I think it’s safe to say that most of us know that meditating is great. It’s good to temporarily dial down the pace of our thoughts, whether for 10 minutes, half an hour or a few moments. A few deep breaths and a quiet moment of mindful observation is restorative.
I am sure we have all read about other evidence based benefits. Lower blood pressure, recovery from stress, lower cortisol, reduced risk of chronic illness, better sleep, changes in the brain and more helpful thought patterns.
There are apps like ‘Calm’ and ‘Headspace’, both of which are fantastic tools for grounding and finding some inner peace over time, when used regularly.
Most proponents of meditation say it’s a daily practice. 10 minutes or 20 minutes a day is ideal. Personally I find even one every few days is good. I get a bit obsessed about streaks and it works for me to be a bit less rigid. Even one a week is good for the head. The most important thing is practising enough, initially, to learn it and train the mind to go into a meditative state, which is so beneficial.
About a year ago i started to look into transcendental meditation but quickly found out that it requires training with a registered TM teacher, for a cost of several hundred pounds. I joined a zoom chat with one in Leicester to find out whether or not I wanted to invest. I decided not. I would be paying for somebody to bestow upon me a sacred mantra which i must never disclose, and then to teach me how to use the mantra to reach my inner calm. I figured that i couod repeat ‘o mani omin a’ or ‘mummbo jummbo’ to myself and find my inner calm whilst keeping my £500.
I don’t subscribe to anything now as I can do my own thing to very good effect. It is a mishmash of mindfulness, a mantra and a visualisation. I’ve attached it as an example. Just write one out, record it and be your own guide. Or feel free to use mine. It works. I can get to my calm place within seconds now, whenever I want to. Very handy pre interviews, public speaking or facing a terrifying person, not that I know any.
And if it doesn’t work for you, or you think I’m batshit crazy, I hope you have a good day anyway and thanks for reading!
As I’m training as a counsellor and am currently only a baby at this, with an exam in January, I have spent a fair bit of time pondering what the theory all means. I don’t mean what it actually says, or even what it means on the surface, I mean – how does it actually help anybody?
Last week we scratched the surface of Freudian theory. Despite all the problematic elements of the ideas and the person himself, he remains the founder of psychotherapy and his ideas still form the bedrock of more modern interpretations of the ideas. We went through the idea that the personality is made up of three parts: the ego, the superego and the id.
I think most people know more or less what these are. To recap, the id is an inner child with no conscience or awareness of morality, societal norms or acceptable behaviour. It is the part of the personality that wants everything and gives nothing. Its only concern is survival and it does not constitute rational thought: it exists in the subconscious and presents itself as emotions, desires and perceived needs. The superego is the foil to the id. It is the part of the personality that cares deeply about morality, society and acceptable behaviour. It is the part of us that is concerned about fitting in, being liked, looking the way that society expects us to and behaving in ways that will result in positive outcomes. The ego is the wavering, confused, often weak and sometimes exhausted person in the middle, trying to tread a path that keeps the others happy. It isn’t moral and it isn’t especially thoughtful. It just has to make a decision that will make the person feel OK and won’t end in disaster. I think that about sums it up.
How does this help? I know that there’s a ton more to psychodynamic theory, but I’m just thinking about this tiny bit. I like to apply knowledge and ask whether it’s useful, which is why I love Professor Steve Peters’ ‘The Chimp Paradox’. It’s not only a useful analogy of the brain, but he provides lots of really useful and practical advice about how to manage the chimp and how to become more human.
As somebody who struggled most of my life with an eating disorder, starting at thirteen with anorexia and then developing binge-eating, then exercise bulimia and a whole host of EDNOS stuff in between, I often try to figure out what was going on in my brain. I think that in Freudian terms, my obsession with food and eating must have developed in some sort of rebellion to the control and dominance of the church community. There was no escape from it; we were controlled in every way. But there were always cakes. Yummy, sugary, pink French fancies, homemade chocolate tiffin, moist Victoria sponges and of course Mr Kipling varieties every Sunday at home, church, bible class and Tuesday special. There were sweets, sandwiches, roast dinners, packets of crisps, club biscuits, penguin biscuits, jelly and icecream, crumbles and tarts. Churches in the 70s were a smorgasbord of culinary delights, and ours was no exception.
I enjoyed eating so much that, aged 18 months, I snuck into the larder and ate the centre out of every piece of bread in the bread bin. There’s a photo of this auspicious event. As a child, I was a big eater and remember the doctor patting my tummy and complimenting me on ‘enjoying my food’. I guess this eating enjoyment was driven by the id, but then the superego kicked in at the age of 13 when I inadvertently lost some weight on holiday and was told how amazing I looked and how I was slim like my Auntie and pretty now. All this societal praise and admiration made me determined to lose another half a stone like a good girl and be slim, worthy and more acceptable to everybody. The great thing about this strategy was that the approval came from everybody and not just the Christians! School friends, boys, my pervy piano teacher, more boys and everybody in the family and at church. Nobody ever expressed any concern as I got thinner, developed a thigh gap and became too exhausted to walk up the stairs, never mind bike to my piano lesson.
I started eating so little that I was starving by the weekend and started bingeing cake. The id would win at that point – survival instinct – but then by Monday the superego would kick in again and the diet would re-start.
Where was the ego in all this? I don’t actually think I ever made a decision that was based on anything good for myself. I was so busy trying to please everybody around me that I didn’t know who I was. I’d say it wasn’t really until I was 33 at university and achieving 1st class grades at a good university that I began to consider myself as even having a brain and possibly using it from time to time. I started to reason, to be logical, to apply critical thinking and quickly the whole pack of cards of my internalised belief system came crashing down.
I have built myself up from scratch and spent considerable time getting to know who I am. The upshot is that I’m an OK person who likes to learn, read, talk about meaningful issues, have a few good friends, keep to myself a lot, exercise every day in fresh air and is kind, loyal and sensitive. I’m OK with myself now. I can spend whole weekends in my own company and look forward to it. I am friends with myself. I didn’t know how to do that before and I think it’s that and only that which can drive significant change in life.
When there’s one of the three Freudian components running the show, whether it be the id or the superego, the person is described as ‘neurotic’, which to me just means unhappy and unbalanced in some way. It might be anxiety, depression, eating disorder, OCD, self-harm, suicidal thoughts or just low-level dissatisfaction. The ego needs to be in good shape to take charge of our lives. Here some some of my thoughts about achieving this.
Get superego into perspective
Getting the personality in good shape might mean burning down traditions, scrapping the status quo and doing whatever it takes to be in the centre of our own lives. So many of us go through life in servitude to what others think. Pretty much every woman I know has had ‘mum guilt’. What? Has anyone even heard about ‘dad guilt’? Why do we drive ourselves insane feeling guilty because a) we go to work or b) we don’t? This is the superego and, really, it can piss right off. We are here for a reason and it isn’t living a ghost life trying to keep everybody happy. Instead of saying, ‘I can’t keep everybody happy’, just accept that we can’t do that and get on with doing the best we can to live a meaningful life as best as we can and in a way that works for ourselves and our families.
Be kind to the id
If you’re craving sugar, or finding yourself binge-eating, shopping too much or doing anything that you don’t really want to do and wish you could stop, and your id in running the show, there’s probably a very good reason for that! Are you living your own life or is superego in charge, shouting expectations at you about how to behave, what to wear, how to change your body, judging your parenting, saying you look tired and should be wearing makeup? This aspect of the personality is annoying and mostly wrong and inappropriate. It’s helpful to have superego because she will stop you murdering your child or throwing dinner over your partner when they bring mud in the house. But mostly I really think she is shouting abuse in an attempt to control what she thinks is dangerous. It’s wrong! And if superego is shouting unrealistic things, then id is going to kick off. Id doesn’t like to be controlled and there will be an outlet somewhere along the line. The answer to this is to look after yourself. Properly! Say ‘no’ to people, practice being honest and setting boundaries and take time to actually have fun and do what you enjoy for once.
Boost your ego
I’ve had therapy and it’s really helpful. Nobody ever told me about the id, ego and superego, but along the way I learned to make good choices and build a solid relationship with me. It’s so worth it for whatever it is that’s making life difficult. Buy less shit and get a course of therapy. Best money ever spent.
I wrote a few weeks ago about my crazy overactive thyroid, which is now within range. What this means is that the 40mg of carbimazole that I’ve taken daily for the past four weeks has drastically destroyed some of my thyroid tissue thus rendering it incapable of excess T3 and T4 production. The TSH hormones that drive production of the T3 and T4 that circulate around in my blood are still ‘switched off’ but other than that I am ‘normal’. I feel fine, although a little tired. I have gained back the few pounds that I dropped, and it will be difficult to stop eating so much, as I got used to whole days of grazing, non-stop, on carbohydrates, just to hang onto the weight I was at. The downside as that I’ll need to be ‘titrated’ now which means staying on exactly the right dose of carbimazole to maintain the correct range. I think it can be tricky and can go under, in which case I’ll need thyroxine, and my private endocrinologist has still got me on 30g of carbimazole for another four weeks, although by that time I’ll have seen an NHS endocrinologist who might say something else entirely.
The other downside is that my liver function is now borderline. It was borderline at diagnosis, which was due to the toxicity of all that excess thyroid hormone floating about in my bloodstream, causing the liver to work harder. Either that or it was the borderline wine addiction but to be honest I don’t think so. It’s only ever been 2 or 3 glasses at a time and often none at all for weeks at a time, so probably not that. I’m now off alcohol completely and will be until I’m off carbimazole, because the liver function has worsened and is now causing my skin to break out and probably some of this fatigue. I don’t know whether the NHS endocrinologist will try a different medicine but I’ll ask at the appointment. I also still don’t know what the cause is, because the test for Graves disease that the private endocrinologist asked for was messed up by the lab, and my GP cannot request the test as it needs to come from a specialist.
This whole business of going private is sad. Not for me. It cost £200 and it was money well spent. But the fact that so many are having to wait five months to get seen. If I hadn’t have gone private, my condition would’ve worsened and the symptoms would’ve been really unbearable. I’d have had to give up work and be signed off sick, and had no income because I am classed as self-employed and don’t get sick pay. If I hadn’t have had the wherewithal to research my condition and realise what I needed, and discovered that GPs are not experts in endocrinology, and would be unable or unwilling to prescribe carbimazole in the doses that I needed, I would have suffered so much more than I did, and for longer. If I wasn’t the kind of person who makes a decision to get things sorted, and then acts like a bull in a china shop until they are sorted, nobody else would have conducted that fight for me.
I’m an intelligent woman with a will of iron and, although I’m genuinely kind and caring, I’m not gentle when it comes to getting what I need or getting what my family needs. In the past I advocated for my daughter by regularly bombarding the CAMHS unit and reminding them of the NICE guidelines. I contacted my local MP who also advocated for her. I got her treatment earlier because I kept on. My letters were well-informed, articulate and medically accurate. But how unfair is this? I’ve realised more than ever before in my new job how much the system is screwing over the most vulnerable members of our society.
How are these people supposed to get help? There are those around us in situations which are festering, problematic and downright unsafe. A single parent with severe mental health difficulties who cannot see a psychiatrist for months or even obtain the medication that would help them to find some space and calm. A child who can’t sleep because their routine has become completely upside down, who has missed so much school that they can’t tell the time, a child who is out all night and in all day, whose parent has learning difficulties and doesn’t really know how to parent, despite all the love in the world. A clinic where nobody answers the phone. Informative leaflets emailed out to people who don’t have the capacity to understand them and nobody to advocate for them. Local councils with social workers so snowed under with enormous caseloads who, through no fault of their own, are unable to support these families. GP surgeries with locked doors and phone queues over an hour long. Single mums haven’t got the time to wait over an hour. The baby’s crying, the washing needs doing, the cat needs feeding, the kids have to be fetched from school. They’ve got jobs that they need to pay the bills. They can’t get any help from anyone.
It’s a horrible speculation but is the NHS deliberately being run into the ground so that we can all go the American way and buy into lucrative personal health insurance schemes where the rich get richer and the poor just suffer? Where poor people with diabetes can’t get insulin because it’s not covered on their insurance? Where self-employed folks have no incentive to carry on and they have to go back into the corporate world? Or are we already there? I know that the families I work with are suffering because the NHS is no longer fit for purpose – which was to provide healthcare to every single person in a timely manner regardless of socio-economic status. If we are going the American way can we just get on with it then? Because what we’ve got now is neither here nor there. It’s a half-way house where people like me can badger, bombard and be heard, or pay the odd £200 for some timely treatment, and other people can just fall through the cracks in a ‘survival of the fittest, every man for himself’ kind of Trump-esque dystopia.
My thyroid condition will probably be well-managed and I’ll cobble together a path through it in a combination of self-management, education and professional input. But I’m sad for the NHS and all the amazing people who work in it. I hope against hope that this government really does put in some considerable funding and keep it going. I’ll never give up hoping that they really mean it and something will change. I don’t want to become the next state of America, driven entirely by consumerism, corporations, power and heirarchy. I want to live somewhere where every body is seen, valued and cared for with the same ferocious drive to thrive that most of us extend to ourselves and our own.