When I logged on to write this post on Resilience and share a video that touched me, I saw a notification from wordpress. It congratulated me because I have been writing here for six years. I hadn’t thought about the age of my blog at all. It was a pleasant surprise.
One of the things I like most about my blog is that it changes as I change. I like that it allows me to connect with you on a personal level even though we may not have met in person.
That’s pretty cool.
Connection and expressing an idea that resonates with another person is something I love. I particularly like that about writing, making videos and writing fiction too.
So, today I wanted to share this YouTube video of Marian Keyes (one of my favourite authors) where she talks about resilience. It’s an important topic to me as I I have anxiety and suffer with worry, numbness and disassociation at times too. Sometimes I am lost in a darkness that spirals around so fast I can’t grasp the edge to slow myself down.
I wanted to share this video because when Marian Keyes talks about worrying when she was a child, it resonated so strongly with me. I worried too. A futile practice but I still did it and I still do par-take in the act of worrying without being able to control the outcome.
Worry gnaws at my nerves until they are red-raw. I have to write those worries down and shred them or burn them (in a controlled and safe manner) so I can be mentally free of them.
So, the ability to be resilient in the face of anxiety and depression isn’t easy for me all the time but, I know (from my own experience) it can be done.
Lately, I have been on the roller-coaster ride of anxiety. There are days when I am 100% okay and sailing through things. Life’s good.
Then there are other times when I wake up in the middle of the night with my stomach curling in on itself, tightening into a clenched knot of overwhelming dread and I don’t even know exactly what is triggering it.
I’ve learned to allow these experiences to be a part of the tapestry of my life. I’m not always keen on leaning into my uncomfortable feelings but I am doing it.
Sometimes I get swept away with what the inner voice is saying.
Other times I am able to discern what the worries are and see them for the shifting sands of anxious thought that they are. That’s when I am able to step back and see the pattern playing out.
Anyway, I hope the video with Marian Keyes helps you as much as it helps me.
I’m so grateful for Marian Keyes. She’s a great person and an excellent story teller. I especially love her honesty and raw grit as she shares her own experience with depression and anxious thoughts.
When life becomes stressful for me, one of the things I thoroughly enjoy doing is throwing my characters into conflict infested scenarios. Then I sit there and wonder … how on earth are they going to get through this?
Sometimes writing fiction is as challenging as navigating life itself.
Life’s been very stressful for me this year. I can’t deny it. My brother and I have had to come to terms with our mother’s recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Dementia and it is the most heart wrenching thing to see and experience. A truly cruel disease of the brain.
My brother has been doing the most amazing job caring for our mum because this disease is tough. Tough on the carers. Tough on the family and friends too. It’s tough for the person going through the dementia too.
So grief, depression and anxiety have been my companions.
It’s hard for me to admit how much this situation is affecting me and I am struggling to put things in to words here because of how keenly personal things are.
So in October, I flew down to Canberra to see my mum. I loved seeing her but she had changed so much. My mum stood before me, physically the same person, at least on the outside, but on the inside … the brain damage she has sustained shattered my heart.
At times mum recognised me (I live in Queensland and she is in Canberra so we don’t see each other very often). At other times mum thought she had given birth to twin daughters and continued to tell me that she couldn’t remember giving birth to me. She also insisted that her real daughter lives in Queensland and as nice as I was … well, in her eyes I wasn’t her daughter.
Sometimes what mum said was funny, somethings it was devastating.
Anyway, it’s been an emotional roller coaster and I never know if mum is going to remember me when I ring her. But on the up side, I am doing my best to cherish memories on her behalf and to remember my mum for the amazing, strong and beautiful woman she was as I grew up. My mum is still there and sometimes, in her lucid moments, she surfaces and it is a true delight!
Some people believe mum should just try harder to remember things but she can’t do that. She’s had mini-strokes. It means she has brain damage and she can’t remember. When I’ve heard well-meaning people tell my mum that she has to try harder to remember and that she’s always had memory issues, I just want to slap them in the head for being so ignorant, so arrogant, so farking lacking in compassion.
If someone has a broken leg and it’s bent at some odd angle, would it make sense to tell them to, “Just stand up and walk. Use your legs!”
Sorry, I’m so frustrated by stupid statements like that. It’s ridiculous and causes anxiety for my mum and for her children. But I do understand that the comments come from a place of wanting to help and trying to make sense of a disease that doesn’t make sense.
Anyway, since things have been so full-on emotionally, I’ve found myself doing quite a bit of creative writing. I’ve been working feverishly on The Living Death of Toddy James. I’ve spent some time plotting out a rough outline and now I’m elbows deep in writing the chapters. The act of writing helps me to compartmentalise the pain. But it doesn’t mean I don’t face and feel the pain, it just gives me a safe place to take a breather and I am so grateful.
So far I’ve written sixteen chapters and I’m drafting chapter seventeen now. I’ve been writing everyday and it’s been a twisting turning journey for Toddy James. I hope I’m doing her justice. But for now I’m not rewriting. I’m pushing forward because I promised myself I would finish this story and I will.
Writing is a passion for me. I can’t not do it. So is reading. I love to read and I’ve been getting into reading romance stories lately. I’m learning more about the romance genre which will help me with my own writing because all of my stories have romantic elements.
I think another reason I have been enjoying the romance genre lately is that I need something to lighten up my life and even though every story is filled to the brim with conflicts, romance is known for delivering happy-ever after endings and that’s a nice thing to look forward too.
I hope life is treating you well. I’m keeping on keeping on as they say and I’m writing but most of all I’m sending my mum and brother a tone of love because they are both incredibly precious to me.
It takes courage to love yourself exactly the way you are!
This week, I turned 44 years old.
I have also just finished watching a fascinating documentary called, Embrace.
The documentary gave me an opportunity to stop long enough to appreciate who I am and my body for the fantastic expression of Selina-ness that it is. For years I hated my body, especially my pot belly and I felt a deep shame that I was not model perfect. As a result, I threw myself into exercise and flogged my body at the gym day after day.
That was about 10 years ago.
On reflection, I have to say … the mental voice inside my head did a real job on me. I heard this voice day after day that told me I had to exercise or I’d get fat and no-one would love me. It told me how disgusting I was and that if I was to be acceptable to anyone, to be loved, I had to attain physical perfection. I chased fitness and a flat stomach with an obsession and I never told anyone of the way the voice inside my mind harmed me day in and day out.
Every time I looked in the mirror I saw ‘fat Selina’ not the woman I had shaped through regular exercise and healthy eating. I couldn’t see what I looked like and no goal was ever close enough to being good enough.
It was heart breaking to be brutally honest about it.
So then I got sick. My thyroid started to give me a message I could not ignore. I had Hashimoto’s disease and my body was no longer able to function the way it had. Every day was like walking through thick mud and my energy was extremely low. This resulted in a rather sedentary lifestyle and a shit-load of emotional self-beating for getting fat!
It got so bad that I couldn’t go into a shop and buy anything new to wear because I was putting on weight – going from a size 10 to a size 14. Depression set in and my anxious thoughts gained momentum.
But somewhere along the way something changed inside my mind and one day-I can’t tell you exactly when-I just stopped beating myself up for being imperfect. I started to look at my imperfections as a way of showing the character I have in my body. I’m not perfect, I can’t attain perfection but I can be fit and healthy to the best of my ability, even at a size 14.
So, long story short, as they say, I went through a dark night of the soul (many times over) and faced numerous fears and learned to quiet the voice inside my head. It’s still there but now it does not carry the authority it once did.
This year, I decided to embrace balance and self-love in a new way and I started doing daily yoga practice with Adriene from YouTube. I’ve been consistent for 25 days and I have found my body gaining strength and stability as well as flexibility. But most important – my mental and emotional self-perception is changing.
Where I would have once told myself: You’re disgusting. You’re fat. Your belly is getting in the road of doing a forward fold. You’re ugly.
I now hear: All is as it should be. You’re doing great. You’re finding peace and self-acceptance in your body and that is how it should be. You are worth it.
I also caught myself admiring my round pot belly and giving thanks for the shape of it. This is something I’ve never done before … shown gratitude for the one thing that I’ve spent most of my life hating and considering to be a barrier to receiving love.
I think yoga practice and the consistent steps I have been taking to accepting my body as it is has begun to have a very positive effect on my mental and emotional state of mind.
And watching the documentary Embrace has been another step on the journey to self-love and self-acceptance and most of all …
Tonight, on my way home from my day job, I fell into Kikki.K and purchased a gorgeous new writing pen and this fabulous ‘Pause’ 3 minute hourglass. You can see them in the photo above with my new journal, and Miss Poppy, my sweet nine month old ragdoll kitten. She’s inspecting them all for quality purposes, I’m sure.
Yes, she’s huge for nine months old. But that’s a ragdoll for you!
Everything got a good sniffing and despite the mint sand running through the hourglass, her fascination fell to the pen. They’re fun to swipe at and she loves to see them scuttle across the table or floor after her paw has lashed out at them.
Anyway, I felt inspired by the ‘Pause’ hourglass because it is a reminder that as a writer I need to take a breather from what I am doing in the day and become mindful of my own body and where I am in the world. Especially when I have been in the thick of writing for sometime. I’ve noticed that I can become utterly brain fogged and there is nothing more grounding than taking time to breathe into my belly and feel my feet flat on the floor.
Three minutes. That’s it. Just breathing.
I’m starting this as a new practice in my writing.
I guess I could call it, ‘The Zen of Writing.’
Personally, I suffer from anxiety that can flare up terribly, and at times that painful mental torture extends to my creative writing. That’s when I get stuck in my ‘monkey mind’ as my psychologist terms it. It’s an analogy she uses to explain the critical left brain and why it’s doing such crazy stuff, like trying to convince me that I’m not safe.
I like to imagine I actually have a tiny weeny little monkey inside my head who tries to tell me stories that aren’t necessarily true but certainly feel true at the time. The monkey gets louder when my anxiety is playing up and the stories about all the awful things that are going to happen pound around inside my head like a brass band playing off key.
People have told me to just focus on something else, but when that monkey is so loud and insistent, like a two year old demanding attention, it is nigh on impossible not to listen.
I sound crazy don’t I!
I’m not crazy, I’m just dealing with fears that nibble at the internal fabric of my existence. Threads are pulled out by my monkey mind and painful memories surface. Visceral emotions take hold of my nervous system and my adrenal glands go into hyperdrive. I’m on high altert even when there is no danger around.
So I turn to my writing. I turn to my art. And I turn to my animal companions for the relief and care that I need. These things bring a calmness into my life, but not always. It’s a process.
What writing, reflective writing does, however, is show me the patterns of thoughts travelling through my mind and the stories that my monkey mind has been spinning. It gives me an opportunity to question their validity and to gain control by defusing the power of the anxiety triggers deep inside.
Taking time to breathe helps. It really truly helps.
So, when I take a moment to just sit and breathe, I now watch the tiny grains of mint sand fall through the hourglass, and I focus on pressing my feet in to the floor. I focus on breathing down through my body and out through the souls of my feet as if the air is actually travelling through my body and passing into the earth itself.
I focus on expanding my belly my lower ribcage on the inhale and contracting that same part of my belly on the exhale.
I’ve been working on breathing deeply for about six months now. My psychologist has been a blessing. At first I really didn’t want to learn how to breathe. Oh no, none of that. No, I just wanted relief from the internal pain and grating fears that had rubbed my nerves raw. But she just smiled and taught me the technique. Bless her (now).
And let me be the first to say that it may have been natural for me to breathe from my belly as a baby but as an adult who has been conditioned by all sorts of experiences, it is not easy to do.
But the need for mental and emotional relief drove me to practice. Lying flat on the floor, one hand on my lower rib cage and the other on my heart. In I’d breathe, and my lower rib cage would expand. Out I’d breathe and my belly would contract.
The hardest thing I had to learn about breathing like this was not to allow my chest to rise up as I filled my lungs with air. The hand on my heart sat there as a reminder: don’t breath shallow.
So, when I saw this gorgeous little treasure in Kikki.K, meaning the ‘Pause’ hourglass, I knew it was coming home with me to remind me to take deep breaths during my day, during my writing and especially during stressful times.
Watching the mint sand mesmerises me. The mint grains sparkle as they flow through the hourglass and pile up in the bottom half, and I find my shoulders relaxing just a little more the longer I gaze at its beauty.
And three minutes really isn’t that long, believe me I’ve just found out.
Watching the grains fall brings me back into the now.
And the now is really all we have. This moment, right now is our precious time. It’s our life taking shape. This is the moment that we are making changes or staying the same. I love that about coming back to the now.
Then to have my beautiful ragdoll cat join me for a moment during my writing practice … well it’s hard to describe, except to acknowledge that my animal companions bring me peace and happiness and personal love beyond any words I can speak.
Right now, I’m sitting cross legged at the table writing this blog post with Rocket, my black toy poodle curled up on top of me. He’s warm and snugglely on my legs. I can feel his heart beating and the calm trusting nature he has. That’s a blessing and one I am treasuring in this moment as the tiny mint grains fall through the hourglass.
So, if you come across a ‘Pause’ hourglass and you’re a writer or someone who suffers from anxiety or even depression, maybe think about taking those three minutes to stop, gaze and breathe. Gaze at the sand falling through the hourglass and feel your feet on the ground. Expand your belly and breathe in and out.