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.

‘Being with’ your feelings

A thing that I often encourage (but don’t push) clients to try is to feel how they are actually feeling. The thing about feelings is that the more you try to ignore them, the more they begin to swell, so eventually they become overwhelming. It’s the same with all feelings, not just anxiety, and well, I could definitely not say it better myself….

Counselling the feeling away...

Today

This is a really short blog post about the impact my clients have on me. Today I have really been struck by the beauty of my clients, in their struggle to be kind, real and true to themselves. And whilst I often feel this, today it’s taught me about how to be be kind to myself in my own struggles. I am so grateful of what my clients share with me. And today, seeing the beauty in others, has helped me to re-find it in myself.

Happiness & the existentialists view

The existentialists view of happiness centres on the idea of pursuit and purpose as activity. Happiness is about the progression towards a goal, about living, not about achieving that goal. The idea of ‘once I have x I will be happy’ existentially speaking, misses the whole point of living. Yet we seemingly programmed to chase what we want, because like a greyhound, without the rabbit we wouldn’t run, and without running we would have no purpose. The only true goal of life, according to Freud is death. This makes sense in terms of an existentialist standpoint because we choose our purpose, there is no preordained purpose for living, but the only thing we can be sure of is our march towards death, the only certainty.

I am often aware of this when I’m really frustrated at all the clothes to be washed. I’ve just done all this washing and it’s piling up AGAIN. Living dirties these clothes, living piles up the stuff to do. “When will it end?” I say to myself; “when you are dead” I answer. I am working to get all this stuff done, and it will only be done when I am gone. My husband does the washing now.

How do you know if it’s working?

Therapy can be really hard, isn’t quick and often clients may wonder ‘how will I know if it’s working?’. It’s really important to find the right counsellor for you, someone who can make you feel comfortable enough and you feel ‘gets’ you. There’s a great blog post here about how to review the progress and various other factors about how to know if counselling is working for you. Feel free to come and see me to work out if counselling with me is the best thing for you right now.

What’s it like?

Some of my clients will have never been to therapy before and, for some, it can be scary stuff: the first time they intend to share the feelings that troubles them. Relieving for others because they’ve decided, right now, they need some support and having made the decision and they’ve taken the first step.

For each of my clients there’ll be a whole host of feelings about meeting me for the first time, and I am aware of this and what a big step it can be. I feel a little nervous too because I want to make the first session a welcoming space where clients feel comfortable and are safe enough to talk, at their pace and be upfront about what therapy with me might be like.

So I want to share a little of what might happen during an initial session. I’ll meet you downstairs and we’ll walk up quite a few stairs to my office. We might talk a little about how it feels to come to therapy and hopefully you’ll begin to get a sense for me. I will let you know about my contract, confidentiality and then probably ask you about what has brought you here.

This is where I invite you to talk about whatever you’d like to, and how much you share is in your hands, just what you feel comfortable sharing with me. I will try to understand what it may have been like to be you, perhaps offering my feelings in relation to your situation.

I’ll be trying my best to understand what life is like for you now, and I do this by being genuine and immediate with my feelings. I will not be analysing what you say to me, but will hope to understand, and as we both develop understanding you will begin to offer yourself more understanding. I believe that given the right environment, one of empathy, warmth and a person being genuinely and wholly with you; you will begin to find any answers, if there are any, yourself.

Whilst I am an expert in the process of counselling, I do not believe I am the expert of you, you are. I believe in equality and I feel this is present in the sort of counselling I offer. During the session, we might talk about other types of therapy and think if therapy with me feels ok for both of us. You can go away and think about that too. Working with someone you feel comfortable with is really important, and I genuinely want you to find the right counsellor for you.

So if you’d like to try a session with me please get in touch and if you have any concerns please do ask any questions.

There’s a bit of a guide here if you want to find out more about first sessions…

Vulnerability

Recently I’ve been reading and reflecting on the concept of vulnerability. That moment when we feel we are being seen and can no longer hide; as though you are risking everything you have, and it’s terrifying. But I also know this, ‘being willing to be known’ is the only way to gain real connection with others. For me, it’s an essential experience to really feeling alive.

Often it can be sharing the ‘negative’ thoughts and feelings with others that can make me feel really vulnerable. However, if I didn’t share those parts of myself with trusted* others, how can I ever really be known? How will I know if the love I feel from another is really mine to keep? I have felt like a fraud when not true to myself, and life felt emptier.

These ‘negative’ thoughts or feelings can feel almost poisonous. I would feel trapped under a darkness which I couldn’t shift or share. I would judge these thoughts and feelings with such cruelty. But things are different now, most of the time – sharing my real thoughts and difficulties allowed me to be seen and I can feel love. It was hard, mind. It involved lots of therapy and somewhere safe to return to.

I guess I hope to offer clients the space to be vulnerable when they feel ready. It will be a risk and being seen might be a relief of such magnitude you’ll feel the darkness lift.

* sometimes some of us have been vulnerable for too long, and it’s important to feel ‘safe enough’ too. You are the only one who can really work out when to take risks and when to recover; I’m pretty sure you’re doing the best you can right now.

Sensitive & Proud: what do you need?

I really need to sit and stare for a while.
I need to walk slowly and just have the space to think.
I need to lie in and look at the sky.
I need some space.
I need to be able to cry when I feel great joy and when I feel the deep dark.
I need my sleep.
I need to watch stuff that’s predictable and silly because sometimes I am overwhelmed.
I need comfort.
I need the comfort of trees.
I need to play.
I need friendship.
I need to remind myself it’s ok to be me.
I need to remember that all I have is now.

These are just somethings I need in my life to not be overwhelmed. This is just me, but I feel it’s also linked to being highly sensitive. Reflecting on things deeply and being really aware of everything around me is my favourite part of me, and it does mean I can easily be overwhelmed, so I have to be honest with myself about what I need to stay sane(ish). Some of those parts I’m ok with, some not so much; but I continue to realise my real needs, and stop pretending that I don’t have them.

We all do.

What do you need?

Sensitive and proud

I’ve recently been reading about something which has helped me to accept the way I am just that little bit more. It made me cry a bit, and realise yet again, ‘oh it’s ok to be me’. Even though I think I am pretty accepting of myself, along something comes and it helps be to go that little bit deeper.

So what is it? Well, it’s the research by a woman called Elaine Aron who has focused on being Sensory-Processing Sensitive or a Highly Sensitive Person. It describes an innate trait in a minority of people (around 15% of the population) who take in more information than most in ‘ordinary’ situations and reflect on this information at a deep level, are emotionally intense, aware of subtleties (such as lighting, changes, colour, tastes, smells, others’ emotions) and can sometimes often feel overwhelmed.

In practicality this often means that highly sensitive people are aware of dynamics and subtleties in communications. It also means that it can be easy to become overwhelmed in situations where it feels like there is much to comprehend. Although I’m not so keen on labels, what the descriptor ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ has helped many people to do is reflect on society’s perception of being ‘too sensitive’, including me.

A particular useful part of this for me was the connection between reflecting deeply on things, which is something I kind of like about myself; and finding certain bits of life overwhelming, such as parties, new places or groups of people. In parties I can find it really difficult not to be aware of everything that’s going on around me, and I hate not being able to give the person I’m with my full attention. That’s because being sensitive is a innate trait, and I can’t pick and choose which elements I have – I reflect deeply because I take in lots of information, it has its disadvantages and advantages; but it is part of me.

Do you think this might describe you? There a test you can take to see if it might apply to you here. Let me know your thoughts on it.

This is the first in a series of blogs about being sensory processing sensitivity.