Anniversaries

“Bear with…” as Miranda’s friend would say…

It’s a time of anniversaries.

I hope it won’t last, I hope this time, this first time, is an anomalous dip. But I’ve now come through my difficult year and have entered the anniversary stage, the “this time last year” stage and for a while, it’s going to be painful.

I won’t allow myself to wallow, but neither should I forget. Forgetting means I don’t allow myself to recognise how far I’ve come, how much I’ve built, how brave and strong I’ve been.

And, how far I’ve yet to go, how much is yet unexplored and undiscovered in this new life of mine, this new version of me.

This time last year I was only just facing up to the decisions I had finally admitted I needed to make, but the pain of making them was still too great to bear. I only prolonged it.

This time last year I had balked against the idea of needing such major surgery and was waiting on a specialist to gently tell me that was the only option I had. While the physical effects are mostly healed, even my scar is fading into celebratory silver, the odd ache and twinge is echoed in a strange emotional reaction. While I was utterly content with my decision to not have children, while I have no reason to believe I would ever have changed my mind (especially having reached my early 40s), to have that decision, that choice, removed from me… that shook me to a depth I had no idea existed.

This time last year, my entire life was limbo for months to come.

So bear with me as I move through these next months. I may be erratic in my emotions, I may cope one moment and feel overwhelmed the next. I may speak up or withdraw.

I’m still grieving for all that I lost, all that I walked away from, the choices that were taken away or never really existed.

But there’s a reason I had a phoenix inscribed on my skin this last week. The image that sits after the semi-colon, the next part of my sentence.

We will rise. And fly.

phoenix

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Donkey and Pride

Friends know about my “slight” obsession with task lists and getting things done. There’s a reason for this.

Living with anxiety goblins, I need weapons with which to fight them. I need an array of weapons. They are sneaky clever fuckers, and they learn to fight back. They have over 40 years of my life with which to attack me with and they wield my dark moments like pros.

It was while studying counselling and psychotherapy (and being the client, and being the therapist) that I learned I wasn’t a failure at life, I had an anxiety disorder. I’d spent most of my three decades up to that point comparing myself with the people around me and wondering why apparently inconsequential things knocked me sideways, why I just couldn’t seem to cope with life as well as most, and why fear seemed to rule me and be my initial response to pretty much anything.

I’d attempted to cure this by staying away from situations that caused fear. Seemed a reasonable response… but it made my world so very small. I self medicated for over two decades to numb the overwhelming physical symptoms of anxiety – until it became a habit and addiction that was deeply entwined with my sense of self. And the fear remained, attached itself to other things, attacked me with the coping mechanisms I was using and I eventually realised this just wasn’t working. I needed to change. I was dying from the inside out. Existing but not living, surviving but not thriving.

So slowly, so very slowly, I started facing things, pushing back the boundaries of my comfort zone, doing things just because they scared me (tandem skydive for one! Singing solo in public for another), but choosing them carefully, building up slowly.

Starting to study counselling was one of these things. I didn’t consider myself particularly academic after failing my A levels (forgetting the huge personal and mental health issues I had going on at the time). I gave myself a hard time. I struggled to give up the habits and addictions holding me in place.

Another thing about me, relevant to this post is that I work in images, in stories and characters. If I can frame something with a character and story then I can understand it better.

And thus we get to the point of this post.

While studying what ended up being half a Masters Degree in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy, I came across a part of my brain that seemed utterly set on sabotaging me. I had to deal with this, I’d invested a lot of money that I didn’t have in this course and wasn’t about to lose it just because part of me wasn’t playing the game.

I investigated this part of me and eventually found an image that just fitted. At the bottom of all this, hiding under the Sabotage and the Fear was Stubborness. There was some part of me simply, firmly, consistently saying, “NO”.

No, not going to do that, not going to look at that, no no no you can’t make me.

The more I tried to force the issue, the harder it stuck, like a psychological finger trap. I realised I needed to be clever. The image that I discovered was that of a donkey digging it’s back heels in.

stubborn-mule

Pulling and pushing at the donkey just made it worse. I realised, in an obvious epiphiny, that I needed to motivate it. I needed to find the right carrot…

And for me, that carrot was pride. The Golden Glittery Carrot of Pride (because making something slightly silly is fun!). I thrilled in getting praise from my tutors, from getting good remarks on my essays, for having work done by the deadlines and research ready to show the group. I suddenly realised that I’d rarely felt proud of myself before and it was a powerful intoxicating feeling. One I wasn’t willing to give up.

I thought long and hard and about what made me feel proud – and it’s an ongoing process. I am by no means a workaholic, but I do like achieving things. I have discovered a very competitive side; with myself.

The question isn’t “What makes me feel proud?”, rather it’s “What will make me feel proud TODAY?”

Because it changes. Sometimes it changes throughout the day. And that doesn’t matter. What matters is developing an honest and congruent conversation with yourself about what’s needed, what’s possible, and what, if this is something that will assist you as well, will make you proud. Doesn’t have to be work, or studying. It can manifest in any and every area of your life and activities.

Sometimes it’s going the extra mile. Sometimes it’s just getting out of bed. Sometimes it’s having that self-care day and staying in bed with movies. Sometimes it’s reaching out to people and sometimes it’s riding out that dip on the rollercoaster.

Getting that donkey onside is a powerful weapon against the brain goblins.

So that’s why I have a constant task list. That’s why I put things on there just to tick them off. That’s why I sometimes say that I can’t rest, I can’t get that treat until after that thing. Because I need and crave that feeling of Pride. Which luckily doesn’t manifest by overdoing it, that’s Stupidity, not Pride. There’s no pride in running yourself into the ground, there’s only exhaustion. Pride is working within your means, and discovering that your means stretch just that little bit further that you initially thought.

As the hashtag says, #thisgirlcan. (please adjust for gender identity preference of your choice)

And there’s only one way to find out…

Henry and Liza

I’m not normally quite this prolific, but I’ve been in need of distractions lately. This isn’t a personal post as some of them are, but more a general pondering that was sparked by randomly coming across this song again –

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with straw.

The straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza, The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long.

Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it.

With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?

With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, an axe.

The axe is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza, The axe is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.

Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, sharpen it.

With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, with what?

With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.

The stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza, The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.

Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, with water.

In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, dear Liza? In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, in what?

In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, in a bucket.

But there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole

——

It occurred to me that this song is actually a pretty good analogy for anxiety and depression. 

Not being able to sort things out yourself, asking for help but not taking it, circular arguments justifying the position of stagnation. Helpful advice from people that sometimes actually doesn’t help or is turned aside (sometimes with good reason, sometimes not). 

In the lyrics of the song I always felt I could sense the growing frustration of both characters as Liza’s advice is constantly thwarted and Henry’s problems aren’t accepted.

When we speak up about our fears and restrictions sometimes we don’t want help. We want acceptance. Helping can (intentionally or not) sound like “can you just be better so I don’t have to deal with this please.”

Not all the time.

But sometimes.

And the helper doesn’t get to choose when.

It can be agonising for the one struggling if the helper is someone they care about as often we don’t want to upset or offend them by being negative about their well meaning offer.  We want them to be reassured that they are in fact helping us, so we try and hide the fact that we are still in the same place. This all takes yet more mental energy.

Then it gets complicated.

Acceptance says, “yes this is rubbish and you’re still worthy of love and attention and time.” Sometimes help can be given after enough acceptance. Sometimes not. Sometimes acceptance can even condone the state of doing nothing. There is no perfect list of instructions here.

There wouldn’t be a song if Liza sat down and said something along the lines of, “wow, stupid bucket, that sounds really shit, shall I put the kettle on?”

But maybe that’s what Henry needed.