Home is where you belong. Home is where you can be yourself, where you don’t need to pretend or put on an act, or try too hard. Home is where you feel understood and appreciated, warts and all.
Home can be a place, it can be people, or it can be somewhere in your head out of harm’s way. Home is comfortable. Home is where you can rest. Home is where you feel safe.
Feeling at home is essential for our well being.
Evidence for this comes from John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, whose attachment theories grew out of studies of children and their caregivers. Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver extended them to include loving relationships as adults. Relationships - with people who care for us when we are little, with friends and lovers when we are older – provide us with a safe haven, a secure base. They help us face surprises, opportunities, and tough times. It’s a bit like the ordinary magic that I wrote about in an earlier blog.
For me, it is not just people. Places are also important in helping us to feel at home.
Our sense of where home is can vary over time. Without it we are in danger of losing our way, losing our sense of self, losing our ability to carry on.
As a small boy growing up in the south of Ireland, I feel at home on my mother’s knee in the kitchen, listening to the Shipping Forecast on the BBC’s Home Service, which always comes just before Listen with Mother starts at quarter to two ; I feel at home snuggling up to Dog Dover, a big cuddly sheepdog who lives on the farm next door.
A few years older, living by the seaside, I feel at home jumping off rocks on the beach with my two brothers; tucked up in bed reading Dr Doolittle; and eating sausages on sticks by the fire on a Sunday evening.
In my late 20s, going through a difficult divorce and moving frequently between two cities, my sense of home almost disappears. The only place it survives is in my car, a yellow Nissan, driving up and down the M6. I feel safe there, protected for a few hours from all the hassles and worries of the big, complicated world outside.
Now, I feel at home in lots of places. Sitting in my comfortable armchair watching test cricket on the TV. In my study (where I am now), looking at the autumn leaves in our back garden. In bed in our French mill, with the window wide open, enjoying the susurration of the river at it rushes over the weir. But mostly, I feel at home wherever Sue is.
What about you?Where did you feel at home when you were little? Where do you feel at home now?
Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ve felt at home in the past, but can’t get back to there. Or maybe you’ve never felt at home, never felt safe anywhere..... I’ll have some more for you in my next blog.
We are usually rather good at leading our lives. We are happy, or at least content, most of the time. When times are tough we can often find ways to get through, building on our own strengths and the support of those around us.
But sometimes life gets so difficult that our life hungry stupidity starts to fade. Our ordinary magic and personal medicine aren’t enough. Our coping skills are snowed under.Our well being recipes are insufficient. We could do with some extra help.
One of the problems with giving advice on self-help (as I’ve done so far in this blog), is that it can seem to imply that we shouldn’t look elsewhere for help. ‘I must deal with this,’ we tell ourselves. ‘If I can’t then it’s a sign of weakness, it just shows what a wimp I am’. We start shouting at ourselves: ‘Stand on your own two feet’. ‘Just get on with it.’ ‘Don’t trouble the doctor, she’s too busy with people who are really sick.’
Sometimes we are overwhelmed by troubles. Some times are so tough that we can’t see any way out. We need to be able to reach out to someone with authority, someone with expertise or skill, and say ‘I can't do this by myself. Please, lend me a hand’.
And that is OK. In fact it is more than OK. It is fine. As human beings, as persons, as citizens, we are entitled. We deserve help. We have the right to reach out.
That depends on who has the ability to help us solve our particular problems. It could be a doctor, a psychologist, a lawyer, a priest, an Imam, or maybe a trade union official, or a good plumber. Sometimes our choice will be affected by whether we need (and can afford) to pay.
Most important of all, reaching out depends on who we can trust.
‘A lot of my problems go back to childhood’, Sarah told me. ‘I was sexually abused as a child, by a friend of the family. My mother did nothing to protect me. Dad died when I was fifteen. I became anorexic. I just couldn’t deal with it all.’She had ECT, drugs, the lot. Nothing worked. Eventually she met Adele, a psychologist who helped her work through a lot of her problems.‘I could trust Adele’.
So when things went wrong again, she had to decide who’d be best to help.
‘In January I was upset’, said Sarah.‘I thought shall I go to the doctors - or shall I go to the health centre to see if Adele’s there?It's not like it was a physical problem, or a medical emergency, maybe the doctorswouldn’t think they had time to deal with a problem like this.I felt they wouldn't have taken my distress seriously enough.It goes back to past experiences –‘there's nothing the matter with you, go home and take a Valium’, being fobbed off.At that time I was feeling very vulnerable, so I plumped for Adele as the one with the better chance of getting my needs met. Also it meant I could maintain some control over the situation’.
Sarah has it exactly right. When we are reaching out for help, it’s risky. We need somebody competent, but it’s also got to be somebody we can trust. Trust that we’ll be taken seriously, that we’ll get our needs met, and that we can keep some control.
We’ve thought about life hungry stupidity, ordinary magic and personal medicine. Sue’s reminded us about our coping skills. Here’s something else we can do to protect ourselves when times are tough – create a well-being recipe.
I started thinking about this a few years ago with friends Lionel Joyce, Emma Foster and Nicki Howard. We each found it amazingly helpful – and enjoyable - to write a list of all the things we know about that help us to feel well and be well.
We each put together a set of ingredients for our own well-being recipes.
Here are the ingredients for my personal well-being recipe:
oBeing loved, understood - and occasionally made fun of – by my family and friends
oBeing hugged by people who care about me
oMy children and grandchildren flourishing
oHelping people realise they have more ability and creativity than they thought
oGetting lost, then finding a way out
oWalking up hills
oThe view from the top of Trevenque (in the Sierra Nevada in Spain)
oDiving through ocean waves as they break onto the shore
oCycling to work
oTaking Teddy the dog for a walk, and watching him roll around in the long grass
oMowing the lawn
oWashing dishes (but not drying them)
oReading novels, especially (recently) The Book Thief and Resistance
oTest match cricket
oWatching TV detective programmes with Sue
What ingredients would you put in your recipe?
Just creating the recipe helps you feel better.
Make sure there are some simple things on it, things you can do straight away and easily, as well as some big things. Ironing shirts is a great one for me, never fails!
Remember to keep your recipe somewhere safe, so you can find it when you’re getting stressed or down, and need to remind yourself what’s in it.
Update your recipe every now and then – some ingredients will always be there, others will change. That makes it even more interesting.
It would be great to know about the ingredients for your well-being recipe. Do share them with us.
It's great to have your comments, and I'd love to hear more from you all. Share your stories, tell us how you've travelled through tough times. You just need to get onto the blog and follow the 'sign in'. All the best, Chris