Keeping Anxiety at Bay for the Holidays.

It’s the time of year when there is a lot to think about. Perhaps more than usual. If you are prone to anxiety,  the thought of coping with Christmas plans can add to your anxious feelings or to the feelings of someone you love. While for many, Christmas is nothing but exciting, this is not always the case for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and conditions such as OCD.

Do you find yourself caught up with the stress of the pre – Christmas rush? The build up seems to start earlier each year and before we know it we are bombarded with all sorts of smart advertising containing supposedly endearing stories and mini films with the ‘ahhh’ factor, that are really there to entice us into spending money in the big, well- known stores.  The media paints a picture of wonderment and happiness; we would all love this of course, but for some people this is not how Christmas is for them. The world is not perfect all of the time and we need to hold on to that thought and remember we are not the only ones who get anxious this time of year. For some, loneliness can be a real problem, perhaps because of the loss of a loved one, and the sadness of loss can certainly feel desperately raw at this time of year.

Christmas parties, whether it is with colleagues or old friends can be hard to cope with at the best of times, but add anxiety to this and before you know it you may dread the social scene. You can be out of your comfort zone having to speak to people you don’t know well and worried about having to impress – maybe a new boss or confident looking colleagues. With parties closer to home, it may be a case of meeting new neighbours or friends you haven’t seen in a while.

Food shopping is something else to negotiate – for some reason we feel the need to buy massive amounts of extra food this time of year; ok we may have people coming to stay or extra mouths to feed at Christmas Day, but even if not we tend to buy stuff we wouldn’t normally buy – think big tins of biscuits, the Turkish delight, the boxes of dates and the mountains of Yule logs and mince pies. I know it is good to have a treat this time of the year, but perhaps we do get tempted to buy too much. Then there is the alcohol too – would we dream of drinking chocolate liqueurs and mulled wine (often not even worth drinking) or egg nog any other time of year?

Apart from the fact we end up spending a lot more money on food and wine this time of the year resulting in a negative effect on our bank balance; eating and drinking extra calories and rich food this time of year can make anxiety levels worse and again have a negative effect on us, this time on our health.

Buying presents is something most of us get concerned about. Of course, we want our loved ones to have something they like to open on Christmas Day , especially the children, but for an anxious person, the results of spending a lot of money in a short space of time can seem very scary and worrying. Money aside, the crowds, loud jarring music and queues can make Christmas shopping seem unbearable.

So okay, the above situations are those which most of us have encountered at sometime in our lives and I am painting quite a grim picture of what should and can be a magical and completely enjoyable time of year. Beacuse it really doesn’t have to be such a stressful time of year. Who makes it that way? And why?

Going back to the advertising, we are taught from quite an early age what we can expect Christmas to be like. But it cannot apply to us all. We are not all the same. And we are all coping with our own personal situations. What may be wonderful for one person may not be right for another. What do most of us remember when we look back down the years? Piles of presents around the tree, huge amounts of food and big parties? Or do we remember the excitement of hanging the stockings at the end of the bed and the thrill of opening the small gifts in the early hours, so lovingly and haphazardly wrapped by a caring parent.  Or sadly, there may be memories that are not quite as happy, and that may be another reason Christmas evokes pain and stress.

Maybe this year  – with still some time ahead before Christmas is really upon us, we can decide to take a different view and look at what is really important. One thing that always strikes me every year, and I always comment on to my husband without fail every year, is that the build up to Christmas is huge; we all rush around trying to get things done, caught up in the whole rush and excitement and then suddenly we arrive at Boxing Day and hear murmurs and mutterings of: ‘well that’s that for another year’, and: ‘where are you going for your holiday this year?’ It seems to be indicative of the society we have become: always looking for the next thrill, the next celebration or occasion before we have had time to enjoy and digest what has just occurred. So this year how about making a decision not to get too ‘wrapped up in Christmas ‘? Have a year where you do not make too many commitments. Be honest with people and say no in the nicest possible way if you don’t want to do something. Do most of your present shopping online and do it in your own time. Book an online food shop well in advance if it suits you, and apart from the convenience you won’t be so tempted to buy lots of unnecessary goodies (which aren’t really goodies at all). Also, explain to everyone that your Christmas this year may be a little more low key and that includes your present giving. Offer loved ones time instead. Time is the most valuable gift of all.

Decide a few things in advance to help keep your anxiety at bay. Plan to eat healthily and avoid too many stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. Have plenty of rest and not too many late nights. Cortisol is the body’s most powerful stress hormone. It causes a number of changes in the body, including increasing stimulation and the perception of fright. Getting regular good rest and sleep can keep cortisol production to a minimum and reduce the feelings of dread.

If you reduce your expectations about the holidays you will not be disappointed when things don’t always go according to plan; likewise if you are feeling calm you will be more able to enjoy things and ‘go with the flow’. Good things that do occur can be received with joy and thankfulness. Do things you like to do too, like walks in the clear, crisp night when the stars are out and the world is peaceful. Spending time doing the things you love and want to do is a great way to celebrate the Christmas season and you will feel better for it. This isn’t being selfish but just being your true self. Having healthy boundaries is essential when you are prone to anxiety.

A good tip is to think and act a bit more like a child at Christmas – have you noticed how children don’t run around getting stressed about Christmas? Far from it! They just enjoy the time while it is there.

So now that the lead up to Christmas has started remember that every day is special and also has it’s own challenges and delights. When the events of the holiday season threaten to overwhelm you, breathe deeply,  take time out until you feel calmer, and look forward. Look forward to celebrating in your own way and until then remind yourself there are no rules to follow for a good Christmas break!

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Holding on-but letting go of anxiety…

I am continuing my theme on anxiety this week and I’d like to write about letting go and trying new ways of coping when things get too much.

I have read so much recently about striving. Striving to be the best you can be and striving to find the best life you can have. Instructions on how to manifest what you want and how to order what you want from the universe. This is all fine and interesting and yes, helpful too, but what do you do when you can’t keep everything together? Is it sometimes better to focus on the simpler things in life, the small everyday actions that can make life tick over? Or is it better to make a start on a new road? Every journey starts with small steps. A big part of the battle against anxiety involves staying in the moment, but also knowing that one day you will move forward. And a big part of that involves staying positive. Keeping focused on the now.

What would make you happy today? This is a good thing to think about. For one thing it stops you thinking about more negative subjects, and another, it can help you take some actions, however small. Ask yourself what small treat you would like, or think about visiting someone you love.

Looking the best you can helps you face the day. Standing up straight and looking confident will make you feel and appear better and automatically warmer and open to others. Think of your aura positively glowing!

How can you create a better atmosphere in your home? Your environment is so important to your mood. Cook simple but wholesome food, light some candles and express gratitude to those who are with you. If you are own your own make sure you still make the effort. Realise you deserve sympathetic and mellow surroundings.

What do you want to see yourself doing in the future? Picture yourself doing something you have dreamed about. Would you like to look for a different career? Even if you can’t think of a way through now, picture it anyway.

When you are in conversation with others, really listen to what they say. Pay them a compliment and make them feel worthwhile. That in turn helps you.

I have made some suggestions here. I haven’t gone into too much detail about coping with anxiety as I have given suggestions in previous posts, but I really wanted to focus on ways of letting go. Can we find a way of release; a way to kick up our heels and have a go at feeling good?

What can really help us to both hold on to life and let go of the grip of anxiety?

I was speaking to someone recently who had suffered from anxiety for many years and he explained that for so long fear and worry had stopped him doing so many things. He couldn’t hold down a job because there were so many days he couldn’t face going to work and called in sick. Eventually those he worked for lost patience. They thought he was lazy and workshy. They didn’t know what really held him back. In all aspects of his life he was afraid and rather than attempt things he gave up at the first hurdle. Then suddenly he realised he had had enough. Enough of just holding on. He finally ‘got it’. He decided to let go and see what happened. He saw his friends having fun, leading life to the full and taking risks. He thought to himself he would just go for it, even if he felt anxious. After all, he couldn’t really feel any worse than he already did, and at least he would be doing something he could talk about to others. So he started doing ‘normal things’, he travelled, messed around with friends, went on nights out even when he felt bad. The more he did, the more normal he began to feel. Of course, it was important not to overdo it either, late nights and too much alcohol would have been counter productive here, as would bombarding the senses with too much new activity. But this person was brave enough to meet his anxiety head on rather than stay in an anxiety  cycle.

Another thing to realise is how important talking is. If my friend had talked to his bosses and been honest he could well have been met with sympathy and understanding  – and if not it would have been good to move on anyway. It takes courage to open up and tell someone you feel bad at times, but you would be surprised how many people will tell you they have been there too. Also, the people who are worth having in your life are the ones who show you compassion and make an effort to understand you. Even if they don’t always seem the same as you, if they make an effort and show up they are worth knowing.

So by giving yourself a break and having a go at life – putting your worries aside and going through the motions of having a good time  – you will save yourself a lot of energy. Have you ever noticed how tiring having an anxious day is? Have a go at saying to your anxiety ‘do what you want – I don’t care any more and I am in charge.’ You may find that you begin to feel better and the spells of being worry free become longer.

There are no magic solutions to anything in life and what works for one person will not always work for another. But remember that life is very hard to fathom out at times. For everyone. Momentous times come and go. Some extraordinary, some tragic, some heartstoppingly beautiful, some you wish you could forget. But the main thing is, if we give it a go, we will look back without regret.

 In the words of one of my favourite writers –

If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too.’

Dr. Seuss.

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Moving on From Anxiety…

I wrote about anxiety last week, and how it can affect us in so many ways – from the way we sound and appear,  to how we can be affected physically. Even when we deal well with anxiety the anxious thoughts still sometimes hover and wait in the wings – waiting for the guard to drop and the mindfulness to lose its helpful grip for a while. If, like me, you spend a lot of time reading about self-help and enlightenment you will know what I mean when I say that mindfulness and reaching that absolute place of understanding where we ‘get it’ and nothing can bother us any more is definitely an ongoing process which needs constant monitoring! (Although, if you have ‘got it’ you may well disagree with me…actually, you probably won’t be reading this anyway, you will be somewhere on cloud nine.)

I can’t recall a time in the past when there was so much helpful information readily available to us on the subject of self-help and spiritual fitness. It’s a good thing. It’s a great and empowering thing. There is something for all of us, whether we lean toward religious solace, a more healthy body and mind, spiritual advancement, meditation, yoga, finding the best retreat, positivity workshops…… I could go on…..

The benefit in all this help and information is huge. With all the help at our disposal we will find something we really find beneficial for sure. We will, sooner or later, have our own particular author or life-style guru who really speaks to us and shows us a way forward when we need it from time to time.

I was a nurse for many years, and I can think of countless times when I had to dig deep and give comfort. To be able to reach out and support people in times of tremendous need was of utmost importance, especially when busy and working in a stressful environment. I hope I gave my best. Mostly I feel I did. But it would have been good to have had more helpful ways of releasing the tension after a busy shift than going to the pub around the corner from the hospital!  Maybe I wasn’t ready then to read the books that would have been helpful – perhaps I was finding my own way then and gaining experience in life. It is said that the teacher comes when the pupil is ready.

And I think it is good to remind ourselves sometimes that simple acts of kindness are within us all. To remember that inherent wisdom and  compassion is deep within us, even embedded in our DNA. We are braver and wiser than we think. Mindfulness and deep thinking has been around far longer than we have . Self-help is not really new. Ancient philosophers had figured out life over 2,000 years ago. Quotes from so long ago never cease to amaze me and make me realise that everything changes yet nothing changes!

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.’         Heraclitus (lived around 500 years BC in Ephesus.)

Like many big thinkers, Heraclitus was born wealthy in a city, but lived in the woods to contemplate the universe.

The sage ” is ready to use all situations and doesn’t waste anything. This is called embodying the light.”

Lao Tzu alive around 600 BC in China.

The Lao Tzu started Taoism 2,500 years ago in China. He was legendary – Lao Tzu really just means ‘old man’ and nobody knows who he actually was. He certainly made a big impression! More importantly, he left us the ‘Tao Te Ching” which is full of ancient wisdom.

To rank the effort above the prize may be called love.”        Confucius, alive in China around 500 BC.

Confucius is probably the most influential person in Chinese history. He emphasised what we today call grit: finding the value in trying and not just arriving.

The unexamined life is not worth living.”         Socrates Lived in Athens around 450 BC

Socrates embodied the fundamental spirit of Western thought that you have the responsibility of being in charge of your own life.

Perhaps the most beautiful words of all ;

  “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.

Rumi, poet born 1207

So today we are lucky with the resources we have  – both the old and the new.  We may just need to remind ourselves to open our hearts to new learning. To rid ourselves of negative thoughts and change our thinking so we can move forward with positivity and embrace change whilst learning also from the past. Nothing, and I mean nothing that is good is ever lost even when it is centuries old.

As human beings we will always be searching for a newer, better and easier way to find fulfillment. Next time your heart is a little heavy, just remember there is always a way forward. And as I have said before, if you are anxious you are not alone. You can take comfort from the fact that for centuries we have yearned to find new wisdom and ways to help us move forward and probably will for centuries to come. And we have survived.

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Do Not Lose This Day…

 

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.’
-Lao Tzu

When the fast lane is slowing us down

It is easy to become ‘stuck’. Life ticks on. We go to work, do what we have to do, and get through the day. We get stressed sometimes; we are stuck in the fast lane but there is too much on the ‘to do’ list. We get caught up in a cycle; when we are at work, we fantasise about being on vacation, on vacation we worry about the work piling up on our desks at home. We feel as though we are hurtling along when in fact we are slowly losing sight of what we really want. We are comfortable with what we do but we are not particularly excited or fulfilled by it. If we are entrenched in a routine we can lose focus and that can mean we do not work to fulfil our full potential; we may become complacent. I often think of the phrase ‘the enemy of the good is the better’. This may sound strange when you first read it, but think about it – when things are going reasonably well are you tempted to sit back and relax rather than ask yourself how they can be improved or advanced even more? If we say we are happy for now, this means we miss out on so much more that is there for us. If we follow random stars and pick up mixed signals and information as we go through life, we may never know which path we want to follow. We fear getting older, yet we can amble along for a good part of our life until suddenly we have reached a senior age and find ourselves looking back down the years wishing we had done more with the time we had.

How do we lose sight of the best along the way? Why do some people die with their music still in them? Most of us don’t set out to squander our time or our days but often that is what happens when we get on the treadmill. We do it for the best of reasons. When we are young we feel that we have so much time ahead of us – we can follow our dreams someday, but first we have to finish our education, get a good job, find a partner we love, maybe start a family. That all can be wonderful, and if we find a lifelong partner we are happy with and who shares the same hopes and desires as we do, we are already a long way toward getting things right. But if we spend a great proportion of time trying to establish ourselves, and are motivated by ambition, then that often means we may neglect our spiritual and emotional wellbeing. We are surrounded by relentless testing and huge competition in life; social media dominates our lives and not always to our advantage. Yet science is working for us, for our benefit and for a good future. There are opportunities for us to work towards an amazing future and abundant living, we just need to take time to see them.

Fear of failure

Even if we have dreams we are often bound up with fear. Fear of what others will think about us; fear of a brave new plan going wrong; even fear of success. If we think about it, we all have heroes and people we admire and look up to, people we wish we could be like. We may quietly think to ourselves ‘it’s okay for them, they had a better start in life’, or, ‘they were lucky, they were in the right place at the right time’, but we would still like to be like them. But none of us are perfect, not even superheroes. Everyone of us has flaws, and dark moments late at night when we worry about what will happen tomorrow. But those who succeed have managed to maximise their one or two strengths and stopped focusing on their weaknesses. Everyone has fought or still fights their own battles and their own demons. The truth is, our heroes we look up to are no different to us, they just tend to handle life differently. That is marvellously encouraging as it means we can just as easily reach our new goals and aspirations as the next person.

At the very end of our life would we want to look back at missed ideas that could have evolved from our potential and proved invaluable? Nurse Bonnie Ware spent time caring for dying people for more than twenty years and wrote a book about their regrets. She found five sentences that were repeated and spoke of missed opportunities. The sentences were:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feeling.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
( The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – Hay House March 2012)
I have referred to this book several times, but no matter how many times I read this section I never fail to be moved by the list of regrets and each time they resonate anew.
So how did we get to where we are now? What has made us the person we have become?

Back to the beginning

When we are born we enter this world as totally helpless human beings. As we evolved our brains became bigger so nature had to compensate for this; for the female body to accommodate a full term baby and be able to give birth naturally, we were programmed to enter the world before we were able to fend for ourselves, unlike the rest of the animal world. At the time of birth only 28% of our brain is formed. As we grow so does our brain; it grows rapidly, and the capacity for learning is astounding, but twelve to fourteen years must pass before a human being can satisfactorily care for himself and function independently of his parents. Therefore we grow up programmed by people who can only teach us what they themselves have learned and believe. I am not saying that this is always a bad thing; only that we are governed in our early years by the facts we are given from our nearest source. We become dependant on others and are influenced by what others think about us and what they perceive to be advantageous for us. If we are lucky, we will be raised by parents who encourage us to think for ourselves and who do not object if we follow our own chosen path. Every human is born totally unique; born with an unmistakeable genetic fingerprint, with different cells, patterns and chemistry. But do we remember that when we try to conform and follow the crowd? If we try and fit in with someone else’s plan for us we will not always be happy.

Why are you thinking that?

Early man learned by trial and error. There were no instruction manuals to follow and no technology to tap into. A lot of the traits the early man developed are still present in us today. If we think about the ‘fight and flight’ mechanism we can see how necessary it was when being chased by a saber- tooth tiger as it was clearly a matter of life and death, but at times of stress in the modern day, we may still deploy this same mechanism and it can be present constantly, using so much adrenaline that it can lead us to suffer from adrenal fatigue. Normal mechanisms become completely exhausted leading to lack of energy, ‘brain fog’, depression and constant fatigue. We are not now using the mechanism of ‘fight or flight’ for preserving our lives, our modern lifestyle does not allow us to run away from stressful situations, both physically and mentally . Our ancestors were keen to improve but they also had to learn how to control their fear and increase their awareness levels. The earliest men must have thought that the vivid lightening flash and the rolling voice of thunder that followed it were the anger of the gods, especially when they saw other men struck and killed by lightening. It wasn’t until centuries later that scientific studies showed it to be a gigantic electric spark. For some, though, that primeval fear remains, as fear can transcend many generations.
If we compare different attitudes we can see how thought patterns and approaches dictate the way we live and appear to others. Again, if we are fearful, our judgement is coloured when we make decisions. The fear of something going wrong holds us back from participating in pursuits we would secretly like to try, but when we do push ourselves to try something new and exciting we are usually rewarded with great feelings of satisfaction and wish we had tried it sooner.
People often think someone is brave to give up a thriving career, turn their back on riches and start something new which will offer more fulfilment; but is it brave to follow your heart, or just natural? Maybe it is more brave to stay in a job you hate just to keep a lifestyle going.
We know of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe as a German poet, playwright and novelist, but he also had many other talents, including being a painter, statesman, educator and naturalist philosopher. He was hugely creative and lived a very full and energetic life. This selection from Faust is one of the most frequently quoted passages in terms of self-improvement and I would like to include it here:

LOSE THIS DAY LOITERING
Lose this day loitering – ‘twill be the same story
To-morrow – and the next more dilatory;
Each indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest ? Seize this very minute-
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated-
Begin it, and then the work will be completed!
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(1749 – 1832).
Translated by John Anster

This is an incredibly powerful piece of literature, it illustrates so completely, the idea of boldness. It tells us how, if we loiter today, and again tomorrow, we will soon end up lamenting lost days. It speaks for living for the moment. Each day is a gift; it doesn’t have to follow a rigid timetable; it doesn’t necessarily matter what pattern it follows, we just need to be sure it HAS mattered.

Living in the moment

So we need to teach ourselves to live more in the moment. Living in the moment – also called mindfulness – is a state of active , open, intentional living, whilst focusing on the present. In this mindful state, we realise we are not just our thoughts but an observer of our thoughts which means we can observe our thoughts without judging them. We need not grasp them or push them away. Instead of letting our lives go by without living them, we can awaken to experience . Sometimes we need to plan ahead, but if we spend too much time planning we can miss out on enjoying the days we have now; however, if we view tomorrow as an observer, we can relinquish thoughts of pride and let go of our ego. We are more likely to have a calm and optimistic view of the future. We can let go of negative thoughts and separate ourselves from the outcome. We can view the world differently.

An Interconnected Universe

How many times do we get an inclination something is about to happen just before it does; or a deep feeling we can’t explain? It is the collective, interlocking, energy field that we are tapping in to; the ever- moving energy fields of life. If we learn to work with these feelings we can be empowered to manifest our potential, and join with the world at large. We will all benefit. It is interesting to that note than many individuals around the world who have worked independently without the knowledge of each other, have often made the same discoveries at practically the same time. There is no obvious explanation for this, just a dawning realisation that there is a collective energy field which we can respond to in a positive way.
In this interconnected universe, every improvement we make in our own world improves not only our own lives but that of others. All positive acts we partake in find a way of coming back to us in one way or another to benefit us, even years later. Kindness towards one’s self and all living things always leaves a lasting effect, spreading out like ripples in a pond.
Once we hear amazing news it is as though we have been given permission to be a part of it. When Roger Bannister ran the four minute mile – a feat that was previously thought to be impossible- we heard of dozens of other athletes doing the same within a year. Now, as then, limits are constantly being expanded.
What makes a writer wake in the middle of the night, suddenly awake with the words of a song running through his mind? He rushes to pen to paper and writes the words that echo in the minds of many for years to come. His talent has burst through the surface of his awareness, as if out of nowhere. The writer has been moved to write a powerful song; he has channelled the energy from the collective vibrations around him.
Sometimes we can walk into a room and feel uncomfortable, the air seems thick with anxiety and tension. We can imagine the tension building and boiling over, perhaps giving way to a violent outburst. Likewise, we know what it feels like when we enter a space filled with warmth and peaceful vibrations. Both these feelings and emotions cannot be seen, yet that greatly affect us. When we consciously focus mindful energy together, simultaneously seeking positive outcomes, we can alter our future.

If we stop and evaluate our lives and where we are now, we CAN look forward to progressing rather than being stuck where we are. Life doesn’t have to be full of regrets and what if’s. And it is never too late to change. There is so much out there for us and our world. So much is possible for us if we are prepared. Prepared to be willing and willing to be prepared. We can embrace a new way of ‘being’ whatever our age or place in life.

So let go – and let yourself be you, and enjoy every sunset!

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Thank you for the music .

Last night some kind friends took us to a concert. It was a tribute act for Billy Fury. (A great and popular singer in the sixties and seventies who left us way too soon.) The backing group and main singer took to the stage and were applauded politely by the (rather senior) audience. The show got underway – telling the story of the life of Billy Fury through song and with movie reels, and was both enjoyable and moving – reminding us of an era which is gone but not forgotten.

Whilst sitting in the auditorium listening and reminiscing, I started thinking about time; about what happened to the intervening years that took me from being a wannabe flower child to a mature woman with nine grandchildren! And how did some of the pop stars with often risqué performances I revered in my youth become sensible chaps with cardigans?

Time slips by as we all know. As we are often told, we need to treasure every moment. Sometimes life throws a spanner in the works but I do my best to enjoy life and be thankful for so many of the wonderful blessings I have been given. Ageing can be something some us struggle to come to terms with and I can only hope that I face it with grace and fortitude but also that life treats me kindly.

I recently watched a program tracing the lives of people who have died and left no known relatives. The programme is always very poignant and I watch as various  lives unfold on the screen – sometimes they are people who have not had anyone to care for them or no living relatives, sometimes they feature people who have lived a reclusive life or fallen on hard times. The feeling of loneliness and sadness seems to prevail; yet often the people are highly spoken of by those who had looked after or met the people concerned. Sometimes distant relatives are traced and express sadness or remorse for not having had contact with them. But sometimes the people concerned seemingly had no one in the world to call their own. A heartbreaking thought. One particular lady who had died had lived for some time in a care home. The staff spoke kindly of her and mentioned that they sometimes took the inpatients on a trip out. Whenever this particular lady was asked where she would like to go she always chose the local garden centre. She loved plants and would bring some back and plant them in the garden at the care home. She was a lovely lady by all accounts and yet seemed to have no friends or relatives who visited. I often think about her when I go to the garden centre now and I wish I could have known her.  I like to think her memory lives on in a lovely flower garden somewhere.

It is always good when someone leaves a legacy, be it small or large, flowers or music, love and gentleness.  So I say : ‘Thank you for the flowers. Thank you for the music,’ to those who have gone before.

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Blessings to you.

 

Pull Yourself Together Nurse!

There has been so much in the news lately about our emergency services, our hospital workers, medics, fireman and all the heroes we couldn’t possibly do without. Should they have a pay rise – excuse me? Should they have a pay rise – of course we know the answer to that!

I thought it may be interesting this week to interview a nurse who trained in the 1970’s!

What made you decide to become a nurse?

I had wanted to become a nurse ever since I can remember. I never thought about doing anything else. To me the dream of becoming a nurse was always with me. I devoured every book about nursing I could get my hands on, and I loved a program around at the time called ‘Emergency Ward 10’. I think the thought of wearing a nurses uniform, especially the iconic cloak criss-crossed at the front, played a part in my ambition to tread the wards! And of course, it was in my heart to care for people.

How easy was it to be accepted for training?

Not that easy! Mainly because my careers advisor at school was affiliated to the local shirt factory and his main mission in life was to recruit young girls to work there. He was convinced nursing would be too tough for me and gave me no help at all. Not to be deterred I applied to a teaching hospital in Bristol and was accepted. It’s strange, because I was very shy and quiet, but I found determination from somewhere!

Did you settle in well to your new life away from home?

No! I was very homesick and at just eighteen years of age and having never been away from home before, it was a big shock to the system! The nurse’s home where I had lodgings was a former mental hospital – an austere,  grey brick building situated on the outskirts of the city. We were bussed  in to the hospital every day, or night if we were on night shift, – quite a sight with thirty or so ‘angels’ as we were sometimes called, all seated in rows with starched caps on.

But you settled in eventually?

Yes, I did settle eventually but it did take a while. There was so much to learn and the hours were long and arduous. Also, we had to learn to cope with life and death at a relatively young age. There is nothing like being left alone in the middle of the night looking after a ward full of sick patients to concentrate the mind!

What do you think of now when you look back?

I remember so many of my patients to this day. Laughing with them and crying with them. I remember the bond with my fellow nurses; the times you had to laugh in dire circumstances otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to cope. I remember collapsing in helpless giggles during a practical exam when an arm fell off the dummy patient – ‘Nurse! You may have killed the patient  – go back to your seat and pull yourself together!’ I remember wistfully watching friends who weren’t nurses going out at weekends to enjoy themselves whilst I was invariably working. I remember some of the dishy doctors walking around importantly in their flapping white coats. I remember being told we could only have three inches of water in our baths at the nurse’s home so as not to be wasteful. I remember being constantly hungry and the awful hospital food. I remember the weirdness of eating gristly beef casserole at breakfast after coming off night duty. I remember bossy ward sisters who made us tremble with fear as they entered the ward. I remember a lot of unfairness and petty rules and a fellow nurse running off in despair when being reprimanded for pinching a sausage from the kitchen. I remember kindness too. Doctors crushed with tiredness after being on call for many hours and still managing to tenderly lift an elderly lady up who had fallen out of bed. I remember the commaraderie when working in the accident and emergency department at night – the policeman coming in to share a cup of coffee and have a quick game of cards during a rare quiet spell in the early hours.

Would you still become a nurse if you had the time again?

That’s a tough one. I like to think I would as it taught me so much about life and I wouldn’t  have encountered so many deep experiences anywhere else.  Also I met my husband during my training. But honestly, when you hear that nurses are leaving in droves to work abroad now it shows how demoralised nurses are and I’m not sure I would want to work under the difficult and strained conditions.

So how do you view the profession today?

I haven’t worked in hospital for a good while now so it is difficult to judge first hand.  All I can say from what I’ve noticed when visiting people is that a lot of nurses do their  best but time issues and understaffing mean that a lot of the caring side of nursing seems to have disappeared to the detriment of the patients. Back in the sixties and seventies it wasn’t perfect, but the wards were kept scrupulously clean; wards were often ruled with a rod of iron, but there was order. There was plenty of clean laundry, a ward clerk on every ward and most importantly, patients were not sent home until they were fit to be discharged. Sadly I have had first hand experience that shows this isn’t always the case now. I would still say though, that there are a lot of wonderful and caring nurses out there who do their very best under difficult circumstances.

A poem about Night Duty!

Please don’t run nurse

And please turn off the light,

Your patient may be getting worse

But it’s the middle of the night.

Call the doctor to attend

The latest emergency case

Then go and lay the trolley up,

And sterilise the place.

Make sure all the patients

Are safely in their beds,

I’ll be coming round to check

That they have had their meds.

And be sure to know every name

And diagnosis too,

Of every patient in your care,

Or I’ll be reporting you.

Write up the notes before morning,

Make the porridge and the tea,

Get everybody washes and fed

Then report back to me.

Go home and get some sleep

You’ve got six more nights ahead,

So get used to working extra hard,

While your friends are home in bed.

(c) Lyn Halvorsen

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Hold Fast To All That is Good

I seem to have been writing so often lately about heartbreak and sadness  – so much has happened in our country to render us bereft and fearful. Our hearts are troubled as more and more tragic, dreadful and appalling occurrences unfold in front of our eyes as we view our television screens. How much can some people take we ask ourselves; what can we do to help others and also keep ourselves safe? We become full of doubt; how can this happen? Why is our country and its people suffering in such awful ways? How can a rich borough of London be home to such a terrible fire , possibly caused through blatant neglect of public safety? There may be some who in their hearts know the answers, but for most of us we have to carry on somehow, and meanwhile the books of condolences are filled with words from grieving hearts, and the flowers continue to be laid all around the sites of the latest disaster.

The heat in the country this week has not really been welcomed – its as though nature is contriving to add to our discomfort; we have trouble even resting at night. We do not wake refreshed and we find it hard to concentrate on our daily routine. I got to thinking that any extreme is hard to cope with. We search for equilibrium and balance in all things – at least I do. It’s easier to cope with life when we can jog along at a steady pace, walk around without feeling fearful of what lurks around the corner, and know that everything is in order. But of course, nothing stays like that for long, and when things go badly wrong we have to dig deep to find strength to cope. It is at times like these that the smallest things seem to help us – getting out into the garden, walking in the woods, hugging the grandchildren and reading them a funny story. We can share a coffee with friends, help our neighbour, offer someone a word or two of kindness. Just going through the motions of routine tasks can get us through the days that are difficult.

 As always in times of dreadful disaster, we see the kindness of strangers shine through. People pull together and are incredibly brave and courageous. They give. They give money they don’t really have; they give people comfort,  both materially and physically; they give love and show compassion. That’s when we realise how much goodness there is in this time of utmost suffering.

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We often find that the widest our experience is, the deeper our tolerance. Wisdom comes from all the ups and downs we have gone through in our lives and how we have dealt with them. And with wisdom comes a knowing. Knowing not to give advice unless asked for it; not making assunptions and forming opinions, not making judgements. It’s knowing we don’t always get things right and being ready to hold our hands up and admit it when we get things wrong. Mainly wisdom gives us courage. Courage to reach out when we see someone in need even if we have to step out of our comfort zone to help them. Courage to face our own demons.  Courage to step out and keep going in this scary world. Courage to stand up for what we believe in a peaceful, honest and informed manner.

One of my sons once said to me that it is what we do when no one is looking that counts and I have found this to be so true in life. If we can go forth with a light heart we can find it easier to cope with that which life throws at us.

In these times of darkness we pray for all those who’s hearts are breaking. We pray they will find some peace and will be wrapped in the love and comfort of open and loving arms.

Most of all we remember that when we all look to the future with love in our hearts, and unite in peace, we will be lifted up together.

Blessings to you.