Think/Writing

When I am not actually writing, I am think-writing.  Do you do that?
Entire sentences or small phrases get worked and reworked in my mind. Like a boiled sweet tumbled over and over in your mouth, savoured until all the sweetness has dissolved into a sharp, final shard. Then; gone.

Sometimes I remember what I wanted to write about, but most often it is an ephemeral mist by the time I pause long enough to retrieve it.

I’ve just been so occupied lately that there has been very little time for ‘me’ stuff, like blogging. The moments I have of solitude, have been away from my keyboard, or without pen and paper. So all the writing has just happened up there, in my own mental ‘cloud’… if only it was a true backup disk! I miss writing here so much! Hello again, people!

I thought I would do a little catch up piece today, in the vein of the wonderful Pip Lincolne’s Taking Stock posts. This is how things are right now. How are they for you? Feel free to copy and paste and add your own list to the comments. I’d love to know what’s going on in your world, too!

Making: Every minute count. That often means my days start at 5.30am to feed horse and walk dog before all the other commitments.

Morning sky. The gift of early rising.

Cooking: big family meals mostly. Our current favourite is my Chicken and Leek Pie. I’m also making the occasional batch of cookies. Just recently my friend Flo gave me a recipe for oat choc chip cookies and they are SO DELICIOUS and EASY! Reckon they’d be good with cranberries too. Sing out if you want the recipe.

Drinking: Gin and Tonics made with lemons and limes from our own trees. Gin-and-tonic-time is a bit of a favourite time to get to at the end of each very busy week!

Reading: Nothing, not even newspapers!

Wanting: A large docile Clydie-cross all for me… and a country property to bring him home to. Ha! Dreams are free.

Meantime, here is my girl’s beautiful horse, Rosie. It’s a close second.

Looking: closely at the detail of nature. Right now I’m into raindrops on roses… well, raindrops on anything. So beautiful.

Playing: Dixie Chicks “Cowboy, Take Me Away”

Deciding: what is the best kind of education for a divergent child?

Wishing: I had more time in each day so that I could really actually get to the bottom of my to-do list, even just once!

Enjoying: the company of our giant doofus doggie, Wookiee.  Have I introduced you to this very cool dude yet?  Meet Wookiee the 8 month old Labradoodle, favourite member of the household by unanimous vote.

Wookiee Cox, beloved labradoodle.

Waiting: for it to be acceptable to put my Christmas Carols on repeat

Liking: being a zookeeper

Wondering: if Nik Kershaw has any current music… (off to google)

Loving: the smell of chaff

Pondering: the sense of this crazy-busy urban lifestyle we lead

Considering: whether we should investigate that…

Watching: nothing. Too busy.

Hoping: The weather stays horse/dog friendly for the entire summer holidays

Marvelling: at how much I can do these days. Like; I do something, then I can do another thing(!) and then I can keep going and do another and another. It’s amazing!

Needing: a remote thoroughbred feeding/checking/smooching system

Smelling: like a farm most days

Wearing: gumboots and old jeans with the occasional foray into teaching attire

Following: the weather forecast like a country girl

Noticing: how often I crave the wide open spaces and solitude

Knowing: the run from here to Christmas is going to be mayhem

Thinking: that we are so lucky to have such a great local high school to send Bee to next year

Feeling: emotional a lot lately, guess it is that time of year again when my thoughts are drawn to all the people I love who aren’t here anymore

Admiring: my girl and her tenacity during her first one day event recently

The girls during their first Cross Country

Sorting: my “Rachie Drawers”… those generic holding places where things go and disappear. I’ve lost my engagement ring and I need to find it!

Buying: hmmmm. A horse float and a new horse have removed our buying power for anything else at present, but oh it is soooo good to finally have a float!  And lovely to have the beautiful Rosie in our family.

Getting: worried about what the above will do for Christmas buying

Disliking: our dog’s penchant for courier packages. I think he thinks they are chew toys delivered conveniently just for him; something new every time!

Opening: my mind to new possibilities as the New Year approaches

Giggling: at all the hilarious things our Zed says and does, he’s very funny… most of the time!

Feeling: worried about whether my mothering is going to benefit my kids or hinder them, they’re getting older and so much more independent. My mothering is struggling to keep pace with their rates of inner growth! I hope I can find a way to be a less anxious mama.

Snacking: ooooh. Snacks… that sounds good. I wonder what I can find in the cupboard?

Coveting: good camp chairs. Ours are all torn and overtaxed from our large-arse situation.  Pony Club camp is just around the corner!

Wishing: the Christmas rush was over

Helping: Riding for the Disabled with their cookie-icing fundraiser was fun!

Apologising: less than before. I like that I am learning NOT to apologise so ceaselessly for everything. It’s exhausting feeling responsible for myself, let alone for others.

Hearing: a lawn mower, children playing at the kindy next door, cars whooshing by, the wind in the eaves, the rustle of leaves, the birds singing with Spring happiness as if this season will never end. Yet, it will and I am grateful for that. A big part of me is craving winter hibernation right now!  I am happy for warmth and nice weather, truly.  Just keen for a bit of a break in general…

 

Here’s the list. Your turn!
Making :
Cooking :
Drinking :
Reading:
Wanting:
Looking:
Playing:
Deciding:
Wishing:
Enjoying:
Waiting:
Liking:
Wondering:
Loving:
Pondering:
Considering:
Watching:
Hoping:
Marvelling:
Needing:
Smelling:
Wearing:
Following:
Noticing:
Knowing:
Thinking:
Feeling:
Admiring:
Sorting:
Buying:
Getting:
Bookmarking:
Disliking:
Opening:
Giggling:
Feeling:
Snacking:
Coveting:
Wishing:
Helping:
Hearing:

Chasing Clouds

The colours of the Yarra Valley in winter are muted. Misted vistas of gums and mountains …and the vines, stacked in soft green rows against the ochre earth. Layers of clouds roll across the skyscape, as if in competition with the beauty below. Look up!  Look here! They roll and twist, jostling for the most beautiful arrangement. Australian skies are big skies, the cloud banks dwarf the landscape. I was mesmerised by them.

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I went to Australia in search of respite. Thirsty for a change of scenery, a change of mindset, just a change from the daily drudge. I came here hoping for a new perspective. Hoping, if I am brutally honest, that I would want to return home again at the end of my holiday.

On Friday, with my eyes downcast, I watched the toes of my converse lace-ups scuffing along the back streets of a country town. It was early. I’m an urban girl, so to me it seemed utterly reasonable to go in search of an espresso at 7am. I moseyed off along the sleepy streets, following the blue mountain ahead of me.  Tiny white curlicues of mist tickled at its edges. The night blanket of clouds was rolling back, ushered away and up by the sun. I felt transfixed by that small space of heaven, where the gold met the brooding gray. My breath misted in front of me and I felt that familiar heavy consciousness; I recognised that I had brought all of my urban angst here with me. Trailed it behind me as I jet-streamed over the Tasman.

I tried to slow my breathing, to slow my thoughts. I tried to name my anxieties and let them evaporate into the gilt of the new day.

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The rhythm of my feet brought me past historic cottages, iron fretwork fencing, elaborate brickwork, local artisan studios, darkened cafes and gift shops. The air was crisp with the aroma of fallen leaves, the mountain reassuringly squat above the little town. Golden leaves gathered into drifts at the edges of the main street, swirling in little eddies down the alleyways. It was an old town, sure of itself and its place in the midst of this popular valley. So many gifts of nature and such abundance of produce. The tourists flock here year round, drawn by the wineries, galleries and a slower, more genteel way of life.

An elderly gentleman waved me in through his cafe window. He was a friendly relic from the hippie era, long hair and a handwoven hat. His old eyes seemed to know too much about me, but I stepped into the warmth regardless. He asked if I was looking for a hot drink. Gratefully, I accepted his offer of a cup of organic brew. We talked about his pretty spot there, overlooking the avenue of oak. He rustled up my coffee and began chatting with his next early riser. I fell into silence with my only my thoughts for company; contemplative. The benign presence of kind strangers was a comfort. I blew the steam from the top of my cup and asked myself the question that had driven me here, the haunting of my peace. The crossroads of my heart.

What choice do I need to make?

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There is a song I have loved for a long time. A woman’s song. The lines of the impossibly beautiful melody danced through my mind. ‘Both Sides’ by Joni Mitchell. It’s about the juxtaposition of perspective. It’s innocence vs. experience.  It’s how I feel about life right now. About wellness and illness, about mothering, being a wife, being in my forties, about my career. There is a bitter/sweetness to the understanding that life is all of the things; the beautiful and the frustrating, the happy and the unspeakably sad.

I spent a lot of time on that week away, looking at clouds. Chasing the kind of girlish freedom I’d had, once upon a time, when I was unfettered by responsiblities. It took most of the week for me to come to the realisation, once more, that all of my life has been borne of choice. I’ve chosen my reactions when I didn’t have control of circumstance, and I have chosen my life’s direction. The biggest choices are already made. I wasn’t choosing ‘for now’ I was choosing ‘forever’. Now, I can choose how I live with those choices. With an open heart, seeking the gilt edges of dark clouds, or with my eyes shut tight against the beauty that might be there.  Love is hard. Life is hard.

As I blew the steam off the top of my cup, staring out through the glass panes of that little coffee shop, I chose to let the light in anyway.

I wish you the kind of clouds that remind you of angel hair. And also the kind that take your breath away with their severity and stormy brooding. I wish us all, the strength to look up, and forge ahead, honouring the choices of our hearts.

Are you like me? A tired mum, frazzled wife, maybe a bit lonely, hopeful, thoughtful …are you yearning for more ice-cream castles in the air? Here’s to you, and me, and the knowledge that what will be, will be.

 

Dwelling in Uncertainty

I’ve been reading Margaret Wheatley’s book, ‘Perseverance’.

This book is a call to action; a calm reassurance, the wisdom of elders, food for the soul.  I urge you to read it, too. Particularly if you are a person with chronic illness. In her trademark gracious manner, Margaret Wheatley tackles the notion of perseverance. She asks “How is it that some people persevere..?”

Much better to dwell in uncertainty,

So much of her work strikes at the heart of me. So it was difficult for me to pick one excerpt to share with you.  But I eventually chose this one; I hope that this one will resonate with you, too.

“Some people despair about the darkening direction of the world today. Others are excited by the possibilities for creativity and new ways of living they see emerging out of the darkness.

Rather than thinking one perspective is preferable to the other, let’s notice that both are somewhat dangerous.  Either position, optimism or pessimism, keeps us from fully engaging with the complexity of this time.  If we see only troubles, or only opportunities, in both cases we are blinded by our need for certainty, our need to know what’s going on, to figure out so we can be useful.

Certainty is a very effective way of defending ourselves from the irresolvable nature of life.  If we’re certain, we don’t have to immerse ourselves in the strange puzzling paradoxes that always characterise a time of upheaval:

  • The potential for new beginnings born from the loss of treasured pasts
  • The grief of dreams dying with the exhilaration of what now might be,
  • The impotence and rage of failed ideals and the power of new aspirations,
  • The horrors inflicted on so many innocents that call us to greater compassion.

The challenge is to refuse to categorise ourselves.  We don’t have to take sides or define ourselves as either optimists or pessimists.  Much better to dwell in uncertainty, hold the paradoxes, live in the complexities and contradictions without needing them to resolve.

This is what uncertainty feels like and it’s a very healthy place to dwell”
-Margaret Wheatley, Perseverance pp.15

My poor little brain has been doing some stretching exercises since I started the Be.Leadership Programme. I feel like I am finally feeding my mind something really nourishing, and it is growing.  But like any travels into new domains, it is a time of uncertainty.  The ground I thought was solid, the terrain I knew… it is shifting into topography I’ve never traversed before. For instance, I am no longer sure that I know myself. But I feel more authentically ‘me’ than I have ever felt before.  They are two contradictory ideas that currently co-exist for me. It’s strange, this place.

And yet, some of this is familiar to me. There have been pre-emptive echoes in my writing.  Ideas about suffering and insight.  About anger and acceptance.  About finding an entirely new purpose and direction for my life. These ideas reverberate across my synapses.  Something is ‘becoming’ in my brain, I just don’t have the broad sweep, the bird’s eye view, to map it yet.  My mind-sight is gathering information and piecing it all together. And my soul watches as the slow picture shifts into focus.  I am dwelling in the uncertainty and letting it be what it is.

Something,

almost,

not quite,

nearly…

For a girl who prefers absolutes and is quick to assess things in definitive bytes, it’s an odd place to dwell.

How are you at ‘dwelling in uncertainty’?
Do you prefer to know exactly what you know, or are you happy to step out into not knowing?
Do you agree with Margaret Wheatley, that it is “Much better to dwell in uncertainty, hold the paradoxes, live in the complexities and contradictions without needing them to resolve”?

 

 

Are You Alright in the Head?

Dealing with Dysautonomia

I’ve been seeing someone.  Actually, I’ve been seeing a few people …about my health.  And this month, because it is Dysautonomia Awareness Month, I’m going to do a series of interviews with various practitioners who help me with my Dysautonomia.

Today’s guest is someone who helps me with the aspects of chronic illness that impact my thinking, my mental wellbeing and my mood.

psych

Today I am interviewing Anna Patience, a Health Psychologist with ProCare Psychological Services in Central Auckland.

Dysautonomia patients typically spend a lot of time at medical appointments, addressing various aspects of their illness with specialists across a wide range of disciplines.  Our Western model of medicine compartmentalises our body into different systems, or medical disciplines.  Because the autonomic nervous system employs organs and functions from a range of these groups, we necessarily see many different doctors. It is hard to get them all communicating with each other about what is ultimately, the whole patient.

When you are so busy seeing doctors, it can be easy to overlook a significant aspect of our wellbeing: our mental health. People suffering with a chronic illness face many psychological difficulties. Recently, my GP told me about a free service available to patients enrolled with a ProCare Primary Health Organisation. I am eligible for six sessions with the lovely Anna Patience.  Yes, that really is her name!  And yes, she is patient by name and by nature. Anna has been steering me through some murky waters, illuminating some new ways of looking at things that I had previously felt were drowning me. Giving me strategies and frameworks to understand the processes my mind was going through.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with her.

Anna generously agreed to help me share a bit more with you about what she does and some of her thoughts on the psychology of chronic illness.

Me: What is a ‘Health Psychologist’?

Anna: A health psychologist is someone who has been trained to work with individuals (and couples and families) who are having difficulties or challenges with their physical health. This might be due to a recent diagnosis, managing a chronic condition (eg diabetes) or experiencing unexplained physical symptoms. It is normal when someone is experiencing physical symptoms that they might also experience some changes in mood; how they then cope with this can play an important role in the management of their health as well as their quality of life.

Me: What led you to choose health psychology as a career path?

Anna: This was slightly unexpected, as originally I had wanted to be a French teacher! However during my undergraduate studies I took some psychology papers and took up a part time job at a telephone counselling line for 5 to 18 year olds called ‘What’s Up’. This changed my career plan as I found a huge source of purpose and meaning in this work, and was also inspired by those I worked with. I then went on to do post-graduate in health psychology at a masters level and found the holistic element of working as a health psychologist resonated with me. Its also a job that offers a lot of variety, as people can work on the clinical or research side, or both.

Me: What does an appointment with a health psychologist usually involve?

Anna: The setting where I currently work is a brief therapy service, which means most people have 4-6 sessions available to them. Because of this, the first appointment is often focused on what people are most concerned about at this time in their lives. It explores how their physical health condition/situation might be impacting on their ability to engage in the things that are most meaningful to them, for example their close relationships, their work, leisure activities etc. The therapist and client will work together collaboratively to explore the connections between cognitive (thoughts), emotional, physical and behavioural factors and understanding which of these fall into short-term or long-term coping skills. We would also discuss in the first session what the individuals expectations or hopes are for their sessions.

Following this, in subsequent sessions, time is spent both exploring those coping skills, and adding in other strategies that may be useful to the client. This could involve discussing how best to communicate to loved ones/others about their illness and needs, testing out other ways of approaching activities for example pacing behaviours to manage energy output, or being able to step back and ‘unhook’ from thoughts that are unhelpful. Other tools might focus on helping an individual to allow their difficult feelings about their condition, for example feelings of anger, disappointment, fear, shame or sadness. Ultimately interventions are best used when tailored to each individuals needs.

Me: For some patients, seeing a psychologist is something they are reluctant to do.  People can be afraid of being labelled and the perceived knock on effect for their diagnosis and treatment in a medical context.  Many Dysautonomia patients report being initially mis-diagnosed with anxiety, conversion disorder, somatic illness or hypochondriasis (by medical doctors, not psychologists).
Do other doctors have access to information shared in these appointments?  What is the privacy standard in relation to these sessions?

Anna: Everything that is discussed with a psychologist is confidential, unless someone states they may be at harm to themselves or others. At our service the General Practitioners are sent a brief letter after the first and final sessions, with the consent of the client. Psychologists are bound by their ethical obligations to maintain their clients privacy.

Me: What are the most common issues you discuss with your chronically ill patients?

Anna: This would fall broadly under the heading of ‘coping’. What do people tend to say, feel, or do in response to their bodies symptoms, and how might this then impact on physical and emotional well-being? Pain and fatigue are common physical symptoms so this is often a focus. A large part of working with people who’ve had a diagnosis is dealing with the loss of a pre-morbid level of functioning, and helping them process what this is going to mean for them going forward. Adjusting personal expectations, and communicating to others about this is often discussed.

I tend to work primarily from a model of therapy which falls under what they call “third wave” therapies, called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This will often involve clarifying with clients what they want their life to be about in the face of this illness, what do they want to stand for, while also providing them with ways to not let unhelpful thoughts or difficult uncomfortable emotions prevent them from pursuing these valued activities.

Me: Personally, I have found seeing a health psychologist really empowering.  You have given me tools for addressing the parts of my daily experience that are difficult for me.
If you could offer chronically ill patients one ‘takeaway’ idea to think about, what would that be?

Anna: This is a difficult one! I would say thinking about health in a holistic way would be something to consider. This might mean noticing what your mind says about your body and the changes its making or the things it can’t do anymore, letting those thoughts/feelings happen AND continuing to connect to those things that are meaningful for you. Also, using those supports around you, or asking your GP for a referral to a health psychologist if you feel getting an ‘outsiders perspective’ is worthwhile.

Me: What is the one go-to resource that you would recommend for chronically ill patients:
Anna: This is not a resource that is specific to chronic illness, but the two books I use almost daily with my clients and highly recommend are ACT books. They are The Happiness Trap and The Reality Slap, both by Dr Russ Harris.

Me again: If you are suffering from Dysautonomia or another chronic illness and you have been feeling unsure about seeking psychological help,  I would like to encourage you to give it a go. Seeing Anna has made a big difference to my outlook.  Even though things with my body have been getting worse, thanks to her, things with my mind have been getting better.

I hope this interview has helped you.
Do you have questions?  Ask away!