The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘mindfulness’

Celebrating Stress

Celebrations and stress are not usually words we see together. However today they are. Because today, we made it!

It is officially November 30, 2014. Which means that this is the final day of the NaBloPoMo challenge, and our series on stress.

And the National Blog Posting Month has definitely been a challenge! Probably not in the way most people would think, though. I had no trouble at all coming up with the post ideas and writing the material. Stress is such a huge topic that we could easily go for another month without too much trouble!

Instead, the challenge for me was finding the time to get it all done with the other responsibilities in my life. But I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to do it. The experience has stretched me to think about some things (including my own stress) in a different way.

It has drawn lots of new readers to our small corner of the internet and as they share their stories I find my passion for The Mindset Effect renewed. It’s people like you guys who keep me doing what I do. I love sharing my knowledge with the aim of supporting all of you to make positive, healthy changes in your life. At the end of this post, as a special something for all of you who have stuck with me throughout the month, I have a very special treat. I won’t tell you what it is right now (and no cheating by scrolling!); it will be waiting for you when you get to the end. 🙂

After such an intense month and 29 different articles on stress, I’d like to revisit some of the main concepts and bring it all together for you. I know that sometimes receiving so much information can be a little overwhelming and difficult to understand. So let’s see what we can do …

managing stress

We began the month with a few simple definitions of the different types of stress before we discussed the pretty grim impacts it has on our mind, body and emotions. With any type of force, strain or pressure, and the possibility of conditions such as weight gain, heart issues, diabetes and blood pressure, it becomes really important to be aware of your stress and to learn to manage it effectively.

I believe it’s equally important to understand how stress works. If you understand it, you’ll be armed with heaps of knowledge that supports you to implement the simple management strategies that we know really work. You’ll have the science behind why you do things like reach for the chocolate bar, cry for seemingly no reason or snap at your partner. And you’ll also have the reasons behind why you feel some pretty mean neck and shoulder tension or why you crash at the end of the day or week and can’t bring yourself to even get out of the chair.

The neurobiology behind stress is extremely complex. I won’t go into that here but you can go back and read any of those earlier posts on the Triune brain, trauma, hormones and the amygdala. Between them, they explain the workings of our inbuilt survival mechanism and why many of our reactions occur.

The stress response, or our fight/flight mechanism, is activated easily and frequently by all manner of life events, from watching someone you love draw their last breath, to dealing with screaming kids or seeing the bills pile up when you have a limited income. And with the buildup of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, managing the fallout from these events becomes even more important.

Children are also impacted by stress in the same way we are, but their experience is different due to the development of their brains being incomplete. They need guidance in some of the same simple techniques we use.

Probably the most important and effective management strategy is the use of breathing. My friend and colleague, Linda, did a great job of explaining how to utilise belly breathing to down-regulate the stress response.

We’ve also explored sleep, movement, food and laughter and how these are all related to or impact our stress. And we learned how simple routines and small changes can make a big difference in the way we experience it.

With such a complex system and so many things feeding into the impacts we feel, it’s important that we are able to break it all down into bite size pieces and make the way we manage stress work for us in our day to day life. Learning to listen to our mind and body and understanding the meaning of the signals they give out, means we can become more aware of how we respond to stress and this assists us to figure out how to manage it.

As a special treat to you all for your support this past month I would like to provide you with a bonus. I know from first-hand experience that listening to those stress signals is not always easy. In fact, it can be a downright nightmare! Especially given how chaotic our minds can be when we are in the midst of it all. So I would like to provide for you an audio file with 2 of the simple techniques we have discussed previously. This is called guided imagery. I’ll first take you through a simple breathing strategy similar to the belly breathing Linda talked about. I’ll then extend on this and guide you through a body scan, which will help you listen to, connect with and become more aware of the signals your body gives you.

To prepare to listen, find a quiet place and make yourself comfortable, preferably lying flat on your back with your hands loosely by your sides.

calm scenery picnic point

I’d love to hear how you go with it when you try it! Please feel free to let me know below.

Before I close up this series, I’d like to thank a few people. Firstly to my friend and colleague Linda, for sharing her passion and skill in the articles she provided on sleep and the role of breathing. I’d like to thank my friend Libby, for helping me brainstorm for the post on listening to our bodies. I’d also like to thank Julia and Carlie who provided articles on their personal experiences with stress. Hearing personal stories can help us understand that other people feel the way we do. We aren’t alone in feeling stressed. Lastly, I’d like to thank all of you who read my words and stick around to read more! Without you, there would be no point me writing and sharing all the stuff in my brain.

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Love your body

So often we are bombarded by images and words about ugliness. We are lead to believe that we are inadequate and unworthy because of our appearance. We got (or get) bullied at school for wearing glasses or for having a few extra folds of skin and fat, or for having a birthmark on our face or for stuttering or for having stretch marks or … for a whole range of other things. We get bombarded by messages that say we MUST buy certain things in order to change who we are to be acceptable. Skin-care and makeup and surgery and clothing and accessories and whatever else you can think of.

We learn to hide ourselves from others and to fear being who we truly are. We become afraid of being judged and work hard to prevent it by buying into the messages we hear. We buy all the things we can to cover and mask ourselves. We cover up the small scar above our eye that told the story of when we fell off our bike at the age of 9. We get liposuction to rid ourselves of the fat that remains on thighs that have carried us through the hardest moments in our lives. We get our tummies tucked. Tummies that have carried precious children inside and allowed them to grow and to be nourished. Or tummies that tell the stories of how we have overcome years of abuse to be the healthiest we have ever been in our lives. We buy gym memberships to punish our bodies for being 5 kg larger than the person next to us. We buy gym memberships and hire personal trainers to smash us into the ground to rid our bodies of those extra 5kg. 5kg that protected us from the bullies or 5 kg that protected our babies or 5kg that enjoyed a little extra cake as we celebrated a major milestone in the lives of the people we love the most. Or 5kg that marks the journey of us mourning the loss of the person most important to us.

We do these things over and over and over again for years and expect to feel better about ourselves and the person we are becoming. We disconnect ourselves from the world. We disconnect ourselves from ourselves. Our mind becomes separated from our bodies and they operate independently. While we are busy cleaning or walking or whatever, our mind is busy thinking about how ugly we are or how inadequate we are or how we need the next best thing to repair the hole that was created 20 or more years ago.

The hole that nothing can repair. It seems that no matter what we try to do, no matter what we buy, no matter which gimmick we get sucked into, it doesn’t work.

You’re right. It won’t work. Because you don’t need a gimmick.

You cannot repair a hole, a disconnection between mind and body, with the next quick fix. You’re looking for a solution full of hate. A solution that is, in itself, flawed.

The idea of a quick fix (marketed to keep you buying products and designed to keep you feeling inadequate) repairing an emotional injury is ludicrous.

An injury of hate and inadequacy and unworthiness requires a solution of love, worth, and meaning. You need to feed the injury the emotions that it is missing.

There are no quick fixes that will ever work.

The only way to repair a disconnection is to reconnect. To get your mind and body talking to each other. To get them doing the same thing at the same time. Here are some key things I have learned about reconnection in my life.

  • Acknowledge the story. Each “inadequacy” on your body tells a story about who you are. Those 5kg (or 10 or even 70kg) served a purposestory to tell at one point in your life. They may have protected your heart from the impact of abuse or they may have nourished and helped your children grow. Or maybe they supported you through years of grief. Your scars tell a story. Whether physical or emotional, the stories behind those scars have made you the person you are today. They got you through. They strengthened you. They supported you. To deny them is to minimize your spirit. To deny them is to say they mean nothing. And that is the furthest thing from the truth, when without them, you wouldn’t be who you are. So acknowledge the scars, whatever they look like. Send them love and gratitude for helping you get to today.
  • Years of disconnect, abuse and hating yourself cannot be undone overnight. It takes patience and practice to reprogram your mind with messages of love, self-respect and support. So be patient with you. You deserve it.
  • Surround yourself with a support team of people who believe in and practice unconditional acceptance. You deserve it. Include a team of professionals you can trust, to help you heal from the hurts. It’s worth it.
  • Wean yourself (at your pace) from the quick fixes.
  • Let go of any guilt you may have about needing the quick fixes. Even they serve their purpose. Sometimes they start you on your path back to connection and self-love. Mine have, and I am grateful that I had those tools at the time I needed them. It’s ok to need them; it’s ok to use them. When you no longer need them you’ll begin looking for new tools that will serve you moving forward.
  • Send love to your body. Spend time regularly exploring it. Get to know it. The bumps, the bruises, the cellulite, the scars, the stretch marks, the bony bits. Run your fingers over your skin, observing the imperfections. Try to remain mindful of the experience. Remember the stories behind each imperfection. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Pamper yourself. You deserve it.
  • Use physical exercise to help you reconnect. When you’re walking, observe and feel the way your legs move. Feel the aches of being on your feet. Feel your arms swinging by your side. Observe the things around you. Notice the ground under your feet. Notice the path. Notice the flowers or the grass or the water or whatever it is you see. Observe your body as it navigates the terrain.
  • Learn to listen to your body and what it needs. Learn the difference between the signals that say “I need to rest” and “I know you want to stop but that is your mind giving you false signals. Your body can do more and you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment if you can learn that you can do more than your mind thinks it can”.

One thing is certain in all this. You, and your body, are worthy. Worthy without conditions. You deserve unconditional love and acceptance, simply because you were born.

This video by Mary Lambert sums up this core message nicely.

Five Minute Morning Practices

During our focus on self-care, we have established how important it is to take regular time to re-centre and rebalance ourselves. The human body is designed to put out energy and to then go through a rejuvenation process to enable the system to reclaim and regain that energy. In the previous post I have shared with you a few simple meditations that could help you in taking some downtime.

In this post I’d like to share another resource I have in my office. This is a small book titled “Five Good Minutes: 100 morning practices to help you stay calm & focused all day long”, by Jeffrey Brantley, MD, and Wendy Millstine. I took a photo of the cover for you.

5goodminutes cover

When you open the book you’ll find it divided into two parts. The first is “the foundation”, which gives some background on the book, how to use it and what to expect. The second is “the practices”. This is further divided into categories according to what you might like to choose to focus on in your 5 minutes. In each category you’ll find a collection of activities/practices. Each is a double page and explains the practice and how to do it. There are 100 to try, so there should be something that works for everyone!

I have provided 2 examples for you to try. I’d love it if you gave them a go to see how they work for you.

 

Number 28

Take a musical break

 

Take five minutes in the morning and listen to a violin concerto or a piano piece by Chopin. If you prefer jazz, a piece from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue or John Coltrane’s My Favourite Things may be a nice alternative. Make sure that the music isn’t pumping hard rock, but something more meditative. If you want something more energetic, consider Dvorak’s Symphony no. 9, From the New World.

Once you have selected the appropriate song, let the music transport your mind to another place and time. Drift off to the last camping trip or vacation you took. Remember a time when you went to see a live orchestra play for the first time.

Music has a soothing effect on the nerves. Music has the power to stir up warm memories, to make you smile inside and to calm your inner spirit.

 

Number 14

Push all the right buttons

 

Stress is a part of life. Wouldn’t you love to have a button you could push to turn off stress and an equally useful button to turn on relaxation? Well, you can, by simply acknowledging the triggers that set you off and imagining the button that calms you down. You can retrain yourself to push the right buttons that allow you to relax and feel at ease.

  1. Recall a stressful time in your week. Notice your feelings and thoughts and how your body reacted.
  2. Now imagine a knob – much like the one on your stereo – that turns down the volume of stressful thoughts. When you feel yourself reacting to troubling thoughts, turn the volume down.
  3. To the right of the stress knob is a button for instant calmness where peaceful and reassuring thoughts can be heard. Press the button.

Create a mantra or key phrase that you can say to yourself, such as, “I have everything that I need to deal with this situation.” By learning how to adjust the volume on stress you instantly deescalate the strain and anxiety that may arise in your day. When you employ your visual relaxation button, you remind yourself that no situation is insurmountable.

Quieting the Mind

Have you ever experienced the sensation where your mind races so fast that you cannot capture your thoughts and it feels really chaotic and messy inside your head? I know I have. It happens almost every day, often as I am getting ready for work or when I am trying to get some sleep. Sometimes adequate rest is elusive and I end up laying awake until early in the morning. Which means I feel (and probably look) like a zombie the following day! Can you relate?

However, I have discovered something that generally helps me to quiet my mind so that I can get some shut-eye. And I find that when I am able to quiet my mind I end up getting the best, most creative ideas.

I thought I’d share a simple activity that you can all try to quiet your own minds. If you’re not used to practicing mindfulness you may find it challenging. Your mind may wonder away from what you’re trying to do. Over and over. This is perfectly normal. Our brains are designed to do this (the why’s and how’s of this is for another post!).

The following photos are taken from a set of cards I have at work. Each of them includes a simple meditation that you can practice at your convenience. If you already practice similar activities feel free to do it to your heart’s content. But if you’re not, try starting small. Aim for just a few minutes at a time. Be prepared for your mind to take your attention away from the card but remember that this is supposed to happen. Be kind with yourself and gently bring your attention back to what you are focusing on.

Once you feel like you can concentrate and pay attention for a few minutes, add a few more minutes and build it up slowly until you reach about 30 minutes a day.

I’d love to hear how you get on with them, so please feel free to leave a reply below!

focus flame meditation card

 

happy memories meditation card

 

abundance meditation card

 

Meditation card 1

 

The importance of self-care

refresh your mindset

When I think about self-care I can’t help but think about its opposite. What happens when we don’t take care of ourselves? When we go through the day without taking down-time? If it’s only for one day the effects are probably minimal. But what happens when it’s day after day, week after week, or even year after year?

I’ve met people who go through their lives on such high alert that when I suggest they try taking 10 minutes to do nothing, the thought of it has them freaking out! And if they try to actually do it, they feel restless, anxious, upset and lost!!

And then you get people on the other end of the spectrum, like me, who constantly give all their energy away. By the end of the day they have nothing left, and their bodies shut them down. They literally can’t move off the couch until it’s time to crawl into bed.self care fill cup

So what’s actually happened for someone who experiences these states? It’s highly likely that they are stressed. Many people believe that stress isn’t real. That it’s some made up condition. Let me rebuff that myth.

Stress is very real. It is a physiological response to some kind of threat. It’s an instinctual event that happens automatically. You do not control it, it controls you. That is, the body response is in charge. You can however manage your response and minimise its impact on your body and your life.

Glenda from Healthy Stories recently wrote a fabulous article about stress and how you can recognise when you’re in its midst. Check it out! It also has some great tips on how you can work with your body and lessen the impact stress has.

http://healthystories.com.au/2014/07/stress-free-life-stress-management-strategies/

self care possibilities

I think the most important thing you can do with this information is to figure out what is going to work for you. We are all individuals and every single body is different. And that means we all need different strategies to help us feel calm and centred.

worth taking care ofI know what it’s like to live in a constantly stressed body. I have lived it for a decade or more. My mind and body were completely disconnected from one another. It’s taken me a while to even figure out that what I was experiencing had the name “stress”. Working out how to reconnect my mind and body has been quite the task, and the process continues. I have taken time to rediscover how my body feels during and after exercise. I’ve taken time to discover how my mind and body feel after some guided visualisation and mindfulness practice. I’ve discovered many different things about myself. I’ve explored, tried some things out and learned a whole heap. I continue to learn. I have discovered that I really like who I am. And when I take time to regularly look after myself, I function much better during the day, I am much calmer, happier and more peaceful, and I love who I am.

Can’t ask for much more than that, right?

Are you prepared to embark on your own journey of exploration?

Self-Care for Parents

A short, sharp post for you all today. I simply wanted to share a snippet with you from a little while ago, when I was offered the opportunity to write a guest blog post for a fellow blogger, Shanelle Schick.

Shanelle has a site that supports mums and helps them get their mummy mojo back.

My blog post, titled “The greatest gift you can give your children” was born to help parents look at how they look after themselves. Quite often their own self-care is placed at the bottom of the list behind all the other things vying for their attention. However, prioritising their own self-care usually means the entire family is likely to benefit. They often experience more joy, happiness and serenity.

I’d love it if you’d check out the post.

http://connection-coaching.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/the-greatest-gift-you-can-give-your.html

And I’d encourage you to check out Shanelle’s site, it’s packed full of great information for new mums.

body scan pose

Who cares for the carers?

People with mental illness usually have a support team around them. Psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health nurses, social workers, general practitioners. People in mental health organisations such as the Richmond Fellowship (this link is QLD but you can google other states). People handing out medications and people providing emotional support. For the most part, these people do fabulous work in paving the way to wellness.

mental health stigma

But there is a whole other population that often gets overlooked. The family and friends. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers. The carers. They are often excluded from treatment due to “confidentiality”. How do carers help monitor medications if they don’t have accurate information about which prescriptions to fill or how many tablets are needed? How do they help regulate moods if they aren’t up to speed on which strategies have been used in therapy? And that also means they are unable to provide feedback to give the professional team a full picture of what is happening for their loved one. While I can’t speak for all carers, I know that the ones I have spoken to genuinely want to help support the road to wellness. And they want to respect personal space and privacy.

During periods of illness, carers are often confronted with some pretty tough stuff. Major mood swings. Irrational demands. Thought processes that aren’t based in reality. An inability to reason. Violence; to self and others. Hospital visits. Self-harm. Suicide attempts. Manipulation. Sometimes even homicidal tendencies. And they are often in the middle of the fray, caught up in the maelstrom of chaos.

carer head chaos

Chaos

Watching the people they love most in the world go through these experiences is heartbreaking. You watch your spouse with depression stay in bed day after day, week after week. You know that they are in pain and you try everything you know to help them. Encouragement, tough love, praise, cajoling, bringing friends in. You try talking to the doctors but you don’t get anywhere because they can’t talk back. You take over the running of the household, managing the children, cooking, cleaning. And you listen to your husband or wife talk about their inner pain and how much better off you and the children would be without him or her in it. You feel helpless and scared. What if they kill themselves? You wonder what else you can do to help. You don’t always understand why they can’t get themselves out of bed and rejoin the family. You feel lonely because the partner you knew isn’t there anymore. You feel alone because you don’t have your best friend to bounce things off. And you feel hopeless and helpless because the professional team won’t talk to you and tell you what you can do to help. Not to mention feeling guilty, fearful, resentful (of the illness), and a whole host of other emotions.

If you are a carer and can relate to this, please understand. You are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people with mental illness, and each of them very likely has a group of family and friends around them, feeling exactly the same way you do. That is a lot of people feeling like you.

Exhausted. Stressed. Alone. Afraid. Confused. Helpless. Guilty. Isolated.

That is a lot of stress to deal with. And when you feel it for long periods of time, it is really important that you take care of yourself. Some very simple strategies can make a big difference in how you well you bounce back from the stresses and ultimately in the quality of your life.

When you’re looking at specific strategies there is one thing to keep in mind. Given the amount of stress most carers experience, sometimes thinking about doing extra can be overwhelming. So keep things really simple and you’ll be able to incorporate some of them into your normal routine. Try these:thought training

  • Take 3-5 long, slow deep breaths. Try to focus on slowing your breaths down and smoothing them out. This will get some oxygen into your brain and help you think more clearly.
  • Pamper yourself. Take a bath, paint your nails, get a massage. This helps you relax your muscles and allows those stress hormones to dissipate.
  • Surround yourself with nature. Visit a garden, sit under a tree, get your hands dirty with soil. This will help ground you and release the stress.
  • Slow your brain down. Meditate, do yoga, or simply sit on your own for a while and breathe.
  • Do something you absolutely love.
  • Laugh.
  • Connect with other people. Often speaking with other carers can help you realise you aren’t in this on your own and give you a chance to pick some brains about strategies that others have used successfully.
  • Talk to someone. Sometimes seeing a professional can help you sort out the jumble in your head and give you some direction.

carer serenity scene

Australia has a network of carers organisations in each state that provide support for carers. They offer a variety of services, including access to support groups, workshops and counselling. They can also link you in with other services you may need. You can find details on each state’s organisation here, or call 1800 242 636 from anywhere in Australia. Some other countries also have carers organisations, including the UK and USA. Other support organisations in Australia include ARAFMI and COPMI (for the kids).

 

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

Bipolar – The Rollercoaster

Please join us and help me welcome Kate to The Mindset Effect! She shares her experiences in living with Bipolar Disorder. As always, if Kate’s story triggers your own illness, please either see your mental health professional or call Lifeline on 13 1114 for immediate support.

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Living with Bi-Polar is like riding a roller coaster – blindfolded! You never quite know what is coming next and both the ride up and the ride down are equally scary – though for different reasons. On the ride up, well it’s a much better feeling then the ride down, but I just never know when I’ll flip over and start my next descent. Also, out of nowhere every now and again there is a sharp and unexpected turn or the serene hope of a plateau where life just rolls along for a while. The ride down though is always hell. You never know just how low you’ll go or how long you’ll be down there and the sense of being out of control is terrifying some days.

bipolar rollercoaster

 The first time I truly knew something was not right was about 12 years ago now. I was sitting on my back steps, sobbing so hard I could barely breathe and my flatmate sat beside me, put her arm around me and said she could not understand; I’d been so happy just a few moments before. And I realised I had been and I literally could not explain why I was now crying my heart out.

The mood swings are the most well-known symptom and the roller coaster analogy is obvious there. Sometimes, usually in the low times, these mood swings can occur several times a day as I talk myself out of panic attacks, force myself to get out of bed and try desperately to distract myself from negative self-talk by something more fun, such as painting with my small child or walking my dog along the beach. Then, just for a few moments, sometimes an hour, even on the darkest days, I am truly conscious of a sense of peace, self-worth and activity of which I can be proud. This is on the bad days. The days when I will go and have a shower five, six, ten times a day so I can cry without my child hearing me. Days when I can only force myself to eat something because my child is looking at me, waiting for me to eat too, and it tastes like ash in my mouth. Days when I force myself to get out bed and the idea of dressing is so agonising I just put on the dirty clothes from yesterday (and the day before, and the day before that – I have been known to wear the same clothes for about a week before my partner would literally hide them and put something different on the floor where I’d dropped my dirty ones the night before), and pull my hair into a ponytail.

Then we flip to the mania – the “up” side of the roller coaster. On these days I will be up two or three hours before I need to be, living off adrenalin with very little sleep. By the time my child and partner wake I will have scrubbed the kitchen, showered, shaved, changed outfits half a dozen times until I am in just the right colours for the day, done my make-up, blow-dried my hair, made fancy lunches and been through half a dozen cook books to find something “exquisite” for dinner. I will spend all day in bursts of activity, rapidly moving from one to another with the attention span of a gnat. My child and I will paint, make up a show, play with the building blocks, go swimming, play the Wii, bake cookies, paint again, play with other toys, kick a ball around or play on the swings, until the child throws a massive tantrum and I realise I have run the poor mite ragged all day, totally forgotten to let them nap and there has been no actual meal but just snacks as I rush from one thing to another.

Other days I will shop all day, spending money we should be spending on bills and scheming on how to either hide it from my partner or justify why it was “necessary”. I will spend hours making a three-course meal only to throw it out because one part was not quite perfect and start again on a totally different set of recipes. Strangely enough I have come to recognise these as obsessive behaviours. I tell myself a good mother stimulates a child. Or a savvy woman enjoys shopping for bargains. Or a good wife presents her husband with a good meal when he gets home from a hard day at work. I get an idea in my head and just run with it to the absolute extreme.

Over the years I have often found myself in conversation with myself – this little objective part of me that seems to sit just above my head and questions my actions. In the past I have tried to explain, excuse or escape from its questions and other times I have just yelled at it shut-up, there is no reason, it just is.

Bipolar CBTWith the help of some good Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I have learnt to recognise and listen to that little voice – it is usually the voice of reason, alerting me to unreasonable behaviours, depressive or manic. I have learnt some great coping techniques and some ways to challenge and divert my negative self-talk. I have accepted I will be medicated for the rest of my life and I have become far more spiritual in my search for ‘sanity’ or peace with myself.

It has not happened over-night. In fact there have been some pretty awful times in the last 12 years, but these days I am pretty happy in my skin. I have come to accept that mental illness is actually a lot like physical illness – no-one chooses to be sick, and medication really does help. Attitude is a huge factor in coping as well. To deny, denigrate or despise myself is not helpful.

To accept, challenge and celebrate myself is.

These days, when I don’t want to get out of bed or clean my teeth, cause really they’re just going to get dirty again and who cares? I remind myself that I care. I care about me. I engage in some positive self-talk, I set myself small achievable goals and I remind myself that “this too shall pass”. On days when I am up at 4am and have enough energy to run the New York marathon twice, I drop anchor and breathe, I notice five things and consciously slow myself down. Then I pull out a list of projects I’ve been thinking about, pick a couple and use the energy I have in positive ways – after all, this too shall pass.

And really, that’s the message – this too shall pass. Both good and bad are only passing moments and I do the best I can with them and let them go. I am who I am and, strangely enough, I have learnt that is all I have to be.

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Kate is a mother who is doing her best to parent her child whilst caring for herself through this illness. She sometimes faces the daily challenges of this rollercoaster ride difficult but usually finds peace by walking along the beach and connecting with the water.

bipolar beach

More on Anxiety

I would like to bring you all back to anxiety for a brief moment. A colleague of mine wrote this post for me a while ago and I think it might assist those of you who experience anxiety. Mick provides a simple place from which to begin managing your anxiety – mindfulness. Have a read and see what you think. If you feel you may benefit from learning how to observe your anxiety, please make contact with your mental health professional.

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What’s your lived experience of anxiety? What’s your relationship to it? If it were an animal, a colour, a flavor, what form would it take?  Is it something that seems like a normal part of your life?

Anxiety is a condition that increasingly affects people and communities globally. While it can be healthy in small amounts it often reaches levels in contemporary life that can have a debilitating effect on an individual’s psychological, spiritual and physical wellbeing. The effect of collective anxiety on communities can also be profound in the wake of significant events.

mindful or mind full

 There are many diverse strategies for managing anxiety and different things may work for different people. In that moment however of a racing pulse rate, inability to focus, a short fuse or lying awake in the middle of the night how do you go about applying a strategy? For example have you had the experience of successfully activating breathing techniques to reduce your symptoms? Have you been too overwhelmed in the moment to manage the anxiety? Have you ever had that thought “Well these tips all seem good in theory but….’

The simple act of observing what is going on in your body is a good place to start. Learning to become curious about the subtle and obvious characteristics of your own anxiety can open up a space in which you can really make a choice about how you want to experience that anxious moment. From there you can explore different strategies but it begins with curiosity. Not always easy. It can be hard to look that beast in the eye sometimes. But there are ways you can learn to be curious without getting caught up in the maelstrom.

Underneath curiosity lays motivation. Is anxiety something you can live with whatever its degree? Does anxiety provide other benefits that you feel might disappear if you conquer it? Is anxiety affecting your relationships with other people? Some of these questions may appear simple however like a sad song, they can suddenly make complete sense when the time is right.

So as best you can try not to see anxiety as an enemy to be resisted (resistance may sap what little energy you have left!). Before the strategies…observe it, understand it and then make a decision on how you want to live with or manage it.

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Mick Sheedy. Counsellor (Bach.App.Soc.Sci. Counselling) (QCA)

Hi, my name is Mick and I recently moved to Clunes from Brisbane with my wife and our boxer dog. We chose to live in Clunes because we like the sense of community and the natural beauty/serenity. I am a counsellor and my most recent work has been in assisting carers of all ages to manage their mental health.  A carer is someone who cares for another person living with a mental illness, physical or intellectual impairment. I am now available for counselling from a peaceful and private location in Clunes. Tel: 0478 086340 email: micksheedy12@gmail.com

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