The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘beliefs’

Boosting self-esteem through physical activity

As the next in our series of guest posts on self-esteem I’d like to introduce you to Glenda. As a clinical nutritionist, neuroscientist, Personal Trainer and Positive Wellbeing Coach, she knows a little something about healthy living. She has joined us today to talk about how you can boost your self-esteem by moving your body. And I think most of you will be pleased to know that you don’t have to smash yourself at the gym to get the benefits! Most of the time it’s the simplest things that make the biggest differences. So check out what Glenda has to say and visit her site. 

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Self-esteem is quite an interesting concept that many people misunderstand. You see, most people think of self-esteem as an all or none thing, where you either have it or you don’t. But really, it works on a sliding scale that can be nudged one way or the other depending firstly on what life throws at you, but also on how you perceive and react to those events.

 Sometimes it’s something massive that either boosts or decimates your self-esteem, for instance receiving an award or commendation for doing an excellent job, or on the negative side it could be caused by a failure or loss. Yet your self-esteem can also be affected by many little things over and over that push you a bit one way and then another, so that it’s the overall balance of these little pushes that decides where it finally settles.

 Another thing that’s often misunderstood about self-esteem is that it’s possible to have a lot in some parts of your life while having very little in other areas. As an example, you could be very confident in what you do for a living and have no issues in your professional life, yet you may have low self-esteem on a personal level because you haven’t yet had a ‘successful’ relationship and are being constantly hounded by your family on when you’re going to settle down.

 Regardless of how much self-esteem you have, or in which parts of your life that it exists, there are ways to boost it. But before we talk about how you can do this, let’s make sure we’re on the same page as to what self-esteem is. There are a number of definitions, but here we’ll consider self-esteem in terms of the Oxford Dictionary definition: “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities”.

 If you’re able to directly pinpoint where your issues exist, it may be possible to work on boosting your self-esteem directly by improving your abilities, or your confidence in those abilities, that relate to that particular issue. For instance, if you had low self-esteem about your cooking abilities and your confidence to cook meals that your family would enjoy, you could directly work on this by taking cooking classes, reading cookbooks, and practicing tried and true recipes until you could cook a number of meals with confidence. In this example, boosting self-esteem for a particular activity is relatively easy because you can readily define the activity that’s of concern.

 But what if your self-esteem issue is a bit harder to pin down? What can you do then to improve it?

 It may seem a little bit counterintuitive at first, but you can boost your self-esteem by practicing and mastering activities that create an overall sense of confidence, strength and powerfulness within you. While there are many types of activities that can do this, I’ve personally found that exercise, fitness and other physical activities are excellent ways to create these feelings within you and to boost your self-esteem.

physical activity boosts self-esteem glenda bishop

 Alright, so how does physical activity help self-esteem?

 Firstly it teaches you to listen to your body, creating a mind-body connection that keeps you centred during the activity. This helps to strengthen your understanding of what you’re achieving at that time, bolstering your knowledge of your abilities and thus your confidence in performing them. It also helps to stop your mind from wandering away and getting stuck in any negative thoughts that might otherwise have you questioning your abilities – and when you don’t question your capabilities, you more naturally learn to respect and acknowledge them for what they really are.

 The next really important part about physical activity and exercise is that it strengthens your body. This physical strength creates a feeling of power and capability that lets you move through the world with more ease and grace. Knowing that you can trust your body to do what’s needed is incredibly powerful. It helps you to stand tall and move with purpose. There’s also something special that comes with the confidence of physical capability that can’t be taken away from you. It helps to create an “I don’t care” attitude within you – not so much in the sense that nothing is important to you, but more in the sense that the little things just don’t bother you as much as they used to.

 A huge bonus that comes from physical activity is that it decreases the amount of stress hormones in your body, i.e. adrenaline and cortisol. When you exercise and get your body moving, your stress hormones get chewed up during the activity, so that when you’ve finished moving, your overall stress levels are considerably less than when you started. If you do physical activity on a regular basis (daily or every second day), this can go a long way to modulating stress. This is also one of the reasons why regular physical activity also helps to manage depression and anxiety. When you’re less stressed, you’re more resilient to the unexpected things that life throws at you. Not getting stressed out every time something little goes wrong means that there’s less of that constant battering to your self-esteem.

 If the physical activity that you choose to do is something new, then this allows you to learn new skills. Even if the skills seem unrelated to anything else you do in your life, there’s an incredible amount of confidence boosting that comes from simply being able to say “I did that!”. It could be finally being able to run 5km, hiking up to the top of a mountain, being able to shoot a basketball from the 3-point line, being able to hit a baseball for a home run, learning how to punch or kick correctly in a martial art, learning how to stand up on a surf board, or even learning a new dance routine. It really doesn’t matter what it is (or whether it matters to anyone else), it’s knowing that you did it and that you were able to master a new skill that counts. Reminding yourself that you can learn new things can give you the confidence you need to try out something else in another part of your life.

 There’s an important caveat though about learning new skills to boost self-esteem. It’s really critical that when you set out on a new activity that you keep your goals very manageable and that you restrain them to a beginner level for that activity. So this means that it’s best not to attach time limits or standards to the goal. For instance, if your goal was to run 5km, then make that the goal – simply to be able to run a distance of 5km. Don’t put any additional criteria as to how fast you have to be able to run that distance. Only after you’ve achieved the distance should you consider trying to improve your time – but even then, you should only do that if you want to. It’s perfectly okay to be able to say “I did that” and then switch onto another activity to gain a new skill. Maybe running is something that you will choose to enjoy occasionally but never want to run a race, and that is perfectly fine!

 So as you can see, there are many reasons why physical activity is so valuable for boosting self-esteem. It’s also one of the reasons why I recommend that everyone tries out a new type of physical activity that pushes their body just a bit further than they normally would push it. It strengthens the body, but also strengthens the mind at the same time, creating a mental resilience and confidence that boosts self-esteem which can transfer across other areas of your life. The trick is to find an activity that you will enjoy and then to set yourself a small and achievable goal. Not only will you boost your self-esteem, you’ll boost your physical and mental health too.

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Glenda Bishop healthy stories 2Author Bio:

Glenda Bishop is a neuroscientist, Registered Nutritionist, personal trainer and positive wellbeing coach. She helps women to reconnect their mind and body by creating a strong foundation of physical health that supports and strengthens their mental health. Glenda’s Mind & Body Reconnect Program creates a gentle strength and confidence from the inside out, leading to positive mental wellbeing that promotes joy and happiness. Click here to find out her 7 Little Secrets for a Healthy Mind and Body.

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What does it mean to have self-esteem?

Hi everyone! I’d like to introduce you all to Sharon, who is an interior designer and Life Coach. She has had some pretty intense experiences in her life and her self-esteem has been impacted as a result. She has made big changes in her life and now she does what she loves in a beautiful part of the country she now calls home.

Sometimes the biggest, most traumatic events can affect your life for a long time. And it’s often a series of small, seemingly insignificant events that can help you turn things into a completely different life.

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It’s a tricky question to answer as the answers will be as individual as people themselves.  For me, having self-esteem means that I live to my own set of values and not those imposed upon me by others – by religion, by the government, by my family or friends.  It means that I am confident enough in my own skin to know that my opinions count, that my voice deserves to be heard and that I am worthy of happiness, just as I am.  Yes I could be 10 (okay 20) kilos lighter, I could exercise more and eat more healthily.  I could spend more quality time with my children and husband and less time on Facebook.  I could read more educational books and less young adult fiction.  BUT, would any of those things make me happier?  Maybe, but maybe not and if I did any or all of these things, for whom would I be doing them?  For myself or for the acceptance of others? 

Blog Chicks sharon chisolmFor many years, as the result of a violent upbringing, I felt like a fraud as a child, feelings that continued as I grew into adulthood and even after I had children.   I had spent years growing up trying to hide the truth about who I was – a scared young girl who felt isolated and worthless and a big part of who I was as an adult was still led by that scared young girl.  I sought attention in the wrong places and from the wrong people and it took me roughly twenty years to realise that it didn’t matter how highly anyone else thought of me, I still felt worthless.  

Back in 2010 I won a coaching award from a prestigious organisation – Best Newcomer Coach of the Year – the judges were all renowned Life Coaches in Australia and New Zealand.  However, for a long time I felt as though I had cheated somehow and persuaded the judges that I was far better than I actually was.  I thought that perhaps they had given me the award out of pity or because they had no-one else to give it to.  I didn’t put my award up on my wall because I felt as though I didn’t deserve the recognition.  It didn’t matter how many people told me that I had helped them because I thought they were just being nice. 

A year or so later I had a big “a-ha” moment and realised that most of my feelings of self-worth, or lack of it, stemmed from my childhood.  I realised that I had grown up feeling like a fraud and fearing people finding out the truth about who I was and what my life was like.  In that moment I realised that I had had no power as a child – it was not my fault that my upbringing was the way that it was and that I did not need to feel shame or guilt because of it.  I was able to let go of those feelings and know in my heart that I had done what I needed to, to protect myself.  So I started to be real about who I was, about my feelings, about my depression following the birth of my children.  I started to speak out honestly about what I had been through and it was incredibly liberating.  I discovered that my voice deserves to be heard and that by sharing my experiences, I am able to help others to free themselves of their own limiting beliefs and feelings of worthlessness. 

sharon chisolm robin williams

Understanding why we behave and think the way that we do is, in my opinion, the first step to gaining control of those feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing.  If we are able to understand why that little voice inside us speaks to us the way that it does, then we can manage those thoughts and find our path to self worth and greater self-esteem.  Having high self-esteem does not mean that you are arrogant or narcissistic, it does not mean that you think you are better than everyone else, it simply means that you recognise the value you bring to the world and to the lives of those around you.  It means that you understand you deserve to be treated with respect  and love and that you have abilities and gifts that can impact the world in a positive way. 

I now display my award with pride on my office wall, because I know that I do make a difference to the lives of others – fellow business people, my clients, my friends and family and most importantly, to myself. 

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Sharon Chisholm The Restful Nest Profile Photo (1)Sharon Chisholm is the founder of The Restful Nest, an Interior Design business and The Organisation Coach, a Professional Organising business specialising in working with women business owners.  An award winning Life Coach, Sharon’s passion is assisting women to achieve business success through effective time management and organised living.  Sharon moved to Australia in 2002 from the UK and now lives on the mid-north coast of NSW with her husband and two children.

Sharon’s business and blog can be found at www.therestfulnest.com.au, which focuses on Interior Design and Professional Organising. Her Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/therestfulnest.

She has recently begun another page called The Organisation Coach https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Organisation-Coach/372596746224720?ref=hl.  This new page is a focus for women business owners who struggle with organising their homes, businesses and lives, and tackles self-esteem issues around these things.

I’m sure Sharon would love it if you took some time to visit her pages and sent her some love.

Self Comparisons

I’ve had this song on my iphone for a while but rarely listen to it as I am generally too busy. Today I was playing some music and it came on. I’ve always loved it so I searched for it on youtube and when I watched the lyrics cross the screen they got me thinking …

For a long time I’ve been one to compare myself to other people. Their appearance, their accomplishments, their size, their friends. Their everything really.

I’d make judgements and usually it would be me that came up short. I’d always be lacking in some way. Worse. Not good enough. And I’d consequently feel bad about myself and who I was.

The thing is, I knew that everyone was different. People told me again and again. We all looked different. We all had different personalities. We all had different likes and dislikes, we all thought differently.

But I still made comparisons between them and myself. Continuously. With everything, especially the things I found difficult. Academic work, sports, cooking, cleaning, and so on.

In more recent years as my self-esteem has improved those comparisons happen less often. I don’t feel the need to compare myself with others because I feel much more content and in control of who I am. I know I am worthy and I don’t need to compete with others in my head to prove it.

With the education I now have in psychology I understand that we are all programed with a neurological need for self-esteem. It’s a survival mechanism that goes back to the origin of human life. By nature we are a social species and we depended on others for protection against things like attacks from animals and other tribes who wanted our resources. We needed our tribe to survive and if we didn’t have skills in specific areas we were at risk of being banished, which opened us up to a higher likelihood of death. So, this neurological program compared ourselves to other tribe members to enable us to continually adjust our behaviour and improve our skills so that we were acceptable to the tribe.

These days in reality we generally no longer need to justify ourselves and our existence. In our modern society we aren’t threatened by packs of animals in the same way we were so long ago, so we don’t need to rely on our tribe for our physical existence. But our brains haven’t yet caught up and the neurological programs are still there. So we continue the pattern of comparing our worth to that of others.

And this can bring on some seriously destructive patterns of thinking and behaviour that keep our self-esteem low and us wondering why we aren’t “as good as” other people. The more we compare ourselves, the more likely it is that we feel badly about the person we are.

self comparisons

Understand this …

  • Our tendency to compare comes from neurological programming that has been inside the human brain for many many years, which means that we do it naturally and usually without any conscious thought.
  • Every person has a unique journey. We all have a unique mind, body and spirit. We all have unique neurological programming that is wired in a unique way. At each moment in time we are each in a different place. We think differently, we have had different experiences. We have different beliefs. Our brains are wired differently. So when you compare yourself to someone else, you are comparing a vacuum cleaner to potatoes. Each is a different beast. You use them for different purposes. You may prefer one over the other, or you may love (or hate) them both. But comparing them to each other is pointless and serves no purpose other than to mess with your head.
  • The best thing you can do to support the development of your self-esteem is to compare yourself with yourself. Examine where you are in your own life and journey, and if you aren’t satisfied with what you see, consider making some changes. Seek new information and support. Do things differently. Learn new ways to change the way your brain is wired.

hero own story

It IS possible. I know, because I’ve done it. And my future has completely opened up as a result.

Take Care of You!

You are worthy. Simply because you exist.

By definition, the fact that you are alive, that you breathe the air, that you walk this earth, is enough reason to justify your worthiness.

There are no conditions on this.

No “I can only be worthy if everyone likes me”

No “I can only be worthy if I please everyone in my life”

No “I can only be worthy if I work myself to the bone”

No “I can only be worthy if I take care of as many people as I can”

No “I can only be worthy if I do favours for other people”

No “I can only be worthy if …..” (insert any other idea your brain gives you)

When we put conditions on the way we love ourselves, we restrict so many things in our lives. You end up doing everything you can to please other people or working so many hours you never get time to yourself. Or taking care of everyone except yourself. Or doing things for other people to the extent that you never get time to do the things you enjoy. (Insert any other condition your brain conveniently provides).

Those conditions come about for a variety of reasons. Most of the time we receive certain messages and our beliefs about ourselves are formed by listening to them. They can be subtle or they can be said outright. We hear and interpret the words and we learn to say them to ourselves. We believe them.

Here are a couple of facts:

Those messages are always untrue. The words we use sound true. The emotions attached to the words feel true. However, they always lie. Always.

There is no justification.

The truth is indisputable.

You are worthy of being taken care of.

Simply because you are alive. Simply because you were born.

take care of you mindseteffect

Leonie’s journey with Bipolar

It’s been several days since the last post was published on Kate’s life with Bipolar Disorder. Leonie has the same diagnosis and the other day she spent some time telling me of her experiences. Leonie’s story is one of suffering and sadness. And it is also one of strength, perseverance and triumph. She has taken her illness and the darkness it produced, and has found a way to use a variety of strategies and to create the light of her life. As always, if reading Leonie’s story triggers your own illness, please speak with your mental health professional or call Lifeline on 13 1114.

Leonie was first diagnosed with depression in 2003 and was prescribed an antidepressant. This led to a psychotic manic episode, which was followed by a period in hospital a month or two later. Even though she was heavily sedated and experiencing delusions, she clearly remembers the moment she left the doctor’s office after hearing him say the phrase “it seems likely you have bipolar”.

When she shared the diagnosis with a close friend from her early university daLeonie bipolar think in my headys, she was told, “hindsight is 20/20”. Other friends and family agreed. Leonie had been living with bipolar since she was a teenager. Fast forward to 2003 and much of her life had masked the illness.

Leonie gave birth to a son in 1998 and a daughter in 2001. In September 2001, when planes hit the World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11, her daughter was two months old. Leonie remembers her prevailing and repetitive thought was, “how could I have brought my baby into such a brutal world?” Her general practitioner realises now that she was living with post natal depression at the time. In fact, she lived with it following the birth of both children.

With friends living in the state next to the World Trade Centre, and a 2 month old baby, 9/11 hit Leonie hard. Her existing depression led to her spiraling further into the illness.

Leonie bipolar saying

Not quite that simple, Leonie’s transformation has taken many years

She returned to work part-time at the beginning of 2002 and found it very stressful. She ended up on indefinite long service leave. She felt unsupported, confused and lost.

Then, in January 2003, when her daughter was 18 months old, she looked up to the air conditioning duct in her house to see flames. She got herself and the children out and by the time the fire brigade arrived smoke was billowing from every orifice of the house. While most of the damage was confined to the roof cavity, the rug where the children were sitting when the flames were first seen was burnt by a molten air conditioning vent that had fallen. Leonie became fearful of staying in the house, and also fearful of leaving it at the same time. How much turmoil and confusion she must have been feeling at that time!

While Leonie was taking a shower one day in June 2003 she distinctly remembers not being able to work out why she was in there or knowing what to do next. She couldn’t work out how to turn off the water or grab a towel. She managed to call a friend, who gave her instructions to “hang up, don’t move and pick up the phone when it rings”, after promising to help. Together they dressed and breakfasted the children and took them to day care. They made a doctor’s appointment to see her General Practitioner and went with her friend’s support a couple of days later. Leonie was diagnosed with depression and prescribed Zoloft, an antidepressant. Within a month Leonie experienced psychosis, which is apparently a common result when that type of antidepressant is prescribed to someone with bipolar.

The 5 years between 2003 and 2008 were very bleak for Leonie. She spent most of the time severely depressed, with a few severe manic episodes. Christmas 2008 was very bleak. A few months earlier Leonie experienced a manic episode involving some friends, which affected their friendship in a negative way. Whilst attending the Christmas assembly at her children’s school she experienced a full-blown panic attack. She felt like the worst mother in the world and completely demoralised.

Leonie began thinking about suicide as an option so her family would no longer have to feel the shame she felt she brought on them. She felt they would be better off without her. Even though her husband and mother knew she was low, she hid the extent of it from them.

By this time her file at her mental health centre was an inch thick. Between 2003 and January 2009 she felt like the mental health professionals came through a revolving door.

Leonie bipolar difference 08 v 13

Bottom: 2008, Top: 2013

The day that produced the turning point came when she saw one specific psychiatrist in that very long line of professionals. She walked in the door at her lowest ever point and was asked to tell her story yet again. The thought of rehashing all the pain and suffering was unbearable. Two minutes in, the psych was on the phone asking for a bed in the closest inpatient unit.

Leonie was in hospital for a month so that her new doctor could observe her closely as he fine tuned her medication. She felt lucky that she had finally found the right fit with a mental health professional. He was intuitive and understood her well.

Leonie bipolar stand up 8

She was out of hospital another month before another manic episode hit as a result of coming out of such a low. Bordering on psychotic again, she ended up in the emergency room with police hovering for most of the day while waiting on a bed in the inpatient unit. For another month, her doctor once again monitored her closely as he readjusted her medications. Leonie remains on these same medications to this day.

Career wise, traveling back in time briefly, in about 2005/6, Leonie was working 2 days a week as a teacher. She struggled because she was so depressed. Despite her then psychologist strongly suggesting that she submit a medical retirement, she resisted. The thought broke her heart. In a job that she had previously loved, she felt that she was unfit to do that work forever. But she couldn’t bring herself to submit the paperwork.

Leonie bipolar plans

Leonie’s doctor discharged her from hospital at the end of May 2008. She experienced one minor depressive episode which lasted approximately a week. At that point she participated in her second, 10-week mindfulness course. By October of that same year she was once again doing 2-3 days of casual teaching each week. She chose her schools carefully as she made these tentative steps, but felt like she had her life back.

The entire year of 2009 saw her regularly working 3-5 days per week (at various schools). In the final term one school invited her to work 3 days a week for the rest of the year. In consultation with her team of professionals and close family, by October she decided to go back to full-time work.

At the beginning of 2010 she began her new job, a position she retains today. At first she didn’t tell anyone at her work about her illness due to feelings of shame and fear of judgement. But after she felt she had proven her wellness, she received incredible support from her boss.

Other than one minor and short-live depressive episode in 2012, which included anxiety attacks, she has been free of mood swings. While she doesn’t consider herself “cured”, and she will be on medications for the rest of her life, her condition is now successfully being managed. She utilises a team of professionals.

Leonie Bipolar

The joy after conquering a long-held fear of going down a huge water slide

Psychiatrist, Psychologist, General Practitioner. She combines medications with regular mindfulness training and sessions with her psychologist. She has made significant changes to her lifestyle by exercising and eating healthily. She now gets adequate sleep after discovering that the lack of it contributed to her manic episodes.

Leonie also calls on the support of close family, colleagues and friends. She feels blessed to be a part of a wonderful circle of social support. She now knows, thanks to this amazing support, that she no longer needs to keep the secret and shame.

Leonie feels that the key to beginning her path to wellness was to find that one professional that she could really connect with.

Leonie bipolar xmas 2013

Christmas 2013 and Leonie’s new way of being

To FACT or not to FACT

depression drowning breathing

Depression is one of the more well-known mental illnesses. 1 in 5 people at some point in their lives will experience it. That is 20% of the Australian population. Huge numbers! I could sit here tonight and give you the facts about the illness.

I could tell you that while there is no definite cause of depression, there are a number of factors that influence its development. Life events (work or family stress, abusive relationships or unemployment, for example), family history, personality, medical illnesses, substance abuse, or changes in the hormone levels in your brain, for example.

I could also tell you that there are several types of depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, where you tend to feel depressed during the winter months when there is less daylight), major depression (which can include bouts of psychosis, melancholy and also includes ante or postnatal depression), bipolar (which alternates cycles of depression and mania – more on this when we cover bipolar disorder), cyclothymic disorder (a milder form of bipolar) or dysthymic disorder (a milder form of major depression).depression stigma

Or, if I didn’t cover these facts, I may describe the types of things people with depression actually experience. A loss of interest in normal, usual daily activities, withdrawing from social contacts, sleeping for most of the day, no longer enjoying the things you used to enjoy, or self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, thoughts of worthlessness, life not being worth living, inability to concentrate, tiredness, unhappiness, indecisiveness, change in appetites, sexual drive or weight, churning gut or muscle pains. All these are common experiences.

I might also talk about some of the treatments for depression. For example, various drugs may be prescribed to help rebalance the hormones in your brain (you would need to be aware of the side effects of some of these medications and talk with your doctor about them to find one that really works for you). Or there might be some options if you were to work with a counsellor or psychologist, both of whom could teach you some specific strategies to help you change your thoughts and behaviours. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is commonly used effectively for depression, as is Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) and mindfulness based therapies. Other things that may help are lifestyle changes, such as diet, exercise, relaxation training and social support (through family, friends, support groups etc).

depression no escapeOr I might be inclined to let you know that to receive effective help the best person to start with is your doctor, who can then refer you to a psychologist or counsellor. You could also see a social worker, alternative health therapist or even a psychiatrist or mental health nurse, each of whom can offer different types of support.

I might even be inclined to link you in with the Beyond Blue website so you can get more detail on depression and where you can go to get help. They even have an online discussion forum. http://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression

But I don’t want to give you “just the facts”.

Depression is so much more than mere facts. There is no way that anyone could understand what it is like to live with it just by reading “the facts”. Sure it describes the basic things, but they can never describe the individual experiences.

“The FACTS” could never describe how it FEELS to experience the helplessness, the fatigue, the lack of interest in participating in your own life. “The FACTS” could never give you an accurate idea of what it is like to feel like you don’t belong on the earth. They could never show you the frustration you feel when you can’t concentrate on your work or study. And the facts could certainly never show you what it’s like to not be able to play with the children you love so dearly because you just can’t summon the energy. Not to mention the sorrow at watching those same children being sad because they can’t understand that mummy or daddy just can’t spend time with them.

depression cycle sleep pretend

There are so many other things that the FACTS just cannot show you. There is no way that you could ever understand what it is like to live with depression unless you were actually in the middle of it. Only then could you understand how, no matter how HARD you try, you just can’t get yourself moving in the morning. Only then could you understand how the “black dog” sits at your door all day every day and impacts on every part of your life. Only then could you truly GET that living with depression is like being in a battlefield every moment of every day, where you are constantly fighting your way out from underneath an overpowering, suffocating cloud of blackness.

depression lying bastart

And I think that if the people who lived with this insidious illness would want you to understand anything, it’s that one of the most basic things they really need from others is compassion. Saying (or implying) “get over it” does nothing more than lead them deeper into the hole. They need you to stick by them and support them through their daily struggle. To let them know that it’s ok to take a break from fighting the good fight sometimes and to retreat, allowing their heart and soul to heal a little. And to let them know that some days, simply getting out of bed and having a shower is enough of an achievement.

depression things not to say

And I am sure that they would love to know that they are enough. Just as they are, even with this illness.

depression love and care

Personality and Disorders – Part 2

BPD by numbersIn the search for people to write posts on their lived experiences with mental illness, one of the ladies who agreed to share her story is Tegan. She was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and describes the experience as feeling her emotions without her skin on. If you’ve ever had a wound on your arm where the skin has been torn off, you’ll know how tender, raw and painful it feels. Now imagine all of your emotions without their skin. You get hit with everything at once. It’s really intense, and you don’t have any skills to deal with it. You get so many emotions that you can’t even decipher or make sense of them.

So how do you cope?

I would imagine that your survival instincts (remember that Neanderthal man who Sam talked about in the anxiety posts) would kick in. Your brain would narrow your focus to one simple thing. Survival. All those emotions at once would be really overwhelming. You’d probably panic. And then do anything that you could possibly think of to stop it all. You’d feel so overwhelmed and panicked that you’d choose the first thing to enter your head, whatever that may be.

BPD 2

As I mentioned in the last post, it is very common for people with personality disorders to have had a history of trauma or abuse. So it is very likely that you would feel really crappy about yourself. You might even hate yourself so much that you feel like you need to be punished. So the strategies you’re likely to turn to will be things like hurting yourself. It could be with food or it could be with alcohol. Or even with drugs, cigarettes or razor blades (burning or cutting yourself). Anything to relieve the pain you feel inside. Even suicide.need help dont want it

And when people try to help, you reject their advances because you feel like you need to push them away before they abandon you (which is what you feel you deserve). And this confirms your belief so you push people away even more, by using any means necessary. You argue with people, yell, scream, insult, push, shove, steal. And so on.

And then you feel even worse about yourself because you know that kind of behaviour isn’t what you should be doing. So you increase your efforts to punish yourself. You would be unlikely to recognise much good in your life. You might meet someone and marry, but because of how you feel about yourself, the relationship is likely to be full of arguments and bad feelings. Parenting would also be a huge challenge. As would your work relationships.

symptoms of BPD

If you’re lucky though, you will reach a point, like Tegan, where you acknowledge that you can no longer live that way. And so, after many false starts, you begin a very long, slow journey to make changes in your life. You seek professional support from a psychiatrist and psychologist skilled in working with BPD.

Stay tuned to hear from two very brave women, Tegan and Kaye, about what it is like to really live with BPD.

BPD

Personality and disorders – Part 1

a little personalityWe all have a personality. We might call some people loving or caring. Introverted or extraverted. Angry or aggressive. Anxious or self-centred. Or a whole host of other things. But what does that really mean? I found a website that provides a definition of personality. It says

personality is made up of the characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that make a person unique. In addition to this, personality arises from within the individual and remains fairly consistent throughout life.

Our personality is an internal aspect of our experience and includes thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The way we think, feel and act. These quirks and characteristics remain pretty stable throughout our life and are unique to each of us. And yet for the majority, the differences between one person and the next is not that huge. I’m sure that we could all look around a room full of people and note that every single person conforms to a set of socially acceptable behaviours. And when we discuss our thoughts and feelings we would find that we have a lot in common.

But there are a group of people who possess quirks that are outside this “norm”. This is very different to simply finding people who have different ways of thinking. We all have unique thoughts and feelings, but there is always a sense of commonality underlying that uniqueness. The difference between “normal” and “not normal” can sometimes be quite subtle, but it can also be very clear. The American Psychological Association says,

Personality disorders are seen by professionals and researchers as an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the culture of the individual who exhibits it. These patterns are inflexible and pervasive across many situations. The onset of the pattern can be traced back at least to the beginning of adulthood. To be diagnosed as a personality disorder, a behavioral pattern must cause significant distress or impairment in personal, social, and/or occupational situations.

Wow, what a mouthful! More simply, differences are mostly noticeable with social interactions. There is inflexibility in thinking and a very narrow set of beliefs. So when interacting with others, a person with a personality disorder always has to be right and will go out of their way to prove it. They will have difficulties making or keeping relationships, getting on with friends, family or colleagues, staying out of trouble and controlling their feelings and behaviour. This website has a simpler explanation than the more technical one above and also briefly looks at some of the treatments available.

personality you cant handle

Causes

There is some debate about what causes a personality disorder and there are no definite answers. Some say genetics (family genes) play a part. Childhood trauma and abuse has also been looked at, which studies suggest are particularly relevant for Borderline Personality Disorder. This website briefly looks at some of the research. The behaviours and habits of people with personality disorders are usually seen early in their lives, sometimes in childhood, and are commonly diagnosed between about 18 and 36.

I’m not too sure exactly how it works, how or where things go haywire. I believe there are still a lot of researchers arguing about it. If you would like to read some more, technical information you can go here. You’ll notice the list of all the different types, one of which is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). We are going to focus on this one as an example because we don’t have the time or space to get through all of them.

In the next post we will look at BPD and the experience of living with it.

important personality

When someone you love dies

grief no timeline

We are born, we live, we learn, we grow.

And then we die.

Death is a part of life.

Like a lot of people, I am no stranger to grief. Three of my grandparents died when I was a child and as an adult this has been followed by a step grandmother (paternal), my parents, my older brother, a favourite cousin, a grandmother (maternal) and the son of my best friend. Each of those people has meant something different to me and my experience with coping with each death has also been very different.

When somebody dies it is natural for us to feel like there has been a hole left in our lives and hearts. We get used to a person being a huge part of our lives. We depend on them. We feel safe with them. We feel comfortable. We look forward to being with them. We love them and connect with them. We often spend an entire lifetime with them. And one day we turn around and they aren’t there any longer.

So then what?

We need to get used to an entirely different way of living. Of being. Not only do we miss the person and grieve for them, we also need to learn how to live our life without them in it. This can be a huge undertaking, especially if we have lived our entire life with them. Spouse. Son. Daughter. Mother. Father. Grandparent. Aunt. Uncle. Best friend. Whatever that person’s role was in your life, making adjustments to live a different life can be seriously tough.

Common grief responses

One of the key things to note is that every person’s grief experience is different. Your way of grieving is going to be different to the person sitting next to you, even if that person is a close family member. There are however, some commonalities. There has been a lot of research into these common responses, which have resulted in several models being developed to describe how grief “works”.

Grief_Wheel

One model of the stages of grief

There are several “stages” that people usually experience. Shock & numbness occurs immediately following the death. There may be denial. You then go into a protest stage where the shock becomes heightened, you feel angry, you yearn for the person who died and you are preoccupied with thoughts of them. This is followed by disorganisation, where there is a loss of interest in normal daily activities, depression, apathy, lethargy, restlessness, aimlessness, confusion, withdrawal. Sleep disturbances, crying, irritability are also seen. Eventually there is reorganisation, where things start to come together again. You start to look forward to doing some of the activities you used to enjoy. You start to try new things and find meaning in the death. You may experience guilt in here too. Many people feel like they shouldn’t be enjoying themselves because their loved one isn’t here to share in those moments. Then you move into recovery, where a new “normal” comes about. At any one of these stages we could move into deterioration. We may be going along fine, and something will trigger us and we end up “going backward”. We get cranky, we cry, criticize ourselves, feel guilty, experience sleep and appetite disturbances. Physical symptoms may include sweating, breathing difficulties, nausea etc.

GrievingWheellarge

Another model of the grief wheel. Note the similarities.

A couple of important notes to consider.

Firstly, this process is not a linear one. We don’t move from one stage to the next and the next and the next. As already mentioned, we may be triggered at any time and feel like we are back where we started. If we graphed what actually happens to us we would have a curvy line jumping up and down, back and forward all over the place.

Secondly, I am giving a very brief, basic outline here on grief and a general picture of how it looks. Many people experience an intensified, long-term grief process that may be considered out of the ordinary. Symptoms are experienced as very intense and long-lasting. Grief is supposed to ease over several weeks and months. If this does not happen, it could be that this is an experience of complicated grief. There are several risk factors that make some people more prone to complicated grief, including having had a very close relationship to the person who died, the death being unexpected, and an inability to adapt to change (lack of resilience), among other things. For more details on complicated grief, the Mayo Clinic in the USA has some good information. Please note that there are several pages to digest, which can be navigated by clicking the links on the left side of the page. It includes what to look for and how to get some help. Here in Australia I would recommend seeking help from a grief counsellor or psychologist.

Ways to cope

It’s important to understand that unfortunately, the only way to the other side of grief is to go through the process. You can’t go around, under or over it, and you can’t avoid it. Ever. You must go through it.

  • Allow yourself to feel the emotions, whatever they are. Sadness, sorrow, shock, numbness, listlessness. All of these are a normal, understandable reaction to the circumstances and it is ok to feel them. We often push these feelings down because they hurt, but the more we do that the longer the process takes. Those feelings will always come back.grief miss talking
  • Most people find that what they really want is to bring back the person who died. So why not do that? Yes, I know that you can’t bring them back in person, but you can bring their memory alive. A lot of grief counsellors will encourage the person to talk about their loved one. To describe them. Talk about what they love and miss about them. This may bring up a lot of emotion, and that is ok. I understand that a lot of people get nervous around emotions, and that’s fine too. If you can allow yourself to sit with it, even a little bit at a time, it does get a little easier. Eventually.
  • If you feel like the people you are talking to are getting impatient with your never-ending talk about the person who died, try either talking to somebody different or writing things down instead. Write a letter or a story. Or even talk into a voice recorder. You can erase it if you don’t want to keep it, but it may give you an outlet without feeling like you’re being a burden on the people closest to you.
  • Talk to the person who died. This is especially helpful if it was a long, intense or close relationship. Tell them about your day, about how the kids are doing, about how much you miss them.
  • There is no right or wrong way to feel when you are grieving. The stages described in the wheel can come and go in a seemingly random pattern. You might think you are getting through the worst of it and then you’ll be right back in the middle of all those intense feelings. This is normal.
  • Honour the person who died in some way. You could try planting a tree, creating some artwork or craft, a memory box, write a letter to the person, write some poetry or a song. Even go to visit their grave and talk to them. There is no right or wrong with this. Go with your instinct and do something that feels right for you.
  • grief individualI know this one could sound a little harsh, but I am going to say it anyway. Ignore the people who tell you that you “should be over it by now” (or some variation on the theme). Grief is not something that has a timetable. It is different for everyone and is a very individual experience. What works for one person may not work for another.
  • Try not to force yourself to do things you’re not ready for. Sometimes you may feel like you’re never going to be the same again and you’ll feel like staying in bed all day every day. I’m not suggesting that you spend the rest of your life in bed, and sometimes it can help you feel a little better to force yourself to get out of the house. Sometimes though, it is ok to allow yourself some time to be with your memories.
  • Find a support group in your area. Sometimes it helps to know that there are others out there who are going through the same thing you are. You don’t have to do this on your own.
  • If you don’t start feeling more like your old self within a few months, please consider seeking professional support. A grief counsellor or psychologist may be able to help you to sort through some of the feelings you’re having. This can be particularly helpful if you are experiencing complicated grief. It’s hard, and not everyone understands what it is like. A professional can help you to gain some understanding of what is happening for you. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be you sitting there spilling your guts. Sometimes you can do other things. I know someone who had a counsellor help them edit a book of poetry that had been written to help with the grief. Others will do art or craft work, or something completely different. If you have something in mind that you feel would help you, but feel uncertain about it, discuss it with your professional. You may be able to do it in session.

grief myths facts

Helping someone through their grief

If you have a family member or a friend who is grieving, remember that everyone grieves differently. Even if that person is your spouse, brother, sister, daughter or son (or whoever).

  • Honour and respect the grief process for the individual, personal experience it is.
  • Never (EVER) tell a person to “snap out of it”. There is no such thing as getting over the person who has died and moving on with your life. The person who has died will always be a part of treasured memories. They will always be missed. It’s simply the intensity that varies.
  • Grief has no timeline. Some people can reach the stage of acceptance within a few weeks, while others take years. Sometimes feelings of sadness will hit you out of the blue, triggered by simple things such as hearing a song on the radio or smelling a favourite meal cooking on the stove.
  • Grief is a process that upsets everything you have known in your life. Grieving people benefit from sameness, familiarity and routine. It can be comforting to have the same neighbours, the same furniture, and the same house. In some cases, such as with the death of one half of a long-standing elderly couple, the surviving partner may not be able to remain in the familiarity of the home they have been used to (e.g., if they require care). These changes require a lot more adjustment than would otherwise be required. If at all possible, allow some time to make the transition. Allow them to sort through treasured possessions and to gather anything that will help them gain comfort. Clothing, furniture (if possible), photographs and so on. The more familiarity they have around them, the better their transition is likely to be.
  • Sometimes it can seem like this grief lasts forever and you can feel impatient with the person who continues to talk while grief one at a timeyou want to move forward. This is common if you are also grieving the same person. You could try suggesting something different to do, or maybe respectfully suggest that they talk with a professional instead. You need to honour your own needs in dealing with your grief and have every right to do so. If you are uncertain, please consider talking with a professional to get some advice on what you can do to balance your own needs and helping this person with their grief.

I know this post has been quite wordy and very lengthy, but I think to do it justice it has needed to be. One of the biggest things I have found in working with grieving people, is the knowledge that you are not on your own. Grief can sometimes feel like a very isolating experience and knowing that there are others out there who are going through the same thing can help ease that for you. I would encourage you to share your experiences here in the comments. Let’s see if we can create a small community of support right here.

I hope this post has helped in some small way.

 grief hugs

Working with shame.

shame

You’ve been unfriended: 5 tips for unpacking shame.

I read this article on the Rebelle Society website today and found it very helpful. I often use these tips with my clients. Bring the feelings closer to you, don’t fight with them, monitor them, bring them closer to you, breathe, look for the positive and put things in perspective.

There are some great great tips here. Have a read. If you have some comments or questions please feel free to voice them, I would love to hear them.

🙂

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