Friday, 3 December 2021

The real danger is division


The real danger is not Covid, the unvaccinated nor the vaccine. It is the division created and fed between people, the absurd, outrageous, extreme and often ridiculous theories on both (!) sides with little or no common sense. It is creating a division I have never seen before in my life. Friends all of a sudden are no longer friends. I am stunned, puzzled and saddened by it. This is a time where we need to be reminded of the herd instinct biologically wired into all of us, to huddle together and support one another. The virus could unite people on this planet and allow everyone to be the unique beautiful human being we were meant to be.

To move forward building our capacity for ambiguity is at the core. Tolerance for ambiguity can be defined as “the degree to which an individual is comfortable with uncertainty, unpredictability, conflicting directions, and multiple demands”– a sum up of our times and a challenge humanity now has to master.

We live in an uncertain environment and to live in it we have to develop a better tolerance for ambiguity. Only then can we effectively work together to solve the huge issues humanity is facing at the moment, including saving our environmentally threatened planet. This is not a time to stress ourselves and compromise our immune systems by breaking each other’s hearts. Our nervous systems need down-regulation and hope, not fear and doom.

Some of my dearest friends are vaccinated, others chose not to be vaccinated. My love for my friends has not changed one little bit with the decisions they have been making. It’s a tough one to make given the severity of the virus we are dealing with.  

When living on the east coast I regularly went camping with friends in the bush on a secret divine spot where the river meets the ocean and we had so many unforgettable barbeques together. This will stay in my heart forever and makes me smile, even though they stopped talking to me while I was grieving due to my different views. I trust that a bridge can be built again one day. 

I teach clients in my counselling sessions that they are the only experts when it comes to their bodies and hence the only ones who have access to a deeper knowing. No “expert” can make this decision for you. 

I am not giving any medical or legal advice here, this article simply lists my personal views and resources I found helpful; check government websites or talk to your GP for more official information. Before getting vaccinated you have the option of preparing your immune system with a specific protocol according to a health practitioner I am in regular contact with. A close family member of mine wouldn’t recover easily from Covid and hence will be choosing to get vaccinated once she has strengthened and built up her immune system. There are practitioners with experience in helping you do this safely. Protocols with supplements before the vaccination need to be individually tailored and take existing medical conditions into consideration. You can also contact practitioners if you are experiencing side effects after receiving the vaccine. 

In one way we are alone in making these big decisions, but we can receive help by staying connected to our own bodies, to feel into them with curiosity and openness. Any form of movement or exercise, dancing, swimming, hiking in nature, running, yoga, chi gung and gardening are great tools. We can meditate and pray, connect to something that is bigger than us to help us in these “bigger than us” times. Larry Dossey calls it the “one mind”. I find reading his book with the same title very comforting, it helps me to stay calm and hopeful and I now rarely get pulled into the vortex of fear or division. 

I had a chat to my vaccinated best friend in Germany who frequents many hospitals due to her work. She told me that there are indeed a lot of young people in the hospitals who are very sick with Covid. In the document of ministry of health in NZ one can read that “most people experience mild illness and recover completely”. The virus is not something that can be taken lightly however, every one of us needs to make a decision that takes into consideration their constitution, nervous system, medical history, physical and emotional health. If you are not vaccinated, take extra precautions to not spread the virus, obey sanitization rules and reduce the viral load with nasal swabs and gargling. If you are vaccinated, do the same as you still can carry and spread the virus. 

My parents and one sister in Germany have already had their third shot, one sister in Germany is not vaccinated. She and her family have all just recently recovered from the corona virus without any complications. When she was first diagnosed with the virus I was surprised how meagre the list of prescribed medication was (similar to meds for a simple cold in fact) and so I forwarded her a much more comprehensive list of supplements from a Chinese herbalist here in Australia. I am beginning to wonder if it is possible that some people don’t recover well and fill hospitals because effective early treatment is not made available. 

I have referred clients who had side effects from the vaccination to experienced practitioners who are currently receiving a huge number of vaccine injury patients. The clients I sent to them recovered successfully. However, I personally know of a friend’s son who is now in hospital due to the side effects from the vaccine and was told by their doctor they are likely to die. Please take yourself seriously and don’t just “soldier on” if you feel something isn’t feeling quite right after your injection. Again, trust your own body, even if your symptoms are not on the list of proven side effects. If your GP doesn’t take you seriously, please go and seek a second opinion and/or see a different health practitioner for alternative information.

I am so pleased to see that immunity building is finally receiving the mention it deserves. The organization “Wanaka” in New Zealand has created a guide to support the community and reduce the pressure on the medical system by using early action through nutrition, lifestyle factors and supplements. We all need to build up our immune systems, vaccinated or not.

I was lucky to have had a very healthy upbringing in the country side in Germany with organic food, yoga, composting, a biologically healthily built house, homeopathy and supplements - an unusual pioneer childhood growing up in the 70s. Not everyone has had that luxury. I am deeply grateful to my parents for this. On the other side, I have had my own share of deep childhood trauma and hence have an oversensitive nervous system that doesn’t deal well with vaccines and some medications. I even had a bad reaction to the simple tetanus shot a few years ago, and when going to the dentist I can’t even handle any form of anaesthetic. I have to get the drilling done without it.
But I have a very strong body and I know I can handle a lot and can be with whatever arises inside my body: joy, grief, health, sickness and the most intense pain (even grateful now for the years of nervous system related migraines that trained me well to cope with pain). I know that not everyone can be embodied in that way, simply due to their past experiences.

I am planning on recording YouTube videos in which I can help you to nurture your own embodiment, down regulate your nervous system and to build your capacity and containment. I am slowly dreaming up a workshop that will take this to another level. I am happy to come and teach groups in the future.

I am deeply thankful to my mother who taught me to question authority and who role-modelled being different. I leant early to withstand any peer pressure and to build my capacity for handling bullying. And my dad taught me how to improvise and to be creative. Everything in my life at this very moment seems to line up and make sense, including grieving the death of my husband.

We are all so wonderfully unique and different due to our circumstances, past, genetics, constitution and mind set. It’s not something we can choose. So please, let’s give each other slack and let everyone make their own wise decisions. None of us is making them lightly and it really isn’t easy making a decision with so much conflicting information bombarding us. 

I have so much hope for our planet and its plants, animals, microorganisms and people on it. The veil is thin at the moment and we have such a chance for growth and connection right now. May we use this precious special time wisely,

With love,


Barbara Schmidt

Counselling Somatic

Trauma and nervous system recovery

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Sign up for my blog newsletters on, recent articles you can find under my blog section. The last two articles are on my honest and raw personal grieving journey after the loss of my husband. My oldest articles share a lot of information about the nervous system.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

Grieving to healing travel and sailing adventure

Having a routine, a job that can distract and guide you, are great elements in moving forward after a big loss. But not if your job is working as a grief and trauma counsellor. In this chaptered article I write about my sailing and travelling adventure, being taken in by a spiritual Indigenous elder and the experienced deep transformation gifted via Digby’s death anniversary while on a sailing boat. 

As time went by and less people regularly thought of me, it got harder and harder to hold the grief on my own and I knew that I had to stop offering my counselling work May of this year. I decided to head up north for the winter and follow an unexpected calling to go sailing. The sailing world was completely new to me. I had no idea how to make this happen, all I knew was that I had to leave indefinitely.

The process of deciding to give up my last anchor, my work, was unravelling me before heading off. My closest friends know what a seriously bad place I was in for a while. My mind was fighting me relentlessly. My fears often had me locked in a complete freeze where I could see no way forward or out and I was terrified to go travelling on my own. But I knew that I had to leave as I was dying inside. I had to learn to trust life again and travelling was the only way forward for me.

I simply had a small pop up tent and a tiny car – quite a challenge for someone who isn’t into camping. I lived on the smallest budget possible like a backpacker and often volunteered and improvised in exchange for camping or couch surfing spots. Without Digby's death I wouldn't have found out how much I love driving and cooking on a milk crate out of the back of my car. I learnt that I am much more capable than I ever thought possible. It was often very uncomfortable and more exhausting than working, but I knew I wasn’t done travelling and rediscovering myself yet. I was slowly beginning to listen to my intuition again, even if my mind thought that it made no sense. It was like a wild spiritual initiation ride.

For me it is not true that time heals grief or that it becomes less over time. In my experience it stays the same. But the containment around it changes. There are these heightened moments of joy and new experiences that made my container expand like never before in my life.

When travelling I had amazing experiences. Via unbelievable coincidences I became friends with an Indigenous Ningaloo Elder, who showed me powerful Indigenous Australian dreaming sites on the coast. I had magical encounters with animals, and I lived on a moored fishing charter on my own for a few days after delivering a ute for a company, I went swimming right next to a giant whale shark, I felt in heaven and overjoyed when I collected beautiful pebbles, I snorkeled and dived with turtles and swam above a barreling manta ray. I travelled 6000km alone when before Digby’s death I couldn’t even do the 350km trip up to Perth. In these new moments I didn’t feel my sadness, only utter joy and wonder. The grief was still the same, but the container then was so massive that it seemed non-existent.

But when things went wrong, the container would shrink to a small slither, then the grief would become overwhelming and huge again and being alive would feel unbearable. I have no idea where this journey is taking me, all the norms are thrown out of the window. Sometimes I give myself a hard time for not “having it together” yet and I feel ashamed. Then I remind myself that it is my job to be gentle and patient with myself, not just with my clients, and that telling the world about this shame is a way forward for all of us.

I had no idea how much Digby was holding me when he was still alive as we both lived such independent and strong lives together. He was an unusual and incredible soul. I know there have been many unfortunate circumstances that do make my loss more difficult, but that doesn’t explain my intense grief. Digby was my scaffolding, he was so stabilizing and healing for my childhood trauma. Now it is my job to learn somatically to build a new scaffolding inside myself and travelling started this process for me. My life can become bigger because of this loss. What a crazy contradiction. What a massive and sometimes cruel challenge. And I might not be able to “move on” as quickly as others may expect me to, including myself.

Initiation into a completely new world

My journey up north was a great grieving ritual. I revisited many of the places I had been to with Digby 22 years ago, while pregnant with our daughter. I was nervous heading out to places where Digby and I have had such an amazing time a lifetime ago. But I made new memories and they were adventurous and good. I visited Shelly beach in Shark Bay and sobbed, told it my story and went for a dip. In Monkey Mia where a dolphin sensing my pregnancy back then had rubbed its nose on my leg, I had the most amazing dolphin encounters; one when I had already packed up to leave and was spending some last ocean moments resting. Not one single dolphin nearby. Suddenly I heard a flying drone and just because its noise was annoying me, I sat up. In exactly that moment two dolphins swam directly in front of me, only one meter away. A mother and daughter. These are the moments when I felt that Digby was with me and sending me a sign for my daughter and I.

It's like travelling the land was healing me, even though at times it was a painful process. Sometimes I just knew what was going to happen ahead of time and I was slowly getting back into a flow. I finally started dreaming of and feeling Digby with me more. I had moments of sheer happiness for no reason at all. My heart was slowly healing.

When driving up the coast, the energy of the landscape in the beginning changed so much that it once scared me. I listened to Digby's funeral music by Gurrumul and cried like I hadn't for a while. I asked the ancestors to accept me into their land and relaxed once I received their silent permission. 

I was in awe of the gorges near Exmouth. I went hiking through dry river beds full of big round stones, along the ridges of gaping canyons and was mesmerized by the power of these red rocks. Having canyons right next to the ocean with the expanse of the stars above was incredible. I felt so grateful for nature holding me so tightly but gently, being surrounded and infused by so much beauty, kind people and warm sunny weather. When I was driving I could cry and scream as loud as I needed to, but at the same time I strongly felt spirits holding me which was a beautiful grieving.

My mind stopped thinking and planning and I was beginning to trust the flow of life a little bit more. I went for many walks along the beach, sometimes remembering Digby's last few weeks alive and digesting the intense suffering I witnessed. I was once sobbing along the beach with my grief tumbling me upside down while collecting tiny round sand dollars, the cousins to sea urchins. I ended up with a small collection of  these "stars" and felt so grateful for being able to do my grieving journey on a beautiful beach while collecting shells as Digby and I often used to do together.

I treated myself to swimming with whale sharks. It was one of the best days ever and the holiday I needed after travelling, living out of my car and feeling quite exhausted by it. Swimming right along a whale shark and snorkeling amongst the most beautiful corals recharged my batteries. I felt exhilarated and so alive swimming next to this gigantic spotty fish. It was so nice reconnecting with my joyous and loud enthusiasm for life. I was reminded how much I love being on a boat and that the time was coming up for me to leave the land and go sailing soon.

Sailing and anniversary

And I did make it onto a sailing boat. With really good people who didn't mind that I'm pretty clueless when it comes to sailing. I loved watching the ocean move like sand dunes with little waves in the big ocean swells. I enjoyed it when I could see no land, only the fastness of the horizon with occasional whales popping up. The insignificance and smallness of me in this big body of water was a great holding comfort. Probably the only remedy available against my relentless grief and bloody stubborn resisting mind. The first 15 hours sailing I was struggling with my own mind and grief, still unable to accept that Digby is dead. In the evening I came to more acceptance. 

I may never become a sailor, but my love for the ocean grew with every hour I stared into this great expanse. I could be in company while on my lonely and at times seemingly endless grieving journey. I was humming to myself to keep seasickness and cold at bay. It was too rugged to get to the front of the boat to get warmer clothing and I later learnt that the other sailors took seasickness meds to help them get through it. We sailed for another 37 rough hours through the next day and night with the wind and swell against us. It was definitely not a luxury cruise. But it was the absolute perfect sail honoring Digby's departure. I was reliving so many of our last moments together as I stared out into the ocean, the roughness of the ocean fitted with Digby's inner battle and his resisting to go into hospice. 

I noticed I no longer feared the depth of the ocean; death has so much greater depth. When swimming with whale sharks with Digby 22 years ago not being able to see the ocean floor had terrified me, while this time I only took in the magnificence of the big quiet fish and was I part of it all. We were often over 100 meters above the seabed when sailing. On the ocean I had moments where I arrived at loving Digby unconditionally without the need for him to ever hold me again, to listen or talk to me, without him helping me to make decisions or to share responsibilities. But I had to question how long that would last before I returned to not being able to accept him leaving this earth.

I spent Digby’s death anniversary moored on the boat and had asked my friends to tune in to help me step through this gateway with their love holding me. This support makes such a damn big difference. Anniversary retracing’s can be powerful. It is nature’s way helping us unpack from another vantage point with less dissociation: A year on and we have the chance to feel more of what was previously too overwhelming. 

Digby’s death anniversary was horrid, but with a happy ending. I was physically a mess after zero sleep and I had a migraine. I felt stuck on the boat moored too far away from land. For the first time since travelling I wanted to be back home. I didn't know how to get through this day and I needed help. In the evening a dear friend and somatic experiencing colleague gave me a session on the phone. I was able to cry deeply and could finally touch into a crucial incomplete moment around Digby's death that had spiritually disconnected me for the whole year and made me unable to comprehend that Digby was really dead. 

I was so busy fighting for Digby in the hospital and hospice as for both of us the souls journey is important. Worst of all I had to fight off Digby's family for months who worked against his wishes and blamed me. I never had my moment where I could attune to death itself in peace. The "death doula" in me missed out on walking Digby to the threshold of life. I got to grieve about this immense loss in my session and then renegotiated and re-lived everything in a new way. It's something I can't put into words, but I got to feel it on the anniversary day and it was a deeply sacred moment. I finally could breathe in this indescribable energy coming from above and witnessed the silver lining, Digby's soul departing gently.

While others only saw a skeleton of a man in front of them, I could see the spiritual warrior he truly was, right until the end. In my renegotiation session I got to stand as a proud warrior woman on a beach, seeing visualized the departure of my beloved man. I saw my inner circle of friends standing upright next to me with torches in our hands, painted in proud ochre colors. We were giving Digby the Viking burial he truly deserved; on a high wooden raft lay his body, my bare feet strong on the earth, the fire burning the float sent out to sea, with the stars all above. I felt so strongly connected with the earth while sending Digby off. This solid anchoring would have made such a difference for my grieving later on. 

Funerals don’t include using the earth elements to help reconnect us with the planet, hence I had to do a lot of that on my own while grieving throughout the year. My swimming, smearing clay on my body and singing/toning were attempts to repair that lost moment. On Digby's death anniversary I got to complete what needed doing back then. Time had just become a concept. I am grateful that I got to do this sacred and important repair work on the anniversary day and that being on a sailing boat truly served its purpose.

Spirit sign and taken in by aboriginal elder

A month before leaving to go travelling I was given a spirit sign when I was still full of doubts and fears about setting off into the unknown: walking to my local beach with a friend I saw this giant manta ray a meter from the shore. It stayed there the whole time I was swimming. My friend said she had never seen a manta ray in the 25 years she had lived in this area. I understood the sea creature as a sign from Digby and looked up its meaning. It was all about letting go without acting out of old emotional pain, about being emotionally free without bonds or ties; it basically meant a kind of rebirthing.

I had posted on a public Facebook page that I needed a lift from Carnarvon to Exmouth after sailing and strangely enough I mentioned in that post that I was looking forward to collecting stones on the beaches up there. An Indigenous lady called Antionette read my post and contacted me personally. She texted and warned me to be very careful, that some stones were forbidden to be taken, or it could make me very sick. She suggested to contacting Hazel. And via multiple crazy coincidences I came to Hazel's house near Coral Bay and confided about my manta ray sign. She told me that the beach right in front of her house is the only manta ray dreaming place according to her old ancestral people. Can you believe it?! This whole exhausting and exciting initiation journey brought me to her place. My travelling story came full circle and I felt like I had come home.

When I met up with Hazel a second time I showed her the stones I had already collected. As I mentioned my three separate stone collections to her, I already knew which collection had to go back. Hazel pointed at two and said: "These two are good, you can make a mandala for your husband with them." To the third one she said: "These want to go back to their place!" Luckily, I had no actual forbidden stones in my collection. I drove back into the National Park to the exact place where I had collected the stones. The whole trip I felt an incredible happiness (was it the stones joy of returning home?) and when snorkeling afterwards I almost bumped into a turtle. It felt like a thank you present and I swam for a very long time with that wise old animal. 

I always dreamed of being accepted by wise Indigenous elders. Hazel and I just deeply connected and felt like each other's sisters; we talked a lot about spirits, death and healing (she has lost her son and older siblings). I enjoyed talking about experiencing spirits so; Digby had the gift of seeing spirits and I so missed talking with someone about that. 

I was the only person camping next to Hazel's house. She is a very important elder in Ningaloo on a huge station. And in Coral Bay you can swim with manta rays! Hazel gave me a manta ray brooch she had bought a month ago. She said she had no idea why she was made to buy it at the time, but understands now it was for me as I was meant to come to her place. It gave us both goose bumps.  

Hazel and her husband showed me the coastal dreaming places. We visited turtle, squid, octopus and nursery dreaming in an old rusty ute doing the most adventurous 4WD. I could strongly feel the energy of some places. Hazel then told me that what I was feeling aligned with Indigenous understanding of the land. I even did some of my somatic work with Hazel sitting on the beach. And when that session finished I sang with my singing bowl and a whole family of manta rays came to the shore and we watched them for ages in the thumping sea. I still don't quite know why I had to meet Hazel, but everything along the way felt like it had prepared me for this. Including living with my working class man for 22 years. 

When finishing my travels, I wrote “I am scared of going back home again where everything will remind me that Digby is dead while up here everything around me reminds me that he is very much alive. I am scared of returning home where some of my old grief will remind me of my huge loss, while up north everything reminds me of my huge gain. I'm scared of people down south meeting me and not remembering that I am still grieving and that I still need their support, their visits, their calls, their food, their love.” 

And coming home was indeed hard. I was greeted by plumbing and mold issues in my home and had to camp outside in the freezing cold for almost two weeks, which made me question where I live completely. I felt frozen and completely lost, once again I didn’t want to be on this planet, stopped trusting life, and instead started overeating and numbing myself by watching endless YouTube videos. I felt a lot of shame over it all, but it settled after another anniversary had passed: mine and Digby’s birthdays, only two days apart. And I continue to have really scary dark and lonely days, but I know that my whole nervous system is unravelling and building a new structure from the inside out which will require a lot of time - more than on some days I want to give myself.

My work is changing and I feel and see a lot more energetically, some of the counselling sessions simply blow me away. I love my work in a totally new way. But I don’t book many clients as my inner processing still needs a lot of space.  The secret will be to give myself space without needing to know what to do next. Instead of “supposed to do” I will hopefully just notice myself without any pressure.  I am learning to trust that I will be able to sustain myself as I work less, trust that life will guide me as I was guided all along these last three months travelling up north, not knowing where I will end up or what my future will hold.


Barbara Schmidt

Counselling Somatic

Trauma and nervous system recovery


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Friday, 27 November 2020

Grieving needs a village - a personal grief journey

Grief is transformative and can be a heart opening rollercoaster passage. Today I am sharing my deeply personal and raw journey here. It’s nice to finish this long awaited newsletter after a very touching deep session with a client on the phone followed by the most nurturing evening stroll. I am so grateful for the beauty around me and am in awe of the moments where I am enjoying life with all my senses in a completely fresh and new way.

I hope that one day soon we all can do death and grief better. We need to, if we want to do life better as a society.

I took time out to grieve after my husband’s death this year and stumbled into the biggest free fall of my life. For four months I did not know if I would find my way back, I seemed caught in a nightmare and there was nothing I could do to change that.

My husband Digby was sick for 16 months and when he died he left an excruciating huge hole. A part of me died with him and I had to fight hard to find myself again. He was a very special person, deeply embodied, with inspiring working class ethics, very creative and smart, unbeknownst to many also deeply spiritual. We had this incredible deep connection and it felt like we were one on a soul level. He held me so beautifully for 22 years, he was my rock, he had my back like no one ever did before in my life and his unconditional love was an incredible gift. We were great teachers to each other right till the end and I feel humbled by it.

The grief that hit me after his death hit me hard. So hard that I was on my knees, screaming. Primal, incredibly loud sounds were coming out of my mouth. I heard these new sounds with surprise, watched them with curiosity as they expressed themselves like nothing I had ever heard before. It felt unbearable and cruel at times and yet I just had to let it rip through me. To let grief go through us is something I have been teaching my clients in the last 30 years of my counselling work. But this time it was bigger than anything I had ever experienced before and I wondered how on earth people grieve who don’t have these skills or the support to get through it. I would allow the huge waves to take me– this was the part I could do, sometimes with the support of colleagues and friends, but it wasn’t the hard part of my grieving journey.

What I had not anticipated was the spiritual disconnection that happened with my man’s death. I was stripped completely bare, so vulnerable that I could barely leave my block of land as a never before known strange rawness and anxiety would make my whole being feel completely exposed and defenseless. I was without a skin and had to ask for food deliveries and cooked meals. I would force food into myself but it felt like eating cardboard. Only when someone was there to share a meal with me, could I eat huge plates full and my taste buds would rejoice in the gifted dinner.

In lots of ways I was unprepared for my husband’s death despite his sickness. Digby needed every ounce of his strength to stay alive and wouldn’t talk about death with me, so I had to grieve 16 months on my own. It was a very lonely grieving whilst still holding hope like a fragile bird. And in the last month I actually thought that Digby would live. He kept saying with conviction that he was sure he was not dying. I asked him often if he was delusional and begged him to talk about death or to teach me things around the block of land in case he would die. But he insisted that he knew with every fiber of this being that he was going to live. He was such a grounded person, that I felt I had to trust his judgment. But he was wrong. He died in my arms.

The second I realized that he had passed away peacefully I strangely only felt joy. I was proud that he was able to let go so easily instead of holding on to life when it was his time to go. I felt his joy as he left his body and could sense and see his essence in the room as a big round blue ball. I held him all night after his passing, sang to him the song "Over the rainbow", talked to him, sand some more and cried. I was awake with him all night. And all the next morning when his body went cold I no longer wanted to be close to his physique. his body was all of a sudden an empty shell. It didn't carry his energy, I no longer wanted to bring his body home as previously planned. I felt Digby's spirit everywhere and again his joy helped me accept his death. On the way home I thought to myself, that I would be able to ride the waved of grief with "ease" as my man was still so strongly with me in spirit.

The following days I organized his funeral and on three days we had an empty coffin at our home. Friends and neighbours would pop in to paint symbols onto the coffin in honor of my husband (our daughter painted the whole lid) while I mostly lay on a mattress in the living room surrounded by people and food. This creative painting felt like such an important ritual and brought everyone together. Grief would rip through me and shock me to the core in its intensity, I could hardly walk as all my muscles were tired from shaking so much, but I still felt held and carried hope.

This changed on the fourth day after his passing when a huge double rainbow was right over our block of land. The biggest rainbow I had ever seen, with colors of an intensity coming towards me, which I found almost scary. My daughter and a close friend where there at the time and we all felt it was a sign from Digby. What I didn’t know at the time was that this was his parting gift. His spirit left this dimension with the fading of the rainbow.                                                                                                                        And with it my whole world collapsed. My believe system tumbled and I no longer had a scaffolding to hold me on this earth.

In the beginning this new grief was still doable as I felt propelled to sort things out and to clean like never before in my life. I had so much energy in my system despite a huge lack of sleep. My body had naturally switched to movement, the best antidote to depression and collapse. And the cleaning up helped me to process all that I had witnessed during Digby’s sickness. I howled when the grief would take me, but if I was only weeping I would take myself for a walk and would then naturally end up working physically hard on the block: chain sawing, stacking hundreds of pavers, clearing out sheds and the garage, cleaning and scrubbing the whole house, sorting out clothes and paper work. I honestly worked in these first three weeks more than I ever did in 3 years put together and it had a natural easy flow to it. Physical work and movement helped me step forward and start creating a new space for the life on my own. For the first week I slept at a neighbor’s place as being at home had too many painful reminders of dreams not met, I would only come home during the day to clean the space and make things mine. This was such an important process and going away a lot helped me titrate the grief experience and give me breaks from it. But as I worked my tired body so hard and couldn’t digest enough food, my weight was dropping off me too quickly. And people all of a sudden stopped popping in regularly and food deliveries became scarce.

There came a time when I no longer was in this natural flow to work around block and house and I knew I needed a break. I went up to Fremantle to friends and learnt to eat again, I rested, I rode the bike along the beach and practiced going into shops. I felt a big shift after my return home, but I was not pulled to work on the block any more and when this regular movement stopped a great depression fell over me. I no longer could feel my husband around me and this loss stripped me bare of everything. All of a sudden huge parts of my life where all gone at once: the incredible special rock and soul of my life had left, and I was no longer able to do my counselling work which had been such a big part and passion in my life, but worst of all: my spiritual believe system had completely crashed.

My longing to leave this planet and to follow my soul mate was huge. Suicide was not an option. On many levels I knew that I still had a good life ahead of me once the worst of the grieving journey was over. I somehow had to find a way to reconnect to this planet again.

I used to love looking at the stars, it would always give me the greatest comfort. But all of a sudden I found it confusing and vacant looking into the infinite cosmos. I was no longer at home on this planet and the endlessness of the stars had become meaningless and empty to me. I experienced this as a huge loss. Nothing was holding me any longer.

Again I wondered how people do grieve. There is nothing in our culture that supports a grieving person, no rituals, no cultural guidance and people around you often don’t know how to support you. In the olden days a grieving person would wear black for a year to remind everyone in their circle that they were grieving and still needing support. In our culture we have a funeral and this is pretty much the end of it. But grief needs a village, it cannot be done well on your own and for me the practical help, visits, sleep overs away from home, phone calls and shared meals meant the world to me. How do people grief who can’t allow their sadness to surface, who can’t ask for support, say no to the wrong support and make sure they ask the right people? Grieving requires so many skills like the ability to set boundaries, knowing your needs from the inside out, saying no, reaching out and asking for help, the ability to be vulnerable and to make new friends. I guess it is a crash course for most people, an initiation to a new life. But I do think as a culture we need to learn to do death and grieving better and I hope that one day I can write a book about all I have learnt. I would love to hear from other cultures who have a much clearer understanding of doing death and grief. I thought I could do death, I accompanied so many grieving people in my work, I never had a problem talking about death and I have lost someone who meant the world to me before, but Digby’s passing is something that makes me question death and its finality in a very new way.

I guess my situation was also a bit extreme as I found myself without the stability and structure of a job for months, I was without my family of origin who lives on another continent, no possibility to fly home for a while because of Covid and then some other negative unsupportive outside issues I don’t want to mention here. Death really does bring out the best and the worst in people. On top of this I have a huge block of land that had been too much for my husband and myself at times. I had to learn how to start petrol water pumps and manage our off grid set up and l was often left with a constant feeling of overwhelm mixed with the most immense grief.

People suggested I should go back to work, but I felt it was unethical to use my clients to give me stability when I was lacking it from the inside out. I had to find that place in myself first and at times it felt like I was locked in a nightmare with no way out. In retrospective I feel humbled by these difficult circumstances. This intense grieving and the difficult conditions surrounding it gave me a lot of insight into what grieving people can experience. I lean best if I experience things myself and well, I sure did experience a bit.

I went on my own search and listened to an Indian mystic who spoke of wind, fire, water and earth cleansing rituals to help after the passing of a loved one. In my desperation I remembered Tim Win, the iceman who had developed a special breathing technique and who would swim in ice water after his wife’s suicide. So I started swimming in our dam in the middle of winter. It was freezing, but every time I swam I could feel myself a bit better. I would try to swim in the dam or ocean and shower and have a bath 5 times or more a day. To reconnect myself to this planet I used the help of the earth elements. I would rub clay from the dam all over my body and soak up the sun before jumping into the cold water. It felt odd, strange and unfamiliar doing this, but I was desperate enough and I felt called to do it and it helped. Hot baths were like a womb holding me and in between I’d run up to the dam and swim. I collected and chain sawed wood around the block and lit fires and would let the smoke go through me. I found that singing and toning helped tremendously when anxiety and grief where drowning me. Overtone and throat singing to the humming of my shower fan supported me when I didn’t know what else to do.

With every swim and mud ritual I felt a teeny bit better. It was a very gradual process. On bad days I would swim a lot, on very bad days that brought me to my knees I had to force myself to go for a walk at least in the afternoon and would always end up going for a swim as well then.

In Somatic Experiencing I learnt the importance of going back to incomplete places of trauma with support and with the exact right resources. One day on the phone to one of my many supportive SE colleagues and friends I had an image of my husband’s death pop up. I went back to this memory to renegotiate a small thing that was missing for me, this then took me to the image of the rainbow over our block and I realized that this was the stumbling block that had tied me firmly into nowhere land. When people would tell me, that of course I was grieving and sometimes feeling depressed as it only had been 2 months since Digby died, I still knew that something wasn’t quite right within me. There was more than “just” this huge grief. Something was keeping me locked up and trapped, something was not letting me move forward and kept me stuck and tied to the past.

If a memory has not been healed, it is like strings holding us prisoner to this past unfinished moment. These seemingly unbreakable ties can be healed with the right support and uniquely created resources. For me it was imagining a group of women huddled all around me, holding me very tight and speaking clearly to me, that this was the moment my husband’s spirit would leave this dimension and that afterwards I would not be able to feel him as I had previously known. In my imagination I was kicking and screaming in pain, throwing myself on the floor whilst these archetypal women would hold me with allowing gentleness. A huge tantrum and grief were ripping through me both at the same time. It was so important that someone explained to me what was going to happen and that I could respond to it with all my body while being held. Feeling this holding and support while also experiencing this big discharge, released my trapped spirit.

The next day I felt a door had opened and that I had turned a corner. I would be able to return to work again when ready. My counselling practice and some form of normality was no longer completely out of my reach. There was no rush to return to work and I still had some bad days and will have this unbearable grief for a very long time, but work was now within my scope. A week after this counselling session I felt called to contact my clients. I have been experiencing so much new joy counselling them again and am doing so with ease.

My deepest thank you and gratitude goes out to the people who supported me in this special and sacred grieving time and for the friends who are still there with me today. Thank you for your believing in me when I doubted myself and for listening to my experiences when I couldn’t listen to anyone else. I will need your ongoing support, you popping in for a chat, a walk and shared food.

Grieving needs a village and I am grateful I had at least glimpses of it.

Barbara Schmidt

Counselling Somatic

Trauma and nervous system recovery

If you want to find out more about your nervous system and the incredible healing from trauma I am inviting you to read the short articles on in my blog section  - you can subscribe to my newsletters via my website and receive all future blogs conveniently via email/

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Sunday, 13 January 2019

Nurturing Resilience

I was lucky enough to be able to attended an amazing training with Kathy Kain in Melbourne called “Touch Skills for Therapists” and, during my Christmas holidays, finally read her book “Nurturing Resilience” (Helping Client Move Forward from Developmental Trauma) co-written with Stephen Terrell.

Too little is known about trauma and trauma informed therapy is unfortunately still underrepresented in the field of therapy. This can have a catastrophic effect for clients with complex early trauma, who often also suffer from physical symptoms such as migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, autoimmune disorders, sensitivities to the environment, pain syndromes, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, spastic colon, constipation and/or diarrhea.

When not highly qualified it is easy to destabilize this client group further. They often suffer from intense emotional and physical dysregulation with a tendency to be hyper-aroused or hypo-aroused, limited resiliency and a predisposition to dissociate. Attachment and bonding difficulties are often underlying and their symptoms can escalate dramatically out of nowhere.

I  learnt a lot reading this book and can only highly recommend reading it for yourself. The following is just a short summary (some sentences are direct quotes from the book) of what was important to me, and hopefully it will inspire some therapists and health professionals to purchase the book:

When we grow up in an environment which is chaotic and lacks consistent feedback surrounding the safety of a situation, we become confused and then can’t properly differentiate between what is safe and what is a threat. We are then tuning more acutely toward the assessment of danger and limiting our ability to recognize safety when it happens. Then our physiology later in life will constantly prepare for danger, which has a detrimental effect on our health long term as constantly preparing for danger uses up a lot of energy. This means that there is not enough left for e.g. digestion, tissue repair and the immune system. Stress chemicals like cortisol will cause havoc and in the end our physical systems can be completely turned upside down and work against us. Parasympathetic nerve and sympathetic nerve become out of sync and turn on when they shouldn’t. In some cases they may even do the opposite of what they should be doing.

And the thing is, when we are tuned in to danger, we will certainly always find it! This then becomes a self fulfilling loop:  “our dysregulation signals threat, our memory of past confirms that threat is present and our threat response kicks into gear. We will over-respond or under-respond to the experience of threat and others around us are likely to respond as if they too are threatened.... We may even misinterpret healthy sensations and responses or give them a lopsided meaning!"

Hence the biggest importance in therapy is the building of a “safety map”:  learning to track positive sensations to describe what safety feels like (not just cognitively as developmental trauma happened way before the cognitive brain was developed):
“Interoception is the process by which a person notices their internal state. A combination of sensations and perceptions of physical processes are then evaluated by  the person to assess their interior milieu and decipher what it’s telling them about what they are feeling, how they are and even who they are.”

Improving interoception is a big part of building capacity towards resilience and is key in healing from trauma. “Our loudest source of interoceptive information comes from our digestive tract, it sends back a tremendous amount of information back to the brain.”
Interoception and Exteroception together (aka Neuroception) are the body’s holistic responses to tell us whether we are safe or not (this is not a cognitive process!!).Under stress even a healthy perceptive system provides distorted information. So if someone grew up with early trauma the amount of distorted information they have stored unconsciously is tremendous.

In therapy it is most important to develop a somatic vocabulary for positive experiences. Without properly attuned interoceptive language we cannot recognize the felt sense of safety; we cannot tell if we are truly regulated and hence can’t truly regulate ourselves when needed. It is so important to be able to differentiate between threat and excitation (enjoyable-ness without any threat). Clients who lack a “safety map” are only tuned in to a trauma map which will shape all their experiences.
Key element in treatment of developmental trauma is hence helping the client build healthier and more accurate interoception. Clients might not recognize “normal” when they feel it, they may interpret sensations through the lens of potential danger in the beginning instead of checking them out with curiosity and experimentation. “Resilience and regulation often have a quality of quiet that some clients will find unnerving. Quiet in the past signalled to them that something bad was about to happen to them.”

Regular homework to notice when something positive or pleasurable happens is supportive for clients. They need to learn to identify these experiences on a sensation level (otherwise it is too cognitive, too much rooted in higher functions of the brain that weren’t online at the time of the traumatic experiences)

The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study showed that trauma increases the risk of significant health issues over time. Immune responses and uptake of nutrition via digestion and access to replenishing rest are limited, while survival physiology is ramped up. This means that we than have too much sympathetic activation with inadequate breaking from the parasympathetic system. The body may even works against itself when sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are activated at the same time; and a high dorsal tone means being stuck in a freeze state. “A chronic dorsal state in a client is the mirror image of a chronically high level of sympathetic arousal with secretion of stress chemicals that disrupt bodily systems and don’t support relaxed social engagement.”
Contributors to ACE can be: prenatal and perinatal trauma, hospitalizations, early separation, neglect, domestic violence, alcoholism, falls, anesthesia, exposure to toxins, head injuries (just to name a few).

In the first three years of childhood we build the neurophysiological architecture for regulation and connectivity. The vagus nerve that supports social engagement acts as a break on the sympathetic system. It is responsible for slowing the heart rate without needing to secrete stress chemicals that disrupt other bodily systems. The vagus nerve becomes myelinated in pregnancy and this process continues through to adolescence, though most of it happens in the first 6 months after birth.        “When our early foundation is wobbly, everything built on top of it becomes unstable.”

The goal in therapy is regulation and to expand the window of tolerance. When in the window of tolerance we are truly regulated. We are in the optimal arousal zone, have the ability to self sooth and self regulate. We feel safe and connected; capable to receive, process and integrate information, and have the ability to reach out and have a sense of belonging.

Clients with early developmental trauma use a Faux window instead. They look regulated, but have to use defensive management patterns as a substitute for regulation. This can be via compulsive eating, drinking, dissociation, acting out, self medication, busyness, overworking, obsessive attempts to experience a sense of social connection (eg. constant smiles/ joking) or isolating oneself and withdrawing as social situations feel too overstimulating. In the faux window we create a sense of stability and regulation of arousal by narrowing our range of responses, reducing our flexibility and our ability for vulnerability. 

To give you a personal example: After a counselling session I had with my supervisor where too many old childhood stress chemicals were released all at once, I had to isolate myself from the world for days and overuse my old faux window. I was very aware of it after reading Kathy’s book and worked hard and asked for help to stabilize my own nervous system in order to be able to return to equilibrium and my window of tolerance.

Therapists need to have highly trained observational skills to notice subtle indicators for when a client is in a faux window as a client might look completely calm on the outside and even report feeling calm and normal. But a change of face color, body posture or breathing pattern might indicate that they are actually dissociated or anxious without being aware of it themselves - the  faux window has become the norm for them.  “A clients return to faux window may be mistaken for a return to regulation and the clinician may proceed with further interventions that only serve to strengthen the client’s defensive accommodations... A clinician can easily misunderstand or misjudge the client’s capacity to tolerate more stimulus.”

Therapy with ACE clients needs to be regulation informed, come in small increments and work from the bottom (reptilian brain) up. A therapists own ability to authentically self regulate and co-regulate will be vital.

There was so much more covered in this book for therapists, like the role of touch in therapy, somatic shame, polyvagal theory, the locus of control, the narrative of trauma and over/under-coupling.
I can highly recommend reading this book and can’t wait to read the next book “The Tao of Trauma’” that Kathy Kain has co-written with Alaine Duncan.

I hope that with my summary I contribute to your curiosity in understanding trauma and trauma informed therapy.

I certainly am passionate about this field.

Barbara Schmidt

Barbara Schmidt
Counselling Somatic
Trauma and Nervous System Recovery

If you want to find out more about your nervous system and the incredible healing from trauma I am inviting you to read the short articles on in my blog section  - you can subscribe to my newsletters via my website and receive all future blogs conveniently via email/

Feel free to forward my article to others, but please add my name to it for copyright reasons. I want this information to be shared.

You can also find me on my Facebook page “Counselling Somatic Barbara Schmidt"

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Trauma through the eye of my German ancestry

I has been two years since I have written another blog. I know some of you are eagerly awaiting another article from me and this one might not be what you have been expecting. Today the keys on my computer are just begging me and I feel driven to write.

I have been asking myself, why an issue has been emotionally impacting me so strongly. I think it has to do with a combination of me being an enthusiastic  trauma therapist, German and an immigrant.
I am talking about the incarceration of children and adults on Nauru.

As a German woman due to my heavy inherited past of the holocaust I always felt the need to speak up when faced by an injustice.  I believe because of this history being silent was never an option for me. It felt like my obligation to speak my truth even though I might be very scared to do so.  Being scared was no excuse for me. I owed it to my ancestors and to millions of victims to stand up. And so I am standing up today and sharing some of my thoughts.

These days I am proud of being German.  I had to have many counselling sessions for myself on the deep guilt and shame I carry even though the Hitler era happened two generations before me. When nowadays one of my clients comes to me and mentions his/her/their  parents having been traumatized by the holocaust, I feel honoured and humbled to be able to work with this client. The old shame no longer binds me.

I have to speak up today for a new kind of shame has hit me. This shame is created by the government of a country I have chosen to live in and call home, Australia. Attending a book reading with Behrouz Boochani who was present via Skype and reading his newly published book “No friend but the mountains” has opened my eyes to this new kind of shame . It deeply struck me when Behrouz mentioned that he and his detention inmates have lost all hope to ever reach freedom. Not having committed any crime other than being forced to leave their country of origin these immigrants are incarcerated infinitely.  I cannot fathom what losing all hope might mean. It is too big to comprehend. It is unimaginable to me. I have seen some very desperate clients, but they still had some hope, somewhere.

When reading the book it struck me how already severely traumatized human beings are being systematically traumatized in an institutionalized manner. The strict yet continuously changing, completely unpredictable rules on a micro and macro level are hard to believe and can only be described as cruel. The senseless suffering of families separated from one another. As a trauma therapist I know how deeply trauma can impact a life. How it can cripple the life force we are naturally being born with, how our nervous system can be altered in a way that every day life becomes difficult. The smallest things can then make a person collapse into a freeze state.  Our government is creating a new multi layered kind of trauma that generations later people will be able to analyse and study. Wasn’t the stolen generation of the indigenous people on this land enough? Hasn’t Australia learnt the lesson that institutional systematic traumatisation carries on into many generations that follow? Research claims that it takes 7 generations to heal from severest of trauma.

The immigrants on Nauru have been completely stripped of their identity. People are not registered by their name, everyone is given a number and they have to answer to these digits.  I cannot comprehend that the Nazi regimes tattooing of numbers onto Jews arms is being copied in this way by our Australian government in this day and age. I am utterly speechless and even writing this down feels hard and paralysing. It makes me very emotional and I cannot comprehend how humans can do this to one another without the presence of any threat.

I am an immigrant myself and there are days where my homesickness hits me unexpectedly and heavily. My heart seems to bleed for the loss of my country even though I chose to leave and I live here happily and of my own will. I can fly back to my country whenever I want and I could decide to even move back to Germany should I come to that decision. I have a choice and despite that choice it sometimes hurts being away from my country of birth, from my roots. Immigrants of Nauru don’t have that luxury. They can never return to their country, they indefinitely have to grieve the complete loss of their country. This is hard enough. Being imprisoned for life on top of this is incomprehensible, is beyond me to even grasp. Even writing about is seems trivializing it.

Typing these words while enjoying my freedom and a good life seems such a middle class thing to do. It is so little. So useless in the face of what is happening. Maybe I am doing it to make myself feel better. Maybe I am doing it to feel less helpless. I have the luxury of relieving myself of this helplessness a little bit. There are people who cannot do so. I hope that for them we can take action. Action at the next election. Action writing to electorates.

Talking to one another about this subject, informing the people around us what is going on. Sharing how we feel. And in the end we are all the same. Human beings on a planet that needs protecting.

With a heavy and hopeful heart,

Barbara Schmidt

Barbara Schmidt
Counselling Somatic
Trauma and Nervous System Recovery

If you want to find out more about your nervous system and the 
incredible healing of trauma I am inviting you to read the short 
articles on my blog under 
- you can subscribe to my newsletters via my website -
or on my Facebook page “Counselling Somatic Barbara Schmidt"