Thursday, 31 October 2013

Snakes and Ladders.

We're going along fine, being mindful, taking exercise, having our emotional nutrition, trying our hardest. Then, just as we feel we're getting somewhere, out of the blue something happens that up-ends us. It might be a thought that somehow pops up, a phone call, reading something, seeing someone or something. Then, before we can say 'peace and calm' we're off to the races, mind out of control, emotions all over the place, and the result is rarely what we might choose. We've just hit a snake in our game of snakes and ladders. It feels devastating as we thought we were progressing well.

But, we forget, climbing the ladder of mindful practice is quite a challenge, slow, one rung at a time. Progress is often tiring, somewhat tedious and even plain boring. Snakes, on the other hand, come suddenly and we slide rapidly with little effort down into familiar places we are working so hard to get away from.

The trick, I guess, is to get the ladders longer than the snakes. Also, we need to remember that if this stuff was easy then there would not be monasteries and retreats in the middle of nowhere, away from adversity. Even with no activating agents in the environment our own minds will throw up plenty to trip us up.

But setbacks are just that, setbacks. Delays are not denials. Lets just see the snakes for what they are and develop strategies to cope with them too.

A Moodscope user.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Soft Time, Flow Time, Lost Time.

How many time-management books have you read? How many time-management courses have you been on? Did they help? Probably not.

You see, the problem is that time cannot be managed. It just gets on quite nicely ticking away at a steady rate without us doing anything whatsoever. There is the same one thousand four hundred and forty minutes in each day whether we do anything to try to manage it or not.

It is we who need managing, not time.

And what generally happens is that we overload ourselves with tasks and schedules, try to do too much, fail to get it all done and then, instead of congratulating ourselves on what we've actually achieved, we beat ourselves up for what remains undone.

Does that sound familiar? Last Saturday's post dealt with a similar theme. It's a regular pattern for many of us.

One of my friends recently introduced me to a new concept; the idea of soft time and flow time. Soft time is time spent doing that which empowers us. For some people it's time spent outdoors, or in some kind of sport or physical activity. For me it's the precision and creativity of my card-making. Some people like to bake, or paint, or hang out with family or friends. The point is that this is recharging time.

Recharging or energising the batteries means that chores or work gets done in "flow time" where everything seems easier. We accomplish more without stress.

The problem arises when we attempt to do too much – we fall out of flow time and become increasingly unproductive and end up in "lost time". Lost time is time spent mindlessly watching TV, scanning through Facebook (wondering why everyone has a much better life than we do), reading magazines that contribute nothing to us. Each of us has their own "lost time" activity, just as we have our own "soft time" activity.

When I spend an hour creating beautiful greetings cards that will bring pleasure to the recipient this feeds something in me. If I spend that same time on Facebook (I think I'm defined as a "lurker") that hour drains me.

It's the same hour. I just need to get out that paper, ribbon and card and get creating.

A Moodscope user.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Playing the 'Afraid' Card.

Here's the seventh in the series of excellent blogs by Lex covering the adjectives on the 20 Moodscope cards. Please don't forget we'd love you to add any ideas, tips, insights or advice you may have that you'd like to share with other Moodscope members that might be of help. Please add them to the comments at the end of this post. Many thanks. Caroline.

Today, it's the turn of the 'Afraid' card, which Moodscope defines as, 'feeling frightened about something.'

I remember a turning point in my relationship to 'fear'. Whilst Science Fiction isn't everyone's cup-of-tea, like all imaginative art, it can provoke insight. I was watching the film 'Dune' for the first time. In the film, the hero is put to the test – a test of fear. I was fascinated to hear him recite what is called the 'Litany against fear' in the book and film.

"I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing...Only I will remain."

[Quoted from ]

There are many aspects of this ritual that I like, but I'll highlight just two: "I will face my fear" and the fact that fear passes. Fear should not be ignored – it should be faced. It may carry a message of genuine danger and so should be confronted, face on, to test its validity. I really like the idea of putting fear to the test rather than fear testing me! If the fear reveals a genuine danger, the danger can then be faced. If the fear is exaggerated, I have confidence that it will pass – but only after it has been dragged into the light of full inspection.

As soon as fear is faced it is inevitably perceived in a different way and can be acted upon. It is only while it remains in the shadows (or under the bed?) that it can continue to cast its strange power over us. I will face my fear.

A Moodscope user.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Victor Frankl.

"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves."   Victor Frankl.

Victor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and a psychiatrist and wondered why certain people managed to live through this atrocity and others simply gave up and idled, which he explores in his best-seller 'Man's Search for Meaning'.

He chronicled his experiences as a concentration camp inmate which led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and thus, a reason to continue living.

His extreme experience where he could change nothing except himself - opened a door for him and he became one of the key figures in existential therapy and a prominent source of inspiration for humanistic psychologists.

What situations are you now in where you want others to change?

Maybe it even upsets or disturbs you - why - since the only person you can change is yourself?

All too often, since humans are animals of habit in a world where the only constant is change, we are our own creators of stress.

What can you change about yourself today in a proactive manner, rather than wait until you discover you cannot change the situation and by then, with far greater stress, realise it is you who have to change?

Explore this at work or home... and see what falls out!

A Moodscope User.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

One step at a time.

Some days are a lot harder than others.

When I'm feeling particularly helpless, even the most simple tasks seem like mountains to overcome.

I have a problem with putting too much pressure on myself to achieve a set number of things in a day, and when these things go undone, I feel as though I've set myself up for failure.

That is why it's important to give yourself a push on those days that seem worthless, even if it is just brushing your teeth and washing your face.

I try and surround myself with things that I know boost my mood even if only a little, such as music, cooking or reading. Those little steps I have taken in the morning have provided me with the energy I need later in the day, whereas if I'd wallowed for hours and wasted the morning I would've undoubtedly felt worse.

So I suppose my advice is to not put unfair pressure on yourself, and to take those dark days one step at a time.

A Moodscope user.

Friday, 25 October 2013

A Disciplined Life.

We have all sorts of rules for ourselves, don't we? Having some kind of structure in our lives helps us to make sense of things. Human Beings need certainty and a schedule or certain rules we live by help us to create that certainty.

One of my rules is to get enough sleep. This is particularly important to me as, being bi-polar, in my high energy "up" times it is very easy indeed to get by on less and less sleep, with the inevitable result that the corresponding "down" is even deeper as my body presents the invoice for all those lost hours.

Another rule I have is not to teach my classes on two successive days. The workshops I run are emotionally intensive – both for me and for the clients, so two days back to back is exhausting.

I've broken both these rules this week, and so today I'm conscious of a jagged edge of exhaustion threatening my mood. I have clients tonight too, so I'm going to make sure I honour one of my other rules: only work for two parts of the day.

This means that as soon as I stop writing this I shut down the computer, make a cup of tea and do something relaxing – even if that ends up doing the ironing. The point is, it's not work – it's recharging time.

A friend of mine even has a little chart she fills in every day, as an addition to the Moodscope score. It records whether she had enough sleep, if she meditated, if she has any worries about specific things, whether her husband is away and so on. At the bottom of the chart is a big box for "conclusions". I don't think I'm organised enough to fill that in every day, but I can see it would be useful.

They say that knowledge is power and any observations you make about your own emotional state can result in helpful guidelines and rules. Then, when you break the rules, at least you know you have a reason for the way you feel, and somehow, that makes you feel a bit better.

Right. Off to make that cup of tea and to tackle the ironing – but in a relaxed way, of course!

A Moodscope user.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

APET (Activating agents, pattern matching, emotions and thoughts).

I've written about activating agents and pattern matching (Sept/Oct 2013) so the next bit of my story is about emotions.

I guess we sort of 'know' what emotions are but find them quite hard to describe because there is so much to them. Maybe it's helpful to see them as 'states' that have body and mind components to them.

Whether we are filled with sadness or joy we experience these as sensations in our physiology or particular mental states. Often there are no thoughts involved or maybe there are rapidly moving thoughts that swim through us like a flowing current that's hard to control. Thoughts that do arise can be often rather 'black and white' with a more limited view of the multiple shades of grey that make up reality. It's hard to 'think' clearly sometimes. We can be overwhelmed, in pleasurable or painful ways.

Advertising works because of this system within us. The advert encourages us to associate some sort of desirable experience with the product. Sensual imagery conditions us to entice us. If we become curious about the adverts we can see how they operate. If we also become curious about our emotions we can begin to see how they get constructed, what the activating agents were and how we pattern matched. The interesting thing is that as soon as we become curious we become a little calmer. Asking 'how am I experiencing...?' can be more informing than asking 'why'.

A Moodscope user.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Today I started my morning by checking my phone for any messages. For over a year now I've been working on lessening the attachment to my phone, so I was quite surprised at my instant reflex upon waking.

What happened this morning can probably be connected to what happened yesterday.

I met someone who fits in quite well with the kind of person I want to have in my life and after an unexpected date he asked for my number. Unfortunately this story doesn't have a very happy ending. On the way home I had the sudden realisation that somehow (even though I've had the number for over a year now) I had accidentally given him the wrong number.

Am I confused by what happened? Yes.

Should I have taken his number too? Of course.

Self-sabotage? Very likely.

As sad as that tiny story is to me, what I did not expect was how, as a reaction to it, my brain threw away everything I've learned over the years (meditation, serenity, un-attachment) and spent all night throwing self-blame my way, something that hasn't happened in a very long time.

I guess in a way, I can add 'self-compassion' to the things I've learned because I have finally realised that mindfulness and things alike are not quick fixes, things can always fall through the cracks.

I'm going to leave this story with you and get back to my daily meditation practices, but as a final note: Don't be so hard on yourself; I hope you have a wonderful day ahead of you.


A Moodscope user.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Apple Day.

It was Apple Day last Saturday.

Traditionally it's the day when all the apples have been picked and all the windfalls and damaged ones are turned into apple juice for cider.

Some friends invited us to a big apple juicing party to celebrate the day. They had borrowed a small hand operated apple press and we, the guests, were to provide apples; apples begged, bought, scrumped (but not quite stolen).

So all through the afternoon twelve adults and the older children chopped and crunched and pressed and at the end of the day we had eighty litres of apple juice; thick and opaque and utterly delicious; some to drink as juice, some for cider, some for wine.

The feeling of accomplishment and camaraderie was amazing. Because there were enough of us we all took turns at the chopping and pressing and took some time out for a chat too. The men drank beer and watched the teenagers enthusiastically wielding the apple press. The women (in a very traditional role – sorry) prepared the food which the aforementioned teenagers vacuumed off the plates at warp speed. We all felt incredibly connected to the earth and to community. So must our ancestors have felt when the whole tribe got together to complete some big project.

So it was a good feeling. It's always good to be involved in something bigger than you can manage by yourself or with just your immediate family or social group.

Apple Day is over for this year, but there are lots of other things to get involved with.

Just make sure you get thoroughly immersed in the involvement – because that's where the juice is.

A Moodscope user.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Playing the 'Inspired' Card.

Here's the sixth in the series of excellent blogs by Lex covering the adjectives on the 20 Moodscope cards. Please don't forget we'd love you to add any ideas, tips, insights or advice you may have that you'd like to share with other Moodscope members that might be of help. Please add them to the comments at the end of this post. Many thanks. Caroline.

Today, it's the turn of the 'Inspired' card, which Moodscope defines as, "feeling the desire to do something."

Inspiration is often the spark that ignites the engine of motivation, which is fuelled by encouragement. What wonderful words: 'inspiration', 'motivation', 'encouragement'. The feeling of inspiration starts with a thought, an idea, an insight. Just as I can choose to turn the ignition key to fire the spark plugs in my engine, so also I can deliberately choose to put myself in a position where inspiration is likely to spark. What sparks your inspiration? Who is your inspiration? When do you feel most inspired?

For me, I am at my most inspired early in the morning – often at Dawn. A stroll around the small garden is often enough to notice a pattern in Nature that inspires me or new growth that brings me hope. People's use of phrases will often inspire a line in a poem. Art galleries and museums inspire me. Architecture inspires me. Good writing inspires me. In fact, wherever I place my attention, inspiration often follows. This means that I can play my part in choosing where to put my attention. There is an important aspect to my mindset, however; I am deliberately looking for inspiration – and that makes a world of difference.

Adventure movies sometimes talk of putting ourselves in harm's way. I'd rather have the happier adventure of putting myself in inspiration's way. How could you deliberately set yourself up for inspiration today?

A Moodscope user.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Using Imagery To Explore Thoughts And Feelings.

Last year a frozen trauma within me melted. Understatement. It rushed outwards in a torrent. And my whole life was strewn out along a beach. Everything about me was being washed out to sea or was flying off into the wind. And all I could do was to let it all go. I had neither the energy nor the motivation to run after it.

Gradually these past few months I have salvaged and beach combed and trawled - in order to rescue my life.

Some aspects were from the outpouring and others were little treasures that I fell upon.

It wasn't a breakdown - it was a break through.

And now the imagery has changed. From a windswept beach to a small sheltered, secluded garden. And for all there are some weeds and a few thorny bushes there are also new seedlings, perennials, berries on bushes, flowers and an old tree!

How do you 'see' your life?

A Moodscope user.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Be true to yourself.

'Two roads diverged in the middle of my life,
I heard a wise man say
I took the one less travelled by
And that's made the difference, every night and every day.'

Larry Norman (with apologies to Robert Frost)

How many of us find it easier to simply 'fit in' than do what we either want to or feel is right.

If we start doing what does not feel 'right' - doing 'wrong' for ourselves or others starts to become a habit, especially if we are with the same people for these instances of imbalance.

We then know what is expected of us by these other people either at work, play or home, which needless to say puts pressure on us to continue to be 'wrong' knowingly!

All too often we get caught up in saying something that we believe we are expected to say and if it is not us... who do we then become?

It is this 'tension' that starts to create stress which can build into something far greater as we 'lose' who we really are.

One thing you can do - is simply say 'I'll think about that and come back to you' - if you feel you are being drawn into saying something that is not authentic.

Shakespeare said 'To thine own self be true'... if you are not true to yourself - who can you be true to?

A Moodscope user.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Connecting the dots.

In 2005, visionary co-founder and later Chief Executive of Apple; Steve Jobs made perhaps his biggest contribution of all, not the Iphone or the Mac- but a speech, to a class of graduate students at Stanford University.

Usually not one for words, Jobs used this opportunity to not only tell the world of his recent cancer diagnosis, but also to impart some advice to this group of young adults going out into the big wide world. It is the first part of this speech I would like to focus on - 'connecting the dots'.

During Jobs' college/university days (depending what side of the pond you are reading this), he quickly came to the conclusion that the subjects he had decided to study were not really relevant to what he wanted to do with his life and not worth the hard earned money his parents had put into it. Rather than drop out completely, he decided to 'Drop in' to certain classes. One of these classes was Calligraphy; seemingly so unrelated to what he wanted to do with his life but something in which he had a deep interest.

With an eye for design, Jobs was fascinated by the way the different styles of writing were so intricate and beautiful. Years later, when developing the first Mackintosh computer, Jobs used this experience to create the idea of multiple typefaces. Something we take for granted today. This is one example of how seemingly unrelated dots can connect as life goes on.

The moral Jobs gave to his story was that there will be many opportunities in your life that although you want to take, you might not chose to because they do not fit in with what you see yourself doing with your life. Jobs highlights that you cannot possibly connect the dots looking forwards, you can only connect them looking back. You should take every opportunity you want to take and trust that the dots will connect themselves. More often than not, they do.

'Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary' – Steve Jobs 1955-2011

Happy Connecting,

Jake O'Gorman
Personal Trainer / Lifestyle coach.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Bring back the boutonnière!

"Aren't flowers sensible? The whole world in chaos and they go right on blooming. They give me a kind of faith." – Sarah Miles (Deborah Kerr) in the film The End of The Affair.

I remember attending weddings as a small child and feeling quietly grieved if I was deemed too young or not close enough to the bridal party to be given a button-hole to wear. The ushers would perhaps have an open tray-box to hand, containing rows of fresh, delicate flowers, lined up, awaiting their moment of glory, ready and prepared to adorn a pretty frock or a lapel.

Whatever happened to gentlemen wearing a boutonnière each day? What a charming custom that was. Actually you know, we could all adorn ourselves with flowers a lot more than we do.  Better still, we could grace ourselves with flowers that mean something to us that day or that reflects our mood.

The Victorians of course understood the language of flowers. Receiving a bunch of flowers meant a little detective work was in order. The recipient of dogwood for example, would savour a heartwarming moment: Love undiminished by adversity.

I'll sometimes pop into see Dawn, my local florist at Oopsey Daisy's and have her make me buttonhole. The occasion? Well, at just £1 per button-hole does there need to be an 'occasion'? Really, does not everyday bring possibility for a little gaiety and gladness?  I love the balance of meaning with my favourite boutonnière: Gerber Daisy = Cheerfulness with Rosemary = Remembrance. For even when our hearts are cheerful, we are still ever mindful of the sadnesses endured, or perhaps of those we love who are no longer with us, but who have given us much.

Of course, rummage around in your back garden and you may chance upon wild flowers rich in meaning and with enough beauty to make your own floral ornamentation. Even a sprig of lavender or a humble daisy will bring a smile, I'm sure.

A Moodscope user.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Mummy: I'm so miserable and I don't know why!

These were the words said to me on Saturday night by my eleven year old, tears running down her face.

I don't think any of us would wish to be pre-teens or teenagers again, would we: all those spots, hormones and weird things happening to our bodies and minds?

Fortunately this time I didn't have to say "It's just your hormones darling. I know it's a pain, but put up with it and eventually, I promise, it will get better."

This time I could use a much more logical argument.

"Just think about it. Yesterday you walked a fifteen mile sponsored walk in the rain. Then you went to the church youth club. Today we got up early, picked pound and pounds of apples, blackberries and sloes, and this afternoon we spent cutting up apples and crushing and juicing them, and you cut your finger so badly that only the fact we had four trained nurses on hand stopped us taking you to A&E. That was pretty traumatic. On top of that, you children ran off another couple of miles (in the rain) and brought back a few more pounds of apples to chop, crush and juice. You were so tired you couldn't eat any supper. Don't you think that, just maybe, your energy tank is running on empty? You feel miserable and tearful because you're desperately tired and need sleep."

"Oh, I hadn't thought of that." She said and flopped back onto her pillow. When I checked ten minutes later she was fast asleep.

It occurred to me that often we can feel down and miserable and beat ourselves up for these feelings when, actually, they are entirely related to the physical. If we have been working very hard, going without sleep, pushing ourselves beyond what is reasonable, then one of the ways our bodies let us know we've had enough is by signalling through our feelings. So instead of just screaming "Why?" at the universe (which rarely gets a constructive answer), why don't we just check to ensure that we're not, in the words of one rather precocious four year old I encountered, "Fizzily and 'motionally  'zausted!"

Sometimes we just need to cut ourselves some slack, and be as kind to ourselves as we would be to others in our situation.

A Moodscope user.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

A five-minute wonder.

Is your head a whirl of worries and your diary one long 'to-do' list?

If our minds are buzzier than a beehive, it's often impossible to discern what matters and what doesn't.

We can find ourselves telling off our children for the tiniest transgressions, cursing colleagues for simply doing their jobs and sighing heavily at strangers for doing nothing more criminal than walking more slowly than we are.

Whilst it's easy to get perspective on someone else's problems, it's much harder with our own. So I thought I'd share an exercise we were invited to do on a recent yoga retreat which I found helped me gain some distance from fretting. It only takes a few minutes. What's more, it's free, and you can do it wherever you are.

At some point today, preferably in daylight hours, take five minutes to go outside. Leave your phone, your cigarettes, your friends, and go alone (though if it's raining, I will permit a brolly). On our retreat we went into an orchard to get in touch with nature, but actually, the heart of the city will do just as well. Now, experience what's around you.


But don't do this half-heartedly, do it with your full attention. See the ladybird on a leaf, a raindrop running down a window. Hear the tweet of birds, the thrum of distant traffic. Feel the damp blades of grass beneath your feet, the cool metal of a handrail. Smell the salt in the sea air, the bakery on the corner...

Breathe deeply as you do this, and every time one of your worries pops into your brain, gently push it away, and refocus on your senses.

Feels good, doesn't it?

Next, look up into the sky: even if it's grey, picture how far away those clouds are, and the space above them. Imagine yourself seeing the world from on high, with Earth as part of the solar system with the moon, the planets, the sun. Then close your eyes and think of the millions upon millions of stars, in a vast, vast universe, that stretches so far we can't begin to conceive it. And remember that you are only one very, very small part of this universe, just like a ladybird or raindrop, and your worries are only very, very small part of you.

In a few days, some of your worries will have passed, and even if they are still plaguing you, in the general scheme of things, given the perspective of the whole universe, they don't really matter so much, do they?

A Moodscope user.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Playing the 'Hostile' Card.

Here's the fifth in the series of excellent blogs by Lex covering the adjectives on the 20 Moodscope cards. Please don't forget we'd love you to add any ideas, tips, insights or advice you may have that you'd like to share with other Moodscope members that might be of help. Please add them to the comments at the end of this post. Many thanks. Caroline.

Today, it's the turn of the 'Hostile' card, which Moodscope defines as, 'feeling unfriendly towards others.'

The root of the word is strongly associated with Latin and Middle French for 'belonging to an enemy'... however it is also related to 'guest' in its original meaning of 'guest; enemy; stranger'. Perhaps this root can help us. There is a natural, even sensible fear of 'strangers' and that which is 'strange'. This fear puts us on our guard, and thus we appear and often are 'unfriendly'.

When life is tough, we can sometimes begrudge others their apparent happiness. They are 'outside' our circle of experience. When others are joyful and we are sad, it seems so unfair. All too easily, this can begin the slide down into the unfriendly territory of hostility. We can snap at them, and treat them as a 'hostile'! Clearly, most people in peace-time are not hostiles. Perhaps then we can turn our own hostility on hostility itself. If 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' we could see fear or jealousy or bitterness or disappointment as the real (root) enemy, and transform our opinion of others and their good fortune. It can even come down to something as simple as assuming the best intention behind the behaviour of others - the so called, 'benefit of the doubt'.

With a little bit of emotional alchemy, we can usually find something fascinating or charming about others. It is then a matter of fighting hostility on two fronts – appreciating our new 'friends' so that we become outwardly more friendly, and turning the strength of our own hostility on hostility itself.

In my experience, emotions often follow behaviours. If we behave in a friendly manner towards 'strangers', any sense of hostility towards them diminishes, and the victory over hostility is assured. By welcoming others to join us 'inside' our circle, we can often be delighted by the gifts they may well bring with them: laughter, joy, insight, kindness, and friendship.

A Moodscope user.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Use your heart as a compass.

'By using your heart as a compass, you can see more clearly which direction to go to stop self-defeating behaviour. If you take just one mental or emotional habit that really bothers or drains you and apply heart intelligence to it, you'll see a notable difference in your life' The Heartmath Solution.

We can all 'feel' something about what we are thinking, doing or saying if we just take time to become 'self aware'.

When we ask people to point to themselves - people almost always point to their heart...

We want to 'get to the heart of things'

We show love graphically by drawing a heart.

Even the world's most expensive football players puts his fingers in the shape of a heart when he scores.

We talk about people being the 'heart' of the team or the 'heart of the family'

Imagine stopping all 'busyness' relaxing and breathing deeply and 'feeling' our heart - give it time and space to speak to you and find out what you are really saying to yourself or others.

A Moodscope user.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Your blog here.

How would you like to share your message here with thousands of other Moodscopers?

We are looking for members to contribute by sharing ideas, stories, insights and thoughts with others who have an interest in positively managing their mood.

It doesn't have to be anything big - a little empathy goes a long way. Just something you think might be helpful.

Email your contribution to

The Moodscope Team

Friday, 11 October 2013

Confessions of a 50-year-old.

When we're young, we tend to indulge in all sorts of behaviours without considering the damage we're doing to ourselves physically. I don't just mean obvious misdemeanours like smoking and drinking - most of us know the dangers of those. I'm referring to more insidious habits that we may not be as conscious are doing us harm.

But this year I turned 50 and recently my body has been protesting that I've not paid it due care and attention. This blog is anonymous, so I'll confess I have receding gums and bunions. I'll stop there - if you're eating, I might put you off your food.

Whilst I'm sure a day of not brushing one's teeth properly doesn't cause much damage, the truth is I've always been impatient, so oral care has long seemed a chore. Equally I love fashion and have succumbed to fancy footwear on many an occasion, so it's no coincidence I bear these particular signs of ageing.

This lead me to wonder if our brains are similar; if we spend years being negative and self critical, then does our grey matter develop extra lumps and recesses like our feet and gums to reflect these patterns of thinking? Unless you've an MRI scanner to hand, you won't be able to see inside your skull to know, but research suggests this is the case.

The good news is that, thanks to something called 'neuroplasticity', however long-term the patterns, the damage needn't be permanent. Regardless of age, it's possible to forge fresh neural pathways by adopting different behaviours. Thus, for example, after eight weeks of mindfulness meditation, scans revealed increased density in those parts of the brain associated with memory, self-awareness and compassion.

According to my dentist, I'm in the nick of time to salvage my gums, so now I'm brushing and flossing with zeal. Likewise, given it's never too late to change your mind, why not pledge to restore vitality to your brain today? You can improve the tenor of your inner voice by listening to it, and when you experience a distressing thought, identify it and give yourself the choice of thinking and feeling differently.

A Moodscope user.

Thursday, 10 October 2013


"Oh this is gorgeous! But how happy does this make you feel? And this?"

So exuded the shop assistant at a charity shop when I was purchasing a skirt. She was referring first to the expensive label and then to the price tag which read a happy £4.49.

There's a bountiful supply of books, blogs, TV programmes and weekly columns devoted to making our pennies go further with promises of 'Living Rich Even Though Poor.' Yes, it's a good thing to be in control of our money. Especially as we know well, how much our financial situation can affect our mood. But how can we feel "rich" even if "poor"?

Well, I feel strongly that it doesn't mean living ascetically or being mean. I for one adore the aesthetic and am all about being surrounded with beauty. I think India Knight explains it well in her Thrift Book: 'What we'd like is some authenticity, some individualism, some soul in our lives... some integrity.'

For example, homemade gifts and cards will almost always be more meaningful and heartfelt than shop bought ones.

Up-cycling old lamp-shades, chairs, wardrobes, side-units, (the list is endless actually) brings an inner satisfaction that the quick fix high of spending just can't compare with.

And what of charity shops? Well why spend £80 on a skirt when we can buy one for less than a fiver? I'm in shopping nirvana when in a charity shop. After I have calmed myself down, I set about rummaging in a very orderly, logistical manner. I don't want to miss a thing!  You just never know what treasure you will find in a charity shop. I'd say about 75% of my wardrobe is made up of such treasures.

Thrifting can be a fun and creative way of starting on the path of living more frugally but feeling altogether more satisfied and happy. Last month saw the first ever Thrift Festival in Darlington, Yorkshire, thanks to Wayne Hemingway. I was desperate to go but it'd have cost me £100 for a day return! (What a shame our country's rail services don't help us get thrifty.) If you were able to go, please tell me about it or indeed, just share any of your nifty, thrifty ways.

A Moodscope user.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Nothing to be Depressed About.

You'd think it would be obvious, wouldn't you? If you're depressed, then you're depressed. You feel down, you might feel life is not worth living, you suffer from negative thoughts.

But sometimes it's not that simple. I was just exhausted all the time. I was sleeping most of the day. I was too tired to go out, to put my make up on; too tired to get dressed properly, to cook, to eat. But there were no negative thoughts, no blue moods; I was just frustrated and needed a good old fashioned tonic.

I still remember the total shock and disbelief I experienced when my GP (a very experienced and wise woman) said "I think you might be suffering from depression."
My immediate reaction was "I can't be depressed: I have nothing to be depressed about!"

It was true then and true now. I have experienced great blessings in my life and have the luck and privilege of being happily married and the mother of two healthy children, to have a roof over my head and enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table. Lots of people don't have that. It is they who can rightly be depressed. I don't have that right.

But there is another point of view.

I was reading the memoirs of another GP recently. He wrote about the futility of prescribing anti-depressants to those patients who lived lives of abject poverty with no positive relationships, dealing with problems caused by alcoholism and drug abuse.

He made the point that, though those patients were undoubtedly depressed, they were not suffering from clinical depression as such – but from dreadful lives (he used a more pithy and graphic term which I shall not repeat at the risk of causing offence).

So, the depression that we live with may be utterly unconnected with circumstances and it's no use playing the guilt card. It's also no use declining the drugs out of pride or pig-headedness.

I always swore I'd never go on the drugs, but now I bless whoever invented Fluoxetine – because it helps – it really does. In those times when just getting out of bed, getting washed, getting dressed, taking the children to school is the equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis (in stilettos), the pills can provide that vital extra boost. The therapy helps too, of course!

At the moment things are fine, and for every day that continues I'm grateful. And finally, finally, I've learned not to feel guilty about my illness. It comes, it goes; I'm learning how to deal with it and educating my family and friends in how to deal with it also.

It's a nuisance, but it's not a tragedy. And I refuse to be a drama-queen about it.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Ode to October.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a friend how much I loved this time of year. 'But summer's over!' she wailed. 'Next thing I know it'll be Christmas.' Yet it was only the start of September. It struck me she'd fast-forwarded through nearly four months – and with it a whole season.

There's a simple theory that depression is associated with looking back regretfully to the past, whereas anxiety stems from being future-focused. If this is true, then my friend's remark was indicative of both modes of thinking, and I'm sure she's not alone. One only has to consider the high streets to see how, as a culture, we often don't focus on the time we're in – we've autumn clothes in the shops in July, winter fashions in September and by mid-December – when one might actually want to buy a warm woolly – they're all on sale in preparation for spring. Talk about wishing our lives away! This is the very antithesis of living in the moment, and hardly conducive to mental wellbeing.

I suppose, to be glass-half-empty for a moment, it's true that the nights are drawing in and temperatures have dropped. However October is also a time when nature is particularly stunning, as the poet John Keats put it so eloquently:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run...

And that's not forgetting the crackle of the logs on the fire, the whoops and shrieks of Halloween and bonfire night...

So today, why not take a moment to what makes October special for you? Then share your observation(s) on our blog, so we can enjoy Moodscopers' very own contemporary Ode to Autumn. Because, to coin a cliché, there's no time like the present.

A Moodscope user.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Playing the Alert Card.

Here's the fourth in the series of excellent blogs by Lex covering the adjectives on the 20 Moodscope cards. Please don't forget we'd love you to add any ideas, tips, insights or advice you may have that you'd like to share with other Moodscope members that might be of help. Please add them to the comments at the end of this post. Many thanks. Caroline.

Today, it's the turn of the "Alert" card, which Moodscope defines as, 'being quick to notice and act.' This is an 'animal' trait to me, reminding me fondly of the dogs and cats I've known. Beloved pets often appear to be resting contentedly, but their ear movements give them away - they always score a 3 on this card because they are ever quick to notice and then leap into activity... especially if there is food or attention available.

Being alert is dominantly an external phenomenon – it's an awareness of the opportunities and threats in our environment. As such here is a fascinating exercise you can do. Take the index fingers of both hands and wiggle them in front of your eyes. Keep staring straight ahead while you move your arms apart horizontally and so test the width of your vision. You are testing your visual awareness of movement not sharp focus. Now do a similar exercise but take one hand up above your head and the other down towards your waist vertically. What you should notice is that you can see more in one dimension. (No spoilers here – you'll have to try it for yourself.)

Now that you have an idea of the scope of your visual awareness, put your hands by your side and just look straight ahead. Without moving your eyes, check out the height, depth and breadth of your visual awareness. What can you see now that you hadn't been consciously aware of before? Keeping that vision, switch to your peripheral awareness of sound. What can you hear now that you hadn't been consciously aware of before? Where is the sound coming from? You can, of course, continue through the 5 senses but seeing and hearing are often enough to pull you back into the 'now' sufficiently to sharpen the level of your alertness.

If I do this rapidly (and privately) in company, I'll usually pick up on some cue that someone is giving off – perhaps a tell-tale cluster of body gestures or an interesting tone. The second part is then to act on what I've noticed – this is being alert! And, taking my cue from the wise cats and dogs, this is a great activity to do when eating socially. You'll hone in on someone who would positively purr at the special attention you can then pay them.

A Moodscope user.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Pattern matching part 3.

I gained access to an email account I've not used for over 3 years yesterday (I'd lost my password). I found what I needed soon enough, but I went snooping around in past messages. I read a message I'd received in 2007.

Within seconds I could feel my energy changing, the life draining out of me, the flooding with upset emotions, the thoughts about how useless I was at handling that situation back then. The past came in to rule my present. I felt overwhelmed. My physiological, emotional and thinking states were altered. It affected me all day, disturbed my sleep last night and lingers somewhat today.

But, if I trace it back, I know enough to know that opening access to that email account was a high risk strategy. If I was 'mindful' enough I would have known, as I should do, that looking at old messages was fraught with danger. I 'could' have chosen differently and closed out of the programme once I found the thing I was looking for.

There's nothing I can now do about something that happened 6 years ago involving someone I've not seen for years. My life is being lived in the present. I need to learn from the experience.

In the past I would try to eat and drink my way out of the discomfort. Now, I walk. Today, I'll try to live more mindfully. Is this easy? Of course not. But, really, is there anything else to do?

A Moodscope user.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Everything stops for tea.

"I'll just put the kettle on and make a nice cuppa."

We probably hear, utter or think those words, or something like them, every single day. well, we do in the UK!

I can't recommend enough Jack Buchanan's nostalgic and witty tune - Everything Stops For Tea.

As the clever Twinings advert proposes, tea can 'bring you back to you.'

Try swapping your old builders-yard-type mugs for an elegant mug, or better yet, delicate cups and saucers (yes even you men). Pretty cups, fine tea pots (never commit the mortal sin of making your tea in the cup), and floral cake plates can always be found, cheap as chips, in charity shops. I love being able to choose different cups for different moods.

Be open to trying different teas. The tea leaves for Lapsang Souchong, my personal favourite, are smoke-dried over pine-wood fires, so the aroma is like that of a pine wood and the taste? Oh as smoky as certain single malt whiskeys. Divine.

For those sensitive to caffeiene, herbal teas can renew and offer comfort.

Ensure the boiled water is fresh and not reboiled. Experiment taking your tea without milk, perhaps adding a slice of lemon instead. Go wild, invest in a tea strainer and try the real deal - loose leaf tea.

Don't feel you must indulge in calorific cake or biscuits whilst supping your tea. In countries like Azerbaijan, they take their tea with juicy raisins, or dried fruit.

There is no such place as 'Happiness'. For me, Happiness, comes in wee fleeting moments every day. Even on the grimmest of days, spending a few moments preparing a quality cuppa is to create one of those precious moments.

Yes, a wee tea ceremony can elevate one's mood, just as it did Mr Buchanan's.

A Moodscope user.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Family Matters.

Dealing with family who love us dearly when we're depressed can be excruciating. It's a complex and often messy issue with potentially thousands of differing scenario's. I can only go by my own experience and it wasn't an easy one.

About sixteen years ago, a very good and wise friend went to great lengths to help me see that is was time to get help. I was not in a good way. You can trust me on that. I felt tremendous relief but also dread of how my family would react. My fear was not without cause.

My dad particularly felt that I was 'giving in', and said some very hurtful things. It feels painful (not to mention disloyal) recalling those days. It makes my dad sound like an unreasonable or harsh man. He wasn't any of those things, in fact, quite the opposite.  I now see that he felt despair and helpless, feeling that he'd lost his vivacious daughter. I wasn't able to put up a facade anymore and he was terrified.

There will be days when we simply don't have the reserves to tutor the ones we love about the complexities of mental health. Yet, bit by bit, they can grow with us. A woodpecker doesn't create his haven, his nest, with one peck. It takes ongoing work.

My parents came to have tremendous understanding and empathy. In a sense, we grew together. As I got stronger and better, so did their understanding and our relationship grew firmer for it. A key factor, I'm sure, was that my parents did want to understand. It was a similar outcome for a friend and her husband, which is perhaps altogether more challenging.

There is no getting round it. It's hard. Finding the balance between educating our family, not rescuing them and yet reassuring them of our love but also knowing when it is futile to express precious feelings - all this, whilst so unwell, is hard to bear. I don't think I'd have got through those times without counseling and the beautiful friend mentioned above.

We could start with small pecks. How about starting with telling them about Moodscope? It may spark a conversation with surprisingly positive results. Whatever the case I believe that ultimately, we become the stronger for not hiding that we can be 'souls accompanied by sadness', which is how the Navajo Indians describe those who suffer from depression.

A Moodscope user.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Pattern matching part 2.

So, we have patterns within us that fire off in response to activating agents outside of us.

Yesterday I heard Phil Collins singing on the radio and it brought me back in an instant to 1982, where I was living, who I was with, emotions and thoughts about that time. That information is inside me, lying there dormant until triggered by something. This process is often at work and largely serves me. But there are many times when it also causes bother.

When something happens today where I feel rejected this rapidly taps into similar situations of rejection from the past and I become easily flooded with the same sort of physiological arousal and emotions associated with that earlier experience.

It's easy to see this working with music, old photos, places we visit, people we see. But it's often very subtle and simply not obvious. I may not make the connection between what I 'think' is upsetting me and the original trigger that established the pattern.

If we can just be quiet for a moment, either at the point of some pattern getting fired off, or, if not possible then, even later on when we can review it, and if we just watch inside and wait, we may often find the original source of the upset.

In finding it, recognising it and seeing it for what it is, a part of our past, we can let it be just that. Then it loses its power over us.

A Moodscope user.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Grumpy Morning Faces.

I rather like mornings. Especially mornings at the moment, early October, when the air is crisp with the first promise of autumn, but at 7am it is still warm enough not to need a coat.

I really like mornings when my daughter and I leave the house for the bus stop so she can catch the 7.20am bus to school. She is eleven now, and goes to the senior school twenty miles away.

That fifteen minute walk - just so long as we have left on time and it is not a ten minute run - gives us just time enough to have a little non-pressured conversation: a mother/daughter space with no agenda. I really, really like that.

But as we stand at the bus stop, with a steady stream of cars passing us on the way into the local town, I can see that not everyone likes mornings as much as I do. Car after car after car passes us with just one occupant, a grumpy person at the wheel. This morning I counted eighty seven cars. Out of that eighty seven, I counted just three people who did not look grim. One person was even smiling; perhaps Chris Evans on the radio had said something funny; he usually does.

And it occurred to me that human beings were not designed to travel like that, in our little sardine cans, with just the radio for company. I don't think it was a co-incidence that the two other non-grumps were among the seven cars with more than one occupant.

Having someone there (and really there, not just listening to their ipod) helps us communicate with, not just that person, but the world. Walking in the fresh air (or cycling) lifts our spirits and gets those endorphins buzzing.

When I get back to the house after seeing my daughter onto the bus I feel energised and ready for work.

I wonder if there is any practical way more people can walk or cycle in the mornings, or even just car-share for the company (and it saves money too).

Of course, the frost and snow and wind and rain have not arrived to lower my spirits yet. So I'll let you know in February, if I still love mornings.

A Moodscope member.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Unblocking Negative Thoughts.

We all know that when we feel depressed, we have less energy to try any self help techniques the books recommend.

Being depressed makes us feel tired, unenthusiastic, unable to connect and to see much joy in anything. We are prone to negative thoughts and it takes too much energy we haven't got to pull ourselves out of the state we are in.

When I really feel at rock bottom, I have one simple technique which I use, in sheer desperation.

It is very simple and works..for me at any rate.

Every time a negative thought comes into my mind, (pretty often, once a second), I immediately replace it with a positive thought. If nothing positive comes to mind, I will say "Stop no that's not right, forget it"

Apparently positive people or rather those not prone to depression automatically think like this. For instance my husband, who against all the odds is cheerful nearly all the time (yes, it can be quite irritating) is sometimes forced to confront a negative problem. He'll spend as little time as possible dealing with it and then more often than not, I will hear him whistling. He will have forgotten all about it!  Maddening but true and maybe we can learn from this behaviour.

I guess one could use my negative/positive technique before one reaches desperation point but it's too exhausting to do this all the time and not natural. It only helps me when I really need to take drastic action.

A Moodscope user.