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.

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.

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!

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.