The missing pieces
2012 has been a year of national celebrations, but there’s nothing lonelier than feeling left on the sidelines.
Earlier today I listened as the news presenter waxed lyrically about the continuing ‘goldrush’ of ‘Team GB’ in the Paralympics. This event has certainly created an enormous amount of inspiration and joy. Indeed, one could be forgiven for thinking the last year has consisted of one long party, starting with the Royal wedding, the Queen’s Jubilee, the Olympics and the Paralympics. I also noticed that some shops have already started stocking shelves for Christmas, even though as I write September has only just begun!
The ‘perfect life’
These celebrations can often highlight the ‘missing’ pieces in people’s lives. Many of the children, young people and adults I work with often describe the perfect life they imagine everyone else is living. This can leave them feeling inadequate, lonely and alienated even though their fantasy is often totally unrealistic. Earlier I heard an interview with Linda Bellingham that illustrated this point perfectly. She played the ‘perfect’ mum on screen for 16 years in the Oxo adverts, but at home she was in a violent relationship with her husband and was afraid that if anyone found out she would lose her job and the money she needed for her family.
In the current climate, of course, many people are worried about their financial situations. Alongside the revelry of the last year, we have also seen riots, job losses, repossessions and redundancies. Some people are trying to leave jobs they despise but can’t find other work. Or they may feel trapped in well-paid jobs that leave them with an inner emptiness even though they have all they need materially.
Feelings of Alienation
All these stresses, combined with insecurity, anxiety, unemployment and depression can affect our ability to feel connected to others; it can seem easier to isolate and withdraw, to go to bed, or to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs or food. These dark periods can last for a day or for months; at times it can seem as if it will never end. If you add the stigma that comes with mental health conditions and the accompanying feelings of shame and embarrassment, it is not surprising that we can feel alienated from family, friends and life in general.
Despite this, by learning how to find ways to support and take care of yourself, you can start to make changes. Of course, if you are in the midst of a really dark period of depression and/or anxiety and can barely make it out of bed, then I suggest that you leave all these suggestions on the bedside cabinet until you feel better and contact your GP for help instead. If you are in a more stable place then some of these ideas might be useful.
The Mini Life Review
What support do you have in your life?
Do you have a partner? What is that relationship like? Does s/he support you? What would you like to be different and can you say that to them? If you don’t have a partner, how might you find one?
Have you got friends for the different types of support you need? For example, laughter buddies, a practical friend and an emotional support pal for when you feel down? If you are always the one people ring when they are depressed, perhaps you need to rethink your ideas about friendships?
Do you find it easy to express yourself or keep everything to yourself? How do you and your family deal with anger?
How do your family and friends make you feel when you are with them? Do they support you when I feel unwell or make you feel inadequate, guilty or…?
Do you have something bigger than you that supports and helps you make sense of the world? For some, it can be spiritual or religious belief, family or science. Do you feel connected to this everyday or just when you feel well? If you don’t have this, do you want to explore what it might be? How could you do this?
- Does work feel like a drudge? Do you stay because of the money? Are you unemployed or have you been made redundant? If you are not happy, how could you make changes? For example, getting a lifecoach., learn a new language, A Level Chemistry or do some voluntary work to explore an idea you’ve had for ages but have never got around to.
It is important in life to take to take risks but ones you have thought carefully about. Sometimes people want to pack their jobs in and become an artist but if you have a hefty mortgage and dependants you might want to rethink your whole strategy!
You may now have recognised some areas you would like to change but not know what to do next. Here are a few places and ideas that may help.
If you are interested in exploring your spiritual or religious beliefs then you can visit your local church. This can also provide access to potential friends and acquaintances
If you think you may have problems in making or keeping relationships of any kind, or if you are using substances to help you through the tough times, check out the 12 step programmes available which can help people change their lives.
Your local IAPT service has a range of workshops based on CBT techniques. These include improving your sleep, and building self-confidence.
Local councils often have a voluntary organisation you can contact to find volunteering opportunities.
Taking Care of Number One
Being alone doesn’t always mean feeling alone, and whether we have people around us or not it’s important to be able to provide ourselves with the nurturing and care we need. Plus, the stronger and happier we feel in ourselves the more likely we are to be able to reach out and connect with others when the time is right.
Baking can be calming and rewarding and can give us a focus for the day. Plus you have the advantage that you can share it
Start a pottery class
Physical activity is really good for anxiety and depression as they flood the body with ‘feel good’ hormones and ‘burn off’ the ones that can make us feel worse.
Being out in nature is also very relaxing so:
- Go for a walk
- Cycle in the park
- Join a running club
- Do some gardening
- Go swimming
- Or turn up the volume on your iPod and dance in the living room!
- Join a choir to sing for pleasure and meet new people
Writing and painting can also lift your mood. Look online for local classes.
Finally, the Women’s Comfort Book by Jennifer Louden has some fabulous ideas for the times when you may be feeling low or anxious. The ideas range from ‘creating a comfort network’, ‘hiding under the covers’ to ‘nutritional music’. I was not able to find anything similar for men but perhaps someone could start a blog and gather a range of ideas of what men do to comfort themselves in times of need?
There is no getting away from the fact that life is hard sometimes and all we can do is wait until we feel better, but often when we are busy surviving we forget not only that life is for living, but also how to create more connected and fulfilling lives that can sustain us through the light and dark times. I have offered just a starter list of ideas you can do on your own or with others, whatever your disposable income.
Related articles from our experts
Amanda Perl MSc Psychotherapist Counsellor MBPsS BACP (Accred) CBT PractitionerFebruary 1st, 2017
Tracy Foster, Dip.Couns (MBACP)February 17th, 2017
Priscilla Short. BSc, MA, MBACP, MBPsSFebruary 19th, 2017
Andrea Harrn Psychotherapist and Author of The Mood CardsMay 13th, 2011
Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Supervisor (MMH,UKCP,HCPC,MBPsS)March 29th, 2015
Keeley Townsend BA (Hons), Ad.Dip.CP with Distinction, MNCS (Acc)December 14th, 2009
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