It may seem these two disparate concepts are hardly related, but they often go hand in hand.
Many of us are labelled at birth by our parents, as the ‘clever’ one or the ‘creative’ one or even the ‘hopeless’ child, which is merely based on how they want us to live their lives.
I had a phone call last year from a close friend, distraught after her elderly Mother had thrown out some of her favourite clothes and childhood possessions. Marianne had recently moved back in to look after her since her Mother’s physical and mental health had deteriorated, but had taken a short break away from the daily grind of being a constant carer.
On her return she had found her wardrobe and chest of drawers invaded, with half of the contents given away to charity. My friend who already suffers from anxiety and self-doubt, was thrown into a major frenzy – and it took her several days to return to any sort of normality, blaming herself for abandoning her Mother.
This was however, the turning point for Marianne, who realised after several months of counselling that it was in fact her Mother’s way of getting Marianne to carry the rage and anxiety she had been feeling herself prior to her outburst.
Added to this Marianne had always been told that out of all of her siblings, she was the one who was the major disappointment, and would never make anything of her life. On the contrary, she has been a high achiever, even more so than her two sisters, but who constantly seeks her Mother’s approval, which is never recognised in spite of her major accolades in her successful career in the City.
How many times do you hear in a marriage or relationship breakup, that the man or woman has to leave because his partner is ‘crazy’. This always sits uncomfortably with me, because you can bet that they will go on to meet someone else and evoke the same pattern of behaviour in their new relationship.
Therapists and psycho analysts call this ‘projection’ as they are in fact again getting their partners to carry their anxiety or feelings of hopelessness so that they don’t have to.
If this is hard to digest, let me give you a very simple example of how it works and how toxic this type of ‘projection’ can be. A close friend who is also an exceptional therapist had a new client several years ago who was suffering from depression, so badly that he wanted to end his life. My therapist friend David spent the entire session baffled by his account of what had happened since his wife’s departure, and at the end of the session told her he felt he was carrying his partner’s feelings of desperation. He left feeling a lot happier.
Two hours later his estranged wife called him saying she was feeling suicidal and wanted to give the relationship another go! He thankfully declined, and as far as I know, has remained anxiety free ever since.
I hope this may be helpful to those of you who are suffering with anxiety and depression, because if you look closely, you may find some of it may not even be yours to carry.
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Fear. Possibly the most debilitating feeling and the biggest barrier to freedom. I have felt a sense of fear for most of my adult life. As a child, I was fearless and would try anything. Yet, over time, that feeling gradually became erased and a new mindset became embedded within my thinking. Safety and security became central to my life. I went to university, trained to be a teacher, and was successful in my work. I had a regular wage, a brilliant career, a pension (very important), and the knowledge that I could pay my bills and my mortgage. This was safe and I knew that, as long as I was safe, I was ok. Was I happy? I thought so. I had everything that society dictated I should. I was everything society said I should be. Well, almost: that’s another story. Importantly, I was financially secure and independent. All good.
Two years ago, the pandemic hit, and something in me changed. Suddenly, I was not ok. Suddenly, I didn’t recognise myself. I felt a fear that I had never felt before; a terror. Everything I knew and understood was threatened. This terror was to become a turning point in my life; the beginning of an exciting journey.
At the time, it was far from exciting. Like millions of others, I was thrown into turmoil; so many unknowns, so many questions, so many fears. Fear. That word again. For 20 years, I had been living with the same mindset, a mindset that was debilitating and restrictive. A mindset that I didn’t even realise I had. I was fortunate in that destiny had plans for me and brought the most extraordinary, perceptive and truly wonderful friend into my life. A person who was so much like me in many ways yet, at the same time, the complete opposite of who I was, or who I thought I was. This was a person who was to unlock the closed door in my head and show me that there is a whole world out there. Freedom.
Deep inside myself, I always dreamt of something else. I didn’t know what that was but I longed for something different. As a teacher, I had become institutionalised. I loved my job but I had become defined by it. The person I had become was a construct; a product of other people’s expectations and conditions of worth. During my teaching career, I had developed another passion. A passion for supporting other people, listening, helping, supporting and guiding.
I then considered leaving my present job, but then the doubt set in. Of course I had to stay with my job. It was secure, it was permanent, it was safe. It was me. The thoughts in my head repeated this unrelentingly. Plus, I might fail. Leaving my job was too big a risk and it was all I knew. I did not believe that I could exist out of the teaching profession. I had reached a point where I had lost any concept of who I really was and could not see past the classroom teacher. Destiny once again stepped in and brought the most incredible people into my life. People who saw the world in a different way and helped me to recognise something special within myself. I realised that I was being held back by fear and it was controlling me completely. Fear of failure. I was its prisoner. What would I do if I left my job? Who would I be? Would I survive?
I took the leap and believed.
Three months later, I am in the most wonderful place. I have learnt so much. Most importantly, I have learnt the importance and value of taking risks. I am working as a freelance tutor which I love, and have made some wonderful new friends along the way. I am also studying to be a counsellor, I love my course and I am successful. I have control and autonomy over my life and my choices. I am discovering who I am – not someone new but the person I really am; the person deep inside my soul was lost a long time ago. She still there and I’m connecting with her. I’m loving getting to know her – she’s amazing! She’s intelligent, kind, brave, caring, capable, courageous, confident, self-assured. People like her a lot because she’s good to be with. More importantly, she’s learning to like herself. She’s on a journey and it’s a lot of fun. She smiles a lot. She is happy. This is who I am.
I have learnt the value of positive energy. I have learnt that I have something to give, I have something valuable to offer; I am going to do it. For many years I was a prisoner within my own mind. I was afraid to take a risk because my self-worth had become defined by others. Changing that mindset and taking a leap of faith changed my life and I would never go back to where I was. Making the jump was scary; it was brave but it was right. In doing so, I have not just brought something to myself but I am able to give to other people. That means everything. All because I took a risk; a leap of faith.
As we enjoy copious amounts of food and wine over the festive season, and generally push the boat out and abandon ship where our diets are concerned, let us spare a moment to think about those less fortunate, whose only hope of a Happy Christmas is the generosity of a friend, neighbour or complete stranger.
Friends of mine who are very well off spent half of last Christmas day serving food to the homeless at their local Shelter, and said it was one of the best festive holidays they could remember. You don’t have to turn up in person to help, just donate what you can to the Charity as the money will go straight to a counsellor or family and could turn around a life in a heartbeat. If you go onto the Shelter website, there are numerous cases of how lives have been destroyed, often by unseen circumstances, but can be turned around by our own contributions and good will.
I have recently been aware of the food banks in my local supermarkets and am pleasantly surprised at the amount of food and gifts that generous shoppers have donated, but it isn’t enough – we could all be doing more. Perhaps like me in recent years, you have been so hell bent on a perfect family Christmas, you have forgotten to consider how others are suffering with little or no hope of any sort of celebration at all. Guilty as charged, but it is not too late to change.
I am not saying we should all take ourselves down to the local food bank, but remember what Meghan Markle used to do in LA with the leftover food from a film shoot – which was quite a pioneering gesture at the time. She even extended it to helping to support victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy by cooking with its charity members in their multi-cultural kitchen.
We all know that Princes William and Harry have carried on Princess Diana, their mother’s legacy, of supporting the homeless, and are regular visitors at Centrepoint in London.
It doesn’t even have to be someone who has lost their home, It could be an elderly neighbour who is too proud to tell you they will be lonely, or someone suffering from depression who could benefit from even a phone call, let us all give one minute of our time. So never mind Brexit or our own economy, the world would be richer and a far better place if we just paused for a moment amidst all the mayhem, and considered how we could help improve someone’s life this festive season and extend it well into 2022.