anxiety · depression · health · mental health · mindfulness · psyhology · recovery · self-help

Maslow Got Me Low

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I’m very lucky to work for an employer that not only offers professional development courses and workshops, but also ones to help personal development.  A few months ago I attended a workshop called Optimum Wellbeing.  It was motivating, it was inspiring and all those things it should have been to make us want to better ourselves straight away.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t real-world-proof, so as keen as I was to be a better me when I left, reality caught up with me and I wasn’t able to immediately turn my life around as I’d naively hoped.

However, full of naive hope though I was, the cynic in me had already started a plan B in my head.  I would put the book that came with the course and the notes into my office and timetable small chunks of reading time to reflect back over the stuff in it.  Last week was my first timetabled spot to look over the stuff and as I flicked through the papers, my eye was caught by the bright colours of Maslow’s pyramid.  I’m no different to a primary school kid I guess, bright colours and you’ve got my attention!

I remembered finding this theory appealing in the workshop; the arrogant part of me immediately wanted to see how far up the pyramid I had reached.  For those who haven’t come across this theory before, it is called the Hierarchy of Needs– a great summary can be found HERE.  When I first came across it, the desperate-to-be-happy girl in me immediately interpreted it as a tick-list of achievements to get through before finding final happiness, peace and contentment or as he called it ‘self-actualisation’.

I started reading through the list of ‘characteristics of self-actualisers’ and was so happy to see I could already tick off so many things on the list.  Some characteristics I knew straight away I had, like ‘unusual sense of humour’ and ‘democratic attitudes’ even though I had never really used them to think about and describe myself.  But then, inevitably, there were the short-comings.  For example, the following did not apply to me:

-Accept themselves and others for what they are. (I have a hard time accepting myself and often have a confused/fluid perception of others)

-Able to look at life objectively. (I can only do this sometimes usually when it’s not my life)

I immediately started thinking about how to fix myself and forgot all about critical thinking.  Just because this theory was presented to me in an academic setting, it didn’t make it right.  Luckily, the Simply Psychology summary I used to read up on the theory ends with an excellent ‘Critical evaluation’ section which calls the whole theory into question, pointing out flaws in Maslow’s methodology (his data came from uncontrollable/biased sources such as biographies) and his limited sample (mainly educated white men).  I was letting conclusions from a very flawed study convince me that I was on the wrong path!

One thing I definitely learned from judging myself against the characteristics and behaviours Maslow claimed ‘self-actualised’ people had was that I need to reflect on who I am and who I want to be with a bit more kindness.  The truth is that I possess most of the characteristics and behaviours on his lists, but it just wasn’t good enough for me and Maslow got me low!

What theories have you come across in your attempts at self-improvement?

anxiety · depression · health · mental health · mindfulness · recovery · self-help

Reflecting on Anger

I found something I wrote about 2 years ago and I felt my heart start scuttering up towards my throat again as I read it- my body so readily believes that it is in a state of distress!  In the spirit of Narrative Exposure Therapy, I wanted to reflect on it, dissect it and reduce its ability to remove from the now.  This is what I wrote:

…One of the reasons I started writing here was that I wanted to confront the anger that I internalised. Even today it haunts me. I’m riddled with impatience and anger in unexpected times and places.

Today I tried really hard to control it and I couldn’t. I suppressed it with all my might but it still poked out and I’m trying to defend myself and explain it but I can’t. And he gets so annoyed with me. And everything he throws at me angers me more and I can’t even express the anger because it would end it all. He tells me it’s PMS. He tells me I’m being assy. He tells me I’m being a princess. I’m raging inside and want to scream the place down. But I hold back. It would only make things worse. So I take it. Let him keep belittling me for fear of losing him.

How can it be that I anger such a calm man? How I wish he came with instructions. I am willing to do it right. I just keep getting it wrong. He knows I’ve realised I’m wrong most of the time, so now he’s willing to let me take the blame for it all. It’s all my fault.

I loved him. I’m starting to resent him. He knows my memory is failing and is using it against me. He is making me feel bad for shit I’m not sure I’ve done.

Or am I being paranoid? I’m sick of not knowing. What’s wrong with me? Am I broken forever? I’m sick of secretly crying on the cold bathroom floor.

I need to get up and face it all. Life is so hard. If I wasn’t such a coward I would just end it all…

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I would love to say it was a different me who felt that way, who felt she was treated that way, who wasn’t coping, but it was the same old me, in a lower place than I am now.  I still feel all those things on occasion, but there are other things in my life now that don’t let me fall down the rabbit-hole of self-sorrow for too long.  These new things (a job, more space and creative activity) have also given me the distance necessary to get some perspective and see what was real and what was imagined.

As much as I hate to admit it, John was right about one thing: my moods are extremely affected by my menstrual cycle.  I used an app to track it and to my utter annoyance, John is pretty much as accurate as the app about when my period is due.  As annoying as it is, it has armed me with information to help me be more self-aware.  I’m now conscious that I might be more irritable or have the hunger to enable me to eat the entire contents of the fridge and take precautions.

I have also realised that during times where I’m not affected by an imbalance of hormones due to my menstrual cycle, John has his own issues.  He is sometimes irritable and impatient and it’s not my fault and it doesn’t have to mean that my world stops.

That’s the main change.  I know that my world would not stop without him now and in the past I had convinced myself that it would.  It strangely sounds like I’m not as in love with him as before, but it’s quite the opposite; I am now with him out of choice and not out of necessity.  For too long I believed and behaved as though we were not equals.  I believed him to be so superior to me.

That is why I know I love him more now.  He did not make me feel like we are equals by lowering himself in my eyes.  He made me feel like we are equals by boosting me up.

And now I still get angry because of him but it’s a lot briefer and scarcer and usually ends up being because of misunderstandings.  I am still shite at communicating my feelings to him because my feelings are still confusing to me.

I know I need more therapy.

depression · immigration · mental health · mindfulness · PTSD · recovery

Parentless Schooling

Although I never really got into trouble much, I remember always feeling like I was a bad child.  The feeling just lingered there, staining my thoughts and drove my words and actions.  I remember feeling like I had to lie to make myself sound more worthy, because I’d already accepted that I couldn’t possibly be good enough as I was. I can only assume now that I must have felt that way because of how easily my parents seemed to have left me.  The lack of apology for leaving me parentless destroyed any self-worth I had as a 4 year-old.

Now that I look back on my childhood, I’m impressed by how well-behaved I was.  Aren’t parentless abandoned children supposed to go off the rails, rebel and get into trouble all the time and then end of on The Jeremy Kyle show one day?  Instead, I was this weird mixture of timid and brave.  I rarely tested the boundaries (even though I had the urge to) as I was much more concerned with adults’ approval.  I had no parents, so I was desperate for any other adults’ attention.

I found school exciting and loved helping my grandmother around the house when she let me. She taught me to knit and crochet. She even convinced my teacher to give me a report card even though I wasn’t officially enrolled.  I mean, I heard her convincing her to do it and I knew that all the As were meaningless but it still made me happy.  My gran cared about me.

Our little school in our little village in Cyprus consisted of two classrooms in a building surrounded by almond and cherry trees. I loved getting lost in the surrounding woods at playtime, daring myself to go in deeper every day. I would usually be alone as being in the wrong year group isolated me.  As the school had accepted me 1 year early, I was younger than all my peers and found it hard to be accepted.

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I pretty much started my school life as a loner. I was in the infants classroom with Teacher Oya. We were arranged in rows according to our year group. There were 3-6 children in each year group. She would teach us from the blackboard one row at a time while the rest of us sat or worked in individual silence. She was a softly spoken lady from Turkey, who wore a black velvet Alice band. I remember trying to get my hair to sit like hers. She was probably the closest I had to a mother figure for a while. We barely spoke to each other, but she was someone to look up to.

Her husband taught the juniors (aged 9-11). He was called teacher Ferit and was scary. He had all the features of a teacher from the 50s. He had a hot temper and readily used his cane. He had nicknamed my older sister BigBird because of her larger frame and would regularly humiliate her in front of the whole school, especially during PE. He would throw items he found irritating out of the window (e.g. scented rubbers, tiny bouncy balls) and hit our knuckles with a ruler if we didn’t meet standards.

I do remember occasionally doing naughty things for attention and always feeling awful for not getting in trouble. Once, I kept and spent a coin I found on the floor in the school shop and was so terrified of being caught I hid under a willow-tree-like tree at the end of the playground when playtime was up. As I saw the teacher marching up to me, I tried to hide deeper in the tree, terrified of being told off and publicly scolded.

He simply told me to come to class. The guilt wouldn’t leave me. Why hadn’t they told me off?  I was so consumed by guilt that it never occured to me that I might not be found out!

I tried to make up for what I thought was my inherent badness by being a good student.  I found the work they gave me too easy and just took it upon myself to start doing work set for the class above.  I understood the teacher’s explanation of column addition, so I did that instead of the dot-to-dot activity meant for me.  I finished all the sums faster than most people in the class and proudly took my work up to the teacher’s desk- I still remember that I got about half of them wrong, I remember the shame, the disappointment.  Why do I still remember this sometimes and why does it still make me feel bad?  I was a 4 year-old doing 6 year-olds’ work but I still fail to impress myself?

depression · feminism · immigration · mental health · mindfulness · PTSD · recovery

Parentless

Fearful Fabric Face
I tried painting on fabric in a dark and depressed time as a teenager.

I was 3 when I started living with my dad’s parents at the top of one of the two hills that made up our village in Cyprus.  My parents were working in London.

I remember being stood on my grandfather’s belly reaching up for his binoculars hanging from a nail in the white wall. He was the source of a lot of laughter for me, singing my pains away when I fell and grazed my knee or getting me to walk on his back, calling it a massage. These fond memories were later tainted by my mother’s accounts of how controlling he was of her, spying on her house at the top of the other hill to see what visitors she had with his binoculars. He would then ban certain visitors. 

I remember the smell of pan-toasted bread in the background as my grandmother washed me and my little sister in a tin in the middle of the huge kitchen with water heated on the fireplace.  I wasn’t old enough to realise the simplicity of our lives and I was living moment to moment- something I haven’t been able to do since my early childhood; now I’m too often stuck in circles of memories.
I remember the day my older sister arrived from London a few months after us.  My parents had decided that they couldn’t work or save money with any of us still with them in London.  We were all now to be under our grandparents’ care.
My older sister’s arrival was an exciting day. I can still see her skipping towards me with a huge smile. I then moved to my other grandparents’ house with her and would daily visit my little sister. My grandmother, who lived in the sandy valley was too old to walk up that hill with me every time and my older sis wasn’t interested in us little ones much. I guess the age gap was too big then. I was 4 by now and she going on 7. I honestly can’t remember a single conversation or game with her in Cyprus after her arrival. Little did I know she was facing troubles no little girl should. 
My grandmother – being the pragmatic woman who she was- convinced the village school to take me on a year early. She needed some rest between looking after us and my grandfather who soon became completely bed-bound. She was such a tough woman, but always gave me little speeches to tell me that she believed I could be something.
I only remember disobeying my gran once. I don’t remember the spanking. Just her anger. I had quickly nipped out to accompany the neighbour’s daughter to pick up something from her uncle’s house ten minutes’ walk away. I had gone to a stranger’s house without telling her.
I cried myself to sleep that afternoon and woke up to overhearing her explain herself to the neighbour, telling her how she had gone crazy looking for me in the whole neighbourhood. It wasn’t until I learned of the dark things that happened in that village that I truly appreciated her fear. 
And so months turned to years, and we would be parentless until I was 7. Parentless little girls are so vulnerable. 
anxiety · cycling · depression · feminism · immigration · mental health · mindfulness · PTSD · recovery

Cycling For Muslims

I wrote this just before starting this blog last year…

As depression threatened to debilitate me chronically again, yesterday morning I fought it and got my bike out. After weeks of anxiety building up (I naively stopped taking my antidepressants before I was assigned a new psychotherapist) and feeling worthless and hopeless again, the fighter in me resurfaced. I decided to give the finger to all the voices in my head and do something that has always proven to make me feel good about myself: cycle til I could no more.

When I got back home, as predicted, I was energised to do my chores and much more willing to let bad thoughts go. Still, when I sat to write the next bit of my story here, I could only think about what cycling meant to me as a child, even though we are not yet chronologically there yet. I was stuck, so I didn’t write. Having slept on it, I’ve come to the obvious conclusion that I can’t tell you this in chronological order when I am living a present constantly interrupted by the past (compliments of PTSD).
So, although I will come back to where I left off in my story, I will now jump forward a few years to 1993.  At age 7 I was newly and permanently back in grey London and the main feeling that plagued me was longing for the freedom I had in my Cypriot village. After being free to roam the village unattended and playing amongst trees and crops, being stuck to the confines of a semi-detached house was so frustrating.
On a sunny September day my younger sister had asked for a bike for her birthday and was crying having been told it was too expensive. A visiting uncle took pity on her and ordered one for her. When it arrived, the true reason behind my parents not wanting to buy the bike emerged. My dad sat us down and told us that bikes weren’t really for girls because it could “spoil” their virginity. Until I actually understood what virginity meant later in my teens, this fear nagged at the back of my head. I didn’t understand how or what would happen, but he made it clear it would be the most shameful thing that could happen to a girl. 
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You see, in London, thousands of miles away from our village mosque (only really used during funerals and Eid) Dad had found Islam. Well, at least he thought he did. Having been kicked out of my mum’s by police following yet more violence in 1991, he made friends with some practising Muslims. In his most needy time, having lost his wife and home, they picked him up, helped him and told him about their version of Islam, which he then combined with his existing thoughts. 
 
Well, Dad worked long hours, and Mum wasn’t bothered about bikes.  The bike was too big for my little sis and she got bored of it soon. I kept falling but I learned to ride it. I would use the downhill alley running down the side of our garden as a starter and ride down and up that cul-de-sac, dreaming of being able to actually go somewhere. It was the first tool that enabled the daydream world I would later create to help me escape the reality of my childhood. 
 
So for me, cycling is escapism. Not ignorism.  It keeps me sane and calms me so I can go back to concentrating on the main plan. When I was a child, the main plan was running away from my parents physically. Despite all the odds being stacked against me, I eventually did that. 
 
Now I need to get them out of my head. 
mindfulness

Starting in Cyprus

I started writing out the past as part of my Narrative Exposure Therapy- the sessions alone weren’t enough and I was too self-conscious in the sessions to say it all.  On days when I don’t have time to write, I will share some of those autobiographical writings, giving me a chance to reflect still.

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Here’s the first…

I was born in the late 80s to Turkish Cypriot parents in a tiny village at the very north of Cyprus.  My mum was 20 and had just remarried my dad. They had gotten divorced barely a year after the arranged marriage. You see, my dad had his family ask my mum’s for her hand in marriage. Her mum told her she didn’t have much choice, as she was barely taking care of my paralysed grandfather. They promised to treat her well and she went along with it.

She went from being the “bosbori” (baby) of the house to running a house, pregnant and hard farming. My dad’s temper, jealousy, possessiveness and late drunk nights were too much for her. He would go to the village gave (caf for men) after he was done with the goats and drink and gamble the evening away. But she was strong-headed and left him. Only to have my grandmother convince her to go back to him. She was pregnant. What would people say? Divorced women were not respected.
When I was 8 and she told me this story, I was so angered by the injustice that had been done to my poor mum, aged just 18.  But now I’m just angry at her because of who she became.
And so I was born. And then two years later another sister was born. And my dad carried on in the same way.  We were poor, living in the home of relatives who had moved to London. My parents’ siblings were all flocking to London in search of a better life, or with that dream of saving money to build their own home in Cyprus and mine made plans to do the same.
I spent the first few years of my life living a proper rural village life. I have a few scenes that play out in my mind from around age 3. I know I was 3 because my parents were still with me in Cyprus. In one scene, I’m on the back of my dad’s tractor while he is loading his tanker with water for his goats. My mum would always say that I adored my dad as a toddler. In another, my mum is waking me up at the crack of dawn, because her brother from London is there. I’m too sleepy to get up but note that they are having snails round the fire and as this was a favourite of mine, this disappointed me.
Soon after that last scene we all flew to London. I have no memory of the journey. I have two memories of my first time in London:
1- -An aunty we were staying with giving sweets to her children and not us.
2- -At the airport a couple of months after arriving with my grandmother, who was visiting and was flying back to Cyprus. My mum told me and my younger sister to follow my gran to the sweetshop at the airport. I was dragging my baby sister who had just started walking behind me, annoyed she was delaying our arrival at the sweetshop. Eventually, I realised my gran was checking us all in, turned to my baby sister and started wailing and sobbing that they had tricked us. We were going back to Cyprus and my older sis and parents were staying in London. I cried all the way to Cyprus. That memory has always been so vivid. And the flashbacks won’t stop. I remember the exact rhythm of my wailing and the words it contained. I remember how little I was and how big everything around me was. I remember constantly being told there was no reason to cry and how silly I was being. But no one would tell me what was actually happening or why.
I have always assumed that my mum as unaffected by this. She is always so cold and matter-of-fact when she talks about it. It was necessary because they couldn’t both work and save money with us all there. A couple of months later they sent my older sister back too. Did she shed a single tear for us? Did she miss us? Was she glad to be rid of us? For years, she has never uttered a single word of love or affection to me. Not once. She’s so cold.
anxiety · depression · mental health · mindfulness · recovery · self-help

I didn’t write much

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So 11 months after I wrote my first blog, I received an email that my domain was expiring in a month, and I realised that I haven’t written much.  I then started to feel really sad and disappointed thinking of all the intentions I had and the accomplishments that never happened.

But then I started reading over my first blog, ‘Freedom’ and decided to check myself.  OK, so I didn’t ‘write my heart out’ as planned, but I wrote and I did a lot of other things.  I knew that in order to want to keep coming back to writing, I needed to give myself stuff to look forward to writing about.

I’m going to try and come back to writing by reviewing the goals in that first post.

  1. I want to write my heart out- OK, so I didn’t write the next big novel, but I continued with my poetry when my concentration would allow, so actually, I have stuff to share on here and that’s something to look forward to.  I just need to reorganise myself and make regular time for writing.  I’ve finally found a job that I enjoy and that leaves me time to write- that’s a huge accomplishment.
  2. I must get physically healthy- so I’m not Miss Universe, but I’ve come a long way.  I now walk to and from work every day, I’ve gone down a dress size since last year and am sticking to home-cooked food.
  3. I will focus on my mental wellbeing- I completed my Narrative Exposure Therapy sessions and the experience has been life-changing.  I am by no means cured of PTSD, depression and anxiety, but they no longer dominate my life and happiness is not some distant dream anymore, but a regular feeling I experience.
  4. I need to show my partner how much I appreciate him and have more fun with him- this has been difficult without any real disposable income, but I’ve tried.  I have to admit that this is an area I need to keep working on- I just haven’t quite figured out how to do it without money yet.  I try to tell him how much I appreciate him and the things he does for me at every opportunity and offer to help him with what I can.
  5. I need to reconnect with my family- at one point, I thought that this would be impossible, but my therapy really prepared me for it.  I keep my family meetings brief and try to keep conversations with my parents superficial in order to avoid trigger topics.  It has been amazing building a relationship with my baby niece and being more involved in my sisters’ lives.

So actually, I didn’t write much, but I did a lot in the last 11 months and I’m proud of myself.  I managed to finally believe that I can do better.

Here’s to doing!

mindfulness

Why I’m Voting for Corbyn 

Like most people who feel galvanised by Jeremy, it was his personality that drew me to him and compelled me to listen to him.  And when I did, his ideas made so much sense that there was clearly no going back to the manfacured politicians before him.  Like everyone, my opinion is subjective because of my background and experiences. However, Jeremy has allowed me to see the things I have in common with others, and the importance of sharing these. So, I will share my subjective reasons as a teacher for backing Jeremy, hoping that you can see how they apply to your subjective position too. 

Education 

Until two weeks ago, I worked as a teacher.  I remember the coalition government scrapping Labour’s  ‘Every Child Matters’ scheme as I was doing my teacher training.  How could any government scrap a scheme with such a name?  The Liberal Democrats and The Conservatives sent a clear message that every child did not in fact matter.  Jeremy is promising to protect our schools’ funding. 

As I began my teaching career, I was not put off by the challenging teenagers, but the system that was holding them back.   Up to 35 pupils per class and underpaid teachers, many of whom had turned to teaching as a last resort following the economic crash.  Most teachers were not local, were stretched for time and failed to create good rapport with the kids.  They couldn’t understand their specific needs because Tory education policy was content-focused and not pupil-focused. It was all about how much can we cram into the curriculum instead of how we can make sure pupils reach their full potentials. 

Many students I met assumed they couldn’t go to university because their parents had no money, so they saw no point in trying their best.  They didn’t even know about student loans, grants, etc. This was so different to when I was a teenager during Labour’s ‘Aim Higher’ scheme, where we were constantly told that anyone who wanted to go to university, could. 

Now, the cuts to Education are even more severe as we are further squeezed by Tory austerity. Many schools are being forced into academisation, which I think is heading towards privatisation.   Schools are losing teachers and support staff. It is no longer just a matter of stretched materials, but stretched humans. The situation is heading in the same direction as the NHS. 

And Theresa May’s personal project of bringing back grammar schools is disgusting.  When properly funded, comprehensive schools are perfectly capable of streaming kids into ability groups in subjects where it is needed, like Maths and English for example. We do not need to separate our brightest kids into these Victorian style schools where they will not get to interact with their “less academic” peers, where they learn snobbery and apathy towards those less fortunate than themselves.  Apart from a few naturally academically able students, the rest of grammar school places are taken up by richer students whose parents opt to pay for a few years of private tuition in preparation for 11+ tests, instead of forking out for private school fees. Where’s the justice in that?

Jeremy recognises the value of actual educators’ knowledge and experience and has listened to them.  He also knows that if we want more British people working in our NHS then we have to go back to funding our nurses’ studies and paying them a fair wage so they don’t rely on food banks.  But Jeremy is going even beyond that: he is offering free higher education for all, including those starting this year. Finally, we have a leader making the most important investment in our future.