no surprises; good things work


Two Saturdays ago, I managed somehow to drag myself out from under my snug, warm duvet and cosy bed, had a quick breakfast, showered and changed into my track suit, trainers and socks. I was all set and on my way to a nearby park to partake in a Bootcamp Outdoor Training!

broomfieldNow for those of you who don’t know, I have not done any rigorous physical training outdoors for a while,apart from the odd yoga class, here and there.  I often join such classes and then fall off the band-wagon. So when I saw that there was a training session every Saturday morning in the wonderful outdoors and in a nearby park I thought I’d try it out. I do want to get fit, feel stronger and tone all the right places. But more than that I want to feel myself moving again; moving all those muscles that have been neglected over the years. After all, there is only so much muscles that one actually uses in the course of daily working life especially at a desk job and the commute to and from work in London!  I love parks and being outdoors so this felt like a right fit. This particular training organisation offers a free trial session so I took them up on their offer and proceeded, rather nervously, to the park.

There were about 20 others or so, some obviously training for a while and a couple of newbies like myself. It was freezing that morning; temperatures not higher than 0 degrees and just to make things a little easier, it started to snow lightly!  But I stayed. Perseverance power and all that. And the trainer was wonderful. She welcomed all of us and did not make anyone feel like they were really unfit and trust me, I know I was (and still am).

We did quite a few things for that one, whole, very loooooong hour! We did many, MANY, too many squats.  We threw heavy sand-filled rubber ball (I only found out how heavy it was when it was being thrown to/at me!).  We ran (I hobbled) around the pitch, jumped up steps (I just stood paralysed in fear) did some (or one) planks, sit-ups and press-ups.  By the end of it I was drenched, exhausted, sore, in pain (which became worse the next day and lasted for three days), muddy but HAPPY! 🙂  I was glad I went and last Saturday I went again for more punishment!

Yesterday I even made the trek all the way to West London after a long day at work to get myself a new pair of Asics Gore-Tex trainers, in Black!  So I know this is a new band-wagon that I’ve just jumped on but I’m hoping I’ll stay on this for a little while at least, long enough to feel the positive  difference that I know it can make.

I thought of my former clients whilst jumping around in the park, the many clients who were stuck in themselves emotionally and how I wanted to tell them how much physical movement can help you feel so much better in yourself.  I’ve always heard that it does, but I’ve only just found out it is true.  The outdoors can be truly transformative.

I know too of people who have found great benefits from horticulture and avid gardeners would know first-hand how gardening is a wonderfully flexible medium that can transform lives and more importantly, your emotional and mental well-being.

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All life is here: the positive power of being in the garden affects young and old alike – which is why horticultural therapy is becoming increasingly popular  Photo: Getty Images

A session in the garden may leave you feeling exhausted like a training session in the park, but you may also feel strangely renewed. In the plant world, regeneration is a matter of course, but psychological repair does not come so naturally to us. While we have an innate capacity to form strong attachments, we are less well equipped to deal with trauma and loss. In the world we live in today, some of us have lost touch with many of the rituals that can help us navigate our way through life. As Freud once said: “Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.”

Growing Space, a mental health recovery project in Wales have their participants working in the most secluded parts of the garden. The believe that a walled garden offers a sense of security and protection, a safer space akin to the safe space a counsellor provides a client in a room. This is important because only when one feels safe, can one trust and in trusting let their defences down.

There is another project called Grow2Grow in Kent, is for people aged from 14 to 24 with serious behavioural or mental health problems. Many have been excluded from school. The food they grow is sold to local restaurants; they also cook and eat together. At the end of the two-year programme, which they attend two days a week, an impressive 80 per cent of them are helped into education or work.

Another positive initiative is the Clinks Restaurant set up in a few prisons and managed by the inmates themselves.

clink

The issue of re-offending has become one of the most pressing challenges facing society today.

49% of prisoners released in the UK re-offend within the first year and for those who serve sentences under 12 months this increases to 61%. It is now recognised that the record levels of inmates in prison is not helping to reduce crime.

The sole aim of The Clink Charity is to reduce reoffending rates of ex-offenders by training and placing graduates into employment upon their release.  They offer an opportunity for inmates to change their lives, giving them true-to-life work experience and nationally recognised NVQ City & Guilds food preparation, food service and cleaning qualifications.

Clink restaurants have been set up at HMP High Down, HMP Cardiff and HMP Brixton and a fourth is due to open at HMP Styal in spring 2015.

Fresh food is prepared and cooked in an open plan kitchen enabling diners the opportunity to watch food preparation. Their menus are rotated on a seasonal basis, to view the winter à la carte menu please click here: http://217.199.187.62/theclinkrestaurant.com/clink-admin/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/A-La-Carte-Menu-January-20152.pdf

On 23rd October Clink Events provided the catering for the Centre of Social Justice Awards (CSJ Awards), which was held at The Royal Horticulture Halls. Attended by 400 guests it was an incredible opportunity for the newly launched Clink Events to showcase the incredible food on offer. The inmates training at HMP High Down and HMP Brixton created 4,000 canapés in The Clink kitchens for the awards which were transported to The Royal Horticulture Halls by 3663. Two Clink graduates and two Clink trainers provided service training to 12 Centrepoint clients, who then served the food and drink to guests.

On Thursday 26th February 2015, 6pm to 9.15pm, The Clink Restaurant at HMP Brixton will be celebrating its first year of business with an Indian themed fundraising dinner hosted by chef ambassador Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL.

I have eaten at the restaurant in HMP High Down so I can personally vouch for them and tell you that their food AND service was exceptional!!  I would encourage you to try it out for yourself and see.  The restaurant is open Monday to Friday serving breakfast, 7.15am to 9.15am, and lunch, midday to 2pm. The income generated goes towards the running and operating costs of the restaurant which is supplemented by donations.

So no surprises.

Positive and helpful initiatives, WORK.
Horticultural therapy, WORKS.
Physical training in the park with a group of people, WORKS.
Eating together, WORKS.
Community building, WORKS.
Support to those who need it, WORKS.

Anyone engaged in positive and physically engaging activity be in the gym or in the park, community work, the outdoors, cooking and eating together WILL thrive.  We do so little of this in our world today and we wonder why depression and isolation is on the increase.

So my request to anyone who may be listening is this: let’s do more of the good stuff because the good stuff, well it works, and when it does, it makes us all better people!

As always, be kind to yourselves.

Growing Space Based in Wales, (01633 810718)
Grow2Grow Based in Kent (01732 463255; commonwork.org)
Thrive A national charity whose aim is to enable positive change in the lives of disabled and disadvantaged people through the use of gardening (020 7720 2212; thrive.org.uk)
Clink Restaurant http://theclinkrestaurant.com
North London Fitness http://www.northlondonfitness.co.uk

our many selves that can exist


dissociative_identity_disorder_by_siljavich-d5uj4z1

Many years ago, when training for my existential psychotherapy degree, I volunteered with a charity in West London, working primarily with women and girls who were affected by all forms of gendered violence.  The charity provided a holistic response to these women and girls and helped to restore and sustain their mental health and well-being.  I worked on the helpline as their Helpline Support Worker, a few hours, every Saturday morning.  It wasn’t easy, and in fact looking back, it was probably one of the more challenging roles I took on, especially so early in my counselling training.  Still, I am appreciative of the experience, as it taught me a lot, and many things continue to stay with me till today.

One of the most important things I learned was how violence can affect the psyche and our souls.

Many of the women I spoke to had been assaulted in many deep and hurtful ways; the effect of which, left a wound, so profound, it affected everything they now did.

‘”The term “violence against women” means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” The UN Declaration on The Elimination of Violence Against Women, 1993 say that “‘Gender-based violence against women’ …violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or that affects women disproportionately.’

I worked with the charity for almost two years and not only did it offer me much learning, it also opened my eyes to things that I would never have known otherwise. I learned a lot about violence and trauma and its devastating impact. I learned that violence can leave wounds on one’s soul and that these wounds never show themselves physically on the body but they are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds. And sometimes, because these wounds are hidden as such it is also harder to convince others that one is hurting and suffering inside.  It becomes one’s hidden pain and in some cases, one’s hidden agenda. Sometimes these wounds may also result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but that’s a whole new huge subject which I shall leave for another day. Today, I want to talk about the splitting of the psyche, also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and formerly known as Multiple Personalities Disorder.

dissociative identity

Dissociative Identity Disorder can be defined as the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self). At least two of these identities or personality states recurrently take control of the person’s behaviour.

Although the appearance of this definition means that DID now has clear international criteria, there are still mental health professionals who dismiss it as a result of hysteria or, worse, a complex web of lies. The worst is when families and friends of the affected person think they are making it all up and are living in cloud cuckoo-land!  But they aren’t. It’s real. Very real.

So what is dissociation?

MIND, the well-known mental health charity in the UK describes this very well:

Your sense of reality and who you are depend on your feelings, thoughts, sensations, perceptions and memories.

If these become ‘disconnected’ from each other, or don’t register in your conscious mind, your sense of identity, your memories, and the way you see yourself and the world around you will change. This is what happens when you dissociate.

It’s as if your mind is not in your body; as if you are looking at yourself from a distance; like looking at a stranger.

For most of us time is an organising principle that offers essential structure to our lives. It is a container that allows us to distinguish present from past, and future experience.  Imagine what it would be like if you did not know what time it was right now, or where you needed to be!

But when one experiences dissociation, time is distorted and at a fundamental level, it disrupts and distorts one’s essential sense of identity.

We all have periods when we feel disconnected.  Sometimes this happens naturally and unconsciously. For example, we often drive a familiar route, and arrive with no memory of the journey or of what we were thinking about. Some people even train themselves to use dissociation (i.e. to disconnect) to calm themselves, or for cultural or spiritual reasons. Sometimes we dissociate as a defence mechanism to help us deal with and survive traumatic experiences.

There are five known types of dissociation:

  1. Amnesia
    This is when you can’t remember incidents or experiences that happened at a particular time, or when you can’t remember important personal information.
  1. Depersonalisation
    A feeling that your body is unreal, changing or dissolving. It also includes out-of-body experiences, such as seeing yourself as if watching a movie.
  1. Derealisation
    The world around you seems unreal. You may see objects changing in shape, size or colour, or you may feel that other people are robots.
  1. Identity confusion
    Feeling uncertain about who you are. You may feel as if there is a struggle within to define yourself.
  1. Identity alteration
    This is when there is a shift in your role or identity that changes your behaviour in ways that others could notice. For instance, you may be very different at work from when you are at home.

Some of the effects of dissociation could include the following:

  • gaps in your memory
  • finding yourself in a strange place without knowing how you got there
  • out-of-body experiences
  • loss of feeling in parts of your body
  • distorted views of your body
  • forgetting important personal information
  • being unable to recognise your image in a mirror

So what causes dissociation? The answer I’m afraid isn’t a simple one.

Often the causes are complex.

There have been lots of debate and research that show childhood abuse being the predominant factor in causing dissociation.  Studies show that a history of trauma, usually abuse in childhood, is almost always the case for people who have moderate to severe dissociative symptoms. But not all trauma survivors have a dissociative disorder, so the relationship is not one of simple cause and effect.  A fuller understanding comes from looking at your childhood relationship with your parents or guardians. If the relationship was insecure and you were abused, then you were, and are, more likely to use dissociation to protect yourself from the trauma. The combination of an insecure relationship, trauma and dissociation can result in a complex dissociative disorder.

You may remember that sometime ago there was a documentary and many articles written about Karen Overhill, a woman who developed multiple personalities as the result of being abused as a child has sketched her alter egos — all 17 of them!

Karen took on a range of personalities to escape the trauma, such as Sandy, 18, a depressed binge eater, and Jensen, an 11-year-old black boy who drew the sketch. She had been abused by her father and grandfather during her childhood.  So Karen’s imaginary selves aged between two to 34 were ‘created’ as such to bear the brunt of the abuse.

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Is it not truly amazing what our brains/minds can do to help us cope with the severest of trauma?

I think it is.

I remember talking to one of my previous clients on the phone who was initially her 40-year old female self with me when suddenly there was a pause in our conversation.  After about 5 minutes or so a voice belonging to a little girl, made its appearance. For a minute I thought her daughter or a child had taken the phone away from her to speak to me. But in reality, it was the same 40-year old self that had split/dissociated. It is hard to describe what the felt like but it was a very moving experience and I don’t doubt that I will always remember that conversation that took place along with the child’s voice, the 40-year old’s voice almost simultaneously co-existing and holding on to the fact that this is one and the same person!

The aim of any therapist working with dissociation is to increase the connection between your client’s feelings, her many split selves, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and memories and to help the client develop a sense of empowerment by integrating these selves and trying as much as you can to help bring her into the present sense of self and time.  This will help to make her feel more ‘whole’ and reduce her ‘internal chaos’.  And when this is reduced, there will be less disruption in her life.

Any capable and experienced therapist wanting to working with such a client group should be well versed in DID and familiar with trauma work, best practice and the many other factors resulting from dissociation, self-harming being one. However ultimately whether the therapist has herself experienced dissociation is irrelevant.  What is most important in ANY successful therapist-client connection is the relationship between the two people. It’s the relationship that heals a slogan psychotherapist Yalom claims as his ‘professional rosary’ and is something I believe in too. Ultimately, it is the relationship that heals, and less of the technique.

If, for some reason, you are unable to access a counsellor or any form of psychological therapy there is something you can do yourself that can help.  Start writing.

Keeping a journal, a blog, a diary or just a simple notebook can help to improve connections, and (in DID) awareness and cooperation between identities. It can include the writings or artwork from any part of your dissociated self.  Writing can help you express your inner turmoil and deal with what is going on.  Don’t worry about it needing to make sense for often it will not. Besides, life for most of us, and for me at least, does not make sense the majority of the time so I would not be too worried about that!

There are also grounding techniques you can use which keep you connected to the present, can help you avoid feelings, memories, flashbacks or intrusive thoughts that you can’t yet cope with. The many techniques include breathing slowly, walking barefoot, talking to someone, touching something and sniffing something with a strong smell.  Meditation can be very useful.  Just find a safe space where you live, close your eyes, and concentrate on the pattern of your breathing.  How it feels to inhale and how it feels to exhale.  Try this, even if only for 5 minutes a day, and slowly if you can, increase the duration.

If you often lose time due to dissociation, try and get a watch with a day and date on it.

And finally remember that you are not alone.  There many people who experience dissociation and many more who can help you with it.

Some organisations, for example PODS (Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors), provide private online forums and communities where you can talk to others and share your experiences. Also, see How to stay safe online.

Other useful contacts include:

Mind Infoline
0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm)
info@mind.org.uk

Details of local Minds and other local services, and Mind’s Legal Advice Line. Language Line is available for talking in a language other than English.

Clinic for Dissociative Studies
clinicfordissociativestudies.com
Accepts NHS referrals. Website has useful information about dissociative disorders.

Directory and Books Services (DABS)
01255 851 115
dabsbooks.co.uk
For survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

European Society for Trauma and Dissociation
estd.org
Includes links to online information on psychological trauma and dissociative disorders.

First Person Plural
firstpersonplural.org.uk
Support and information for people who experience complex dissociative distress conditions, and their family and friends.

International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation
isst-d.org

PODS (Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors)
0800 181 4420
pods-online.org.uk
Information and crisis cards for people who suffer from a dissociative disorder.

The Survivors Trust
01788 550 554
thesurvivorstrust.org

Lists local specialist organisations dealing with sexual abuse and violence.

Trauma and Abuse Group (TAG)
tag-uk.net
Details of UK organisations providing or listing counsellors or therapists.

End Violence Against Women
http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk

Million Women Rise
http://www.millionwomenrise.com

UN Women
http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women

These are all very good organisations and can provide excellent and helpful support/advice should you or your family/friends need it.

In the meantime, take care, and be kind to your-selves – all of them.