Stalled Recovery

Ooops. I think I stalled a bit. In general I’ve been flat, unmotivated and a bit sad. Thursday and Friday were pretty good though, probably because I wasn’t working. Maybe the work I’m doing isn’t good for me. Currently I’m picking tomatoes on Monday’s, then I work for a not-for-profit delivering beyondblue’s high school curriculum to year 9 students. I am passionate about destigmatizing mental illness and I am committed to helping others in this area, but I think teaching year 9 students doesn’t energise me. I’m not sure if I’m being fussy and choosy about work….

The other problem is that the things I do to assist my recovery have ceased temporarily. Exercise, solitude, time-out, and pleasurable activities all help my recovery, but the problem with that, is for me, that means fly fishing. Now that the trout season has closed, and it’s snowing in the highlands, I just don’t get out anymore. There are a couple of waters still open, but I can’t get motivated to get out and get on the water. It looks like there’s a downside to having one’s recovery wrapped up in a singular pursuit.

I did however manage to get the energy to call a buddy who’s helping me build a rod. I received some rod blanks for Christmas and I’m going to build my own 9 footer with his help. It’s taken me all of six months to get the motivation to do it, but I guess that’s what the off season is for. Anyway, I went up to his place on Thursday and came away from that a little more re-energised, so maybe I just need to plan a few more things to do during the off season.

I’m a bit concerned about my fitness too. During the fishing season, I pedal kilometers in my Hobie kayak and do a lot of wading and walking which keeps me fairly fit. Now that the winter has set in, I can feel my belly fattening. That don’t impress me much (as Shania Twain used to sing).

Anyway, I think I’ve stalled a bit. Hopefully it’s just a holding pattern til I can get permission from the tower to continue my landing!

anxieaphobia

I’ve coined a new word. I’m sure there’s a proper one though.

I think I’ve become sensitized to anxiety, similar to how someone stung by bees can develop a worse and worse reaction each subsequent time they are stung to the point that they break out in a nervous reaction whenever someone unscrews a jar of honey. (ok maybe not that bad, but definitely when there’s bees flying about).

Last week while on holiday’s my boss texted me and asked me to call. I felt the familiar gut churn and twisting. I didn’t want to call. Evenutally, after a few moments I did, but my heart was going faster than it should have.

Psychologists say that a certain level of stress is good. For example, you may not get out of bed but for a low level of stress – perhaps on the bladder, perhaps in the stomach, maybe kids that need to be fed, or a boss that expects you to show up for work.

I overdosed on stress to the point that I developed a form of anxiety. Now that I’m sensitized, any amount of anxiety seems unacceptable to me. I tend to have an exaggerated response to it. The response is a sub-conscious primal reaction in my gut that says “this is bad” deep down somewhere. It could be as small as the anxiety relating to having to be somewhere on time, running late or slightly more stressful events such as going for a job interview.

I’m not sure I agree with the idea that a small amount of stress is good. What if we ditched that idea. Instead of running on a small amount of stress, what if we ran on passion and desire instead? How does this sound? I get out of bed because I’m passionate about seizing the day. I go to work because I’m passionate about my job. I look after my kids because I love them.

My second response after “this is bad” is “I need a beer”. In my head I know both responses are wrong, but I just don’t know how to re-tune the emotional response to stress. It seems that the bit of my brain that moderates the response got overloaded and then broke. I guess it will fix itself one day, but right now, I’m suffering from anxieaphobia.

It’s OK to not be OK

Recently I attended a fantastic conference on Mental Health with around 200 delegates and speakers from Australia, NZ and Hawaii.

One of the speakers said something that made me first of all write it down, second of all to give it some thought. She said we need to all understand and accept that “it’s ok to not be ok”.

At first it sounds like a contradiction; if it’s not ok, then it’s not ok right? But when I thought about it a bit more in the context of where she was heading, I realised that what she was saying, was that having a mental health problem is ok. It’s not good, but it is a legitimate human experience.

We need to accept that depression, anxiety and a host of mental problems are part of the human experience. When we do that, we are able to give dignity and respect to sufferers. We treat them just like anyone else.

Understanding that it’s ok to not be ok helps me to be ok about having a condition and instead of putting my energies into fighting the fact that I have depression I put my energy into recovery. It’s also important for non-sufferers to understand because it deals with the stigma.

Stigma prevents people from getting treatment. It prevents sufferers from getting the support they need from the people around them. It shuts down conversations that need to take place. None of my “well” friends ever ask about my mental health, because they just don’t know what to say.

And in saying that it’s ok to not be ok, it doesn’t ever mean depression is good. It’s bad. It’s an illness to be recovered from that will afflict one in five people at any given point in time.

The Perfect Man

This would have to be one of the funniest video’s I’ve seen for a long time. Check this guy out… ladies the hunt for the perfect man is over!

But as usual, it got me thinking. I mean it’s ridiculous, but taps into this incessant craving that women have to find the perfect man. (Men suffer this craving too – you only have to look at men’s magazines). But by and large I think men are fairly easily pleased – you know what they say about the way to a men’s heart. I reckon hand a bloke a remote control, a good feed and sex after the game and he’ll pretty much stick around for life.

Women on the other hand have been sold a dud. The rise of feminism (which accomplished a lot of amazing things for the fairer sex) did argue “you can have it all” – without a whole lot of qualifications. So while stories like Jane Austin’s “Emma” and Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romcoms are just that – stories, I think women have bought them as documentaries. Somehow, in a couple of generations, expectations upon men have escalated. It’s no longer good enough to bring home the bacon (women bring it home just as well these days), spend some time with kids, hang out with your mates, mow the grass, clean the car and fix a few things about the house, you’ve somehow got to embody Mr Darcy, be fluent in Shakespeare, be a die-hard romantic, be sensitive, caring and and all round nice guy.

For goodness sake, just on TV last night, some hosts on a comedy show were discussing the invention of an oxytocin spray that guys could inhale. This is the hormone that makes mother’s bond with their newborns and begin lactating. Studies showed that men who enhaled this spray, were suddenly more empathetic and caring. Great, that’s just what we need! I wonder if they started to lactate too!

Hopefully the video shows just how ridiculous women’s expectations have become. The dark side of these inflated expectations leads to disappointment, frustration, conflict and ultimately relationship breakdown. Perhaps we could all just calm down and be happy with the person we have, and fully expect them to be …. them!

More Coming Alive

Soo… we were talking about coming alive, but I didn’t say anything about me … and… coming alive.

I think for me to come alive, is to actually become authentically me. Obviously I’m not that great… heaps of flaws.. fairly emotionally retarded etc. But it’s the only starting point I can have for this life. I must start with me. So I think knowing who I am and what I’m like and understanding myself, then accepting myself is the launching pad to then build a strong life.

I’ve coined a saying “be kind to yourself today, you might be the only one”. I like that because we’re pretty hard on ourselves usually. We often censor ourselves, we often don’t back ourselves, we get down on ourselves, but maybe we could just lighten up a little.

So me? I’ve discovered I’m fairly introverted at this stage of my life. I love my own company, and I love to be quiet. Sure I can do people, and I enjoy people, but I find nourishment in silence that I don’t get around people. I love to think, so I read a lot. Books, magazines, blogs, even research papers on things I’m interested in. I love to create. I find my outlet for creativity in video editing, photography, some creative writing (got my first magazine article being published in a couple months) and fly tying.

Speaking of “flow”, I experience flow, when I’m hunting and fishing, public speaking, reading and researching stuff and video editing. I feel most normal when I’m working outside around animals. Strange mix.

The things I’ve used to discover who I am, and what I’m like? Some tools I found useful was Myers Briggs typing and Strength Finder. Obviously trying lots of stuff and being mindful helps, because then you realise “hey, time stopped when I did that!”. I tried things like drawing classes, fly tying weekends, and all kinds of things.

One of the interesting points that Now Discover Your Strengths points out, is that we were naturally drawn to the areas of our strengths as children. Isn’t it sad that for most of us (except maybe kids like Tiger Woods), the people around us weren’t observant enough to capture the moments when we were in our element and steer us in the right direction. My mum (being asian) told me to be either a doctor or lawyer, completely irrespective of any observation of what I was into as a kid.

But it’s not too late to start. In fact, it can’t be too late. It’s too important to delay. We need to come alive and we need to start now.

Coming Alive

I’m a bit of a fan of MasterChef, a current TV series where contestants are eliminated and the best chef wins.  This year, there are accountants, auditors, IT consultants, and lawyers to name a few. Almost invariably, when the contestants are asked why they’re on the show, they say they’re just marking time in their jobs (or words to that effect), but when they’re cooking, they come alive.

The “coming alive” is my expression. They describe the feeling as “time just seems to be suspended”, or “there’s a smile on my face”, or “I feel at home in the kitchen”. The concrete renderer said he’d come on the show to “start a new life”.

One young man in his early twenties – the auditor, made the point that he only became an auditor to please his father, but midway through the competition, he’s recieved his father’s blessing to pursue the dream of becoming a chef and owning his own restaurant.

The great thing is that these individuals have realised that their current profession – while they may well do a great job – just isn’t them. It’s not their niche. It doesn’t play to their strengths. In their own way, they’re saying that when they cook, they experience “flow”.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi author leading researcher on creativity coined the term “flow” to describe a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored. When people are experiencing flow, they’re doing something that they’re created for. They’re good at it, and it comes naturally. It’s a strength.

The sad thing for me, is that so many people spend so long in careers and activities in which they are not strong. They may be competent, but it takes away from them – it makes them less… them! And for some reason, so few have the balls to get out of what they’re doing and make a sideways or downward shift, to find that very thing in which they come alive. I’m fairly confident that there would be less burnout if people were supported in discovering and playing to their strengths and building a career out of them.

What makes you come alive? Do you play to your strengths, or are you stuck in a career in which you just long to get out of and find the very thing that makes you “come alive”?