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.

In Defense of the Introvert

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“One is the loneliest number…” – Harry Nilsson

For a long time I have thought that there was something wrong with me (well, apart from the obvious, of course) and it has only been in the last twelve months or so that I have discovered that it’s not true.

You see, I am an introvert.

Most of my life I have wondered why I preferred my own company to that of others, why I would rather spend a night home reading then go to a party.  I wondered why having lunch or even just coffee with friends was such an ordeal and why, after forcing myself to socialise, I always felt drained and couldn’t wait to shut myself away again.

Was I a narcissist?  Selfish?  A snob?

As a child I was classified as shy and was forced to confront my shyness and overcome it.  Apparently being shy is a character flaw.  But this only made my need for solitude more acute.

As a young wife and mother working as a Beauty Therapist, I struggled to understand why, when I got home and my husband and children wanted my attention, all I wanted was to be left alone for an hour or so.  For years I felt I was letting them down or that I was somehow damaging the bond between myself and my children.

20150412_200458964_iOSNow I realise that I was working in an industry that made me spend at least eight hours a day up close and personal with other people.  I was literally in their personal space, touching them, and they were in mine, all day.  As an introvert, it left me so depleted that all I wanted to do was run and hide from the world.

Losing a close family member, grieving, living with depression and anxiety have forced me to really look at what makes me tick, to find what it is that I need so that I can find my equilibrium and function like a normal human being.

I have been a journey of self discovery over these last twelve months or more and have finally been able to make peace with that one part of myself that has always eluded me.  I am an introvert and I am proud of it.

The topic of introvert vs extrovert has become a popular one recently, or perhaps it’s just something I have become more aware of as I discover this thing about myself – a case of always seeing cars like your new car.  And the more I come to understand what makes me tick, the more I realise that it’s not one versus the other, but more a spectrum thing.

But before we get into that, I should probably explain to you my own definition of the difference between introverts and extroverts.

In my experience (limited, I’ll admit, but being an introvert myself and being married to an extrovert, I have had some experience in the two camps) the difference lies in where you get your energy from.  For example: Introverts tend to gain energy from being alone and being in a crowd drains them of energy.  The opposite is true of extroverts – they get energy from the people around them and being alone drains them.

 

iStock_000020985299XXLarge.jpgDoes this mean that an introvert never wants to be around people?  No.  What it means is that when you realise why being around people is so draining, you can manage it better.  Nobody lives in a vacuum and we all need community – even us introverts – but if you know that being in a group is going to tire you out, you can bank some energy beforehand and even plan to have some alone time afterward to restore what has been depleted.

Being an introvert doesn’t necessarily mean you’re shy, either.  I know of introverts who are more than happy to share their opinions loudly and proudly.  I, myself, used to love to perform on stage and considered a career in dance when I was younger – despite my being an introvert who was also shy around new people.

Being an introvert doesn’t necessarily mean you are weak, either.  Despite my battles with grief, depression and anxiety, I believe I have a deep strength, a resilience that means I can keep moving forward in spite of the things that try to pull me down.  I also have strong opinions and a strong work ethic and don’t you even try to start something with my husband or my kids because then I’ll be barrelling down on you like a wounded momma bear.

As I eluded to earlier, I also believe that we all have aspects of both in us and it’s more of a spectrum than one versus the other.  I happen to be very much towards the introvert end and my husband is probably my match on the extrovert end.  In other words, I need more alone time than people time and he needs more people time than alone time.

And that’s okay.

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It is actually quite liberating to understand this about myself, especially when for so long I thought I was defective.  And it’s good that my husband understands it too because it means we can give each other what we need.  I can identify when he needs people time – his mood gets low and he becomes less like himself – and he can identify when I need to leave a party – I become agitated and withdrawn.  We can support each other without judgement, especially when we understand each other’s needs.

And that’s the key here.  Understanding that not everyone is like you or has the same needs as you.  When you can identify what you need, what makes you tick, then you can be more understanding and accepting of what someone else in your life needs.

I titled this post “In Defense of Introverts” because for a long time I felt that this part of me made me a lesser person, a person who could never succeed because of this terrible fault in my makeup.  But there are a lot of recent studies that disprove this long-held belief of mine.  Being an introvert doesn’t determine my success or failure.  Being an introvert doesn’t make me a lesser person.

Knowing that I am an introvert and knowing how to manage it means that my options are open, it means I can have a successful career and I can have a long and happy marriage (even though I’m married to my complete opposite) and that I can educate my children on their own introvert and extrovert tendencies so that they can have successful careers and happy marriages.

It all comes down to knowing yourself and using that knowledge effectively.

 

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.

Looking to the Future…2016

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Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. – Carl Bard

When I was in my twenties (I’m in my forties now) I had a revelation of the person I had become and I didn’t like it. I had allowed situations and circumstances to shape my character.  I allowed past hurts and disappointments to rule my emotions.  I was not happy with myself or the life I had created.  So I embarked on a year of intense personal growth and I like to think that my marriage was saved because of it.  Almost twenty years on, we are still going strong. That’s not to say that we haven’t had problems, but I can honestly say that I love him more today than I did when we married.  But we wouldn’t have the strong marriage we do today if I hadn’t chosen to change.

I’m a big believer in branding, and not just for corporations.  When big business develop a brand, every decision they make must serve the brand.  Anything that weakens the brand is tossed out and only things that build and strengthen the brand are allowed to survive.  I took this same approach with my personal life.  I sat down and looked hard at myself and decided who I wanted to be as a person and what I needed to do to become that person.  I worked really hard to ensure that my thoughts, actions, behaviours, responses and reactions worked together to help me build the person I wanted to be.

It wasn’t easy and sometimes I wanted to just give up.  People around me didn’t seem to be working on their behaviour, others felt that it was okay to be mean and rude and treat me like crap and sometimes I just wanted to forget everything and lash out at them.  But I wanted a better life and I knew that to achieve said better life, I needed to change.  For myself.  To make me happy.

I honestly believe that if I hadn’t made the changes to my life and my behaviour all those years ago, my marriage wouldn’t be where it is today.  In that year of personal growth I made firm decisions about who I wanted to be and the type of person I wanted to become.  It was one of the toughest years of my life as I wrestled with my demons, but I came out victorious.

Looking back over 2015 I realise that dealing with depression, anxiety and grief has caused me to regress somewhat. Not entirely, but enough to know that I am not happy with who I am right now.

Don’t get me wrong, my marriage isn’t in trouble and I’m not suddenly an awful person, but I have lost some hard fought for ground and I want it back. My therapist tells me that when our stress tanks are full, our brains revert to our ‘caveman’ or ‘toddler’ brain and for me that means that all those lessons I learned are no longer automatic for me.

It’s understandable with the year that my family and I have just come through.  I would have to say that it has been the single hardest year of my life. I have suffered more panic and anxiety attacks than ever before, I was diagnosed with depression and have been grieving the loss of a close family member.  On top of that I’ve had to come to terms with being diagnosed with a chronic illness which has impacted every area of my life.  So to sum it all up, yeah, 2015 was crap.

It is very easy to want to give up.  I am unashamedly an introvert and my instincts tell me to lock myself away and never venture out into the light of day, but that is not practical and it won’t solve anything.

The very first lesson I learnt in my year of self discovery was that I have a choice.  I get to choose my behaviour, I get to choose how I am going to react to any given situation.  It was quite an eye-opener when I finally understood that I don’t need to just let life happen to me, but that I can actively participate in it.  That I have choices and don’t need to sit around and wait for things to come to me.  I was practically giddy with the knowledge.

I lost sight of that this last year.  Having a panic attack tends to make you feel that you have no control, no choice.  One of my goals this year is to take back control and to once again give myself a choice.

I want my life back and I am determined to embark on that journey this year.  I know it won’t be easy, but I also know that when I look back I will be thankful for doing it.  I also hope that maybe some of the things I learn will help someone else.  As the quote above says, I can’t go back and start again, but I can start from today to ensure I have a brand new ending.

So let’s do this!  2016…come at me!

A Grief Observed

I have just finished reading ‘A Grief Observed’ by C.S. Lewis and found my very own thoughts and emotions written there.  Things that I was too afraid to articulate for fear of being judged were put down in black and white by a man who has long been held in high esteem.  His unflinching look at his own grief after the loss of his wife has prompted me to take a look at my own.

Up until recently I believed that grief was something that happened to me.  I have since been disabused of this notion and have been informed that grief is, in fact, something we need to actively participate in.  This was a revelation and has meant that I have now been setting aside time to look at my grief, examine it, delve into it and understand it.

Writing has certainly helped me make sense of the emotions I feel and acknowledging that I have to take part in this grief rather than let it happen to me has opened an unexpected door.  This was reflected in C.S. Lewis’ own writings when he says “It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier…You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis).

I have thus far felt that I had to wrap myself in a cloak of mourning to truly honour the memory of Kari-Lee, but what I have found is that when my heart is lighter, when my mourning is less, my memories of her are clearer and my honouring of her memory is more authentic. “…passionate grief does not link us with the dead but cuts us off from them.” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis) It is as though when we try to hold too tight, we actually lose our grip and it becomes more about us than about those that we mourn.

But I don’t say this to discount times of mourning and sorrow, for they too are needed.  We need to allow ourselves the time to feel what we feel, to let our bodies process the emotions that such a loss initiates, but we cannot live in those moments for the rest of our lives.  And it is tempting to believe that we can never be truly happy again because of our loss, but how does that honour the ones who have gone?

“Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous.  To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing, after he’s had his leg off is quite another…He has ‘got over it’.  But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man.” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis)

I think this passage sums it all up quite nicely.  Life does go on but we are forever changed.  That doesn’t mean that we can never be happy, just that we are different and that our happiness will also be different.  We can’t be afraid of our future, of perhaps finding ourselves happy or laughing and then thinking that we have somehow dishonoured our loved one.

“At present I am learning to get about on crutches.  perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg.  But I shall never be a biped again.”

There is so much more in the short book and, although I know others haven’t, I have gotten a lot out of it.  The raw honesty of his writings has helped me face the rawness of my own and to face them unashamedly.

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Alis Volat Propriis

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Yesterday marks a major milestone in my life.  It has been twelve months since my daughter in law died.

It has been a long and horrible year, there is no other way to put.  My family has been pulled apart, my life has been turned inside out and I feel completely wrung out and done.

I suppose I felt that if I could just make it to the twelve month mark, then it would get easier.  It was like a beacon in the dark storm that I have been journeying through. I have held on to that magic number waiting for the moment that I could finally breathe and say that I made it.  It has been twelve long months and I have fought the good fight and now, now it will get easier, now I will turn the corner and things will get better.  But today has shown me that that is not the case.  Nothing has changed or become easier just because the magical twelve month mark has passed.

To people on the outside, I probably look like I’m doing ok.  I get up every morning, I go to work.  I’m productive, in fact I’ve written eight books this year.  I’m sociable at work, I smile, I even laugh occasionally.  But my grief is still with me, hanging over me like a black cloud.

Some days are worse than others.  Some moments are crippling, others steal my breath with pain.  Sometimes I feel like there is hope, that the future is something to look forward to and it is to those moments that I cling, they are my lifeline, they get me through.

Grief has changed me, and I don’t mean the type of change that is temporary.  I kept waiting to wake up and feel like my old self, to feel like the person I was before, but I’ve come to realise that that is never going to happen.  I am profoundly and irrevocably changed.

This is surprising for me.  I didn’t know what to expect, really.  I knew, theoretically, about the different stages of grief, but I didn’t understand that when you reach the end, you don’t go back to being the person you used to be.  At each stage I have been changed, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but always changed.  I don’t even recognise the person I am becoming, I don’t know who she is, and that is probably the hardest thing.

People have told me throughout this journey that everyone grieves differently, but it has always been said with an undertone of ‘you’re not doing it right’.  I have found myself at times thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m allowed to feel this way’ and it has made my grief confusing.  I am only the mother in law, I only knew her for a relatively short time.  We had a good relationship, but didn’t have a profound relationship, we were friends, but we weren’t best friends.  She was part of my family and I loved her.  I still don’t know how I am supposed to feel, I don’t know if I am doing it right, I just know that there is a hole in my heart where she should be.

audreyI have come to understand that that hole will always be there.  Whoever else comes into my family, there will always be a Kari shaped hole in my life.  That doesn’t mean that anyone else is less important, it doesn’t mean that I will love others less or that there will be no room in my life for new people, it just means that I will always feel like something isn’t quite right, like a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece.  But I’ve come to realise that sometimes, like great pieces of art, we are defined more by the negative space in our lives.

It has been really hard to put these feelings in writing.  I thought I would do it yesterday, but I couldn’t, they were to big, too raw.  Even today it is hard to pull them from my heart.  I am so full of emotions that I don’t know what to do with them all.  Much like this blog post, they are jumbled and confusing with no real form or structure.  A metaphor for my life perhaps.karilee

I spent yesterday hiding from the world, apart from one particular outing.  I did something that I never thought I would ever do.  I got a tattoo.  There are many reasons why this tattoo is significant to me, but the main reason I got it was to have a physical, permanent reminder of Kari.  The words say ‘Alis Volat Propriis’ and it means ‘She flies with her own wings’.  When I think of Kari, this is how I think of her, flying free.

Shattered

Life, fracturing into a million tiny pieces.  Hold on to them, don’t let the go.  But they are torn from my bloody fingers, torn away with force.  I try to grab, try to keep them close, but the pull is too strong and they are gone.

Months of heartache and pain.  Every part of part of me breaking.  Every part of my family fracturing.  As hard as I try, as determined as I am to make it right, the cracks continue to form.  The pieces continue to break away.

I feel so helpless and at times hopeless.  There seems to be no solutions, only more problems.  There is no firm ground to stand on, nothing to anchor a lifeline to and a voice in my head saying, “All is lost.  All is lost.”

Empty platitudes and sympathetic smiles do nothing to relieve the very real pressures of the life I find myself trapped in.  The world marches on, unconcerned, unhindered, unknowing of my plight.  The black dog bays unrelentingly.

Where is the light?  Where is the relief?  Where is the dawn of reprieve?  There is none, there is nothing, just darkness and a void swallowing my life, swallowing my joy, swallowing me.

The night is full of terrors.  Attacks come from those closest.  The vultures circle, sensing death.  Their hungry eyes watching, waiting, claws at the ready to rip and tear.

I want the nightmare to end.  I want the pain to abate.  I want the pieces back together, whole again.  But how can you repair something so utterly destroyed?  How can it ever be put to rights?

Nothing will be the same.  The cracks will remain, the pieces missing.  The gaping holes will testify to our loss and our forever broken lives.  All is lost.  All is lost.