It’s been a year.
A year without hardly any artistic creating, or writing, or anything, really. Just a whole lot of gaining perspective and working on myself. I’ve been quiet, you’ll have noticed by now, and that’s for many reasons, one of which was that my laptop would lag as I typed and trying to do anything on it was altogether stressful and unjustifiably time-consuming. It’s taken a while to get to the point where I can justify getting myself a new device, but I’ve done it now and I’m finding that I wish I had done this a year ago. To write this post on something that is working with me, not against me, is leaps and bounds more enjoyable and productive than the latter. It’s amazing what a big difference a single change can make, isn’t it?
As far as other changes go, I’m still without a day job, except that I believe I have the job of getting healthy enough to return to work somehow. My days are composed of mostly silence followed by more silence, sandwiched by children. This either means I have a good day, or one that if I can even grasp enough concentration to put a song on, I might be able to get something done. I tell myself I’ll have a cup of tea first, as they do here, except going into the kitchen to put the kettle on means passing by some dirty dishes, recycling that needs to be broken down and sorted, some mess on the countertop that needs wiping, some food that I bought and put in plain sight “so I’ll remember to cook it,” and more. Each of these things comes with a dialogue that pops into my head with a little suggestion: “You really should do that.” I really should do a lot of things. But here’s the problem: my intentions are not the same as my reality because I am not perfect. Accepting that I am not perfect was a good square one. The strive for perfection can be quite damaging.
Now some days, in the past few months, have been great! I’ve woke up on time, got the kids to school on time, had breakfast on time, been to the gym, done some chores, and generally felt good. Days like these, I’ve had to fight for. To get days like these took an awful lot of trudging, tediously, through unfamiliar territory and uncharted waters, and then a bunch of practicing on top of that.
The reality is that sometimes I never get that cup of tea. On days that aren’t so good, dishes don’t get done. Pretty food does not get cooked. All thoughts are balloons that are floating away before I can clutch my proverbial fingers onto their proverbial ribbons. Every intention feels like it’s created in futility. I end the day feeling like nothing, numbness. The more intentions I have, and which don’t come to fruition, the more I feel increasingly guilty. WHY can’t I just do what I thought I was going to do when I voiced the intention to do it? Why, once I finally do it and make a habit out of it, can I not be consistent for long periods of time?
The answer is that I’m still searching for an answer to this. What makes sense, after reading up on a lot of things, is that I’m living with adult female ADHD. Combine that with the effects of too much stress for too long, too little sleep for too long, previous head injury, isolation, lack of activity for almost a whole year, the Complex PTSD, GAD, Depression … I feel like I’m a space case and I’m losing my mind. With all these labels, stressors, factors, experiences, I have no idea at a glance which of the symptoms (which are what I’m realistically dealing with, regardless of labels) are biological and which are environmental, or learned. (I mean, I can start guessing, but….)
In the time I have been away from this blog, I’ve had a several developments. Some have been so extremely positive and have taken incredible weight off my shoulders. Some have been the kind of negative I never want to encouter again, ever. But the whole year, with all it’s contained, has been an insightful journey. I learned I might be a space case, and I might be literally losing my mind. But what good does it do to dwell on that? What I’ve really discovered in the past year, is something that has helped put a kink in the flow of depression. It starts with a little mantra for when I’m beating myself up for my imperfections: ” I AM HEALING, AND THIS IS PART OF IT. WHAT IS IN MY POWER?”
On days when I can’t gain control of my drifting thoughts, or when I’m obsessing over something negative, I don’t beat myself up so much anymore. I remember the mantra, and I think about bringing the swinging pendulum of thoughts (past to future, future to past) to a rest in the ‘present’ position. This prevents the panic attacks quite well, with some practice.
I tell myself: “I AM HEALING, AND THIS IS PART OF IT.” I turn quickly away from the vicious cycle of feeling shit about whatever it is at the time, by asking: “WHAT IS IN MY POWER?” Once I’ve asked myself the question, my brain does not find more bad things to think about myself. It starts thinking about, looking for, SOLUTIONS.
What this essentially accomplishes is a sort of tricking of the brain. My brain has become accustomed to thinking in a certain way when things go wrong, one which usually involves a lot of hurtful self-dialogue telling me about all of my shortcomings. I’ve heard so many of them for so long from so many people, there is more than enough material stored away in my subconscious to hurl abuse at myself for a lifetime. I’m creative, as well, which means I’m able to come up with new ones without much effort. So instead of allowing the rant to begin, I intentionally interrupt this programming with a new command for my creativity and my thoughts, which is to look for solutions.
In real life, I’m an excellent problem-solver, I just never used that skill to address my mental health. I wasn’t brought up to care about mental health. When I tried to voice as an adolescent that something was wrong with my own, I was told not to say things I don’t mean. I imagine how I got to be in the position I was is the same way a house can go from beautiful to destroyed in almost no time at all, which is a lack of housekeeping.
Furthermore, how can we clean anything up if we don’t even look at the mess?
I looked, friends. It was a big mess. I was a mess. Twenty-eight years’ worth of mess, and it was time for housekeeping.
I made a list over two years ago of things that I thought were contributing to the problem. Inconsistently but never abandoning completely, I addressed my Mental List of Things Driving Me Mental (which I really should have written down). As and when I found the opportunity, I addressed each item in a trial-and-error fashion to see what I could solve. Some of these things were indeed huge factors and the solving of them has had great impact, such as having the Mirena coil removed. I won’t gross you out with the details, but suffice to say this one was messing me up, in big ways.
I can’t even remember the things I tried to solve which proved to be fruitless, because the effect of even attempting to find solutions has been so positive, I forgot to care enough to remember those negatives.
Now just like trying to clean up a huge, real-life, tangible mess, the only way it gets done is with one item or action at a time. This takes a lot of time, cumulatively. I don’t know where I am in the huge mess but I know that I’m starting to feel like I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. None of this would be the case if I hadn’t got back up.
I am so human and so fallible that of course, I fail. I fall. And I know exactly what it feels like to want to stay down and give up. Once again, it’s a good thing I have some really great kids. They are a huge facet of my Purpose. But if I didn’t, you know what would be the first thing I’d do? Go find something or someone that needs me. That would be number one on my list. I would volunteer somewhere (which I do sometimes and am looking to do again anyway) that showed me repeatedly and instantaneously that I, just little ol’ me, could make a difference, because as humans, we require a purpose in order to live happily. My purpose means to me that I’ve got to keep fighting for as long as I can, I don’t get to give up.
Making that first step, a decision, is imperative. Either decide on what your Purpose is or decide that you’re going to keep searching until you find it. Regardless, DECIDE and KNOW that you HAVE ONE.
I think of it this way: Imagine you’re lost. Now imagine you happen to possess a magical map that can appear out of thin air, whenever you command it. Being lost, you first have to decide to get out the map. Then, you must try to look at it and make sense of it. You must analyse your available routes, and then you must CHOOSE ONE. Only once you make the choice, the decision to move in whatever direction, do you have any hope of going anywhere that isn’t the hell you’re stuck in.
Once you’ve decided in which direction you’re heading, analyse the present and figure out which steps you can take. This is where a counsellor or therapist becomes invaluable. They have the gift of an objective view of the situation, which means they can see solutions that you can’t; and they’re never going to be as critical of you as you are of yourself. If you don’t have a counsellor, keep a journal. Or do both! Then, START STEPPING.
It will start with one step, just like everything else. And it will feel like a marathon sometimes. But when it starts getting tough, you remember the Purpose. And you keep doing your best to take another damn step no matter how tedious.
One of my favourite celebrities is Jillian Michaels, because she is all about getting back up. She makes great workout videos, and they’re another tool in my toolbox that I have used for many years to accomplish a variety of things. Anyway… one particular quote of hers has always stuck in my head:
The less you move, the less you want to move, and ultimately the less you are ABLE to move.
In this last year, there was a lot of NOT moving. My muscles began to atrophy, as well, so the days when I finally felt like I could do something, I had no energy or srength. All the adrenaline from stress that should have been expended by moving around was kept inside my body, making me unable to cope. The suicidal thoughts increased, and got louder. Everything felt like it had got worse. I felt, in all seriousness, like checking myself into the hospital lest I run through the streets, screaming. I was close to giving up. The mess was so huge, so intimidating, that my distractable mind, clouded by a plethora of thoughts about how shit I was, did not want to fathom the cleanup job. This was starting to reflect in the state of my real house, and I was tripping over everything that I’d repeatedly failed to address.
So one day, I got really angry. I was sick and freaking tired of the mess. I was sick of stubbing my toes because there was crap all over the floor. I was sick to death of clinging onto old thoughts and behaviours that were only making the mess bigger, more tangled, and more difficult.
I’ll have to save the details for another day, but fast forward through a lot of stepping, tripping, and getting back up, and I’ll be damned if I’m not making progress. My counsellor calls it “Marginal Gains.” You can’t change 100% at once, but you can change 1% here and 2% there, and before you know it those percentage points are adding up.
A year has come and gone and I’m not done, but I’m not the same person I used to be… and I am so thankful for that. I am marginally better, because I decided to get back up.
If you identify with me, I hope you’ll try to do the same. Doing nothing is not a solution, and it will not serve you. That is a promise.
Hello, long time no speak. I’ve been incubating, if you will. I do apologise for my absence if it has affected anyone.
Well, I’m here today because I have a song for you. I’m a big fan of hip hop, and as I was thinking random thoughts the other day, words came out of my head rhyming and just kept coming. I found some apps to play with because I’m too excited to wait for my friend to help me do something better with instruments, and looped this track all by myself. I think it’s not bad for a novice, and it’s just a vehicle for the words anyway. New version will be shared when it’s ready.
The song is called ‘Social Responsibility’ and it’s in response to this crazy world social climate we’re experiencing. I’m hoping that everyone can start banding together somehow, soon. I don’t want people to fight over presidents or any of that… we need to think more critically and act more lovingly. We are humans. We can do incredible things, be they good or bad. When was the last time we thought about in which of those categories our actions belong?
Open up your eyes, open up your minds, and think.
If you want to hear the song, click the link below.
Love to all who need it, and even to those that don’t.
Check this out on #BandLab https://www.bandlab.com/revisions/1a43427e-60ab-e611-80c3-0003ff4666fb
It is now October 2015.
Seven years ago this month my big sister, Sarah, lost her life and left behind two beautiful children. Losing her changed everything.
Personally, I struggled with this very much (“very much” being an understatement). There were so many aspects of the experience that were extremely hard to handle and totally threw me for six. Since then I have wanted to help support, protect, and comfort the kids my sister left behind, but I have been in no position to do so. As I type this I am living seven thousand miles away from them with no imminent hope of affording even a visit back home.
In 2013 I started and finished writing a story. It all came in a wave of inspiration. I sobbed while I wrote it, I sob when I talk about it, I sob when I think about it. My greatest ambition is for this story to be illustrated, published, and both available for sale and distributed for free.
Let me explain:
When my sister was in the accident, she died at the scene but was resuscitated and on life support for ten days. Her children were taken to a separate hospital and were treated for minor injuries. They were two-and-a-half years old, and two months old, respectively. They were then cared for by friends for a few days until my sister’s partner was able to leave my sister’s side and take them home. Once this happened, all the children really knew was that their mother wasn’t there anymore.
At the hospital when we were all going through this ordeal, they didn’t give us any materials to help explain anything to the kids. I don’t even know if there is a program in existence that does this. So when I wrote the story, I had this in mind. How do you explain to young kids what has happened to their parent? Transcending the parent/child relationship, how do you explain loss to children?
Without wanting to delve into any religious or afterlife type of detail, the story that came into my head was one of conveying the understanding that our loved ones never really leave us if we keep their memories, words, and lessons alive.
In the story, the main character is named after my niece, Ezri. Ezri bunny is a curious little bunny who loves to explore and ask questions. She gets a baby brother, Lucian (named after my nephew) and is so excited, but her excitement turns to disappointment when she realises he’s too young to play ‘pretend’ with her. She then decides to show him her favourite things.
As Ezri shows her baby brother her favourite things, she is keen to tell him all about them: The flowers, the lake, and the beautiful sunset. But she soon realises she doesn’t have all the knowledge to explain them the way she wants to. With Mama Bunny by her side, she asks questions about them and her mama gives her explanations she doesn’t fully understand…
Ezri was still curious. “But Mama, why does it make the sky so pretty before it goes away?”
Mama Bunny thought again about what to say. Then she spoke tenderly, “Ezri, my little love bug, it is teaching us a lesson. As the sun sets, it gives us a beautiful show that will never be repeated. But it won’t wait for us to come and see it, it will carry on as it does. We have to choose to see it if we really want to enjoy it, because if we don’t pay attention, we’ll miss it. But if we do pay attention, I mean really pay attention and take in all it has to show us, we will have a wonderful memory of that amazing display of light, to carry us through even the darkest of nights. The sunset will fade away, but our memory of it, the imprint it leaves in our hearts, is what will keep it alive in us. And that memory can never be taken away for as long as we live.”
…until the day Mama Bunny is suddenly not there anymore.
Ezri is confused, and goes to find her mama.
Ezri went outside. “Maybe,” she thought, “I can find her.” She went to the meadow to see if Mama Bunny had got lost there picking flowers. She could see some of the flowers losing their petals as the wind blew. She found a fluffy white one she was sure had been yellow before. As she touched it, some of the white fluff sailed away in the breeze. It was so beautiful to watch, she blew on it and sent the rest of the fluff dancing on her breath. As she looked around, she noticed all the yellow flowers had turned white and fluffy. She ran and jumped through the meadow and watched all the bits of fluff dance around her. She stopped for a moment. “Mama?” she called.
But Mama Bunny wasn’t there.
Ezri thought about what her mama had told her about the flowers. The flowers were now going away, but she guessed the white fluff was on its way to making new flowers. “Goodbye,” she said to them, “see you again soon!”
As she visits each of her favourite places, looking for Mama Bunny, she gains a better understanding of her mama’s words. Beginnings and endings, peace and reflection, culminating in the ultimate understanding of her mama’s “Most Important Lesson.”
What I need:
Editing: I need help to make this a reality. I have all the words typed and edited to the best of my ability, but I need it to go to the next step.
Illustrations: I am artistic, but I am not an illustrator. I would like help in this area. Someone who knows how to illustrate and can understand my vision for this and where I want it to go.
My poor attempt:
Publishing: I need a publisher to hear me and want to work with me.
Promotion: This project is designed to be available for sale for anyone who wants it. I also see it being included in a package distributed at hospitals and hospices (et cetera) and by Social Services as an illustrated story to read to the kids affected.
Others: I can see quotes from this and the corresponding artwork sold as merchandise of all sorts, with portions of the proceeds going to either a new or existing charity that focuses on comfort for children who have lost parents.
I can see a short cartoon made from this story available to view for free on YouTube.
I want to tour and read this story wherever it’s welcomed.
I don’t have anything in the way of money or resources to give. I am just me, not rich in the slightest.
Ideally part of completing this project would allow me to visit my home (America) for the first time in over five years, to see my niece and nephew and give them an illustrated, printed first copy of the book, and read it to them in person.
Feedback So Far:
Everyone who has read the story so far has loved it and has passionately told me I need to publish it. This, I feel, is my greatest purpose thus far. My gift to the world.
What’s Been Stopping Me:
Fear. Of applications, rejection, failure, you name it. I have had extreme artistic block when trying to do the illustrations myself, and have been unable to complete them.
I don’t know how publishing works. I am not an expert. I don’t feel I know how to do this alone.
Can you help?
Email me @: talkingthisandthatblog.gmail.com
Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Please share this everywhere. Somehow, some way, the right person will see it and get in touch with me.
Copyright notice: All quotes and ideas expressed here are the sole intellectual property of Kirsten Young. Copying of any portion of the above without permission is strictly prohibited.
The school year has begun. The boys have both been doing brilliantly so far, and I’ve been doing pretty well, considering this time three months ago I was terrified of taking my kids to school.
Was I concerned they wouldn’t do so well? Not really. The little one was very confident and excited to don his uniform and go learn some stuff. The big one was excited he got new stationary supplies and a new backpack with hidden pockets. They were both ready. But I was not.
Rewind to just a few months ago, I found it hard to get out of bed until nine-o-clock or later. I couldn’t do mornings. I could hardly do anything. Knowing that school runs were going to be a drastic change of pace, I had to do something to make sure I was awake before the boys were, to make sure they ate breakfast, to make sure they both had clean and ironed uniforms to wear, and to drive the eldest to the school three miles away, in enough time to travel another three-and-a-half miles to the little one’s school, brave the playground, and walk him to the door.
Maybe the above sounds pretty routine or simple to some. It is not simple to me. It’s a big, fat, huge deal.
So, in preparation, I picked up an exercise regime and cleanse-type nutrition program. I needed it for several reasons, but most importantly it would force me to wake up earlier as part of the routine. It worked. I was up at six or six-thirty, exercising bright and early. I lost about ten pounds, and was feeling amazing. I even took up running which is something I’ve only ever done in daydreams. I made a very big effort (considering this is me I’m talking about) to make friends with some mums from my little one’s school, which is something I’ve never managed to do before a school year has started (or at any point, really). I was, shall we say, “on fiyaa!”
The school year started in two separate stages: my eldest son’s first, then the little one’s. And it was both harder and easier than I’d thought. Traffic is nuts around there. The big one’s school is huge. So many cars, roundabouts making things ridiculous… but I was doing it! I was up every morning, they both had breakfast and ironed uniforms, and the playground was not an awkward hell for me. What an accomplishment!
But just as I was rejoicing that I was successfully ‘adulting,’ I accidentally got my eldest to school late. In turn, they gave him a detention. I was confused about the time he was supposed to be there anyway, thought I’d left early, went the worst possible way I could have gone, and bam, he was tardy. Good gracious they were harsh about it! Talk about knocking the wind out of my sails, this really kicked me down. And it probably wasn’t even a big deal. But to me, it was huge. Why did he get the detention? It wasn’t his fault! I felt severely discouraged.
Fast forward to today, he had an appointment. I was concerned about what the school would say because last time they gave me a scary absence slip to sign and threatened him with detention even though it was to get stitches out of his foot for an injury that happened at the school!
So I called today, having missed the voicemail that said to send a note with him yesterday. I was going to send a note today, but my mood is slipping and I’m starting to feel like I’m drowning again, so it was a struggle just to get out of bed.
The woman on the other end of the phone knows none of this. She knows I’m a parent, and that’s basically it. She tells me to try and remember to tell him next time, because they have so many students that they need people to be as self-reliant as possible (or something like that). Instead of this, which seems simple written down, I hear a tone in her voice that says I’m being a pain and I need to get my act together, and to stop thinking I deserve any kind of special treatment or understanding. (I don’t even know if I imagined it.)
I try to explain that I really did mean to, but I’m doing this on my own, I’ve got the two kids in two different schools, and just getting them out the door and to where they need to be on time is overwhelming in itself. She tells me she knows how I feel because she has three kids but it’s just one of those things you have to remember to do.
But I don’t think you do, lady. You’ve got a job. That means you’re fit to work. I am not fit to work.
If only you knew, lady, how much I wanted to remember. How much I tried. How much my head was so full of “I don’t want to do this today” and “Come on, self, you really need to get dressed, why are you crying?” that I honestly spaced writing the note and telling my son to make sure he’s at the front of the school at the time I need to pick him up.
If you knew, lady, how difficult it was to drag myself out of bed today, how much work I have put into clawing my way out of the depression hole to get to the point where I can even take my kids to school in the first place, would you soften your tone?
Of course, I said none of these things. I just remembered how mental health issues are invisible and the general public has no way of knowing what you’re struggling with unless you tell them. And today, I didn’t feel like giving her my list of diagnoses just so she wouldn’t think of me as a failure, negligent mother, or lazy person. If, in fact, she thought any of those things at all. (My anxiety says she thinks the worst.)
Once my son eventually got to his appointment (five minutes late because he’d started walking instead of going to the office) I had a few meltdown moments in the car. I wish I had the privilege of an ‘excused absence’ on days like this, but I don’t get any.
Truth is, I don’t want sympathy or special treatment, I actually want to just be able to do these simple things, no problem. I want the molehills to stay molehills. I want to run for fun and exercise with my new friends in my bright pink tights instead of running around like a headless chicken in the mornings.
But I do wish I could have telepathically conveyed a little perspective when I was (I’m pretty sure) getting told off this morning. It would have spared me a few tears in public places.
The summer is most certainly over now. October is approaching.
This time seven years ago, my world was in shambles. At the beginning of the year I had thought everything was going great, but sometimes people and situations aren’t always what they seem.
What I had thought was stable and predictable quickly revealed itself to be all one big lie, and I was terrified of what the future was to bring. Around this time, I hadn’t left the house without my mom for two months. I couldn’t answer my phone or the door out of fear. My confidence quickly shut down. I was going to have to leave the house I was in as I could no longer afford anything.
At this time I had no idea what I was going to do, because raising two children by myself under the circumstances seemed impossible. I’d have been a nervous wreck. I wouldn’t have had the emotional stability to give you both what you needed. I would have been confined by fear and worry on a daily basis.
I knew this would not be right for you. But at this time seven years ago, I had no solutions. I was uncertain of everything except one thing: you and your big brother deserved better.
You are going to be seven soon and you’re still a stranger to me, and I to you. I’m so sorry if this ever hurts you. I truly hope it doesn’t.
I’m over here, on the other side of the world right now, seeing pictures of you doing things and wondering how it’s possible that you could be so much like me.
I hope I get to meet you one day.
Read Dear Lucy 5
My son is going to be twelve at the end of this year. He is so bright, albeit occasionally insensitive. He carries on conversations with adults with virtually no trouble. Often times, his knowledge base can exceed that of the adult with whom he is speaking, and I am told his teachers are impressed with him. But sometimes, he can hurt feelings. He can be a right little turkey, as I say. I’m sure it’s normal, but because of this I was understandably nervous to talk to him about the mental health problems I face.
What I take for granted, I suppose, is that he overhears my conversations on the phone and sometimes reads things over my shoulder as I write them. I can forget that I’ve spoken aloud about something to someone else while he’s been near, which is easy to do because he rarely looks like he’s paying attention to anything. He’s usually absorbed in his own activities, whatever they are, apparently lost in his own little world.
As far as I can recall, I haven’t directly spoken to him about depression or anxiety. I could be wrong, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover what he had to say on the subject when we had a little chat the other night.
What is depression?
-Thinking that nothing can get better and thinking that there’s no hope even if there is, a bit.
What do you think causes it?
What is anxiety?
-Fear. Knowing what’ll happen next but hoping it doesn’t happen.
What do you think about people with anxiety and depression?
-That they’re doing well because they’re trying hard and I think they’re getting through- just about.
Do you know that I have anxiety and depression?
What do you think about that?
-I think you’re doing well, you’re working hard.
What do you think it would look like if I didn’t have these things?
-Without it you’d be happier, you might have a job.
What do you think people should know about anxiety and depression?
-That they should try to understand and give some respect because for ones that have it, their lives are harder.
Then, he said the most clever thing of the whole conversation. He gave a great analogy to help describe having depression and anxiety.
If you could describe depression and anxiety as a thing that might represent it, what would you say that is?
-It’s like a jar inside you, full of the anxiety and depression, and the jar is really hard to open. If you could just get the lid off the jar the anxiety and depression would get out and you could be happy, but the lid is stuck and you try really hard to get it off, but can’t do it alone.
I must add I have had a difficult week with my son. He is about to transition into secondary/high school, and routines at school are currently inconsistent as they practice for the school play and get things organised to end the year. It’s been a bit stressful for him, maybe, and in turn has been extra stressful for me. He hasn’t been listening, caring, or any of the desirable things I wish to see from him. But just when I was beginning to doubt the good in him, he comes out with this.
He does listen. He does care. And I should never discount that perhaps his knowledge of what I’m going through affects him, too. But in all, I’m so proud of him that his true understanding and compassion, one could say, is greater than that in many of the attitudes I’ve seen in a large number of adults. So instead of feeling guilty that I might be adversely affecting him, I think it’s safe to say his experience of seeing these illnesses in me has expanded his understanding and compassion for others.
I don’t think you’ll find bigotry toward anxiety or depression coming from my son anytime soon.
I love my little turkey.
Today I’m not feeling so great. If you can imagine a panic attack like in Being Grounded where it’s the hyperventilating and heart-racing stuff, I’d call that kind the “hot and heavy” variety. What I’ve been experiencing for a few days now, I would describe as the “low and slow” variety. Like cooking a roast for several hours at a low heat as opposed to a high one. Both cook the thing, just depends on how tender you want it. Through it all I’m trying to get through the things I want to accomplish one at a time, and also trying to make sense of everything as I go along. The Hurricane is a pretty good description of the inside of my head right now.
I’d like to share with you one of the essays I wrote, the way I intended it to be read (meaning, minus the last line someone put on there that was not part of my original writing), for the A.C.E. Award competition in 2006. I share it because it shows another little bit of who I am, specifically who I was at age eighteen. A.C.E. stands for Accepting the Challenge of Excellence. My first high school motto was “Committed to Excellence.” I have always wanted to be not average, or mediocre, but excellent.
But first I’d like to tell you, I came from virtually nothing. I grew up in the oldest, most beaten down house on the block. Prior to that was government housing. Prior to that was the battered women’s shelter. Like my short intro to Being Poor and the content in the reblogged post it contains (most of which is a pretty accurate depiction of the structure of my childhood), lack of money has been a constant issue in my life. And it still is. This blog may look fancy and I may have wi-fi but does that mean I’ve finally made it? No.
In fact, a man came out to the house about two weeks ago, from the Office of National Statistics. I tried to opt out but he really wanted to come in and fill out his little forms. I had to explain to him why I didn’t want him in my house.
Because you’re a man and I don’t know you and you’ve shown up unannounced to come and interrogate my finances which I feel embarrassed about and the kids have their toys everywhere and I was about to start dinner and I don’t like your slithery personality! I told him something about how the statistics would be skewed because they want data on what people spend and I’ve been so skint I had literally spent nothing in the previous two weeks, which is atypical of a month for me.
Eventually he wormed his way into garnering an appointment for another day, trying to flatter me so I could be another number on his list. I’m sure he gets paid per interview. Like most Brits do, he asked me where my accent’s from. Why am I here. Do I plan on staying for a long time. Then it got a little uncomfortable, because then he asked if I have a lot of friends. Do I get out much. What do I do for a living. I sound educated, he said. Surely I must have a degree.
I’m from Montana, I guess. I wasn’t born there but I suppose that’s where my accent’s from. It’s now muddled with British English and Brits still think I sound very American and Americans are starting to tell me I sound British. Why am I here? Basically, it was because of a misunderstanding during a phone call and subsequent panic. I married a British guy. We’re still married, but separated. Do I plan on staying a long time? Well, honestly, that totally depends on circumstances. That’s all a big fat catch twenty-two. Right now I’m a bit stuck
but thanks for the reminder. Do I have a lot of friends? Oh, dear.
You readers will probably see from my Letter that friendship is difficult for me. I’ve met a modest amount of people. How many can I call friends? I don’t know. You have to work at friendship, which is something I can only do when I’m feeling good. Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD ruin a lot of things like that for me.
Not really a lot of friends, no. Do I get out much? Not really, I’ve got two kids and when I was working sixty-seventy hours a week I was barely making ends meet and had no time. In the time I haven’t been working I haven’t had money to go do anything. Educated? I graduated high school. I attended a semester of “uni.” No degree. Of course I’d like one, but again that all comes right back down to money.
Then the man said, “You know what they say, ‘money doesn’t buy happiness.’” And this is where I just smiled politely and mumbled something about how ‘they’ obviously didn’t know what they were talking about. I was really thinking:
Really? are you sure about that? Because I’m pretty sure that money could buy me an awful lot of happiness right about now. And I’m pretty sure that, had money been as abundant in my childhood as it had been for my peers, and almost certainly for you, man, there would have been a whole different base on which I could’ve stood to attain my own personal successes without the interference of at least a half of my lifetime full of depression.
I can look back on so many instances beginning very early on, wherein a tragedy occurred, directly linked to my current state of mental health, that could have been prevented or severely altered had there been even a modest amount of more money. But the ones who are strangers to poverty don’t see that. They want to stand from afar and put their labels on you. They want to ask about your career assuming you have one. They repeat these nonsensical idioms which are only true for people on their side of the struggle. They ask their questions to make small talk, while assessing you as something along the lines of: Success? Failure? Nobody? Somebody?
Success is subjective. Failure is subjective. When I was eighteen and about to enter higher education, I had big plans for my life. This following essay is the one I wrote back then about “How can we, as citizens, make a better tomorrow?”
Success, by definition, is a favorable outcome, an accomplishment with direction, or a person or thing that turned out well. As young adults, we hear from our parents and mentors that they hope we will become successful individuals as we grow up. But how may we become a success without someone there guide, teach, and support us?
Things happen in life that cannot be prevented or changed. Unfortunately, these events can be quite crippling. Though you might not expect it, your life could change in a split second and direct you into a completely different path, one that you never would have imagined.
So many young adults or teenagers have been thrown into a new struggle by no fault of their own. They are told by ignorant people that they are failures. Without money or resources or a supportive role model, they will have no choice but to join the vicious cycle of poverty.
It is my hope to become a caring figure in the life of even one person in need, to lend support or to offer advice or resources that will help others succeed in their individual aspirations. I feel compelled to help others, struggling in a cycle that seems to have no end, so in turn, they can become productive citizens.
Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. If we help them to succeed, our community will prosper and flourish. Then we, in turn, can look back at our world and say that it has become a “thing that has turned out well.”
Like the people I spoke of in this essay, I was told by a lot of ignorant people just how big of a failure I was going to be. One teacher I thought the world of, came up to me when I was pregnant at fifteen and said, “It’s such a shame that now us taxpayers will have to be paying for this.” As if he immediately assumed I’d be on welfare forever after. Since then I’ve done a whole lot of trying to prove him wrong. I don’t want to be considered a failure.
Would I call myself a success right now? I’m not sure. That’s hard for me to judge. I’m doing a lot of coping. I’m trying to fill my time with worthwhile endeavours and not feel like a total waste of space. When I read this essay I wrote back when I had a lot less emotional baggage, I can see that despite no degree, and virtually no money, I have done a lot of what I said I wanted to do. I have certainly done my best to help anyone and everyone I could, no matter the cost to me. And I’ve paid the price for it, believe me.
Despite a lot of really bad circumstances, I’m still alive. I’m still breathing. And so are my kids. They have clothes, shoes, and toys. So according to some definitions, I’d say I haven’t exactly failed. I hear I’m a good mom. I definitely try very hard to do my best at the motherhood thing.
Am I ‘excellent’ though? Well you know, I’m not where I’d hoped to be by now. I just turned twenty-seven. It’s strange to think I’m in the latter half of my twenties and there is so much I don’t know and so much I haven’t yet accomplished. I don’t feel excellent. If I were excellent, you’d think I’d be out of this poverty malarkey by now. But I’m not. I am living day to day, week to week. And if I’m honest, I’m exhausted from it all. I want to scream, “WHEN DOES THIS GET EASIER?” I happen to make some excellent stuff, and that’s cool or whatever, but to excel, to me, would be breaking out of this damned cage and starting to fly.
Am I happy? …No. I’m not happy. Some days, no matter how funny the comedian is, or how silly the kids are being, I can’t even laugh. This is the low and slow I spoke about before. The background heat, ever-so-gently breaking me to pieces.
I went camping this weekend and it should have been fun. But it felt like an out-of-body experience and like I wasn’t in my own head. I took the beta-blockers the doc gave me for extra-anxious days and I don’t know what difference they made exactly but the panic was still there, in the background, low and slow. I don’t think I know what fun is anymore.
My idea of where I would be by now and the reality of where I am are so drastically different. I’m looking for that light at the end of this tunnel, that says someday the struggle will end and I’ll begin to thrive, not just survive. I’m trying to look back and take stock of what I have done, not what I haven’t, and find that solid ground where getting back up to the top of the hill isn’t fraught with mudslides back down to the bottom, like some evil chutes and ladders game.
In reality, there are days when I have to work really hard to be optimistic, where I have to work really hard to keep calm. My definition of success right now is getting through a day without hyperventilating and crying. There is very little happiness. Striving for excellence seems like a goal to reach for later, because right now just doing anything is enough of a battle in itself. It would be a lot easier without the criticisms of everyone else, who lack perspective on the situation, and whose words add to the negative dialogue.
I say these things for me, to remind myself that I’m not just another statistic for someone’s data collection. My definition of success and failure have been adjusted from what they once were, and are probably very different from the next person’s. My reality has been very real and quite difficult, but both my kids tell me I’m excellent. Most days I’d say they’re happy. And I can start with that, stand on that, take the next step up the hill.
And money, while it wouldn’t be able to fix everything at this point, is directly correlated to happiness in a lot of ways, in my experience. Money would eliminate about half or more of my reasons for panic attacks, straight away. And I say that, to highlight that ‘what they say’ sometimes doesn’t mean a thing. Money can sometimes be all the difference. The reality is that it can mean solutions, freedom, happiness. But success and excellence work on a sliding scale. Happiness sometimes does too, but only on days when my perspective can afford it.
I didn’t come from a poor family. I didn’t come from a rich family. I came from the perfect family, in my eyes. While some may say I was a little spoiled, I personally thought life was just right growing up. I am 25 years old and still living with my two happily married parents and three Chihuahuas. The reason? Panic disorder and depression have taken my life away.
I was diagnosed with mild panic disorder when I was 20 years old. 5 years of my life I have been battling this “disease.” It all began when one night I was driving my parents’ Jeep Grand Cherokee home from the cottage. In a drunken stupor, I decided to take it upon myself to attempt to drive the Jeep home. Making almost all the way home 2 hours away, I crashed into a ditch, took out a road sign, and hit a tree. The Jeep at this point was upside down and totalled. I would like to think that an angel was watching over me that day, because I climbed out of that car without even a scratch on me. Luckily, I miraculously avoided all repercussions of drunk driving as well. Long story short, this is the big thing that began triggering my chronic anxiety and panic disorder. The next day, I woke up, and realized I was not happy with my life.
The thing that made me notice this was a combination of bad choices and that in the same week, my boyfriend at the time had broken up with me. I also lost my job in the same week. I was at an all time low. That is when it was time to head back to the head doctor and get on some anti depressants. Counselling and psychiatry with a combination of medication have begun my transformation into what I hope will be a better person. I would say the combination of all three of those things is the point in my life where I realize that I’m not happy.
When I explain to people why I don’t drive, they just don’t get it. I am scared to even ride in a vehicle. My hands get clammy, sweaty, and I usually carry a water bottle and my sweater with me just for security. My hoodie makes me feel secure. When I get too nerved up, I simply recline the vehicle chair and cover my face with my security blanket, while breathing in the fresh air from outside. My friends don’t understand it. My best friend Hali is constantly asking me what is wrong whenever I ride with her. The only time I feel completely comfortable in a vehicle, sadly, is when I have alcohol in my system (which since the crash, isn’t very often that I drink). I am not happy because I cannot be independent without feeling like I’m about to die.
I just wish every person could understand and experience the feeling of anxiety. Why? Because when I talk to people about it, they look at me like I should be locked up. Because I get the looks toward me like I’m crazy. I think if you actually experienced that nerve-wracking feeling that I get – palms sweaty, can’t breathe, knees weak, light headed, feeling of nausea – then maybe I would feel more comfortable. However, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It has been a 5 year struggle since the crash, but I am starting to feel more comfortable in my own skin. If it weren’t for that ONE mistake, I probably would still be on the road. So of course, I sit here and kick myself in the ass every single day over it.
Now let’s take a second to think about where I’m gonna go from here and what I personally want in life. I want to be happy. I want a family. I want two children, a couple dogs, and a nice house. However, it’s a struggle to see this as a reality due to the fact of anxiety and panic. I’m currently a college dropout with a 3 day a week job. It’s hard to look at the future in a positive light, but I just keep trudging through the deep, deep snow.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep trudging through life when so many things have gone wrong. A lot of people don’t have this kind of life experience, but a lot of us do. Things happen and while there are so many who will look down on anyone for feeling ‘victimised,’ I think it’s important to call a spade a spade and say yes, I was victimised by this person or that event. It was not my fault. That way we don’t internalise it and feel like we’re bad people for ‘letting’ something happen (and if anyone tells you that unjustifiably, that’s insanity), or that we’re whiners for saying it was wrong.
Another difficulty is that the lasting effects of whatever trauma we’ve experienced can be so challenging we often feel ‘broken.’ We wonder why we can’t just enjoy things anymore, why we cry at television adverts, why we’re scared of things that other people find trivial, or why our load feels so much heavier than the next person’s.
My mom was struggling with some of these feelings after I became pregnant with my firstborn. (For those of you who haven’t read it, the back story is here.)
She and I were at a camp in Hungry Horse, Montana, for our traditional weekend away. We used to go every year if we could help it, it was the only thing you could call a “vacation” or “holiday” that we ever really took. It was a church-based retreat, and to this day, that campground remains my favourite place on Earth.
This particular summer, I had just turned fifteen, and, being pregnant with my firstborn, my mom and I both had a lot to process. The incident and the uncertainty of the future were weighing heavily on our minds. We were not wealthy by any means, and never owned new vehicles or anything like that. Choosing to keep my son was my immediate choice and I stuck by my guns, but it was not going to be easy. My mom was supportive of my choice, and was willing to help, but was no doubt under pressure about the situation.
One night at the camp, I was already deeply asleep in the cabin. Mom was in Teakettle lodge, the mess hall, playing board games with others until probably midnight when it was time to lock up. Most other campers were also asleep. There are no lights on the campground after a certain time, so with her flashlight lighting her path she made her way back to the cabin.
When she got to our door, she realised she had forgotten to bring a key. Up in the mountains, in the dark, no shelter, no blanket, and everyone fast asleep. She tried waking me up, but I sleep like a rock and I’m not sure an earthquake could wake me. Bears have been known to come wandering through the camp, the end of May is not summery enough to keep the ground from freezing overnight, and it rains there a lot. I’m pretty sure sleeping on the ground was not going to work out very well.
She didn’t know what to do.
We may not have had much but we did have an old Ford Explorer. Being old and second-hand, the door was broken and wouldn’t lock. Thankfully it was so beaten down no one would steal it, and on this night my mom was able to get into it and out of the cold, much to her relief.
As she reclined her seat to get comfortable, she was thinking about my situation and how sorry she felt for me and what I was going through. She had been praying about it, asking what to do about it all. It was, after all, a retreat where prayer was one of the main focuses. It was then she heard a voice from the back seat say, “It isn’t broken, it was prepared.” She turned to see where the voice came from, but there was no one there.
I realise that this will sound bonkers to many and immediately at the mention of “prayer” about half of you or more will roll your eyes. And that’s fine. I’m not pressing any beliefs onto anyone or indeed, reflecting any of my own. But I know my mom was really shaken by this experience in a good way, and it has had its impact on my life as well.
Sometimes when things really get on top of me, I think of this. Yes, I have been victimised in the past by many things. No, I will not be ashamed of that. I do feel like I was given an extraordinary load to carry, and I also feel it’s important to tell people about it, no matter how personal. I am a survivor, and a fighter. Yes, I have felt ‘broken’ so, so many times. But I choose to believe that for whatever reason I was not ‘broken,’ I was prepared.
I especially believe this because my son, despite the circumstances of his conception, is an awesome little (big) boy. He’s going to be twelve soon, which is really strange to think about. Throughout the years he has been an excellent motivation to keep being a better, stronger, more resilient person despite the many times it has been so incredibly difficult I have seriously wanted to quit.
In no way do I view his entering into my life a ‘breakage’ of anything. His existence has opened my eyes to many things and given me a perspective of the world that I would never shun. I don’t yet know what my purpose truly is, but I know it isn’t to sit still feeling broken and helpless.
Since the day my mom first told me this story, I’ve never looked at anything the same.
If you have a story of something being ‘broken’ but turning out to be ‘prepared,’ I’d love to hear it.
Feel free to comment below or blog it and link to this post to get my attention.