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.



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.



On being kind to your mind

So this week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is Connect. As a long term sufferer of mind quirks this hits very close to home for me.

Since the age of 16 I have suffered periodic depression. I liken it to being in a deep hole: you can see the top and that people are there but you can’t connect with them; you can’t be helped by them. You are alone.

A more recent development for me is anxiety. I have always been a worrisome person but several years ago my mind decided to start worrying about made up what ifs and it never really stopped. There’s always been one underlying issue that permeated everything I did, an identity crisis I couldn’t shake. My lowest moments came in the form of crippling panic attacks. When these struck I wasn’t even capable of walking. My temperature would climb, my heart would speed up, adrenalin would flood my body. It felt as if a hole had been punched through the middle of my chest. Then the tears and fear and panic would consume me, leaving me holding on to the floor, desperate not to fall even further into the abyss.

I understood this wasn’t normal. So I sought help. Because, you see, when it comes down to it that is all anyone can do. No one expects you to deal with your brain farts on your own. No one expects anyone to be that strong. Asking for help isn’t just okay, it’s necessary. Connecting is what gets you through.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of keeping to yourself, burying your little pile of shit in the back of your mind and putting on a straight face. But it’s like sweeping dirt under a rug: it just relocates the issue.

The most important thing I ever learnt was to stay connected and rejoice in the little things. I enjoy sunsets. They make me happy. They don’t fix anything but every little moment of joy is a win. Every true smile helps keep the gloom monsters at bay.

Connect. Connect to people
Connect to situations. Connect to your feelings – the ones that make you happy. Get a pet. Join a club. Smile at a stranger! Just do something. Because doing nothing is how we get in over our heads. And always always ask for help.

If you need assistance start with the Mental Health Foundation of NZ website (www.mentalhealth.org.nz).
If you need quick help call Lifeline on 0508 TAUTOKO (support). They’re amazing.

Live. Laugh. Love.
Kia kaha.