What I have learnt about being sad

watercolour byAbhilasha Singh

watercolour by
Abhilasha Singh

I was speaking to myself in my car today.

I usually process in written form, but I was driving and didn’t have my journal handy.

I was thinking about what I have learnt about being sad.

Now that I am 47, I have been reflecting quite a bit on what I have learnt in the journey so far and this question of what I have found about being sad feels important to me. I spent way too long as a girl being sad. I consider it one of my greatest achievements that I am not any where near as sad any more.

Here are the five things about being sad, or more specifically, what helps me not to be.

1. That the things I think I know about other people are so very often not true at all.

The brush off; the short reply; the lack of eye contact; the unanswered text; the forgetting of dates that matter to me; the far too hasty interaction in the street; the tone of a facebook comment; the strained trace of a smile when I try to be witty and light hearted in my repartee…

I used to think I was good at reading people and reading their intent. But I’m not. I’m sometimes emotionally illiterate in the non verbal language of others.

I get it wrong. Getting it wrong has made me sad many times in my life. Now that I have finally- FINALLY understood that my guesses are often the most pessimistic interpretations, I guess less often. I let myself expect the best rather than the worst when I try to imagine how others see or judge me.

It has been a daring step but it has made me happier.

2. Sadness is a feeling that I experience in my body and if I let myself feel it as a physical sensation, I can then watch it pass through and away.

I can wait for the peak of the pain and then I can watch the pain ebb away. Then I can experience the return of the lightness. Just like hitting my thumb with a hammer, or hitting my funny bone, or having one of those calf muscle cramps. It passes and there is very little that I have to do but let it.

If I don’t let myself experience sadness in my body, then I tend to look for it in my mind. Then I create stories and interpretations; conversations and replies. I begin fighting the other person and looking for allies and enemies.

I like to leave it to my body to process as much as I am able to. My body seems to process things more efficiently, without taking hostages.

I tend not to get so scared of emotional pain any more. I don’t fall for the fear in me that says that it will never pass. I tend to look for ways to open up the channels and let it go.

Image frompinestreetartworks.com

Image from
pinestreetartworks.com

3. My beautiful blue bowl.

I have a lovely blue bowl that my friend Forbes made for me and I decided to turn it into a worry bowl. So I have little cut up bits of paper at the ready and if I have a worry, I write it down and ask the bowl to hold the worry for me. That way, I can forget about the worry and let some other vessel carry it. I have often had a falling out with someone and written down the wish that one day the trouble between us would be resolved. Or I feel remorse for something and wish that one day I will feel forgiven.

All of the wishes I have put in that bowl have come true. Some sooner than others.

And when they have, I have simply taken that wish out of the bowl and made the bowl a little lighter.

Most of my problems get resolved sooner or later –  and that never ceases to amaze me. It is often really just a matter of time.

4. Asking for help can be a challenge.

I do feel the need to talk things over when my mind is overloaded with feelings and thoughts. I hate the idea of being alone in it sometimes.

However, I also know that when I am overwrought, I am impossible to deal with and usually inconsolable.

How often have I called someone to arrange to speak things through, only to feel frustrated that they could not possibly understand the intricacies of what I am feeling.

Or else, I will feel them pull away or try to change the subject or obviously feel burdened by what they see as negativity.

Nothing anyone ever says when I’m in that state seems to really hit the spot for me. I always wish I could just morph into two people and counsel myself.

This need to be comforted by others, coupled with a tendency to push the others away is the paradox of sadness for me.

I think the one who addresses this paradox better than any other therapist I have encountered so far is David Schnarch. You may have read his book ‘Passionate Marriage’, or if not, you may like to. It really is a wonderful book. What I love most about it is what Schnarch writes about leaning on other people. He says that in life, we tend to all lean on one another so much that the responsibility for holding ourselves up is almost always given to someone else. The someone else we entrust our care to also looks elsewhere to be held. He writes:

“The ability to self-soothe and to hold onto yourself, and the willingness to self-confront, are important to increasing your differentiation. These involve calming yourself down, not taking your partner’s behavior personally, maintaining a clear sense of yourself, and facing your own unresolved personal issues.” (Schnarch, 1998)

He teaches that if we could learn to hold ourselves emotionally first and then ask for help, then we have some chance of getting what we really need. We steady and ready ourselves to be able to receive the answers and inspiration we most need.

Learning to ‘hold myself’ is no longer something I do in loneliness or in a spirit of resignation, it has actually become a joy and an honour.

5. The inner child.

The inner child model of therapy is the one I keep looking back to. It’s the one that makes sense to me in my own life and experience.

So many therapists have used and developed this model of understanding: Jung; Berne; Bradshaw…

To explain this in my own words I would say that the child that we once were does not disappear. The girl that I was still exists in me in the form of what I would call ‘my heart’.

When I am sad, it is usually she who is feeling it and trying to communicate it to me. The adult part of me wants to soldier on and look brave, clever and sophisticated. She, like any child in the world is not good at faking things. She is too true for that.

All of the things that used to hurt me as a little 7 year old girl are still the same things that hurt me now: rejection, abandonment, insensitivity, confusion, change, loss, fear.

I can not travel back to the 1970s to protect the little one I was then, but I can care for my heart now. I can love myself, listen to myself, trust the things she is trying to communicate to me. I can be parent to her. I can say all the things to myself that I would want to say to my own daughter. Or that I wish had been said to me. I can stop calling myself a liar; I can stop taking the side of the other. I can tell her that all will be ok. I can even rock her to sleep if I want to.

That for me is my lesson in self love. The promise that I will never abandon her again. Never abandon myself again to fit in, to seem cool, to be tough, for whatever reason.

It’s not an end to sadness, but it is a taste of the kind of love that is its salve.

It may not be true in a scientific sense, but by taking the time to hold myself as I would a treasured little daughter, I have learned something about how to be kind to myself.

Image from: life.paperblog.com

Image from: life.paperblog.com

These are some of the things I have learnt. There are actually many more. Many of these tricks and understandings and sleights of hand I have learnt from others – including my clients.

I would love to hear what you have learnt.

Origins and Manifestations: An Interview with John Mason, Chinese Medicine practitioner.

Image from 'thebridenextdoor.fr'

Image from ‘thebridenextdoor.fr’

Upasana:  John, can acupuncture address issues that people experience such as stress, anxiety and depression? Does it conceptualise these things differently to how a field like medicine or psychology would, in your opinion?

John: Rather than talk about acupuncture specifically I would prefer to answer your questions in terms of Chinese Medicine of which acupuncture is a treatment method.

In my opinion and experience one of the strengths of Chinese Medicine is the effective treatment and management of stress, anxiety and depression and related disorders, either as a stand-alone therapy or in conjunction with Psychology and Western Medicine

To answer the second part of your question, the largest difference between Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine in this respect is that Chinese Medicine holds that there is no dividing line between mind body and spirit when considering disorders of the person. Signs and symptoms of psychological disturbance are seen in the same way with the same origins as somatic disorders. Psychological signs and symptoms almost always have concurrently identifiable and associated somatic signs and symptoms. In the Chinese Medicine context, this concurrency of signs and symptoms helps in differentially diagnosing and treating psychological disorders.

Accordingly, ‘anxiety’ is not a specific diagnosis in Chinese Medicine. The diagnosis may well be ‘heart yin and blood deficiency’ presenting with signs and symptoms such as panic, tachycardia, dizziness and spontaneous sweating.

In stress, anxiety and depression it is also essential to identify and assess the emotions involved. For example, one stressed person can be predominantly experiencing emotions of anger/frustration, while emotions of worry/fear may dominate in another. Each requires different treatment considerations and strategies.

Moreton Bay Fig Study byMalcolm Pettigrove

Moreton Bay Fig Study by
Malcolm Pettigrove

Upasana: could you explain how Chinese Medicine can work on something like anxiety?

John: In Chinese Medicine diagnosis, a key principal is the concept of ‘ben’ and ‘biao’, that is ‘root’ and ‘branch’. In Chinese Medicine pathology, disease is seen as have a ‘root’ origin and a ‘branch’ manifestation. That is, a particular disease (branch) can be coming from one or more different ‘root’ pathologies.

In order to effectively treat an issue such as anxiety we need to look at the person and their signs and symptoms picture as a whole in order to differentially diagnose the root cause. Anxiety usually arises from disharmonies in one or more of the liver, heart and spleen organ systems so effective treatment is reliant on accurate assessment and differentiation of the overall signs and symptoms picture.

Chinese Medicine generally uses a much wider and less specific set of signs and symptoms than Western Medicine and consequently looks at a much bigger picture than Western Medicine. Accordingly there are often many factors making up a therapeutic program for someone suffering anxiety, including acupuncture, Chinese Medicine herbs, counselling and lifestyle and dietary changes.

At a basic biophysical level, using acupuncture needles in specific combinations and techniques, stimulates endorphin and enkephalin release which in turn act as a GABA antagonist, allowing the release of dopamine into the brain, thus immediately ameliorating symptoms of stress and anxiety. This amelioration is a temporary effect but become stronger and longer lasting with subsequent treatment. But this is only a part of a treatment program.

In an effective treatment program, not only does the client’s anxiety improve, but so does their overall state of health. This is because, very often, we have to fix other things in order to get a lasting improvement in the signs and symptoms that we call anxiety.

This is not to say that psychological therapy and drug therapy are not effective as well, it’s just that those approaches are not my field. I do know from experience that amazing results can be achieved in the field of mental health when all three modalities work together in consultative integration

Upasana: is there a ‘counselling’ component to your work?

John: Counselling is a huge component of my work although I would see my counselling with clients in terms of Chinese Medicine and not Western Medicine. What I do with clients certainly could not be called counselling psychology although it does have many similarities with concepts used in mindfullness techniques and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

In my work, counselling is not limited to psychological disorders. In Chinese Medicine the aetiological factors of disease, disorder, imbalance, however you would have it, can be very deep and broad. In my counselling I help the client to understand and recognise the contributing factors. Experience and classical psychological thought tells me that once a person understands the factors involved in their illness, they are immediately moving towards solution resolution.

At a psychological level, the counselling techniques I use with clients usually involve working to recognise factors, both internal and external, that contribute to the situation in which they find themselves. Also, as I mentioned before, I help them to recognise and analyse emotions that they feel. Difficult, complex or dangerous emotional states are referred on to Western Medicine assessment for stronger interventions, but once the person’s mental state is stabilised I have found that he or she almost always benefits from conjunctive Chinese Medicine therapy.

I have rarely found difficulty in establishing trust with a client. I find that it is critical to be up front with them in what you are about and your system of ethics, as well as your qualifications and experience and limits of same.

I have found that clients very quickly make their own assessments of a practitioner’s integrity and capability as well as the capabilities of Chinese Medicine itself.

Image from spabeautyschools.com

Image from spabeautyschools.com

Upasana: How are Australians going in our acceptance of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine? Are they still considered alternative therapies? Or is there more confidence in this field now?

John: I have never liked the connotations attached to the term ‘alternative therapy’.   Medicine and healing is what it is all about. To set up notions of mutual exclusivity amongst medical disciplines is, I believe, at best counterproductive, and at worst, highly unethical.   It seems to me that such notions have been fostered by the arrogance of western scientific thought. Nobody has all the answers but answers can be found anywhere.

People vote with their feet. They don’t need double blind placebo controlled tests to tell them that they feel better. Chinese Medicine is well established in the western world now.   Outside of Asia acupuncture is second only to orthodox Western Medicine as the most commonly used form of medical treatment. And I use the term ‘medical’ despite Western Medicine’s attempts to own it.

In my practice, the average age of my patients is 50.9 years. I see Mr and Mrs Average and I see their parents, children and grandchildren. Repeatedly.

In my thirteen years of practice I have had many clients, both in suburban Melbourne and rural Far North Queensland, who have trusted me to assist with their care and well-being even though their death was imminent. I think that says volumes for the acceptance and trust in Chinese Medicine that Australians now have.

Upasana: Do you find that in your role, you teach people a new way of understanding their health and well being?

John: As a health care practitioner I believe that it is essential that a person has as full an understanding as possible of their condition and the factors that contribute to, as well as heal, that condition. For most people the concepts of Chinese Medicine are initially a foreign language and have to be explained and unfolded by the practitioner.

But most people find the concepts to be common sense in harmony with the laws of nature. If I had a dollar for every time a client said to me, “That makes a lot of sense”, well…  I couldn’t retire, but I reckon I could take the family to Europe for a holiday.

As an example, take a man suffering migraine headaches and extreme stress as a result of hating his job. It is necessary for effective long term results that he understands how an overload of the emotion of anger/frustration has a deleterious effect on his liver system which then causes the migraines and sends him into a downward spiral of emotionally based depression. He also needs to understand how alcohol, fast food and lack of exercise negatively impact on the liver. When treatment and changes he makes start to have positive effects he is inspired to continue his positive path.

He is more inclined and more able to take responsibility for his own healing because he understands why and how it works.

Image from'thejetmd.com'

Image from
‘thejetmd.com’

Upasana: Was the discovery of accupuncture a pivotal turning point in your own life? could you tell us a little about why it became your path?

John: I had been 16 years in the same career and I was bored. I had always wanted to be a doctor as a kid and so I naturally turned to medicine when I needed a career change.

Although I have always been a fan of Western Medicine I felt it was not the path for me for a number of reasons, so I decided I had to become a doctor (i.e. teacher and healer) in another medical modality.

The concepts of Chinese Medicine resonated with both my material and spiritual self and studying it just made me plain excited. I was also strongly drawn to the hands on and surgical nature of acupuncture needling.

I love what I do and I am both proud of and humbled by the medicine itself.

Image from 'portdouglasacupuncture.com'

Image from ‘portdouglasacupuncture.
com’

John Mason can be contacted at: http://www.portdouglasacupuncture.com/