March 1st is World Book Day. Orange Grove Founder and Norwich Evening News Columnist Jackie Heffer-Cooke examines two of her favourite books “Where the wild things are” and “How to be Human” and shares the secrets of how they can help mental health.
My head whirs into action
This month, something has happened in my life, something that is not good for my anxiety. It came in a phone call and it crashed me into old habits of worry, and stress and insomnia. That’s what happens when we get news which has a big implication to our lives. Immediately we are thrown into that state of survival – and that means we do one of three things, we fight the threat, we run away from it, or we freeze until it passes. I fight it. My head whirs into action, my blood pressure rises, and I get busy with sourcing solutions. Some of these solutions have grounding to them and need to be followed through when I feel calmer, but some are crazy solutions. What I do know is there are a lot of them, they keep me awake at night, and my brain feels like it might explode with the amount I need to do to get things to a calm stable place again.
The smallest thing distresses me
This tips out into the family and the family watch as the smallest of things distresses me, because at this point every problem is BIG, its huge in fact. And the brain works a million miles an hour telling me just how bad everything is right now. Old deep-rooted issues I thought have passed appear and start pulling faces at me, relationship problems rear their ugly head and shout for attention, I am at mercy to my thoughts and emotions and cannot see a way out!
Yes people, this is a kind of panic breakdown, which can lead to depression, and yes it’s a mental health problem that many of us share at some point in our lives.
It’s like I’m consumed by it
The great thing about this now is when it happens I can pretty much recognise it. Can I do anything about it necessarily – well not immediately apart from recognise it is happening and I am in the thick of it. In the middle of it it’s like I am consumed by it, I can’t do yoga, I can’t meditate, I can’t sit still! First, I know my habits, I usually self-medicate with alcohol and more wine and feel very sorry for myself. Then, slowly I reach out to what I know works for me and make a start to put me right.
Inspiration is the first thing I look for
I picked up this book by Ruby Wax, a neuroscientist and a monk ‘How To Be Human, The Manual’. Inspiration is the first thing I look for at times like these. It’s full of stuff I know that I needed reminding about, I teach a lot of it, but it is also teaching me new ideas about what this brain is, why it does what it does, and why it goes wrong at times of crisis. Just what I needed.
In a nutshell, the neuroscientist talks about the areas of the brain that react in certain situations, and the monk talks about how we can recognise those areas of the brain, get to know them, and not treat them as truths, but rather watch the thoughts and emotions whilst they take place, rather then getting so utterly involved with them. This is meditation, or mindfulness. So, it has inspired me to practise the techniques I know work, and which will get me back on track.
Not to push the feelings back
At the end of the chapter entitled ‘Emotions’, it talks about how we learn to not push the feelings away, but rather we see them, and allow without judgement. Heck, we may even give ourselves an
inner cuddle to cheer ourselves up. At the end it’s described as “If you run away, (from the emotions) the monster chases you, but if you turn and face it, it runs away”
Well yes, but even better it doesn’t need to run away because you make it your friend and part of your story.
Staring right into their yellow eyes
‘Where the wild things are’ by Maurice Sendak, is my favourite childhood book. It’s all about going on a journey in your dream to where the monsters are. But rather than being afraid of the monsters (your fears), it’s about learning to tame them with a “magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once” not being afraid of the fear, seeing it for what it is, and then “they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all”. From then on the boy Max became King Max, and he and The Monsters have fun together, they even party a ‘wild rumpus into the night’.
This is the book I read to my kids. This is the message I like to teach. So, this is the lesson I mustn’t forget. Life is only ever scary if you make it that way. So now I am going to calm myself down, do some yoga, play in the snow with my kids, and right now, simply take each day as it comes.