Dealing with life can be overwhelming. Sometimes it gets you down. When I'm struggling, here is what I do. First I’m going to give you a little insight to where I am at and how I got here. I’m not going to go into a whole heap of blow for blow detail about my childhood and adolescence and all the trials of early adulthood, but just enough to flash forward to today. I might go into a bit more depth a bit later, but for now I just need to get to the current day so that each part of my writing comes from a very present space.
So just quickly, I’ve had a fair amount of exposure to domestic violence, emotional and physical abuse, alcoholism and mental illness. My nervous system has taken a blow from a lot of this and still to this day it somehow manages to affect my physicality. I am a long, long way from the 15 year old that left home and almost drank herself to death but physically and mentally, the reality is, my ‘fight or flight’ response was and is wayyy overdeveloped and as a result it affects my immune system and my stress levels and my pain response. I have a tendency toward depression and anxiety, but my internal fortitude or ‘strength’ if you could call it that, means that I can put myself under enormous pressure and push and push and push and not really know it under I come undone physically. You would think that I’d have learned by now. But it seems I haven’t and that’s where I am at. I’ve been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia which is a chronic pain condition often linked to trauma (in my case both childhood and adult forms), and I also still suffer on and off with depression.
I have previously beaten anxiety and depression, I have learned, developed and used a number of tools to help me cope but sadly, to some degree, it means that I can go for longer ignoring my own needs which is where I can get into a really bad space physically. I end up bed ridden from Fibromyalgia ‘flare ups’ because I haven’t taken the time to make sure I have looked after my stress levels and quite frankly putting too much on my plate. That doesn’t have to be with commitments to others or work either – I can do that by simply not stopping to slow down. Engaging too much in the outer world and social media, keeping myself plugged in for too long. I can literally exhaust my own brain from thinking. I can exhaust myself from not thinking properly. I wear myself out.
At the moment I’m in quite a negative headspace. I am overly critical of the people closest to me, and I am overly sensitive to their words and actions. It’s not a great space to be in. I take things way too personally and quite frankly I can be a right bitch. I’m angry, I’m angry at myself, and that makes me sad because I am then disappointed in myself because I feel like I have done so much work to get to where I am, and that I should know better. I do know better. I am hoping that by writing this out, not only will I rediscover some of the older techniques and tools for coping with depression and also my Fibromyalgia now too, but I will also discover some new ones, and by recounting this stuff for you, blow for blow, day by day, hopefully it will make a difference not just to my own life, but to those who choose to follow this journey alongside.
One of the very first tools I ever learnt to use was a gratitude list. I was extremely skeptical. How on earth could writing down the things that make (or made) you happy make you happy again when you’re miserable? How can I even think of things? But what I have learned is that using a gratitude list is that it is similar to an SLR camera. If you use the lense to focus on the crap, you won’t see the good stuff. If you use the lense to focus on the good stuff, the crap seems to fade away a little. Ultimately, what I learned is that it works for me when I am in desperate need to change my mind set and stop being such a cranky cow.
So here’s my list for today and hopefully if you need one, it will inspire you. I know that when things are dark and you’re feeling awful, it’s hard to find things to be grateful for. You’ve actually got to try hard to be grateful for anything even though the truth is you have plenty. I do 20, but if I’m a terrible mess, I aim only for 10, and then once I get there I find it easier to think of things and then I keep going until I feel a shift. The shift for me usually feels like a bit of the weight has lifted off my chest. I feel a bit lighter.
Here’s my 20. They are never the same and they are never in order.
1. Music. I love the way music can change the way you feel.
2. Friends. Good ones that know you inside and out.
3. My partner. That he knows me and remembers who I am even when I have forgotten.
4. My son who gives the best hugs.
5. Hugs. Gee hugs are good.
6. Air. Breathing is still making it to these lists almost every single time just because once you’ve been to a third world country you don’t take for granted the beautiful air in Australia any more.
7. Doctors and healthcare. Even if they do end up making us pay more, we have an extremely advanced healthcare system in Australia. If I lived anywhere else I would never have found some relief for any of my problems and in truth I’d probably be dead.
8. Wool doonas. My doona is the best. It’s heavy and it’s warm and I love it.
9. Beds. How lucky are we that we get to sleep on these instead of floors?
10. Fire and wood. I have a fire place, and someone ELSE chops the wood. That alone is awesome.
11. Showers. When I’m extremely cold (sometimes that happens with the Fibromyalgia) a hot shower is about the only thing that can bring some warmth into my bones. How good is hot running water!
12. Trees. I do love trees. If I’m in an awful headspace I don’t notice them, but as soon as I begin to get positive I see them again. (Notice I have made it past 10).
13. Coles gluten free range. I’m not bagging out any other supermarkets as this is a gratitude list, but Coles supercedes everywhere else in terms of quality and range. I can’t eat pasta or bread from wheat anymore and some of the alternatives at Coles make me so grateful because I can hardly tell the difference and going gluten free is one of the hardest things I’ve done (and best things for Fibromyalgia as well).
14. My naturopath. She has made such a difference to my health and I wouldn’t have had so much success with the Fibro if not for her. So grateful to not be in pain every single day anymore.
15. My crazy arse family. Especially my Aunty and my cousins who seem to understand me in a way that the normal person can’t. I am quite a complex creature and apparently I’m an INFJ (1-3% of the population are), so people who get me are just about as rare as my personality type.
16. My iPad. As far as technology goes, my iPad has seriously made it easier to be me. I love writing, I type so much faster than I can write, I get to keep it and share it, and my iPad fits in my handbag so I can take it anywhere and I do. So I can write while I wait in a doctors surgery, or on the toilet ... (kidding about the toilet).
17. My dog. I miss my dog. Which is strange, considering I’m home and he is here. But when I have been unwell, I forget to spend good quality time with him and I miss that. I might go give him a hug when I’m done.
18. Flushing toilets. Who doesn’t love the fact that we don’t have ‘outhouses’ with massive stenches anymore?
19. My fridge. I love my water cold. It’s awesome. I have tonsillitis and crunching ice from my ice water is pure relief.
20. Antibiotics. Let's hope they hurry up. Come on guys this is day 12!!! Pleeease :)
So that’s it. You know what? I can feel it. In fact, right now as I type I have a stupid grin on my face. There is already a distinct shift. If your headspace is a bit of a mess give it a go. You have nothing to lose. If it works, it might be something you can use and we can all use more tools in our positivity box. Sometimes slowing down and being grateful for what you have stops you taking it for granted. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves how good we've got it before our own brain lets it go to waste.