My Ideal Space

I have been thinking about my ideal living space lately; a space I can feel safe, secure and at home in. When I wrote my post describing my safe space a few weeks ago, I realized that, other than the unicorns, I could almost recreate my safe space right here in my current care facility. In fact, I have nothing to complain about my room, with my private bathroom, kitchenette and even my own balcony.

So why do I feel I want to move to a different care facility, and why, in fact, do I feel like I actually want to sacrifice some of the aspects that make my current room great, in order to live in a more suitable care home, and what does “more suitable” even mean? I’ve said many times that I want to move to institution grounds, because then I’d be able to feel like I’d be more sheltered when going outdoors. Thankfully, most of my current readers didn’t know me fifteen years ago, or they’d call me crazy now for such a 180-degree turn from saying institutionalization is bad and community care is always preferrable to now wishing to be institutionalized myself.

This post was written for this week’s Six-Sentence Story link-up, for which the prompt word is “space”.

My Safe Space

A few months ago, my former behavior specialist introduced a kind of visualization exercise to me called something like “A safe space” It doesn’t necessarily involve just visualizations though. Rather, the idea is to imagine your safe space, real or imaginary, in as much detail as you can. For today’s blog post, I’m going to describe mine.

I am in a kind of artificial forest surrounded by trees. The ground, however, is smooth, so that I can walk on it. When I want to rest, I can sit on a soft, cushioned bench in the forest. It feels like moss, but smoother and velveter. I can pull a weighted blanket over me when I want to fully relax. Of course, it’s always comfortably warm here.

I smell the scent of various plants and trees in the forest, such as lavender, sweet orange, pine, etc. They vary with the time of day or week and with the seasons, creating ever-changing combinations of aromas.

There are, of course, unicorns in the forest. The unicorns have all kinds of colors and sparkly or shimmery or glow-in-the-dark mane, creating a beautiful sight. Since my safe space is imaginary, I can see well enough to actually perceive these colors and sparkles and everything. When I feel like it, I can ride one of the unicorns. I can also cuddle with the colts and fillies. The unicorns comfort me.

There’s water in my safe space too. It has all the pros of a swimming pool (the cleanliness, smooth surface to stand on at the shallow end, etc.) but is still natural in a way. There are dolphins in the water that I can do dolphin therapy with.

I hear calm harp music and birdsong in the background when I’m in my safe space. Sometimes, the birdsong is replaced by dolphin sounds.

All combined, the unicorns and dolphins with the music, scents, and comfortable feel of the weighted blanket, will calm me.

Of course, aside from the real dolphins and the unicorns, everything I have in my imaginary safe space, I either have in my real room at the care facility or could somehow create elsewhere. I mean, I have a weighted blanket, an essential oil diffuser, a music pillow and a Spotify account to create the soothing music. The staff also offered to take me swimming once in a while again and I could obviously find a real forest (though that does not have the smooth ground to stand on). I can still imagine many colors in my mind, so this visualization exercise may help me create the colorful experience of the unicorns I described above. In truth, though merely imagining a safe space isn’t necessarily going to make me feel any calmer, it does get me closer to realizing the things I have right here in order to create it.


Wintergreen Essential Oil #AtoZChallenge

Hi and welcome to my letter W post in the #AtoZChallenge with my theme of aromatherapy. Today, I will be writing on an oil I don’t own, but which has fascinated me for a while: wintergreen.

When I first looked into essential oils, I saw that wintergreen essential oil is commonly sold. However, at the time, I thought it was a hazardous oil because, back then, AromaWeb had it on its list of oils you should avoid. I wondered why then it was being sold.

Indeed, wintergreen’s main component, Methyl Salicylate (which makes up at least 98% of the essential oil), is toxic with as little as four milliliters being potentially deadly. AromaWeb still advises caution when using this oil. The author also advises buying from a reputable supplier, as some vendors market synthetic Methyl salicylate as wintergreen essential oil.

Wintergreen essential oil is derived from the leaves of the Gaultheria procumbens, an evergreen shrub. The leaves are first soaked in warm water and then the oil is extracted through steam distillation. Fresh wintergreen leaves do not contain Methyl salicylate. Rather, the chemical is formed during the process of soaking the leaves.

Wintergreen’s aroma is crisp, fresh, woody and sweet. Wintergreen’s smell is similar to that of mint essential oils. For this reason, many people think that wintergreen belongs to the mint family. It doesn’t.

Like birch oil, wintergreen essential oil is used as a potent pain reliever and anti-inflammatory oil. However, it also has blood thinning properties, so should not be used if you already take blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder. The oil also stimulates the liver, resulting in possible drug interactions. I would advise against using wintergreen essential oil at all if you take any medication. Wintergreen is not safe when you are pregnant or breastfeeding. It also should not be used on children or around pets.

Tea Tree Essential Oil #AtoZChallenge

Hello and welcome to my letter T post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I’ll discuss an oil I’ve had for some time, but which I didn’t really know much about: tea tree.

Tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca oil) is an essential oil derived from the tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia, which is native to southeast Queensland and the northeast coast of New South Wales, Australia. This tree, to be clear, is different from Camellia sinensis, the shrub that tea leaves come from.

The common name of “tea tree” is thought to have originated with Captain James Cook, who used to make an infusion with it that he used to drink in place of tea. Commercial use of the oil started in the 1920s with Arthur Penfold, an Australian chemist, seeing its potential as an antiseptic.

Tea tree essential oil has a thin consistency and a clear to pale yellow color. Its aroma is fresh yet camphoraceous. Most people don’t like the scent at first, but are able to develop a tolerance or even liking for the oil’s smell eventually.

In aromatherapy, tea tree essential oil has a wide range of uses. For example, when used topically on the skin, it is thought to help with acne and skin infections, as well as nail fungus. A small study found that indeed, tea tree oil is superior to placebo when treating acne. It can also be used in hair products to combat dandruff and is claimed to treat head lice in children. This, however, is not supported by evidence and is not recommended, as neither its safety nor efficacy are known.

Some authors say that you can safely use tea tree oil undiluted on the skin. However, I think you should always dilute essential oils into a carrier oil when using them on the skin. Indeed, on AromaWeb’s profile, the authors recommend a maximum usage rate of 15%. This does show to me that the oil is significantly more skin-safe than other oils.

That being said, tea tree oil is toxic when ingested. The list of possible effects of poisoning is long and serious. You should not use essential oils internally anyway, but especially not tea tree oil. Do not use it in or near the mouth, ever! Tea tree oil is also poisonous to dogs and cats, even when used externally at high doses. Keep your essential oils away from children and pets.

Orange and Other Citrus Essential Oils #AtoZChallenge

Hello and welcome to my letter O post in the #AtoZChallenge. I have been looking forward to sharing this post ever since I found out that the letter O in the #AtoZChallenge alphabet scavenger hunt is for orange. Yes, I’m writing about orange essential oil. Oh, and all the other great citrus essential oils too.

When referring to orange oil, many people mean sweet orange essential oil. Wild orange essential oil is also often used in aromatherapy. I for one don’t own that oil, so I always substitute it with sweet orange.

Unlike most other essential oils, sweet orange and most other citrus oils are not extracted using steam distillation. Rather, they are extracted by cold pressing the rinds (peel) of the fruit. There are distilled varieties of citrus essential oils, but they are much harder to come by. I, for one, have searched a lot of places to find steam distilled lime and lemon essential oils, but haven’t been able to find them here in the Netherlands.

Sweet orange oil is one of the more skin-safe oils out of the citrus group. It is most likely not phototoxic. However, most other citrus essential oils, such as lime, lemon and also bitter orange, are phototoxic.

Another citrus essential oil I love is bergamot. This aroma and flavor may be well-known to those who drink Earl Grey tea, as bergamot oil is used to flavor this type of tea. Bergamot’s scent is citrusy like orange, but somewhat more floral with bitter undertones too. Be very careful when using bergamot essential oil on the skin, as it is highly phototoxic due to it containing bergaptene. When using bergamot essential oil on the skin, be sure to choose the furocoumarin-free (FCF) variant, which has the bergaptene removed. Still, even FCF bergamot essential oil can be irritating to the skin as well as photosensitizing.

Citrus essential oils blend well with many different essential oils, including lavender, eucalyptus, etc. I also love the combination of several different citrus essential oils in a diffuser blend. For example, here’s a recipe for my keylime pie diffuser blend:

  • 2 drops sweet orange

  • 7 drops lime

  • 1 drop lemon

I also like to blend citrus essential oils with spicy essential oils such as cinnamon and clove bud. However, just about anything goes!

Keeping Your Essential Oils Safe #AtoZChallenge

Hi everyone and welcome to my letter K post in the #AtoZChallenge. I focus my challenge posts on aromatherapy. Today, I want to talk about how to keep your essential oils safe.

First, essential oils, unlike carrier oils, don’t go rancid. This, however, doesn’t mean that they last indefinitely.

After all, essential oils may change composition under the influence of air, temperature and (sun)light. By this I mean that some components of the essential oil will start to evaporate and the concentration of others might increase. One study even found that, after exposure to ultraviolet light (such as rays of sunlight), an essential oil may start to contain components that weren’t in the oil before. In other words, it is no longer the same oil.

It is therefore recommended that you keep your essential oils away from direct light. I have a container with space for each bottel of essential oil and I keep the lid closed when not using it. Also do keep your essential oils away from sources of heat, such as the radiator. It may even be recommended to keep your essential oils in the fridge during the hot months. Lastly, screw the lid tightly onto your essential oil bottles when not in use, because oxygen in air can damage your oils too.

How long will essential oils last? It depends on the oil. For example, citrus essential oils are the most volatile and can be used about two to three years after opening. Other oils, such as clary sage, are much more stable.

The only surefire way of knowing whether your oil is still of good quality, is to retest it. Since this isn’t really possible for consumers, I recommend replacing your essential oils every several years. Don’t pour essential oils down the drain or throw them in the garbage. Rather, get them to the chemical waste depot.

Internal Use of Essential Oils #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my letter I post in the #AtoZChallenge. My series is about aromatherapy and essential oils. Today, I have a quick post for you on the safety (or lack thereof) of using essential oils internally. Are essential oils safe to ingest? The short answer: no!

Essential oils are highly concentrated. This means that, just because you can safely consume, say, orange juice, doesn’t mean orange essential oil is safe to ingest. It is not!

Aren’t essential oils used in food? Yes, they are. For example, candy canes may contain a tiny amount of peppermint essential oil. Candy canes and other industrially-manufactured foods that may contain essential oils, though, are produced in such large amounts that a drop of essential oil doesn’t nearly have the same effect as it would when you added it to your food.

Can you add essential oils to your drinking water, even just a drop? No, don’t! They really aren’t safe to ingest, not even a drop.

So why do certain companies, like Young Living and dōTERRA, advocate the internal use of essential oils? I honestly don’t know. It’s probably a way of making their essential oils sound better than other companies’. In reality though, I wouldn’t trust a company whose safety advice goes against that of major aromatherapy associations such as the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.

Can you use essential oils in lip products or toothpaste? I’d say no. Again, some cosmetic product manufacturers will put essential oils into their products and some companies say that some of their oils are safe for lip products. However, if you aren’t well-educated on aromatherapy, I recommend you don’t take the risk. I personally don’t! Instead, I will always use food grade flavor oils.

Hazardous Essential Oils #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my letter H post in the #AtoZChallenge on aromatherapy and essential oils. Today, I will talk about hazardous essential oils. I will also talk some about the risks of generally safe essential oils.

There are some oils you should definitely not use. These include bitter almond, boldo leaf, deertongue, sassafras and garlic. See a more complete list on AromaWeb.

However, you should not assume that an oil is safe just because it doesn’t appear on the list. For example, birch oil can make people very ill. Some people will use it for its phenomenal painkilling properties, but I wouldn’t recommend taking the risk. Birch oil used to appear on the AromaWeb list I linked above. So did wintergreen, which is now commonly used in diffuser blends.

In general, pregnant women should be cautious about using essential oils. While some oils are safe to use in pregnancy, the list of oils that can affect the unborn baby, is long.

Never apply essential oils on the skin undiluted by a carrier oil. Many essential oils, though, can be irritating to the skin even when diluted. These include citrus oils such as lemon and bergamot, peppermint oil, spicy essential oils such as cinnamon and clove, etc. AromaWeb has another list of skin irritant oils. Oils that are photosensitizing will cause the skin to be more sensitive to sunlight. Phototoxic oils are even worse, in that they can cause severe sunburn.

Even with generally skin-safe essential oils, it is recommended to do a patch test (applying the diluted essential oil to a small spot on the skin) before using an essential oil in baths or for general massage. After all, you may get irritated skin from or develop an allergic reaction to any oil.

Lastly, there are some other risks to using essential oils. For example, clary sage essential oil should not be used when you’ve consumed alcohol because of its sedative properties. Certain oils, such as ylang ylang, can cause a headache when inhaled over a prolonged time. Finally, oils such as fennel and hyssop may not be safe for people with seizure disorders.

In general, if you have any chronic medical conditions, you should be extra cautious when using essential oils. I’ve also heard that essential oils can interact with medications or natural remedies. I haven’t personally experienced such interactions as far as I know.

Where Do I Belong? #Write31Days

One of the questions in The Self-Exploration Journal is simple, yet not so simple to answer. It is: “Where do you belong?” For today’s #Write31Days post, I am going to attemtp to answer this question.

I am a restless person. Even though I crave stability, I keep fleeing from wherever I am. I can never seem to find a place where I feel I belong.

I must say though, it probably has to do with control. I have a pretty horribly external locus of control. This means that I have a feeling that others or circumstances control my life, rather than life being a bunch of choices I make. This isn’t necessarily healthy, but in y case, it is somewhat realistic.

I grew up with parents who had my life planned out for me. I knew by the time I was nine that I’d leave the house at eighteen to go to university. It scared the crap out of me. Lately, I’ve been feeling an insider who holds these memories.

I left the house at nineteen to go into independence traing. That wasn’t what my parents wanted, but I for the first time in my life showed some major rebellion. Even then, I needed my parents’ albeit reluctant approval to actually take the step.

I continued to consistently seek approval from others for my major decisions. This may’ve been a major reason I got moved into independent living after the training home despite the fact that the staff and I agreed this wasn’t the best possible placement for me. The staff after all, had promised my parents they’d prepare me for independence.

I landed in a mental hospital three months into independent living. By this time, I’d lost every bit of self-determination I had. I didn’t know what I wanted and just let the psychiatrist admit me to the hospital.

I regained a small amount of self-determination over the years of my hospital stay, only to have it all destroyed by my last psychologist. She said I was being dependent, not for letting others make choices for me or for needing their approval, but for demanding care she felt I didn’t need.

Now I’m living with my husband. I don’t feel safe here. Not relationally – my husband is lovely. I mean that I lack the support I feel I need.

So I often flee this place too. I don’t feel like I belong. But will this ever change? Will I ever find the peace of mind to live a stable life without needing to constantly be on the run?

Maybe if I get into long-term care, I will. After all, then I’ll hopefully finally feel safe without the pressure of needing to be re-assessed for care at least every year. Then I can have goals that I can take years to maybe meet or maybe not. Maybe then I will find a place where I belong.