blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

When you feel you can’t go on

10 steps to let your body carry your mind

seascape_HypnoArt
HypnoArt via pixabay

What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t always make you stronger.

Sometimes God or the universe sends you more than you can bear, piling one pain atop another. It doesn’t kill you, but you want it to end. Your spirit bends, quivers, threatens to shatter under an immense load of bad thoughts, feelings, or events. The room is locked from the outside, and you can’t even find a door because the light flickers and fades. It’s dark and frightening.

Your strength is gone. What to do now?

This mind, with all its anguish and desire for oblivion, is housed in a body that only knows one thing. Even when broken, at the extremes of pain and suffering, the body strives to go on.

No matter how many people surround you, depression is a lonely, solitary place filled with funhouse mirrors. Your world is twisted and distorted, pain reflected back from every direction.

The body can help.

While the mind searches for solutions, focus on your body for a while. Often we neglect it, for various reasons. We lack motivation, we are at war with a body that does not work or look how we want it to. We’re preoccupied with fighting whatever battle is consuming our lives. Acknowledge that and set it aside. This is not the time to address those issues.

First we must survive, body and mind together. And it is strange but true; the mind comes to rest in a body that is usefully occupied.

First things first

  1. Get clean; shower, wash hair, brush teeth. Make your bed. These will give you a sense of achievement, early in the day.
  2. Fresh clothes, something soft against the skin, according to the temperature. Socks if it is cold.
  3. Drink water. Cold, hot with lemon, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, whatever appeals. Then, drink more water through the day.
  4. Eat something. Toast, cereal, fruit, yogurt, noodles, whatever is available and easy.
  5. Put on some music to distract you from the internal thoughts that constantly whisper negative things. Turn up the volume if it helps.
  6. Some, or maybe all of your environment is out of control, mirroring your internal state. Pick a room where you spend a lot of time. Start in one corner, and begin clearing up. Wash dirty dishes, put on laundry, fill bags with trash and take them out.
  7. When feelings arise about the process, note them and keep going. Remember this is practical, not emotional.
  8. If someone has offered their support and you feel able, ask them to keep you company and/or help you. Sometimes we don’t need someone to hold our hand, as much as we need someone to tidy the kitchen we can’t face any more.
  9. Go outside. Breathe fresh air, turn your face to the sun, stand barefoot on the grass and connect. If weather or other issues prevent this, open a window for a few minutes. Bodies need oxygen and sunlight.
  10. If you are able, a simple repetitive task will further occupy your body. Cleaning windows, ironing, digging a garden, painting a fence, mopping floors, pulling weeds, walking. Sing along with your music. Count your steps, left, right, left.
  11. You will be distracted by the pain. Tell yourself you will come back to it later, and concentrate on the task at hand. (You know it will still be there.) Mindfulness is not emptying your mind of thoughts, that’s impossible. It is about noting the thoughts, letting them go, and returning to the one point of focus. Counting breaths or steps, reciting prayers or mantras, all help to occupy the body and still the mind.
  12. Helping others can be very therapeutic. But we cannot give what we don’t have. Put on your own oxygen mask first.
  13. Remember we are all different, and YMMV. Try different things and see what works for you. Return to it when life gets tough, before things spiral too far downwards. Sometimes we sink deeper, and it takes more effort to climb out of the hole. Get to know your early warning signs, and act on them.
  14. Ideal outcome: your body is comforted and nourished; your environment improved; your sense of control enhanced; your mind rested. A break from pain frees up mental energy that can now be used to address the underlying issues, with professional help if needed.

I hope you find something here that helps you feel better. But if you don’t, if you really feel you can’t go on and ceasing to exist seems like the only way out, please stop and reach out. Help is available here (in many countries) and there is always another solution.

The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.
Juliette Lewis

Sometimes, just surviving another day is the victory. Let your body carry your mind until it feels better.

(first published in Invisible Illness on Medium, 18th June 2017)

blog

This ordinary world we live in

helping-up_sasint
sasint via pixabay

 

The world is wonderful, crazy, ugly, cruel, beautiful, hostile, trusting, tiny, enormous. The world is a million different things, all of them contradictory, just like the people in it. And it can be hard to pick out the good, filter the bad, and stay positive.

It’s even harder to make a difference. What does that mean, really? Perhaps to pass through this life, have some fun, and leave it in better shape in some way. Yet most of us cannot write a classic, paint a masterpiece, build a monument, or earn a star on the Walk of Fame. All we have is everyday acts in mundane lives. But here’s the thing.

We can’t change the whole world, but we can change people. We can’t change people, but we can change their minds. We can’t change their minds, but we can change their experience.

When we change their experience, they change their own minds, their own behaviour, and their own worlds.

 This happened to me

Early one Tuesday morning, I parked in a distant corner of a windswept station car park. I rarely used the train, but I had a conference to attend, and driving wasn’t practical. I also knew that parking was expensive, so a few days before I’d changed some notes for a handful of one pound coins. I waited my turn to feed the meter behind a smartly dressed woman, my bag of coins jingling like treasure in my pocket.

The woman dug through her purse, then wailed, “Oh no.” She searched her handbag, muttering to herself. “I don’t have time,” she said.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“No, no, I have to catch the 7.47 and I’m out of change, there’s no time.” She glanced over to the ticket office, and I made the calculations with her.

Three minutes’ walk there in heels, wait in the queue, buy something, get some change, three minutes’ walk back. Assuming she had her ticket already. It was already 7.30 and the timing was tight.

I checked the price list, weighed the money in my hand. “How much do you need?”

“I’m £3 short, but—”

“Here.” I passed her three coins, and her mouth dropped open. “Take it, I brought extra.”

“I’ve got a £10 note, I’ll give it back to you,” she said. She sniffed, and blinked rapidly. “Thank you so much. Which train are you getting?”

“Same as you, but don’t worry about it.”

We bought our tickets and she skipped back to her car. Some minutes later, as I waited on the platform, she brought me the money with a smile.

“You saved my life,” she said.

Maybe it was synchronicity. I had extra coins and she needed them. Neither of us knew that our chance meeting would change our lives, if only briefly. Was she going to an interview, a vital meeting, a date? I’d never know, but I knew I felt better, and so did she. My boring conference day was lit by the soft glow of knowing I’d made a tiny, but important difference.

This also happened to me

Traffic crawled slowly in the rain-lashed evening dark. I tried to calm my breathing, but couldn’t stop my leg bouncing. We had booked this concert not knowing the venue, rushed to drive up after work, and now we were going to be late. The queue inched forward, and when we finally got into the multi storey it was full. Up and up we went, eventually parking in the furthest corner of the roof level.

I grabbed my coat and purse, and queued again in the cold. It was more expensive than I thought, and I’d brought all the change from the car. I could have wept. At least no-one would see my tears, on cheeks already wet from waiting without an umbrella. I exhaled, and someone tapped me on the shoulder.

“Are you short? Take what you need.” He held out his hand, full of coins. Right then they were more precious to me than treasure.

I looked at him and smiled. “Thank you, I just ran out of change.”

“No bother, pet.”

I fed the meter, ran back to the car with the ticket, and we made it to our seats just in time. I blessed my unknown saviour for his generosity, and my tension fell away, ready to enjoy the evening.

Did he feel virtuous? I hope so, because he turned my whole day around.

Maybe it was synchronicity. Our good deeds send positive vibrations into the universe, and just sometimes it echoes back in our own time of need. We already live in a world that is supportive, helpful, encouraging, and loving. When we see it that way, we can all change our corner of the world, one generous act at a time.

 

First published in The Creative Cafe on Medium, 9th March

 

 

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

From one human to another

dsc_0075
Bellis perennis, the common lawn daisy

What does it take to brighten your day, restore your faith, ease your suffering, or make you smile?

It might seem that only the biggest things can turn a rotten day into a better one. One scratchcard win, one £50 note discovered on the ground, one declaration of undying love, one letter of acceptance for that thing you’ve been hoping for and dreaming about. These things would certainly make you feel better.

They’re also almost certain not to happen.

What are the odds, right?  But consider this.

Even the smallest candle can light up the dark.

Work has been difficult, and then last week I caught a horrible cold. Think congested, feverish, head stuffed, can’t breathe, can’t sleep misery. Well, still gotta work, so I slogged on. After surviving one long morning in which all I wanted to do was run away home and hide under my duvet, there was a knock at my door. I expected another claim on my time and fading energy, and my heart sank.

Instead, the receptionist brought in flowers. A pink bouquet with a card that read ‘your (sic) in our thoughts’. It had been left by someone I had seen earlier. Well, I was so moved by this, I could have wept.

I work in a so-called caring profession. I have colleagues, family and friends, some of whom knew how ill I felt. Yet this came from a near-stranger, who went to some trouble to help me feel better. And, as I type this, I look at my flowers and I still feel better.

patient-bouquet_sep16
pink bouquet

 

It takes so little to shine a light, and you never know who needs it most. It need not be flowers; it can be any small, authentic kindness. Eye contact and a smile, a sincere enquiry followed by active listening are often missing in daily life. If we can supply them, and if we can be genuine then we connect on a basic human level, and that’s what we all crave.

Even a humble daisy would have been enough to let me know she cared. And yes, I will be sending a thank you card, to let her know I appreciated her gesture, more than she knew. It made me smile on a tough day, and that can be the greatest gift of all.

Maybe something I write will do the same for a reader one day. I hope so. In the meantime, I will look for an opportunity to pay it forward.

Remember, when backed by action, the thought really does count.