August 2015

Love, hope and human connection

It often amazes me that we live in a culture so governed by stigma and social norm.

I think there are a lot of people that are governed by what others think of them and that what or ‘who’ society does not regard as ‘normal’ are often disregarded in socially unacceptable terms.

Often people can be so easily dehumanised as people, according to the expectations of society.

I still think there is an evasive attitude towards certain behaviours, such as the outward expression of human emotion,  which often means open expressions of thoughts and feelings are buried within for ‘self preservation’. This however can have some harmful effects on the individual.

For example, if a person trips up on the street and cuts their leg, then unfortunately a mere plaster will not promote delivery of effective healing of that wound.

In actual fact what could potentially happen, is that the wound may contain some harmful bacteria which if allowed to harbour under the blanket of a plaster, the pathogens would multiply, spread through the body via an outlet in the lymphatic system and circulatory system, spreading to vital organs with potentially disastrous consquences, unless treated accordingly!!

So why should our mental health be treated any differently to that of an open wound?

Sometimes it is easier to envisage the open wound as our hearts, the dirt as anything that we feel that obstructs our inner peace and imagine how we will release that pain so that it does not spread to other avenues of our lives. This would often develop into symptoms such as depression, worry, fear, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, which may lead to other forms of self destructive behaviours such as a wave of negative thinking and patterns of behaviour that may have harmful consequences in our lives.

I am a great advocate for the power of talking therapies and how advantageous they have proven to be. Actually within a trusted relationship, such as friends and family, the power of open communication, I believe is essential.

I am not sure if I am being naïve, but as I understand it, the consequence of a deep  emotional/spiritual/psychological  ‘infection’ if I can use the metaphor appropriately,  can be deeply  distressing encasing feelings of severe inner psychological pain. In a lot of studies I have read, the impact and intensity of the inner distress outweighs an alternative to a solution . This isn’t a weakness or selfish. It is a lack of internal validation and unmet inner needs, or so I believe in my own opinion.

And unfortunately the end result is as disastrous as the person who becomes a fatality due to a bacteria that engrosses the immune system of the physical body because of a weakened immune system or poor defences or lack of intervention at the correct time or the correct treatment.

Hence, I believe in not addressing our own inner psychological distress/grief/pain/anger we are allowing infection into the roots of our lives that will eventually spread, constricting our own minds and skewing our perceptions with negative thinking .

Often, there is no greater power than the power of human connection. Opening ourselves up to a person we trust who we know will treat us with love, warmth and kindness. Because in the times of our lives we most want to give up because we feel there is no hope and nothing to look forward to, love is our greatest comforter. It gives us a deep sense of belonging and need regardless of who we are as individuals and it is universal.

In this life, many people search for power, success, money, material wealth, but they forget to pursue the greatest gift of all…..LOVE.

People have become cynical about it, because the world is so full of hurts and disappointments.

So we lose our faith in each other and even ourselves and our ability to carry on.

I think for me personally, love comes from many sources;  family, friends,  work colleagues, interpersonal relationships,  support networks, exercise/fitness clubs, every day people that can often be taken for granted that we meet on trains, or tubes, or on aeroplanes or in the most random of circumstances.

There is no disconnection between the fact that isolation or being isolated from others can lead to feelings of loneliness and therefore lack of internal validation. We are not born to live dissociated lives from each other. But society can so easily distract us from what matters most I all of our lives.

So to conclude, I will again reinforce the value of human connection. The ability to communicate openly with those we love and endeavour to have a greater belief in ourselves as human beings, that there is always a positive solution to our pain if we take a step back and envisage what really matters to us.

For example, the economical crises over the past few years in UK and Ireland lead to an increase in male suicides. I’m no suicidologist, but the link between this increase and financial insecurity is fairly evident. I would endeavour to say in my own opinion that most of the male ‘ego’ is incorporated into one’s level of success and financial security,  so if this is threatened and the male visualised as the main provider in a family, for example may lose that, the ego and one’s sense of self worth is at risk of imploding. So too, is similar for divorced or separated men particularly, who may feel unable to express feelings of low self worth or rejection, or innate emotional helplessness and therefore feel overwhelmed , lonely and isolated unable to reach out due to fear or being perceived as weak or whatever they feel is ‘expected’ of them in terms of what they can provide.

I think the view is twisted. People are people. Human beings are all equal. And the one thing we all have in common is we all have the same blood flow.  So why should we be expected to conform to social expectation like puppets on a string for fear of those who may judge us or people that do not truly recognise the value that lies within us.

Are we as human beings not so much more valuable than this?

Imagine if we didn’t care what people thought of us. If it didn’t matter that we were going to lose our security or had suffered a relationship failure. Imagine if we didn’t have to live fearful lives or depressed live,  because we had a little faith in ourselves and the love of those around us.

Imagine if we believed that despite how impossible our circumstances appeared, in order of finding a way of escape, there was in fact resolution, that would enable us the strength to face what we fear most, instead of running away from it, growing as people as we dealt with that pain through coping strategies that gave us hope and a new sense of who we truly were which would enhance self worth and self growth and find a new sense of direction so much more powerful than what we had before. I believe this is a life worth living. You have a life worth living. Just look inside yourself and see yourself as a tree. Prune away the areas of your life that are not helping you, making you feel bad and giving you negative thoughts and focus on the areas of your life that make you feel good, that will allow you to grow in a more positive, meaningful and purposeful direction that you ever thought possible.


The power of hope and love

Inspiring hope

In most cases of depression, often exists a comorbid presence of hopelessness.

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact cause for this as everyone’s state of mind differs so much, and there are many different theories to why people suffer mental health problems, specifically depression and anxiety.

I am no psychologist, nor claim to be, however, in my limited experience of life I have found several perpetrators of depression, relation to a biochemical model, a stress vulnerability model, a genetic model, environmental factors, reactive circumstances to name a few theories.

However, despite this availability of scientific evidence/psychological theories relating to the cause of depression, it is a well known fact, that hopelessness is the key factor in why people choose to end their lives deliberately.

I feel instilling hope is a fundamental part of enabling those with depression to overcome their paralysed state of mind.

My own definition of hope, is that despite adversity and the inability to see beyond the despair which at times can overwhelm and darken the senses, disinhibiting the ability to see a bright future, that in fact , things will get better, adopting a positive attitude in times of strife.

Everybody has an individual perspective on what gives them hope in life. I have spent time with people, asking them what gives them hope; common responses related to family, friends, a job, but most significantly,  reflects being connected to other people.

I believe the power of human connection cannot be underestimated. Human connection manifests care, warmth, love, humour, respect and a deep sense of belonging.

I believe we are born to live in communion with one another and a sense of harmony.

My own belief is that spirituality is at the core of this principle, having an awareness that we are all part of a greater purpose and connected through a power that lies within us all.

An example of this, are two perspectives; one is a ground perspective, the other is a higher perspective.

If I look out of a train window as I pass some beautiful countryside, then to a degree, my view is restricted, I have an inhibited view of what is ahead of me.

However, on an aeroplane, if I observe the same view, as the aeroplane flies over the same countryside, the same scenery exists, but on a completely higher perspective. There are things I can see from an aeroplane window that are simply physically impossible to see from a train window!

I try to view life in the same way and I feel hope can often be acquired from a change in perspective.

If disappointment, hurts, or frustration arise because perhaps something hasn’t worked out, I try to see a higher perspective, that perhaps something better awaits around the corner, or that however difficult some things are that occur in life, that simply have no explanation, we can allow our lives to be moulded by them positively, if we choose to adopt this attitude.

Although this theory may seem easier said than done, having hope is paramount in our lives, often reinforced through how we relate to others. Being able to receive love and care from others, as well as give love to those around us.

I believe love is at the core of every human being. And in order to live wholesome lives we need to have a self belief that we are worthy to receive love and acceptance from others as well as giving our care, love and time to others. This is the foundation of human connection. This is what I believe no human being can live without. This is what I believe the world should be about. That if we all loved and cared about each other as much as those we hold most dearest to us, the world would be a better place.

On a final note, I use the analogy of a blocked dam. The river bed represents our physical bodies. The river represents our spirits. The flow of the water represents love flowing through our very core (this can be towards all those in our lives we cherish and value), but the blockage represents anything within us that is keeping us imprisoned in negative feeling/fear/worry and this could represent anything in our lives that causes us to fall or lose that feeling of inner peace/love.

These areas are unique to a lot of people, but may or may not include elements such as addiction, unemployment, bereavement, relationship breakdown, health anxiety to name but a few.

Identifying these areas in our lives enables us the power to accept the feelings these circumstances invoke within our lives, in order to address them positively, and work on effective management strategies, to allow a better quality of life.

Change does not happen overnight, but adapting to situations in our lives that allow us to seek to utilise unfortunate and often unforeseen circumstances in our lives, with a different perspective  to re-establish a firmer identity within our selves, more balanced sense of self worth, enhanced resilience and therefore more meaningful existence .

The value of self awareness and overcoming people’s approval

In this blog, I would like to focus on the importance of mental health and being aware of our own thoughts, feelings and emotions.

As a general nurse, when looking after poorly patients, there are often subtle warning signs, that arise which indicate very clearly when a patient’s physical condition is deteriorating.

Performing a set of observations will tell us abnormalities that deviate from ‘normal’ parameters indicative of a stable condition.

Unfortunately, being aware of our own mental health, and signs of deterioration are not so black and white, so to speak, unless we have insight into our own thoughts and feelings.

Knowing when we feel sad or anxious, what is causing us to feel that way, and how to manage these feelings effectively to maintain our own sense of wellbeing.

An analogy I like to use, is seeing one’s self as a beautiful rose garden.

We as individuals are the roses.

The soil is the foundation of our lives, whatever gives us a firm foundation, it should nurture us; body, soul and mind.

Fertile soil and good conditions will provide optimum growth.

But sometimes, weeds tend to grow which can start to overpower the flourishing of the flower.

The weeds in our lives, can be anything that restrict or hinder our growth (emotional/spriritual/psychological) or productivity.

Those weeds can be individual to each person, but having an awareness of elements in our lives that induce bad feeling, negativity, self hatred, self doubt, allows us to explore areas that cause us to feel such negativity, in an attempt to identify those triggers and establish more effective coping strategies and more importantly identifying those weeds in order to incite change in our lives , to uproot those weeds and achieve a healthier state of mind/wellbeing.

A basic example of this is, someone, who struggles to assert themselves.

Perhaps they feel a need to ‘people please’ for fear of what people think of them if they don’t comply with expectation.

This is often a factor in those with low self worth, who survive on the approval of others for validation about themselves.

Although difficult, setting boundaries, is exceptionally healthy for us as human beings.

If we see ourselves as a large castle, then the boundary is the large fence erected around us to protect what means the most to us. Within the core of all of us, we have certain beliefs, values, thoughts and feelings, we want to protect and nurture to maintain our own self worth, self respect and dignity, which we are all entitled to as individuals.

If we compromise those boundaries, we are at risk of compromising those core values within our own hearts that make us who we are, and therefore allowing the infrastructure of our very ‘being’ to become fractured, which in turn erodes our sense of self, and confidence.

Having a firm sense of self and practising assertiveness when we feel those boundaries are being encroached. Ensuring we are respected, appreciated and  valued as we know we deserve to be, as human beings, will enhance our self worth and self confidence.

Often, at times we  feel bad, it can often be common to experience self critical thoughts that reinforce our own sense of self doubt and inadequacy. Being aware of these thoughts and the feelings it implores, allows us the first step in challenging that thought or situation and expelling it. Often this requires a little self education, awareness and the ability to believe in ourselves and what we can truly achieve as indivuals if we have a little faith in ourselves, without worrying about what others do or do not think of us.

This isn’t just applied to material aspects but also the relations we have with others. Having boundaries places a protective barrier in these situations to maintain our self respect, self confidence and overall wellbeing.

There is literature available in certain areas, that can be found, aimed at improving self assertiveness and boundary setting in general life. I am sure having both self awareness as a foundation and learning the art of setting boundaries could be beneficial to all our lives and wellbeing.

Living in each day

In the midst of depression or anxiety, it is often difficult to enjoy the simplest things in life.

Day to day activities become a chore and motivation gradually ceases to a halt.

Even simple day to day living can become a mere existence without structure and routine.

Day to day functioning is a tiresome task in itself, eating, sleeping, and often fatigue and lack of energy overtakes the will to set day to day goals in order to accomplish a decent quality of life.

A bit like driving through thick, dense fog or a heavy battering of rain, with no clear view only a rough cognitive map of the road ahead within.

When the fog in our minds sets in, it can become difficult to make even the simplest of decisions or judgements,.

However, I do believe beauty can be found in the simplest things in life.

Within us all, lie passions or things that make us happy or bring us a glimmer of inner peace.

Things that bring us back to ourselves .That reconnect us to our own identity.

And even in the midst of mental illness, I do believe a positive activity can engage us in a sense of positive mental wellbeing.

Activities outdoors for example; gardening (if weather permits), fishing, walking , running, fruit picking, going to the beach and listening to the waves roll against the shore, can be such a peaceful experience and also very reflective.

Indoor activities can be as simple as ; reading a book, writing down some inner thoughts and feelings in a little journal, or producing a sonnet or a poem.

Often reading an autobiography can give us insight into the resilience of the human spirit through immense adversity, which can inspire hope when we connect with the pain of others around us and how they found inner strength to overcome their trauma.

Everyone has different ways of coping with life, and nobody will deal with the same set of circumstances in the same way.

How people react to stress and difficult situations is different due to a variety of factors, including genetic/environmental/stress vulnerability

But how people cope with stress and manage it is individual to them in equal measure.

The vital essence of this , is having self awareness and insight into one’s self ,

what causes us to feel sad and unhappy or anxious, and how we can manage it in a positive way.

Sometimes, the only way to understand oneself and resilience is in times of true adversity.

And though painful, it is often helpful to connect with others who have gone through similar experiences to establish an understanding and  human validation for one’s feelings.

To have feelings judged or dismissed by people with a lack of understanding can be a frustrating experience.

Forgiving people, who often do not understand what you are going through, because you would not wish on them the pain they would have to endure to do so.

And establishing hope in accepting feelings of helplessness within, connecting with people who do understand or who have gone through similar experiences and writing down what gives us happiness or small goals we would like to achieve.

Setting a small goal creates a sense of hope. It is like a footstep on a journey. And the most important thing isn’t trying to envision the end result. Because that would be rather overwhelming. But just living in a concept of what is achieveable today. in the next 24 hours.

And simply embracing each day, the people that cross our paths in that time, and how we can live a more fulfilled, content life in that time.


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