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.

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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.

 

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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The Importance of Being Labelled

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Labels are important…let me clarify that, well defined labels are important.
We moved house recently, and let me tell you, a box that is labeled with ‘stuff’ or not labeled at all can cause a few problems. We used recycled boxes, so they already had other people’s labels on them and they did not necessarily reflect what I was putting in the box, so they had to be relabelled, but even that was confusing…which label was correct? Consequently, I am now surrounded in boxes with no labels, incorrect labels, misleading labels and those that are precisely labelled and I have no idea where anything is!
I have a bit of a organisational bent…I love having things in precise lines, I alphabetise my books and DVDs and, if I had my way, each box would be labelled, numbered and entered into a spreadsheet that listed all the items in he box, but I live in a family who don’t see things the way I see them.  I like to have specific drawers for specific kitchen utensils, but unless I am prepared to always do the dishes and put them away, my kitchen never stays organised and I get frustrated.  I’m sure my family does it on purpose just so I will tell them to leave it, but I’m on to them!
Although I have a love of labels and lists and like to have specific homes for specific things, I have always hated being labelled myself.  I have had a very varied and eclectic career life from retail to beauty to I.T to graphic design to cafe owner.  I like my options to remain open, there are so many things I want to do and want to experience that being labelled and put in a box grates against me.  I even struggle against the labels of ‘mother’ and ‘wife’, although I love being both of those, I don’t want to be ‘only’ those things.
We live in a society that also rebels against labels, people don’t like to be put in a box and told that this is all they are. It feels somehow restraining to be told you are an A when you may be more than just an A. If we are always told we are an A, we may never discover that we can also be a B.
Despite individuals disliking being labelled, society likes to use labels to help categorise people.  We are all so diverse that it is practically impossible for governments to deal with us on an individual basis, so we have to be lumped into people groups and socioeconomic boxes just so those who are running the country can try to meet our needs. Unfortunately this is not always helpful or particular effective and as much as I hate being labelled, in some cases, we need to be.
Nobody likes to be incorrectly or cruelly labelled. Just like labelling a box with ‘stuff’ doesn’t do it justice, labelling a person as stupid or useless or even fat doesn’t do the person justice. But some labels are vitally important. Food labels, medication labels, poison labels all these are necessary and good. They acknowledge what is inside and warn about potential problems. And imagine if tinned foods didn’t have labels? How many would you have to open to find what you were after?
Just looking at the labelling laws and the legislation that is created to ensure food is labelled correctly goes a long way to proving how important labels are. We all want to know what we are getting, we want it to be clear and truthful and in that way labels are good.
I am a diabetic…it only hit me as I was packing my boxes to move that I am a diabetic. I have type 2 diabetes and for some reason I have not been able to acknowledge that this is a real disease and the implications it will and does have on the length and quality of my life. Maybe it is because it gets beat up on in the media as being self inflicted or a byproduct of obesity, but my inability to label myself as a diabetic has meant that I have not taken it seriously, have not seen myself as someone who is suffering from a potentially life shortening disease and therefore have not been treating myself accordingly.  As much as I hate being labelled, this is an important one.  I need to be labelled as a diabetic so that I can get the treatment and medication I need, I need to be labelled as diabetic so that I can take the steps needed to ensure I live as long and as healthfully as possible. By denying the label I am not doing myself any justice and I am robbing myself and my family.
Acknowledging the label scares me.  By acknowledging myself as a diabetic, I then have a responsibility to take care of myself. Acknowledging the label means being accountable…and that’s a whole other issue.

Designing My Own Catastrophe

My doctor yelled at me yesterday and made me cry.

I had a regularly scheduled check up for my Type II Diabetes and it didn’t go well.

I have an excuse…I’m grieving.

That wasn’t a good enough excuse for my doctor and she wanted to know what it was going to take for me to start taking care of myself.

Good question…

…one that I don’t have an answer for.

I had a bit of a meltdown when I got home.  My husband and I had a fight. I railed about all the reasons why I am having such a hard time getting control of my disease.  All valid, all reasonable and all completely and unreservedly empty.

Later when I had calmed down and was feeling a little less sorry for myself, I asked myself the question.  Why am I not taking my health seriously?  Why am I not looking after myself?

I still don’t know.  I don’t know why I find it so hard to do what I know my body needs.  I don’t know why I find it so hard to remember to take my medication.  My doctor wants me to see a psychologist, suggesting that there is a block in my mind as to why I am struggling with this.  Maybe, but I don’t think I am the only one that struggles to take care of themselves.  I don’t think it is an unusual thing at all.

We hear all the time about people having heart attacks that doctors say could have been prevented.  As a society we work too hard, work too long, eat crap, let stress rule our lives, drink too much, drive too fast and generally live lives that lack care and consideration for our health.  Why is my situation any different?

We all have excuses for why we live the way we do and why we don’t look after ourselves.  Whether it is because we feel we have to look after others first, or whether we think we have time for that later when we have achieved A,B & C.  Some of us feel that we don’t deserve to be healthy or happy, some of us see looking after ourselves as selfish, still others of us want someone else to look after us.  It may be laziness, lack of willpower, a feeling of being bullet proof or even a martyr complex, whatever it is, we are designing our own catastrophe.

2015 – Make it Count

Make it Count

Happy New Year!

It is January 1, 2015 and I am doing what most people are doing…I am looking back.

I had high hopes for my 2014, there was so much potential at the beginning of the year and I decided I would grab it by the short and curlies and run with it.  We had so much to look forward to – our eldest son had just gotten married, we had two thriving businesses, our youngest son was chasing his dreams in the UK and we were looking forward to being empty-nesters and pursuing opportunities that we missed by having children so young…our life was good.  I wrote a bucket list of the things I would like to achieve in the year and I set to with gusto. But life had other ideas.

My 2014 was not the year that was promised to me in those first optimistic blushes of sunrise on New Year’s Day…my 2014 is a year that I wish had turned out so differently – from near devastating financial issues to the absolutely devastating loss of our daughter-in-law – my 2014 was not the year I thought it would be – but it was life and I lived it and as much as it was painful and horrible, I would live through it again if I had to.

I wish with all my heart that things had turned out differently.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish that Kari-Lee had not died – I would do anything and everything in my power to stop that from happening, but if I had to live last year again – without any changes to the outcomes – I would, because those precious months with her are like pearls of great price.  Her life and her death has taught me so much and forever changed me.

Last year I wrote a list of things I wanted to achieve during my 2014, twelve things in fact, and of the twelve I only achieved three, but that is ok.  It is ok because at least I tried.  We often look at life as destinations and milestones rather than looking at the journey as a whole.  Kari taught me that.  She taught me to appreciate every breath, every step, every attempt.  She lived with the knowledge that her life had an end date that was a lot sooner than most, but she didn’t let it stop her.  She took risks and never let an opportunity pass her by and she never let fear stop her from living. That is what I want to do too.

It won’t be easy.  My family and I are still in the grips of grief and we struggle daily with the hole in our lives, but I don’t want to give up on living.  I don’t want to let this next year slip by without appreciating what I have got – a chance to live – and I want to make it count.  I want to make Kari-Lee proud as she watches from her window in heaven.  I want to have a life that at the end I can say, “I did it all.”

This is a song by One Republic that we played at Kari-Lee’s funeral.  This song captures the essence of Kari’s life.  This is my theme song for the next twelve months – maybe for the rest of my life.

The Climb

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Early this morning I climbed Mount Coolum.  I didn’t do it for myself, I didn’t even really want to do it, but I did it because my son, Tom, wanted me to.  Today it is one week since his wife, Kari-Lee, died of Cystic Fibrosis related illness and, at this stage, I am willing to do just about anything he asks me to do.

Climbing Mount Coolum is something that lots of people do.  There is a track and even stone stairs and the climb is about a kilometre.  The mountain itself is a volcanic dome that is two hundred and eight metres in height.  The climb starts easy enough but gets steeper as you go.

I have done this climb before, when my children were younger (and I was younger) and I remember how tough it was then.  I am now older and wiser (and I weigh more) so I was very hesitant to repeat the experience.  I don’t do sweat well (there is no glow) there is only red face, streaming rivers of salty perspiration and heavy breathing.  I know people run up it and then run down it and then do it again…but there is no conceivable situation in which this would be me.

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The Gang

But I did it.  We started at about 5am.  There were six of us; my son Tom, Kari’s sister Tiana, Tom’s friends Zac, Danielle & Nick and then me.  I was the oldest and the most unfit.  My son runs marathons and he told me that the last time he did the climb, he did it in nine minutes.  I assured him that it would take me quite a bit longer.

As we climbed, I had a bit of a revelation (as I am wont to do at times) about the nature of living after loss.  The last week has been so hard, for all of us.  There are good days and not so good days and then there are the days when you don’t think you can go on.  There is no “getting over”, “moving on” or “getting through” loss.  How do you “get over” something like losing a wife or a child or a best friend?  You don’t, you just learn a new way of living without them; you learn a way of living with the loss.  The symbolism of climbing the mountain has helped me better understand that today and, maybe, it might help someone else.

Firstly, some days are going to be ok and other days are going to be hard.  It may not even be days, it may be just moment to moment, hour to hour, minute to minute. Climbing the mountain was like that.  Some places were easier, still challenging, but easier and other places were really tough going.  There were times that I had to stop and rest and there are going to be days when it seems almost impossible to keep going, when the pain is so unbearable that it is too hard to even get out of bed.  And that is ok.  Take time to rest, take time to give the overworked muscles a break and then, the next day, or moment, get up and keep moving.

About a third of the way up the trail, I was so exhausted I didn’t think I could go on.  I thought I had walked further than I actually had and it was discouraging.  There are going to be days like that.  Days when you think you have made progress, but then you realise you still have a long way to go.  I had a few moments like that and my son just kept on encouraging me.  “You’ve done so well” and “You’re nearly there” and “Just do this little bit more and then you can rest”.  His constant encouragement kept me focussed, kept me going when I wanted to give up.  You need people in your life that will be your encouragers, people who will show you how far you’ve come and how well you’ve done and will gently encourage you to keep going.

As I said before, my son runs marathons.  He is extremely fit and the climb for him was easy, but he chose to stay with me.  As we climbed, our group went at different paces, some going faster and further, others going at a medium pace and then stopping to wait for me bringing up the rear.  Despite my protests that he should go at his own pace and I would eventually catch up, my son modified his stride so that he could walk with me.  We need people in our lives that will go ahead and show us the way, and we need people that will go a little bit ahead of us and then stop to wait for us to catch up and we also need people in our life who will modify their stride so that they can walk alongside of us, helping us when we need help or just to keep us company.

There was also pain.  There was pain in places I didn’t expect there to be pain.  When you are walking up a steep incline, you are prepared to experience pain, but what got me was that there was pain in unusual and unexpected muscles and this made it harder.  Learning to live with loss is learning to live with pain and sometimes that pain comes from the most unexpected places and it can wear you down.  Pain is to be expected and when it gets too much, it is not failure, it is just time to rest.

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The view from half way

About half of the way up, the cover of trees broke and there was a glimpse of the view and it was magnificent.  I thought I had finally reached the top and I stopped to admire the view.  But I was not at the top.  Yes the view was good, but I was still only half way.  It was tempting to stop there and not go any further, and sometimes you are going to feel that.  Sometimes you will reach a place where you think that you have come far enough, learnt enough and you will want to stop, but then you will turn around and realise there is still more to do.  Don’t be discouraged.  Take a moment to admire the view.  Take a moment to look at how far you have come.  Take a deep breath and then, keep going.

The closer to the top, the harder it got.  The trail was more treacherous, the incline was steeper and my body was tiring.  As horrible as it is to say, it will get worse before it gets better.  Navigating life after loss is going to be exhausting and you will feel like things are getting harder instead of easier, but don’t give up.  Press on, resting when you need to and pushing through the pain when you can.

We passed (and were passed by) a lot of people on the trail.  Everybody doing their own thing, having their own reasons for doing the climb.  I stopped for a rest and a lady who passed me congratulated me for doing the climb and gave me advice, “Just put one foot in front of the other.”  As well intentioned as she might have been, it annoyed me.  I know I am overweight and, yes, I was struggling, but I didn’t need her to tell me how to do it.  It may seem ironic that I am giving this advice, but here goes…People who see you along the way are going to give you advice, whether you want it or not.  It is annoying and frustrating, but they are just trying to help and encourage you.  My way of dealing with it comes from an animated Dreamworks film… “Just smile and wave boys.  Just smile and wave.”

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The top of the mountain

Finally, after about thirty-five minutes, we reached the top.  And I was disappointed.  It wasn’t what I expected.  From the bottom it looks like it is covered in lush green grass, but it is not.  The fact is, it is covered with shrubs and rocks.  There is nowhere comfortable to sit and admire the view, there is no shade and there is nowhere to get a refreshing drink.  And today the view was obscured by low lying cloud.  I was disappointed.  Where was the view?  We had wanted to watch the sun rise over the ocean, but we couldn’t even see the ocean.  Yes, the fog was pretty, but it was not what I had signed up for, it was not what I had expected. Now, I have done the climb before and I have seen the view before, so I know what it looks like on other days, but it was a different view today and I felt a little let down.  What I had wanted to see, what I had expected to see and the reason I put myself through the pain was not there.  In fact, the view from lower down had been better. And that is what it is going to be like living with loss.  There are going to be days down the track when the view is magnificent and the pain you went through will feel worth it, but there will also be days when the view isn’t so great or isn’t what you wanted or expected.  That is life and at the end of the day, I was glad I had climbed the mountain.  I am glad that I got up early and went through the pain to get to the top, because even if the view wasn’t what I had expected, it was still beautiful.

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The view from the top