Fate, wellbeing, my mother and Katy Perry’s Roar. Part 1.

I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely …

In the last few years there have been lots of things I’ve done and thought, “I should have done this years ago”, the latest of these being my visit to the chiropractor. But looking back over my life it’s something I simply couldn’t have done before. Prerequisites for the chiro trip were: an  understanding that I had physical issues; a feeling of self worth sufficient to permit the spending of time and money on myself; confidence to believe I could be made better and also to enter an unknown environment; finances to pay for the treatment. At no earlier point in my life could I have fulfilled all of the criteria, so much as I might wish I’d started getting my back sorted earlier, it just wasn’t my fate.

Fate?

I don’t believe in fate in the sense that life is all mapped out and we’re walking preordained paths. I don’t believe in Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos spinning, measuring and cutting mortal lives, but I do believe that sometimes personality, past and circumstance mean the directions a person can go in are quite limited. When you first start on a path it’s easy to turn back, but when you’re a way along it sometimes the only way is to continue, regardless of anything else. A famous example of this would be the addict who has to hit rock bottom before he can accept he has to change.

If I hadn’t been far enough along my particular path there’s no way I could be having my back adjusted. So what else have I done on this path? Where did this path start?

Was it when I got a horse? No, go back earlier.

Was it when I started to have riding lessons? No, go back earlier.

Was it when I got married? No, go back earlier.

Was it when I learned to relax? No, go back earlier.

Was it when I finished counselling? No, go back earlier.

Was it when I went to my GP and asked for counselling, telling her I needed a talking therapy to prevent future depressions? No, go back earlier.

Was it when I came off antidepressants? No, go back earlier.

It was when I walked into an NHS walk-in clinic and said, “I am suicidal. Something is wrong. I need help.”

That was the start of the path of getting myself fixed. The path of asking for help to get fixed. Of not trying to do everything myself. Without that first giant step the next and the next and the next would never have been possible. I would still have such issues with my mental balance and twisted thoughts that my physical balance and twisted back would never have got a look in.

So there’s no point me wishing I’d done things sooner in my life. Actions like this can’t happen until you’re in the right place to make them happen. We can try to live in the moment, but we wouldn’t be at that particular moment if our past hadn’t built it, brick by brick, step by step, piece by piece. There’s no use wishing we’d got places sooner, but there’s merit in taking some satisfaction in how far we’ve come.

——————-

Lyrics at top of page – extract from Katy Perry’s Roar.

For the most amazing illustrated, amusing and accurate description of depression, see: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/depression-part-two.html I recommend everyone read this. Particularly the bit with the dead fish.

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Crying & strength

“Crying doesn’t indicate that you’re weak, it just means that you’ve been strong for too long.”

I think this quote may have been doing the rounds of the internet for a while, but I’ve only just seen it. I don’t know where it came from originally, or I’d credit the author. I saw it here.

It totally knocked me for six.

A lot of the crying I’ve done in my life has been due to depression. So when I read this I see the surface meaning and I also see “Depression doesn’t indicate that you’re weak, it just means that you’ve been strong for too long” and that is true, true, true.

About a decade ago I read Tim Cantopher’s book Depressive illness : the curse of the strong which I thoroughly recommend. If I remember correctly, he wrote that people with depression tend to have been struggling on with massive pressures (be they internal or external) while beating themselves up about not managing better. That strong people are much more likely to get depressed because weaker characters throw up their hands and give up struggling long before their mental health suffers. That it’s not healthy to be so strong it eventually breaks you! That you need to literally give yourself a break and rest rather than battle on.

This was definitely the case for me.

—-

Earlier on today a colleague (previously observed to  have an unhelpful view of mental health issues) was telling me that in former communist countries depression is so rare as to be almost unheard of. Hmm. I thought to myself. Just because a thing’s not public doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Not wishing to be drawn into debate I let that slide. She then proceeded, telling me that if you say you have depression* in countries such as those, there is little or no help from the medical profession unlike in the UK. This I could find a little more believable (although I don’t know if it’s true or not). She concluded from this that people in those countries just have to get on with it.

“Or die,” I said, flippantly, but meaning it.

At my lowest point, had I lived in a situation with no medical support, no support from my employer, with a family & friends who denied the existence of mental heath issues, I would probably have been told to pull myself together. And I would probably have managed pulling myself together just enough to kill myself. And so I wouldn’t be here to disagree with my colleague. I wouldn’t be doing anything. I’d have taken the only way I could see of getting a rest, which would have been to Rest In Peace.

—-

So these days, I don’t stay so strong. I rest after little stresses, little strains. I cry sooner rather than later. But this quote about crying is one that I think the world should see. And they should see my version too.

“Depression doesn’t indicate that you’re weak, it just means that you’ve been strong for too long.”

………….

* Clearly she thinks it is a thing you say you have, rather than a thing you actually have.

What a difference a decade makes

Apparently it’s 2013 now. I’ve mostly been preoccupied with being a horse owner and so have only just managed to find a moment to notice that it’s 2013. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one thinking “Twenty-THIRTEEN?! Surely the millennium only just happened?! How on earth did that get to be thirteen years ago?!”

This probably doesn’t paint me in the most intelligent light, but my thoughts continued:

“Woah … 13 years is more than 10 years … 10 years is a decade … so it’s more than a decade since the millennium. Woah!”

You might be tempted to point out that it’s been more than a decade since the millennium for a while, but you see, I’ve only just noticed.

So my decade-fixated brain wanted to consider what I did and who I was in 2003.

2003 was the beginning of the end of my childhood. I was 21. I’d finished my degree the year before and in the autumn I would begin my Masters. I had a job in retail, in a menswear chain, in a shop with so few customers the main challenges were thinking up things to do to make the day go by. Even on a Saturday you’d be stood wondering how long it would be before anyone came in. This was made more depressing because the salesmen were on commission. If no one comes in even the best salesman is going to struggle to make his money.

I was in the workforce, for the first time (aside from temping and cleaning holiday jobs), which was a bit of a shock to the system.  It was a lonely job. Aside from 1 day each week I was the only female and I was “posh.”* Their word not mine. The day I left the manager said to me “When you started we didn’t talk to you because we didn’t know what to say to a posh bird.”

During 2003 I moved from my dysfunctional student household to a somewhat more functional post-graduate household. I moved from the no-customers, no-conversation, no-work job to work in a flagship department store and I began my Masters. It was a step towards growing up…

But I had no hope.

I didn’t think about tomorrow with anything but fear.

I didn’t think about other people with anything but fear.

And I didn’t think about anything that scared me.

I acquired a boyfriend. Over twice my age, from a different nation/culture, ex-military special forces, built like the proverbial, he was not exactly boyfriend material. But, looking back, I think I was with him because I thought he could keep me safe. Under his enormous wing I wouldn’t have to face the fear. But it was probably fortunate that he stood me up on Christmas day, contributing to our breaking up in early 2004.

I thought I was worthless. But I had to hide that. I lived in constant fear that people would see the worthlessness and I felt slightly scornful if they didn’t.

I was functioning. Just.

I was all fear. It was my only motivator; my constant companion. All I could do was get through each day dodging the fear.

If you had told me that in 10 years I would have a loving husband, a home, a horse of my own, 2 cats and thought patterns that didn’t revolve around fear, ever, I would have laughed in your face so hard you would have seen the desperation.

If you had only told me that I would have riding lessons and a pet, I still wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t believe there was anything good to live for. I didn’t believe anything good would ever come my way. I had no hope.

If I wrote a letter to my 21-year-old self I don’t think I’d be able to make her believe any of it. I wonder if anyone could have done. In some ways I believe I had to hit rock bottom to learn to change and to see that change was possible, but in other ways I wonder … 2003 was a few years away from rock bottom – could it have been preempted at that point?

 

What a difference a decade makes.

 

 

* I.e. had a southern accent and a degree.

On tending a mental garden

The idea of the mind being like a garden is one I first remember encountering in a novel, in the following passage:

… being tired he lacked the energy to ‘weed the garden of his mind.’ This was the metaphor that Kang had been taught … Some thoughts were flowers; others were weeds; still others were vipers. Constant vigilance was needed to correctly identify each.*

Although I’m not particularly enamoured of this novel I have read it several times and each time found this concept interesting without particularly thinking about it or fully understanding it. I tend not to think when I’m reading – if I wanted to think I wouldn’t be reading in the first place, I’d be thinking. But recently I’ve been on the search for metaphors that will help me understand and describe the mental processes and changes I’ve been experiencing recently.

Many things have become easier for me of late. Progress in all things is simply less difficult because I am learning to reduce the time I spend standing squarely in my own way and defeating myself. Goals that once seemed unattainable are now realistic and certain things that were once stressful are now barely worthy of my attention. And now, as you may have read in recent posts, I find that new positive changes seem to happening of their own accord. This made me curious and I wanted to find a way to explain why that is happening. After some thought I realised that, lurking in the silty chaos that is “stuff I’ve read somewhere,” was the garden metaphor which is proving very useful in helping me understand what’s going on. So here’s the metaphor as it applies to me.

Firstly I want to say that the word ‘garden’ could be misleading to anyone who’s only ever known small tidy urban/suburban gardens. My mental garden is probably at least a couple of acres. Do not imagine manicured lawns, neat flower beds or tidy shrubs. Instead imagine what would happen to a rough, fertile piece of ground left entirely untended for approximately a quarter of a century. First the small weeds take root and spread; the fireweed and the rough grasses. Over time a single bramble becomes an impenetrable head high tangle and a stinging nettle sprout becomes a shifting sea of dark green fronds.

Of course I was still living in my mind during those 25 or so years. If I’d had some idea of how to weed out the unwanted thorns and intrusive invaders perhaps I would have done so, but what happened instead was that I walked around the bramble snarls and circumnavigated the tide of nettles, occasionally wondering why my strawberry bushes weren’t thriving like other people’s. Gradually the paths became narrower, the weeds around them higher, and it became harder and harder to avoid the thorns. There wasn’t any point trying to plant flowers, fruit or vegetables because I knew now they had no chance of growing.

It got to the point where something had to be done because my mind had become entirely uninhabitable. I called in professional advice. Of course landscape-gardeners on the NHS are not able to offer much, but they did supply me with an SSRI-type weedkiller called Sertraline. Like all weedkillers it was no substitute for having kept a clear garden in the first place, but it did make things more manageable. The toughest weeds were immune but it cleared some of the softer ones and gave me space to consider the ways to tackle the rest. It also gave me some stout overalls and thick leather gauntlets. I still didn’t know how to tackle the weeds but I had some of the tools I would need when I was ready.

Gradually I was able to begin recognising the different types of weed and the different approaches I needed to get rid of them. Some could be simply prevented from seeding and left to die, others could be pulled up by the roots and others would have to be dug out. Some had deep roots that I still can’t get to; others had suckers to other areas of the garden that made them difficult to handle. Still others I didn’t recognise as weeds because they were so familiar and needed other people to show me that they were undesirable.

As I made progress it became easier. I was so much more experienced with the weeds and the few attractive plants I was replacing them with. There was room to see what I was doing and to look at all sides of a large problem area before deciding how to tackle it. I was able to stop using the weedkiller and return to organic methods.

Five years on, I think I’ve reached a place where it looks like a garden and not a terrifying waste. I don’t have to hide it behind 12 foot concrete fences any more because it doesn’t hold the horrors it once did. I can look at other people’s garden and maybe even help them see the ragwort, the dandelions and the docks and offer advice on dealing with them. I can look at the good things in others’ gardens and see how I can grow them in my own. At last there is free, fertile soil for the offspring of the new thoughts I carefully planted. The first-generation flowers and fruit have hybridized, producing stronger strains that I couldn’t have predicted. There is room for them to grow and no hostile competition for the soil and light.

Weed seeds will still blow in and sometimes I’ll struggle with them, but I’m a gardener now; I’ll handle them.

* John Case, The first horseman (1998).


Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net