Reflections… How one year can change your world.

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I got a chill this morning realising the date; October 15th. On October 15th exactly one year ago I had a sleepless night, plagued with dread over what the morning would bring – that torturous walk to work, each step bringing me closer to my personal hell on earth. A million new emails to deal with, meetings to force myself to smile through, two-faced people with vindictive agendas, the constant phone calls and demands, endless paperwork…. It makes me sick just thinking about it. On October 15th in the wee hours of the morning as I lay there waiting for the darkness to lift, I decided enough was enough. My body had been letting me know for months that this level of stress was not manageable, but I’d ignored the signs. I’d ignored the increasingly tight chest, the pounding heart, the constant headaches and stomach cramps, the shaking hands and the dizziness. Until something finally snapped inside me on October 15th, and I quit my job. I quit something I’d moved city for, gone to University for, and made sacrifices for. And I’ve never looked back.

Well, something like that. To say I’ve never looked back would be somewhat of a lie, as I eventually did have to look back in order to move forward. To say I was naïve in thinking my sudden freedom would equal happiness would be a bit of an understatement. Sure, I had an immense pressure lifted off my shoulders. I had nobody to answer to, no where to be and no obligations. Unless you’re either very wealthy or very lazy though, there’s only so much time for ‘freedom’ that is realistically achievable. After the initial luxury and glimmer wears off, you notice a small yearning to belong creeping up on you once more. Apart from actually needing to earn some money to survive, you start wanting to be part of a team again. To rebuild yourself up and achieve something. So here I find myself exactly a year later, part of a great team in the town I grew up in. My family, boyfriend, animals and the beach (all the important things in my life), are within a stones throw away and I couldn’t be more content.

To say it hasn’t been hard work to get here would be a lie, because the first 6 months after I quit that job were really low. Some days I struggled just to function. Normal things like cooking breakfast, going grocery shopping and talking on the phone became these mammoth tasks to me. I actually had to mentally prepare myself for the tiniest of activities, things we do on a regular basis with no second thought. My anxiety levels were completely ruining my life and I felt like hiding in bed all day in the darkness, somewhere I felt safe. But that’s no way to live and I committed myself to getting better, day by day, with no time frame in mind. And I did. Slowly – very slowly, I noticed myself thinking less and less about my anxiety, something that used to be on my mind 24/7. I’d catch myself doing simple things like driving across a bridge or going to an appointment without panicking, something that felt like a huge achievement in my eyes. Spending time with the 3 cats and puppy in our family, long walks on the beach, meditating, movie nights with my step dad and cooking with my nana – simple, small things – literally were my God send. I’d been missing out on all these things and didn’t realise how desperately I’d craved this normalcy, this break from the rat race of living in the city and working in a corporate environment.

Some people know what works for them early on in life, whereas some go through struggles to eventually find their peace. I don’t know where I’ll be one year from now, but I’m grateful every day to be here. Because right here, right now, I’m okay.

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Does creativity mostly stem from darkness?

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much I’m NOT writing anymore, and wondering why this is the case. When I first started this blog in January, I was writing around 3 – 4 blog posts a week. I simply couldn’t stop. I had so much bottled up inside of me that was flowing out – emotions, rage, guilt, regret, sadness. It was like someone had finally turned the tap on inside of me, and years of built up sewerage was spilling out so I channeled it the best way I knew how – through words. Everyone has their own way of expressing their inner thoughts. Some resort to alcohol, drugs and violence, while some turn to creative pursuits – art, dance, music, photography and writing to name a few. I’ve been wondering though, as I’ve noticed a significant decrease in my once torturous feelings of anxiety, why I don’t feel like writing as much anymore, and if anyone else can relate?

When you think about some of the famous artists and creatives of our time, there is usually a back story of hidden pain and secrets as well. Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent van Gogh, Charles Dickens and many others have been documented to have experienced mental health struggles. I can’t help but wonder if in a lot of cases, our most creative works come from a place of sadness and helplessness within? Many of the greatest musicians and song writers have referenced their ‘best sellers’ as having been recorded in some of their darkest times. There seems to be a pretty significant connection between common struggles (depression, anxiety, mood swings, relationship break downs, deaths and so on), where the person works through their feelings via creative expression.

I know for certain that when I’m feeling ‘normal’ – which in my case I would equate with getting through the day with a fairly consistent mood, and not being plagued by frequent periods of anxiety or nervousness, that I don’t particularly feel like writing. In fact I usually have to be experiencing a pretty ‘down’ day to sit down and let the words come pouring out, which is a bittersweet feeling. On the one hand I’m over the moon that my darkness seems to be lifting, but on the other hand I’m sad because I get a lot of enjoyment from writing. What am I meant to write about if I’m feeling normal, or even (dare I say it), happy? That seems like such a silly thing to worry about, I know. I think it’s stemmed from my unhealthy relationship with ‘morbid’ news stories in the media, where for some unknown reason I am drawn to read horrifying stories of murder, kidnapping and tragedies on a regular basis. Of course this is not an uncommon fascination – it has been well documented that as a society these days we are hungry for such stories, and that they both terrify and intrigue us.

I’ll wrap my musings up today with a quote from Jack Beal;

Keep painting your demons. 

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Photo credits – ourcolourdays & ourmoodydays

Why I changed my opinion on taking your own life.

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I grew up for years with the personal opinion that the act of suicide was the most selfish thing you could do. I used to think everything from ‘How could you do that to your family?’, ‘How could you leave your body in that state for someone else to find?’, and ‘How could you leave your loved ones with the burden of guilt, regret and never knowing why?’. These are just some of the things I wished I could ask people who were successful with their suicide attempts. Not necessarily why did they do it, but more a case of how could they? I simply couldn’t understand how someone could be in that dire of a state, and in that much darkness, that they could legitimately not see a way out.

Having never been personally affected by a loved one taking their own life, and having never felt suicidal myself, I feel somewhat inadequate to even write about this – but mental health is something I do feel incredibly passionate about. I recently watched an eye-opening documentary on ABC titled ‘You Can’t Ask That’, where a range of suicide survivors were interviewed on all the questions people secretly want to ask. For example – how did you do it, did you feel guilty, who saved you… etc etc. For me the question of guilt was something I was extremely interested in, but in fact none of the people interviewed said they felt any guilt at all. They were in such a cloud of despair, that they honestly thought removing themselves from life was going to make their loved ones happier, and obviously rid themselves of their own pain.

Hearing survivors talk about their experience first hand was something that made me do a complete 180 on my opinion. Admittedly, I was on the path to changing how I felt about it from my own experiences with anxiety – whilst I’ve never even been close to having suicidal thoughts, I’ve had some really bad days with overwhelming anxiety where I’ve desperately wanted those feelings to stop. So I can now see how someone could fall deeper and deeper into that well of hopelessness, and can’t see a way out. Yes – everyone always says the help is there… they just had to ask. But hindsight is a bitch isn’t it?

I’ve also been reading a lot about postpartum depression, and have tonight just watched a documentary on it titled ‘When the Bough Breaks‘ – a really raw, honest view on something that affects a lot of women. I guess I have been interested in this condition as part of recovering from my issues with anxiety, and as a woman I have a natural fear that this is perhaps something I will go through should I have a child one day. The hormonal and emotional experience of childbirth coupled with sleep deprivation, existing mental health issues and lack of support are all red flags for postpartum depression, and I think the mothers who have spoken up to discuss their journeys are incredibly brave.

Hoping this post hasn’t offended anyone, I am merely discussing my own thoughts and feelings – feel free to comment 🙂

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Photo credits – dullbluelight & maxfromtax

When you’re in the throws of it…

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Anyone who has suffered from anxiety issues will tell you what a bitch it is when you’re in the full swing of a bad day, or even a bad hour. Everything feels surreal, like you’re watching your life on a stage and observing yourself going through the actions of appearing normal, calm and in control. Meanwhile in your head there’s a full theatre of chaos and panic going on, thoughts coming at you a million miles an hour with no apparent reason or excuse. All you want to do is lay in a dark, quiet room and breathe. Simply breathe.

That’s how I feel today, and though it is happening less and less through a range of coping techniques, when it does happen you inevitably feel the sadness of setback. Anger and disappointment at yourself – why aren’t I better yet? Guilt at the family or friends you’ve let down – Can I call you back tomorrow? Everything will be better tomorrow. That’s what you keep telling yourself, as you try to get through each minute without going crazy (or appearing to). It’s a delicate and difficult balancing act. They don’t tell you how hard it will be, simply taking control of the thoughts in your head before they manifest into physical symptoms – racing heart, shaky limbs, feeling dizzy and disoriented, not focusing on things… the list goes on.

I know I’m not the only person feeling like this because of how much reading I have done in the past year, trying to arm myself with all the facts. In fact millions of people all around the world suffer from anxiety and panic attacks every single day. You wouldn’t always guess who and it doesn’t discriminate. Your hairdresser, your bus driver, the woman who sells you fresh buns at the bakery. Your boss, your colleague, the cleaner at work. Odds are that at least 4 of these 6 people have suffered or are currently suffering from some kind of mental health challenge, but are carrying on with their everyday jobs – because that’s what we have to do. You cannot let it take control of your life so much that you can’t get out of bed, or start avoiding simple things like grocery shopping or coffee dates with friends. When it gets to the point that your normal routines are severely affected – seek help. Yes, it’s terrifying. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and through re-training your brain and constant practise – you can make steps towards a healthy life.

Wishing you all the best, and for myself I’m hoping that a hot shower and good nights sleep will be just the trick 🙂

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Photo credits – maison.chloeyeur & totalynoturbae

Wait, was that a real smile?

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For so long I was stuck in this grey reality, going through the motions of life without really being ‘present’. I’d turn up to work, catch up with the friends and keep up my social media appearance. Every night I’d be so exhausted from the emotional, mental and physical strength this existence required, that all I’d want to do is lay in my candlelit room at night listening to depressing music, dreading having to do it all again tomorrow. Of course, it finally caught up with me and it’s only 5 months into my ‘gap year’ that I’m genuinely starting to be excited about life again.

In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed subtle changes in my thinking patterns that have got me doing mental cartwheels of joy. I’ve caught myself not thinking or worrying about my anxiety issues, and while that sounds silly – if I’m thinking about not thinking about anxiety, then aren’t I thinking about anxiety again? Well yes, and no. It’s different now. For a good year it was all I thought about – it literally consumed my thoughts every hour, if not every minute of the day. I’d wake up assessing how I felt, I’d walk to work wondering how long I would last before starting to panic, I’d try and hold myself together all day until I could get out and escape to the safety of my bedroom. If I had plans that night I’d try and stay calm until I got there, then spend the entire time feeling like shit because of how exhausted I was and looking forward to just being in bed. But even in bed I couldn’t escape my mental state – I’d meditate to try and get to sleep, and then some nights wake up with a racing heart trying to catch my breath at 2am. Anxiety was with me constantly, sitting on my face and refusing to let me live my life in peace.

But as I mentioned, lately I’ve caught myself not thinking about it. And this has made a world of difference. I can actually read a book, watch a movie, talk to family or friends and take the dog to the beach, and actually just live in the moment, not worrying about whether I might have a panic attack or where I can escape to if I start feeling anxious. This is an amazing feeling and something that I don’t expect everyone to understand. I couldn’t even go into a grocery store or drive across a bridge 3 months ago without feeling sick in the stomach, worried about panicking which naturally leads to a state of panic. The cycle of anxiety is vicious, and comes on so quickly that you barely have time to put your coping methods in place. I can genuinely say I feel like my storm is starting to ease though, and I’m beyond excited. I’ve actually booked a trip to Bali in a few months with some friends which is something I feel like I deserve. After the hard work I’ve put in to overcome my challenges, I think a cocktail on the beach is well overdue!

The happiest people seem to be those who have no particular cause for being happy except that they are so. (William Ralph Inge). 

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Photo credits – katie.one & sandra.cumplido

Mental health: Baby steps, not a race.

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As you might know I’ve written about mental health before, and my struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. I felt drawn to write this blog tonight after talking to one of my close friends today, who has also been going through their own set of challenges. In fact when I think about it, 9 out of 10 people I know – be it close friends or family, have all opened up about their struggles with mental health. From anxiety, depression, stress, avoidance tendencies, loneliness, low self-esteem and health issues, almost everyone I know has been or is going through their own mental barriers to happiness and good health. So what’s the catch? Has today’s modern society simply become too difficult for us to manage? Or are we just more open about what’s going on inside our complex, crazy minds?

I think it’s a mixture of both. Yes, the modern world is now full of new stressors that human evolution is yet to catch up with. From technology overload, family breakdowns, threats of terrorism, nuclear war, increasingly extreme weather patterns and many more modern stressors, our bodies are subject to a wide variety of anxiety-inducing events than ever before. I personally believe that our mind’s are still only equipped to deal with the basic, ingrained worries that have served us for millions of years – worries over seeking food and shelter for our families, and threats from animals and the elements. Basic, caveman worries. Today we are faced with constant, varying levels of stress in everything we do from the moment we wake up, and I’ve noticed a definite increase in my loved ones simply not being able to handle it.

BUT, on the flip side – mental health stigma’s have definitely taken a big hit in recent years, with many celebrities and public figures opening up about their own challenges. This increasingly open dialogue about the range of issues created in our minds, has paved the way for people to express how they feel and seek help where possible. Yes, it is still hard to open up because it’s scary to admit to ourselves that we might need some guidance, let alone admit it to our family and friends. The workplace culture of long hours, eating lunch at your desk and unrealistic deadlines that I came from last year was a massive contributor to my anxiety issues, and I know many people feel the same but are scared to admit it. We don’t want to look weak, or get hauled into HR to discuss our performance, or worse – get fired. But we can’t keep working ourselves into the ground either – at some point, your health has got to come first and I’m so glad I finally accepted that. As I found in my case, acceptance is one of the most important steps to managing your issues. Yes there are days where I’m angry, sad or frustrated and think WHY ME? But the days where I simply acknowledge my anxiety is there, sitting on my shoulder not hurting anyone, are the days where it is so much more manageable. Learning to love yourself for who you are, instead of beating yourself up over it is very important in the healing process.

To all of my family, friends and readers I want you to know that you are not in this alone. More people than you realise are going through their own set of mental challenges – the trouble is that their ‘issues’ are usually invisible and well masked. We all learn ways of coping, hiding and avoiding but sooner or later the wall crumbles and we’re forced to pick up the pieces. Start the healing process now I say! Talk to someone, open up to whoever you feel safe with, practice meditation, exercise, eat healthy, get out into nature, light a candle and write in a journal – DO WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO. I’ve tried it all, and can honestly say a good balance of all these activities and a positive attitude makes a hell of a difference. Just remember it’s not a race – there will be setbacks and days where you feel like shit, but just persevere with baby steps.

A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes. It is a catalyst and it sparks extraordinary results. (Wade Boggs).

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Photo credits – inkandarte & ourmoodydays