Monday, 23 April 2018

Improvise Your Way to Joy.

Picture a group of mature business people learning the Art of Improv. Improv is a theatre genre that encourages quick thinking in the moment. The exercise I'm remembering involved one in each pair talking gibberish, and the other talking English. The 'dare' was to have a meaningful conversation when you can't understand the linguistics of the other! It was a bit bonkers...

...except it wasn't. We really began to tune into everything that wasn't the words. I was learning something new, and I liked it.

Thus I would like to share some lessons from the Art of Improv with you, with a view to creating joy in our lives. Are you up for that? No quick fixes here – just proven techniques to improve our quality of life.

The first (of seven) principles is, "Yes, And..."

In a "No, But..." Society, "Yes, And..." is a breath of fresh air.

In Improv, the principle is used to accept everything someone says on stage – to say, "Yes!" to it just the way it is... And then to augment it with something that adds additional value. It is not using "Yes!" as an excuse to steer the conversation in our own chosen direction. It is "Yes!" in the fullness of embracing and appreciating fully the other person's worldview.

This can be challenging! I LOVE the way this takes the focus off 'Me' in the conversation and puts it fully on the 'Other'. I've been using it with my kids, with Penelope, and in business networking. My discoveries are that it gets me listening at a much deeper level – getting out of myself and into the 'us' of the connection (a welcome relief from feeling low).

A word to the wise though, if your partner says, "Darling, does my bum look big in this?" Don't answer like I did: "Yes, And..." the rest was interesting!

A Moodscope member.

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Sunday, 22 April 2018

My kingdom for a tree!

I beg forgiveness to talk of him again. But I am happy and I cannot hold myself from saying it. My best friend is back! I am overjoyed to hear his voice again.

It has been a long, long winter this year. We have been snowed in a number of times, the most recent was this month, April. My friend stood tall throughout but utterly silent. I have a great bond with him for he visually represents how I feel as a survivor of, and battler with, depression. You may remember he is half a tree, growing only on one side and I feel great kinship with that. So, so slowly his other side is changing too. He reminds me that change is both unstoppable and to be allowed.

My best friend the tree closes down in Autumn and we part as if we were lovers on a train platform, pulled apart by the moving train. He throws me kisses and slowly his voice recedes until I can hear him no more. But I wait. I watch. I nod at him. He reminds me to hold on. He tells me other days come. Life changes. It changes moment by moment. He stays with me. Utterly silent.

Today I heard him. His voice whispered hello and I was shy as I glanced up at him in all of his handsome newness. His arms hold tiny green buds and he is light and dancing in cold sunlight. He gave me his smile. I gave him mine.

Days change. Be ready.

Love from

The room above the garage
A Moodscope member.

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Saturday, 21 April 2018

Dream on.

As a little girl, I would enjoy singing popular songs to my Teddy, or my cat and dog. I can recall getting into the mood, pretending I was a famous singer.

Fast forward to the present day, not much has changed. The only difference is the choice of songs. I grew out of "They're Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace", and these days I perform for an audience of one - me.

I hasten to add I am not prancing around in front of a mirror, holding a hairbrush as a mike. God, that would be seriously sad, wouldn't it?

No, it is all going on inside my head. Sometimes when I am walking outdoors, to pass the time I will drift off, but it usually happens when I'm on my cross country running machine. On goes Spotify or You Tube, and before you know it I am up there on that stage, with a rapturous audience. Occasionally, it is not a live audience, if for example, I am appearing on Old Grey Whistle Test.

I can be either sex vocally, but visually remain female. That said, I do some tweaks. My Elvis (black leather era) looks like a blonde K.D.Laing. I have taken to dithering about what I should wear for a performance, much as I do in real life before I go out. Sometimes physical changes are called for. In order to do justice to the purple satin gown I wear for performing Dvorak's Song to the Moon at the Proms, I have to fill out a bit on top.

I baulked at Meatloaf, but I can do a pretty raunchy Cher when tackling Dead Ringer for Love.

Occasionally I prefer to remain in the background, providing backing vocals for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Amy Winehouse.

There's no mystery about the basis of my fantasy life. If I could choose one gift to have been born with it would have been the gift of music, whether singing beautifully or playing a musical instrument.

My choice of instrument is nearly always the guitar, except when playing accordion with Ry Cooder.

Sadly, I can't sing a note, and could not even master the recorder at school.

I have never heard anyone else admit to such daydreams. The closest involved a few men, scoring the winning goal as the crowd goes mad with joy.

I am beginning to wonder if this is getting out of control. Last weekend I was the entire Russian Red army choir, and their soloist, performing Kalinka. The Cossack dancing in the background nearly killed me.

You can be honest with me. Is this normal behaviour for an adult? Maybe you too have a secret life? Are you a star of stage or screen, or perhaps an Olympian Gold medallist?

I promise not to laugh. I mean, I'm hardly in a position to am I?

A Moodscope member.

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Friday, 20 April 2018

Things I have done today.

I am not doing great at the moment and this is always a difficult time of year for me. Maybe this year has been tougher than others but I am not sure.

Do you ever get surprised by how difficult depression is no matter how many times you have been there before? I know I do. Always learning and relearning.

There is a comfort for me in writing lists that are almost the same every day. Sometimes I write a To Do list. Sometimes, especially on really hard days, I write a Things I Have Done list. My little mantra is "if it is hard for you, then it is hard".

Things I Have Done Today:

- Took my medication
- Fed and saw to the cat
- Took my Moodscope test
- Did a mini-mindfulness exercise
- Did some stretches
- Drank 3 large glasses of water
- Ate some fruit
- Ate some vegetables
- Walked around the block
- Washed up a basin of dishes
- Spent 10 minutes working on my CV (I actually set a timer for 5 minutes, but got into a flow so kept going for a bonus 5 minutes, which was completely unexpected)
- Read a chapter of my book of the moment which is "Managing Depression with Mindfulness for Dummies" (today it was interesting things about how parts if the brain work.)

Now actually looking back I feel pretty good about achieving all that. And I feel really good about having made myself feel pretty good! I am reminded that this setting 5 minutes of a task is really helpful. I learned this before several times but here I go again.

Tomorrow is a whole new day and imagine what I could get done now I remembered or relearned that?

A Moodscope member.

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Thursday, 19 April 2018


I think nurturing is very important as I think it should be for most of us during our ups and downs. I am going through really difficult time just now. I happen to be Bipolar and am going through a bad bout of anxiety which has knocked me for six. So I need to be kind to myself or as we say nurture oneself.

Unfortunately I just don't seem to be able to slow down, so this is the area on which I need to work on most. I am lucky though as during this difficult time my family are nurturing me, especially my wife and youngest daughter, the latter being a junior doctor so has some knowledge of mental health illnesses.

To help us, my daughters have organised a cleaner to come and clean the flat once a week. I have accepted this offer and it has motivated both my wife and I to tidy the place up so the cleaner can get on with without the clutter!

I consider myself truly blessed as I have very patient and understanding psychiatrists. At present the are reviewing my medications as they seem not to be working and have some unpleasant side effects.

Nurturing for me is also being patient with myself and all those around me. Do you nurture yourself in times of need?

Flower in the Garden
A Moodscope member. 

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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The Art of Noise.

I seem to have been doing a lot of listening recently.

A friend had his research stolen and published without accreditation. He needed a sympathetic ear into which he poured his feelings of anger, hurt, betrayal and frustration.

My mother has needed to process all the emotion attached to objects before she can let them go. I have listened to all her stories about people I never knew and places I've never been.

My younger daughter needed to tell us about her feelings of anger and resentment over school, over the way things are done in the family; the way nobody ever listens to her.

Ah yes: because we're not very good at listening.

I know that when I'm "Up", I burble all over the place. I don't mean to be insensitive, but I don't speak into people's space – I just fountain joy (occasionally irritation or frustration) all around, and don't consider that other people may need to stay dry. When "Down", I am incapable of listening – all my attention is centred on coping through that dark misery.

But, we do need to listen.

We need to listen so we can respond appropriately to situations and we need to listen to meet the emotional needs of others.

We need to listen just as we need to be listened to.

I remember being taught listening skills on a management training course, long ago.

The first technique is to really listen. That means paying attention to the speaker rather than using the space to formulate your own reply.

Part of it is to make the appropriate response. This may be eye contact (it might not, depending on the situation), it may be to make listening noises: the "Uh huh," and "Mmm…" – although these must be real and not just those we make to make someone think we're listening, when really our mind is on peeling potatoes. We should also make the speaker know they are understood, maybe by reflecting back to them what they've just said, but in different words. If we've got it wrong, then they will correct us – hopefully without storming out of the room with the teenage, "You never understand anything!"

Very often we just need to listen; we don't have to solve their problem. Very few of us, after all, have a magic wand we can wave to make everything all right. When someone is pouring out their grief over a death or loss, then what we feel is an inadequate though heartfelt "I'm so sorry," is all they need. We may need to validate their emotion: "Absolutely I can see why you're angry; I would be too!"

And sometimes, when that emotion is directed at us, we need to say, "I'm sorry that what I did upset you."

I think we have all heard the saying that we have two ears but only one mouth and that we should use them in the proportion given.

Not bad advice.

(and the earworm to go with this:

A Moodscope member.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Toxic time, the fast show and... tea.

I have my brother-in-law to thank for some observations. I wouldn't tell him though, as he is a little conceited.

A while ago I was crippled with anxiety and depression, so much so, that I turned to alcohol - the one thing helped keep me going. On day, walking across the common with my brother-in-law and three dogs it was made evident that my 'problem' related to not having much productive activity in my life. Hence my time was toxic to me. It stretched out as if looking into a bottomless pit. I tried petty distractions, but with little meaning or value to my actions, my time was still unwanted.

Secondly, my attitude. It was like that of unlucky Alf in the Fast Show, everything was wrong, because my attitude was so bad. And bad things happened to me. It seemed to me that everything was doom, everything was gloom, and I didn't know how to change it.

I was advised to drink tea. I had stopped drinking it, preferring Vodka instead.

I have now addressed all three issues, and feel the happiest I have been since I can remember. My time is precious and joyous, much of the day. I like my work, my son, doing up my house, swimming, playing the guitar and of course, walking on the common. I ride along on my bike, and it is Brilliant, reminding me of the happier Fast Show character. My attitude has turned though 180 degrees. And I drink lots of tea. This I see as looking after my body, and keeping it hydrated.

So, three realms of good living. Precious time used well, an adjustment away from a self pitying attitude (I apply that statement only to myself), and keeping the body supported as well as the mind.

A Moodscope member.

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Monday, 16 April 2018

Keep on keeping on part 2.

I wrote a blog for moodscope in December 2017 about creating a new routine when you lose a job and the need to keep on keeping on.

Four months on, I start a new job in a week. But the interview and experience has made me want to talk about employment and bipolar.

In my interview, I was asked to go through my career to date-which led me to explain that I had bipolar as many of you will recognise, it's difficult not to! I had gaps in my employment history and have always felt the need to be honest. But, later (before I was offered the job) I got the fear that I had made a mistake and that it may count against me. Thankfully it didn't, but I took a risky leap of faith. Equally, I don't want the condition to define me but felt the need to speak out, nonetheless.

I've been knowingly discriminated against in the past and yet still I think the need to be open, represent those in recovery (which brings its own fears, when/if symptoms will come back) and raise awareness of the illness. I also don't deny that people around you who know you and spend a lot of time with you (ie. those we work with) are well placed to spot differences in behaviour when I may not. So, there is a sense of self preservation in the decision too.

In the subsequent discussions, there was no mention of my condition which is a good thing.  I haven't had an episode for eight years... but for me, there is still the fear that it will come back. So, felt the need to prepare them, just in case.

How open are you with those you work with about your condition? Do you feel it's important to raise the issue or is it none of their business! I would love to hear your views and any advice about how to tackle meeting a new group of people when you are well but with a diagnosis.

The wee one.
A Moodscope member.

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Saturday, 14 April 2018

Dinner Parties.

When entertaining, do you, as a host, make the evening as enjoyable as possible for your guests?

Or do your guests feel the need to ask you lots of questions and give you lots of compliments because you have taken the time and trouble to cook for them?

There are no rules I guess, but personally, when I used to entertain (not been up to it for a while) the evening is all about them and not me.

We were invited to two dinner parties recently, rare, just so happened that way.

At one dinner, the main subject was politics. I don't mind that but it got rather boring after a while. The hosts did all of the talking, the guests really had no choice but to make the right noises in the right places.

I noticed that the other guests said exactly what the hosts wanted to hear. After all, they had been given a lovely meal by them. All a bit fake if you ask me.

I have learnt (to some extent) to keep my mouth shut if I do not agree. I will never be the one that says just what people want to hear. Even if they have just served me a delicious meal.

At the other dinner, we all complimented the host, as you do, but it turned out he just wanted to talk about his problems. Is that why he invited us?

I was depressed and didn't want to go out. But people say, don't they, "Make yourself go, you will feel  better for it".

I burst into tears and went home.

Neither dinner party took my mind off things. Great food but the conversations were grim!

It has not restored my faith in people, as I believe they often have an ulterior motive.

They invite you to dinner so they can talk about themselves!!

Personally, I cannot talk much within a group of people, so I am grateful not to have questions fired at me.

But light entertainment and a bit of fun, would not go amiss.

Should dinner parties or even general get togethers, be about the hosts, or the guests?

A Moodscope member.

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Friday, 13 April 2018

Is significant change possible?

I was nearly 40 before the penny dropped that some of the problems I'd been experiencing — pain, low mood, compulsive behaviour, inability to maintain relationships, social anxiety — were being driven from within my own mind.

There were several reasons why it took so long and here are two of them:

Firstly, I isolate — few get to see me beyond superficialities. Secondly, none of my symptoms were florid enough to stop me functioning; I could get by. Imagine a car slowly driving along the edge of a busy road, the sound of its flat tyres making you wince.

It's doing about 10mph, it has not got its hazard lights on, other vehicles passing it by. You wave at the driver and yell, "Stop and fix the tyres!" but he can't hear you so he just smiles and waves back and carries on down the road. In fact he's got the radio on quite loud and it's playing, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" on a loop.

My mind was both the car and the radio. I'm quite grateful for its tendency to tune to a station with a cheerful song. However, when I eventually noticed those flat tyres I also saw that the radio's tuner had a problem too.

I can't remember the year or the month but I do remember it was 7pm and it was winter. I'd been sat in a chair staring at a wall and I realised I'd been there for 12 hours. With clarity it occurred to me that this wasn't right. In fact it occurred to me that I'd been wall-staring on and off for months. Secondly, it occurred to me there was only me and the wall — and there was nothing wrong with the wall. I put my trainers on and went for a walk and started thinking. The rain wasn't a problem.

It wasn't exactly an epiphany but sometime around then, after I realised I needed to physically move, I saw "the car" needed a few things fixing. Funnily enough the first thing I did was turn the radio off; it was a distraction. Of course turning off my happy song lowered my mood but with less distraction I could start to focus on what was wrong with things.

That's pretty much where my journey into "car mechanics" began. It has taken about 15 years so far, gone down some dead ends, but also made some progress too. About the only thing which has been consistent is the belief that significant change is possible and, if I write any more of these pieces I guess I'll unpack the metaphor and get to details.

But for now, what's your basic outlook? Do you believe that significant change is possible? How do you maintain that belief?

A Moodscope member.

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