Connection and positive triggers

When I am feeling wobbly and am struggling, the most powerful thing that can help me is the feeling of being connected to someone who cares. It is something I have struggled with a lot of my life and so when it happens, it feels pretty magical and special. I have found it a bit easier to find that connection in nature, with animals and birds than with people on the whole.

It is one of the main things I learned about in Compassion Focused Therapy which I wrote about a while back. Connection links us to a soothing mechanism in our brains that helps with turning down our threat system – the “smoke alarm” that is usually what cause so much trouble for me.

The problem with interpersonal trauma and that caused by people you trust especially, is that this soothing system is also linked to more threat and danger. So soothing starts to feel impossible. Especially in the presence of other human beings. And so begins a great deal of isolation and difficulty connecting with other people.

But with compassion focused therapy I learned to gently begin exploring connection in a safe way. I started by practicing, using imagery to try to imagine what a feeling of safe connection with a “perfect safe space” would be like and later on to what connection to a “perfect compassionate companion” would be like.

This very quickly gave me lots to work with in terms of working out what I didn’t like about this feeling and why I didn’t trust even this imaginary creature! But as I practice, I learn to more easily identify and feel more comfortable with that feeling. I have learned to treasure these magical moments of soothing connection as they become more available to me. Not only for what they are, but also because they show me how things can change for me.

One of the most memorable such magical moments for me was realising I really trusted my then-therapist. Realising I could tell her the most difficult thing I could think of using my words, and face to face – a way I rarely communicate actual feelings, nevermind ones this overwhelming. I don’t think I had ever been that vulnerable or shown my whole self to someone like that before. And to my extraordinary relief, she responded in the most compassionate and understanding way possible. I know therapy isn’t all about “breakthrough moments” but this moment felt exactly like that – though I know that if we hadn’t then maintained a trusting a relationship for months afterwards, I doubt I’d still feel anything had shifted.

It was a moment when trust had just pushed through the surface of the soil where it had been nurtured and poked its little leaves out. It was still very fragile and needed to be made stronger but that was the moment it suddenly became visible.

I formed a trusting connection whilst truly vulnerable and the power of that still remains. There are times when I try to use compassion focused therapy meditations or imagery exercises and I cannot. There are times when I feel entirely unreachable. But there are also times I feel almost unreachable.  During those times, the recordings I have of imagery exercises read aloud by my therapist are more able to reach me than anything else. I feel able to let her voice in when noone elses’ will be allowed. I am able to listen at first and then when I feel a bit more ready, able to listen and follow the “safe space” exercise. But only with this recording, of this person, from this time in my life.

Moments of connection do not just happen in therapy, but also in my real life relationships – and more so, now I practice these exercises – a photo, a card or a little trinket given to me by someone who cares for me can also do a similar thing.  As can photos of those special moments in nature when I suddenly felt safe, free and soothed by the beauty in front of me.

When we talk about trauma, we often talk about triggers – things that connect us again with a difficult or dangerous time, that throw our brains into that threat-focused state. I like to think of reminders of these magical moments as “positive triggers”. And like the other kind, they can be smells, sounds, sights or tastes. I use smells (lavender) when using my “safe space” imagery to try to link that feeling of safeness to a smell I can take with me wherever I go in everyday life. And I know that the light shining through the leaves of various trees in my safe space imagery, is something that feels extra special when I encounter the same light and trees in real life. We do have to nurture these positive triggers a lot more than we do the other kind that seem so easy to form and so difficult to shed, but we can do and they can make a difference in dark times.

 

I’ve created these little cards specifically to try and start the seeds of some positive triggers for people who are struggling.  Instead of sending a card-sized card, these little designs are credit-card sized to fit easily in a wallet. They can be carried with them wherever they go and remind them of the person who cares for them and sent them the card.

They are made from recycled cotton t-shirts – so you could add some drops of your favourite smelly to them (maybe on the back so as not to discolour the design), they look pretty (I hope!), they feel nice and they have a little space on the back for a crisis number, a personal message from a friend or other reminder. You can get matching stickers as an extra reminder to place on a phone cover, at your work desk or somewhere else helpful.

If you are are currently committed to, or on a journey of developing self-compassion and able to handle such a gesture, you could even buy one for yourself!

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When it changed. Part 2

Learning that things can change… Continued from Part 1

Last time I wrote about the compassionate mind approach and how important it is to me in my approach to my mental health. But before I embarked on my compassion focused therapy, one of the key things I needed to learn was how important experiential learning was. The act of actually feeling something different, rather than learning things through theory or understanding. I wanted to explain in this post how I learned that experientially.

Just before I had started compassion focused therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy in 2014, I had some CBT. I have had 6 different CBT therapists throughout my life since being a teen and have really struggled to make much headway with any of them. The last time was a bit different though as it taught me something really useful about myself and how I could make real changes to how I felt and behaved (in small stages).

CBT:

I’m no therapist but from my experience of it, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is all about the links between our thought processes, behaviours and the feelings. The basic idea is that we can change how we feel by changing how we think or how we behave. In the past most of my CBT had been based on the thinking side of things. I have spent a lot of time challenging my negative thoughts with evidence, writing thought diaries, focusing on positive thoughts and other exercises. They are designed to help you see that your thoughts are not always rational and that you do not have to believe or act on them, or to help you see the positive as well as the negative aspects of your life.

I naturally gravitated to this approach because it felt so rational and didn’t seem to require much “touchy-feely nonsense”. I realise now this was because I was already doing them, in an incredibly critical way, to invalidate my own feelings everyday. No wonder I took to the exercises. This is not how they are meant to be used, but there’s not enough focus on validating feelings or experiences of injustice, or questioning the tone with which you apply these “corrections” to your thoughts so they never made me feel any better and nothing had ever really changed.

Although the approach felt right to my rational and critical brain, I can now see that another part of me struggled a great deal with this. It smelled the faint hope of validation, soothing, emotional connection and understanding that could not be properly fulfilled in the prescribed CBT service I was in. I became incredibly preoccupied by and anxious about what the therapist thought of me and how I was expected to behave in sessions. I also started feeling uncontrollable urges to just spill my guts about every thing that had ever happened to me. Then followed extreme shame and feeling stupid at all the stuff I had shared and an overwhelming desire to take it all back. But I couldn’t. So I’d spiral into depression and find it all too much. This was the part of me I suppressed and invalidated to cope. But this was not a sustainable strategy, as there was always a breaking point, when it could not be suppressed any longer.

But I did carry on – and in a way I am glad I did because I did learn a really valuable lesson from using CBT from the more behavioural side of things – through graded exposure therapy.

Though my ability to cope with my phobia may have been influenced by trauma, I feel that my response to spiders, could be changed and I did (and still could) benefit from more of this behaviour change to increase my quality of life.

dandelions

“walking out of darkness” – available as a card or print here.

My spider phobia was literally taking over my life. I could become overwhelmed and suicidal if I noticed spider webs in my bedroom, often more so than if I found an actual spider.  I spent hours awake at night swearing I could hear them scuttling around in my room and squeaking to each other (yes, I know they don’t squeak!). I simply could not cope with the knowledge that spiders existed in the world and thought about it all the time.  I had always had some level of fear of them, but it hadn’t taken over my life to this extent, for this long before. What I am amazed by is that I would spend my nights petrified, disturbed and desperate to end my life, then spend my days at work feeling relatively okay, happy even, only for it to all come back again at night. Eventually, this way of “coping” took its toll on me and it became impossible for me to function. So when people told me I was brave for facing up to my phobia, I don’t think they realised quite how little choice I had in doing so!

Although I was struggling with the therapy relationship and past traumas resurfacing, I did go through the graded exposure to spiders before my urgent referral to CMHT in 2014. I struggled with identifying how scared I felt in the session and I struggled to explain what it was that scared me. I also wish the therapist could have provided spiders himself. I feel I could have progressed quicker, or had more time to become accustomed to touching them if I had “spiders on tap” (a phrase will never repeat again!) in the sessions that I didn’t need to bring in myself.

But I did move from exposure to pictures of spiders, to being able to sometimes capture a small one in a jar and eventually to holding a dead spider in my hand in sessions.  I am by no means cured and I have to remember to keep up some of this work (which I struggle to do without support) to keep it all at bay, as otherwise it returns with vengeance.  And although I haven’t had the courage to touch a spider again since the sessions ended, I have got used to the delicate spiders that hang upside down, even if not the scuttly, running around variety (those are not their proper scientific names).

They still rule my life more than I can deal with sometimes and still trigger crises, but not as much as before. I will probably try to find some top-up help to improve this situation if I can but it is hard to find support for this as I also know the difficulties I had in the therapy relationship when I was doing this work. I am considering the day course at Bristol Zoo with relaxation, and gradual exposure and handling of spiders to avoid the potential ongoing therapy-relationship issues.

The point is though, something that I thought I could never change – changed.

I can now, 3 years later, still let at least a few of those delicate dangly spiders share a space with me without becoming overwhelmed. It might seem like I still have a lot of struggles with spiders but that has been a pretty big shift for me, that has stuck around for a while. And more than that, I also started to feel some hope that other things I felt and thought could be changed, that my mind was not completely fixed in these thoughts feelings and behaviours I’d always had.

What had I learned?

I had learned that when you actually experience something and it feels tolerable or relatively safe at the time, your brain learns to change and widen what you can tolerate.

This was actually a really crucial lesson for me. I usually try to think, analyse, fix etc. I learned that unless I experienced different ways of being, behaving or feeling, no amount of analysing, thinking about, writing about or challenging my negative thoughts would make much difference to my feelings or my life. I also learned that I needed to do it gently – to stretch that window of tolerance a little at a time. I couldn’t have walked into session 1 and been given a dead spider to put in my hand – that would not have helped – it would have freaked me out and made things worse.

Indeed I think this is what had happened in the therapeutic relationship itself – whilst doing this work on my phobia. All my interpersonal trauma stuff was way out of control and triggered and overwhelming. This was exactly the wrong way for me to approach my difficulties with trust, people, past traumas and hurt – I was plunged into too much exposure to “care” and “support” too quickly with too little time, validation and connection. What was working for my spider phobia was re-traumatising for my other difficulties.

And yet, I am glad I did learn this lesson. At the time, when I would never have contemplated any other therapy than the rational, relatively non-touchy-feely CBT, to gain tangible change in my phobia through this process was invaluable to me in learning that things could change. That I could change. That things could feel different.

Two lessons then:

To stretch yourself gently without overwhelming

To learn by doing, feeling and being makes real change happen

 

Going through life backwards – Adversity in Childhood

Re-written based on a 2-part blog post on the Rape & Sexual Violence’s website

A letter to anyone who has had to go through life backwards.

I am not talking about time travel. I am talking about the order in which we learn “life lessons” and how adversity in childhood means you might have to learn life lessons in the wrong order and why that might be harmful, but why there is also hope.

We come into this world a soft, squidgy completely helpless being. We have to win people over with our lovely smell, smile, gurgle, squidginess and burps or we will die. And that isn’t to exaggerate the need for love at all –  it is, at this stage of our lives, life or death. Without someone who loves us, who would protect our squishiness, or feed our bodies, or train our brains for life? To our minds, love is survival. No less than food or water. 

For most of us, as we get older, things get progressively more complicated. We start out with Grown Ups Who Know Things and care for us and teach us how the world works. They seem to be magical all-knowing creatures and they are safe. As we get older we learn that Grown Ups aren’t magic. They don’t always have answers, sometimes they have wrong answers, and that no one really knows what they are doing and that people can hurt each other.

At then at some point we realise that we ARE Grown Ups and it’s scary and we wish there were Grown Ups to hide behind. If we have chosen to create mini humans, or if we have a job where we hold people’s lives in our hands, then this feeling is probably magnified. It descends upon us as our first little wriggly squidgy thing appears in our arms and we can suddenly see that its very life relies completely and utterly on our ability to be a Grown Up. We aren’t ready. We are stressed and freaked out and overwhelmed. We are at the beck and call of beings that need so much. All of the time. And we are knackered, Never have we been so knackered. As we get older, our bodies start giving up, complaining all the time. We have to face death as we lose friends or family. We might need to start caring for our Grown Ups, who suddenly seem so small, fragile, helpless and squidgy themselves. We might go through traumas, divorces, moving house, illness, redundancy and bereavement to name but a few of life’s difficulties. Our brains may become fried and we may collapse, especially if we have been particularly unlucky in life. And we feel like we are losing our identities – our Selves.

Life is hard. We wish we could just be a carefree child again. We hopefully will find support, a way to reconnect with ourselves and our loved ones. And though the path may be difficult, and we may need therapy, hopefully, we will eventually find our way back to some balance and meaning again.

slinkyfairy

Available as a card, print or cotton keepsake here.

We are all human and we all feel pain and loss but some of us learn our life lessons at the beginning of our lives.

These people could be rich beyond your wildest dreams, or poorer than your worst nightmares. They might be fat or thin, loud or quiet. There’s no class of person that is immune, but people from poor families or from other marginalised groups are more likely to be in this group of people.

We come into this world helpless too, but there’s something missing. It might be food, it might be physical or emotional safety, it might be stability or it might be the feeling of being loved or nurtured. Even when we are physically safe and fed, a lack of nurture and acceptance feels like life or death to little brains that equate love with safety and survival.

We learn very early on that no one knows what they are doing. That we have to be our own Grown Ups. We learn that people hurt each other or that there are a hundred different ways that we are unacceptable or unlovable. Our brains can react quickly to this threat to survival, sometimes, by trying to be acceptable to everyone. Sometimes by lashing out and being angry, suspicious and defensive. We are constantly alert and focused on possible situations where we will come up short, or worse, attacked or hurt. Maybe everyone around us needs something and we are always at someone’s beck and call. The Grown Ups might be abusers, neglecters or simply not able to care for us enough. Sometimes they are all of these things. Our bodies start giving up or we may need to face the realities of death or we may see our Grown Ups helpless, fragile and in need of care while we are still children.

These are life lessons that overwhelm adults, but we, whilst still children, must somehow find a way to grow up with overwhelming feelings, exhaustion, fear and pain as routine parts of our lives. We can lose our identities and our Selves, before we even form them.

So as we do grow up, we replay in our minds and re-enact in our lives the traumas and stresses of our childhood. We find ourselves dragged back into the same situations we want so much to leave behind. Because there was no “before”, it’s not always possible to tell that there is a possibility of something different, or better. We are stuck – angry, scared, knackered or collapsed.

Many will not find the right support and this is a much under-estimated human tragedy, as is the fact that much of this adversity may have been preventable.

If we are lucky though, we find support and we can slowly, extremely painfully and maybe with many false starts, find a new way of being in the world. Our child parts, locked away for safe-keeping might be vulnerable and frightened when we first connect with them again. Everything may seem new, but with strange, sharp strings that attach to our past. But with care and support we can start to let our child selves grow and learn. We can take them to places and see things real children could not. With support and safety our child-parts are able to wonder at and feel awe at simple things in ways many adults struggle to do. We may have spent many years and tried many ways to rid ourselves of our vulnerable, helpless, squidgy parts and we may have to some extent succeeded in ignoring them.  But we can still learn to nurture and care for them. And it is never too late. Our brains are like putty. Really dried up, rigid putty, that you can slowly carve new grooves in by just going along the same track, over and over.

We might collapse on our recovery journey – like a star into a black hole. Maybe more than once. But each time we come back a little brighter, a little more resilient and a little more “us”. Our tendency to shine is as strong as our tendency to collapse. While it’s deeply unfair that we should have to do this, when we do find ourselves around the right people, with the right support and safety, it starts to become clear that because we fall apart into so many pieces, there are more opportunities to shape ourselves in different ways. We realise that because our child-parts are in so much pain, it becomes harder to ignore their needs or disconnect from them and there are more opportunities to give them so much. And that because we have grown up in pieces, we are at once, both older and younger than our physical years. We are still so much the child we were, but we are also wiser from having learned our life lessons so early. 

We may face more sadness and difficulties in our lives as we carry on, but we need not lose heart and we should be proud of ourselves.

Because whatever we do (however small or big we think our achievements might be), we have given it all we have got.

We have faced demons and battles many would never understand. We are creating ourselves from a thousand shattered fragments and we have seen the other side of a black hole.

We are survivors.

There’s a previous post on this blog about Adversity in Childhood from a Public Health Perspective here.

Reflected Realities at The Arches Project

“The Road Less Travelled” – self-portrait with Silver Birch and lichen. (Faber-Castell Polychromos coloured pencils on Fabriano Artistico Hot Pressed 300gsm & handspun newspaper yarn. (£180)

I wanted to share the piece I have created for the “Reflected Realities” Exhibition by The Arches Project in Digbeth (June 9th – June 23rd) . You may have followed its progress on my instagram page, or this may be the first time you have seen it but now you can see it in real life at the exhibition in Digbeth, so do please come along!

When the most profound questions about life have to be confronted to survive, traumatic experiences leave us scarred and fragmented but can also foster great resilience and a more intimate and different connection with the world around us. Deceptively delicate looking, the Birch tree’s deep roots, when properly nourished, also make nutrients accessible for many other species.

To create this piece, multiple layers of coloured pencils have been worked into watercolour paper and newspaper stories have been painstakingly remoulded, crumpled, softened, cut into strips and spun through the fingers into yarn. These techniques are slow, sometimes tedious and often painful, mirroring the process of recovery.

 

 

13 Reasons Why – too graphic or not graphic enough?

Probably some *spoilers* below. And obviously discussion about *suicide* below though I’ve tried to keep details to a minimum.

There are links here if you need immediate support: Helpful links

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This isn’t a review as such, but a response to the main controversy surrounding the show – the depiction of suicide. I don’t want to get too much into my thoughts on things like dialogue, characters etc. It’s not what people are talking about. Suffice to say I was kind of bored by the first few episodes but I’m fully aware I’m not the target demographic so that might be to be expected.

What felt right:
To me, the tying together of events, community and culture as triggers for one young girl’s overwhelming distress and ultimately her death was important. Too often we think of suicide happening to people who are ‘just’ ill.

This focus is important, especially now, as it broadens our view of where things are going wrong. Many people die by suicide, not because they are ill but because the systems around us are unjust and provide poor support.

It means we have to focus on our society and culture and the ways in which people are let down when vulnerable or systems that perpetuate injustice. By focusing our suicide prevention efforts psychiatric diagnoses, we are missing a massive set of factors – people who are let down, or worse abused and traumatised by the society and culture we have created. That is something we all need to think deeply about, especially coming up to a general election. How can we create a society where people are supported and cared for?

The scenes of sexual violence were hard to watch but they didn’t feel, to me, gratuitous or sanitised. The discussion around sexual violence felt like it was, on balance, a helpful one.

Especially the exploration of denial and eventual acceptance of what had occured by both survivors and those around them.

For these reasons I felt that the audience that may gain the most insight from this show may be the people around those experiencing crisis, rather than those in crisis.

Importantly it has been noted by others that trauma and emotional difficulties can stem from issues more subtle and yet unrelentingly painful than the obvious traumas in this story. That is true and worthy of a story of its own. The traumas in the story though are sadly very common – more common than people care to admit to themselves and yet so often kept secret for years, if not whole lifetimes.

The main bit:

The main reason I sat through the whole show was because of the biggest controversy – the graphic depiction of the suicide itself.

I knew there were guidelines around describing specifics about means, methods or places relating to suicides as this is thought to lead to further deaths being triggered. So I could see why there has been outcry over this scene.

On the other hand, I also knew some of the most “effective” (in an anecdotal sense) deterrents I’ve come across, include specific discussion around methods that go into excruciatingly painful detail about the effects on your body, the ways methods can go wrong and the long term complications you may be left with if an attempt fails. They discuss the agony and the limitations of methods in such graphic detail that the effect is the exact opposite of glamourising or sanitising the act and in fact can be a really helpful deterrent.

So I wanted to know where this show fit in.

The scene in question is triggering because it depicts an act graphically, but to me, there’s sense of relief and a clean ending of pain associated with it which is what makes it so triggering. There’s pain in the scene but it is temporary and doesn’t seem too difficult to bear and then it is over.

It was nowhere near as uncomfortable or painful to watch as the the rest of the difficult scenes in the show. That’s surely a red flag.

So it missed the mark on the use of specifics to deter.

Other helpful deterrents to suicide I’ve come across previously include the insight that what you might be searching for – an ending, to be heard, relief, are things you can’t actually experience or be aware of, if you go through with it.

You will not know how people react to your death or whether your pain will be validated or whether your suffering will trigger any change or repercussions for anyone who has wronged you.

In using the voice of someone who has died, and, even in some scenes, her visual presence, it felt to me like Hannah was able to experience all those things, witness the changes in her community, get some closure and feel heard. I know she’s clearly already dead from the beginning, but this is the effect the use of her presence throughout the show had on me.

So while I think there’s been some good discussion around trauma, bullying and mental health, the depiction of suicide itself was dealt with in a problematic, potentially harmful way in my opinion.

I think it could be really triggering for those who are already in crisis and is a huge missed opportunity to reach a wide audience.

The show neither holds back from mentioning specific methods (which makes it too graphic), but also fails to fully communicate the agony, limitations and lack of closure the act entails (making it not graphic enough). This leaves us with the worst of both worlds in terms of approaches to safely discussing suicide.

That’s my opinion anyway.

When it changed. Part 1.

A version of this post is also published on “The Mighty” here.

I have long been fascinated and moved by the beauty and complexity of biology. All through school, I lapped up popular science books and TV documentaries like a starved cat confronted with a bowl of cream. I studied it at uni, I loved it so much I did a PhD. And once I had recovered from the PhD, I went back to loving it again.

For most of my life, the most emotional you would actually see me in public (most of the time) was when listening to science seminars – anything from quantum physics, molecules, natural history to astronomy. I’d get shivers down my spine and tears, actual tears of Awe.

Although I stopped wanting to do the routine science stuff that fits pieces into that picture, I have never stopped looking adoringly at it.

So when I’ve thought about my mental, psychological or emotional health in the past, I’ve very much focused on the biological explanations. I knew there were limitations, social aspects to consider, and that the brain is so complex we may never understand it fully. But it was always my focus. It felt comfortable, interesting and right.

I think this was only partly because of my love of science. I think it was also because it made it easier to keep the focus mainly on me. My response to events, my faulty thinking, my difficulties coping and my personal vulnerabilities. This focus made things easier to manage. It’s less messy to only deal with your own head and not to get stuck in the murky waters of politics, society and power structures too.

I alternated between feeling like the most accomplished Vulcan in the universe who was fully disconnected from emotions; and experiencing utterly uncontrollable overwhelming feelings that came from nowhere.

And at both ends of the spectrum, it felt like my brain was somehow not like other people’s. Either people didn’t get the hurricane in my head or they seemed so vulnerable and needy compared to my ability to not let things faze me. The disconnection was with myself but with everyone else too. All around, counsellors, psychologists and other people (especially other girls & women) seemed to speak a language I could understand but not speak.

They talked of ‘processing’, ‘needing to express’, ‘bottling up’ or pushing down’ feelings. They often wanted to talk about their feelings, even when there were no solutions to be gained or any new information to add by doing so. I always tried to listen when people needed me to, and hoped it helped, but I never fully understood what they were getting from it.

So a biochemical explanation felt so right intuitively to me. It’s exactly how everything felt. Like random wonky wrong chemistry.

And then something changed for me.

I read “The compassionate mind“, a book by Prof Paul Gilbert. It changed me by letting me start somewhere familiar. It started from what was a deceptively biological perspective – evolution.  We are born more vulnerable and stay more vulnerable longer than most other mammals. Then follows a no-nonsense explanation of how the human brain works because of this vulnerability. It creates a physiological need for safeness, bonding and compassion that is firmly and biochemically embedded in our bodies and our minds and is as vital for survival as food, shelter or water.

I should confess I balled my eyes out through the whole book. And I got through it faster than any book I’ve ever read before. I think my brain had been lulled into feeling like it was on comfortable ground and then it got smacked in its little brain-face with something earth-shatteringly different. And something it couldn’t find a defence against. Suddenly I didn’t have to understand the language of emotions to get it. I didn’t need touchy feely language or to connect with the spiritual or the intangible in order to get what everyone else what talking about.

Through this lens my past approaches to therapy suddenly became really obviously deficient. I had continued to avoid my emotions by talking and engaging with an illness. This had given me validation for my pain, access to support and a level of understanding from others, but one which didn’t necessarily require me, or anyone else having to stay present with my actual emotional needs. I talked about irrational thoughts and about symptoms and “doing something nice for myself”. I spent years trying to prop up my brain with drugs, challenging my inaccurate thoughts and trying to change my behaviours. It helped to some extent, but my brain hadn’t actually been experiencing anything physiologically different, despite all this. None of these things were interacting with that soothing, bonding, safeness and contentment system I’d been reading about.

I realised I needed an intervention that my brain would understand and experience at a biochemical and physiological level that was fine-tuned to the systems evolution had created. Ones created precisely to down-regulate the brain’s ‘things are going wrong” system. Pills thought to increase neurotransmitters throughout the brain (and body) or to reduce the activity of neurons, may help (and may even be life-saving) – but they did not, by themselves, give my brain anything new to work with.
This was the first step on a journey of change, recovery, compassion and indeed more biology. I will tell you more next time because, in keeping with my new more self-compassionate path, I think and I feel I’ve typed enough for one day.

Cheesey, baked food stuff for eating

As you know, I struggle with preparing food, despite what DWP would have you believe. Once in a while I summon the energy to make something isn’t a ready meal or random snacks. So here is my quick and simple meal idea that depending on how big the dish you use is, could feed you for a week.

Get an oven dish – a big deep one.

Boil a few cups of water

Pour water in the dish with some dried gluten free pasta (a layer on the bottom), just cover the pasta with water

Leave it to soak and have a little sit down

I get a load of frozen veg out – I love the grilled sliced frozen aubergine from waitrose/ocado but also works with just sliced carrots, sliced peppers, beans, frozen spinach or any or all combinations of the above.

I get some garlic oil out (olive oil that has had some garlic sitting in it)

I also use frozen pre-chopped chillies, chives, basil you can either buy this already chopped or you could also chop and bag up the stuff from fresh one day and keep in the freezer for cooking-days.

After a few minutes the pasta is a little bit softer. If there’s LOADs of water I pour most of it out. If there’s just a bit or I can’t be arsed I leave it.

Chuck into the oven dish: frozen veg as you desire, quorn mince or similar if you like and then empty a tin of chopped tomatoes/tomato passata, or something like that in along with  a goooood glug of garlic oil and frozen herbs.

Add some salt and pepper and if you have some, maybe a splash of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.

Important bit: Throw in a bag of pre-grated cheese, or shove some sliced cheese on top to cover the food.

Put it in the oven at approx 180-200 degrees for about 25-35 mins. It will all be cooked, but you may want your cheese a bit toastier or your veg and tomatoes a bit minglier. Even if you can’t wait – you can grab a bit to eat and leave the rest in the oven a bit longer!

Eat and burn your mouth and hot cheese – or be good and wait till it’s cooled down a bit.

I have no idea if there is a good vegan cheese you could sub in that would taste good in here. There are lactofree cheeses and there also I find I am okay with full fat hard cheese.

You can keep it in the fridge for a few days or freeze portions or eat the whole lot in one go, but you may overdose on cheese.

Warning: there is annoying, hard washing up – I tend to leave my dish soaking in washing up liquidy water for about a week before attempting anything with it (some days I may replace the warm soapy water but it hangs around for quite some time before being clean again. But the benefit is you’ve made shed loads of food!