Capturing life

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I’ve decided to share a couple of my photographs with you today. I love photography and I’m always seeing a photo in everything. What I like about photographs is that they capture a piece of my soul. Photographs are there to remind us of the things we forget. When I made this selection I was reminded how beautiful life is and what a privilege it is to be alive and experience life.

Birth certificates show that you were born. Death certificates show that you died. Photographs show that you really lived.

My son Matthew always plays along ;-) This was taking in December last year on a road trip through the Karoo. We were in a small town called Hanover in the Northern Cape. Beautiful place.

My son Matthew always plays along 😉 This was taking in December last year on a road trip through the Karoo. We were in a small town called Hanover in the Northern Cape. Beautiful place.

Blue house, Hanover, Northern Cape, South Africa

Blue house, Hanover, Northern Cape, South Africa

Father and son <3

Father and son ❤

Spectacular Drakensberg, South Africa, in summer

Spectacular Drakensberg, South Africa, in summer

Central Drakensberg weekend getaway at a magical little place called The Ponds

Central Drakensberg weekend getaway at a magical little place called The Ponds

Matthew and mom :-)

Matthew and mom 🙂

Drakensberg, South Africa

Drakensberg, South Africa

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The road to recovery – it isn’t about the easy days

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Source: Interesting Engineering

Source: Interesting Engineering

Doesn’t the road to recovery from depression, anxiety and PTSD feel like this sometimes? What I know is that “recovery” isn’t a place you can get to. It is a journey and sometimes there will be really big potholes in the road. What’s really important is to trust the process. I read about this concept all the time – it must be the universe trying to tell me something ;-). Allow life to unfold. The late Jeff Buckley says “life has its own rhythm and you cannot impose your own structure on it – you have to listen what it tells you.”

I saw this the other day and I think it is true:

Anyone can do recovery on a good day. Recovery isn’t about the easy days. Recovery is fighting through the worst days and coming out the other side. You’ve worked incredibly hard to get there. Don’t throw it all away. Keep pushing through.

Listen to your heart

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Cheerio Farm, Magoebaskloof, Limpopo – South Africa

Everyday, try to find time to sit in complete and total silence with yourself. Dig down deep to the centre of your soul and listen to your heart. Find your inner voice and it is there you will find true peace. – Melanie Koulouris

This has been a very difficult week. Overwhelming actually. But what I continuously try and remind myself is that just because I’m struggling doesn’t mean I’m failing – although it feels like that now. This week I’ve been thinking about lots of things, but a quote from a book I read recently, The Fault in our Stars by John Green has been with me the whole week. One of the main characters, Augustus Waters says “that’s the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.” And I think that’s true for me right now.

I don’t think anything in life goes away until it teaches us what we need to know. I don’t think I’ve ever had to deal with anything more difficult than my own soul, but I’m not going to rush this process. The answers always come. The soul always knows what it needs to heal itself.

 

 

Currently under construction

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mosaic heart

It’s been a tough few days and my PTSD has reared its ugly head again. It always feels like such a defeat – just when I think things are under control everything seems to come undone again. But then again, perhaps it is actually just a gentle reminder to be aware of where I am on this journey.

Sometimes I feel like PTSD is a continuous process of being broken down and pieced together again. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I like mosaic so much – that’s also a process of breaking tiles into tiny pieces and piecing them together again to form something beautiful. And I guess that’s how I feel about my life sometimes – I am slowly managing to put the pieces back together again.

Sometimes I have so much rage towards the people who brought me to this place – they will never know the massive repercussions of it all. But I never want the sadness of my past to steal joy from me now. My life is too valuable and I can’t allow that to happen.

I don’t want to get flashbacks about things I don’t want to remember, but it is a message from my subconscious mind that I’m ready to remember. I read something that said the mind replays what the heart can’t delete and I think that’s true. I have to be patient and go gently on myself. It will take as long as it takes to rebuild myself.

Find your silver lining

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siliver lining

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.

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.