Saturday, 28 March 2015
But that song. Despite how annoying it became (Ella actually screams with pain if I sing it near her. Five year old girls love to be dramatic), there are sentiments I like.
Spoiler alert - if you have not seen Frozen then maybe save this post for another day...
Anyway, I like the words of the song as princess Elsa sings about the struggle to be good and acceptable and keep her ability to freeze things around her, under control. When she runs away she sings about being able to finally be free and let go. To be who she is and no longer locked away and afraid. Of course it is not that simple. But the freedom of being herself and expressing herself is clear. As I pondered why I found it so profound, I was struck by how easy it is to suppress my passion, enthusiasm, gifts or interests due to the fear that somehow that might not be acceptable to other people. Or that if I truly revealed who I am, and stopped trying to be what I think other people want, that I would be rejected and abandoned.
And that fear is not without reason. I imagine many of us have experienced times when others have rejected us because we have turned out to not fulfil their expectations of who we should be. Or someone has discovered that we are not the person they thought we were and they find it difficult to accept this new facet of our identity. It doesn't have to be something major. Maybe you became friends with someone through a mutual interest and all was great until you broadened the friendship. And suddenly it wasn't so easy. Maybe you have divergent views or ideas. Maybe you just don't understand each other. Or perhaps in a work situation you took a different view than a colleague you usually see eye to eye with. It can be so hard to let each other go. To let each other be who we are and not hurt each other in the process. Because none of us fit together comfortably all the time. There is always friction and discomfort because we are separate people, each working out our lives in different ways.
I am often hyper aware of the underlying expectations others may have of me and the narrow view they may have of my identity. Sometimes I cultivate that. I don't think it is deliberately deceptive. I think most of the time we want to find common ground with others and we emphasise what we have in common. And after a while it can be hard to bring attention to the parts of ourselves that don't fit the relationship so neatly. It is like when someone calls you by the wrong name and you don't correct them and after a while it is just too awkward to say anything. The same can be true when I realise that the box I have thrown myself into for the benefit of connection with someone, has become a bit of a cage.
And then I have a choice. Do I keep sitting in the box or do I risk stepping out and possibly breaking the relationship. You might think this is a bit dramatic. But have you got friends who you always expect to respond in a certain way to you? Do you have people who you expect to always understand why you are late cause they struggle with lateness too? What if they suddenly said when you turned up late to meet them for coffee "Hey, I am getting really frustrated that you are always late. I know I said I was also someone who struggled to be on time, but 45 minutes waiting for you is just too much". It is highly likely that you would feel hurt but also betrayed. You were buddies who were late together and she was supposed to get it. And she doesn't any more. Another example might be someone you met through a baby group but as your children get older you realise your parenting approaches are getting further and further apart and it is getting harder to spend time together cause at some point the differences will become so awkward that hanging out is not fun at all.
These boxes we find ourselves in are no-one's fault and often if you take the risk of stepping out of the box, your friendships and relationships will actually deepen as you get to know each other better. Suddenly the 2D cut out becomes 3D and that growing knowledge of each other can fill in so many of the gaps and make it so much more joyful to share life together.
But if you are people pleaser or someone who fears abandonment (both my hands are raised) it can be very hard to let go of the impression I have created and projected and allow myself to be seen as I really am.
At the same time it can be very painful when someone I know steps out of the box in front of me. Suddenly they aren't playing the game by the rules I expected. Suddenly I am not sure who they are anymore. My expectations are not being met and I .might be disappointed, or outright angry.
However, the only choice which will allow the relationship to remain intact, is to let it go. (Thanks Elsa). I need to let go of the need to control the opinions of other people about me. If I step out of the box and get rejected well it is probably for the best. I only want to be close to people who love me and accept me in all my mess and complexities. And others have the same rights too.
And who am I to know what anyone else thinks of me anyway? What a lot of wasted energy trying to manage other people's opinions. Instead I could be just getting on with living.
I remember a colleague talking to me about being in her 30s. I was bright eyed and angsting through my 20s. She said that the best thing about being almost 40 was that she just didn't care what anyone thought about her anymore. She was too busy getting on with living. I hope I can get busier living and let the opinions of other people go. They are just people anyway, and with just as many flaws and weaknesses as me. Well maybe not that many ...
Wednesday, 21 January 2015
Now from that extremely utilitarian description of my lead up to one of the most significant days in the year, it would be understandable to conclude that I am not a person who enjoys the season and that gift giving and the traditions of advent don't really interest me. But that assumption could not be further from the truth. I love traditions and building them into our life as a family. I love buying presents for people and try to think about who they are as a person as I pick them. I also really enjoy baking and putting together food as a gift. I especially enjoy trying to make it a special day for my children. But over the last few years I have learned to set my expectations at the same level as my energy, and our finances. The result is that I have learned to accept what I am able to do, and though I look forward to a time when I can do more of what I love, I can let that go for now. I had moments this year of wishing we had all decorated the Christmas tree together (hubby took the kids and did it with them), or that I had made more handmade gifts, or that I made sure I had the Kings College Choir Christmas album to listen to as I wrapped presents (a tradition from my own childhood) or that I could buy more presents for more people and not worry so much about how to afford it. But it was still good. Perfect is not possible and isn't worth trying to achieve because it doesn't actually exist. The meaning of Christmas remains a constant no matter how much or little I do in preparation. An authentic Christmas means coming to that special day as I am.
And this year I was in bed with vertigo. Horrible spinning every time I moved my head. In days before Christmas I was so exhausted that getting up to prepare breakfast for the kids took superhuman effort. Every cell in my body yearned to sleep. I would have volunteered for a human version of hibernation if it had been offered to me. On Christmas morning I had hoped that rest and doing basically nothing for a week would mean I was fighting fit. But I wasn't. I managed that excitement of stocking opening and pancakes for breakfast but then had to crawl back to bed while hubby took the kids to church by himself. Then afternoon was thankfully spent with family and not at our house and I was so grateful that I didn't have to contribute much and could just sit still. It was a good reminder that there is no controlling this thing called life. Poor health and a mystery virus can strike at any time and is no respecter of circled days on the calendar.
The summer holidays have felt like extended convalescence and recuperation. Every day I napped and when I could I lay down. Hubby did most of the housework and keeping the kids entertained. I was really only useful to change the odd nappy and have cuddles on the couch. I have read about 5 novels. Probably 4 more books than I read all of last year. The heat has meant that lethargy is an acceptable way to be. And I have embraced it. Only two weeks ago did feel close to normal and back to myself. And finally this week I can imagine returning to work and not keeling over on the first day in exhaustion and shock. I am grateful beyond measure for my job which blesses me each year with so many holidays. This extended break over summer is a life saver.
I have also used the time to really focus on changing my diet. (I will write more about this later) I have also stopped having coffee, milk and gluten. This was all on the advice of a dr. I have been teetering all year on the brink of deep depression and increasing my medication regularly in the hope that finally I will reach that magic dose where the clouds lift but the side effects don't disrupt my life to much. So far no magic and so I am also beginning the process of weaning down. Too many side effects including this chronic fatigue that plagues me. And who knows what has made the difference and has me feeling well enough to actually write tonight. Maybe it is just having some Vitamin D, maybe it is getting more rest and not having stress or pressure. It could be the many supplements I am now taking or that somehow my diet is helping my body to function properly again. Who knows? All I know is that in December I was asking myself how I could actually do my life with so little energy and wondering whether other people had some sort of super power secret I wasn't privy to. Now I think I am accepting that I was physically burned out and that my stamina for busyness and stress is low. That's just how I am.
So 2014 was my year of No. I said "No" to a lot of ideas and opportunities. I said yes to one thing - planning and organising our church preschool programme. It has stretched me in some ways but in many ways it has refreshed me by reminding me of the core beliefs I have despite my times of struggle and questioning. And in the end any positive growth in me this year stems from the renewal of that foundation which I base my life upon.
2015 seems to be rolling along at a frightening pace already but I have been so grateful for the easing into it which I have been able to do. I have been considering what the focus for this year might be. I am thinking about choosing my attitude and actions rather than letting thoughts and emotions drive me and feeling powerless to their influence. I don't believe in denying how I feel but I do believe that once acknowledged, I can then choose my response in the light of wisdom and in the knowledge that my perception is often clouded. A blog I read a lot uses the phrase "we can do hard things". This is my hard thing. To establish some self control over my mind and heart and choose the right thing, even when it will challenge me. I am not thinking of any massive situations. I am thinking of those days when I wish I didn't have to go to work. Instead of frantically searching for a way to quit, I want to remind myself that my job is a blessing and that today is just a hard day. This will save me the exhausting tension of rethinking everything all the time just cause it feels hard. So I am welcoming 2015 knowing that I am going to need to build some muscles and do some practice but I "can do hard things".
Tuesday, 9 December 2014
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Friday, 3 October 2014
This year really is proving to be hard work. No big reasons for that. Except my brain still threatens to slide back into depression. My struggles with the tension between what I want to be able to be and do and reality steal my peace and joy. I dream of some greater peace. I see glimpses of it and I keep being reminded that I am enough now. However, 35 years of feeling less than is hard to shake.
One of the questions I ask myself in an attempt to stop my negative thinking is "Is what I am telling myself, the facts, or the feelings?"
Often my feelings take me off what is really happening into a reality I am creating out of the emotions thay arise.
Yesterday os a good example. I was just exhausted. As it was Sunday, hubby was home. So after lunch I said I just couldn't keep going without a nap. As I lay in bed starting to doze off, the feelings were failure and letting everyone down. I felt that me not being up and involved meant I was a bad mother.
Was any of that true? No. But my unrealistic expectations of myself create those feelings when I have to admit I am actually human and need rest.
The facts helped to check if the feelings really reflected reality. And those facts were that I was really tired and needed a nap. Everyone needs a rest and asking for one is wise.
And checking the facts helped. I enjoyed my nap and woke up feeling much better.
I hope that in time I can have more realistic expectations and that the feelings and thoughts I have would become more gentle and self compassionate. But in the throws of being overwhelmed by self destructive self talk, remembering to check my facts definitely helps.
Friday, 15 August 2014
But busy with mundane is actually a good sign. The new dose has made a huge difference. After two weeks I was waking up looking forward to the day and with energy to actually do it. I feel like I am no longer bumping along the bottom but have resurfaced and can see the world in colour again. That first glimpse is such joy cause I forget that it really is so good, life and living and being. And so for about two weeks life felt just so awesome! I was revelling in being myself again. The real me that is often muffled and numb and so tired by it all.
But now the thrill has worn off a bit. Cause it does. Sometimes it wears off so much that it doesn't last and I start sinking. But I don't think that is what is happening. I think it is just the reality that a pill is not the whole fix. I have to keep take responsibility for the thoughts in my head. And the medication has definitely helped create a pause between a thought and my reality. It is like each thought or at least the negative and deceptive and damaging ones, has to pass through a toll booth, or a traffic light, and I can stop and ask "Is that true?" And then I can choose to replace it with something that is more real and productive. Hear is an example from my A rotation of untrue thinking.
"I cannot cope with this" (This is common at about 7:30am when feeling still tired, I am navigating the feeding, clothing and general chaos of the morning with the whole day ahead of me)
Stop light on.
"Mmm. I am coping with this. This is a normal morning with kids. I have made Ella's lunch and I know what we will have for dinner. I am tired from being woken in the night. That is understandable. I need to eat my breakfast and have a shower. Turn on Peppa Pig so you can do that. Get dressed. Leave the mess till later." (I can remind myself of what is going well and make a plan of what to do next. I can be kind to myself)
I have such a huge collection of A Rotation lies and negative thoughts. And I also know how to address them and replace them. But without that pause, I am at their mercy and I am drowned by them.
So now that I am feeling better there is a risk that I will take the pause for granted, rely on those two little pills to keep me going, and carry on in my perfectionist patterns. But I know what eventually will happen. My energy will run down, my stress and anxiety will increase and eventually the pause will disappear again.
To maintain the pause, and the self-awareness and peace that comes with that, I actually have to do some tough stuff. It is tough because I have to have some self-discipline and some ways of doing life to keep me well. Any time I try to do that I can end up turning them into rules to beat myself with and instead of freeing me, they become a way to judge myself. So it is no small thing.
I have always been in awe of people who just decide that they are going to take up running. They decide they will run three times a week. And they do. Or sometime they don't. And their sense of self and self worth is not affected by their running status. Amazing!
For me remaining well includes getting good sleep, boundaries with my phone and being on facebook, doing exercise and eating regularly with no sugar added. Spending time alone but also with friends and spending time in prayer and reading my Bible. These are not things I should do, they are necessary for me to be ok. When I neglect these things I feel worse.
And honestly out of that whole list, I am doing none of them. Well probably sleeping pretty well, except for when little people need tending to. So it is a bit of a list and quite a bit of change to make. But it needs to happen because I do not want to go down again. And I am really to accept that I have limits and need to take care of myself.
Friday, 1 August 2014
But writing this piece has made me really think about the fact that if I love this so much then I actually have to make space in my life for it. There are always reasons not to do something. I can think of a list a mile long. But even before and chaos and craziness of have kids, I still didn't make the time.
I read a lot of blogs. Mummy bloggers I guess. But many of these Mums who write see themselves as "writers". Their writing is not a hobby. It is there vocation. They aim to make a difference in the world through their words. I see their lives through the filter of what they choose to reveal and it is easy to idolise or assume they inhabit some alternate universe where the normal limits and obstacles do not apply. But these writing women also tend to be pretty vulnerable and honest and you can also see that writing for them is a choice and a discipline. A sacrifice of other things to make space for their hearts and passion for writing. And it is a battle to overcome self doubt and pride and ego to write things worthy of the pixels and paper they take up. You cannot deny the practical realities of life, such as the fact that I have to work, that I still have one preschooler who I need and want to spend quality time with. But there are no rules of how often or how much. There are no strict deadlines or goals to achieve. I just need to make space to do what I love.
Wednesday, 16 July 2014
I am sure you have heard the phrase "a bottom feeder". It is a metaphor for someone who feeds off the lowest and seediest parts of life. I am not that. But I am recognising that it is possible to be stuck at the bottom in life. Imagine a bottom feeding fish, swimming around in the almost dark and murky waters. All this fish sees is the mud a few centimeters in front of it's face. It is oblivious to the amazing wonders just a few metres above, where the sun's light reveals more and encourages life to thrive and grow.
In this sense I have been a bottom feeder. And the worst thing about it is you don't really know you are. You actually start to believe that all there is is mud. You lose faith that there could be anything else. Mud becomes normal.
For the last 6 months I have been on a new medication. It is an SNRI and works to make my brain more sensitive to both seratonin and noradrenaline. Gradually I have been increasing my dose, with the support of my very caring doctor. I didn't want to be on more medication than I needed. This new medication goes up in very small increments but the maximum dose is very high in pure grams than my previous medication. But what I am learning is you cannot compare dosages between medications. It would be like comparing 500g of beef mince with 500g of ground black pepper. One is a good family meal, the other could be used as a form of torture. Anyway, after multiple increases between January and March, I was feeling better.
I wasn't in that horrible blackness and having the awful self hatred or thoughts of self harm, ( the shame of sharing that I struggle with that level of depression and those thoughts is so huge). And since it had been that bad, things seemed so much better. Unfortunately with this type of medication, a positive response to an increased dose just confirms it was necessary. But if the dosage is still inadequate, the positive side effects will gradually wear off. Slowly the water gets murkier and you sink millimeter by millimeter down into the mud.
I would think to myself as I woke up with dread in the morning, that is was just tired. As I became more and more overwhelmed I told myself that my kids weren't sleeping well and my hours at work had changed. It was understandable. And then I started thinking it was probably my fault. That right there is the powerful deception of depression. The mud and murkiness is my fault. If I just exercised more, or was stronger or calmer or like those mums over there...until I forgot that maybe it was just that my brain was broken. And not my fault at all.
I am so grateful for more objective measures of my mental wellbeing such as the Edinburgh scale. I can go it online and it gives me an indication of whether I am ok. If I am aware enough I can catch a slide downhill before it gets to crisis point. And this time I did. And two weeks after another dosage increase , the sun is out and I am swimming to the surface again. I ask myself "why did I let myself suffer for so long?" The sad answer is that if you are used to suffering from the very lonely pain of depression it is easy to put up with things being not ok for a very long time before thinking "I deserve better and I remember the light".
So now I am hoping and praying that if this increase is not enough, that I will realise and not drift down to the bottom again.