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Failing Forward

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This week marks the end of a seven year journey that my husband and I have been on.  On Friday of this week, we will be closing down our business, a business that we have poured our blood, sweat and tears into.  We didn’t come to this decision lightly.  Closing our business effects more than just us, it effects our kids, our staff, our suppliers and our customers.  We held on for as long as we could, but the fact is, we just couldn’t do it anymore.

The last two years of our lives has been harrowing.  If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know that I have been suffering from anxiety, depression and grief.  These take a toll on a person, physically and mentally.  I had a breakdown a few weeks ago and was housebound for two weeks and I walked a very fine line between giving in to it and fighting back.

Fighting is hard and I’m tired.  There were only three things that kept me from giving up; my husband and my two children.  They kept me tethered to this world when all I wanted to do was disappear into the ether.  I can’t see beyond the bleakness that consumes me, but they can, and I hold onto them in the hopes that their belief in a brighter future is what will get me through.

There are so many negative emotions associated with closing a business and for someone like me, who has way too many negative emotions to start with, dealing with this failure is like stepping on a landmine.  My whole world is about to explode and I don’t know what will be left in the aftermath.

One of the hardest things to cope with is the fact that I know that I am about to become fodder for gossip.  I have lived my entire life feeling the judgement of others, never measuring up to what those around me thought I should be and now I am proving them all right.  The fact that these people, so-called friends and family, will look at us and judge us and then use our story to titillate the ears of others, hurts, but what can you do?  People love a tragedy and my life has become very like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Nobody ever goes into business thinking they will fail.  This was not our first business, not the first time we failed, but this is probably the hardest.  We survived for seven years, sure we made some mistakes along the way, but seven years is a pretty good batting average for a small business.  I know that we’ve done everything we can and now it is time to let go.  It’s the letting go that is the hardest.

How do you let go of something that you have lived and breathed for seven years?  How do you get up in the morning knowing that there is nowhere to go, not even a reason to wake up?  They tell me that my stress levels will go down and my health will improve.  They give me reasons why this is a good thing, why this is a positive move, why I will be better off when everything is finalised.  I want to believe them, but right now, I can barely see the world beyond Friday.

I don’t want this to be the end of my story, and I suppose that is a good thing.  It means that I, at least, have a tiny ray of hope that I can go on.  I want to rise from the ashes, like a phoenix.  The legend of the phoenix states that the bird that rises from the ashes is more beautiful than the one before.  I want that.  I want to be able to rise out of this mess and be better, stronger, happier, healthier.  Isn’t that what is meant by failing forward?

Maybe in a month’s time I will look back and know that, although it was hard, we did the absolute right thing.  Maybe I won’t even recognise myself as the same woman who sat here and penned these words.  Maybe I will have found a new dream.

Or maybe it will take longer than a month.  The point is that it is in the rising after a fall that determines the future.  I may not feel the strength to rise right now, but I know I will.  One day.  One day in the future I will feel strong enough to lift my head and look to the horizon and dream of what the future holds.

I look forward to that day.

I’m Fine

imfineEver have one of those days when everything seems to be slipping out of your fingertips?

Ever looked in the mirror and not recognised the person looking back at you?

Sometimes that can be a good thing.  If you’ve been dieting or exercising and then one day you look at yourself and you see those changes that you’ve been striving for.

But sometimes it’s as scary as hell.

In the last twelve days I’ve only left my house four times.  I haven’t been able to work, I can’t go to the shops, I can’t drive or go to the gym.  I can barely get out of bed.

Am I sick?  No, I’m fine.

Okay, not so fine.  But I’m not sick, I don’t have an injury or an ailment.  Twelve days ago I had one of the worst anxiety attacks that I’ve had in two years, and now everything has changed.

I’m not a stranger to anxiety or depression, I’ve lived with it most of my life, but two years ago something happened to exacerbate it to the point that I could no longer ignore it, could no longer sweep it under the rug and pretend it wasn’t there.  So I started seeing a psychologist and things were getting better…good even.

And then twelve days ago happened.

Just thinking about it brings the symptoms back.  Since that day I’ve had numerous smaller attacks and just the thought of leaving my house is enough to bring one on.

I used to joke that I could quite happily become a hermit, now that it’s a possibility, it’s not so funny anymore.  The fact that I welcome it is even more of a worry.

Being a shut-in is appealing.  Never having to leave my house, not having to face the world outside, it sounds like paradise.  Maybe that’s just the anxiety talking, or the introvert, either way, I like the sound of it.

I’m not saying I want to be that way forever…just for, you know, a while…just until I feel better…just until the anxiety isn’t so bad…just until…

That’s how it starts.  Little by little it creeps into your life and before you know it, even if you want to go outside, you can’t.  I can see the future of my life if I give in to this need to withdraw from my life.  But it doesn’t make it any easier to face it.  And forcing me to go outside brings on an attack that is likely to set me back yet again.

When I look in the mirror, I don’t recognise this person I’ve become.  I always thought of myself as someone who was strong on the inside.  Now the woman I see in the mirror is weak and I don’t like her, I don’t want to be her.

When did this happen?  Surely I haven’t become this person in just twelve days?  No.  This has been a long time coming.  Every time I told myself I was fine when I wasn’t.  Every time I told someone else I was fine when I wasn’t.  Every time I gave in to the fear and the anxiety, every time I withdrew, every time I kept silent.  Little by little those small, seemingly inconsequential compromises changed me, changed who I thought I was.

Now I’m someone who can’t leave my house.

But I’m fine, really.

Mother’s Day

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Okay, I know.  Mother’s Day is past, but it has taken me a few days to get my head on straight in order to write this post.

Mother’s Day has become to be a kind of…demarcation?  Benchmark?  Report Card?  Whenever Mother’s Day comes around I always feel melancholy and reflective, more so than on my birthday or New Year’s Day.  Mother’s Day has come to be the day that I look back over the previous year and see how well I’ve done.

Unfortunately for me, this last year has been a tough one…the last few years have been tough in fact, but whereas this time last year I felt I had been making progress, this year I feel that I’ve been doing the dreaded cha-cha…one step forward, two steps back.

Anxiety and depression are hard taskmasters to live with.  They are the voices that tell you you can’t, you won’t, and you never will.  Some days they are the stronger voices, the ruling voices and some days they are just background noise.  This last year, I have had more days of them being the strong voices.

To anyone who has not really suffered from these ailments, it might seem a bit of a cop-out to say that these voices are stronger, that they can dictate how you feel, how you act.  I say that to myself quite a bit actually, because inside my head I still have a rational brain and that brain tells me that the voices lie.  And then I feel guilty.  Guilty because I am letting the voices win which only makes me more depressed and more anxious.  It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

That guilt has been the ruling emotion this year.  Guilt that I am not being the mother, wife, human being that I should be, that I could be.  I feel guilty that I am letting everyone down, that I am causing my children and my husband undeserved stress by my inability to function as a normal, well-adjusted person.  And that guilt only does more harm.  It causes me to pull away from friends and family.  It causes me to think and say things like, ‘You’d be better off without me.’  But that is not the truth, that is just the guilt lying to me.

I think a lot of mothers (and fathers too) feel guilt.  I think a lot of us feel that we are not doing it right, that we are, in some way, doing our children a disservice.  We all want the best for our kids, we want them to become healthy, intelligent, well-adjusted humans who are successful in whatever they choose to do and we feel we are responsible for them achieving that.  And we carry the guilt if they don’t.

Guilt causes us to do and say things that can sometimes have the opposite effect than the one we intended.  It causes us to be overly critical, overly hard, or sometimes, overly permissive.  There’s a delicate balance in parenting, the one between too hard and too soft, and we walk that tightrope every single day.  And then we beat ourselves up because we think we’ve done it wrong.

flowerquoteI don’t have an answer for that, only to say that the only thing we can do is do our best.  Parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual (although there are a myriad of books on parenting available and most will contradict each other).  Every child is different, every child needs different things, our only job is to love them in the best way we know how.

So, my point?  Mums, give yourselves a break.  We are not perfect and, yeah, we are going to get it wrong sometimes and that’s okay.  Love covers a plethora of sins and if your kids know that you love them, then you will get through those mistakes together.  Showing, telling and giving love to your kids is the most important thing, everything else is just set dressing.

The Raven, The Black Dog & The Hare

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I have three companions
The Raven, the black dog and the hare
Always they follow me
Plaguing my every step

The raven’s cry
Reminding me of what I’ve lost
The black dog
Waiting to pull me down

And the hare
With its twitching ears
And shifting eyes
Ready to run

The Raven

The Raven, as so aptly described by Poe, is to me the symbol of my grief.  Sometimes it sits quietly on my shoulder, sometimes it digs in its claws and screeches in my ear.  Other times it flies high above and behind my with only its shadow or its plaintive cry reminding me of it’s presence known in my life.  But the Raven is always there and I have no doubt that it always will be.

The Black Dog

The Black Dog has become a well-known symbol of depression.  I am no stranger to this companion, he has followed me throughout most of my life.  But again, he is not always growling and chomping at me, some days he walks quietly beside me, some days he lags behind.  He is always there, sometimes only at the edge of my vision, but always there.

The Hare

While the Raven and the Black Dog are recognised symbols, the Hare may not be.  For me the Hare symbolises anxiety.  The constant fidgeting, the flicking eyes and twitching ears, the preparedness to flee at the slightest provocation.  This is a constant state for me.  The nervous state is always just under the surface, like an itch beneath my skin.  The smallest, seemingly insignificant, things can bring it to the surface and like the Hare, I flee.

It seems like these days, although the Raven and the Black Dog are always there but sometimes less prominent, the Hare is constantly at my side.  It doesn’t fade into the background, its effects don’t ebb. The simple act of getting out of bed in the morning requires Herculean effort, the desire to bury my head under the covers and hide away from the day, almost overpowering.

Living with anxiety is often dismissed.  Just get over it, get some confidence, grow up, face your fears, grow a pair.  These flippant comments often do more hurt than good.  Anxiety is not something you can just ‘get over’, it is a serious mental health issue that can lead to further complications and conditions.

A lot of people don’t get how I feel, don’t understand why it is so hard to be face to face with another person.  The fear of walking out their front door is foreign to them.  It’s such an easy thing to do, you just open it and walk out.  But anxiety isn’t rational, it isn’t logical.

Anxiety bypasses the reasonable part of the brain and goes directly to the flight or fight mechanism.  Everything is perceived as a threat.  At the height of an anxiety attack, the brain and body is at DEFCON 5 and there is almost no way to talk it down.

Living with anxiety is like living with someone who has a twitchy trigger finger, and you are one sudden move away from setting off world war three.

I say all this to perhaps help others understand anxiety and the effects of it on a person and to maybe help someone who is suffering from anxiety to understand that they are not alone and they are not beyond help.  You can live a happy and healthy life with the Raven, the Black Dog and the Hare, but it takes understanding and management.  And being kind to yourself.

My plan this year is to write regularly about how I manage my life and my constant companions in the hopes that I can help someone else.  We need to know we are not alone in this.

The Rise and Rise of an Anxiety Attack

 

It hit me from out of the blue and knocked me for a six.  The shortness of breath, the shaking, the tears, the agitation. I’m not a stranger to anxiety, but I really thought I had it under control, I really thought that I would be able to fend off another attack, obviously I thought wrong.

It came on so strong and so sudden that if I had been breathing at the time, it would have taken my breath away.  There was no warning, no preparation.  One minute I was fine, the next I was in a full blown attack.  I had even been having a good day and then “BAM” I was a whimpering, quivering mess.

I hate that feeling, the feeling of being completely out of control of my emotions and my physical reactions.  It is the reason I don’t get drunk.  The very few times I have been under the influence, I hated every minute of it.  I like to have control of my surroundings, or at least, my own mind and body.  But anxiety rips that control away from me and I become completely enslaved by the rioting emotions within me.

My initial reaction was to run away, but I couldn’t leave.  I wanted to hide the attack from my son and my husband because I knew that they would worry about me.  Our lives have been in such turmoil over the last few months and I didn’t want to burden them, especially my son who has had more heartbreak than any 21 year old should have.

There was no where that I could run that would get me out of the situation that I was in.  There was no clear and present danger that my body was responding to, no physically apparent threat that could justify the intense adrenaline reaction that I was having.  Running would have served no purpose, and yet, that is what my body and mind demanded.

I felt in that moment like I was separated from my body.  I could see what was happening to me and the logical, practical side of my brain just looked on in disgust as the emotional, reactive side of my brain turned to mush.  The logical me told me to “snap out of it” and “get control of yourself” while the emotional me was helpless.  Like a deer in headlights, the emotional side of me could not move, could not react rationally.  To that part of my brain, I was in immediate danger and my body’s response was to pump adrenaline into my system so that I could flee.  But you can’t run from what is in your mind, you can’t escape what isn’t really there.

I was helpless in the face of my anxiety.  I could do nothing but let it run its course.  My son held me and told me everything would be ok, my husband tried to fix what was wrong and to put me in a safe space.  And it felt so wrong.  It felt like I was letting them down for being weak minded. They sent me home to bed and I felt so ashamed.  I had allowed this waste of emotion to derail me and it had an effect on not just me but my family as well.

I don’t like this person that I have become.  I don’t like this feeble minded, fear filled, anxiety ridden person. Every day it feels like I am walking on a tightrope across a bottomless canyon and if I sway just a little to far to one side then I will lose my footing and plummet into the abyss below me.  That’s what happened, I fell and I fell hard.  Even today the after affects plague me – there is a slight tremor in my hands, my breaths are short and I feel like there are tears just under the surface waiting for the slightest provocation.  If I even think about the situation that triggered the attack, I know it will hit again. It is a hell of a way to live.

I have spent years on my self improvement.  It was shown to me very early in my twenties that if I wanted to have a happy and fulfilled life, I would need to overcome the baggage that I carried around.  It doesn’t matter how great your upbringing was, everyone of us carries baggage that we need to master.  I have had bouts of depression on and off throughout my teenage years and then more often in my twenties.  I remember one day just wishing that I could feel happiness.  I had a wonderful and supportive husband, two beautiful young boys, a nice house to live in and a job, but I always seemed to have this underlying unhappiness.  It hit me that day that my happiness was something I had to actively pursue, it wasn’t just going to land in my lap.  I knew I had a choice – allow my emotions to rule my life or retrain myself to respond to emotions rationally.  It took years and lots of soul searching, but it made me strong.  Now I feel that I am back at square one.  I am once again a slave to my emotions…and I hate it.

After all the work I’ve done and the hurts I’ve worked through and the setbacks I’ve had, I am once again the weak, emotionally ravaged, victim that I worked so hard to overcome.  I don’t want to be this person, but I seem to be incapable of being anything else.  For years I have been the strong one, the rational one.  I haven’t been perfect, no one is, but I had thought that I had left behind the timid, insecure girl that I once was.  Now I find that she has been hiding away inside of me just waiting to extract her revenge on me.  And at this point, I am defenceless against her attacks.