes on my skin, the shoes on my feet if I’m wearing any and then move my attention to my muscles.  To scan my muscle I start by placing my attention on my toes of one foot and paying attention to them, noticing any tension or pain or other sensation, acknowledging it and – if it is tension, consciously releasing it from the muscles by either picturing it draining away or stretching and/or wiggling them.  I then do the same for the other foot and move on to the next section of my leg and do the same thing. And doing this throughout I might move through the body in a pattern something like:

  • Toes
  • Feet
  • Lower legs
  • Thighs
  • Butt
  • Abdomen
  • Lower back
  • Upper back
  • Shoulders
  • Chest
  • Upper arms
  • Lower arms and wrists
  • Hands
  • Fingers
  • Head
  • Forehead
  • Eyes
  • Nose
  • Cheeks
  • Mouth
  • Jaw
  • Tongue
  • Neck
  • Shoulders

I figure that since the shoulders bunch up so easily, it doesn’t hurt to check them again.  It doesn’t really matter what order you do it in though, nor how big or small the groups you break them up into are to a certain extent.

After scanning and relaxing all of the muscle groups, I then observe my breathing again for a moment or three before drawing my attention back to what is in front of me to do.  It doesn’t take very long, and with practice it should take perhaps a minute – maybe less.  If I try to do it when the little ‘beep’ goes on my watch on the hour (when I hear it), I should get lots of practice and stay well on top of these cues.

The goal is to be able to notice the tension before it becomes problematic and to be able to question whether I am becoming stressed before I get there.  A lot of people who do this regularly swear by it.  I guess it’s a bit like paying attention to when there is tension growing on the dog’s lead when walking a dog.  As it grows, it cues us in to the idea that the dog is growing more likely to want to get away from us.  Thus it is living with my black dog.  I must be wary of tension.

So – here’s to my next excursion into the world of mindfulness.  Noticing physiological changes and discomfort and either accepting them or letting them go without blame for their getting there.

Here’s to the next step into managing my Depression.  Noticing the cues that early warning signs are present so that I can act.  Perhaps October will improve from here on in.

Heel, Dog.  Heel.  I’m onto you.

 

A Mindful Journey 21/10/2011

One of the therapeutic approaches that I use to help manage my Depression that regular readers will have come across previously when reading my blog is Mindfulness.  Among other things it is helpful for dealing with thoughts, coping with stressors and managing physiological symptoms.  It has been used to help people manage symptoms of a range of mental health issues including Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, psychotic illnesses, Personality Disorders and Eating Disorders.

My first experiences were vague explanations by people who I worked with about being present in the moment and awareness.  These are true and make a lot of sense now – but Mindfulness made the most sense to me after my first experiments with it with my Clinical Psychologist when I was, myself, in therapy.  The experience itself made an enormous difference to my understanding and appreciation of the discipline.  For this reason, I thought that I’d share with you some of my experiences with the use of Mindfulness.

The first exercise

My introduction to mindfulness included eating a mandarin.  The exercise involved taking the time to notice all of the sensations that were involved.  The scent of the fruit, the feel of the skin, the firmness of the mandarin before it was peeled, the colour, the weight, the sensation of peeling the mandarin.  I was to notice the texture of the inside outside of the skin and then the feel of the fruit without the skin on, the look of the fruit with its segments and the white stringy bits, the juice.  While eating it I noticed not just the flavour, but the texture in my mouth and the sensation of swallowing.  I paid attention to the sticky juice on my fingers and the sweet smell that it left on my skin before I washed my hands.  The idea was to be fully in the moment and to engage and experience all of the senses.  To be mindfully – deliberately into eating that mandarin.

The breathing exercises

After learning about the need to experience the full extent of whatever I was doing, I did some breathing exercises with my Psychologist.  The idea was not to control the breath, but to observe it – pay attention to the movement of my muscles, the sensation of the air in my body, the sounds of the breath and to concentrate my focus on that.  If I was distracted, I would just think to myself “oh, I’m distracted” – or whatever – and return my attention to the breathing.  It was hard not to start controlling the breathing – but relaxing.  It took focus, but was refreshing and left me alert.

My homework was to practice this and I also had an exercise where I was to start out with the breathing exercises and then imagine the breath that I was inhaling circulating all the way to my toes and paying attention to my toes and then following my breath as I exhaled.  From here attention moved, with my breathing, progressively from the toes to the feet, up the legs, along the other leg and then through my body and my hands, my head and back to just focusing on my lungs.  If you have ever done progressive muscle relaxation, the process is similar – however this was more to do with gradually moving awareness through the body.  Again, the instructions were to allow yourself to just dismiss distraction and go back to the exercise at hand.  I also felt more self-aware and awake after the exercise.  That one lasted about 15 mins.

The Wii game

There is a game on Wii Fit where you have to sit really still.  The graphic on the screen is of a candle and from time to time you get annoying things like a fly or mozzie and footsteps and so forth that come to distract you.  But you need to sit upright and still on the balance board for 2 mins to win the game.

I have found that this is a great exercise for my Mindfulness skills.  I sit in an alert and comfortable posture.  I focus on my breathing and I use my skills that dismiss distractions by acknowledging that they are there and accepting it to deal with the insects and so forth.  I can sit for the whole 2 minutes using my Mindfulness skills!

The fly

A while ago I was staining a piece of furniture.  I needed one hand to hold the tin of wood stain.  I was using an elbow and shoulder to stabilise myself in the most awkward position ever (!!).  The other hand was occupied with cloth working the stain into the grain of the wood.  And there was a fly buzzing in my face throughout.

Now, the same way that you consciously turn all of your senses, you may choose not to do so with some – so I am not focusing upon the fumes.  But again, with the discipline to focus on the here and now and what I want and is important, I can also notice and dismiss what I don’t want.  The fumes.  More particularly in this instance, the fly that just wouldn’t go away.  Rather than let it get me irritated and waste all that energy, the practice allowed me to focus on my work and when the fly was distracting just acknowledge “There’s that fly again.  That buzzing is loud.  I wish it would go away.”  Yes I would blow at it to try to discourage it – but no, I managed to deal with the fly without it driving me mad.  I considered this to be an achievement!

The job interview

I had a job interview at the other end of town.  I had a horrible time getting there.  There was more traffic than I anticipated, I think the tail end of a blockage after there had been a prang.  Plus I had been pushing the clock harder than I had wanted to be to start with.  The end result was that I was late to my job interview.

Bad news.

I was so flustered by the time that I got there that I couldn’t think.  My mind was pumping in circles.  They handed me the interview question for my preparation and all I could do was think,

“How am I going to pull together to do this?”

So I stopped myself.  And before I even looked at the questions I took 2 minutes out of my prep time to do my breathing exercises.  I then gradually brought myself back into awareness of the room around me and focused on the task at hand.  I was alert.  I was focused on the task and I was calm.  I had also put myself into a position that I could acknowledge that the situation was less than ideal and just accept it to focus on what I could do something about.  I could have compassion on myself for finding myself in an embarrassing situation, yet function within it and set myself to do my best in the here and now.  I prepped my questions briefly in what time I had left although I didn’t have time for much depth and then did the interview – again thinking clearly, because I was able to focus on the here and now.

In the end I think the fact that I pulled myself together worked in my favour.  I was offered the job, but turned it down.  Mindfulness got me through the job interview but it would not get me over the travelling time in peak hour traffic any quicker.

The terrible, no good, very bad day

Then there was the day that nothing went right.  Well it seemed like it.  I slept through my alarm.  Right through.  Things went wrong at home after I got up.  The trip in was slow.  I was very, very, very late for work.  Lunch time late.  I missed several appointments and was flustered about what was left of the day.  I had no idea how I was going to finish the day or face anyone.  After freaking out when I finally got to work, I finally stopped and thought, “I know better than this.”

So I paused.  I took a deep breath in and let it out, focused my attention and started observing my breathing.  I then started to pay attention to the feel of the pressure of the chair that I was sitting in and the sounds around me – not listening, just noticing – the clock, various voices, footsteps; I paid attention to the feel of the clothes on my skin and then turned my attention to my muscles and which ones were tense.  I relaxed my shoulders and my jaw and went back to my breathing and did a short version of the breathing exercise where I imagined my breath reaching every part of my body and then just focused on how it felt to breathe for a couple of moments.

After this I allowed myself to think about what I should do next.  I had to accept that I was late and that I’d missed morning appointments and that because of that my afternoon wasn’t going to work as well as I had planned.  But I could now, thinking in the moment accept that just as it was and act in a manner that was compassionate toward myself, rather than sit there blaming myself for things that I might or might not have done.  It was okay that I was a bit frazzled, that was understandable – so I just needed to plan for that too.  From there I was able to return to the moment and begin the rest of my day, planning things out and actually achieved a reasonable amount – something I wouldn’t have done in the state of mind I had been in when I arrived.

The road so far …

It has taken a while to learn some of the basics of Mindfulness and get used to putting them into practice, but the journey has been infinitely worthwhile.  I still have a long way to go.  I’m not good at meditation –  I tend to be more utilitarian in my use of it.  I still need to remind myself to start and could prevent some situations by starting earlier.  However, it helps me to focus and to be able to be where I am, doing what I need to or want to be doing at the moment of time that I’m at.  My next step in the journey is to become better at noticing things about myself in the moment.  I think that this would prevent a lot of difficult situations and to help me to monitor my early warning signs.

 

Five things to be Grateful for 19/10/2011

I was reading from a collection of blogs not long ago about becoming mindful of gratitude and how positive this is for your health and well-being.  Now I’m not a big one for karma or positive and negative energies or things like this – but with gratitude this is true.  It has you thinking positively about things and when you reflect upon what it is you are thankful for there is a physiological response.  Your body reacts to gratitude too.  So helpful are the effects of your gratitude on your mind and your body upon you that experts beyond religious and philosophical teachers are now convinced that time spent meditating upon those things that you are grateful for and allowing yourself to reflect upon your gratitude is enormously worthwhile.

Now meditation does not have to involve any special costume, or ceremony.  Simply a place where you can sit in peace for a few minutes in an alert posture and reflect in a focused way.  If you find your thoughts straying – that’s okay too – all you do is bring them back to focus.  If sitting doesn’t work for you try a slow walk or standing – but the goal is that you can be alert and not distracted from thought.

To begin with thinking of things they’re grateful for might – to some – feel a bit like Pollyanna’s ‘Glad game’.  But it becomes easier if you are not used to it and will feel less of a reach with practice.  To others it’s a bit hard to focus oneself on a manageable amount of things to meditate on instead of just churning out a list – either out of a genuine or obliged sense of gratitude.  But the point is to reflect on them also.  If you need something to help you limit your choices – pick a theme for a day and work with 5 things within that theme.

And so on that note:

5 Things that I am grateful for today:

1.  My family.  I have a really helpful and supportive family and even though they live all over the place we are in constant contact and any one of them would drop everything if they thought one needed the other.  There is trust amongst us and love and fun and we like each other.  That’s pretty awesome.  My family has seen me through some pretty tough times and I’m extremely grateful for that.  It’s not something they expect anything in return for.  It’s just family to them.  I have a lot to be grateful for in my family.

2.  Faith.  I have a faith that is new every morning and even though I don’t deserve it I have confidence that there will be peace for me in the end in heaven with God because of Jesus.  Even in my darkest hours when I doubt myself I can believe this.  For this I am grateful.

3.  Sunshine.  Today is gorgeous.  The sky is beautiful and blue and the sun is bathing my yard all lovely and warm – getting ready for the summer to come.  It’s been raining for a lot of the week so with the sun out my flowers are blooming and looking spectacular.  When I go outside it will feel beautiful against my skin too.  There is so much life sustained and nurtured by the sun.  It always puts a life on my mood.  I am thankful for a beautiful day.

4.  Work.  I have a job to go to.  After the last 12 months I wasn’t sure that I would.  I actually enjoy working.  Sure there are parts of my job that I don’t like – but I like the job most of the time.  I like to go and earn my own keep.  I am grateful that I am able to work in a job that I enjoy and earn the money that I need.  I like working with people.  I am thankful for the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives and also for the things that I learn from them.

5.  You – my readers.  You keep me thinking and looking into what I think about things.  I am grateful to you for keeping me on my toes and exploring what is out there for people with depression around the globe.  You remind me that I am lucky to live in a country where the government subsidises health care heavily and the standard of education of most of our health workers is good – as is the access to ongoing education.  (Not saying that it’s not elsewhere – but grateful that it is here).  I am grateful for the interested or curious minds that keep turning up to read what I have to say.  You remind me that we can never get too comfortable in what we know and that we should always keep searching to understand more.  You, by reading hold me to account to my opinions and knowledge.  Because of you, I take my own advice and my health improves as well.  This is something to be grateful for.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Todays post was inspired by a post that I found by Katherine http://inspiredeverymoment.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/growing-through-gratitude/

 

Just One Moment … 14/10/2011

The alarm clock rings.

Perhaps.

I drool.  I roll.

The dog opens an eyelid.

I haven’t moved yet.

The dog opens another.

I am snoring lightly.

His head lifts.

Tilts.

He listens.

I am breathing.

Not that he cares.

The dog rises on his haunches – quietly – all the while waiting for me to stir.

The song changes on the clock radio.

The dog waits.

But I don’t move …

… and slowly, slowly he rises to his legs and creeps out of the room.

The black dog roams free in the house.

And I sleep on.

Eventually, much later I wake.

I look at the clock.

%##@@

And then I see the empty patch on the floor …

and I know that something worse seems to be afoot.  I haven’t just slept through an alarm this morning.

The dog is at large in the house.

I fall back on the bed and close my eyes in dread.

What awaits me?

How awful will this become?

Can I face it again?

I pull the covers up over my head and try to snuggle back down to sleep.

It’s not really happening.

But I can’t do that anymore.

I’m not the same person that I was last time I found myself like this.

Bloody Dog!

Now I have to go and clean up this mess.

The mess.  Can I face the mess?

Sooner or later I have to.  I’m really just putting it off lying here in dread and imagining.

He’s only been loose a little while.  How bad can it be?

Bad.  It’s been bad quickly before.

Come on.  This is getting us nowhere – time to move.

So eventually.  Eventually.  Eventually – I do.

I was right.

He’s been everywhere.

But unlike before, I can catch him and rein him in reasonably quickly.

Sure, this leaves me tired.  But not defeated.

There are muddy prints where the dog has been – but all they are are the traces of his lies upon my consciousness.  I can clean those.

Tonight the dog is back on his leash.

Tonight is evidence of what gains I have made with the help of my psychologist in learning to be conscious of my thoughts, emotions, my actions and how my body is responding to situations and to be deliberate in how I respond to this.  Tonight I remember how these things used to crush me.  How encouragement was drowned out by self-derision.

Today my dog got off the lead.  Today I caught him again.

Yes, it made a mess of my morning.

Yes, it upset me.

But today, I could hear encouragement when it was offered by someone supportive.

Today Mindfulness skills allowed me to feel and experience the emotions of the moment and yet use the CBT strategies that I have learned to right my perspective and reorient my day so that I could finish it feeling like I had accomplished something useful.

Today, the dog has finished his day at heel.

 

When the Mallee Bull’s Away … 24/08/2011

In recent years I have developed a fierce respect for my health.  Not only my mental health – but my physical health.  Whereas before I had little patience for the times when I was sick, there are times now when I fear it.  When I am sick I just use more sick days at work – which raises more questions and more suspicion: “what is really going on?”.  I feel disgusting.  I break all of my carefully laid down routines and maintenance plans.  I have to take more tablets. And all too often it drags on for too long thanks to poor immunity and a system that’s already struggling with every day and brings me – if not to relapse, then certainly to the brink.

When I am sick, the dog often thinks he is allowed to play.

It makes sense.  There is less energy to be on top of my game with my thinking, so if I’m not ultra careful I do forget to reality test my thoughts.  I get lazy and don’t practice mindfulness.  My appetite is lacking, so unless there is someone else cooking for me and serving up nutritious food, I’m not eating well.  I’m exhausted and sleeping all the time and not maintaining my routine.  I’m too sick to exercise.  My medication is going in – but that’s about the only maintenance activity that is actually happening – and if I have a gastro bug even that gets out of kilter.

Short term bugs aren’t so bad.  A day or two and I get back on top of my game without too many problems.  No, the one that I hate most of all is surprising to some people.  The thing I dread most is the common cold.  It drags on forever.  It saps my energy.  It robs me of the desire to prepare decent food, to look after the house, to keep much of a routine.  Sound like anything else you know?  I live in fear that the head cold will go to my chest and then I will finish up coughing for weeks on end which leads to fear of aggravation of an old back injury – and so my thoughts become dominated by dismal and negative themes and the black dog leaves his rightful position at heel and begins to circle again.  Thus it is that I find that a cold, if I can’t get rid of it quickly can be a trigger for relapse.

So – what do I do?  I stay rested.  I eat well.  I have my flu shots – which I know some find controversial – and that there are also people who are not convinced that this helps, but as a health worker I find that it has left me less vulnerable and in Australia health workers get them for free.  I wash my hands regularly and use hand disinfectant.  I dress to the climate.  I’ve given up rain walks in cold weather.  Some people use vitamins, but to be honest I couldn’t face taking any more pills and don’t want to spend the money and would rather just eat the vegetables.  I try to avoid spending a lot of time with people who are sick.  If you look back a couple of posts to ‘Beyond Medicine‘, you will find that these are the things that will keep you physically healthy as well as mentally healthy.  If you want to keep the bugs at bay these are the things you go to.  Some I have already mentioned, but lifestyle habits and strategies that reduce stress are also important.  Support is important.  Hope is important.  Sunshine is important.  Recognising the early warning signs and triggers of physical illness is important.  Our mental health and physical health are inextricably linked.

If I get a cold, I do start taking cold and flu tablets early when I get symptoms of a cold – particularly at night, and I use airway clearing aromatherapy oil before I go to sleep so that I can breathe clearly.  I also sleep propped up slightly.  Usually these things stop the cold from getting to my chest.  Usually.

This year has gone well so far.  I’ve stayed mentally well enough while I’ve been sick that I’ve still been able to use my mindfulness and cognitive behavioural techniques to keep the dog in line, so he hasn’t really challenged – even when some of the other important stuff has fallen by the wayside.  It’s still going to involve work to get the rest back in place, but hopefully not as much as usual.  So just for the moment while I get a bit better…

Sit, Dog… Sit.

 

 
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