COVID-19 and services

At Plentiful Life Counselling I am ensuring that I am up to date with any new developments and want to ensure the safety of clients, their families and the therapist. I have completed the COVID-19 Infectious Diseases training offered by the Australian Government to ensure I am putting in place the correct safety measures.

Counselling is currently seen as an essential service so I will be doing my best to continue to offer sessions. I recognise and understand the feelings of anxiety, distress and concern many people may be experiencing in relation to COVID-19. During this time it is important to look after yourself and engage your support systems.

I will be continuing to offer sessions. Where possible the sessions will be offered via Zoom Video Conferencing. However, I recognise that for some people video or telephone sessions are not possible or practical so I will continue to offer face to face sessions with the following precautions to minimise risks while I support you:

. There are more robust hygiene processes in place based on information provided by the World Health Organisation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the Australian Government Department of Health (www.health.gov.au).

. I continue to wash my hands between clients and sanitise surfaces.

. I expect clients will wash their hands before their session. There are bathrooms situated on the driveway (men’s toilet) and between the two buildings (women’s toilet). There is soap in the toilets but no paper towel as it keeps getting stolen. It is advisable to bring your own towel/paper towel for drying your hands after washing.

. If you are sick do not come to the appointment. Instead ring me before the appointment time and we can have the session over telephone or video conferencing.

. There will be no handshaking or getting closer than the advised 1.5 metre social distancing gap. I will be using Namaste as a greeting and goodbye instead.

. I will not be using the sand tray due to the difficulty of sanitising between clients. Instead the symbols will be used on an alternative surface. All symbols, including ones that are touched but not used, will be sanitised after the end of each session.

. I ask all clients to be open and honest in communicating about the following risks:

  • Any travel overseas or interstate since 1 January 2020
  • Any flu or cold like symptoms that are currently being experienced
  • You have been instructed to self isolate or self quarantine.
  • You have had contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Thank you for your understanding and patience during this time. I will continue to update you as changes happen and if further changes to sessions occur. Please feel free to contact me to discuss this further and let me know what your preference moving forward would be.

With Gratitude

Nan Cameron

0409396608

Explaining our danger response

I have previously discussed the fawn response in a blog, but I want to go back and explain in more detail the five stages of the danger response. Our brains have a large number of danger responses. The responses activate different parts of our nervous system and have different effects on our ability to cope with a perceived threat.

I will start at the top of the brain. This response is referred to by many names. It is often called the mammalian response because it is part of the higher order functions of the brain that are only seen in mammals. It is also referred to as the ventral vagus response because the ventral portion of the vagus nerve, which is the last cranial nerve, is the nerve activated in this response. This is also referred to as the Safe and Social response.

When a person faces a threat the first thing their brain considers is “Can I protect myself through authentic connection with others?”. If the answer is yes, the person will seek out others for support. They may look around for a look or word of reassurance from another person. They may cry, which will bring another person to them for support. They may seek another person out for a hug.

If the person’s brain decides they cannot protect themselves through authentic connection with another person, it will move to the next response. In this response a part of the nervous system known as the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This response is most commonly referred to as the flight response.

In this response the brain considers “Can I protect myself from this threat by running away? If the answer is yes, the person will run away from the threat. They will actually leave, either by running away or making an excuse to leave.

If the person’s brain decides they cannot protect themselves by running it may ask the question “Can I protect myself from this threat by being assertive and addressing the threat head on, or by more stringent means?” If the answer is yes, the person will stay and try to defend themselves. This may look like them being calm and assertive (not necessarily that calm inside!) or, if assertiveness is not working, it may look like the person being angry and possibly using physical actions to defend themselves. This response is known as the fight response.

If the response of the brain is that it is not possible to protect the person by staying and fighting it will move to the next response. Here the brain is beginning to activate the dorsal part of the vagus nerve. The response is known as the fawn response and the brain consideration is “Can I protect myself by suppressing my true self?” If the answer is yes, the person will try to placate the other person. They may go along with whatever the other person is saying. They may be apologetic. They may be totally submissive to the other person.

If the person’s brain decides the fawn response will not protect them the dorsal vagus nerve will swing into full activation and they will enter the freeze response. The question the brain has answered here is “Can I protect myself by shutting down, disconnecting or collapsing?” The person affected by the freeze response may collapse, they may remain upright by become totally unresponsive, they may appear to be far away and not respond to anything that is said to them. When a person disconnects they actually dissociate. In short, their mind goes somewhere else. This is very common with abused children. They are rarely able to escape the abusive adult and will disconnect. We all have the capacity to dissociate, some more than others. We may even find we do this in adulthood.

With the exception of the Mammalian or safe and social danger response, the danger responses are actions of the brain that is outside conscious control. Once into the Sympathetic and dorsal vagal activation you cannot control what you are doing. That can be scary for you and hard for other people observing. You may feel you are a bad person for reacting that way but you don’t choose that reaction. Nor can you control it. You may find other people being judgemental because they do not understand this reaction is not your choice. This lack of control is sometimes known as “flipping your lid”.

It is possible to bring things under control. When I work with people who have suffered trauma we address ways to manage these reactions and I teach people how to understand triggers and signs that these reactions are about to happen.

We do not have to be slaves to our danger responses. We can learn to manage them and heal.

Ball of grief, a tangled mass of emotions

Close your eyes.

Imagine you are in Europe.

It is autumn and you are walking through a woodland. As you walk you look down and notice there are leaves on the ground. These leaves are different to the leaves you usually see. These leaves have feelings. As you look at them you can see some are sad. Others are angry. There are also ones that are guilty, lonely, and so on. The leaves are all different colours.

Now imagine you are walking through the leaves. As you walk through them, they swirl in the air. You can see the leaves and their feelings. As you look you notice one that feels right for you to hold. Pick it up. There may be more than one leaf you want to hold. That is okay.

Now look at the leaves.

Which feelings did you pick up?

What do they tell you about what you are feeling right now?

What colour is each leaf and what are their feelings?

What do you want to do with this leaf/these leaves?

Now open your eyes.

This is an exercise I often use with people in grief and loss groups I run.

The feelings people report are not surprisingly a multitude of diverse feelings. But they are not that unique. Most people report the same feelings.

The feelings my participants have listed are:

loss, sadness, anxiety, confusion, panic, dismay, sorrow, apathy, anguish, rage, disappointment, emptiness, despair, yearning, resentment, inadequacy, fear, pain, relief, abandonment, woe, regret, guilt, rejection, bitterness, envy, anger, jealousy, loneliness, betrayal, helplessness, vindictiveness, depression, dread, hurt, distrust, and denial.

There are many more, but these are the ones the participants in my groups have listed.

Some words come up at high frequency. Interestingly the highest frequency words are loss, fear, pain, woe and rage.

Many people describe these feelings as a tangled ball of grief, with the feelings tangled into and around each other.

I use this exercise to allow people the opportunity to understand that they are not mad. The jumble of emotions they are feelings are common to most people who are grieving. It allows them to understand it is okay to feel these diverse feelings.

Many people feel bad if they are angry, resentful or feel betrayed. But these feelings are ones that most people experience. When loss happens, it shatters a person’s world and the sense of safety and security in that world. This happens with any type of loss, not just the death of a loved one. It is not surprising there are jumbled, tangled, diverse emotions. If you find yourself in a place of loss where you are surrounded by the jumble of emotions be kind to yourself. Be as compassionate to yourself as you would be to a friend in that situation. Allow yourself to lock yourself away and not talk to people if you need to. Just make sure you don’t lock yourself away for too long. Allow yourself to take time out. This is particularly important at the funeral. You are not there to be the queen of hospitality and attend to everyone else’s needs. You are grieving. Give yourself permission to not be there for others. Walk away from the throng to give yourself some space if you need to. In the weeks and months to follow and on the anniversaries, allow yourself the bad days when you just want to shut the door on the world. But remember to allow yourself the good days when you actually feel happy. It is not a betrayal of your loved one to feel happiness.

The biggest message for your grief and loss journey is that you will feel an incredible diversity of emotions, often within a short period of time. You will most likely find it hard to think and make decisions. You will think you are going mad. But you are not. Be compassionate and allow yourself time and space to fall apart, rage, cry, laugh, be frightened. It takes time to rebuild that shattered world.

COVID 19 fears

I am writing today about the reaction of people to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many this is a very stressful time. There are many whose mental health and wellbeing is being affected by the development of this pandemic.
There are those who fall into the category of highest risk for a severe, even deadly, infection. They have good cause to fear the infection.
There are those who have a loved one who is in the highest risk for a severe, even deadly, infection. They have good cause to fear the infection being caught by their loved one.
One such person is Amy, who is half way through her current course of chemotherapy for cancer. She has worked really hard over the past year to heal herself from cancer. The cancer is showing signs of retreating and she feels she is finally reaching a stage where she can believe she is going to survive this. Now there is an infection that could prove fatal if she catches it. She is worried and so are her doctors. Her oncologist has advised her to wear a face mask and goggles if she is out in public. For her this is a scary time. It has now become scarier due to the reactions of other people she encounters when she is out. Many people mock her for her “overreaction” but her precautions are appropriate for someone in her situation. She is frightened and finding herself overcome by anxiety and becoming frightened of leaving the house. She is managing this by seeing me. She has decided she needs to control her anxiety, because it is affecting her immune system. She feels safe in my rooms because I take the recommended precautions to maintain a high standard of hygiene in my rooms and wash my hands thoroughly between clients. I also monitor the people who come to my rooms. Of course, should Amy feel the need, she can have a session via video link as well.
Jody and Brad have also come to see me. For two years their 5 year old has endured many treatments for cancer. They have found the rollercoaster ride of health crises and set backs devastating. Their child is severely immunocompromised as a result of the treatments received. They have nearly lost their child 5 times and fear the very real threat of COVID-19. They are also taking precautions to protect their child. Brad is working from home and isolating himself in the house. Jody’s job involved interactions with members of the public and she is, at the advice of her child’s specialist, wearing a face mask and goggles. She gets funny looks from people, but most people have been understanding. She however is terrified she will get the infection and may pass it on to her child. She has already been severely traumatised by the last two years of her child’s illness. She and Brad have been seeing me through videolink to help them cope with the added stress.
Then there are those who find the presence of an infection they fear may be deadly causes them to face their fear of death.
Those who are not frightened often find those who are afraid, particularly those who stockpile food and hygiene items, are funny, or annoying, or inferior.
Certainly it is annoying when you run out of essential supplies because frightened people are hoarding things they don’t need to hoard. But compassion is essential here. Yes, the media is reporting every sensational twist in great detail and frightening people. Yes, the politicians are holding a lot of press conferences on the importance of taking this seriously. Some of what they say is important, and some is just political. It is very hard to know what to think when faced with information overload. You only have to look at your own facebook feed to see how obsessed people are with COVID-19.
We all have to die, but most of us learn to put that thought aside and get on with life. Some are better at this than others. A pandemic which possibly may result in death is something that can cause those whose fear of death is less well put aside to become very fearful. That fear is genuine. We will all die some day. For most of us, it will probably not be due to a COVID-19 infection. But the fact remains we will all die some day. For those who find that thought leads to deep fear counselling can help.
When we encounter a frightened person, we do not know the reasons behind their fear. They may be a cancer sufferer nearing the end of chemotherapy and extremely vulnerable to infections. They may be a parent whose child is very ill and has a weakened immune system. They may be frightened at the possibility of dying.
We don’t know what story lies behind another person’s reaction to this virus. This is where compassion is essential. Instead of mocking the other person, show them understanding. Don’t rush to judge, you don’t know why they are so concerned.

Who am I?

When change happens in our lives, our concept of who we are changes too. It is not as obvious when the change is something we find pleasurable. But when the change is less positive, or more challenging, then it is more obvious.

When I returned to live in Australia, after eight years living in another culture, it was challenging. Initially I was excited. I have moved to a new area and there was much to see and do. That honeymoon period is well known. Even when bad things have happened, we can have a honeymoon period of sorts. If you talk to people who have lost their homes in a bushfire, they will tell you they are happy to be alive. They will be buoyed by this knowledge. But come back later and it will be a different story.

After the novelty of the new or the relief at surviving is over, reality sets in. That is when we it becomes obvious that who we are has changed. The change may be subtle. We may not even be aware of it. But most people will find themselves feeling lost, unsure how to respond to things. They may feel unstable, constantly changing their reactions to things. They may just feel they don’t know what to do. They may feel life has a meaning that is not compatible with them anymore.

The problem can be exacerbated by those close to us changing in a different direction. Relationships may need to be renegotiated, adding to the burden of change.

When I came back to Australia the person I was, was not the person I had been when I last lived in Australia. Nor was Australia the same Australia I had lived in all my life. The meaning I had for my life and the understanding of who I was, was gone. I was living in a country that was familiar and not familiar. The people I encountered were not interested in who I was. The things that mattered when I lived in another country did not matter any more. I did not matter any more. It was a very difficult time.

It took me years to renegotiate with myself and learn who I was now. I now understand the impact even seemingly minor changes can make to our concept of who we are. Changing jobs, moving to a new area, ending a relationship, losing a loved one, having a body organ removed, losing a limb, a cancer diagnosis – these are all changes, some minor, some major. All will involve a renegotiation with self to learn who am I now?

It can be helpful to see a counsellor to assist in this renegotiation.

It can be helpful to know you are not mad and someone has your back.

Grief and Loss isn’t just about the death of someone you love.

Virtually every aspect of our lives involves loss of some kind. And there will be varying degrees of grief associated with that loss.

I have had many clients come to see me about their loss and tell me they don’t have the right to grieve because someone they know is doing it so much harder with their type of loss. My answer is always to say that their grief is genuine and needs to be addressed. They have a right to grieve.

Loss can be the loss of a precious object.

It can involve burglary.

It can be losing your house.

It can be moving to a new area or country.

It can be losing a job.

It can involve losing a body part, or losing the use of a body part.

It can be the end of a relationship.

It can be any number of things.

Whatever matters to you that you no longer have is a loss.

The pain around those losses is genuine and you have the right to be upset about it.

You may also need to talk to a counsellor about your loss and its impact on you.

Never be afraid to ask for help.

The Fawn defence response

When we feel stress in our bodies, our bodies react as thought we are in danger. This is where the stress response, when not based on actual physical threat, can be dangerous. It unleashes mechanisms designed to get us physically away from danger but does not give us the ability to actually get away from a danger that is not necessarily physical. Our bodies cannot distinguish a physical threat to our life from an event that causes us stress. So we react with body responses that are designed to get us away from danger. For most of us, we don’t recognise stress as causing that danger response, therefore we don’t take measures to attend to the response and allow our bodies to return to normal. The impact is harm to our bodies through not being able to complete our defensive responses properly and a lowered ability to cope with life events.

There is a lot written about the different mechanisms we have for reacting to a stressful event. The first two are the best known. Flight or fight. Less well known is the freeze response, where we just remain on the spot and are unable to do anything. A more recently identified as a defence response is the fawn response. This is where we respond to the stress by trying to please the other person.

It is the fawn response that I am talking about today.

This response has often been described as people pleasing. It is where a person changes their behaviour to not cause offence to others. People pleasing has been known about for a long time, but it is only just being accepted as a danger response.

This response involves:

Worrying about saying the wrong thing,

Worrying about annoying another person,

Worrying about not being liked by other people.

These worries often lead to a person behaving in a way that encourages others to like them. If the person feels they have said the wrong thing, they may continually talk about what they think they said wrong, or talk about the opposite of what they said, or seek contact with the other person as reassurance they will not be rejected.

If the person is worried about annoying the other person, they may also seek contact with the person and seek to say and do things they think the other person will approve of. Again, they are seeking reassurance they will not be rejected.

If the person is worried about not being liked they may again seek to behave in ways they think the other person will approve of. They may say or do things they think the other person will like. They may try to do things for the other person. They may agree with things the other person says and does, even if they are contrary to the individual’s values. It is all about needing the reassurance of not being rejected.

This response is grounded in childhood. A child needs to be accepted by its carers in order to survive. The child who is rejected by its carers and not cared for will die. This is how we are programmed and the basis of a child’s attachment to its parents. It is about survival. Human babies are dependent on their parents for survival so a child will do many things to ensure its survival.

This behaviour can be very annoying to other people and can actually lead to the person being rejected as they feared. It can also lead to the person being taken advantage of by the other person. All these responses by the other person are unpleasant and frightening for the person. This behaviour can cause a lot of fear, shame, rejection and upset for the person.

It is difficult, but not impossible, for a person to unlearn this behaviour. The first thing they need to do is to understand where the behaviour has come from and heal that. This is not an instant thing. It can take time. There are many ways a counsellor can work with someone to help them learn to not see possible rejection as a threat to the adult. As a trauma trained counsellor, I have many different approaches that I use to help my clients learn more helpful responses to life events. If you would like assistance, you can make a face to face or skype appointment with me by contacting me on 0409306608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au.

Why is it taking so long?

One issue that comes up fairly often for people who have lost their partner is the loneliness and how it can still be present so long after the death of their partner.

For many people who express this as an issue, there is a reason. For many, their partner died when their children were still living at home and the loneliness did not hit until the children left home. For others, financial considerations often lead to them sharing a house with other people. Then some day finances allow them to be on their own.

For all these people loneliness hits when the people they have been living in a house with have gone.

What happens for them is the usual impact of the empty nest combined with the grief over the loss of their partner. The combination of the two events: a twist of loss; and the exit from the house of other people. Suddenly a grief that they may have felt they were adjusted to is back.

The reality is every change in life is going to have the twist of loss added to it. What for many is a normal moving on of family members becomes another reminder of the loss of partner. Everything in life has that impact. Be it moving house, retiring, living on your own. All will need the normal adjustment plus the adjustment of grief.

It is not easy to feel this loneliness. There is no shortcut to take away the pain. Talking about it can help. What ultimately will lead the way forward is an acknowledgement of the pain. “Ouch this hurts”. And giving permission to feel the pain. In time, just as with every other aspect of this grief, you will learn how to fit it into your life.

It can be helpful to talk to a counsellor about it. Sometimes sharing with someone who is less caught up in the grief can be helpful. But remember. There is no magic wand. The pain of loss hurts.

Does change need to happen?

For many people with trauma histories, change is difficult. And that is understandable. Changing those thoughts and protective behaviours feels essential but also on a deeper level, like a betrayal.
Letting go of protective behaviours can leave you vulnerable to those trauma’s repeating themselves.
Letting go of anger at the perpetrator can feel like approving of their behaviour.
There are many more thoughts and protective behaviours that are hard to let go of.
So often in therapy, a trauma survivor is asked to give up those behaviours and thoughts. But that isn’t what I do. I work with people to identify all the thoughts and behaviours and understand their purpose. Then the person I am working with identifies how much of that thought or behaviour they want to change and we work on that.
It is always important to remember that the things we think and the ways we protect ourselves are not defective. They have been important tools in our survival thus far. Sometimes those tools need repurposing to allow us to move forward in life.
Here’s to a successful repurposing.

Accepting your loss

One of the most difficult things people report feeling about the loss of someone is living with what life is like now. What is difficult to accept is the present.

The present without that person you love.

The present on your own.

The present with changed dynamics in your social networks. This is particularly noticeable when you love your partner. How do you do the single person amongst the couples? It can happen when you have lost a child as well, particularly if your social networks are families and you are the one with the missing child.

One thing I encourage people who are dealing with loss – whether it is the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the loss of home or job or country, the loss of a limb and so on – is to acknowledge what has happened.

Acknowledging is not going to make things instantly better. But it is important to do. Even when the thing that has ended is something you wanted, there is still loss and it is still important to honour what was and is no more.

Without that step of acknowledgement and honouring the loss, it is virtually impossible to move on.

Acknowledging helps to deal with any guilt you may be feeling. It helps to deal with any anger you feel. It helps to feel with confusion, devastation, loneliness and the myriad issues loss bring up for you to deal with.

Without acknowledgement of the loss many issues cannot be acknowledged either. When those issues cannot be acknowledged they cannot be dealt with and healed. Without healing those things continue to eat away at you, keeping you trapped in a cycle of grieving and never able to move forward.

It is frightening to admit many of those feelings. But acknowledging the loss and acknowledging those feelings is important. It is not dishonouring what is lost. Rather it is honouring you and your path forward in life.

No loss is without regret, pain and a multitude of emotions.

Allow yourself to acknowledge them and move forward. It is often best to acknowledge these emotions with an impartial witness. This is where I can help you. I can witness what you need to share with compassion and acceptance. And I can help you to understand how usual many of your feelings are. I can help you to acknowledge and let go of feelings that don’t belong in your journey and hold on to what is important around your loss.