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Mental Health

Mental Health

What I Learned from Pushing the Prowler

Why am I making a big deal out of this innocent piece of fairly common gym equipment? Have we met? Blowing things out of proportion and overthinking them is kinda my thing.

It’s not all bad though, because I think I’ve managed to learn a lesson from all the overthinking.

Despite my hilarious suggestions that wheels, an outboard motor or a winch would make the thing more efficient to move AND a very real note excusing me from using it from a very-real-not-made-up-at-all Doctor – coach has had me pushing this thing around a fair bit recently.

Despite the fact that I am 100% he does enjoy my pain just a little bit (there is this look he gets…) I know he is doing it for my benefit. He knows best when to move me out of my comfort zone and challenge me. He did it with learning the basics and the fundamentals of lifting and this is just another step.

So what is the problem with the prowler? Underlying fear and massively over perceived threat. We talked before about failing safely and learning from failure. With my lifts I had to accept that failure was a learning opportunity and not a threat before I could progress.
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Mental Health

On Failure

Fear of failure is paralysing. It is like a neurotoxin that infects ideas and inspiration and turns them into frustration. Starting somewhere in my brain manifesting as a thought in the back of my mind. It grows rapidly infecting every part of my body with sickening writhing tendrils spreading panic until finally everything freezes.
 
The fear of failure can become so great that it feels easier to simple not attempt anything. For me this means my camera gathers dust on a shelf, my paint brushes sit dry, my guitars lay silent and my pages remain blank. I am so avoidant of this feeling I often give up at even the slightest flickr of the rising sensation. 
 
Last night I learned to fail.
 
At the gym my fear of failure is intensely physical. Within moments of the thought being born in my mind my body reacts, my breathing becomes irregular and I feel the overwhelming urge to flee. A heartbeat of doubt can become a panic attack. Legions of thoughts break through the barriers of my mind simultaneously – “I’m weak”, “I’ll disappoint coach”, “This is pathetic”, “I should quit”. When this happens I usually finish the set as best I can and take some time to compose myself afterwards.
 
Last night I went to the gym after missing a session due to illness. I was tired and probably functioning at about 60% but I knew I needed the session to feel better. I had spent the day locked in my head and I needed to get out into my body. I told coach I had limited capacity and after warming up we heading to the squat rack.
 
I felt calm as I set up on the bar. No other thoughts entered my mind. I knew how to hold and move my body to make the bar do what I needed it to do. I accepted my limited capacity and did my best taking on board coach’s form adjustments and advice. It was physically challenging, my body not yet fully recovered from a virus but my head was clear.  As we increased the weight I knew my energy was running low. My form began to falter towards the end of the sets yet I remained calm. This was usually the point where doubt would creep into my mind, panic would rise and spread through my limbs and I would put myself through unnecessary torture. 
 
And then I failed.
 
I set up well and started the squat. As I reached the bottom I paused for less than a heartbeat and I knew I wasn’t coming back up. Instead of panicking I accepted the failure. The bar caught calmly in the safety and I walked away. Coach smiled, he knew it was past time I learned to fail. I had failed safely, with coach watching on and the supports having done their jobs.
 
This failure taught me something about my squat but more importantly it taught me that with right people around us and the right supports in place it is ok to fail. To fail once is not to fail forever. There is no shame in failure, only a lesson to be learned and pride to be had for making the attempt. I left the gym stronger than I walked in last night. I’d call that a success.
Mental Health

The Bar

Before you roll your eyes and sigh at me for going all ‘gym zen’ remember I have always shared with you the ups and downs and the things that have helped me on my wellness journey.

On the 14th November 2014 I made a confession to you. I told you that anxiety was a massive part of my life and I explained how it affected me. Seven months later, just as things were getting too much, I reached out for help.

I started medication, meditation and mindfulness. I learned about gratitude, and giving and I decided to live with kindness.

With your love and support my mind became stronger, I started to forge a core built on simple values and I found a way to live. I learned to sit with thoughts and feelings and to find peace away from anxiety.

I learned to drive without fear, to answer the phone, to try new things and to live.

I’ve come such a long way but something has been holding me back. The effort I have put into my mind has not been put into my body. We have talked about my struggle with my weight before. I’ve tried to eat mindfully and to take the emotion out of food but the kgs have been sneaking on and on.

In the same way avoidance leads to anxiety in my mental health I have been avoiding being present in my body. I can meditate to be mentally present in any moment BUT I still hide from myself physically.

Remembering that I had to reach out for help at the beginning of my journey about two months again I did it again.

I found a trainer and I started lifting weights. This is what I have learned so far…

The Bar

A loaded bar has no politics, no ego, no agenda. It wants nothing from you, it isn’t selfish, it doesn’t demand, it just is.

You step up to the bar with the pure intent to move it and it either moves or it doesn’t. There are no excuses, no other factors besides you and the bar.

To move the bar you have to be present. You have to be in that moment in your mind and fully occupying your body.

It’s the most simple and simultaneously the most complex thing. Lifting is the ultimate mindful practice. If you overthink or bring ego or less than your full intent it will fail.

Learning to occupy my body has been hard because I am ashamed of it. Fortunately the bar doesn’t care about my shame and to move the bar I have to let it go of my shame.

As I couldn’t hide from my mental anxieties I can no longer hide from my physical self, the bar won’t let me.

I almost faltered in my intentions, I started googling how heavy the bar ‘should’ be for my weight and height and age. I started worrying about the numbers. If I take that nonsense with me my relationship with the bar will become complex when it should be simple.

So friends, here is to the next step in this ongoing journey. Mind and body present and focussed. Leaning into the discomfort of shame and being vulnerable and courageous enough to keep stepping up to the bar.

(Massive thanks to Nicholas for being my mentor, coach and friend in this stage of my journey and The Bar Brisbane for being welcoming and awesome).

Mental Health

An Uncomfortable Paralysis

I got up from this chair and walked around the apartment 7 or 8 times before finally settling down to write. Even now as I type I can feel the discomfort brewing. Building up, trying to take away my focus and scuttle my intention.
 
It starts as a churning deep in my stomach. A thousand butterflies swarming. Within moments it manifests as an anxious throb. Heart pounding an elevated rhythm. Hands tingling. Blood pumping and thumping in my ears. I’m agitated and unfocused. Thinking is making it worse, fueling the squirming, wriggling dread.

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Mental Health

Fourteen Months and Counting

It’s been over a year since I found the courage to ask for help.

14 months ago I embraced vulnerability and walked into a doctor’s office.

I learned how medicine could give me the shield I needed to find the space between my anixety and my authentic self.

In therapy I learned that in this space there are practices I can use to ease my suffering.

I learned what I truely believe in, I discovered my core values and built a framework to keep me aligned to them.

14 months ago I realised I was not alone.

Many of you have been on this journey with me, loving and supporting me at every step. Many of you have shared your own journeys with me. This is more than social media my friends. We have made, and keep, real connections. You guys give me energy and you fuel my desire to succeed, you are often the source of my hope. With all the paradoxical disconnection of this over connected world always remember there are hearts and souls behind the screens and devices all aching to find belonging and genuine connection.

14 months ago I realised I would be ok.

In some of the hardest months of my life, through upheaval, heartbreak, grief and loss I’ve always known I would come out of this. That the suffering would pass. That I would be ok.

I learned that in every loss and every heartbreak there is a lesson to be learned. A way to grow and a way to become stronger.

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Mental Health

To-do vs Can-do or Obligations vs Opportunities

I sat down early this morning to start work on a to-do list. It’s time to snap out of holiday mode (I’ve been back for weeks) and continue progressing some of my goals for this year.

As I started writing

– greyhound media campaign
– kindness crew and other volunteering
– rally fundraising
– podcast
– reading list
– army painting
– listening list
– videos
– apply for citizenship
– apply for Masters
– writing projects

I felt an all too familiar panic starting to rise from the pit of my stomach. Thoughts immediately began to manifest physically. Physical pain, shaking, sweating.

Anxious me is terrified of obligation. He would rather stare at a wall than make a start on something. I’m going to get trapped in apathy. Again.

I caught the panic in time to realise I needed to reframe.

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Mental Health

Bad People vs Bad Choices and Self Compassion

As I sat with a dear friend recently, who was going through a time of suffering, a simple concept became crystal clear to me.

We spend a lot of time saying things to ourselves that we would never say to someone we cared about. We tell ourselves we are a bad person and that we probably deserve our pain. Our loved ones might argue and tell us that we are good but we find it hard to listen because a complete reversal seems impossible.

In reality it’s more likely we have made a bad choice here and there. The intense self critic instantly equates bad choice to bad person.

This lack of self-compassion, or as I prefer to think of it – self kindness, can be devastating. We would never ever dream of treating someone we cared about in the cruel way we can treat ourselves.

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Creative Writing, Mental Health

Shadows

Sometimes I write in metaphor because that is how I tend to think. I was thinking about suffering and pain today and wanted to share with you the idea that it can be OK to ‘just be’ with pain sometimes.

This is how I think about it:

 

Sometimes I walk willingly into the dark. I know that the further I go the more I invite those feelings that dwell in there.

In the complete blackness waits pain, suffering and despair. The absence of light is the absence of hope. It’s lonely and it’s frightening.

But still I walk willingly towards the dark.

But I stop in the shadows. Halfway between the light and the dark.

The shadows are where I go to rest, to heal and to recharge. In the shadows I can sit next to my pain and my grief and my suffering but not be consumed by it.

From the shadows I can acknowledge pain without avoiding it but I can still feel the warmth of the light and the promise of hope.

For some of us being in the light is tiring and takes effort. The darkness is a part of us. It must not consume us but it should not be ignored.

It’s not bad to feel sadness or pain. Left unanswered they can spill into the parts of our lives where we need the light.

When I’m in the shadows please don’t worry. You are welcome to sit with me but please don’t bring a torch or drag me further into the dark.

 

Not everyone gets me when I am writing or talking like this, and I completely understand why! I’ll attempt to translate for you.

To deny our pain can be to deny part of ourselves. The reasons we have for our suffering often come from our very core values and ways of being. I reject the idea that the path to recovery is to leap around being forcefully ‘happy’ all the time. Sometimes we need time to just feel. To be sad or to grieve.

This doesn’t mean we have given up or that we are in a depression or anything negative. It means we are being courageous and vulnerable.

Being positive and open and daring can be draining sometimes, especially for introverts. The energy expended in being open can be recovered by moving back a little closer to a quieter place.

I find I personally need quite a lot of time in the shadows. Sometimes sitting close to sadness (past or present) just feeling. To remind me who I am. When I am there I welcome company but I do not need to be fixed. It makes me think of that line from ‘The Invitation’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer –

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I don’t think we should ever try to fix each other. We really just need to be with each other, to make connections and to stop being ashamed and guilty about our pain.

Mental Health

Don’t Panic – Why I’m Doing the Mystery Box Rally

I was having a virtual stroll around the Interwebs when I noticed a post from my friend Claire. Her co-driver for the 2016 Mystery Box Rally had dropped out and she needed a replacement.
I knew she was entering and essentially what the rally was –

Teams will drive unknown cars along a mystery route in this unique 5 day challenge, all in the name of cancer research. The mad baby brother of Shitbox Rally, Mystery Box is smaller and shorter but no less ridiculous. You fly into the departure `location with no car and no idea of where you’re heading, but ready for an adventure.

As I read the post calling for a replacement co-driver I though to myself “I wish I was the kind of person that did this kind of thing”. It occurred to me a few short moments later that I could be! I had a quick look around the website to make sure I knew what I would be getting into and sent Claire a message.

This is not the kind of thing I would ever have had the confidence to do before. A mystery journey in a mystery car – it is impossible to do the level of planning (and associated worrying) that I would usually do even for a short drive to an unfamiliar location.

The entire thing is about raising money for the Cancer Council in Australia who fund vital research into curing cancer. This is a cause very close to my heart and to my family who have lost many loved ones to the disease.

The timing of this opportunity was uncanny. The day before I had been in a particularly challenging session with my psychologist.

We have done some great work dealing with my anxiety and depression issues and have developed a strong and varied tool kit that helps me maximise the potential in my life. My focus on mindfulness, kindness, giving and gratitude was born out of these sessions. As we have tackled more and more ‘surface’ issues we have been moving closer and closer to some deep emotional root causes of some of the ways I feel and think.

Losing my mother to cancer at age 3 had, and continues to have, a profound impact on my life. It was only in this recent session that we really got down to the core of these impacts and started looking at the ways I can move forward. 

I’ll save the rest of that story for a more detailed post in the future when I have figured out exactly how to share it properly.

Needless to say, to have had a very painful (yet hopeful) eye opening with its roots in losing loved ones to cancer had really set me up to leap at the chance to help raise money for cancer research.

Claire and I got chatting and decided to call our team ‘Don’t Panic’ and to both dress as Arthur Dent for the entire rally. We went shopping for matching dressing gowns and pyjamas and made a team photograph.13315490_1065378123520764_3757606222773116849_n

We plan on drinking tea, handing out biscuits and looking confused in our pyjamas for the whole event. This will be good for me. I will have no choice but to ‘just be’ as each day unfolds with it’s challenges and surprises. To say I am excited is an understatement.

I’ve seen videos from previous and similar events and I am looking forward to making new connections. The sharing of the experience with the other participants will be amazing. I’ll be driving Claire insane during the day in the car but we camp every night together as a group. I can see the opportunities for those filmic moment I always thought were for ‘other people’.

So now we have until September to raise a minimum of $3000 for the Cancer Council.

 

We are collecting donations at:

Every Day Hero Page

You can follow our shenanigans on our FB page at:

Team Don’t Panic on Facebook

Mental Health

Connections

“Life is a tapestry woven from the threads of our connections”

I attempted to muse thoughtfully via my usual outlet – a Facebook status update.

Recent output on this ‘channel’ had ranged from cheese and wine emergencies, failed attempts to adult and sharing of inspirational memes.( I wonder how many other people spend a great deal of time considering their personal Facebook page as a ‘channel’?) Perhaps this update didn’t quite fit.

What I thought had been a profound and a rather nice metaphor was quite quickly shot down by no less than two family members, I suspect for use of the word ‘tapestry’, in a poignant reminder that maybe social media isn’t the place for these kinds of things. People won’t always read the intention behind a message or feel that yearning for connection.

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Mental Health

Breakfast for One

I’m writing from a coffee shop, on my phone, which probably isn’t that unusual in the grand scheme of things.
However I’m here on my own, I’m not waiting for anyone. I’ve got my coffee and some breakfast and I’m feeling quite content.
The thought of dining alone, or doing anything alone for that matter, would have once filled me with absolute dread. But today I feel calm and relaxed.
I like that I can be around people. There is an energy in a busy place that is just not there in an empty apartment.

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Mental Health

Medicating for Anxiety

I started taking Lexapro, an SSRI, for my anxiety in July 2015 at the age of 35.

I had suffered from varying degrees of anxiety and depression my whole life but have always considered it to just be part of me. It was my personality. My fear, moods and hopelessness were just character defects — not illness.

One day whilst browsing social media I came across a video of Wil Wheaton talking about his anxiety.

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Mental Health

An Important Lesson

I think I have learned an important and almost costly lesson.

I don’t know how many of you see a psychologist regularly and what your sessions are like, or how those of you that don’t imagine the sessions to be.

I’ll tell you a little about mine.

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