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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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Rich Pickings for Soothsayers

   I’ve often described my experience of anxiety as an insect crawling about in my ear, annoying me throughout the day until I can’t focus on anything. We’ve all got our own coping methods thanks to a rich range of therapies and online support but what’s always worked for me… is walking whatever the weather. 

     The panoramic view from the top of a big hill widens my perspective and heaves me out of those all-consuming negative thought patterns. Not only that, the exercise gives a generous boost to that delicious feeling of well-being.

    Others may rely on self medicating with addictive substances but this has a counter effect on anxiety management. Once we get locked in to relying on alcohol or drugs we need to increase the intake just to stay level and that keeps masking the root cause of the problem. 

    While we know a lot about substance abuse, few people talk about addictive behaviours– gambling, retail “therapy” porn and gaming.  I’d like to raise a little known issue of what it means to be a psychic junkie – someone who becomes dependent on hotlines and readings by peddlers of the supernatural. 

     We are living through chaotic times. We feel unanchored, fearful of the future and concerned for our physical and material safety which shows in the distracted expressions of people scrolling manically through rapid fire news bulletins that clog up their phones. 

   As we grope our way through a thick fog looking for a neon light marked exit, it’s easy to fall into arms of the future tellers who through their various tools and tricks of the trade can provide comfort with those magic words, “this too shall pass.”

     My extensive research over the years has thrown up every flavour of esoteric tool and mechanism from the more conventional astrology and card reading to finding significance in coffee beans and chicken bones. Channelling deceased loved ones has been with us since the Victorian spiritualist movement but from other galaxies…? My big question would be… why on earth would aliens have the slightest interest in what is happening on this screwed up little ball anyway? 

 With decades of life experience and formal study trying to fathom the idiosyncrasies of human behaviour, I am more interested in whypeople are turning to alternative ways of seeing the world as opposed to more conventional sources such as counselling or therapy. Surely sharing those innermost fears stirred up by the doomsayers would provide more constructive feedback in a clinical setting than picking out nine cards from a deck and waiting with a racing heart for their secrets to unfold.  

      Does desperation drive this behaviour or is it because we are wakening up to a new wave of spirituality or consciousness? Is something stirring in us as we make this collective shift into a new paradigm of thinking and being? Or, does my cynicism tell me it’s because the modern day soothsayers know how to brand and market themselves to a hungry audience around the world, evidenced by the boost in subscriber numbers to popular sites.

      Readings are not cheap and when someone becomes a boomerang – keeps going back to the same reader several times a year like a junkie needing the next fix, an industry which is supposed to advertise itself as for  “entertainment purposes only” is silently complicit in this destructive behaviour if they don’t make their terms and conditions clear and more stringent.

  At this point I should declare my personal interest in cultural astrology so I’m not here to condemn anyone’s practice unless they are knowingly and wilfully taking advantage of vulnerable people.  

 My own brushes with what could be considered psychic phenomena has me agreeing with Shakespeare’s Hamlet when he says to Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Carl Jung explained astrology in his theory of synchronicity and I’m with him so I am not condemning all esoteric practices to the bin marked nonsense.     

 In fact I’ve found myself flicking from one You Tube channel to another to be soothed by visionaries as they attempt to shed light on what we may be facing in the near and distant future as a society. Most of these are well intentioned and in some cases have proven to be uncannily accurate. Others are waffling nonsense to con the hyper anxious and gullible out of their money.      

 So what do people get out of these “consultations.”  This is what they say:- 

  ‘All the psychics I’ve consulted have been comforting.”

   ‘I was sceptical at first but much of what they told me resonated.’

   ‘In these dangerous times it was good to hear that they will eventually be over. It helps me keep going.’

     Trained therapists don’t trade in platitudes. They help the individual dig deep into themselves to discover the root cause of what is really troubling them and why it’s so important for them to cling onto certainties. Helping clients to accept that the very nature of life is uncertain and trying to control its outcome is a futile exercise, no matter what the “soothing-sayers” might be leading you to believe.  

 For all their good intentions, no-one really knows the future until it arrives.     

In my novel, The Future Can’t Wait  I deal with the issue of Kendra, a psychology teacher who becomes so obsessed with consulting psychics when her adult daughter goes missing that she loses not only thousands of pounds but also her powers of reasoning.    

 Angelena Boden

 

   

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DON’T WORRY. ACT!

Human society is facing an existential threat according to regular outpourings from the multimedia outlets. This is not hyperbole. Every week there’s a new report of posturing and game playing from our world leaders whose primary interest isn’t in saving their people from disasters but in adding another dollar to their profit margin. Sadly, there isn’t enough being reported on the number one threat to our planet. 

Talk of climate change and global warming seems to bring out the worst and the best in people depending what they want to believe. For some it’s so far away into the future that cutting out the Friday night steak to reduce methane emissions seems pointless. For others, the news that we’ve reached a tipping point in controlling the increase in CO2 to keep warming under 2C and evidence of melting Arctic ice caps is triggering tidal waves of anxiety preventing them from living their lives. 

In describing the doomed nature of the planet, scientists and writers on climate are using emotive language such as extreme, lethal, irreversible, dangerous and catastrophic. Instead of this being an urgent call to action it’s having the opposite effect. 

Paralysis and a sense of hopelessness is kicking in, bringing morbid ruminations of the apocalypse no longer being a fabulous plot for a book or film but something that we’re told could happen as early as 2030. No wonder we’re losing motivation to go to work or refit the kitchen. 

We can observe for ourselves the shifting weather patterns around the world – extreme heat in Australia and the Polar Vortex bringing almost 50 degrees of cold in America’s Midwest, extreme flooding, wild fires as well as increasing seismic activity- and sense that something is wrong but when we’re told that 200 species a day are dying and that we are in the middle of the Sixth Mass Extinction and we will be next…. is it surprising that we find safety in denial? 

It’s sensationalism. A hoax. It’s too biblical to be true, we tell ourselves. Our collective anxieties need to be soothed by seeking out the opinions of the climate deniers and take refuge in their You Tube presentations which criticise the rigorous study of the academics and scientists. The numbers are presented as facts but they must be wrong in this crazy world of fake news. ‘Alternative facts.’

It reminds me of the sixties when men paraded the streets with sandwich boards proclaiming The End Is Nigh. We took no notice since most of them looked scruffy and a bit dazed. Maybe they were nihilists, on drugs or severely depressed. Does that apply to today’s scientists whose work has been peer reviewed?  Some are finding it difficult to detach their personal feelings from the science. 

I was talking to one such researcher who had just read David Wallis Wells’s book, The Uninhabitable Earth, and although he disputed some of the conclusions, he said it made him want to weep.  My own research has uncovered a worrying fact that many scientists are underplaying the seriousness of our current situation.  Others confirm that the planet is heating up faster than ever before. Near term extinction is inevitable and we are beyond hope. Check out Dr Guy McPherson. It might not be suitable for the very anxious.   

This is bothered me for some time to the point of being unable to concentrate in the day and sleep at night. I feel deep sadness for my children and first grandchild.  Grief for our beautiful planet leaves me deeply affected but I think harnessing free floating anxiety to take positive action is the best thing we can do. We know reducing dependency on single-use plastics is an easy way to start taking responsibility. Driving and flying less, planting a garden, recycling and upcycling, not buying into ‘fast fashions’ which get discarded after several washes, reducing usage of dryers, dishwashers and yes, eating less or no meat. Let’s not dismiss these as being pointless because others are not doing it. 

Anxiety is ready to leap in when we lose a sense of control over our lives. By doing something, anything gives us back a sense of control and purpose. This applies in most situations in life. We need to stay positive and whilst believing the science, focus more on those who are optimistic about being able to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and do our individual bit. 

Groups like Extinction Rebellion are fighting to get world leaders to tell the people the truth about what will happen to human life if we don’t cut greenhouse gases. Sixteen year old Greta Thunberg is an inspirational activist from Sweden. She’s is talking for her generation to world leaders. These people are acting and not sitting back passively believing that it’s someone else’s problem. 

   I’ve started to focus more on my everyday life. Instead of scrolling through the daily news feed several times a day I go out for walks and observe the snowdrops and the budding daffodils. Soon there will be blossom and birdsong. Bees, I hope, will buzz about in my garden this summer doing what they’ve always done without damaging their habitat.

We must look after our own environment and make it the best we can.  Between catastrophe and denial there is a midpoint of balance.  We can adapt and not fight the truth, by focusing on the one thing that really matters in life. Love. With that we can achieve the most amazing things. Together. 

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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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