It's been a long time since writing and I've missed it. Apart from being caught up in the usual Christmas madness, I've actually been doing a lot of reading and research about different therapies to help me move forward in a very pro-active way. After my last entry late November, we went home to Ireland to visit my folks. It was the first time I had seen my family since having published the blog and so it was really lovely to see them all. We have a lot going on at home just now however, so going back is never easy these days. It's always a strange mix of emotions and this time round, it was no different. Life gets more and more complicated as you get older. Things happen.....and when our 'baggage' weighs each of us down, it is hard to both share and to empathetically admit other people's difficulties into your own inner world. It hurts so much seeing your loved ones suffer in any way and at the same time their pain seems to amplify your own. So how do you deal with it? How do you nurture that person-to-person connection .... but not to the detriment of your own mental health!
My first big step forward was signing myself up to a local Cognitive Behavioural Treatment course. Throughout the six sessions, I've not only learned about practical methods to apply to daily life in combating negative thought patterns. But more importantly, I've enjoyed the comfort of being in a room surrounded by other like-minded anxiety suffers and listening to the reassuring words of qualified psychologists as they put labels, theories and explanations to all our worries and behaviours, therefore 'normalising' them and instilling in us a feeling of self-belief and being in control.
Upon the recommendation of our group leaders, I downloaded a phone app on Mindfulness (essentially a guided meditation resource) where I happened to stumble upon two video clips entitled 'How to Change Your Brain' and 'Integrating the two Hemispheres of our Brains'. Seconds into the first clip, I was hooked, both by the fascinating content and also by the calm and carefully considered delivery of the speaker - Dan Siegel, who I later discovered to be a Harvard-trained clinical professor of psychiatry, co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Centre at UCLA and founder and director of the Mindsight Institute. "Mindsight", he explains "is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the inner workings of our own minds. It helps us to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them, enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviours and habitual responses, and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we all have a tendency to get trapped in. It lets us 'name and tame' the emotions we are experiencing, rather than being overwhelmed by them. The focusing skills that are part of mindsight make it possible to see what is inside, to accept it, and in the accepting to let it go, and finally, to transform it".
So.... perhaps you can see why my attention was captured. Just two days later, I had the book in my hands, entitled 'Mindsight - Transform Your Brain with the New Science of Kindness' by Daniel Siegel. I read it cover to cover within five days, gripped by its every page like I was reading some sort of suspense novel. I found it incredibly reassuring, inspirational and refreshingly in-depth in its content. I am unashamedly a new devotee.... I've suffered from anxiety on and off and in varying degrees pretty much all my life. It manifests itself in the form of OCDs, sometimes debilitating hypochondria and intrusive thoughts. All three have been an almost constant feature of my life since becoming infertile. But for the first time in years, I am managing to NOT run away. And it feels good.... really good. I urge anyone with any level of anxiety to treat themselves to a copy of this golden piece of literature. Just one read has helped me beyond all measures. But I know it will be my lifelong literary companion from here on in.
Another incredibly empowering website I happened to come across very recently is one called 'Conscious Transitions - Counseling Through Life's Challenges'. It has been created by therapist Sheryl Paul who has devoted her career to steering people through difficult transitions in life. Whilst her two main points of focus are 'Getting Married' and 'Becoming a Mother', she has broadened her practice to include other major transitions such as getting a divorce and dealing with drug addiction.
Here is an excerpt from her website which may spark your interest:
"Many of my clients suffer from the hell-realm of intrusive or unwanted thoughts. Thoughts like, “What if I’m a paedophile?” or “What if I’m a mass murderer?” or “What if I have a terminal disease?” or “What if I don’t love my partner enough (or at all)?” or "What if I hurt my baby?" parade through their brains day and night without reprieve creating a state of perpetual misery. The irony about people who are prone to intrusive thoughts such as these is that they’re among the most gentle, loving, sensitive, kind, creative, and thoughtful people you’ll ever meet. The thought is so far from reality that it’s almost laughable, except that it’s not funny at all because my clients believe the lie which, of course, creates massive amount of anxiety. Or maybe it’s not ironic at all......Perhaps it’s precisely because of this high level of sensitivity and empathy that their mind has gravitated toward an alarming thought as a way to try to avoid the intensity of feeling with which they respond to life....Once you take hold of the seductive thought-vine, you’re on your way down the black hole of anxiety. The further you go down the hole, the darker it gets and the harder it becomes to find your way back out to the light of day"....But "once you start to pay attention to your feelings and trust that you can handle your emotional experiences, the intrusive thoughts begin to diminish. Again, the thoughts are a distraction, a first-layer attention-getter designed to force you to turn inside and attend to your inner world. Thus, when you’re perseverating on an anxious thought, the question to ask yourself is, “What am I trying to control, avoid, or fill up?” or “What is this thought trying to protect me from feeling?” and see if you can connect to the softness of the human heart, knowing that what you find when you bring your loving attention to the quiet places is always, always, a pearl."
We spent Christmas with my husband's parents at their home - just the five of us (and the dog). As we all know, Christmas can be fraught, stressful and full of unfulfilled expectations. We can approach it with wholehearted festive jollity or with fear and trepidation. This year, I approached it with a sense of calm. Thanks to everything I have read, learned and written in the past weeks, I was able to escape from my noisy mind and truly relish some really beautiful moments.....
On Christmas night, we all sat around the table together to the usual turkey feast. Having cleared our plates and wine glasses, we broke into an impromptu 'sing-along' of 'Away in a Manger', gazing lovingly at our little girl as she looked back at us bemusedly from her high chair. I know it sounds like something out of a cheesy family movie, but I can't tell you how perfect it felt at the time. My mother-in-law actually burst into tears at the end of the second verse, saying nothing more than, "It's just lovely..." I guess we all just felt a wave of immense, open-hearted gratitude to finally be there - together, sharing a very special Christmas with our precious miracle.
Losing my fertility was the hugest shock of my life. I know I'll always have to work at allowing myself to be happy and to trust that feeling again. But at least I now know that even if I'm not feeling "good", "happy" or even "fine" every minute of every day, it is there - real, solid and always within my grasp.
On that note, I want to wish you all a very happy new year and very best wishes for the months ahead.....