Book Review: Becoming Resilient – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to Transform Your Life

Book Review: Becoming Resilient – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to Transform Your Life

By Nimmi Hutnik (2017) Harper Element, India.

We have all heard about resilience, haven’t we? It is a fashionable word in both management speak and therapy circles. But the questions need to be asked – What is it, do I actually need it and if so how do I get more? In writing Becoming Resilient, these are the questions that Nimmi Hutnik answers with depression and anxiety as a foundation for self-treatment with cognitive behaviour therapy. Furthermore, she enables us to recognise and build our resilience to reduce the likelihood of the return of anxiety and depression enabling us to cope better going forward.

The book starts with clear explanations of what anxiety and depression are in Part One. It is possible to evaluate if you are clinically depressed and the severity of your depression from the questionnaires included. You will also be able to identify if you are suffering from anxiety, if it is an anxiety disorder and also which one – she describes seven anxiety disorders, split between danger disorders and coping disorders.

In Part Two Nimmi explains the principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and illustrates them clearly with practical examples we can all relate to. She then details how to apply CBT as self-therapy to treat your own depression or anxiety. To benefit fully Nimmi reminds us the exercises need to be done well and practised regularly.

In Part Three, the book turns to sitting still (mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy), bouncing back (resilience) and springing forward (flourishing) to go beyond anxiety and depression. This part is a practical journey of discovery; you are given the means to take back the power, regain control and get yourself back on course. It is very important for the reader to realise that there is life beyond anxiety and depression, to the life we yearn for and that life is abundant, flourishing and obtainable.

Becoming Resilient by Nimmi Hutnik

Becoming resilient – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to Change Your Life by Nimmi Hutnik

Becoming Resilient is very practical. The explanations of depression and anxiety are clear and thorough; the language is easily understood and self-treatment using CBT is simply described in a logical progression. Once you have addressed your depression and/or anxiety you are able to take steps through transformation to a resilient and flourishing life.

Nimmi sums her book up by saying:

“This book is for ordinary people like you and me who suffer slightly elevated amounts of depression and anxiety, and other difficult emotions such as anger, jealousy, panic, shame and guilt. It will enable you to learn to deal with difficult moods, manage stress better and improve your relationships … it will enable you to develop an ability to become resilient, to flourish and to develop in a positive direction.”

I can certainly recommend it as a first stop, self-help manual for anxiety and depression – just remember to do the exercises well, practice them regularly and become resilient.

The book can be obtained here.

Oh Wow What a Week – lessons in learning to respond not react

Oh Wow What a Week – lessons in learning to respond not react

The past seven days or so have been rather busy and somewhat draining. There is good stuff and not so good stuff.

The good stuff revolves around signing an associate trainer agreement with an organisation to deliver the courses I am accredited to do, on their behalf – the sort of work I enjoy. There is also more work being booked into the diary and some red hot prospects in discussion. These give me that cosy warm glow of accomplishment and satisfaction. With the not so good stuff, hang on a moment; let’s call a spade a spade. The bad stuff has been diverse and I told the universe (karma if you will) that I must be doing something right due to the flack I was taking!!

Yes, even I get flack and have to deal with it. So what flack? How have I dealt with it? How do I feel about it? Each issue has made me stop and think, and wonder how to respond. I have written elsewhere about responding to challenge rather than reacting against it. This week I have responded well – taking time to make considered decisions and take appropriate action. For once (yeah!), I have responded, not reacted, not fired from the hip and gaffed it, having to eat humble pie afterwards! So what am I patting myself on the back for? It is kind of hard to detail without divulging identities, which I wish to keep hidden in order to protect the innocent and the guilty. That said, the basic lessons are there and those I’ll share. And yes, some of the details have had to be fudged a bit for privacy (sorry)!

One of the groups I am an administrator is a social group. One of the lovely members posted an advert for a particular type of event in a particular type of venue. I loved the idea of the event, it personally appealed to me, and I am wondering if my diary will let me include it, so I was happy to approve the post. More importantly, that post fitted the group ethos. A few days later one of the members attacked the event in the venue, dogmatically quoting higher authority as to why it was wrong for that event to occur in that venue. Initially, I was somewhat gobsmacked that this type of fundamentalism was happening in my community; but then, going back 20 or so years I might have done the same thing (I have, I hope learned a thing or two in the intervening time!). The comments were verging on the personal in terms of their criticism and judgement.

But how was I going to deal with it? I know of other groups that would have simply barred the criticiser, for not conforming to the group’s aims, goals and accepted behaviour; but I wanted to be inclusive. To me barring the person would have been just as unacceptable as the posts I was seeing and I learnt growing up that two wrongs do not make a right. So my actions, in short, were to let the advert stand, delete all the comments (both the supportive and the judgemental ones) and block future commenting on that post so it could not re-start. I added a note that the social group was that – a social group, there were other, more suitable forums, for “that type” of discussion, but this group was not one of them. Via a direct message an apology was given to the event advertiser, telling them what I had done and asking if they were happy with that (they were, thank you). I then decided to wait a few days to see what transpired, if anything new. To my mind, an apology was due from the person to the advertiser, a common courtesy.

I can note that no apology will be given as the person causing the problem has left the social group. We could read all sorts of things into that, but we should not as it would be speculation based on our personal subjectivity and life experience. If they ever read this blog and recognise themselves – I bear you no malice and sincerely wish you well.

What else has happened? Ah yes, I was nearly assaulted by a gobby mouthed seven year old in public. Goodness gracious me! Do you remember those days when you are walking somewhere with your children and one of them has a total meltdown; the terrible two’s that can become terrible three’s and foul four’s? I heard the commotion and stopped to people watch. My heart melted for the mom trying to assuage a toddler (the middle child) having a tantrum, rolling on the pavement and screaming loudly whilst an older child was fuelling the fire and yelling at mom to get a move on – it appeared to me that this one was playing up, demanding attention, trying to distract Mom from the heaving fireball writhing on the ground. In a buggy safely strapped in, sat the little one, bless them, oblivious to the chaos ensuing behind. Mom did what all moms do in this situation – picked up the wriggling screamer, grabbed the buggy handle and walked on… for about 3 steps. For her efforts, the middle child in her arms hit her several times in the face, wriggled like an eel and had to put down for their own safety. A few moments later mom picked this one up again (still screaming) and progressed a few more steps before the elder child took a running swipe at them, missed and almost ended up in the road (thank goodness there were no cars). Jo Public was either staring or embarrassed and walked on by. Those with children of a similar age range were no doubt thinking “And there but by the grace of God go I!”

At this point, I couldn’t help it. Mom needed another pair of hands. If someone pushed the buggy, that gave her two hands to calm the middle child down and perhaps the older child would be happier as peace would have been restored and progress towards home would have been made. So I walked over. Without going into detail the older child screamed at me, threatening to hit me (not once but twice). They very loudly didn’t care that mom needed help; I just had to go away. Realising I was might be making matters worse I apologised to Mom and left, getting out of the line of sight by heading off down a cut-through.

I have no idea how that debacle turned out. I can only imagine what I would have done in that situation and tears are included. Could I have done better? Been more effective? Certainly. The older child may have believed they were protecting Mom from a stranger and I can understand that, but violence, actual or threatened has not, does not and never will make things better. I have said before that if we ever have world war three it will decide what is left, and not who is right. And where and from whom did the older child learn that behaviour? My mind boggles. Mom, if you ever read this and would like a cup of tea – contact me. At the very least I would like to give you a hug, a few moments of downtime and commiserate that raising children can be b****y difficult at times. Been there, done that, and we survive to tell the tales!

The third contentious issue concerned a blog post I wrote. Well, sort of wrote. I quoted from someone else’s post as I thought the post was a good one. Being a fair individual and liking to give credit where it is due I cited the original author, as one should. It did not take long before comments and personal messages started being received about fraud, lies and a variety of falsehoods revolving around that other author. Looking at it logically, it sounded initially like some people had revenge and retribution as their agenda. That is how the messages came across. I looked at the words I was quoting in my article, in their own right they were good, very good and I had quoted from a good post. If the author had done a crime and done the time then that was okay by me.

It took a persistent phone caller – you know the ones you play telephone hopscotch with. They call and you are driving so cannot answer. You call them and it goes to voicemail. They call you back and you are in a meeting and cannot take their call. You call them and again it goes to voicemail, and you begin to wonder if it is a joke or one of “those” phone calls – you know the type, PPI, telemarketing or similar. The persistent caller and I did eventually speak. The short version is this. Despite the post being a good one, it is possible that the fraud, lies and falsehoods may be continuing. I, therefore decided, for the greater good, to take my blog down. If someone was to follow up the original author and any difficulties ensued, I would be mortified! That said I shall in time write another version of that article using my own experience. And in the interim, there is a person on social media I shall be keeping a distant eye on!

Photo by Rich Jones

Why this picture? Because it is a good picture and I am sharing good things! Photo by Rich Jones on Unsplash

Ending on a good note – there are other good things that have happened in the past week too. I received my tax calculations back from the accountant; there is less tax due than I thought. Looking forward to next week I will take a train heading north and add a seventh course to my portfolio of mental health awareness and first aid courses.  Have a good one. Week, that is 🙂

 

Book Review: Rise – Surviving and Thriving after Trauma by Sian Williams

Book Review: Rise – Surviving and Thriving after Trauma by Sian Williams

Much of Sian William’s story is my story; Rise – surviving and thriving after trauma is about surviving the trauma of and treatment for breast cancer and rediscovering how to thrive afterward. Surviving is the glass half full adage, whereas thriving is that glass overflowing.

In 2011, I too was diagnosed with DCIS, three tumors (as an A cup on a “fat day” I wondered how we missed them until they hurt). The treatment plan was a mastectomy, 25 doses of radiotherapy followed up with 5 years of Tamoxifen and 2 years of Megestrol. It was an emotional roller coaster. Every twinge caused a panic – was it back? Was it secondary’s?   Last week I was drug-free for a year; discharged from medical care; permitted to rediscover my life; for now at least. A relief, to live again. It is important to remember, to note, that thriving is at a higher level than surviving.

Post-cancer Sian and I have our lives back. They are different lives from what they were. We are on a new journey, and ought to enjoy the ride. But everything has changed, everything we were, everything we knew and understood has gone. Our lives, our loves, our priorities are different.

Like Sian and I, you progress from the trauma of the diagnosis and treatment, through to surviving – a numbed existence, a going through the motions. Slowly we move to the “other side” wherever that is. We rediscover our voice, our identity, our compassion; we find new words and coping strategies and get back to actual personal growth. We relearn how to breathe, to be happy and to laugh again, to write and talk, to sleep and eat, even to move. We finally get to pull it all together and live again.

Sian brings in some excellent biographical stories of others’ trauma, including PTSD and their journey through to living again. She draws on her knowledge of psychology (she is working on her Master’s degree) and her work experiences with journalists and film crews in war zones at the BBC. Reading Sian’s story I related, I understood and I finally felt understood.

If you want to know what it’s like to survive and thrive after breast cancer or what it might be like to thrive after a trauma, and what resilience is and how it might help you and can be bolstered to support your through then this book is definitely for you. If you have been there and done that and are wondering about getting your life grounded again, then this book is also for you.

If you are just plain curious what it’s like for those who’ve been there and come through that or if you need to understand for counseling or therapy training, then this book is also for you.

Thank you, Sian, for your honesty and frankness in writing this book, it is liberating to at last know that I was not and am not alone.

The paperback copy can be obtained here.

Resilience: I get knocked down but I get up again

Resilience: I get knocked down but I get up again

As you read the title I am sure that the tune of the song from Chumbawamba is becoming an earworm in your head! I am equally sure that the universe has a sense of humor, or at the very least I do! I dared to speak about resilience on Tuesday and had my resilience seriously tested for the rest of that week. So what is resilience? What defines it and what can we do to improve our resilience?

  1. What is Resilience?

As a member of 4Networking, I asked my colleagues on our Facebook 4N community forum what they thought resilience was. Carole Channing suggested it was “being able to withstand,” and Dorota Twoek-Uptas thought it was “how quickly you can bounce back and not be affected by the things you have no control over.” Martin Sloman simply wrote “mental toughness” and Keith Blakehouse-Noble “strength, tenacity and durability.”  Andrea Detchon proposed that “when things go crap a resilient person gets back up and gets on again.” One of my favorite wordings came from Will Bawdry who prefers to view resilience as “not bouncing back but bouncing forward. Often when things go wrong we can see only two eventualities: one where things are worse, and one where we manage to get back to ‘normal’. And this blinds us to the third option: learning and growing from the experience in order to end up in a stronger position than before.”

Another definition comes from Google: 1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness, and 2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. Over in Wikipedia, it is an individual’s ability to successfully adapt to life tasks in the face of social disadvantage or highly adverse conditions. The website verywell.com says that resilience carries us through without falling apart. How we cope affects both the immediate outcome and the long-term psychological consequences. More resilient = better able to handle adversity and rebuild our lives after a catastrophe.

‘Resilience’ is one of the “in things” in business speak at the moment, along with ‘mindfulness’ in general and ‘engagement‘ with customers on social media. From the definitions, it seems that in common usage resilience is the innate ability to progress through a challenge (a catastrophe, if you must) and pick yourself up on the other side and carry on in a new “normal”. We all have some degree of resilience. Resilience enables us to carry on after the death of a family member, the financial ruin of a favored business project, the demise of a cherished relationship, a change of employment, moving house, a health issue, etc, you get the picture. Resilience is a combination of nature and nurture. Some of us are better able to withstand life’s challenges than others – we are born with better coping mechanisms than others. Some of us through parenting and education enlarge our resilience and deal better with life’s challenges as we grow and mature.

Using a stress analogy from Brabbon and Turkington (2002) resilience is like a bucket with a tap. If our bucket is big and our tap working well it can cope with a lot of stress (catastrophes) – it goes into the bucket and is processed through the tap – highly resilient. If our bucket is small or the tap does not work terribly well our bucket fills up and overflows – not very resilient. If resilience were an elastic band then it bounces back each time it is stretched (good resilience). But if after a while the elastic stays stretched or snaps then resilience is lower.

  1. What defines Resilience?

What does resilience look like? How can I judge my own level of resilience? There are a number of criteria you may use to evaluate your own resilience, which includes but are not limited to the following.

  • Keeping your cool in disaster – holding back, evaluating what has happened and planning a course of action
  • Coping with problems or setbacks – not resorting to “just giving up” believing everything to be “hopeless” or “futile”
  • Facing difficulties head-on – facing the storm, rather than being an ostrich and hoping that if we ignore an issue it will resolve itself and go away
  • Having or finding (learning) the skills, strengths, and determination to recover from problems and challenges, possibly asking for support and help from those in the know or who have been this way before
  • Having healthy coping mechanisms (rest, food and exercise) rather than resorting to overeating, under eating, substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, nicotine), etc.
Viewing the Future

I call this Viewing the Future. A part of resilience is looking ahead

Resilience doesn’t mean feeling less pain, distress, difficulties, grief, or sense of loss or anxiety.

Resilience does mean difficulties are handled in a way that fosters strength and personal growth, they can work through them, overcome adversity and move on, possibly even supporting others along the way.

3. How can we improve our Resilience?

Resilient people are aware; aware of situations, their own emotional reactions and the behavior of those around them. Resilient people understand and accept that life is full of changes. So how can we improve our awareness and understanding? People building their resilience can do any number of things.

  • They have a sense of control, a goal, a purpose, they know that what they do rather than what others do affects the result (accept responsibility). They have self-confidence.
  • They have great problem-solving skills, spot solutions and follow them through, they believe in their ability to cope/work things through.
  • They have strong social connections and a support network, people they can call on for support and help.
  • They identify as a survivor, not a victim, they have a long-term perspective, embrace change, have a can-do attitude and keep things in context. They are positive, hopeful and expect good, they visualize good things happening.
  • They ask for help and are resourceful – psychologist, counselor, self-help books, online forums, support groups, psychotherapists. They are hopeful and positive.
  • They are self-nurturing, enjoy continuous self-development, they care for their body, their mind, own needs and feelings.

When challenged by this overwhelming list I suggest that people start with one thing. #changeonething  Changing one thing can make a huge difference to us. The one thing can be as simple as driving home a different route and enjoying the view – a different perspective.

 

Susan’s Brother

Susan’s Brother

 

As a novel, Susan’s Brother is both shocking and delightful at the same time. On the one hand, it is the true story of the appalling treatment of a troubled child, and on the other the incredible resilience of a human being. It is a story of hope and success in overcoming a severely troubled early life.

Susan’s Brother was unloved by his mother – there was no physical affection, few toys, little conversation and the added burden at times of her outright lies and deception. Consigned to mental health institutions, special education and even an experimental school he experiences so little emotional support that he turns inwards to protect himself in a hurtful, confusing world. He never received pocket money from his mother and birthday cards were not sent to where he was living (institutions and boarding schools). Before he died, his father drilled into him that “Boys don’t cry,” and it became a mantra. “Boys don’t cry.” His father also decreed ”Boys don’t have teddy bears” and abused Ted (second hand, one-eyed, thrown out by a neighbor) beating him against a wall.  Much of the story is explained by Ted in conversation with Susan’s Brother. Ted was the only “person” he could trust, could cuddle and draw comfort from. Other adults in his life lied to him too, sometimes as a joke, leading him to not trust adults at all. Home as a concept meant nothing to him; it was where he was identified by his sister, not in his own right, hence the title of the book.

Susan herself ignored him. She had the soft toys, physical affection, pocket-money and seemingly everything she wanted. She hardly spoke to him, didn’t play with him and became outright nasty. She started with “You are fat and clumsy, you can’t read or write, no one will ever want you and you’ll never get anywhere in life.” In time she got “religion” and burned into his brain a new mantra “I don’t know why God is punishing me so. All I ever wanted was a good-looking brother who had a decent job, who could give me money and introduce me to nice boys; and look what I’ve got!” As he grew and started to overcome his problems he gets to live at home and she says “Well now you’re home, I suppose I shall have to tell all the neighbors that you are mentally ill. My friends too.”

He was emotionally disturbed, deeply depressed.  ”Unable to cry, climb up and out of the dark pit into a normal boyhood.” In time he starts an upward journey from being probably the youngest person sectioned in the UK (for attempting suicide at age 9) he learns enough to understand the need to protect himself from, for example, his sister. This led him, unfortunately, to be admitted to the horrors of the Adult Unit of a mental institution (St Augustine’s) when his school closed for two weeks over the summer. Why we will never fully understand. Surely no normal mother would have contemplated an adult unit “where the advanced treatment means that they (medical professionals) could build their careers cooking the brains of patients (with electroconvulsive therapy). Fortunately, he was not treated so but Susan’s Brother witnessed it happening, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. That is how he knew which day of the week it was.

Despite the institutions, the prognosis, the emotional neglect, the bullying and the struggles to learn hampered by dyslexia, Susan’s brother begins to climb up out of the pit. The structure and routine of the institutions and schools gave him a degree of security and stability. There were glimmers of hope. Small acts of kindness that added together became significant and reached deep down inside him. He became fascinated with radios which led him to improve his reading and electronics knowledge from hobby magazines. He learned to assert himself by not going home, staying away from Susan and beating up the main bully. His resilience grows. He gains a radio ham receiver license. He progresses out of the institutions into a mainstream state school living at home. He begins to develop friendly and meaningful relationships with neighbors, particularly the Tolhursts, of whom he says without them he would not be here. He develops an interest in motorbikes and in time cars, passing his driving license test on the first attempt. On leaving the school he gets a job and lodgings to live independently.

Throughout the book, there are interesting additions to what the law, guidelines or definitions were in terms of the care and education of children with special needs, back when Susan’s Brother was growing up. We can be grateful that times have changed and systems and standards of care and treatment have improved significantly. What Susan’s Brother experienced growing up would not be condoned today.

Interestingly, I have met Susan’s Brother, Chris, and would never have deduced such an early childhood from the gentle, polite, generous man he has become if I had not read this book. He knows his limits and has lived a successful life overcoming the early limits and challenges. Chris is an example of hope and resilience and a great example of the success that determination brings. If Chris can overcome despite the treatment he received there is hope for emotionally disturbed, maladjusted, special needs children today.

Your copy of Susan’s Brother is available here.