Category Archives: wellbeing

When love is not enough

..

d walcott

but it helps.

I received a message from someone in my family today which has shaken me.  As a lovely young woman , she has been dealing with the challenges of depression and anxiety , and recently has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  And I don’t know how to help.  So I will tell her my story.

You see, when I was her age I was exhibiting symptoms of depression too, working in a pressured environment and wanting to perform like Adele on a good day ( albeit in the print packaging arena ). I set my standards high and I worked to reach them.  A few years of having my foot hard on the pedal resulted in what my G.P.  diagnosed as a ‘breakdown’. The world was different then and because my boss didn’t want me stigmatised at work by that diagnosis, he could only give me a week off.  I needed more, but I needed the job too. I saw a counsellor weekly and worked on my thought processes.  Eventually I caved in to the work pressure and resigned. I was lucky as I was newly married and ready to throw myself into raising a young family.  It nearly broke me.

I wanted to be happy, and knew I had everything I could have asked for – a home, a loving family, two beautiful sons – and yet I could not function at a level I felt comfortable about. I was tired , not just mildly sleep deprived, but absolutely buggered. Every day was a huge effort to continue the daily requirements . Shopping and cooking were chores that felt like Sisyphus carrying the rock up the mountain.

I was prescribed Prozac for depression – I felt depressed but not worthy of having depression because what could I possibly be depressed about?  Prozac didn’t suit me, or rather it suited me too well, but everyone else thought I had disappeared. Which I had, I felt like a lumbering cow, just grazing on life. Nothing touched me. I came off it.

A further visit to a new doctor and a new prescription – this time Venlafaxine. This suited me better, the symptoms of depression were alleviated, but this led to me discovering a deep well of unfulfilled need within my life.  I ended up making a huge life change – leaving my then husband and making a new life with a new partner.  ( It happened like a thunderbolt and shocked the family, but ultimately it was a necessary change – and everyone worked hard at making the family unit stay strong. I continued to co parent with their dad, and managed not to disrupt their schooling, staying half the week with their dad, and the other with me. My mum and my brother were brilliant at being there too. The boys flourished and are now 24 and 21 and I couldn’t be prouder)

A diagnosis of fibromyalgia by my G.P.  helped me to understand that my coping strategies needed tweaking. I had for years battled a diagnosis of depression – now I understood I had a reactive depression to a condition which had been masked by the very medication I was taking. When I came off the drugs, my symptoms flared, and it was during a flare that the correct diagnosis was made. So knowing I had something which I could investigate, acknowledge and understand was part of me helped me to put into place the conditions by which I could most easily manage the condition.

It is becoming more accepted now in the same way that depression is less stigmatised, but unless it is experienced, or someone close to you has it the full impact is not easily acknowledged by others. My experience of having it was dealing with the knowledge of diagnosis itself – it sent me to investigate books written on it, blogs, forums – anywhere where I felt vindicated. I wanted to make sure everyone knew I was not imagining it – it was real. That didn’t happen really. People don’t want a relationship with a bag of symptoms, they just want to relate to you.  And I had to learn that some people got it , whilst others didn’t. Close people don’t always get it. I tried to shield my bad days from my sons – I wanted them to see me strong, and capable. In the end, as they got older I had to share with them that sometimes I couldn’t do what I wanted to for them, or with them.  They were brilliant and loved me anyway.  They didn’t understand, they just accepted me for who I was, and didn’t make me feel useless. Although I was pretty useless. They still say I am weird but that’s a different story. I found things to occupy myself with, that I could cope with, or put down and come back to. I managed to set my standards lower in certain aspects – housework suffered, decorating was off the menu, the garden became a self supporting area of interest.

One of the hardest aspects is still there – committing to social activities is difficult, because when it comes around, it may be impossible. Now I have managed to find a balance of not turning everything down, and knowing it will take me a couple of days to recover. I have limited my social life probably more than I have needed to, but part of that comes from having had a life spread over two counties for the past decade or so.

The reality is I cannot help my family member – I can’t take away her symptoms as much as I would want to. I only want her to know that it isn’t the thing that defines her. I came away from looking at the internet about Fibro, avoided the forums, refused the group sessions offered at the doctors, because I didn’t want my focus to be on my condition. I wanted to understand what it meant for me and then re focus my energies on the activities that meant something to me and to my family.  I have learnt those things over years, and it is hard learnt sometimes. I have suffered in silence more times than I can remember, and sometimes not so silently!  I constantly have to remind myself not to resent others for not being more considerate sometimes. I have to remember to tell them how I feel in the moment , that no matter how much I may want to so something, it is sadly unachievable for me. And sometimes I have to remember to challenge myself and test my limits. I have surprised myself on occasion.

I still feel a fraud. That is my problem. I feel a fraud at life. I challenge that thought because when I look at the reality, it isn’t true. I still have to have that conversation though. On a regular basis.

 

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Everything is interesting.

marcus Aurelius.jpg“What education should be about is endless curiosity about the nature of the world. I’d make Philosophy and Human Behaviour a compulsory subject. I wouldn’t bother to teach History; I think it’s pointless. History is just the record of human crime. It’s battles and murders and pogroms, but there’s a secret history and that’s the record of human goodness. The little acts of kindness aren’t recorded anywhere. Little deeds of altruism: The lady in the baker’s shop who runs after you saying, ‘Here you left a fiver on the counter.’ That sort of thing is never recorded, but that’s what actually keeps the world going.”  John Lloyd  ( writer of Q.I fame)

Fact : John Lloyd has more baftas than Judi Dench  !!!!!!!!!

Now I will let you know that I don’t agree with him about the pointlessness of History simply because it creates so much enquiry in me, but about everything else I have read about this man, I have a new hero.  A colleague John Mitchinson  on Q.I wrote “He has a proper philosophy, and he thinks about things in an astonishing amount of depth.’

And his philosophy? – a self confessed Stoic ( another reason to adore the man) he has summed up the necessities of life in three phrases, the first being ‘Be Kind’ , the second being, ‘Be Kind’ and the third being ‘ Be Kind’. Got to love that man.

And this is not a man who has not known unhappiness, hard work, or depression. Much like the rest of us. But this is a man who has worked tirelessly at the BBC to bring us laughter to lighten the load, and worked through his own demons by using his brain to stay curious. That was his way out of depression if I am reading it right.

“I feel really sorry for people who have no working philosophy. People don’t know what to do when they get depressed, or unhappy, when they feel they are belittled at work, when they feel their life is pointless. Where do they go? Unless you’re a happyclappy Alpha course person . . . That’s why it’s so easy to get mullah’ed into fundamentalism: because of the certainty.”

And if you want some more reasons to consider Mr Lloyds brilliant take on life – to remain as curious a creature as it is possible to be, then I recommend you fly across to this link which tells you more about the man than I can, inasmuch as it is a testament to his philosophy, his intelligence, his humour and his humanity. And I don’t even know the man.

Just brilliant stuff

Learn even more about him via a great article in the New Statesman by Helen Lewis, Article on John Lloyd by Helen Lewis

And finally – in the spirit of John LLoyd and with a nod to the illustration here is a thought from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations that is worth a moment or two of reflection in a busy day, a busy world.

One type of person, whenever he does someone else a good turn, is quick in calculating the favour done to him. Another is not so quick to do this; but in himself he thinks about the other person as owing him something and is conscious of what he has done. A third is in a sense not even conscious of what he has done, but is like a vine which has produced grapes and looks for nothing more once it has produced its own fruit, like a horse which has run a race, a dog which has followed the scent, or a bee which has made its honey. A person who has done something good does not make a big fuss about it, but goes on to the next action, as a vine goes on to produce grapes again in season. So you should be one of those who do this without in a sense being aware of doing so. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.6)

 

Simply Human

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On National Women’s day I want to say something. It’s not radical, it’s not clever, it’s not even controversial – at least from where I am. And that is the point. I am writing from a position of privilege , I have been educated to the same standard as my brothers, I have worked in a male dominated industry and been accepted as successful within my career, and I have a marriage which is traditional in values but recognises my strengths ( and my weaknesses).

I want to say thank you – to all the women and the men who went before me and worked quietly in the background to remove barriers in the system.  It’s not perfect, and I myself worked hard two decades ago to change attitudes within the company I worked. But the change has been remarkable in my lifetime.

The challenge for our society – U.K – is different now. It is to accept the equality between genders and to understand that equality retains the opportunity for difference. It is to accept responsibilities and duties that are incumbent on everyone to work hard, and to embrace challenge together, both in the workplace, in the community and in the domestic arena.

I would like to see less commodification of sexuality, which starts at birth now – the baby vests that promote the princess in the female , the five year old pageants, the sexting of teens.  Do grown ups that have sex really need to display this sense of rampant horniness in the everyday and in the inappropriate age groups of the tender young.

I don’t know what a day can do to promote the values of women – I don’t even know what they are. My values are different to my friends, let alone those who think I am ridiculous. I just want a world where we can be confident enough to have a dialogue with one another beyond gender, race, abilities. It’s a bit of dream but we have arrived at a place undreamt of by my female ancestors.

My illustration for a challenge at Redbubble provoked me to produce the illustration above – it has man and woman side by side, potent with possibility.( and available here  redbubble and  at  Society6

 

On a final note I defer to the poet laureate Wislawa  Szymborska, succinct and brilliant .
It’s a political age.

All day long, all through the night,
all affairs–yours, ours, theirs–
are political affairs.

Whether you like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin, a political cast,
your eyes, a political slant.

Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don’t say speaks for itself.
So either way you’re talking politics.

Even when you take to the woods,
you’re taking political steps
on political grounds.

Apolitical poems are also political,
and above us shines a moon
no longer purely lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
And though it troubles the digestion
it’s a question, as always, of politics.

To acquire a political meaning
you don’t even have to be human.
Raw material will do,
or protein feed, or crude oil,

or a conference table whose shape
was quarreled over for months;
Should we arbitrate life and death
at a round table or a square one?

Meanwhile, people perished,
animals died,
houses burned,
and the fields ran wild
just as in times immemorial
and less political.

Moments in time

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There we were – back in the Highlands of Scotland, the weather playing its part and cooperating with us, and it’s a trip worth sharing.

I stress fairly easily – my children will vouch for that – so I have had to find coping strategies over the years to help be from having a meltdown.  This is one of my best – to focus on something very ordinary, get right in and personal, look at it carefully, consider its history, its place in  the world. Photograph it. Suddenly you’ve opened up a whole door of perception – the perspective has changed, and the world has tilted just a little in your favour.

Sometimes its elusive – I can’t find the right key to unlock that stratagem, but it’s still a great player in my box of tricks. I suppose the modern parlance would be to call this ‘mindfulness’. I don’t mind that. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, call it whatever, I will keep it close.

I have made these images less than the resolution needed for printing so they don’t get copied and used by some nefarious villain willing to steal them,  but if you are really wanting to have them decorate your walls , then shimmy on down to Society 6 , link here Society6 page and you can navigate to various formats from there.

moments in time.jpg

Who dreams in Latin?

know thyself

Me apparently.  Now I understand there is going to be a minority of educated peeps who regularly visit their night time muse and discourse via that ancient language.  Because they can.  I am not of them.  I detested taking Latin in school and confounded attempts to make me regular or irregular with verbage, refused to consort with Hannibal and Hasdrubal despite the allure of elephants, and exited the class only with the ability to ‘tu, te, tui, tibi, te’ to  rhythm courtesy of my doctors eccentric wife who brought a whole new dimension of dance into the conjugation theme. Saying that I do know that ‘Julia puella parva est’ tells me what anyone with eyes could determine – Julia is a small girl. Latin as a discipline was forced onto my curriculum by my mother, who had been denied the opportunity and believed it to be necessary in any right thinking girls armoury, which may have been the case in Montaigne’s time, whose father denied his son the use of any other language as he grew up. But times change. Move on – the thrust of my enquiry is why would I be dreaming Latin phrases?  I awoke recently with the clear message of ‘Nosce te ipsum’ plastered all over my consciousness in the style of a Banksy’s graffiti.  I knew I knew what it meant, but couldn’t recall – I had to resort to the husband, who resorted to the Google machine.  Of course – Nosce te ipsum is ‘Know Thyself’  – now the nub of the real enquiry is why is my subconscious sending me this command?  Is it thrust at me dagger like, suggesting I lack self awareness and something very dark and looming is about to reveal itself in my personality?  Or is it somewhat self congratulatory , extolling the virtues of introspection and reflection which anyone who knows me will confirm I expound.  I like neither scenario – self congratulation is about as welcome as self flagellation in my eyes, with less soreness. And I have lived a whole life like Henny Penny who clucked around her friends asking whether the sky was falling .

Despite the anxiety around whether my subconscious is alerting me to something I ought to know, I welcome this intrusion .  ‘Know thyself’ seems a good mantra to me.  Look at your virtues and examine your faults – try every moment you can to be the best version of yourself – this is what I take from the message.  I fail, I pick myself up and I fail again, but in the attempt to understand my errors, my poor decisions, I end up making better ones. Everyone’s a winner. I have never regretted saying sorry. Sometimes I have not said it, or not soon enough and I have regretted that. I suppose saying sorry makes you vulnerable, shows a side that is less than perfect.  I like that. I like that when I create something and something goes wrong, I always end up with creating something better in it’s stead. Always.  And when someone says sorry to me, I tend to cut them some slack. That’s the way it works.

Nosce te ipsum.

St Augustine quotation Anne Corr

Yuhana no sakayuru toki ni

..But just at the time of flourishing blossoms.

 

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From  The Tales of Ise – Ise monogatari  – anthology of Japanese poems from the Heian period 794  – 1185

Illustration my own, based on  Japanese illustration by Utagawa Hiroshige born 1797

 

Taking my own advice

purleigh footpath

Further to my post about Shinrin-yoku, I decided to unyoke myself from my p.c. and treat myself and Digger to a well deserved break in the day. The sun was high, the sky was blue and the wind was refreshingly gentle as a breeze.  Digger is an old dog, so that breeze is a pre-requisite to a walk in the summer.  I keep valuing his presence more and more as his age becomes more and more apparent to me. I treasure my time with him – such is love!  I was considering this and more as I reflected on my life and times.  I have had a complicated relationship with love – I crave it’s presence and sumultaneously feel I somehow have an inadequacy deep within me to fully appreciate it.  I am so glad to have my family around me- but their presence is peripheral – I like to know they are there, but am happy they are living their lives their way. I have been this way forever – to the chagrin of my mother who would demand far more time from me were I to be complicit. Paradoxically I learnt my self sufficency from her – as youngsters my parents encouraged independence , valuing it above any expression of warmth and love. My parenting has been totally informed by my perceived lack of early sustenance- as young children mine could be under no illusion that the singular aim of life is to love! Both of them now would probably complain I wasn’t authoritive enough – oh the sad absurdities of parenting!

Enough – my aim of this post was to share my experience of a simple walk . The glory to be found in the ordinary is daily worth revisiting. I was considering this after hearing a radio 4 programme promoting an upcoming project ‘Accounting for taste ‘wherein the producer/presenter Matthew Sweet  is wanting us, the great unwashed, to share what we consider to be unique in our homes – the thing that makes home ours and ours alone. I like listening to this sort of thing – connecting to ordinary lives , and I thought about my own environs. I live in a very ordinary semi- detached home in a very pleasant suburb of a Midlands town in U.K.  My house is not extraordinary in any way whatsoever, and yet if you walked into it, you would feel us. We are all there , family moments imbibe each room, mementoes collected, stones given to one another as gifts of love, paintings by the children on fridge a decade after having been produced, percussion instruments littered around, bongo drums to pick up and mess with, artworks collected over decades , photographs by my brilliant photographer husband and books. Lots of books. My own tributes to my dogs, dead and alive  are in the form of knitted statues – definitely unique! You get my meaning – our lives are full of meaningful and lovely memory that makes us unique, but none of them have any value really to anyone outside of the family, and that is fine. I am o.k with that. I love our ordinary. I celebrate it. One of the character traits of my youngest son that makes me most comfortable is that he gets this already – in a world increasingly desiring us all to be part of something ‘special’. Life is special. Life is enough. For decades I sought meaning beyond that , and yesterday felt healing. I understood that everything is of and from the same happening. Some things started their lives at different times on that happening timeline. I was telling Digger this so that he knows too. Bless. The pictures show where I was, two minutes walk away from the front door, a public footpath takes you away from the cares of the everyday world. Nice.

 

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If you want to link up with Matthew Sweet for his upcoming programme at Radio4 you can link up by using the link Accountingfortaste