Tough times

quiet night sea

I’m aware that this is a time of year which can be difficult for some. Christmas and New Year often trigger reminders of those who have gone from our lives.  Within the first ten days of 2015 I attended a wedding and 2 funerals. I also have a friend whose partner suicided during this period and 2016 will mark the third anniversary of her death.

When I think about those who are no longer with us, I feel for the friends and family I know (and all of those I don’t know) who will undergo further pain as the anniversary looms. The wounds may not be raw and bleeding, but the wounds still weep and the sorrow lingers.  For those who lost loved ones at other times of the year, Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year continue to arrive reminding us of those we used to share these holidays with, those who we can no longer celebrate with. Reminding us that life goes on regardless. Whether we want it to or not.

While I don’t want this post to be negative – I do want to remember those who are finding life tough (for whatever reasons). Whether it’s a difficult time because of the loss of a loved one, or due to poor health or incredibly tight finances;  a slump of some kind that is difficult to get over; a stumbling block, illness or addiction that keeps tripping you up – I just want to encourage you. I’d like to give you a virtual hug, to offer you a place of peace, a listening ear, to offer my hope that what life brings in the coming weeks and months will outweigh the struggles you’re currently facing. I wish you hope; I wish you the hope you need to keep going. I wish you rest from anxiety; I wish you the time, ability and opportunity to be able to view life from another perspective. I wish you a holiday from worry (even if it’s only for a few moments, a few minutes, a few hours).  I wish you optimism in the face of negativity and pessimism.  I wish you positive thoughts and that you will be treated with dignity and compassion by your fellow humans. I wish you healing. I wish you friendship, and the knowledge that someone cares.  I wish you overwhelming kindness. I wish you light in the darkness; a place of peace during conflict.  I wish you freedom from sorrow and pain.

I wish you hope. For tomorrow.  And the next tomorrow.  And the tomorrow after that…

Christmas, holidays & family

The past 4 days have been public holidays and sadly, I am returning to work tomorrow, while most of the population (in New Zealand) enjoys their summer holidays. We have had the most awesome weather – it has been ‘absolute summer’ this Christmas/holiday period – fine blue skies and summer heat. Beautiful days.

I have had the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream of helping with a Christmas lunch for the poor and needy ( – these days referred to as the lonely and those who can’t afford to have a Christmas dinner). We (hubby and I) worked really hard for a number of hours but it was SO rewarding. I got to meet and work with some great people, and we served Christmas lunch to about 250 people. By the end of the day my husband and I were sore and tired – and that’s ok. It was a good reason to be tired. It was a good feeling, like we’d really contributed to something bigger than just ‘us’ and contributed something positive to others in our community.

The next two days were spent resting and relaxing [thus my posts about taking time to breathe, and in so doing, to relax.]  Today we hosted a family bar-b-que at our house. As some of you may know, I sometimes feel quite conflicted when it comes to family and have some issues around trust, and the feeling of being judged etc – but we try to invite family over a few days after Christmas for those who are nearby and haven’t gone away on holiday. Normally I get a bit stressed in the build up to people arriving – I want the food to be sorted, everything laid out nicely (outside but in the shade), and the house to be tidy.

This is not the only time I see family but one of the regular events that I participate in (principally because I’m hosting it) and it’s a good time to catch up with everyone. As we have grown older, family ends up being several of my brothers and their wives, some of their grown kids and their partners, and now some of their grandchildren as well (which is quite delightful!)

These past few months I’ve been trying to learn to take things as they come, take time to breathe, and to look at the big picture (ie, does this little thing really matter in the big scheme of life?).  So today instead of stressing, I worked hard getting ready, and making sure my guests were looked after but I didn’t get so uptight about cleaning the house and making sure everything was perfect.  I didn’t spend time worrying internally about who may or may not have been judging me or what they were thinking, or what they thought of my not particularly tidy house, or my housekeeping. I just let go.

Perhaps I didn’t spend a great deal of time just sitting chatting to my family (in fact I know I didn’t), but I did enjoy the day and the atmosphere; I enjoyed that my family didn’t really have to do anything, – they could just enjoy being here and being with each other. And I particularly enjoyed the presence of the children. Five children between the ages of 5 months and 6 years – the children seemed to enjoy themselves, and each other, and they were LOVELY!

So while I might have some unresolved family issues that tap into my history; I made an effort with my family (by having them over) and I enjoyed it!  And I didn’t overly stress and I was pleased we’d all been able to get together.

I am quick to judge my own character flaws and inconsistencies, my lack of confidence and lack of wisdom – and all the negative stuff I perceive in and of myself. But right now it seems appropriate to acknowledge the good things, the positive steps, to just enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.

So I think it’s time to take a moment to relax. And breathe. And enjoy.

How I see the world

grain of sand

I know you’ve heard these words by Edward Blake before but this piece is one of my favourites and I think it’s important that I take a moment to dwell on this.

…a world in a grain of sand… on a beach surrounded by many hundreds of thousands of grains of sand – so many thousands of possible worlds…

…to see heaven in a wild flower…  this resonates with me because I have at certain times seen instances of what appears to be minute but perfect beauty (a very very tiny plant starting to unfold, a perfect miniature seahorse, an exquisite infinitesimal shell or some other minuscule wonder of nature) that has left me speechless and in awe, filled with wonder and joy and overwhelmed by this tiny beautiful thing that I could so easily have passed by without noticing… but for some reason I did…

…hold infinity in the palm of your hand – so beautifully poetic but nope, I  can’t get my mind around that – or eternity in an hour…

What this speaks of to me is perspective. How might my world be if I were to take a look from a totally different perspective? Instead of seeing the world I know as it, as Earth, perhaps I imagine many hundreds of possible worlds, be they parallel universes or not, what if…

What if those other worlds existed in a universe I can’t see with my eyes, or through a telescope or a microscope but I could start to see it in my imagination or in my spirit or it were present in a dimension that is not able to be observed by my physical senses…

What if I could see the world in a leaf – to see at a microscopic level all of the microorganisms dependent on that leaf – whether flora or fauna – what if I was aware of the microbiology around me which I unknowingly encounter every day?

What if I were more aware of the cosmic beauty of the galaxies and solar systems that my senses can observe – if I just took the time to do so – or if I were to learn about all the strange and wonderful sea creatures which live in the ocean depths?

What if I were to see my neighbour as a part of his own unique world, rather than simply seeing my assumptions about his life?

What if I took the time to view my world afresh – with new eyes – what if I observed the clouds and the colours in the sky through out the day, not just at sunset; if I look for life where I don’t expect it, I might begin to perceive inspiration and joy where I haven’t seen them before; I might begin to see beauty in the mundane; the extraordinary in the ordinary…  a world in a grain of sand…

Old and Wise

Today’s message is simple and is one of my husband’s favourite sayings:

“In order to be old and wise,           first you must be young               and stupid!”

We’ve all been there haven’t we? But the positive outcome from those dumb things we did when we were younger?  They have helped shape the people we are today. 

Older, and hopefully, wiser.

Enjoy!

Friendship and Connectedness

I know I often refer to ‘connectedness’ – that sense that you’ve just met someone else in this life that seems to understand where you’re coming from; that ‘ah huh’ moment when you really get what someone else is writing about and you thought no-one else got it, that you were the only one who felt that way. I saw this and I just had to share it. To me, this is probably the single best gift I’ve received from blogging:

friendship

To all those who have liked posts or left comments on my blog; to those whose blogs I have found and now follow, to all of you who I have ‘connected’ with via blogging – a huge THANK YOU  🙂

 

the unknown

sad

It’s yet another reason to be compassionate – we don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s life – and sometimes we are quick to judge without knowing the full story (and we may never know the full story)… so let’s take a moment to be compassionate to that annoyingly bitter co-worker; to the angry man I just passed on the stairs or the smelly girl who’s begging in the street; to the odd lady across the road or that chap at the supermarket who never makes eye contact let alone conversation…

Everyone has a story – and it’s their story to share or not share. And if I knew their story, I might show more kindness, be more understanding, allow myself to feel compassion.

So maybe it’s time to give others the benefit of the doubt, time to choose compassion – because everyone has their secrets; everyone has a story -the depths of which, the hurts and pains, the secret sorrows, we’ll probably never know.

 

Something new

never too late

I can start something new today; attempt something new. And I might fail – but I might not. I won’t know if I don’t try. Whether it’s learning a new style of painting, a new language, a new recipe or trying a new attitude, a different outlook or focus, to be that person, today could be the beginning of something new – if I just take a step, if I simply try…

And in a year’s time I might look back at today and want to celebrate THIS day – because I chose to do something new; because I chose to do or to be; because I chose to make a start…

Pain

029

My husband is having a ‘bad’ day. He suffers from an auto-immune disease and takes a variety of medication. On bad days, he takes even more. On good days his symptoms are manageable and a mere annoyance. Today he feels weak, fatigued, hasn’t slept well and is in continuous pain. Thankfully it’s a Saturday and he has fewer commitments and can fall asleep in front of the television and sleep off and on all day if he chooses.

Life isn’t always like this. Life hasn’t always been like this. We’ve been married for almost four years. We’d been married for a little over a year when he first got sick. His symptoms seemed to increase every few days and ended up incorporating his feet, ankles, knees, back, neck, head, shoulders, wrists and hands. He was in a huge amount of pain, had no energy and over a matter of days, he seemed to lose all his strength. It got to the point where he couldn’t dress or feed himself, couldn’t get to the bathroom and couldn’t even get himself out of bed – he didn’t have enough strength in his hands or arms to propel himself up off the bed to be able to sit instead of lying down, let alone actually get out of bed.

It was a horrible period, and took a some time to get an accurate diagnosis. As soon as he began a course of steroids, he started improving rapidly and the change was immense. After a week or so, any time the doctor reduced the steroids, the pain and weakness would return with avengence. As you can imagine, it was horrendous watching the man I love go through such a debilitating illness and to see him in so much pain.

Early one morning on my way to work I stopped to get petrol and as I waited for the petrol tank to fill, I started crying and couldn’t stop. I rang my boss who could tell I was obviously in significant distress. Then I drove to my husband’s doctor and spoke to the receptionists there. With tears streaming down my face I told them I called an ambulance during the night because my husband was in so much pain. Because it wasn’t life threatening or a significant enough emergency, the ambulance service wouldn’t come. “I’ve come here because I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to stop his pain.”  The receptionists were both nurses, and they were very kind. They booked me in to see my husband’s doctor and I would be his first appointment. They brought me a cup of tea and gave me tissues and a newspaper to read while I waited the forty-five minutes for the doctor to arrive. The doctor was lovely, he saw me as soon as he arrived. He was surprised my husband had gone downhill so quickly as he had seen him only a few days earlier. He rang the specialist my husband was due to see in a few weeks, explained the situation and was able to arrange an earlier referral and to alter my husband’s medication. I took the prescription directly to our local pharmacist, and within a matter of maybe an hour, my husband’s pain had decreased and he was resting more comfortably.

In the weeks and months that followed, he saw the specialist and while it took time, his health improved and he was able to return to work. That was two and a half years ago and since then there have been ups and downs, good days and bad. In general there are many more good days than there are bad days – and for that we are grateful. We are also both aware that many other people experience greater ongoing pain than we have known, and that life could be a whole lot worse than it is.

My husband’s illness highlighted to me something I hadn’t known and hadn’t needed to learn until that point: that I was prepared to fight for the man that I loved when he wasn’t able to fight for himself. And as his wife, that seemed to be my role at the time, to intercede on his behalf. Because if I hadn’t, who would have?

I have a degree of understanding of how wives and mothers can morph into warriors and/or avenging angels to protect their loved ones when the need arises. What was amazing to me was the strength and determination that I possessed, that until that time, I hadn’t known was there.

That I had strength and determination: this is what I learnt from my husband’s pain.

 

The Pohutukawa

In the lead up to Christmas I want to introduce you to the Pohutukawa – the New Zealand Christmas tree. Pohutukawa is a Maori word which means “drenched in mist”. As one of the best known and most visible native trees, pohutukawa are found growing around the coastline of the upper North Island of New Zealand. They are comfortable in rugged windswept beaches, in sand and seaspray, and have a remarkable ability to cling to steep cliffs and hillsides, often seen growing in seemingly impossible locations.

The first Europeans to New Zealand named the pohutukawa ‘the New Zealand Christmas tree’ due to their brilliant bright red flowers that bloom from November to January. For generations of kiwis, the flowering pohutukawa has become one of the great icons of summer and the Christmas holiday season. The tree often features in art and literature, in poetry and songs, on photos and greeting cards and has become an important symbol for New Zealanders both at home and overseas.

Bright and colourful, the pohutukawa is cheerful and instantly recognised (by kiwis at least!)  It is also a wonderful example rugged determination – the ability to grow in harsh situations where others would struggle. But not only does it survive in places of adversity, it thrives!

A picture of both beauty and determination in one (Christmas) package.

pohu2

Love is a choice

Love is a feeling, a behaviour, a choice.

Love is a feeling. It might also be an attitude, a smile, a behaviour. It took me a long time to realise that love is also a choice.

Sometimes in relationships we have to make a choice to continue to love someone. Relationships have ups and downs, good times and not so good. And sometimes it is great to be together, and sometimes it is great to be apart! Sometimes it is easier to walk away than to stay and keep loving. Sometimes the behaviour, words or actions of the other person can make loving them difficult. But we have a choice – to love or not. And in loving another person, we may need to make that choice to love them and to continue to love them again, and again, and again, and again.

At the end of the day, and at the beginning of the day, and throughout the day – love is a choice.

In marriage we make a commitment to love and to continue to love. And sometimes that means overlooking the infringements we perceive, and choosing instead to love; choosing to focus on the good things, choosing to believe the best. Love is a choice.

As someone who has struggled with depression and self-esteem issues, I often battle to love myself.  It makes sense that I might need to keep reminding myself that loving me is also a choice. An ongoing choice. My choices determine my behaviour. In choosing to love and accept myself, I make decisions to care for my body and mind. So when I sabotage myself I am not choosing to love, and my behaviour reflects that.  Love for self is also a choice.

Right now, I choose to love and accept myself, imperfections and all… because love is a feeling, a behaviour, a choice.

Love is an ongoing choice

keep going

Regardless of how life seems – whether life is good or great or unbearably hard; whether you are taking great strides forward, stumbling along, or barely managing a feeble shuffle; whether the sun is shining on your path or you are crawling in absolute darkness; where ever you are and whatever space you are in –

keep going

Compassion

Compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering                                                                                                                                        – Dalai Lama

Compassion really matters to me. It’s one of the basic characteristics that I value so greatly. I think of it as being intrinsic to the foundation of one’s character.  I admire it in others and I want to see proof if it exhibited in my own life, through my actions and in my behaviour.

Whether you believe in God, a Higher Power, or karma – I figure it pays to practice compassion because there may come a time when we will need it more than we can currently imagine.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring – all of which have the potential to turn a life around                                                                                                                                                             – Leo Bascaglia

Everyone has a story, the depths of which we might never know – and that small act of compassion might be just what someone else needs. I really believe that those small acts of kindness, the traces of compassion we show others, have the potential to have a much greater impact than we will ever know.

Compassion is a characteristic that I think of in terms of how we see and treat others; it’s focus is someone else.

Not so.

A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day.  A string of such moments can change the course of your life                                                                                                                                – Christopher K. Germer

Wow!  Self-compassion!  I already think in terms of self-acceptance, but self-compassion… that’s a new concept for me – and it feels as if it has the power to be like a beautiful scented oil that you place in a bath – that might soften the skin, and leave a gentle perfume, as well as having a soothing medicinal effect, and is therefore good for both body and soul.

Imagine how different the world might be if we were to practice compassion towards ourselves and others every day.

I want to finish as I began – with some words of wisdom from the Dalai Lama:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.                                                     If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

 

frustration and confusion

It’s a beautiful day outside and I feel so grumpy, so frustrated, like something is building up inside me and I don’t know what it is. I DO know that this is about me – something to do with how I see myself. I could argue with my husband about things he hasn’t yet done that I’ve asked him to… but deep inside I know this is not about him being the source of my frustration – it’s about me – and I don’t know what I’m so annoyed and frustrated about.

I have found that in order to make sure that my issues with depression stay in their place (ie, making sure they don’t rear their ugly heads) there are some simple steps I can follow:

  • take my medication regularly
  • do some form of physical exercise
  • limit my caffeine and more importantly my alcohol intake
  • eat sensibly but don’t overeat (this can lead to self loathing)
  • do some housework – it’s something about the cleaning and tidying that gives me a sense of being in control over my environment. Housework (vacuuming particularly) feels like physical exercise to me so that’s a win/win – clean house and exercise rolled into one!
  • I need to include tidiness here as well as cleaning. Tidiness is one of the keys to things being in order in my world and my sense of control of my world. [Why is that?]
  • some form of creativity is also good -for me that might mean painting, or sewing or cooking; making chicken stock for the freezer, or chicken pies, or a fruitcake for my husband (not because fruit cakes excite me, they don’t, but he adores them) – also sort of a win/win because this is linked to getting his approval.

Hello. Here’s something important: I link doing nice things for him with getting his approval. This (I know) relates to my father – feeling like I had to be good, or good enough to get his approval. Feeling like I always struggled not just to get his approval but to be recognised. I was the last of six children and the only girl – so before you make comments about being spoiled, I always felt -when it came to my father- that I was never quite good enough. Never really acknowledged by him. And that his love was conditional, and the condition was that I had to be good.

Coming back to being acknowledged, I remember sitting on his knee in church as a 2 or 3 year old (a positive memory) and before I went to sleep he would read to me, and sometimes we would sing together. But as I got older I felt like I just blended into this family because I had to and had to learn to do what I was told. I didn’t feel recognised. As a teenager he never really talked to me one-on-one. Never sat me down to impart any wise words – isn’t that what parents do? Or am I just being romantic rather than realistic? I guess he struggled relating to me – a daughter after five sons. But did I not matter? Was he too tired? Did he not know what to say? Perhaps he didn’t know how – how to approach subjects relating to thoughts and feelings, ideas, views or opinions. Perhaps he thought I didn’t value his views? Did I value his views? I don’t know, he never shared them.

When I left home and went travelling I used to write to my parents and while they wrote back all they ever wrote about was what they had done, were doing or were going to do – they seldom expressed their feelings or thoughts, concerns or opinions; nothing other than general day to day life.

Am I wanting too much? Did I want too much? Did he not know what my psychological needs were and how to meet them? – probably not.  I haven’t been a parent so it’s hard to know if my own expectations of my parents are realistic. They certainly tried to make sure our physical and spiritual needs were taken care of. I’m not sure they knew any of us had any other needs, let alone how to meet them.

And let’s be honest, the world is a totally different place now to the world I grew up in in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Parenting is different. The world is different. Everything has changed. And that’s what happens in life. Things change. We grow up. And as we age, our perspectives continue to develop and alter as we encounter more of life and have more life experience. Fair enough… but where does that leave me right now?

Two other tools I use to keep depression at bay:

  • if I feel emotional or overwhelmed I can always go and have a (nana) nap. If I do this, and manage to go to sleep, I always wake up feeling better than I did before I went to sleep. I don’t know why this works, I just know that it does!
  • go and do something different – go out into the garden and pull some weeds, take the dog for a walk, clean the hand basin, fold some washing, do some baking -doesn’t matter much what it is  – just DO SOMETHING. There’s a sense of reward in being active and achieving something, regardless of how small the activity is. And a change of activity can lead to a change in perspective. Time for me to go and put this into practice – hoping I’ll feel less angst soon…

Bloggers Unite for Peace

This was re-blogged by my lovely friend Cate and I too want to reblog this. Peace is important and we can choose to do something, even if it’s just something small. Have always loved that quote from Edmund Burke.

Infinite Sadness... or hope?

peace1

Regular readers will remember that peace is something I feel strongly about, although I admit that it has been a while since I wrote on this subject.

I feel so strongly that today I am posting twice. Unheard of! But I want to be a part of this movement (Bloggers Unite for Peace), and I encourage you to be a part of it too (details below on how you can do this).

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil
is for good men to do nothing.”
Edmund Burke

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“We are normal, everyday hard-working people with a common hobby, blogging. We hail from far and wide. We reside in different lands, on different…

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Movin’ on

You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.”               – Chinese proverb

or in other words:

“Don’t forget that you’re human. It’s okay to have a meltdown. Just don’t unpack and live there. Cry it out and then refocus on where you are headed.”            ~ Anon

I forget, sometimes, that it’s ok to screw up. I’m often compassionate or empathetic when a colleague or friend has a bad day or is emotional, irrational or angry but I’m often not as kind or understanding if it’s me who has messed up. I used to be pretty good at (psychologically) beating myself up for my mistakes. While I wouldn’t say I’m reformed, I am more aware of that tendency, so I’m trying to be more understanding and accepting of my own mistakes.

Once the mistake has been made, I recognise the value in acknowledging it and moving on. But what if I can’t move on? What if I need some time to get over whatever ‘it’ is?  Actually – that’s ok. Stuff takes time for us to process. In most cases I can see that my processing of stuff takes less time than it has in the past – so that denotes progress, and I’ll take all the positives I can get.

I make a mistake. Acknowledge the error and admit to the poor judgement, ill discipline, inappropriate behaviour/emotion, or whatever. Feel the feelings (guilt, shame, embarrassment, sorrow… – the list is endless and the choice is yours). Then MOVE. ON. I like the quote above “just don’t unpack and live there” – because you don’t need to. Don’t linger. I’ll say it again: MOVE ON.

To me that’s the key. Let it go and walk away. Build a bridge and get over it. Do whatever you need to do to be free of the thing that’s holding you back from moving on. Imagine that mistake is a broken toy – maybe you’ve spent hours with this toy and now it’s broken. Destroyed. Irreparable. When the time is right (and only you can decide when that is) you pick up the toy, take it outside and put it in the rubbish bin. You close the lid and walk away. And you don’t look back. Instead you refocus on the next step.

Look ahead. Take a step. Move forward.

That’s enough.