Whether we are thinking through a lunch menu or pondering the big questions, if we are honest within ourselves, reflecting on how we feel as we reason in the moment, then we can be confident in our thinking… I think.

Here is where head and hearts can align or, we can notice that they are askew or even in conflict. It is in this perception of self-awareness that we grow and refine our thinking. Our feelings are the compass that gives direction to our thoughts. However, its is important to understand that our feelings are not necessarily ‘truth’ indicators or any ‘correct’ direction, rather they are honest reflections of ourselves (our composite life experiences and impressions of the world) and through this head-heart process of self-reflection, we can examine our feelings, our emotional reactions to thoughts, concepts and ideas – and gradually come to understand what makes us tick and what makes us ticked off….

There is no ultimate ‘right’ way to think or feel, rather this is an ongoing process of self-examination, reflection and adjustment. Whether we notice something we dislike (thought or feeling), we can thus experiment with alternative ways to look at things and adjust our experience of both thoughts and feelings. Only when our heads and hearts align, do we feel content.  Otherwise we experience a sense of dissonance and unease. In this we have a perfect example of the power of perception and the magic it contains – perception is  the lens we choose.to see through and thus creates our experience of the world.  This is the true essence. of. what many refer to as ‘manifesting’.


What does an average mind or body look like? Where would we find one?

All our notions of ‘normal’ and ideal are illusions – in many cases ones we all collaborate in! Averages are concepts that only exist because of human VARIETY – how ironic!

Statistics are a great tool to understand populations or groups – but they do not define any one person in any way! This is where we often get ourselves all wound up.

Thinking we should tend toward any ‘average’ or ‘mean’ leads us in fear and to think unkindly about ourselves (and sometimes others too). The mean or average of any set is more like a numerically derived guesstimate of what’s there – and actually is less likely to apply to anyone involved!

When we ‘deviate’ in some way from the typical, or average… we are simply demonstrating that we are all individuals that can not be accurately charted.

So celebrate being a deviant! It’s natural and ideal!  

Every Body, Mind, Beautiful.


Why do we all worry about perfection and presentation? Because we think everyone else is achieving it? Or that despite not being perfect themselves, they will judge imperfection?

Well… if they do, let them. If they are seeking perfection in you… it’s because they lack so much more in themselves.

Focus on being REAL. On being exactly who you ARE. This is TRUTH. Being authentic doesn’t require competition or validation! I for one am excited to be a continual work in progress and would shudder at being considered ‘finished’ – and up for consumption like a Barbie doll!

Real women aren’t immaculately presented in boxes, tied in place by the shackles of consumer demand and waiting on the shelf for false liberation.

What if your perceived comfort is the very thing that creates your discomfort with your lot in life?

There is an uncomfortable truth lurking in the shadows of our comfort zones: they are more self-made prisons than the personal playgrounds or protective bubbles we like to think.

Despite its name, your ?Comfort Zone? isn?t necessarily a comfortable or happy place. Some people are comfortable residing in a space of intolerance, anger or self-pity; others even seem to thrive in an environment of high stress. Many refuse to leave such spaces despite being miserable.

So, why does recognising the boundaries of our comfort zones matter? Self-esteem.

We are not born with self-esteem, we grow it through positive risk-taking adventures. Through babyhood, childhood, teenage and for the rest of our lives.

As babies, children and young adults we need to be nurtured – ?encouraged to grow?. We need to be encouraged to take those risks to reap the rewards of discovering our own abilities and to do so knowing that we have support, such as going to nursery for the first time, making a new friend, holding a scary snake or petting a big dog for the first time, auditioning for a play, trying a contact sport, riding a bike and so on.

So the same for adults – we need peer and familial support and new positive risk-taking adventures.

When we are not nurtured or simply refuse to be nurtured as many do, and put up barriers or ?defences?, we end up walled in to a comfort zone of fear. We think the walls protect us but they simply keep us captive to our own demons.

We cling to our comfort zones typically because therein we have familiarity and predictability. Even if what is familiar and predictable is uncomfortable – anyone who has been stuck in an abusive marriage for years will tell you exactly that… they were ?stuck?.

So some force is needed to overcome the stuck-ness. This is why the decision to take a risk is crucial. The risk is the force needed.

Everything and everyone we love changes or leaves at some point or at many points, and so do we. From leaving a job, town or relationship to changes of career, lifestyle or mindset. So why stay ?stuck? expecting things to remain familiar? Surely this only can lead to anxiety and resentment? Loss is difficult but also a necessary part of growth beyond those comfort zones. Read more on how loss creates space for gain.

There is a difference between being uncomfortable and being in discomfort. Bring uncomfortable suggests there is something with agency poking at or harming us in some causal way and to be in discomfort suggests a lack of that which comforts us. Ironically, they both hold space for the illusion of a comfort zone. 

Until we move, take a risk and see what?s beyond our boundaries we won?t recognise either the agency responsible or what we lack, and we will continue to be our own captors.

Loss occurs in many ways. It hurts, but must we always Iose?

In the past year I?ve seen friends and family experience different losses – the loss of loved ones (through death, dementia, divorce and even unresolved dispute), the loss of personal ability and opportunity as changes occur in health, job position, home or career move, others have gained in beautiful ways (having children) and yet lost a sense of their own identity. It has me wondering? 

What is loss? 

All losses involve some sense of a loss of control. Loss always takes the form of an event (or series of events) in time, that marks significant change, generally creating anxiety or/and sadness. So, in spite of all the anxiety and sadness, what opportunity does loss create?

It occurs to me that maybe in thinking of loss as an event in time, we take it to be one that reveals ?space?, creating opportunity for growth.  The old space-time continuum conundrum of life. I can think of times when this has been true – the freedom felt after the break-up of dysfunctional relationships,  in not gaining acceptance to one thing we are often led to more original projects and so on. In each case, we have been granted space (or had it thrust upon us) to reflect, because of a loss.

Why space? 

When we lose someone or something, we often feel a sense of space on a scale – either vast or restricting. For example, we often feel lost, afraid, vulnerable, alone, empty, that we might float away in silence to some forgotten zone of nothingness. But sometimes, it?s the opposite and we feel trapped, crushed or suffocated? Either way we become overwhelmed by ‘space’  – in either direction by the amount of space we perceive. Too much and we are lost in the vacuum or, too little and we are crushed.

Either we fear the loss (of control) and have too little space to breathe or we fear the loss (of control) and we have too much to stay anchored. Sometimes we swing from one to the other. Either way, we ultimately feel we won’t cope and might not survive the event.

Perhaps the person, pet, role or circumstance we have lost was in fact ?holding space for us?, whether we knew it or not. To put this expression in context, therapists often ?hold space? for their clients and this means that they take on a role of being a ?container? that holds empty space – like an empty bucket in to which the client can pour their feelings and thoughts (without judgement). The feelings and thoughts are thus ?contained? within the space (and time-slot).  

Sometimes we feel overwhelmed day to day and need another person, role, project or outlet to pour our overflowing selves in to. Those special people, roles and outlets are our containers. When they are lost or taken away, we have nowhere to pour. Or, contrastingly perhaps we were the containers, holding space for others who have gone e.g. a friend or relation who needed us in their sunset, communities or projects that gave us a sense of purpose, identity and so on.

Having the ?wrong amount? of space. 

So, when our losses occur, it can feel that our personal space has been compromised. 

Resolve can come from acknowledging and managing our mental and emotional volumes, by adjusting our perception of the space we occupy we can feel more comfortable just being with our emotions and, where there is overflow be willing to pour in to new containers – art, sport, animals, meditation, others, community groups… 

Space is not a tangible asset that comes and goes. It is a perceived concept formed across our senses and emotions. Someone or something departing cannot take space with them, nor all that you poured in to it nor can they take away what they shared, when you held space for them. When a loss occurs, the space does not go with that person or circumstance.

The grieving party can therefore choose either: to avoid the space or explore it.

Our losses can lead to our most precious gains.

We create our spaces as we project ourselves in to them. By exploring, we expand into that space, fill it and grow. Space is created by us as we perceive it.  Just as when we pour in to those containers, we are projecting into and filling that space.  The space is never lost.

Ultimately, when we lose we also have opportunity to gain. We may lose our ‘containers’ and grieve or be angry for this but if we move in to the space that was held, we grow.

 

Ambition is rather IFFY….

It is often seen as something to be proud of – or a personal quality that would ensure ?success?, whatever that is… but it?s all so hypothetical and future-dwelling. 

I say it?s time to put ambition on hold and be inspired in the moment.

Ambition involves competition and therefore comparison to others, with that comes fear of not being ?first?, resentment, envy and self critique hammering on self esteem the success of ambition is measured through unhelpful comparison to the perceived superiority or inferiority of others and their achievements.

Contrastingly, aspiration dispenses with the external yardsticks and focussed inwardly on personal potential and  the realisation of growth.

In moments of mindfulness, we can uncover how we really feel, now in the present and see what we want. The answer will likely be far less complicated than that ambitious road or destination fraught with limits set by others. It might look simply like ?I want to feel I contribute to a better community? or ?I want to express my creative ideas? or ?I want to be a dedicated parent? or ?I want to provoke change in my area of interest? and so on. It is a place of harmony within yourself and not some convoluted series of comparisons with others. 

How much time do we spend in comparison – driven by ambition –  when we could already be breathing in our inspiration and breathing out as we aspire? 

Breathe in, Breathe out… is literally to inspire, aspire…


IF you are anxious then you are using doubt, a lot. If you are to give any credibility to your doubt and test it’s validity then you need to apply it in a parsimonious way – that is, apply it radically and fairly to everything… including itself.

When you apply doubt to doubt itself, you create hope

Amen!

Why burlesque could be good for you.

Shadow of the Mind. ?K. L. Allan

In the face of ever-evolving social and artistic controversy over burlesque as a form of entertainment, I?d like to volunteer my tuppence-worth on an overlooked aspect of participation. ?As someone who has meaningful experience in both the promotion of burlesque theatre and mental health interventions, I believe that burlesque can be more than just good fun ? it can be good for your mental health.

As any wellbeing practitioner and therapy-frequent flyer will know, most of our statutory and established practices for overcoming and managing ?common mental health problems? (including depression and anxiety) are based on a ?CBT approach? – that is an approach that is rooted in evidenced-based ?cognitive-behavioural therapy?. As the name suggests CBT focusses on the relationship between a person?s cognition (their thoughts and thinking styles) and their behaviours (what they do and equally what they are not doing).

Many people experiencing low moods and worry tend to get stuck in vicious cycles where negative and intrusive thoughts collude with harmful habits (or inactivity) ? to form a symbiotic relationship of emotional distress and psychological turmoil.

Note: For the purpose of this blog, I?m taking a simplified CBT model as the basis of good self-help practice and is intended for reader relevance i.e. those a) experiencing lower levels of anxiety or depression and b) those who might be interested in the celebration and exploration of gender and body confidence. It is not aimed at those currently in?crisis or experiencing severe psychological distress or psychosis. Please consult your mental health professional or?approach your GP for advice, if you suspect you are in need of help. This is an article of personal experience and not based on any official advice or guideline.

In the case of anxiety, there is an underlying unyielding intolerance to uncertainty ? a desperation to feel in control of that which we can?t even predict. This leads to ?checking behaviour? all the time ? checking things are safe, checking how many ?Likes? we have on a FB post or Instagram image, checking that we haven?t upset our friends (by repeatedly asking obscure questions to the point of irritation), checking our email has sent and was word perfect, checking that our multiple alarm clocks are correctly set, our doors are locked, and so on? I?m sure I am not the only one to have had the very modern compulsive need to check the on/off switch of a suspect pair of hair straighteners – ?that are sure to explode killing everyone, when you least suspect it?. (If you want to know my solution to this? just ask, it?s ridiculously simple.)

Experiencers of depression and anxiety typically hold a low opinion of themselves and of their personal ?worth? as a member of their wider community (often by unhelpful comparison with others). Consequently, they experience excessive worry (or even obsessions) about what others think of them. These emotional states and negative thoughts are often confounded further by feelings of guilt about self-care and doing anything ?just for me?. Ironically, in not doing anything for themselves they have no way to gain a positive self-appraisal or consider their worth as a contributing member of their community.

They feel that their worth is defined by others ? either in comparison to (?I?ll never be as a good as Jeannie McTwinkletits??) or, in service to the needs of others (family, work, village hall and so on). As a result they find themselves avoiding self-care and cease any investment in the self. They stop going out socially and, where their mood ultimately takes a nose dive, they also disengage with their own hobbies and interests taking on a sense of general pointlessness (and worthlessness).

In theatrical terms it?s a lighting cue for a fadeout to black.
Exit: The leading lady?
Enter: The shitty understudy.

Unlike most theatrical practices, burlesque ?breaks the fourth wall? and in a beautiful metaphor for mental health awareness, it allows the protagonist to call out directly to the audience and tell it like it is – as the hero(ine). This is what burlesque is supposed to do ? give a voice to the voiceless, the repressed and the misunderstood through the medium of satire.

Well, I can lend testimony to this as my personal motivation to perform was born of a desire to challenge my own body anxiety. Of course, most would not think that turning oneself in to a public spectacle of ironic nudity would be a natural solution to this issue, but here is why I say it is so…

Over 15 years ago I started a performance company (Ministry of Burlesque) on this very same wellbeing hunch ? of directly challenging negative self-perceptions with ?positive risk-taking?. This (then considered bewildering) mission of mine helped at least in some small part, to launch a beautiful movement. Now looking back I can clearly see that my intuition on this was not just personal recklessness, wishful thinking nor a spurious justification to ?dance? around Glasgow in my oversized frilly pants.?Nor was it part of my ?secret sex-worker agenda to pay my University tuition fees? as The Sun* unhelpfully misinformed the public at the time. Oh the anxiety that caused.

Mal Magazine cover

So? in briefs, here is a quick outline of what I have observed. I hope it is interesting and perhaps it might fuel a bit of discussion, debate or even experimentation?

Performing (or even attending as a purveyor) burlesque hits all the marks for a good piece of CBT homework, if done with positive intentions and sensible judgement. Doing so challenges your thoughts, prompts you to do something different or, to do or look at something familiar, differently.?After all, it is in our differences that our individual beauty is reflected.

 

Performing burlesque involves the following:

Listen to music to be inspired?
Watch old movies?
Go to the theatre?
Design and make costumes
Shop
Write?
Dance, sing, play etc
Learn new skills – clowning? Aerial? Singing? Make something disappear somewhere interesting?
Research beautiful, weird and wonderful things – all guilt free!

Of course, there are always risky-risks involved in any risqu? risk-taking and so here are some practical guidelines to make it as positive as possible.

Your issues laid bare?

Kittie by Jessica Dougherty

I?m sure we have all heard someone comment on /scoff at a performer who appears to be ?working out their issues on stage?. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact the process may be cathartic or experimental for them. Just like all other areas of artistic expression, mental health is a huge motivation, inspiration and influence. However, this needs to be considered with some caution as laying bare your soul can make you very vulnerable to the interpretations and criticisms of others – others who do not know you, your story nor understand your intended sentiments (which let’s face it, might not be as clearly expressed in dramatic form, as you intended). We all grow and refine our expression over time whether it’s burlesque, writing or painting, so be kind to yourself and keep your stage message simple and clear.

In conclusion, I think it is fair to reiterate that it is important to recognise that burlesque is not in itself any form of therapy and its proponents are not therapists, however, embarking on your own burly adventure has all the capacity for therapeutic self-help.

A good example of what I term ‘creative wellbeing’, burlesque is an opportunity for personal development. ?Positive Risk and Reward? are positively correlated and that where reason and sense should be employed in safeguarding yourself against the pitfalls, the same sense and reason should equally be used to encourage a sense of derring-do. The key to wellbeing success in burlesque is to find creative ways to peel back the layers of self-doubt, to let your mind dance freely without restraint and your authentic spirit shine in the spotlight of your unfolding life.

*I refer to such publications as ?noise-papers? rather than newspapers as they scream out unintelligible obscenities from the gutter shelf, rather than communicate news.

Please note that help is available through the NHS to tackle issues of mood and anxiety, don’t suffer – start your progress today by talking to your GP. Many of us have been there already, you are not alone.

For anyone experience crisis please know that there is help available on many resources helplines and services including in presenting yourself to A&E:
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/

 


Often when we are anxious, we worry about everything. But…. Everything of course, is no-thing in particular.

Furthermore, we fixate on our version of past events or future possible mishaps – and fail to see that the only time that ever exists is the ‘now’. Quite literally we worry about nothing.

Ouch! When someone is inexplicably mean it is often because they are licking an unconscious wound…. Damage to our self-image can take many forms and wounds can be inflicted in any ways. From deliberate insult to personal failure, typically a bruised ego affects only the owner who feels tender(ised) on the inside… but a broken ego can shatter in to a thousand shards that leave others walking on broken glass.

Beware of your own fragility too, we are all subject to our own sharp tongues and thoughts brought on by a defensive ego!