Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Right Here, Right Now: Breaking Out of a Rut During COVID

April 26th, 2021 · breaking out of a rut

Sometimes, breaking out of a rut is very important. It’s a piece of psychological work that you just have to do to stay true to who you really are. And during COVID, we can all fall into some pretty deep ruts.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

(SPOILER ALERT: while this article has some real relevance in the midst of the COVID lockdown, getting stuck in a rut is something that can easily happen to us at any time!)

You might think that things would work the other way, that, with our regular activities outside of our homes on hold, we would have a lot of free time, and so there would be opportunities to explore new things and go in new directions. While this might be true in theory, I know that my clients’ experience during this major life transition is very different, and so is my own!

One of the things that I enjoy and find meaningful is creative writing. I try and do it on a very regular basis, because I feel that the effort I put into it adds a lot to my life.

Pre-COVID, I had a pattern that I would follow for writing. Not far from where I live is my favourite cafe. I used to schedule specific blocks of time, at the same time each week, when I would leave my office for the day, head over to my cafe, get my favourite non-fat latte, sit at my favourite table with its view onto a busy streetscape, and write. It was a great way of marking a shift from my daily work mode to the special time that I devote to writing.

That seems like quite a long time ago now. Along came COVID and lockdown. It wouldn’t be possible any longer for me to go and sit in “my cafe” and write, until the pandemic is over. So I would sit at home and try to write, but would find it so hard to shift away from work and get into my writing “headspace”. It was clear to me that I was getting stuck in a rut.

Breaking Out of a Rut Means Accepting That You’re in One

As clients have talked about their pandemic experiences, I’ve heard many echoes of this story. People are feeling the disappearance of the usual things that demarcate the limits of time, such as the commute from daytime workplace to evening home or family time, or the going out to restaurants, theatres or activities that make “weekend time” different from “weekday time”. Without these markers it’s easy to just drift.

When you’re stuck in a rut, it can really sap your life energy. It’s not uncommon for the sense of being in a rut to be associated with depression, anxiety, or both. In such a state, it can easily happen that life starts to feel colourless and meaningless. We just get up and do it again, going through the day. Rinse and repeat. Sometimes we rationalize, and tell ourselves that things will get better—but often we can be vague on how exactly that will happen. We may engage in magical thinking—“Any day now, things will get better.”

However, for things to actually get better, it’s essential for us to acknowledge that we’re in a rut. This is something that we may need to face with real compassion for ourselves, as it can be easy to go to a place of self-blame and regret, which can suck away our emotional energy. Instead we need to do what we can to focus our energy to move beyond this stuck place.

Taking It Deeper

To find the courage to acknowledge that “I’m in a rut” means accepting that life might not be what I want it to be at this point. To get beyond that, and begin to fix the problem may require going deeper, as depth psychotherapy affirms. It may be essential to ask oneself why am I in a rut?

Part of the answer to that question may be “We’re in a pandemic.” However the sense of being in a rut may also relate to a number of bigger questions, such as;

  • What parts of life have genuine meaning for me?
  • What are the major sources of stress in my life?
  • What am I doing in my life, just because I don’t want to feel that I’ve wasted the time or energy that I’ve invested in it?
  • What parts of myself have I yet to explore?

Breaking Out

I was eventually able to find ways to preserve blocks of time for my creative writing. Just as importantly, I was able to re-connect with my motivation for writing in the first place, and to recognize that it’s a very fundamental and very important part of me. I don’t see any Pulitzer Prizes for me in the near future, but that’s okay: the writing allows a part of me to be alive that doesn’t otherwise get to surface, and, for me, that’s precious.

I can’t go out to “my cafe” to do the writing, but I’ve found some simple rituals to do that mark my change from “being a therapist” time to “creative writing time”. Changing location, and putting on specific music are two of the several things that mark that transition.

A number of clients have had similar experiences in breaking out of a rut during the pandemic. This has often involved individuals finding new ways to acknowledge and honour what has lasting value in their lives, and to explore the parts of themselves that are seeking to emerge, even in the midst of a pandemic. Breaking out of a rut can certainly be in service of the journey toward wholeness.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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At This Point in COVID-19: Living with Loss

April 19th, 2021 · living with loss

When it comes to our experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of us are “living with loss”.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

The experience of living through COVID-19 and the pandemic has led to pretty significant losses for very many of us, and yet we may not be used to thinking of them as losses. The pandemic may lead to changes in our pattern of life, and we may think of these as impositions, or as adaptations or adjustments that we would rather not make. Yet often, they can be more than this.

Today, I was out on an errand, and I drove by a major intersection in Oakville, where a large colourful resto-pub with an outdoor beer garden is located. It was a pleasant enough early spring day. On a normal spring Sunday, you’d expect to see families enjoying a lunch or brunch, and groups of friends laughing, joking and enjoying one another’s company, with friendly hospitable staff winding their way between the tables. But, alas, today there was none of that, because, once again, we’re facing a stay-at-home order here in Ontario, which has closed down restaurants for all but take out.

As I drove by and realized this, I felt a distinct sense of sadness. Why, exactly? It’s not that I personally couldn’t go sit at the outdoor seating. It was much more that something that I’d expect to see as part of the delight of the gradually lengthening days of spring was painfully absent. Initially, I didn’t recognize that there was a dimension of grief around this experience—yet it was most certainly there.

Many of our experiences of loss and grief at this time have this kind of initially hidden character. It isn’t until we really acknowledge and stay with what we’re feeling that we can really understand what’s going on.

What Loss or Grief Does to Us

It may sound like playing with words, but the experience of loss leaves us bereft. There is the sense of a “hole” or absence in our lives of which we may or may not be conscious. As renowned grief expert Dr. William J. Worden asserts, there are four challenges with which loss or grief confronts us:

  • Accepting the reality of the loss;
  • Experiencing the pain of the loss;
  • Adjusting to the new situation; and,
  • Emotionally investing in the new state of affairs.

Unlike some models of grief, Worden sees these four challenges as states that we can go back and forth between rather than stages that we pass through in a sequence.

As I hinted at above, with COVID-19 issues, we can get stuck in failing to accept or acknowledge the reality of the losses that we’ve incurred. It can be very easy to not recognize or acknowledge that we’ve actually experienced a loss. We write it off as an “inconvenience” or a “frustration”. When it involves our sense of social connection to others, or our sense of security and and our sense of a predictable, manageable future, what we’re experiencing is not inconvenience—it’s loss.

Heaviness, Hope and Self-Care

Depth psychotherapists know that individuals living with loss are often burdened by a sense of immobilization and heaviness. Again, this can often go unnoticed by the person suffering or grieving the loss. This is especially true with the sense of loss that stems from many different situations in the pandemic, because people are often completely unsure of whether it’s legitimate for them to acknowledge or grieve any of their losses. So, what people are often left with is a sense of heaviness or stuckness that they just can’t explain. We commonly don’t know what to do with it.

As grief experts often observe, the “heaviness” of grief can sap our motivation to reach out to others. This can be a particularly big difficulty during the pandemic, when we’re already challenged to connect with others as a result of social distancing, closures etc. It can be essential for us to creatively find some means of social connection, as a means of sharing our losses and finding meaning within them.

Last week’s blog post discussed the importance of social contact in maintaining our hope, and that is also an important part of living with loss. Another thing that is essential to keeping our hope is self-care. Working out what exactly that means for each of us individually, and then developing some concrete ways to care for ourselves is an essential part of self-compassion in our place and time.

Meaning and Our Losses

Also, we should not lose sight of the element of meaning on the journey of living with loss. Finding meaning in what we experience is centrally important, especially as we deal with grief and as we go through major life transitions.

Often in life, finding meaning in what we are undergoing involves exploring what is undiscovered. It can often be that learning something, or exploring something previously unknown is a way of finding meaning in the face of loss. This might mean exploring something unfamiliar or creating a new pattern or routine in our lives. It might also mean deepening an already existing commitment to something valuable, and exploring aspects of ourselves that we haven’t opened up before.

One of the fundamental elements of Jungian depth psychotherapy is finding meaning in our individual lives. This certainly includes the centrally important soul work of finding meaning in our experiences of living with loss. A supportive therapeutic relationship can be central to finding the means of living with loss during the pandemic period and beginning to integrate it into our journey to wholeness.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Keep on Hoping: Making Hope Concrete in an Uncertain Time

April 12th, 2021 · keep on hoping

“Keep on hoping” is the buzzword of this time of lockdown. Yet, when we make hope concrete or solid, for ourselves or others, it changes the way we feel.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

It’s essential at this demanding time of major life transition that we find concrete ways to support ourselves, both independently, and in connection with one another. It’s still a time when we can find ourselves bombarded by discouraging news, in some ways more than ever, even though there’s some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. It’s important for us to connect to something that can be life-giving.

I’ve written about hope a fair bit over the last while, and there’s a reason for that. There’s an archetypal dimension to hope. Jung recognized that hope comes from some more fundamental place in us than the ego. Yet we can do things for ourselves that support hope and invite courage—and right now is a very important time to be doing that.

My Experience Getting the Vaccine

As many of you either have, or soon will, I was fortunate enough to get the first shot of my COVID vaccination at OTMH in Oakville this weekend. I’m mentioning this not to show how lucky I am, or anything of the sort, but to notice something that I think is important about the experience of getting the vaccine.

To be completely frank, I was actually approaching the prospect of vaccination with a degree of trepidation. I had heard so much about side effects and I was worried that the situation might be disorganized or chaotic. When I arrived, however, the process was simple and straightforward, and we went through the process quickly, thanks to the efficient and courteous hospital staff. We soon found ourselves in the post-vaccination waiting room, and after a few minutes we got to leave.

While we were sitting there, all socially distanced, waiting for the all-clear to leave, I felt that we were infected with something: hope. It seemed to me that there was a shared feeling that maybe we were starting to see some daylight. I don’t think that I was the only one who came away from that experience with a sense of (dare I say it?)—joy.

Hope is Something We Do Together

How can you get a sense of joy from getting a needle? I think that the strong emotions that people feel on getting vaccinated generally have to do with the long wait, and with the sense that maybe, finally things are starting to get somewhat better. As San Jose, CA therapist Melinda Olsen put it in a recent HuffPost article:

After I got the shot I started to tear up; it felt like there was finally some hope after [endless] months of personal difficulty and collective trauma due to the pandemic.

There is also something incredibly powerful about a shared community of hope. Even though on Saturday morning, the group of us gathered, waiting to get the “green light” to leave after our vaccination were a group of people essentially thrown together by circumstance, there was a sense of something shared in this sense that maybe, just maybe we’re starting to see some daylight and we’re ever so slowly starting to move towards it.

Renewal in Shared Trauma: Keep on Hoping

The American poet Emily Dickinson touches on something profound and fundamentally human in her deceptively simple poem “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”:

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

“And never stops at all”—this is a sure sign of something archetypal, as Jung would tell us. Hope is something present at the very base of the human soul. Beyond our intellectual assessment of situations, our weighing of odds, hope “sings the tune without the words”. We humans have an immense capacity to sustain hope, to engender it in others and to keep on hoping. Together, we have a vast capacity to hold hope as a shared thing.

As we move through the pandemic and eventually bring it to a close, the capacity to keep on hoping is one of our most precious gifts. The process of working with a depth psychotherapist may prove to be an invaluable aid to our individual capacity to keep on hoping, and to share our hope with others.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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