My mum, the inspiration for Counselling4Carers

After an eye opening conversation with a friend a couple of days ago where we talked about our passions, inspirations and drives for the work we do I have spent an emotional day reigniting my Counselling4Carers work, I set it up in memory of my mum, Gladys Knott in 2013, and I finally feel in a place where I can really honor her by making this service a working reality. Grief is a unique process and it takes on a different form every time we experience it, and it has taken me this long to feel that I can now commit to this important area of my counselling work. Up until now it has tugged at that hole in my heart where mum resides far too much for me to be able to put my grief to one side in order for me to really support carers who are living with the kind of issues that they need support with. The counselling process is all about the client, and their journey, and I believe it would have been unethical for me to really develop this until I was in a place where I could dedicate myself to the work in a way that kept myself and those carers I work with emotionally safe and supported.

mum and my brother Tim
My mum – my inspiration

I lost my mum to kidney failure in January 2013 after a long period of illness and multiple health issues not least of which was her stroke in February 2012 which left her unable to open her eyes, so not although technically blind she was as good as, even with the strips of micropore we used to keep her eyelids open so she could only see for short periods of time. The stroke damaged her nerve supply to the muscles of her eyes and eyelids so her eyes could see but appeared to hate each other and look in opposite directions when they were held open. This led to mum feeling sea sick and confused, so we had to alternate them so she could see at least for a little while however blurry it was, it was better than the eternal darkness she had been experiencing. But throughout this she remained strong and calm, initially at least never resenting the hand god had dealt her, just accepting of the fact that this was her new reality. She was inspirational and I miss her every day, but I know she will be proud of my life path since she passed away. She had multiple health issues that made her care particularly difficult, including Addision’s disease, COPD and severe arthritis (she had been on a waiting list for a new hip for over 4 years when she died but had never been well enough to survive the procedure).

Her blindness did leave her anxious about being alone in the house, understandable in the circumstances really and I became pretty much house bound alongside her, I ended up ordering all our groceries online so she didn’t have to fret while I was gone. The only time that she actively encouraged me to leave the house or actually leave her side was whenever I needed to see a counselling client or when I was manning the open line for my local branch of Cruse (helping support the bereaved).

I was already qualified when my mum had her stroke in 2012 and had a small private practice. She always supported my desire to help others and I believe it was because it reflected her own life’s mission. The one major regret I know she had was she had wanted to be a missionary in Israel but married and had myself and my two older brothers, by the time we were grown up enough my father was so unwell that she was not able to leave for any great length of time she did manage a week out there for a visit and it was one of her finest and most precious memories. My father died when he was only 65 which in an ideal world would have allowed my mum to follow her dream even for a few months or years but sadly she had her first stroke 4 weeks before he died, which although she recovered from really well, left her unable to fly and along with her own previous health complications her dreams of being a missionary died too. mum and sam

Now although she never actually did missionary work in the way she wished to, she touched so many lives with her infinite compassion and her ability to forgive and forget without judgment or resentment, (and there had been a lot to forgive within our family and my parents work but that’s a story for another day). As the vicar said in his eulogy she was a missionary in her own right leading by example and throughout her life touching many more souls than she was ever aware of. She was always a quiet woman who often listened and observed without any superfluous words or inane or irrelevant comments, but she touched so many peoples lives with her gentle advice and her naturally calming persona. I am in awe of her and the more I reflect back about her life which was by no means simple or pain or fear free the more I admire her.

So I believe she saw what I was doing as a continuation of her passion for helping others, I am her legacy and I aim to use her example as a constant bench mark for me to work towards. So once again I dedicate this area of my work to my mum, Mrs Gladys Knott you will always be in my heart.

For more info please go to or my facebook page

I have also set up a Bereaved Carers Support Group and aim to run support groups locally in the very near future

Trouble sleeping? Part 2

If you have problems staying asleep…

If you wake up in the middle of the night and you can’t drift back to sleep after about 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet, relaxing activity like stretching, reading or doing crossword puzzles. Staring at the ceiling will not help and just leads to excess frustration and a negative cycle of thoughts which maintain your lack of sleep.

If you wake up worrying about a particular problem then take your pen and paper and write, just allow yourself to write anything that comes into your head, it may not provide the solution immediately but if its all out on paper your anxiety should be reduced, just keep writing until you have run out of thoughts.

If you wake up in a panic, perhaps from a bad dream a wonderful affirmation to recite to yourself is I am safe and I am protected. Dreams cannot hurt you but in those first few seconds of wakefulness they can appear to be very real and the fear can be overwhelming.

Avoid having any electronics turned on in your bedroom such as ipads or iphones the blue light emitted can disrupt sleep.

If you regularly wake up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep please contact your GP and discuss this with them, there may be a medical reason for this e.g. sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or chronic pain which will need investigating and specialist treatment.

I sleep ok, but I am waking up exhausted, I feel like I haven’t had any rest at all?

There are a variety of causes of this type of problem, ranging from sleep apnea to too many dreams and your brain not shutting off due to heightened levels of stress. Most commonly though I would associate this type of unrefreshing sleep which is essentially a light sleep that, even after a full night, doesn’t leave you rested with ME/CFS and fibromyalgia, or chronic pain conditions where restorative sleep simply eludes sufferers, they often report waking up exhausted and feeling as if they haven’t slept at all — no matter how long they were actually asleep. The consequences of unrefreshing sleep go beyond mere tiredness. These include unrelenting fatigue, daytime sleepiness, poor concentration and other  cognitive impairment  (brain fog), increased sensitivity to pain (hyperalgesia) and general disability. Once again I would recommend seeking medical advice to discover the underlying cause before discussing treatment for this.

Having difficulty getting to sleep? Change your habits…..

Firstly and I know this may seem obvious but do not go to bed until you feel sleepy. If yu are not tired then al that will happen is that you toss and turn, and become anxious about the fact you can’t get to sleep. If you wait until you are tired, that pleasant kind of snoozy feeling then go to bed you will be far more likely to drift off and have restorative sleep. This may take practice especially if you have a routine already and you are concerned that staying up late may make you feel worse, but on balance spending hours laying in bed staring at the ceiling and becoming fretful is just as debilitating.

Get into a routine….

Try to use the hour before going to bed to
unwind and prepare for sleep. In the same way that you would not expect a child to go straight from an exciting game to bed, most adults need to wind down. For a child, a bedtime routine helps with the winding down process, for example, bathtime, pyjamas, teeth brushed, story, then bed. The same is true for

But I’m in bed and I can’t sleep….

If you have not fallen asleep within 30 minutes get up and have a malty drink. Listen to relaxing music, read a relaxing book until you feel snoozy.

Make sure your bed is associated with sleep.
The only exception to this is making love, the act of which can in fact help promote a good nights sleep.

Avoid smoking immediately before bed as it is a stimulant.

Although having a nightcap is often suggested as a way to help you sleep, and certainly if you have a night out with a few beers or glasses of wine you may fall asleep (pass out) quickly, the quality of sleep is non restorative. Therefore avoid drinking alcohol is you wish to gain healthy sleep.

Try deep breathing… focus on the sound of your breath as you inhale and exhale… then start by breathing in for a count of 5 then out for a count of 7. Keep doing this until you fall asleep, you should find that you gradually stop consciously counting and just relax into the breathing cycle which will help you drift off to sleep.

If you are feeling very stressed, worried or upset you can develop this routine further by imagining that as you exhale, choose a colour (I use deep brown) this colour represents all your worries and concerns, and as you exhale you can see all your negative thoughts and feelings leave your body. Then choose another colour to inhale you are breathing in (I use pale blue as its very calming) and as you breathe in you are filling your lungs and in turn your whole body with relaxing and calming feelings.

Another adaptation of this is to breathe out all the negative and stressful feelings from every part of your body, e.g. hands, arms, neck, brain by naming them as you go, then inhaling the positive colour with its relaxing nature and then saying goodnight to each body part, I would suggest you start from your toes and work up.

What can you do during the day to improve your sleep patterns.

Gradually increasing your daytime activity and exercise, will help but don’t exercise too near to bedtime or you will still be hyped up.

Try and avoid sleeping for long periods during the day as it can disrupt your sleep cycle, have you ever fallen asleep for an hour or two in the afternoon and woke up feeling worse for it? That’s because your body has a natural sleep cycle and hormones and chemicals within your body reflect this cycle so when its disrupted everything is a little out of whack and make you feel awful. Catnaps can be useful but no longer than 20 minutes at a time.

If you have had unexpected sleep deprivation e.g. no sleep for 36 or 48 hours due to a family emergency for example, then when you do sleep try not to recover all your sleep in one go, it is better to have 30 minutes extra every day for a few days than try and sleep an additional 8 hours straight off.

These simple guidelines really can improve your sleep but they take time. Please be patient, your hard work will pay off although it can take many weeks to develop new sleep habits.

Trouble Sleeping? Part 1

Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

We will all have the occasional night where we just can’t seem to get to sleep. Maybe you have gone to bed feeling really sleepy, but once the light goes out and the quiet of night fills the room you suddenly find yourself wide awake. You feel restless and just can’t get comfortable or perhaps your brain just won’t slow down and is determined to keep busy worrying about the day’s events or what is in store for you tomorrow. And the harder you try to get to sleep the more frustrated and awake you find yourself. Perhaps you lay awake until 3 or 4am before tiredness overwhelms you and you finally fall asleep? Does this sound familiar?

For occasional sleep difficulties here are a few basic tips which may help you improve your quality of sleep:

Don’t drink any caffeinated drink after 4pm

Have a relaxing, warm bath before you go to bed and allow yourself to wind down and let the stress of the day go.

Do not watch TV immediately before going to bed as it overstimulates your brain.

Make your room colder -Your body needs to cool down in order to fall asleep and stay asleep, so do what you can to make your room cool.

Stress causing you sleepness nights?

If worrying kicks in just after you close your eyes, schedule a “worry time” earlier in the day. This is a 15 minute period when you consciously try to think of all your worries and tell them to a trusted confidant and/or write them down. Getting your worries out and raising them to a conscious level can keep them in their place – during the daytime.

If your brain will simply not shut up then try this simple exercise: Imagine a chest of drawers, it can be as big or as small as you like, it can be made from whatever you wish (I use an old wooden one from my childhood bedroom). Allow your thoughts to come into your mind, and as they do, simply choose a draw, open it and place that thought in, then close the draw, knowing that you can open it again tomorrow. Repeat this until you find that you have no more thoughts or worries, and then allow yourself to drift off to a quiet and restorative sleep.

Keep a pen and paper by your bed, so if you do wake up in the middle of the night with an idea or if you can’t get to sleep because you have too many thoughts running around in your head then take the opportunity to write them down, it will reduce your anxiety and thus calm you down and allow you to drift off to sleep unhindered by unnecessary thoughts and fears.

Does this look familiar?

Sleep problems can be broadly categorised into three types:

  • Problems getting to sleep – lying awake and not being able to fall asleep.

  • Problems staying asleep, for example waking up early in the morning.

  • Poor quality sleep – not feeling refreshed by the sleep you do get.

In order to understand which sleep problems you are experiencing try filling out the sleep diary, it will help you identify patterns in your sleep cycle and your behaviours. This knowledge in itself will be really empowering and allow you to begin to take back control of your sleeplessness.

What does a good nights sleep look like?

There are different types and stages of sleep. We cycle through these during the night. These range from light, drowsy sleep through deep sleep to dream sleep, or so called ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ sleep. During these phases we physically and mentally recover. We process memories, heal and grow. It is essential for recouperative sleep that this cycle is occuring each night. Some emotional, physical or health conditions can disrupt this cycle e.g. stress or the pain from arthritis.

A healthy cycle of sleep would look something like the diagram below:

As you can see there are points during the night where you are almost wakeful and it is common that you may turn over during the night and be aware that you are awake momentarily then drift off to sleep again really quickly, this is normal.

Next installment – ideas for improving your sleep patterns