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What do books mean to us?

The group met to discuss how books and reading have been a useful resource for recreation and learning throughout our lives. Aspects of this broadly broke down upon experiences of reading and being read to as children, books that have inspired or moved us, and any fiction character or real life person that we could relate to.

A common theme around reading as children was of escape. Partly to get respite from challenging home environment issues, but equally just to be explore other identities and be transported to new worlds and let our imaginations soar. Texts such as the Hobbit, the Famous Five, Black Beauty and works by Roald Dahl were amongst those early reading adventures enjoyed.

Reading can be a gender related issue, as whilst boys and girls equally enjoy and progress at reading, by adolescence it can be seen as a feminine pastime and this puts off some boys continuing to read as adults.

There were fond memories in childhood of libraries and read along storytelling cassettes.

As adults affected by Mental illness, it is important to read other lives that validate our shared experiences, even if this is dark and challenging. At other times we just want to spend time away from our own troubles and get lost in Agatha Christie or enriching literature, poetry and plays.

There can be barriers to reading throughout our lives. People with dyslexia were until fairly recently poorly as stupid or lazy. Fortunately this is not the case and appropriate help and use of alternative reading formats offered to people with dyslexia or other sight conditions.  The ability to continue to enjoy reading when suffering depression can be restricted due to diminished concentration levels. This can be frustrating, although sometimes switching to either short stories or audiobooks can help.

One group member accounted how they had not been encouraged to read as a child and only by having a period in hospital discovered that they could enjoy it and pass the time.

In terms of biographical works, many in the group appreciated reading of extraordinary lives also affected by mental illness, substance abuse and recovery; eg Patrick Swayze , Elton John, Liam Gallagher.

Finally it was noted of the death of Clive James yesterday, a multi talented biographer, poet, TV presenter and journalist.  He wrote Japanese Maple tree poem when diagnosed with a terminal illness. It beautifully accounts his increased appreciation of life and nature, and fortunately he enjoyed almost 10 years of life, albeit affected by physical health restrictions.

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Pain Management

It had been requested by the group to look at ways of managing pain. Chronic pain, often with an undiagnosed cause, and for which medication is not effective affects about 7.8 million people in the U.K, 25% of whom have lost their job and 16% of whom experience such bad pain that at times they feel as if they want to end their life. (These statistics are from 2009 and cited by Corrie, Townend and Cockx , 2016). We considered a CBT coping model of coping with chronic illness, also presented by the above authors.

Because human beings are not easily compartmentalised into separate parts that function independently of each other, this model considers a number of factors; physical, environment, the impact of medical professionals, our thoughts and beliefs about illness, the social relationships that we have and support, the culture we live in, the level of activity we engage in, our emotional state and resilience. All of these areas affect our experience of pain. For pain “is simultaneously a sensory and emotional experience” (Dima, 2013).

Our medical journey can sometimes be very discouraging and disheartening when no diagnosis is forthcoming and we get passed from department to department with no resolution for the pain. When our emotions are affected by a sense of hopelessness or stress this can increase our sensitivity to pain. The things we tell ourselves about pain can contribute to our emotional state and maintain pain e.g. I will never be well, I will get worse, or we may hold images that are upsetting and unhelpful. We are also affected what other people or our culture tell us about pain. Group members talked about messages they had heard such as ‘well-you’re not getting any younger’. The level of activity people engage in is important-overdoing it leads to more pain, more injury, more recovery time and less wellness. Inactivity due to fear or beliefs about the pain maintains it and contributes to a reduced sense of overall wellbeing due to isolation and not engaging with pleasurable activities. Group members spoke about the importance of balance and how they continued normal activity although sometimes needed to moderate this at certain times but didn’t stop doing things altogether.

Group members spoke about how important it is to have support and how significant this is to them. Research shows that such support how ‘pain is perceived, expressed and experienced’ (Corrie, Townend and Cockx, 2016). Medical professionals and other social contacts can help or hinder what we tell ourselves about our pain and acceptance of illness and what we can manage.

Group members shared what helped them to deal with pain. Some said that a ‘mind over matter’ approach had been very important in helping them to push through very painful physio exercises to recover as they knew they felt better afterwards and eventually recovered completely. Using the mind differently, some people definitely recommended mindfulness as a way of coping with pain. Mindfulness involves observing what is happening in the body in a non-judgemental way. Clinical trials showed that mindfulness can reduce pain by 57% and for some up to 90%, brain imaging showed how the brain is soothed by mindfulness.

We talked about the importance of noticing our bodies. When we are in pain, or worried we become tense, we hold our bodies rigid and inflexible, this can both cause pain and exacerbate existing pain, so relaxation is important. As a group we have often used breathing techniques together as a form of relaxation and noticing where we are holding tension. One group member talked about a technique of full body stretching, as in if we think about how a cat stretches fully:

Image result for stretch like a cat

It was said that when animals stretch, they don’t do specific targeted stretching but just go for it….you don’t see bears doing shoulder stretches, however I did find this fun yoga bear workout!

People spoke about other activities which create the natural pain killers, endorphins, like exercise, and singing.

We spoke also about external and internal locus of control, and how much we believe we have power over elements of our circumstances or how much we believe we are helpless. As we looked at the model of managing chronic pain we could see areas where we could feel like we have more control:

Biological and physiological factors-if we are stressed this can increase the experience of pain, so finding ways to relax and calm down the threat system can help, such as breathing, nice walks and things we enjoy.

Psychological factors-the things we believe about our pain can sometimes increase our experience of it, so being aware of beliefs and reality testing them can be helpful, for example the group member who told us about believing that the physio exercises were helpful for healing helped her to push through and heal rather than giving up.

Social context and support-many group members today realised how important it is to have supportive relationships and places of support, isolation or lack of support can increase stress and upset emotions which can exaggerate the sensation of pain. For example many group members often leave the group feeling better than when they came in, this is an example of feeling soothed which can help pain.

Behavioural responses and level of activity-here we spoke about balance. It is important to do the right level of activity that we can manage. Pushing ourselves too hard can result in worsening pain, leading to the necessity of inactivity, which can in the long term worsen pain. Not enough activity can increase our sensation of pain but is also likely to lead to more isolation and missing out on things we enjoy. This can be to do with our thoughts and fears as well that activity may be bad for us, so growing confidence may be important. People spoke about for example taking a walk each day, and that sometimes they may need to walk for 5 minutes rather than the usual 50 minutes, but they are still managing to go for a walk.

Sport, Train, Active, Fitness, Training, Sporty, Play
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My beliefs about me in romantic relationships

Today’s group looked at how we saw ourselves in romantic relationships. The way we are in relationships stems from beliefs we hold on our self. The blueprint for how we see ourselves most likely originates from our first relationships, Our parents and family.

We did an exercise to look at this and find out what messages we learned from childhood. Below are a couple of examples of this;

This leads to my beliefs about me in relationships:
1. No one wants to be with me
2. I am unlovable
3. I am a burden to others


This means my pattern in relationship is to:
1. Not make a connection
2. I give too much
3. I don’t say what I need


By changing old unhelpful beliefs into new realistic ones we give ourselves more hope for the future
(See below)
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The Impact of Bullying

At today’s group we looked at how bullying can affect us. We looked at it from the view point of both the aggressor and victim. People who use bullying behavior often have very low self-worth and enjoy putting others down in order to make them feel better about themself. This person is behaving from a fearful place and is most likely very vulnerable. If you have been the victim of bullying this may feel hard to believe.

We did an exercise where we looked at people’s experience of bullying behaviour.

One is a statement about past experiences while the other is in the present looking forward. Below is the template used;

“Bullying made me feel like I am…”
“Today I honour myself by choosing to feel that I am…”

Below is a written example of how it may be used;

“Bullying made me feel like I am worthless and deserving of this behaviour. “
“Today I honour myself by choosing to feel that I am a worthwhile person who values themself. I will not let people control me and can use these past experiences to help myself and others”.

Click here for article on bullying from theconversation.com

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Can I Accept Compliments?

Today we looked at what compliments meant to people. We broke the discussion into four key points;

  1. How do you find giving compliments?
  2. How do you find receiving compliments?
  3. What are the rules/beliefs you attach to giving and receiving compliments?
  4. Is there any difference between confidence and arrogance?

Group members did not seem to have too much of a problem in giving others compliments.

What was a big challenge for them was being able to accept compliments. Receiving compliments made them feel slightly awkward and uncomfortable. Some of the examples and beliefs for this were;

  • “I find compliments hard to believe due to my low sense of self-worth”
  • “They don’t really mean it and are just being nice”
  • ” They are just sweetening me up as they want something”
  • ” They will find out the real me and not like it”
  • ” They are doing this as a joke at my expense”
  • “I don’t want people to think I’m a big head”

We then finally discussed whether local culture plays a part in these beliefs. In the U.K. we can tend to be very self-depreciating finding it hard to big ourselves up for fear of ridicule from others. Is it a confidence thing and we don’t wan’t to be seen as arrogant? There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. so where is the fine line? Below is a snippet of an interesting article from Dr Leisha Bailey on this

*Arrogant people build themselves up by putting others down – to “win”. Buddhism asserts that arrogance is to judge one’s self-worth by comparison with others. Arrogant people feel good about themselves only through affirming their superiority to others. Genuinely confident people feel great about themselves without comparing themselves with others. Arrogant people tend to bluff their way to success and often have difficulty listening to others. This person will avoid risks or blame others or circumstances if things do not work out as expected*

*Confidence is not a belief that one is always right or a sense of being unable to fail. True confidence welcomes alternative perspectives and opinions. A confident person rarely will be found lecturing or preaching to others on how they are wrong. Believing you are always right and unable to accept influence from others can make one obnoxious to be around. Confidence is being willing to be wrong and knowing you’ll be OK if you are. A truly self-confident person is able to show vulnerability and admit to past mistakes.*

*Taken from Dr Leisa Bailey*

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Tolerance and attitudes in society

In this session we decided to have a look at our own unconscious biases and prejudice. It can be very easy to be judgmental of other peoples prejudice (Yes! I know that’s ironic). It can be easy to get self-righteous about the prejudice of others without being aware of our own as per a spectacular piece of graffiti which used to grace a bridge in Edinburgh saying “Go Home Bigots”. And here I am self-righteously judging their prejudice, and so it goes on!

We looked at the ‘Unconscious Prejudice Questionnaire’ which we did notice some of the language maybe had an unconscious prejudice of it’s own. People quietly reflected upon areas where they maybe did have a bias, we noticed that sometimes we are afraid to admit this. But people did share biases and we noticed that often these were connected to personal experience.

Everyone has implicit biases and prejudice, these come from family upbringing, cultural norms, media portrayal of certain groups and about people groups with whom we are not familiar or not educated about-ignorance is not always bliss, nor is it helpful. Businesses, recruitment and community suffer when we discriminate due to unconscious bias, we miss out on skill, diversity and different perspectives. As is often the case in our conclusion, keeping an open mind, being open to be educated and as we did in this session and be honest about the thoughts you are uncomfortable with.

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Escapism through movie characters

Group members talked about who their favourite movie characters were and why. They agreed that fictional characters provides them a feeling of escapism from their everyday lives. Movie characters can be form part of our public consciousenss in the same way as pieces of music do.

Imagining how your movie character would deal with someone who has bullied you can help inspire you with a little bit more strength. Equally a very anxious child can imagine having superhero powers like Spiderman to keep them safe.

Below is an example from Spiderman;