just a bit depressing .......

Major depressive disorders are something that caring conversations  by friends or family or even  experienced counselling by itself , cannot fix.  Sometimes medication is required and essential in unison with counselling.

There can be seasons or times in life where a sadness or grief impacts all of us personally. We live in a broken world.  And we need to accept that fact.  Sad and chaotic things will happen. 

Sometimes life is just about the sadness of situational depression and the normal grief or sad stuff of life. Life is not always ugly. But it can be for a season and we need to accept that and be as reasonable and responsible as we can in the circumstances and lift the load that life gives us.   

However sometimes it can be a deep vegetative depression. I will suggest a rule of thumb.  If the length of time of sadness  extends longer than two or three weeks and the sadness has  been the satelliting  subject in the mind, every waking hour , you can be sure that something chemical has probably seeped deep. Consequently counter chemical measures are required. 

The following significant behaviours are associated with depression and give clear clues that something significant and harmful is taking root psychologically in a persons life.

Individuals are different but many will exhibit a sorrow and sadness and have weeping episodes. Its perhaps the most obvious sign of something hurtful going on.  

I will often start at a simple level and ask people about their sleeping habits  and about their appetite.   With depression individuals may exhibit appetite extremes. They may be  eating too much food, especially comfort foods and unhealthy calorie rich or sugary food. Or have no appetite whatsoever.

 Sleep patterns can be very disturbed as well. Individuals may find they cant sleep at all and find themselves over stimulated and ruminating.  Alternatively many want to sleep all the time.  People who would normally go to bed at 10pm will prepare for bed at say 6pm or 7 pm . That sleep is broken and they wake numerous times in the night and very early in the morning. 

Depressed people cannot concentrate or focus even on simple short term tasks. They seem to be preoccupied  with remote problems rather than matters at hand.  You begin to be concerned that they seem to satellite around the same issues habitually.  I will also ask if people sit and ruminate and for how long they just sit and think. Rumination can go for hours.

Particularly worrying is when individuals start talking of life as not being worth living or its hopelessness or lack of purpose.  Others may just be irritable or quick to anger or be impatient. 

Parallel with this can be anesthetizing behaviours such as drinking or misusing substances too much or watching social media and its useless content in unhealthy and obsessive ways. 

Changes in personality are another significant indicator that something deep is happening inside a person. These changes can be different for men and women. It also shows itself differently in each person. Family observes it first. Friends notice it soon afterwards, and work colleagues not too soon after that. 

These tell tale signs are dramatic.  They are the jagged  surface of the ice berg that we see.  There is the deeper and larger iceberg under the surface which points to some biological changes or dynamics that will need chemical assistance in relationship with therapeutic input. So a referral to a GP matters along with some regular counselling from an experienced counsellor.

 

 

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on friendship

There is peace and sometimes a proper challenging to be had in talking and taking time to speak with friends. Friendship is not all about the pursuit of happiness, but any interaction with friends seems to be a reflecting on life and the opportunity for some wisdom to be gathered.

There is something that is strangely civilised and human about being with friends who care and who take the time to understand and question what it is we are saying and what is really behind the words of concern or anger or anxiety about some issue or matter in life. In a virtual world of electronic acquaintances , flesh and blood friends matter. Friends can be about untangling the jumbled emotions or thoughts that have tied themselves into some Gordian knot of the heart or mind. It can be the process of a complicated matter made simple. Or conversely a simple matter that needs expansion or a belief that needs its ideas or its vocablury extended or its prejudice tested or confirmed. Time and patience and initiative and a space where one can really focus on understanding matters in friendship. Words are powerful. Affirmation matters. Disagreement matters. Correction matters. Confirmation matters. Truth matters. Aristotle talks of different types of friends but he makes special mention of those friends who not only seek our good but see it as their duty to tell us the truth. 500 years before Aristotle, King Solomon the wise said that wounds from a friend can be trusted. Its not just a feel good experience or being on the receiving end of friendship that matters. It’s being a friend who values truth and has a pair of ears that are open and a mouth to keep quiet and when the time comes, to speak.

nature or nurture ?

Anxiety and panic attacks and experiences of being overwhelmed by life or circumstances appears as a common theme in counselling.  For some people being overwhelmed by apparently small circumstances  can be a frightening thing. Especially when these events seem to come from out of no where. They are not only debilitating for individuals suffering from them but family and partners are also  affected by the episodes.

There are any number of starting points in relation to discussion of anxiety or panic attacks but I want to make some comments about temperament or personal makeup in relation to this small portion of the large topic. 

What has interested me in this topic, started some years ago It follows my interest in post war trauma.  Particularly after the Vietnam war and the veterans who found themselves with what is broadly known as post traumatic disorder.  One area got my attention. And that was what was clinically referred to as pre existing morbidity. The translation of that terminology is this.  Why was it that some individuals exposed to  conditions of combat or the slavery of military life seemed to return to Australia relatively unscathed and got on with life ?

In contrast why did some who were exposed to the same scenarios and  rigors find themselves suffering from post traumatic conditions ?  The same question can be applied to critical episodes in Mining or Shipping or commerce after some life threatening serious events occurs. The matter of  pre existing personality temperament seems to matter. 

 

The research on temperament is interesting. It is where the nature and nurture argument emerges. Firstly there is weight given to nature and genetic factors.  Studies of young children and their development into adolescence  discloses something about  the variety of individual responses to stress and anxiety . Longitudinal studies of  very young toddlers into their teens suggest there is a lot of behavioural continuity in terms of temperament. Some children when exposed to frightening events such as street noises , strange faces,  loud booming relatives and the bursting party balloon will have a marked startle effect and cry and be distressed.  Other babies exposed to similar stimuli will lay there happily and just ignore or find the stimuli all very amusing. Longitudinal studies suggest that the response over time remains consistent with the initial observed behaviours in the proverbial nursery.  About 10 % , who are nominated as a high anxiety group will continue the same anxious response into observed adolescent years.  And the 10%  who reside in the low anxiety group will continue in their own amused, nonchalent, relaxed manner. 

And the rest of the population appears somewhere in between. 

Now imagine if one of those naturally highly anxious children finds themselves in an environment at home where there is discord or abuse or constant arguments or dysfunction and where there is a lot of expressed worry or concerns. A  lot of  life experiences and events are going to accumulate and compound and translate into fear and anxiety in that young persons mind. Life will become a fearful and dangerous journey. Strife and fear and avoidance that a child observes will translate into a script of how to deal with life as an adult. Conversely if one of these same highly anxious children is in a home where there is affection and warmth and lots of coaching and strategic independence it follows there will be a reduced impact on their sense of anxiety. It will markedly reduce the anxiety.  It may not take it away entirely.  But it will be ameliorated. Both nature an nurture will have their impact . 

So the matter is not simply nature or genetics. Nurture is also important. If a child hears nothing but statements that they ought to be fearful of every adventure away from their mother. Or that life is dangerous or that all strangers in the outside world are dangerous or that simple tasks in a household are potentially harmful. Or again and again that life makes no sense and all questions are pointless and there is no sense or purpose to life. And simple life tasks always take on great drama – those words and scripts and anxieties will follow them into adolescence and adulthood. 

These are the dynamic words and dormant thoughts that mysteriously come out of no where. They paralyse or provoke panic attacks. Like the booby traps still discovered in World War 1 trenches 100 years later. The metaphorical traps inside the brain, exploding unpredictably with the shrapnel of defeat and angst deep in the recesses of memory. 

As I continue to say . Words and stories and how we use them are very important. The tone of voice and non verbals that are in concert with dynamic words really matter and can reorientate individuals lives. There are words conveyed that heal and that give back life.

 

 

a steaming land ......

I have returned from New Guinea. There are 800 language groups. There are diverse beliefs and an ancient history. The country is so rugged and forested that a language group can exist in one valley their language is not understood by the villagers in the next valley. From a plane the valleys and mountains appear to steam. The white cloud steams up through the sharp spearheads of the mountains. A constant mist emanates from rivers and valleys. Regions are known for their tribal violence. Generations of war. Peace is brokered through gifts or exchanges. For a little while at least. Suspicion remains and human nature will always find some angle to be offended over. Some intrigue. Some alleged theft. Some poaching of pigs. The stealing of a wife. Some sorcery. There are mortal consequences.

Pigs are a universal currency. In the west we say money speaks all languages. In New Guinea presumably pigs speak all languages. Bride prices and many commodities are bartered on the worth of pigs. Brides are quite proud of how many porkers were bartered on their pretty selves.  You see the pigs being cradled with affection. A short life, but a merry one, presumably.  So called Big men or Bigfella's own many pigs. Or they are capable of getting their hands on many pigs. They supply to those who ask them. Its like MasterCard. The pigs are supplied on credit.  Big men are like Godfathers. They are generous. But you owe them allegiance. Big men get in to politics. Whole villages will vote for them based on promises. Whole villages will desert a Bigfella in politics if things don't go their way. Life is less about nation. Its about tribe, clan and family.

 Broadly speaking, the coastal region can be matriarchal. The highlands more patriarchal in governance. Violence is a theme. Its a very strong theme. Raskals are the national thugs. Violent,ugly and unwanted and banished from where ever they have come from. Social orphans  or literal orphans.  A bit like Australia's early convicts after settlement, one imagines. Banished and no way home.

I spent a half a day in one of the  prisons talking to about 20 of the Raskals. They were the politest and most respectful group of thugs I've ever spoken to. Working 40 years ago, inside prisons and the court system and over recent times in drugs and addictions and mental health.

Most of the blokes that day had no idea when they were going back to court. The unknowing or fatalism or vagueness seems to go with the circumstances. Life is brutal and hard and it ends quickly. Somehow they were grown up and took responsibility. They expected no mercy or quarter. There would be no mitigation or social or family circumstances pleaded. The appalling pre sentence reports and sociological rubbish I meticulously presented to court on behalf of viscious young felons 35 years ago in Australia seems so mercenary now.  They share accommodation on a cement slab with a toilet and shower. There is a roof but only cement quadrants that hold up the galvanised iron roof against the elements. There is a guard beyond the barbed wire with an Armalite rifle. His observation deck in the lush jungle separated from us by razor wire. He sits on a plastic chair, his space littered with bottles and rubbish. The Raskals occasional visitors bring them vegetables or noodles or rice and some tatty clothes. If they have visitors. If they can spare them food. I notice that the guards that day were pretty fatherly in an officious sort of way. The exception is the white screw. He has something of an air of disdain. He does not like the intrusion of these students and lecturers. He especially does not like me, a whitefella. He hides his contempt behind the usual cloak of bureaucratic efficiency and deference to procedures. I am getting impatient and the heat and humidity is playing on me.  He wears proper uniform and remarkably a beret in the vicious heat and humidity. I want to tell him it would be far more comfortable if he wore a native koteka on his head. For the sake of the students and lecturers I refrain from making the suggestion. I’m sure he would boot us out. Even in the heat, common sense suggests that he probably hasn't got a sense of humour.

I heard stories of violence. Reliable sources tell me stories of the summary justice dealt to Raskals in lonely places. You heard stories of one way trips to isolated beaches with the police. Just before I arrived the Australian Broadcasting Corporation announced  a pastor in a church had been buried alive for sorcery. Some of the locals suspecting he was using black magic to cause landslides. I was horrified. When I arrived a couple of days later in PNG it was news. But not a big story. There were stories of hand grenades and home made shot guns and the universal bush knife.  These things and other obscene ways of killing were not uncommon. I was told Yes it was awful. But, it was not in this province.  Out in the bush miles from no where there was a First aid station a teenage girl with her mother shivering from malarial infection. Lots of Australian aid money for medication but no drugs, money having been diverted by local politicians.

I go to house cry one evening down by the river. Someone's son had died. All that is known was that he was shot and murdered. Was it the police? Raskals ? Prison staff ? Local wontoks? No one knows. The true story is not disclosed. It could have been any one of those groups.  But in this place, it is, what happens.  The story conceals the shame. In this place there are things that are best left for tribe and clan and family to sort out. And you feel certain that they will.

At the University some buildings have been burnt down. A student leader killed horribly with a bush knife. Bush knives are common. Long slashing ones . Shorter stabbing ones. They appear to be carried as weapons but are invariably to slash and cut the long grass and the vegetables and cut what can be made palatable for the pot. We ask for directions in the Ramu valley from our 4 wheel drive. The helpful villager, by himself, approaches our car on my side window. I am pretty sure he will give us directions. But he has put his bush knife at port arms. Its in the bush and perhaps he knows better than us that anything goes. Even white ones. If you don't know who is asking you questions its best to be suspicious and prepared. 

Up the track out of Lae the local police station is a charred twisted heap. The locals set it alight with a villager inside. They came to the conclusion about his guilt. Poured petrol into his cell window and set it alight. Here security companies provide policing. You contract with one of the big three companies for protection and call outs. You have a radio for such contingencies. You would call the security first. Its unlikely you would call the police. Roadblocks by the police are common enough. The security companies seem quite disciplined have their own barracks and logistics and communication. I do wonder if the government has to keep an eye on them. The nights bring the torrential cooling rain. If your fortunate the electricity is working and the fans are working and the fridge will have something cold in it. You need to shop frequently because food goes off with intermittent electricity.

With the rain, it sometimes brings the Raskals. Their soft footfall is deadened by the thick rain on the long grass. We have security downstairs at night. They might or might not be reliable. We have grates all over the house and grates on the windows. We also have Fluffy. A Doberman Rottweiler cross who pads about inside or downstairs. I had made friends with him quickly. Even with my natural affinity for dogs I knew I had to be careful of upsetting Fluffy. Many of the itinerant locals are aware of him and keep well away from him. I wonder if there is a price on his head.  Those who live around the house with me have grown accustomed to him and realise his bite is worse than his bark. So best to keep on his good side.  I get up early to finalise my lecture notes. Coffee and vegemite. If I'm lucky the wild passionfruit and a portion of a bunch of peanuts.  Fluffy does not care for the expresso but he likes the Vegemite.  One slice for him. One slice for me. This is our ritual before the bells for lectures ring at 7am in the cool of the morning. I have to wear trousers rather than shorts to the lectures. At one stage academic gowns had to be worn as well.

 Fluffy like other dogs I have seen, has slash marks from the cruel bush knives. I had seen dogs wandering blind in the streets obviously and deliberately cut across the eyes. There seems to be a war of animal and locals.  

Horror stories kept emerging in this tribal land. Domestic violence and pay back are common place. I could see nor did I hear of evidence of large drug or meths and Ice culture. With the growing prosperity of international mining interests and the interest of the Chinese military and commercial ventures in the region, drugs are inevitable.

One of the benefits of travel is that you compare and contrast your own world with that of others. I think a bit about the Raskals in the prison and the tribespeople at the funeral. That world is totally different to the world of Australia. Its business offices its Universities its schools its media. The very concept of resiliency programs and coping mechanism and stress management is both bizarre and comical in the PNG I have just described. The issue of domestic violence and gender equality. Also another planetary system altogether. Yet for the past generations a large cohort of Australians have been brought up with a view filtered by education and generally what is called the nanny state that every one is precious , unique and an individual. They have grown up with the mantra of uniqueness and a worth that is unearned and that they should be respected for just being alive or having achieved a role in a job. Australia for perhaps the past 50 years has subscribed to various psychologies and social movements that reinforce this perspective. Australia of the past 50 years has been free from daily violence or war or tribalism. It is free from the the corruption and civil corruption of clans and families . Australians have never had to be confronted with having to work solidly to eat or survive. If you don’t work or labour in some way in PNG you starve. In Australia Centrelink stands by. Death is not commonplace experience to many people in Australia. Its part of daily business in PNG. I don’t wish what I saw in PNG on Australia. However the entitlement to a good life without thankfulness or acknowledgement is alive and part of the narrative in Australian society. I also wonder if in Australia resilience mantras need to be replaced with strong spoken words about just growing up and acting your age. Life is not about living life like your a permanent adolescent with a inherent sense of entitlement and prosperity owed to you by others.

after a death or severe loss in workplaces…….

 

We live in a unpredictable and sometimes brutal world. Our world in Australia or New Zealand is a lot more predictable than a lot of other places.  Often we think that life is going to be predictable. A predictable day . A predictable work place . A predictable and routine visit to the Doctor. Plans are made to live out a reasonable and safe life. A predictable relationship or financial income or plans about the future involving family or friends. We also have in our minds an unconscious belief that good things happen to good people. In fact we know that its not true. But we hope that right will be done and that life will be fair. 

 

 Any number of incidents can happen that involve the loss of life or injury or a near miss. They can involve death or serious injury or deep hurt.  A critical incident might be a death or suicide or assault in a workplace. Or it might be a serious accident in a workplace which results in serious injuries for one or numerous people. An accident offsite or in its proximity affecting  family members or workers. It might be the death of a friend or colleagues family member or the failure of a medical procedure. 

 

 It might include violent or very threatening behaviour on a site such as a robbery. It could be a catastrophic industrial implosion or explosion. 

 

Or it may be one of those life tragedies that never makes the media. Some one young dies because of medical issues that no Doctor ever detected or suspected. No one ever saw it coming. But it leaves people and workmates crushed and hurting. All these events might be considered to have an affect on people emotionally psychologically and behaviourally.

  

 

The time after death or severe loss in some ones life.

 

If you or workmates or family members have been involved, or have witnessed or been in the vicinity of a grief event, it can bring about dislocation and disruption to life in some shape or way. Sometimes its not about witnessing anything but listening to the narrative or just becoming aware of what has obviously happened. Our imaginations feed our feelings.  We will feel sadness and hurt that may not or cannot match a colleagues loss.But it is real and it does effect us.

 

 Being involved in grief after a friend or colleagues death will affect us in our thinking, it will affect our emotions, and even our behavior and physical health. A great deal will depend on the degree to which we are directly involved in the person who has died.

 

A spectrum of thoughts and emotions. 

 

There can be a whole series of emotions when someone dies suddenly. There can be guilt, or shock and numbness, regret, agitation, anger or fear or rage. The range of thoughts and feelings can be jumbled together or experienced like a rollercoaster ride. 

Grief is real in our lives and initially people can experience a sense of being emotionally and psychologically “all over the place” This is not uncommon and does not mean people are losing their minds.

 

Some of the responses to grief.

 

People react to grief and loss in different ways depending on their personalities and characteristics. The invasion of the unexpected into an otherwise predictable world sets the thinking and feeling world of individuals on its head. 

It should be noted there are no set rules about how feelings are expressed. Nor are there rules about what people should be feeling. Or time frames or rules of how long it should take for people to recover.

People who have gone through grief sometimes speak of it as if they are on a journey. They are  making sense and responding to the thoughts and feelings or images of real life events in slow motion or with a heightened sensitivity. Its a place where  those close to the person who has had the loss or has died will know the depths and anguish. Some of us on the outside of the grief can imagine it. But we can't really know they anguish of a family member or close friend. But we can still be affected. .

 

Getting practical 

 

•  Confusion and disbelief that the grief  has happened at all. Some people report feeling physically numb or initially being in a dream like state.

•  Disbelief and denial and an ongoing thought, that this awful thing, should  not have occurred.

•  People will feel overcome with emotion and cry. They can might display great resentment or anger and want to blame someone for the episode.

•  Personal guilt at being involved can be a behaviour and as much as it was not a persons fault in any way. 

•  Many questions buzz around a grieving persons head .”I could have, I should have, why didn’t I,”.These are all very normal.

•  Sadness and feeling isolated or hopeless in the circumstances or just pushing friends away. 

 

Being practical:

If a colleague is hurting or in grief we can  feel unsure about what to do or what to say.  In work situations colleagues can be fearful of saying the wrong thing. I think its far better to be real. If you have shared information with a colleague about your family or children and have laughed together in the past your safely in the category of being able to share your sympathy. Simply express your pain or hurt or sadness at what’s happened. You will pick up the clues if they want you to stay or go.  If the grief involves a whole workplace with a colleague dying or having died don’t be flippant but simply respect the space of others and take lead in making sure people are going well and safely. I always find asking people how they are travelling rather than “are you OK is” a far better starting place for conversations.

People also want to be treated normally in the work place without others treading around them preciously . If people are having a bad day they will show it or tell some one.

At times of grief its important to know that no words or lengthy optimism will alter the circumstances. People who are grieving just want to know that genuinely caring people are there to listen and then listen some more. They may want to be in a private alcove in the office or just express it publically. Let them initiate that. 

Don’t be alarmed or surprised by the roller coaster of emotions or thoughts that people might have. Once again to sit with a person and listen .To convey understanding without sentimentality or cynicism is very important.

Being practical with food, with transport, with toddlers, with the small but essential matters of life is important. My own rule of thumb is allow 6 weeks for such practicalities.

Some matters of grief are discrete and people want it kept that way. Others may say they don’t care who knows. It’s always important for those close to a grieving person to ask what they want and if the matter is public or they wish the matter to be respected as private.

Don’t assume that people will not be able to function at work. Work  and being with friends at work can be one of the more therapeutic  environments for people to recover in. 

What’s going on in the mind and with the emotions also affects behaviour. Don’t be surprised by different moods. 

 

 

 

 

navigating chaos for counsellors…..

I use the word joy sparingly in life and in work. Two things will produce it in my work. The first is when someone comes back into safety from the dark brooding land of depression or that scary nightmarish land of anxiety. The second is much more beyond my control. Its when I’m called in to do a de-briefing after a near miss. Usually on a mine site or construction site. Someone has had a narrow escape from death. We unpack what happened. Its obvious they should be dead. Its very moving.

Counselling is not necessarily enjoyable. But it is satisfying.You utilise all your therapeutic knowledge and your history and your experience and focus on listening and opening your mouth strategically.

In counselling people might tell you their story for 10 minutes or an hour. But its still not their whole story. Such a brief time cannot capture their whole life. Not all stories are awful. I have heard much over 40 years. Many stories are intriguing. Some are heroic or comical. Some seemingly unbelievable and of bizarre coincidence. I am amazed at the stories that people tell me of their lives. They fill in the back story. A summary of what’s important or what their life means to them. Or told with such nonchalance life means nothing. Stories of dying or being bereaved. The aftermath of a child’s deaths with parents. Of shame or fatal mistakes that people believe can never be forgiven. Adolescents suicide. Stories of terror or hurt or savage abandonment in childhood or of attempts at murdering them or of things done in wartime. Individuals awaiting the hangman’s noose and even separate narratives from the hangman himself and then stories of the Judge. Of being pursued to death by entities legal or illegal without mercy. Or betrayals or cruel actions in marraige. Bizarre family dysfunction. Of allusions to being in dark places of the mind and without hope. Nightmarish places drug induced. Occult involvement getting out of control. Of being saved quite miraculously when there was no rationale hope. Or sometimes only half the story. Individuals trusting too much and being tricked of their life savings. Individuals never trusting and never abandoning their suspicion of others. At other times a great deal of the story without inhibition except for the deep hidden shameful parts. At others times no boundaries and with malicious intent to be scandalous and obscene in what they say. Of the misuse of power or the neglect and corruption of those in power. Or domestic or workplace despots. I think the back stories are just that. They are the back stories. Not the full story. Or they have left out parts because its just too horrible. Or they leave out parts because its too shameful. None the less you are at the receipt of the these stories and you take them and you don’t share them. Stories are powerful. Tens of thousands of them. The above barely touch the surface.

There is another feature to this. There is a whole spectrum of counsellors listening and hearing stories on a daily basis to material dark and ugly. Its not always just counsellors say in Psychology or social work or occupational therapy but in other professions which have exposure to people and are mandated “to listen” or take into account peoples stories in some legal or medicalised or human resource fashion or caregiver role.

Listening and empathising and collecting narratives and stories has its own impact on counsellors and those who work in chaotic settings. Witnessing such material on a daily basis will have its own impact. It goes to the inner spaces of the heart,so to speak. We have to do something with what we have witnessed or what we have heard. What has been narrated to us has become a picture adhering to our thoughts. Its like a short piece of cinema on a repeating loop in our memory. Sometimes its uglier. Like the house visit where dysfunction reigned and the spooky unblinking kid had pressed turd into the fly wire mesh of his bedroom window. The stories stick like that to memory. There are other fields where people choose to work in contexts where obscenity and filth and threats of violence are played out on a daily basis. I’m thinking here of custody situations or community guardianship scenarios or policing. All the while being at the receiving end of tirades and narratives and brutal sadness but having to act professionally and having to suppress their personal opinions or thoughts and act within procedural guidelines. The bottom line is that these professionals and carers whatever their job have to go home to lasagne and kids and credit card debts stuck on the fridge door like everybody else. They go from a work shift and from a chaotic , crisis prone world to that of home life and recreational life where their story of work can’t or shouldn’t be told. Even if that was the case there are occasions when words would escape description. So,I have set the scene. I want to pursue a series of essays on dealing and separating or navigating safely away from the chaotic and destructive dimensions of professional exposure.This is in preparation for a series of seminars in 2019 on clinical supervision.

workplace relationships and spotting trouble...

Relationships are hard work. And in the workplace they can not necessarily be plain sailing. We find relationships at work a lot easier as they are structured and role driven. Workplaces are made up of a spectrum of personalities. They are made up of genders. And they are made up of at least 4 or even 5 generations. Workplaces are focused on commercial outcomes. Productivity matters. And to avoid legal liabilities all types of boundaries of behavior and speech are put into place. These are  reduced to regulations around what can be said or done in the work place. Humans are what they are. And its very difficult to regulate every sentence or monitor every non verbal. If anything, the more stringent the governance that exist in any setting, the more that people try to test the boundaries. On the other hand bullying happens. Some individuals are not aware of what they do. Some individuals are very aware and calculated in being bullies or just by personality making life difficult.

These are notes from introductory lectures given by the author on relationship and family therapy. The 4 theories found here have their origins with a famous relationship theorist called John Gottman in the United States. Gottman says that there are 4 major destructive behaviours in relationships. 

Gottman says that these 4 destructive behaviours are so insidious that if they are practiced they will bring about ultimate destruction of a relationship. In counselling some couples or families might persist but they endure hell in the meantime.  Gottman is quite dramatic fellow. He labels the 4 destructive behaviours as  “the Four horseman of the apocalypse.” 

The first of the apocalyptic horseman is Criticism. By criticism he does not mean some disagreement or banter. He means a personal attack on your partners personality or character. We are not talking about an airing of differences or an exasperated debate that will occur in all relationships, but the consistent pursuit and prosecution and tearing down of an individuals personality and their actions and their behaviours. If your on the end of this you learn that you are incapable of doing anything right. Applying this to a work relationship the impact on someone going to work and being critiqued continually should be obvious.

The second horseman comes in the form of  Contempt. The tearing down and insults that can come openly in words, can be shown contemptuously in non verbal’s. Eye rolling, sneering or physically turning away, are all part of contempt. A cultural note might be worth mentioning. In Australian settings, we have a high tolerance to insult and mocking. There is banter and insult which is mutual and reciprocated and accepted satire. There is also pure contempt. Workplace bullying can make its appearance in forms of  contempt and can be quite subtle and secretive or non verbal and unobserved  by third party observers. Workers as well Managers can be victims of it as much as be perpetrators of it.

Gottman’s third horseman is the unrelenting, ongoing defensiveness, which is more than just an individual being hyper sensitive or vigilant. It is the protracted commitment to taking everything personally and being closed off to any other way of seeing the world or issues. It usually follows, that individuals will take no responsibility, nor can they be reasoned with to consider the impact on others of their actions and behaviors.  They are blind and deaf to any opinion or statement that they will translate as personal. Such individuals rarely show any initiative and retreat to their own personal fortification.

The 4th Horseman is euphemistically called Stone walling by Gottman. I call it Barb wiring as we in an Australian setting are more familiar with barb wire than stone walls.  I think it conveys something sharp and unwelcoming as well. Barb wiring  is the deliberate ignoring and total lack of responsiveness to any invitations or overtures to communicate or be part of a conversation or another persons projects or pains or issues. It is a deliberate ignoring in the face of a required need to be available or to be present.

Banks , Credit Unions  and Mine sites and Power stations and Resource Companies and Government offices  are not families.  They are however made up of people working in hierarchies with a complex array of psycho-social and political and financial  dynamics in place. 

That’s why Managing people and exercising leadership is so interesting. Its also why it can be so difficult. They are also made up of individuals who want to be treated by their work mates and their managers with a dignity and respect. Gottman has never written anything on management or business theory or Risk management. But the apocalyptic horsemen released from the starting gate, and tolerated or ignored  by Managers in a workplace will create their own hell.

 

 

on leadership and frogs......

 

 

There is that unusually cruel experiment, and hopefully illegal experiment, which seeks to demonstrate how an amphibian metabolism is highly adaptive, especially to temperature variations. The experiment requires a frog to be put in water, and then heat is very gradually applied.  Partial portions of heat by small degree. 

The hapless Freddo simply adjusts his internal thermostat to the raising temperature. Freddo adapts to the small increase in heat , perceiving and accepting the environmental change. By the time the steam is wafting around his nostrils, it is sadly too late to make good his escape. 

Office and work environments can be like that with bad or odd or destructive behaviours. Some years ago I consulted at an office perhaps once a fortnight. The administrative officer at that office had a penchant for completing jigsaw puzzles atop desks in what was a large open planned office area. No doubt that the puzzles were complex 1500 piece puzzles. 

I would see her bulked over a desk on my fortnightly visits.  Mt Fuji being constructed. A Gondoliers buttocks the Jigsaws epicenter, from which all of Venice emanated. The pieces would take shape on the desks and as a crown of thorns starfish populates coral they would grow over desk space. In my absence fortnight to fortnight, imperceptibly and gradually. But day by day none the less until a complete desk top was taken over. Then another desk top. Then another.

Given the general politeness of everybody in that office and the managers passive accommodation  nothing was said. Then the tea room. That sanctum, where one could normally retreat to have a coffee, was invaded by The laughing Cavalier. People would squeeze onto another space to drink and eat. No one said anything. By then, they had to beware of spilling tinned  tuna onto Girl with a Pearl Earrings head scarf.

Individual jigsaws were never dismantled by their builder. More to the point they were never dismantled by staff or management out if fear they might cause offence. Nor in my knowledge were there those conversations that had to take place. No Manager showed any leadership,and delivered an apocalyptic pronouncement and dealt an end to mountains , canals , cavaliers and demure Dutch girl with pearl earing and Japanese national parks. 

In other places I heard of  people introducing their pet rats. All very tame and quite cute. But a rat none the less. Introduced with  confidence and bravaro. Introduced. Recognized as a personality extension. Not questioned for fear of offense. And thus the issue escalated. Or an office where I once worked where we dealt with family violence and domestic violence. The feminist cabal had adorned the hallways and  entrance  with posters about struggling poor peasants, invariably women or third world subjects, with mandatory heroic smile, or steely I will not be oppressed looks, for the camera or women looking oppressed. -The usual suspects. - The narrative amongst those women professionals about men generally was never flattering. It was language and behaviour that was never checked or confronted by leadership.  However when a client invariably a violent man "went off" it was the men in the office who were the first responders. Leaders lent towards the ideologically safe and the safety of supporting the loudest voices.

Or the sanctum of men’s football clubs where even in that setting of sports immortals, grief and addictions and episodes needed to be addressed. Or for that matter the emergency service males, some of us were called to work with. The public rhetoric to the media in those clubs or organisations was publicly " we won’t tolerate or condone violence towards women ". You would see public gatherings of blokes chanting say "No to violence" en masse. But the weekly attitudes and language and behaviours towards women colleagues was ordinary. Their established WAGS could expect no loyalty for all their faithful support. They were easily dispensed with and replaced by eager aspirants to the role.

No one ever said anything in those settings. There was no spoken or acted leadership.  Like the viral Jigsaws, like the friendly little rodent companions scuttling about the office carpet and begging food in the kitchen, no manager ever simply turned the heat up. No leader ever called it what it was. Perhaps it was too late to confront the changes that had happened because they were wrought by confidence, by a sense of entitlement and by attenuated barely perceptible degrees.

site closures and relocation

 

A site closing down is not a normal or welcomed event in anybody's workplace. The news of a site closure may be balanced with the consolation that staff are not being laid off but having to move elsewhere. Other closures are much more difficult and employees are terminated.   There are however issues that employees face in learning that a workplace is closing a branch or shop front and being relocated. Site closure and relocation can be a real shock to some.

 For others it may not be such a surprise.  Some employee’s may well have read the writing on the wall and that company strategy is moving in the direction of closing offices or recognising digitalization and generational change. For others it might be declining client numbers or falling revenues. Closure may be seen by those individual workers as the inevitable. Announcement of closure might come as unhappy news. Albeit news that eventually had to come.

None the less, for those who saw it as coming-or for those who did not see closure coming, it still presents itself as a grief and a shock. In life, we feel safe with predictability. A work life and home life is generally ordered around making life as predictable as possible. The closure of an office or branch makes life unpredictable for a short period of time.  It’s also about the emotional losses and also the grief around those losses.  

People feel a range of  losses.  They are not always obvious at the time when a closure is announced. But predictable things are lost.  Predictable patterns of going to the same workplace. Predictable contact with workmates and friends at a site. These will change. Workmates can be moved to different geographies. They move away, along with their personalities and stories and histories. That might not always be a bad thing either. It’s also the anticipation and unease that comes from having to make new workmates.

Over all there will be losses. 

Also where there has been regular contact with customers or members, it is only reasonable that relationships are established. There will be a familiarity with some people’s stories.  This can be difficult, because you know those customers who do business as an opportunity for social contact with a friendly face.  Equally there can be anger around the exiting of services from a community of customers in a isolated  geography.

Moving location or exiting a predictable office can mean that your own family's transport arrangements around drop off and pick up are disrupted.  Once again the unpredictable enters into the world that you would prefer to be kept predictable. Especially if it involves your family. The impact is multiplied if the closure and transfer requires movement interstate or overseas. 

There are  a number of things to consider and think on around closure and relocation.  It is a disruptive time and you can feel sad and even angry. 

It's important to accept that a commercial decision has been made. It is beyond your control so focus on those matters that need to be finalized.  Its important for your own mental well being that you need to move into that personal place of acceptance of the closure. 

Accept the feelings that go with closure.  Also be focused on the present need to assist the business and your  Management in shutting and relocating.  Be active in being positive about the move with other colleagues. If necessary, initiate some leadership in keeping morale going and being positive about the move.  Not only have you maintained your employment, but also gained new work possibilities and potential friendships elsewhere. 

adjusting to workplace change....

 

Adjusting to change, can be hard to deal with. 

It means that the familiar and the predictable are threatened or even disappearing  in our lives. 

As humans we have a drive for things and events being the same, or at best, being able to predict with some degree of probability what’s next in our lives.   Its only when the predictable is threatened or disappears or is passing away that we begin to respond and get worried or begin to behave differently.

Adjusting to change especially in our working life or family life is not always straightforward. Change can happen dramatically or catastrophically.  Or sometimes we have hints or warnings of it. At other times it may not be catastrophic or dramatic but it happens and its annoying. As humans we  prefer to have warnings of change. At least we comfort ourselves that we can adjust or prepare for it. Or it might be, that having  a time in the future helps us to put off and avoid the realities to come.

Our workplace is perhaps the significant area of life where there can be a set of  predictable’s.  Its  made up of  routines and times and regular income and the mates we see every day.  Its made up of protocols and expectations and rules of behaviour. Workplaces are generally safe because of those things. Predictability is what makes it safe.

The other predictable of work, that is sometimes forgotten, is that its where we are known for our talents and abilities. We don’t have to prove a thing by showing or talking to a new set of faces about what we do or how we do things. Our predictable role and skills are already known. When we move from one workplace to another, no one necessarily knows us or what we do well or what our skills are.

So workplaces closing down is about two things. Adjusting to change. Its also a grief. Both of these issues impact on workers and they impact on families. That’s why its important to take some time to talk these things through.Work closure is not always bad. Opportunities and new directions in life and employment can come with change.

 

Everybody is different. Working with the things that need to be adjusted to, will be different for each and every person. Dealing with the grief of losing a predictable workplace with its behaviours and safety is another. Losing the company of  work mates we have worked with for years is no small thing. 

What seems to be apparent though in life is that we can have some control over some aspects of life - but not all. We have control over some circumstances. Other circumstances , despite our protests,or distress or pain at the change, we can do very little or nothing. Nothing can be done to alter the course of events or decision's made for us. Health issues , relationship issues and workplace change are some of those areas.

So what can be done ?

  • Recognise that you might feel anger or sad or grieved or fearful.However change is a life constant. These are normal responses. But you will need to feeling this emotions with having a plan to respond proactively and practically. Just acknowledging that life will always be unpredictable and change will be part of that unpredictability.

  • You need to be optimistic and to remain positive in your own thinking. If workplace change or closure has occured you will be best served to accept the matter as soon as possible and be as positive as you can be in dealing with the new emerging situation. There is a time for grief or anger or annoyance. There is also a time for getting on with the new world. No matter how much you personally don't want it to happen.

  • Show some leadership in helping others through the change process. If you expend some energy in helping others to adjust and to keep positive it will have a remarkable effect on yourself in keeping you in a positive place. In any transition there will always be tasks in the present to be done and focussed on to bring about closure anda moving on. Make up your mind that you will give your full attention.

Outside of work keep up the normal routines that are positive and healthy. If you exercise or list friends on a regular routine ,now is not the time to stop. You don't need to drink more or eat more to get through this transition. Talking to somebody within Inwit Consulting as your Employee assistance service is a good choice around your emotional and thinking well being.

 

 

 

 

 

thinking ,thinking , all the time...

 

It’s a place of  frustration and sometimes distress when a person says “I cant stop thinking” Its accompanied by comments about just wanting to turn off the thoughts or images and  have some quiet from the demands. It’s a unpleasant place to be in. I also think its related to the despair that people express when they say " I just can't sleep ".   However there are times when the thoughts and images and repetitive stories in our minds become debilitating. They become tiring and ever present.  First thing is this. Everybody has them.

Our thoughts are so internal and private no one knows what we personally, are thinking, unless we disclose. The thoughts are multiple and multi themed.  They are like the branch of a tree. The more it grows the branches multiply. I think thoughts become distressing when they begin to be unstoppable. The thoughts just go into freefall. They become debilitating because they seem out of our control. The thoughts are debilitating because they are not rooted in the present.

The cascading thoughts are either past thoughts or future thoughts.  The past and future thoughts are not in the present reality. Past thoughts,where the past is reauthorised and relived and stepped out in phantasy are not by definition true or even honest. Future thoughts,with future conversations and reactions cannot by definition be true or honest either.

The distress comes from the reasonable and sensible desire for the thoughts to be truthful. For the thoughts to be in the present space of today and this time. Another matter is this. Thoughts past or future manufactured and ruminated over have ourselves as the central character in the drama. We either live in the past in some revised and dramatic way where we can redeem ourselves or cast out some perceived injustice or slight. Or we act out a future scenario where we act as the central character dealing with the anxiety which occupies our thinking. 

   The significant thing to remember is the thoughts are monologues in our head between ourself and audiences past or future. They are invariably associated with phantom audiences where the monologue is both prosecuted by you and then defended by yourself. The cascading and pain comes out of the fact that you can never out prosecute or outwit the phantom audiences.  Nor can you outwit the imagined re-creations of the past or the imagined stories or monologues of the future in your head.

Perhaps the answer lies in what we think about or the rules that we make when we are thinking about a task that needs to be solved.

Perhaps its the difference between fantasy and Imagination. True imagination is creative and even artistic and takes effort. In Imagination you are not the central character in the story. You are attempting to solve a problem or create something or observe something from the perspective of the audience as well as the players on stage. In fantasy you are on the central stage and you can be the villain, the hero , the celebrity or the talent,without any reprecusions or any accountability. You can be a gallant, a Lothario, a slayer of dragons human and otherwise without critique.   You also write the script for yourself. Fantasy is never hard work.  Imagination requires work. Fantasy and unreality cascades and frustrates.  Imagination produces an internal satisfaction or even dissatisfaction. But imagination deals with reality.

In counselling, its not uncommon for people to describe horrible episodes in their past lives, such as the suicide of a parent or a hideous household marked by alcoholism or violence or constant bickering between parents. And it may not just be episodes like that. Some people were very sensitive children, who mask a lot as adults, but still have the same sensitivities, and can be prone to anxiety or to depressive ideation.  It is in such contexts they turn to consolation in the fantasy world they retreated to as children. The stories and characters and actions change. But fantasy becomes an established escape and continues unabated into adult life.

So what works ?

Talking to some one who is calm. Its probably a good idea but at 3.20 am they’re not usually available. If they are a 24/7 service like Inwit Consulting you have that available. As long as your employer is associated with a company that Inwit  services you can call.

Count your blessings . Yes, that’s what I said. You want to know what breaks the terrible introspective journey, start exactly where you are. What are 50 things you can be thankful for ? Counting your blessings takes you immediately to an honest thinking place. It puts you in touch with reality not fantasy and darkness.If you don't like that idea - feel free to stay where you are. The other place it takes you to is the present. 

What is the present ? Its not the past which is done and dusted, and its not the future, which is unknown. The present is the space with all its issues in your present waking and functioning place.

Its also about recognising that at any point in our waking hours, scores of invitations and themes and stories and images enter our thinking zone to be distractions from the present hard reality of life and those invitations urge us to  avoid the present or to be entertained or to relive the past or plot out a future where we are the central player. None of this is real.

 

 

 

 

the power of stories

 

 

 

There is a great deal of power in stories. Stories and language are very powerful. Our use of language and where we put language in a story and how we use it adds to the forcefulness of a story. Stories and words effect peoples lives. They can destroy people. They can reorientate and give life back to people.  

Stuff is spoken into peoples lives that is done with malice and intends harm. Some people have a way of planting time bombs in peoples lives. You hear some very cruel stuff in counselling spoken many years ago into a persons life.Wonderfully you hear of some wise or kind words that totally re orientated someones broken or insignificant or unloved life.

Enjoying  stories or listening to stories is part of life. Stories which relate to us, with links to our family or to where we are in life are intriguing. Stories which relate to where we have come from and what we’ve been shaped by are good because they hint at where we are going. Families have lots of stories. Communities and nations also have stories. Workplaces have stories. There are lots of story tellers. The stories that are shaped and moulded and retold within families in various ways speak to people’s lives and create a picture. Stories can be funny or ironic, they can be wise or silly. They have a power to penetrate deeply. Forbidding stories is another way of controlling what people think. I think that has happened in the media space and academic space with Australian history over the past 40 years.

Some stories are not true. Some stories emphasise the darkness and discount the goodness or resilience or domestic bravery of an ordinary life. Some stories paint things in a rosy flowering hue and ignore the toxins dripping from the thorns. Some stories are more about the story teller and reflect on their conspicuous virtues as they emphasise sentimentality and their compassion.

Individuals can have their own internal repetitive stories. Some of those stories need to be acknowledged as unhelpful or even destructive. It becomes obvious in counselling that people carry around a story teller in their own minds. “I’m not good enough, I’ll always fail and life and success belongs to others, but never to me, and nothing will ever change, or I should just put up with this as its my lot"

In life, some story tellers need to be well and truly exited from the workplace of the mind and all access passes and invitations back into the workplace, rescinded for life.

Practical Mental Health Tips

We live in a psychological age with numerous public conversations. Some of it is useful stuff for living. Some of it can be quite narcissistic. Popular psychology via the medium of glossy magazines or newspapers or social media is invariably self orientated and based on the reader being the centre of their own universe. Its glossy psychology has a lot to answer for in relation to how it has encouraged narcissism. Other people or relationships are expendable in the pursuit of ones own self identity. Victimhood and attaching oneself to some category of the marginalised also has currency in this present age.

So many of  those conversations in the public square, are about how we should feel or how we ought to be feeling and thinking. Popular psychology books abound along with a plethora of downloads in the digital space.  I would go as far to say that the last 40 years have been decades of mental health awareness. That movement converges with another generational theme of economic affluence and time rich orientation towards self focussed exploration. Many disappear into their own dark rabbit holes of the mind, without hope of surfacing. At no time does there seem to have been such a widespread vocabulary around ways of looking after yourself as an individual. 

This blog is in two parts. It is in preparation for a short seminar requested on the subject of good mental health in workplace settings.

My knowledge on this subject comes out of a lot of counselling over many years. It comes from clinical reflection and hearing thousands of cases in years past. It comes from clinical supervision where I’ve listened or had conversations with numerous peers around their cases.  It comes from a lot of serious reading and working and writing training packages on behavioural therapy and the various genres of that subject.  My reflections come from listening to clients and trying to understand from them what works and what doesn’t work. It comes from listening to people wiser than myself. This exercise is not meant to be exhaustive. But I intend adding to it as observations come to the fore front. Each of the collected themes will be an eventual blog in itself.

I find myself frustrated with a lot of the material in the Mental Health space,not because it is necessarily misleading, nor has wrong intent. My issue with it is that it cannot be translated into practical actions or real life without sounding rather plastic no matter how well intentioned. Some of it can also be about making the mental health professional the hero or heroine who delivers the hidden knowledge about how to do life well. When some of the material is really the screaming obvious.

This is a beginning.

If you go to a responsible and usually government or non government sponsored mental health site, they will give you some useful life hints about good mental health. Conversely they also step lightly around saying direct or strong things that might upset political sensitivities.

They are worth paying attention to. They inevitably include.

  • Sleeping well and getting enough rest. Getting 7-8 hours in a normal day makes good sense.

  • Eating well and sensibly by consuming lots of veggies fruit and protein. Avoiding carbs and sugars and processed food along with exercise will make a big impact on how you feel about yourself.

  • Being cautious about how much alcohol or non-prescribed medications or illegal drugs you consume.

  • Building strategies around life and coping with your inner life and with relationships with others. Consequently,the sites will talk about relaxation techniques -talking with friends-self talk –relaxation –breathing techniques-not personalising issues –resolving conflicts.

  • Being socially involved and involved with groups or in your community and being kind to others.

  • Being assertive and learning to ask for things or to say NO.

I think that’s a reasonable and basic summary of some of the useful offerings made in the mental health space.

I want to reflect on some collected responses from people I have worked with. And observations I’ve made around the deliberate thoughts and actions and behaviours of those , who seem to have navigated this stormy sea of life wisely.

  • Life is going to be hard and even brutal and we have to accept that. Bad things happen to good people. Worse still, good things can happen to bad people. There is no such thing as karma. To have an expectation that life will be otherwise or that any of us are entitled to an easy ride will put us in a fragile place. Refuse to accept any invitation to be a guest at the offered smorgasbord of victimhood.

  • Paradoxically to see life as nothing but a series of crisis, surrendering to all that happens to us and capitulating to life events is just fatalism. The attitude that adopts a world view of “different day, same crap” is nihilistic and self centred and death seeking. Take responsibility. Choose to act as a grown up. Lift a load in your life.

  • In life and work and with family and friends you need a plan.You cannot just turn up to life or relationships and see what happens next and seek out what feels good and arbirtrarily float along. Life will be wasted and your own mental health will begin to suffer and become loose. If its difficult to make plan or you were never brought up in life to plan or be accountable in some way it might be really useful to consider a mentor or a life coach. Mentors or coaches don’t have to be forever and they can be varied over time and with different backgrounds. As rule of thumb someone who is older than you and has evidence of achievement and of the same gender can be immensely helpful.

  • Be aware that people will treat you the way you allow them to treat you. Don’t make a habit of getting angry or taking offence at everything. On those rare occasions when you need to put some one in their place or draw a line in the sand, refuse to ruminate forever. Get the matter over and done with. When you talk to the person don’t beat about the bush. There is an adage that you should never salute your executioner and always look them in the eye. Translation- don’t smile or joke. Say what needs to be said standing up with a bare economy of words. Move away. If possible move on from the offence. Tomorrow is another day.

  • As far as alcohol is concerned. If it depresses you or makes you angry or has ever compromised your safety or others around you, it might be worth making some personal rules about how much, and under what circumstances. and with who, you will drink.

  • You don’t have to try to be nice or agreeable to everyone you meet. Concentrate on listening and understanding what people are saying rather than being agreeable. Being civil and being polite are different from being nice and being agreeable. Being civil will keep the peace and keep you safe 90 % of the time. Manners and exercising civility is about respecting others and having integrity yourself. Others lack of manners or civility are other peoples issues, not yours.

  • We live in a fragmented postmodern world with pluralistic belief systems. The broad cultural consensus in Australia is believe everything as someone else’s truth. In the same breath, it is believed that nothing can be accepted as absolute truth. I like the saying “if you stand for nothing – you will fall for anything”. Holding a position and knowing why you hold it is important to your mental health. It means you won’t be tossed around by every new idea or thought bubble that comes your way with the intention of capturing your thinking and re-orientating your life.

  • Never make decisions or choices or part with cash or your income or relationships in a time of crisis. Never make big decisions or choices when your angry or ill or overly happy or sad. It is far better to reply with silence. Step away. Get safe. Settle your thoughts with people you can trust. Return to the matter with a clear plan and head.

  • Family and friendships really matter. Choosing to invest time and maintain friendships is important. Family keep us on track. Friends can tell us when we have acted foolishly or are about to act against our best interests.. In the mental health space they also keep us sane. Aristotle talked about friends of virtue. These friends he says, want our good and whats truthful in our lives. He says they're the best type of friends. They are the friends who bat for us and want our best.

  • Don’t live life as if its an emergency. Be aware of the language that others use around you urging you to believe that some life event or situation is dramatic or life changing. We all need thinking time and time to sort things. Its never a wise thing to rely or trust your emotions alone. Feelings are important. None of us are robots. They should not be discounted. However emotions are always the trailer attached to the vehicle. Emotions are secondary in making good decisions . The vehicle, drives the trailer. Its not the other way around. A lot of life is about reasonable reorientation following disorientation. Our social media and news provokes the view that life has to be about deconstruction and reconstruction.

  • Imagination and what you dwell on becomes part of your reality. Imaginary dialogues in our heads with imaginary audiences from the past or the future might be the stuff of avoidance and anger and time wasting. But it will paralyse action and create fears about the future and it will distort relationships in the present. Such exercises will consume time and will make you poor. Don’t waste head time plotting or scheming to have vengeance on your enemies. If you must have retribution, your success is the best form of vindication. Wasting your time with revenge or phantasies does not serve you or those you care about.

  • Avoid the company of the perpetually angry and the violent and the dishonest and the addicted. No matter how sophisticated or articulate or well presented they are. Keep away from them and their social company. Your time matters along with your families and friends. The company you keep and the people you mix with does have an affect on your behaviour and outcomes. The loud voices around us can influence values and how we orientate to the world.

  • We need to act our age and accept that our age gives experience and knowledge and it requires us to behave according to life’s time clock.. Acting our age and being appropriate to our age will save us a lot of grief and shame. There is something utterly undignified and embarrassing about men or women speaking or behaving 20 or 30 years younger than what they are chronologically. 40 is not the new 30. And never will be. Despite media presentations and sales and marketing pitches you are the age you are. If your 50 or 60 you are going to be medically and biologically older than a 20 year old. Grow up and seriously consider a response that is age appropriate and mature. Younger people should be the recipients of wisdom and experience - not manipulation.

  • Refuse to be any bodies slave or to be a slave to money or the workplace. Historically we don’t like the word servant. Servants are different from slaves. Servants traditionally had rank and honour and dignity. They were not hirelings or slaves. The paradox is that if you treat the workplace like you own it , you will do very well. In your service at work attempt to be the best you can be. Have an attitude which is enterprising and aspirational in what ever you do. Just don’t turn up. If you don’t fit, despite giving your best, give the workplace 2 silent warnings. Plan your exit, and go.

  • Loneliness is associated with boredom. And boredom is an expectation and belief that I am entitled to be entertained by life and be continually happy. Loneliness puts people in very emotionally vulnerable spaces where they can make dangerous decisions to be entertained or seek some sense of release from the boredom outside their established boundaries of common sense. Under stimulation and repetition are the mechanics of boredom. A loss of passion and engagement in life. Boredom is a post modern phenomena despite us being able to be electronically entertained continually. Loneliness is fed by self rumination and a subtle cutting off from being concerned about others. Loneliness is life without a plan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panic Attacks

A panic attack can be a very scary experience where you have an episode of feeling overwhelmed by fear or anxiety. It is a very uncomfortable place to be in and what is experienced is a combination of mental and physical symptoms.

People will experience an intense apprehension or fear despite their circumstances being quite ordinary. People feel and become aware of their heart rate rising. They might experience sweating, trembling or shaking. Chest pain and shoulder and arm pain seems to duplicate signs of heart attack. Feeling like vomiting or the need to go to the toilet or just a sense of being in an unreal out of body state like de’juvu, are all physical and mental signs of a panic attack.

These symptoms can last up to 10 minutes. They can last for as little as seconds or a couple of minutes or 30 or 60 minutes.  Sometimes they move like waves through a day coming and going. The waves of panic also move with varying degrees of intensity and different physical symptoms.

Some of the problems with panic attacks is that it makes people believe that they are really odd or strange or going insane. This is certainly not the case and statistically 1 in 5 people will have an experience of a panic attack in their lives. If anything, it means a lot of people are keeping very quiet about it!

Another problem with Panic attacks is that people can also get into avoiding ordinary every day events out of a fear of having a public panic attack. They avoid going out or even being in the company of people.

In talking with some people about their experience of panic attacks they will sometimes mention spending time thinking on their inadequacies and comparing themselves to particular people or groups of people. Other people will talk about the high or idealistic or romantic notions that they have invested in some person or social event or place or ceremony. The theme of avoidance and escape into fantasy can also be part of those conversations when discussing precursors to panic attacks in counselling. Fear is the engine room of panic attacks. I remember growing up and if you were on your push bike you could invariable hear the sound of an approaching car because its engine was distinct and loud. Car engines have become so sophisticated now and muffling systems so tuned that pedestrians or cyclists have to be doubly cautious, because the warning noises are hard to detect. Panic attacks are a bit like that as well. They come quickly and without apparent signs or warning. Detecting and hearing the fear from a distance and naming the dimensions of it also goes along way in dealing effectively with panic attack and anxiety.

What are some useful strategies in dealing with Panic attacks?

Very useful to talk with someone who understands and does not view your panic attack as strange or that you need to snap out of it.

Remind yourself that the attack is only temporary. Some people have found distraction and doing something that is reassuring really helpful. Watching some mindless television, listening to the radio, internet surfing (just avoid Googling up Panic attacks or heart attacks) In fact anything that is distracting. Distraction works because the subject material producing the anxiety is focused away from the thoughts and physical sensations.

Some people find it useful to restructure their thinking by writing or just thinking through the evidence as to why they should be so panicked. This process invites people to ask the question, what am I really in danger from? What catastrophe am I really facing? What is the worst possible thing that is going to happen to me?

Relaxing or learning to relax is a lost art in our busy world and sometimes needs to be relearnt or even taught for the first time. Relaxation has three methods that seem to produce some relief from the demanding thoughts and dynamic effect of panic attacks. They include progressive muscle relaxation, controlled breathing and imagery.

I have already mentioned the potency of avoidance which can generate panic attacks. Mental avoidance of tasks or conversations or matters that cannot be put off are a universal culprit in panic attacks and I think a lot of mental health issues.

Memory and Remembrance

Memory and the remembrance of things past is a unique capacity that humans share. We can be dismissive of memory because we are overly familiar with it. The extraordinary capacity we have as humans to remember our past or remember the narrated stories of our lives is extraordinary. Memory is an incredible resource which colours the blank canvas of our lives as we age. Memory has a practical purpose as well. Its about having a useful and available library in our heads so we will avoid the things that harm us or cause us pain. There are however problems with using or misusing memory.

We may neglect our memories. We can be so busy and focused on the future or the present that we pay no attention to the past or to our memories. That is to say, there is no reflection what so ever on ones own past, either its mistakes or its achievements or others behaviours whether good or bad. This can come out of pure laziness. It can also flow from a view that the past and its memories have no relevance.

The other problem with memory is that people can over use it. They are forever in the library. They never leave. Its unhealthy. Their thoughts are never in the present or planning for future events but concreted into the memories of the past. A continual recycling of the same dark memory or series of images and stories and events occurs time after time. The regurgitation of failures and select, past conversations can lead to the procrastination and hopelessness and subtle despair that leads to mental paralysis or surrender to fantasy. As benign as that sounds, it can lock people into a barbed wired entrapment for years.

Suisse Post

Switzerland for the most part fits the delivered stereotype. Its pretty, orderly, Alpine and everything seems to function purposefully. Its hard to put your finger on the Swiss, but everywhere there is evidence of a purposefulness and order. The streets, the flowerpots, the service in the shops and supermarkets. The affable soldiers travelling on trains with their assault rifles. The Helicopter gunships that have hovered near my campus have a purpose, but it presumably has nothing to do with us. The bus that takes me down or up the mountain to Campus runs on time to the precise minute. The F16 jet Fighter may be the same one I see most visits. I feel for the pilot. He takes off, kicks it into some acceleration module then must slow down and turn the plane around for another north south or south north sprint across the length of Suisse. He must count off the years before he can go off and work for Swissair. Or perhaps he is already flying for them, and its his 4 weeks of military service.

A friend of mine, says of Suisse, its Germany, with class. I go further, its Germany with guns.

This is my 5th visit to Switzerland in 9 years. Things are changing. The young gangs of African refugees looking like American rappers are new. The number of aimless unemployed is more noticeable. The trains are still spotless, but the railway station sidings have graffiti now. The quarries chiseling into the beautiful countryside are expanding between Aigle and Lausanne as are the factories that pump out something or other that can drift across into the French Alps if the wind blows south. Why they built a hideous factory on the side of the Alpine mountain is any bodies guess.  

When I first visited a decade ago, I would get off the train from France at Berne or Genève. There was no customs or police checks.  There was a wooden box where you had to fill in a card about your stay and purpose. I remember not being able to find any paperwork on one occasion and on another I was catching a connecting train to Lausanne and just didn’t bother. Now its more stringent. Customs with black pistols and computer pads get on the trains and request your passport. Like all officials with pads and especially pistols, they canseem to like their job a little too much.

Unlike the Germans, where it is best not to mention the war, with the Swiss, it is best not to mention neutrality. Neutrality meant that while everyone beat the living daylights out of everyone else the Swiss were able, for some 500 years, to make the best of geopolitics around them, stay in their geographic fortress and make the most of neighboring chaos and mayhem. To be perfectly blunt it was a choice of manufacturing and finance or join in the brutality. They chose the former. Now of course their national conscience is up for dissection as some Swiss ponder if too much gain was made at the cost of playing the neutral observer. The Swiss, from my observation, are also reexamining themselves in a global context rather than the safety of historical isolation. The national change appears to be imposed on them externally and with a haste that is somehow not their conventional transition speed.

  

 

Windows and Doors

I occasionally reflect on doors and windows and gates. Not an obsession about checking to see if they are locked and secured 27 times you understand. Its what they represent as a picture or illustration in common expression or anecdote. When you visit old places in England or Europe the height of the doors and physical doorways stands out as does the placement of windows. I also noticed in these long-abandoned ruins or castles as well that you had to bend down to get through the doors. The windows were a witness perhaps to the best upshot of the industrial revolution. No longer closet hovels but an invitation for the outside world to be observed and a place to let light in. The German theme of the Torschlusspanik, the terror at the closing of the gate was there in the old towns. It derives from the horror in Medieval towns when you found the gates of the town locked at curfew and you were outside the safety of the keep. You faced the potential harm of wolves and brigands and violence. And no way of entering or pleading for entry as the gate was shut without negotiation.

The builder is here. Replacing a door. The new door is solid. Like things that are meant to be protective. It conveys a sense of privacy and maintains an inside space from the outside world. Its a proper solid door. It takes time to hang. There are technical difficulties to hanging doors. You have to make sure it maintains privacy and security and discretion. The door is like the new windows he is installing. Doors and Windows are functional. They have  a job to do.  

I mention these things not as an excursion into home maintenance. It brings me to reflect on the analogy of doors and windows that occurs in counselling.

I reflect that some people can have all the doors and windows of their personal house totally bolted. Double deadlocked and curtained. No one is meant to come in. And no one is meant to observe the other side or the inside of their lives. You keep community and others out.  Fear and open defiance and even loathing might lurk within the doors and windows and gates. There is no invitation to the outside world or the people in it.  And there is no entry and the closedness is simply more than just prudent discretion. Suspicion and withdrawal and cynicism to the outer world and a shutting out is part of the imagery such people project. They appear in counselling often as conscripts,brought by a spouse or partner at the end of their rope with them. Or they appear by themselves and have an expectation that you will work hard to decipher the reason for their attendance. They are prickly and defiant and dying through lack of sunlight.

At the other end are those who seem to inhabit houses with no windows and no doors. Or perhaps I should say the doors and windows are wide open for all and sundry to enter.  Their house is open to the street and to the neighbourhood. There are no constraints. There is a blindness to their vulnerability and even to issues of their own health and mental safety. They make themselves and their families vulnerable by never imposing limits on who or how or what people may say to them or demand of them. They have little care for the impact on themselves or the capacity to say No or disagree or hold a contrary opinion. They are unable to say, thus far but no further. Others may choose to enter via the door front or back at will and others who should enter by the door simply climb in via the windows. Wide open to the house. Entering or exiting at will. They are there for other people in a naïve and unconstrained or even sentimental way. They have no borders nor boundaries. They see it as heroic to live that way.  The harsh and takers and violent seem to smell where those unguarded houses and their occupants dwell time and again.

Doors and windows and gates are there for a reason literally and metaphorically.  They provide boundaries and they are there to operate and make choices about when and how and under what conditions people come into your space and how you will choose to deal with them. Your “house” is your own. Its not healthy as a bunker nor is it a healthy space when it has totally fluid borders.

 

 

Trauma and Critical Episodes

What is a trauma or critical episode?

It can be any number of incidents that involve the loss of life or a near miss that could have involved death or serious injury. More specifically a critical incident might be a death or suicide or assault in a workplace. Or it might be a serious accident in a workplace which results in serious injuries for one or numerous people. An accident offsite or in its proximity affecting  family members or workers. It might include violent or very threatening behavior on a site such as a robbery. It could be a catastrophic industrial implosion or explosion. All might be considered to have an affect on people psychologically.

The time after a critical episode.

Critical episodes can be distinct and contained in a small discrete geography which affects the people directly exposed to the immediate circumstances of a trauma such as a armed robbery. On other occasions a trauma might involve a very public and significant number of people witnessing it or hearing about it or being on site and vicinity when it happens. For example a fatal plane crash.

If you or workmates or family members have been involved, or have witnessed or been in the vicinity of a traumatic event, it will bring about dislocation and disruption to your life in some shape or way. Being involved in a critical incident or trauma will affect people in their thinking, their emotions, their behavior and their physical health. At the time and the time after the trauma people can experience a spectrum of thoughts and emotions. There can be a sense of relief, guilt, numbness, regret, agitation or fear. The range of thoughts and feelings can be jumbled together or experienced like a rollercoaster ride. Trauma  is real in our lives and initially people can experience I sense of being emotionally and psychologically “all over the place” This is not uncommon and does not mean people are losing their minds.

 Some of the responses to trauma.

People react to grief and loss in different ways depending on their personalities and characteristics. With trauma it is very similar and the invasion of the unexpected into an otherwise predictable world sets the thinking and feeling world of individuals on its head. It should be noted there are no set rules of timeframes or measured and timed rules about what or when people should be feeling or recovering or not crying or feeling OK again. People who have gone through trauma are on a journey. They are  making sense and responding to the thoughts and feelings or images of life threatening events. Another way I put it is to say that the past present and future become tangled up all at once. With time and space and reassurance things will return to normal. The severity and the proximity and the relationship with the trauma and who was involved and its effect on immediate loved ones or friends or workmates are all factors in dealing with trauma and moving into a recovery from the trauma or critical incident. Individuals react to stress and anxiety differently. Some people have friends to talk with others have limited contacts or networks or families to reach out to.

Some specific responses to trauma.

  • Confusion and disbelief that the trauma has happened at all. Some people report feeling physically numb or initially being in a dream like state.
  • Disbelief and denial and an ongoing thought, that this awful thing, could not have occurred.
  • People will feel overcome with emotion and cry or they can display great resentment or anger and want to blame someone for the episode.
  • Guilt at surviving a critical episode or avoiding an accident where others were harmed.
  • Self examination and blaming and questioning ones own culpability in the episode.
  • “I could have, I should have, why didn’t I,”.
  • Sadness and feeling isolated or hopeless in the circumstances.
  • Feeling the trauma physically by having intrusive thoughts or failing to sleep or being hyper sensitive or overly vigilant.

What is important is that like many episodes in life  things can over time return to safe normal. The trauma however is part of the make up and bruising memory of an individual or group. However the severity and the proximity and psychological and emotional impact of any traumatic event and the make up of the person taking it in will be a major factor in peoples response.  

Also the dynamics of the trauma and who was involved and its effect on immediate loved ones or friends or workmates are all factors in dealing with trauma and moving into a recovery from the  critical incident.

Individuals react to stress and anxiety differently. Some people have friends to talk with others have limited contacts or networks or families to reach out to. Some are involved in systems or sub cultures where trauma or experience of it is perpetuated and sustained for political or social reasons which serves no individual who wants the matter finished or out of their life. Other times horrific things happen and there is never an easy exit in the short term.           

images and their power

Perfectionism is a hidden obsession in life and the workplace.

We carry in our minds many internal images. Images are powerful in and of themselves. Images are dynamic and powerful in our thoughts. They can be of events or people or conversations from our lived experience. They can be vicarious events lived through others stories. They have the capacity to comfort or instruct or gain joy in remembrance or just make sense of new situations because somehow, we have gone through an experience similar.  They also have the capacity to metastasize and poison and provoke anxiety or paralysis. 

In counselling, you know people carry images around for decades. Stuff that should have been dropped years ago. Or images that are replayed and feeds the imagination that does no one any good nor can redeem the past.  They are triggered especially during times of anxiety or flatness. The images can also hover like a sore tooth, just enough to remind its subject when people think its disappeared.  Sometimes people cannot say what triggered them. Sometimes they are not sure if the images came first then triggered behaviours and feelings or if circumstances triggered the images. The images are at peoples waking and give them vicious company when they should be asleep or near them in their everyday work or conversations. Constantly replayed. They are very strong. We should always be aware of that and the impact and currency in our thinking and behavior of images.  Its always good to have some strategies to deal with them as well.

At another but related level, as constant consumers we are also invited to feast on images and narratives that feed imagination, in diverse forms. Magazines and electronic media promote the perfect look. The perfect body. The perfect holiday. They write narratives about the perfect relationship with the perfect job. Popular psychology abounds everywhere, money and time expended on the perfect relationship or perfect balance of intellectual and behavioral performance. Be assured, unattainable tripe ultimately and a waste of money. Humans are human and not impersonal machines. Media promotes a whole range of other perfections as well. The high-performance engine of a car the powerful elegance of a hotel or even the perfectionism of cuisine. Lest we are bored by this all, is accompanied by perfect technology, in some form or other.

Some people offer no resistance. They may even boast of being perfectionist, as if it’s a badge of accomplishment or that it might be an employable trait worth investing in. Therapeutically, you might as well tell me you have contracted an aggressive Tapeworm. I won’t be congratulating you, I’ll offer my sympathy and an invitation to do something therapeutic and medical about it.

Interestingly, very few, have, over the years, boasted of being perfect or having achieved it. The occasional immortal does creep through into that category. On their way to the perfect mental health facility, in my observation.

Media and life generally sells on a smorgasbord of enticements. We are surrounded by them.  If you look through the magazines in the glossy pages or movies or commercials, smiling or pouting or sternly staring back at us, you will find the well turned out models. They are of course, what is suggested we ought to aspire to. Its tied up with the subject of what is constructed for us as heroic or beautiful or something to be aspired to. But always unreachable and just beyond our grasp.

 

Loneliness

 

Loneliness is nothing new. Verbalization of it, particularly in counselling, over the past decades is. I hear it talked about directly or obliquely in counselling more often. Common sense suggests the topic has always been there in some form. Perhaps there is less inhibition about talking about it. Perhaps social demographics and disintegration of families make it a stronger social reality and it has wider currency and plausibility as an issue. Perhaps its symptomatic of geographic and social mobility. Perhaps in sociological terms it’s a post-modern condition. In a life where all authority and structures are uncertain, relationships are the one feature that promises permanency and predictability. Loneliness encapsulates the essence of the loss of both these features.

I notice that people across age groups allude to it or voice their fear of being lonely. Old and young people facing the reality of a relationship or marriage collapsing. Individuals cemented in relationships, staying because the fear of loneliness, is greater than the pain of staying. Individuals making dangerous decisions and being manacled impatiently to incompatible strangers because they fear loneliness. Decisions made to be single mothers to virtually unknown or unknowable donors. For fear of loneliness. People being conned for large amounts of money in lonely heart scams.

Social media emphasizes the world-wide connectivity of people. On the other hand, it leaves people totally barren and alone in terms of real relationships. You can be befriended on a screen with total strangers. You can be befriended by people just collecting the largest list of followers. Facebook loneliness is avoided by forever being vigilant to promoting yourself and tapping away in the pursuit of your own news coverage.

Virtual relationships seem to offer the hope of real face to face relationship. At its worst it leaves people suspended and fantasizing about unreal possibilities and futures. Social media is a virtual world. The translation of that is that it is not real. Its a fantasy world. People will even believe the lies and fantasy because it offers some escape from the present.

Impatience goes with loneliness. We want and demand to be fulfilled now. We must not be bored for that is the new Millennial sin. That is our 21st Century expectation. Its our new Millennial entitlement. We want to have friendship and relationship instantly. We want the entertainment and stimulation and recognition now. Friendship and relationship doesn’t occur with the ticking of a Like box on a screen or a meme. Friendship and relationship doesn’t occur instantly, and we can’t buy it or subscribe to it or down load it.