Taking control in Limboland

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IMG00230-20120325-1122There’s been a lot of talk recently about ‘taking control’. Teresa May wants to give us ‘more control over our lives.’ Brexiters talk about wanting to ‘get back control’ of the Country.  I don’t really know what any of this actually means in practice.  At the moment I feel like many people – waiting to see how things turn out. I feel as if we’ve all moved into Limboland for a while.

Of course we can’t ever really have control over our Country or even every aspect of our lives – we always live in a certain state of limbo. Sometimes things happen that we as individuals can’t do anything about other than accept or question – be it the economy, our health, our travel plans, our jobs etc…. Sometimes we do have to wait things out and live for a while in Limbo. 

I think limbo is a really interesting concept and a very real state of being. Recently I wrote about the importance of resilience, and living in limbo certainly requires resilience.  I find that arriving in Limboland gets harder to accept with age – I don’t have time to loll around in Limboland doing nothing!  Time is passing, I need to get out of limbo and do things (which things I still haven’t quite figured out).  

But the very essence of Limboland is that it will release you when it’s good and ready, how long you spend there is not something you can always control. You just have to be vigilant about keeping an open mind for the exit door.  So my advice about coping with the limbo situation –

Figure out first if you really are in limbo and all exits are locked or if you are sticking your head in the sand and failing to see the door that’s been opened a crack.

 A) If it’s lock down – then go with it, see it as a natural break in the madness of life, explore it, regroup, let time work it’s magic and save your energies for the next opportunity to move on, up and out. Sometimes we may be here for a short stay and sometimes a long one – just keep one eye on the door.

B) Sticking you head in the sand? Why, what’s scaring you? Do you need a change? Some help or guidance? A map or plan to help you negotiate your way out of the land of limbo?

Understanding which category you fall into each time can be a lifelong challenge, the land changes all the time, but hopefully recognising Limbo as a real place can help.  It’s ok to land here, you may need help to get off, and a revisit is highly likely.

Keeping plan B in the back pocket

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Plan B

So after the Referendum we appear to be in a state of turmoil – living with a public decision that was unexpected. We didn’t expect the reactions, regrets, backlash – It feels like there was no plan B in place and we’re just reeling with the punches trying to accept that the unexpected is real.

It’s now all about the Plan B.

Why is it that we are so often unhinged by the unexpected?  I know I’ve been guilty in the past of thinking that ‘things’ happen to other people.  It’s taken my middle years to realise that in fact ‘things’ happen to you and people you know – good things, bad things, unexpected things. Things don’t always go as planned, life, jobs, politics, diets, exams, relationships, death, life.

I also know that clouds don’t always have silver linings and that we don’t always learn from our mistakes and every set back is not a journey to self discovery. Sometimes life is just difficult, untenable at times and plan sailing at others. We do sometimes regret the things we didn’t do, but we also sometimes regret the things we did.  It’s life Jim – but not as we know it – or often want it to be.

I don’t think that’s being pessimistic and it’s not dreading what’s around the corner, it’s being realistic. I came across this emotional compass circle during a short course on existential theory in counselling by the rather wonderful Emmy Van Deurzen.

 Emotional compass

The idea that each emotion has an opposite and throughout the course of our lives we go around and around this circle of emotions. We all hope to remain in happiness at the top forever, but that’s not real and we are constantly working our way around at different times and different speeds, going between emotions in the space of minutes, days or sometimes being stuck in one part for years. This is completely natural, we can’t have one feeling without the other.

We can prepare for our plan B (and C, D …)  by recognising the importance of coping, of resilience and understanding . I’m a big fan of resilience. Some people have it in truck loads, some of us need to hone our resilience and some of us need to learn it from scratch.  It’s not a natural characteristic – we are so often hidden from bad news or taught to expect the best and not be negative – ‘think positive and all will be well!’  But thinking positive isn’t always helpful, if life is shit then we have to cope, survive and be in the moment, not try and dismiss our feelings or turn them into something else.  

Living with adversity and building resilience should be on the core curriculum. It’s not just about our own individual coping mechanisms but also about recognising when we need to ask for the support of friends, family or professionals – resilience is a family and community essential too  – often better together.

 Emmy van deurzen

Distraction – the good, the bad and the necessary

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Distraction

I’ve been thinking about the power of distraction a lot lately – not the everyday type of distraction (the ‘ I need to distract myself in case I eat that cake’ type of distraction) – I mean the type of distraction that takes you off course for a long while.   At the moment I’m feeling distracted because work has been slow and I’ve been trying to fill my time – I’ve fallen into the trap of pure distraction, flitting from one thing to another (usually email and social media) in a bid to be and feel busy.  I’ve started to see that this type of distraction could easily just be another term for procrastination, it’s pretty much the same only instead of doing nothing I’m doing lots of something that leads to nothing.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that distraction is really really tiring, It’s like being on edge all the time. The constant flitting from one thing to another means that I find it hard to concentrate for any length of time on anything, I’m tired, my brain is tired, it’s a flitting brain that needs to stop.

However there is another side of this longer term distraction – where it works to keep us safe. I’ve had a couple of counselling clients recently who have been very distracted – both facing a bereavement and yet both finding so many other things to do and talk about – rather than thinking or talking about the deeper stuff.  At first I found this frustrating, like we weren’t getting anywhere, but of course this is a core part of their coping, of surviving and physically being able to function. This has become a valuable and necessary use of distraction.

There is a time where distraction stops working, where the bigger picture takes over and we need to face up to what is and isn’t working anymore – the rock bottom of distraction.  I don’t know how or when this happens – whether it’s self realisation or life just gets better again.  The only thing I do know is that recognising the signs of long term distraction and asking why this is happening – is a very good question and a very difficult one to answer.

How to be ordinary and interesting

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dreamstime_s_30878063I will admit to feeling rather laid back this month, I think in a good way. I’ve curbed my reflective – ‘what is the meaning of life’ thoughts and just got on with stuff. Nothing ground breaking but just getting on with stuff has been good. Of course it’s not quite enough just to get on with stuff because I’m starting to think about the stuff I’ve been getting on with and if it’s been worthy or useful or interesting.  And that’s where I’m currently at – what makes the stuff we do interesting – to us or to anyone else? 

One of the questions I find very hard to answer is when someone asks me what I’ve been up to?  I go blank and my inner voice starts to panic – what have I done that is interesting enough to share?  I have this fear of being the boring old woman who goes on and on about her stuff and that the stuff isn’t interesting enough to go on about.   

This dilemma is a strange one in a way because I do generally find people’s day to day lives rather interesting. As a researcher I am always asking other people to talk about their thoughts and ideas and I usually find them all very interesting.  The same in my counselling – I hear about all sorts of lives and each one is intriguing and interesting.  And to be fair most aren’t much different from mine or anyone else’s – just ordinary lives.

So this month I’m trying to accept the ordinary, embrace the ordinary and try and figure out the interest in my own ordinary life. I think perhaps my reflective period has dampened my ability to be in the here and now and embrace the ordinary because I’m too busy thinking about all the big and momentous things I should be doing (and googling famous successful people).

Some people keep gratitude diaries to remind themselves of what they have to be grateful for each day.  It’s a lovely sentiment but it just feels a bit too reflective rather than proactive for me.  So I’m thinking that an ‘I am interesting diary’ might be more practical and helpful.  Writing down 3 things each day that I’ve either done, seen, read or heard that are interesting. I don’t know if it will make me realise that I do actually do stuff that is interesting, make me take more interest in things or help me in my own conversational skills about my life. So if you see me and ask me what I’ve been up to I aim to be more prepared to answer and wow you with my ordinary life. 

……PS. I am slightly panicking about needing to find 3 things – maybe I’ll start with just one…

January ladder climbing

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Pier sunset jan 2016So January and the media is full of new year, new you, how to be fitter, more successful, reach your goals, be happier, drink less (or not at all) etc. etc.  It’s quite exhausting and after my strivings of 2015 I’m ignoring all of it – apart from the happy bit – that’s always good to aim for.  So how do I start climbing those ladders.  Well according to a 75 year old Harvard study it’s all about being socially connected and having good relationships.  If that is all you do, you’ll be happier and healthier than most.  Check out the TED talk by Robert Waldinger. It’s an amazing study that followed 700 men from their 20’s through to their 90’s. Of the original 700, 60 are still actively engaged in the study.

This is backed up by Dr McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation who credits being social and interconnected as top tips for health and happiness.  Other things to strive for include being connected with nature, having things to look forward to and doing nice things for others.

I reckon all of that is very possible and more than enough. 

 Last January I tried taking a picture outside each day, looking back at these I realise how beneficial that was to my mood.  The difference this January I think is in the mindset, that sometimes just having these moments each day is enough. One of these photos came up on Facebook today – ‘Sharing a memory of one year ago’ –  It was a lovely photo of the beach at sunset with my dog Arnie who died in May 2015.  I’ve taken another one today – same beach, sunset and with my puppy Monty.  New year, new motivations, less striving, just being, happy photo.  It’s a rung up a ladder.

NYE and Snakes and Ladders

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snakes and ladders

So 2016 awaits.  I tend to find NYE a bit scary, I worry about the year ahead.  I feel a bit differently this year as 2015 wasn’t great and I do really want to be more optimistic about this next one.  The old game of snakes and ladders came to mind today when I was driving thinking about nothing in particular.  I reckon the person who invented that was quite the philosopher because life really is like that.  Hoping for ‘the best year ever’ seems rather naïve to me now, no year can be completely free from the snakes, we just hope for a few more ladders to be thrown in at the right time.  So I hope for more ladders, or maybe to be better at spotting the ladders to climb up.

When I think back to my posts of last year, I seem to have done an awful lot of reflecting on life and whilst I’m a great believer in reflection, I think there is also a time to think less, and for me that time is now.  I will admit to being quite low for a lot of this year and whilst the reflections helped it’s time to try and move past the reflective stage and get on with things.

So I’m not intending to change the world in 2016.  I’m going to try not to be too hard on myself or spend too much time trying to figure out the meaning of life.   I haven’t figured out my potential changes for 2016 but I will do and they will be active, fun and new – new stuff is good, very good. Bring in the new.

So I drink a toast to ladders in 2016.

Scaffolding and the circle of life

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Scaffolding

I walked past this building the other day as I do most days.  It used to be a big old house before the developers knocked it down to rebuild it into something else. Somewhere along the way the renovation has stopped and it’s been left in mid build.  As I walked past I thought – that’s what I feel like, a bit empty and in need of a rebuild yet held together by support.

I read a couple of blogs recently that resonated with this.  The first was about films being a good illustration of how life often emerges from the middle. We see an opening scene that starts at some point in a character’s life, often we begin in their middle and we go from there full of anticipation about what we are going to find out. It doesn’t matter where they started because we are engaging with them wherever they are now.

The second was about pressing the reboot button like you do on a computer, just a soft reboot to make small changes where things are no longer working for you.  It doesn’t have to be major, just a few adjustments, keeping the core functionality in place.

I like both of these ideas they strike me as an easy and engaging way to think about how we can choose to do things differently or change, even in really small ways.

I think when you get to middle age things naturally start changing around you, you can’t stop it and you have to adapt.  You lose people, age gaps become a little more apparent, priorities start to shift, time starts to race. I see this building as a representation of this – a down to earth gritty reality of the circle of life without the Disney sentimentality.  The emptiness that happens due to the losses and changes and the need to rebuild, reboot and adapt to these losses and changes. Sometimes the adaptations may need to be significant and sometimes tiny, but either way you have to keep developing and adapting to remain relevant, engaged and living.  With any luck the scaffolding you surround yourself with will keep everything solid enough to get through these changes and provide the confidence to reboot or restart your film.

It can feel like a long process, every time I walk past this building now it makes me question how far I’ve come in my own adjustments since I walked past it last time.  Sometimes I feel stuck and empty, other times I feel like I’ve secured a new brick or two and sometimes I think I could even take down some of the scaffolding. If this building ever gets finished I wonder what it will look like and how far I’ve got.

ps – the blog Raptitude.com is worth a read.