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Stop The World, I Need To Get Off!

02 May 19

I try and write a little blog about once a month.  I'm normally super busy, so it's not always possible...

That is, I was super busy.  Until 7th February, when the Universe, and my back, had other ideas for me!

I've been struggling on and off for years and years with a bad back.  I put it down to a couple of things... childbirth being one, and a failed epidural and two spinal blocks (all during or after the birthing process) being the other.  There's no proof to say it's down to any of those things, but I've suffered.  Lower back, left hand side.  Always the same.  It would 'go' in the most obscure and often bizarre situations, normally through just twisting or reaching, and I'd walk around like an S-bend for a few days until it settled.

18 years ago, I discovered a brilliant Chiropractor, and then a couple of years ago, discovered a brilliant Physiotherapist, and with their support,  I've been managing the symptoms of my back.  Historically, I'd go and see the Chiro when my back would 'go' and fortunately, through working with the Physio more recently, found it 'going' less and less.  

I also did research and I noticed patterns.  I noticed that it would 'go' at a particular time in the month, and when I did my reserach, I found that this was the time that my levels of oestrogen were naturally dropping, and the levels of relaxin in my body were naturally increasing.  For most ladies, this happens when the body is getting ready to shed its womb lining, just before her period arrives.  It also happens during pregnancy, allowing the ligaments to become more loose and lax, in order to accommodate a growing baby.  The thing with relaxin is that it loosens the ligaments in other parts of the body too, but mostly the pelvis, the lower back and the knees.


In early February this year, when my back started feeling sore, I went to see the Physio, thinking nothing more of it.  I had a treatment and he told me to see how it went, and to go back if it didn't settle down by the end of the week.  I woke up 2 days later and found it to be really sore.  Knowing what I needed to do, I went downstairs, took a bag of peas from the freezer, and just before I lay on my front and popped the bag of peas on my back, I thought "I'll just empty the washing machine" and as I crouched down...BANG, my back went.  The excruciating pain flung me across the floor and I was unable to do anything other than holler.  No position was comfortable, and I can only liken it to the feelings of an electric shock.  This was at 6.30am, and to cut a very long story short, I ended up spending the day in the A&E Department of our local hospital, dressed in grey, brushed cotton, leopard print pyjamas, a grey, fleece, Tinkerbell dressing gown, odd socks and Adidas trainers.  I didn't care how I looked.  I didn't care about anything.  I was in severe, unrelenting pain.

It transpired that a disc had herniated into my spine and the pain I was experiencing down my left leg and into my foot was from severe cord compression, which was irritating the sciatic nerve.  I'd 'slipped a disc' as they used to say.  It's also known as a prolapsed disc, apparently.  Whatever you want to call it, it was the most severe, unrelenting, uncontrollable pain I've ever experienced, and I've delivered two massive babies!

So what was the prognosis at the hospital?

Well apparently, in 80% of cases, the body cleverly absorbs the disc matter that has herniated, and no further treatment is necessary, although this can take up to 6 weeks (or as I found out later, up to 12 weeks).  Imagine my joy at the hospital, when they told me to expect this level of pain for up to 6 weeks!!!  They prescribed me with some pretty powerful drugs and I went home, in some level of shock, and still in debilitating, unrelenting pain.  

For the other 20% of people, treatment might involve an injection, or ultimately, surgery to remove the disc matter from the spine.


For the first time in my life, I couldn't do anything, except lie in bed, or on the floor.  Every movement I made had to be calculated.  I couldn't cough or sneeze without crying out in pain and my life became split into chunks of time between medications.  I was taking so much medication that I had to document it and set alarms so I knew what to take and when.  To be fair, this probably kept me sane, because I had seemingly lost control of everything else, and for someone as controlled and controlling as me, that was pretty tough to accept, so micro-managing medication was probably good for me!

There were times, mostly at night, when I was desperately tired, but couldn't sleep, because I couldn't get comfortable, or the painkillers had worn off and I was waiting for the next lot to kick in, that I wondered if I would ever have any sort of life again.  I would say that the nights were probably the most difficult.  In fact, I stopped trying to have a daytime or night-time routine.  I just slept when I needed to, as I knew that I'd be awake every hour or so with pain.

I turned all of my energy inwards as the only way to get through what was happening to me.  I cut almost all communication with everyone; I virtually turned off my mobile phone, and I just went into myself to begin my recovery.  At times, the silence was deafening, but as I got used to it, I began to enjoy the stillness in my head and in my world.


Hence, no blog was written, because everything stopped.  All of my clients were brilliant, which is just lovely when you only know people professionally, but they have all been very loyal and said they would wait until I had recovered and then come back to me.  I also have a wonderful support network of people offering to help me - if only I would let them!

I'm a great believer in the Universal Law of Attraction and how the Universe gives you exactly what you need.  Often, this isn't necessarily what you want.  My life had become too busy.  I've always been busy, but I was literally running about from clinic to clinic, dashing between Derby and London, and not getting home on a Friday night until midnight or 1am.  Trying to have a life in between all of that was becoming increasingly difficult.  I was neglecting those that I care for deeply, but mostly, I was neglecting myself, and my own physical and mental wellbeing.

I'm also a great believer in the Mind-Body connection.  We carry the weight of our responsibilities in the bottom of our backs, and more specifically, a herniated disc is about feeling pressured.  

The Universe obviously decided that enough was enough and literally pulled the rug out from under my feet.  I needed to stop, which I did, because I had no choice.  I also had to accept help, which I did, and which was a challenge for me, but above all, I had to take care of myself before caring for anyone else.  I had to put myself first, which I don't know if I have ever done before.  I have had to take a serious look at my life, and make some changes.  Changes which are still evolving, but changes that I feel sure will be good for me.


And that's where I'm at!  Today, 12 weeks in, and I can sit at my desk and write, for the first time in 3 months, which is really quite an achievement.  I can't sit here for long, because I get back ache quickly, and the nerve down my leg and into my foot is still severely compressed, but I can do small things, which I am eternally grateful for.  I have a set of exercises that the Physio has given me, to start to strengthen my foot and my calf, which have weakened considerably, but I seem to be heading in the right direction.  Hopefully, I'm going to be in the 80% that recover on their own, without the need for surgical intervention, but I'm not out of the woods yet.

My advice, if you're reading this and you regularly put yourself at the bottom of the pile, is please begin to put yourself first, even if it's just in small ways.  Care for yourself and nurture yourself in the way that you would care for the most precious thing in your entire world, because as I've found, you can't take your body, your health or your wellbeing for granted, as the rug could be pulled from under your feet at any moment!


Sex Sells...

05 February 19

Valentine's Day is literally just around the corner, and you can't walk past a shop without it being sold to you in some way, shape or form.  This is because sex sells, at least from a marketing viewpoint, and the retailers do everything they can to ram it down your throat, as it were.

I noticed, when passing a high street retailer the other day, that the window display was somewhat risqué.  It caught my attention, so I guess that it had achieved its purpose there, and my mind started to wander and wonder about the wide variety of different things that pique our interest, and I began to ponder on when a keen interest in something becomes a fetish?

What is the definition of a fetish?  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is "A form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to an abnormal degree to a particular object, item of clothing, part of the body, etc."

Abnormal in whose mind?  Not the person who has the sexual desire, that's for sure!


Now, I have a thing for shoes.  Usually high heeled, but not always.  Is that a fetish?  I don't think it is, because I don't get sexual gratification from it, I just like shoes, but an experience I had with eBay a while ago told me that many people do get sexual gratification from shoes.  And feet.  And feet in shoes.

I was selling a few pairs of shoes, and received a couple of questions about the shoes, followed by a request for some photographs of them being worn.  "No worries" I thought. "That will perhaps encourage the purchaser to make their decision..." and so I popped them on, took a couple of snaps and sent them over, to be helpful, I thought!  Then came the confession, that this person had a foot fetish, and actually desired photographs of feet in stiletto heeled shoes, and probably had no intention of purchasing the shoes!

Part of me felt mildly irritated, but being the Therapist that I am, I explained that I absolutely understood, and asked him to kindly delete the photographs.  He said he would, and then went on to tell me that his wife didn't understand him.  Once more, being the Therapist that I am, I explained that I understood... and I basically ended up Counselling him, via the eBay messaging service, about his fetish.  I thought it was really interesting that he was so open about why he wanted the photographs.  He basically wanted to talk to someone.

This has happened to me a couple of times since, and whilst I don't mind people asking for photographs of my feet, they could simply look at Twitter, where I'm always posting pictures of them, rather than clogging up my eBay messages!  In fact, the photograph I've used as my Twitter profile pic for years is a photograph of my feet, wearing a pair of my very favourite shoes.  That is easy for me, because I don't find them sexual.  I just like shoes!


So when does a fetish become a problem?  As a Phychosexual Therapist, I see people in my clinic all the time for Sex Therapy, whether that is related to a problem they have in the bedroom, or something similar to the person from eBay - that their partner doesn't understand them and therefore it becomes a problem because they are becoming sexually frustrated or isolated. Often, their partner doesn't even know about the fetish, as it's something they've not felt able to divulge, very often for fear of being judged, or even dumped, in the case of new relationships.  And it isn't always new relationships where people keep their sexual fetishes a secret.  Sometimes, people have kept these secrets for years, and people find that hiding it from their partner is a cause of guilt and shame, even leading to anxiety, because they don't like telling fibs!  They'd rather be accepted for who they are, because being authentic gives us a sense of freedom, and being accepted for that gives us a sense of security.

This is where, as a Counsellor and Hypnotherapist, it's really important that I find out what people want from me.  I never say to clients "What's the problem?" because they might not have a problem! I say "Tell me how I can help you."  This is because not everyone wants to be free from their fetish.  Some people simply want to talk about it in a safe, non-judgemental environment, because they either expect or have previously experienced hostility, embarrassment or judgement.  Quite often, people have never spoken to another person about their deepest, darkest desires, and that alone can be very therapeutic.

When two (or more, depending on your fetish) people consent, then sexual experimentation can be liberating, fulfilling and exhilarating, but when that isn't the case, it can lead to immense isolation, guilt and shame, which can lead to performance issues, such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, early ejaculation (the two are different) penetration anxiety or pain during intercourse. It can lead to the person becoming sexually withdrawn, possibly creating more problems within the relationship.

Once these things start, the spiral can become negative and spread to anxiety in other areas of life, which can in turn lead to depression. 


So as a Counsellor and Hypnotherapist, my aim is to support your journey forwards.  As such, I'm not always helping people to navigate their way through problems.  I also spend time listening to people's inner most thoughts and desires, because what one person thinks is acceptable is often very different to what the next person thinks is acceptable, and so on.  Very often, people simply want to be heard and their thoughts or beliefs to be acknowledged in a non-judgemental environment.  

Of course, it is important that clients are fully aware that Sex Therapy is a talking therapy, and not a physical therapy, and also that they are aware that my areas of expertise as a Sex Therapist relate to consenting adults acting within the law.  

So I did sell the shoes, not to the person who contacted me for the photographs, but to someone else, and I have sold many more pairs since, but now, each time I advertise, I know that not every question is going to be from a prospective purchaser!


New Year, New You? Or New Year, Same Old Same Old?

16 January 19

It's 16th January 2019, and Christmas and New Year celebrations already seem like ages ago.  So, are you the type to make new year's resolutions - and have you stuck to them thus far?

The new year is a great time to evaluate the year that has gone, assess old goals and targets, and set new challenges for the coming year.  Or is it?...

It is, providing that those goals are coming from a place of positivity and growth.

All too often, we set our new year's resolutions from a place of negativity or lack.  We set them from a place of being bad at something.  

How often do we look at ourselves and then criticise?  We might look at our body and say "I'm so fat" or pick a part of our body that we don't like... "My legs have so much cellulite..." and so on.  We then make new year's resolutions based around that.  "I'm going to lose weight because I'm so fat" or "I'm going to go to the gym because my legs are so ugly."  We also make resolutions based around guilt.  After over-indulging over Christmas and new year... I'm going to stop drinking... I'm going to stop eating chocolate...  We also look at habits we don't like... I'm going to stop smoking... The list is endless.

And for the first 3 weeks or so, the gyms are packed, people stop eating chocolate, they stop drinking alcohol and they stop smoking.  Marvellous!

All of these things are great, but they require willpower.  Willpower is just what we need when we decide to do something and need a boost to help us through.  However, willpower is contained within the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the part responsible for decision making and behaviour, but if you think of willpower as being a little bit like a muscle (although it isn't at all, it's a brain activity) excessive use can make it become fatigued, and then stop working altogether.  

Willpower is actually temporary.  Its purpose is to give us that boost we require at the beginning of an activity, to get us up and running, but once it wears off, we are left to our own devices, and all too often, as with new year's resolutions, that new behaviour falls by the wayside and is replaced by the old behaviour.  The very behaviour you wanted to change.  This can lead to even more misery as you berate yourself for being such a failure!

Does that sound like a Happy New Year?  No - it sounds rubbish!

If you set a goal to stop eating chocolate, or to stop drinking alcohol, your mind often interprets that as deprivation, and starts to crave that old familiar behaviour.  Familiarity makes the more primitive part of our brain feel safe and secure - even if that old familiar behaviour is something you want to change.  Our brains can be weird like that!

So, what's the answer?

The answer is to set realistic goals from a place of positivity.  Have a look at the year ahead and decide what is realistic for you.  What changes will help to enhance your life, rather than make you miserable because you feel deprived?

If you'd like to lose weight, you could try looking at the year ahead and implementing some small, manageable changes into your eating and exercise regime.  Those small changes aren't interpreted so fearfully by the brain and are more readily accepted.  The other thing, especially with weight, is to look at why you are overweight.  By doing this with a therapist, you can safely explore the drivers behind the behaviours you don't want. Once they are addressed, you will find that the weight often takes care of itself.  This can be said of lots of habits and behaviours you don't want.  Work on the reason behind the habit and you will often find that the habit stops - permanently.  That actually sounds like a much more beneficial gift to yourself than the gym membership you'll never use!

By setting realistic goals from a place of positivity, your mind will be in less conflict with itself, and less likely to go back to the old behaviours once the willpower has faded and Valentine's Day is upon us!

So why am I talking about new year's resolutions on 16th January?  Because I didn't make a new Year's Resolution to write this on 1st January, because I knew I wouldn't.  I decided to write it going into the third week of January, which is when the willpower begins to wear off, and we settle into our behaviours for the coming year.

Happy 2019 - I hope it is peaceful and prosperous, and that if you do choose to make changes to your life, that they are both challenging and beneficial, because challenge drives us forwards.  It helps us to develop and to learn, and that has to be beneficial, right?


The Day My Brain Broke...

26 November 18

I got a call out of the blue a couple of Sundays ago, from BBC Radio 5 Live, asking me if I had an opinion on an article that had been published that day, by Professor Dinesh Bhugra, entitled "Why I'm certain most PTSD cases are bogus."

I don't know if they were particularly interested in me because I'm a Hypnotherapist, or because I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in 2002.  Ten months after the day my brain broke.

Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about going on the show, feeling as though I might somehow have to 'fight my corner' but upon reading the article, and listening to the Professor speak, I felt that he did have a point, PTSD probably is being mis-diagnosed, especially when diagnoses are being given within a couple of weeks of experiencing trauma.

Trauma is actually quite common; the evidence of which is being delivered into our sphere on a daily basis via the news and social media.  However, the symptoms of PTSD are very, very specific, and according to the NHS, include flashbacks, nightmares, repetitive and distressing images and physical sensations, such as pain, anxiety, profuse sweating, feeling sick or shaking.  These can lead to behavioural changes such as withdrawal from usual daily activities, avoidance and emotional numbing.  Emotional numbing can come in many ways, including depression, the increased intake of alcohol and the use of drugs, but can also include behaviours, such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

Not everyone who develops PTSD will experience all of the symptoms, and of course, trauma is subjective, meaning that something I deem as traumatic might not be traumatic to the next person and vice versa.

Historically, PTSD has been largely associated with the military, and the way that exposure to death and the trauma of life-threatening situations has left soldiers with devastating mental health issues, but it is being increasingly diagnosed in situations which have nothing to do with the military.

PTSD can take time to develop, and can easily be mis-diagnosed as depression or anxiety, because some of the symptoms are similar, but the most important thing is to get a correct diagnosis, because the treatments available can be very different to those available for depression and anxiety. 

I also think that PTSD is currently becoming a fashionable diagnosis, and I noticed that a couple of celebrities in the Professor's article have recently been diagnosed.  Now, I don't know if those people have PTSD or if they don't, as little was mentioned about what was behind their diagnoses, and I'm not a medic, but I do know this... I wouldn't wish PTSD on anyone. 


PTSD fundamentally changes who you are.  Or, it did me, anyway.  When I was diagnosed, I was no longer functioning in the way I always had.  In fact, I found that I couldn't function at all in many ways.  I began to micro manage everything, to try and get some normality in my seemingly chaotic reality.  I was in a constant state of anxiety, having flashbacks and nightmares, yet in another sense, totally numb.  I had brain fog.  I couldn't watch certain things on the television, or have conversations around certain things without breaking into what I now know is a panic attack. It was like living in a nightmare as every shred of my normality had gone. 

For me, some of that stuff never came back.  I had to learn what was the new normal, which in itself brings a huge stack of difficulties, because I also had to grieve what was the old normal.  I was suffocating and couldn't see a way out. That's when thoughts of suicide began to creep in.

Fast forward to 2018 and I have a completely different life.  Life is good and I'm happy.  Sometimes, I get sad, but life is like that.  It is up and down.

I sometimes get asked when I got cured.  I don't know if I ever did.  I began talking about it, which was new, because I had hidden what was going on as much as I could, because I was ashamed and embarrassed that I couldn't function.  I started going to self-help groups, and I went back and talked to some of the people that were involved at the time, to try and get their take on it - to try and put it into perspective, and gradually, I started to live again.  Piece by piece, I started to create my new normal, and I'm still creating it.

I am a fundamentally different person now.  I'm much more sensitive, I become exhausted and overwhelmed much more quickly and I choose the situations I get involved in - the things I give my energy to, but in many ways, I'm a much better person.

I retrained as a Hypnotherapist, and through what I do, I'm able to empathise with other people's situations, and offer depth, perspective and support to the journey that each of my clients are on.

My firm belief is that everything we go through teaches us something that we need going forwards.  I guess that I had to go through what I went through to get to where I am now, and now, I'm in a great place. I'm an experienced and successful Hypnotherapist, Counsellor and Mind Coach, with the same obscure sense of humour I've always had, but I have made sense of my own sensitivity, knowledge and experience, and put it to good use. I specialise in areas of Anxiety, Fertility and Psychosexual Issues, and I'm always learning and developing.

I'm certainly not defined by the diagnosis of PTSD that I had once upon a time.  Would I say I still have it now?  I don't know - probably, in some form, but I ensure that I take care of myself, I notice how I'm feeling, I allow myself to have down days, knowing that when that has passed, I'll be back up and getting on with my life!

I think the moral of this story is that if something doesn't feel right for you, go and get it checked out.  Go and ask for help.  There are no prizes for carrying on regardless.  You don't need to go in search of a diagnosis, just ask for some guidance.  Go and speak to your GP or a Therapist.  I know that in my Hypnotherapy and Counselling practice, I offer a free consultation, where I can listen to your story, and give you the benefit of my training and experience.  As Counsellors and Hypnotherapists, we are also people, with our own story to tell, and often, it is that story that helps to enhance and broaden our experience in order to support others on their own, very personal journey. 


Christmas in October? Ho! Ho! Ho! or No! No! No!

22 October 18

I got a call this morning, asking if I'd go onto the Sally Pepper show on BBC Radio Derby, to talk about Christmas.  But it's the 22nd October, I thought!  It seems that they were covering an article written last week about how hearing Christmas music too early can be detrimental to our mental health, and they wondered what my opinion was.

My opinion is that October 22nd is way too early for Christmas, but it seems that we just can't avoid it.  It's everywhere!  I went into Sainsbury's at the weekend, and noticed those tins of Quality Street.  I almost bought one, to 'get ahead' and then I thought against it, because they would just get eaten, and I'd end up buying another one, which would probably get eaten... and so on... so I didn't bother.

So why do some people get so excited about Christmas so far in advance?  Well, we all like something to look forward to.  That feeling of excitement and joy releases lovely, happy chemicals into our brain, and gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling.  But what if that is at the expense of something else?  What if we are getting excited about Christmas because the truth of our own reality isn't so warm and fuzzy?  What if you are in a job you hate, or a relationship that has gone stale?  

In those situations, you might be using those Christmas endorphins as an avoidance mechanism, to numb or dull the pain of your reality.  No one likes the uncomfortable feelings that come with those circumstances, but the best way to get through them is to confront them head on.  Start looking for another job, talk to your partner, start to change things.  Sometimes easier said than done, I know, but when you use Christmas to avoid how you actually feel, you might start spending more money than you can afford, because of the temporary high that shopping gives some people, and ultimately, you could find yourself in debt and feeling even more miserable come January.


Another way in which the thought of Christmas can be detrimental to our mental health is when you have a pretty stressful life, with lots going on, and the mere mention of the word Christmas fills you with dread.  Something else on top of an already overloaded schedule.  This can lead to feelings of overwhelm, panic and ultimately anxiety or depression.  My advice is stop.  Stop and take the time to notice how you feel.  We often avoid admitting to feeling a certain way if it is uncomfortable.  We want to feel happy all the time, of course we do, but life isn't like that.  Taking the time to notice how you feel and admit to yourself if you are struggling to cope with your feelings is already part of the way towards dealing with them.

There are of course people who love starting Christmas early because they love Christmas, and people who don't because they don't, and that's fine, but sometimes, the Christmas music can be a trigger within us.  Notice what that trigger does to you, and if it's something you don't like, try and understand why you don't like it.  What is it that's actually troubling you?  Then talk to someone.  Family, friends, counsellors and therapists will all help you through whatever it is that you are experiencing.

Christmas can be a very difficult time for the newly bereaved, and when I say newly bereaved, I mean those for whom this is the first Christmas without a loved one.  It may be a particularly tough time for them.  If you know someone in that situation, offering kindness can be an enormous source of support.  You can never go wrong with being kind.

So, as I told Sally Pepper on her show this morning, Christmas on 22nd October, for me, is a no, no, no, but wherever you are on the scale of Ho! Ho! Ho! to No! No! No! if it is right for you, then embrace it in whichever way you wish.

In the meantime, next week is Halloween... I'm off to dig out my broom stick...