July is Disability Pride Month 🌈 So I wanted to end this important month by sharing a poem I wrote. I feel it ties in nicely with the sentiment.
For anyone who is living with a disability, visible or invisible – you matter and deserve to feel connected to the world and everyone in it. I see you xx
I prepare for a daily battle, Against something that cannot be seen. The chance of attack is quite certain, From a foe, relentless and mean. I try not to show how I’m feeling. Knowing my fight’s just begun. It is hard to carry such pain all alone, The shame of a war never won. On bad days I want to surrender. It all feels too much to bear. Yet something inside me just keeps pushing on, I know that I must persevere. This invisible force is tyrannic and cruel. In its wake leaves massive destruction. Compassion and hope will lead the defence, Against this satanic affliction. Be kind to others as you walk through your pain. For you have no idea of theirs. Together our force is unyielding, Its powered by all that we share.
We are encouraged now more than ever to talk about our feelings. To reach out to those closest to us when we are faced with struggles. We may need supporting through a serious life crisis or it could just be a vent about day to day issues. Either way the message is everywhere; from social media to TV campaigns and mental health charities – don’t suffer in silence, keep talking.
Expressing our feelings is a way of releasing the burden. Even if our confidant can’t actually solve the problem, simply feeling heard and validated can be incredibly uplifting. A problem shared and all that!
Yet what happens when talking actually makes us feel worse?
How many of us have reached out for support only to be met with the following responses?
“You just need to think positive”
“You should be grateful for what you do have.”
“Never mind, it could be worse.”
Did these pearls of wisdom ever make anyone feel better. I would say – absolutely NOT. In fact, the recipient is more likely to feel guilty or ashamed for having what are actually completely normal and appropriate human emotions.
Is the belief that no matter how awful or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset.
Of course there is no denying that having a generally optimistic outlook is good for our wellbeing. Re-framing difficult situations can often supply a more compassionate and balanced perspective.
However, when positivity becomes overzealous and rigid it is not only unhelpful, it’s toxic. This attitude doesn’t just stress the importance of optimism, it minimises and denies any trace of human emotion.
In a nutshell – we shouldn’t have to pretend everything is OK when it isn’t.
What if it’s not only acceptable for us to feel all the emotions that accompany the bad stuff – but it’s beneficial? By providing opportunities to process, feel and accept we are able to move forward in a healthy way.
Difficult as it may be, undesirable emotions are best met with open arms. Dismissing pain and forcing positivity is a false economy. The negative energy will eventually find a way out – it has to. And it is unlikely to be released in a healthy way.
Facing all emotions, good, bad and ugly is all part of the authentic human experience. My feeling is that even the unpleasant aspects of life are integral to living fully. As such they should be embraced and shared.
The pressure to appear ‘OK’ invalidates the range of emotions we all experience. It can give the impression that you are defective when you feel distress, which can be internalised in a core belief that you are inadequate or weak.
As cited in Scully (2020)
Symptoms of toxic positivity
Hiding/masking your true feelings.
Trying to just ‘power through’ a situation by dismissing emotions.
Experiencing guilt or shame for feeling what you feel.
Minimising other people’s sad experiences with ‘feel good’ quotes/statements.
Trying to offer a different perspective instead of validating their emotional experience.
Shaming or berating others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity.
Can lead to depression, self-doubt and denial.
So what is the alternative to smothering someone with a blanket of positivity?
Acknowledging that we all have a myriad of complex emotions is a good starting point. For example, you can be grateful to the NHS for treatment you receive but still feel resentful of the fact you need treatment in the first place.
Empowering people to recognise and accept their thoughts and feelings is ironically more positive than following the urge to ‘buck them up’ using toxic positivity.
This is a more personal post than my usual offering. The last 6 weeks have tested me beyond measure. So as the essence of this blog is using writing to enhance mental well-being then write about it I shall.
On the 2nd June I underwent major pelvic reconstructive surgery. The result of this surgery was that a large amount of my intestine was removed leaving me with a permanent ileostomy. An ileostomy is where the small intestine is diverted through an opening in the abdomen. Waste (or poo) is then collected into a bag placed over the ileostomy.
This was a planned surgery, however I think I was slightly naive as to just how tough mentally and physically it would be. Unfortunately there were post operative complications due to blood loss, low blood pressure and infection. I was in intensive care for a while and 6 weeks on I feel that my recovery is only just beginning.
Tears and isolation!
Due to covid I was unable to have visitors for the first 7 days and after that only 1 person could visit. This is exceptionally testing when the presence of loved ones is vital for comfort and strength.
Although the restrictions were completely necessary, they made the experience quite a lonely and at times frightening one. It is a vulnerable place to reside, in a hospital bed, weak and in pain. For a person who likes to be in control, relying on the expertise of others to keep me alive was a real emotional challenge. I cried like a lost child, a lot! It isn’t a place I would return to in a hurry.
Time heals all wounds?
As much as I want to put it all behind me and forget it really isn’t that simple. For a start I have a permanent reminder of a bag attached to my tummy. That in itself takes some getting used to. Also there is the exhaustion that follows major surgery, building my stamina back up is going to take a while. It is all quite raw, mentally and physically.
Time isn’t the best healer. You are.
I accept that with time I will heal. The physical scars will become part of my story and the trauma will fade enough to manage. However it is important I do all I can to ease myself get through this turbulent season. Which means, self-care, compassion, time and lots more self-care. Oh and did I mention self-care??
Does self care really help?
There are so many positives in offering ourselves care it would be impossible to list them all. Here are a few of the benefits to whet your appetite! Please feel free to download my self-care flash-cards at the end of this post to get you started or enhance your existing journey of nurture and love.
We all need and deserve it!
Physical health improves
Respecting our bodies by supplying a healthy diet, exercise and sleep are fundamental acts of self care. Giving our systems the best of the best helps them to flourish. The human body is truly a marvel and definitely worthy of love and care.
Enhances emotional well-being
Even the smallest acts such as making your bed in the morning and practicing good sleep hygiene can make us feel happier. Self compassion can help to boost our self-esteem too and is a great habit to learn and incorporate into our lives. Every small expression of self care can lift mood so turning these acts into habits is absolutely worthwhile! You can read more about the value showing self compassion in my Dear Jenny blog.
Reminds us of our worth
Our thoughts can be critical and harsh, particularly with low mood. By practicing self care we can introduce a new belief system that tells us we are important and deserve care, respect and love. The more we offer ourselves care the more our self worth will grow. Reaching out to loved ones for support is an act of self care that should never be underestimated. I find asking for help incredibly difficult but I am getting better at it. Accepting genuine care and support from others is uplifting to all involved.
It is empowering
Feelings of powerlessness are a common aspect of depression so making positive choices around our self care gives us back some control. When we feel in charge our resilience and self esteem improve. This is a powerful gift and it is well within our reach.
I will admit I am a novice at the whole blog writing thing. In typical “Jen style” I’m a little late to the party. Still, those who are first to arrive often leave early too; so despite my tardiness I promise to be the life and soul of this shindig! You may be wondering why I have decided to jump on the blogging bandwagon now. So, lets dive in!
I was diagnosed with an Inflammatory Bowel Disease at the age of 12, after which life quickly unravelled. The years of treatment and surgery that followed were, to say the least, devastating. Unfortunately, other than being handed a leaflet of relaxation exercises, I was not offered any mental health support. It is difficult to ascertain why and entirely possible I simply slipped through the net. So it was a case of “just getting on with things,” a task I had neither the emotional capacity or maturity to manage. The lack of emotional support inevitably had consequences. My adult life has been tainted by severe mental health problems. While I am grateful to be alive, there have been many times (and may be many more) when this was not the case.
It gives me “the feeling.” You know the one? When something is so fascinating it draws you in and takes over. Learning about it, talking about it never gets old, even on the days my brain is fit to burst. My work as a Well-Being Practitioner, coupled with my own personal therapy has changed me in ways I didn’t know possible. Ironically, the very focus of my pain and grief now feeds my soul. It’s pure fascination, an insatiable urge to know more. That’s “the feeling,” and I want to share it.
Working in mental health is grounding. The human condition means that no one is immune. If you haven’t been personally affected, then I have no doubt that you know someone who has. Mental health services in the UK are stretched beyond breaking point. The net I slipped through as a child is now riddled with holes; so getting appropriate support when in crisis is exceedingly difficult, if not virtually impossible.
I have created this public blog simply because mental health cannot be overdone. Everyone’s experiences are unique and should always be taken seriously. Great strides have been made in getting people talking and removing the stigma. We need to keep up the momentum, now more than ever.
So what can you expect from this blog?
A safe, non-judgemental and informative space.
Although (hopefully) uplifting, inspiring and motivational, it will also be realistic. Sometimes, life is bloody hard. It is expected and OK to have bad days and difficult emotions. This is where self-compassion comes in!
To emphasize how much value we all have as individuals. Everyone deserves to feel heard, valued and included. To this end, I welcome comments and suggestions. Please feel free to use the provided comment box or reach out via email. I just ask you are respectful of differing views/ideas.
Humour – we all know the adage ‘if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry! A good bout of either is a fabulous release of oxytocin and endorphins.
Signposting to resources – this is a biggie! There is a wealth of untapped resources and online support out there. This blog aims to highlight as many of these as possible. Anything from simple breathing exercises to peer reviewed research is potential blog fodder!
Finally I will share my own experiences/helpful tips. This blog certainly isn’t an altruistic endeavour. Writing is my armour, my relief. It distracts my brain and is my go-to when things are rough. I will share my published writing here and there, but my focus is primarily to share information and avenues of support.
I will end my introduction with a poem I wrote for the charity Mind on World Kindness Day 2020. Please remember, the greatest kindness is that which you show yourself.
Someone noticed me today They smiled and said hello Just a small thing really Yet it gave me such a glow
Someone held my hand today When I was feeling sad Suddenly I was less alone Things were not so bad
Someone made me laugh today We shared a joke together The world seemed brighter for a while A moment I will treasure
Someone gave me time today There is no greater gift I’d like to do the same for them Should they ever feel adrift
Someone gave me hope today A simple act of kindness A smile, a hand, a laugh, just time These little things are priceless