Space for Sadness in the Sunshine

Have you ever felt sad in the summer? Seen your deep-down grief juxtaposed against a sunny sky and wondered What’s wrong with me?

When the weather is lovely and everyone’s off on holiday, it can be hard to process and honour our painful feelings. Sometimes, it’s even difficult to get beyond the idea that we “should” be feeling fabulous, on the beach, in the middle of August. For some of us, though, our emotional range and intensity (our ability to experience intense joy and sorrow, and a million other things) are some of our greatest assets. And they don’t always take the summer off.

Giving ourselves permission to feel whatever we’re feeling is a gift. Human bodies, minds, and lives don’t often follow the exact same rhythms. We are all so different from one another! Yet, because of the way our society and economy are set up, summer sadness seems to trigger a special kind of loneliness. It can feel like being set apart from everyone—like being lost at sea while everyone else relaxes on the shore. If we can stop feeling bad about feeling bad, perhaps it would be easier to see what our emotional turbulence can teach us about ourselves and the world.

Get cozy with your strong emotions

A while ago, I shared Elizabeth’s wonderful post Grieving Every Day. As someone for whom sadness is a recurring presence in her life, Elizabeth tries to incorporate honoring these feelings into each day. I admire how she’s sought to build up her relationship with these feelings, learning to coexist with them and understand their value:

Some pain is personal and individual and recognising individual pain and its cause can be very important. But some pain might be universal and this kind of pain may need a different approach. Overall I believe we need to rethink our relationship with pain and sadness and not see them as villains to be conquered or avoided.

If we intimately know our grief, it’s less likely to throw us off, even if it shows up unexpectedly.

Sadness is not necessarily random

For some of us, summer is an especially difficult time. If you have experienced a trauma in your past, strong emotions may be triggered by certain holidays, kinds of weather, or seasonal activities. These can be really subtle, and we may not even see the connections between our surroundings and our emotions at first.

Physiological responses to light and temperature can also affect our moods, especially if we’re highly sensitive to environmental stimuli to begin with. You might be familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is commonly thought of as a kind of “winter blues,” but about a tenth of people with SAD actually experience it in the summer. Having a hard time with the warm summer months is pretty normal. It doesn’t make you no fun, and it doesn’t mean you’re broken.

How are you feeling today?

How has summer been for you this year? Are you sad to see it go, or relieved that autumn will soon be here? What patterns can you see in the way your heart moves through the year?

 

The Unexpected Gifts of Being Sad

Going “right through the centre of yourself”

This is Rilke’s description of the movement of sadness, in Letters to A Young Poet. I like this definition of being touched: being a conduit for feelings rather than a reservoir for them or a victim of them. It makes me think about whether perhaps we are built to process emotions. It is possible for feelings to pass through the centre of us without damaging us, just as it is possible for emotional experiences to hurt us in deep and lasting ways.

Understanding the architecture of your centre allows you to know what your capacities are.

Knowing ourselves, we know how much we can take. This is particularly important for HSP, as our sensitivity can make our capacities and strengths different from other people’s. When it feels safe, allowing ourselves to be deeply touched by emotion can be a way to move toward growth and change.

Our sadnesses [ . . . ] are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Whilst sadness can spark a change in us, so too can change make us feel sad.

This is part of the reason transitions can be so difficult, even if we’re leaving behind something that no longer serves us or moving on to something exciting. Whether we are intentional and resolute or we feel that we’re being torn from our comfort zone, we are often thrown off kilter when things shift.

All change is a kind of loss, isn’t it? And this loss is not only external. Change can make us feel as if we’re losing a part of ourselves or turning away from a path we expected to travel in our lives.

Moments of loss and sorrow create important spaces within us.

We can experience grave and overwhelming sadness when we lose something important to us—sometimes when we just think about how that loss might feel in the future—and loss can take many forms, from cancelled plans for coffee, to being laid off, to an illness that changes our abilities temporarily or permanently.

But it also seems that we can experience the sadness that comes with change as a  vital kind of loss, as a feeling of being emptied out and ready for something new to enter. A feeling of being “empty” may mean that there is  a space in our heart whose purpose remains undefined. For the new. Or perhaps even that a new space is formed, awakening us to our wholeness.

What if a feeling of sadness indicates a need for reflection, silence and stillness? How can we figure out what the spaces left inside us are for?

Sadness and grief aren’t moments, but processes. Fighting the passing of sadness, circling round in the unpleasant feeling, can be more challenging than taking space and silence, and letting it pass through. We each go through the process of feeling differently.

We cannot avoid sadness. If we understand our individual process, accepting the fact that we are deeply touched both by sorrow and joy, Highly Sensitive People can live in our intensity in ways that serve us, making choices based on our individual desires and boundaries.

Sadness too passes: the new thing in us, the added thing, has entered into our heart, has gone into its inmost chamber and is not even there any more, — is already in our blood. And we do not learn what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing has happened, and yet we have changed, as a house changes into which a guest has entered.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

I wonder what we might gain by welcoming sadness and joy as they move through us, in all their transformative potential?

P.S. If you’ve found the quotes in this post interesting, you might like to have a look at the rest of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to A Young Poet here.

 

Loneliness

“The truth is you already know what it’s like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.”

― David Foster WallaceOblivion

A while ago I felt really lonely, or perhaps more accurately I feared the loneliness sure to exist in the future. I thought long and hard about how to defend from it, and a couple of things struck me:

It is unavoidable, we are all alone inside ourselves.Loneliness

If you experience this sort of loneliness, it is not because you have failed, it is because you are human.

If you are self aware and made of the deep then I think you are likely to feel this more acutely. Firstly, because you feel things in an intense way. Secondly, if the things which are essential to you are left locked away it leaves you feeling deeply unconnected: feeling somehow wrong, somehow failing. Jung said that:

“Loneliness does not come from having no people around, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”

Loneliness gnaws at the inside and is an unavoidable.

And yet …

…there can be rich, beautiful moments where time melts away and you feel deeply connected to another person. It’s the best thing I know of. It’s why I do the work I do. This deep connection; the sweet pain and beauty of it is all about being vulnerable. To be with someone, to feel really alive you have to risk being totally alone. To experience joy, you have to risk some pain, some sadness. You can’t have just one side of the coin: nothing is so thin that it only has one side; especially not something as expansive as life.

For me, the amazing part of feeling deeply, even the bad stuff, is that the pain of an experience seems to scour out a space inside of me to feel it ALL more. The positive of this is that in times of encounter I can feel the beauty of connection so deeply it leaves me breathless, acutely aware of being really alive and so incredibly grateful to be in this moment, with this person.

If this really connects with you then I urge you to get in contact with me. Counselling can be an amazing and safe place to take those risks for the very first time, when you feel ready.

We all need a nest

This cartoon, is kind of funny, but made me have a wee tear in my eye. It captures something of deep acceptance, which can be deeply moving. It’s the essential part of person-centred counselling, of love, of a healing relationship.

Tips on travel for the Highly Sensitive Person

TravelKitThis time when I travelled I did some thinking and research about what could help those of us who are highly sensitive travel a little easier. I find holidays a curious combination of recovery and pressure. The combination of the shoulds of time away – BE RELAXED and HAVE LOTS OF FUN combined with a lack of sleep, the furious way I try and get everything ‘sorted’ before I leave plus possibly a new culture to absorb. Well, it can be a bit overwhelming. Sometimes I float above all that, and after some rest I then can have some fun, especially when I’m with people who understand and love me.

But for me to have a good holiday it is essential to respect my need for solitude, rest and understanding. Taking time out and being assertive might be a crucial part of that, and you can read more about that here…. BUT ALSO I found some stuff helps too! So here are some of the cool things I found help, so hopefully they might be helpful to you too.

1. It’s a really cooling water bottle. When the transport is a sweaty affair, my sensitivity helps me to really appreciate the contrast. Sometimes sensitivity means I appreciate things which others might not even notice. Cold, lemony water travelling down is just lovely to me.

2. Melatonin – sleep is essential to us all, but lack of sleep to an already sensitive system can be a path to overwhelm. If jet lag is a possibility consider a remedy such as melatonin.

3. Snacks – if you are already receiving lots of sensory information putting your body under the stress of hunger isn’t going to go too well. High protein, whole grain, nuts or seeds or fresh fruit is may be the best for a body which is probably sensitive to stimulants and processed sugary foods. I often opt for an easy bounce ball and oatcakes stashed in my bag.

4. Travel Sickness Tablets – I’m sensitive. Pretty much everything about me is. Of course this means even moving fast makes me sick. Travel sickness tablets are great.

5. Ear Plugs – The sensitive person’s best friend (y’know apart from you know the deep relationships you have) I think has to be ear plugs. I think the silicon ones are best. I missed it off the picture, but an eye mask can be really handy too.

6. Earphones to listen to…

7. Phone (used for music/podcasts/apps) … one of the following suggestions:

– Music which makes your heart sing

– Nature sounds, there are many apps out there. There are some which have white and brown noise, forest/ bird song, the noise of a washing machine or gongs.

– Favourite podcasts – you’re a deep thinker – use the travelling time to do what you are best at, thinking about the meaning of life. My favourites are: Tara Brach, Philosophy Bites, Radio Lab and Sheep Dressed like Wolves (a Uk based HSP podcast).

8. Big Scarf – A lovely small blanket or scarf, to cosy under, or to sprinke with a fragrance you are partial to. I know the smell of things others don’t even notice can leave me turning green. I can bury my head in this and survive.

9. Lavender Oil – I sprinkle my scarf in Lavender oil. It’s a better smell then the weird gaseous fragrance that are emitted by fellow travellers and the microwaves on trains cooking whole weird burger and bun combos. Ugh.

10. Obviously I missed off a book. A good book.

Travel well. Look after yourself. Try and have an ok holiday (the pressure of a great holiday can sometimes be too much).

Michelle x

How to sleep better and feel more rested

Apparently I was an insomniac. I actually didn’t realise, because for as long as I could remember I’d slept this way. It would usually take me two hours to fall to sleep. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, and every morning I’d wake up feeling pretty knackered. Sometimes I’d only get a couple of hours of sleep.

Realising that I was an insomniac was quite helpful.  I decided to research how I could support myself to sleep better – and here’s what I found out.

I hope that what I learnt can also help you to sleep better and feel more rested.

  1. The body is a creature of routine. It likes to trust you to get it into and out of bed, at the same time every day. If sometimes you’re unable to do this, your body will forgive you, but its needs need to be respected. 
  1. Sleep goes through a number of phases, and one of these very important phases is deep sleep. I have always described myself a ‘light sleeper’, which simply meant I wasn’t great at falling into a deep sleep quickly.  You can train your body to fall into a deeper sleep more quickly, and it’s not that hard to do. This is how you do it: go to bed half an hour later and get up half an hour later. Simple. Yes, you will feel sleepy at first, but then you will train your body to fall more quickly into a deep sleep.
  1. Doing anything other than sleeping in your bed (although intimacy is allowed) does not help you to sleep. I know there are people who read in bed and fall to sleep, but they do not have an issue with sleeping. If you find falling or staying asleep difficult then try not to read, watch tv or check your phone. This is because your body will begin to associate the bed and sleeping time with a whole host of stimulating activities, which will not help.
  1. Dedicate your bedroom to sleeping alone – do not use the room for other activities if you can help it.
  1. An hour before bed do not look at anything with a blue light screen i.e. computer, mobile phone, tablet – as there is evidence that it stops you from sleeping.
  1. Exercise helps you sleep, so try and do gentle exercise – even if you are tired – a few times a week. A walk around the block or going for a swim, will all help you get into the habit of sleeping better.
  1. Get out of bed when you wake up, do not lie there feeling tired, pressing the snooze button. I know you will be tired, but lying there will make it harder to sleep well, as you will associate bed with lying in bed awake. Get up and sit on the sofa if you are tired.
  1. At the point you cannot sleep there are a number of things I have found helpful:
    • Remember that tomorrow you will feel tired, and despite that not being ideal, you will just be tired and you have survived being tired before.
    • If your mind is racing, try and be aware of your thoughts, but choose not to follow their trail. For example, if you are thinking about a meeting the next day, say in your mind, in a slow voice, “just now I am thinking about my meeting” then the cupboard you meant to tidy out pops into your mind, “now I am thinking about that cupboard I needed to tidy it out”. Make sure your minds voice stays slow, even insert in a yawn here and there. Repeat until sleep.

I do hope these tips help you enjoy improved sleep and feel more rested. Most of the information was gained from this book, if you want to read more.

If you are finding it hard to sleep because of anxiety, then sometimes getting the rest we need can be really difficult. If the tips above don’t work, it’s not because you have failed, simply that life can be really hard at times. And sometimes that’s when counselling might be of help.

If you have any tips that work for you, please comment and share your experience below.

Surviving Christmas

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for many of us. The image of a happy family and friends enjoying time together over the festive period can make lots of us feel lost, unhappy and anxiSurviving christmasous; because perhaps this image doesn’t match your experience at all.

If you’re spending Christmas with your family this year and you find this difficult, try to be kind to yourself if you can. Families can be a place where you can feel unsafe or just struggle to hold onto any compassion you have for yourself. Elizabeth Gilbert talks here about how our ‘buttons’ can be pressed so easily by our family, because it’s often our families who had a hand in installing them. It can be painful to experience this yet again – the feeling that you aren’t accepted by those people you most wanted acceptance from.

If this is the case for you, try to work out how you can take some time out, whether that’s going out for a walk or run on your own, going to bed early and using that time to write and connect with how you are feeling; basically, if you can, come up with a plan to get some time for yourself, however that might work for you.

There are a few important tips you might like to think about or try to help you to survive the Christmas period. They include boundary setting, having realistic expectations of yourself and others and making time for things that are important to you: you can read more about this here.

Christmas can be a lonely time too. Whether this is because you’re on your own, or surrounded by people who don’t seem to understand you; the ache for belonging can feel particularly acute. Loneliness can be hard to bear, a deeply painful and fearful experience.

Loneliness is a complicated thing too, one aspect of which can come from our experience of relationships growing up and the way in which we survived these relationships. As adults, these methods of surviving may not be helping when developing close relationships – in fact, they might be keeping us isolated.

This is where counselling can help, by helping you to value and understand your ability to survive difficult relationships, then choose (when feels safe and appropriate) to live differently. The other aspect I spoke about here; the human experience of never being able to share everything that goes on inside of us with others.

Part of my reason for writing this post is that I want to say to those who feel lonely, anxious or sad at Christmas; this is painful, it really is, you are not bad for feeling this way. I want you to know that your experience can be understood and you are here in your life because of all that you’ve survived. So try to be kind to yourself at this time of year, if you can.

If you need to talk to someone soon do contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org
If you’d like to explore counselling with me in the new year please get in contact – together we can begin to explore relationships and your experience of life so far.

Take good care. Michelle x

Inexpensive Self Care in Edinburgh

Self Care in EdinburghI wanted to simply share a few ideas of things you can do in the Edinburgh area to give yourself a bit of space, a bit of peace. Of course it totally depends on what you’re into, but if you are sensitive, you might be craving some time out. I encourage clients during our counselling sessions to find ways to value who they are, and often self care can be part of that.

I find that setting aside time for myself helps me to feel more grounded, feel valued when I’m finding it a struggle to value myself and gives me the space to reflect. Could you include a few minutes, an hour, a day doing something that you need right now? It can help.

Before you fall into doing something: think, is this really what you want to do right now? If you’re going to do something good for yourself, own up to it, and celebrate that time. For example, rather than almost sneakily watching that box set, celebrate that time alone: make some popcorn, get a take away, bring the duvet with you; whatever you can do to make a mini event of it. It’s about treating yourself as you would a treasured friend.

So here are a few ideas to get you started.
(As a disclaimer – please note I don’t endorse or guarantee anything about any of these places. You might like them, you might now. I do hope you find something you enjoy though.)

At home

Allow yourself that time alone, whether it’s watching your favourite tv show, or listening to music. Value that time, and make it special (see above)

Take a soothing epsom salts bath – it’s said to have numerous health benefits

Allow yourself to lie on the floor, and listen to the sounds around, observe your breathing, notice the sensation of the floor taking your weight. Spend about 3 or so minutes here.

Take 30 minutes out to create something to express how you are feeling just now.

Write about how things are for you now, check here for guidance on reflective journaling

Nature

There’s loads of research out there which links improved mental health with your contact with nature. Here’s a few ideas to connect with nature in the city:

Take a flask of tea or coffee and climb to the top of a favourite hill, be it Arthur’s Seat, Carlton Hill or Blackford Hill. Drink in the view and keep yourself toasty with your hot drink.

Sit beneath a tree in the meadows or your favourite park, if the weather suits. For these chilly months buy or bring a hot drink. My favourite is a cardamom hot chocolate from Peter’s Yard on a bench in the Meadows on a chilly day.

Indoors

On a rainy day there are some beautiful spaces to simply be in, perhaps take your sketch book or write something about how you are.

Good spaces I have found are: the atrium in the National Museum of Scotland (big, grand space), the open spaces in the Portrait Gallery (there are seats and space and art) or perhaps the big airy space of a cathedral (if religious spaces feel ok or helpful for you).

Spend time in front of two pieces of art from any of the vast collections and galleries in Edinburgh.

Portobello Turkish Baths – are a treat (if you like being very hot, followed by very cold) for your body. An inexpensive spa day.

I do understand that there can be times where to decide to care for yourself can feel too hard; but it may help, even just a little. You are worth the effort, you really are.

I’d love to hear what you do as self care. Please post your ideas below, and feel free to share this post with others who may find it useful.