Sunday, March 24

wish i were a polar bear

found here

It’s a cold gray Sunday, and although everything is technically right with my world, I have this insane urge to hibernate. I want to put my white bear skin on, snuggle up in a deep cave, and only wake up when I can cope again. I struggle with this fragility which engulfs me if things have been too busy, too intense, for too long. And they have been. Two weeks of extra stress is enough to tip my fine balance over. 

It used to be that stress affected me far more physically. It was the headache or migraine, the bowel trouble, the dizziness. That was simple. I could hibernate in a wish-i-were-a-bear kind of way and say, “I’m not well” to the world. Then I would cuddle up with my quilt until the pain had subsided, and emerge in a day or two when I had improved. 

But when you’re physically about the same as usual, and it’s an emotionally overwhelmed pain you feel, it seems different. Physical pain seems more legitimate than mental, in this world where mind pain is taboo. I didn’t want to write and say that I was ‘unwell’ to the person I was supposed to see today; because I was worried it was a lie. 

Was it a lie? 

In my state of no-confidence, I felt unsure and sick inside. Maybe it was a lie and I was a cop out? But the little intact part of me said no, it wasn’t a lie.

It absolutely was the truth. The mind is part of the whole body, and the mind can be unwell just as the body. ‘Unwell’ is still the term for it. And to be honest, it was exhaustion and dizziness and sore throat mixed in with emotional fatigue. If stress used to give me a migraine, and now it gives me a teary fragility, I still need it to let myself recover. I still need to let myself continue to travel along this road of getting better, and sometimes it means I have to disappoint someone. Sometimes, a mental health day is just what the doctor ordered.

Ben has empathy supplies beyond anything I’ve ever known. When I want to hibernate, he wants to be ten times bigger so that he can wrap me all up in his arms and keep me safe. I imagine that I’m a tiny Polly Pocket doll, and I just get to curl up and nuzzle in. When I couldn’t fall asleep the other night, he began to hum an old hymn which I grew up singing as a girl. 

It’s the most beautiful song of security, and hope.

It was penned by a rich lawyer in 1873, just after he got a telegram from his wife saying that their children had all been killed when the ship they were traveling on collided with another. He is rooted in the peace of knowing his God.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Thursday, March 14

yoga confessions

i have a confession to make. i was drawn to yoga because I knew they lay down in the dark, with their eyes closed, for a portion of the class {in sanscrit, it’s called savasana or corpse pose}. my motivation actually had nothing to do with stretching or strength. it all began with going to Bodybalance, a class which incorporates aspects of tai-chi, pilates, and yoga. that’s where i learnt about yogic ‘nap-time’ at the end of class, and i will never forget how delighted i felt when the instructor told us all to lie down and get comfortable. some of the older participants got so comfortable that they started snoring like tractors. i don’t know if this is normally the inspiration for yoga, because i don’t go around mentioning it to classmates who could well be there for more holistic reasons, but when you think about the fact that my whole illness is about being exhausted, it makes senses. 

that’s what got me in the door, pure laziness. so you can imagine my first time, when i learnt i was going to have to work for that smidgen of savasana by doing all kinds of physically impossible poses {asanas} for an hour first. i didn’t think i’d need a towel as i do in cycle and circuit, because it’s yoga and in yoga you just sit around looking serene and then have a sleep. shortly into that first class, i was wet, i was red, and i was inelegantly shaking with exertion. {i do power vinyasa for those who know about these things; i found that out later, and it’s no walk in the park}.  before we even got to that eagerly awaited savasana, we did ‘inversions’ which was another aspect of yoga i was quite unprepared for; basically headstands, shoulder stands, anything upside down will do. so by the time you lie down on your mat, you have thoroughly earned it. for the next four days i struggled to walk, to lower myself to the toilet, to shuffle down the flight of stairs which led our flat, as my muscles cried and groaned with over exertion. it was actually agony and i made sure that ben knew all about it. infact, i only just recovered in time to do it again the next week. and it made me exhausted; all i wanted to do was sleep and sleep. 

considering my initial motivation, it’s quite surprising that I continued with the torture. but i found that i loved the challenge, and loved how i felt after I’d put my body through its paces. it was a physically intense work out for every muscle group, and i was learning to control and slow my breathing, a skill i’d been wishing i had since my struggle with panic attacks {a skill my psychiatrists had struggled to teach effectively}. practicing yoga was another piece in the puzzle of me feeling better overall, and an exercise session which i enjoyed, so i was committed to continuing. 

i walk up to the room holding my chai brown yoga mat, smell the whiff of incense and take off my shoes. if the scent were any stronger i would get a headache, and i am amazed i can handle it. i chose this yoga centre over another one which oozing yogic spirituality – i just didn’t want to sit still for half an hour chanting ‘shanti shanti’, and then spend an eternity in silence with movement and scratching forbidden. the instructor sat at the front of the room amid ornate cushions, prim and proper like a goddess with her legs in lotus position, and she looked like the type who would reprimand me for laughter or any other show of joyfulness. it made me think i was in an ashram and that’s one place i will never go. the only physical thing we did in that class was lift our leg up and move it in a few circles, and the whole ordeal was intensely stifling and anxiety provoking.  

my first yoga teacher told us that if we were prone to impatience in everyday life, we would probably find ourselves wanting to let go of our poses as soon as possible. i hold the pose, and inside i’m screaming, “ come on, say we can come out of it now, I’m going to fall over, my leg is burning, this is agony, you’re taking too long...nooo, don’t correct that person over there, it distracts you from realising how long we’ve been holding this position...” finally, long overdue, the teacher says we can come back into a more relaxed position, and I am the first one out of it with a crash and a bang. but I’m learning to breathe through the pain and striving to be in less of a rush. i am incredibly impatient in most areas of life, so i think yoga and long term illness are doing me some good. it helps with my anxiety, with pain management, with flexibility, with strength, with posture, with mood, with fatigue, so yes, i suppose this post is basically just a long winded way of saying ,’ i am so glad that I found yoga.’

i am heartily tempted to go along to this kind of yoga; with my uncontrollable laughter issues, i think i’d love it. watch this video here. do you think its mad or wonderful?

leg warmers i knitted for shavasana, of course

Monday, March 11

haircuts & mania {pixie}

i was waiting impatiently in the hair salon, and the fumes of sprays and chemicals clogged up my nostrils so that i struggled to breathe. my heart was beating so violently that i had a peak at the left side of my chest – it was actually visible, the boom boom boom was plain for all to see and i hoped with all of my pumping heart that no one would notice.  next i began hyperventilating, in true panic attack style, and glancing at the door. i needed fresh air, and i thought i would faint if i didn’t get it. i knew that i could still do a runner or i could just ask for a trim like i had the last couple of decades. it’s been a long time since i was in such an anxious mess, and it seemed ridiculous to be using so much emotional energy on getting a radical hair cut, but at the same time, i wasn’t going to let myself pike out now. not. now.

this eternity of anxiety did come to an end, when i was finally speaking with my stylist, showing her pictures, and discussing my preferences. yes please, a bit of hathaway mixed with williams and a dash of mulligan for good measure.  it was a relief to have finished my intense freak out, although i felt a certain fatigue from all the adrenalin expulsion. my very lovely, very perfectionist hairdresser took nearly two hours over my new cut – and i endured some hideous stages, the worst being a long period of looking just like justin beiber. {same hair shade too. not cool. } at times i wondered if she could actually pull it off, because the hat-of-thick-hair look was just the complete opposite of chic & cute. i tried to keep up beat inside, but it wasn’t until she finally straightened and waxed the ‘do’ that I was put at ease. i had a pixie, and i’d survived the ordeal. 

the best bit was realising that i loved the cut, and the second best bit was when she said , ‘you have a lot of hair.’ you have a lot of hair. i wanted her to say it again.

for me, this serious cut was more than breaking stereotypes, doing something i wanted regardless of peer/parental opinion, having a change, looking a bit more mature. it was a celebration of having my hair fully grown back from my long struggle with trichotillomania.

{literally: hair mania}

when i was in my early teens, i NEVER EVER thought i would have boy short hair – i thought i would have a wig. i needed every long wisp that i had to cover those bald patches. i used heavy duty gel to stick down the spikes of newly growing hair which would poke through my long strands and give me away. my adolescence was a lonely scared one. just the word ‘hair’ made me feel sick to the core. i didn’t go to the hairdresser for years because i couldn’t go {home cuts done in privacy of bedroom} – because they would find out that i had missing hair, and that would lead to them find out that i was insane. and then what would happen? 

even when i was 19 i felt that i would never be free from trichotillomania – and in many ways that’s true because it’s always something i want to do and have to fight. 

but have learned the self control to say ‘no’, and that has enabled me to grow back my hair, each little strand which was plucked out a hundred times. you can’t have a pixie cut if there is a bald patch, or a thin area, and that’s why this is a victory.

it was worth admitting it, and getting help, and praying, and denying my impulse desires to feel that i’m no longer a slave to this strange addiction. this is a reminder that there is great hope for change and recovery. that today’s battles can be tomorrow's victories even when we think we are way beyond help.

 "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." 1 Cor 10:13

Tuesday, March 5

what time shall i set the alarm for?

words are powerful. they can be lethal, or soothing. they can be used to lift up, or crush. they can produce smiles, or tears. 

it scares me how fast we toss them from our lips – when you consider the impact on our listeners. they are so easily formed and so painfully processed. we hurl them around, sometimes we leave a mess behind us. sometimes we leave a ray of sunshine.

when you are unwell for a long period of time you have the privilege of becoming well aquainted with the very best and worst of people’s responses. you learn to think before you speak because you figure out the power that words contain, and it feels so acute because you’ve never been so fragile or raw. 

sometimes i have sobbed, ‘it’s hard enough feeling like this, without having to deal with the things people say.’ i would think, ‘it’s not like i chose this’, and feel that bitterness at people having slipped away as soon as I was low, and boring, and irritable. but when there is only small reciprocation on the horizon, it’s not surprising, is it? i’m more immune to these things now, perhaps I have a thicker skin...i’m not sure, but it’s been a journey - one i'm grateful to have been on.

when you agonise over sending a cancellation message to someone, so often there is a cold, “that’s ok. see you next time,” or a hint of frustration. you long for a word of understanding, something a tiny bit tender which shows they didn’t just consider their own inconvenience, but also yours and your pain at having to cancel. when you leave early, you sting a little as they urge you to stay longer – you wish they would celebrate the immense effort it took to come at all. and it hurts when people say that if you thought more positively, or prayed for the pain to go away, or truly believed you would get better, then you would. because in your experience, the pain is still there... still there. you see pain on earth, and you feel it and groan with it, and you know that it’s not dependent on you for it to leave because if it was, it would be gone.  

my friend sets an alarm when she comes to visit me, so that she won’t stay so long that I get worn out. I feel this crazy warmth of joy when she says, ‘what time shall I set the alarm for?’ those words speak understanding and love a million times over. i can’t possibly list all the things people have said which have filled me with warmth.

you can always stop to think before, but afterwards it’s a bit i’m going for the before approach. 

Monday, March 4

little big things

it’s the little things

Last week I said to someone that I was enjoying my time in this country town by the sea. She asked me why, because she knew the essentials of my life hadn’t changed at all. For me, my time consists of the daily simplicity of treadmilling & biking, practicing, some friendships, and pulling back from the many things which compromise my wellbeing. It’s not like I have a new job here, or my close network of friends and medics, or other ‘big exciting things’. I couldn’t really answer her why I was happy here. 

But a few days later I was trying to figure it out, and I realised that my life isn’t about big things anymore.

It’s about being able to have the sand under my toes seven days a week, if I like, and watching the pinkness of the sunset in awe. Its jogging for a minute longer than I managed last time, and celebrating the absence of headaches, and finding a beautiful quote or verse to scrawl on my chalkboard in the kitchen. Its Ben riding home from work just after 5 o’clock while the sun is still strong, and Wolfgang jumping on my knee for a snuggle. It’s wearing a summer dress, and playing a piece of music that breaks my heart a little bit, and having a real conversation with another human being. It’s being content with being exactly where I have been placed in life, and loving the minutes and opportunities and views and thoughts and people and creatures and experiences. 

Sometimes I’m on Facebook or talking to a friend – and I read and hear about people doing Honours, and expecting babies, and getting exciting jobs and scholarships. I don’t know if I’ll get to do those things. That’s when I start to struggle with discontentment, and suddenly I want that, badly. And suddenly I’m really so very sorry for myself and my lame little life. Because ‘comparison is the thief of joy,’ said the very wise Roosevelt. Even though it rocks my boat for a little while, I eventually come to a calmer place, of peace with my place in God’s perfect unfathomable plan. 

I think I used to live blind to many beautiful things, when I was well {which is technically more beautiful than being sick}. I channelled my attention and my thoughts to the ‘big things’, which of course I needed too, much of the time. But I didn’t even take ten minutes to look at the moon and love it, or stop to enjoy a moment by choosing to drop my busy agenda just for that minute. It was all about powering on, and you do miss so many things when you’re going that fast. These things are so healing, they are the things which stop us from stress combustion.

i’m starting to think that the small things are actually the big things

there's beauty in simplicity