Sunday, 26 February 2012

"Keep calm and breathe in - slowly" Animal therapy.

Was I tempting fate with the last blog?

I'm just recovering from one of those upset stomach episiodes, picked up from looking after a sick child in London. My son and partner were having one hell of a week at work and could have done without the whole family feeling poorly too. "At least it's not as bad as when you had mumps six years ago", I told my son. 

What a weird week. I think on reflection, it will be one of the more strange and varied in my life.  Other family stuff at the beginning, Olympic training in the middle and grannie duties at the end. Life isn't dull. Nor should it be. If my parent's lives are anything to go by, I still have another third to live.

I missed writing last week's blog and didn't really want to let another week go by without writing. Then a newspaper article leapt from The Observer this morning. That will do well, I thought. I'll let the newspaper do the talking.

If only these wonderful treatments with animals didn't cost so much money. A lottery win? I think I know what I would love to create with the money. A national therapeutic animal charity. I'm not even a huge animal lover, but I do fully understand the therapeutic benefits of owning or looking after a pet. They reach places that humans cannot.

Several colleagues who trained with me, use animals in their therapeutic practices. Particularly dogs and horses. They suggest that the dogs and horses have needs too, as do human beings. If the humans attend to their animal's needs, the moments of introspection are less. Anything that helps. Anything that helps that isn't medication is even better.

An observation from my practice. As emotional arousal isn't helpful to problem solving, relaxation is used to help the client reach a calmer state. The 7/11 breathing technique of seven slow deep breaths in and eleven out is a basis for teaching relaxation. (Personally I use 5/7) Whatever the count is, the out breathe must be longer than the in breathe. That is crucial for using the nervous system correctly.

Then I realised that stroking an animal or human being uses much the same breathing action. No wonder petting an animal is therapeutic. (So is cigarette smoking for the same breathing action, but certainly NOT to be recommended!)

I have a short relaxation exercise on Itunes.  It's FREE. Part of the Chasing Rainbows podcasts. No: 7


Sunday, 12 February 2012

"What is the worst...? - Managing difficulties

One thing leads to another and last Wednesday morning I was on Radio York talking about moaning.

It had snowed over the previous weekend in the area (and much of the UK) and travelling to work was difficult. By Tuesday, the local radio phone-in was monopolised by calls about how inadequate the local council was in clearing the roads and pavements.

One call on Tuesday, which I just happened to catch when driving home, was from a 73 year old man, who had rung in to complain about all the negativity being expressed. 'Just get on with it, we've had it worse and be a good neighbour' was his theme. It certainly made a change from all the moaning.

Maybe that call hit a nerve at Radio York? Later that afternoon, a programme assistant contacted me. They were going to make 'moaning' a light-hearted topic for Wednesday. Would I come on and talk about our need to moan?

So that's what I did.

Towards the end of the conversation with presenter, Jules Bellerby, he asked me about how I stop moaning. I mentioned not wanting to lose friends by always moaning.  I was thinking of 'Blondie' at the time. The subject of a blog last month:

Then I mentioned a little trick I used. It seems to have caught people's interest, so I will repeat it here as a self-help exercise.

It's a variation of some questions used in a therapy session. I might ask," Have you ever felt like this before?"and the answer would provide some information for further questions. Maybe around how the client managed those feelings and events at that time. It's a helpful way to uncover a client's resources, which in turn, may help towards finding solutions to their problem/s.

In 1986 I was unwell. I wrote about the illness in this blog:

Since recovering from that illness, I have used Summer 1986, as a benchmark for judging how unwell I may feel in the present day and how to manage it.

The conversation with myself goes like this:
Q: "Is this the most unwell you have ever felt?"
A: No
Q: How did you get through that time?
I then explore a variety of memories that show me that the event passed and I survived.

Through the years, I have found it necessary to repeat this exercise with a variety of words, some examples follow:

Q: Is this the coldest/saddest/most tired/most anxious/most useless/unhappiest/most pain/angriest/most victimised... you have ever felt?"

Due to age and life events, the answer to most of the questions is 'No'.

I now have some perspective and clues as to how I can manage the present situation.

It's really Do-It-Yourself Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Cheaper too.

Tell the unhelpful comments to 'GO AWAY'. Loudly and with feeling. I've removed the swear word, but you don't have to.

Listen carefully. The quality of life really can be down to the quality of the conversation you have with yourself.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

"What do you want to do that for?" - Volunteering.

This summer, the Olympics and Paralympics are coming to the UK and London.

I wonder what reaction that sentence has triggered in the readers?  I imagine a range of feelings, from deep groaning and moaning to excited anticipation.

Well readers, your blog writer is excited. So excited, that I've got involved in the organisation of the Games. I will be one of the over 70,000 volunteers, called Games Makers.

I mentioned it in the first blog of the year:

Perhaps you are thinking that I must love sport? Well, no, I don't really. Neither am I a huge follower and certainly not a willing participant. Never have been.  I learnt badminton once and was quite enjoying it, until one of the group, one of the more competitive types, tried to attack me with each shot. I couldn't be bothered, so gave up. 

Yesterday morning at 8am, in freezing temperatures and snow forecast, I stood outside Wembley Park Underground Station at the top of some steps, looking towards Wembley Stadium. (The premier sporting stadium in the UK). All I could see were hundreds of people, all wrapped up against the cold and heading for the indoor Wembley Arena next door. 

A warm feeling enveloped me and tears welled into my eyes.  Why? Not sure really, except it was something to do with a mass of humanity willing to give up their time and money to be part of something very big. Very big indeed. No personal glory, no personal gain, just a willingness to take part and help for the greater good.

I walked down the steps and it was as if I was stepping off into a great new adventure. It felt thrilling.

Why I feel drawn to be an Olympic volunteer is a story for another blog. But one incident last year is the basis of this blog.

I had the Games Maker interview in Newcastle, last May. I travelled there by train. I regularly travel by train. Sometimes the journeys are in silence, sometimes conversations with fellow travellers can occur. On the return journey a woman started to talk to me about her family and a middle-aged business man at the same table joined in.  The fact that the purpose of my trip had been to attend an interview to be a volunteer at the Olympics was mentioned.

The man asked if I was being paid. I told him that I was volunteering and while there would be a free uniform and free meals and travel available during the shifts, the position was self-funded. He was incredulous. He couldn't believe that anyone would want to work for nothing, let alone over 70,000 of us. I was incredulous that he thought all work should be paid, but said very little.

Attitudes to earning money are fascinating and all tied up with self-worth too. Status or perceived status is a powerful need. The man felt his time was worth something and that he wasn't going to give it away for free. I felt that he was missing out, maybe not now, but perhaps he would later, if he didn't have a change of heart.  

I have come across many people, who once retired, made redundant or just unwaged, have difficulty engaging in a world without paid work. While there are hundreds of thousands of people (thank goodness) happy to give of their time for nothing in return, other than satisfaction of helping somebody, perhaps less fortunate than themselves.

In many instances, it's the people unwilling to get involved in volunteering, who then have a problem with isolation and maybe, by not using their own unique skills, allow that part of the brain to shut-down through lack of use. Sometimes, it's a great opportunity to learn new skills and stretch oneself.

There are endless stories of people who take part in voluntary or unpaid work, where one door has lead to another. Or rather I use the metaphor of stepping stones. If a person wants to get from A to B, it might not be possible to take a direct route, but have to take smaller, shorter steps to get there or even end up somewhere else entirely and far richer for the experience. Riches are not always measured in material gain.

I wish students or young graduates especially, would realise that by taking a job considered menial, does not mean that they will stay doing that for the next forty years.  The 'that's beneath me' attitude' is a particular bug-bear of mine. Perhaps because I've been a cleaner and shelf-filler in my time and who knows, maybe again. 

A favourite quote by an unknown author is: 'He who knows his destination and heads directly to it will get there quickly. He who knows his destination but takes the odd wrong turn along the way, will still get there, and be wiser for the experience.'

I'm sure most of us have taken many wrong turnings along the way. Closing ones mind to volunteering can close the way to new opportunities, new friendships and new wisdom.

Personally, I can't wait.