It gets better

Life can be painfully hard. I’ve written before about my struggles with mental illness and ADHD, losing people I love, bullying,  sickness, alopecia and autoimmune disorder, obesity and my physical health. I’ve even at times mentioned these concurrently, each overlapping and coinciding with one (or several) others. At my lowest point I was chin-deep in undiagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression, I was morbidly obese and unhealthy, my hair was falling out and I was being bullied at work. But that isn’t what I want to talk about today. I think we can all agree that at some point in their lives everyone will hit rock bottom.

What I want to talk about is how happy I am.

I don’t often go out of my way to discuss how wonderful my life is these days, not least because it’s so easy to get caught up in the stresses of day-to-day living. I also don’t want to brag. Every day people go through struggles I can’t comprehend; talking about how fortunate I am for the things I have seems tacky somehow.

But here’s the real deal: I’m happy. I love my life. It is full of wonderful people and amazing experience. Yes, sometimes stuff sucks. Sometimes stuff is hard. Sometimes I cry. But I am happy. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

The point I am trying to make is that dejection, loneliness, misery, heartache… These things aren’t permanent. They’re transient. They come and go like waves on the ocean and, like my life now, can co-exist with happiness, prosperity, pride and success. I still have alopecia and ADHD. I still have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I. Still. Get. Sad. But there is light and hope and this is what I allow to define me.

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If you feel like you are in the dark, that there is nowhere to turn, that things will never improve then please speak to someone. A doctor, a friend, a family member, a compassionate stranger on the internet, Lifeline. Please ask for help. Asking for help is so hard it seems impossible but I promise you it is easier than carrying on alone. And it’s worth it. Always.

If you know someone who needs help please send this on. Ask them if they’re okay. Talk to them about Lifeline or seeking help. Listen to them. The suicide statistics in New Zealand are horrifying, especially among young people. If this post, or someone who reads this post, can help even one person then I have achieved everything I could hope for.

It will get better. It won’t always be this way. Kia kaha.



Bon anniversaire

It’s my birthday today. I say so not because this day 27 years ago I was born (that’s in March) but because today one year ago I was re-born. Exactly 365 days ago I was in hospital sleeping off the anaesthetic they’d used to keep me asleep while they removed 80% of my stomach. I didn’t know it at the time but the next 12 months of my life would be a rollercoaster journey of learning and discovery interspersed with harsh lessons and realisations and some rather cutting home truths.

When I went for my first pre-op appointment at Auckland Weight Loss in February 2014 I had no idea just how much the surgery I was applying for would change my life. I knew it would help me lose weight. I knew it would dramatically lessen my risk of developing diabetes or dying of heart disease (something that runs rampant in my family). I knew it would enable me to run along the beach after my children one day, cutting the advancement of my early onset arthritis off at the toes (literally). I knew it would probably make me feel better and maybe make me a bit happier. I did not know how rocky the road would be.

Friends warned me of the trials and tribulations but always ended their stories with “but even on my worst day it’s still the best decision I ever made.” They couldn’t be more right: My life has been altered permanently. I have days where I struggle to keep food down and feel almost narcoleptically tired. And for all  that I wouldn’t make a different choice were I able.

The initial few weeks after surgery were undoubtedly the hardest. The first day I was allowed to eat I licked two teaspoons clean of pureed food, 20 minutes apart, and I was full for an hour. I struggled to drink any more than a sip of water every half hour. Two sips put me in danger of vomiting. Nausea was my constant companion and sleep deprivation an ever-present shadow. But I pushed on.

At home, I struggled with pureed meat and subsisted almost entirely on yoghurt and soup. Half an ice cube of food in a teacup was usually more than I could manage over a 45 minute period. I was sick and tired and miserable and my sole coping mechanism, eating, had been yanked out from underneath me. I cried often.

I transitioned from a puree diet to a soft food diet a week ahead of schedule and things slowly started to improve. Although I still struggle with tomato soup and greek yoghurt (bad associative memories – that nausea was a killer), the haloumi, baked beans and ham I began to eat were a far more nourishing and enjoyable experience. The nausea faded away and I began, ever so slowly, to start feeling human again.

10 kilos down after only a couple of months and I felt like I was walking on a cloud. My food intake was painfully limited and I was never free of the exhaustion and dizziness that accompanied my malnourishment but the emotional gains more than made up for the struggles. I began to feel empowered and strong. And slowly but surely I began to get my confidence back.

Having a supportive community around me made all the difference. My workmates, friends and family all knew my circumstances and understood my limitations. Morning teas and family dinners were made all the easier by people who were willing to accommodate my drastically reduced appetite and eating capacity. Taking 20-40 minutes to eat any one meal didn’t make things easy but the understanding of those around me helped immeasurably.

Christmas was the pinnacle of my efforts and struggles: A day structured solely around eating, amongst people I didn’t spend the majority of my time with, with meals consumed under time pressure. I was sick. Very sick. Miserable. I cried in the toilet of a relative’s house. But I managed and I learned. I know the next Christmas will be easier.

I hit my goal weight in February during a bout of extreme sickness. In hospital with a kidney stone, I dropped past 60kg (my goal) to 58. I was gaunt and my clothes hung off me. As I healed I climbed back up and settled between 61 and 62kgs. This is where I have chosen to stay.

When I moved to Wellington in May I gained nearly 2 kilos. To some this may seem miniscule but when you consider that 40% of people who have my surgery regain all their weight it becomes a matter of grave relevance. Increased exercise and a renewed dedication to what I ate shifted the extra weight in just shy of three weeks.

Today I weigh just 61.5kg (44.8kg less than when I started this journey). I am confident, happy, bubbly, and my depression and social anxiety has lifted. 12 months ago I couldn’t bring myself to move out of my parents’ house; less than 2 months ago I moved to Wellington alone and without a job. I credit the opportunities my surgery gave me with the landslide changes in my life and attitude. I took those opportunities and ran with them and it has made all the difference. I am re-invented and it is wonderful.

Here’s to another 12 months of happiness and success.

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Happiness

Happiness is defined, universally, as the state of being happy. It is synonymous with contentment, pleasure and satisfaction. To most people it is a passing emotion, indistinct in the long-term from anger, sadness and confusion: something entirely at the mercy of the world at large. This is not how I define happiness.

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Happiness is a way of living, a religion. It is the active pursuit, on a regular basis, of things that make one smile, laugh, pause, feel warm and fuzzy or generally content. It is prioritising moments of simple pleasure above other commitments. It is making time purely for the gratification of oneself each and every day.

My mother always taught me to look for the little things that make you smile. This was her tried and true way of working against, and keeping at bay, the circling dogs. Her pleasures were small: exercise achieved, a meal well made). Sometimes they were so small they seemed insignificant, like a pretty flower or a bird playing in the sun. No matter what they were, they always made her smile and reminded her of the light that surround the darkness.

Recently, I have found life overwhelming. Christmas is expensive, work has been tiring, and the lives of several people I care deeply about have suffered some rather cumbersome complications. Each night I wind down by having a shower, a moment of pleasure in itself, then listening to music in the dark. I light a candle, play on my phone, read a book, or simply lie in bed absorbing the melodies. This simple nightly routine eases my stress and provides a feeling of warmth and contentment. There is safety and respite each day in the knowledge that my shower and bedroom are waiting for me at home no matter how tense my day may be. In those moments, the world melts away and I am and alone and happy. Equally as gratifying is the unadulterated joy exhibited by my dogs when presented with a new toy. So this year, I prioritised gifts for them over other things for me. Their pleasure will more than compensate for my sacrifices. And later, when I am sad, I will be able to remember their joy and it will make me smile. And I will remember that life is never as awful as it can feel.



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Today in training we did an exercise where we had to draw two of the things that matter most to us. Everyone else drew their friends & family. I drew happiness.

I suspect that says a lot more about me than I realise.



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Some inspiration for your evening/morning. Sadly I do not know who said this. I do, however, know they are right.