Tuesday, 21 October 2014

It felt like my life had ended.

Five years ago my life ended… Or at least that was how it felt. I had held down high powered and pressured jobs, travelled all over the UK and a lot of the world, raised two kids, looked after my ageing parents and coped with my hubby being away all week and drunk when he was home. I had handled my mother in laws death and dealt with her will, dealt with my daughter trying to kill herself and been through two redundancies in the space of two years.

Then it all fell apart (strange that!)

For a long time I grieved the loss of my previous life and status, I felt useless, that there was no place for me, but, gradually I have grown.

I went back to college and studied art, something I had always wanted to do as I felt that I had to be "doing" something. It has been a hard 4 years and at times my family and support workers have thrown up their hands and said "just why are you doing this??"

I have started to see the world in a different way. I have become nicer to people, the spell I had in a mental hospital taught me to be more understanding of people. I have time to watch the caterpillars grow on the stinging nettles and rejoice when I see the peacock butterflies around the village knowing I saw them as babies. I can watch the dragonflies in the meadow and find them more interesting than watching the plane flying over head and wishing I was on it.

I still have spells when I hate the world, everyone in it, especially me and despair of where I am going and how I will cope in the future but I am learning that I cannot know where the future will take me and that the best I can hope for is to have today, even if maybe I do have to take each hour at a time as thinking of anything more is exhausting.

I have one more year of college left to finish what has become a BA degree, my life has changed beyond recognition but in many ways I feel that after all these years that maybe I finally do "have a life". Something I could not have seen five years ago.

A Moodscope member.

Monday, 20 October 2014

A welcome pep talk.

Colleague (brightly): "Hi AJ!! What a great day!"
Me (mumbling): "Umm no, I had..."
Her (Cutting in): "what's the matter with your miserable face today?"
Me: "Umm you don't want to know. Its just ..."
Her (brightly cutting in again): "Too right I don't!! but you'll be turning the milk with that sour face. So chin up and smile!"
(AJ manages a weak smile - just about makes the corners of mouth rise - goes nowhere near the eyes)
Her: "Yeah, that's the ticket! Now, cup of tea?"

Woah there missy! Do you think this depression is something that's just going to go away just because you've told it to? Who do you think you are? My mood isn't just a toy! I told you last week that it was going to be a hard weekend and here we are - Monday morning (yuk!) And you're slapping me on the shoulder and telling me to cheer up - and my prize for that fake smile? A cup of tea?! Is that it? Is that the sum total of your support? When you can see how upset and sad I am?

Well actually: yes, it turned out that this was all the pep talk I needed that day.

This was a conversation I had with a colleague as I arrived at work the other week. It sounds like she's harsh but the reality is that she has put me back together more than once over the past year when this current bout of depression really kicked in.

It turned out that she was right, it  was just the "mental slap" I needed at that time. I had arrived at work in a pit. I didn't feel like smiling, I felt like crying and having another wallow in the self pity swamp or at least being allowed to stare at the middle distance and mope.

But instead I got the "I know, life sucks at times - yes, I know that this is one of those times. But today staying down isn't an option - so change up and change your mood" pep talk. I thanked her for it when we met at lunchtime, and made her a cup of her favourite peppermint tea (which by the by is possibly the most yucky drink in the history of thirst!!)

So the next time, when my depression is giving me another self pity swamp wallow moment, I remember the pep talk and it brings a smile, and it helps: just enough.

A Moodscope member.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Breaking Family Patterns.

My body crying out for help, I found a chiropractor who treated my physical symptoms and pointed me in the direction of a personal development course. I was not happy I realised. I was sad, angry. I felt trapped. I always knew suicide wasn't an option for me. I had seen what effects it could have on a family and I didn't want to cause that.

I soon saw that I didn't love myself. But somewhere deep inside I must do because I had found this 6-month course and I was taking it on.

When doing a kind of meditation exercise I discovered that each time I crossed a street I did so fearing for my life and the effects on my family, should I have an accident. I gave myself the task to look carefully before crossing, thinking that I do this because I love myself and want to look after myself.

My focus shifted. Having done mostly the same things, driven by fear, I now chose to do it out of love for myself. Everything felt different.

I saw patterns of fear in my family and saw it as my task to break them - for me, in my life, and also somehow for them. Our relationships were about to change for the better.

Working hard, it took years before I started actively focusing on the beautiful patterns my family also hold and the life-force they contain.

A Moodscope member.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Creativity saves the sanity.

I had a love affair with mosaic making this summer.

There's just something so dashed cathartic about smashing up (oh especially the smashing up bit!) and cutting broken crockery and finding the best juxtaposition for whatever pattern/picture I'm making. It seems to mend broken bits in my head too. It's so absorbing.

Sat in the summer sun mosaic making was a real treat but what of the long winter nights ahead?

Well, I've set myself a challenge to make and create more.

In need of a bit of inspiration (and respite from life) mum and I toddled across the Mersey on Friday to a hidden gem in Birkenhead - the Williamson Art Gallery.

Celebrating World Mental Health Day the gallery threw an Arts and Minds Festival: "Exploring the role that creativity can play in maintaining our health and well-being". (It's incredible you know the free events that take place in our own locality. We just have to be sleuth-like in seeking them out.)

Ignoring mum's plea of, "I'm just not creative like that" (such flapdoodle this - mum is a prolific knitter, crocheter and is learning how to up-cycle old furniture), I cajoled her into The Making Room for a Calm and Create workshop.

Creating is an innate need in all of us. If you don't believe that, I'd wager that you haven't yet experienced the power of, or the catharsis of, dabbling in a bit of creativity. Already, we all of us, create more in life than we realise. Yes, even you! We put outfits together, we personalise our work spaces, we choose decor, we doodle whilst on the phone; everyday we create.

At the beginning of the class were reminded that creativity is about the process - not the end result. You can see why such a reminder is needed. It's quite amusing how stiff, uptight and terrified a bunch of adults can be when instructed to go forth with pastels and "play, have fun, make a mess!"

My first thoughts were:-

a) I don't want to get pastel dust on my black velvet jacket (at what point in life do we stop wanting to make mess? As kids it was our life's vocation to get messy).

b) I don't know what I'm doing (as adults we do so struggle to "just be" in art).

c) I can't do this. Can't do what? Er, have fun?!

Ten minutes in and the pastel dust seemed to distribute a sprinkling of magic. The inner critic started to pipe down and we rejoiced at the colourful smudges and patterns our hands created. As we limbered up a bit we made pretty, bold or bright art.

Hang on a minute! Was I having fun?!

One hour later and, as our gentle tutor, Ruth, commented, there were now 11 pieces of art work that hadn't existed 60 minutes earlier. Most importantly, however, was that we were indeed now feeling calm.

Create, make and muck about with art this winter and you may save the ole sanity.

A Moodscope member.

Friday, 17 October 2014

'I dwell in possibility' – Emily Dickinson.

I have been in bed for the last few days nursing a particularly nasty virus. My partner, myself and my 9 year old step-son, moved house 3 weeks ago. It is safe to say I am currently adrift on a sea of chaos; there is lot to be done.

Today I felt fit to venture out of bed. My plan initially looked like this:

1) Have shower
2) Do dishes

Then my Internal Tyrant kicked in and the list grew:

3) Unpack all clothes
4) Find places for adults clothes in absence of adults wardrobe
5) Hang clothes in child's wardrobe

Thought - will need to fix child's wardrobe before hanging clothes.

6) Fix child's wardrobe
7) Put bed linen away under bed

Thought - drawer has not been cleaned since bed was delivered.

8) Clean drawer
9) Put shoes in hall cupboard

Thought - hall cupboard is a mess therefore must clean it.

10) Clean hall cupboard
11) Reallocate rubbish from hall cupboard to other places
12) Identify the other places...

I can laugh at how ludicrous this list is, but it shines a light on my thinking. This thinking is destructive, because instead of dwelling in possibilities I am overwhelmed by them. Ever determined I seek out undertakings/achievements/tasks which once complete will allow me to accept myself. Then I constantly adjust my own finish line, so a gentle jog becomes a 5k becomes a 10k becomes a half marathon...

Only it doesn't. I surrender to my tyrant because I conclude that nothing I do will ever be good enough therefore why try.

I have realised what I am seeking is a sense of fulfilment, where I can relax and give myself a break. What becomes increasingly obvious is that this is a mission that will not be accomplished by an exceedingly long to do list. I am acutely aware that I need to learn to let go of this desire for perfection and recognise that which is imperfect is wonderful just as it is. I suspect this will be an ongoing challenge, but one I gladly face. Because I am sick of being scared and limiting myself.

As the infinitely wise Leonard Cohen sings 'There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in'.

A Moodscope member.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Wisdom of Geese. A Story of Hope for Humans.

As you hear the geese flying overhead at this time of year, on their way south for the winter, I hope the following story of their wise ways, may help you along your journey.

Firstly, you hear them as they are honking, but for what, just that continual noise? It is because the one flying in the front of their V shape formation is the one doing the most work (just like the cyclists at the front of the peloton); the rest are 'honking' to show support for them for that work.

Flying in the V shape is by far the most effective way (like riding a wave while surfing) and reduces the amount of work by everyone behind by about 70% - so the front runners need ongoing encouragement, to keep their speed up.

Secondly, by working as a team and all taking their turn at the head of the V, as well as honking when behind, they, as a team, can fly 70% further, simply by working together.

Thirdly, if one goose becomes ill or is damaged by humans and goes down to land to hopefully rest and recuperate, two others follow it down and stay with them until they die, or can fly again. Always providing company until the end.

Fourthly, when the two or three fly again, they do not have to fly harder and faster to re-join their own 'team' again, they simply join another V formation and fit straight into the new team where they are readily accepted. (How easy would it be to do that between departments or families?)

Now, just imagine if we clever (IQ) humans, could be as wise (EQ) as the geese... supporting the 'one at the front', taking our turn at the front, staying with anyone who is ill or needs our support regardless of 'losing' the team you were working with and joining another identically values-based team to be able to go 70% further. In the words of Sam Cooke...'What a wonderful world this would be.'

How much 'further and faster' could you or I go in an effective, mutually supportive team/ family/community? Think of one person you could encourage or join with in a greater way this week to enable us all to 'fly further'.

A Moodscope member.

Geese story - http://tinyurl.com/qx94zs5
Sam Cooke - http://tinyurl.com/kcwhu83

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Insane Accuracy.

What were Games lessons like for you?

Now, I'm sure there must be some of you out there who promptly reply "Oh, they were great! I loved games; I was captain of the hockey team, I won all the track events, and I still love to play tennis whenever I can."

Yeah, well: I was the pudgy, pale faced one in thick National Health spectacles; the last to be picked for any team, lurking at the back of the hockey field and being shouted at by the games mistress for running away from the ball.

Nothing much has changed in forty years, except that I no longer get shouted at by the games mistress.

But today I discovered a sport I can do! Furthermore, it's a sport I can actually enjoy!
Looking around me today there were people from seven to seventy, male and female, able and disabled, all competing under the same rules. Not at the same level: as for some of us it was our first time and some of them had been doing it for more than sixty years.

This sport does not involve getting hot and sweaty or out of breath (although breath control is important); it does not involve contorting your body into awkward positions. It needs steady hands, a steady eye and absolute focus.

What is this sport? Target Rifle Shooting.

It was a glorious morning. The autumn sun shone down into the quarry where the shooting club is based, the birds sang and rabbits hopped about, totally unperturbed by the constant snap of small-bore rifles firing overhead. You see, with target rifle shooting, no small furry or feathered creature is harmed; although some innocent bits of cardboard have a really bad time!

The targets are 50 or 100 metres away and are 20cm across; but, what you're really aiming at is the centre which is 3cm in diameter. Hey, you think that's ridiculous? In Full Bore Shooting (done without telescopic sights, mind) you can be shooting at a distance of over a mile at something the size of a tea-tray!

It's all about split-hair accuracy; about utter concentration; of losing yourself to that moment when the sights of the rifle line up with that pin-point centre of the target; when you breathe out slowly and, oh so gently, squeeze that trigger.

The satisfaction when the neat hole appears just where you intended, the mild frustration when it goes wide, the determination to do better next time; they all take you out of negative thoughts into this mystical "zone" people talk about.

It doesn't hurt that everyone I met this morning seemed really friendly and welcoming, and that there was cake (yum)...

And yes, there were very stringent and practical safety practices. That was a given!
I've finally found my sport, and it doesn't involve getting sweaty!

A Moodscope member.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Cold feet syndrome.

Les wrote a great post on embracing change recently. He pipped me to the post (and his was infinitely wiser) but still, here is my offering...

Age 8. I'm invited for tea (dinner) after school at a friend's home. As her dad ascends the stairs, pretending to be a monster, I burst into tears and ask if my daddy can come and pick me up now (I'd only just arrived). I wanted to go home.

Age 11. A friend is having a sleep over. Driving up there, my dad knows well what's coming next (oh we'd been here many times before): (tearful) "Dad, can you pick me up later? I don't mind staying for the afternoon but tonight I just want to come home."

Age 13. Friends of the family invite me on a trip to Ireland. I'm excited! 4am, mum wakes me up for the Liverpool to Dublin boat. "Mum (again tearful), I don't think I can go. I just want to stay at home."

Age 21. 48hrs before a month of traveling in Central America: I pick up a dastardly virus. My body is saying, "You want to stay at home."

You wouldn't think that I love challenge and change would you? Nor would you think all I ever really wanted was to live in far flung deepest darkest Africa!

Ah, but we are all a "tale of two cities" are we not? I'm brave and strong; I'm fragile and fretful. I'm all gung-ho and gregarious yet I'm quiet and pensive.

Some of those moments of fear as I was growing up worked out well, others I backed out of, but all I ever really needed to do was to accept and to nurture the feelings.

Acceptance of feelings is something I've written about often. Whenever I actually manage to do it however (like when facing Cold Feet Syndrome), it never ceases to amaze me the magic that occurs within.

Accept the terror (or sadness, or insert whatever the feeling you're feeling here), and accept that it's probably very normal to be feeling whatever we do, and then the "city" within us can set about putting its positive residents to work.

Age 36. First few nights of living alone. Will I be OK? Do I want to go home? Ah, but I am home!

As Jon Kabat-Zinn's book is entitled (I can't say I've read it but love the title): Wherever You Go, There You Are.

A Moodscope member.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Rite of Passage #1 "The Bath".

Sometimes we just need to change.

To achieve this well, it helps to have a "Rite of Passage".

Many tribes do this with their children when they come of age.

We do it when we have a Wedding Service or a big birthday celebration.

But I can't afford to wait for a birthday or a wedding.

I need to change on a daily basis.

That's why I'm a fan of small rites of passage.
One of my favourite is bath-time.

I go into the waters one person, and come out another.
I go in (relatively) smelly, and come out smelling of roses!
I plunge beneath the waters (relatively) dirty, and rise up cleansed.
I sink in exhausted, I spring forth regenerated...ish.
No wonder some of the World's Religions like the idea of ritual washing.

But I wonder, could I go into my bath low in spirit, and emerge refreshed, ready to face the World and myself renewed?

Well... I just tried it...it worked.

Kindest Regards.

A Moodscope user.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

I am definitely so much more than my depression.

Owing to quite an extended period of general "wellbeing", and reduced and increasingly distant episodes of utter despair, I have recently decided to attempt looking at a career change. It's something I've known I have to do for a while, but not had the energy or enthusiasm to embrace.

So I found myself at the start of this month, coming back from an information day about a possible new career, and feeling so excited.

And yet over the following weeks, whilst I have been waiting for application forms to be released, I have let my inner chimp (see the Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters for more info – I cannot recommend it enough!) poke and prod away at my self esteem, my confidence, and my faith in myself and my abilities.

"What if I can't do it? What if I become unwell? What if I can't cope? What if they don't understand?" To the point where I questioned if I should even bother applying.

I started to ask close friends whether they thought I could, or should, do it. The answers were unanimous – of course you can; but it's not about if we believe you can, it's about whether you believe it...

A particularly tough talking friend had a stern word with me. "Fiona; you are more than your "depression". You can't let it define you, and you can't let it dictate what you do, or don't do, for the rest of your life. What if you can do it? What if you don't become unwell? What if you do cope? What if they do understand? What if, imagine this, you love it, and go on to have a successful and exciting career there? What if, what if, what if...?! "

She was, as always, right. And it wasn't anything I didn't know; it was perhaps just something my chimp had hidden away in an empty corner of my mind.

I can not possibly predict the future. And I absolutely can not let the fact that I suffer sporadic depressive episodes put my life, and how I live it, on hold. I am definitely much more than my depression.

I am a strong and determined individual.
I am a loving and loyal girlfriend, and friend.
I am a daughter, sister, cousin, and aunt.
I am a Mental Health Advocate, and a trainer in Suicide Prevention.
I am a cat owner.
I am a yoga lover.
I am brilliant at making cards; I am thinking of starting to sell them.
I am an adult who loves colouring in!
I am a blogger for Moodscope.
I am a live music, and festival, fan.
I am annoyingly adept at spotting spelling and grammar mistakes.
I'm Fiona.

And I am definitely so much more than my depression.

A Moodscope member.