Truths about change – the beauty of being exactly where I need to be

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This week is my fifth month in the Netherlands. What an adventure to live the life I’ve always wanted for myself and my family! Besides all the expected challenges of settling into a new home country, the biggest change for me has been becoming a full-time mom. 

This was – and still is – huge. I’ve never not worked in my life. I spent the majority of my career working as a journalist in a fast-paced and severe environment filled with impossible deadlines, stress and anxiety. At the end of each day I had very little time or energy for my son. I had zero capacity for enthusiasm. It wasn’t sustainable and I knew it. My depression medication dosage doubled. I had more than one emotional, psychological and physical breakdown. 

Suddenly, all that came to a grinding halt. My life took at 360 degree turn. 

Instead of flying out the door at 6am in the morning to start work at 7am, I now make school lunches, prepare breakfast and take my son to school. I have time to make friends with other moms. I have coffee with new friends in the mornings. I arrange playdates for my son after school and I can actually be there. I fetch my son from school at 1pm and on our cycle home we talk about everything he did that day. The two of us can do so much together – walks in the forest, running up and down sand dunes, go to the beach, bake cakes, visit museums and go to the movies. 

During the past five months I’ve often had a song called Turn! Turn! Turn! on my mind. In 1965 it was a hit single by folk rock group, The Byrds, and was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s.

…To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven….  

There is something quite amazing about huge life changes. You find your direction amid the change and temporary uncertainty. I think being a full-time mom is possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me. This is a busy and demanding job but I love this season of my life.

When I think about how my life has changed, I now know this: 

I’m happy. Not in a frivolous way but a deep restfulness.  

My priorities and values are in alignment. I have time and energy for my son. I love showing him how wonderful the world is, I love encouraging him to dream, discover and experiment. 

I have time to look after myself. This is something I’ve neglected in the past. 

I’m brave. I am rebuilding my life the way I want it. 

I’m grateful that my husband values my contribution to our family and makes it possible for me to be at home with our son.

 

If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it. –  John Irving. 

We have to talk about suicide

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September is Suicide Prevention Month and I’m wondering why this topic isn’t trending on Twitter. It is such an important subject to talk about. But very few people do. Very few people want to engage with the fact that people kill themselves. How often are victims accused of being selfish, crazy or psycho?

This image sums it up perfectly:

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Suicide is a subject close to my heart  because I almost reached that point a few years ago. I blogged about this in a previous post: Celebrating a year of living.

In South Africa, where I live, there is a suicide nearly every hour. This figure could be higher because many incidents aren’t reported. According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa has the eighth highest suicide rate in the world. Suicide is also the third greatest cause of unnatural death in the country.

 

People should talk about suicide. If someone tells you they are suicidal, believe them. They aren’t joking.

 

 

Celebrating a year of living

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Tuesday 24 March marked one of the defining moments of my life. I celebrated my one-year anniversary of being admitted to a psychiatric clinic. I was living with uncontrolled clinical depression, PTSD and anxiety and I came dangerously close to ending my life.

That experience is the reason why I started this blog. To celebrate life, talk about living with depression and raise awareness about mental health issues.

You might wonder why I am celebrating my admission to a hospital. This is because I was so relieved and happy that finally I could start my journey to living the kind of life I want. A life filled with joy, adventure, incredible happiness and freedom. I learnt how to listen to my own voice and my soul.

I live with a grateful heart. My life is a precious gift. I am so thankful to the people I met at Crescent – the psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and the amazing friends I made. They got to know my story and what I’m all about.

So I decided to do something brave. I told my story to a South African magazine and they published the article. It was a very sanitised and simplified version – but credit to the journalist who told a difficult story so well. I hope that my story can help someone else who is facing something similar.

So now I have two birthdays. 12 January when I came into this world and 24 March, the day when I started living my one wild and precious life.

Give yourself time

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dandelionI saw this quote yesterday and I’m not sure where it comes from originally, but I think it is such a true statement if you are grieving and dealing with loss. So often I find myself thinking that the process is taking too long – will it ever end? Shouldn’t I be over this by now? Is it really that bad? Yes – it is that bad. And it is okay to take your time. It takes as long as it takes.

Give yourself time to be sad, frustrated, and angry. Give yourself time to heal, accept, and to grow. Time doesn’t erase anything, but it can provide you with enough space to be able to breathe again. And then one day you wake up and your heart has a little bit of sunshine in it. And day by day people offer you pieces of their hearts to help remake your own. Allow yourself to be where you are at, to feel what you are feeling, and to experience everything that means. And during this process, look and listen for that glimmer of hope. It is there, I promise. And it is waiting for you to see it. Because one of the most beautiful things about humans is their capacity to heal, grow, and survive. Facing it. That is how you get through.

I really like this part: And then one day you wake up and your heart has a little bit of sunshine in it. ❤ I like those days. And I starting to experience more of them.

Because one of the most beautiful things about humans is their capacity to heal, grow, and survive. That’s true.

In honour of my therapist

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I owe a great deal to my psychologist and psychiatrist. They are amazing people and although I know I pay them to help me, that’s not the point for me. I once read something about how important it is to honour the people in your life who believed in you and gave you confidence when you needed it most – and that is how I feel about them. I actually know I wouldn’t be alive if I wasn’t for them. They helped me realise that my story isn’t over yet. They showed me how to feel emotion again. Because of them I realised that my life is valuable. And that comfort of having someone really listen to your story – the really honest version with no edits. Such a relief and so much freedom.

 

 

Find your silver lining

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You know that saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’? I’ve decided to think of depression as the silver lining in my life. This realisation didn’t come to me overnight – I can assure you that – because I don’t like labelling myself. I always resist labels because I don’t want some external standard or idea to define me. I guess it is fear of judgement. There is so much stigma around mental illness and honestly, who wants to deal with all that?

But now I see it all differently.  What I understand now is that knowing what I’m struggling with and giving it a name has been so helpful to me. I know I have to manage it. I can take responsibility for it.  Some days I still feel so angry about the many traumatic events that caused this to be part of my life, but I can’t do anything about that now. I have to find constructive ways to stop depression from becoming an all-consuming thing in my life.

For such a long time my life was completely unbearable. It required so much energy to get through each day. I thought that I was just having a (very long) series of bad days. I had clinical depression and I was struggling with post traumatic stress (for years!) and I didn’t even know it. There was always this nagging feeling that something was really wrong. I saw the warning signs, but I thought I would try and “hang in there” and “tough it out”.

I’ve learnt an important lesson.

My clinical depression diagnosis was full stop in my life, a line drawn in the sand. It was a signal to slow down and gain perspective. The anxiety, fear, flashbacks and depression were all signals that pushed me to act.  It created awareness about the things harmful in my life – because if I didn’t do something about my depression it would have completely destroyed me. It is a completely debilitating thing– but the signal was there and it was something I had to deal with immediately.

So this is why I view my depression as something that’s completely changed my life – it is my silver lining. I’ve discovered so much beauty and inner peace and self- acceptance. My life is so wonderfully good. And I am so grateful.

And this is my favourite part – it has been an opportunity to totally recreate myself. How exciting is that? I get to go on a journey of discovery about myself. Try new things. Figure out what I like. Discover things I didn’t know about myself. And it isn’t a selfish thing at all. It is so necessary.

Think about it this way: if depression is a shadow your life, there must be a light cast from somewhere. Don’t live in the criticism of your shadow. Life in the part that brings hope, renewal, joy, inner peace and happiness.

Write your story

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I love writing. I am a writer and I can’t imagine my life not doing this. It is a very important aspect of my therapy. English novelist, journalist and playright Graham Greene said “writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic and fear that is inherent to the human situation.”

When I start writing it is like turning on a tap and I completely empty my mind on the page. If I don’t do this, I become overwhelmed and I lose perspective. And I always feel so much lighter afterwards. Like my world makes a bit more sense.

Ernest Hemingway said writing is bleeding – “You just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” And that’s exactly how I experience it. It is often also accompanied by crying, but I think the two go well together.

It also helps me to own my story. I think this is the most wonderful thing I’m experiencing right now.

I read something (and I don’t know who said it) that goes like this: You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

And this is why writing helps me – it helps to settle the rage in me. It comforts me. It makes me feel that what I have to say is valid and real. Writing grounds me and it allows me to express myself without fear of judgement.

It helps me to feel more and think less – this is really important for me. It is one of my biggest struggles. Thinking distances me from my inner self, my pain and trauma and then I tend to slip back into unhelpful patterns of intellectualising things. To heal my trauma I have to learn to feel. Deeply. And often that is very uncomfortable.

Through writing I’ve found my own voice – that’s the best thing! And you know what I’ve realised? No matter what happened to me, no one can take my voice away from me.

Writing is helping me to process what I’m feeling, instead of the thoughts and feelings just racing around in my mind. So now I can actually receive the messages that my subconscious mind is sending my way – both good and bad messages.

Writing is my sacred ritual. It is what I do to mend what’s broken inside. I do it everyday – even if it is just a paragraph I get those thoughts, fears and emotions onto the pages. I write about the things I shouldn’t forget because forgetting is not helpful in the healing process. You can’t shelve trauma. Writing helps me not to be afraid of my own mind and memories. It is just a wonderful thing.