Thursday, 22 January 2015

Count on It

I work in words and pictures - it's the most familiar way for me to explain the world around me. There are times though, when the cacophony of thoughts running constantly through my head, as well as the exhaustion brought on by battling the storms of thoughts and feelings, means that I cannot find words or pictures to articulate anything. That's when I need to stop trying to make sense or find words, for my feelings. There are times when I need to stop the internal 'noise' and rest my mind and emotions.

One skill I often neglect is the use of the abstract: shapes, numbers don't need any explanation and they are so emotionally neutral that regardless of the feelings I am experiencing, they cannot make it worse. I used counting and numbers in the early days of my recovery, when my mind was too tired for words and emotions were maintaining the exhaustion because I was not in control of the thoughts fuelling them. I have mentioned mindful breathing as a skill before, when I am most in need of a break from my thoughts if I couple this with counting then I can control the flow of thoughts. Here are some ideas that I've used.

1) I Simply count my breaths. It is probably the easiest way to notice my breathing and how quick or slow it is. It also means that I can either keep going as long as I want up to any number or I can simply repeat '1', '2' instead of 'in', 'out'. By counting I don't have to fight the thoughts as much because I am focused on saying the number.

2) I Count while walking. Either, again the '1', '2' instead of 'left', 'right' or make groups of numbers eg count twenty paces, then start again. This has the benefit as well, when starting to move more, of taking the focus from how far I'm walking to focus on the rhythm of walking itself.

3) Starting at 100 deduct 7 until I reach zero. The mental arithmetic is a quick way to take me away from any battles with thoughts as I need to put my mental energy into visualising the sums in my head.

4) Sudoku. I was unable to concentrate long enough to read, but the simplicity of the Sudoku puzzles allowed me to focus my mind on a restful activity, which also meant that I could build up my ability to concentrate in short bursts.

Counting allows me to make progress in small measurable steps. It is another way to press 'pause' on the flow of emotions and thoughts. In a sense succeeding at the puzzle don't matter as much as the process of focusing on the numbers themselves. Give it a go, the next time you are caught in the feeling/thought cycle. There's a reason people say to count to ten when you're angry!