Journeying Toward Wholeness

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A New Direction for My Life, #3: Is Now The Right Moment?

June 21st, 2021 · a new direction

If we look around at the situation now with respect to the pandemic, the moment seems unique. We feel a sense of possibility, and maybe even new direction.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Our inner cynic might ask, So, what’s really so special about this moment?” Well, throughout this series on finding a new direction for my life, we’ve noted the strong sense with which we’ve all been living that we are hemmed in by limitations that we can’t do much to control. Yet now, there seems to be a different feeling, a changed atmosphere. Some might say that it’s the result of the arrival of the season of nice weather, with people who’ve had too much “cabin fever” desperate to be out and about. Is that all it is?

It might seem that way. It’s certainly true, at least in my part of the world that people are out and about, in very large numbers. As restrictions lift, the highways are crowded, and the stores are packed, and there’s a tremendous sense of energy, bound up for too long. It strongly seems like this energy wants to flow out into the world. That surge in all of us may not know exactly where it really wants to go, or what it wants to do there, but it’s a reality in our collective social lives. It as if the life is starting to flow back into our common life, rather like the blood flowing back into an arm or leg that has “gone to sleep”.

However, saying this is not the same thing as saying that “everything is coming up roses”. While many people are coming back into the public sphere in ways we haven’t seen for quite some time, this is not true of everyone. Just as happens with a limb that has gone to sleep, when the life flows back into it, the sensations at first may not be all that pleasant. There are many people, for instance, who are experiencing a deep genuine reluctance to leave their homes and venture back into anything resembling public space. For people in this position, the anxiety or fear associated with yet “another transition” may be disempowering and overwhelming.

What are we to make of this moment in our lives? What are we supposed to do with it?

What Do You Want Now?

This moment that we’re experiencing may well have some unique characteristics. There’s a strong sense shared by many, whether expert social commentators and academics, or ordinary people, that this is a moment when things are in a highly unusual state of flux. Some, such as Harvard Professor and former U.S. ambassador to NATO Nicolas Burns, have said that the situation is comparable to what has occurred when the world has gone through a world war. Whether that is exactly correct or not, it’s clear that the world has been through, and is going through a lot—and so are individual people.

We have all faced some very unusual, demanding and stressful times. Yet now it seems that things may be making a shift, and that the world, or at least our part of the world, may be moving back toward something that in many ways looks a lot more like pre-pandemic normal. Yet we would be wise to look at the ways in which our current situation isn’t exactly normal.

For instance, if we think about the economic impact of the pandemic, some surprising facts come to light. When the pandemic began, many—rightly—feared its potential economic impact. And for many, there has been a very significant downside in lost jobs, or reduced compensation or benefits. Yet, paradoxically, as a recent CBC article underscored,

Canadians have saved a record amount during the pandemic, resulting from the combined impact of reduced spending and collecting more money from government support programs.

CBC “Average Canadian Saved More in the Pandemic”, 21 June / 21

Similarly, there is apparently strong evidence to indicate that Canadian workers, who have been working virtually throught the pandemic, are not necessarily all that eager to return to working full-time 9 to 5 at the office. A recent study by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies has shown that fully 80% of Canadians have found working from home to be partially or fully positive, and only 20% are looking forward to returning to the office full-time. There is a strong indication that employers may have difficulty finding employees who want full-time in the office, and that employers may be offering a variety of options for work in order to retain and attract the employees that they want.

So, in the near future, many people may be confronted with opportunities to move in some new directions. THe option may be there to reshape their work life, together with the question of what they really want to do with their money to create new value in their lives. In short, we may be in a moment when many people will be confronted with possibilities that might not have seemed viable prior to the pandemic. What will we choose? How will we live our lives?

Visualizing What Could Be

Archetypal psychologist C.G. Jung often used a word that he borrowed from the ancient Greeks: kairos. In ancient Greek, this word means “the right, critical, or opportune moment.” Could this moment of the end of the pandemic be a kairos moment for many of us? A moment when there might be an opportunity for choice that moves our lives in the direction of what we really value? It might be important for us to consider this possibility.

If that is a genuine possibility, this may be a time when it’s essential to approach our lives with some real clear-sightedness. I would suggest that this clear-sightedness might need to take two forms.

First, we need to be as clear-sighted as possible about our outer reality. We need to see clearly what we are up against in terms of our outer situation. What really is going on in terms of our work life or our home life or our social life? And can we get past our prejudice or our habitual ways of thinking a perceiving, and possibly be open to some new options for our lives, options that this kairos moment may have brought to us. Examining some of these options might really increase our anxiety level, initially, but there may be options for our lives and work that we might not have previously considered.

The second form of clear-sightedness is an inner form that stems from our inmost yearnings. Do we have the capacity to visualize what we really want, what we really yearn for? In this culture, it can be easy for us to let advertising and the media dictate to us what it is that we want. If we do, it’s possible that we might end up with a very conventional, rather shallow set of hopes and aspirations for ourselves that doesn’t really reflect our inner uniqueness—the core of who we are. We need to be conscious of the things that attract us deeply, even if the rest of the world is prepared to dismiss them as silly, trivial or impractical. In your heart of hearts, what is it that you really want for your life?

A New Direction for My Life

Life may be calling us to use this unique moment of life transition to move our lives in the direction of our deepest hopes and aspirations. If so, life may be offering us quite an adventure and a challenge!

To move our lives towards our deepest aspirations requires that we know ourselves to an increasing degree. Not only that, it requires that we accept ourselves, and value ourselves—love ourselves, in fact. This requires a dedication of time and energy to observing ourselves, wondering about ourselves, expressing ourselves and exploring our own nature. From this place, we can then make changes in our outer reality, to bring it more into accord with our inner reality and the objects and yearnings that are really the most important to us.

A genuinely open and supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can often be of great healing benefit on this personal odyssey.

Wishing you every good thing for your journey towards wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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A New Direction for My Life, #2: Resilience Amidst Change

June 7th, 2021 · a new direction

This is the third blog in my series on “finding a new direction” as we slowly begin to emerge from the pandemic and from lockdown. In this post we look at the importance of resilience as we go through this process of change.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

As with several of the themes in this series, resilience is a matter of great importance at many points in our life journey, but is particularly relevant when we go through major life transitions. Change asks a great deal of us, especially when it’s the kind of change that we don’t initiate, but that originates in the external world, to which we must adapt. For our purposes we can define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity or significant sources of stress. It matters a great deal to be able to find resilience at challenging times like the present moment.

Whenever in life the situation is constantly changing, it’s easy to feel battered, and like we’re continually on the run. We’re all used to the message now that change is good, that it’s the new normal and that we should embrace it, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. As humans and as mammals, our biology and our psychology are strongly oriented to having some fixed stable things in our environment that we can depend on. When some of those things are called into question by external situations where there’s a lot of rapid change and uncertainty, it can be hard for us to keep our perspective, and to keep moving toward the things that we really value in our lives.

Resilience, the process of adapting well in the face of adversity may well be needed when we face family or relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace stressors or financial strains. All of these things are often part of the regular fabric of life, and if the people I interact with are at all typical, such issues have only intensified as a result of people’s COVID experiences. So life is calling us to find our resilience.

But What Actually Is Resilience?

We gave a working definition of resilience above, but what is resilience, actually? What does it actually look like?

It’s very important to clearly state that resilience is not something extraordinary or heroic. It’s not the few who are capable of being resilient. A person’s capacity for resilience is capable of development, and we see that very many people do develop it, as when people rebuild their lives after a major setback or tragedy. We see this when we see people re-orienting and rebuilding their lives after events like 9/11, or after a flood or a major disaster like the 2016 wildfire in Fort MacMurray, (widely regarded as one of the most extensive disasters in Canadian history). We probably know people who have been able to demonstrate resilience in the aftermath of grave personal setbacks like illness, accident or job loss.

In the course of meeting the many challenges of a lifetime, we probably will all be called upon to find our inner capacity for resilience. For many, as we move forward from COVID-19, that moment might be now.

Running on Empty

Yet, a lot of us don’t feel like we have much resilience at the present moment. For many people in the health care professions, in education, in the performing arts, in the hospitality field, in areas like business to business sales and in many other fields and individual cases, this last year and a half has been an extremely demanding time. People have felt like they’ve had to draw on extraordinary resources to get through.

Consequently, many people are feeling shell-shocked. They feel pummeled, like they’re taken blow after blow. And in many cases, peoples’ anxiety is making them feel like the present situation will just keep going on and on and on—with no end in sight.

The Process of Resilience

It may be our perception that we’re deeply stuck in something that we can’t escape, but that doesn’t mean that our perception is accurate! We can do things to actively enhance our resilience, to increase our capacity to deal with the change and uncertainty, and to “get through”.

One thing we can do is believe in, affirm and use our own power and agency. Resilient people are people who know that their own actions and their own choices have a profound effect on outcomes. They are also aware that we can create or exaggerate stressors in our own minds, if we focus on those stressors, rather than on the places in our situation where we can use our ability to influence outcomes.

The opus consists of three parts: insight, endurance and action.

C.G. Jung, Letters, vol. 1

Another thing that we can do is to strive to appreciate and affirm our own personal worth, while striving to be more in touch with our personal values and the core things that have meaning in our lives. Our ultimate direction in life and our focus, is always home, towards the things that we cherish and value most deeply, and towards the things that make our lives more meaningful. Rather than being completely overwhelmed by the present situation, there is always a sense that we are moving more and more toward what has meaning. This may well involve our highest spiritual, religious, philosophical and/or aesthetic values.

We also need to emphasize being adaptable and pragmatic. It’s important to be able to be flexible and responsive in our approach to things, rather than getting locked into black and white thinking. It’s also important for us to focus on the things that we can concretely change and the problems that we can solve, rather than the things we can’t.

A final and particularly vital attribute of resilient people is that they’re able to extend compassion to themselves. They are kind with themselves when they make mistakes and errors, and they work on avoiding self-critical inner dialogue. They are realistic and practical about their expectations of themselves, and they recognize and give themselves the things that they need.

Resilience and a New Direction

These attributes of resilience are key to having the endurance to find and move in a new direction in a time like ours. We need the flexibility, the personal power and the compassion to move beyond a victim role into the possibilities of the future. One of the best ways of cultivating these personal qualities is through work in a secure trusting, supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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A New Direction for My Life, #1: What Matters Now?

May 31st, 2021 · a new direction

In my last post, I set out my goal of exploring what it would mean for us individually to find a new direction as we’re emerging from the pandemic.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

There are times in life when we specifically need to search for a new direction for our lives. Often associated with major life transitions , these are times when we quite simply need to find something in our lives that works better for us than what we have been doing up to this point. These are the seasons in our life journey when life presents a different face to us than we’ve previously seen, and seems to expect a new and different response from us.

Often, these major life transitions can come to us because we have aged and matured and come to a new phase in our lives. The transitions into adulthood, through middle age, and into later life are three examples of such age-related transitions. On the other hand, some transitions occur because our individual circumstances have altered. Getting a new job, moving to a new city or having your first child would be examples of this kind.

Then again, some transitions that call us to go in a new direction come to us by means of a society-wide change or changes. This occurred in North America and Europe when World War 2 started, for example, and occurred again when the war ended, just as earlier it had occurred with the arrival of the Great Depression.

We’ve lived through the onset of the COVID-19 period, and its lengthy duration. Now, the end of this period is perhaps in sight, as nations like Canada and the US increasingly vaccinate their populations. As things gradually return to something more like—but not identical to—pre-pandemic normal, I would suggest that the transition we’re all going through is another one of these broad, society-wide transitions. It is likely that, in some respects, this transition will fundamentally alter the way that we relate to our environment, to others and to ourselves.

So, What Does All This Mean for Me?

You might be saying to yourself, “It’s all very well to go on about a ‘society-wide change’, but what does that actually mean for me?” And that is very much the key question!

There seems to be an emerging consensus among experts that society is going to look rather different in the post-COVID world, in ways that will make a difference to each of our individual lives. What follows is a list of some of the ways in which this is true.

Isolation vs. Community. For many of us, the COVID period has been about being isolated or “socially distanced” from others. This lack of interaction has been essential to prevent the spread of a very dangerous disease. Now though, there’s indication that the need for social distancing and the other health measures associated with COVID-19 is gradually going to disappear. So, in the near future, we’ll likely be able to start going to restaurants, or to have people other than family members in our homes. But, as the research of University of Georgia’s Prof. Richard Slatcher suggests, through the pandemic, many people have become more selective about who they choose to socialise with, as they replace casual social contact with stronger immediate family bonds and close friendships. Will this trend continue, post re-opening? No one is sure.

Changes to the World of Work. COVID has unquestionably altered the way that many people work. As indicated above, many people have moved into the mode of working primarily or exclusively from home. But that is not the only change that has occurred. As Linda Nazareth, a Senior Fellow of the MacDonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa writes in a recent Globe & Mail article:

Is crisis mode our new normal in the work force? As the pandemic took hold in early 2020, it became clear that it was a case of “all hands on deck,” as everyone needed to step up to deal with a disruption the likes of which had not been seen before in our lifetimes. Workers were challenged to give their jobs their all, and many did just that. Now suddenly it is more than a year later, and for some it seems like the giving is never going to stop.
As the pandemic draws to a close, are things really going to go back to the old normal, or even to a new one where work-life balance is more than a phrase you see on communiqués from HR? Or will the reality be that the post-COVID-19 economy demands everyone keep going full-blast…?

Rich and Poor. The pandemic has had a double effect on the economy. There’s clear evidence that many people have been strongly negatively affected economically by the pandemic, while, for a segment of more affluent people has actually been saving more money than prior to the pandemic. Some people are going to be left worse off as a result of the pandemic, while some are actually doing better. What does this mean for our society, and for the individuals affected? As with the questions above, no one is sure.

What Changes? What Remains the Same?

There are clearly quite a number of areas where life is changing for many people. It’s clear that these changes affect different people in very different ways. We have experienced many changes, and we will continue to experience large impacts for quite some time. What will these things mean for our individual lives?

Part of the answer to this question is fixed. Social change, whether to our social interactions, the world of work or our economic situation will happen to us, and will have far-reaching impacts. Yet, there is the equally important question of how we will respond to these changes. Will we passively accept them, or will we make some concrete steps that affect the outcome for ourselves? This process of responding makes up a lot of what we mean when speak of finding a new direction for ourselves.

An important part of responding to change in our lives is, first of all to try and understand what the impact of external change upon us really is. These impacts will be both conscious and unconscious. They will involve concretely understanding what is that the change has brought into our lives. But then, and likely more importantly, we need to understand what the emotional impact of these changes upon us actually is. Are we feeling happiness, relief, sadness, anger or even grief over the things that are coming into being in our lives? To understand these feelings, we may well have to explore our own anxiety and depression, and the feelings that are associated with them. As a way of being compassionate to ourselves, it’s very important that we understand what the feelings are that we are carrying, both consciously and unconsciously about what has come to be in our individual lives.

My Own New Direction

When we really understand how the pandemic’s changes have impacted us, and take them in, we can begin to respond to them in a conscious way. This entails making choices in response to the changes that have occurred. For example, it may be that I recognize in myself a tendency to interact socially with others less, as a result of social distancing and lockdown. Yet if I become conscious of that tendency, I can ask myself, “Look, is this something that I want to occur?” If it is, then I can consciously embrace and accept it. If it isn’t, then I can take steps to counter the tendency, and to open myself up socially. The same is true of many, many different types of change that I might experience. As Jung would tell us, if we become conscious of what has happened to us, then we find new possibilities for responding to it, and for finding a new direction.

Jungian depth psychotherapy can be an excellent way to explore the implications and impacts of changes in our lives, and also of coming to understand the meaning of major life transitions that we are undergoing. It can be an excellent tool for becoming more conscious of the events in your life, and for understanding the meaning and unfolding of your own journey towards wholeness.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Yearning for a New Direction

May 10th, 2021 · a new direction

This is a short post, exploring something of deep importance for us at this unique point in time, namely, the search for a new direction.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Psychologically speaking, the pandemic, the lockdown, and all the related issues have stirred things up pretty thoroughly for the vast majority of people. From a Jungian or depth psychotherapy perspective, we can say that most people are dealing with a strong intuition that whatever happens now, the future will not be like the past.

As has been the case since very ancient times, the anxiety of such times stirs up two conflicting archetypally based images or symbols in the minds of those living through them. These symbols have coloured the way humans have looked at change and the future for as long as there have been humans.

One is the archetype of the apocalypse. This is an image that certainly takes the reality of change seriously. If it could speak, it would say to us “Yes, things are changing dramatically! The whole world is going to hell in a handbasket! Everything good we’ve known is going down the toilet—forever!”

As in previous times of crisis or change, we can find that there are people who are gripped by this picture of total meltdown. In social media, we can certainly find the voices that say that we never will get out of the pandemic, or that, if we do, the world will be so hopelessly broken that it won’t be worth inhabiting. Sadly, many of the voices that are saying such things are young. Those of us who are older need to be particularly attuned to the voices of the young in our time, and we need to be prepared to do whatever we can to keep their hope alive.

While these apocalyptic ideas are circulating, it’s important for us to recognize that there’s a second archetypally based symbol that is stirring among us at this time, and that is the archetype of renewal through death and rebirth. There are very many people who recognize that things are not going to go back to exactly the way that they were before the pandemic. There has been change, and something—a certain way in which we lived and understood the world—has died and is gone forever.

Yet this imagery would emphasize that there is going to be rebirth on the other side of the pandemic. Something is dying, but something is also being born, and is bringing renewal and new life. People who discern this archetype are often very curious about the nature of the new direction in which we might be headed. “What is emerging? How will life call upon us to change and renew ourselves?”—these are questions most often associated with major life transitions of various types and forms.

In the coming weeks, I will be doing a series on the theme, “A New Direction”, asking what it looks like, what are the signs of it in our own lives, and how can we begin to respond to it meaningfully and creatively,

Wishing you every good thing on your journey towards wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Improving Your Self Esteem, Right in the Middle of Lockdown

May 3rd, 2021 · improving your self esteem

“Improving your self esteem” is a subject that’s always important and relevant, but it takes on even greater meaning in the midst of situations like our current lockdown.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Self esteem is a complex thing, with many different dimensions. We all have a lot of different individual factors that influence whether we feel good about ourselves, or not. One thing we know for sure is that the isolation, anxiety and unique stresses of this lockdown period have challenged a lot of people’s self esteem and basic positive sense of themselves. As Prof. Thiago Matias and colleagues put it in their paper “Human needs in COVID-19 isolation”,

These are extraordinary times. Throughout history, there have been plenty of pandemics but the human response to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is unprecedented. It is estimated that close to 4 billion people are living in social isolation during this mother of all pandemics…. The cumulative impacts of social distancing will be truly profound.

As these authors tell us, we know that connecting with others normally helps individuals to regulate their emotions, cope with stress, and remain resilient. Combined with other factors, the lack of these things could easily have a sharply negative impact on our self esteem. 

To Value Ourselves

But what is self-esteem really based on, anyway? What does genuine positive self-esteem look like?

Actually, we generally know healthy self-esteem when we see it. We can often feel it when we experience any of the following in another person—or in ourselves, s/he :

  • is able to set and keep boundaries;
  • is not afraid of feedback or conflict;
  • is assertive without being controlling;
  • doesn’t fear failure;
  • doesn’t need to people-please, or curry approval;
  • doesn’t have feelings of inferiority;
  • is not overly perfectionistic; and, above all,
  • accepts her- or himself.

A person with positive self-esteem might well acknowledge that regular contact with people can bring validation from others, and would accept that getting affirmative support from others is a good thing. Yet a person with positive self-esteem has a certain attitude toward validation that comes from others.

Validation from Others is Good, But…

A person with positive self-esteem may welcome the positive regard of others, but there’s something s/he won’t do. Individuals can feel they have positive self-esteem, and never realize that the only reason they feel that way is because others approve of them. In such people, the positive regard of others is acting like an air pump attached to a balloon with a hole in it. If we remove the air pump, the balloon will slowly deflate. Similarly, if a completely other-directed person loses the approval of others, what seemed like a solid personality will be filled with self-doubt and loss of direction.

Affirming and Respecting Our True Identity

True self-esteem welcomes the approval of others, but doesn’t depend on it. Rather, self-esteem depends on finding our most fundamental source of approval within ourselves. The renowned humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow asserted that, when our most fundamental needs are met, it becomes possible for us to strive for our individual sense of meaning and fulfillment. In Maslow’s view, the ultimate source of self-esteem comes from striving to be ourselves. As he stated, using the conventions of his day, “What a man [sic] can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.”. This is very like the statement of C.G. Jung that “The only meaningful life is a life that strives for the individual realization — absolute and unconditional— of its own particular law.”

What is your unique route to self-esteem? How can you begin, even during lockdown, to honour and respect your own unique being?

Many of us are currently going through a time that is very challenging in several different ways that intertwine. All of these different stressors and challenges may impact the ways in which we value who we fundamentally are, and our personal story. The importance of finding ways to be compassionate to ourselves, and to cultivate deep respect for our personal journey towards wholeness has never been greater.

Depth psychotherapy is a valuable tool for many who are striving for a deeper appreciation of who they are. A Jungian approach, which emphasizes the importance of seeing our own unique lives against the background of the universal themes of human life, and finding our own personal story or myth, has tremendous value in a time like the present, which asks us such deep questions about our personal journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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

© 2021 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

© 2021 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

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Hiding Depression, Part 2: the Signs of Hidden Depression

March 29th, 2021 · signs of hidden depression

As we saw in Part 1 of this series, hiding depression genuinely is a thing that we can end up doing. But, where does it hide, and what does that do to us?

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Depression can often appear in hidden forms, and, in a substantial number of cases, it may even be hidden from the awareness of the person who has it. So, when we’re hiding depression, what does it actually look like? What are the signs of hidden depression?

The Many Forms of Depression

There are many possible signs of hidden depression. Some of the more visible indicators are described below.

Changed patterns of sleeping, eating and drinking. Often hidden depression can manifest when a person sleeps, eats or drinks in a manner that is unusual for that person. This can entail sleeping or eating in unusual patterns or unusual amounts—either too much or too little. Similarly, if you catch yourself drinking in unusual amounts, or at unusual times, it might be important to see if this is related to anxiety or depression.

Forced “Happiness”. If you become aware that you’re wearing a strained “happy face”, or that you’re trying very hard to appear happy when you’re in the company of others, you might be engaged in “forced happiness”. Similarly, if you find that you’re trying to avoid spending too long with people, it might be important to ask if this is because you don’t want them to see your real mood.

Feeling continuously tired. Very frequently, those who are struggling with depression experience a state of near-continual exhaustion. Even if they have regular sleep, they may wake up feeling exhausted. Lacking another explanation, people may even blame themselves, and feel that they must be hopelessly lazy, or some other character flaw.

Preoccupied with “deep questions”. Don’t get me wrong: asking deep questions about life can be a very important thing to do! Yet, if you find yourself preoccupied with questions like “What’s it all about?” or “Does anything really matter?”, and you’re a person who doesn’t usually get engaged by these kinds of questions, it might be important to ask—what’s going on? It may be that you’re experiencing some signs of hidden depression. Simultaneously, it may also mean that you’re undergoing a major life transition, and there’s a need to really look at questions of value, purpose and meaning, which Jungian depth psychotherapists often see as an essential part of soul work.

Feeling things more intensely than normal. If you have hidden depression, you may find yourself experiencing emotions more intensely than you normally would. You might find yourself feeling sadness or anger or even attachment to others in uncharacteristic ways. If you do, it’s important to ask yourself if you’re finding yourself emotionally “triggered” in ways that are not usual for you.

Less optimistic than normal. It may also be that you find it harder to muster optimism than you have at previous times in your life. People who are depressed definitely tend to have a less rosy appraisal of life in general. If you note that your perspective is seeming to be more jaded than usual, it may be an indicator that you have some measure of depression.

Beyond Secret Depression

As Jungian analyst James Hollis tells us, in depression,

Life’s energy, life’s intentionality is thwarted, denied, violated… Life is warring against life….”

To begin to move beyond this thwarting, it’s necessary to become conscious of our depression, and to stop hiding it from ourselves. When we pass this milestone, we are starting to come to terms with our own real lives.

When we recognize the signs of hidden depression in our own approach to life, what begins to opens up is the opportunity to explore our feeling life together with the chance to extend compassion to the deeply wounded and unrealized aspects of ourselves that may lie beneath the surface of our depression. Andrew Samuels reminds us that Jung recognized that depression can be a damming up of psychic energy. When that damming up is eliminated, the energy released is available for creativity and life.

Many people find that working with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist can be an effective way to both understand the feeling dimension of depression and to move past the signs of hidden depression into a fuller experience of life.

Wishing you every good thing on your journey towards wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Are You Hiding Depression? Possibly Even from Yourself?

March 22nd, 2021 · hiding depression

Hiding depression? Is that a thing? Do people actually do that? The truth is that we certainly can do that, and sometimes, we can even hide our depression from ourselves.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Depression can be a many-sided thing. It can appear in many different shapes and forms, some of which can even fool or surprise experts. As UK psychiatrist Rebecca Lawrence asserts “Is [the hidden depressive’s] depression as real, or as valid, because they manage to go to work, to smile, even to crack a joke? I think it is.”

This is a different perspective than the one that typical stereotypes of depression would suggest. Rather than the sad, emotionally flat and energy-less images we might have of depression, the person who is hiding depression might well appear to be as lively, energetic and socially engaged as anyone else, and yet such a person might be harbouring unseen depression.

What could be going on in the inner life of such a person, who “presents”, as they say, in a way that is so much at odds with what is really going on in their inner life? Dr. Lawrence offers us an important insight:

[D]oes that mean they suffer less when smiling? No: in fact, the strain of keeping up appearances, the weight of a misplaced sense of responsibility to others, can be one of the most onerous aspects of mental ill health.

Dr. Rebecca Lawrence, “When depression wears a smile”, The Guardian, 18 March, 2021

This offers us an important insight: if we’re hiding depression, we may well be doing it for the other people in our lives. This misplaced sense of duty or care has the potential to do us serious and undeserved harm.

Am I Hiding Depression?

For some people who are dealing with the reality of hidden depression, the answer to the question “Am I hiding depression?” will be obvious. These individuals know that they are hiding depression from co-workers or people that they love. This hiding is done to protect these people, to keep things in a good place in the work place, or for some other consciously chosen reason. Yet there are many other people who are either semi-conscious or completely unaware of their own depression.

How do I know whether I’m hiding depression? Well, there are several common characteristics exhibited by individuals who are struggling with depression that is hidden.

People with hidden depression can often be perfectionistic. They are often people who set a very high bar for themselves in many areas of life. They have a sense of constantly measuring themselves against expectations—and there’s an inner critic ready to lacerate them with intense shame if they fall short.

People with hidden depression can actually often be “rigidly positive”. They can feel a strong face of shame or failure if they are anything other than unfailingly positive and optimistic. It can often be that any attitude of kindness to oneself, or acknowledging any of the difficulty or pain in one’s life is prohibited by a rigid, shaming inner critic.

Facing or expressing painful emotions can often be difficult for some one who is hiding depression. Sadness, anger, disappointment and grief often are all “no go zones” for the individual with hidden depression.

People hiding depression can have a very high need to feel that a situation is under control, and can feel intense anxiety when it is not. There is a very strong drive to feel in control, which individuals may keep very well hidden. Such a person may tend to worry a lot, and avoid situations where they cannot be in control.

An individual with hidden depression can have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. This means that the individual certainly has no trouble taking responsibility for things—but can all too easily end up blaming themselves.

Being Honest with Others—and with Myself

When people are hiding depression, it can be a real challenge to be fully honest and vulnerable with other people. It can also be really difficult sometimes to be fundamentally honest with themselves about their actual mood state. Yet it can be fundamentally important to listen to what others are saying about how we seem to them. Even more basically, it may be important to listen to ourselves, on all kinds of levels.

This certainly means stopping and trying to gain an understanding of how we really feel about things. Taking a few minutes to check in with yourself on a daily basis may be essential, including noticing things like energy levels, whether appetite is normal, length and quality of sleep, and just basically asking yourself how you’re feeling about things—and giving yourself an honest answer. Some people find that journalling every day on what is happening in their lives and how they feel about it can be an invaluable tool.

Staying in touch with yourself, dialoging with yourself… This may all be new territory. Yet it may have a lot of life in it.

If I’m Hiding Depression, What Can I Do About It?

If you’re concerned that you’re hiding depression, it can be a very good thing to speak about that concern with someone whom you really trust. Sometimes, it can be very valuable to talk to a relatable, knowledgeable and supportive counsellor or therapist, such as a Jungian depth psychotherapist. (NOTE: If you are in need of immediate support, please contact your local distress line. In my area, that is Distress Line Halton 905-849-4541) It can be of tremendous value to speak with someone who validates you, and who affirms that your feelings are important and worthy of respect.

Exploring those feelings and what your deepest, even unconscious, self has to show you about the threads of meaning and energy in your life can be vital. It can certainly help immensely in opening up what lies beyond hiding depression—moving on the journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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