Post Partum Depression – looking for a way out!

Recently I wrote a blog post about depression, and how depression can actually be seen as a positive process to go through, and to come out of the other end stronger.
To follow on from this, I have recently devoured a number of Elif Şafak’s fantastic books. In her work ‘Black Milk’, she chronicled her journey through post partum depression. The way she described coming through it in the end is an absolute reflection of the statements I was making in my previous blog. As she says: “I think I needed to live through this depression to better reassemble the pieces.”
Looking back on her depression, Elif now sees that she purposefully, though subconsciously at the time, invited depression into her life.
“The end to my post partum depression came more of its own accord, with the completion of some inner cycle. Only when the time was right, when I was “right”, did I get out of that dark, airless rabbit hole. Just as a day takes twenty four hours and a week takes seven days, just as a butterfly knows when to leave its cocoon and a seed knows when to spring into flower, just as we go through stages of development, just as everything and everyone in this universe has a “use by” date, so does post partum depression.”
Elif goes on to say:
“Every woman requires a varying amount of time to complete the cycle. For some it takes weeks, for others more than a year. But no matter how complex or dizzying it seems to be, every labyrinth has a way out.
All you have to do is walk toward it.”
If you are struggling through any kind of depression, the Thrive Programme will give you the skills and resources necessary to reach that way out and step through it energetically, positively, psychologically stronger, and without a backward glance!

Can depression EVER be a good thing? – Hell YES!

On a wet and miserable Tuesday morning at the end of March, when the local electricity board once again failed to cope with providing power due to a smattering of the damp stuff (actually it turned out to be a nationwide power outage that lasted all day – but that’s another story), I picked up a book.
I love (proper, pages and everything) books, but do confess these days to getting distracted by the tentacles of social media a tad too much, which means my office library can look a little neglected at times. So the positive side of a power cut during the working day is that I pick up books. This particular one was a book I refer to often during my Thrive sessions – The Importance of Suffering by James Davies.
Now, I have been accused in the past (by those who neither know me, nor have taken the time to meet and talk with me) of being a happy, clappy sort who peddles false positives while putting my hands over my ears and shouting LALALA very loud so as to not see the negativity of what is going on around me.
Not a bit of it!
Rather, I advocate that emotional suffering in certain situations is a vital process in understanding, assessing and putting into context and perspective. The amount of time and effort it takes is usually directly related with how affected you are on a personal level by the issue in hand.
Grief is a clear cut example of this. In terms of ‘evolutionary psychology’ the mind can work, in time, to heal the pain of loss.
Depression is another. Depression gets a bad press. Someone ‘gets’ depression – it’s seen as the end of the world. Cue lots of caring looks… mental disorders are so misunderstood….pop these anti depressants….mask the suffering….take a month of work….
The sufferer is caught up in a cycle of negativity and fear and collusion that this ‘thing’ is going to be with him for the rest of his life.
I prefer to take a much more positive stance on depression. As James Davies cites in his book, “Depression works because it forces upon us a period of ‘introversion’ or ‘hibernation’, during which we retreat from society to confront the reasons for our suffering, and to assess what life changes we need to make in order to put things right.”
He goes on to quote psychiatrist Neil Burton who summarised:
“Just as physical pain has evolved to signal injury and prevent further injury, so depression may have evolved to remove us from distressing, damaging or futile situations. The time and space and solitude that depression affords prevents us from making rash decisions, enables us to see the bigger picture and – in the context of being a social animal – to reassess our social relationships, think about those who are significant to us, and relate to them more meaningfully and with greater understanding and compassion.” (Burton 2009:117)
So, if you are strong in mind and managing your thinking well, then a bout of depression following a traumatic event can actually be an entirely natural, therapeutic, positive process to go through.
Unfortunately modern society does not always seem to want us to follow the course of natural, evolutionary psychology. It is cheaper (for governments) and more profitable (for the pharmaceuticals) and an all round easier quick fix (for us) to medicalise depression to such an extent that it has taken on this cloak of a terrifying beast snarling at anyone that crosses its path. We fear that we may be genetically disposed to depression if we watch our parents go through it. We worry that if we get it, then it will be with us for the rest of our lives. For some it may even define us – ‘My name is X and I am a depressive!’ Pills in pretty colours with fancy names help to ‘keep us on an even keel’, anaesthetise the pain, prevent us from confronting and challenging the ugly truth of our feelings. As James Davies claims:
“Powerful curative institutions now intervene, but with clinical interventions more likely to diagnose and stigmatise our descent, rather than legitimise it as a potentially necessary human experience.”
The reason why the Thrive Programme is SO effective in helping sufferers of depression deal with their ‘illness’ is because it teaches them the mental skills to bring themselves out of it, and promotes a deeper psychological understanding that aids the creation of greater mental resilience – resilience that can comfortably cope with the lows as well as enjoying and recharging on the highs. (And I must stress here once again that the Thrive Programme is totally evidence based. If it cannot be proven, it does not get included!)
Depression can affect anyone and everyone. Often some of the most gifted and brilliant academics the world over can be prone to depression, usually because they are, by their very nature, obsessive thinkers. As Rob Kelly states in the Thrive Programme workbook, “Obsessing tends to focus all attention on a problem, reinforcing all the negatives, keeping people absorbed in their worries and in fact, increasing the feelings of being out of control.”
Rob goes on the explain how depressed people are always looking for reasons to validate their state of mind (eg my girlfriend’s just dumped me!). There is a relief in the validation because having a reason gives them a sense of control. What it does not do, though, is give them a sense of strength (resilience) in terms of pulling themselves out of depression. Rather it brings them to a dead end, at which their control over confirming and reinforcing their depressed state is matched only by their sense of powerlessness in making any changes.
Depression may seem the deepest, darkest hole you have ever tripped into. The reality is, as Thrive consultants have witnessed again and again, depression is actually one of the easiest problems to overcome.
Just six weekly sessions with me on Skype or in my beachside clinic, will equip you with the knowledge and skills to dump depression and never look back. I can’t guarantee that you won’t have miserable times in the future. I can’t prevent shit happening in your life – because it can and will. But I can give you the skills to get through them all in one piece, and continue to be the person who want to be, and know you can be – a real Thriver!

© Kate Ashley-Norman April 2015.


Yo-yo Dieting – Why oh why?


Have you ever considered that your weight issues are nothing to do with food and exercise, but the psychological barriers you inadvertently build to ‘protect’ yourself. Probably many of you know this to be the case, but doing something about it seems impossible. In fact, when it comes to your weight, you are feeling pretty powerless.

Do any of the following situations apply to you:
You can’t just have one biscuit, you have to have the whole packet! If you break your diet, you might as well not bother continuing at all – it’s already ruined! You might as well scoff for the rest of the day/week/weekend!
You are feeling a low, or stressed, so the only way you’re going to feel better is if you eat a bar of chocolate, or a glass of wine, NOW! (This is a strong trait for those who comfort eat).
OMG! Why did I have that piece of chocolate cake???!!! I’ve COMPLETELY ruined my diet. I’m going to put on soooooo much weight. I’m a COMPLETE AND UTTER failure.

If these sound familiar, now is the time to GROWiT – Get Rid of Weight Issues & Thrive!
This specially formulated online training programme is based on the Rob Kelly Thrive Programme, and teaches you the fundamental psychological reasons WHY you are constantly going through these vicious weight loss-gain-loss cycles. Once you have that understanding, you learn skills and techniques to help you ‘grow’ strength and resilience that will not only help you lose weight, but which will also have a profound effect on all other areas of your life. In short, you will start to THRIVE!

This is NOT a diet and weight loss programme. This is about getting a grip on your thinking, and applying it to those areas in your life where you feel powerless and out of control.

If you are interested in hearing more, email me on, and I will send you further information, costs and instructions on how to join the programme.

10,000 Hours and Counting!

Sshhhh! Don’t tell my husband, but I’ve developed a bit of a crush. A couple of weeks ago we went to my favourite Turkish store, D&R Books, where I laid my hands on the last Malcolm Gladwell book that I had not yet read – David and Goliath.
I am truly in awe of the way this man’s mind work, and how he is able to work his way round so many varied and misleading wrong turns to get to the final truthful nugget of an issue. He takes our world and looks at it from every obscure angle – angles that most people do not even know exist.
But most importantly, he does not spout fluffy, spiritual, magical nonsense which has no evidence at all to back it up. Rather he goes to the psychologists and unearths what many policy makers and money men would prefer to cover up – the real truth of what is going on.
One of my favourite ‘stories’ is from his book Outliers, where he talks about the 10,000 hour rule, based on a piece of research done psychologist K.Anders Ericsson at Berlin’s Academy of Music.
They divided the school’s violinists into three groups. The first group were the crème de la crème, with the potential to be world class performers. The second group were considered ‘good’, and the last group included those who would probably end up as music teachers. Information was then taken about the age they started playing, and the hours per week they practised.
Everyone from all three groups started playing around the same age – five years old – and initially practised for about the same amount of time – 2-3 hours per week. However, at about eight years old things began to change.
The students who would end up the best in class began to practise more than everyone else – six hours by age nine, eight hours a week by age 12, 16 hours a week by age 14, increasing until by age 20, when they were doggedly practising for well over 30 hours a week. In fact, by the age of 20, the elite performers had each totalled 10,000 hours of practice. The ‘good’ students totalled 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers totalled just over 4000 hours.
What this piece of research demonstrates is the amount of effort and dedication that is required to succeed. To be the best of the best, musicians, performers, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers – anyone and everyone – need to comply to the 10,000 hour (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for more information).
Inventor Thomas Edison made several hundred attempts at designing the light bulb until he got it just right. When asked by a newspaper reporter: ‘How does it feel to have failed 700 times?’ the great inventor replied: ‘I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work’. What a fantastic example of someone processing something positively!
It was also Thomas Edison who coined the phrase: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
This all underpins my own view that in our instant gratification, results oriented society, we want and expect things to happen as close to immediately as possible. We want to know something, we Google it. We start to get anxious if someone doesn’t answer our text messages/emails/Facebook comments within minutes. We are assailed by instant make over shows which transform our homes, gardens and ourselves in 60 minutes. We’re constantly being sold dramatic weight loss programmes which promise that you’ll lose 7lbs in 7 days. We want 15 minute meals. We have 24 hour rolling news channels.
We rarely tolerate the discomfort of not knowing. Or denying ourselves.
When we feel down or fed up, we want something that is immediately going to make us feel better. “Emotionally distraught people indulge their impulses because they hope that indulgence will bring pleasure that may repair their mood and dispel distress.” Tice, Bratslavsky & Baumeister, 2001.
For many of us this involves food (of usually the wrong kind!), cigarettes, a glass or three of wine. Because the result of instant gratification means that you momentarily feel better, you reinforce your belief that a particular substance has those ‘healing, magical qualities’. So next time you feel crap, you reach for those same healing, magical substances. And so begins the vicious cycle.
I can’t help thinking that someone like Malcolm Gladwell would approve of the Thrive programme – the fact that it is evidence based, the fact that it teaches people how to dig deep and develop reserves of self efficacy and resilience.
After all, we all just want to be happy. But being happy takes effort – at least 10,000 hours worth of effort, but more likely a lifetime’s worth!.
The good news is – the more we learn how to create our own happiness by putting in all this effort, the more it becomes second nature, so ultimately less effort is required. Being happy eventually becomes implicit in everything we do.

Let Your Cup Brimmeth Over!

Has anyone ever seen Didim so busy this early on in April before? I can honestly say that I have never started a summer season as shattered as I have been these last few weeks – and the season has not even officially started yet!
But it is a good ‘shattered’. It is a ‘shattered’ that is full of positive energy, excitement for what the future will bring, and ensuring every cloud is fitted with the best silver lining available.
It is very easy to talk Didim down. It is very easy to look at everything from a negative standpoint. In fact, the more negative you are, the more you will only see the negative. Even when something positive happens, it will only be the negative connotations that you pick up on.
Negative thinking is a self perpetuating behaviour. When something bad happens, negative thinkers are almost beside themselves with (miserable) joy as the negative consequences just reinforce their negative prophesising.
(Crikey, I am in danger of bringing myself down just writing all this!).
I am sure you have all got ‘friends’ you would rather avoid – the ones that suck any joy, energy, passion, hope and excitement out of life. They may initially be quite amusing in a wry, cynical way… for about five minutes. Anything longer than this has me walking out the door without a backward glance.
Conversely, people choose to think negatively because it actually gives them a sense of control over their lives. They think bad things will happen. Bad things happen (because life does have a habit of throwing the brown stuff at us sometimes!). Hence their predictions about their life being so hard come true. They were right to be negative all along! Thinking in this way makes their lives more predictable (if somewhat miserable) and they feel slightly better being in control.
So why is that so wrong? Surely it is better that they ‘feel’ in control… better than feeling ‘out of control’, surely?
Unfortunately that sense of control is merely an illusion. We all know things can go wrong, but expecting the worst does not help you to build up resilience. It is our ability to ‘bounce back’, to apply resilience in the face of adversity that makes us strong thriving, in control, individuals.
The research paper by Hebert (1996) states:
“Researchers have explained resilience in terms of hardiness, and proposed that hardy individuals have a strong commitment to self, are willing to take action and to deal with problems, have a positive attitude toward their environment, have a strong sense of purpose, and develop a strong internal locus of control which enables them to see life’s obstacles as challenges that can be overcome.”
Negative thinking enables people to psychologically protect themselves against potential failure or rejection. If they believe nothing good will happen, then they will not be disappointed.
What you might not realise is that negative thinking is a choice, not a trait. It simply takes a bit of constant applied effort to choose to think more positively, and there are some really effective techniques that can be applied to help achieve this.
I have always seen my own life as a glass neither half full nor half empty, but as positively overflowing with possibilities. Things go wrong. Work, relationships, life in general does not always go the way I want it too. But at every blip (and there can be several a day) I choose to take a positive stance.
It is not that I am in control of what is happening to me, rather that I am more in control of how I think about things that are happening around me. This helps me to deal more effectively with external factors which are beyond my control, and therefore have a much stronger, deeper and more resilient handle on those things that affect me closely.
I am managing my thinking in a positive, helpful and resilient way.
So many of the conditions that we treat with medication are a direct result of the way we think, the way we mismanage our thinking – depression, fatigue syndromes such as ME and CFS, debilitating fears, phobias and anxieties, problems with addictions, obesity… all these life limiting (ie they limit the way in which you lead your life) are exacerbated by negative, paranoid, obsessive, catastrophic, perfectionist styles of thinking (to name but a few).
You CAN learn to think differently, more positively. Realising that is the first step to getting back on track to a full, and happy, life.

Good Grief

Four years ago today, on Saturday 16th January 2010, at about 6 o’clock in the morning, my father lost his battle with cancer. Being pancreatic cancer – pretty much the worse you can get – his battle was short but definitely not sweet. Not even bitter sweet. It was harsh, ruthless, and left us all reeling.

Four years … and it still feels like yesterday. And that is why I wanted to write a little bit about grief today.

We will, all of us, at some stage in our lives, experience the death of someone we love – whether it is a parent or grandparent, husband or wife, close friend or (and I do not want to even imagine the devastation of this) a child.

Most schools of psychology say that it takes about two years (on average) to ‘get over’ the death of someone you love. In their book ‘On Grief and Grieving’ , Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, write about the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, saying – “They were never meant to tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response, as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.”

The first few weeks and months are filled with many conflicting emotions. You cannot believe they are no longer there. You miss them. You may well dream about them (on a couple of occasions I have heard my father’s voice in my dreams – more poignant than seeing an image of him). You cry, or you may find that you can’t cry. You feel unbalanced. Certain places, sights, smells, become evocative of that departed person.

Death makes us vulnerable, and in our vulnerability all these different emotions are breaking through the surface like a pan of boiling milk flooding the top of a cooker.

There are those that make a point of ‘holding in’ their emotions, keeping a stiff upper lip. Others hang onto those emotions as a way of hanging onto the person who has gone, as though feeling better would mean letting go of that person and moving in – something they just cannot yet imagine doing.

Remember, the human psyche goes through grief because it is a natural therapeutic process. During the weeks and months after death it is vital to feel the pain, the sadness, the anger, because only by feeling it can we put process it properly and put it into some kind of perspective.

In the research paper ‘The Undoing Effects of Positive Emotions’ (Fredrickson, Mancuso, Branigan & Tugade, 2000), it states: “Negative emotions can be viewed as evolved adaptations that aided our ancestors’ survival in life threatening situations.” So while fear may have saved the caveman’s life when fleeing from a flesh eating dinosaur by heightening his cardiovascular reactivity, redistributing blood flow to the relevant skeletal muscles, so do the tears, the anger, the sense of loss, the utter bewilderment of grief, so do all these emotions play their own part in psycho-physiologically healing the pain of the actual loss.

Four, five, ten years on that pain should have receded. My father, for example, is still in my thoughts every day, but I no longer cry for him every day. I get on with my life, my work, my family, and am even perfectly happy and at peace with his death. However there are many people for whom the grieving process is still a heavy burden. They are still struggling with putting their loss into perspective.

The Thrive programme is an excellent way of helping people through their grieving process, particularly if it is several years on and still having a major impact on the quality of their lives. By teaching people how to manage their thoughts better, how to put things into perspective, how to look inside themselves for that strength and resilience, then significant losses can be no less painful, but certainly more bearable.

I shall be taking myself off somewhere later today to have a good cry and remember my dad. I give myself permission to wallow for a bit. That is a perfectly understandable and appropriate thing to do on such a day. Anniversaries like this are there for us to remember, to feel gratitude, to look back with perspective. I shall be very happy to wallow in a bit of misery and grief for a while, and shall feel sufficiently refreshed as a result to get back into my life again afterwards.

Develop better coping skills for everyday stressful situations

I was struck recently, when hiring a car, how much anticipatory anxiety is used by businesses to try and get more money out of us. The car hire company was painting a very gloomy picture of what might happen out on the roads, and how much it was going to cost me if I decided not to buy additional insurance and thereby decrease my excess.

Now, I’ve been driving now for the best part of 26 years, and consider myself pretty competent on the roads. Yet the way they were ‘selling’ this to me set off a cognitive freight train that was rattling away, completely out of control, with frightening speed – I saw white vans pulling out in front of me at busy crossroads. I saw me skidding precariously on black ice and tumbling inelegantly into a ditch. I saw great big lorries ramming into the back of me and wiping out my whole family! I could feel my anxiety levels rise. I could feel my confidence faltering. I felt powerless. I could sense my grasp on reality tunnel-visioning to this additional insurance premium being the only thing to keep my family and me safe on the British roads!

So, what was a simple task on my ‘to do’ list – to pick up the hire car – suddenly became a source of increasing stress and anxiety. Add to this the fact that I know my husband hates paying out on anything unnecessarily, nor does he believe in insurance (he thinks it is a big con) I felt suddenly assailed by doubts, fears, insecurities, and an increasing lack of confidence in my own ability to make the right decision.

Albert Bandura (1988): Self Efficacy Conception of Anxiety, states:

“People who believe that can exercise control over potential threats do not conjure up apprehensive cognitions and, hence, are not perturbed by them. But those who believe they cannot manage potential threats experience high levels of anxiety arousal. They tend to dwell on their coping deficiencies and view many aspects of their environment as fraught with danger. Through such inefficacious thought they distress themselves and constrain and impair their level of functioning (Beck, Emery and Greenberg, 1985; Lazarus and Folkman, 1984; Meichenbaum, 1977; Sarason, 1975).”

So to go back to the car hire shop, there I was, a competent driver of many years experience, suddenly assailed by feelings of doubt and insecurity.

It is at a point like this when your Thrive training kicks in. You apply the cognitive brakes and re-examine what it is that is making you feel anxious. To which, the answer was myself – I was bringing this anxiety on myself by questioning my own (more than proven) abilities. I know I am a good driver. I know that I have been driving for 26 years with no more than one mild prang to my name (nor was it my fault!). I know that if I paid out that extra insurance then I would be throwing good money into the void. I also know that all my conjured up images and fears were of external dangers over which I had little or no control. So really there was no point worrying about them as I could do nothing to change them.

Without my knowledge of Thrive, my experience could have been a lot different. I may have paid out on that extra insurance, which would have increased the financial burden (stress levels up), and incited the irritation of my husband (stress levels up). I would have fretted about both the money and the annoyed husband for several hours/days afterwards (stress levels up). I would also have got into that car with the various frightening images of the car being involved in a number of potential incidents (stress levels up). Due to my increased anxiety levels, my judgement of the road may be impaired and Coue’s Law would kick in – ie: I may well have an accident. OK, I may be indulging in some catastrophic speculation here, but I want to illustrate a point highlighted in Bandura’s research paper that….

“Cognition plays a broader role in human emotion than simply labelling physiological states. Physiological arousal, itself, is often generated cognitively by arousing trains of thought (Beck, 1976; Schwartz, 1971). People frighten themselves by scary thoughts, they work themselves up into a state of anger by ruminating about social slights and mistreatments, they become sexually aroused by conjuring up erotic fantasies, and they become depressed by dwelling on gloomy cognitive scenarios.”

Thrive training – increasing your internal locus of control, giving you power over your thoughts and emotions, will significantly help you to reduce your anxiety and stress levels brought on by events which you may previously have thought were out of your control.

Simply recognising that worrying thoughts and images are simply a figment of your imagination, and not a part of your reality anytime now, or in the future, will go a long way to bringing down your stress gauge to manageable levels.

“It is not the sheer frequency of intrusive cognitions but rather the inefficacy to turn them off that is the major source of distress”. (Bandura, 1988). It is human nature to think the worse, to be pessimistic, to be wary of any dangers and threats in our environment. But to be hypervigilant about perceived threats, to ruminate and brood on them, even when they are proven to be imaginary, is detrimental in the long term to the human spirit.

So after about 10 seconds of such hypervigilant rumination, I stood tall, looked the hire guy in the eye and said No Thanks! I think I laughed it off by making some joke about my husband not believing in insurance. And do you know, I drove that car for 10 days without a single incident. More importantly, I drove on some very congested roads, in some fairly horrific weather conditions, with my most precious cargo (kids) in the back, and I was pretty much anxiety free.

Now, modern life has a habit of creating a raft of potentially anxiety inducing situations. The car hire is an example, but a typical daily life involving car journeys, dealing with children, workmen, colleagues, bosses, bureaucracy, financial worries (particularly in these trying times)… the list is endless. And without effective coping skills many people increasingly fall into feelings of powerlessness and inability to cope. Thrive gives you that power back.