Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán
I wonder how you are bearing up in these difficult times? At this time last year who would have thought that we, along with our fellow citizens around the world, would now be confined to our immediate environment and perhaps isolated from those who mean the most to us. On a daily basis we are exposed to news coverage that frightens us, overwhelms us and brings us face to face with our own mortality. Seldom before have we experienced such a threat, with no immediate viable solution. With good reason, this might feel like a terrifying world to exist in right now.
The world continues to turn and the general order of things continues as it always has but, for us as human beings, the way in which we live our lives has changed beyond recognition. Enforced confinement is bound to have a huge physical and psychological impact and, at this stage, whilst I can only imagine the outcome, I live with a sense of foreboding about the potential for immense trauma when this crisis is resolved. But, imagination is a very dangerous thing, and imagining what might happen in the future not only consumes our energy, but also gives rise to the potential for an escalation of anxiety, stress and depression.
For many living with these, or other mental or physical health conditions, it may well be a time of great suffering. If you find yourself in this situation, I would encourage you to maintain close contact with your GP and/or your therapist or other healthcare professional. I am mindful that some people are reluctant to "bother" their GP at this difficult time, but it is essential that any escalation of symptoms is carefully monitored and treated to minimise the potential for crisis.
As traumatic as this confinement is, it seems to me that one of the most effective ways of overcoming the difficulties associated with it is to accept the conditions that have been imposed on us by our government and to find a way of living as well and as safely as possible. As I write, I am mindful that there are some who are living in difficult domestic situations and where there is real hardship. Many may be struggling with domestic violence of one form or another, others may be experiencing the trauma of losing their job. Some may be relying on food banks, or on the generosity of others to put a meal on the table. Some may be living with the grief of losing a loved one unexpectedly. Others may be alone or lonely. If this is your reality, then I encourage you to seek out the support that you need, be it professional support, or the support of family, friends or neighbours. Even if this is not something that you would normally do, as human beings we are all vulnerable and there are times in our lives when we all need the support of others. Rather than exposing a weakness, it takes great strength to reach out and I would encourage you to do so. These are exceptional times and it calls for an exceptional response from all of us.
In this time of hardship and uncertainty, the only thing that any of us can be reasonably sure about is what is happening to us now. Worry about what may or may not happen in the future is futile; what happens now will inform our future and, to that end, this time in isolation may well prove to be useful. We may, at least, have the opportunity to improve the quality of our relationships, after all, we were never meant to live in a state of isolation. It is encouraging to see the many ways in which communities, families and friends are coming together to make things better for all of us. It is amazing and heart-warming and may it last long after life returns to normal.
But what is "normal"? It seems to me that now is as good a time as any to ponder this question. What has been your normality? Has it been a life lived well; a life of balance in all things? Or has it been a life in which you have struggled to achieve your personal and/or professional goals? Now is as good a time as any to ask ourselves how we use our personal resources and the abundant resources our world offers us. What is it that we need to do in order to live well and to preserve not only our own lives and those whom we care about, but also in order to preserve the planet on which we live?
I wish you well in your deliberations and whatever happens in your world, I hope that you have the support and resilience you need to overcome these difficulties.
New Year … New You
Well, here we are in 2020 and I wonder where the last year disappeared to! I started 2019 with a whole new list of priorities for my personal and professional life and with hopes that I might realise some of the dreams on my "bucket list". I knew where I was going and I was fairly certain about how I was going to get there. However, best laid plans and all that!
I wonder whether your year turned out how you had planned it: whether you achieved your professional goals and whether you realised some of your personal dreams. If so, I applaud you, if not, I sympathise, especially as not all of my dreams came true and some of my professional goals were not fully realised either.
I was listening to someone speak the other day about that "flat" feeling we can experience after the hype of Christmas. I was surprised when this happened to me this year (actually, last year now), particularly as I had been feeling full of hope for the new year ahead. Suddenly, I wasn't so sure of myself anymore; I wasn't sure about my capacity to achieve my goals professionally and this certainly stopped me in my tracks.
But, as is my wont, I was able to take a step back from my plight and reflect around what was creating this real sense of dis-ease. This almost "limbo" like state between Christmas and New year was the ideal time to re-assess my very existence and not just my priorities. To help me in this task was the wonderful Charlie Mackesy (www.charliemackesy.com and on Instagram). I was very fortunate to receive his book: "The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse" as a gift and I recommend his wisdom to you if you don't know of him. "What do you think success is?" asked the boy "To love" said the mole. I wonder what these words say to you as you think about what success means in your life?
As an Existential therapist, I would have to agree with the boy. It starts with me and my capacity to love myself. In life, we can be beaten down by our perceived lack of success, whether at work, in our relationships and in how we work out our personal situation: the home we live in, the car we drive, how much money we have in our purse or our wallet. We measure ourselves against those around us and it is very easy to see failure if we perceive that someone is achieving more than us. As human beings it is easy to lose sight of what is actually important. Do I give more attention to achieving material wealth or professional achievement than I do to my mental health and sense of wellbeing? In a material world it seems that this is so often the case and then what?
Far from being selfish, to love myself means having that innate confidence to face the world with a sense of certainty that I'm ok and what I have to contribute to the world around me is ok too. I appreciate that this is not always easy to grasp, especially if we have grown up with a sense that we can never be good enough, or if we live in a world where our contribution is not valued. If this is the case for you and you are struggling to overcome these barriers, then I would encourage you to consider some support around this.
Of course, to love can be one of the most difficult things we can ever do, particularly if it is something that we have never experienced or if we have lost it along the way, for whatever reason. It seems to me that to love is a risky business because it puts us in a state of vulnerability. Love is about honesty and openness; it is about being brave; it about taking risks in all areas of our life. It is about knowing self, it is about knowing others and it is about self-respect and mutual respect. It is about communicating our needs, our wants, what we can offer others and what we can draw from others.
It seems to me that I can only understand myself through relationship with others and so my journey to success begins here, right now, in this New Year.
Photo by Pixabay
Depression can be extremely debilitating, especially when we feel at rock-bottom and, when we reach that point, daily life can be pretty bleak. Gone is the ability to get out of bed, attend to our personal hygiene, eat breakfast, take the children to school, go to work, or whatever it is that gives us a sense of purpose. Our existence tends to be a reactive one; we shut down and withdraw from activity that keeps us feeling good about life.
It's true to say that depression often has a remitting and relapsing course. It may have no obvious cause, or it can be related to physical problems or various life events. Most people with depression will get better without treatment, although getting better may take several months or even longer. Living with symptoms in the meantime can have a heavy impact on the whole of our lives: relationships can suffer, our working life may be put at risk, together with our ability to pay the rent or the mortgage. I paint a bleak picture, I know, but such is the trauma that depression creates.
If we find ourselves in this situation, it can be very difficult to admit that we have a problem; our ego may well send us into denial, after all, who wants to be seen as weak? Of course, the first step to getting better is to acknowledge that we are ill and that we do need support to get well again. This acknowledgement is actually a sign of strength; it takes great strength to be honest about our vulnerability.
It is also helpful to talk to the GP; medication may well be suggested, especially if the depression is moderate to severe. This can be supplemented with counselling and it is thought that a combination of medication and counselling can be more effective than either treatment on its own. Given time, it is hoped that we will be fully functioning again and able to go about our daily lives in a more balanced way.
But it seems to me that the optimal time to manage our response to depression is when we are well. Counselling can actually be more helpful at this stage, simply because we have the headspace to be able to reflect around those issues that depress us. We have the opportunity to equip ourselves with strategies for managing our response to depression more effectively, becoming more proactive in the process.
I have found that one of the simplest and most effective tools we can use to prevent ourselves from slipping into the abyss is a mood diary. Producing our own journal can be both therapeutic and creative. But, more than anything, it is a practical tool that can alert us to changes in our mood and give us the opportunity to address any issues, before they spiral out of control.
Daily writing is recommended, particularly as it helps us keep the momentum going and it creates a daily habit. It can be helpful to write at the end of the day, which gives us the opportunity to reflect on what has been good about the day, what has been less helpful, whether we could have done things differently and whether there are lessons to be learned from it. Scaling our mood from 1-10 can also help us to think about what action we may need to take to prevent us from slipping down the scale. This could be something as simple as spending time with others, going for a walk, or simply relaxing in the bath with a nice candle and our favourite music.
Having said all of that, depression has a habit of coming back to bite us when we least expect it. Staying well is no easy task; it requires discipline and determination. Writing can be part of that discipline and persisting with it can ensure that we don't take our eye off the ball, as far as monitoring our mood is concerned. So, good luck with your "pen and paper" and I wish you a healthy future!
JR Corporate Health blogs cover topics such as management support, supervision, psychological support, critical incident support and wellbeing in the workplace.