Let’s celebrate our positive impacts

Today I want to celebrate the positive impact we can have by just being ourselves, gloriously, messily, unashamedly ourselves.

I read somewhere that for each person who reads our blog and leaves a comment, another 3 or 4 or 5 or however many have probably also read it and been inspired by it. Similarly if we work 1:1 the ideas we share may influence or inspire that client and how they work with their own future clients. The techniques or tools we share may then be shared to their friends and colleagues.

It’s easy to discount these little ripples. So if you are a health professional, social worker, blogger, coach, therapist or wellbeing practitioner and feel like you are having only a small impact – listen up!

 

We make positive impacts…

Each time we show up and the person who has not yet found their voice is inspired to do so too.
Each time we own all our parts and someone still struggling to feel OK with their shadow feels a small opening up of their heart towards their own messy human self.
Each time we make friends with our creativity and model that it is safe and enjoyable to write, or make art, or to sing or to create great projects we pave the way for someone else to step more fully into themselves.
Each time we make an inclusive space and connect people we help combat loneliness and disconnection.
Each time we talk without shame about money, or perfectionism, or about self-doubt, or sexuality, or the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, we help make this space safe for others.
And for those of us who speak also about recovery from mental health challenges, or burnout, or childhood neglect or abuse, we help others accept themselves more fully and wholly.

 

So today I want to celebrate the positive impact we all don’t even know that we are having. The small ripples, often unspoken.
Our most meaningful contributions may be the small gestures, and quiet words as much as the large followers and giant projects. Keep offering with good intentions, commitment to ethical practice and quality, loving observations of our own needs and boundaries, and hope for the best!

Business Tip – skills need to be learnt

‘But it’s so hard for me to tell people what I do and what it costs’. I hear this a lot from people starting in business. And I want to say ‘OF COURSE IT IS!!’.
In my experience that’s hard for most people. Me. Other art therapists starting out. Most of the coaches I trained with. Artists. New graphic designers. Basically most humans find it hard to say ‘hey do you want to buy my thing?’ or ‘yes I can help you, at my hourly rate’ – at least when they start out in business.
And I should know – I spent two whole decades of my working life as an employee. You do the work and you get paid. You don’t have to every day say ‘oh do you want me to go get that paper off the photocopier? That will be five bucks thanks. You want me to write this report? Ok well my hourly rate is X.’
Most of us just negotiate our salary ONCE – when we accept the position, and maybe make a pitch for a pay rise or bonus at performance review time. And even if we sell things as an employee (this project, this widget, this package) it’s not US that we are selling, or its us with a whole organisation and brand behind us.

So here’s what I have to share: of course it’s hard, you’ve never done it before, it’s unfamiliar, feels risky and you don’t know how to do it. THAT’S EXACTLY LIKE ANY IMPORTANT SKILL YOU HAVEN’T LEARNT YET.

If you wanted to learn piano you would go and get lessons, not beat yourself up because you haven’t magically woken up this morning being able to play Bach. You would work with someone who knows how to play and you would get them to show you how. You would adjust your expectations and be prepared to learn some foundational skills and practice them and build on them. You would expect to go back again and again to your classes and share what’s hard and get tips on how to make things easier.

Business skills are just the same.

Just because you don’t know how to do something yet doesn’t make you defective or somehow uniquely flawed.

It means you need to learn. You need to find someone you trust and feel safe with, who is patient and knows more than you do and is willing to teach what they know. Ideally someone who will watch and listen and teach you just what you don’t already know yet, and build on what you DO know. You need to practice. You need find a way to be forgiving and to be ok with your fumbling and bumbling and making mistakes. You need to be ok with the off notes and playing ‘beginners tunes’ and still wishing you could play something more complex. You need to celebrate the little wins and remember that last week you couldn’t even play a note.

What’s one business skill on your to-learn list? 

Why graduating is the start not the end

I recently hit a milestone that many people reach when they’re quite young. Can you guess what it was? I got my drivers license.

Now what took me so long and how I finally did it that’s another story. But for now what I want to share is the way that reaching our milestones or goals can be kind of underwhelming. The day I actually passed my driving test I didn’t feel excited or elated. I felt kind of numb. Surprised I guess and a bit tired. Certainly relieved, relieved that I will no longer need lessons, relieve that getting my license could finally be crossed off my To Do list. But not excited.

It kinda perplexed me until I later reflected and realised that in fact I’d had 20 years of my adult life as a non-driver and only a couple of days as a driver. The identity is new and it might take a little while for it to feel familiar and comfortable or even real.

Not only that but when we’ve been working hard to achieve something and we finally get there Instead of feeling a rush of joy we can just notice the absence of the hard slog. And that we need a little rest.

In a sense when we pass the test, graduate from the course or whatever the thing is we’ve been aiming for we realise that it isn’t the pinnacle, it isn’t the end. We realise that we are at a new point of beginning.

My journey with driving doesn’t stop now that I have my license. Is the start of a new learning experience, polishing some of the skills I still find tricky: how to drive alone, driving at a different speed, night driving in different weather conditions, learning to navigate while on the move, and many more.

Similarly when where re-training prior to a career transition we can become so focused on gaining the qualification that when we get there we can be shocked to realise rather than being finished we are actually right at the start.

We still have to learn how to demonstrate our skills and land our first job, how to network, how to do ongoing learning, how to reflect on our practice. We need to learn how to make ourselves visible to peers and potential employers, or even how to start our own business. These are not small things, and they need energy and focus just like studying did.

So if you have just finished a milestone or are getting to one, be kind to yourself! Celebrate. Have a little rest. Get ready for the next stage of the journey.

Working with a coach isn’t always easy

Working with a coach isn’t all ticking off tasks and getting things done. Coming up against resistance, freaking out, feeling annoyed, resenting the tasks, questioning everything, procrastinating can all be part of the journey.

I think the very act of being in a coaching relationship as we try to work towards something we care about helps us see ourselves and our experiences more clearly.

And it’s sometimes very challenging!
We can think that therapy is deep work and that in contrast coaching is all about light, easy and fun: ticking off tasks and being transformed instantly into a unicorn loving, organised, shiny superpreneuer*. But in reality it’s not.

Changing how we act in the world and what we do can deeply challenge our view of ourselves and bring up all sorts of fears. Writing a blog post for the first time can trigger all those voices of criticism that you internalised from childhood about standing out or being too big for your boots. Updating a CV and going for jobs can make space for grief about your career to surface. Naming a vision or a dream can bring up all your feelings of worthlessness, or pessimism, or whatever else is laying beneath the surface.

But that’s OK.

The cycles of awareness, then accepting, and then bringing compassion to ourselves is the deeper work that happens underneath the ‘getting tasks done’, ‘working towards a goal’ or ‘getting systems in place’.

So what I mean by that is if you’re finding it a bit challenging,  ‘you’re doing it right!’.

Coming up against resistance, freaking out, feeling annoyed, resenting the tasks, questioning everything, procrastinating can all be part of the journey. As can feeling relieved, feeling inspired, feeling supported, feeling focused and getting things done. We will just bring gentle awareness, acceptance, curiosity and compassion to all these experiences.

So are you ready for coaching? Are you feeling brave and like diving inwards as well as getting stuff done in the outside world? Are you feeling like you would like company and support on the journey? Are you feeling like shining some compassionate light onto the shame and ‘should have’s’?

Does any of this resonate with you? I’d love to hear how coaching has helped you, or what you would be most excited about experiencing if we were to work together.

*Oh yes I made that word up myself 🙂

 

Why I love working in community mental health

I’ve been musing lately on my experiences in running art therapy programs for community mental health providers.

Why creating welcoming spaces for people in crisis or experiencing extreme states matters:

Mental health sufferers face both stigma and other challenges to joining in mainstream activities. Low energy, low mood, feeling anxious, fidgety, being prone to angry outbursts, finding speaking up or staying quiet hard, having loud internal negative self talk, hearing voices  – any or all of these can make showing up hard and make finding a safe and welcoming space harder still.

Many people who come to community mental health programs often have a range of social, economic, health and trauma experiences that they are dealing with that are linked to or compound the experience of a mental illness / mental distress / mental health challenges:

  • Poverty can make it harder to afford medication or therapy
  • Trauma experiences can make it hard to relax or trust others, or to open up
  • Concentration and energy levels can make it hard to hold down work (or study), which in turn can increase social isolation, economic distress
  • People can juggle their own mental health issues while also caring for family members with mental health issues
  • Alcohol and other drugs can be used to help mask the pain but at the same time contribute to financial, social and other health challenges.

Here’s what I know even more deeply than I did before from this work:

People are complex whole beings. They are a life story, they are friends and parents and neighbours. They are dreamers and fighters and nurturers. They are carers and volunteers and advocates. They are artists and storytellers. Having a mental illness diagnosis doesn’t define a person or tell you anything of the entirety of who they are.

People have moods that come and go, we are all variable hormonal, social, responsive beings who have capacity for change, above and beyond our symptoms.

People with mental health challenges may find it hard to find or access the very resources that might help them most. Brain fog, anxious feelings, low energy and other challenging felt experiences can make remembering, researching or processing information difficult.

People are more alike than different. Our dreams and fears are remarkably similar no matter what our age, income, past experiences or current challenges. We all want human connection with people we like and trust, to feel closeness and to be respected and understood, and sometimes to be cared for and nurtured. We want some kind of physical and material stability, to attend to the basic needs of our life without all consuming stress about money, debt or housing. We want to make a contribution to the people and world around us, and we want to express ourselves in the world. We want to feel well in ourselves, healthy, and to access some kind of help, medical or otherwise, for physical/ emotional struggles we might face.

It takes guts to get help. It takes immense courage and determination to commit to doing the things we know are good for us, especially when getting there and being there can sometimes feel extremely hard.

We often think we are unique with our fears and doubts and ‘weaknesses’, and this causes shame. When we speak about our experience to supportive others it lightens our load. It also inspires others to feel better about their experience. We feel less alone when we can reveal more of who we really are and what is really going on for us.

Compassion and acceptance of ALL of us can happen gradually and in baby steps. It is an ongoing practice to show ourselves compassion, towards our limitations, towards the parts of us that are fearful, angry, hurt, hurtful. It is an ongoing practice to develop an encouraging voice that allows us to try new things and show ourselves, even when we are not ‘perfect’.

Getting help through medication, being in support groups, accessing social workers or being in one on one therapy is a really important step towards recovery.

——–

 

 

 

Trees as symbol in art therapy

Trees are a wonderful symbol that we often use in art therapy with clients to explore how they are feeling and what is going on in their lives right now.

But even beyond a formal art therapy session with an art therapist, you might find musing on the tree as a symbol helpful for figuring out where you are right now or even for thinking about where you’d like to be.

Here are some thoughts on what the various parts of the tree can symbolise for us. Of course we are each unique and your own associations are just as or more important than what someone else thinks the symbol might mean, so please take these ideas as prompts not as the end point of your musings.

RootsIn nature trees get water and nutrients from the soil. Our roots as a way to connect with what nourishes us. Our connection with each other, self acceptance, healing. Spirituality. We grow stronger, more deeply connected to source, more aware of our below the surface motivations, hurts, fears and what feeds our soul. We grow deeper roots to hold ourselves solid against the winds that life may send our way but also to feed ourselves from what is deep, what is from the earth, what is made of things no longer needed . We are fed by the decomposition of things that are no longer alive to us. Their nutrients pass through, we integrate them into our cellular structure.

TrunkTrees have a trunk to transport the resources they need and as a solid structure to hold itself up. A solid trunk is all of our systems in place to connect our roots and branches. A trunk needs flow and movement, it needs structural integrity and it needs to grow taller and bigger with time. Our trunk is our core, our centre, our way to bring our ideas into the world. For some people a lean flexible trunk is needed while for some people a huge and solid trunk is needed. The roots need to be connected to our trunk so that the work we do is connected to what lies beneath the surface. The trunk is in service of both our emotional subterranean selves and our dreams for being in the world.

Branches, leaves and flowersLeaves are the place where trees transform sunlight into energy, expel waste gases (the life giving oxygen that we rely on), and take in gases that they need. Leaves are permeable and in constant contact with the air and water and light around them, exchanging gases, letting water out, taking sunshine in. They may look simple but are complex and in a dance with their environment. For ourselves leaves could be considered the parts of us that capture light – what delights us, what feeds us ideas and energy. The branches and leaves extend us into the world. The flowers are our offerings to delight the world, and the way we connect with others. The flowers are the ways we open ourselves up to the world, invite others in, the way we cross pollinate, the way we delight others, the way we feed the world with the fruit we make. This is about vision, our dreams, expansion, our dream projects. It’s also about delight.

Bringing it all together

In this metaphor of the tree, we can be reminded to go inwards for guidance and find what nourishes us, connect with source, develop systems and structures in the world, and name and create our dreams and wishes.

Like a tree we might notice that sometimes our branches are bare, sometimes we feel gnarled and bent over in the wind, sometimes we are growing in thin soil and hanging on tight. Sometimes we are the tender new growth after a fire. Sometimes we might feel lush and sumptuous and old like an oak growing in deep rich soil.

In this symbolic work there is no one off the shelf way you (your tree) ‘should’ look or be. Your current experience might be different to last week’s or last year’s. Your current reality might be different to mine. Your branches may be bigger or smaller, your flowers large or more richly scented than mine. You may value strength and stability, or perhaps growth is what you are focused on now. You may be focused on flexibility and movement and not care too much for flowers right now. You may be thinking about your roots and wondering what they need to be nourished and stable. You may want more leaves or you may be enjoying having shed some and the quiet inward time that brings. You may notice that you flower prolifically each season or save up your energy to create just a few stunning large blooms.

The tree is a simple and powerful metaphor for life and ourselves as growing, ever changing beings that are deeply connected with the natural world. 

If you were a tree this week how would you look?

 

The yin and yang of creation

Sometimes people want to push and force the creative act.

“Make it happen NOW!” They say.

“Of course you have time!” They say.

Force myself with productivity hacks!

Override all doubts and protestations!

Deny myself down-time and work around the clock to Make. This. Thing. Happen.

But in my experience sometimes waiting has a purpose.

Maybe this creative act needs me to do a few more things first, gather more skills and experience until the time is right.

Maybe I am waiting for the right collaborators, or sense of possibility.

Maybe I am waiting for something else to come to an end before the new thing starts.

Maybe I’m waiting to rest and restore so that my energy levels fill back up and bring more ease to the task.

Maybe something in another aspect of my life has to shift and alter so the new creation can take place.

To me, many coaches take a mechanical view of us as human beings – push this lever, pull that, prod and hey presto! The thing is made! We are Successful!

To me though humans are more like a tree in a garden unfolding. There are deep depths subterranean truths hidden in soil. There are fabulous rich connections between ourselves and other organisms that feed us, pollinate us and shelter in our arms. There are seasons. There is maturing, that takes time. There are signals that tell us when it is safe and productive to bare fruit.

Creativity to me is a whole self endeavour.

I have learnt that bossing and forcing is not the way to satisfying productivity.

I am growing to trust the fallow seasons, and learning to understand that all trees look different, and need different things to grow. And so do we as creative beings.

——

How do you honour your own rhythms and seasons of creativity? Do you trust your instincts about when to bring your projects into the world?

Musings on imperfection and professionalism

I shared on social media recently that I was feeling really tired, exhausted from a busy few months. That maybe I hadn’t got the mix of work quite right, that I needed some time to rest and replenish.

Then I spoke with a colleague about it. She said she admired how I share openly about the different parts of myself.

I thanked her for that reflection and shared that I feel like I have to be honest about the hard stuff, because being in integrity with my feelings is how I want my work to be. And asking for help and support, that’s a big ongoing life challenge for me, an area of growth, so it feels like good practice to ask sometimes.

I shared with her that I sometimes worry it’s ‘not professional’ but then I think ‘f*^k it, that’s just the truth of who I am’. People who are scared to see the dark, who want ‘perfect’ and who want a coach that seems to have no problems ever – they are not my people.

I try to bring self awareness and compassion to my strong feelings. I try to process them and tend to them before I share them publicly. I am aware that my journal / therapist/ mentor/ coach/ friends are where the raw feelings get processed and made sense of. I never do that with my clients. I always check in first that it’s not raw and ‘in the moment’ and that there is some sense of it the sharing being for the greater good and not just for myself before I hit publish.

She said ‘maybe we need a new version of what professional is’.

I agree.

Does anything resonate for you about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Highly sensa… what now?

Highly sensitive person (HSP). The phrase gave me the heebie jeebies when I first saw it.

Not another category! I thought.

Not another ‘them and us’ I mourned.

Not another label that whiffs of ‘oh I’m special and you’re not’ I huffed and puffed.

I also thought it sounded a bit like ‘highly complainy people’.

That was until I read about it more.

And then I thought ‘thank F- that someone has written about this, and it’s not just me’.

It gave me a lens (the concept of sensory sensitivity) to see myself and better understand myself through.

I mean I was pretty comfortable identifying as introverted, I knew I needed time alone (or around very safe feeling people) to recharge, but I’d never really thought about how sensory input overlapped with social-emotional inputs to overwhelm me.

As an introvert I couldn’t figure out how an hour’s train ride by myself on an almost empty train didn’t feel relaxing, or why time around people could be extra exhausting if I was in a loud bar compared with sitting around a quiet dinner table.

For me, I realised that I am very sensitive to some noises. That faint beeping of an appliance two rooms away, I can hear it and it’s bugging me while you try to speak with me. The tv on in the ‘background’ while we try to have a conversation? It’s like two conversations shouting simultaneously in my brain. I find it hard to ignore many sounds and they don’t really fade into the background for me. Working in a busy open plan office was extremely stressful for me, because even with ear plugs I could hear the spontaneous standing meeting happening in the cubicle over and the phone call behind me, and , and … You get the idea.

I’m also sensitive to smell, and will sniff out offending smells or get distracted by smells I can’t place. I frequently recognise what my chef husband has cooked during the day just by the scents on his work clothes (he doesn’t super love it when I sniff him and guess!).

So now I know that being in loud, strongly smelly, ‘jangly’ environments is not relaxing for me, even if there are no people there.

Does that mean I’m special or extra finely tuned? I don’t imagine so. I guess it just means that my senses are turned up LOUD so the info comes in at full blast.

It also means that if it comes all at once I tense up and find it harder to process.

A schreechy train with strong oil smell and gusts of cold air as the doors open at each station is a lot to take in. Especially if there’s someone sitting near me and facing me.

A quiet cosy non smelly train with a double seat to myself and an almost empty carriage – another story!

Sitting with my back to a walkway in a cafe where knives and forks are being dried and clanged into a box, with concrete floors and screechy acoustics and stressed staff bitching about a coworker feels very different to sitting with cafe music and coffee machine white noise in a dark corner where the staff are chilled.

What this means is that I absolutely can be an annoying person to go to a cafe or restaurant with (“Let’s sit here, ooh no, hang on what about here, oh no actually THIS table!”) BUT what it also means is that I pay a lot of attention to setting up spaces that are calm feeling for my clients, that have nice light, smell fresh, look pleasant, feel peaceful.

The book that I really enjoyed on this* was written by an occupational therapist. She describes people with severe sensory issues, where the slightest touch hurts for example. It made me think more deeply about the full spectrum of ways that people experience sensory input.

Sensory sensitivity is often associated with autism, and some parents and advocates have been trying to make changes to how public spaces cater to the diverse needs of customers who can find their spaces overwhelming.

“Imagine going to a concert but being unable to block out any of the noises, touches, smells and movements happening around you. The volume of each of these sensations is turned way up: Whispers become yells, the odors of hot dogs and popcorn are stomach-churning, flashing lights are blinding. This can be the experience of people with sensory processing issues — since they can’t filter out sensory input like those with neurotypical processing systems, they feel bombarded by every piece of sensory information occurring in a space all at once.” – Hailey Reissman 

I’m really interested in how developmental experiences, including trauma, also affect our sensory experiences. The child who never got to explore diverse tactile sensations through growing up in neglect, who now finds sensory stimulation overwhelming. The teenager who grew up around violence and now startles when hearing loud noises. It makes me wonder how each of our experiences of senses are shaped by our childhood environments and relationships, as well as genetic factors.

So, on balance I’m glad the concept exists and I’m interested in research going on to explore it further. I think it creates a framework to help some people understand themselves better and create environments that suit them best.

 

*‘Too Loud Too bright, Too Fast, Too Tight” by Sharon Heller, 2002 HarperCollins