Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Nothing to fear.

The end of the year is fast approaching and, amidst the chaos of the festivities, I have sought time to reflect on what this year has meant to me. It started like many other's, with resolutions made and filled with hope and motivation for achieving them. Yet just four days in, the tone was set for a very different outcome. There has been little joy in my life for much of this year, but this dark spell has made me face up to some very difficult issues and triggered some soul searching decisions to be made. Decisions that I didn't think I had the strength or the courage to make.  

Fear has been a frequent visitor in my life this year. I have been afraid of so much. Scared to trust my judgement, afraid that my instinct can't be relied upon, fearful of not being able to cope financially and emotionally and terrified of making a mistake. Having this fear in my life hasn't felt good but it has taught me so much. I have discovered just how powerful and paralysing fear can be, how it can can completely stop you in your tracks. I have learnt that fear can be suffocating, extracting all positivity and hope away from you. I have discovered that fear is a consequence of being anxious about the future. That past events feed the fear that is felt in the here and now, about something that hasn't even happened.

I am still fearful about decisions I have made. New fears are arising all the time. Yet, when I look back at the fear I felt at the beginning of the year, much of it was unfounded. Some of the worries and anxieties I had haven't materialised. Just being able to see this is helping me accept the new fears that are arising. To face them rather than be afraid of them. I'm learning to put fear into perspective, to see it for what is it and to trust that just the other side of that fear is still a life to be led. I am also realising that, if viewed in the right way, fear doesn't have to be the enemy, it can be the ally. Fear shows up for a reason and can be a helpful tool for growth and enlightenment, if it's used in the right way.

So my new focus is, not on setting a yearly goal, but just to live more for the moment, to live in the present and take one day at a time. If fear comes knocking at my door I will strive to welcome it, because this year has taught me that it is nothing to be frightened of.

A Moodscope member.

Monday, 22 December 2014

How We Learn – The Four Seasons.

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me."  1 Corinthians 13.11.  Paul means this positively in the sense of becoming more mature. But I would suggest to you that there are some aspects of "the ways of childhood" that would serve us well if we picked them up again.

A prime example is learning. As a child, I wanted to walk. I saw visions of what was possible all around me – people walking everywhere. So I tried. I tried and failed. So I tried again. I failed again. I got frustrated, but I got up again.

You can guess where this is going. I tried until I succeeded, and then I kept improving.

The concept of try, try again is associated with many inspirational characters including Robert the Bruce. Hiding from the English in a cave, he was inspired by a spider's relentless attempts to build its web. It would not quit. Who knows what inner vision drove the spider to succeed?

As mature adults, we learn from painful experience to try less often and then quit.  W.C. Fields quipped, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it!"

But I am like a child, and like a child, I love the four seasons. The four seasons of learning for me are:

· The Winter of Unknowing - not knowing what I don't know – [unconscious incompetence]
· The Spring of Discovery - knowing there is something to aspire to – [conscious incompetence – "I want to do this and will give it a go!"]
· The Summer of the Joy of Learning – [conscious competence – "I can do this!"]
· The Autumn of Excellence – [unconscious competence – "I did that without having to think about it!"]

Unconscious competence is a magical state. For those of us who drive, we'll have experienced the unconscious competence of driving somewhere familiar without having to be consciously aware of some of the route. We can surprise ourselves with "being there already"! All of us can perform a skill without thinking. It just happens...

My key point today is that mastery of any skill doesn't just happen – it flows naturally through the four seasons of learning. A child stays with the seasons. As adults, we may try to skip a season. That won't work.

The seasons stretch out before you today. Somewhere on our beautiful Planet it is Winter, in another location it is Spring, Summer smiles on some places whilst others enjoy the mellow fruitfulness of Autumn.

You are a World within yourself. Somewhere in your World there is a new possibility waiting to emerge. Look for it. Seek, and you shall find.

Somewhere else in your World within, you've already seen a glimpse of how you'd like to change, what you'd like to learn, where you'd like to be, what you'd like to do – try, try again.

In your own Summer of Success, stop and enjoy those moments where you now know you are competent.

And in your Autumn of Excellence – pause and consider where you may share the fruits of your experience with others. Pass it on. Pay it forwards. Your Autumn may bring hope in someone else's Winter – and so the cycle of the seasons flows on.

A Moodscope member.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Merry Moodmas.

And so the season is upon us.

I love the sound of my children filling the advent box with sweets (one for the box, three for the mouth) then working out (bickering) whose turn it is to go first, putting up outside lights, the ritual of dressing the indoor tree with decorations that represent different times, ages and people, I love standing at the final choir concert, my smallest children's arms in mine, listening to my eldest sing harmonies that make my eyes prick with emotion (torrent of tears hidden up sleeve).  I love Boxing Day when I can be a slob for my one day of the year.  But I wish I could press pause there.

This season is not all Christmas card perfect. For many of us.

One of my children became very seriously ill at Christmas a number of years ago and the memory still has the power to cut deeply.

Last Christmas we had a funeral of a very close family member 2 days before Christmas and 365 days has not yet been enough to grow a scab on that graze.

For many of us who struggle with our mood, this season brings new challenges.  Changes in routine can bring devastating results as the routine was what was keeping us on the straight and narrow.  Time with family, particularly the extended one, can have us biting our tongues almost in two as we struggle to steer our course through the unexpected, the expected, the pressure of gifts unwanted, the pressure of providing, the excess, the relative you wish would stop drinking so much, the noise, the endless events and the realisation that the ones you wish were here, aren't.  Some of us will be alone and wish we weren't.  Some of us will not be alone and wish we were.

So how do we navigate?  How do we steer ourselves through?

For each of us our challenges are different and so there is no magic wand of survival.  However, just by investing a little time, to think of the time coming up, and asking ourselves what will jangle our delicate balance, we can invite in the magical state of awareness.  This in turn brings us the opportunity to lay down little bricks of survival.

Invest in you.

Step back and plan your Christmas season.
Know what will not work for you.
Know what you will need to do in order to surf the waves.
Look through the season and decide how you wish to come out the other side.
Write it, draw it, record it, share it, or keep it private.  Commit to it.

I am aiming to come through on my terms and reach the other side with anything higher than exhaustion.  I will not be bullied into what others wish me to do and I will say no thank you and then say it again.  This will make me unpopular.  So be it.  Because this year I wish to be me, and that will be a gift to myself.

It is also ok not to like mince pies. No judging here.

Love from The room above the garage.
A Moodscope member.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Don't let your 'Stress bucket' overflow.

Here's some great advice from our friends at Mental Health First Aid to help you over the Festive period and beyond.

The Moodscope Team.

Christmas can be a magical time... from the social gatherings with family, parties with friends and work colleagues, the exchanging of gifts, to a break from work…  But, for almost everyone, Christmas can be a busy time – and ultimately create another 'layer' in our 'Stress Bucket'.

A key concept during Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training is teaching participants how crucial it is to be able to effectively reduce layers of stress using our 'coping tap', to prevent our 'Stress Bucket' from overflowing.

The Stress Bucket analogy is an excellent demonstration of how indiscriminate mental ill health really is, and how easy it is for anyone who doesn't use helpful coping techniques, to develop problems.  The size of our buckets (and we all have one) varies - and so for someone more vulnerable to experiencing mental ill health or at the very least, the ill effects of excess stress – may have a smaller bucket.

The 'stress-layers' that flow into our buckets are often those 'normal' daily life events - but they can also include other sources of stress including environmental stress –for example at Christmas time there is additional pressure whether it be financial, social or just the feeling that time is running away from you.

In basic terms, LIFE fills our stress buckets, and in order to reduce those layers in our buckets MHFA teaches self-help strategies i.e. 'the coping tap', to reduce those layers of stress to a manageable level.

Examples of helpful coping may include: talking to a friend, asking for help, ensuring you get adequate exercise and are eating well. This Christmas, try not to spend more than you can afford on presents because those who value and love you will know that it really is the thought that counts. Or if you feel you are running around like a headless chicken, it is time to build in some proper R&R. It is also worth thinking about how much alcohol we drink over the festive season because the cumulative effect can have negative impact on our mood.

Most of all this Christmas, enjoy the time spent with loved ones and take a moment to reflect on what changes you would like to make in the New Year to ensure your stress bucket doesn't overflow from January through to December.

Dawn Collins

Thursday, 18 December 2014

A Community of Support.

I missed last week as things weren’t good,
I lost my way inside.
I still get tripped and fall at times,
I then go off and hide.

So many thoughts go through my head,
And I live in the past and future.
I cannot seem to touch the ‘present’,
To go inside to nurture.

I was touched by the comments from my previous blog,
From my hurt and loss in Spain.
Such caring humanity and searching words
Both with and without a name.

What can I say that binds us all?
What can I write to show?
That if we are courageous and vulnerable,
A path to balance can flow.

I know I stop looking, I know I stop reading,
In the times when I fall and hurt.
We need to seek out those who support us
And stay away from the ‘curt’.

We each have our individual histories,
And each our singular lives.
So different and so varied
Some heal, some cut like ‘knives’.

So many stories that people offer,
Each with their own fingerprint
Some will touch us more than others,
Some simply nudge with a hint.

It’s the friends we don’t have to fit in with,
That accept us for who we are.
We feel we actually belong with them
They love us from near and far.

The secret is that they love us,
Almost due to our individual ‘faults’,
We really don’t have to fit,
And fulfil the societal ‘oughts’.

Moodscope can also act as a ‘friend’
The community offering thoughts,
They help in the healing process,
And never have to be ‘bought’.

Are we open to learning? Are we open to change?
Or do we look elsewhere, week after week?
Are we seeking outside what is within range?
Or is it inside us that we need to seek?

What thoughts, if any, emerge from this for you?
Who can you discuss them with?

A Moodscope member.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

So Who Are you – Really?

It never fails the amaze me, the different ways people want to be seen.

It's the first question in my class on finding your personal style in clothes.* "How do you wish to be perceived?" I ask, and back come all the answers I need to guide them to making the right choices when they next go shopping.

Yes, of course I need to analyse their body architecture and think about their lifestyle, but in the end it all comes down to the question "Who Are You?".

So some people will start with "Warm and Friendly" and some with "Approachably Authoritative". I get "Controlled and Assured", "Sexy and Confident", "Intelligent and Passionate", "Fun and Quirky" and many, many more.

My job is first to make sure that these descriptors are authentic; because sometimes we think we want to be something we admire but could never really aspire to. For instance, if I were to list "Elegantly Understated" it would be all wrong for my Mischievous Pixie persona. Oh so, so very wrong!

But twenty years ago I didn't know I was a Mischievous Pixie, and I craved "Classic Elegance". It was never going to work, but I didn't know that because I had spent a (then) lifetime trying to fit in with my sensible family, with a highly academic school, with a career in chartered accountancy (no – I still don't know why I thought that might be a good career choice), with all my classically elegant friends (I still have a lot of those) who didn't realise they loved me for our differences, not because we were the same.

So, if you are constantly trying to achieve something that is impossible for you, if you are existing in inauthenticity, then maybe it may be a good idea just to spend some time thinking about how you really wish to be perceived within the structure of being authentic. Remember to be positive. "I don't want to appear nervous" becomes "I want to be seen as confident."

I've spent the last twenty years in my clothes rather than in the clothes that the classically elegant self I aspired to be would choose. I wouldn't have "elegant" now if it came free with Rice Krispies, because I've got something much more real and natural and "me".

Your real "me" is worth a hundred fake pretends; even if you think the pretend is what people want.

They don't: they want the real you.

And if they don't want the real you, then you don't (really) want them.

A Moodscope member

* I'm an Image Consultant by profession. “I help people have more fun putting their clothes on than taking them off!”

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

I am nervous. I am frightened. I am sure.

I am going to tell you, my Moodscope comrades, something fewer than 10 people in this world know. On 31st December 2014 at 11am I am to be wed. This marks a commitment to another soul of which I believed I was incapable.

My relationship history is a source of shame. I have started and abruptly finished a number of relationships, leaving people hurt and somewhat bewildered. My sudden change from apparently loving girlfriend to mad doubting anxious fiend inexplicable to those I have run from.

There is no trauma in my past to explain this, I was brought up by parents who love each other dearly. Yet time and time again when I took the risk of committing, something happened within me. I began to obsessively pick faults with my partner, consumed with the idea they were trying to control me, that I would lose myself and I had to GET OUT. The voices telling me to do this got too loud and were ultimately intolerable. I never let myself express any of this as I thought it was wrong and not how someone should feel. So I put my game face on, behaved the way I thought I should, then ran screaming when it all got too much.

I hurt people who trusted me, who had opened up to me and allowed themselves to be vulnerable, because I couldn't open my mouth and speak. I built a wall between us because I couldn't return their honesty, I censored myself and my feelings therefore didn't give us a chance. I was selfish and thoughtless. I withheld out of some extremely misguided belief that to speak would break the spell and risk destroying everything. I eliminated risk, instead guaranteeing destruction.

This pattern has repeated throughout my current relationship. I have hurt the woman I will marry on a number of occasions, and she has stood by me throughout. She has forgiven me for things I am unsure I would be capable of forgiving. Time and time again she has told me I have to speak up, share my thoughts and feelings, that she truly wants to know. At times this has been a gut-wrenching struggle.

As someone who finds it difficult to say 'could you please do the dishes before you leave in the morning', sharing any doubts or fears is like stepping into the abyss. Only now I am learning to believe that she will be there to catch me. I am learning to speak and to trust – it is terrifying. It is liberating beyond measure.

On 31st December at 11am I am to be wed. I am nervous. I am frightened. I am sure.

A Moodscope member. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Your Gift of Time.

Time is one of the Universe's fair resources. Prince or Pauper, Goose or Gander, we all have 168 hours per week. No one can buy more time for us – not really, and no one can, in reality, buy our time. (Of course, we can agree to spend our time in a certain way on behalf of someone else – but it remains our time.)

Here's the scene... A long journey lay ahead of me the next day. I was going to use Public Transport and the potential for delays and complications was magnified by each additional connection. I knew taking responsibility by driving to my destination was actually only an illusion of control. I would be subject to the choices other people made to use the same roads. Their choices could also delay my planned progress. So which to choose?

Up until now, my life has been lived "at the last minute". By this I mean allowing just enough time to get from A to B so that I could spend my time on other interesting or distracting things as well. Unsurprisingly, this often allowed stressors to mount up like a wave and flood my ability to cope every time I was late. 90% of the time, this was my fault. It was a result of how I chose to allocate my use of time.

For my long journey, I chose a new strategy. I would get up ridiculously early and get ready as if it was a day off with no pressing commitments. No rushing my bathroom time. No panic. No outbursts of bad temper when something (usually an inanimate object) was "stupid" for not doing what I wanted it to do. I would also catch the train that the timetables said would get me there just in time.

The plan went well, and I got ready in a calm and pleasant manner. In fact this was so efficient that I was then in a position to catch an earlier train... if I hurried. The sense of panic was horrible. It made sense to get there early just in case anything went wrong... My heart beat faster...  Time to choose...

But my willingness to maintain the experiment prevailed. I decided to catch my intended train, giving me plenty of time to get to the station, get my tickets and park without panic.

So I drove sedately to the station while other commuters, dancing to the beat of another drummer, zoomed past me at illegal speeds. There was no queue at the ticket office – after all, I was there at the wrong time! I had a chat with the member of staff who sold tickets. He was amazingly clued in on how to get the best deal – and I even got a better deal that what the internet had suggested as the best deal. We had a nice chat.

I then had time to pop into the independent coffee shop in the station and have a life-affirming chat with two very charismatic members of their team. When I came out, the queue outside the ticket office was long and filled with frustrated time-pressed people.

I caught the train, on time. I got to my final destination, on time. I got back in a similar way. And I had lots of very pleasant encounters on the way. I left the computer behind all day. I read books.

My experiment was a success, and I was nice to be around. I did good business. I hope I've learned something.

Give yourself the gift of your time... there's nothing like this present.

A Moodscope member.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

If a Con's Worth Doing...

I met a con man today.

At least, I'm fairly sure he was a con man. A very smartly dressed chap flagged me down on the road holding a (very obviously foreign) map and explained that he was from Germany and had run out of petrol and needed me to buy him some and would I take his gold bracelet as payment...

But he really wasn't a very good con man. I wanted to take him to one side and explain that:

1. If he wanted to persuade me he was from Germany he needed his ethnic accent to be overlaid with tones from Munich, not the East End of London.

2. If he was going to wear such a beautiful pin striped suit he needed to wear it with authority, as comfortably as if he were wearing his jeans, because people who wear suits every day look as if they wear them every day. He looked as if he only wore a suit for weddings, funerals and – oh yes – con jobs. (It was English tailoring too – not German. I know things like that.)

3. Further to that, chaps who wear suits to work every day don't normally wear five or six flashy gold bracelets. And they certainly don't give them away to strangers for the promise of petrol.

4. His whole body language was inauthentic. He wasn't confident in himself; he was obviously acting the part and his character wasn't convincing.

5. He was rushing the whole business. A good con takes a bit of time and you have to let the mark set the pace. You have to let them think it's all their idea.

He was all wrong and nearly all my instincts were rising up in force, bayonets out, telling me to move along smartly because this was absolutely not right. The minority of instincts remaining just wanted to give him some coaching on how to do a better job.
I mean, I'm not a con-merchant myself, but I've read books!

So I drove away, reflecting that, had he been a genuinely stranded motorist who had run out of petrol and discovered he didn't have his credit card on him I would have:

1. Driven to the petrol station a couple of miles up the road to get him a can of petrol and then

2. Followed him to the petrol station and paid for enough petrol so he could get to where he wanted to go.

I wouldn't have wanted him to have taken my details with a promise to pay me back and certainly I wouldn't have wanted a (supposedly) gold bracelet. I would ask him to pay it on in his turn; to help someone else in need when he met them.

And that's why I'm a bit cross. It might have been nice to have done a good deed for somebody really in need. I'd have had a nice warm glow all day.

But mostly I'm frustrated because I hate to see anything done badly, even a roadside con like that.

A Moodscope member.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

A safe place to be.

I was recently triggered to think about the notion of "safety". To me this conjures up the notion of feeling safe from harm and danger in both a physical and emotional sense. It's taken me a long time to realise that the biggest threat to my own safety, recently, has been my mind. Thought processes have kept me stuck from letting go of an unhealthy situation for far too long, eroding my self confidence and self worth along the way. For quite some time my mind has been full of guilt and self doubt; negativity that has been harming my emotional well-being. Acknowledging this has felt quite empowering, I'm beginning to realise that I can work to take the control back from my mind to reduce the harm it has been causing.

I attended a meditation course recently which has really helped me grow my understanding of why it is such a useful tool and how it can help to let go of painful emotions and reduce negative thoughts.

I now use an imagery of the ocean to help me. The bottom of the deep sea is my mind. It is a vast and unobstructed space. It is always calm there, unaffected by anything happening up above. The negative thoughts, the painful emotions that come up, cause movements on the waters surface. The quantity and intensity is reflected in the ferocity of the sea. It could be a gentle ripple of the water or an almighty storm with waves crashing everywhere. Regardless, the bottom of the ocean remains calm and unaffected by the changes above.

It is comforting to know that this calm space is always there, always available to retreat to. Taking myself there when the sea gets too rough, even if just for 10 minutes, will offer me, if nothing else, respite from the negative mind state. However, whilst there experiencing the peace and expanse of the mind, free from the intrusive thoughts, there will be space and clarity that can assist in dealing with whatever is causing the storm up above. The more I take myself into the bottom of the ocean, the better equipped I will be to cope with what's on the surface.

If I reflect back upon this year it is clear that I was in the midst of a very dangerous storm, it was relentless and ferocious. But I have  fought hard against the storm, using several resources and guidance to find the bottom of the deep deep sea and gradually the storm is quietening down. It is teaching me that my thoughts and feelings can't cause me any harm if I don't allow them to. They are formless, colourless, can't be seen or touched. The clear space of my mind is beautiful, a safe place to be.

A Moodscope member.