Surviving Overwhelm or Exhaustion

Let me introduce the 3-2-1 Survival Method©, which I have developed over three decades of working with clients with depression, anxiety, chronic illness, and in emergency situations of overwhelm and stress.

While I have been in my own situation of illness I have been able to put this method into written form so that I can share it with you. This post is about the Survival Method, the emergency prescription you can give yourself in a crisis. Ideally you are already, or can arrange to be, signed off work. It’s likely you have had a sudden health or mental health crash and given yourself quite a fright with the symptoms. I will blog next time about the Maintenance Programme for those who haven’t yet crashed and are beset with external demands of work or other people, or those who have recovered enough functioning to appear back to normal but now know that their health is not to be taken for granted.

Do you feel that you have reached the end of your tether? That the last straw happened about three straws ago? Paralysed by the amount of stuff that you need to do but are unable to make inroads into? Pretending you’re coping but too fatigued to get up the stairs to bed?

If you are treading water just to keep from drowning, then the 3-2-1 Survival Method is probably just what you need in its ease and simplicity. In an ideal situation you could use this method for a few days or a few weeks, I will talk another time about being able to use this method for longer term and chronic situations.

Let’s get straight to the method.

You wake up, you are lying in bed and for what ever reason the day ahead looks impossible. Maybe you are depressed, maybe you are in physical pain, maybe you are exhausted, maybe there is no point to anything.

Today you only have to do 3 things, but you do have to do these 3 things. They are your 3 Essentials: move; eat and rest. That is it, that is all you have to do today. Make them the first 3 things you do. You have limited time, motivation or energy so the trick is to do it quickly and easily so you can definitely achieve them before you use all your energy.

The definition of movement, eating and rest is up to you. The key component is that you can definitely achieve these 3 things today, with the energy you have today. If getting dressed and going out of the house is going to be beyond you today, then you may count as today’s ‘movement’, the act of getting out of bed, and stretching or staying in bed and circling your ankles. This is just how it is some days.

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Resting in the Sunshine

I know you are an intelligent and informed adult, and you don’t need me to tell you about the recommended amounts of daily exercise, the health benefits of exercise, healthy weight averages, graded increases and the importance of daylight and sunshine. If you can, I am sure you will incorporate as many of these pieces of information as you can into your movement today. If you can, of course, you will go outside and walk or run, but if you can’t it is really important that you feel satisfaction as you can put a tick by one of the 3 essential things to be done today. You can only work with what you have, you can only be where you are. You are making movement into a priority and will attempt to do that before other things. When you undertake your movement you need to be aware of what is too little for you and what is too much and how you can easily and comfortably get a nice, big, satisfying tick against this essential today.

Usually I am able to follow good advice and have the blinds open to let the light in by 7.30 or 8am. Sometimes it takes me till 9 or 9:30am to get from my bed to lie on the yoga mat at the foot of my bed. But when I have done my simple yoga exercises I can know I have done my movement for the day. If I am having a better day there is nothing to stop me getting dressed, going outside, going swimming and doing more movement later on, yet I do not need to feel like a failure if it’s not that sort of a day. This program is for survival. If you stick to the 3-2-1 Survival Method, you are doing all you need to do to keep your head above water and to manage. This is your emergency prescription for hard times. It is essential that we can meet these three goals every day.

Rest is so important, especially when you are stressed or exhausted. You need some introverted, quiet time without stimulus and without people. Facebook time, TV and having a coffee with a friend are NOT rest times. Lying on the yoga mat listening to a meditation CD, having a long bath, gazing out the window at the clouds and being asleep ARE rest. Again you are a sensible adult and know that if possible it is best not to be asleep in the format of a lie-in but to get out and if necessary go back to bed later on. There are lots of studies on the best way to nap and as each of us is an individual, you need to find your own way. But if I am going to nap I set an alarm so that I do not nap for longer than 90 minutes. Some people find that having a coffee just before going to sleep or eating a square of dark chocolate just as they wake up is helpful to stimulate a wakeful state.

I might sit on the edge of the bed after a shower for half an hour before I can move to get dressed. The choice to feel frustrated by this or to see it as an achievement of resting is mine. Sometimes I fall asleep with about 30 seconds notice in the middle of the day! With 30 seconds I try make sure that my sleep will be as physically comfortable as possible and that I have an alarm set. Other times I structure in an afternoon rest, even if I don’t feel desperately tired. I have a fantastic range of meditations, relaxations and yoga nidra CDs and know how to engage with Constructive Rest as explained in Alexander Technique. I try to ensure I utilise these methods of rest several times a week.

So you now have two big ticks against 3 essential tasks for the day: movement and rest. I like to have all 3 of my essential tasks done before midday. So after my time on my yoga mat I just need to eat a small bowl of fruit, yoghurt and nuts and I have now attended all to all 3 essentials. There is nothing more I have to do today!

If I want to do more resting, eating and movement, I am free to do so with no pressure.

Making these 3 things the priorities when we have little time or energy or motivation is helpful as we won’t be defeated because we expect too much of ourselves. We can be successful! Furthermore achieving these things are likely to boost our mood and wellbeing. Even if they don’t, they help to prevent an exacerbation of our difficulties. It’s a way of practicing kindness towards ourselves, but not complacency. Creating a middle ground between pushing too hard and giving up. A daily act of commitment towards ourselves, with hope and active participation in our lives.

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Homemade Soup

Sitting in Bed

Before I have completely run out of energy (motivation, if your problem is depression), it is time to do 2 Worthwhile Things. This is the next part of the 3-2-1 Survival Method.

I have survived cancer so far. Being debilitated by the side-effects of my treatment is not just frustrating, it can be very depressing if I’m not sure why I have survived, if all I can do is lie around in bed all day! I need to know that life is worthwhile, that I survived for some reason and that my courage each day to keep going is worth the effort.

Everyone’s reasons will be different but we all have reasons for living. Mine are love, creativity, ideas and beauty. If I message a friend or FaceTime with one of my kids, then I have done a worthwhile thing today. If I write a poem, have an idea for a blog, feel moved by a film or a play at the theatre, then my day has been worthwhile. One day last week I was able to plant some iris bulbs in a pot, they will flower in the spring, that was worthwhile. I message with my three best friends and my two daughters most days. I tell people I love them every day, I spend tender, quality time with my partner, and these types of connection use some energy but not over much. I love exciting times when I meet and talk with friends and I like to have lunch with my dad and speak to my mum and spend time with my brother and his family. I can’t manage many of these types of occasions. There’s so much more socialising I want to do than I can do, more messages to return than I can manage and that’s a wonderful problem to have.

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Irises Planted in a Pot

Think about what makes life worthwhile and take time each day to do 2 worthwhile things, whether they are big things, such as visiting a place you’ve always wanted to go to, painting a canvas, or small, like sending a text or adding flowers to the grocery shop.

3 Essentials, 2 Worthwhile Things, and finally, 1 Job. Sometimes I call the jobs ‘structural tasks’, because these tasks help keep the structure that supports us going. They might include banking, repairs, bill paying, and often include annoying things such as trying to make an email and a password match, or being ‘on hold’ for ages! I hate doing these things but they are important in terms of contributions to a secure base. Having an organised, smooth running, beautiful home, especially if you have to spend a lot of time in it, is important as is having balanced finances.

Naturally, 1 Job / 1 Structural Task is not enough to make our homes beautiful, when the list of these jobs that need doing is endless. I know that and there are reasons the 3-2-1 Survival Method asks you to do only 1 Job and that it’s done after the 3 Essentials and 2 Worthwhiles.

When people are in survival mode it can go two ways: one is to be so overwhelmed that the person can achieve nothing and they bury their heads in the sand, and the other is to frenetically engage in multitasking, trying to achieve all the jobs and not experiencing the satisfaction of completing one task.

I am guilty of the latter. I can feel extremely stressed by all the jobs that I have not been able to complete. This stress is really bad for my physical health and recovery because I cannot get to the bottom of my list. In fact even when I was well and healthy I could not get the bottom of my list!

Prioritising our Essentials and Worthwhiles helps us feel healthier and happier in spite of not achieving everything and the 3-2-1 Survival Method even helps us to feel SUCCESSFUL!

So 1 Task is all I have to do today. What’s more difficult is that we have to leave the other tasks. Learning to let go, learning that we cannot stretch our time and energy to do everything is a very important survival skill. Finding peace with it is a major life lesson. Surviving is the real job in hand. If you were in a stormy sea, in a life ring, none of those jobs on your list would be worrying you.

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Beautiful , Worthwhile View from Stanage Edge

Ideally, we prioritise the jobs into the most urgent. Often it is hard to choose as so many tasks feel pressing. So I have a my own rules: I have no more than 5 tasks on my top sheet of ‘Things to Do’ and don’t have a long list of jobs visible; medical issues take priority over financial issues and financial issues take priority over organisational issues. Sometimes prioritising, in order for our sanity or energy to be in tact by the end of the day, results in extra costs, for example this week I will have to pay a parking fine rather than appeal it because I am going to prioritise a scan at the hospital and I can’t manage both. That is the cost of my recovery program and my sanity. Stress, as well as being useful and stimulating, reduces my physical resilience so I have to choose my battles wisely.

That is why I have invented, and why I use, the 3-2-1 Survival Method. This helps me clarify my priorities: 3 things that are essential for survival; 2 things to make survival worthwhile and 1 job to strengthen my secure base. The beauty of the method is that anyone can use it, no matter how tired, sick or depressed, because it’s about what you can manage. If you get to the end of your 3-2-1 tasks and think, ‘what next?’, this simply means that you’ve underestimated your capability today, that’s wonderful! So go back, eat, rest, move, do a couple more worthwhile things and tackle something else on your jobs list. You will find that the better you get at reading yourself, the more accurate you become in estimating your ability that day. Eventually you will move from Survival Method to Maintenance Programme.

As a way of holding a middle ground between success and defeat, action and inaction, the 3-2-1 Survival Method is an excellent way of treading water, neither drowning by passivity not drowning by over exertion. Keeping afloat is the aim. Hanging in there.

What I’d love to hear are your stories and experiences and feedback when you try this method for yourself. Your feedback and questions help become clearer about what is most helpful and who is most helped. So please don’t just try this for yourselves, let me know how you get on. And if you really like it please share my article with people who will benefit.

Much love to you all. Writing to you today is my ‘Worthwhile’.

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Resting:

Looking at the Sky, Sitting in the Car

 

 

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The question that is so important and the answer that is not.

What if you didn’t have long to live?

I remember sitting with a client during a session while she was waiting for results of a cancer test.

“What would you do if the results are positive and you have two years to live ?”, I dared to ask the unspoken question.

“Quit my job, travel, spend time with family.”

“And if you had twenty years?”

“I’d carry on just the same as I am.” This conversation led me to being curious about where she changed her approach. 5 years? 3 years?

My own experience leads me to wonder not just about where we draw the line, but also how we avoid asking the blunt question, ‘What if I don’t have long?’.

When I was diagnosed with very shortened odds this gave rise to a flurry of advice, mainly designed to keep me away from the contemplation of the question.

I was advised to do all sorts of things:

Fight it

Be strong

Be positive

Have faith

Take cannabis oil

Eat differently

Visit a healer

All of which may improve life quality but are not guaranteed to improve life expectancy.

To me much advice was to keep, not just me, but the advice giver away from the random nature of when death comes. If they could hold on to their belief that I could fight this disease off through sheer willpower they didn’t have to face losing me and they didn’t have to face asking themselves this question sure in the magical powers of being able to save themselves with their chosen method.

Actually, true to my own nature, I wanted to ask this question, I wanted to contemplate it. “What if I die? What if I don’t have long?”

 everything becomes precious and beautiful and valued

I live in a perpetual state of this question ‘hanging over my head’ and the first thing I notice is that everything becomes precious and beautiful and valued. I also notice I don’t worry much about things anymore, I don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s a bit peculiar not to have my plans and not to have everything mapped out. All plans, whether they are to pick up my PhD or to meet up with a friend, have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. On the other had with no plans there is no pushing unrealistically to achieve them. The only certainty for me is that nothing is certain.

When you get news that throws up this question, no matter how well you are at that time, you are often quickly plunged into being unwell. In my case, major surgery, chemotherapy and other medication have meant that the answer I thought I would have to the question – see people, visit places, go to Italy etc. – are not possible at the moment. Most people who have the question thrust upon them, or those with little time left, don’t have the health to travel, the energy to talk to visitors, never mind the astronomical travel insurance necessary to leave the country at a time you may feel you need to be near your own doctors. I don’t find that I’m sad or regretting the places I can’t go, my focus has naturally changed and I feel happy and peaceful in this time and space.

compulsive behaviour, to get back into control isn’t courage, that is fear

I don’t know how long I have. Occasionally I have played the statistics game: If 15% of people survive 5 years … some of those must smoke, refuse treatment? Does this include the people who get run over by a bus? Sometimes I do this game, trying to increase my odds and reassure myself I’m in the surviving group. I think I have better odds than average, I really do. But what about after 6 years? Ten years? And in the meantime, there’s always car crashes to be avoided and pneumonia and blood clots…

This game is to avoid the question. Just like the advice to cure myself by thinking positively. Compulsive behaviour, to get back into control isn’t courage, that is fear! Of course at times I wrestle trying to control the outcomes, anyone with chronic illness (which is now increasingly the cancer definition) tries their damnedest to get well, to be their old self. People with chronic fatigue and ME for example usually have motivation and lists of things they want to do, but their illness is not controlled by motivation or positive thinking. What if they don’t get better, what if this quality of life is simply how it is? And what if our length of life isn’t what we want?

Why avoid the question when it’s so life affirming?

What I am actually doing with my uncertain amount of time (and remember your time is also uncertain, everyone’s is) is to look at the tree, stroke the cat, go to yoga. I sleep a lot, lie in bed, message with my friends a lot. I do engage in healing meditations and positive affirmations and express gratitude and joy every day, but because it feels good to do so, not because of magical thinking that this will create the outcome I want.

I’ve also had lots of visits from people. And I have been to Croatia, Bath, Scotland and Wales  – it is lovely but so different to what I imagined I’d do if it were Bucket List time. In Bath I was in bed 20 hours a day. In Croatia I didn’t manage to do much but rest as I am having to relearn walking and can’t stand for long. In Wales I lay on my yoga mat in a field and swam in the sea and then lay on my mat again. As I lay there I listened to the layers of sound, a dog barking, voices, the sea, birdsong, the breeze, my breath. When I lie here in bed I hear the owl often, foxes, people, traffic, cat purrs. Life is beautiful.

Quality of life, richness, layers, sounds, sights, smells, textures and tastes. Laughter, sleep, hugs, dinner.

 bucket lists are for the well, not for the sick

You know what my point is, why do we all work so hard to avoid the question when it’s such a lovely experience to live with it? And the question is really no more mine than yours. If you have a Bucket List, do it now while you can, those lists are for the well not the sick. But also while you are well, get used to doing nothing, to listening to the layers, to looking at something for hours. This does magically extend time.

 why avoid the question when it’s so life affirming?

This is life affirming question. So much so that some Buddhist meditations involve meditating on a skeleton to remind us of our mortality. The question is not, “what would you do if you had little time left?”, because funnily enough ‘doing’ isn’t the priority when it comes to it.

What if you don’t have much time left?

Asking the question is supremely important. Answering it, less so.

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Finally as a PS to those to whom I haven’t replied to yet – I have had so many messages, cards, texts, emails, messages, whatsapp and visitors I am really struggling to keep up. I do value the love and the messages and I am working my way through them but they come in faster than my energy replenishes. Thank you so much for you loving, kind thoughts. I’m still here, I’m still OK. I’m not terribly ill and I’m not terribly well, I’m just where I am and I treasure the connections I have with you.

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Poking death with a stick, being a goddess and related activities

I tread a path with one foot in one world and one in the other and if you see either just my complaints and suffering or just my peace and curiosity you are missing a part. It’s both, it always was.
Miriam Grace 2017

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I see it as if I’m prodding Death with a stick and you are all around me watching it unfold or even prodding it with your own stick. Some people can stand well back from it but I have a curiosity that makes me look at it. Sometimes it lies there sleepy and harmless, other times it growls and snaps it’s jaws and I jump back shrieking! It lies in everyone’s path, of course, but normal life helps us ignore it and walk on by. My current experience makes it much more visible on a daily basis and it becomes a significant part of the obstacle course each day.

Many have said how well I am handling this experience and someone the other day said I was handling it, ‘like a goddess’ which made me laugh a bit and wonder too what it was she saw because I don’t feel that way! My counsellor thinks it’s because I’m able to be both curious and articulate about the experience. My curiosity being bigger than my fear and my ability to express myself maybe looks like mastery of the subject?

My current experience is a limbo experience. As if I’m hanging in a hammock, held and safe in the Now. But if I put my foot down one side I’m in the Past, full of nostalgia for the good times and grief for the loss of my world and my life as it was. I’m not in the same house, in work, having an income, holidays, my children have grown up and that past life has gone. If I put my foot down the other side into my Future and try to picture where I might live, work, holiday, visit, inspire I have a proviso of ‘as long as the cancer doesn’t get me’ in brackets behind each hope. I think as time goes on I will be more able to dismiss my consultant’s predictions as simply that – guesses – and that I will be able to live out some of my hopes and dreams and do some bucket list adventures when I’m strong enough, however as getting strong enough or having time enough are uncertain (and the doctor wasn’t encouraging hope) the only healthy place for me is in the Now.

Now. People spend a lifetime trying to live in the now. How lucky I am to have this next lesson in mindfulness pushed upon me. It’s quite an experience to have my multitasking, superwoman life over and to spend considerable time not simply observing, but noticing and registering, sunlight, trees, skin, tastes and smell in a strangely protracted way as if these experience are sacred. In fact they are.

I’m so glad I’ve spent my lifetime learning to be unafriad of emotions – they do come thick and fast on this path I can tell you, but their intensity doesn’t faze me. I can own my capacity to navigate emotions and I can own my curiosity and courage to look at things, including prodding death with a stick.

I wondered for a moment if I’d prefer to be without these resources, as being experienced in therapy and meditation and contemplation of the true nature of Self (from my psychosynthesis perspective) seems to oblige me to a path of wisdom and grace – as if I ought to be like a goddess, as if it’s my calling to do this well!

But I realised it is still a choice. And what I want to express today is the two worlds I’m in.

One me in one of my worlds is resourced and wise and laughs at how seriously we take life and take ourselves. This world is very beautiful and amusing by turn and feels spiritual and almost detached. I feel prepared. I watch the autumn and feel every nuance. There are four stages of leaf on the tree I’m looking at; crisp and dry at the outer edges and then plumper nearer the trunk. When it turns dark outside my window and I’m still sitting here looking I feel an ache and a pain of ending and the sun having gone. I sort of like it too and indulge it a few minutes before closing the blinds and putting the lamps on and feeling the cosines of home, snuggling under a blanket on the sofa and listening to music or a meditation. Feeling how heavy and tired my limbs are and letting go into it. Tasting every ingredient in my supper, stroking the cat, feeling her transfer her weight from paw to paw as she walks across me, laughing with loved ones, feeling the support of an arm or a hand in a new way, without either guilt or desire but gentle acceptance. Seeing things with different eye. I’m on my Viewing Platform* and it’s sublime.

The other world is real too and it’s basically shitty and physically painful and tiring and I worry about money, I get frustrated with injustice**; I worry how many Christmases I may or may not have left and sometimes stress about this one working out ok. Standing and walking are painful. I can’t manage much, progress is slow and I have to cope with some rather unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy. I find it hard to get out of bed, things get lost, passwords forgotten, my Twitter got hacked and sometimes I cry with frustration. I miss my long hair with a pang each day which seems superficial but it’s true. Sometimes I don’t manage to get up and dressed and the days when I do, which is 90% of the time, I have to be incredibly determined and push myself to get each item of clothing on and to do whatever exercises I’ve set myself. Last night a terror visited me when a dear friend was suddenly without warning admitted to end of life care when she’d had her all clear from cancer just 3 months ago.

On balance, with both worlds being true my stress reaction is minimal, I am so much calmer than might be expected, so perhaps I am appearing to handle this well, it’s not an easy situation to remain fully open and aware in and yes I am, but I’m no goddess!

“In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only place for me. Each moment, taken alone, was always more bearable.”
taken from the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

I tread a path with one foot in one world and one in the other and if you see either just my complaints and suffering or just my peace and curiosity you are missing a part. It’s both, it always was. The ‘both are true’ idea (similar to working with polarities in Gestalt) is something I use a lot in therapy work, you are scared and you are capable, both are true. When you acknowledge and talk about a perceived negative feeling or weakness (though I don’t like to call them that), think also about what else is true. It’s great when we are able to register and own our feelings, our anger, grief, fear, powerlessness, but not at the expense of denying our courage, power, love, insight, strength. Perhaps there is something right now where it would be good to say, ‘both are true’?

I hope it helps both of us when you read my blog. It helps alleviate my sense of loss around my role if I can be helpful and useful and it gives meaning to my wonderings to share them and I hope it is helpful or thought provoking for you to be witness to my experiences along this new and challenging path that I’m on.

Dedicating this blog to Yvette who died yesterday morning after I wrote this,
and to Dawn who is broken without her and supported by love as well.

NOTES

* The Viewing Platform is a concept I came up with and use in my therapy work with others to describe a technique where we build a client’s unique and safe viewing platform through meditation so we can avoid retraumatisation but enable clear viewing of what is; observing without being ‘in’ the story.

** My Employment Support Allowance of £70 per week took 5 months to come through; my house purchase and mortgage fell through because I had no income; I had to move house because I could no longer afford my rent; I’ve been granted some Disability Allowance nearly 11 months after getting ill and they’ve decided to pay me from August though I was ill from January! In Derby the Citizen’s Advice Bureau has been closed and there are zero housing benefits officers any more. The frustrations of being kept on hold for an hour to speak to someone in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who then gives incorrect information don’t bear thinking about. I don’t mention this for a pity party but to highlight the terrible unjust state of the DWP and knowing full well that others who have worked hard all their lives, as I have, and paid National Insurance and tax, as I have, without the family support I have, are using food banks and have mounting debt, I’ve been very shocked by the system which was designed to take worry away from people who became ill and now is one of the biggest stressors sick people face. I’ve felt more powerless and anxious about the benefits system than I ever have about cancer. There’s a whole terrible scenario taking place outside the public eye that is so much worse than I’d imagined and I feel unable to gloss over this as I’d hate to collude with the whitewash. I am OK and won’t starve or become homeless, I have a beautiful view from my own nice warm flat that is clean and healthy and affordable, so don’t worry about me, recently I’ve come to accept that I am held gently and won’t be dropped and my spiritual world balances the harsh reality of the other world but not everyone has that luxury.

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Stop Investing In Getting Better – My Top Tip for Depression and more

IMG_2572 (1)One of the most unkind things you can do to yourself when you are unwell with depression is to focus on getting better. Why? Depression is an illness that will run its course and when you are evaluating whether you’re any better or not you are constantly reinforcing a sense of failure and defeat.

 

I’m not saying give up, not at all. Just stop thinking that because you did X, Y and Z and you don’t feel any better, or because you were too low to attempt X, Y and Z, it’s your fault you don’t feel any better.

 

Imagine if you had the ‘flu and took some vitamin C and ate an orange and got cross because you weren’t better! Or everytime you sneezed berated yourself because you didn’t take vitamin C? You’ve got the ‘flu, we don’t know why, there are things you can do like drinking fluids and resting but it will go when it goes.

 

I doubt you can hasten recovery but I honestly believe that investing in getting better prolongs depression. Stop giving yourself a hard time.

 

So what should you do? I advise you keep a good mental health regime when you can and follow my tips below, but don’t beat up on yourself for lack of results. Forget the results. What we are doing with a good mental health regime is laying the ground for when you are better, so that you will be able to enjoy your good mental health when it arrives. You can’t MAKE it arrive through sheer will power, you’ve tried that for a long time. Let’s look at how you can get yourself ready for the good days when they come (in time, through no predictable cause).

 

Miriam’s Top Tips for Depression

 

1 Stop investing in getting better:

Keep up good health practice when you can but try to stop measuring and worrying about improved symptoms.

You are not alone, many people are living with depression and it’s OK to be depressed. (You may need to say that to yourself several times over because that is often the hardest piece in the depression puzzle.)

 

2 You don’t need a reason:

If you know the reason for your depression it’s easier to fend off all those people who don’t want you to be depressed and who are looking for a reason, probably so they can fix you because they don’t know it is OK to not be OK. You may have had a bereavement, illness or job loss. However a majority of people don’t know the reason. My personal belief is there is always a reason and therapy may help you find it. But having a reason does not reduce your depression and it’s quite legitimate to not know the reason. I have cancer and people aren’t constantly asking me, ‘But why are you ill?’, there is a reason, no one knows what it is and finding it won’t cure me!

 ”having a reason does not

reduce your depression”

3 You do need exercise:

All studies show, my personal experience in my life and my 3 decades as a psychotherapist show, exercise helps depression. Try some wrist and ankle circles now. Screw your face up and relax it, breathe in, drop your shoulders. Don’t expect results, remember tip number 1.

 

You may get some good side effects of endorphins and a temporary mood lift from exercise, this is really helpful in reminding your system of other states of mental health and for keeping you well. This will help you do more positive things. Your brain will be reminded of what it feels like to be healthy and while your depression may continue, you are literally keeping your mind open to other states.

 

One of the benefits of exercise is that it regulates our breathing, two other ways of doing this are Laughter Yoga or singing. You can do these in groups or in the privacy of your own home. There is even a laughter phone line you can join.

 

4 You may need medication:

Don’t decrease, increase or stop your medication suddenly. Do talk to your GP and ask for a medication review. If you’re not on medication, consider if your symptoms are constant or if they come and go and if you would benefit from some ‘pain relief’.

 

5 Everyone needs contact with people and nature:

Try and say yes to contact with others. Even looking at videos of cute animals on the internet has been showing to stimulate positive feelings so connect with people and animals in whatever way you can. If you can get actual physical hugs that will help immensely.

 

Get out and sit in a park or your garden or do what I’m doing right now and find a room with a view.

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6 Gratitude:

Proven in studies, counting our blessings helps. I will be doing weekly gratitude posts for you to join in with on my facebook page.

 

7 Expect good days and opt in:

Be organized and prepared for exercise and social outings even if you can’t manage it, make sure your gym bag or swimming bag are always ready to go or your running shoes and some socks are by the door and your kit to hand. Then when you have a good day you don’t have to spend it searching for your cossie or being defeated because your clothes aren’t washed. When the good days come, that decision moment to go out might be brief and delays can cost you the opportunity. I’ve had clients who have spent weeks with their swimming bag ready in their car, before feeling able to make use of it. It is an achievement to be ready and may just lead to further achievement.

 

Plan outings and say, ‘yes’ to invitations. You can always say to people that there is a 30% chance you will need to cancel. With my current health issues I always say, ‘yes’ with this proviso and add that I want people to keep asking even if I don’t come because I will come eventually. You don’t know if you will feel like going so don’t predict negatively now, say, ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’, keep the door open for yourself. You can always opt out later.

 

The tips are not focused on getting results and they aren’t about not accepting yourself. The point of my tips is that you do them because it’s good mental health hygiene and it keeps things ready for your return for health and helps you make the most of small windows of positivity. It will prevent you prolonging or exacerbating symptoms. Be ready and organized for those decision moments on a good day and enjoy those times, focus on, be pleased about and celebrate those times.

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Monkeys and balls

Have you heard the story about the golf course in Calcutta? I think it goes something like this: After colonising India, the British in their wisdom decided that Calcutta needed a golf course. They built a beautiful course in a great location. However once opened, business was threatened as monkeys would invade the course, pick up the balls, play with them, lob them somewhere and run off. Various methods were tried in order to get rid of the pesky monkeys (high fences, luring them elsewhere with food, trapping them) but the monkeys kept returning for the pleasure of pinching the balls. Eventually a novel rule was introduced, usual rules of play applied except that if a ball was taken by a monkey, you had to play the ball from where they dropped it!

This could be fabulous luck if the monkey took it nearer to your desired location, or total disaster. The golfers were livid. This wasn’t fair!

This unique game and the reactions of the players soon became a metaphor for life. Sometimes, no matter how well we approach things, there is a factor of random, indiscriminate luck that we have no control over. In discussions with Kirsty Williams, psychologist at the Cancer Specialist Services, Derby Hospitals, she told me this story as she sat with me while I was untangling my many reactions to my cancer diagnosis.

You can imagine how my heart sank when my life and work, which I felt I had built up over several decades, were completely thrown off balance. It felt as if every time I took a shot at picking myself back up and moving forward, something would come along and throw it off whack again. The cancer diagnosis felt like the worst of a series of the ball not ending up where I’d sent it.

But there is another part of this story that isn’t always emphasised. It doesn’t make the golfer a poor golfer, it affects outcome but it doesn’t mean they play less well. All the skills I have built up, the knowledge, resources, the skills, I can still use them to play each ball.

As I approach this next shot, I am really disappointed and frustrated as I look realistically at where the ball has been dropped. It’s completely unfair and such rotten luck, it reduces my chances of completing the game in style, my life expectancy is drastically shortened, my projects – some half completed, some only just begun and some only an idea in my head – must be abandoned for now. My focus is in a different direction and my sight line obscured. ‘Och, Miriam, that’s bollocks.’ Said my Scottish brother (a spot on observation) when I told him the latest. Those around me watch me go for the next shot with their hearts in their mouths, their hopes low and with tears. They will support me until the end but they now doubt they are backing a winner.

it’s my ball, it’s not me

They are however backing and supporting someone who is very experienced, skilled and wise. I do know what I’m doing, I do understand emotional territory, stress and grief. All of that skill has not gone because the ball was dropped in a really poor place. I can play this shot and though it might not get me back to where I think I should be or even back to where I was, it will be a good shot. It will smack of me.

I can navigate life’s dramas and traumas with my eyes closed (literally sometimes), this is my skills set. I’m truly and utterly pissed off about where the monkey dropped my ball, believe me. But it’s my ball, it’s not me. I can still do my best with what I’m given and my best isn’t bad. It ain’t over till it’s over and I intend to play each shot from here with style and grace.

Hoping your day goes well, that your balls are dropped favourably (!) and that you can enjoy quality of life over outcome.

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Why I won’t be fighting my cancer

Sometimes people talk about ‘fighting’ cancer or ‘losing the battle’ with cancer.

Quite early on I realised this wasn’t resonating with me. Aside from the fact that I am a pacifist and committed to non violence, I haven’t ever been in a fight. I am not trained, or experienced or inclined to fight. I can’t draw on my skills and strengths for the ‘battle ahead’.

When we try, push or fight we introduce stress automatically, it comes along with the judgments we have just taken on board, i.e. are we doing it ‘right’ or enough? And if fighting is what I’m supposed to do, does that mean dying is evidence of my failure? To be made responsible for my survival of this is not fair or useful or even informed. The truth is that we can do our best, thousands of brave souls have, but we can’t control the outcome.

The concept of being who we are not and trying to be where we are not, is certain to cause stress. Fighting anything is STRESSFUL because it introduces the concepts of winning or losing.

Which is why I won’t be ‘fighting cancer’.

I am however determined, and focussed on living. I have a life long experience of feeling, of exploring, of living and loving. I’m skilled at compassion and kindness, at reflection. And I’m courageous, I face truth and I face feelings and I sit with these things and converse with them and make friends with them. I don’t avoid them or fear them, I don’t fight them, I learn from them. Many feelings and experiences arrive, stay a while and go. I listen and learn. That’s my skills set. That’s my daily discipline.

I am living my life with love and with grace. I am courageously living each day with every beautiful experience life gives me, including cancer. I have always lived life to the full, seizing new experiences grasping new feelings about what is. This is something I am good at and can live now. I have always loved everything and everybody- welcoming people and adventures with an open heart. I would have lost only if I became other than my nature – love.

So I will love being alive and happy, and I will love sobbing with grief, I will love allowing my fear to flow through me, I will love laughing till tears run down my face. I will love getting out into the fresh air and I will love the duvet on days when that is all there is. This will take my focus and courage but it’s also something I am confident that I can achieve with determination.

I will love the beautiful people in my life and continue to love the lessons that people have taught me when they were not as I thought they should be, when they appeared cruel or unfair. This is the work I can do and the courage I can exercise.

I will do my best on my worst days. Because my aim is simply to be where I am with grace. This is my win-win situation. Whatever the outcome of my illness, my goal is achievable!

So if I have 5 years or if I have 35 years there is no ‘losing of brave battles’ for me. Every day I win and on my last day I will win. I will live today and I will live my final day fully in the experience of what is. That is courage, that is love, that is grace.

IMG_2040 Poem by Mary Oliver

I am free to be.

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Loving On

I stood on the wet sand with salt water splashing my sunglasses. It was a curious experience to feel a tug and and not to act. I couldn’t always see my daughter as she fought her way through the breakers out into the sea. The waves were high and unpredictable…

Years ago, on her second birthday in fact, I took her swimming – it was one of her favourite things to do. That morning she had unwrapped a soft toy, Piglet, and had attached to him so quickly that when it came to going in the pool, putting him in the locker gave rise to huge distress. I had to use all my skills of reassurance negotiation to manage that situation.

Later on I sat beside swimming pools on many occasions as a ‘spotter’. My daughter had been diagnosed with epilepsy and I had to remain alert, watching and ready to act, at swimming parties, and at school so that swimming lessons could take place.

The year before she went to secondary school we went swimming every Wednesday, she was homeschooled that year and physical health and physical education were our focus and priority. I remember standing in the shallow end practising the breathing with the arm movements for crawl, teaching her to swim. I remember that she couldn’t confidently swim more than a width when we started that home education year and by the end of it we were swimming lengths together which she alternated between crawl, breaststroke, and backstroke.

Over the last three years she and I have had holidays to Greece. We’ve shared deep heart-to-heart mother and daughter conversations in turquoise waters away from others’ ears. And we have counted our lengths together in the pool each day to take responsibility for our own regular exercise.

Now she was out in a rough sea, there were other swimmers and we had initially made our way in after an assessment of conditions. Yet after a few minutes I had said, ‘I need to get out! I’m running out of strength.’ I was concerned to save enough energy for getting back through the breakers to the beach. And we had battled our way back out of the sea. My knees were shaking and my legs wobbly – I had got too tired and I knew that if she had got in to trouble I wouldn’t have been able to help her. I’ve spent all those years protecting her and in readiness to save her and I knew I would be useless.

I could see she wanted to go back in, we both love the sea. ‘I’m a mermaid’ she said, ‘No! I’m a mermaid, I was a mermaid first,.’ I pouted. ‘Mum, you’re a crap mermaid!’.  ’Yes, you’re right’. She was a stronger swimmer.

I watched her go back in. Alone. And it wasn’t easy, sometimes a wave broke over her head, sometimes she got a face full or a mouthful of water, but then she was out swimming in the waves.

I stood, dumbfounded by my internal process. The familiar, habitual concern, that no longer has logical basis; the urge to join and ‘help’; the awareness of her being more capable than I am in this moment; the pride and relief at her strength and competence and the sadness of letting her go.

It’s also my ‘Further Lessons in Love’, advanced stage. Love is not simply an attachment but a commitment to listen and adjust. It’s about loving someone in the way that is best for them, not in the way we have got used to. When you’ve spent years being protective of someone it’s important to notice requests for space and allowing space. Don’t imagine I have learned this easily or with grace, however, I am committed to my advanced life lessons in love and listening.

We can become very stubborn in our beliefs about the right way to love and the right way to relate, but when we do we become arrogant. This was a theme in the therapy room this week and an advanced lesson for those willing to challenge their process of giving their type of loving to people who don’t want it or don’t understand it. Yes, that way lies heartache, but it is also born out of our insistence that we are right.

Letting go of this insistence is the first step. Listening to what is wanted is the second. Then listening to ourselves to see the best way to honour ourselves and the other person.

Adjusting our love by listening means we might need to take a step back. Sometimes it means taking several steps back and sometimes it means we can walk away, (as the saying goes, ‘don’t cling to the mistake just because you spent a long time making it.’).

Generally people know what they need and often they tell us quite clearly they don’t value or don’t need what we give. We can either change what we give or stop giving. Ending relationships and changing relationships are there to help us practice letting go. Often it appears easier to avoid change and thereby avoid grief. To stick by our habits. To keep loving on regardless. Later on, when we have stubbornly ‘loved on’ in our own way, regardless of feedback, when we are depleted and hurt and wonder why the love isn’t reciprocated, we can question whether it is indeed easier.

Unconditional positive regard, central to person centred counselling, requires listening to the other person’s world, understanding and responding to it. Listening and respect are key not just in a counselling relationship, but in all relationships. The therapy room is a good place for us to practice giving and receiving quality listening, empathy, respect and positive regard.

Love on, but love on with regard.

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The benefits of exquisite longing and of hope

I’ve recently been reflecting on loneliness, yearning and longing, feelings that my clients often report and with which I am very familiar.

Sometimes I long for another person, whether real or imaginary, and I’ve taken to considering, “Who is it, I long for?”. Is it that person, or is it the feeling I get when I am with them? And if it’s the feeling I get, why is it that I am considering the other person as the provider of this feeling? Are they really the sole provider?

Exploring this with myself and my with my clients I’ve become interested in what the longing tells us about us. Is it sometimes a longing to be known, understood, seen, loved, valued? How good those feelings are, how amazing, how enticing, how lovely, (how addictive).  Is that what we are longing for?

Without longing we cannot begin to discover what we need to provide for ourselves. It was longing, on a small scale, that has motivated me to get this cup of tea in my hand, to buy that picture, to write this blog. What was I longing for this morning? With the tea it was pretty physical, I was thirsty, with the picture I had to ponder some more to discover what I was longing for, it seemed to be for water, for nature and the feeling of peace and stillness. Do I get that peace and stillness from buying the picture? Yes, but it’s not guaranteed. Will I get it if I go to water and nature, probably, but again, it’s not guaranteed. So the feeling is not located in the picture or even in nature, is it?

My thoughts this morning are that longing is a wonderful experience, and that delayed gratification gives us a chance to explore the question of what, or who, we are longing for in order to discover the true need underneath, a need I would suggest that we may even be able to meet ourselves.

longing is the foundation of creation

I mentioned the cup of tea, the picture and this blog. The blog arises from my desire to be heard and understood. This understanding, I may or may not get from my reader, but it motivates me, energises me to act, to seek and so longing is the foundation of creation.

Each exploration can be taken a layer deeper, so taking this deeper, why do I long to be heard and understood? What’s that feeling? How would it be to do without it? So I pause, and I bathe in the memory of satisfying my longing to be understood and heard – oh, that feels so good – and now there is another feeling underneath… I know I’m accepted, my breathing frees up, I sigh. I know I am OK. So with a little self reflection I have now discovered that the whole writing of this blog is a lot of energy expended to go a round-about way of knowing I am accepted and OK. So I sit here and I smile and have a little chuckle, because it would be a lot quicker, and far more effective to practice mindful self acceptance. When I stop, when I pause my action, it’s not that difficult to find the peace of being acceptable. So the blogging and the print I bought from the National Gallery, two minor longings this morning, upon examination have led me to understand that I am looking for the peace of acceptance this morning.

Longing is the source of the drive, the energy to actively live. It is hope. So I invite you to stay with and experience longing, yearning, hoping and aching for something or somebody. Don’t fear it, don’t fear the hope and creation hidden within the longing, just look at it and get to know it. By pausing enough to consider what it is we are longing for, without impulsively shopping, contacting, acting, we have an opportunity to deepen our experience and maybe even fulfil our needs more satisfactorily.

IMG_3627

A photo of a print of a painting that I always nip in to see when I pass the National Gallery. A personal longing for peace, for release of held breath, takes me there and I stand in front of it and believe I fulfil my longing. Today I consider the possibility of fulfilling that longing without travelling to London, without taking a single step.

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Connection, disconnection, adjustment

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Gestalt Prayer

I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,

And you are not in this world to live up to mine.

You are you, and I am I,

and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.

If not, it can’t be helped.

(Fritz Perls, “Gestalt Therapy Verbatim”, 1969)

I didn’t like this ‘prayer’ when I first heard it nearly 30 years ago. It seemed cold and uncaring, as if it was OK that people needn’t bother, needn’t make the effort to find each other, and to love and appreciate each other.

As time went on, the Gestalt Prayer became a source of strength and comfort. I stopped expecting myself to save the world and make everyone better or blaming myself for other people’s unhappiness.

I discovered the relief in letting go of my expectations of others: I even let go of needing people to ‘find’ me, to see, appreciate, recognize me. I am grateful, of course, that I did receive this in my therapy and in close relationships and I am equally grateful (now) that others did not take time or make effort to find me, and clearly had other things to do. This was a gift, as in grieving, I discovered I can thrive without.

As I continue my training in Zero Balancing there are two precious pieces of learning for me at the moment, ‘interface’ and ‘clean disconnect’. These are both held within a safe and non-judgmental and usually silent space within a session and are essential to allow the person to allow themselves to allow.

What do they allow? Well I’m still a student, but I would say the session allows the body and energy of a person to do what it does. As the Zero Balancer, I’m not there to ‘fix’ or ‘treat’ so my contact and my connection is not streaming me into the other person, it is ‘interface’ connection, a respectful, contact that you can feel in your very bones, that allows you to become more fully functioning, not to do as directed. Your inner wisdom will do its thing. For those of you person-centered trained, you will understand the big appeal of this to me.

I think we need contact to grow but not interference. There’s a little mantra in ZB work, ‘go in, do the work and come out again’ – which I’m sure any competent gardener will recognise. The ‘coming out again’ is respectful to both parties and minimises any capacity to interfere, to correct, to adjust another. I can’t help but wonder how personal relationships would improve if we practiced this clean disconnect and interface contact in our lives as well as in ZB sessions. Imagine if we could be separate, make contact that feels good and then disconnect, rather than holding on?

Now into my third decade of the Gestalt Prayer, and experience working within therapeutic relationships as well as personal ones, it seems to me that the Gestalt Prayer is maybe fixed and could move on with me? As I enjoy my separateness more, and have taken on the detachment of the Gestalt Prayer, I am also surrendering more to connection, when I have it, with others, less afraid now that I need that connection or can be destroyed by it, or loss of it.

We cannot lose ourselves until we find ourselves. Or put psychologically, we cannot experience the surrendering of our ego until we have found, got to know and strengthened our ego.

For me, for many, by this point in the therapy journey, the ego is less precious; defensive living and defensive practice less desirable; the mystery of love and connection,  of solitude and contact more appealing.

Experiencing a deeper sense of ‘oneness’ the more I am able to detach, getting closer by stepping back, I woke up one morning and rewrote the Gestalt Prayer for where I am today.

Miriam’s Gestalt Prayer for now

I don’t really know who I am

and I wonder who you are?

 

I see you, we are separate and unique

and in meeting, I see something of you

that I recognize is also something of me.

 

When I dislike parts of me and you,

that is a gift.

When I love parts of me and you,

that is a gift.

 

The wonder of our meeting is beautiful

and disturbing, stirring up every question,

who is it I reject, who is it I long for?

 

I wonder if I am you and you are me for a moment.

 

When we part, we are irrevocably changed

by our meeting.

 

I am I,

but not who I was or who I will be.

 

 

 

 

 

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Life Awakening

What is Life Awakening about? And how did I come to devise and write this concept?

Life Awakening began, believe it or not, during training in CBT for Trauma, when I found myself sitting at a table next to a colleague on a training day. You could call it synchronicity, being in the right place at the right time or simply coincidence. We had in the past briefly debated the merits of CBT and Gestalt therapy but we didn’t know much more about each other’s hidden interests in healing. As the day progressed, sparks and ideas began flying between us about how we could use what we know for helping people with trauma and we debated excitedly through the breaks and scribbled notes to each other during the sessions.

The evidence that post traumatic growth means that people who have faced death more often than not are irrevocably changed, excited me. They tend to be less materialistic, to value friends and family, to be more focused on finding meaning in their lives. I remembered clients and friends who often said, “My accident / bump on the head / divorce / illness was the best thing that happened to me.” Why did they say this? It seems they were referring to the benefits of post traumatic growth.

Given that these measured positive outcomes of trauma match The Top Five Regrets of the Dying (documented by Bronnie Ware) my colleague and I wondered if there was any way for our ‘lives to flash before our eyes’, without nearly dying? Wouldn’t it be good to be able to get back on track before a disaster brought us to our senses?

REGRETS

While we were both specialists in trauma, we came from different orientations and we were both engaged in interesting research – Jillian was studying the body in psychotherapy and I was studying ‘intuition’ and unknown-knowing. During the day we discovered that we both were individually pursuing interests in body work and the less explainable healing taking place under the name of spiritual or energetic therapy.

We started to discuss the idea of a life review – popular in many cultures is the idea we go through a life review after death – and whether this could be used in a therapeutic setting. We began to look at the importance of finding meaning, reviewing our knowledge of existential therapy and religious belief systems. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we thought, if we could work with people and help them gain the benefits of trauma, if we could review our lives without dying or nearly dying?

We were looking for an approach that would give us post-traumatic benefits:

 People who Have Experienced Post-Traumatic Growth Say Five Things:

1.) My priorities have changed; I’m no longer afraid to do what makes me happy.
2.) I feel closer to my friends and/or family.
3.) I understand myself better, I know who I really am now. 
4.) I have a new sense of meaning and purpose.
5.) I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams.
 
What Doesn’t Kill Us 
by Stephen Joseph 

Following the training we arranged to go away, to research and write and to meet up a few months later to exchange ideas. At our next meeting the Human Trinity Principles were born. We were really blessed to have a fast succession of ideas and inspirations, we drew diagrams, we brainstormed bullet points and we believe we brought all our individual training and years of experience into one concept. Using our different skills, I wrote voraciously and Jillian helped me make these writings readable, understandable and into a logical training order so that they could later be used within a professional training structure.

The premise of a Life Awakening life review is that in a structured process a person can gain insight similar to the life review process that many believe happens when we die. Life Awakening is the only therapeutic life review with a chronological structure as far as we know. We have now run 14 workshops, trainings and talks – the next is June 20th & 21st 2015 – and without exception participants have all benefitted, usually more than expected, read a few testimonials here. We’ve brought to this all we know (the tip of the iceberg) about body, mind and spirit. The work so far seems to have filled our hopes of being able to gain some of the benefits of trauma without experiencing trauma.

As therapists we cannot know everything about each therapy, and believe me we tried! Between us we have studied Person Centered Therapy, Gestalt therapy, Psychological Counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Animal assisted therapy, Psychosynthesis, shamanism, kinesiology, Zero Balancing, energy healing, reiki, therapeutic touch, laughter therapy, integrative therapy, authentic movement, somatic therapy and more. Between us we bring 40 years worth of study to the creation of Life Awakening.

The idea is that through using our structured process, the ‘seeker’ (we don’t use the word client or patient) comes to strengthen and increasingly use their Inner Voice to choose which direction, which discipline, which therapy is right for them from moment to moment. The facilitator needs to be impartial and non-judgmental. The facilitator needs not to judge that their own preferred therapeutic orientation is superior to another. Each seeker is unique so their therapy needs to be unique. One seeker may realise they need to go on holiday or join a dance class, another may need a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or to see a nutritionist, some may need psychotherapy and others may need assertiveness training.

All of us need to become more self knowing and self accepting and Life Awakening truly does this. The power for healing comes from deeper self knowledge and deeper self acceptance, not from a therapist.

Life Awakening is designed to take the power away from a therapist, or a therapy, a theory, or an approach and to empower the seeker.

After all, the person who knows you, who was with you every minute of your life, who will be with you after your therapy is over, and after the Life Awakening programme, is you. My form of psychotherapy is good, and effective but your Inner Voice is to be trusted even more. And so my form of therapy now is centered on strengthening your Inner Voice, trusting you not just me.

Life Awakening is not therapy; it’s self development, meditations, exercises. You can undertake it at home, online or with a therapist. By far the best results we have had so far are in workshops. Our next one runs in June beginning at tea time on Friday 19th and running for the Saturday and Sunday. The sessions are fun, and quite often mind-blowing. The facilitators are qualified and experienced and you can read their biographies here. Most people undertake the programme for personal development but a few are interested in applying this approach to their professional work as a counsellor, therapist, healer.

Why not join us this June and review your life? Look for the clues in your Birth Gifts and in your Life Patterns and Themes to discover who you have evolved to become Now.

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