Kitchen Therapy


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“Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The last few weeks have been emotionally and physically draining. My father had a heart attack that he was not expected to recover from. Luckily he has recovered and even though he has lost the use of his right leg, we are overjoyed with the progress he has made.

As we have progressed through the wards of the hospital, I have cut down my daily visits from 12 hour bedside vigils to a two to three hour visit. My days are very full and very tiring and as I drive to and from the hospital I find my mind drifting, questioning theories about grief. Running through exercises and passages I have read, asking myself what is useful and even possible when clients come in during times of stress. I have never wanted to be one of those psychologists that just talks at you, telling clients what they should be doing without making the effort to understand or respect what they are telling me. I have also never had the patience to be one of those therapists that sees clients endlessly, listening to them carry on about the same issue and not challenging them (may sound cold but there are clients who do just want to come in and have a bitch or a whinge without any interest or intention to change their lives!)

My dad’s heart attack meant I was now facing one of my biggest keeps you up at night fears.
Most of the time I felt I couldn’t breathe from the pain that seemed to crush my ribs and block my airways!
And then out of nowhere there were moments of perfect clarity that allowed me to step back and observe the process I was going through with objective interest.
Moments where I felt complete acceptance with the cycle of life and I knew that we would all be okay.

So here’s what I learnt from my dad’s heart attack…

1. All the stuff that books tell you doesn’t matter, really doesn’t!
Who cares about the gossip and who said what about who! You have no time or energy or interest in such rubbish! It was like a breath of fresh air. I had perspective and I wanted to make sure that I rememebered what really mattered and more importantly what didn’t matter for the rest of my life. I knew that at some point things would have to return to normal and I didn’t want to waste this experience.

2. You can choose how to respond.
I always felt that I would be one of those women you see on television, you know the one’s that wail, scream and try to throw themselves at the coffin. The thought of losing a family member has always filled me with such anxiety and despair that I never doubted that would be me! Recently I went to a friend’s father’s funeral and this friend of mine conducted herself with so much dignity that I took strength from her. Another friend’s 5 year old has been battling a brain tumor and again I witnessed a woman handle a terrible situation with incredible strength and grace.
I started to build other ways of being in my mind. Seeing these women helped me realise that you can choose how you conduct yourself no matter what is happening. I taught it, but I must confess I had my doubts, the pain with some clients at the loss of a loved one or the loss of a marriage is so intense and debilitating that you can easily be dragged into their worlds and feel as incapacitatingly helpless and hopeless as they feel. If you meet them all the way you will find it hard to see a way out yourself, if you don’t meet them at all, you will never really have an empathic understanding of what they are going through and will not be able to establish that necessary relationship and connection you need to be of use to them. So just like in counselling, in real life it’s finding that balance for yourself where you can grieve but you have the door open to the rest of your life and you can come and go freely.

3.You can only play victim for so long.
I find this hard to say without sounding insulting. I have clients who come in and spend so much time and energy waiting for the world to acknowledge the unfairness of their situation and then fix it. The world does acknowledge it, but then it expects you to move on. I felt surely everyone could see how much I was going through and I felt justified in my grief, until I returned to work and there was a stack of forms and files that needed addressing immediately. I had to work hard at not feeling resentful and sorry for myself! I have seen clients waste so much time and energy refusing the move on. Losing their jobs, their relationships as they cling desperately to the perceived unfairness and injustice of a situation. I’ve seen enough to know there comes a time when you need to accept and move on with your life. The alternative is truly terrifiying! Losing everything and everyone and then realising that it was all for nothing, carrying on will not take away the pain, it just creates more. Nothing will take away the pain, it’s about building a life around it.


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How Can I Be Happier?

 

We have studied depression in depth for the last century and we know a lot about what makes us miserable! 

Most of have felt depressed at some point in life. We feel down, we don’t really care about much, we have no energy and for a while, life feels unpleasant. But we know we will get through it.

Some people however have more frequent episodes of feeling down and the duration and intensity of these episodes can be used as guides to unresolved psychological problems. Depression is way for the body to communicae to us that there is something wrong. When I talk to my clients about depression I get them to think of it as a continuum rather than a question of “Am I depressed or not?” On one end of the continuum is the mild to moderate range where the experience is painful and uncomfortable. While on the other end we have Bipolar or Manic Depression which is more biological in nature.

Our goal is to treat the problems that the clients present with, to get the levels of depression and anxiety to nil, zero. But people want more than just feeling not depressed, they want to have meaning and happiness in their lives.

This recognition led to a new branch of psychology called Positive Psychology. It is interested in the “scientific study of optimal human functioning.” So the goals is no longer to just identify and treat mental health problems, but also to teach people how to enhance the quality of their lives using substantiated research and findings that have been proven to deliver results.

I like to think of happiness also having a continuum where the more frequency, intensity and duration of symptoms is symbolic of being further along the continuum and feeling happier!

Martin Seligman, on of the founders of Positive Psychology defines happiness as “both positive feelings (such as ecstasy and comfort) and positive activities that have no feeling component at all (such as absorption and engagement)”.

Mihaly Csiskzentmihalyi claims the way to happiness is through “flow”, a state where we are so engrossed in “some activity that time either lengthens or disappears, we no longer notice our surroundings except as related to the activity and any problem or discomfort drops entirely out of mind”.

I used to think “I’ll be happy when…”
I struggled (for a long time!) with the idea that happiness was a choice avalaible to me at any  point. I believed that happiness was the end goal, the reward for hard work and suffering!. I remember thinking “if I just went around all day feeling happy I’d never do anything again!” I got really stuck here. I felt accessing happiness just for the sake of it was cheating and fake.

Then one day it dawned on me. When you are happy you are more likely to achieve your goals and succeed! When I feel happy I am excited and energised. I feel at peace and I find it easier to get absorbed in whatever I am doing. I can appreciate my self and my surroundings more. I have increased clarity in thought and inspiration. Feeling happy actually helps me to produce a higher quality of work.

So rather than asking “Am I happy or not?” ask yourself “How can I be happier?” This changes the nature of happiness from something that is the end result to happiness being  an ongoing process. Something that is infinite in nature and within your control.

Can you think of something you really want?
Imagine you have it.
A new house, a new car, a new body? Whatever you think will make you feel happy. Now imagine yourself going through the day having this something you treasure. How will you feel about yourself, how will this effect the interactions you have with the world. Will you feel more confident, assured? 
When you have really stepped into the role and can feel this I want you to consider that you just had acces to all those feelings all on your own. They are there, available to you at any moment!  

When you’re happy, nothing has actually changed yet everything suddenly seems different.


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There is no set time or age when you suddenly lose all your fears and become a grown up!!!

Do you sometimes feel like everyone grew up and worked out how to behave like an adult and you got left behind?

Why is it that some people radiate confidence, assurance, elegance while others gossip, bitch, and are just plain old nasty! And then there’s the fearful, anxious group that try really hard to please everyone in an effort to avoid being rejected and end up with no sense of self (this is ringing bells with me!)

Have you noticed some women have an aura of peace and security around them while others are desperate to please and can’t call their kid’s teachers by their first names?!

I’m only bringing this up because sometimes I swear I missed the boat on how to grow up and behave like an adult! I guess like everything else in life, there are pros and cons to this as well.

Maintaining a child like interest and joy in the day-to-day things is necessary. Especially if you’re a parent (my husband is one of four boys and he can play and be more childish than the kids, I envy his ability to do that and the kids love it!)

 However I’m raising this issue to get to the not so nice bits about being stuck in teenage mode at 40!

Sometimes we feel we are not fitting in with the other mothers at our children’s school or with our peers at work. Instead of isolating yourself and feeling there is something wrong with you I want to encourage you to see yourself like a car’s gear box (I led into that smoothly huh?) What I mean is that we can’t expect to put our lives into D for Drive and sail through life smoothly. I know it sux but it just doesn’t work like that.

Do you find yourself babbling like a fool when you talk to certain people? Or do you find some situations fill you with dread and fear (situations that others may find fun and appealing).

Well, if you can imagine your life like a gear box, just like the gear box has different speeds it can be moved to, we have many different parts to our personality that we put into gear.

Two very common parts are the inner child and the inner critic. The inner child can feel scared when faced by the bully mother in the playground while the inner critic (you know that voice that tells you nothing you do is good enough and whatever you are doing is wrong!) is always looking for people who are not good for you and actually make you feel like a loser! 

Now there would be no probs if our inner gear box was nicely greased and could sense which people and situations called for which qualities. For example, it would be great to be able to turn to your inner child when it is time to be playful and silly. It would be fabulous to hear when your inner critic is just not helping you, like when you are driving in the wrong gear and can hear the car straining! Unfortunately not many of us are built that finely tuned!

But imagine if we were?!

I’ve come to believe that the better we get at switching through the gears of our personalities and knowing which parts of life call for which qualities, the closer we get to behaving like adults.

We all have the adult inside of us, you know that side that knows what is right and good for us. The side we choose to ignore as we relish feeling sorry for ourselves. The side we ignore as we suck up to someone we don’t like because we are too scared to contemplate cutting them out of our lives. The side we bury as we convince ourselves we are absolute and utter failures! But that side is there.

I encourage you to join me in identifying when this adult side raises its head in your life and pay attention to how it feels. You mind feels clear, your chest and shoulders are relaxed, your breathing comes easier. The adult in you is there all the time. Mine gets buried easily by the other two qualities because they are more dominant, stronger and emotional. In other words, I interact with the world way more from those gears than the adult gear!

It’s just as important to get to know your inner child, how does it feel when you are being playful and silly. Recognise when you inner child is serving you and when it’s not. When does it get scared or the brat comes out?
I can now recognise that when I am dealing with some of the playground bullies (the mum’s I’m referring to!) I feel anxious, my breathing gets faster and my body becomes tense. I become a child, eager to please so they like me and don’t target me or my children! Now that I can recognise this, I am more aware of how I am interacting with these people and work at choosing to switch gears and slip into adult mode.

Same goes for the inner critic. I have another bunch of friends that make me feel like an awkward, silly, giggly klutz whenever I am with them! My inner critic screams “they are so much better than you!” and as a result I interact with them like a nerdy teen trying hard to get in with the cool girls! Sounds sad, I know, but I need to be aware of what my triggers are and which parts of my personality they engage so I can put an end to this cycle. I can honestly say I had myself convinced I was not made to mix with people and I was considering a move to the wilderness. I was convinced I could not be around people and still feel good about myself!

My family can breathe a sigh of relief now that I understand things a bit better and I will not be moving them to a bush station in the Australian outback where the only school options would be radio school!

So being aware of which gear we shift into as we interact with the world and make decision is an amazing tool to have. Once you can see yourself interacting from child mode or critic mode, imagine how it would feel if you faced the same people and situations with your gear firmly in adult mode? When I face the mummy bullies I can be polite without becoming a simpering sycophant! When I am with my assured, confident friends I no longer feel I need to run and hide out of fear of blurting out something stupid! I switch into my adult gear and I can face them head on! Confident, assured and calm!

Hope all this makes sense! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.