Sunday, 29 December 2013

Giving up in 2014

I hate this time of year. The no-man's land between Christmas and New Year. It's not that I specifically hate the days. They are often lovely and full of fun and relaxation and a wonderful "nothing to do" vibe. But it also has that sense of approaching doom for me of another year beginning. Think the soundtrack of Jaws...

It has not always been this way. I am naturally a lover of all things fresh and new and full of possibility. I am a planner by nature and used to love to think about what I would be doing in the coming year. But over the last decade or so I have become jaded and frankly completely afraid of facing the new year as appears on the horizon.

You see, reflecting on the past year and planning for a new one is like cocaine for a perfectionist, planner with unrealistic expectations, such as myself. I guess for an alcoholic the New Years party creates its own share of temptation and risk. And for me, the list of resolutions has grown to become something I run from. This is where the alcoholic analogy falls over completely so please disregard any connection from here on.

Imagine loving to plan but becoming fearful that all a plan becomes is a trap to throw myself into and live in for the rest of the year. If I follow the plan I am "good", if I don't I am a failure. And the plan itself is only based on whatever felt important at the time I wrote it. Oh and it was written by a perfectionist with unrealistic expectations so it was also completely impossible and detailed and really was a set up for failure from the beginning. Add to this not just a plan, but specific goals that deal with specific things I want to do EVERY SINGLE DAY!

So in reaction to the obvious flaws in the above approach, I stopped goal setting, planning or really expecting anything. At least officially. I was and remain a very harsh critic and the expectations, whether written or not, still float around in my head as some kind of yard stick of "living well". Unfortunately this has led to me losing some of the joy I do find in looking forward to the future.

When I was a teenager and couldn't get to sleep I used to daydream until it turned into real dreams and I drifted off. My daydreams would be about actual things I was looking forward to or hopes and dreams I had about the future. I often thought about what my life would be like when I "grew up". This usually meant move out of home, go to Uni, get a job etc. This was the stuff which reminded me while I struggled through the angst of teenage-hood, that there was another age and stage around the corner where I would be able to make more choices, have more freedom and maybe the self confidence to be the someone I was sure I was, hidden under my insecurities and awkwardness.

And I have to say my 20s were a lot like that. My dreams didn't quite come true but I loved the decade as I grew into myself and made so many wonderful friends. I became more comfortable about who I was. But it still was never enough. Each New Year approached and I would try again. Often the same goals rewritten with a twist for 2002 or a focus on something which was becoming more important to me at the time. But every year I looked back and was disappointed in myself. After a while I stopped. Why do something which makes me feel so bad even if at its heart, I wanted to make my life better?

However, it seems this year that there is a change in the air. This week I have felt so exhausted as the weight of how hard the white knuckle ride of the last 6 months has been. I honestly feel that hibernating for 6 months is required for me to ever venture beyond my front door again. And so I find myself thinking that I better make a plan. This time the plan is not to improve myself, well not in the usual sense. I think this plan could be more about avoiding breakdown.

I think I need a plan to work within my capacity, to treat myself as fragile and to recognise that this body I am in and the person I am will actually fall apart both literally and figuratively if I keep living like I am. I am still allergic to the idea of goals and feel the tentacles of perfectionism beginning to tickle my ankles even as I stand paralysed this side of January 1st 2014. This plan will not be about being "better" or "improvement". It will be about weakness and vulnerablity, saying "No, I can't manage to do that". And being able to sit with my imperfection. I say I believe in a God who loves me as I am and has made me in his image. I say I believe that I am forgiven for anything and everything I could ever do or have done that would hurt myself or anyone else. I say I love others because I can see how fearfully and wonderfully we all are and how precious we are. But somehow I seem to think and behave as if none of the above applies to me. And this year I plan to give up. Give up on trying so hard to do things that don't matter and leave me in a pit of self loathing hiding under my duvet.

Hopefully the plan can remain a relief and not a noose around my neck. There is a glimmer of hope here but so many roads that still lead down the path of not-good-enough and unacceptable. I wonder if I can create a new path. I pray I can cause this one is a dead end. Pun intended.

Monday, 7 October 2013

balance is for bikes and I am not a bike

One term into working full time and juggling all the different parts of my life, there is a sort of an auto pilot going on in my head. I feel the need to cram in as many "to dos" into each day and even when I try to stop, my brain keeps on trucking. There have been so massive upsides to working and I do love it. But the downsides are pretty clear too. Hubby and I have spend the last few weeks reflecting on our choice and we are blessed to have the option of reversing our decision and me going back to my two or three days a week in the new year.

Throughout the term I have been confronted with the lack of personal time I have, the poor food choices I make when meals seem to be an extra that I just can't fit into the mix, and the other commitments I have with my local Parents Centre. Add to that the usual no-win guilt trip of not being with my kids during the day and all the household things such a meals, laundry, cleaning and the list goes on. My hubby barely gets a look in and my friends are almost strangers, since I don't get a chance to hang out much anymore. And I still wish I could do more - more work, more volunteering, more fun with the kids, more quality time with hubby, more, more, more...

A friend just sent me a link to a document which allows you to evaluate your quality of life and lists the characteristics of a balanced life. There are lots of other models or lists like this that include the various aspects of life - emotional, spiritual, mental, physical and relational. So there are many ways to cut up the pie. And the inherent view within them all is that if you make thoughtful choices and drop some things and take up others, that you will one day reach the nirvana that is BALANCE.
But you know what? If I look around me, balance is actually not that normal.

If I look for balance and examples of it in the people I know I have to say I don't know many. I definitely admire those people who take care of themselves, avoid over commitment and maintain a positive outlook on life due to making sure their needs are met. But I reject the idea that balance is the key.

If I look for balance in the natural world or in our garden, I don't really see the tidy and balanced world I would expect. For example, we are hoping for a tomato glut as summer takes hold, and we actually want one. We want to be able to have lots for pasta sauce, tomato sauce, salads etc. And if you look at our garden right now, it is pretty barren. Partly due to lack of attention but also because we chose to plant crops over winter which will renew the soil. So they have been dug back in and it is ready for planting. In the world around me I see seasons where sometimes things are busy and productive and to the untrained eye, wildly out of control. And then are other times things die back, they rest, they wait. If the garden got stuck in the productive phase for too long, the soil would become depleted and production would drop. Then a time of feeding and waiting would begin before plants could grow to their potential again.

I am wondering whether that is a reality of life that should be more acceptable and actually means that I feel that I can cope and even thrive during this wild time. I can enjoy the busyness and the feeling of being productive. But I also need to plan a season of rest and renewal.

I know that the foundations, or soil of my life are my faith, family, friends and time to do things I enjoy. I will never be able to live well for long without tending to these. But each day or week or even month will not be a neatly divided exercise. That seems to be more about rules and ticking boxes, than living with the ebbs and flows of life.

There are some regular things you need each day to keep being productive - good food, good sleep, and time to just be. I need to value myself and this season enough to make these a priority.
But I no longer want to justify my choices to myself or to those around me who greet my current commitments as fool hardy or heading for a fall. I have not walked away from what is important to me. I have not abandoned my post or let anyone down. I am learning a lot and enjoying this season. And come December, and the school holidays, a new season will begin.

Balance is for bikes. Instead I choose to live in the seasons.

Monday, 9 September 2013

More on how to deal with depression

One of my favourite depression blogs/advocates is the guy who Lilo's down the Waikato river. Here is his latest post all about the things he does to manage his depression.

What I really like about his approach is that he doesn't take his depression personally. He approached getting well in quite a practical way. He doesn't believe in endless navel gazing. Instead he does stuff that helps him feel better.

So here is his recipe for wellness.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

May! It has sure been a while...

I think about blogging almost every day. And then my day happens and at the end I can barely string together a couple of grunts in the general direction of hubby so writing something meaningful and real just doesn't happen.

But I kind of left you hanging...

So relapse has passed. The magic of another 20mg of paroxitine has done its work and my head appeared above the darkness again. And off I went.

And then the roof started leaking. According to my Dad it was a torrential down pour onto the kitchen bench. I would describe it as more of an incessant drip. And as the drips dropped my fate was sealed. Full time work.

You see home ownership seems to have a huge power over my destiny at present and thankfully I was able to get full time work at my current school. We now have a regrouted roof, complete with waterproof coating and ceiling and underfloor insulation. It is like our home has a lovely blanket wrapped around it.

And as part of the process of full time work there has also been the arrival of the 18 year old German au pair. We are settling into a new way of being in our home. Settling probably isn't the right word. I guess squirming and wriggling around to get to a new place that feels comfortable and "normal". I love having an adult at home when I get there and the kids love her, but it is a process and I am so aware of this other person and their needs and I can no longer just assume and know how we do things around here.

I have also dived into being more involved in my local parents centre. I have been passionate about parent education for a long time, even before having kids and my involvement in the local branch came about through my interest in child birth education. It is really satisfying to be part of an organisation that is committed to providing high quality, evidence based, education to parents and it ticks a lot of boxes for me. I love to be involved in things like this and it suits my strengths. Unfortunately, time is not on my side so life is feeling very full. And it feels like some things are being accidentally dropped.

Full time work is really impacting on our family life and home. Every day is a treadmill work out, trying to run fast enough to avoid being thrown off the back of it. I am hyper aware of everyone elses needs and all my responsibilities and my needs seems to be endlessly negotiable. Down to eating and going to the toilet. Optional extras I might squeeze in on a strangely quiet day.

When I am working, I love it.
When I am at home I want to be here more.
When I am hosting antenatal classes or hosptial tours I feel fulfilled.
But my hubby gets the worst of me. When I am empty and the self neglect is taking its toll.

I have been feeling so annoyed at myself for being so jolly pollyanna about everything I ever get involved in. Everything seems a worthy cause, I am always having these great ideas and wanting to do it all.

And then I find myself grumpy and burnt out and realising as I walk around the school vege garden, that my soul is parched and I am as shrivelled up inside as a prune. Just the simple act of picking some lettuce for my sandwich has such a profound impact on me. Like an oasis in a desert. Actually make that a puddle. But if it all the water you have seen in days, it may as well be a lake.

And I just keep hoping that my strength will last, and the creeping anxiety, the procrastinating about going to bed, the heart palpitations that strike whenever I try to relax, will somehow turn into nothing. But I have been hear before and this is a familiar story and so I know where this will end up. And I cannot have another relapse.

So I am trying to simplify. Get back to the things that feed me. Like wrestling with the kids on our bed, or choosing to read a nice book instead of watch crap t.v. Or to go outside and feed the chickens instead of dashing around trying to clean.

And I am recognising that I feel quite lost. It seems that over the last few years my landscape has shifted. I am uncertain about so much. I keep doing what I think I believe in. And hoping that if I do lots then somehow I will find my way back to some peace or rest. But I haven't and I don't thing I will. At least not doing it this way.

I was reading today and the book was talking about the peace of letting go, not planning, just asking. standing still. And all of me wanted to put down my burdens, lie down, and rest.

Not sure how that can happen. But if I don't choose to, then I think I will find myself falling down and unable to get up.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Bloglovin shout out

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I've just "claimed" my blog on Bloglovin. If you hadn't heard, Google Reader is going to cease to exist so if you follow a number of Blogs this site might be just the ticket.

Be back soon with more important things...

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Musings on my mental illness

Okay, so the current bout of depression has me facing some facts I would rather not face.

1. I will probably struggle with depression my whole life.
I don't want this to be true and I know that there is always a chance that the perfect pill, learning to live with myself better and a miracle are all possible and that a future without depression could happen. But the present situation provides a great deal of evidence to the contrary. And I hate that this could be true. It sucks for me and my family, especially my husband. It is knowing you will live with a person who has a chronic illness which impacts on their ability to be themselves and function and be the partner that are supposed to be. I can't speak for him. But I hate that our future could be punctuated with me disappearing under a black cloud and him having to cope with it.

2. My meds aren't working anymore.
I have increased the dose and the anxiety is gone, mostly. But the dispair has really moved in to stay, as it were. This means I will probably have to change meds. This is terrifying as the process can make you feel even worse, before you feel better, and there is no guarantee that I will only have to switch once.

3. There is no magic fix for this.
I have been through this enough times now to know that no one thing will make enough difference.

Here are the basic models of treatment and recovery from my very amateur observations and reading:
  • The JK way (John Kirwan) - he credits his recovery and wellness with active relaxation and exercise. 
  • The "Live More Awesome" way - this is the guy who set a goal to float down the Waikato river on a lilo to raise money for the Mental Health Foundation. He also recently created the longest water slide ever. He doesn't believe in therapy so much as setting big goals, the achievement of which make life exciting and worth living for.
  • The talk therapy way - there is a lot of evidence for the efficacy of various forms of therapy to help work through issues or experiences which may contribute to mental illness. However, it is quite dependent on the relationship with the therapist. I personally have found psychotherapy really helpful. The principles behind it is that the actual relationship you have with the therapist can be used to face things in a safe and empathetic way and also learn how healthy relationships can function.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy - this focusses on how the thoughts we have can help or hinder our mental health. What stories do we tell ourselves about the world around us, the people we interact with and daily events? What assumptions do we make? Is their really evidence for that? It encourages changes in thinking patterns to move away from thinking that isn't useful or helpful. 
  • Natural therapies - this may include supplements, diet changes, acupuncture etc. There is a lot of evidence to support some approaches and diddly squat for others. You also have to be very careful because often medications for mental illness have contraindications with natural medicines and herbs. There are also people making bucket loads of money off vulnerable and desperate people.
  • Healthy lifestyle - good diet and exercise all help to increase the good feelings in the body. Eating like crap and living on the couch would make anyone feel a bit gloomy. That said, if you in the throws of depression the energy required to do anything seems to require superhuman effort. I am not a great example of using this approach ;)
  • The skills approach - this aims to increase a person's resilience to the ups and downs of life by introducing skills which give a person greater control and mastery over their mental state. Psychologists often focus on this and CBT is part of this approach. This may include mindfulness techniques, meditation, strategies to use in a crisis or when a mood or action is triggered. 
  • A spiritual approach - this has overlaps with other approaches and can be as vague or as structured as the spiritual beliefs which the approach is based on. There is the very unhelpful "mental illness is demonic possession" approach. Now I am a Christian and I do believe in evil as an actual thing in the world, but it is not wise to tell someone with a mental illness that they have a demon in them. The people I know who are wise and discerning in the church understand that one prayer session may not bring the instant healing which we all would love to occur. But I do believe that a Christian faith built on the knowledge of being unconditionally loved by God, that we are all messed in some way, that we can be forgiven and healed and live a purposeful and significant life, can be a truth that helps to heal and provide the comfort in despair that  makes a difference. I personally have had times when my anxiety was crippling and prayer, with no words, just my spirit groaning, was all that brought relief. But depression is not a sign of a person's spiritual failings or lack of faith. We live in a broken world with broken people who hurt each other. And all of us suffer in some way for that. For other people Buddhism, and other spiritual practises create meaning and peace in a way that can make a significant impact on their mental well being. We are all spiritual and it is an aspect of our existence which is often the part most in pain and most seeking of hope and significance.
Probably a mixture of all of the above will work or help most people. I have done the therapy, some cbt, some mindfulness. I am definitely not an "active relaxer" like John Kirwan but it is really good for me to get engrossed in an activity such as gardening or scrapbooking( I feel no shame). Exercise and diet definitely make a difference too. But my perfectionist tendencies mean I have to be very careful about how to approach it. I am also not one for 'out there' goals. Worship in church and the singing that is part of it really can help me. But sometimes it seems that God has hit the mute button and all I have is doubt and confusion.

This time around I am not going to use therapy - as I read recently on the Live More Awesome facebook page "shit in a food processor still comes out as shit". For me I think I need to let go of all the stuff I could use to explain my depression. I just don't want to be depressed anymore. I have talked a lot. Now I just want to get on with life.
Meds will continue to be part of my life and actually I really need this to work so that I can do anything else that could help.
Healthy living is definitely a priority - sleep being the major one and some regular exercise. I reserve the right to eat junk cause at 3pm in the afternoon with two preschoolers it can be the life raft.
I think I want to focus more on how my faith could counteract some of the intrusive and negative thinking that plagues me. Maybe I will find someone who I can talk to who has expertise in that.

If you get a chance to listen you should check out the interview with Mike King on Radio NZ. He runs the Nutters Club on ZB which encourages people to phone in a talk about their struggles with mental illness. He is making it not taboo and speaking to groups about how we can all support those with mental illness. He is honest about his own journey and I found what he said really refreshing.

The thing I guess that I wish people realised is that depression is deadly. It kills so many people each year in NZ. It makes people feel there is no hope, no escape and that taking your own life is a reasonable choice to make. A lot of people express anger if someone chooses to end their life. Their actions appear selfish and self indulgent, leaving so much pain and grief, questions and guilt. But if you can just imagine how awful someone would have to feel to make that choice, then hopefully you can remember that when someone says they are stuggling with depression. Because no matter how much they tell you about how hard life is for them, they will never tell you how truly torturous it is.

So tomorrow I will have my appointment with the adult mental health team. I will become an official mental health "consumer" again. And I really hope that somehow, someone whose mind is working well for them, can help me through this time. I am fresh out of brilliant ideas.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Fake it till you make it

My current mental state is driving me crazy. Haha...
 I wake up in the morning with the feeling of lead in my feet and cotton wool for brains. I get up and get started on feeding kids, getting dressed, showered and pop my three magic pills. After about an hour I feel overcome with the deep desire to go back to bed and hide under the covers. At the weekend, with hubby around, I could have actually done that. On Saturday I did. The sleep was awesome. But when I woke I just wanted more. With the bedroom door closed and my mind switched off in slumber, things felt safe.

But on Sunday morning I made a different choice. I could feel the panic and lethargy coming on. But I knew that it would totally suck for hubby to be left on his own with the kids again and that when I emerged from hiding later in the day, everything would be the same. So I did the opposite. I stayed up. And I took Ella out. We had breakfast at a cafe, played at the park and did the supermarket shopping. And it was better. I did what I would have wanted to do if I were well. Faking it till I make it.

This has been one of the most useful strategies I have learned in the journey with depression. I did a course through Auckland Adult Mental Health service for people struggling with acute depression. Basically it looked at dealing with the acute mental distress which people can suffer. That horrible feeling that has me wanting to run and hide and never get out of bed again. Or the anxiety which feels like I am about to sit my School Certificate exams or have just been attacked. That level of distress means you can't think and often the strategies you use to cope, actually make the distress worse. It is that state of either total terror or complete despair where you brain just won't work to help you and your body is paralysed by it.

The key to coming out of that state is to do the opposite or something completely different from what you would naturally do. So instead of going to bed and hiding, I went out. By doing that it is possible to short circuit the usual pattern of spiralling into deeper distress. And it worked enough to keep me going throughout Sunday.

But now on Friday, after a busy and long week where I still can't get to sleep until at least midnight, and things are still grey, I wish for some reprieve. Just a little while with my mind at peace and my body relaxed. I think that is why when feeling distressed it really is so easy to eat the chocolate, play the mindless game on my cell phone or any number of things which don't help in the long run but just give you a little break.