Friday, 31 January 2014

A winter picnic.

There are many things I love about Winter and yet still, there is no doubt, my mood can, and does, slump this time of year.

I wonder if we all pooled the stuff that puts a bit of Wonder back into Winter, could it help make the remaining weeks of this challenging season a tad more bearable? And for those of you who live in warmer climes, maybe you could indulge us a little, just this once, perhaps even adding the wintery delights that you feel nostalgic for?

I'll kick start us off...

1)  Winter Picnics. My lovely friend Lin is an absolute master Winter Picnicker. She was all bright eyes and smiles yesterday as she told me of her most recent winter foray with her Grandson. Lin has a congregation of flasks of all shapes and sizes for all wintery courses, both sweet and savoury. One will contain homemade soup, another sausages and beans and yet another, Hot Chocolate Abyss with marshmallows. Then there will be homemade sausage rolls and potato skins wrapped in foil and tea towels sitting atop a hot water bottle, just to be sure they keep toasty. She even manages to conjure up warm plates and proper cutlery. None of the paper/plastic sort for Lin, nope.

I never forget a picnic with Lin, even if it's just a snack. They are magic in a thermal bag. And even if we stray no further than the local coast line and remain in the car, it's always a fail safe way of boosting our mood. Could you enjoy a Wintery Picnic Adventure?

2)  Instead of seeing hats, gloves, scarves or tights as necessary evils, why not look dapper with different colours and styles? I have an ever growing collection of berets in a rainbow of colours and when the weather starts to warm, I always feel a pang of disappointment as I pack them away. But I know I'll feel excitement come next October/November, when it's time to don their nattiness once more.

Yes, the joys and delights of Spring will come on time but what can help in the meantime?

A Moodscope user.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Explaining how you feel.

I am not good at explaining how I feel. I know how I am feeling at any given hour of the day but try explaining how I feel to my husband is impossible.

The words are there and I hear myself speaking them, but I may as well be speaking a foreign language judging by the blank look on his face. He just cannot understand. My words are alien to him. He tries very hard to help but will usually end up by saying “you are fine, don’t worry about it. No-one notices how you are. You seem the same each day to me!”

It’s not just my husband though. Even the CBT therapist couldn’t really understand or if she did, she came up with a reason why my feelings were not right. I know this is her role, to turn my feelings or assumptions around and I accept the benefit of this approach. But I feel that for people who have never experienced how I feel (lucky them), it is almost impossible to really understand; it all sounds so silly to them. Why can’t I just get on with life without all this introspection? goes, this is  how I feel. Let me explain.

Most nights I do not sleep well,(deeply) and wake up knowing, absolutely certain, that the day ahead will not be a good one. I will struggle to be cheerful and will have to make a huge effort with people. I will enjoy doing tasks like sweeping the floor, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, basically being on my own.

After a good night (Yes I am obsessed by sleep) I wake up and say yippee I am going to have a wonderful day, who can I meet and entertain, what can I write, how exciting, I can do anything and enjoy it all. My self confidence is brimming over.

On those good days, I will be a different person; people will find me amusing and good to be around. Their mood will lighten! I may, and this is where the problem occurs, decide to invite a friend round a couple of days later. But come that day, I will almost certainly not be feeling good (bad night) and will think of cancelling the friend. I usually go ahead with the meeting and they think (I assume) Oh my goodness, Julia isn’t so bright, not at all what we were expecting. Oh dear this is a bit of a miserable time we are having, let’s go home asap. Or thoughts to this effect. I will feel thoroughly dejected and fed up. Why couldn’t I have been on top form? Why today of all days when I am meeting friends, do I have to feel low?

My husband would say that it’s all in my mind, that my friends probably don’t notice any difference in my mood and are there to enjoy themselves and won’t give me another thought.

So is it all in my mind? I wonder. I am still not convinced it is after years of 'being like this' ("What ever that may be", my husband’s refrain. He still doesn’t get it. But I don’t think it’s just him).

I do hope some of you understand what I have written today and may share my feelings.

Having written all this down, it makes me realise just why I never try to explain how I feel to anyone. It would be much easier to say I suffer from depression or anxiety or insomnia but those labels would not describe how I feel!

A Moodscope user.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Felling the Tree.

We used to have a couple of stately two hundred year old chestnut trees in the park adjoining our house. Now we only have one.

What neither we nor the council had realised was that a fungus infection had got into the roots of one of these trees, causing such rot that, basically, this tree was balanced so precariously that one good push by a toddler would have knocked it down.

That good push was more than adequately supplied by last Saturday's storm.

It's pretty upsetting that such a lovely ornament to our neighbourhood should be lost.
But this isn't about losing the tree.

The tree fell down, right across the main road into our town and onto a car with five people in, at 3.55pm. By 4.05pm two ambulances had arrived, as had a community policeman, my husband and another neighbour. While the ambulance crew attended to the people in the car (thankfully, minor injuries only), everyone else started organising the traffic.
Then other neighbours started arriving with their gardening tools.

Our town councillor turned up, and was shortly joined by another – who was still wearing his rosette. Someone else made a call to a mate who owned a chainsaw.

Before long we actually had to turn away offers of further help. We got the kids sweeping up debris, while I took on the tea-making duty.

We had that fallen giant cleared and the road open again by 5.30pm.

There was still work for the council, as a trunk with a five foot diameter is a bit beyond a domestic chainsaw, but we were pretty proud of ourselves. We hadn't just stood back and waited for the "authorities" to sort it out: we'd sorted it out ourselves without waiting for permission. We had boosted the community spirit, met a few more neighbours and yes - it felt good.

It's a great antidote to feeling powerless, getting a few people together to just do something. If you're like me, you often worry about whether you are actually allowed to do it and so end up hesitant, even frozen; afraid to make a difference. But as somebody once told me (with a wink) it's much easier to get forgiveness than permission.

So what are we waiting for? Let's just do it.

A Moodscope user.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Combatting negative thoughts.

In August last year I was admitted to hospital after an overdose and was fortunate enough to receive some great therapy. Part of this was around combatting negative thoughts and turning them into less negative thoughts, or dare I say...more positive thoughts.

On discharge, I came back to Moodscope with a slightly different perspective. When I get to the positive cards, instead of dismissing them, I really look at what I have been doing and allow myself to score a little higher. Proud? Well, I did manage to achieve the tasks on my to do list and I called my mum, even though I wasn't really in the mood to talk. So yes, I am a little proud. I didn't let my mood dictate my actions. Active? I'm not running circuits, but I was able to get out of bed and shower without too much effort and I even managed a walk around the park.

I now use Moodscope daily, and really try to think about the words on the cards and pull the positives from my life. I find it really helps me put things in perspective and to stay focussed on the little achievements. My mood still fluctuates but my lows aren't quite so low, and my highs are that bit higher. If I wake up feeling low, I can use Moodscope to take a step back and put things into perspective. If I wake up feeling good, I can use Moodscope to celebrate my achievements.

A Moodscope user.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Playing the Ashamed card.

Here's the nineteenth 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. Many thanks. Caroline.

Ashamed – feeling shame for doing something wrong or foolish.

What a great word for "embarrassment"! Oh, I've embarrassed myself on many an occasion.  But do you know what? Most of the events weren't worth getting embarrassed about. I was always the one who cared most about the stupid thing I said or did. Others may have laughed "at" me, but they soon forgot. Well, usually!

As a frame can make or distract from a picture, so also the context can exaggerate or dissipate a sense of shame. This is where you can make a difference. If you are ashamed or embarrassed, excuse yourself (not by way of apology but by way of absenting yourself – Elvis must leave the building!)

This may seem almost cowardly but we all know deep down that trying to do something about the situation from a state of feeling ashamed rarely produces anything good. We've dug a hole and we can end up digging it deeper.

Better to leave as graciously as you can (even if only for 5 minutes to the loo), breathe differently, change your posture, refocus and reframe the event. Then you can return to influence the way the rest of the time plays out from a position of detached strength. A sense of shame often provokes the defence of blame. Better to dissociate yourself for a while and get a fresh perspective.

Of course, I don't need to remind you that everyone has made a fool of themselves at some time or other. Because of this, the simple and beautiful words, "I'm sorry," will resonate so powerfully with their heart that they will be moved. They may choose not to outwardly show this but humility and love is irresistible in the long run.

A Moodscope user.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Make someone smile.

When was the last time you complimented someone? I'm guessing you can't remember. I certainly can't!

I do remember the last time someone complimented me though. A friend told me she loved my shoes, and I felt a little burst of appreciation, my self worth swelled for that moment and I felt good about myself.

What does this tell us? Well, it shows that what we say makes a difference to others, and just one little word can have a monumental impact. And the other good news is that making someone feels good gives us a buzz.

So, with just one thoughtful comment, you have brightened two lives.

How much effort does it really take to start noticing the beauty in those around us? And (another plus!) this makes us all the more 'mindful'. Yes, it's that ever more frequently used word which represents our all important 'wellness'.

So, in an effort to take some of my own advice, today I really noticed the things I love about those special people in my life. And also, special things in people I know less well - I hugged a surprised colleague and told him I had missed him over Christmas. I took a snap of my boyfriend and my cat cuddling in bed this morning and showed him just how adorable he looked with his sleepy eyes. I told my friend how much I liked her coat, and how it made her eyes sparkle.

These compliments touched others lives, made me feel good about saying them and notice the things I'm grateful for. If that's not 'mindfulness', I don't know what is.

It doesn't take much to make someone smile.

A Moodscope user.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Instructions for a bad day.

Mary, one of our members, sent us a link to a YouTube video entitled 'Instructions for a bad day' by Shane Koyczan.

He is an award winning Canadian poet, author and performer.

I think you'll find it quite moving. Watch the video now.


The Moodscope team.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Living With Bipolar Disorder.

I'm a fifty-five year old male who lives in a small city of 50,000 in Ontario, Canada. Just over a year ago, I was desperate for answers. I had experienced mood issues in the past that affected my ability to stay employed, manage my finances and maintain healthy relationships. It had cost me the opportunity to get married and have a family. For someone with a university degree and above average intellect, you can understand how frustrating this was. At one point some years ago, I was so depressed, I considered suicide.

Sound familiar? Well, with the help of my doctor, I was able to get a consultation by video conference with a psychiatrist. (Economic conditions here in Canada had made local availability difficult.) That was in February of last year. We talked for about 90 minutes and he diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. Now, I have read how people react to this diagnosis. For me, it was a revelation; an "a-ha" moment. If I were a cartoon character there would be a light bulb shining over my head. I now could metaphorically put a face to my enemy. The next month my medical doctor prescribed lithium carbonate and I have been taking it ever since.

My head is now clear. My sleep patterns have stabilized, my appetite is intact and my initiative is still there.

I assess my mood every day using Moodscope. It gives me a good indication of where I am. I believe that my medication is helping me. I believe that my doctors have my best interests at heart. I believe my friends want to see me stay healthy and succeed. But most of all, I am proud of my ability to keep fighting. I am not scared or nervous or, most of all, ashamed.

After all, you can't win the battle until you know your enemy.

A Moodscope user.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Creating your own happy ending.

Yesterday I told you my mother is leaving her home of thirty years. Unsurprisingly, she is sad to do so. I'm sad too, and so are my young nephew and nieces, but until this Christmas none of us had talked about how we felt.

Lately I've come to see avoidance can create anxiety, so I decided to face the upset more head on. The morning of Christmas Eve, I was at Mum's house as usual and after a restless night, I went down to the kitchen where I found my nephew and nieces already up and writing and drawing at the table. Mum was still in bed, which made it the perfect moment.

'Hey kids,' I said. 'This is our last Christmas here, so how about you each write something about your memories of this house so we have a keepsake for your grandma?'
'What a great idea!' said my oldest niece, Rose. (How I love children for their enthusiasm!)
'What sort of thing?' asked my middle niece, Polly.
'Anything you like,' I said, not wanting to limit their imaginations. 'Perhaps we could put everything together and make Grandma a big card for her birthday.'

Hours of poem-writing and storytelling, drawing and printing out photos from the computer ensued. We ended up filling not just a card, but an entire scrapbook.

On Christmas Day the children presented my mother with her gift. It was packed full of memories, just like the house, and it finished with a double page spread full of positive messages about her move and their excitement about her new home. Best of all, unlike the house, she can take the book with her.
But perhaps I, more than anyone, learned a valuable lesson that day. Endings don't need to be run from. They can be acknowledged, even celebrated. Spookily, as we focused on the book, I felt my own anxiety evaporate. And, like mist clearing from a valley, it revealed a clearer view of the changes ahead. I'd go so far as to say the prospect of 2014's upheaval is less frightening as a result. So next time you feel inclined to avoid a funeral or dump someone by text, perhaps it's worth considering if you might behave differently. Like me, you might be surprised how therapeutic happy endings can be.

A Moodscope user.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Let's talk about endings again.

Today I'm going to share a story which I hope will illustrate how the way we handle endings can be linked to anxiety and depression.

For thirty years my mother has lived in a large farmhouse in the West Country, complete with roaring fire, Aga, and enough bedrooms to allow dozen guests to stay. When my stepfather was alive they hosted huge garden parties, intimate dinners, you name it. And never was the house as full of love and laughter as at Christmas, when my brothers and I would drive down the M4 to celebrate with them. As we grew older, so young offspring came too, and in recent years there have been three generations enjoying yuletide together.

Sadly, three years ago my stepfather passed away and since then the house has felt too big for my mother. Moreover, she has just turned eighty, so now it no longer seems right that I'm over two hours' away. As a result she's bought a flat and soon will be coming to live near my husband and me in Brighton. But whilst Mum's new place is lovely, it's much smaller, so she won't be able host guests en masse.

We each reacted to the news this Christmas was to be our last in the ancient farmhouse differently. My niece, Polly (10), burst into tears at once, while her cousin, Tessie (9), told me she'd lain awake 'for hours and hours all sad' about it. It's no wonder they're upset: the place has been a large part of all our life stories. Polly and I made her first cake with her standing on a chair to reach the work surface; Tessie has spent hours sitting at the kitchen table writing and drawing.
I too have been anxious about the change, and on my first night in the house this Christmas, I was too shaken to sleep. And as I lay there, I reflected on how I've dealt with endings in the past, and remembered that I usually shy away from them. It was then I decided to try something different, and to mark this ending. So I made a suggestion the following morning, and tomorrow – in the last of my blogs on the subject – I'll tell you what it was...

A Moodscope user.

P.S Yesterday I also blogged about endings.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

How do you handle endings?

I don't know about you, but I've never been brilliant at dealing with endings. When I was 18, my parents' divorce meant we had to move from my childhood home, but instead of getting involved and helping pack, I went on holiday. A few years later, when I wanted to finish with a boyfriend, I wrote him a letter rather than have to witness his upset face-to-face. And when I left university, I opted out of the graduation ceremony. We all have our patterns, and evidently avoidance is mine.

I suspect I'm not alone in this. We might be more open than our ancestors, but most of us still aren't comfortable talking about death, for instance. And how often do you see rock stars continuing playing even though their glory days over and long term they might be better off quitting?

The trouble with not acknowledging endings is it can leave us with emotions – grief, anger, sorrow, guilt – that haven't been expressed. Through therapy, I've come to see that it has been one of the sources of my own anxiety. For others it may lead to depression.

These days I'm trying to handle endings differently and over the next two days I'll be blogging again to share how. But today I'd like to invite you to consider how you handle endings. Do you ignore them – like an ostrich? Or flee, perhaps because you're afraid? Or perhaps you get aggressive and blame others. Whatever your predisposition, I'd love to hear, so please do comment on this blog and let me – and other Moodscopers – know.

Meanwhile there will be more on this subject tomorrow. See, I warned you I'm bad at endings – I can't even finish here!

A Moodscope user.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Blooming Monday.

"Blue Monday' is the third Monday in January. It is gloomy, dark, and allegedly the most depressing day of the year. Blue Monday comes after the Christmas festivities have ended, it is a long time until Spring, and typically people feel rather low on what is often a cold, grey day. Yet despite our increasingly lengthy winters, most people tend to wear dark clothes, especially to work.'

That statement comes from charity Mental Health Research UK. And they'd like us to help do something different this Monday. Here's their request:

'The concept of the campaign is simple; we ask everyone to wear their brightest clothes that day. Even if workplaces usually require sombre attire, we hope that on this one day a year employees will be encouraged to brighten up. We hope to make a big visual impact on Blue Monday each year by injecting some unexpected colour and joy. In 2014 the date is 20 January - please put it in your diaries! Instead of Blue Monday, it will become Blooming Monday! Ditch the greys and drab attire - wear bright clothes for charity on Blue Monday!'

A recurring theme in these Moodscope Blogs is the power of simply (!) getting up, showered and properly dressed. Maybe we could add that wearing clothes with colour has a more positive effect on our mental well-being than wearing neutrals or drab colours. We may not necessarily feel like putting on that red sweater (now where was that grey hoodie again?) but it may lift our spirits once we are wearing it.

How often do we wear our favourite colour? Now, please, I don't mean black, but your favourite colour from when you were a young child: bright blue, scarlet, emerald green or buttercup yellow? Do you actually own any clothes in that colour? We should wear the clothes that make us feel good more often.

So if the parcel delivery man tells you about this weird woman who opened the door to him in full evening dress at eleven in the morning – you'll know it was me, wearing my bright pink ball gown!

If you would like to support the work of Mental Health Research UK by wearing bright clothes on Monday 20th, then go to for more details.

Action for happiness are also marking this day and have rebranded it 'Happy Monday'. They have ten excellent ways in which you can improve your happiness by modifying your attitudes and choices. Take a look:

A Moodscope user.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

It's okay to be not okay.

Sometimes we need to admit that we don't feel okay and that that in itself is fine.

When things aren't going well and that feeling stays with you for a while and possibly even sets in as a mood you might start to worry.

But what if you just accept you are not okay? What if you just say to yourself, you know what, considering everything going on, it's okay that I feel this way?

I know that we all strive to be happy, and that is ideal, but what if just being okay is a more realistic goal?

Today I woke up and said "I'm not okay" and I followed that by saying "but it's okay that I'm not okay" and my worrying has lessened so I can carry on with today without beating myself up any more. It might take me a while to feel okay but that's all I'm aiming for. I'm not aiming for happiness or perfection at the moment, just to be okay.

So I have a little note stuck to my computer screen which says "It's okay to be not okay" to remind me that the downs are part of life and that I don't need to be perfect, that being perfect might actually include (in the words of Anne Lamott) "looking at the mess, the emptiness and discomfort and allowing it to be there until some light returns".

So maybe the best you can do today is say to yourself "I'm not okay but that's okay" and be brave and carry on.

A Moodscope user.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Am I happy?

Being happy is an evasive thing. It's somehow hard to put a finger on why or what it is that makes us happy. But when we are, we definitely know it.

I recently read Gretchen rubin's The Happiness Project, and it truly spoke to me. Don't we all want to seek as much happiness in our lives as possible? Her book is all about this search, devised in 12 practical, approachable goals (one for each month). But, maybe we can make this a little more simple and less time consuming.

For me, it comes down to three things:

1. Treasuring your relationships.
2. Doing what you love.
3. Being yourself.

Now, many would argue that it is important to have a positive attitude, or to sort out money issues, or to revitalise your marriage in order to be truly happy. I disagree. If everything is torn away, our lives are based on these three things.

So ask yourself:

Do you love your work?
Are you happy in your own company?
Do you feel like you are true to yourself and your values?
Do you treasure your relationships?

So, go out for coffee with that friend you haven't seen in 'too long'. Be grateful when mum does the ironing, or your partner makes you a cup of tea. And, most importantly, accept. If you can accept yourself, you are miles ahead of most of us!

A Moodscope user.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Ask a question. Any question!

Anais Nin said: "Life shrinks or expands according to one's courage."

I do like this but how about another version: Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's questions? And, often receiving the answers to our questions gives us the courage Anais Nin spoke of, or at least, a will to live.

Here are a few things I've learned this past week by throwing out some questions...

One fleece of wool (the wool from one sheep), sells for as little as 60p but it costs 40p to shear one sheep. (I know!  I was shocked too.)

Whether your skin is black as black or white as white, the best skin foundation is yellow tone based.

Many loose leaf teas can be spoilt if left to brew for 3 minutes.

Our questions lead us places. (For example, I've since taken a class in dyeing wool and I'd like to learn how to spin it too. I also now wish to attend a tea tasting session.)

They give us interesting conversations, and in turn, make us good conversationalists (because we'll always have a sneaky l'il fact to whip out from up our sleeve). Questions can also be a great way of detracting from ourselves if we're feeling vulnerable. Questions share knowledge and inspire. Questions help us to understand how things and people work.

Where will your questions lead you today?  Will they expand or shrink your universe?

A Moodscope User.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Bullying. Don't put up with it. Stop it now.

Suzy's recent posts about work and having to give it up for health reasons made me think of how I was bullied at work and how I put up with it for too long thinking it was my fault.

Bullying is never acceptable. It is never the victim's, the person who is being bullied's, fault.

Whether the bullying takes place in the work place, school or the home or even in social situations, it should not be tolerated.

When I was bullied at work, it was subtle and could have been construed as all in my imagination. I was told I was paranoid and that no–one was intentionally bullying me. I was imagining it.

I was asked for specific examples.

When I gave them, they sounded stupid and my body language and faltering language suggested that really yes I probably was imagining it.

If I named a specific individual, the names were met with horror and disbelief by my head of department.

Of course these people were senior to me so no action was taken. And because I was depressed and couldn't sleep, I became inwardly self accusing and began to doubt that I was right. Maybe I deserved to be treated like this. I worked hard and completed all my tasks but somehow my face didn't fit even though I made such an effort to conform and be strong.

These people had bullied before and the victims had left under various different circumstances, all detrimental to them. The bullies remained, were promoted and chose other targets to bully.

Now I am in a much happier place and the day I left on sick leave, I was in happier place even though I felt guilty and all the emotions Suzy and others write about when having to give up work.

Anyone who feels they are being bullied should not put up with it for as long as I did and many others have.

Get help now and know that you are right and they are wrong. I promise you, the bullies are always wrong. The victim always right. So why wait to take action?

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Playing the Active card.

Here's the eighteenth 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. Many thanks. Caroline.

Active – feeling full of energy. A Moodscope red card meaning a good thing! Energy must flow, and so it benefits from a focus. I love the word 'Active' because, psychologically, I'm closest to the 'Activist' preference [Activist, Pragmatist, Theorist and Reflector are the four I'm thinking of]. But I love "ProActive" more. This is the deliberate application of action and energy and passion towards a desired goal.

What would you like more of? What would you like to be more like? Whom would you like to be more like? What would you like to do? These are great Activist questions – and we've all got a bit of the Activist in us.

It's a positive orientation. I heard an account of Mother Theresa refusing to march in protest against a major World conflict. Puzzled, the campaigners asked her why she would not march. She declared that she would march with them when they marched 'for' peace, but she would not march "against" anything. 'For' and 'against' – opposite directions for one's energy to flow.

Mother Theresa understood the power of direction when taking action and being active.
Play a 3 on the 'Active' card today and march for something you care about, in the direction you want to be heading. By the way, I really recommend 'marching'. When I'm fed up, I will sometimes put on my Russian winter hat and literally 'March' up to the local shops. The pace feels purposeful and powerful.

A Moodscope user.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

It's January – Let's Diet!

If we have had any exposure to media at all in the last two weeks it will not have escaped our attention that the whole of our society is obsessed with weight issues. Standing in the queue at the newsagents it seemed that every single women's magazine featured either an article on how to lose 5lb by Friday or a woman who lost 7stone last year. There was one crafting magazine which featured crocheting doilies – but I'm sure they were FAT doilies who really wanted to be slim doilies in 2014 too! We are obsessed indeed.

For those of us with depression these messages are not just annoying, but can be dangerous. While for some of us depression is an appetite suppressant and we lose weight while we are ill, for many more of us, we gain weight for a number of reasons.

The first and most obvious reason is that some of the drugs used to treat depression have weight gain as a side effect. If we need the relief the drugs provide, then the weight is the lesser evil.

One of the frequent but not well known symptoms of depression is the feeling of exhaustion it brings. When we are tired our brain tells us to eat so we have some energy. It would like some energy quickly please, so carbohydrates are the logical choice. Therefore we crave the carbs. But we're still exhausted – too exhausted to run around doing our normal amount of exercise, so we end up consuming far more calories than we use and thus gain weight.

If we are carrying too much weight (medically speaking), should we worry? Should we jump aboard the dieting train (or exercise bicycle) and pour our money into the coffers of the weight loss industry?

You can probably guess my answer to that one. I love the approach that Sandra Aamodt, Neuroscientist and science writer, suggests in her TED talk on Why Dieting Doesn't Usually Work:

If you don't have time to listen to the whole thing, then skip to eight minutes into the talk and see that just carrying around a few extra pounds is not as life-threatening as the diet industry wants you to believe.

The best advice is the same as the Moodscope team give time after time: eat a good diet with lots of fruit and veg and protein, drink loads of water (and go easy on the alcohol), get at least some exercise if you can.

And don't let the media persuade you to add points to that guilty card.

A Moodscope user.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Please keep an eye out for Wednesday’s email from Moodscope.

As one of a series of planned improvements, including improved mobile access, we’re upgrading our email system and we may need you to help us to ensure it reaches you. Please read on…

Our membership is increasing daily so we know that it’s important for us to use a system that we know can cope with the increase in volume and offer you more choices.

Because we are changing the way we send them out to you, it may mean that your email provider may not recognize it in the same way and may treat it differently, depending on your security settings or preferences, and send it straight to your ‘junk’ folder or one of your other folder/tabs.

We’re launching the new system on Wednesday, 15 January 2014, so if you don’t receive your daily email that day, please check your junk folder and tabs. If the daily Moodscope email is in one of these folders, just click on the email and move it to your inbox. This will ensure that all future emails will be treated as legitimate mail and land in your inbox from then on.

Sorry if this causes you any inconvenience, but we really want to make sure you continue to receive your Moodscope reminder email every day.

Thank you for your help.

Kind regards.

Caroline and Adrian
The Moodscope Team

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Breathe yourself happier.

I read a very interesting article in the Daily Mail this week in which they reported that a review of some previous studies has found that regular meditation could alleviate symptoms of depression as well as conventional anti-depressants.

It claims that just 10 to 20 minutes per day of mindfulness meditation can have a significant benefit on overall mental health and wellbeing. And there's proof. Imaging studies show that the brain lays down extra connections and tissue in areas associated with attention, memory and empathy in proportion to the hours of meditation practised. They were also able to see stress reactions in the brain dissolve once people begin to meditate.

Apparently variants of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy are now being used to treat suffering arising from a wide range of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. In addition, it is being used for back problems, migraine, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and multiple sclerosis.

If you'd like to read the full article, just follow this link:

Caroline Ashcroft

Saturday, 11 January 2014

'Just Do It'.

No, this isn't an advert for sport shoes, but one of the most powerful phrases I learnt during some recent education around depression.

When I'm low, my biggest challenge is motivation. I just do not want to do anything, and without motivation, doing anything becomes near impossible. The well placed advice of others to go for a walk, or go shopping, or even just get out of bed seemed ridiculous.  If I had the energy or inclination to do these things, I would. Surely the problem here is not that I am not doing these things, but that I don't want to do anything.

Then I heard about Behavioural Activation. In short, the premise is that managing depression involves, brain function, thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Brain function is generally managed through drug therapy. Negative thoughts and emotions are best managed through therapy or counselling. These can all take time to have an effect. The one thing we alone have control over is our behaviour. We shouldn't wait for motivation to hit because that isn't coming quickly. We just need to do it...or at least try it, with the single goal of improving our mood. Even if it's just one point on the Moodscope scale.

By behaviour, we are talking about doing things. The behaviour might just be to have a shower, or brush your teeth. You might then decide to go straight back to bed, but you might be surprised and decide that actually, you are going to get dressed, or make a cup of tea first. The point is just to do it and see what happens.

If you feel no better, at least you have done it and that will always be more positive than not having done it. Try to break your behaviours to the smallest components to make them seem more manageable.

My mood is relatively low at present. I'm not glued to my bed, but I'm not so far off.  Today my 'goal' behaviour was to take a walk round my local park and I'm pleased to say that I've done it. I was out of the house for 30minutes...and yes, I felt better afterwards, as well as knowing I had achieved my goal.

In order to achieve the walk I also had to get out of bed, have a shower, brush my teeth, get dressed, make a coffee and some toast. Did I want to do any of this? Not really. Did I feel motivated to do it? No. Was it easy? No!! I had to drag myself out of bed and make myself do it. Am I glad I have done it? Absolutely! I have a sense of achievement and I do feel a bit brighter for having been out in the fresh air and go my heart pumping.

All that time I've wasted waiting for motivation when the solution was so simple...Just Do It. Keep a list of all the 'behaviours' that you do, to remind yourself of your achievements. When you hit rock bottom, having a shower is a major achievement, so acknowledge it.

What are you going to do today?

A Moodscope user.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Coping when unable to work (Part 3).

Keeping self worth levels buoyant when unable to work due to poor health can be a daily battle. Here are four 'don'ts' and one 'do' that sometimes help me. Please share anything that has helped you to stem the tide of hopelessness if you are unable to work. Remember, encouragement is like a peanut butter sandwich, the more you spread it around - the better things stick together.

DON'T explain yourself. I live in perpetual fear of the following question: "So what do you do for work?" My face flushes, I stutter and stammer and before I can stop myself blurt out explanations and half sentences. It's excruciating (for them as well as me), and the more I explain the less I feel understood. Be prepared for the question. Keep it simple. Smile and try something akin to "I'm not actually working at the moment but in my spare time I'm enjoying learning French/playing the bassoon/cooking souffl├ęs..." This shifts the conversation into a different direction, switches it back to positive and to you as person. (We are all, after-all, more than a job title.)

DON'T lose contact with friends. This can be a tricky one. We may feel our contemporaries have moved on and couldn't possibly understand how we feel. And yet, isolation can produce sickness in itself. Invite someone for a cup of tea, make a phone call (a tough one for me!), write a card 'just to say' or fling someone a text.

This may mean putting a limit on how much we talk about our health complaints and disappointments. Just as a job title doesn't define a person, neither does our illness.  The best vitamin for making friends? B1.

DON'T lose your sense of humour. This will make it pleasant for folk to be around you but conversely it will do you good too. As Susan Milstrey Wells says, an author who is chronically ill herself, "laughter, unlike some other remedies we try, is completely safe, nontoxic and fun. All we have to lose is a bad mood."

DON'T rule out voluntary work. There are some weeks when it is simply not possible but on the weeks it is, it gives me human contact, self-esteem, forces me out of the house, keeps my thoughts in perspective and, arguably most importantly, gives me the scientifically proven "helper's high".

DO pamper yourself. This is the hardest for me. Because my illness demands so much sleep and rest, I feel that every wakeful hour ought to be spent doing, accomplishing, giving or making. It's undoubtedly Guilt at the wheel here and Guilt does not allow for "me time".  This, of course, is erroneous thinking and can worsen symptoms or lead to a depression.  So give yourself some respite, indulge in the things you enjoy; a long bath, reading a book, watching a good film or, if creatively inclined, allow time for this. If you are able, go for a walk, take a date with yourself, sit in your favourite cafe, visit an art exhibition.

This is all very much ongoing work in progress for me. In fact, I think this past year I've struggled more than ever to accept my limitations. I still ache to earn my own daily bread, even if just little crumbs. Joseph Campbell said that "the privilege of lifetime is being who you are." So, despite being unable to work, we each have our own unique gifts, qualities and attributes to offer those around us, enabling us to add our own personal stamp of beauty on the world.

A Moodscope User.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Coping when unable to work (Part 2).

Acceptance and adjustment to life, when poor health renders us unable to work, is no easy feat. Here are four practical "dos" and one "don't" that may be of benefit. (If reading this during a bad depression, please disregard. Take the principles by all means, but these are not rules or intended to provoke pressure, they are merely suggestions for those who feel up to the task of implementing them.)

DO reduce stress. Stress exacerbates the physical symptoms of any illness, while stress reduction can make symptoms bearable. It's true, we can't erase stress in this life but we can be aware of our reaction to stressful situations. We may have to remind ourselves continually to be calm; our life, our health is at stake.

DO get dressed. No matter how tempting it maybe to remain in your dressing gown and pyjamas, get showered and dressed. For me, getting dressed miraculously changes my whole mindset. Once dressed, I feel more in control and can go about my daily tasks in a more organised and constructive manner. (It also means the added bonus of not needing to fling myself behind the sofa if the postman or a visitor should knock.)

DO establish a daily routine. Obviously, it's a given that flexibility and adjustment will always be necessary according to what kind of day you are enduring. The very fact you are unable to work proves that pressure or rigidity will not enhance how you feel. However, attempting to get up at the same time, to go to bed at the same time, to eat healthily and not skip meals or, continuing to keep a diary for appointments and arrangements - things like these will go a fair old way in preserving our self-esteem.

DO set reasonable and attainable goals. Setting goals keeps us looking forward instead of gazing at what we were once able to do. Even if the goal is seemingly small - write it down. It maybe to "simply" get dressed this week. Reaching a goal gives us a feeling of accomplishment and motivates us to look forward. This builds our often floundering confidence.

DON'T compare yourself (or your goals) to anyone else, even someone with the same illness.  Your emotional, physical and mental makeup differs from every other individual. We couldn't expect our little toe to stand in for our nose, or visa versa, for the day and yet both body parts are important. To compare ourselves is futile and often disheartening.  Resist the urge to compare yourself.

A Moodscope User.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Coping when unable to work (Part one).

When you have lost something as precious as your health it's natural to mourn. But if the loss of good health means that holding down a job has become impossible, this can give way to a grief and sadness that's hard to get the upper hand of.

If we were to look permanently in the rear view mirror whilst driving, ultimately, we'd crash. So too, if we keep dwelling on the life we had before poor health hit us, we'll find it hard to move forward. Like the driver, we must focus primarily on what's in front of us.

I grapple daily with an overwhelming sense of failure and frustration at now being unable to work. So, I've written three posts primarily for those unable to work due to poor health and it's my hope that in doing so it will help me to overcome my own personal sense of shame and embarrassment.

1) There is a proverb that says: With knowledge a man increases his power.

Reading up on our condition (whatever it may be) can have a two-fold, positive effect.  Firstly it validates everything we feel. It's a relief to see in black and white that it's neither laziness nor lack of motivation that's the cause of your plight but very real symptoms. Secondly, gathering information helps to keep you abreast of available treatments and coping techniques. It helps you see that your life may have changed but it is not over. But oh how slickly this slips from the tongue! Acceptance, just like the loss of a loved one is so hard. Yet, whereas a diagnosis closed doors, acceptance can open new ones.

2) It's not the illness that tests us but our attitude to the illness. Undoubtedly, our biggest battle takes place in the mind. (This maybe obvious if dealing with depression or anxiety but less so if diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a sleeping disorder or multiple sclerosis, to use just a few examples.) The illness may dictate big changes in our circumstances but we are in charge of our response to the illness. Succumbing to despair is to perhaps insist on looking through the rear view mirror instead of what's ahead.

3) Remember what cannot be changed. In all probability, our illness has had little impact on the qualities peculiar to us. For example, your empathy, your warm smile, kindness, the ability to be a good friend or appreciate beauty. What's more, our own poor health can sharpen our empathic skills, perhaps enabling us to become more sensitive to the struggles and pain of others.

To accept, adjust and act on what we can do is far healthier way forward.

Tomorrow in part 2, I will list some practical dos and don'ts that can help elevate our self-esteem and keep our mood buoyant if currently unable to work due to ongoing health challenges.

A Moodscope user.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Mad Dogs and Englishmen...

The wind was bitter, snapping at exposed faces with the bitterness of a recent divorcee; the freezing rain could have been driven by Lewis Hamilton in a particularly vicious mood; the ground was beyond sodden, with large areas of lying water which sucked at our feet and forced long detours when it became too deep for wellingtons. My nine year old daughter was NOT having fun!

It was the first of January and the family was out for a nice little walk.

In summer it would have been a delightful walk. Quite why my husband decided that 1st January, with the weather flagging up amber warnings across the whole country, was the day to do this particular expedition must remain a mystery. For the whole walk we saw only one other human, head down, plodding at an angle into the wind, obviously exercising his dog.

So there we were, splashing and sploshing through the flood, in the wind and rain (previously described), getting steadily wetter and colder. It was only a couple of miles, but it was quite enough.

My husband is one of these rough and tough outdoorsy types: he was in his element. I would far rather be curled up with a book. Daughter number one takes after her father and was having a whale of a time. Daughter number two can normally be found glued to a computer game and was not enjoying this one bit: oh no – and was making the rest of us fully aware of her displeasure.

So what does Mum do? Laugh, of course! This was one of those times when a sense of the ridiculous comes to the rescue. If you're busy laughing at how silly you are being, then even getting cold and wet and muddy becomes an adventure. You can cope with soggy feet and a numb nose if you're laughing. You can even cope with a cross and whiney daughter.

Maybe a sense of the ridiculous is something one only gains with maturity, or maybe it's the ability to be able to laugh at oneself that comes with age. Whichever it is, I do hope my nine year old will develop it eventually: she's in for a rough ride through life if she doesn't.

That goes for all of us, I suppose.

A Moodscope user.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Playing the Nervous card.

Here's the seventeenth 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. Many thanks. Caroline.

Nervous – feeling worried that something unpleasant will happen.

Whichever way you play this card, we are talking about energy here, nervous energy. Being a blue card, Moodscope is suggesting this is an unresourceful state of mind, so we need some alchemy to turn the base energy into pure gold. Whilst this may be impossible for the alchemists of history, it is fully possible for the alchemist of your imagination, will and intention.

Perhaps the key here is in the "will happen" – what I call the "future uncertain" tense.  This means that your energy is in the wrong place. The only way to influence the future is to do something different in the present. And that takes energy – nervous energy reinvented and refocused.

Energy needs to flow – and for most of us that means doing something physically. So, what would make this day better? This is familiar territory for the Moodscope blog – e.g. spending time with friends who are energising in a good way; doing art that energises; listening to music that uplifts; being kind to others. And it is that last one I'd recommend concentrating on today.

Nervous energy can really be channelled to help others. You may have a friend who's been putting off tidying up their garage/cupboards/spare bedroom – there's always something they've been putting off.

Get together and make it an adventure in productive fun. You'll soon find your nervous energy better spent.

A Moodscope user.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Physically Fit, Mentally Ill.

It was my Mum's birthday in 2010 when I finally had the diagnosis confirmed. Leading up to this, I'd spent 8 years in what is well known as the 'Rat Race'. The journey saw me meet many truly inspirational folk, along with those whose chaotic scatty ways have at times, well, rubbed off on myself.

As I approach my 34th birthday and with my ever growing scatty behaviour, I look at my journey since this significant day and reflect on many areas of my life.

My burdening debt, which I have all but a few payments away, cleared. My faltering career, in which I have realised that happiness has more value than money so decided to go back to where it all began as a fitness instructor. Of course, medication, family and friends have played a crucial part along the way. But the most important aspect of the journey to date is to understand who I am.

So many people get caught up in the rat race. Others have a habit of following the leader, following those who they think are their friends, who are actually not.

But clearly, an important aspect of mental health is being happy in your own skin. Accepting your flaws and appreciating your gifts.

If you do this, everything else seems to click in to place.

A Moodscope user.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Happy diet.

Being in the midst of a global obesity epidemic; it is probably safe to assume that many readers may have tried to lose weight in the past.

If it was anything like the average diet, the results probably didn't last for long. I would like to explain - albeit incredibly briefly - one major factor into why diets don't work. Just before we start, ask yourself one quick question. Why do people really diet?

Dieting has become incredibly engrained into our human psyche. What is seldom discussed is the true answer to the above question. Every diet you do, you do with the belief that you will be happier as a result.

You may expect people to find you more attractive or you will feel better about yourself when you lose weight. Happiness is key. Oftentimes however, diets are not happy (or healthy) things to be on.

It is an often quoted fact that 98% of diets fail; that is, within a year - 98% of people who attempt to diet, not only within a year return back to their original weight but gain additional weight than when they started.

This usually prompts another dieting attempt (albeit under a different brand name) with the same effects. As Einstein quite rightly said; doing the same thing twice and expecting
a different result is the definition of insanity.

So we have a paradox. Although there are lots of different types of diet, any quick fix to a weight problem can be incredibly damaging to your body. Trying to lose a lot of weight over short period (often with nutritionally deficient diet products) is encouraging your body to be more resistant to fat loss in the future, and more prone to weight gain. Often, restricted on the foods that can be eaten, as well as affecting social lives, diets can be unhappy and lonely times for people. Most people can put up with these sacrifices in the short term because they see the potential for happiness at the end of the road. However, as we all know, the results don't often last. All of a sudden, you're on a dieting cycle, a merry-go-round that keeps spinning faster and the more it does, the harder it is to jump off.

I would therefore like to leave you with some advice. You have a diet; your diet is what you eat - day in, day out. The only way to see real positive change is by making small adjustments to your life, trying new dietary changes and seeing how they work over a period of time. Body fat is not just this unsightly thing that sits on your stomach, an extension of who it is you really want to be. Rather than just how much you are eating, other issues such as hormonal problems usually lay at the heart of expanding waistlines and these aren't often helped by conventional dieting. Small changes in your lifestyle such as an hour more sleep a night, eating real food, getting some fresh air and spending time with the family can all yield fantastic benefits to your waistline, and more importantly, your happiness.

Jake O'Gorman
Personal Trainer/Lifestyle coach.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Don't underestimate the power of language.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes when one has a bad day we resort to describing it as "Eugh" or even with just a disgruntled sigh?

This seems to only add to that feeling of exhaustion and lethargy, as it reconfirms that the day was indescribably bad. Maybe, if we tried to put in to words what the actual problem was, it would take some of the power out of it all.

Perhaps if we worked out what was actually so bad about the day, it wouldn't seem quite so awful.

This morning, I was sitting at work and silently seething about a personal problem with an ex boyfriend. For a second, I took a step back and thought to myself, why am I so mad?

So, out came the pen and paper, and fairly quickly a list was forming of all the reasons I was frustrated. Once they were all written down, I felt immeasurably better. I could see exactly what was going on, and understand that the feelings I was having were perfectly justified and even understandable. I felt so much better.

My message is, maybe when we voice things (or write them down) and we can see exactly what it is that we are feeling, we can deal with them. Hiding away from our thoughts and feelings only gives them more power and can make them frightening.

Try it today, voice an opinion, write it down or tell someone how your day actually was. Who knows, it might work for you too.

A Moodscope User.

Thursday, 2 January 2014


"We must first show compassion to ourselves before we can truly show it to others" Dan Millman

For many of us who are our worst critics - this can be the key to an improved, happier and even depression free future.

How do we become OK about ourselves though?

It reminds me of that great book 'I'm Ok, you're OK' by Thomas A Harris, which is one of the best selling self-help books ever published. It is a practical guide to Transactional Analysis as a method for solving problems in life. From its first publication in 1967 it is now estimated to have sold over 15 million copies.

It reveals how we are often triggered into behaving the way we do, which can often be unhealthy for us. This leads to the key to almost all positive change - self-awareness.

I have a 'cycle' which I believe is at least ninety per cent of all change which starts with that one essential in all growth - self-awareness. That shift of perspective that so often opens so many doors, we didn't even know were there!

Increased Self-awareness leads to increased Self-control leads to increased Self-esteem leads to increased Self-actualisation and of course back to the next level of Self-awareness again, as the learning and growth cycle never ends! This is a cycle of 'planets', which has at its centre Self-respect - just like the sun at the centre of our constellation - we all circle around it and are totally affected by it!

Are you in summer or winter in your cycle...and here we can control our 'seasons'.

Just as depression takes us down the dark cold reverse journey, as our core of self-respect drops, leading to a downward winter spiral into darkness, reducing all the four 'selfs', a shift in self-awareness can lead us up and out of that troubled 'C' of criticism, consternation and confusion.

How is that all important self talk in your head?
Do you focus on that one piece of feedback out of 100 that is negative?
Are you triggered by a totally inoffensive comment?

Become more self aware of why that is.

So today - how can you be more compassionate to yourslef?

Write a list - get it 'out there' and then follow it through...change...follow a new 'cycle.

A Moodscope User.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Resolutions and Good Intentions.

I'm not a great one for New Year's resolutions.

For some people, no doubt, the turning of a year has seen a turning around of their life and they have never looked back. Good for them: I'm truly delighted. It seems to me however, that in a lot of cases, one just sets oneself up for failure – which isn't great for mental well-being. Besides which, this grey and dark time of year in the Northern Hemisphere (even if the solstice has been and gone) is not terribly conducive to energetic new starts.

New Year's dreams, plans and intentions though, are another thing altogether.

Today my family and I sat round the kitchen table after lunch and made a list of the things we'd really like to do this year. We'd like to cycle down the Thicket Path by the river where there's now a new cycle path; we'd like to grow tomatoes and carrots in containers by the back door; we'd like to visit Jervaulx Abbey in Yorkshire (a privately owned ruin: much more wild and overgrown than Fountains Abbey).

None of those things involve huge effort or changes in our lifestyle and they are all things that will bring us quite a bit of pleasure and satisfaction for very little outlay and effort. They will take a bit of planning and scheduling though.

And that's probably the only difference between a dream and an intention. There's also the matter of which of us will take responsibility for those plans. My husband has to find a free Saturday and put the Thicket path ride down in the diary. I have to find a free weekend to visit Jervaulx, contact my cousin in Yorkshire to see if we can stay with her, and yes, put it in the diary. Even the planting of the carrots and tomatoes is more likely to happen if it's scheduled.

It's said that most people overestimate what they can achieve in a day, and underestimate what they can achieve in a year. Whatever your hopes, dreams, ambitions and plans are for this year, I wish you all success with them. My advice to go with that is to always put them in the diary!

A Moodscope user.