Hello lovely reader! And it’s wonderful to see you for part five of The Wellbeing Quest. If you’re not up to speed with what’s been happening, head on over to Part 1, and I’ll see you back here after.
About a million years ago, around six months into the COVID pandemic, I wrote an article on how to function in indefinite uncertainty. I talked about how at the start of any acutely stressful situation, we can draw on our surge capacity, allowing us to survive in the short term. But we all know, from recent experience, that this doesn’t last forever. Before long we were reading news stories about the great resignation, quiet quitting, and record levels of burnout.
While research is limited, there does seem to be a psychological element to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which I’ve been diagnosed with. So alongside my supplements, exercise, nutrition, and osteopathy, I’m also focusing on my mental wellbeing.
I’ve never been one for meditation and have always found it an excellent shortcut to get anxious thoughts racing. People told me it’s because I needed to give it more of a chance. Then I did my 200 hour yoga teacher training, which involved a lot of meditation. I still hated it. I know it’s supposed to give you calm and peace – a sort of daily clean of the mind. But it just makes mine messier. It took years for me to accept that silent meditation might just not be for me. I read an article that said “it’s not always helpful or accessible for everyone”, and suddenly it clicked.
I recently discovered ‘As You Are Meditation’ and have been using their guided sessions for ten minutes of daily mindfulness. It means I actually get ten minutes of calm, without the racing thoughts. In my cleaning metaphor, it’s not going to get the whole house in order, but at least the surfaces get a good wipe down every day.
But I also wanted to deal with some tricky areas of my past that are still causing me some distress, with counselling. Therapy is often limited to the wealthy. Private sessions are expensive, and waiting lists for publicly-funded treatment are longer than a monarch butterfly’s migration route. I am privileged that my employer offers an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). To be honest, it had completely slipped my mind that you could get six free sessions of counselling per year through this programme.
Back in the osteopath’s office Anna had gently asked if I had any emotional difficulties that she should be aware of. I gingerly stepped around the word trauma. It’s a word some people use too easily. But I’ve been through some difficult things that have stuck with me, I explained.
She stopped guiding my knee in figures of eight.
You don’t have to have fought in a warzone to have experienced trauma, she softly corrected. Just because someone has faced something worse than you, it doesn’t diminish what you have experienced.
Back home, I looked up the definition. According to one source, it’s ‘the lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event’.
Now in a cool, cosy garden room, I feel brave enough to use the word trauma with the counsellor. Undeniably, some distressing memories are still causing me trouble in the present.
But a question has been nagging at me. To what extent is it useful to go back over old issues, rather than using a type of therapy like CBT, where you learn tools to change the way you think and behave?
My counsellor had a position. If you’ve been with a therapist for 15 years and you’re still raking up old ground, it’s probably time to start focusing on the present, she thought. But if there are issues from your past holding you back from going forwards, it’s worthwhile addressing them.
So here I am, telling my story as though it’s an abstract textile design. Stopping to add another colour, a different texture. Going back a bit, then weaving in a stray thread. It is a physical relief to share the weight of my experiences and thoughts. My chest, and even my brain, feel a release of pressure, as though air can now freely rush in to fill the space.
Now this is the full spring clean for the mind. The whole house is getting sorted, but I’m inevitably pulling out some weird keepsakes and clutter along the way that should have been dealt with years ago.
As I step through the sliding doors into the beautifully tended garden, and return up the sweet little shell path to my car, I reflect on the relief of not having to pay at the end of the session. What a difference it makes, to not end each hour of therapy with financial stress. I feel incredibly fortunate.
In this series of articles – The Wellbeing Quest – I’m recording my efforts to beat my health issues, including chronic fatigue. It’s lovely to see you here.
Next time: Checking in: what improvements, if any, am I seeing from my Wellbeing Quest? Plus: how not to let perfectionism get in the way of progress.