en English

In this Wellbeing Special, GenderGP’s Psychological Therapies Lead, Marianne Oakes, is joined by Counsellor Amy Walters. The pair discuss some of their learnings and strategies for managing life when times get tough and the importance of being kind to ourselves.

If you have been affected by any of the topics discussed in our podcast, and would like to get in touch, please contact us via the Help Centre. You can also contact us on social media where you will find us at @GenderGP on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

We are always happy to accept ideas for future shows, so if there is something in particular you would like us to discuss, or a specific guest you would love to hear from, let us know. Your feedback is really important to us. If you could take a minute or two to leave us a review and rating for the podcast on your favourite podcast app, it will help others to discover us.

 

Links:

Follow Marianne on Twitter: @OakesMarianne
Book a session with Marianne or Amy here

 

The GenderGP Podcast

Practising self-care when times get tough

 

Hello, this is Dr Helen Webberley. Welcome to our GenderGP Podcast, where we will be discussing some of the issues affecting the trans and non-binary community in the world today, together with my co-host Marianne Oakes, a trans woman herself, and our head of therapy.

 

Marianne Oakes:
You’re going to have to have me here. I’m hosting it today and not the usual Helen Webberley. But we’ve got a wonderful guest who is Amy Walters, who is one of the Wellbeing Team that I have the privilege to manage. And we’re just going to talk about general mental health today at this time. Just to see, I don’t know, what advice or coping mechanisms we may be able to develop as the conversation goes. I don’t know how you feel about that, Amy, but what I was going to say is, do you want to just introduce yourself quickly? And then we’ll get going.

Amy Walters:
I noticed that you said quickly there, cause you know, we do tend to talk for a long time. Yeah. I’m Amy, thank you so much for inviting me on the podcast. It’s lovely to be here. I really could talk forever. So you might have to stop me. Yeah, I’m one of the counselors on the Wellbeing Team. I get the privilege of doing the information gathering sessions and follow-up sessions and run individual counseling sessions as well. I absolutely love it. I love what we do at GenderGP. It’s great to be part of the team. So that’s kind of the briefest of introductions that I can give you.

Marianne Oakes:
Just while you were talking that Amy, it was going through my mind, you know, cause it’s unstructured, this conversation. And I think sometimes being counselors, people assume that we’ve got everything sorted, you know, and I think people sometimes forget that we’ve got lives and we’ve got our own set of issues to deal with in counseling is what we do as a profession. But I think where we are fortunate is that we, certainly the Wellbeing Team at GenderGP, I don’t know about others, but the Wellbeing Team, you know, when we are feeling a bit down, we do contact each other, don’t we? And like you say, we now, and then we just have conversations. We’re able to look after ourselves and I just wonder how valuable that would be, not the people’s lives, not necessarily to have a counsellor there, but do you know, feeling a bit down who, who can I talk to, who will listen and who will take on board what, what I just need to externalize?

Amy Walters:
I think that’s a really good point. And I think what I was thinking about wellbeing, you know, just before coming on to talk about, you know, how, how we look after ourselves in times, such as these. Depending on where you’re listening to this, I can almost guarantee there’ll be something going on in the world globally or in our lives personally, that is difficult. And you know, wellbeing, mental health, all of that kind of stuff, it’s so individual and I could sit here and list off, you know, my love of cactuses, which makes me feel happy and, you know, as part of my wellbeing but it is so individual. So I think the first step has to be knowing what you need and knowing yourself well enough to know what you want. So if you’re in a place where you’re feeling low and struggling with whatever it is, you need to know whether, do you need to talk to someone? Is that something that is going to bring it back up again? Do you need a bath and a book? Do you need a duvet day? Do you need nice food? You know, good TV. I don’t know. So it’s, it almost sort of has to start with what, what do you think you need? And that sort of starts with that connection with yourself first and foremost.

Marianne Oakes:
I think in these times of lock down, interestingly enough, people thrown together, you know what, you know, one of the things I’m conscious of, I mean, I work from home. Vicky works from home. We’re always together. One of the things I did was build this therapy room, not because I needed a therapy room, I needed somewhere separate. It’s literally four yards from the front door, but I needed that little bit of separation. And I think understanding our needs as an individual is really important. I think that links into what you were saying, you know, what does make you feel good? What are the things that I can do to feel better? And I think it comes in, in the context of the environment that we’re living in as well. What can I actually do?

Amy Walters:
Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes you’re going to be really limited as to what you can do. I mean, I live in a rental house, so, you know, I can’t build anything or, and I guess that kind of, sort of leads into that sense that actually no one else can tell you, they can make you stick and make suggestions, but, you know, so for example, I find it really irritating when, if I’m feeling a bit stressed or anxious or rubbish, someone says, why don’t you try meditation? Like, I hate meditation. I’m really rubbish at it. So it’s one of those things where, you know, like I say, you could look at lists of, you know, things you can do to look after yourself. But it really is starts with what, what do you think you need? And sometimes that can be a really hard question to answer. How do I know what I need?

Marianne Oakes:
Well, the other side of it is you mentioned it earlier as well is understanding yourself. At the risk of sounding like I’m selling counseling here. Part of counselling is helping people to understand themselves and understand their own needs, but also to trust themselves. And you know, it’s very easy—I don’t know about you, but I get very irritated by people that just think positive affirmation will make everything okay. You know, just because we say something will happen doesn’t mean it will. And I think sometimes it’s okay to be down. You know, it’s a perfectly valid, natural feeling to not feel great. What we decided to do about that, and what that’s telling us is really important. And I think, yeah, you know, you shouldn’t be happy at this time of lock down. You know, it’s a worrying time. We’ve got family to worry about and we’re going to get tired and we’re going to become exhausted. So, you know, you mentioned duvet day before, you know, I highly recommend a duvet day every now and again, and then be forgiving about ourselves just because we’re not necessarily happy.

Amy Walters:
I’m a bit of an existentialist at heart. So I’m quite sort of well-versed or familiar with the idea that actually, you know, we create our own meaning. And the embracing the shadow is really important. That’s been the biggest sort of thing that I’ve done in my life that has allowed me freedom, this understanding that actually happiness doesn’t exist, or at least a reframing of happiness means that it has to contain parts of anger and sorrow and rage and jealousy. If you shut yourself off from one emotion, then you might as well shut yourself off from all of them. So yeah, I think counseling can really help perhaps challenge or break down some of these ideas that we’ve learned over the years. And I mean, we could go down the rabbit hole of, of familial family scripts, you know the things that we get told about, you know, just, you know, stop crying, just, you know, cheer up or, you know, those things that our parents might have said to us that, you know, mean that we have a relationship with having to make other people happy. Because that’s what we were told, you know. That’s how we felt loved because we were making other people happy in that, that kind of thing. So counseling’s really good for unpacking that kind of stuff. And being able to learn how to embrace—we all, everything has a shadow. And the other thing that I kind of learned early on in my counseling journey was that this sense that actually everything’s a wheel, everything will change. Everything has to change. Nothing can really stay the same. So whilst you might be at the bottom of the wheel at this point in time, it has to go round again and you will be at the top of it at some point. So I don’t, you know, that sort of verges on, you know, just, just, I guess in a way, just telling people to hang in there. Cause sometimes that’s all you can really do is, is hang in there. Hold on and wait for the bit to come around again. That’s going to be okay.

Marianne Oakes:
There’s two things that I’ve kind of learned that appear to be true. I’m happy to be told that they’re not, but you know, if we’re super anxious or we’re really depressed, that they’re only ever temporary states. That we, you know, the human way of being means that we’re striving all the time to move away from the negative state. But I think when you’re in, certainly when you’re in the depths of depression and in the height of anxiety, it feels, everything feels like forever. And it’s really important to understand that a bit, like you said, with the wheel, it’s never forever, it will pass and having faith that it will pass. But when you’re there—You know, I suppose the thing that, the worst thing that, and this is me personally, now, I don’t know about everybody else. I’m not big for sympathy. I don’t want sympathy. Empathy is what I need. And if I say to somebody, yeah, if somebody says to me, how are you feeling? And I say, do you know, I feel really shit. You know, I want them to just respond sometimes say, yeah, it is, isn’t it? I can understand why you won’t feel like that, you know, without, you know, that must be terrible for you because ultimately something’s making me feel like that. And maybe it’s something I can’t affect. Maybe it’s something out of my control. So I just have to sit with it and trust that it will pass and the people around me need to trust it will pass.

Amy Walters:
And it can be so hard. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s so easy for us to sit here and say these words, and, but it’s so hard when you’re in the middle of that to feel like it will ever change. And so really learning how to look after yourself in those moments is so important and different for everybody. Yeah, it’s mental health and wellbeing is a really complex thing.

Marianne Oakes:
Yeah. I think the other thing that I’ve been conscious of more recently is certainly as a trans woman living in the world. It’s very easy for me to absorb all the negativity, particularly on social media. I’m not going to sit here and say that everybody’s living in the environment like I am. I’m really lucky that the people around me are supportive and accepting and not everybody’s in that place. But what I will say is that one of the things, really difficult during lockdown here, but it’s really to find our spaces where we can let go for a little while. You know, people, people we can talk to where gender is not going to be the center of every conversation, the politics around gender, the things that have been said on social media, it’s really important to be able to, to, to just find our place where everything’s normalized and that it’s not, not everything’s a debate or a conversation. The one thing I’ve learned, them spaces do exist. We have to seek them out. We’ve got to want to seek them out, as well. You know, don’t, don’t that the hands of negativity grab our ankles and keep dragging us back. Because if we want to go out and fight the fight, we’ve also got to give ourselves the space to refuel and build our emotional strength back up to then go out to continue the fight. So yeah, just when we find we’re surrounded with negativity, it’s to seek out somewhere and I’m not going to say positivity, but seek out the places where we can relax where we can let go of for a little bit.

Amy Walters:
Yeah. I think that’s so important. And you know, anybody that sort of takes on an activist role, which, you know, sometimes many gender diverse people are kind of forced into because it’s their existence that is on the line. It can be exhausting and it can almost distort your view of the world and people in a way, because when you’re constantly surrounded by that, and, you know, there’s absolutely every need to be, to be for people to be fighting. When you’re constantly sort of surrounded by it, you kind of think, well that the whole world is full of people that are out to get me and that are arguing my existence and, you know, there’s, it can really bring you down. So being able to take a break from it is so important. And allow yourself to do that because sometimes I think you can get caught up in, well, if I’m, if I’m not out there doing it and fighting, and being in those spaces that are really quite toxic and difficult, who’s going to be doing it? But, you know, you are allowed to take a break and refuel. And I’m sure everybody’s heard of the sort of, you know, filling, filling, filling your own cup so that you have things to give to people. Sharpening your axe, whatever the metaphor is, it has to be part of your activism looking after yourself. And again, that can look different for everybody. Maybe it’s a podcast, maybe it’s yeah, just a relaxing evening or a space, like you say, seeking out a space to be refueled.

Marianne Oakes:
Yeah, I think that’s—just following on, from what you were saying, I use the oxygen masks on a plane as an example. Did you know, you can’t help anybody else if you don’t help yourself first. The trouble that we have, we live in a society that teaches us about selfishness. And the reality is that, you know, it’s all about context and sometimes we’ve got to look after ourselves first. We can’t look after others if we haven’t looked after ourselves. And I think that’s the one thing I would say I’ve learned as a counselor, because I don’t know, what do you call call it? Compassion fatigue. You know, that’s quite high in counselors when they don’t look after themselves because we can’t offer compassion if we’re not fueled. If we don’t look after ourselves, we cannot go and sit with people if we don’t look after ourselves. And not that everybody’s got to go to the lengths we go to, we actively seek out, our people actively seek us out, to be able to offload our what’s going on for them. And we walk into there willingly. So we have a network around us. So not everybody’s going to have that, but the principles are still the same. You know because I can not sit with a client who is severely depressed talking about suicide if I’m fragile. And again, we are human and we, we’ve got a whole network of things around us that we can call on. Not everybody’s going to have that, but it doesn’t mean to say there isn’t a network there, if they seek it out.

Amy Walters:
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, we as counselors are here for people that that are struggling with, with not having that network, I think that’s, I think that’s really important. And yes, we are not, we’re not perfect as counselors. We’ve not got it all sorted. We are, you know, we’re still processing our own stuff and traumas and learnt behaviors and relationships. But what we did learn in our counseling training is how to have boundaries and how to protect our empathy and how to use the people around us to sort of help with that. And yeah, not everybody, that’s not sort of standard teaching. But I want to say, I was wondering when you were talking then about how useful it will be for some people to sort of think about the inner child. So when we talk about looking after ourselves, like, you know, my inner child’s quite silly and she likes cactuses and you know, sometimes she needs a good hug. And sometimes she needs to just walk barefoot out in the grass for a little bit. Sometimes, you know, if we don’t know where to start with how to take of ourselves, it can be quite useful to sort of think about, well, okay, if the little six year old in me, what would she need? What does she need right now? And if there’s no one around us to give us a hug, we can hug ourselves. You know, touch is really quite important sometimes. And so we can release those chemicals by just kind of hugging ourselves and holding ourselves. So I don’t know if that’s a useful, kind of a starting point for what that might look like. It’s not going to be easy for everybody. You know, sometimes there’s connotations with our younger selves and what you’ve been through that aren’t easy to access, but it could be a starting point.

Marianne Oakes:
I like the inner child as well. And that’s been quite nicely onto the hypnotherapy because I had an experience while I was training recently with hypnotherapy where I got in touch with my inner child. And I’m the biggest cynic of all of this kind of thing, but I found it really profound and it’s, and the place it took me to was quite a traumatic experience. It was my first day of primary school. Can you believe it was quite traumatic. It had a negative effect on the rest of my education? And I just went back there and (unclear 19:07) the the child just to reassure it that actually it will be okay. You know, I’ll tear up now thinking about it, but you know, the truth of the matter is I think we’ve, I think as adults, we close ourselves off if we’re not careful. And no, to be a little bit silly to, to allow ourselves to play, even if it’s with ourselves, you know, whether it’s doing a little bit of art or, you know, and not having to be perfect and not fearing the judgment of others, I think that’s really—Because that’s what children do, children live their life without fear of judgment. And it’s only when we’ve imposed judgements on their behaviors that they become an issue. So, yeah, I love the inner child.

Amy Walters:
Yeah. And it, and it can be really emotional. It can be, you know, so emotional. I mean, I’ve got, I’ve got a little rebel teenager inside me that gets me into all sorts of trouble sometimes. And, you know, humans are so complex. We are so complex we are such complex people with so many different layers and things that have gone into making us who we are. And sometimes we’re on a path. And I mean, you know, most people perhaps listening to this podcast have already done a lot of work around actually, what does it mean to be mostly, most authentically myself. And you know, have, have made lane changes accordingly. But I think one of the things that when it comes to change, change is hard, but it’s like learning a new language. And so, you know, you were talking about positive affirmations before. And interestingly, I’m about to start reading a book called The Biology of Belief, which actually talks about how the things that we actually say change us on a cellular level. It’s a really interesting thing. So actually, maybe positive affirmations do help, even if they don’t, even if it feels like you’re kind of faking it to begin with, but maybe I’ll come back and do another podcast on that one when I’ve actually read the book. But there’s something around just making small changes that can lead to that kind of serotonin boost of a completed task of, you know, I’m going to go and read this book, I’m going to go and paint my nails. And then you, because you’ve accomplished something, that leads to that kind of happy feeling that you’ve accomplished it. What would you say?

Marianne Oakes:
I was going to say, I’ll put a slight twist on that. It isn’t that I don’t think positive affirmations don’t work. What I would say is that in and of themselves, there’s more to it. It’s about the change. So, and I’m the last one to start talking about this, but you know, doing things that make us feel good to start with are really important. And if we had a hierarchy of needs, just because something seems trivial and unimportant doesn’t mean to say that we shouldn’t do it. If it makes us feel good, we will get the other stuff done, but doing the good stuff to start with. And I think where, you know, as a person-centered counselor, you know, I always try to encourage people. Obviously they come to me and yourself, you know, regarding gender identity and if that’s all we’re gonna focus on, we’re never going to be happy. Because transition and transition alone isn’t the answer. The answer is I need to change my life. I need to express myself within that life accordingly. And I need to be authentic within that life. So it’s, you know, for me personally, I, you know, my transition started when I started college. It didn’t start when I started being more open. Yeah. Because I realized that I couldn’t continue, I didn’t want to continue with the life that I had. So it was a whole change and people were saying to me, yeah, you were lucky, maybe I was, and luck does play a lot in it. But we’ve got to create our own luck. And I made a really major change going back to college for me was really the star of that whole clear out. And I had no plan. I didn’t think, Oh, I’ll do that, do that. It was just, that’s where my transition started. Some people, it starts with hormones some people it starts with telling the partners or the parents or whoever. But we’ve got to look at our life as a whole and positive affirmations can be part of that. I can do this. There are people that have done this and having the belief that it can happen.

Amy Walters:
And I’m well aware when, you know, when we talk about this kind of stuff, that privilege does play a part in it. It may, for some people listening, feel like it was easy for you to say, I’m never going to be able to change this situation that I’m in right now. I can’t get a job. I can’t move. I’m stuck here with this family, people, whoever I’m living with that don’t get me. And so I don’t want to diminish you know, the, the situations that people are in, but change is hard, but it really can happen. And yeah, I think, I mean, I would never say to anyone the answer to all your problems is positive affirmations. But maybe even just so if we, if we think about our nervous system, our autonomic nervous system, and this is something that, you know, I’m just learning about in my own journey—If we think about even just saying to myself, my autonomic nervous system is balanced. And sometimes that really kind of resets if I’m feeling really anxious or kind of quite low and demoralized. It could be something like, you know when—I often notice it most when I say things like, oh, that’s never going to, or that’s always going to. If it’s nevers and always or should or ought to use, those are the things that I’m listening out for. And going well, am I, if by holding that belief, so for example, it might be, yeah, my partner is never going to change. If I’m always holding that belief, am I giving them the space to change? So if I’m saying, I don’t know what might be a good sort of comparison? Yeah, my, my circumstances, I’m never going to have enough money. I’m always going to be terrible with money. Do we set ourselves up with a sort of self fulfilling prophecy? And so maybe just tweaking the things that we say you know, I have a therapist that challenges me on that all the time. If I say a statement she might say to me at the moment. At the moment. And I shut up.

Marianne Oakes:
There’s a few things in there. As soon as you started talking, you know, one of the things I was thinking as well, you know, you said about privilege, but I also think accepting our own limitations as well, you know, because part of the journey for anybody in life is accepting that we can’t change how tall we are. We can’t change our biological makeup in, in many ways we can, we can enhance it but if we can’t get to that place of acceptance, then we really are stuck. And, you know, of course I would have loved to have been a 13, 14 year old girl going through puberty. I can’t change that. I just have to accept that I can affect that anymore. But what I can affect is what’s coming up and you’re right. You may be—you know, I’m just thinking of a young person living in a very unwelcoming household during lockdown. You know, not to think this will never change it’s to accept that, oh, this is where I’m. Now, if I want change, then this, these are the steps I’ve got to do to affect that change for one, to get my own place, transition, or whatever that might be, go to university. Then I need to concentrate on education now, because that, that is still part of your transition. I think that’s what I’m trying to say. It’s not just about now and never it’s about you know, the future. That it will stay like that if we don’t do anything to change it.

Amy Walters:
Yeah, I think there’s a really good sort of analogy in that you’re not pretending that it’s not rubbish at the moment, you know. That acceptance, it’s validating, it’s validating where you are. It’s that kind of empathy that you were talking about. You just want someone to go, yeah, it really is shit right now. So if you imagine coming back kind of back to the inner child, again, if you imagine, you know, a small child fallen over, they’ve hurt their knee, they’re crying. It’s the end of the world. The last thing they want is someone to go well, that doesn’t look that bad. I mean, the last thing they need is someone to go, just get on with it. You, you want someone to go, I’m really sorry you’ve fallen off your bike, let me help you. And so there’s almost a process to go through with, of acceptance and change, which is validation and acceptance of where it is at the moment and kindness and compassion and love. And then the bit of, okay, dust yourself off now, let’s get on with the bike ride again, or whatever it was you’re doing. So there’s a kind of an analogy there of actually that is kind of the process of change, the validation of where you’re at the acceptance of where you’re at and the, okay, what can we do now?

Marianne Oakes:
What do you, would it be fair to say one of the biggest blocks to affecting change is the fear of getting it wrong.

Amy Walters:
Oh, yeah.

Marianne Oakes:
You know, again, we’ve gone down a rabbit hole of you know, but a child falling off a pushbike, and let’s just say, they’ve grazed the knee and the adult things, that’s not bad. They’re ignoring the humiliation that they fell off the bike, the shock that the body went through, when one minute it was upright, the next minute it was over it, isn’t about the degree of physical injury. It’s about that stop, you know, process, think about it, let’s get back on the bike now and let’s go on. And you’re right. If somebody starts minimizing what you’ve just gone through, it’s missing all the other stuff. And I think that is a really good example about what stops people making changes as an adult, that they’re frightened that they’ll get it wrong. And because everybody will just tell you well, you were stupid to try it in the first place when the stupid thing is to not try anything.

Amy Walters:
Yeah. I think that’s a, that’s a really good point. That’s such a huge part of it. Isn’t it? You sort of—if you did grow up with messages that sort of invalidated your experience and invalidated your pain, then you have to minimize that to survive. So you’ve learned, you’ve learned over the years that, yeah, don’t try because it’s going to to be painful.

Marianne Oakes:
I’m conscious of the time. And like you said, we could talk, I think we, I think we could do a whole podcast. I think we might have to develop that one. I think the thing I’m taking away from it, and, you know, I don’t want this to be seen as a, you know, counseling is an answer to all your problems because it, isn’t. It’s very tough at times. But in this moment where we’ve got people, you know, we’re facing a future with things like Brexit and, you know, pandemics and, you know, and it’s very easy to get sucked into that. There’s no—that we can’t see beyond the next few months or the next year. And I think, you know, what we’re saying here is that, that we can look after ourselves through all of this. That if we can find that inner child, or we can find that hobby, or we can find the book and we can have a bath, or I don’t know, simple things. If we have that never or can’t kind of in our psyche, then, then that needs to be broken. Because again, people that are transitioning at the moment, you know, everything is restricted. I must admit, you know, one of the biggest things I’m struggling with at the moment I can’t go shopping. And I love shopping. Not because I like spending money. I like being out where people are. That’s very validating for me. How would it feel validated if I’m not socialized and mixing with people? But I can’t okay. I can’t go shopping, but I have to think, well, it isn’t that I’m never going to go shopping again. And what can I do? And, you know, as you know, we will have zoom meetings and we will socialize. I will find spaces. And I think really important that people do look for the glimmers of light. Even if they’re in a completely black space, don’t stop looking for them glimmers of light. And just like drawn to them, if only for a moment.

Amy Walters:
Yeah.

Marianne Oakes:
Feel good for a short period. And hopefully them periods will just get a little bit longer as time passes.

Amy Walters:
Absolutely. You summed that up really well. That’s so important. Just even just the holding onto it won’t be like this forever, even if it feels like it will be. It won’t be an invalidating how you feel at the moment. I feel like this and that’s okay.

 

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