You’re awesome!

I bet you don’t hear that often enough. But think about it. What do you do, with your time, for others, for a job, for a hobby?

You are not an amoeba (although they are pretty cool, too). You do not exist in a vacuum. And who you are has an effect on those around you.

Do you bring baked goods to the office? That’s awesome.

Do you feed and clothe your kids with no help from anyone else? Brilliant work.

Do you love wholeheartedly? Beautiful.

Do you ask after the health of the lady at the checkout? So kind.

Do you get up every day, ready to face the world again after going through a rough patch? That’s fantastic.

However we live, and whoever we are, we have value. And in the crazy, funny, beautiful, hard, scary, sad and difficult world we live in, it’s really important to remember that.

So here’s to you. You are freaking awesome.

Perceptions – Break the Stigma

I had a conversation with another staff member at work this week. I do this often. My workplace is enjoyable and the people I work with are nice. I like my job and I like the people. But this conversation gave me more to think about than I’d expected.

A chance remark made by this person, about another we worked with made me think about the stigma of mental health.

A whispered remark about someone having had treatment for a mental health condition.

An expression on a face that spoke volumes.

A concern over fitness for working in their profession.

The biggest thing I took from this conversation was that there is still such stigma over depression and mental health issues.

I can excuse the words of another by way of their youth, and the fact that their experience of life is different than my own. But I cannot accept that people should still be judged for having sought treatment for themselves in relation to mental health.

Surely having treatment, in any form, is better than going through life at the whim of changing moods and emotions, anxieties and fears. Surely, having treatment should be praised, rather than censured.

Having had post natal depression twice, and seeking counselling for a traumatic event, I know how much bravery it took to admit that I had problem, that I needed help to deal with it. I have so much praise for others who seek help for their mental health issues. I have, more than once, suggested people seek counselling for themselves, because it was so beneficial for me.

Maybe I should have tried to challenge the perceptions of the person I was chatting with, open their eyes to something that they obviously have no experience of themselves. But I did not. I never mentioned my own experiences, or said anything to normalise the experience of the third person about whom whispers were circling.

Did I feel the stigma? Yes. Did I feel I would be judged for my experience? Maybe. Did I think it was my place to comment on someone else’s personal experience of which I knew nothing? No.

I will say, now, that perceptions of those of us who have struggled with our mental health isn’t helped by the whispered comments. No matter that we may now function normally, there is always the constant monitoring of emotions, the meditations and down time, the scheduling and planning that comes with trying to keep ones emotional balance. There will always be the quiet, behind closed doors part of me that will be ensuring I get enough sleep, that I’m eating right, that I’m getting enough exercise and sunshine. I will always be monitoring myself so that I don’t slide back into that place filled with fear and dark.

It takes bravery to own your past, good, bad and indifferent. It takes bravery to own that you’ve needed help. It takes bravery to crawl out of the hole and find the help. Knowing that I’ve faced those things with courage, maybe next time the topic comes up, I’ll own with courage the fact that many people have needed help, and I am one of them. Maybe next time I’ll be brave enough to help break the stigma.

Six different kinds….

It’s complicated. I don’t want to discuss it. I’d rather everyone didn’t know. It’s not something I like to bring up. Just don’t talk about it.

Life is a complex bowl of muesli. It’s got some good bits, the bits you like and are happy to eat. Then it’s also got the unpleasant bits, the bits that get stuck in your teeth, the bits you’d rather spit out. But it’s impolite to spit out your food, so we swallow it, good and bad, because you don’t always control what goes into the big ol’ cereal bowl of life.

And sometimes, just like muesli, life can be six different kinds of f****d up.

So what do you do? That’s the big question isn’t it? That’s the question for which, if we knew the answer, we’d be rolling in puppies (or money, your choice).

In my experience of the ‘six different kinds…’ the getting through it is all a variation on the theme ‘suck it up, princess’. Sounds harsh, I know. And some of the stuff that we go through, to suck it up and soldier on is not the easy answer some people seem to think it is.

It might be ‘suck it up, going to the shrink is not going to kill you’, or ‘suck it up, someone has to feed and clothe these kids’, or even ‘suck it up, go to the authorities’.

Sounds simple? It really isn’t. Anyone who has dealt with mental illness, divorce, widowhood, the death of a child, family violence, terminal illness or any other traumatic experience is changed by it. And the change can be fundamental, not only in the way we view the world, but in the way we view ourselves.

It’s an old adage, but it’s true, you don’t know how strong you are until you have no other choice. I know because I’ve been through some ‘six different kinds…’ moments that completely changed how I interact with the world around me.

I’ve become more sensitive to mental illness because I’ve suffered from post natal depression.

I’ve become more accepting of difference because I love a kid who lives on the spectrum.

I’ve become more solid because I am the stable place my children need to feel safe.

I’ve become more open because I refuse to be closed off by anyone again.

I’ve become more giving because I’ve had so much taken from me.

I’ve become stronger from having had to walk through fire to do what’s right.

So when some ignorant tool belt tells you to ‘get over it’ or someone who just doesn’t understand tells you ‘at least you’ve got your health’, you can tell them to get lost (even if only in your head).

But when someone tells you to ‘suck it up, princess’, you can choose to take it in a manner they probably didn’t intend. Choose to overcome, choose to ask for help (or beg if you have to), choose to be open about your losses, choose to be the bigger person, choose to do what’s right. Sometimes there’s really no choice at all. Life throws, and sometimes you’re catching the shit end of the stick.

But sometimes something that starts out ‘six different kinds of f****d up’ can eventually be something that helps to create something beautiful.

 

Admiration and Emulation

There are a lot of people I admire. Some for big things, some for seemingly small things. But of recent months and after recent events I’ve come to realise that it’s the quiet quality of just getting through that I admire most.

It’s not always the most vocal person who draws my attention, or the one who gains news coverage or public accolades for their tribulations and the way they have coped with it and managed to push through. Often it is the private struggles that you know of, but that are rarely talked of, that show how strong someone can be. And I admire the quiet way that people can just get through the day, the hour, sometimes just the next minute carrying their burden but never giving under the weight.

I admire Rosie Batty, for opening up a new conversation about family violence after her son was killed by his father, her former husband.

I admire Tara Moss, who challenges the culture of sexual violence prevalent in our society after her own experience of sexual violence.

I admire Nelson Mandela, who still preached for peace after suffering at the hands of others.

And I have endless admiration for some members of my own family. They have carried on through some difficult and life changing events. Never in the eyes of anyone but myself might they be considered heroes. But they are. They are the people I want to emulate; their quiet strength, the ability to just get themselves or their family out the other side of struggle.

Having been through struggles myself, I had thought I was strong. But when adversity strikes, you find ways to access more strength than you knew you had. And it is through the knowledge of these family members, the memory of those passed, and the unwavering support of those I am still lucky enough to have with me, that I am getting through these new struggles. I will bring my children out the other side of adversity, I will get through it myself. And I will get us all through the struggles that will result from our last six months.

One tries to emulate that which one admires. There have been many times when I’ve bent under the weight of my burdens, but I will not be broken. I will follow the footsteps of those I admire, I will quietly soldier on, stoically keep going. And I will take the other lesson I’ve learned from those I admire: don’t let hardship make you hard, being able to love, laugh and feel compassion through your struggles is a testament to your strength.

So thank you, to everyone who has come before, and laid the groundwork to show me, and all those that come after me, how to be someone who is strong enough to overcome adversity.