Another thing to be out if not proud about

TW: mental illness, self-pity, death wish discussion

Hi, my name is Sylvia and I have depression. I’ve been on antidepressant medication of various sorts for 23 years. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes life is doable, sometimes I feel irredeemably crazy.

A few weeks ago I developed anxiety and panic attacks, and while these are different sicknesses they all mash up with my depression and have a stabby party in my being and I do feel irredeemably crazy at the moment.

The last time I was this bad was ten years ago. And quite possibly nine years again before that, if one only goes by my contact with the public mental health system (about which I have Things To Say, but that’s another matter).

In between, I’ve been able to function somewhat. To be honest, holding down a job has always been hard. I have an overactive brain. I get bored. I can be bored and all kinds of stressed at the same time, it’s a neat trick but it doesn’t make good television. I once had a job organising a fundraising art auction, and a very famous artist made me realise that it was uncool to ask the struggling to help the struggling, so I basically gave up. I suffer from pathological honesty and integrity. I can dress up in a suit and straight girl shoes but that can’t hide the fact that I’m a liberal, anti-authoritarian hippie, so I don’t see the point in pretending.

A major trigger for my recent anxiety symptoms has been falling into a poverty mindset. I earn about NZ$36K per year in my current job. It’s the highest salary I’ve ever been on. I’m effectively single and child-free. But I don’t feel I can afford insurance or dentistry and if I have to go to my GP it seriously derails my ability to make it through to pay day. Sometimes having to buy veges seriously derails that ability.

And I feel terrible about complaining. There are people doing more and coping better on less, and the fact that I’m struggling must mean I’m a Bad Person. Right? Thanks brain.

And I can’t even afford to check out, because that would hit my family with a big bill. Apparently funerals cost NZ$6-10K, and if I tried to save that I’d have to starve myself. But not enough to actually kill me before I’d saved the requisite amount.

Not that I even want a funeral, but I suspect my family would. I just want to be disposed of, and to have enough forethought to dispose of all my physical baggage beforehand so that my family doesn’t have to deal with it. And pay a couple of months’ rent in advance to compensate my flatmates for the inconvenience.

I’m not suicidal. I literally can’t afford to be. Plus, today I bought a 2019 diary, so I guess that’s some kind of commitment.

These are not the thoughts of a sane person. In the past fortnight, I’ve seethed with anger because I thought I saw a colleague going through a bin, when in reality he was balancing his takeaway on it while he waited for the bus. I’ve hallucinated mean post-it notes in the shower. I’ve walked out on dinner with my boyfriend because I thought he was saying I was stupid (would never happen).

I’m in my third week of sick leave and I can’t see how I could go back to sitting in a windowless room while juggling five conflicting demands and trying to do my core work, which feels like an ever-increasing rubbish heap that’s trying to suffocate me. Most days right now, I need a nap. Especially if I’ve had any kind of therapy, and I need therapy.

One of the big reasons I feel I can’t go back is shame.

The irony is, I’m spewing out all this stuff about my illnesses on social media because (a) it’s therapeutic for me to write it down and put it out there, (b) people tell me it’s good to read because they can relate to it, and (c) people need to know it’s a Real Thing. But in Real Life, I participate in the stigma. If I see people I know, especially from work, my reflex is to pretend I haven’t seen them, because I’m ashamed. And I don’t know what to say, and I don’t want to make people uncomfortable.

The dumb thing is that I know that I’m only responsible for my own shame and awkwardness. And one of my tasks needs to be to shed them in real life as well as online.

What would it look like if I were unashamedly crazy? If I answered “how are you?” with “my depression/anxiety’s been playing up”, because it would be fine if I said that about sciatica or something, right?

That’s actually been a good thing about developing anxiety, because I can’t hide from the fact that it’s a physical affliction. Chest pain, throat constriction, nausea, breathing problems. Not fun.

The other task I need to undertake is, what is an appropriate job for my kind of crazy? And I think right now I’m too crazy to engage with that. But I’ll have to soon.

Postscript: I was looking back at this blog and a scary thing came up, about how my doing less bellydancing seems to have coincided with my being more miserable. And I thought, it’s cold and I have the house to myself so why not dance along to a FCBD® drills video before I go to bed? And I did and I realised that I need SO MUCH MORE of this in my life and now I’m sobbing and my heart is literally hurting because I CAN’T HAVE IT. Sweary sweary swears.

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It’s not you, it’s me

 

I did something scary today. I announced that I was taking a break from teaching dance.

This has been a long time coming and I don’t know how long the break is going to be. I still love dancing but I don’t love the work of teaching class every week and doing troupe admin. But that only feels like part of the truth. I imagine this is what it feels like when you’re in a long term relationship with someone you love, but for reasons you can’t fully explain you know that you need to separate so that you can figure out what you really want for yourself.

I’m proud that I’ve always had an open relationship with ATS® – I’m not good at monogamy and it feels so much better to be honest about that. And yes, I’ve been seeing other dance styles, most recently swing and ceroc. But it’s not like I’m in love with any of them the way I am (was?) with ATS®.

That’s one thing that makes this apparent breakup so scary: there’s nothing obvious to fill the void.

A wise friend and fellow dancer told me that when you separate from a partner, there’s a them-shaped hole in your life, and it doesn’t work to fill it with another person, because they won’t fit – they’re a unique puzzle piece. You need to fill the hole yourself, with yourself. And you’ll meet someone or someones else, and they will carve out unique them-shaped spaces to fit into your life. This helped me a lot when I was freshly separated from the ex-love-of-my-life.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I told my troupemates that I’d love to come to their classes if they were to teach. I would love someone with a true passion for ATS® to keep it going in my area. But right now I think it’s better not to have ATS® classes than to have them taught by someone whose heart isn’t in it.

I just want to dance with my mates. I want to wear a turban and false eyelashes and harquus occasionally. I want to keep getting excited when I see your dance pictures and videos and live performances. I want a reason to raise my arms over my head and smile with joy and gratitude.

After I taught my last class for who knows how long, this song came on and I felt moved to dance to it by myself.

This isn’t goodbye.

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Adventures in swinging the other way #stilladanceblog

God, I haven’t posted anything here since March. A lot has happened since then and I’ve had a lot of thoughts and written a lot of stuff, most of it is stream-of-consciousness processing in paper journals, some of it draft documents that may or may not ever be ready to see the light of day. I’ve been making space in my life, giving things up and not knowing what I’m making space for. Now I know some of the things. I’ve given up one of the weekly dance classes I was teaching and am being a dance student again.

Girl on a Swing by Winslow Homer, 1897

I could quite easily write a blog post that reads as an advertisement for Full Swing (standard disclaimer, no formal association, I make no money, just go to their classes, &c.). Firstly, their setup and languaging defy the heteronormative/binary-embedded stuff that has, in the past, led me to walk out of partner dance classes. They never use “man” and “woman”, but always “lead” and “follow”. Follows can initiate. Beginners are encouraged to learn as leads or follows to start with, but all the teachers can and do dance either part. Even the toilets at the studio defy the gender binary: they just have pictograms of the facilities on the doors so you can choose whether you want the one with the urinal.

I know that once I get past the gender squickiness, I really enjoy partner dancing. I really enjoy ATS® duets. This is different. In my experience so far, it’s definitely more geared at participation than performance, and I like that. Where ATS® has the joy of lifted arms, these dances have the delight of physical contact. The social dance focus and the culture espoused by the studio mean that I feel like I make new friends every time (also aided by the fact that Wellington is small and don’t I know your parent’s boyfriend’s flatmate? &c.).

This is why I started taking swing classes: in ATS® I’m a teacher and a lead hog. In swing I’m learning to follow. Admittedly I have that Byrds song on repeat in my head a lot. But it’s fun. It’s liberating. My teachers told me about this mind-blowing concept called “goldfish ninja brain”: as a follow, you only need to think within two counts. Not four. Not eight. In a recent class we did six count combos and my eight count control freak side really struggled, and sometimes I don’t trust my lead to be on the phrase, but I’ve got to give that up because otherwise I don’t get to dance, and dancing is way more fun than not dancing.

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Snapdragon nostalgia

I went on a road trip around the South Island with my Dad. I took a holiday from all my routines, except for writing every night. This is one of the few things I wrote that’s remotely fit for public consumption.

Richmond, 5 March 2017

There are still snapdragons growing on the street border of my grandmother’s garden. They are still bright pink but they’re smaller than I remember them being when I was six years old and played fascinated with the moving parts of their jaws, when my baby sister slept in a box and we fitted our family of four into the caravan where now there’s a garden shed and a washing line and grown-up fishtank pebbles for me to feel under my bare feet.I was always like this, my mother told me, taking my shoes off to feel textures wherever we went.

I was upset with my grandfather that time with the snapdragons and the plums, because “he treats me like I’m a baby”, and my mother gently told me about Alzheimer’s Disease and what that meant. I asked my father yesterday what his father died of, it was pneumonia or influenza or something that, without the underlying condition of Alzheimer’s, meant as little as “heart failure” on my mother’s death certificate when we all know she really died of cancer.

Tonight I’ll sleep in the little dining room with the net curtains where a cicada flew up my nightdress when I was a little girl.

snapdragon1-400x471

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I am here with you

Lately I’ve been practising metta meditation, and “I am here with you” has come to be one of my lovingkindness mantras: for myself, for people I love, for neutral acquaintances, for people I have difficulties with, for cats.

Today I read this post by my amazing friend Clare, which introduces an exercise for meeting an emotion as a being. Then I wrote this:

The story of Grief

20170120_1943301I am in a room that is not dark but is not sunny. The door to my room is open. Grief comes in with a hunched back, his face is white, his nose is long, his cheeks are hollowed. I pat the low cushion next to me and he sits down with difficulty. He puts a bony hand around my shoulders. He doesn’t look at me until I look at him. His eyes are pale and wide and open. His mouth is small and shows no expression.

“What do you want?” he asks.

“I don’t know. I never seem to know what I want. Certainly not in the long view, often not even moment to moment.”

“That’s ok.” He starts massaging my shoulders and I relax a little beneath his bony fingers. After a while he leans his head against my temple and I can feel the slight movement of his temporomandibular joint. I can hear his light and vulnerable breathing. I don’t want him to go away. Our silence together is companionable. I feel an openness in our quietness.

“Are you lonely?” I ask.

He is quiet in thought for a while.

“Not when I’m with you,” he says finally.

I need and want to make space for him, to be with him.

And then I was reminded of this post by my wonderful friend Verdant.

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I stumbled out of bed, I got ready for the struggle (this is a post about posture)

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There’s a person I work with who has good posture.

Revision: there’s a person I work with who I think has good posture.

Revision: there’s a person I work with whose posture I notice with approval.

Let’s be honest, I’m judging the hell out of my colleague’s posture. Who am I to say it’s “good”? To me it appears upright, symmetrical, unafraid of taking up space. These are qualities that I appreciate and aspire to.

Why do I aspire to them?

  1. Because they’re qualities that so many of us lose to desk jobs and stress/fear/sadness/poor self-esteem.
  2. Because I’ve been taught to prize them through movement modalities that I’ve studied.

I have experiential knowledge that it feels bold and empowering to take up space, and that it’s rewarding to work towards postural symmetry. But I’m concerned that when I judge these things as “good”, I’m participating in a form of body-shaming of myself and others when we inevitably measure up as imperfect.

Being rather a fan of hard work, I listen when my teachers say “your glutes need to be engaged all the time”, but I tune out when they say “just practise this whilst walking from one lamp-post to the next” or “try not to try too hard”.

***

I’ve just been hanging out with some of my wonderful yoga buddies, including the lovely Russell, who has been training in the Ido Portal Method. I happened to open my notebook at the notes I’d made last month for this post, and some of what we were discussing felt like it tied into my thoughts. Most of us who were there had studied a bit of postural patterning, and Russell was saying that these days, he only really applies it consciously when he notices that aspects of his pattern are disadvantaging him in a particular movement.

I’ve wrestled for some time with feeling that because I have a wonky postural pattern (just like everyone else!), I shouldn’t risk taking it with me to do stuff like running or climbing because I might get hurt (I might get eaten by a velociraptor who only eats people with “bad” posture!).

 

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blame, shame and forgiveness

I like pears. #relatablecontent

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The lost art of keeping my mouth shut

listen1

Introversion is dominant in my family. My mother was an extrovert and used to excel at filling the ample silences provided by the rest of us. When she died, I felt myself stepping into her role in that regard, even though I used to get frustrated with her because I felt that she didn’t allow anyone else to get a word in edgewise.

What had happened was, I had had a behaviour modelled for me that seemed to be based on the idea that silence was undesirable, so when I was confronted with silence, my tolerance for it had a very short fuse before I’d leap into my learned behaviour.

The problem with generating verbiage for the sole purpose of avoiding silence is that it makes me feel self-centered: I’m so busy thinking of things to say that I don’t have much brain left for listening to other people. And if I focus on just listening, I feel that I come across as uninteresting, or even uninterested because I haven’t thought up any engaging/witty responses.

I don’t like it about myself that I habitually interrupt people when they pause to find the right word or way of expressing something. I’ve been practising not doing this, especially with my friends. I’ve noticed that the newer the friendship, the easier this is, because I haven’t practised interrupting that person for so long.

I’m reading Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance, and in the chapter titled ‘The Sacred Pause’ she writes “We may pause in a conversation, letting go of what we’re about to say, in order to genuinely listen and be with the other person.”

The best conversations I’ve had are those in which I’ve been so immersed in listening to the other person that my responses and questions arise without conscious thought. When I look back on these conversations, it occurs to me that I felt no separation from the other person, it was as if we were co-creating the dialogue, and I got a glimpse of what yogis and Buddhists are on about when they say “we are all one”.

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Despair, fear, and the decision to hope. — Kōtukutuku in spring

My beautiful friend has pertinent words for these times ❤

I used to see myself as a hopeful person. I was always seeing opportunities to plant seeds of change. I had a dream for a future where we cared for and restored the vitality of our planet. I truly believed the arc of the universe bent towards justice. I thought this way of seeing the […]

via Despair, fear, and the decision to hope. — Kōtukutuku in spring

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Crash

It’s been over seven months since I moved out of my house with minimal possessions (which for a bellydancer means an extensive spreadsheet documenting what is stored at the houses of which friends and family members), not knowing where I was going to live and how I was going to afford it.

I found a rewarding job and a wonderful flat in record time. I turned into a person who’s at work by 8am and vaguely coherent with it. I caught up with my beautiful friends and cooked healthy lunches for my week and went to NLNL and taught my dance classes and went for bush walks at the weekend.

And all winter I’ve been getting sick. I have literally run out of sick leave. It starts as a cold and activates my asthma and turns into bronchitis. Someone I know said this used to happen to her before she gave up smoking. I don’t have any smoking to give up, despite the fair assumptions of people who don’t know me listening to me cough and noticing that I like to quite literally go out for some fresh air at morning tea time.

I feel like I’ve had maybe two weeks in the last six months when I haven’t felt like I’m swimming uphill through treacle and about to drown in my own lungs.

I’ve had four lots of antibiotics and two lots of steroids and I’ve been doing masses of meditation and pranayama and I’ve been acknowledging that it’s not all going to be easy but actually being in the times when it’s horrible is something I’ve been unconsciously resisting.

One recent weekend I cancelled at least four fun social things I had planned because I was sick. I was sad to be missing out on spending time with my beautiful friends. Fortunately they are very wise and understanding, and one of them, who has pioneered the end of a long relationship too, signposted that it’s likely that I’m running out of post-break-up adrenaline. And then another wise friend pointed out that my cortisol is probably crashing, too.

I don’t think I’ve ever had to budget my energy so carefully in my life, and it’s hard to learn how to do it.

So dear friends, I love you. Those things I said I want to do with you, I still want to do them. But it’s not likely to happen next week. I would love to be offered hugs and bush walks and entertainment. But sometimes I have to decline, and that doesn’t mean I don’t want to spend time with you, it means that I need to spend time with me.

After writing the body of this, I chased up the results for the blood tests that my GP finally ordered. My iron is low, they said. We’ll prescribe you some iron tablets. I spent the rest of my day at work feeling too tired to go and get the prescription for my iron tablets, knowing that was kind of ridiculous, telling my colleagues that so that they’d reinforce what I knew I had to do, which was go and get the damned iron tablets. I’ve been on them for a couple of weeks now and they’re definitely helping, but of course they can’t fix me on their own.

And now summer is coming and it’s vaguely light when I get up most days, and I feel a little bit like a moth coming out of its cocoon.

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(This is the cocoon of a giant silk moth)

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