What’s Your Apocalypse Style?

Zombie Apocalypse Survivor Against Hordes Of Undead

These last couple of  weeks I found that I own a pair of Fuck-It pants.

This discovery came as a bit of a surprise, because presumably like you and pretty much everyone else in the world who suddenly found the world had irrevocably changed, I had spent the first week of lockdown feeling really fearful about what the post-Covid-19 future might look like.

There was a time in those first few days when I wondered if there would even be a future.

It seemed like one moment it was gin o’clock and then, in the next moment, Armageddon had arrived, coming at full tilt and howling like a banshee.

There is absolutely no doubt that the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic will be of a biblical scale. The human cost may be quantifiable, but when the final reckoning is done, it’s likely to prove conceptually unimaginable.

This is shit of the seriously serious kind, and I will never be able to truly accept or be untainted by the sheer scale of loss of life that we have seen and will continue to see for many more weeks to come.

Yet I have found a wierd kind of peace with its impact on me, whatever that turns out to be in the end. This week, I reached the point where I stopped running from what I feared, thought ‘Fuck it’, and chose to turn and fight instead.

By that I mean the impact on everything I’ve built over the past 18 years. There are many owners of businesses like mine who are staring into an abyss and don’t know if they’ll survive this period. I’ve come to the realisation that no matter what’s around the corner, I’m not going to let everything I’ve worked for be destroyed by a sneeze or cough.

Part of that is down to habituation. In psychological terms habituation is what happens when  you’re exposed to a particular stimulus – in this case fear – for such a prolonged period that your emotional response to it diminishes. We’ll come back to this in a bit.

But mostly I think it’s down to the fact that fighting is the way I’m genetically hardwired to respond to trauma. I grew up in a house of Dynasty levels of drama (minus the cash), and so it’s probably inevitable that once I’d recovered from the initial shock of what Covid-19 might mean for me, my go-to response kicked in.   

Regardless of how Covid-19 has affected you or will affect you personally, the reality right now is that we’re all currently experiencing a shared mass trauma event. To some extent, we could argue the entire world has complex PTSD right now.

Whether you’re considered vulnerable, are unable to work, have lost someone close to you, fear contracting the disease or are simply working from home and unable to travel, every one of us has been uniquely touched by the events of the past few weeks.

And the nature of trauma and the way the subconscious is configured means we each deal with it in one or more of four ways (it’s not uncommon to go through all of them – sometimes in the space of a single day – although usually there’s one response reflex that’s dominant).

Fight

Let’s start in the land of the Fuck-It pants.

If you’ve ever seen the film Network, this is the response which might have you yelling at the world: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” And if you haven’t seen the movie, now might be the perfect time to give it a go.

The fight response meets fear or trauma with fierce resolve and the realisation – either conscious or otherwise – that for you, standing your ground and facing the enemy is better than running from it, whatever the outcome.

The fight response is the province of the renegade. Those who are likely to opt for this approach to dealing with trauma are those who will have looked at all the possible outcomes and consequences of going in swinging (not literally, of course!) and decided they can live with and survive all of them.

In essence, this reaction to trauma is the one whose mantra is ‘if you’re going down, go down fighting’.

The fight response sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. There’s little point in fighting if it’s only going to cause more damage than the threat you face.

As with all responses they can also get out of balance and put you into a negative loop that sees you fighting long after the battle is over, which is inevitably exhausting for both you and everyone around you.  

Flight

Flight is what we’ve seen from most people in the opening weeks of this situation and it’s hallmarked by a sense of panic. Flight is a common trauma response because the subconscious is programmed to protect you at all costs and running from danger is a primal reflex.

Even those who ultimately and rapidly respond to fear, trauma and danger by fighting will usually experience and manifest flight as their default first reaction.

The primary characteristic of flight in the context of coronavirus and social distancing, and all that that potentially entails for individual personal and financial security, is to try to cover off every eventuality.

Those who opt for flight will be those who, if nothing else, now have sufficient toilet roll and pasta to last into the next millennium. They will have been in touch with their mortgage lender to arrange a payment holiday, cancelled every possible direct debit or standing order that isn’t entirely essential and will be scrupulously meticulous around personal hygiene.

Stockpiling hand sanitiser aside, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the flight response in principle. As I say, it’s designed to keep you safe. But it’s unsustainable in the long-term without causing additional mental health issues.

Unchecked, the flight road often leads to chronic anxiety, negative generalised behaviour and OCD – especially if you already had creeping obsessions with hygiene and financial security prior.  

Freeze

When we initially experience shock, we  ‘freeze’:  our systems shut down and we disassociate.  This is due to things being simply ‘too much’

We are the rabbits in the road, dazzled by headlights yet powerless or without the capacity to acknowledge or appreciate the one and a half tonnes of danger bearing down of us in a roar of engines and the hiss of rolling rubber.

For the rabbit, flight is obviously the best response – preferably via a hedgerow rather than an attempt to outrun the car; but rather than running or standing their ground to meet fire with fire.  Freezing is actually an entirely natural autonomic nervous response to danger, but it’s when get ‘stuck’ in freeze as a life-trance is when it becomes an issue. 

Disassociation can and often does work, but only through luck or when the perceived danger fails to materialise.

We are currently working with a lot of clients to help move them out of the freeze trauma response to the coronavirus.

Fawn

The final response to trauma is to fawn – which is when we go into automatic people-pleasing mode, twisting and contorting ourselves in all sorts of different and accommodating shapes in order to find try to deflect the confrontation or danger we face.

Those who respond to fear or danger by fawning are likely to be unable to say no easily and may have difficulty expressing how they feel. Often, fawners struggle with their self-esteem and are driven by the belief that admission to a ‘community’ is more important than looking after their own emotional needs.

For Covid-19 this response doesn’t work too well, since the danger is not one that can be avoided through passivity or becoming a people-pleasing pretzel that doesn’t serve you.   

What’s your window of tolerance?

Each of these trauma responses are valid and entirely natural in and of their own right, we all move through them, often several times a day, the problem is when we get ‘stuck’ in ‘on’:  fight or flight or fawn, or ‘stuck’ in ‘off’ freeze.     So where then, do we want to be?  Well as we manage our way through this pandemic, we should ideally be working to find our ‘window of tolerance’ – the place where you can take refuge and comfort in the knowledge that you’re going to be okay.

Is that easy to do?   Well generally, no. It depends on how financially secure you are already, how much support you have emotionally and practically and how good you were at staying within your window of tolerance before the coronavirus hit.   

It’s easy to find and stay in your window of tolerance if you’re in some kind of Kardsahian-style lockdown in a mansion with bottomless financial resources and nothing to do but bake and Tik-Tok your existence for the benefit of a world that’s permanently glued to Instagram.

Alone in a damp studio flat and living off dwindling credit card limits when you were already isolated to within an inch of your sanity? Not so much.

Ditto those whose backdrop for lockdown is an abusive relationship. Or an elderly person with serious health issues.   Or someone who was already battling the unholy trinity of anxiety, depression and insomnia.  

All the trauma responses are normal, but at times some can be more helpful than others.

The goal is here to recognise which, if any, of the trauma responses you’re in and from there work to get back into your window of tolerance.   

Fight: Stop threatening to drop-kick traffic wardens or a partner whose mere breathing is sending you into an incandescent rage.   Take time out and breathe.

Flight: Stop inhaling bad news, take a breath and soothe your nervous system

Freeze: Get up and do something that is good for you. Reconnect with yourself. Nature is great for this.

Fawn:  Stop looking after everyone else and put yourself first by getting some support.   

More than ever, we all need to find our window of tolerance – that place where we feel adult, reasonable and sane – and support ourselves through our actions, behaviours and self-talk so we can stay in that window as much as we can. 

By doing that, we can get through this and help others too.

Whatever your response to the corona virus.   Know that you do have a ‘window of tolerance’, that it’s possible to get back to, no matter how far away it might feel right now, and it’s possible to expand and it’s possible to wait until you are back in your window of tolerance to make decisions that you just can’t make (when you are in flight mode), that just aren’t good to make (when you are in fight mode), that aren’t your own to make (when you are in fawn mode)  and that you just can’t be arsed to make (when you are in freeze mode).    It’s OK to not know right now, it’s OK to be a confused mess right now, what isn’t OK is to give yourself a hard time about any of it right now.

We become strong by recognising which of the ‘four horsemen of trauma states’ we are currently in & coaxing, coaching & supporting ourselves back into our window of tolerance and this, my friends, is where the magic happens.

Whilst the current restrictions are in place, we have moved our treatments online. Zoe Clews & Associates is a leading provider of online therapy in the UK and we are able to continue to treat most issues and conditions as normal through virtual sessions held via Skype.

If you’d like to talk to us about any of the issues covered in this blog, or about any other problem or concern you may have, please get in touch via our contact page. Your call will be treated in utmost confidence and we do not charge for telephone inquiries about our service.


Why Caroline Flack’s Death Shames Us All

Screen Shot 2020 02 29 At 11.16.53

In a world where you can be anything, be kind.

These are not my words. These are the words Caroline Flack posted on her Instagram account in December last year after she was charged with assaulting her boyfriend, Lewis Burton, and the media enjoyed yet another field day at the expense of a celebrity caught in its crosshairs.

The former Love Island host committed suicide in her London flat a fortnight ago, just a couple of weeks before the scheduled start of her trial.

Since her body was discovered and the news broke, social media has erupted into a firestorm of moral outrage at the way Caroline Flack was treated by the UK media, not just in the eight weeks since she was charged but in the near constant intrusion into her private life.

But the real truth is that her death shames us all, because we have allowed our society to abandon its human values in pursuit of an all-consuming voyeuristic need to spy on the lives of the people the media has enthroned in the high castles of celebrity.

The media is absolutely and directly responsible for the death of Caroline Flack. It hounded her into an early grave because she had a fight with her boyfriend.

Yet, her fate does not await the hundreds of other men and women who exist in turbulent relationships, because they are lucky enough that they don’t have to live in the white-hot glare of fame’s spotlight.

And for anyone reading this who’s even thinking about countering that last paragraph by pointing out that Caroline Flack chose to pursue a career in the public eye, I’d point out that it’s a facile argument and on the basis it’s usually better to be thought a fool than proved one, you may wish to keep the argument to yourself.

There are many definitions of what constitutes true journalism. One of my favourites is that it exists to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

In taking her own life two weeks ago Caroline Flack proved that she was someone who was afflicted by a terrible pain and in desperate need of comfort. But comfort doesn’t sell newspapers, so newspapers aren’t really interested in providing it.

Outside of what we might once have referred to as broadsheets, the media isn’t really interested in afflicting the comfortable, either. It’s why you’re more likely to see Nigel Farage on the front of the Daily Mail than you are any intelligent journalism that calls those in power to account.

It’s why the Daily Star was always more interested in Caroline Flack’s sex life than the politics that was shaping the world. It’s why The Sun was much more intrigued by the question of whether Olly Murs and Caroline Flack were rolling in the hay than they were about Boris Johnson’s row with his partner last summer – an event, ironically, more or less airbrushed from history by the right wing media that supported him.

I have friends who are journalists – proper journalists who have grown up reporting proper news. One of them was an investigative journalist who, among other things, first exposed child abuse within the Catholic church during the 1990s, covered the Lockerbie crash and the Kings Cross fire and uncovered institutionalised corruption and fraud in local government.

I asked him what he thought of the media’s treatment of Caroline Flack in the last two months.

This was his answer:

Responsible journalism is about understanding the difference between what is in the public interest and what is simply interesting to the public. If you challenged a hack working on a red top (tabloid newspaper) to apply that distinction to the case of Caroline Flack the answer you’re most likely to get is ‘but our readers want to know’. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem: we have finally got the media we deserve.

Which brings me back to my point. Unless you have never endorsed their existence and their principles by buying a copy of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, The Sun, the Daily Mirror or the Daily Star, or reading their online articles, then I’m afraid you’ve played a part in what happened to Caroline Flack and you’re part of the problem.

If you watch Love Island – a TV show that is now directly associated with four suicides and whose 2020 summer series was, in a moment of astonishing poor taste, announced just two days after Caroline Flack’s death – then you’re part of the problem.

I write as one of the guilty, because I don’t believe there are many of us who can honestly say their money hasn’t added fuel to this particular fire.

I have written many articles on the mental health issues that come with fame and celebrity. The common theme is that those who are blessed – or, perhaps, cursed – by it are totally unprepared for the impact it has on their lives, completely ill-equipped to deal with it when it arrives and are often surrounded by people who put self-interest first.

The history of the entertainment industry is landscaped with the graves of those who didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to deal with their celebrity and who were either broken by it or found their pre-existing and perhaps unknown emotional vulnerabilities exposed by it.

The media can play a positive role in the fame game. Celebrity demands the oxygen of publicity. It is the essential part of fame’s DNA and it falls to the media to provide it.

But reflecting and amplifying the lives of those who are placed on the pedestal of public adoration is not a licence of ownership. Fame is not a proprietary commodity of the media and making a celebrity is not, de facto, reason or permission to break them when they have ceased to be useful distractions.

Yet this is the currency of the tabloid media in all its pernicious and unsavoury glory – and every single time we add our money to their balance sheet or bloat their user analytics, we join the illiterati and tacitly send a message that it’s okay to behave that way.

And in the process, we become silent shareholders in the ethics-free business of mass media.

So, if you’re one of those who feels disgusted by the role the media played in Caroline Flack’s death, and the deaths of those who went before her, then maybe it’s time to influence the media we deserve in the future.

Going to war with a keyboard, like I have here, is all well and good. But the real difference we can make in improving how we value those in the public eye is in choking off the revenue streams of those media channels that don’t reflect your own values.

I’m in. Are you?


Why You’ll Never Have All Your Ducks In A Row

ducks in a row

There is very little in this old world that’s truly finite. In most things thetre is scope and opportunity to prevaricate, delay and procrastinate, always with the one-size-fits-all excuse that you need to get your ducks in a row.

Here’s the truth: they never will be.

Even the most industrious and committed among us can find a reason not to start, just as the future always holds a better – and usually mythical – time to begin what you instinctively want to put off.

You’ll buy the dress or the suit or the bathing costume – but you’ll do it when you’ve lost a stone or you’ve toned up with the gym membership you bought on January 2nd but have never used.

You’ll pay off those debts, but there’s a good chance you’ll be getting some extra work in a couple of months, so there’s no point in starting to pay them down until then (even though they’re costing you more money than you can afford).

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We Need To Open Up About Closure

Closure

EXT. DAY. BOLIVIA.

Butch and Sundance emerge from the barn at a run, guns drawn. Both fire a couple of rounds.

The shot freezes on them and slowly begins to close in. As it does, we hear the commander of the Bolivian force surrounding the pair’s hideout give the order to fire.

There is a long volley of shots. The firing ceases momentarily before the commander repeats the order to fire. There is another sustained volley of shots, during which the image of Butch & Sundance begins to fade to sepia, and then melts away entirely.

It’s arguably one of the greatest endings in movie history.

The moment when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid bet the farm on escaping capture is significant because although we’re reasonably sure they’ve actually bought the farm instead we’ll never be completely certain.

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Is Your Marriage Getting Enough?

Sex Therapy

Here’s a statistic for you. If you’re in a room with four friends who are either married or in a long-term relationship and all of them are having sex regularly with their partner, the law of averages suggests your marriage is the one that isn’t getting as much as it should.

Although there’s no definitive study on the subject, anecdotal evidence suggests that between 15 and 20 per cent of all couples are locked into a sexless marriage.

Tempting though it was to write the word trapped instead of locked, we’re being deliberately non-judgemental about this because there’s plenty of well-respected opinion that argues lack of sex doesn’t necessarily make for an unhappy marriage or a relationship from which one partner must, de facto, be striving to escape.

But – and this is an elephant-sized but – there’s also no escaping pure anthropological fact here: ultimately, human beings are animals and thousands of years of evolution can’t be denied. Men and women are simply biologically predisposed to need to be at it regularly.

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This Christmas It’s Time To Negotiate Your Own Emotional Trade Agreement

mental health at christmas

Well here we are – the end, as near as makes no difference, of 2019.

Sometimes it’s felt like spending 12 months in some sort of shared experiment involving a mass mental health episode. Barely a day has gone by when, as a society, we haven’t been angry, depressed, riddled with self-doubt, mean-spirited, filled with hatred, intolerant, schizophrenic, phobic and lost.

As years go, this has been one of the more divisive.

It has been dominated by Brexit and political mistrust. It’s been a year of finger-pointing and disruptive direct action on climate change. A time when anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have been evidenced at the very heart of our system of government.

All in all, it’s been a year when our society hasn’t seemed to like itself very much.

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Generation Z & The Mass Hypnosis Of Porn

Generation Z & The Mass Hypnosis Of Porn

Sometimes I wonder what the generation born in the first two decades of the 20th Century would make of this new-fangled millennium.

The majority of them entered a world without cars, commercial air travel, television or radio. The BBC didn’t exist, there was no electricity network and no telephone system. A letter might routinely take a week or more to travel more than a few miles and it would be nearly three decades before a publicly-funded health system was more than a twinkle in Nye Bevin’s eye.

There are a great many things that the war generation didn’t have and that we now do, but one commodity that wasn’t in short supply back at the turn of the last century is pornography.

That might seem surprising given the contemporary view of porn is that it’s very much a late-20th Century phenomenon. But if you can bear to sully your internet history, it’s clear that porn has been around since the mid-19th Century. Continue reading…


Can We Please Just Stop Dating Our (Crap) Mum or Dad, Already?

Relationship therapy

More than just about anything else in the world, the very thought that our parents have had sex with one or another at some point – or with anyone else, for that matter – is guaranteed to ramp up the ewww factor for most of us.

To avoid hideous mental images that we can never, ever un-see, we furiously and deliberately ignore or disregard the one undeniable biological reality of our own existence: that our parents must have had at least one sexual liaison in order for us to be existentially able to have those disturbing visions at all.

And then we have to multiply that for every sibling.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say many of us might even secretly hope we could be adopted rather than face up to plain old DNA.

Which makes it all the more ironic that most of us who are or have been in a intimate relationship are likely to have been out with, or slept with, one of our parents.

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185 Little Reasons Why We Should Care More About Child Mental Health

Children's Mental Health

We’ve known for a while that child mental health is in crisis.

Earlier this year we discovered just how bad it has become, with the Office for National Statistics revealing that 5 in every 100,000 young people aged between 15 and 19 commit suicide each year.

To put that in perspective, there are 3.67 million people in the UK in that age group, meaning we can measure the appalling record of successive Governments’ policies on child mental health by the 185 body bags that find their way to hospital morgues every year.

If that sounds overly dramatic, it’s because it is.

Last month the mental health charity Mind called on Boris Johnson to deliver on six mental health priorities. Among them was a challenge to meet the existing commitment to schools and to make progress – through better funding – on prevention and intervention.

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Intimacy: Thank You For Sharing

Intimacy Coach

One thing we Brits have learned over the years is that it really doesn’t do to be airing our personal laundry in public. No matter what’s going on behind closed doors, we present an unflustered veneer to the outside world and plant a sign in the garden that reads: Nothing To See Here.

In relationships this is doubly true. An Englishman’s home is his castle, dammit, and regardless of the problems that might lie behind its portcullis, the façade is still an unmoving wall of brick and mortar through which no stranger should be allowed to penetrate.

Even when everything else is flaccid and unresponsive, a British chap – or chappess – must still be able to raise a stiffened lip in the adversity of popular perceptions about what it is and isn’t acceptable to share about one’s private life.

If that’s all true (and, for the most part convention, taboos and exceptions prove it still largely is) what must we buttoned-up Brits make of those free-thinking Americans and their outrageously liberal ways?

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.