I’m fine and other lies

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I’m fine.

How often have you found yourself saying that? I think people who struggle with depression are professionals at this. I know I am.

It just seems so difficult to tell someone how you really are – and it is risky.  How do you explain it? How do you tell people that you’ve reached your breaking point? I didn’t tell most people because I was worried that they might delegitimize my feelings and then I wondered if would they really even care.

I also didn’t want to risk someone telling me that I should just pull myself together, that I should snap out of it and that there are lots of people worse off than me (by the way – these are three of the worst things you can say to someone who has depression).

Sometimes it just seemed easier to hide the pain and despair. But actually – it’s not. Doing this is exhausting. And when I do it, I’m just lying to myself. It takes a lot of energy to pretend that you are happy.

Eventually I realised that I need people in my life who I don’t always have to be fine with. People who don’t have to see the cleaned-up version of me.

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I saw this quote the other day and it got me thinking:

“Everybody is always so fu***ng “fine. But we are not. Sometimes we are hurt and bruised and nearly completely shattered and this, sir, is not what one calls fine.”

So I wondered why I feel the need to be so guarded? I hide my emotions to protect myself and because I’m scared of making myself vulnerable. But there is actually nothing more freeing than being real and telling someone how you feel, what you’ve been through and what you are experiencing now.

I treasure the people in my life who stood by me when I was at my lowest point. These people helped me to find the things I had lost – hope, courage and the will to live. They helped me to stay close to the things I love and make me happy to be alive.

So what do I do these days?

My psychologist doesn’t allow me to walk into her room and tell her “I’m okay” or “I’m fine”. I have to explain how I’m feeling. Properly. This irritated me so much in the beginning, but now I’m learning to label my emotions and express them. The word “depressed” isn’t an emotion. Now I rather work out if I’m feeling fear, despair, hopelessness, anger, betrayal or sadness.

I’m realizing that emotions are messages delivered by my subconscious mind and I owe it to myself to listen to that message.  And I also take time to document that feeling in my journal.

What I also find helpful is making a list of all the emotions I feel – positive and negative. It might sound stupid but if, like me, you struggle with these things it is a very useful exercise. And if you struggle to find the emotion – just Google it!

I don’t always get it right – I still struggle with identifying and dealing with my emotions because it wasn’t something that I was encouraged to do as a child. My default mode is to push my emotions away as quickly as I can.

But now, when I’m starting to feel that my mind is a race track of thoughts and emotions, I make a point of calming myself down and I take just a few minutes to figure out what I’m feeling. This is something that’s really worked for me.

And in the process I’m learning to be gentle with myself. I’m not a project to be completed flawlessly and I don’t always have to get it right – this is one of the biggest life lessons I’m learning all the time.

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Your story matters

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I love this website. It is called Humans of New York. It also has a Facebook page. It is just beautiful.

It is a collection of photographs of New York residents and in the caption it provides a glimpse into each person’s life. It’s just a short snippet about the person’s life – a story from their past, a dream, a memory or a fear.

Here are a few of my favourite stories:

“I went on a tour of Italy when I was younger, and when I saw The Coliseum in Rome, I said to myself: ‘It doesn’t look like I imagined.’ A stranger standing next to me thought I was talking to him. We got married exactly one year later.”

 

“Can I take your photograph?” “Nah. I’ve got warrants.”

“When I told my mom that I was going to rehab, she was about to catch a flight to her 40th High School Reunion. I told her: ‘I guess you won’t be bragging about me to your friends.’ She said: ‘Actually, I’ve never been prouder of you.’”

The photographs remind me that every single person has a story. Everyone has gone through something that’s changed who they are.

Part of my journey has been learning how to own my story and everything that’s happened to me. I think it’s been the most difficult thing I’ve had to do.

I read something that says “your beautifully messy complicated story matters – tell it” – and I think that’s good advice. And that’s what I want to do. That’s why I write. It’s freeing, empowering and it’s helping me to heal.

 

The sun always rises and it is always beautiful

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“The most adventurous journey to embark on; is the journey to yourself, the most exciting thing to discover; is who you really are, the most treasured pieces that you can find; are all the pieces of you, the most special portrait you can recognize; is the portrait of your soul.”

I love this quote by author C. JoyBell C. I try to look for something to reflect on daily. There’s probably nothing more difficult than dealing with your own soul and I find that daily reflection helps me to stay grounded and clear away the noise of life. And it reminds just how amazing life is.

Rattlesnakes and mind control

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My St. Vincent album arrived today! It is absolutely stunning and now it’s on repeat on my playlist. Fantastic music, beautiful melodies and amazing lyrics.

I like how the music is arranged – it is complex and raw and kind of nervy and grating at times. It sounds synthesized, but most of the music is acoustic instruments played by musicians, just heavily processed. And I love the brass instruments on the tracks – Digital Witness has a lot of that. And just when you think you get the track, it suddenly changes and surprises you with something new. But what’s also nice is that the album isn’t all dark – it’s also got playful moments and I like that.

I love every track on the album. But here are two of my favourites. The opening track Rattlesnake, and Digital Witness.

This is good music.

I read about the album and this is what Annie Clark (her stage name is St. Vincent) said about it:

“I like when things come out of nowhere and blindside you a little bit. I think any person who gets panic attacks or has an anxiety disorder can understand how things can all of a sudden turn very quickly. I think I’m sublimating that into the music.” (Wikipedia)

And that’s probably why I like this album so much. It speaks to that part of part of me.

If you want to listen to an interview with Annie Clark about this album, take a look at this podcast: Ambien Dreams And Naked Desert Walks: St. Vincent On Her New Album

 

 

Mulberry memories

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You know how people take a picture of their child in the same spot everyday for a year to see how they growing? Well, I totally missed the boat on that one! When I finally emerged from the fog of sleep deprivation and anxiety about being a parent, it was way too late to start that project.

So, I’ve decided to start a similar photo project. I’m going to take a series of photos of the mulberry tree in our garden, for a year, to show how the tree changes every season.

With mulberry trees the change is so noticeable and over the years I’ve gotten to know our tree’s personality very well. Just by observing it I can tell exactly when the seasons are changing.

So here is the first picture. Our beautiful tree in mid-winter, with just a few stubborn leaves holding on. 

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I have a love affair with trees – particularly mulberry trees. I’m convinced that this magnificent tree is the real reason why I wanted to buy our house four years ago. I saw it in the middle of summer, covered in massive leaves and the branches heavy with mulberries, and I just knew that it was the house for us.

But mulberry trees also occupy a significant part of my early childhood memories.  

I believe memory is significant. It’s an important part of who I am and suppressing it (consciously or subconsciously) is what gets you into trouble. I’ve been on a journey trying to get comfortable with my memories and flashbacks – some are positive but many are terrifying. I believe that flashbacks and memories come to you because your body is telling you that it is ready to remember. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I welcome whatever memory comes my way – good or bad. It is my soul sending me a message.

So this is a story about a beautiful memory from my childhood.

My maternal grandmother had a huge mulberry tree in her garden. She lived in a modest two-bedroom cottage on the MOTH (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) smallholding. MOTH was founded in 1972 as a brotherhood of South African front-line ex-soldiers who served in the First World War.

Her cottage was right next to the Shellhole, which was the clubhouse where ex-service men could get together to celebrate the great friendships formed in the trenches.

The massive mulberry tree stood just outside the gate near the dirt road passing her house, opposite the Shellhole.

My earliest memory is picking its leaves to feed my massive silkworm collection. I was totally obsessed with silkworms and I made sure I found the best and juiciest leaves on the tree for my strange little companions.

My grandmother sometimes watched me picking the leaves. She would give me instructions on where to find the best ones (she always told me look higher up) and she would warn me about snakes (a valid concern, seeing that it was midsummer in the sub-tropics).

Sometimes she would bring one of those old-style wire patio chairs and sit under the tree with me. I loved her presence. It made me feel safe. It was what I needed.

But often she just left me there. I loved it. The branches hung low and I would sit under the canopy for hours. It was definitely the coolest spot in summer. I would listen to the garden bugs singing and I could see the heat rising from the gravel. It was my safe place and I could take refuge there.

The other day while I was looking at the mulberry tree in our garden it occurred to me that my gran’s tree was always green. It never shed its leaves in winter. Maybe that’s just how my brain decided to remember it.

My gran was a typical granny. She wore stockings, floral dresses and she always had a purple rinse. But she was a free spirit – she didn’t care much for material possessions. She was a strong woman, accepting, welcoming and a soft place to fall in the chaos of my childhood years. She lived a simple life – and I think that why I’m so drawn to simplicity and solitude now.

She was an extraordinary woman and her life was such a gift to me – I treasure it to this day.

I’ll upload more pictures as my beloved tree transforms again. I expect it to start budding very soon.

I had a black dog, his name was depression

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One of the reasons why I started this blog was to find a way to talk about my journey with clinical depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. It took me a long time to feel comfortable talking about it because there is so much stigma and shame around these conditions.

I found this animation and I think it is brilliant.  It is called The black dog of depression. It was made in collaboration with the World Health Organisation to mark World Mental Health Day. Writer and illustrator Matthew Johnstone tells the story of overcoming the “black dog of depression”.

Take a look at it. It is awesome.

So I decided I don’t want to be one of those people who never talk about it. Why must it be a secret? If I had diabetes I wouldn’t feel that I have to hide the fact that I take insulin. And depression is exactly the same. I have a chronic illness. It doesn’t define me, but I do have to live with it.  That’s why I think I also have a responsibility to do what I can to destigmatise these issues.

A big part of my struggle has been the silence around depression – it is almost like this major fear of outing yourself. Talking about it is a big risk – there is a lot of judgement and misunderstanding. I think it is because there is no way of really measuring it – you can’t have a blood test to show you have it (but maybe that will be possible in the future).

People think you are just sad or having a bad day, but that’s not what it is.

When I started struggling with feelings of depression I did loads of research to help me understand what I was experiencing. I found Martha Manning’s book Undercurrents very useful.

This is how she describes depression in her book:

“Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern. Just the slow erosion of the self, as insidious as any cancer. And, like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience. A room in hell with only your name on the door.”

Adjusting to life with depression is sometimes difficult – I’ve had to become more aware of what I’m feeling.  But it’s also been a beautiful process of rediscovering who I am – and it’s amazing what you find out about yourself. What’s helping is writing (lots of it, but that’s just my thing), art, crafty stuff, photography, music, sewing and even cooking. These things are forms of therapy. And then always find something to laugh about – never underestimate the power of humour in dealing with these things.