Happiness is…

#Habits #happiness #quote

I’ve always feared my life was a carefully crafted house of cards, or Jenga blocks, waiting to crash about my ears at any second. Watching my daughter play the other day, I wondered: what if it’s not a house of cards? What if I’m more like a plant which needs hard pruning, before I can grow new ideas? 

With older plants (such as myself), severe pruning may be needed to remove old, worn-out growths (or ideas), or branches growing over windows (or thoughts blocking out light). Drastic shortening of long branches & removing sections of older stems may be necessary. My recovery will require the pruning of old patterns & beliefs. A careful approach is needed if larger branches are to be removed and where a branch is twisted, it may be necessary to trace back before removing it. See? Slow steps to recovery after a root-cause analysis. You’re aiming for a skeleton frame work of well-spaced branches, ready to shoot new buds & ideas, and develop new habits.

Last week, I was worried about my daughter being bullied. I got some incredible feedback from fellow bloggers. This week, the girls in question have started a club and excluded my daughter. She admits it stings, but she’s more relieved that she’s figured out how fickle friendships are at this stage. She’s 9 years old, and she’s figured this out? Instead of being angry, or sad, I’m so incredibly proud. She says she’s just going to make some more friends, expand her circle and keep having fun. Clearly, she saw these posters before I did! Her habit is happiness.

#happy #happiness #quote

Breathe deep and act normal

#panic #anxiety #depression

Possible trigger alert!

She felt hemmed in. Every second in this taxi was choking her. She could feel the sheen of sweat hovering over her skin. Her fingers tingled and twitched. She tried to breathe deeply, but the air was so thick. 

The driver was talking about the crowds, the traffic. Suggesting alternate routes. She could hear herself responding, Sure, whatever you think best. No, no rush.

Yes, there was a rush. Get me out. They passed a hospital. She looked longingly at it, picturing the cool white beds. Slightly starchy, rough sheets. Breathe in, breathe out. Flex the fingers. Wipe sweaty palms.

The traffic thins out, as the pain radiates from the epicentre of her chest. Can you crack ribs from this pain, like a stress fracture, she wondered? The feeling that she is about to tip over the edge dances on the fringes of her vision. 

Yes, thanks, up ahead on the left is fine, thanks. She falls out of the taxi like a limp noodle. Her throat hurts. Her teeth hurt. Has she been clenching her jaw again? Walk. Walk. Move forward. Say hello to the neighbour. Yes, lovely weather, isn’t it? 

Unlock door. Put bag & shoes away. Wash hands. Sip some stale water. Curl up in ball on the floor, and let the silent tears out. Home.

Shy or Socially Phobic?

What would you say to someone who told you they hated talking on the phone? They screen every call before they answer, already irritable because the sound of the phone has made them jump. What about avoiding invitations to parties and get-togethers? Or going and then hoping to blend into the scenery, reluctant to chat or make eye-contact. Would you tell them they were just shy, to get over, get out there, meet some people? Or would you stop & consider they might be socially phobic?

It’s taken my husband 11 years to concede that I could be socially phobic. I think the millionth, “Why are you calling? Why can’t you text, for the love of all that’s holy?” finally got to him. He’s slowly comprehending how much my anxiety takes out of me, and the cost of ‘functioning as normal’. He’s your textbook good guy, a decent human being that would never want to see his loved ones in pain, but if it’s taken him long to ‘get’ this, how much do others suffer?

My social anxiety manifests itself in interesting ways. I don’t struggle with shopping, mostly because I do it online. I’ve been known to mutter frequently, “I hate people”. I have worked from home for 5 years now, because I am safe in my own space, behind my wall of screens, connected by the internet. On the rare occasions I have to do face time with clients, I psych myself up, practice everything I need to say, plan everything down to the last detail, and lay off the caffeine. But if there is any deviation from plan A, I have plans B, C & D. Is this time-consuming and exhausting? You betcha. But it’s the only way I know how to cope, and a darn sight better than the overwhelming sense of apprehension, nausea, clammy hands and gut-churning panic attacks that I used to have. What a rush, said no sufferer, EVER.

I’m the chica in the corner, on the fringe, at the edge. I’ll never be the person with my back to the door, or sitting in the middle of a restaurant. My anxiety gives me the strength to ask for a corner spot! Or it is my hyper-vigilance? I don’t discriminate in my anxiety; my husband has been on the tail end of my temper if he stands behind me for longer than 1.6 seconds. I’ve never been in active combat, so I don’t know why I am this way.

IMG_20140413

Me watching the London Marathon last year, with a safety zone of at least 3 metres one way and a concrete plinth to stand on so no one could sneak up behind me.

Many psychiatrists and psychologists believe, as with many mental health conditions, social anxiety disorder is most probably the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, the exact nature of the relationship between genetics and learned behaviour is uncertain. The parenting you experience may influence whether you will develop social anxiety disorder. If you have worried or anxious parents, it can often affect your ability to cope with anxiety during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

People with social anxiety disorder often describe their parents as:

  • overprotective
  • not affectionate enough
  • constantly criticising them and worrying they may do something wrong
  • overemphasising the importance of manners and grooming
  • exaggerating the danger of approaching strangers

Biologically, social anxiety disorder is currently thought to be related to abnormal functioning of brain circuits that regulate emotion and the “fight or flight” response centre. There is no cure for SAD. There is medication, which I don’t enjoy, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which seems to be working slowly. I’m working on identifying unrealistic beliefs & behavioural patterns. I want to de-sensitise myself to certain triggers, and question certain gut-reactions.

I want to be the person that can just say YES to adventure, to sit in the middle of a cafe and look strangers in the eye. Most of all, I want to stop planning and start living.

Wish me luck!!

Rage is my Superpower

Rage can work in a vicious cycle, destroying you & wearing you down, or you can turn its strength inwards, creating a virtuous cycle. Allow me to explain….

My rage is a supernova, an illogical, overwhelming roar of emotion that burns outwards, searing anything logical or calm in its path. Fighting and scratching from my emotional corner, I feel like I have little control over it.

crab-nebula-11041_640

This then sucks itself inwards into a fiery ball of heat, to burn itself out gently.

sun-581299_640

However, understanding my triggers, and turning my ‘ball of fire’ into productive energy has a two-fold effect: getting a LOT of work done, and distracting me from the initial reaction, which calms me down. The more time I spend in the blogosphere, the more I realise how many of us are battling similar demons. Waking up & showing up every day IS an actual achievement. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that doing a root-cause analysis on the cause of my rage can (& does) send me into paroxysms of panic & anxiety, with a full-blown case of hives. I just don’t want to go there. The analysis will probably be best explored in stages, at some later date, because there’s no real reason to hyperventilate noxious fumes of rage because my hand baggage which should have been waiting at the foot of the gangway is now going round on a carousel in the terminal, potentially adding another five minutes to my journey time and throwing my careful plan to exit the airport in one piece to the winds, right? Doing my Rumpelstiltskin-after-the-queen-guesses-his-name dance was all part of the routine, folks. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Or I could just accept I have chronic anxiety. I am hyper-aware of the environment I’m in at any given point, treating every situation like a potentially hostile encounter. My husband once asked me what it was like to live without a filter, to feel, see & hear everything, to notice every detail. It is sensory overload. It is absolutely exhausting. It’s why something small can completely tip the fragile balance I establish every day.

But I still say I’m lucky & blessed. I have a husband and child who try to understand, and accept my fragility. Who respect my triggers. Who give me space when I need it. They let me cry. Storm around a bit doing the Rumpelstiltskin dance. And then gently remind me, in order of priority, it’s just a bag. And we have insurance.

Great balls of fire, baby!

Grief, that old chestnut

Grief is a banshee. It can churn your insides, leaving you whirling with emotion, but make it impossible for you to move, shower or eat. It whips you like a car antenna, raw and whimpering. It leaks out of you slowly, at inopportune moments. It appears to have no plan, except to level you flat and keep you there.

My grief left me numb, but functioning in a simmering state of rage. It took its toll in silent, insidious ways. Rapid, permanent hair loss. An auto-immune disease. Aches & pains in my joints which turned me into a cantankerous crone. And even when I dealt with the underlying issues, talked my way through therapy, and felt resolved, grief is that distant cousin, always waiting to pay a visit.

Does enduring grief really leave you stronger? Do those scars criss-crossed across my life make my soul more resilient, or more likely to rend? I’ve watched my friend battle with her child’s autism diagnosis, grieving for a childhood lost, but loving fiercely and fighting to get them help. She dances the same line I’ve danced between despair and anger and love and hope and such spine-bending sadness. In the dark moments, she comes over to my house, melts into a chair and says, “I just have to be here.”

And I let her sit, knowing that she is letting the pain wash over her, breathing in to it, letting it re-inflate her like a bouncy castle, to withstand the shocks that are sure to come her way once she gets up & goes home, to fight another day.

“I like to keep my issues drawn, it’s always darkest before the dawn.” 

― Florence Welch 

Rotate Your View & Rewire Your Brain

I was reading this incredible article, Neuroplasticity: You Can Teach An Old Brain New Tricks, this morning, and I thought how apt it was for our photo assignment today.

Rotating our thoughts by being mindful of them can lead to new neural pathways and connections in our brain, which can hardwire us to react with happiness, peace & gratitude. Watching my daughter’s near-miraculous recovery has convinced me of what scientists have been saying for 20 years now: the brain is dynamic and can be re-coded, hence the term ‘neuroplasticity’. 

Today is my daughter’s birthday, and instead of wallowing and remembering the trauma of the day she was born, I chose to wallow in her happiness, her delight, her excitement at being 9! I’m anticipating her face when she sees that a long-wished-for book has just arrived. And you know what? I haven’t cried once today. It’s grey & raining and I’m feeling happy. How about that, elastic brain?

Rotate Collage

Original photo was from the Mystery & Light assignment from 2 weeks ago.

Through the Looking Glass

I had a dance with anaphylaxis on Saturday (accidental ingestion of kiwi in a beverage), and the after-effects were unpleasant and persistent. So I finally caved this morning and took the drugs to counteract the rabid hives which had proliferated across my neck and chest. A common side-effect of the drug is mild anxiety-like symptoms and extreme woolly-headedness (like I don’t have that already!). Cue fun take on assignment!

I’m bringing you along on my journey so you can see what it’s like, first-hand. I used two glass jars and my camera phone, and the results are pretty darn good, if I say so myself! Ready to tumble?

Jar

Square jar, on my bedroom floor

jar corner

Corner of the square jar, where the camera struggled to focus

table through glass

My walled patio, through the bottom of a jar

weed through glass

A weed in the cracks, seen through the mouth & body of the jar

London in Motion

The 2 K's

rough-housing? photo-bombing? cousins at play

London is a city perpetually in motion. It’s a never-ending series of stories playing out simultaneously, but also a rich source of triggers for anyone recovering from anything! In an earlier post, I talked about how I couldn’t hear an ambulance without bursting into tears after my daughter was born. Well, yesterday, I discovered I may be over ambulances, but seeing a Children’s Acute Transport with its special blue lights will still set me off. Of all the places to have this epiphany, crossing a busy road at rush hour with my daughter was really NOT ideal! If Pavlov’s dog had a face, it would probably be mine. However, all’s well with the world today, and it got me thinking about the funny things that annoy Londoners in motion. These are usually Tube-based, central London anecdotes.

IMG_20140417_135412_edit

Here are my favourites:

Pops of Colour

Red Shoes

AM I STEPPING OFF A CLIFF, ONE KICKY RED PATENT PUMP AT A TIME?

I had a pretty bad setback on Saturday night (Sunday morning?) with a traumatic memory, but I got a handle on it yesterday afternoon and it fuelled my piece for Stigma Fighters last night. I will not share it here as it could be a graphic trigger for someone else, but writing it out eviscerated its power over me. Writing my bio for the piece led me to wonder if what I ‘know’ about my personality, such as the traits I think of as defining, or fixed, are really not, but just reactions and defence mechanisms from embedded memories and traumas?

Thinking about it today hasn’t triggered the same flood of tears, but I’m still feeling hollow. From experience, this will pass in a day or two. I’m celebrating the small wins & realisations that seem to come at me every day. I’m practising new habits, not sweating the small stuff, and generally trying to focus on the good. Eating macarons helps, too!

Raspberry Macaron

Mystery & Light

Sarah McLachlan’s song, Building a Mystery, has been playing in my head all day. I forgot how much I ❤ her, so I am glad that this assignment triggered that memory. It’s nice to have a positive trigger, for a change. I’ve been working through some incredibly negative triggers recently, so it’s good to have a happy memory brought to the surface.

Mystery

Ribbons of pasta? Ruffled fondant icing? Tear in space?

Mystery2

Oh, sun, how I love you, but why you so cruel?

Light 3

Floating wall?