Glee

A few weeks past I was looking after a friend’s daughter for a bit and she wanted to watch Glee. The TV show that ran from 2009 – 2015. My own daughter had also started watching it recently and because I love my music, I thought I would give it a go.

I was always the girl who listened to music as a way to express my feelings, and I have just realised this week that I still do this. I think for a long time I didn’t listen to music because I was avoiding my emotions. I was numb and I avoided feeling anything because it was too difficult. Music brings out all of my emotions. I love music in the background to help relax me. I love dancing to pop music, and I have been known to cry when a song comes on that reminds me of the past.

I don’t know how many people can relate to this.

Watching Glee with my daughter has brought out so many emotions and I haven’t been 100% sure how to deal with them all. Are they just normal emotions or are they something more? Whatever they are I am going to explore them. You see I have no idea what I haven’t dealt with. I have in the past been excellent at denial and compartmentalising so now I’m not sure what’s still hidden, if anything.

I think I’m now relatively well put together mentally, but I know there is always work to do, just how much I guess I will find out.

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2nd Year of Studies Have Begun

The last two weeks have been a bit of a blur. I picked up some horrid bug for a few days and I have spent the last week catching up at work.

Oh, and I started my second-year studies.

After a faltering start last month, we all began again with a new tutor. What a difference a month makes, it was an amazing beginning to what looks like a very exciting year.

The new tutor is clearly very intelligent and a highly experienced therapist. I feel I’m going to learn loads from her, and I can’t wait.

We began by looking at the psychodynamic approach. Who knew there were so many types of counselling? I have to say that one of the benefits of the course I am on is that we learn many approaches so that we can choose the right method that will help empower our clients with the tools to enable them to resolve their problems themselves.

This sounds like an obvious way to treat clients, but some therapists focus only on one modality, and we know in life one size does not fit all, so why should one modality fit every individual?

It makes me wonder how many people have had therapy that’s not been suitable for them, and if it hasn’t been suitable has that put people off seeking help elsewhere? Do people know they have alternatives?

I have also thought about what therapist’s charge their clients, and do you get what you pay for? With an increase in people looking for advice about their mental health conditions, where do they turn? When I began to struggle many years ago, I first went to my GP. I was offered NHS counselling for 6 weeks which I readily accepted. I did not feel it was helpful at all, but when my daughter was referred to CAHMS because she was in crisis, she was provided with treatment that has really benefitted her. Is it just the luck of the draw?

I finally found a private therapist that I connected with and she has really made an impact on my life in so many ways. She helped me become a better parent and a better person. I am working on becoming the person that I want to be. I don’t mind paying for my therapy because I know it benefits me, and although my journey took me to a couple of other therapists before I settled on my current one, I’m glad I kept trying. I am a much happier, content and relaxed person.

Financing therapy can be difficult, and therapist’s charges vary widely. From free NHS therapy to paying £75 per session I have done it all. I am not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. I am a single parent with two teenagers, but I know my mental health has to be a priority, and for me therapy is like food and water ….. I need it!

So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you are looking for a good therapist, don’t just accept the first one you come across. Make sure your therapist is the right person for you, understand their working approach and if it’s not working for you, say so. Any therapist who is working to their code of ethics will understand.

Therapy is a way to help yourself. Don’t settle.

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Self-Reflection

How many of us practice self-reflection?

Now I do and sometimes it’s hard because I may not have dealt with a situation the way I would have liked, and I feel guilty or embarrassed. Self-reflection gives me the opportunity to look at what I have said or done and look for ways I can improve myself. I can also reflect on and be proud about the things I have handled well.

I wasn’t always like this. In fact, regular introspection is new to me and I have been actively practicing this daily for a little over two years. It definitely makes a difference to my life and it’s another way for me to find peace, a kind of balance.

How many of us have said something or reacted in a way that we later regretted? Did you beat yourself up about it (this was an easy one for me), or try and forget it ever happened? How many times have you done something amazing or handled a situation really well and didn’t acknowledge it?

By looking at ourselves in this way we learn to grow and develop.

I recently had an instance where I was with a group of people in a class. One of them, the tutor, whom I didn’t know was acting quite strangely and had obvious aphasia. A disorder resulting from damage or injury to the specific area in the brain which affects, reading, writing and speech. As this person was trying to teach and was clearly struggling, they were also becoming more and more inappropriate. I was uncomfortable with the whole thing and my go to response was to leave, which I ultimately did. When I later got home, I sat and tried to understand why I felt so uncomfortable. This person had brain damage and I knew it, and I knew that they probably didn’t realise the impact of their behaviour or words. What could I have done differently?

I did voice my concerns to the tutor privately, but maybe I could have said more. I could have tried to help them understand the difficulties the class was having, and I could have been more empathetic and understanding and tried to explain better why the class should end. I felt bad that I hadn’t done more. As it was weekend training, the school wasn’t open so I couldn’t contact anyone. This person shouldn’t have been put in the situation they were in. It was unfair on them and the class. (The situation has now been resolved)

I can’t change how it all played out, and there is no benefit to anyone for me to worry about how I felt or my initial reaction, but I can learn from the situation and going forward implement the strategies I use at work or home if something happens and I need to have a difficult conversation.

It is said that self-reflection strengthens emotional intelligence by allowing us to become more self-aware and self-regulatory. Self-awareness allows us the ability to understand our emotions, strengths, weaknesses, values and goals, and recognise their impact on others. Self-regulation involves the ability to control or redirect our disruptive emotions and impulses and adapt to changing circumstances. 

Practicing self-reflection has increased my confidence. Yes, I still mess up, but I am conscious that I am a work in progress, and I have to keep looking at myself, my behaviours and thoughts and keep improving myself, one step at a time.

Does anyone else practice self-reflection? Has it made a difference in your life?

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Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2020

It had come up on one of my social media feeds that the week beginning 3rd February as well as being Children’s Mental Health Week it is also Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness week.

I thought, well that’s never happened to me, so I don’t know a whole lot about it. Then I remembered an incident at school about 35 years ago. I was standing waiting for my bus and a boy that I thought was a friend called me to the side of one of the buildings. He pushed me against the wall and tried to put his hand up my skirt and in my blouse. From around the other side of the building a couple more boys appeared and thought I would be up for sex with all of them.

I swiftly kneed the one boy where it hurts and ran. I was so upset that instead of going straight home I went to a friend’s house as she was closer. Once I had stopped crying and explained what had happened, she insisted I tell a teacher the next day. I did, I told the deputy head. How was the boy punished? He wasn’t, he was told to stay away from me. He denied everything, and the other 2 boys insisted they had seen nothing, so it was my word against theirs.

I had a lot of friends that were boys and one who was particularly large “had words” with the boy who had assaulted me, and he never came near me again.

That was the one time I was sexually assaulted.

Sexual assault, according to the NHS is any sexual act that a person did not consent to or is forced into against their will. It is a form of sexual violence and includes rape (an assault involving penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth), or other sexual offences, such as groping, forced kissing, child sexual abuse or the torture of a person in a sexual manner.

Sexual abuse happens to children and adults and it does not discriminate. People of all genders, religions, race, sexualities are all abused or violated and it’s something I find difficult to fathom.

This week, from 3rd to 7th February is about raising awareness and campaigning against sexual violence.

Why are people sexually abusive towards others? Is it a type of control they are after, do they think this is acceptable behaviour? Do they have distorted feelings of how a relationship should be? Why are paedophiles attracted to children? Why does a father rape his daughter? Why does a husband violate his wife? What does a woman run a brothel and traffic other young women? Why are so many of the LGBTQ+ community sexually assaulted? These are all examples of sexual violence that have been in newspapers recently. I don’t know why people behave this way.

I do know that a lot of people still don’t report sexual violence. They don’t report for a number of reasons, fear of not being believed, fear of having to face the accused, shame, embarrassment, and the list goes on. I can understand some of those emotions, and I accept it may be such a traumatic experience people may not want to relive it by talking about it again and again as they go through the legal process.

I encourage people to report any sexual abuse or violence. I encourage them to get tested for STIs, and I encourage them to talk to someone about what’s happened.

This is one of the areas I will be covering during my next two years of studies. I do feel that this will be challenging for me. Challenging because I don’t understand it, and maybe I am reluctant to try and understand it.

Please help support this by raising awareness and showing support for the survivors of sexual violence.

If you need help, please reach out

  • the free, 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247
  • the Rape Crisis national freephone helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year) 
  • a doctor or practice nurse at your GP surgery 
  • a voluntary organisation, such as Women’s Aid, Victim Support, The Survivors Trust or Survivors UK (for male victims of sexual assault)
  • NHS 111 or Police Emergency 999

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Children’s Mental Health Week – Find Your Brave

This week February 3rd – 7th, shines a spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health. Finding your brave – Bravery comes in all shapes and forms. It can be asking for help, talking to someone, trying something different, doing something social, going outside, going to school. Being brave is different for every child.

Having a child who has had mental health challenges, along with seeing what their friends go through, has made me aware of some of the problems facing our kids today.

How many of you have been watching the Channel 4 documentary – Losing it – Our Mental Health Emergency? The second episode took me back a couple of years and I could recognise my daughter in all 3 of the teenagers shown. It was difficult to watch, and it reminded me of a time I hope never to go back to.

I know a lot of families are dealing with children who have mental health challenges, but what can we all do differently?

I have a lot of thoughts on the way our children are being brought up, but the one main thing I would like to see change is that there be a counsellor working full time in every secondary school.

My daughter was bullied at school and I went in to discuss this with them on a weekly basis, but nothing was ever done. She didn’t want to move schools because she was afraid of losing the few friends she did have. She didn’t know how to communicate all of this or know how to navigate the difficult relationships and emotions. I had got her a private therapist, but I do feel that if she had someone to talk to at school that would just listen it would have made a difference. As time went on, she was afraid to tell the teachers what was going on sometimes due to the repercussions and sometimes because she knew that all they would do was call me.

In hindsight I would have removed her from the school. It was a negative environment for her, and they had no idea how to help manage her, so they gave up. She did complete her GCSEs, although she only went to school for her exams. Her studying and revision she did at home. As soon as her exams were over, she left. She got the qualifications needed for her chosen college course, which she started last September, and she has never looked back.

A counsellor would give these children the knowledge that conversations would be confidential. It would be an outlet, someone who would just listen. It may give them the confidence to have those difficult conversations.

Prevention is better than cure….

If having a counsellor in schools reduced the pressure these kids feel, or if it helps improve their self-esteem and self-confidence, or if it helps them open up to parents, surely this is what is needed.

This is only one way I think children can be helped. There are many more ideas. To show your support for Children’s Mental Health Week go to

There are posts you can put on your social media. There is information for schools and youth groups and parents and carers. Help these children find their brave

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Meditation Rooms

Last October I decorated my daughter’s bedroom. Her bedroom is next to what was once my home office. I stopped using it a few years ago, and it had become a space my daughter used to paint, do crafts and express herself through art. She completely trashed the room, paint on the carpet, the desk was a mess.

Since she is now much more able to look after her belongings, I thought I would redecorate this little room and then decide what I wanted to do with it. So, I painted it and put in new carpet at the same time.

It’s been three months since it was done, and now I have finally decided what I want to do with it. I am going to make it into a meditation room. Tomorrow we are going window shopping for some ideas of how to decorate it, and I’m really quite excited.

I want a space we can all go to just be, when things get too much or we just need some quiet time to reflect.

So, what do I put in a meditation room?

I love nature so there has to be some plants about. As you all know by now, I love my candles and my music and my singing bowls. I must incorporate all of these as well as a mediation table, maybe a salt lamp, cushions and a mat.

Because I feel that meditation can be viewed in different ways, for me I try to meditate a few times a week. I think it connects well to my mindful practices and they compliment each other perfectly. For others it will be different, and I don’t feel that there is a right way or a wrong way to practice meditation.

I guess that means there is no right or wrong way to furnish my meditation room.

I will keep you up to date with my progress

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Hygge

A friend I know has pictures on their wall with the definition of hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) “the warm feeling you get while enjoying the company of great friends and all life has to offer”.  I was curious as to what this was, so off to research I went.

Hygge is a Danish word and way of life, with no literal translation into English, which encompasses a feeling of well-being, cosy contentment by living a simpler life.

Most of us will have experienced hygge without even realising it. Drinking a hot chocolate curled up on the sofa whilst it’s raining outside or lighting candles, giving the room a soft light and reading a book whilst it’s snowing outside. That is hygge. Strangely enough I realised that I hygge is part of how I live.

For the Danish this is an important way of life. Despite long cold winters, the Danish people are purported to be living in one of the happiest countries in the world.

Hygge is a warm, cosy and simple part of Danish culture and has been since the early 1800s.

So, what exactly is hygge and how can we incorporate this into our daily lives?

Candles are one of the most important aspects of hygge, and the Danes burn around 13lb of candles per head. They light not just one candle, but several candles at the same time to create a cosy atmosphere with soft flickering lights. I usually have 5 or 6 candles lit in my lounge most of the time. I go through a whole lot of candles! I also have fairy lights on my windowsills and a beautiful salt lamp. I never have my main lights on, I much prefer the soft glow. It makes me happy.

Fireplaces are also important, but I honestly don’t know many people who now have a fireplace. When the kids and I go away on holiday we usually have a log burner in our accommodation and we always get logs for it. We sit around it and play board games in the evening – that’s hygge.

Blankets, throws and cushions, knitted, fluffy, weighted or heated are also a must. Who doesn’t love wrapping a soft blanket round themselves and curling up with a good book? Oversized jumpers, soft pyjamas, fluffy socks, anything soft and comfortable all make things way more hygge.

When it comes to food any dish can be hygge if it’s important to you. It’s foods that you find comforting, the soups or stews your mum made or the shortbread Granny made. The chicken pie the kids love with creamy mashed potatoes. A hot drink, hot chocolate, tea, coffee whatever your preference.

Whilst winter would seem the time to practice hygge, the Danes adopt this lifestyle all year round. Think spring walks, picnics in the park during summer, beach bonfires, garden parties, fire pits burning at the start of autumn and making s’mores.  This really is a way of life.

The emotional side of hygge may be because of the more relaxed atmosphere that is created. It is said to reduce anxiety and promote a sense of well-being and safety. This may allow us to open up more and share feelings and thoughts. Spending time with family and friends is an important aspect in hygge and that creates a healthy support system and bonds people together. Whilst it’s lovely to sit curled up watching the tv, maybe it would be more fun to invite a friend or two over to watch a movie, or have a pizza, or play some board games. Be present with people, connect to those around you.

Appreciate the simple things in life. Put down your mobile phone and switch off the tv. Light some candles and get some friends over for a comfort meal of your best chilli.

I’m off to make a hot chocolate and read my study book…

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Childhood Trauma – A Follow Up

Following on from my previous post I wanted to take a deeper look into early childhood trauma. Whilst I am nowhere close to being an expert, I have learnt some things through my studies and what my family have gone through.

Early childhood trauma usually refers to trauma experienced by children 0-6 years old. Because infants and young children are not able to verbalise how they feel, we, as adults often assume that because they are so young, they are not aware of the traumatic experience. We think that they don’t understand so they will not be affected. Research has found this is not the case and infants and young children may be affected by events that threaten the safety of their parents, siblings or themselves. The traumas can be as a result of physical, verbal or sexual abuse, domestic violence, accidents, natural disasters, medical procedures, separation from a caregiver through divorce or death and the list goes on.

We must remember however that not all children experience trauma in the same way. Some may not be affected by certain events whilst others may be severely affected.

Imagine how a 2-year-old would feel if they heard their parents arguing, screaming, throwing things or being violent toward each other. They wouldn’t be able to verbalise how that makes them feel, but they may cry or scream. They may blame themselves, they may become withdrawn, stop speaking or become isolated. These frightening noises or images may be re-run in the child’s mind through nightmares or they may act out and become violent with siblings or friends in a kind of re-enactment of the event.

Now imagine a 5-year-old witnessing the same events. They may be able to verbalise what they have seen. They may tell a teacher or friend. Or they may keep it inside for fear of retaliation or the fear that mum and dad will leave. They may as in a younger child blame themselves, become withdrawn and isolated.

Their experience the same, but their perspective different because of their age. I also must point out that not all upsetting experiences are traumatic. As I mentioned earlier all children process events differently and some are less affected by events than others.

Because young children’s brains are developing quickly during this age, they may be at risk of having difficulty with attention, thinking and speech. This impact may explain why some children who have experienced a traumatic event find it difficult to control their emotions.

Young children can experience emotional, physical and behavioural problems which are linked to the trauma they have suffered. Young children may become angry, anxious, fearful, clingy and aggressive. They may regress to an early age and parents may notice they have started to bed wet or stop talking, forgetting things they have learned, become picky with food or suffer constipation or diarrhoea. They may act out in social situations, have difficulty playing or communicating with other children, and they may even act out the abuse or traumatic event. They may lack self-confidence, or they may become aggressive and get into trouble at school.

Many parents may not know how to deal with situations like these, especially if they are not aware of the trauma the child has experienced, for example in cases of abuse.

What can we do to support these children?

Understand that not all upsetting events are traumatic. Understand that all children are unique and do not react the same. Younger children can’t always verbalise how they are feeling and so if you notice a difference in your child ask for help.

As a parent, find support and try to understand the potential implications long term for your child and what you can do to aid in their processing of the event. You know your child best, and it is with your love and the support of child psychologists and specialised psychological therapies that your child will be able to move on.

Think about it. What may be easy for our adult brains to process may be much more difficult for young children. They don’t necessarily have the resilience and definitely not the life experience that allows us to deal with difficult situations. Just because they are so young does not mean they are not affected.

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Childhood Trauma

Our younger years, even infancy is said to have a huge influence on our emotional and mental health as we grow older.

Any perceived trauma when we were children, even if we have supressed it will still have an effect. Because we all react differently to the same situation what may have made an impression on me, may not make an impression on anyone else.

My childhood was mostly a very happy one.

I spent a lot of time with my Granny and Gramps. They lived on and managed a sheep and beef farm. My Granny also ran a Bed and Breakfast from the farmhouse. I spent days and weeks with them, out on the farm with my Gramps, looking after the sheep, or going into town on the bus with my Granny and going for high tea and then on to the theatre. I loved this time of my life. I was always outside, and if I wasn’t with my Gramps, I was picking flowers, looking for tadpoles or finding leaves to press into a book. I remember my Gramps and I bringing baby lambs into the kitchen if the ewe rejected them and putting them in a blanketed box in from of the aga. I bottle fed them and my Granny would tell us off, albeit with a laugh.

The minute the weekend came around or school holidays began I would bug mum to take me to my grandparent’s house. This went on for years until I was in my teenage years, 13 or 14, I think. I knew these people loved me unconditionally and I loved them. They would have done anything for me, and I knew it. As they god a bit older they came to live with us, my parents building a granny flat for them right next to our house. I only have good memories of them.

I did well at primary school. I had friends, although I do remember there was a kind of rivalry between the girls. Simple things like who had the most money for tuck shop or who had bigger boobs! I even remember my best friend and I getting into a competition to see who could drink the most water at lunch time?! I lost, and she threw up. There was never any bullying that I can remember and looking back it seems like a much simpler time.

I do also remember being very upset at leaving the house for a while and getting on the school bus. I didn’t want to leave my mum. I’m not quite sure what that was about but I remember vividly being carried and put on the bus. I also remember being told something about by dad by someone on the school bus that really broke my heart for a while (I’m not getting into that right now). I was about 9 or 10. I think this revelation was something that did traumatise me in a way.

When I hear about children that are abused or neglected in some way, I accept readily that this trauma will have an impact on the individual as they grow into adulthood. What though about people like me, who grew up in a loving and caring environment and had maybe one single trauma. Do I readily accept that that this one event has had an impact on my life? For a long time, I would have said no, but as I have learnt about the subconscious, I can acknowledge that one event compounded by other losses of boys and men in my family has made me look at my romantic relationships differently. All men leave! So, I tend to either leave first or sabotage. I now just avoid relationships. This is something I am currently working on as it now ties into my unhealthy eating habits and being overweight.

I do worry about my children and the thought that something they may have already experienced has traumatised them long term. My daughter has already had struggles and it concerns me that she will take this trauma into adulthood. I know there are things she hasn’t dealt with. My son is so different and doesn’t always share how he is feeling. He appears happy and balanced, so I hope everything we have gone through as a family hasn’t negatively affected him in that he struggles later in life.

What was your childhood like? Have you carried any trauma into adulthood?

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Mindfulness

When I first heard about mindfulness, I thought it was all about focusing on the breath. My anxiety was high at the time and focusing on my breathing only made the anxiety worse! So, I thought, no way, not for me.

I was properly introduced to mindfulness with my daughter whose therapist thought it may be good for her. We went on a course over 5 evenings – Monday to Friday – and my daughter was completely bored, and I loved it. Let me just say my daughter now loves it too

For me mindfulness is living in the moment. Not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past but acknowledging and appreciating what I am doing there and then.  Do I always remember to be mindful in every situation, no of course not, but it’s something I can always bring myself back to.

One of the exercises we were tasked with was to look at the world around us as we were driving or on the bus. How many times have we got in the car and driven somewhere only to arrive and not remember the journey because our minds have been preoccupied? Or sat on the bus, headphones in worrying about the day ahead.

Next time you are in the car (driving safely) look at the world as you drive. The colour of the sky, the bends in the road, the green grass verges or the people on the pavement. Pay attention to what you are experiencing in the moment. This is more powerful if you are on the bus and can watch the world out of the window. The buildings, the people, fields, animals and the sky – the list goes on. Look at these things and notice the beauty in the world.

Mindfulness also taught me to be more aware of my thoughts and feelings and to deal with them as they occur. Again, I don’t always practice this very well, but I keep trying. I do sometimes still get caught up in my thoughts, but I don’t overthink and worry like I once did.

By being more aware I have lowered my stress levels and I can relax more. I don’t plan ahead a whole lot either. I always had lists for everything, and I mean everything, but it was to give me a sense of control and keep me on track. Now, I only have a list for Christmas gifts, and I keep these lists and look back on them like a memory.

I am more positive, and I appreciate the small things. One of the things I love doing of an evening is sitting in my lounge, my candles all lit and my salt lamp on, and just sitting. Just watching the flames flickering, and the glow from my salt lamp. I feel such a sense of peace from that. I appreciate the moment, and I smile when I hear my kids chatting upstairs.

Mindfulness has definitely helped with my anxiety. Living moment to moment and seeing everything with a fresh perspective, an almost childlike wonder has let me come back to experiencing life rather than just slogging through it.

My most mindful place apart from my home – My kids and I always go to the same place each year for a holiday. It’s a holiday full of activities, good food and amazing nature. I always notice how completely mindful I am when I am there. It’s so easy to live in the moment. Maybe it’s because the daily structure of life isn’t there, I don’t know. I see the leaves on each of the trees, the birds, squirrels and deer. I walk a lot and really enjoy it as there is always so much going on in the forest. We play sports and do craft activities like painting. I taste every mouthful of food from the lovely restaurants or cafes and I loves the sensory aspects of the spa, the steam rooms, the salt rooms and even the ice rub.

Next time you go out, really look at the world around you and see what you notice. The next time you have a piece of chocolate, close your eyes and acknowledge what it tastes like and feels like. Look at the things you do each day and try and be there in the moment, even if it’s housework! There are so many ways to be mindful. I love listening to music, most types of music, but especially music I can dance to. I can hear all the words and I can move to the beat and the sound gives me such a sense of joy. I need to do this more.

Do you practice mindfulness? How has it helped you? What could you do to be more mindful?

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