Saturday, 14 November 2015

It's not working any more

I haven't written a lot this year. I haven't felt that I had anything much to say. At my tender age of 36 I seem to feel more uncertain as time goes by. Things I was strident about and sure of seem to have slipped through my fingers of the last decade or so thanks to the realities of real life and the awareness that there is no one size fits all list of answers and advice. As well as uncertainty over the more existential issues one wrestles with, I have also had a few years of facing my limitations mentally, physically and emotionally. Depression relapses and the vulnerability of knowing my mental health is fragile means that I have learned the hard way that great ideas my not be a great idea in reality when I have to actually deal with the pressure, anxiety, work load and lack of sleep such great ideas usually involve. Great ideas don't usually involve doing less and having less responsibility. At least not for me.

I have also learned that I don't enjoy the tension between my family life and work and all the other things I could get involved in. I find the juggle and the constant feeling that I am not doing anything well, torturous. I think it is becoming the normal state for many women. After finding life at home with pre-schoolers was driving me up the wall, work has been a blessing in so many ways. It has filled my cup and made me a better wife and Mum and person all round. But the balance tipped after having a second child, and especially since my daughter started school. The commute and the anxiety over getting to work on time and then getting back to pick up kids on time is so tough. I can't put my heart into my job in the way I would like to because I have no extra time or energy to do so. And even being so physically far away from my kids each day has it's own special almost psychic tension.

This year I got more involved in our church. I love church. I know that many people have some very good reasons to avoid church and all its associations. But for me the church we attend has brought hope and challenge and healing in so many good ways. Feeling part of a community who loves and cares for me is like gold. And feeling able to contribute is such a delight and privilege. For years I have felt on the outer of the churches I have attended and struggled to build close enough relationships to feel like I belong. Having that now is just amazing. But it is also something which I have to manage.

I have always been a problem solver and community builder. I can see where things could be improved or where there is a gap that could be filled. And I often have really good ideas about how to achieve those things. I can articulate myself well and as a teacher and someone who can speak confidently, I seem more than capable of getting things done. But, don't be fooled. Sometimes the ideas people are not the right people to take the lead. Feeling like I am the person with sole responsibility for something brings me out in hives. I feel the weight of it and because I want it all to be perfect I struggle with it. I have so many ideas but my resources and energy are limited and it is hard to find a balance between my perfect vision and my imperfect self. I am getting better at that but it still triggers my anxiety.

I think if I was a details perfectionist, maybe it would be different. But I am a relational perfectionist. I want everyone to be ok, to feel great about my ideas and plans, to feel valued and happy and I also care too much about what people think of me. And since I don't have the gift of mind reading, usually I am guessing based on very flimsy evidence and my current emotional state. I have no real idea what people think and I am likely to believe the worst rather than the best.

As well as the vulnerabilities of perfectionism and depression, I am a pretty low energy person. I need my eight hours a night. I need time to do the simple things and I don't do well without visual order in my home. I need my routines and space to think. So filling my days and evenings up soon leads to illness and exhaustion. All the great ideas start to look like terrible mistakes and I find myself backing out of commitments as fast as I can. But I still want to have a project and I still yearn to be involved.

And hear I find myself. My health has packed up in a big way. I have some sort of post viral fatigue and general exhaustion, my neck and back are causing terrible headaches every day. I struggle to get out of bed in the morning and have missed a lot of days of work. My kids are spending a lot of time in front of screens while I lie in bed and we are eating meals given to us by lovely friends because by the end of the day, cooking dinner is beyond me.

I am gaining a new appreciation of the suffering and pain of those who deal with chronic illness. The stress of not being able to manage the essentials of being a Mum and looking after my kids and home is indescribable. I try to accept help as much as I can manage, But it slowly erodes my self confidence and feels awful in the deepest parts of me. In the last 6 years I have had to have help a lot. And I think I am becoming allergic to it. I appreciate it all so much, but I hate having to have it at all.

Becoming well is not a clear cut treatment plan. Rest doesn't seem to be making a difference but trying to do everything leaves me unable to get out of bed. So just waiting to get better probably won't work unless I do something more than lie in bed. And everything that will help is going to be pretty tough. No magic pills to fix this. Diet changes, exercise, changing how I move, giving up things I use to cope which undermine my well being. I often find myself feeling so angry. It seems that other people can drink red bull, work long hours, party hard and still come out full of beans. But really it is irrelevant what other people do. At the moment a cup of tea after dinner has me awake all night and sitting the wrong way brings on a migraine like headache. I can feel sorry for myself, but it won't change anything.

I keep trying to find the reason why this is happening. What am I supposed to be learning through this? When will I be able to move on from this season into one where I can be productive again and feel like I am capable and strong again? But I also am starting to wonder if the "successful and well" me I have in my head is ever going to be possible.

My physio who is treating my back and breathing issues said something interesting the other day. She said that possibly all the things I have done to cope and survive have worked up till this point. But now with children and a home and work and other responsibilities and then you add a virus, my coping techniques and behaviours suddenly become problems rather than a help. Neglecting my diet, not making time for exercise, using anxiety as motivation and care too much what others think have become the exact things which have left me like this. So I can probably never go back to how it was. Cause how I have been living and doing life won't work any more.

Becoming well is beginning to look like learning how to be me from scratch. Dropping the ways that don't work and learning to welcome the ways that do. And I don't think it is going to be easy. I don't think much of it will involve taking the easy path. But I hope it can be self loving and gentle. I hope I can learn to achieve wellness without perfectionism and because I am worth it, rather than because I feel that I am failing otherwise. I didn't get this way by using alcohol, drugs or any other stereotypically destructive habits. But what I have been doing hasn't been that great. So I have to find the self discipline to put down the junk food, turn off my phone, put on my yoga pants and pick up the kale. To breathe and be still.

I know I should feel like it will be a wonderful journey, but at this point I still feel like crawling back into bed for an indefinite period. I think getting well will be hard work and confronting. No excuses or putting it off. Why does looking after myself seem so much harder that helping other people?

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Don't be amazing

So much of the advice for living well and being successful at life uses adjectives like "amazing", "unique", "authentic" etc. And 2 minutes on pintrest is full of lists of steps, commands and changes which will give you and "amazing" life. When you add the highlight reel of facebook profiles and magazine articles about people who achieved the extraordinary, it can create an expectation that if it's not amazing then your life is a failure.

And I just want to call bulls$#/@ on that, for myself, as much as anyone else.

It is not that I think there is anything wrong with adventures and proving you life satisfaction. I think achieving wonderful things and setting goals to work towards are fantastic. My problem is with the expectations it sets up and the pressure it creates to have an amazing life.

I think the word "amazing" needs some interrogation.  Does it mean a perfect life of only mountain-top moments and pinable pics? Is it a life curated and constructed for an audience? Or is amazing all about achievement? Do you need to run a marathon, lose your own body weight, publish a novel, make a million bucks to have an amazing life? And what about those amazing experiences? Travelling to your dream destinations, riding the adrenaline rush of jumping from a plane, hosting a party people will talk about for years...

To be honest in my rather fragile state it all seems rather exhausting and completely out of my reach.

None of the above are bad and all are amazing, but maybe that's not what life needs to be about.

If amazing is the qualifying criteria for a good life then I guess most of us won't get that. And a lot of people may feel like their lives are spent as spectators of other people's "amazing". There are a lot of things which can get in the way of amazing; illness, responsibilities for others, financial realities, time and energy.

But I think everyone can have a life they love and are content with. And a life where they choose a good and whole and peaceful way to be. Where you use you talents and enthusiasm for things which matter to you and where you sleep a deep and restful sleep at the end of each day.

Where did this expectation of "amazing" come from? My parents didn't expect it. Their parents lived through two world wars and a depression. Surviving was pretty amazing. There was so much less to compare your own life with. Other people's homes, clothes, money and families were restricted to the people you knew in real life. Celebrities were far away characters on a screen you paid to see. Celebrations were simple and over the rhythms and moments that mark most people's lives. And you couldn't design your moments based on millions of people's moments. The suggestions came from the pages of a women's mag and included a recipe or two. Travel was slow and expensive. Leaving town was pretty amazing.

But now anything and everything is on offer. And the normal and everyday can seem a bland and boring life.

As I contemplate having barely enough energy to get out of bed, I can't be bothered with an amazing life. I think it is a carrot on a stick used to make people buy stuff and experiences and to drive economic growth.

Instead I want to be happy and free to do all the simple and humdrum things which life is really made up of. Meals, housework, playing at the park, a hot cup of tea and a nap. Loving my little family well. I want to do all of this and be satisfied and content. I don't want to dismiss this life as not enough cause it doesn't look "amazing".

And for two thirds of the world my life looks pretty, darn amazing. Yes, go after your dreams, have adventures, go for impossible goals. But don't do it so you have an amazing life.  Don't do it to prove anything or for some audience judging the worth if your existence.  Do it cause you want to and it is part of who you are. And at the end of each day you can be at peace with yourself.

I hope you can take the pressure off and just be you doing your life. And im pretty sure that's what us truly amazing in this crazy time we are living in.