According to recent social research on current popular blog topics for 2019, personal stories rank in the top ten and timeless studies of popular topics in writing indicate readers unquenchable thirst to understand the meaning of life.
In addition, blogging today is now a huge part of our globalised daily life’s where cutting edge business intersects with creativity. So, I have created a morphing of my own professional experience as a clinical counsellor and close to social worker with lived experience of life’s stressors, curveballs and traumas. I invite you to take a seat, buckle up and best you can read my musings with an open mind and willingness to take anything that serves you and disregard the rest. Welcome to “Conversations with Rissy”. A blog series of reflections and ponderings of Love, death, and every little thing in between.
For the purpose of introductions, this first blog will be unusually long, so place yourself in a comfortable position. I welcome and encourage comments, questions and reflections, to create a space of meaningful and useful virtual dialogue.
Series one- The meaning of life; the “human condition” or are we conditioned humans?
For centuries writers, philosophers, psychologists, historians, scientists, anthropologist’s, religious leaders, artists; you get my drift, have contemplated and documented from their respective perspectives, on the meaning of life otherwise known as “the human condition”. Generally, consensus on what the human condition is agreed as being about the fundamental essentials of being human; processes like birth, reproduction, emotionality, aspiration, conflict and death. We are certainly complex beings, capable of unfathomable kindness and heroism as well as extraordinary acts of hatred, injustice and cruelty. Our individual and collective experiences, attitudes, beliefs and values influence how we consider, reflect on and respond to events and circumstances. So what is difficult or joyous for me could be vastly different for you. AND THAT’S OK!!
I am no expert; I may have a few qualifications and some experience, both professional and lived under my belt, but , really I am an ordinary person with some extraordinary experiences that have shaped who I am. I have a professional counselling hat and currently am facing some major bowel surgeries for several life impacting conditions. As time passes, the more I inquire and ponder over life’s uncertainties and joys, the less I seem to know. I am sure many of you also have a hunger for knowledge with an appetite always voracious. Never in time more than now in our fast paced globalised world do we have instant access to information and data in various forms, 24 /7. We also know that there is gross amount of inaccurate and misinformed data. I think we all could chuckle over our trusted Doctor Google visits, and without doubt our searches for various symptoms often lead to a significant diagnosis and frequently a cancer prognosis. I do not encourage this, best left to making an appointment with your gp. Life is moving faster and faster and faster, it is hard to keep up. I will admit that in prior better health I loved the thrill of being busy, manic, workaholism, over exercising, socialising, studying, filling every single minute of my day with tasks and to do lists.
For my readers with chronic pain, illness and/or disability such as I am now, you will know that its impossible to match this pace. Our normal routines involve arduous hours of feeling unwell, physical restrictions and various levels of pain, such that our time and daily routine is mostly filled with various medical treatments , home pain management and appropriate exercises and activities. Prior to my health crisis late 2016, I had experienced some trauma and hardship and a fair share of adversities and losses considering my ripe old age of 38!. But never before could I have been prepared or confronted with the core of myself and life’s difficulties as I am now.
Frequently it has felt like my life is a nightmare and I am watching from afar. Whether I choose to fuse or diffuse with this, the bottom line is I have some irreparable nerve damages, bowel and pelvic dysfunction. I will say no more on this as its not comfortable chit chat as its confronting and distressing. I mention it as for the last two years it has dominated my life and as a single woman it’s been incredibly difficult, stressful and lonely. I basically lost all that was important to me and everything I worked so hard for. Now close to what I had hoped to avoid, major surgeries, more than ever am I trying to stay focused on the pros and not the cons. It is a daily discipline and it’s a tough gig, but I believe my landing is softer if I follow the resilient and hopeful path than feared and despairing well.
So amidst the chaos and control, when an unexpected curve ball hits you in the back of your head do you react or respond, do you face it head on or run a mile. If I could tell you just one thing, one tiny single truth, it would be YOUR OK!. Right here and right now in this very moment YOU ARE OK. It is a natural human response to fight, flee or freeze when faced with a threat. What is your automatic response and does it serve you? What if there were an easier way, a workable preferred way? By no means not requiring committed actions. Like a muscle that develops from regular exercise and discipline we can redirect and alter our thoughts and feelings. A good starting point is mindfulness, practicing being present and start to witness intrusive unhelpful thoughts to create space and loosen the impact they have on you. If we could stop time now and freeze frame on this moment, you may find that if you are truly present, your focus would be entirely on that moment. Everything is in continual flux, ebbs and flows. Let’s test drive this idea. Stop now and observe the thoughts in your mind, now imagine taking your mind for a walk to the beach, like a dog on its leash. Try and be entirely present with each step, listening to the surrounding and immediate sounds, smells, tastes and textures. Such that, regardless of what may have happened prior to the walk or planned post walk, if we remain present to the here and now, we can slowly learn to still and quieten the mind. Ah yes that old chestnut, I hear the cynics cry, as I to was cynical; still am at times. It is without doubt that mindfulness and meditation is a popular topic, yet it is a practice that only improves from repeating and repeating again and did I mention the secondary gains from repetition? It is also a practice that requires discipline and commitment. If I am losing your interest at this point because you think the subject matter is wishy washy, then I ask you to read a little more. If you are like me, you are probably already thinking of examples when you have achieved being present and don’t need to buy the mindful colouring in books we find everywhere we shop. Us anxious folk always like to please and appease others, but its learning to put our needs first that is the real work.
As many of you know, we are said to have over 80000 thoughts a day and most of these are old repetitive thoughts, often linked to past events, feelings and beliefs. If you often romance with anxiety and her sister perfectionist, you may share some of these worn and tattered beliefs; I AM NOT LOVABLE. I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I ALWAYS FAIL. WHY ME……And so on, for each of us the list of unhelpful intrusive thoughts, such as the above examples, is often endless, circular, automatic and entrenched. So frequently the impulse is to remove, control or fix these negative views, and more and more schools of psychology lean toward ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy),easily applied and more forgiving and sustainable than traditional CBT Therapy. To give you a little of ACT, try and imagine, just for a moment, that maybe if you hold those last intrusive thoughts lightly, and loosen the tight grip you have, slowly and gently place each unhelpful thought or feeling aside or visualise putting it away, such as into your pocket, or a space or place that resonates with you.
This process some of you may know as diffusing from intrusive or negative thoughts or feelings that may be holding you back or increasing existing anxieties and/or depressed thoughts. A metaphor I like to use is taming a beast or befriending your anxiety or whatever it is that is causing you difficulties whether its (depression, pain, relationships, alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, online shopping,….), especially those of you, like me with an overactive anxious mind. If we go back to our imagined walk on the beach and toil with the idea of being present, we may notice the ocean sounds, the wet moist sand on our feet, the footprints forming a tapestry of feet, the taste of salt in our mouth, the sound of the ocean waves, taste of salt, and an array of feelings and thoughts will enter and leave our minds. If you can focus entirely on the senses in your current experience, being attentive to the present moment, you may find that it is easier to be mindful than to be taken hostage by the critical monkey in your mind, who eagerly is waiting for your vulnerability to persecute and belittle you. Sure, I hear some of you say as you grimace, as it sounds so simple and achievable, but for you, mindfulness and positive affirmations don’t work!
Whatever the resistance, their likely will be if you are like me with an overactive mind and fear stillness and letting go. I suspect my readers who are intimate with anxiety, may also testify that in the peak of anxiety and/ or fear, stress or distress, unhinging from binding, old negative thoughts or feelings is in fact a very difficult task to firstly develop awareness of and secondly practice and achieve. It is very common or “normal” for an adult brain to have conditioned negative or unhelpful thoughts and feelings in response to particular triggering stimuli of many forms, often seen as a threat. In an adult brain the deep cascade of old, repetitive, intrusive thoughts and self -criticisms, tend to forge a formidable wall in the mind that even a bulldozer could not dismantle. But here is the first challenge, often the immediate response to fears and threats is to try and cure, solve, remove, fix or control the negative patterns. It is perhaps somewhat easier to develop a keen awareness of them first and loosen the hold or grip, and with even a little acceptance, redirect the stinking thinking to helpful thoughts and activities and start to practice holding the thoughts lightly like a loose hold of a dog lead. I have been telling myself I have had writers block for what seems like years, but is in fact months. Why the blockage.
The cold hard truth is I have been incredibly unwell and had some complications with additional illness’, infections and frustratingly ineffective usual weekly bowel treatments. So its been tough. All I can say is that I have cried a lot on the cold bathroom floor, in the car, in fact, several public places, the tears tend to land on my face unexpectedly, my hands shaking, mouth quivering like a vulnerable seal is to the mouth of a hungry orca, each time, flesh being removed and the seal attempting to swim away but every attempt and the orca catches its fin to take another bite. It’s a slow, painful and tormenting experience for the seal and I relate this to my pain. Steady, continual and inhumane. The peak of this pain and sickness has led my thoughts to dark and dreary places where I think about my eulogy.
But I choose living and hope. Without hope we can be terribly lost. I am always inspired by other people who in the face of major unexpected or foreseen difficulty, trauma, injustice, accident, disaster, etc summon courage and determination to stay afloat, to develop resilience and have an attitude of gratitude and humility to soldier on. So I join this group and soldier on, keeping hope close to my heart and prune back what is no longer helpful and water only what is helpful, workable and restorative. Life is a tough gig which can be easier or harder depending on circumstances and our attitude. Frida Kahlo painted from her bed with major spinal injuries, and so many people do extraordinary things with life impacting physical pain or conditions. Don’t let your pathology define you. Be defined by your values and beliefs. Do what is uniquely right for you and no one else. Life is not a rehearsal, It’s the real deal and time is precious.
So, if you are interested in what the meaning of life is to you and how to move forward toward your preferred valued life then join me on this blogging journey that is raw, authentic and hopefully helpful not just for me but for you. Like many of you, I live with daily pain and discomfort and now preparing for major surgeries I choose to engage more in the positive and workable parts of myself and less in the negative, critical parts f myself. Together and yet alone I can, you can, we all can manage, improve and prosper, to the best of our abilities. If we make room for the things that uniquely help us, imagine the possibilities and opportunities that could present.