Another Year On

About a year ago, I wrote a journal entry about my mental health gap year.

There are a few things I learnt through that year of focus on mental health.

I value myself more now than I did then – I have learnt to say no to people who try to underpay or offer poor working conditions. I am learning to stop comparing myself to others and to accept that life is unpredictable.

I went back into uni excited to be studying again and feeling much better in my mind. I feel like I listen to others more and can perceive when others aren’t feeling great, maybe because I know how it feels and looks to be in that place of not coping.

So you can only imagine my surprise when it dawned on me that I am not doing that great again. It started by feeling a little more anxious again and by having one or two panic attacks. It didn’t seem so bad – maybe I was just stressed by external circumstances.

A few months passed and I wasn’t improving, I had increased my anti-depressant dosage. I wasn’t getting better. It scared me. It scares me. The realisation that my anxiety and depression is not something that I can just brush away with a year off. It isn’t something that I can easily cure or forget or just get over. It returns even when I’ve been having a good year.

Study has been hard work, but really interesting. James and I traveled to New Zealand for our winter holidays and James graduated uni.

Circumstantially – I’m OK – I’m doing well. My garden is growing and I am making friends in my course. Mentally – I’m really not. It creeps into the everyday. It is the unwelcome visitor in my life. It follows me and whispers leading questions in my ear. It can’t be compartmentalised into one year. It permeates my life but it is not me.

Depression and anxiety continue to live on in my life but they are not me.

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6 months into my mental health gap year

6 months ago I decided to take a gap year from study. I took it for a few reasons:

  1. At the time, the most prominent reason was, I wasn’t keeping up with study. I was 3 weeks into the term and already felt like I was behind (in a particular topic). I felt like my life was on fast forward and that I had no time to keep up with the house or rest.
  2. I’d sometimes say that it was because I was still recovering after donating my kidney. I didn’t give it the space it needed. I didn’t acknowledge the physical, mental and emotional trauma I’d just been through. I still, even now, struggle to see it as a big thing. I tend to brush it off, but taking an organ out of your body IS A BIG DEAL. Of course my body felt the impact!
  3. Another line I’ve used is, I’ve been studying for 4 years! I have 3 years to go!! – I needed some time away from study to prevent burn out. This is so easy to say to people who have also studied. They KNOW the struggles of study and sympathise with me.
  4. Sometimes I’d briefly say that I had health issues and needed time off to look after myself. This vague reason prevented people from asking further questions – who knows what ‘health issues’ meant!
  5. Sometimes I’d explain that I was tired. So is every other person in the world – a highly relate-able and extremely diverting comment.
  6. The hardest reason to give was the most honest. I took time off to look after my mental health, all of which was impacting or even causing all of the above reasons.

Continue reading “6 months into my mental health gap year”

A letter to my sweet love.

Have a little confidence my sweet love.

I know that you’re feeling stressed, you’re feeling tired, overwhelmed, like you’re pinned to the bed of a rushing river.

I am here to encourage you.

You are loved. Be kind to yourself.

Your failures don’t paint who you are, they paint what your circumstances were. They may highlight previous immaturity but they don’t reflect your growth since. They certainly don’t reflect your loving heart.

Sometimes roadblocks force you into a detour, another direction. Sometimes roadblocks slow us down but when all is said and done you can say “I survived that”.

Please give yourself some gentleness.

Whether success comes to you or not – know that I loved you before you even attempted this.

When you put in your best effort, that makes me proud of you. Your best effort, remember, is not the effort that others are putting in. It is not the effort that you wish you could put in. It is not the effort you planned to put in. Your best effort is the effort which you know within yourself was all you could give.

It is not for me to judge you as lazy or incapable.

It is also not for me to say that you did your best. This is something which only you can judge. Only you will know.

Regardless of the outcome, please remember this

Your attempts at projects will never negatively impact the way that I love you. I loved you before you even started this. I’ll love you whether you do your best or not. I’ll love you whether you win or lose. I am here for you.

Your sweet love x

 

Inhibiting empathy with excessive self focus

Have you ever found yourself talking to someone who shares with you all of their pain, suffering and troubles yet you cannot muster an ounce of empathy for them? Perhaps they think they are being targeted by the universe, creating even more pain for themselves? Perhaps their suffering is absolutely the worst on Earth?

Have you ever shared your worries and cares to someone, only to be told that you should be thankful because at least you aren’t like them, in their situation. At least you don’t have their afflictions. It’s hurtful and deflating. It adds insult to injury. Don’t they care?!

These scenarios occur when the offensive person has victimised themselves.

Who would want to victimise oneself? Why would you ever want to make yourself a victim? In short, no one would want to but it is something which is simple to do.

So often I catch myself thinking that my hardship is the worst, that the situations I am in are unique so that no one else would understand. By comparing my problems with others I isolate myself from them.

Comparison

We may view ourselves as unique in our suffering. It’s typical to feel isolated by and tired of struggles. It’s even easier to compare it to others. One of the issues of comparison is that we are unable to do it in a fair and honest way.

We may feel that our own suffering is among the worst because we see our family or friends living their lives somewhat successfully. They don’t seem to be having to scrape together their food or stretch it out. They seem to be functional and healthy. Their relationships seem to be successful. The nasty trick is that even though we know our friends or family well, we will never be them. This is why our comparisons can never be truly fair. There is the illusion of knowing people but we will never know their whole past, present or future. And the parts that we do know, we forget easily.

If you ever doubt this, ask yourself this. What person do you present to others? It’s common to share about common troubles. We’ll complain about the traffic or the weather with a perfect stranger. We probably wouldn’t share our financial, health, relationship etc concerns with the same person. Often we present a polished version of ourselves to people, we spend a little more to impress or even show genuine care.

A good example of this is when you have a friend over for dinner. Even for a close friend you’d generally try to make a special dinner, one that maybe takes more time, or uses a superior cut of meat. You probably tidy the house and make sure the bathroom is clean. What is presented is not a realistic view of how you live or what your house is like. The struggles we share with others are often filtered and polished, even for close friends.

Another reason to why comparison is not a healthy process is that we are bias to ourselves because we know our struggles the best. This leads to excessive focus on our own issues which blows them out of proportion. Not only can’t we trust comparison because we don’t know the other’s plight, but also even if we knew all of the details we would still have an issue with warped scales. This is why our comparisons can never be truly honest.

So now we know we cannot trust our comparisons both because we do not know others deeply enough and because even if we did the comparison would be totally out of proportion.

By isolating ourselves from others in our suffering we disable others’ empathy. 

We think we are doing ourselves justice by viewing our mountain from what feels like a realistic perspective.

But we aren’t. We simply aren’t. Everyone wants to feel connected, cared for and comforted, particularly during times of distress. By making ourselves the victims we become self focused and unreachable. Others may offer us support, they may offer help but we see them as incompetent to help because they don’t know my suffering.

Have you ever offered help to someone who obviously needs it, just to find that they reject it? This is discouraging to experience, and this discouragement is amplified when you later find them complaining not only of their condition but that no one helps, cares or visits.

When we focus on our own issues and isolate ourselves from others we block others opportunity to care for and empathise with us.

By isolating ourselves from others in our suffering we disable our own ability to empathise.

When we focus on our own issues we blind ourselves to the issues that others have. Taking off the blinkers of comparison helps us to find compassion and empathy for others. Removing the focus from ourselves helps others to empathise with us and also help for us to unite with our fellow humans.

By focusing on our own issues they can grow excessively and gain weight. Their heaviness becomes an unbearable burden which we feel we need to offload. Allowing our burdens to become all encompassing often opens the door for us to hijack conversations. As someone shares with us a pressing issue from their life, any slight relevance to our heavy burden becomes an open carriage for us to squeeze it into.

Sharing our burdens is something we are called to do. It is something which helps us, but be careful that you aren’t using ‘share your burdens’ as an excuse to hijack and un-lovingly turn the conversation back to you.

We are all hurting and we are all battling. When we realise this and employ genuine empathy it can help our burdens to be lighter. We find a commonality in humanity and it is releasing to realise that we are not being targeted by God or life or others. Truly our experience is common as a result of sin.

Brene Brown helps to define empathy and separate it from sympathy. I have found this video to be incredibly helpful to develop my own ability to empathise. Tip: avoid the phrase at least.

My Next Project – Self Compassion

I am a project person. I have multiple on the go. I’m always on the lookout for another and I get easily distracted from one to another.

I’m currently planning two secret projects, a joint 50th birthday party for my parents, illustrating a children’s book, mending a few dresses and a shirt, sewing cleaning cloths and produce bags. I’m reading 3 books, attempting a zero-waste lifestyle, keeping a house and intentionally cultivating a few friendships. I am studying three university topics and learning more about being a wife. I work as a nanny and I am a church member, and part of a netball team. I am an administrator for a growing Facebook community focused on zero waste. I am recovering from a major operation and dealing with depression and anxiety. Oh, and I also have a pen pal which I try to keep in contact with.

My life is ridiculously busy and last year I dropped a few responsibilities and a casual job.

I have recently started seeing a new therapist who can offer me more intensive visits and treatment. The therapy that I’m undertaking is adopting an attitude of self compassion.

Self compassion has three ‘threads’ to its rope. Continue reading “My Next Project – Self Compassion”

It started with the staff newsletter.

I donated my sister Andrea a kidney. You can read about my whole journey here. After Andrea and I had been out of hospital for about two weeks the transplant nurse asked us if we’d be OK with talking to the hospital media coordinator. She said that our story was a beautiful story and that it would boost staff morale coming up to Christmas. I had given my sister a kidney for Christmas. Continue reading “It started with the staff newsletter.”

One less kidney… and four more scars!

At the end of November last year (2016) I donated a kidney to my sister, Andrea. It was a big day to say the least.

We arrived bright and early and I was admitted. The nursing staff were excited as was I, and prepared me for surgery. I don’t remember many of the hours following and my next memory of that special day was Continue reading “One less kidney… and four more scars!”

Donate life: preparing to give a kidney

The last two days have been full on. Both were spent almost entirely at the hospital.

Tuesday 22nd November

Tuesday was the shorter of the long days with a lot of appointments and a lot of waiting between appointments. First we went to the renal (kidney) outpatient clinic and I had the first of many physical examinations for the day. I also had the clinical nurse transplant specialist ask me how I was coping with the whole thing and ensure me that I could pull out even now.

I told her that I feel extremely Continue reading “Donate life: preparing to give a kidney”

Perfectionism and the journey away from the perfect goal

Perfect is a goal many of us aspire to; the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect garden, the perfect wife, the perfect Christian, the perfect student, the perfect teacher, the perfect

To be perfect means to have all the elements and qualities required to fill the role. Perfect means to be free from flaws, to be faultless. Perfection means to be exactly correct.

Perfectionism is the belief that perfect is the only acceptable outcome.

To those who know me this may be surprising, but I suffer from perfectionism.

Perfectionism meant that the task had to be precisely correct when completed. It meant that there could be no flaws, no mistakes. It wasn’t in every area of my life, but the parts it was in affected other areas of my life. If I was to clean my room, I would have the goal of having everything completely clean – sparkling. As this was so unachievable, I would ignore the task, avoid it, procrastinate, anything to get out of it.

Contact paper was another of my nemeses. I couldn’t stand any bubbles or creases. I hated the folds or the slightest messy corner. They made me disappointed with myself, they drove me to believe that I couldn’t do it, and they drove me to tears. The bubbles in the contact paper made me hate the project I was completing, I wouldn’t want to use the notebook I just covered. I wouldn’t want to own it. I would become frustrated and angry. I would be so uncomfortable having to continue life with it in my presence.

This scenario makes me tense up, even now writing about it. This situation wasn’t uncommon. My hair, a crease in my sock, a drawing, a page I had made a mistake on, cleaning my room, or the way my body looked.

I began to shift my views on perfectionism in my art lessons at high school. Our art teacher, didn’t allow us to use erasers when we were sketching as she said that it wasted time and prevented us from completing our art. I hated this rule. Mrs Latham told us that if we made a mistake, we should attempt to work it into the picture instead of erasing it. It felt like a mean rule, like she didn’t care about our artworks.

It turned out that this rule was actually very beneficial to us, or at least myself. It meant that I had to slightly release the grip I had on perfection and as a result the grip that perfectionism had on me loosened.

Around that time I began drawing trees, and observing trees. Trees are amazing to both draw and to learn from. I found that drawing trees really showed me how trees were not perfect – in the sense of completely predictable and smooth. Trees are knotted, they have patches in their bark and their branches sometimes curve up, sometimes down and sometimes they are horizontal. The branches on a tree do not always follow the same pattern. This unique imperfection gave the trees their interesting features and I began to realise that they actually made the trees beautiful.

The imperfections in the trees were what made the trees beautiful.

This was a pretty pivotal realisation and it helped me to change my view on what perfect is.

I used this new knowledge to intentionally become imperfect. I don’t have to be a perfect host, a perfect wife, a perfect friend. When I am the best imperfect version of these things I help reduce stress and trial for myself, but I also help others who may struggle with perfectionism to know that I don’t expect perfectionism from them and they don’t need to expect perfectionism from themselves.

Imperfectionism is not that I give up, or that I don’t try. Imperfectionism means that I accept myself and my best effort. I don’t beat myself up over the mistakes, flaws or gaps I can’t fill. Imperfection means that I forgive myself and others.

Imperfectionism means that I am free from flaws. I wasn’t rid of flaws but I was free from their frightening grip.

Christmas: gingerbread houses & furoshiki

Every time I log into WordPress I think of gingerbread houses (find out why). Christmas is just around the corner and so I’m beginning to plan gifts. Not only what I’ll give, but what I’ll give it in.

I adore gingerbread houses. I love them so much. They’re quaint, they’re delicious and they’re gorgeous to look at.

When I was young, I spent a lot of time in hospitals. Not as a patient but visiting my sister who was quite a sick child. As a treat I’d often be given a gingerbread man/ lady/ dog/ cat/ tractor from the cafeteria (or ‘caff’ as my Yorkie Grandad called it). I love(d) those gingerbread biscuits. I’d attribute my love of gingerbread to this regular consumption.

Gingerbread for many is reserved for Christmas. Continue reading “Christmas: gingerbread houses & furoshiki”