Tripped up…

Mental health is a tricky bugger. One day you can be fine and on top of the world, the next, down in the dumps wondering how you will ever get through the day. 

I am fortunate to know that my depression and anxiety aren’t so bad that I cannot function at all, but my brain will sometimes get caught in a negative spiral, with logic and illogic chasing each other’s tails, making concentration and happiness elusive. On the whole, I am okay most of the time, but small worries can easily mutate interest ever larger ones, and depression and anxiety can take hold.

Take returning to college, for example. On the day my mum died earlier this year, I made a decision to get back to my counselling course, get qualified and become a really good counsellor, working preferably with children. There are certain things that need to be in place before returning to college, BACP membership, insurance, and most importantly, placements. I knew about these things, of course, but this year has been tough, and getting my act together has been hard. So, when my return interview didn’t happen last week, my brain spiralled down into panic overload, and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get things sorted and return to my studies. 

Stepping back, making a list, and taking some time has allowed me to overcome my anxiety, and I have now got a referee in place; drafted my letter asking for placements; and have applied for my insurance. I also have someone in mind for my sponsor, and feel more positive about my return to college in September. 

As I write this, I am calm, centred and focused. Onwards…

Zen and the art of till jockeying…

Today has been a bit of a rollercoaster, with the morning seeing me slightly out of sorts and snappy with my lovely supportive wife. I wandered off to catch the bus to counselling in a bit of a haze of unsettled feelings…

Clearly tired, I half read and half dozed through the journey, trying to stay focused on what was going on around me. Still, I made it to town and appointed session in good time with a clearer head. Sleep helps sometimes.

Counselling today gave me time and space to explore and examine the feelings I’ve had over the last few days, trying to work out why I’ve been feeling so unsettled and out of sorts. I like the time I have in counselling, as I feel as though I am thinking on a higher level, able to clear my mind and understand my thoughts and feelings.

So after a refreshing coffee and a late lunch, I caught the bus home in a much clearer frame of mind, able to focus on the days ahead and what needs to be done.

Yet, it was while I was putting in my hours at my part time supermarket job that a sense of real calm and awareness came over me. Suddenly, life made sense and I had a real understanding of my place in the world. The feeling has stuck with me now, and everything seems clear.

Om.

Pocket Dump! November 2015

Completely nicking this idea from Thomas and Elise More Than Just Surviving, as I think it is a really good one. Onwards to exploring, learning and growing! This is what was the pockets of my cycling jacket today…

Pocket-Dump-2-11-2015

1.Eco batteries for front bicycle light; 2.Ancient wallet (gift from my wife); 3. Alcohol wipes liberated from KFC; 4. KEYS!; 5. Student ID for my L4 Counselling Diploma; 6.Random Scout woggle found in canal fields; 7.Business card holder, containing cards for our art and design business.

When I put something up that I really like, I will share links to manufacturers where possible. Get out there and explore!

Do you know how amazing you are?

The last week or so has been incredible. My head has been buzzing with so many plans, plots and schemes that I haven’t known where to turn or what to do first…

I finished six months of personal development last week. It seems unbelievable to me that I’ve been working on this for six months, but the strength and confidence I have now is amazing. Which brings me to the last couple of weeks. The whole head buzzing, whirling, not knowing where to start thing had reached a point, and I was paralysed by starting the next step on the journey. It wasn’t until my counselling class two weeks back that I realised what was happening…

My tutor in the afternoon that takes us for the process part of our course (practical skills), made an observation on my counselling session where I had said that I felt as though I was in the centre of a tornado, like in the ‘Wizard of Oz’, with everything whirling around me out of control. It was fear that was sending me into a spin, fear of the unknown, and that’s what my tutor commented on.

For a long time I’ve held very set, black and white views on how some things should be, like work, and now with all this amazing confidence, assertiveness and positivity, that view has been blown apart. I don’t have to fit into a set pattern of behaviour, attitude or appearance any more, as I thought I had to before. My mind is finally free of constraint allowing me to do as I wish, not as others do. I am in charge of my own future and am moving forwards at a rate of knots with nothing to hold me back. It’s amazing and I’m really happy.

All of you are amazing too and capable of so many incredible things. Take the leap.

I wish my brain would shut up sometimes…

Urgh, what a week. My brain has been tripping me up over the last few days, leaving me in a depressed state and on occasion, close to tears.

Yes, I know it’s not my brain directly, as it is an organ which carries and processes chemical and electrical signals throughout the body, amongst other things. It’s how you choose to act on these impulses that causes the problem and issues. Of course, if you haven’t taken prescribed medication, supported a partner with serious mental health issues, written assignments, made music, drawn, written…

As I got so physically tired out by the end of Monday, after studying counselling all day, I was shattered and the week loomed ahead of me, full of meetings, conferences, projects and assignments. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be me. Been there, done that. I got my fresh supply of meds, turned off my alarm and cancelled what I could. I know that getting so exhausted was an alarm call warning me to back off and slow down. I took heed and stopped. The last time this happened, I didn’t heed the warning, and ended up being signed off work for three months. Mind you, this was one of the best things to happen to me, as it gave me time to take stock, focus on my needs and decide what I wanted from the future.

The first thing to go was my job. Working in education has been amazing, but it was costing me my mental health. That last spell was my third serious ‘episode’ of depression in 10 years working in education as a teacher, library assistant and media technician, not all at the same time, however!

So, I decided to really focus on being self-employed as an artist and designer, educating myself about mental health, restarting my counselling studies, making comics and music, and looking after me. Yes, there’s my trait of taking on too much, but I was self-aware, ready for the fallout and had support in place. Since January 2014, I have rebuilt our art and design business from the ground up; written, drawn and published three comics; released loads of music and played it live (performing live was a big scary thing to tackle); passed my Level 3 Counselling course; started networking for business and pleasure; started my Level 4 Counselling course and a ton more besides.  Yes, I still try and do too much, but I’m happy and in charge of my life now. I’m closer to my wife, our children and my family; I walk our dog most days and play fetch with her; cycle when possible; enjoy reading more often; listen to way more music and podcasts and generally look after myself and the world I inhabit.

I’m proud of where I am now, and as I can read the warnings now and know what to do. Life might catch me out sometimes, but I can stop it from completely pulling the rug from under me.

Thanks for reading!

I LOVE BMX!

When I was 12 (there’s that age again…), I was asked by my step-father if I’d like a BMX. I jumped at the chance, being hooked on BMX, and reading BMX Action Bike cover to cover. That Saturday, we went to our local bike shop, I was given a budget, and walked out with a brand new Raleigh Burner. I rode that bike for years…

BMX-ACTION-BIKE

Fast forward to 1997, and I bought my second BMX, a Mongoose, then got my S&M frame and built it up the next year. I still ride that frame now. It’s bombproof and will probably outlive me! I’ve been riding BMX on and off ever since. Last year was probably my biggest lay-off, as I was focusing on studying and drawing comics. I still followed BMX companies online, checked edits, but riding wasn’t a priority.

With the knackered knee, I thought this might be it, no more riding. WRONG! This week, I’ve had two wonderful flatland (look it up if you don’t know…) sessions, one with my grandson, and a solo session today. I’m trying to learn one specific trick which is eluding me, but I’ll get it. I tried it again today, but my nerves wouldn’t hold out, so I tried something else instead, Barspins. I can do 180 degrees no problem, but the full 360? I tried it today, and cracked it first time! Not bad for a 45 year old on a 22 year old bike!

Today’s been amazing. I found out I passed my Level 3 Counselling exam, nailed barspins, soaked in the tub, and will be off out for chips and cider too. I am one happy dude!

Day One…

I enrolled on my Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling this morning. It’s a nice feeling starting a course, especially when it’s the start of getting another step closer to becoming a counsellor and being able to help young people through difficult times.

There was no clear idea of what the day would hold, as it was the first day of the course. For all we knew, we would enrol, have a coffee and go home. It was really nice to start as we mean to go on, and get our hands dirty, so to speak, and do a full day’s study. We spent the morning recapping the basics of person centred therapy, which is descriptive, and how it differs to other modalities, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is prescriptive. We have a really lovely group, as, bar one, we studied Level 3 together. Our ‘new’ member has fitted right in, and it’s really good getting to know the others in the group better. Two years of study and counselling is going to be exciting and hard, as we will be dealing with some very difficult issues. Some of them will be personal to us.

We have all grown so much as people through Level 3, and the growth through Level 4 will be incredible. It won’t be easy as we will be dealing with very delicate issues which some of us have held onto for years. Issues that run to our very cores and can define who we are and how we act and interact. Already, I have made a very big confession to some of the group about an issue I have held onto for years.

We learn the craft of counselling by working in trios, one counsellor, one client, one observer. This will be throughout the first year, as in the second year, we start counselling real clients in an agency setting. We have to have 100 hours of counselling under our belts before we complete the course.

I purposely chose to observe in our first trio, I was avoiding being a counsellor, as I am unsure of my counselling skills. I understand theory quite well, but haven’t always taken the best approach to practical counselling skills, as I tend to try and ‘fix’ people rather than listen, reflect and summarise. I made a conscious effort in our second trio to do better as a counsellor and use the skills that we are learning, and was really happy with how I did. When it came to my turn be client, I made another conscious decision to talk about an issue which has affected me for years, namely guilt and how it affects me.

I’m not going to go into details here, as I don’t feel it’s appropriate and it’s personal, but I am really happy that I have. It is a huge step forwards for me personally, and my tutor is really happy as our course is a perfect place to explore these kind of issues. We all need to learn about ourselves and what makes us tick so that we are better equipped to help others deal with their issues.

A really good start to a new chapter.

Never stop learning…

I got a letter from the college I’ve been studying (and used to work at…) at today, offering me a place on the CPCAB Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling Level 4 course. I’m really happy about this, as this is another big step to my becoming a qualified counsellor.

I started studying counselling 2 years ago, when the head of the counselling faculty recommended that I took the Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Studies, as there wasn’t an assertiveness course at the college, and this would be a good start. This was a short ten-week course, and as I progressed through it, the modality we studied, person centred therapy, clicked with me and made such sense. It was so natural and intuitive, and felt like this was something I’d known for years. I also had a new hero, Carl Rogers, the father of person centred therapy.

By the end of the course, I’d made some really good friends, and more importantly, realised I could help others. This was reinforced by one of my friends telling me to go onto Level 3 and become a counsellor, as there aren’t that many male counsellors, especially those that work with children…

See, after we’d been on holiday with our grandson, who was 9 at the time, I started researching child development. Our grandson was behaving like a stereotypical moody teenager at the time, and I really struggled with this. After some online research, I found out that puberty starts early with lots of younger children, around 9. This must be really scary, as it’s bad enough when you’re older dealing with mental and physical changes, but imagine going through it at such an early age… Now, the reason I’d been recommended going on an assertiveness course at my college (I was working there at the time…), was that I had issues dealing with disruptive ‘bad’ behaviour from teenagers, and needed to learn better strategies to deal with this kind of behaviour. They are going through massive changes just like our grandson was.

So at the time I started Level 3, in September 2013, I had decided that my focus was to work with younger people, and help them through this time of amazing transformation from child to adult. I got three weeks in and had a complete breakdown, and was signed off work for three months, due to mental health issues. My plan to become a counsellor had stalled, though our lovely head of faculty told me it was fine, and that I could restart the course the following year. Phew.

Level 3 Counselling was amazing. I learnt so much, about myself, about others, how we are all different and all have issues. It was also empowering for me as I became the only male student in the group, and I really learnt how to talk to and understand women as equals, not that I’ve ever had an issue with this anyhow. The course also allowed me to be completely open and congruent with others, talking about issues which had held me back for years, viewpoints I held, and attitudes which caused me issues in the past. I felt so much better as a person in all aspects, and I finally put to bed the notion that I was stupid, as I had not done well academically in the past. Being told that my course portfolio had passed was a very proud moment, as I focussed in a way I hadn’t before, reading, checking facts, cross referencing and evidencing my work. The exam was okay, and we have to wait until April for the results, but I was really happy with how I applied myself to revising, and was confident with all of the answers I gave.

Level 4 is two years of hard work, and I’m already determined to focus really hard on my studies. We’ll start counselling others too, as we have to have at least 100 hours of counselling under our belts. It’s going to be hard, but I’m relishing the opportunity to push myself and challenge my preconceptions and attitudes. After this, I’ll be looking for a placement to start my counselling career, which will run alongside my creative one.

These are amazing times, and the best is yet to come. Thanks for reading.