Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all of my page followers.

As we leave 2017 behind are there things that you would like to let go of?

Do you have any resolutions, or goals for 2018?

I have been in quite a contemplative space today, it has been a challenging year and I have got some big plans and new job opportunities ahead for me in 2018. As well as more jaw surgeries to look forward to!

When you want some space to think things through, what do you do?

Walking by my local lake is a favourite thinking spot for me and I try to walk most days, even if I am really busy and can only manage 20-30 minutes. Here is how the lake was looking today. Fabulous looking sky and memorising ripples in the water.

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Poetry and quotes can be really useful prompts to contemplation as well. 

Here are some nice Rumi quotes that I’ve been looking at today, do you have a favourite?

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Love and best wishes for 2018, whatever it brings to you.

Mary

Self-Care

Self-Care

What is self-care and why is it important?

 

I am really interested to find out today what you know about self-care and why this might be important for you and your well-being?

As a trainee Counsellor we are taught that self-care is essential for us in the counselling profession. It is written into the ethical framework of good counselling practice, as published by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP for short!).

Basically as a Counsellor it is essential to balance both work with clients and home life, in order to maintain the optimum health and well-being of the Counsellor. So that as a Counsellor we can be fully present with and of most help to our clients during sessions. As the picture above says, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”.

I would say that this way of working is essential to everyone, balancing your own needs, both physical and mental, with the obligations of your own working life, or other roles that you may have in life, such as parenthood. So that you can maintain yourself in optimum health and well-being and avoid ‘burn out’, due to prolonged stress and exhaustion.

As a person with chronic pain, or other long-term health condition, if you can look after yourself through self-care, in my experience this will help to turn down the volume of your pain (or other symptoms). By turning down the volume of your pain through self-care activities, the pain becomes more of a background noise, rather than the pain taking the driving seat and taking over control of your body and your life.

I did a presentation on self-care at college and a really helpful resource that I came across when preparing my presentation was the self-care wheel.

I have included two different versions of the self-care wheel, as follows:

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The self-care wheels split up different areas of your life that you might want to look at and offers suggestions on ways that you can cultivate more of the different areas in your life, in order to find more of a balance.

So, if you wish to you could look at one area of the wheel over a period of time, maybe a month (or more) and have a go at some of the activities mentioned. For example, if you were looking to work on the spiritual side of yourself you could potentially go outside into nature, take a yoga class, meditate, or volunteer for a local charity, or cause that is close to your heart. Have fun with it and see what happens…

If you wanted to work on your psychological health, you might decide to find a counsellor, or mentor to work with. You could read a self-help book, journal about what is on your mind, or take up drawing, or painting. All very helpful ways to work with exploring your emotions.

Here are some ways that I have been working with self-care over the last couple of days:

1. Mindful colouring and drawing.

I find both of these activities really helpful to relax and unwind.

With mindful colouring you can pick up adult colouring books virtually anywhere and they are not too expensive. You can use coloured pencils, or felt pens, again these don’t have to be too expensive either. Then if you have a spare 10-20 minutes per day it is an easy way to care for yourself.

2. Meditation

As I mentioned on a previous post, I have the Mindfulness for Health audio book on my phone and tend to listen to the meditations from the Mindfulness for Health course from my phone, either in bed, or when I am out and about. The meditations are only 10 minutes long, so I find they quite easily fit into my day.

If you are after different, or slightly longer versions of the meditations from Breathworks they are also freely available on Sound cloud, or You Tube.

Another source of meditations that I highly recommend if you have a Smart phone, is the Calm app:

It costs something like £3 for the year and they have a number of different meditation programs to follow, for things like sleep, managing stress, managing anxiety, 7 days of happiness, 7 days of gratitude, 7 days of self-esteem, loving kindness etc… Also if you have trouble sleeping they also have a section of sleep stories. I have found these to be really helpful at times when I have trouble sleeping.

 

Have fun with looking at self-care and what this might look like and feel like for you in your life.

Best wishes,

Mary 🙂

How do you manage on a bad pain (flare) day?

What are your strategies for managing a bad pain (flare) day?

 

 

 

So you may be thinking well my pain is bad all of the time anyway, however a pain flare up is a dramatic increase in a person’s level of pain that occurs suddenly.

Pain flares (also known as breakthrough pain) aren’t a new pain, but an increase of an already existing pain. Flare-ups are highly subjective to the individual person. Some people may have a pain flare up that lasts for a few minutes or hours, while others can have flares that last for days or even weeks at a time.

Sometimes a pain flare up may be triggered by an injury, or by stress. Other causes of a pain flare up may include every day activities, such as working, or exercise.

Frequent pain flare ups can be debilitating, potentially stopping you from being able to engage with your life, it may stop you being able to look after the kids, stop you from working, stop you from being able to do the housework, study, the list is endless…

So how can you manage?

My number one recommendation is personal counselling and mindfulness meditation 😉

Regularly taking your medication as prescribed by your GP, or Hospital Consultant is important in managing symptoms of pain.

I would also like to look at some self-management strategies that I have used for my pain, that may be helpful for you too…

1. Rest

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If you are able to, my number one suggestion is pacing of daily activities and rest.

The best present I’ve ever received and one that revolutionised my pain management is a heated blanket that I have on my bed. Even half an hour resting in bed with the heated blanket on makes me feel a million times better.

If like me, sleep is an issue due to pain, being able to rest for a short period of time in the day can also be very helpful, so that you can sustain your energy levels throughout the day.

2. Relaxing bath

 

One of my other top tips is a relaxing bath. If you have sleep issues, a relaxing bath before bed can be part of a bedtime ritual to help you relax and unwind.

What I have found really helps with muscle tension is adding a couple of handfuls of Dr Salts Bath Salts to the water and if you have it, a few drops of lavender essential oils.

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3. Watching your favourite film/s, or TV shows.

 

If you are stuck on the sofa, or in bed with a pain flare and feeling pretty low, one of my favourite ways to manage this is to put on one of my favourite films.

I have a selection of ‘go to’ films for just this situation. I won’t disclose too many, as they are a very varied selection of musical, ‘cheesy’ numbers. One of my all-time favourites is Rocky Horror, I can put it on, not have to think too much about the story-line and enjoy the music! It is guaranteed to lift my spirits 🙂

If you are feeling more mobile during a flare, perhaps you might find seeing a film at the cinema a good way to manage pain. In my experience, being out of the house can be a good distraction from the pain and being at the cinema you don’t have to be too physically active.

I’ve seen two great films recently that I can recommend:

 

 

4. Gratitude/ focusing on the good…

Finally, I have found that a gratitude practice is highly effective in managing during a pain flare.

I know that this will probably sound very strange and you may ask how on earth can I be positive, or grateful when the pain is bad and I feel terrible? There is a lot of science to back up that fact that a gratitude practice can literally rewire the brain over time, enabling you to feel more positive.

I will do another blog post on this as it is a really interesting and helpful topic.

It is an idea explained really well by Dr Rick Hanson. He has done a Ted Talk called ‘Hardwiring Happiness’, which you can find at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpuDyGgIeh0

There are loads of ways to develop a gratitude practice.

I have used a gratitude journal where you identify three, or four positive experiences every day and then review them at the end of the week and write a list of your highlights for the week.

I also received this fabulous gift for Christmas:

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The Universe Has Your Back affirmation cards by Gabrielle Berstein. The idea with these is that you pick a card from the deck to focus on for your meditation practice. They have lovely quotes on and beautiful artwork. I will be exploring this gift over the coming weeks and months as part of my meditation practice.

Another gratitude practice that I have used with clients is a gratitude jar:

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You fill it with written post-it notes about positive things that have happened, however small and on days where you are feeling low you can open it up and read through the messages to remind yourself of the good stuff.

You can decorate the jar however you like, with stickers, ribbons etc…and have fun with getting creative.

One positive that would definitely go in my jar for today would be my new unicorn leggings – I am in love!

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I would love to hear your self-management strategies for your pain, or health condition. Please comment, or get in touch!

Warm wishes,

Mary 🙂

Role Models

Lady Gaga, Vidyamala Burch and Wendy Loughlan.

Lady Gaga

Five Foot Two documentary

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After watching the Lady Gaga documentary on Netflix I was inspired to write this blog post. To talk about my thoughts on the Lady Gaga documentary and about role models in general. Finally, to talk about the part that various role models have played in my personal journey through pain and how they have shaped and continue to shape the person that I am today.

So to begin, in my experience chronic pain is a lonely place:

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Watching the Lady Gaga documentary last night was really eye opening for me. Someone who is a world famous superstar, glamorous, beautiful and extremely talented has similar pain issues to those that I have experienced:

How you see Gaga:

I was blown away by Gaga’s talent in the documentary, with her beautiful singing voice, heart-felt songs and terrific stage presence.

However behind this glamorous pop star, she has been fighting a silent battle with chronic pain.

The reality behind the stage persona:

Gaga has chronic pain and is shown at various points in the documentary receiving physical treatments for the pain, such as massage and trigger point injections. You also see her stuck on the sofa during a pain flare, crying as she is embarrassed about the state that she is in.

I have totally been there, isolated and alone in my pain. Thinking there is no way that friends and family could understand what is going on. Friends you once had drift away, stop calling, family don’t know what to say…

So if you haven’t seen the documentary I highly recommend it, Gaga is helping to break down the stigma of living with a chronic illness and she is proof that it is possible to live along-side daily pain and still lead a fit and active (and indeed fabulous) life.

She could definitely be a positive role model to many.

I agree that not all of us will have her income and access to top health professionals, although there are a lot of steps that you can take to self-manage your symptoms that don’t have to cost an astronomical amount.

My first steps into the self-management of my pain was to download the mindfulness for Health book onto the Audible app on my phone and as it was my first audio book, it was free!

If you haven’t heard of, or tried Audible, check out the Mindfulness for Health audio book here: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Health-Personal-Development/Mindfulness-for-Health-Audiobook/B00EOT9NPG/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srTtl?qid=1514503490&sr=1-1

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The beauty of having the Mindfulness for Health audio book on your phone is that you can then meditate anytime, anywhere!

My Role Models 

Having a role model as a child is important, we learn how to be and develop our behaviour patterns from the adults around us, including, parents, teachers and other professionals such as the Police.

I feel that having role models as an adult is equally as important. These role models can either be people in your day-to-day life, who have the skills, or personal qualities that you aspire to.

Or as discussed above it could be a pop star, film star, sports star etc…

As mentioned above, I started off my pain journey in a very isolated place. I have found along the way various role models. People who I admired, people who are living a really good life despite their own difficult circumstances and people who had positive qualities that I want to develop in my own life. Having these role models has kept me motivated during some of the darkest periods of my life and inspired me down the career path that I am following today.

Let me introduce a couple of my role models:

Vidyamala Burch

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I have been fortunate enough to meet Vidyamala on a few occasions. You will see her name come up a lot in this blog and on my Facebook page.

Vidyamala truly is a role model to me.

After sustaining life-changing spinal injuries through a life guarding injury and two car accidents, Vidyamala has had chronic pain for over 40 years and now uses a wheelchair. Instead of giving up on life, she has used her experiences in a positive way and describes her life in the present as flourishing. Something I definitely aspire to…

After being a sporty teenager Vidyamala found major difficulties in adjusting to this new life and pushed her body to it’s limits in a bid to overcome the pain, but eventually had a complete physical breakdown. This is where I find a lot of similarities to my own life experience.

Vidyamala used her own life experiences and how she had learnt to manage her pain through mindfulness meditation, to set up the organisation Breathworks. Developing and delivering eight week mindfulness programs to other people with chronic pain and other long-term health conditions and people with stress. Breathworks also train people to teach this program and now have trainers all over the world.

Vidyamala’s life story has been a huge motivation for me to take up a daily meditation practice to manage my own pain. I also started the teacher training program, attending my first teacher training meditation retreat in January 2016 and my second teacher training retreat in July 2017.

Starting to learn meditation also inspired me to start training towards becoming a Counsellor. So I could develop the additional skills of helping people to cope emotionally with the impact of chronic pain on them and their life.

Wendy Loughlan

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This is Wendy my yoga teacher. If you are in the Milton Keynes area check out her website for further information about her and her classes: http://www.theyogaboutique.co.uk/

Wendy is a role model for me as she truly embodies her yoga practices and radiates kindness, compassion, authenticity and a real heart-felt self-love. All qualities that I aspire to, both as an individual and as a professional mindfulness teacher and Counsellor.

Thank you Wendy for always being there for me and giving me a gentle nudge of encouragement at times when I have needed it!

 

So, who are your role models in life, or who would you like as a role model and why?

I would love to hear what you think 🙂

Movement is medicine.

The Boom and Bust cycle.

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Today I would like to talk about the Boom and Bust cycle that is common in people with chronic pain and ways that you can work with your body to improve your ‘fitness’ levels.

Please click on the above link to show an image of the boom and bust cycle. This is typically when your pain levels are good you overdo your daily activities in a bid to ‘catch’ up with all the things you haven’t done. The next day, or in the following days your pain levels typically increase, leading you to decrease your activity levels for fear of hurting yourself even more. Then when you start to feel better you increase your activity levels again to make up for all of the things that you haven’t been able to do…

Each time you go round the Boom and Bust cycle the risk is you lose muscle strength and fitness every time you reach the Bust phase and have to rest. Eventually your overall fitness is likely to decline dramatically, so that when you start to move again and start previous activities it feels harder and the pain levels are higher than they may have been to start with.

This cycle is very easy to get trapped in. Especially if you try to ignore pain signals and try to push through the pain to lead a ‘normal’ home and work life.

This was a really hard lesson for me to learn when I first started the Breathworks program. I was a very physically fit person and had a history of pushing my body to its limits, both at the gym and with running. This frantic exercise schedule was very hard to let go of initially and I struggled to adapt to my new reality.

However it can be done…

A really integral part of the Breathworks training is pacing. You will learn on the eight week course how to keep a diary of your activities for seven days. You rate the pain scores after each of your activities. You learn what things make your pain worse and what makes the pain better. Then of the activities that make your pain worse you learn how to reduce the time spent on the activities, to find your optimum baseline. Basically the amount of time you can spend on the activity without it increasing your pain.

On week three of the course we will also talk about mindful movements, a series of safe physical movements that you can do to reconnect with your body and breath. I will do a separate blog about mindful movement and add some videos on this to my Facebook page ‘BreathworksMK’, to give you a flavour of what this involves.

I now combine mindful movements, pacing of daily activities, yoga, Sh’Bam and lots of walking outside in nature to keep my body and mind in optimum condition.

Here is a photo of me and my little family on our walk yesterday around a local lake.

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Why I choose to do something a little ‘different’ on Christmas Day.

For the past couple of years I have volunteered at my local Hospice on Christmas Day, helping to serve meals and drinks to patients and their visitors.

My own Nan spent some time at this Hospice before she died in 2007 and I find a lot of comfort and meaning through volunteering in the Inpatient Unit and giving something back to the vital work done by all Hospice staff.

This feels like important work to be doing especially around the Christmas period. Helping to show patients and their families some kindness and compassion on what is likely to be their last Christmas together.

I would eventually like to work in a Hospice as a Counsellor so that I could work more closely with patients and their relatives, helping them to cope with the emotional impact of a terminal illness.