I just wanted to let you know I haven’t fallen off the earth! Still here, just busy and not blogging as frequently. My profuse apologies for being a lousy blogger lately but I will try to post soon.
Excellent piece. Worth the read! It’s about trauma more so than depression though.
Originally posted on Free psychology:
‘I had a golden life, so why was I falling apart?’: TV psychotherapist Benjamin Fry was devastated by depression. Then he discovered a radical new treatment
By Benjamin Fry
PUBLISHED: 23:01 GMT, 27 July 2013 | UPDATED: 23:01 GMT, 27 July 2013
Your life looks fine – even enviable – on the surface. But underneath you are more stressed and anxious than anyone realises. You’ve been called ‘oversensitive’ or accused of ‘overreacting’ because the setbacks and stresses that other people seem to take in their stride can knock you for six. You’ve also been told that you are attractive, bright, full of potential, yet somehow you have failed to find real success in relationships or work.
You are not weak or lazy or self-pitying. You are overwhelmed; stuck in a state of anxiety that has been massively misunderstood and wrongly diagnosed. The good news is that there is a radical and transformative new way of understanding it, and of getting yourself unstuck, for good.
I know what this feels like. I was ‘stuck’ myself for years until, in 2008, I suffered a complete breakdown. I looked like an unlikely candidate for a breakdown. I was a trained psychotherapist and a privileged person in many ways.
I grew up in a wealthy family, went to Eton and Oxford, my first job was as a teenage model for Mario Testino and then I became a successful nightclub entrepreneur. By 30 I had made my first million, married a wonderful woman and was living in a big house with a much-loved child, the first of five. It looked like a golden life, but inside I was falling apart.
I trained as a psychotherapist, treating patients in my own practice and working on TV programmes such as Freaky Eaters and Spendaholics. But I always felt as if I didn’t properly ‘belong’ with my colleagues. Many of my patients generously told me that I had helped them, but the truth was that I understood them because I was exactly like them, full of anxiety, unhappiness and isolation.
Our early years are fundamentally important in our emotional development, so I was always aware that my mother’s death had scarred me, and that early experience had contributed to my anxiety. But I loved my father and went on to have a successful life, so though I was never glib enough to say I had ‘got over’ that loss, I believed I had survived it.
By 2008, my golden life was unravelling. My wife was pregnant with our fifth child, and I was in deep trouble. I had made a series of property speculations in Greece that crashed badly and ruined us financially.
We had to leave our home, rent a smaller place out of London and beg my father to bail us out of our huge debts. Poor me, eh? I know that this isn’t the worst problem someone can have. I had the privilege of a safety net, and if I’d made money before, maybe I could make it again. But I didn’t see it that way. It felt utterly overwhelming and devastating and sent me into a spiral of worry which led to serious clinical anxiety and depression, and finally into a suicidal despair because nobody could help me recover. Only the thought of my children stopped me from killing myself.
I tried everything: my doctor, the NHS, the church, the Priory – I even tried a faith healer. Nothing worked. I was well-informed and well-connected, but I discovered a massive failure in our therapy system, which repeatedly misdiagnosed me, or just medicated me, which often made me worse.
Finally, after a series of therapeutic failures and disasters, I found myself at Mellody House in Arizona, where I discovered what was really wrong with me and what had been wrong with me all my life. I was suffering from post-traumatic stress. The death of my mother at such a young age had sent me into deep trauma, and rather than recovering from it, it had ‘frozen’ inside me.
‘This “frozen” trauma is stored up in childhood and then triggered in adult life by a new stress’
Trauma is not a word most of us use about the bad things that happen to us. We think it refers only to extremes, such as soldiers in a combat zone. But so far as our minds and, crucially, our bodies are concerned, trauma means anything that causes us stress so overwhelming that our physical response to it is to ‘freeze’ – think of a rabbit caught in headlights and unable to move.
This ‘frozen’ material is usually stored up in childhood and then triggered in adult life by a new stress, such as a bereavement, a break-up, a car accident or a redundancy – the kind of stresses that we’ll all experience at least once in our lives. Most of us recover fully from our traumas, but some of us don’t. Why some of us don’t, what happens to us as a result and how we can heal is at the heart of the new science of trauma. Mellody House had created a radical new understanding of the causes of psychological distress that many therapists believe is the greatest leap forward in this field in our lifetime.
Benjamin at the age of 18, modelling for Mario Testino, left, his stepmother Jane, half-sister Annabelle, and father Charles, right
This new model of thinking was mainly pioneered by a man called Peter Levine, who spent years studying the habits of wild animals under stress. Imagine a young gazelle, grazing peacefully with his herd, when a lion appears.
We’ve all heard of the fight-or-flight response: when the threat is too big to fight, the gazelle runs for his life. As the lion bears down, Peter Levine noticed that often the gazelle would suddenly drop to the ground, as if shot, moments before the lion caught him. About to be caught and killed, he ‘freezes’. But sometimes the lion keeps running – there are other, fatter gazelles to chase – and the gazelle would wake from his frozen state and escape. But before he did, he would behave in an odd way, shaking and twitching all over.
Over time, Levine realised what was happening: the flight response floods the gazelle’s body with hormones and stress energy to enable him to run for his life. If the threat is removed, that energy is no longer needed and the body discharges it – the gazelle would do this by shaking and twitching his body. All animals instinctively process their trauma. But humans are too self-conscious, too ‘clever’ to act like the frozen gazelle, who shook and twitched and shuddered his way out of the trauma once he came to.
Our sophisticated brain tells us that this is ‘crazy’ behaviour, disturbing for us and for those around us, especially when there is no visible threat in sight. Instead we push it down, take a pill, think or talk our way around it, and tell ourselves we’re fine. We may have rationalised it, but that energy – crying out for release – is stuck.
‘It takes support, patience and love to recover from trauma, but it can be done’
Perhaps our first big stress happened, as it did to me, when we were very young and we simply weren’t able to process it thoroughly. Or it felt so overwhelming, we didn’t manage to discharge that stress energy fully.
Having begun with animals, Peter Levine went on to test this theory with patients and found again and again that problems such as extreme emotional sensitivity, anxiety, depression, and many behaviours, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, borderline personality and eating disorders and other addictions, could all be traced back to a frozen trauma.
If we think of our bodies as a measuring jug, that original threatening event filled us almost to the brim with stress energy. Any new stresses – even small ones – quickly cause our stress to spill over, which is why we can so quickly become anxious and overwhelmed. This kind of anxiety and stress are not just emotions, but physical responses trapped in our nervous systems. Peter Levine discovered that if he could help his patients discharge that energy, he could reset their stress gauge and help them heal.
That was the treatment I received in Mellody House, where they had been pioneering this new model of trauma treatment in a residential setting for more than seven years. It changed my life, and inspired me to set up a clinic in the UK to replicate that treatment over here. I’ve seen many examples of frozen trauma, and how it damages people’s lives.
Sarah, in her late 30s, came to our outpatient clinic in London because her second marriage was on the verge of collapse, and so was she. Only recently married, she was driving her husband away with her rages and ‘withdrawing’ behaviour. This had been a pattern for all of Sarah’s relationships. She’d fall quickly and deeply in love, convinced that this person was her soulmate, and lavish them with attention. But once the relationship was established, she constantly tested this love with cruel behaviour. When he grew angry or distant in return, she’d despair, feeling abandoned and terrified.
Sarah’s mother had a difficult labour with her first child and she didn’t want any more children – Sarah was an unplanned pregnancy. Sarah absorbed her mother’s feelings of rejection, which continued during her childhood. Although fed and cared for, she never felt loved or wanted. This long-term lack of safety overwhelmed her system and so traumatised her, and that trauma had frozen.
My clinic uses several methods for unblocking trauma, but to begin we talk about earlier experiences and feelings. Instead of dwelling on the events, I ask the patient to observe how their body feels. Sarah became aware of her clenched body language, and of how her stomach would feel tight as she discussed her mother. The big breakthrough with this therapy is understanding that the stress is a biological one, so although I don’t touch my patients, the therapies we use –sensorimotor psychotherapy and somatic experiencing – focus on physical sensation.
Patients will usually observe a physical response as energy is released. Some will feel warm – they may break into a sweat – or cold. Twitching and shaking are common. We treat the nervous system, not the past, which can’t be changed but can lose its power to control our lives.
We treated Sarah just like a fallen gazelle, and like a gazelle, her biology was intelligent enough to do its work once we opened up the pathway. Once released from her trauma, Sarah’s rages and terror of abandonment disappeared, and she has a very different approach to relationships.
Another patient, Kate, treated at our residential clinic in Oxford, told me how every time she thought she was ‘in trouble’ with authority figures – such as being late for work – her heart would race and her chest feel tight. Her fear of people with power over her stemmed from her early life with strict parents and an even stricter school.
Constantly in flight mode throughout her childhood, she had built up too much stress energy to discharge it properly, and the frozen stress haunted her interactions as an adult. In a case like this, it’s helpful to stop worrying about the ‘trouble’ and observe your reactions. Instead of saying ‘my boss is making me crazy’, think, ‘I notice when my boss gives me a look; I instantly experience worry and stress.’
Now see if you can identify the physical sensation that goes with this feeling. As you do, you start to connect with the deep mammal instinct that knows how to let go of that stress response, and if you are lucky, or after you have practised this for a while, you may notice a response in your body, such as trembling or other form of energetic release. You may feel an emotion connected with this – sadness, anger – or you may even cry. This is what happens as the trauma thaws and passes.
HOW YOU CAN HELP YOURSELF
For temporary relief
- Smells such as aromatherapy oils are the quickest way into our nervous systems.
- Press your feet into the ground and feel the size and strength of the earth: it tells our body that we are ‘grounded’.
- Breathe through your nose and exhale slowly through the mouth. This mimics the body’s response to rest and safety.
For longer term help
- Read Waking The Tiger by Peter Levine. It explains this new understanding of trauma; he also has a CD to guide you through the process.
- Notice your physical sensations rather than your thoughts as much as possible.
- Traditional exercises, such as yoga and meditation, can help reduce the impact of the mind and get us into our body.
For professional help
- Find a practitioner in somatic experiencing (seauk.org.uk), or sensorimotor psychotherapy (sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org), or contact Khiron House (see below).
While self-help is possible for many of us (see above right), for deeper or very stuck traumas, it is too difficult to try to manage this process alone. Cara came to see me with a history of bulimia and self-harming. She had been sexually abused as a child and her early adult life had been dominated by a heroic attempt to overcome her history and not be defined by it. S
he worked at a bank, bought a house and earned a lot of money. But always anxious, she abused food and alcohol, before her increasingly black depressions undermined her career and the self-harming started. In early sessions she curled up in a chair in the foetal position, and our first job was to make her feel safe.
We worked with a happier memory from her childhood – a best friend whose family welcomed Cara to stay in their loving home – and this became her safe place to go to when she felt overwhelmed. Releasing trauma too quickly can be retraumatising so has to be managed carefully. It doesn’t matter what happened, only that the stress is frozen. So one person from a war and another from a dysfunctional family may have the same symptoms. Our nervous system can’t distinguish between a car accident or a person – it just understands threat, and the same stress energy floods our system.
This is the big difference between this treatment and conventional talking therapies, especially those that try to ‘retrain our thoughts’. Our thoughts are not the main problem (although they can then contribute to it) – they are a symptom of a deeper cause. We need to tap into the deep ‘mammal brain’, which is part of all of us, below the rational level, to the sensing, nonverbal place where the damage is stored. After eight weeks in residential treatment, Cara still had work to do but looked, moved and felt like a completely different person.
My story ended happily too. I went through multiple stages of both physical and emotional releases: shaking, twitching, deep grief, sadness, loss and anger. My children were delighted to have their father back, but it had taken a toll on both my marriage and my children. Trauma always affects those around us as well as ourselves. My illness and absence, which they have experienced as an abandonment, along with their fear that I was so ill I might die and never return, upset my family deeply. Having seen how well I was doing with this therapy, though, some of them have also had the treatment to recover from the trauma of this passage of our lives.
They are all doing much better. It takes support, patience and love to recover from trauma, but it can be done. Feeling overwhelmed does not have to rule your life or be a permanent part of it. Somewhere, something happened to you that caused you a huge stress, and you have been unable to release that trauma. But our bodies are wise, they know exactly what to do – they have been doing it for millions of years. All we need to do is get out of our own way and let that happen. I did it, and so can you. The rewards are life changing.
Benjamin Fry is the founder of Khiron House, a residential clinic in Oxford and an outpatient service in Harley Street, London, tel: 020 7754 0477, khironhouse.com
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2376132/TV-psychotherapist-Benjamin-Fry-devastated-depression-Then-discovered-radical-new-treatment.html#ixzz2gSxby8gS
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook
- WATCH: Trauma expert helps PTSD patients with trembling exercises (globalnews.ca)
- 18 minutes of trauma (forfreepsychology.wordpress.com)
- Early Childhood Trauma: How Parents Can Help (psychologytoday.com)
- Letter to a young student #9 (psychologytoday.com)
- “Our Sorrows & Wounds are Healed, Only When We Touch Them with Compassion.” – Buddha: A Look into Group Therapy and Trauma (acrouse343.wordpress.com)
- Trauma can be treated, but not erased | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett (theguardian.com)
Gosh, I can’t believe how quickly September seems to have arrived. Maybe it’s already
September in your part of the world. Here, there’s another few hours to go. I think September always makes me feel like it’s a sort of beginning or start to something new. Likely this comes from having been in school for the majority of my life and learning to associate September with a new calendar year (academic). But now that I am out it feels nice to simply take in the new temperatures and changes that come usually by October, if not before then. I love autumn. It’s the best season in my humble opinion. All seasons have their merits but being a person who enjoys days perfect for a sweater, autumn is best.
It’s been awhile since I posted anything on here. My other blogs have been neglected too but this one especially. So my apologies for that. I will try to post more frequently-so long as I have something worth posting about. Not that you don’t all want to hear about the more banal aspects of my life…..
Lately I have been trying to establish more of an online presence regarding my online shops and social media. It’s not been the easiest thing to figure out where to spend my time and what I ought to be focusing more attention on. Promotion isn’t really my forte but I am grateful for Twitter, facebook and other lesser known social media sites. One that you may not have heard of yet is WANELO which stands for want, need, love and features anything you can imagine that is sold online. It’s easy to post stuff to and you can share to facebook and Twitter at the same time if you wish. I like it for its ease of use and little need for tech skills above the moderate level (at most).
The two online shops I focus most of my time on are Zazzle and CafePress. They are sites where you can place your design on a product and it will give you a royalty if it sells. It’s not a get rich quick sort of thing by any stretch. I’d wager most sellers don’t even manage to cash out. You have to earn $25 American or $50 if Canadian on Zazzle and most royalties are small. CafePress on the other hand allows you to cash out at $20 if you’re Canadian so I am glad about that. Maybe I will manage that. I have yet to sell anything from my CafePress shop but I only started adding products to it last week. My Zazzle store has been open since last October and I haven’t made enough to cash out yet on there!
I’ve been quite busy this past month so maybe I’ll do another post about everything I have been up to. For now I’ll just end here.
- New CafePress marketplace connects designers with online shoppers (siliconbeat.com)
- CafePress Has Gone Social (smallbusinessmavericks.com)
- CafePress connects designers with online shoppers (mercurynews.com)
- Twitter Gets Commerce Head, Plans To Get People Using Twitter For Online Shopping (webpronews.com)
- Check Out Wanelo! (cinnamonpink.typepad.com)
- The Rise Of Social Commerce: How Tweets, Pins And Likes Can Turn Into Sales (businessinsider.com)
This morning I was awoken by an uncomfortable feeling and resulting visit to the “little girl’s
room” whereupon I spent longer than usual. The byproduct wasn’t relief but a feeling of weakness. Normally I don’t have many tummy complaints so this was a surprise. Not sure what precipitated it but it might have been a bar I ate. The difficult thing following such incidents is the subsequent dehydration. Now I didn’t ‘toss the cookies’ or anything but I won’t go into details…. What happens in the bathroom stays there! LOL I just hope this was a one off sort of incident. There’s only so much fluid loss one can take. My electrolytes are already out of kilter from this morning’s ‘surprise’.
So I haven’t really done much today. Feeling much too lethargic after this morning. Why do electrolytes take so long to get back to normal? I’ve been munching on whole wheat saltine crackers to get some sodium back. I’d have a banana for potassium but the fruit flies have been having their way with the remaining two and I don’t feel like eating them now! Actually those pesky critters have taken over the kitchen so when I have more energy again I will have to vacuum them up. Vacuuming the fruit flies up works well but likely gives me bad karma for killing so many live creatures.
Hope your Sunday or Monday is going well
Wow, I can’t believe I haven’t blogged on this blog for several weeks. I feel guilty but did post a
few times on my other blogs. Really I have just been busy so haven’t done much posting on any of my blogs I keep. Last week I decided to tackle my parents’ garden shed that hadn’t been cleaned in decades. It took me three days just to clear out the junk and another day or so to really straighten up and clean it. But it looks pretty good now. I even vacuumed some inside the shed because there was lots of ‘gunk’ and ‘icky’ stuff I didn’t want to stir up with a broom or duster.
I’ve been doing a lot of clearing out of junk these past months and the changes have been remarkable. No longer do I feel like hiding in shame if an unannounced visitor comes around. Before I would have wanted to crawl under a rock because the place was so messy and dirty. But I decided this year, once and for all, I was sick of living under such conditions and wanted to improve things. So I really stepped up to the plate and have done quite a lot to make the place look better. Holy crow did we ever have a tonne of garbage in the first few months! Lots was recyclable and able to be donated but we had lots for the regular garbage too. I felt guilt over that but the feeling of satisfaction I got after decluttering kept me from keeping any of it.
Counselling has been going alright. I go bi-weekly or twice a month and just discuss whatever is on my mind. These last couple of visits I have been reviewing material from a book my counsellor recommended to me “Embracing Your Inner Critic”. I purchased it in electronic form to save the shipping and handling fees! LOL Yesterday was one of my appointments and we decided I could rename my “problems” to “a spot of bother” because it sounds less troubling and easier to deal with! I came up with it because I recalled Winnie the Pooh referring to his troubles that way. Seeing as how Winnie the Pooh could always make me feel better I went with that. Now I will refer to any issues I have as “a spot of bother”!
Besides counselling and cleaning I have been working on promoting my Zazzle store products. I started a blog on Blogger so I could put flash panels of my products there and post my products without feeling apologetic about it. You can’t put flash panels on WP.com anyhow so I had to chose Blogger for that purpose. I also started a couple of facebook pages when I realized they were free so long as you don’t need advertising. So now I have a page on facebook for my Reflections on Life Thus Far blog and my Zazzle products. Plus I started a new Twitter account for my Zazzle products so I can Tweet just my products I design in Zazzle! It’s a lot of effort to do this promoting stuff. I haven’t sold anything because of it yet but I hope to.
Today I did something I haven’t done in ages, socialize. It was nice; I met up with a couple
of people from a group I’d been in before and we chatted and ate together. I really don’t go out much so actually making arrangements to have a social engagement was quite novel for me. Not that I’ve never socialized before or met up for a meal with people but it’s been awhile! Hopefully we can meet up again and make this a more regular practice.
It was quite warm and humid today but I enjoyed being in the company of people I hope will become permanent friends, rather than nice people I lose touch with. Friendship requires a bit of work but once you have developed it I find it gets easier. I do wish it wasn’t so hard for me to keep friends but I have undergone a lot of personal changes over the past 3-5 years and even more over the past decade. When you change and become healthy the same people that were in your life all along don’t always fit in anymore. I’ve found many of the friendships I had with people didn’t really fall apart exactly so much as drifted apart. The less you are like who you are when you became friends in the first place the harder it is to maintain that relationship.
Has anyone ever had to leave behind friends because of personal changes that made it difficult to continue the friendship? Did you manage to build new friendships or has it been impossible because you don’t know how to meet new people? I still have friends from university but they are more like acquaintances than friends or I have drifted away from them altogether. These are natural occurrences though as we change who we are-or perhaps I should say become who we are. When the pretending and need to please falls away what do you have left? What’s left can scare people because they aren’t willing to be as authentic with themselves or they simply can’t relate to you anymore.
I strongly believe we meet the people we need to in order for us to grow as humans. The ones we love or hate are in our lives to teach us about ourselves if we pay attention. I might not enjoy some of the people I have met but they have all taught me valuable lessons-usually the same ones over and over again because I failed to master them the first time. There have also been some very wonderful people too though for which I am grateful for.
Hope your weekend is going well