Fat thighs

Every morning I stand in the doorway and keep an eye on my daughter while she waits for the school bus. She has to wait far enough away that she can’t stay in and watch through the window, but she’s close enough that I can see her.

Most of the time it’s fine, but sometimes it’s bitterly cold. Even for me, stood in the sheltered doorway of a cosy house. And I feel so sorry for her.

She’s fine. She has a fluffy hat with gloves, a cosy coat, and a neck warmer.

But that’s a logical “she’s fine”, not an emotional one.

Every time I look out at her, standing there waiting for the bus, I become a 7 year old version of me again.

I used to wait for a local taxi to take me and my brother to school. We would pick up 2 other kids on the way. The joys of living in the middle of nowhere.

I would wait at the gate at the end of the driveway. This was a little closer to the house than the place my daughter waits, and I was waiting for a taxi not a bus. The gate was a metal one attached to a mesh fence. It was probably the most exposed place a person could stand. There were no trees or hedges to interrupt the weather. My daughter waits by a wall under the shelter of a large tree.

I also wasn’t dressed up warm. We were incredibly neglected and starved, so we had no meat on our bones to keep us warm. One of the things I vividly remember was the way the cold and wet weather would make my inner thighs red raw. They would get chapped so badly that I would cry while I walked because it hurt so much.

I’ve known people who used the fact that they got chapped thighs to beat themselves up for being so fat. But I was the opposite of fat, and I still had that problem.

I remember the pain. I remember being scared to walk. I remember freezing in while I waited for the taxi.

So it’s hard for me to just watch my daughter standing at the bus stop. It feels like I am a small child standing next to her, freezing and hurting.

This is what happens all the time. Things are given meaning because of memories. Not conscious memories. Your brain is incredibly proficient at pattern matching. It can filter lots of information, infer stuff from it and respond to it.

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It does this all the time. So while you think you are responding to facts e.g. “I stumbled over my words, everyone thinks I’m an idiot”, what is actually happening is your subconscious is rapidly searching your memories for anything that is remotely similar to the current situation. Then, if the matched memory has a meaning or a risk in it, then you will react emotionally.

You can’t stop this pattern matching. What you can do is edit and update the stored memories, so when your subconscious finds a match, there is no call-to-action i.e. there is no emotional response. This is tricky for you to do yourself, so get in touch if you need a little help dawn@thinkitchangeit.com

This is not me

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Granted, you may look at this photo and think it’s me. But it’s not.

It’s an android. It’s pretending to be me.

You may not be able to spot the clues but I can.

– She looks really happy. If this was the real me, I wouldn’t look so happy. Just a few months before this photo, I had been sitting at the desk in my student accommodation with a bottle of my mother’s strong painkillers on the desk in front of me. It had been my plan to take them at a point where there was no risk of being found and saved. This was when Android Dawn took over.

– You can tell it’s Android Dawn from the optimal physical state. If this was real Dawn then the body would reflect the inner turmoil. It would have layers of protection. This version of Dawn doesn’t need protection.

I get such a mixture of feelings when I look at this photo. Mainly, I don’t know this person. This is not me. When I went to University I changed. I was about 18 in this photo. I am 45 now. I learnt that if I was to survive, I needed to stop being me. I became an actor rather than the real me.

It was a great strategy. I went into my career with no limiting beliefs or fears. Because everything was scary, I learnt to listen to nothing. I just kept going, no matter what.

I was successful. My career took off. I travelled all over the world. Android me had everyone fooled. I was happy and outgoing.

However, all along, the real me hid inside. That version of me was in hell. This is not me being melodramatic. All the pain was bunched up in one small core.

Over the years the pain grew until it could no longer be contained. The real me began to come through. I wanted kids but I was too scared to get close to the hubby. He found a therapist for me and I started going to see her. After about 18 months I got to the stage where my fears had gone enough to get pregnant. It was terrifying to be pregnant, but I loved my body for what it was able to do. For the first time I saw my body as something good. Until I got pre-eclampsia. My body let me down so badly that after 26 weeks, Adam was delivered by C-section. He never really had a chance and he died.

But now I had a bigger problem. Android Dawn was now gone and I was left having to cope with everything. With hating myself and wanting to die, with losing my first child. The hubby and I had already talked and knew we would try again. This kept me going.

My daughter came along. For the first time it wasn’t about me. There was no escape now, I just had to be me. And I realised that wasn’t good enough. I was going to screw her up.

Once more I went to therapy, but this time it was different. This time it was Trevor Silvester, the founder of Cognitive Hypnotherapy.

Now I was on an entirely different path. A path that led to me giving up my career and start a totally new one as a therapist. A path that led to me accepting me and finding true peace and happiness with that.

It has been an intense experience. It is said that you can’t stop energy, you can only transform it. All that pain that was contained all those years had become quite some force. And now it has been transformed from pain into passion. Passion for helping others with their pain.

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So this is me. This is the real me. Inside and out. This me I recognise. I am happy and I am at peace. I look forward to each day. I look forward to the future. Equally, I enjoy the present. I enjoy the moments. I smile more now than I have probably ever done in my life. I don’t need Android Dawn any more.

Is it you or your environment?

In his book, The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton talks about his early days as a lab technician. His supervisor used to constantly say to him, “It’s the environment stupid!”. We assume that a nucleus of a cell is it’s brain. If we damage the nucleus, the cell dies. This is apparently not true. Even with a damaged nucleus, a cell can go on to live quite a while; even as long as a couple of weeks.

However, if you put a cell in a petri dish with a substance that is toxic to it, it will die instantly. No matter how robust a cell is, it can be killed off by it’s environment.

Sometimes, when I work with a client, they change so much that they no longer fit in their environment. Maybe it’s work, study, or even a partner; they realise that they no longer have to put up with stuff. They realise it’s ok to stand up for themselves and put themselves first occasionally.

No matter how far they have come, if they remain in a toxic environment, they will struggle. It’s not their fault. They are like a cell. They can survive perfectly well no matter how broken they feel. But they can’t survive in a toxic environment.

So have a look around and ask yourself, does this environment nurture me, or does it suppress who I really am?

If you need help to see yourself as ok and to make these hard choices, give me a shout. Dawn@thinkitchangeit.com

 

It’s not enough to understand

We give our cognitive brain far more credit that it deserves. Rational and logical thinking take up a very small percentage of our total thought space.

And yet, most therapies work in this space.

I have been watching a really interesting programme on Netflix called “Addicted to Food”.

Addicted to Food: A Netflix Original

In this US series, a group of people with eating disorders ranging from overeating to anorexia related behaviours, attend a 6 weeks intensive therapy programme at a place called Shades of Hope.

There are a few things that piqued my interest in this programme. Firstly, they have those who don’t eat enough and those who eat too much in the same group. They all eat regulated meals and must eat everything on their plate.

Secondly they treat all types of eating disorder as an addiction, and focus on the reason for the eating, rather than dealing simply with diet and exercise.

These guys go through a very intense 6 weeks. The founder who runs the facility employs a lot of techniques that I might use. She goes back in time to look at where the problems come from. She does Gestalt work to get them to see things from different perspectives.

I love the fact that they treat it as an addiction – irrespective of whether they eat too much or too little.

And that’s as far as it goes in terms of me agreeing with the approach. I was curious how these people would permanently get over their issues at the end. They went through a really tough time and all had to confront some serious demons. At the end of the programme they can either go home, do another 42 days, or do 30 days in a transition phase where they have more control but are still under supervision. Only one person got to go straight home and they were the person that went on to lose most weight and get fit after. I also think this extension strategy is a way for them to get more money!

I won’t give you any spoilers, but suffice to say, despite it’s approach and intensity, this programme appears to have a similar success rates to diet and exercise focussed programmes like the Biggest Loser.

In my opinion, this was inevitable.

Talking about a problem does nothing to change it.

The problem is, talking brings the issue to the front of your cognitive/thinking brain. But it’s your subconscious that drives behaviour. Your subconscious switches off your thinking brain when it takes you into a protective state.

There was one particular group therapy session where they did inner child work. Each one of them revealed some horrible abuse and talked about it, as the child, in front of the group. The leader of the programme talked about how they now needed to move to adult and leave the child behind. But at dinner some time later, it was clear that at least half the group were still in that horrible place and demonstrated child like behaviours as a result. So much so, the therapy team had to come to dinner and intervene.

This is what the programme misses. When you talk about stuff, you bring it forward. When you talk about it, you add to it. So when it is stored back in memory, it now has all the extra stuff with it. This isn’t the cognitive stuff. Your brain doesn’t store the logical, adult analysis with each memory. For most memories you have  a simple, small tag. For significant memories, you have a video clip/image, an emotion, and a lesson. A lesson that says “How will I use what I learnt in this moment to protect you in the future?”

If you store the memory back, without losing the lesson or the emotion, then what you have is a bigger more significant memory, that is even closer to the surface in the future.

 

So no matter how many of their demons these people confronted, unless they deliberately changed the memory to *lose* the emotion (not just understand it or rationalise it) then it will remain as an issue that drives behaviour.

There are many things about this programme I enjoyed – the approach to therapy, treating eating as an addiction, watching people on their journeys. What frustrated the heck out of me was that, with a slight change, all of these people could have been permanently freed up from their addictive behaviour.

That said, it’s an interesting watch. And if you have struggled with your weight, in any direction, watching it might help you understand why that might be.

Looking in the wrong place

Sometimes we can spend so much time looking for one thing to change, that we fail to notice all the other things that are changing.

At this time of year, people of set out New Year’s Resolutions. These tend to be about doing less of something (eating chocolate, drinking, smoking) or doing more of something (exercise, making healthy choices). But to what end? What difference will losing weight make? What difference will making healthier choices make? Will you magically stop caring what people think if you lose a little weight? Will you be happy when you make healthy choices?

How much effort will it take to maintain these changes for the rest of your life?

What would happen if you put on an invisibility cloak right now. A cloak that didn’t stop you existing, but stopped people being able to interact with you based on how you look?

We can spend most of our lives looking in the wrong place for change. If you diet, you look to the scales, or your clothes – but that’s the wrong place. That doesn’t affect inside your head.

When clients come to see me, they are stuck. They don’t want to be where they are. But they often don’t know where they want to be. When they leave that first session the are in a bit of a daze. They don’t know what to expect. They don’t think that our work will make much of a difference.

My job is get them to look in the right place for changes. I tell them to be curious and to log every difference no matter how small. It’s the small changes, that seem insignificant at first, that lead to permanent long term change.

So which part of the sky are you looking at right now? Make sure that in your new years resolutions, that you are looking all round. Look in the right place for those changes and you might surprise yourself.

Now is a good time to write down every small positive in your day, no matter how good or bad your day has been. Stick it in a jar each day. Next New Year, open the jar and read through everything you have achieved.

 

In 2018 I will…

A year is a long time. Lots can happen that is outside of our control.  At the end of the year we can get very reflective. We set ourselves grand goals “This year I will…stop smoking…lose weight…get fit….follow my passion…find love…etc”

And yet, nobody knows what will happen tomorrow, let alone through the whole year. Most people will have abandoned their New Year’s Resolutions by half way through the year. And yet, it’s a resolution for the whole year. This is why resolutions fail. It’s hard to keep a resolution when the world is changing around you.

So I tend to approach it slightly differently. I imagine I am at Christmas 2018, looking back on my year, what would I like to say I’ve achieved? I then aim to do something each day that brings me a step closer to that vision of Christmas 2018. If I get blindsided by something, it doesn’t matter, as it’s an aspiration rather than a fixed goal I can succeed or fail at.

Here was what I wanted to have achieved in 2017 and an update on how it went

  1. Continue to develop my reputation and become the known expert in my field: I published a book this year. Diary of a Teenage Mind Reader is a fiction book for Teens and Tweens that builds on the Caveman Rules of Survival. The younger generation is really struggling. This was not in my plan but fits in perfectly with my overall goal. I also did 5 different talks to very diverse groups – from Eating Disorders to WI. I use my puppets all the time now and they work really well.
  2. Build a safe and useful community for clients and non-clients: In 2016 set up a Facebook group where clients and non-clients could discuss issues and I can share insights and useful stuff. I love this community. We have fun and share ideas on life’s challenges. I have been trying to do regular Facebook Live events and they are working out well too. At around 250 members at the time of writing this post, it’s a really nice size too.
  3. Sort myself out physically: This was an unmitigated disaster as a goal. Although it wasn’t anything to do with a lack of effort. I did a month of fast days (as per the 5:2 approach but every day) in March. It made no difference. None. That is physically impossible. In May I ran over 100 km in total. Some days I would go for a run and do 14km on a whim. That made no difference either. In the end I went to the doctor in desperation to see if there was anything medically behind it. There wasn’t. Everything checked out. We thought it could be increased Cortisol because of all the childhood stuff but it wasn’t. So basically it comes down to a head thing. I got insight into what that was about. I have always felt insignificant. All the things that happens to me for the first 18 years of my life left me feeling like anyone could do anything to me and I didn’t matter. I realised that maintaining of weight is an attempt to appear physically significant even though I don’t feel it in my head. Very frustrating but at least it’s progress.
  4. Work-work balance: This was another unmitigated disaster. Things didn’t work out with the hubby’s company. And he had a huge operation on his eyes as a result of his diabetes meaning he can no longer drive. As he already has a broken back from many years ago, walking, or taking the bus are not an option for him. I really struggled to cope with everything in the first part of the year. Trying to balance being a mother and making sure my daughter was ok, with running a business, with making sure my husband was ok, and just having the responsibility for everything and everyone sent me into a very low place. I lost myself. In fact, this, combined with point 3, has meant that this is one of the toughest years as a whole I have had for a very very long time.

So what do I want to say when I look back on 2018?

  1. Continued to develop my reputation and become the known expert in my field: I want to do a new TED talk using my puppets and with a better title : “We’re all screwed up, and that’s ok”. I also want to get into high schools and do some more practical talks building on my latest book. I also look forward to the results of my Masters Dissertation and hearing the findings quoted on the radio!
  2. Completed my Masters and made progress towards signing up for a Phd: My Masters is due for completion in August 2018. Before that point I would like to have started the process for applying for a Phd. I can not conceive of life without University now. I love the place. Dundee Uni is awesome and I can’t see myself walking away from it at the end of the year. So I would like to look back at the end of 2018 and know I am making progress towards the Phd and possibly lecturing.
  3. Created a stable income: I started a very exciting collaboration at the end of 2017 where I developed a 5 week online programme for breaking the emotion connection that people have with food. It has been piloted with 10 people who have all said they would recommend it to others. There is nothing like this on the market. It will create a secondary channel of income for my business.
  4. Climbed out of a hole: In 2017, I made it through the challenging times by ignoring them and employing distraction techniques. This is not sustainable long term so I hope to resolve some of these issues in 2018 – although I have no idea how!

There are two sides to every story

This last year – 1 view:

I started a Masters in Psychological Research Methods at Dundee Uni

I did 5 talks and loved each one.

I published a book.

I got my husband a blue badge so we can park closer to buildings.

My daughter got a new teacher at school that she loves.

I ran over 100km in total in May.

This last year – 2nd view:

I started a Masters in Psychological Research Methods at Dundee Uni having had to defer from the previous year because I couldn’t afford it. The Uni increased the fees by nearly £1500 from when I first applied meaning that the cost of living part of my student loan was reduced by nearly £500

I did 5 talks and loved each one. I went a whole year without doing a single talk, despite offering and following up on loads of opportunities – nothing seemed to work out. 

I published a book. I self-published because my publisher has been totally useless in promoting The Caveman Rules of Survival book and takes most of the revenue from sales. I felt I had no choice but to self publish Diary of a Teenage Mind Reader. 

I got my husband a blue badge so we can park closer to buildings because his diabetes has wrecked his eyesight and he can no longer drive. He had a major operation at the start of the year and hasn’t been able to drive since. As he has a broken back from many years ago, he can’t walk or take a bus so needs driving to where he is going. 

My daughter got a new teacher at school that she loves but unfortunately some personal circumstances meant her teacher has not been at school for the last 2 months. My daughter has become increasingly disruptive without the stability of a single teacher. 

I ran over 100km in total in May. Business went very very quiet from November last year so I decided to work on my fitness. I ran every day, sometimes doing 14km runs just on a whim. I was trying to get in better shape but nothing worked. I went to the doctor to see if anything was medically getting in the way but she said that everything looked normal. Despite this, nothing impacted on my weight, confirming it must be a head thing. This has been my frustration throughout the year.

Two different stories

If you read the first story of the year it looks like it’s been a great year. The reality is that it’s been one of the toughest years I’ve had for a very long time. I’ve felt helpless and out of control for the first 6 months of it. In fact, it’s only really picked up since I started Uni in October. Why did that make a difference? With Uni I got a sense of purpose, a sense of moving forward.

I firmly believe we all need a sense of purpose, no matter how small. In his book – “Man’s search for meaning” – Victor Frankl talks about the biggest factor in surviving the concentration camps was hope and purpose.

I know enough now to not take how I feel today as evidence of how I will always feel. I have learnt to wait out the bad days and relish the good ones.

For me, living in the moment is key to getting through the tough times

Memories and photos

These are just a few of the photos I have taken over the years. There were very few with me in. Fewer with me and my friends. What you can’t see from these photos is who I was with. Paris, Niagara Falls, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon – all places that are amazing. But they weren’t amazing just as pictures. They were amazing because of the *experience*
 
All of these places I was with someone.
 
One of those friends who travelled everywhere with me is now dead. Another one is battling cancer and has been for a good while.
 
I want to look back and remember the moments but I can’t because I haven’t got photos of the moments. I’ve got photos of the things.
 
I wasn’t really noticing the things either. In each of those photos I can remember how self absorbed I was with my own struggles. While stood on a balcony in Starbucks, surrounded by the red rocks of Sedona, I was torn up inside as the US mothers day kept reminding me of my challenges with my mother. My friend Laurie is out of shot. We had been talking about these things. That memory is only in my head.
 
Now, I would take a selfie. It would be about both of us. These things are meaningless without the people who create the experiences.
 
I really wish I could go back and re-experience all those moments – staying present and truly enjoying the company and the shared joy. But of course I can’t. Time travel is not possible.
 
So my advice to you, and myself, is to be present. Enjoy every moment. When you take photos, take the ones that capture the experience, not just the place.
Because one day the people you love and care about may be gone, and all you’ll have is your memories and those photos

The Samaritans are listeners not therapists

I’ve often thought of volunteering for a line like the Samaritans of Childline. One of the biggest frustrations I have as a private therapist is that I can only help people who can afford to see me. This is why, once a year, I give away free therapy.

The other day I had the opportunity to attend a talk from the head of the Scottish Samaritans about the work they do. I was keen to go along and learn if there was a way I could help.

I learnt an awful lot and am truly in awe of the service.

But I also learnt that I could not man the lines at the Samaritans.

This is because the Samaritans listen. They listen actively. They listen without judgement. They listen to understand, and to be there.

I listen too. But I listen to help. I listen to guide and steer and make your life better. I listen to help sort your problems out.

The Samaritans listen unconditionally. Whatever you want to do or plan on doing, they don’t intervene. They hope to save lives by listening, not by acting or intervening. And that is amazing.

As I have seen from my Masters dissertation questionnaire, this is particularly important for men. Men don’t talk. And creating a place they can go to doesn’t seem to work. We know, from internet trolling, that people will say more if it’s anonymous than they would otherwise. The Samaritans provide a safe, anonymous place that you can go and talk, and by doing so they save countless lives. They are making it so they can be there for you before it’s too late – before you’ve gone too far. There is a text number and I’ve see lots of people sharing it. But that’s really not making the most of what they do. They even say that themselves. They want you to call them, even if, at first, you can’t talk much.

It is a brilliant and life-saving service. But it’s not for me. I am about solving problems, not just listening to them. It would kill me to hear about people in pain and to be helpless to change things for them. It breaks my heart every time I hear about another person that has taken their life because they were in too much pain to live. I want to help everyone. I know I can’t, but I will focus on those who give me the chance to help.

So I won’t be manning the Samaritans line, or other lines. It would be too hard for me to cope with. I am full of admiration for those that do.

If you need to talk, about anything, to someone who will listen without judgement, just call 116 123 (UK only)

Men don’t talk

So here is an interesting observation for you. I am doing a study on the fear of public speaking for my Masters. So far my questionnaire is going well, but only 4% of the completed surveys are from men.

Now I know for a fact that a fear of public speaking is not about whether you are male of female.

But maybe talking about it is?

Suicide kills three times as many men as it does women. If you are a man between 20 and 49, you’re more likely to die from suicide than cancer, road accidents or heart disease.

This is just a little survey on fear of public speaking. But the completion rates are confirming a far bigger problem.

Men don’t talk about what’s in their heads.

How can we change this?

If you could spare a bit of time to complete my survey, I’d really appreciate it.
https://dundee.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/fear-of-public-speaking