On #metoo…

“I wish women didn’t have to rip our pasts open and show you everything and let you ogle our pain for you to believe us.” — Lindy West

Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein – it is almost the same every time: A woman will come forward with accusations of sexual abuse, and then many women will come forward and suddenly sexual assault dominates the 24-hour news cycle. It’s everywhere you turn. Your social media timelines are filled with news stories and women sharing their own accounts in solidarity. Celebrities come forward. Hashtags spring up. It is everywhere.

As a survivor, whenever this subject dominates the news cycle I simultaneously rejoice and despair. On the one hand, I’m overjoyed light is being shone on the darkness and loud voices replace the silent acceptance that so often accompanies these attacks. However, the survivor’s stories bring out emotions, memories and reactions that remind me of a time I have locked away in a box in my soul.

If #metoo has taught us anything it is that we are not alone. But even in the midst of the incredible roar of your fellow survivors, it can be easy to lose yourself and feel overwhelmed by the harrowing stories that populate your news feeds.

Self-care is essential.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, here is some advice. I am not a counsellor, I can only give some words of wisdom from my own sometimes overwhelmed soul.

Your feelings of being overwhelmed or lost are real. PTSD is real and doesn’t follow any set path or rule. Everyone’s experience is different; start noticing what physical reactions you’re having to reading accounts – these can be cues that you’ve absorbed too much. Step away from anyone who belittles your feelings or reactions. Don’t judge yourself. Recovery from any form of trauma is neither linear nor clear-cut. You’ll be fine for days, weeks or even years, and then an emotional wrecking ball will come in and you feel like you are back where you started. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to feel what you need to feel. It’s all part of healing.

Self-care. In the midst of the media onslaught that accompanies #metoo, #YesAllWomen and the many other campaigns, if is easy to feel bombarded and blindsided. Trigger warnings are still not used widely enough and it is difficult to feel safe even opening Facebook. Set boundaries with your time and what you’re willing to share. No job is more important than your mental health. Moderate your exposure and know when it’s time to unplug. Take time to look after your soul. Take a bath, play some soothing music, drink some tea. Make sure you’re eating well. Cry. Go for walks on the beach. Play with your kids or nieces and nephews. Reach out for help if you need to – this mountain you’re climbing should not be climbed on your own.

If you are ready, share your story or add your voice to the many. There is a power in sharing your story – in it no longer being secret and taking up residence in your heart and soul only. Sharing your story can be liberating. But it can also be terrifying and triggering. Unfortunately, one of the many reasons for these hashtags existing in the first place is because of the pervasive victim blaming and predator protecting. In sharing your story, you open yourself up to exactly those reactions from uneducated and sometimes unexpected people. Be careful and only do so if you are ready. Even if you are not ready to share your story, one of the biggest things you can do is support others. All of them. Call your sisters, girlfriends, aunts and see how they’re doing. Have a girl’s night. Stay close to one another. Surround yourself with love and joy and laughter and compassion. Stay close to people who love you and far away from people who don’t understand what you’re going through, they’ll only make it worse. You don’t need to share your story just because everyone else is.

You owe it to yourself to do what’s best for you.

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On flashbacks, intense emotions and grounding…

Flashbacks can be terrifying – they can feel like we are back in that place where pain and fear ruled.

Flashbacks can be triggered by almost anything: smells; seeing an item or an image on television; being in a place; the words someone else uses. As awful as they are, flashbacks are in fact a way for our minds to cope and, far more importantly, are a way for us to regain control.

What differentiates a flashback from other memories is that a flashback is often sudden and very powerful. When a person has a flashback, the memory is recalled involuntarily and can be so intense the person feels as if they are reliving the experience. In fact, with flashbacks sometimes it is difficult to recognise in the moment that what is being experienced is a memory of a something that occurred in the past, rather than something that is currently happening.

168469_488273177284_4476642_nWhen we’re in the middle of an anxiety attack or flashback, the control panel of our frontal lobe goes out the window. It feels impossible to focus or think clearly about anything and sometimes our thoughts come so quickly and jumbled we can’t keep track of them. Things may seem like they are happening around us in a blur. Sometimes we feel paralyzed or frozen, unable to move or say or do anything. Sometimes you feel like you are on the edge of a cliff, perpetually about to fall and tumble endlessly.

Grounding is a tool I was given many years ago by a counselor to help in just this kind of situation and it is one I have used many times since, in just about any situation or place. Grounding helps to bring my mind and body back to the present moment, allowing space for my mind to slow down and to feel a bit calmer – or at least enough to be able to figure out what to do next and how to deal with this intense emotion.

There are many different grounding techniques but I wanted to list a few of the ones that have worked for me:

Self-soothing:

  • Take a shower or bath. The key with this is to focus on the sensations you experience as you are in the shower or bath. Notice the feel of the water on your skin, the detail of the taps, the sensation and smells of the shampoos and shower gels. Let each sensation keep you in that moment.
  • Find a grounding object to keep with you. For the longest time, I kept a 20p piece in the pocket of my favourite coat. I would feel overwhelmed in the crowded trains and subways of my commute and would rub the coin between my fingers when I felt that panic start to set in. I knew every texture and corner of the coin – my fingers knew every detail.

Grounding with your 5 senses:

  • Find a familiar scent (perfume, soap, lotion, tea, essential oil.) and make a routine of smelling it in the morning, before bed, or another routine part of your day. For me, it is the smell of Vicks VapoRub that brought peace and grounding. This is a comforting smell from my childhood and when I was in the middle of a bout of stress or anxiety-related insomnia, it would calm me and help me sleep.
  • 10985257_10152677349657285_697980529239720821_nPut on your favorite item of clothing– a pair of fluffy socks, a favorite sweater, a soft t-shirt. Notice the texture, the color, the way it smells. You can also find a favorite blanket or pillow and do the same. For the longest time, my ex-boyfriend’s sweater lived under my pillow on my bed and helped to ground me on my darker nights. Now, it is a blanket-like tartan scarf that keeps me grounded in its smell and texture.
  • Hold ice in the palms of your hands and squeeze it tight. This helped me in some of my more intense and immediate panics – the feeling of the freezing cold ice between your hands does not allow for your mind to drift to other places and keeps you in the present.

Use your body:

  • Literally ground yourself. Lay on the floor. Notice each part of your body where the floor touches you, and focus on that sensation, the pressure, the texture, the temperature. Press your body down onto the ground. I also found that walking on the ground or grass in my bare feet helped to focus and ground me – feeling the sensations and solid earth under my feet. grounded
  • MOVE! Wiggle your toes, paying attention to the sensation as you move each one. See which toes you can move independently of the others. Do the same with your fingers, feeling the stretch in your muscles, the tension and relaxation as you move.
  • Rhythm. Tap your feet on the floor, find an object to make a soft sound, tap your fingers on the table or lightly tap a glass or other surface until you find a pleasant sound, then create a rhythm and repeat it, staying focused on the beginning and end of each sound you create.
  • Do an activity that requires engaging your hands or whole body. Go out into your garden and pull weeds. Go for a run, engage with the earth. Do yoga.

Go for long walks,
indulge in hot baths,
Question your assumptions,
be kind to yourself,
live for the moment,
loosen up, scream,
curse the world,
count your blessings,
Just let go,
Just be.

Carol Shields

Distract your brain:

  • Count by 7s, as high as you can.
  • Play the ‘guess their occupation’ game. Look at people around you and try to guess their jobs or occupations, or where they are going.
  • Play the categories game with yourself–choose a category like colours, animals, foods, and try to name at least 10 things in that category.

Breathe

  • Practise big breathing – place one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest. Breathe slowly and deeply into your belly, trying to raise your hand like you are filling up a balloon or beach ball with air. Slowly breathe out, feeling the hand on your stomach lower like the balloon or ball is deflating.
  • 4 -7- 8 breathing: Breathe in slowly, counting to 4 seconds while you inhale. Then, hold your breath for 7 seconds. Finally, breathe out slowly and softly, counting 8 seconds while you exhale. Repeat as many times as feels comfortable.

Grounding is not about making the emotion go away or detaching from your experience; it is about tolerating the experience and emotions while staying present in your body.

Be kind to yourself, dear – to our innocent follies.
Forget any sounds or touch you knew that did not help you dance.
You will come to see that all evolves us.

Rumi

— With thanks to The Growlery

On knowing your worth and adding tax…

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”
C.G. Jung

It’s so very easy to doubt your own worth. In a constant barrage of beautiful, successful people, it is quite normal to feel unable to fit in or to fit the mold. Every comment, every rejection, every judgement only serves to make you feel more and more worthless. People can be cruel, dismissive and sometimes hateful. And we are faced with these types of people every single day – often our friends, colleagues, and sometimes, our lovers.

starburstThe truth is that we allow people to treat you the way they do. Nancy Roosevelt was quoted as saying: ‘No one can make  you inferior without your consent.’ Your energy, confidence and attitude is the currency that others will transact with. I know many people who have settled for less, and accepted the cards dealt because deep inside, they don’t believe they deserve more. They seem to have it all together in their life, but when it come to relationships, they just can’t seem to shake the habit of dating cruel or unloving people.

When I look at my life, I’ve created and controlled my bubble of career, friendships and community. I adore my tribe and place huge amounts of reliance on this bunch of oddballs that I have chosen for myself, whether for a season or a lifetime. I choose who I invest my time and energy on, and when, and I place value on that time. I am blessed with wonderful friends and my inner circle is sacred and thoughtfully selective.

However, in my relationships with men, I haven’t always placed the same kind of value on my time, energy and emotions. I’ve tolerated men who don’t appreciate me, who don’t value my heart, who take and take, who don’t call back, who have disrespected me — I’ve allowed men to not treat me what I’m worth and not really placing a value on my own worth. I’ve made excuses, justified and eagerly re-entered the game of push and pull with men who clearly don’t really value me much at all, chipping away the low self-esteem that got me there in the first place.

It has taken me years of heart aches, heart tramples, picking up that phone when every cell in your body knows it’s the unhealthy thing to do, obsessing, infatuating, idealizing,  for me to finally realise that all I am doing is de-valuing myself.

Self-love takes time. But with each babystep I grow in confidence and contentment in my relationships, as I have in other areas of my life. I’ve stopped apologising for who I am and have learned that I am enough. I embrace my imperfections both physically and within my personality, recognising that those imperfections are part of the beauty that makes me, me. I am less likely to put up with behaviour that brings down my feelings and emotions, and I have become better at calling out people when they do such a thing.

Know your value and don’t accept being treated in a way less than you deserve. You deserve to be treated the way you treat others, and vice versa. The minute you negotiate your self worth and accept less, you say to the universe that you don’t deserve any better. Change for yourself  but don’t change out of the wrong reasons to appease someone or in hopes that they will like you more. If they judge you for who you are now, they aren’t your fit.

The moment you start recognising your own worth, you will find it much harder to stay around people who don’t.

Know your worth and add tax.