health

Another headache 

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I just discovered this post in my draft. It’s almost three years old, and it is strange to read about my life back then as it’s so different now. So, this is flashback to when my life wasn’t completely what I wanted, but I got there in the end.

I have had a headache since I woke up this morning. Is it due to not sleeping too long ? I don’t think so, it wasn’t THAT late! Have I been sleeping with my head twisted in a uncomfortable position ? Might be! What it can’t be, however, is happiness. This Friday was the last work day before I’m having one week off. I am now in the car on my way home, to see my family again. I will ‘babysit’ my two small brothers together with my sister, and absolutely can’t wait. I haven’t seen them for some months, so it will be lovely. I will stay home until Monday, when I’ll drive to the city I’ve worked in for 5 years before I moved to Bergen, to see some of my former colleagues. I talked with one of them (a kind psychologist) today. He tried to call me yesterday, but since I was with a friend I did not talk properly with him before today. He told me a former patient of mine, wanted to inquire if it was still possible to get some therapy sessions even if I’ve moved away. That stabbed my heart a little. I miss seeing my patients so much. Especially since the last six months has been so far from the clinical work I did before that I almost have forgotten how it is to do therapy. Working with learning disabilities and school problems is important, but it’s not what I am good at or where I get the time to really get to know somebody. So might my headache stem from something different entirely? Might it be that I miss helping trauma patients? Miss feeling alive and engaged every second I’m at work? 

I will have one week off now, before I go back to work for another two weeks. After that I am having three weeks off, and I will use my free time wisely. I will engage myself in something I enjoy and that will provide me with much needed energy.

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The sound of running water

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How old was I when water became a source of calm? Today I work at a clinic where mindfulness has a great focus. For a long time I thought this therapeutic approach was not for me. I have always been busy, often with several projects at once. Doing nothing has not been for me. Either I sit with a book, listen to music, watch a program on TV or do something useful.

This week I started on my maternity leave. When I woke up I felt anxious. This was reinforced as the morning continued. Just before the children go to school, there is chaos. So much that must be done in a hurry. I tried to not be too affected by it, making breakfast and sitting down with a cup of coffee. But I felt irritated, especially when my boyfriend let his stress show by scolding the girls for not being fast enough. I commented, even though I know this would not make the situation better, and he said something back that I did not like to hear, especially when it developed to a brief interchange about our different ways of parenting. I ended the discussion by saying that we should try to not let our different approaches to childrearing become clear in front of the kids, and then I also apologized for bringing this up right then. I sat down and tried to focus on breakfast. 20 minutes later, they drove away to school.

When they had gone, I found a crime novel I like. The problem was just that my attention wandered. I was at a critical moment in the plot, so I should be drawn into the story, but I had to reread sentences and take deep breaths. This made my irritation worse, and it was even more annoying that I had no reason to become stressed by this. I also tried to understand what was going on. When I think about the last few days, this has been typical. My concentration has been bad and I have also had problems with controlling unpleasant emotions. I have also felt restless. I know what I would try to ask my clients about: What can these symptoms be? They would wonder if they were depressed.

I managed to finish reading the book and realized I had to do something. The feeling I had was comparable to a form of claustrophobia, just that I needed to get away from myself and not a physical space. I decided to go for a walk without my cell phone. I wanted to notice the surroundings and be mindful. I understood that I needed to just be present, since trying to do something now would just make my mood worse.

When I came out, I began to breathe while studying the surroundings carefully. Mindfulness is about taking in what the senses capture, and just be aware. When I also focused on the steady influx of breath, the restlessness calmed a little and it was easier to get out of my head. I zoomed in on the trees, felt the wind and noticed the sensation of my scarf caressing my skin. After a short while I came to a river, and only then did my body really calm down. The sound of running water combined with the slow movements caught my attention and there was less space for discomfort. Instead memories from my past surfaces, and I remembered, among other things, how I used to stare at the water in a stream when I was young. I was fascinated by the movement of the water and loved how clear it was. I don’t know how many times I went to that stream and just studied the water, but I never got bored of it. One of the first stories I wrote as a teen was about a girl who fell into a river and ended up in a new world. Running water is like a balm on my soul, and I find it endlessly fascinating.

The walk really helped. Although I was unable to be completely present, I was certainly more present than just an hour ago. I tried to focus on details around me that I hadn’t seen before, and listened closely to sounds like birds chirping. Sometimes I was distracted by car sounds or by thoughts I didn’t want, but it is better to be aware of everything that goes on than to know that something is wrong without you knowing what it is.

Hopefully I can now have a relaxing day, where it is a bit easier to concentrate. I am happy I listened to my body, and will try to honor it further by being vigilant and observant.

By a waterfall two years ago


Where I grew up

7 SUBTLE SIGNS YOUR TRAUMA RESPONSE IS TO ‘FAWN’

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This is a reblog from the blog lets queer things up.

Sam Dylan Finch is the blogger behind Let’s Queer Things Up!, where he writes about mental health, body positivity, and LGBTQ+ identity. He’s also the Editor of mental health and chronic conditions at Healthline.

As an advocate, he’s passionate about building community for people in recovery. You can find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook, or learn more at samdylanfinch.com.

Photo by Clarisse Meyer on Unsplash.

Last month, I wrote about the fourth type of trauma response — not fight, flight, or even freeze, but fawn.

The term was first coined by therapist and survivor Pete Walker, who wrote about it in his groundbreaking book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.” And let me tell you, as a concept, it thoroughly changed the game for me.

In a nutshell, “fawning” is the use of people-pleasing to diffuse conflict, feel more secure in relationships, and earn the approval of others.

It’s a maladaptive way of creating safety in our connections with others by essentially mirroring the imagined expectations and desires of other people.

Often times, it stems from traumatic experiences early on in life, as I described in last month’s article.

It resonated with so many you, and since then, I’ve gotten a lot of questions on how to recognize this type of response in ourselves, particularly in our day-to-day interactions.

I can only speak from personal experience, but there are a number of commonalities among “fawn” types that I think are worth noting.

I’m going to share seven struggles that a lot of us seem to experience as people-pleasers. If it sounds familiar, you, my friend, probably know a thing or two about fawning.

1. YOU STRUGGLE TO FEEL ‘SEEN’ BY OTHERS.

If you’re a fawn type, you’re likely very focused on showing up in in a way that makes those around you feel comfortable, and in more toxic relationships, to avoid conflict.

But the downside to this is that you’re not necessarily being your most authentic self. The more you fawn and appease others, the more likely you are to feel unknown to others, even in your close relationships.

If no one sees your authentic self, it can lead to feelings of being misunderstood, and even resenting the fact that no one really “sees” you.

The painful irony is that often times, you’re the one obscuring their ability to see you in the first place.

2. YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO SAY ‘NO’ TO PEOPLE.

Fawn types are almost always stretched thin. This is because we’re so eager to make others happy, we blurt out “of course!” and “yes!” before it even occurs to us to say “I can’t right now” or “no thanks.”

Your catchphrase might even be something like “it’s no trouble at all, really!”

Meanwhile, you’re silently dreading the mountain of favors you’ve signed up for — a list that only seems to get longer as the day wears on.

You’ve got a love/hate relationship with being helpful, and no matter how many times you try to break up with the word “yes,” saying “no” just doesn’t come naturally to you.

3. YOU’RE EITHER SPEWING EMOTIONS OUT OF NOWHERE OR UNLOADING THEM ONTO DISTANT STRANGERS.

This might seem paradoxical, but it’s not, if you really think about it.

You want to make those closest to you happy, which means you’re reluctant to open up when you’re struggling — so you only do so when you’re on the brink of totally breaking down, because you’ve held it all in for far too long.

On the other hand, distance makes it easier to have feelings, too.

Which is why people we’ve just met can suddenly become as intimate as a best friend in a single conversation (and why I became a blogger, let’s be real).

A kind stranger in a bar? Sure, I’ll tell you all about my trauma. Oh, here’s a Twitter thread about the worst thing that ever happened to me. Here’s a frightening Facebook SOS— I mean, status.

We need an outlet for our emotions, but having emotions can be sooo off-putting, right? So we unload them onto people we aren’t yet invested in, that we won’t see again, or where a safe distance (like on social media) is in place.

That way, if someone bails on us for being messy or “too much” — otherwise known as being human — it stings less, and the stakes don’t feel as high.

4. YOU FEEL GUILTY WHEN YOU’RE ANGRY AT OTHER PEOPLE.

You might make a lot of excuses for the lousy behavior of other people, defaulting to self-blame. You might get angry, only to feel like an Actual Monster for having feelings at all five minutes later. You might even feel like you’re not “allowed” to be upset with other people.

I did this just recently when I was almost hit by a car, and immediately went to a place of wondering if I’d simply misunderstood what happened.

It’s pretty hard to “misunderstand” someone hitting the gas pedal when you’re crossing in front of their car, but I was convinced that somehow, some way, it had to be my fault.

If you struggle to get mad at people, opting instead to blame yourself or justify someone’s cruddy behavior, you’re actually fawning — because you’re pushing your feelings down, and rewriting the story, all in an effort to appease the other person involved.

5. YOU FEEL RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S REACTIONS.

Whenever I recommend a restaurant or a book to someone, there’s a moment or two of intense panic. “What if they hate it?” I wonder. “What if it’s not as good as I remember?”

Sometimes I just let other people make decisions on where we go and what we do together, because if something goes awry, it won’t be because I “failed” to make a good choice.

I once felt guilty because a friend of mine spent thirty minutes looking for parking near the cafe I chose to meet them at. As if I somehow control whether or not a parking space is available.

It’s a little nuts if you think about it, right? Because you can’t arrange someone else’s tastebuds, magically know their book preferences, or anticipate whether or not that art exhibit you want to see is actually worth going to.

Yet I take a ridiculous amount of responsibility for whether or not people are having a good time — so much so that I forget that I’m supposed to be enjoying myself, too.

This is just another sneaky manifestation of the “fawn” response in action (and a dash of codependency added in there, for good measure).

We’re trying to anticipate someone else’s happiness, because deep down, we feel responsible for it — and are trying everything in our power to ensure that the people we care about aren’t disappointed.

6. YOU FIND YOURSELF COMPROMISING YOUR VALUES.

This can be difficult to notice at first. You might think of yourself as being agreeable, good at compromise, easy to get along with. But if you pay attention to the conversations you’re having, you might notice you’re a little too agreeable — to the point of validating viewpoints that you don’t really, fully agree with.

Sometimes it’s benign things, like saying you don’t have a preference for where you get dinner when you actually do. Other times it’s a deeper issue, like validating a perspective or behavior that you don’t agree with.

“Sure, the sexism in that movie really only bothered me a little bit, but you’re so right, the cinematography was top-notch.” “Oh yeah, she probably isn’t being a good friend to you, I can see why you sent that angry text.”

If you find yourself sitting on the fence as not to upset anyone, you’re likely fawning to some degree — and it might be time to self-reflect on whether or not you feel okay continuing to do so.

7. YOU SOMETIMES DISSOCIATE IN SOCIAL SITUATIONS.

Fawning often requires that we shut down emotionally. The less we have distinct feelings of our own, the easier it is to adapt to and accommodate the emotions of other people.

Sometimes this can lead to dissociating, where we disconnect emotionally. This can show up as daydreaming, spacing out, withdrawing, or even “going blank” when we’re overwhelmed in social situations.

This is also why fawn types can relate so much to other trauma responses, like flight or freeze.

If we feel that “fawning” is failing us in an argument, that it won’t work with a particular person, or that we just don’t know how to please someone, we might check out emotionally, or rely on other “escapist” mechanisms so that we no longer have to engage.

We’re more prone to anything that involves dissociation because we’re already distancing ourselves from our own emotions for the sake of others.

SOUND FAMILIAR?

I think I need to put “Fawning Isn’t Fun” on a t-shirt or something, because it’s true: It sucks.

It can be painful to constantly silence yourself and push your emotions away, all while working overtime to anticipate the emotions of other people.

A number of people have asked of fawning, “Isn’t this manipulative?” But I think that misses the point. It’s disempowering, it stems from pain, and guilt is simply not an effective way of motivating people to unpack their trauma and show up differently for the people they care about.

But hopefully, if you start by noticing these patterns in your life, and have the opportunity to work with an awesome therapist, you can begin to reorient yourself toward a more authentic, fulfilling way of connecting with others.

LOOKING FOR MORE?

If you’re looking for more about fawning and how to challenge it, in addition to reading Pete’s book and the articles I’ve published around this, I also put together a zine for my patrons on Patreon that offers some actionable advice!

The zine includes writing prompts and guidance on how to notice this mechanism as it relates to your own life. And it’s really pretty, so if you’re a design nerd like me, you’ll probably appreciate it.

A lot of you have asked if you could chip in to support my work. Supporting me on Patreon is the best way to ensure that I can keep creating free mental health resources, so hop on over if you’re interested!

Either way, please know that I’m right there with you in this messy, complicated journey. It does get easier, though — I can promise you that.

And for what it’s worth, I’m proud of every one of you for taking steps to show up differently. It’s tough work, but you deserve to feel whole and seen in every relationship you have.

You work so hard to offer that compassion to others — why not offer that to yourself?

Sam Dylan Finch is the blogger behind Let’s Queer Things Up!, where he writes about mental health, body positivity, and LGBTQ+ identity. He’s also the Editor of mental health and chronic conditions at Healthline.

As an advocate, he’s passionate about building community for people in recovery. You can find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook, or learn more at samdylanfinch.com.

Photo by Clarisse Meyer on Unsplash.

Protected: Always remember us this way

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Protected: Bliss

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I believe in miracles

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Millions believe in miracles. And millions have experienced it too. Six weeks ago, I was the lucky one. My miracle appeared the 20th of April, when my son was born. It is still so strange to have a son. One week after he was born, his eye was infected and I had to get a remedy in the pharmacy. When she asked me if it was for myself or someone else, I proudly announced it was for my son. It hit me then. I am now a mother, with all that it entails. First and foremost, that means being there for him, making him secure. He has already got a little personality, and so far he has been a very kind and calm baby. These last days he has also become more social and engaged with the world. Every little development is a miracle, just him being here is. How lucky am I ?

Bipolar, Schizophrenia, and the Microbes Inside You

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This post is a reblog of a post by Candida Fink, MD.

I found it very interesting and hope you like it too! The post can be found on her blog: bipolar beat at psych central

Can the bacterial community that lives in your gut actually be related to psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder? Research on the human microbiome and its effects on health and illness has exploded into the worlds of medicine and research. It is increasingly clear that the microorganisms in the human intestinal tract, and the genes produced by all of these microscopic living things, play critical roles in an individual’s patterns of overall wellness — far beyond helping us digest food effectively.

Microbiota and Microbiome Defined

Microbiota is the ecological community of microorganisms (mostly bacteria, but also fungi, viruses, and so on) that live in a particular location, such as your gut. Microbiomerefers collectively to the genes harbored in these microorganisms. Researchers must understand the patterns of both the organisms and the genes to help clarify the roles these microscopic creatures play in the body’s health and function. So, if you read something about the microbiome that’s about only the bacteria and not the genes, you know it is an incomplete discussion. Also, while most of the discussions are about the gut microbiota and microbiome, humans actually have colonies of microorganisms living in other areas in and on their bodies, including their skin, reproductive tract, and the mouth and throat (which are technically part of the gut but sometimes are not thought of in that way).

A study in the journal Brain, Behavior, Immunology (May 2017), entitled “The microbiome, immunity, and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” summarizes some of the current research looking at the microbiome as it relates to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The article reports that many studies in animal models have shown that the gut microbiome could affect thinking and behavior through effects on the immune system. Some human studies have shown that people with psychiatric conditions took antibiotics more frequently than people without these disorders. Humans take antibiotics to kill off unwanted bacterial infections, but these medications also kill off some of the microbiota, changing the person’s microbiome. The question that comes up then is whether these microbiome changes were related to the development of the psychiatric conditions. This article also points to studies that found different microbiota in the mouths and throats (oro-pharyngeal microbiota) of people with schizophrenia compared to those without.

Babies are born with “sterile” guts; they don’t have any gut microbiota. But in the birth process, microorganisms colonize the baby’s mouth and intestine, starting off their process of building a microbiome that eventually looks like an adult’s. Many researchers are exploring how the developing microbiome might affect the developing brain and nervous system. While it seems clear that there are effects, the exact processes mediating the effects and what exactly gets changed or affected remains very unclear. While the immune system is thought to be one pathway, other mechanisms are also being investigated.

Many other areas of research show promising results when looking at the microbiota, microbiome, and illness. Autism researchers are looking at the “gut-microbiome-brain” connection, and there are strong indicators that the microbiota and microbiome have some relationship to autism. Obesity — not a mental illness but of concern to so many people living with mental illness — has been shown to have some very interesting connections to the microbiota in mouse studies. Changing the patterns of bacteria in mouse guts can transform the mouse from lean to obese and vice versa without changing diets. A study from China last month in the World Journal of Gastroenterologyreports a case of a 20-year-old with Crohn’s disease and seizures. They treated her with fecal microbiota transplantation — giving her the gut microbiota of a healthy person — and her gastrointestinal symptoms and seizures improved significantly.

The potential benefits to understanding how the microbiota and microbiome interact with the brain and central nervous system could be enormous. Understanding microorganism mechanisms that increase the likelihood of mental illness such as bipolar disorder or neurodevelopmental condition like autism would make room to build new interventions that target those mechanisms. The research in these areas is still in early stages, and there is much more to do, but this is an intriguing and promising story in the quest to understand and treat disorders of the brain.

Protected: First meeting

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Protected: The sound of running water

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Preparation

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Three nights with little sleep is hard. This is the third night I`ve woken up early, trying in vain to catch more hours of blissful nothingness. Luckily my boss is very understanding, so I can call work in some hours and tell them I must be home. The main reason for my unstable sleep, is probably my pregnancy. My baby is now 7 months, and he is growing faster and faster. My stomach is finally getting bigger, but still you don`t always see there is a baby in there if I wear baggy clothes.

I have still not told many of my clients about my pregnancy, but must do so the following weeks. Maternity leave will start the first week of march, so there is really not much time. Luckily the next weeks won`t be too busy, since my client list has shrunk the last couple of months. I also work with a different group of clients now, where it isn`t so much therapeutic conversations we offer, but more practical and social help. I work more together with nurses and other health professionals, so we are more helpers, which means that my role is more relaxing, sometimes being a coordinator rather than a therapist.

I have to start planning my return to work soon. I am not completely sure if I should go back to my former position or if I should ask if I can go back to working with trauma. I will be back in February, and know it will be challenging to start working again, since the baby is only 8 months old and still will need breast-feeding during the night. That would mean that going back to work in the team I`m in now, could make the transition back to work, more manageable. Starting to work with weekly clients again, having a long list of people I have to see, will probably be harder. I will discuss this with my current boss soon, and that will probably help me figure out what to do.

But that is not what I´m thinking about the most at the moment. In two months time, a little baby will be in my life. He will probably drive me insane, and it will be hard. But I can`t wait anyway. I know that when you love somebody, the good moments means so much that the bad is forgotten after a while. I look forward to being there for someone all the time, to know someone inside out.

I will try to go back for maybe one more hour of sleep. Fingers crossed!