Distress tolerance

It is mid-winter here in Melbourne and so it is hardly surprising that I am thinking about warmth, in particular the emotional tone of warmth. I could also say a metaskill of warmth. Taken from Processwork a metaskill is a feeling attitude or tone, a quality to how a person does something that is most often more important than whatever it is they do.

WP_20140109_007Warmth is critical when thinking about distress tolerance and I have to admit I had never thought about distress tolerance until today. Sitting in a warm cafe on winter’s day I read an article a colleague had shared this week and started thinking about distress tolerance. It’s the ability to hold or tolerate distress in another without trying to fix or change something. It’s needed when encountering painful feelings, like grief without trying to make it better – nothing makes it better anyway. The warmth not to judge, to accept rather than criticise, to hold.

Warmth for another is one thing, what about for oneself? Imagine cultivating distress tolerance for your own inner criticisms and attacking. Warmth from others fosters the development of warmth for ourselves, our feelings and our distress. Self-caring, being gently sensitive to ourselves will warm any emotional winter. It might not be easy to feel deserving of that warmth and you are, and I am. It’s cold outside, and our fallible, critical, insufficient, perfect, selves need warmth.

The long and winding road to contentment

I enjoyed a conversation this morning about the value of not having goals and direction, about just getting through a day and about appreciating anything that gets done on those days. As we talked one thought connected to another, we lost one thread, kept talking and found another idea, it was easy to ramble just wondering and wandering. Nodding and smiling.

It was truly delightful as we sat and talked sharing observations and thoughts, trying to find words for things that have been mused upon but not spoken aloud before. I was reminded of Mr. Curly’s Wandering Day Map and how Mr. Curly’s day and this morning’s conversation are pathways to contentment, a quirky sort of calm and directionless contentment. Contentment nonetheless.

mr curly's wandering day map smaller

For more thoughts like this one visit the artist here; http://www.leunig.com.au/

Happy Valentines Day Maggie Estep

In her essay Think of This as a Window Maggie Estep wrote “I fell in love with New York City one day in 1971 when I saw dozens of people blithely stepping over a dead body on the side walk.”

Photo from http://www.maggieestep.com/about/

Photo from http://www.maggieestep.com/about/

I read that today in The New York Times, in Maggie Estep’s obituary. A novelist, a blogger and a performer of poetry she died on Wednesday after a heart attack. Maybe her heart couldn’t take anymore.
You might see what I am alluding to in one of her poems:

Happy

To hell with sticking my head in the oven
I’m happy
I’m ridiculously vengenfully happy
I’m ripped apart by sunshine
I’m estatic
I’m leaping
I’m cutting off all of my limbs

I’m doing circus tricks with a fork.

Happy Valentines Day Maggie, I’ll miss you in the world.

L’chaim

‘It’s a strange pathology don’t you think,’ I say, ‘to want to be something other than who you are?’
Wynstan leans forward, places a hand on mine. He has seen my need and he will never shame me for showing it to him. ‘It’s the same old thing, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘All that we are not stares back at all that we are.’

Funder, A. (2011). All That I Am. Melbourne: Penguin Books.

All that i am

One day soon all that I am is going to stare down all that I am not.

That’s not a New Year’s resolution, although I am resolved to do it. So far I have not gained the upper hand over who I am not, not in the last year nor in any year preceding that. I am trekking in an unexplored yet familiar place, my own vast and muddled interior with no ribbon to mark the finishing line. I don’t know if that will make sense, the journey is a bit like being in the night during the daytime. Then there is the ubiquitous and persistent question ‘Are we there yet?’ Am I there yet? I trust the reply will always be ‘no’, in fact I can’t hear anything else. It is New Years eve and I’m indulging in a kind of remembering of who I am, right at home with paradoxes and polarities, while looking to myself for something more than my old patterns.

I don’t want to be something other than who I am, just more of who I already am. One day soon all that I am is going to stare down all that I am not. My New Year’s cocktail has equal parts of great confusion and awakening awe.

L’chaim.

Empathy and what to say

A useful quality for this social time of year is empathy. Amid the merriment hurt feelings will be present, little wounds and abrasions will happen. For many the Yuletide doesn’t hold much gaiety. It can be hard to be jolly, especially in the face of so much happy-ho-ho. I can slip into feeling diminished or dismissed all on my own, let a lone in a crowd. It’s empathy that can welcome me back in.

“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame.” says Brene Brown. Shamed is how I feel when I am judged or criticised for not being how I am not. If I can not meet the demands and expectations of the season, for whatever reason, there are sure to be jibes. This three minute video is spoken by Brene Brown, I found it published on her site, thanks to friend who pointed me that way.

Empathy is valuable because often sources of sadness can’t be changed, darkness can not easily be brightened. Even when you don’t really know what to say, connection is possible just by saying “I don’t what to say…”

No solutions, elegant or otherwise

I find the term ‘elegant solution’ compelling. I think I would practically swoon if presented with an elegant solution for something. That’s funny though as I can not recall any elegant solutions in my life for anything. Elegantly is just not reflective of how my everyday tends to pan out, quirky is a better fit for me.

004I am setting up my own therapy practice, and as I am a student and will be working under supervision the emphasis is on practice. It is an unrefined sort of title to call myself Trainee Process Work Therapist – Working Under Supervision, and it sums up where I am. Now back to elegant solutions…

Over lunch I could hear someone at another table bemoaning that his elegant solution to a business problem had been dismissed by someone or some forum or another. On and on, if he said elegant solution once he said it twenty-seven times. The count is a rough guess rather than an elegant or meticulous tally.

Actually I have to thank the guy for rabbiting on, as I had to switch off my ears and I paused over my sandwich to think about what it is that I offer to clients.

Something meaningful? Another perspective? Support for emotional well being? Sense making? Dreaming? Connection? Insight? Self awareness? Nothing elegant per se, although the term per se is in itself rather elegant. Therapy, and life for that matter, is about the questions more than the answers or solutions. I mean a client’s questions, insightful though I hope my questions will be. I value curiosity over solutions, and my clients will have a chance to lean into discovering their own solutions.

In fact I think not knowing from a therapist is appropriate when working the complexity and wonder of someone else life experiences. Thanks elegant-solutions-guy-in-the-cafe for prompting me to step into a greater awareness around how I will, and already do, work. In summary I think I will be more gracious than elegant. I like that and I won’t be every persons therapist. I like that too.

“The best predictor of positive outcomes for any treatment is the quality of the therapeutic relationship” John Read, Senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Auckland

Distress is not an illness

distress is not an illnessDear therapist, counselor, coach, psychiatrist, psychologist, dear nurse, dear mother, brother, sister, lover, partner, husband, ex, wife, son, uncle, niece, nephew and aunt, dear cousin, dear friend, buddy, side-kick, acquaintance, soul mate, dear social worker, doctor, healer, dear train conductor, dear butcher, dear baker and dear candlestick maker,

Today I felt moved to let you know that distress is not an illness. You probably know that and sometimes I forget it. Today I am reminding myself, as well as you, that hardship is not an illness. Misery is not an illness.

Shame, suffering, sorrow, heartbreak, desolation
Misery, anguish and any sort of sadness…
Disappointment is not any illness.

Being inconsolable is not an illness.

I know I can’t define something only by what it is not, and there are ways of examining my world, if not appreciating it, other than to see illness. I might have to write another letter to the world on another day, and for today, let me say again that distress is not an illness.

With love…

Living with Suicidal Feelings – a workshop in Melbourne

There is a lot of focus on suicide prevention and another, perhaps more helpful, perspective is how to live with suicidal feelings.

Will Hall is an inspiring presenter with practical and innovative ideas read more about Will’s work here. I am thrilled to be organising this public workshop on 23 November. Please share with others who might be interested.

LWSF A4 poster V1

Another story of depression

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com.au/2013/05 /depression-part-two.html

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com.au/2013/05
/depression-part-two.html

Allie has written a part 2 to Adventures In Depression.
Remember the first installment?

There is something quite special about her work, simple and evocative. She captures something about depression that can be hard to describe to another.

I know that because a number of my friends shared Allie’s site with me. I am indebted to all of you.

I love discovering the words to describe no feelings again and again.

If you, or someone you know, needs emotional support call Lifeline on 13 11 14 in Australia. Crisis counselling is available around the world.

Under pressure?

The New Yorker magazine  July 8 & 15 2013

I feel tremendous pressure to frolic
The New Yorker magazine July 8 & 15 2013

Depression can be accompanied by a desperate need for change as well as an overwhelming powerlessness to achieve that change.

It is difficult for an outsider to understand that state, and it can be just as impossible for the one on the inside to be in touch with themselves. Listening is the task at hand, to yourself or to another.

This is not a time for judgments or for pressure. Pushing can make change even more difficult and increase feelings of helplessness. In a time of darkness and confusion, frolicking might not possible, and that’s OK, being is enough.

Some days just being is enough or, if you are an otter, floating is enough.