‘In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance’.

Jeanette Winterson, The World and Other Places:

Life transitions are challenging because they force us to let go of the familiar and face the future with a feeling of vulnerability. Whether positive or negative, a transitional space can force us to adjust to new ways of living, being and working. How we deal with these changes can feel quite challenging to our sense of well-being and our emotional health.

Many significant changes are triggered by regrets about unfulfilled dreams, a discontent or dissatisfaction with how life has turned out or a feeling that you are not at peace with the passing of time.

When we consider change in our lives, we might think about the work of the psychoanalyst Donald winnicott, who wrote about the important transitions an infant experiences in separating from her mother.

He believed that our sense of self emerged through our interpersonal relations, especially through early interactions between the main carer and her infant. In order for the infant to develop, the caregiver must gradually allow disillusionment so that the infant feels she is a separate individual but also feels safe and empowered. As this process occurs she begins to sense that her needs and emotions are not immediately met because her mother is not an extension of herself.

Healthy separation happens when the infant’s emotions are reflected back to her and adequately held without crisis occurring. This mirroring and holding creates what Winnicott called a transitional space, a container where the infant feels safe enough and powerful enough to navigate and integrate her needs and emotions allowing her to develop a stable sense of self that can develop authentic emotional connections in everyday interactions with others while still feeling some sense of control.

At some point we all have to deal with times of major life transition, which require adjusting to new identities and new perspectives. These changes are not always smooth, but it is helpful to appreciate that they happen for an purpose and can be important to allow us to grow as individuals developing resilience and self belief.

They perhaps attempt to signpost us in the direction of being closer to who and what we want to be and hopefully allow life to feel more meaningful and authentic.

Using Winnicott’s concept of a transitional space is helpful in navigating these times of change. The strength in these situations is knowing when we need to ask for support from those around us. – Whether that be family, friends or seeking the help of a professional. As I have gone through my own transitions in life, I have decided where I am going to focus my attention and what support I need. I know that I cannot manage significant change myself and I am open to help. Being proactive, aware and vulnerable are important characteristics to successfully negotiating the significant changes that life has a habit of throwing up.

‘The real issue with speed is not just how fast can you go, but where are you going so fast? It doesn’t help to arrive quickly if you wind up in the wrong place’. Walter Murch

On Anger.

My white therapist calls it my edge, I hear
Angry Black Women. She says, Strength
of Wilful Negative Focus. She says, Acerbic
Intellectual Temperament. I copy her words
onto an index card. She wants
an origin story, a stranger with his hand
inside me, or worse. I’m without
linear narrative and cannot sate her. We
perform rituals on her living room floor. I burn
letters brimming with resentments, watch
the paper ember in the fireplace, admit
I don’t want to let this go. What if anger,
my armour, is embedded in the marrow of who I am.
Who can I learn to be without it? Wherever you go,
there you are. She asks what i lose
if I surrender, I imagined a gutted fish,
silvery skin gleaming, emptied of itself-

Rage Hezekiah

“Otherwise” Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birth wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
but one day, i know
it will be otherwise.

Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)

Book review – The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath. By Leslie Jamison.

Jamison describes addiction and particularly the dynamic of the female addict, bouncing between her own story and the tales of others who have battled alcohol and mental illness.

The mythic male drunk manages a thrilling abandon —the reckless, self-destructive pursuit of truth —his female counterpart is more often understood as guilty of abandonment, the crime of failing at care. Her drinking has violated the central commandment of her gender, Thou shalt care for others, and revealed itself as an intrinsically selfish abnegation of that duty. Her self-pity compounds the crime by directing her concern away from an implicit other —real or imagined, child or spouse —and funnelling that concern back toward herself.”
― from “The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath”

She highlights and questions when an ordinary craving become pathological…suggesting perhaps this is when it becomes tyrannical enough to summon shame. When it stops constituting the self and begins to define its lack.

“For shame is its own veil,’ Denis Johnson wrote, “and veils the world as much as the face.”

When it comes to alcohol, women lose the battle of the sexes on almost every front. More and more women are struggling with heavy drinking and alcoholism, a disorder that was once believed to be primarily a man’s issue. The disease is in many ways more physically detrimental to women, who, for example get cirrhosis of the liver at twice the rate of men. Even so, they seek treatment less often. The female addict sits in a tremendous amount of guilt and shame, and is afraid to tell even those closest to her the truth about herself. She views herself as a “bad” person needing to become “good,” not as a sick person needing to become well. Many others will view her this way too and it will keep her from seeking treatment.

Addiction is a very patient disease; it lies in waiting, is stealthy and manipulative. Jamison is able to convey the struggles of being in recovery, someone haunted by her past, yet also in some way nostalgic for it.

Our sense of self is never really fixed, yet we tell ourselves one historical narrative, constantly rewritten to make sense of the changes in our lives. It can be all too easy to look back on the person that we “used to be”, with a fondness and regret that are often misplaced

The book highlights the simple truth; that stability is indeed a humble, and messy process which can feel like an immense struggle within a culture that craves simple narratives about addiction and sobriety, genius and madness.

Yes, your gut is speaking to you…..

There are many clear benefits to talking therapies in improving our wellbeing, understanding our internal selves and helping us to deal with the more difficult moments in our life.

However, there is a relatively new area of development in the field of mental health, which I have become increasingly interested in – that of Nutritional Psychiatry. Focusing on a shift in thinking around the role of diet and nutrition in mental wellbeing whilst developing a comprehensive, scientifically rigorous evidence base to support these ideas.

The use of anti-depressants has more than doubled in recent years. In England 64.7m prescriptions were issued for antidepressants in 2016. This is an increase of 3.7m on the number of items prescribed in 2015 and more than double than the 31m issued in 2006. Sadly, our approach at the moment suggests that poor mental health caused by social, environmental or personal conditions is primarily treated by dispensing drugs.

Of course, there is no doubting that drugs can be very effective and have a necessary place in the treatment of mental health. However, there are potential side effects and many people are understandably reluctant to become reliant on medication. As with all medications they may help in some situations, and not in others; shown to be effective for moderate, severe and chronic depression, but less so for mild depression.

The link between poor mental health and nutritional deficiencies has long been recognised by nutritionists working in the complementary health sector. However, psychiatrists are only now becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of using nutritional approaches to mental health,

It is now known that many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain, which ultimately causes our brain cells to die. This inflammatory response starts in our gut and is associated with a lack of nutrients from our food such as magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, vitamins and minerals that are all essential for the optimum functioning of our bodies.

Research has found an inverse association between healthy dietary patterns (those with high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fish, and minimal intake of processed foods) and the risk of depression.

Since the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish and other sources has declined in most populations, the incidence of major depression has increased proportionally. Epidemiological data and clinical studies already show that omega-3 fatty acids can effectively treat depression.

In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B (e.g., folate), and magnesium deficiencies have been linked to depression. Randomized, controlled trials that involve folate and B12 suggest that patients treated with 0.8 mg of folic acid/day or 0.4 mg of vitamin B12/day exhibit decreased depressive symptoms.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibits pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.

When people take probiotics (supplements containing the good bacteria), their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook have been shown to improve, compared with people who did not take probiotics.

As the days grow shorter and for many of us, the colder, darker months feel more difficult navigate, it may be worth supplementing our diets with these additional vitamins and minerals to maintain our gut health and help our minds and bodies function more effectively on both a physical and emotional level.

Peace, Love and Ahimsa.

“Ahimsa,” the Sanskrit word for non-violence asks us to be kind to others and the Earth, but most especially to ourselves. For how we treat ourselves reflects how we treat others.

In order to practice ahimsa, we must attempt to lay down our preconceptions, ignorance and stereotype’s. It is, in many ways, easier to navigate the modern world in a haze, to become oblivious or even numb to the long-term effects of our actions, to consider the real cost of our behaviours and relationships. Yoga asks us to put this tendency aside and look clearly at who we are and what we do. From a place of simplicity, we can focus on our desires and the nature of our attachments, our consumer habits, and our need for excess and ask ourselves whether the benefits outweigh the harm to others.

Ahimsa asks us to be mindful of thoughts and feelings. Thoughts naturally move in and out of our minds. Whilst these don’t necessarily cause harm, excessive rumination, negative beliefs and toxic dynamics can translate into acts of ‘violence’ in how we engage in the world and with people.

We can live our lives in an outwardly healthy way, eating well and exercising and whilst these are, vital to our wellbeing, if we are engaged in a space that feels negative from within this can still impact on our mental health. Negative thinking sends out messages to the body that trigger the fight or flight response. Thoughts do this even if there’s no real outside threat.
The fight or flight response secretes cortisol, often referred to as the stress hormone. This, in turn, lowers the immune system, and makes us more likely to experience physical and emotional difficulties, ill health and exhaustion.

The purity of ahimsa is three-fold. It asks of us to express no harm in thought, word, or deed. Speech is perhaps the hardest aspect to consider. The modern lexicon has come to include a specific phrase to describe the many ‘insignificant’ ways that we infuse our speech with violence, often very subtle violence, termed micro-aggressions. When we are caught up in our ego, in the delusion of our special self, in order to protect this idea we may we fall back on ways of speaking and engaging, which belittle or diminish others in order to provide ourselves with a sense of importance or omnipotence.

A little known practice; a precursor to mindfulness, I imagine we could all do with a little Ahimsa in our lives.

‘Just because you’re invited, doesn’t mean you’re wanted’

From ‘Get Out’ by Jordan Peele

 

 

My role as a psychotherapist working in Central London brings me face to face with people of many different backgrounds, ages, races, class and political and religious viewpoint. The origins of psychotherapy lie in Europe which was mostly created by middle class white men to treat mainly white women. Much has changed about the world since then and much has changed in the way we see difference and otherness in the consulting room.

At the beginning of treatment and throughout the course of therapy, both the therapist and patient can expect to be silently evaluated by each other. This process leaves us open to our vulnerabilities. Psychotherapy may activate emotional memories that relate to issues such as trust, entitlement, , authority conflicts, and the possibility of being judged. The opportunity for the person in treatment to expose her difficulties and to have these accepted and validated by the therapist, are critical components of the work. A positive therapeutic relationship is predicated on creating a safe enough space to expose our thoughts and desires and the therapist’s ability to handle these, including navigating those occasions when our differences interfere with a sense of emotional safety.

With this in mind I was struck by the relevance of the film ‘Get Out’ by Jordan Peele. The film artfully attempts to allow a white person to see the world through the eyes of a black person for an hour and half.

In the film, Missy, the therapist uses hypnosis to stir up memories of main character losing his mother and the associated pain to enter his mind. She sends him to ‘The Sunken Place’ – this is used as a metaphor for the representation of People of Colour. The “sunken place,” is where people are weighted down by lies they have internalised about their history and racial trauma. This idea refers to W.E.B Du Bois’s theory of “double consciousness” where we see ourselves through the eyes of the dominant culture. Double Consciousness is an internal struggle that affects the Black psyche. Contemplating oneself through the eyes of others, you are forced to live double lives―the life of a person of colour and as a British citizen, both of which are not liberal to you. Hence, the term ‘double consciousness’. You know what racism feels and looks like, but white people do not know what racism is. They have never experienced it after all. They have never felt what it is to be suppressed by people of their own country. They have never felt that pain or misery that many people of colour have been breathing like air since their birth.

As a psychotherapist there is much to be learnt from this experience. Our role asks us to try to understand the difficulties experienced by another human being, quite often with very different backgrounds to our own. The film ‘Get out’ uses imagery and symbolism to demonstrate both the literal meaning of the dialogue as it unfolds, but also the more subtle unconscious aspects of how we relate to each other and the world.

My experience of my difference means that on occasions I can’t quite tell if what I’m seeing has underlying bigotry, or it’s just a normal conversation and I’m being paranoid. I admit sometimes I see race and racism when its not there. That dynamic in itself is unsettling. It is this dynamic the film is able to capture. These aren’t the racists Hollywood is traditionally more comfortable calling out and posturing against. They aren’t Neo-Nazis, or White Nationalists. These are good White People, proud, well off and liberal who are very likely being completely sincere about their Obama votes and desire to connect with a multicultural society. Peele highlights a very specific subset of White racism: Liberals who are insistent of their non-racism because they admire an abstract ideal of Blackness while not actually engaging or regularly encountering any actual Black people.

Peele isn’t showing us that one race is superior to the other. He’s showing us that ideas of racial superiority are learned and passed down in families, workplaces, social groups and through the media.

 

 

 

 

Where all new things are possible

A Soft-edged Reed of Light

That was the house where you asked me to remain on the eve of my planned departure. Do you remember?

The house remembers it — the deal table with the late September sun stretched on its back.

As long as you like, you said, and the chairs, the clock, the diamond leaded lights in the pine-clad alcove of that 1960s breakfast-room bore witness.

I had only meant to stay for a week but you reached out a hand, the soft white cuff of your shirt open at the wrist, and out in the yard, the walls of the house considered themselves in the murk of the lily-pond, and it was done.

Done. Whatever gods had bent to us then to whisper, Here is your remedy — take it — here, your future, either they lied or we misheard.

How changed we are now, how superior after the end of it — the unborn children, the mornings that came with a soft-edged reed of light over and over, the empty rooms we woke to.

And yet if that same dark-haired boy were to lean towards me now, with one shy hand bathed in September sun, as if to say, All things are possible — then why not this?

I’d take it still, praying it might be so.

Julia Copus