You are not a label
When I was a child, not that long ago I hasten to add, labelling someone “mental” was an insult; it meant you were crazy, weird, not normal. You were an oddball, others in the playground made fun of you; adults were no kinder.
Today the phrase “mental health” comes up everywhere, on TV, radio, the internet and social media sites. Celebrities and royals talk of their struggles with their own mental health.
I know from personal experience and from my work as a counsellor, that when our mental health deteriorates, it can lead to the most overwhelmingly horrific experiences. The high rates of people on NHS waiting lists for support with mental health issues, the frequency of calls to mental health charities and the schools supporting children in their care, the growing rate of suicides, all indicate the scale of the issue. The pandemic and terrifying world events make us feel increasingly vulnerable and frightened.
However, rather than being a sign of our own downward slope to mental meltdown, could we not say that often these feelings are the reasonable reaction of the mentally healthy to an unhealthy world?
It’s brilliant that today we can talk about how we are feeling without being considered abnormal; the stigma around mental illnesses is reducing. However, I am uneasy about some aspects of the mental health debate. We must remember that occasional feelings of anxiety, sadness, loneliness, feeling down are part of who we are as human beings. They are not necessarily a serious mental health problem.
I am particularly uneasy about the number of people who self-diagnose, who restrict themselves and/or others to a label.
Young people for instance use words such as depression, OCD, Abuse, Addiction, ADHD, Anxiety, terms that I didn’t know as a child. The list is endless. Knowing the labels can be useful, seeing them as boxes/tins into which to place ourselves is more problematic. Increasingly people are identifying themselves with the tin. “Oh, I’m so OCD” they might say, “I can never finish a task”. “She’s such a shy person there’s no way she can apply for that job.”
In some cases, these statements may very well be true, and the person needs to seek appropriate professional help; in many others the labels we give ourselves need to be gently challenged, and people encouraged to see themselves as more than the content of a tin.
Sadly, by putting themselves in a tin or box people, younger people in particular, feel they gain peer support, recognition and a sense of belonging to a group which shares the same “symptoms”. It’s at this point that they become vulnerable.
All sorts of people can offer to help. People of integrity with the necessary skills, others less trustworthy. Social media allows users to discuss their problems with others, with the risk of making those problems bigger. Global drug companies have access to those discussions and can advertise (very) expensive treatments for people who have diagnosed themselves.
To me it seems essential that we keep a balance:
In her book “Growing Old”, Danielle Quinodoz, has a chapter entitled 'The Intensity of Present Time'. There she describes a conversation she had with Marcell.
Marcelle was 72 when she said to me: 'I was six years old and I was podding peas with my grandmother who, at the time, seemed to me to be very old. I don't remember what we were chatting about. But I can still hear myself asking her:
'If you were told you were going to die in quarter of an hour, what would you do?'
My grandmother looked at me carefully and replied:
'I would go on podding peas with you'.
Marcelle added: 'That sentence, I still remember it today exactly as she said it; without my really thinking about it, it has accompanied me all through my life'
Marcelle had the feeling that both she and her grandmother were doing at that point exactly what they had to do: podding peas together. They were completely 'in' what they were doing, and that activity became very precious to them. It showed also that each of them, grandmother and granddaughter, was of value to the other. At that time, they could not together have created anything more important. It was their work of art.'
Like Danielle Quinodoz, there are words and moments of my life that stick with me. You too perhaps know those moments. In the middle of the most mundane events, or the most stressful, those moments can come, like magic. Moments in the present, here and now, when we know that everything is okay, that we are “in” something bigger. Some people call it Heaven, others the great Unknown, but whatever the name we give to the experience, we know it is something immense, something which in this present moment is eternal.
In the midst of today’s disturbing events, in the horrific noise of the world we live in, with its dangers and threats, we do not give in to our anxieties, to our dread. The fighters in Ukraine, for example, if they do not give in to despair, I wonder if it is because in a space deep within them they have experienced one of those moments.
That place exists within each one of us, where we know that we are exactly where we are meant to be, if only for a moment.
Thomas Hillas Life Coach and Counsellor.
10 May 2022
Mobile +44 (0)7986 285 242
Things Fall Apart. The Centre Holds.
Many years ago, as a young volunteer teacher in Uganda, East Africa, I remember teaching the novel “Things Fall Apart” by the famous Nigerian writer and philosopher Chinua Achebe. The book portrays the destruction of a traditional society under the rule of the white colonial government, where force, not virtue, generally triumphs.
Chinua Achebe cribbed the phrase Things Fall Apart from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” written also at a time of violence and destruction, just after the horrific chaos of the first world war, the violently suppressed Easter Rising in Ireland, and the Russian revolution.
“…the centre cannot hold,” cries Yeats…”Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
In the spring of 2022, do those words ring a bell for you, ‘things fall apart, mere anarchy is loosed upon our world’?
A world of catastrophic climate change; of a pandemic ravaging our families and communities; where words of hatred and division intensify the chaos and misery; of famine, war, and persecution of the most vulnerable; a world where the words ‘true’ and ‘fake’ are interchangeable; where thousands of families even in the UK are falling into poverty.
Just as we were beginning to hope for better times the horrifying invasion of Ukraine overwhelms us, thoughts of further possible developments terrify us.
Yes, it is understandable if we feel things today are truly “falling apart”; in Ukraine; globally; and for many of us in our own mental distress too.
We can feel vulnerable, powerless, frightened. It seems the centre really cannot hold.
And yet, it can, it can hold; the centre can hold. We look at those who resist, who face the evil of war, of famine, of sickness, of corruption. So often in my life I have seen these people, been astounded at their courage and their power; ordinary people like you and me.
Because there is a place within each one of us ordinary people, a centre which holds; some call it the soul; a sanctuary of the divine; our true self. Etty Hillessum, a young Jewish woman killed in Auschwitz concentration camp spoke of “a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too …”
Whatever our belief system; whether we believe in a godhead or not, we are invited to find that place, to park somewhere else, if even for a moment, the fears and anxiety creating thoughts.
Breathe deeply, relax into our body, be at home in ourselves. Like Etty, I find that sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inwards for five short minutes.
It’s not a running away, it’s not selfishness, we owe it to ourselves, yes, but we owe it also to the world, for in that centred place we find the urge and the power to unite with the others, to create with them something different.
Get back to me if you wish with your thoughts. Thanks.
Thomas Hillas. Life Coach and Counsellor April 2022
firstname.lastname@example.org Mobile 07986 285242
To resolute or not to resolute?
We’re already into 2022. Did you make any New Year resolutions?
Congratulations if you’ve kept them.
Because many of us have already given up.
Sad, isn’t it? Frustrating. You resolute to do better, to
Twelve months ago, it was the same thing, resolutions made, resolutions broken, and the repeated failure just makes us feel worse. We look back at the old year and see the resolutions we didn’t keep, the mistakes we made, the people we offended, the relationships we messed up; and the danger for many people is to feel bad about themselves; to get anxious and depressed; to see as failures not just the broken resolutions but also themselves
Sometimes, I think we are too hard on ourselves.
Too often, in all-pervading ways, the threat of failure quietly lurks in the background of 21st century culture.
On Facebook for instance how many friends do you have? Not as many as others? You’re failing there then, aren’t you?
Not got the latest i-phone or other gadget? Wow! How can you live with yourself?
Not having fun all the time? What’s wrong with you?
Not enjoying your job, overlooked for promotion? Still not got a partner? You must be doing something wrong.
But what if we are already good enough?
What if, despite all this, we are each of us already worthy of our spot on the planet?
What if a few tips could help us let go of our negative self-judgements?
In a quiet place:
Thomas Hillas Life Coach and Counsellor
I look forward to your feedback. email@example.com M.07986285242
Back in the last century, when I was studying for my A-levels, I took a job at the local Post Office delivering Christmas mail. In those days post was delivered morning and afternoon. So, I'd trundle along my round delivering cards and parcels, greeting people, and chatting. Twice a day I'd see an elderly lady coming to her door, obviously waiting for me, eagerly waiting for some post. Not once did that lady receive anything, no card, no parcel, not even a bill, and my heart ached for her.
If we believe the adverts in the media, the jolly music in the supermarket, the cheerful voices of radio presenters, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. For many children, it’s a magical moment that they look forward to for weeks beforehand. For many of us, it’s a time for family, friends, and neighbours to get together, to be of cheer and goodwill.
For others, Christmas can be the most distressing time of the year, for many different reasons, including
· Loneliness. people who are alone can feel their loneliness and isolation more acutely.
· Anxiety many of us get anxious about the demands that come with Christmas, what gifts do we buy, for example,
who do we buy them for, and how will they be received?
· Guilt everyone else is having a great time, I shouldn’t feel sad, but I do. I really want to buy nice presents
but I can’t afford to.
· Bereavement especially in this second year of Covid, many millions of people will remember those they have lost,
some of whom they didn’t get to say goodbye to – and feel deep pain.
· Expectations too many people expect me to join in their fun; be happy; I’d like a bit of peace and quiet;
it’s all too much
Some tips for Christmas
I wish you a very happy Christmas, warmth, and joy throughout the coming year.
PS As always, thank you for your inspiring thoughts over the last year, and don't hesitate to get back to me at any time in the future.
The winter months
Some people love the winter months, to relax in the comfort of their home, to walk in the early hours when the sun is rising or to marvel at the moonlight. They love the celebrations of Halloween and Christmas.
Many other people dread the oncoming of these dark and cold months. They dread the clocks going back, find themselves feeling sluggish, tired, and lacking interest in things that at other times of the year they relish.
This is our second winter of the pandemic, (who would have believed it?); we are feeling tired of it all, sad about those we have lost, family, friends, colleagues, and the millions of others throughout the world whom we did not know, and yet in some way feel connected to.
The very word “sad” feels heavy, it has itself the sound of sadness.
The meaning of SAD.
SAD is a type of depression which you might experience during a particular season or because of certain types of weather. It stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
SAD is a low mood that can last a long time, and affects your everyday life. Some describe it as like having your own portable black cloud. It follows you around.
If you suffer from SAD, you will know the change in your mood when after days of cloud and rain, the sun and blue sky appear; our whole being lights up, with a sense that everything is, and will be okay.
Ways of managing SAD.
Living with SAD can be difficult, but there are things you can do to help yourself manage it.
I will share with you some things which you might find helpful at this time of year:
For further support visit the NHS and Mind websites.
You might also look at a new interactive platform where you can find insights into mental health https://jaaq.co.uk/
I trust this helps and I look forward as always to your comments.
Thomas Hillas Life Coach and Counsellor 23 Nov 2021
When we trust someone, we believe that they are truthful and honest. We can rely on them; we can count on their integrity; we feel safe with them. They wish us well and will not harm us.
Some would say that to tell someone you trust them is more powerful than to say you love them. I would say that both come together.
Much of our daily lives is built on trust. We trust that other drivers will drive on the correct side of the road, safely; that when we go to sleep, we will at some point wake up; that the water coming from our kitchen tap is safe to drink.
As children we trust implicitly, in fact we don’t know how not to trust. As we grow older, we gradually learn that not every person nor everything is trustworthy; we are taught by adults to be cautious about who we talk to, or meet up with. We learn that playing with matches is dangerous.
People whom we have trusted let us down, criticise us behind our backs, make promises they don’t keep, cheat us in business, turn from friendly neighbours into ones we no longer speak with. The world becomes a place where bad things happen, a place not to be trusted. For many of us that is becoming more and more our world today. Viruses are everywhere; we feel uneasy going to places which two years ago were part of our ordinary routine; wars are breaking out in countries we’ve hardly heard of; the planet is being destroyed by our actions.
The word trust or lack of it comes up constantly in our conversations and in the media. Can we trust our political leaders? Our medical experts? Vaccines? Can we trust the future; can we trust the world? Can we trust ourselves?
For Albert Einstein that is the fundamental question. To paraphrase his words he suggested that
The most important decision we humans have to make is whether we decide to live in a world which is friendly and trustworthy or unfriendly and untrustworthy.
It begins with us. If we cannot trust ourselves or others, it will be difficult for others to trust us. Without returning to the naivety of childhood, and being aware of the betrayals we have suffered, what can we do to be more trusting, more hopeful, more vulnerable to possible hurt? We are in this world together. Trust is the glue that must bind us. Our mental health and wellbeing depend on it.
Thomas Hillas Life Coach and Counsellor. October 2021
If you’ve comments or questions, I’d be delighted to hear from you.
Call 01994 452645 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dare to be vulnerable
Many of us were brought up to be tough. As children we heard things like “Don’t let them bully you…stand up for yourself…don’t show them they’ve hurt you…don’t be a softy.” In the culture I was brought up in, boys especially had to be tough. “Big boys don’t cry”, we were told. If we did, we were “a cissy”, or “a cry-baby”, or today “a wuss”.
In other words, we were discouraged from being vulnerable, because being vulnerable is to be weak, needy, helpless. And in this tough world, whether it be in the world of politics, business, education, race, in relationships between men and women, between neighbours and even in our family life, the attitude is still around that only the toughest survive, the vulnerable don’t.
According to the dictionary, the word vulnerable means to be exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally. To be vulnerable means to be in a position that could potentially hurt us; and is something many of us avoid due to fear of being judged, hurt or thought a failure.
The truth about vulnerability, however, is that it is not always a weakness; it can be a strength.
Vulnerability can be a sign of courage.
It can mean:
During this Covid pandemic we have all been vulnerable, threatened by a deadly or life changing virus, and yet in that vulnerability we have seen the courage of so many people, the staff in our hospitals being a first example. And perhaps we have all found a strength and a courage we didn’t know we had; the strength to look after ourselves; the courage to look out for each other.
Thomas Hillas Life Coach and Counsellor.
If you’ve comments or questions, I’d be delighted to hear from you.
Call 01994 452645 or email email@example.com
Coming out of lockdown.
After almost 18 months of tight restrictions on our daily lives, many people are desperate to get back to life as it was before the pandemic. That’s understandable.
At the same time many people are anxious. That also is understandable. The uncertainty around Covid makes them fearful of the relaxation in restrictions, and worried about how they will cope. They feel increased anxiety about going outside and the possibility of catching the virus. They feel confused by the conflicting ideas around management of the virus, and distrustful of the media and government.
Some people have medical conditions which make them more vulnerable; others have lost loved ones and are still heavy with grief, a grief which prevents them from celebrating a return to the old life.
We should be prepared for the fact that the end of lockdown might be as hard for many of us as the start was. Just as it took us time to find ways of coping during lockdown, it will take time to find our way back, and to reconnect with life. Things may not be the same as they were before.
Here are a few tips for managing the anxiety and uncertainty you might feel. And if you don’t feel anxious yourself, I hope they will help you understand better and support those close to you or do.
Let’s Talk About Anxiety.
Since the time when our ancestors were running around in loincloths, anxiety has been part of what it is to be human. It’s built into us. For our ancestors, anxiety was a survival tool to keep them constantly alert for big wild beasts looking for supper;
in today’s world, people are anxious, not so much because of wild hungry beasts roaming around in our gardens – but as a reaction to the pressures we face in the deeply stressful world of today.
Think of the million and one things we get anxious about, little things, big things and things in between - work, relationships, the kids, the neighbours, money, climate change, Covid.
In some ways, you might say that 21st century beasts are scarier than those of a few thousand years ago - they are everywhere, in our heads especially, and in our thoughts, only less visible. Sometimes we can feel anxious without knowing why. It’s a feeling hanging around somewhere in the background while we try and get on with our lives.
The mental health charity Mind defines anxiety as “what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future”. A little bit of anxiety is normal. In fact, in some situations, it would be abnormal if you didn’t feel anxious – before a job interview for instance, or an exam, or when our teenage child comes back home later at night than expected.
But when anxiety turns up the volume then it becomes debilitating. When this hard form of anxiety kicks in, when everything seems hopeless, when the negative voices in your head taunt you and keep you awake in the early morning hours, it can seem like there’s nothing else. You’re just an anxious mess. With no way out.
But, no, you’re not a mess. You are more than your anxiety. You have lots of other features, talents and resources; there are many lovely things about you; you just need to rediscover them.
You can choose to stay in the mess – sometimes it can even seem that you’ve no choice but to stay there, stuck. Or you can take steps to slowly struggle out of the darkness.
The first thing is to TALK about it. Talk about how you’re feeling; with a friend, someone you trust, your GP, or through the many services you can find online nowadays. The NHS helpline can be a good starting point, MIND another, or a professional life coach/counsellor like myself.
You might at first feel embarrassed to feel the way you are feeling; ashamed to talk about it. Well, feel embarrassed if you want, but TALK anyway. And in my experience, you’ll feel relieved later that you did.
P.S. And by the way, if you are lucky enough not to suffer from serious anxiety then perhaps you might listen to someone who does. You really will help them.
Wellbeing. Some tips.
I’m often asked to talk on the subject of Wellbeing, so allow me to offer you a few words about it.
The dictionary defines Wellbeing as the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.
For more than a year now, Covid has made it difficult to be any of these: comfortable, healthy, happy, or even sane! When so many people, including people we love, have been desperately ill or have died; when we’ve not been able to visit friends or family; when our kids have not been able to go to school; when we cannot work; when we’ve been locked in our homes most of the day, every day, how can anyone, we might ask, be comfortable, healthy, or happy?
Even as the lockdown restrictions are lifted, many are feeling more anxious than well.
Here are some tips that you might find useful for helping you feel more upbeat.
1. Connection. To feel well about ourselves most of us need other people. Keep in touch with others in whatever way you can. Share a moment and a smile with family, friends, neighbours, the person at the checkout, and/or a pet.
When restrictions permit, join a group or club.
2. Physical activity. Mental and emotional health go hand in hand with physical wellness. You don’t have to be a marathon runner or a contender for the national rugby team. Going for a walk is beneficial. There are also countless keep fit exercise videos on YouTube for all levels.
If you have a disability or long-term health condition, find out about getting active with a disability
3. Nature. If you are able, get out into nature. The colours, the sounds, the smells of the natural world are food for the soul, they refresh our senses, and enliven our spirits. Even a small window box of plants can inspire us.
4. Learn new skills. Such as a new language (I’m learning Welsh), craft, gardening or cooking. Research shows that learning new skills can improve your mental wellbeing by boosting your self confidence and giving you a purpose.
5. Read. Try to limit your exposure to the News, whether in newspapers or on TV and radio. Choose to read people who inspire you. Personally I often remind myself of the words of Julian of Norwich "All shall be well, and all things shall be well".
5. Kindness. Be kind to yourself. I’m often struck by how much effort we put into thinking badly about ourselves. It’s exhausting. Make out a list of the good things about You. You may have learned that’s wrong in some way. It’s not. It’s taking care of your mental wellbeing and building up your self-esteem.
6. Kindness. (Part 2) Be kind to others. Look out for people who might be lonely and isolated. Giving to others can do wonders for your own happiness as well as theirs.
7. Gratitude. Taking time to feel grateful, for the little things as well as the big ones, even in Covid times, is one of the most powerful paths to all-round wellness.
If you'd like to get back to me with a comment, a question, or your own tips I'd be delighted to hear from you.
Thomas here to edit.