Archive | May 2015

Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was completely delightful. Whether or not I follow any of Marie Kondo’s advice, I just loved reading about her eccentric approach to decluttering her home.

She does have a number of useful ideas: Instead of decluttering room by room, or drawer by drawer, Kondo advises that we declutter by genre. For example, start with clothing and declutter the tops, then the trousers, and so on. Otherwise, you can end up with duplicate collections of things throughout the house.

She flips around the usual way of looking at decluttering. Instead of deciding what to get rid of, Kondo recommends we look at our possessions in terms of what we want to keep, and for each item ask ourselves, “Does this spark joy”

The book becomes more eccentric as she starts to anthropomorphise possessions. Don’t store clothing in stacks – how would you feel if you were that t-shirt squashed at the bottom of the pile? Kondo even thanks each item of clothing she wears for their service to her the end of the day. At first this seemed delightfully odd, but, as I continued reading, I realised that by ascribing human feelings to each possession, it encourages an appreciation of each item in our life. There is something very appealing to me about taking a moment to appreciate what I have.

Yesterday evening, I tried her method with my clothing, even though I’d already decluttered a lot of it at the end of summer. However, using Kondo’s question, ‘Does this spark joy?’ I was able to thin my stock of clothes significantly – though I kept a number of items that don’t spark joy: I need SOME things to wear. By the time I’d finished, there were 5 more bags with clothing to discard.

There can be quite a lot of guilt attached to throwing things out. There were things I was hanging on to because they were still in good condition. Even if I no longer like them or they don’t fit properly, it seems wrong and wasteful to throw them out. So I tried Kondo’s method of thanking them for their service. Unexpectedly, it seemed to work. I felt a lightening of the guilt attached to throwing them out. I could acknowledge that they’d served me well in the past, but now its time to move on.

Kondo also recommends a way of folding and placing clothes in drawers so that nothing is stacked and all the items are clearly visible. I re-packed my drawers like that and am very happy with the result. I can find everything easily, nothing is crushed and a couple of the drawers that were overflowing now have space for all that I had previously stored in them and more.

This was an unexpectedly delightful and quirky book. I’m not sure that I will follow all of Kondo’s methods, but I’ve enjoyed the results I’ve seen so far.

View all my reviews

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Therapy

Just like a Hollywood star, I met with my therapist on Thursday.

She takes a different approach from the psychologist I visited years ago, who’s first words to me were ” We won’t be talking about why you’re feeling this way, or what’s caused it. What’s important is how you respond, so I’ll be using cognitive behaviour therapy to teach you strategies for managing your depression”

My new therapist is all about they why. She operates on a theory that unresolved trauma in our past will impact on the way we respond to things in the present, creating patterns of behaviour, of thinking and feeling. The way forward is to face up to those things in the past, and deal with the pain so that it stops influencing what happens in the now.

It makes a lot of sense to me. For seven days following what I guess could best be described as a break down, I was plagued by memories. Distressing, painful moments in my past, as fresh as if they were happening to me now. The breakdown itself seems to have been triggered by the memory a past trauma, which for weeks had tugging at the edge of my consciousness, interrupting my thoughts.

But along with these memories was the disturbing realisation that many of my life choices have been in response to trauma. My life has been shaped by it in ways I’m only now starting to recognise. It makes sense that my beliefs and my patterns of thinking and responding could be shaped by it too.

It will be good to deal with it all. Let the past just be the past, and no longer exert such influence over me today. But, I have to admit, I’m terrified. I don’t want to relive those memories.

To her credit, the therapist also wants me to focus on practical strategies – non medical interventions that will help break me out of this depression.

Her first piece of homework for me is that I have to take an hour’s walk every day, straight after breakfast, to help raise the serotonin levels in my brain.

She’s also advised me to take a further two weeks sick leave and wishes to work with me twice a week for that time. There’s a lot to deal with and rooting up the past may well make it harder before it gets easier.

The Awful Ache

This awful ache, a heavy stone in the pit of my stomach, tendrils of pain binding my chest, my throat, straining my arms. It aches, it aches.

At it’s peak, it’s like wounds have lascerated my body. Rivers of blood flow from my hands, my arms, my gut. The pain feels so real.

And sometimes there’s nothing, its as if I’m fading, turning into a whisp, slowly becoming erased from this world.

If I disappeared, would anybody know?

I have moments when I feel lighter. Almost healed. The scars have disappeared. I’m whole and real again. The ache reduced to a tiny grain, a fragment.

But often it’s like the sun is shining on the most beautiful day, and I can see it, but can’t enjoy it because its raining so hard inside me.

This is what it’s like….

I knew I had a history of depression, but having an anxiety disorder is news. It’s been frightening: the prolonged and heightened state of distress, the frequent moments of panic, feeling so overwhelmed that I can’t seem to process information. My complete inability to make a decision as simple as what to eat when I’m hungry has lost me 3 kilo’s over the past week and a half. This is not me.

But, looking back, it makes so much sense. I can see now, that anxiety has been part of my life for a long time. Perhaps always.

For years, I’ve been terrified to sleep. Not every night, but on many occasions I have panic attacks. Until now, I didn’t think anything of it. It just happened

As I drift off to sleep some nights, slipping into unconsciousness, I’ll be seized by an irrational fear – not that I’ll die, but that I won’t wake up. That I’ll be trapped in a dream state, never finding my way back to the world. I’ll feel like I’m suffocating. I can’t breathe. It’s like drowning in quick sand. I’d try to wake, but sleep would pull me back in. I have to fight it, force myself into consciousness.  Only when I’m fully awake, can I feel safe. I’ll pace the house, watch tv, surf the net – anything to shake off the last remnants of sleep and stay alert. Then, maybe after an hour or so, I’ll risk sleep again. But, again I begin to drown and have to force myself out of bed. Sometimes this will happen 10 or 12 times a night.

Our staffroom is set up cafe style. There are a couple of large tables that can sit 6-8 people, and smaller ones, scattered around the edges for 3 or 4. Sometimes I can’t walk in there. I get to the door and there are too many people. I become overwhelmed. Every instinct screams at me to get out of there, so I retreat to an office, just across from that room. There’s always some work I can find to do.

When I do go in the staffroom, I tend to choose one of the smaller tables at the edge of the room, close to the exit. Further in, I feel trapped and jittery, or like I’m suffocating. I need to know that I can get out easily. I fear sometimes that my colleagues must think I don’t like being around them, or that I prefer to remain aloof. That’s never been the case. I’d rationalised it to myself as just part of being an introvert, but I know now, there’s more going on.

There are so many examples:

I need to plan everything. I have lists for what I will do with my time,  the food I will eat and even, sometimes the clothes I will wear. They bring me some peace. Without them I feel like I’m losing the threads of all the things I need to keep track of, or have forgotten something important – that something bad will happen. I feel overwhelmed and am paralysed by indecision.

I often want to rebel against my lists, throw them away and be free and spontaneous with my time. But when I do, there’s fear. I’m haunted by dread that life is about to come crashing down around me because I might have forgotten that one, essential thing.

I rarely accept invitations to events that occur during the day on the weekend. Evenings are okay, but if its a day time thing I feel trapped. If I say yes. I worry that when I make that list for the weekend, I’ll discover I don’t have time to get everything done. I feel sick and strained, and panicky.

I’ve just accepted this. Called it ‘productivity’, I mean, I really am so productive. I achieve a lot in my time. I’m efficient. But it’s my dependency on lists and routines that I see as a problem, as well as the limitations I impose on my life, like missing events I’d enjoy. I don’t do all this to be productive, I do it to keep the sense of dread at bay.

My current crisis is what’s helped me see these odd habits and quirks for what they are. The dread, the fear of losing control, the sense of being overwhelmed, the inability to think, process or act.  What I’ve experienced this fortnight is just the same, but far more acute, distressing and debilitating.

I’m seeing a therapist tomorrow and I’m looking forward to that. I need to understand what’s going on. And it would be nice to be free of this. To let go of the fear, and to live a life based on more than keeping myself safe.

How to support someone with depression.

Yesterday I was asked to provide suggestions regarding what someone can do to help/love someone going through depression.

As you read my answer, bear in mind, that I’m speaking from the perspective of what has helped me. This may not be welcomed by others. All our experiences are unique.

1. Empathise rather than sympathise

Please don’t sympathise. When people are sympathetic, they are more focused on their agenda than of the person they are helping. They say the right words – ‘sorry to hear that,’ but then change the focus: ‘can you have that project ready for me by Friday please?’ It’s dismissive. It’s as if they ticked a box to say they’d addressed the issue, and then couldn’t run from the subject fast enough.

For me, the most helpful responses have been empathetic.  People have told me I’m not alone, they’re here for me, and in many cases, that they identify with my struggle. Some have shared similar experiences with me, not to make it about them, but to reassure me that it’s okay. This is a type of normal, a part of the human experience.

This wonderful video explains  far better than I.

2. Connect rather than Give Advice (and don’t ask ‘how are you’ if you don’t want the answer.)

Advice  has not been helpful. I’ve been subjected to quite a barrage of well intended but unsolicited advice:

  • I’ve been told to take a walk each day (if they bothered to ask, they’d find out that I do).
  • I’ve been told to stay off social media (if they bothered to listen, they’d know that I’m using social media because I desperately need distraction and connection. It breaks me out of my isolation.)
  • I’ve been lectured about the excessive workload that has caused this (if they bothered to listen, they’d know my workload is not excessive, and has little if anything to do with what I’m going through.)
  • I’ve been told that it’s probably to do with high levels of something or other in my blood stream and I need to change my diet. (If they asked, they’d find out my diet is healthy, and the blood tests the doctor conducted show there are no dietary or physiological factors)

All this is condescending. I may be depressed, I may be anxious, but I know how to manage and to access the support I need. I need people to respect and trust me, as right now, its hard to respect myself. Unsolicited advice makes the person giving it feel better, but it robs me of some of my sense of dignity.

It’s been really helpful to have people ask ‘how are things?’ and to have the opportunity to talk through some of what I’m experiencing with others. Depression is a lonely illness, permission to talk about it helps break that sense of isolation.

Yesterday, for example, I noticed that my school was running perfectly without me there for a week, and that the latest episode of my podcast, the Teachers Education Review, which didn’t include my input was absolutely fine. In a healthy state of mind, knowing that school and the podcast were fine would please me, but yesterday it sent me on a downward spiral of self loathing. I felt as if I’d been erased. I was superfluous, irrelevant. If I disappeared off the face of the earth, no one would even notice.

But a few people kept checked in on me: “Just getting in touch to find out how you’re going..” was one message.  Another message simply said “You matter”. They helped me out of a deep hole. Connection. It’s important.

3. Respect Boundaries

Last week, during a phone call. I was feeling overwhelmed. I told the caller no less than three times that I needed to hang up, but they would not stop. “No, I’ll be just one more minute, let me finish, I won’t be long…”  The caller couldn’t see what that I was shaking, having trouble breathing and on the verge of tears, but I shouldn’t need to explain. I needed my boundaries to be respected.

For me the phone has been an ongoing source of anxiety so I’ve asked people to contact me electronically instead. It gives me the time and space to think things through. I’m very grateful to my friends and colleagues who have all respected this. My anxious moments have reduced considerably.

I realise I’m fortunate. I have so many people who have reached out in support and are helping me through. Thank you to each and every one of you.  You truly are making a difference.

The Red Couch

For a moment this morning, I thought I was getting better. Even though I woke from nightmares several times last night,  I was able to, quite quickly, slip back into sleep. I felt tense, and agitated, but without the aching distress I’ve been enduring for the past ten days.

Today there’s no ache. I’m just cranky. Cranky and irritated and really really grumpy. I’m feeling better than I did.

But the thing is, getting better scares me, because that means people will expect me to do things, and for the moment at least, I don’t want to go back to my life. I don’t think I can hack it. I just want to stay here on the red couch.

I  was reassured by the crying spell I had when I tried to get breakfast. I couldn’t decide: toast or cereal? It really difficult trying to choose, to the point where I became overwhelmed, I could feel the panic rising within me, there were tears. And in the end I returned to my couch where I’m not required to think or choose or do.

There was also the moment, when I couldn’t figure out what to put on my feet. It’s a cold day today. I’m wearing socks, but I wasn’t sure what to put over the top. Options are my ugg boots, which will be cozy on a day like today or my little ankle boots, which will be better if I go out somewhere.  Making a choice was starting to stress me out, so,  I’m back on the couch, with cold feet, and hungry because its midday and I still haven’t had breakfast.

It seems ridiculous, even to me, to be in such a state of paralysis when it comes to making choices about inconsequential things. And, I’m ashamed of it. I mean, geez, its not as if the outcome really matters.

So that all feeds back into the whole depression. Negative thoughts begetting more negative thoughts.

I do have a plan for getting off the couch. I know EXACTLY what I’m going to have for lunch and I’m looking forward to it. A few weeks ago, I slow cooked pulled pork, and froze the left overs into lunch size portions. Warmed in the microwave and toasted in a sandwich with some tomato and salad makes a pretty fantastic winter lunch.

I’m also thinking that I might put some washing on. In fact, I will. So that’s going to be step 2.

Plan for leaving and staying off the couch:

Step 1: Make lunch

Step 2: Eat lunch (at the dining table, not on the couch)

Step 3: Put on washing.

Hmm, and while I’m up, I’ll go and put my ugg boots on.

Find support for depression or anxiety at Beyond Blue

Unbidden

If you haven’t visited my One Regard blog before, welcome. This is where I began my blogging journey. I started as a novice, no idea what this blogging thing was all about. I had no purpose beyond curiosity and a desire to find my voice. It was here I discovered that online writing always finds an audience. No matter how small and trivial, someone out there wants to read it.

I haven’t written here for years, but recently I’ve felt the need to bare my soul again, and this seems a more suitable home than over at my education focused blog, About Teaching.

If you read About Teaching, you’ll know that I’ve been going through a depression recently.

My GP determined that on this occasion, the depression is caused by anxiety. Anxiety makes sense to me, because, unlike earlier depressions, this has also been characterised by a high level of distress and frequent panic attacks. I can barely sleep, concentrate or make decisions about the smallest things. I’m paralysed with indecision: should I clean the bathroom or the living room?  I don’t do either because I’m too worried about getting it ‘wrong’. I find this so hard to accept. Is not who I usually am.

It’s a relief to have a diagnosis. To have a professional confirm that I really am experiencing this.

There are times, like just a few minutes ago, where I feel almost normal again. But, once I notice,  I become seized with horror, thinking perhaps I’ve imagined it all and there’s nothing wrong. I’ve made a fuss, over reacted and invented the whole thing. I become appalled that I had to take an entire week off work and  now I’m getting treatment for a problem that was all in my mind. Is it munchausen syndrome? This fear nags at me, I become distressed and teary, and my mood plunges back to its former low. And then I’m relieved, so relieved to be sad again, because in a strange way, that means I’m sane.

I’m sure, my GP and therapist will help me to understand more about  why this is happening. But I do have a theory about why it’s occuring now.

Years ago, I had a traumatic experience which plagued me for a long time after. A sound or a sight would trigger a flashback. I’d be back there, re-living those moments, terrified out of my wits, screaming out or collapsing in fear. I should have, but didn’t seek help. I just avoided situations that would cause me to re-live it and tried to push through. Over time, the flashbacks became infrequent, and finally disappeared altogether. Looking back now, I think that I was suffering post traumatic stress disorder. So much of what I’ve read about that match my experience.

It was a long time ago, and I barely think about it now. But when I do, the fact I could remember it without emotion convinced me I was healed.

A few weeks ago I read something, which I think, acted as a trauma trigger. I just kept thinking about that event again, but with strong emotion once more. And, I’ve found myself ruminating over not just that, but all sorts of painful events from my past. Some were traumatic, others were just awfully sad. There are a lot of memories – you don’t get to my age without exposure to pain and sad events.

A friend of mine, who is also a counsellor, suggested to me yesterday, that this might be an instance of chaining. Where one uncalled memory, triggers another uncalled memory and another, and another, and another.

Her suggestion feels right to me. It would explain why I wake in the middle of every night and find myself re-experiencing emotions that belonged to events of a former time.

Today’s unbidden memory was of Cameron, Shannon and Michaela Howie. Cameron and Shannon were close friends of ours, and their daughter, Michaela was just 15 months old. They were killed in a car accident back in 2003. We grieved for a long time and I’ve been grieving again today. Their deaths were tragic, and avoidable. They should have led such full lives.


If it was possible to break our hearts more than losing Cameron and Shannon, it was the loss of Michaela, who hadn’t been alive long enough to be known well beyond her family, or to have any sort of legacy. We will carry our memories of her parents with us for a long time, but of Michaela, there are very few.

Not wanting her to be forgotten, we worked with a group of their closest friends and Warringah Council to have a children’s park built in Michaela’s name. It’s a beautiful site over Dee Why beach that is always filled with playful toddlers. If you ever bring your own children to that park, spare a thought for the little girl it was named after.

Vale Cameron, Shannon and Michaela. May you rest in peace.