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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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CUTTING A PATH THROUGH PTSD

The term, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has usually been reserved for survivors of war, plane crashes or other devastating events most of us are unlikely to experience. According to www.ptsduk.org this distressing condition is a memory processing error caused by a traumatic event. It now extends to anything that we, personally, experience as trauma even if others process the facts and feelings differently. It maybe something that happens to you directly or as a witness to an event. It can even happen to highly trained first responders.

I’d like to tell you about my experience of PTSD which goes back to 1996. My then husband insisted that I, and my young daughters, went to Iran to visit his family. His father was sick and frail, his mother deeply depressed as she missed her only son who would be needed to take on the role of head of the family in due course. My husband had been in the UK for twenty years as a student, an engineer and then as the owner of his own software business. 

He’d been unsettled for many years following the Iranian Revolution in 1979 but had made a reasonable life for himself, juggling visits home with adjusting to a Western lifestyle.
We arrived at his parents’ home in the middle of an oppressively hot summer. I’d forgotten how restrictive women’s lives were under the religious regime but being an adaptable sort I got on with it, drew on my coping skills and adopting a positive attitude. Three weeks wasn’t that long, I told myself. 
As the days passed, I sensed an undercurrent of secretiveness running through the immediate family. They’d stop talking when I appeared (I spoke the language fairly well) or they’d leave me behind when they went off for the day with the children.

If I wanted to get through this trying period it meant keeping the peace so I bottled up all the fear and frustration. Being a foreigner in Iran wasn’t safe and I’d heard horrendous stories of unexplained imprisonments for violating the dress code or what the revolutionary guard considered to be inappropriate behaviour.
One lunchtime the family were seated at the table, picking at food and casting furtive glances at each other.

‘We’re not going home,’ said my husband. ‘This is home now.’

Panic gushed through my gut into my throat with such force I thought I was going to choke. My stomach churned like a concrete mixer. I felt my legs trembling under the table. My daughters’ stricken faces turned to me, silently begging me to do something.
‘We have to,’ I said, trying to remain calm. ‘At least to sell our house and say goodbye to people.’ I’ve always been in control in a crisis. It’s like the body shuts down and the brain operates independently of emotion.

My husband smashed his fist onto the table. ‘I will go back alone and you will stay here.’ You can imagine the terror we felt.

It was a long battle to persuade him to return to the UK. As soon as the plane landed, I called my solicitor. Divorce proceedings with a prohibitive steps order to stop him from taking the children out of the country buzzed into action. The immediate feeling was relief and for a number of years after I focused on that feeling. The divorce was dangerous as he threatened us on a daily basis. Police protection was put in place for a while until my husband was forced to leave the country. I never felt safe but I carried on running my business and my life, putting all feelings into the deep freeze.

One winter’s night, I was catapulted out of bed by my heart banging against my ribcage. Terrible visions of being held in Iran, in a cellar of the house, flooded my mind. I tried to squeeze them out by shutting my eyes tightly but it was as if all those terrors I’d harboured about effectively being held hostage had broken out of my unconscious and like demons were on a rampage of torment.

The doctor diagnosed depression and anxiety and offered medication but it didn’t help with the flashbacks and recurrent nightmares. I had several kinds of therapy to help process the events to disconnect past from present and although they dampened down the worst of the symptoms, it didn’t stop that loop of film that kicked in when my resistance was low.
The slightest noise would have me leaping out of bed to double check windows and doors. Hypervigilance is a common symptom of all kinds of PTSD. I sealed up the letterbox convinced he or one of his family had sneaked into the country to burn down my house. Security was tightened as much as possible but even the police inferred my fears were irrational given the circumstances of his departure and the fact there’d been no contact.

It was a chance conversation with a psychiatric nursing friend of my father’s which pointed me to a therapist specialising in delayed trauma. I was told that only twenty percent of people seek help for PTSD because their condition hadn’t been properly diagnosed. The clusters of symptoms could describe any manner of mental health conditions but as we worked with the flashbacks and intrusive thoughts using Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment for several months, the symptoms receded and I began to regain control of my mind.
As an author I found journaling to be particularly helpful, especially writing short pieces in the third person. It created distance and objectivity, depersonalising some of the horror.

My current work in process is a memoir – From Revolution to Recovery. A Pathway to Peace and Healing. I don’t believe that time heals everything and from my long trek through the forest of hidden mines that is PTSD, I’ve learned you never know what’s going to blow up next. Real healing for me is about letting go of control. Knowing that I will cope with whatever happens.
Following the wisdom of the Stoic philosophers has brought me huge relief. Their Art of Acquiescence is about letting fate decide or going with the flow. I have found that as in grief, PTSD is linked to loss and after the shock, denial, anger, bargaining and depression, acceptance is the final stage of healing.

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BLOG TIPS FOR BUSY WRITERS

I thought I knew a bit about blogging even though I didn’t come on board with it until my debut novel, The Cruelty of Lambs came out in November 2016. With great enthusiasm I created a blog page as part of my content managed website,   tingling with excitement at the idea of all the subjects I could chat about. Three people read the first one and six the second one. The dog didn’t count. It was then I realised this was not going to be easy. 

Writing a blog is the easy bit, if you follow a few general guidelines. Sucking folks into your star-spangled sentences is the tough part. Especially for writers who may not have a digital marketing background or an established platform.

 Running a business blog is  much easier because customers seek you out in search of something they need.

Authors are selling themselves, ‘Brand Me’ and it doesn’t always feel comfortable. These techniques  have helped me. 

  • Don’t make the piece too wordy.  500-750 words is about right unless you’re an expert on something and writing non-fiction.
  • Lay out your piece using bullet points with white space in between bite sized sections. 
  • Visual support – pictures (check copyright), graphs, sketches, cartoons and your own match stick characters help draw the eye to your key points and keep the reader interested. At the moment my blog only takes one image. 
  • Snappy headline – draw people in without tricking them.  
  • Write around your book – if it’s romantic fiction then pieces on roses, honeymoon venues, different kinds of love, clothes for a first date… give full rein to your imagination ( within the parameters of decency). Blogging gives you a chance to take the wadding out of your book and put it into a different file for your readers.
  • Make it fun, easy to read, accessible, diverse and inclusive. These are the essential ingredients for good blogging. Font, size, style and colour make a piece easy on the eye.
  • If you tend to write blogs about writing, ask yourself how is yours different to the zillions of others out there. Break the mould and without getting controversial, include pieces about your life’s lessons, inviting others to contribute theirs. The more eclectic the better because your followers need to be entertained with the unusual, the quirky and something that rings a bell in their world. 
  • How you solved a problem, made a difficult decision, got through a crisis – stories of resilience are hooks for attracting people to your site.
  • Blog regularly. A flurry in one week followed by silence for a month is no way to secure a loyal following. They will have moved on.
  • Invite comments (moderated) to help engage opinion. The more feedback you get on your content, the more helpful it is in getting you noticed.  

 

ATTRACTING FOLLOWERS

  • Controversial writing attracts followers but usually not the sort you want. 
  • In each blog piece, embed and repeat key words that Google can pick up and shuffle you up through the rankings. My piece, ‘The Silent Treatment’, has had the most views on my website because of key words – abuse, passive-aggression, refusing to engage, being ignored and the title repeated in the text. 
  • Use hyperlinks where appropriate. My book highlighted in blue takes you to the amazon.co.uk site). 
  • Social media is a great help to raise awareness that you have a new blog on your site. A big no-no is to tag followers on Twitter without permission in the hope they will RT. I have a few people that are happy to do this for me but I ask them each time and they get the chance to approve the piece first. 
  • You’ll attract followers if you persist. Make your writing accessible, not filled with jargon or long words requiring a dictionary. Of course, much depends on the audience you want to attract. Vary the sentence length. Short is good.
  • Let your personality shine through your writing. Blogging is networking and giving something of your work and yourself for free. It’s not about selling your book(s) nor is it a lecture. Consider the tone and your audience. 
  • It takes time to build a blog following. Why not add vlogs so people can see the real you or podcasts which are great for commuters. Mix and match. They don’t have to be professionally produced. A smart phone and good microphone is all I use these days.

 

I’ve learned this stuff along the way but it’s been reinforced and added to, hugely, by the purchase of a brilliant book, ‘The Author Blog’ by Anne R Allen. @annerallen 

Get yourself a copy today.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Author-Blog-Easy-Blogging-Authors-ebook/dp/B077Y5DKP9/ref=la_B005R2SBI4_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538296864&sr=1-1

 

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CHANGE AND HOW TO NEGOTIATE IT (reblogged with permission)

Tom Hocknell's latest blog on Change and How to Negotiate it is a must read. He's the not only the popular author of The Life Assistance Agency but a master sculptor of a witty line.
 
Like me, Tom thinks September is the pivotal month for change and not January when we fall into the pattern of making promises to ourselves, and if foolish enough to others, for self-improvement, outlandish plans and unrealistic goals. His brilliantly written blog conjures up for me delicious smells of damp autumn leaves and a back to school feeling. For me, it was Clark's leather shoes and a new pencil case which heralded in a new era.  I love autumn and I love Tom's writing.
 
Enjoy his blog and don't forget to check out his novel. https://amzn.to/2xhah2e  It was chosen for WH Smith Fresh Talent. 
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ON WAKING UP

Depending on how you interpret statistics, it seems that 80% of people check their phones within fifteen minutes of waking up. I imagine them rummaging around under the duvet, growing more frantic if their fingers don’t connect immediately with their precious device. An irrational fear of missing out on something that had happened over night, seems to override common sense. I know this feeling, because I was one of those people.

I’m looking out through my study window down to the river, pondering on those halcyon days before the internet sunk its claws into us.   I’d be gently woken by the radio, tuned quietly to a local station while the Teasmade whirred into action. Fifteen minutes of uninterrupted time, before getting ready for work, always put me in the right frame of mind for the day. Nobody would have dreamt of phoning so early, unless in an emergency. An unspoken etiquette wrapped a framework around such intrusive behaviour.

Today’s waking up times are shattered by compulsive tweeting and messaging.  Just because everyone else seems to be plugged in, doesn’t mean we have to be. Surely whatever feels so urgent can wait. Count to ten, breathe slowly and let that urge to respond in a flurry of righteous indignation dissipate. 

I asked some sensible, grounded people I’ve met since I started my writing life, to share their post-waking up moments. Many are common sense but that doesn’t mean they’re common practice.

  1. Smile. A new day brings new possibilities and opportunities.  John Fish, book reviewer, @TheLastWord1962   I love the idea of smiling the minute you wake up. It releases those feel good chemicals of serotonin and endorphins, lowering blood pressure and heart rate and… it costs nothing. 
  2. Read a motivational quote and reflect on its meaning.
  3. Make tea into a pleasurable ritual – warm the pot, spoon in the tea leaves, wait for it to brew, pour into a favourite mug/cup. It encourages patience. 
  4. Drink a glass of water. A great tip to start the day from Anne Coates, author of the Hannah Weybridge series. www.annecoatesauthor.com   So simple, but how many of us do that on a regular basis? It fires up the metabolism and helps the body flush out toxins. 
  5. Don’t worry about what the day will bring. Reflect on the words of the Stoic philosopher, SenecaTomorrow will take care of itself, so take care of today, otherwise tomorrow will take ill-care of you todaythus losing today. If you lose today every-day, you are lost every-day.
  6. I walk around the garden with my second cup of tea. This makes it sound like I live in a National Trust property. I don’t. It’s a short walk but it’s calming, depending upon overnight slug carnage. Tom Hocknell, Author of The Life Assistance Agency. https://amzn.to/2LrwMWC  
  7. I lie on the floor and breathe slowly and deeply for five minutes whilst listening to soft piano music. Angelena Boden, Author. Life coach.
  8. I take the dogs into my field of the back of the house, lean on the gatepost and have a fag. Then it’s black coffee time!  Charles Evans, Artist, Author, TV presenter, Main demonstrator for Daley-Rowney, UK   http://charlesevansart.com/
  9. I nearly always go outside first thing, wander around, sniff the air and look at the sky.  Dr. Andrew K Black, retiring consultant psychiatrist, author. 
  10. I write down my dreams, if applicable. If not I breathe and listen to the birds. Nikki, IT Tech and psychic. Nikki @Daimon Mediation

Tea, (and biscuits), books, walking, wandering, observing, watching the morning news, nature and dogs all featured in the research results. Maybe you do some or all of these things, or you have your own morning routines that don’t involve technology, but if not, you might want to consider the benefits of replacing that small blue screen with nature’s enormous, colourful canvas. If only for fifteen minutes.

Photograph courtesy of Charles Evans, Northumberland. 

Thank you to everyone who took part. 

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