It's not the January Blues - it's Life
I’m having one of those down days. Some people might call in ‘January Blues’, but I’m calling it ‘life’. And, this is not about depression - I’m not depressed. I’m just generally feeling a bit fed up, a bit low, a bit like ‘I can’t be bovvered’, and there really is no particularly dramatic reason why.
Often I hear from clients and friends about the guilt that they feel when they experience these feelings; that they shouldn’t be sad because they know someone who really has got a whole load of crap going on, or they should stop feeling down because they have so much to be grateful / thankful for. But, this is just not true. It doesn’t matter if someone has a worse life than you, and it doesn’t matter what you have to feel grateful for, you are ALLOWED to feel unhappy, to feel sad, to feel down - it’s normal. Just as the blue skies have grey, the day has night, summer has winter, so happy has sad.
The truth is I think that we have all been brain washed that we should be happy all of the time. I remember when I was in my early 30’s my best friends mother saying to us, ‘The trouble is with you lot is that you expect to be happy all of the time!’ She was right. We did, we often still do - but it is just not normal to be happy all the time, and we shouldn’t feel like failures when we are not. And, while the intention behind the idea that we should think about all the things we should be grateful for in our lives is good, do you not think that sometimes all this does is just add another layer of unnecessary guilt to an already crappy day? Again I want to reiterate that I am not talking about depression here, I’m just talking about feel a bit sorry and sad for ourselves for a few days every now and then.
I believe that having a crappy day, a crappy week, a crappy month, is okay. Sometimes that’s just how life is, and all you can do, and all you need to do, is to roll with it until the clouds lift, because you generally know that they will. So next time you feel guilty about about feeling low, for whatever reason (or no reason at all which sometimes happens), then stop. Don’t feel guilty, accept it, be kind to yourself, and maybe consider spending a bit of time just wallowing in the sadness, safe in the knowledge that you are not alone and that, more importantly, you are normal.
How death confirmed my life as a complementary therapist
Dissections have been used for centuries to enhance our anatomical understanding of the human body, to help medical science in its endeavours to reduce pain and discomfort, and in forensic science to help determine the cause of death. Earlier this week I was lucky enough to be shown and talked through a prosection at Guy’s Campus, part of Kings College London. A prosection is where a professional anatomist has already dissected a cadaver, and this is then used as a learning aid for anatomy students. For therapists like me, the opportunity to see a prosection was a learning opportunity that I couldn’t afford to miss, and was a chance to see and touch those structures that I regularly feel beneath the skin of my clients during treatments.
To be completely truthful, I was slightly apprehensive about seeing my first dead body, but within about 10 minutes my brain seemed to adjust reasonably well to the sights, sounds, and smells of a busy dissection room. What I did feel, which surprised me, was star struck. I felt like a kid getting to see their favourite pop star, but this time it wasn’t David Bowie, it was the piriformis, which is not as big as you think; it was the psoas, the sartorius, the adductor longus, the sciatic nerve, the femoral artery, and for the Bowen therapists amongst you, it was the vastus lateralis.
What also amazed me was that despite the connective tissue (fascia) being removed, how clearly each and every structure was connected to, and formed part of, what was around it. Whether it was muscle, bone, tendon, ligament, nerve, artery or vein. Even our anatomist, who jokingly referred to our work as therapists as ‘practising the Dark Arts’, said that the names given to structures were just labels, and that in reality, everything in the body was continuous; there were no abrupt stops or clear dividing lines between structures, other than those made by the scalpel .
The short time I got to spend exploring the bodies of my donors was one I will never forget. Not only did I come away with an increased anatomical awareness, but it also confirmed what I believe about the human body - that there is no beginning or end to any of it. This is why I am a complementary therapist. I passionately believe in treating holistically, that is, treating the whole person and not just their symptoms and conditions; getting to the root cause of any health and well-being issues. This also means that any improvement experienced is more likely to be long-term, if not permanent. To me, just treating someones symptoms is a bit like using a sticking plaster...it covers up the problem for a little while until it falls off, and then you have to apply a new one.
So, the next time your shoulder hurts have a real think about what it is you are calling your shoulder - is it just the shoulder joint or does it include your scapula, and if so what about the bit in the middle? Or is that your spine and your back? And if it does include your scapula, then what about the latissimus dorsi, which as well as attaching to the scapula also attaches to your humerus bone, your ribs and your hips? And that is just for starters.
My point is this, when you are experiencing pain and discomfort don’t just focus on that ‘area’. Think about your whole body and how everything is connected - what might have happened elsewhere in your body, either recently or in the past, whether physical or emotional that could be affecting that shoulder? And finally, do something about that pain or discomfort - after all “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” .
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The people who donate their bodies to medical science are amazing, and it was a real privilege and honour to work with them. They get no financial gain, no pat on the back, no individual hand shake from the person who has learnt something, and they receive no benefit from any development in medicine or a new understanding of the human body. It is, truly, an altruistic act. We, on the other hand, get all the benefits and reap all of the rewards. For more information about human body donation, please follow this link to The Guardian newspaper who have written a series of interesting and informative articles over the years.
Image: Leonardo da Vinci: the muscles and tendons of the foot (detail), 1510-11 (The Royal Collection)
 Our anatomist, in absolute fairness to him, was brilliant and completely non-judgemental about our work as therapists.
 Old Buddhist saying attributed to Haruki Murakami
Imposter Syndrome: The Fear of Getting Found Out
Do you feel that one day you are going to receive official notification that you’ve been found out, that you are not at all qualified or suitable to do the job that you’re doing and that you should cease immediately? If this sounds like you then you are probably experiencing Imposter Syndrome.
It’s estimated that around 70-80% of adults experience imposter syndrome, a condition where “people have difficulty owning their accomplishments and dismiss them to factors outside of themselves such as luck, help from others, or an ‘If I can do it, anybody can’ attitude.” . The impact of feeling like this can be debilitating - and I know because I experience it regularly. You worry, you get anxious, you beat yourself up, basically thinking you are crap and not good enough, ultimately spending too much time pooing your pants waiting for that moment when you are finally found out.
Imposter syndrome can affect anyone – your age, sex, job, ethnic origin, level of health and well-being and so on are all largely irrelevant. The ‘blame’ has been laid at the feet of our parents and Western Society; too much praise, not enough praise, demands for perfection, and success and achievement linked to stereotypical masculine qualities. In addition it’s important to realise that we view ourselves internally and others externally. We know our thoughts but we can’t see inside to other peoples thoughts, their worries, their insecurities. As a result we assume that because they look it they must be happy, confident and without a care in the world. The truth is that just like us they are probably cringing inside thinking ‘if only they knew what a fraudster I am.’ When you look at it like this it a wonder why the experience rate is not nearer to 100%!
So how do you overcome it? Dr Valerie Young, an internationally-recognised expert on imposter syndrome used to provide clients with 10 steps to work on, but she now precedes this with just one key piece of advice:
Changing how we think takes time and it takes practice, but it is possible because science has proven that that new neurological connections can be made and new habits can be formed, changing the way the way we think - permanently. Combined with cutting ourselves some slack, just ‘going for it’, and using some visualisations to see ourselves as successful AND deserving of that success, re-framing our thoughts can help us take positive and lasting steps towards feeling that we deserve our accomplishments, that we are not imposters and that, actually, we are really rather good at what we do.
1. Dr V. Young in Breathe, Issue 11, page 7, Guild of Master Craftsmen Publications Ltd.
Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash
About Dr Valerie Young:
Dr Valerie Young is an internationally recognized expert on Impostor Syndrome. She has delivered her often humorous and highly practical approach to overcoming impostor feelings at such diverse organizations as Boeing, Facebook, BP, Intel, Chrysler, Apple, Bristol Meyers-Squibb, McDonald’s, Emerson, IBM, Merck, Ernst & Young, Procter & Gamble, Motley Fool, Raymond James, Space Telescope Science Institute, American Women in Radio and Television, Society of Women Engineers, Women in Trucking, Lung Cancer Partnership, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and many more.
Her career-related advice has been cited in popular and business outlets around the world including BBC radio, Yahoo Financial News, CNN Money, Wall Street Journal, USA Weekend, O magazine, Entrepreneur, Science, Elle, Redbook, Woman’s Day, and The Chicago Tribune, The Sydney Morning Herald.
And her award-winning book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive In Spite of It (Crown/Random House) is now available in five languages.
DID YOU KNOW THERE ARE NO PAIN RECEPTORS IN THE BRAIN?
No? Nor did I until I attended a talk last week on Pain by Julian Baker, Head of the College of Bowen Studies and a Functional Anatomist. Not only that, but science (and common sense) has proved that pain isn’t actually a good indicator of damage. So how and why do we feel pain, and what does this all mean for complementary therapy treatments like Bowen and Reflexology?
The pain we experience is actually created after the brain has translated a series of sensory signals, inputs if you like. Let’s take a paper cut as an example - I can already see you wincing. We see the piece of paper next to our skin, we feel the change in texture as the paper edge slides across our skin, we see the blood, our brain takes those sensory inputs and then outputs a pain signal. Contrast this against getting ready for a shower after an afternoon clearing the garden, noticing dried blood on our leg and realising we must have scratched ourselves. It’s only when we see the blood that our brain might alert us to the damage with a stinging session, a stinging session we did not feel at the time the damage occurred.
Sometimes the pain signals we receive are a signal that there is damage in that area, but this is not always the case. If you think about it right now, can you feel your little finger? Your shoulder? Your tummy? Yes - you have a really good sense of them and ‘how’ they feel. But now try and think about your liver. Can you feel where it is in your body, can you feel it’s movement as it filters blood and secretes bile? No. So if there is something wrong with your liver, how is the body going to make you feel it if you can’t feel it? Simple. It will send the pain signal to somewhere you can feel it - often to your abdomen or your right shoulder. This is called ‘referred pain’. Another example is the impact of long-term stress. Where do you feel it - often as acute or chronic pain in one or more areas of the body.
Back pain is a great example of how sometimes the pain signals we receive are not an indicator of actual damage. How many times have you heard people mention their back pain in the same breath as they mention their bulging disc? Scientific research has demonstrated time and time again that there is no direct or reliable correlation between bulging discs and back pain. In one study , and there have been many, 100 people who had never had any back pain were given an MRI. Of those only 50 had a bulging disc, yet they had no pain and 20 of those were severe cases. So why do people who have bulging discs attribute the cause of their back pain to their bulging disc? Because we have, over the years, incorporated into our belief system that a bulging disc means that we will experience pain; and when we believe it, when we adjust our behaviour and our thought patterns to expect it, our brain responds to those signals and delivers exactly what we are asking for.
This doesn’t mean to say that pain is only in our head. Far from it. The pain that each of us feels, whether physical or emotional, is very real and very personal. All it does mean is that we have to be careful in how we translate pain when it comes to treating someone ‘in pain’. As therapists we view pain as a symptom, a signal that something is not quite right somewhere in the body, so we treat the whole body in order to get to the root cause of that symptom - not just the symptom itself. Underpinning this is our belief that we are not attempting to diagnose or cure, but to provide the body with the right signals and the right space to enable it to work out what is going on and make the necessary changes for itself.
This is why I believe that complementary therapies like Bowen and Reflexology are often so successful in supporting those in pain where conventional treatment pathways haven’t always been able to. We work on creating the right place, the right time and the right conditions; a safe environment where people are able to vocalise their pain as well as receiving a gentle treatment. Allowing the body to feel safe and relaxed, providing the space for it to work out what is going on and make the necessary changes itself. In the case of Bowen pauses are even incorporated into the treatment for precisely this reason.
Of course there is no hard scientific evidence for any of this. But given that we know the body is able to heal a paper cut, a bruise, to fuse broken bones together, surely it is biologically plausible to assume that it can do a lot more than that? That given the space to realise that there is no actual damage to a frozen shoulder, there is then no reason to protect it so it can reduce the inflammation that’s causing the stiffness and pain? That given the space to work out for itself what isn’t working properly in the body it might be able to put it right? And just like that healed bruise, those fused bones, surely it follows that the changes the body chooses to make can take place not only quickly, but can be long-term, or even permanent?
It’s an intriguing thought and one that I suspect will eventually be proven. But, in the meantime if you would like more information about how a complementary therapy treatment like Bowen or Reflexology might be able to provide your body with the right conditions it needs to support your health and well-being, then please contact me at [email protected] or on 07715213392. You can also follow me on Instagram @sarahwoodhousetherapy.
With thanks to Julian Baker
 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279472/ - this is just one citation, many more can be found online!