Begin Again

Writing is a series of footsteps.

Placing one word after another until you reach your destination.

Once

Upon

A

Time…

 

A piece of music is medicine.

You only have to take one note at a time for as long as it takes to get better.

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Excerpt courtesy of Chopin.

 

A picture is a thousand brush strokes. A thousand dabs of paint. A thousand colours.

But it begins with only one.

 

One word. One note. One colour.

Repeat. Don’t stop.

Begin again.

 

 

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Sticks and Stones

I was always good at Playing the Game.

That’s what my mother called it. The art of moving among people, saying what needed to be said without being angry or offensive. I internalised emotions. I diffused situations with humour. I remained silent if necessary.

I recognised this at an early age.  I noticed some classmates lacked it. My own brother lacked it. Although he was older than me, there were times I came to his defence. Ever the diplomat, me.

One of my favourite of Aesop ‘s fables was The Oak and the Reeds. It’s not as well known as some of them, but it resonated with me. The tale of the old tree than grew with the reeds beside the river. The tree was proud of its strength and size but a great gust of wind tore up the oak from the ground.

The tree wept.

“I don’t understand it. How can something as frail and slender as a reed escape the anger of the wind, while a strong tree has been torn up by its roots?”

The reeds explain the moral of the story.

“Sometimes in  order to survive, it is better to give way.”

And this is how I played the game. I stuck to my opinions when they truly mattered and let everything else go. I decided who I respected and who I didn’t – and as to the latter – if I didn’t respect you, why would I about care what you said or thought?

I was so lucky to believe this. To believe this so strongly I left school without enemies and a small group of friends who stood with me.

Though, we are never unbroken.

My insecurities lie in my capabilities. My ability to write, for one. I suffer from anxiety and have developed a habit of surpressing how I feel. Sometimes, I surpress too much.

As an adult looking back, those who ‘broke’ me were adults and/or people I respected.

But.

But the beauty of being an adult is when looking back you realise we are all victims of our lives. We all (mostly) do not intend to sabotage the lives of others but do what we think is best at the time. Then to compound this there are personalities and how two people can take the same experience and interpret it a very different way.

Of course, bullies do intend to sabotage lives, they’ll probably never realise how much. They’ll probably never realise how broken they are themselves.

I was bullied at school but I was always lucky to be a reed.


So, I’ve just come from Ra, and she wrote this. It’s a whole heap of awesome, but this clip triggered these memories.


nanopoblano2015darkDay 24 of Nano Poblano! That is, Ra’s version of NaBloPoMo.

We’re posting everyday in the month of November!

When I say ‘we’ I mean these awesome folk.

 

WHAT’S THE WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN?

Maybe it’s a strange mantra. I kind of fancy one that’s more about love or creativity but this one speaks to me. It’s been my survival mechanism for many years now.

The important thing is, it mustn’t be misconstrued. I’m not asking myself to imagine the worst things that can possibly happen in any given situation. I’m not wondering if the legs will fall off my chair or my house will fall down or I’ll be abducted by a squirrel with a limp. It sounds like a drastic question, but what it actually offers me is perspective.

I procrastinate. More than I’d like, and probably more than is ‘normal’. I’m procrastinating about writing this blog post. I’ve had the title and the first line written for two weeks. But like anything I undertake have to fight the naysayers in my head. They’re telling me I suck and that this blog post is so badly written I’ll be judged ad infinitum by all who visit here. So I ask myself, what IS the worst that could happen?

I might suck.

I might be judged for it.

And the next question is the important one.

Does that matter?

*posts blog*

Painting By Numbers

Not long after we bought our house, I decided to paint our bedroom olive green. A colour similar to this blog’s background colour (if your computer’s able to display it). I had this colour in my mind’s eye – this bold, deep and soothing green. I grabbed a handful of colour samples from the hardware store and picked the green of my dreams. Then I had second thoughts. Was it too bold? Too deep? Too green? Bowing to caution, I selected a softer, paler, safer green at the paint shop. Perhaps predictably, it didn’t quite meet my expectations. It wasn’t awful though, and not wanting to put us through the painting process again (and I hate being wasteful), it was another three years before we tried again with the shade I should have used in the first place.

I don’t trust my instincts enough. My impending-failure internal sensors can’t seem to distinguish between mistakes that matter and ones that don’t. In this instance, not only did the mistake not matter, but I only made the mistake in my attempts to save myself from it. *Creates wormhole*

This is taking fear of failure to Level Stupid. Which, oddly enough, reminds me of this poem:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

I’ve always loved this poem, but often wondered if that love was born from envy. I remember reading it for the first time at secondary school unable to share the author’s inclination for the ‘road less travelled’. I mean, why was it ‘grassy’? What was wrong with it? Did it flood? Did it peter out until you were lost? Did it take you to a cliff that had partially slipped away and you had to either turn back or rock climb? Perhaps its use had ceased when someone discovered it ten miles longer and took you to exactly the same place as the other road. My instinct to pre-empt mistakes is so strong, I even question metaphors.

On the upside, I reckon I’ve saved myself from many inconveniences and embarrassments, and because I can perceive problems before they arise, I’m a great sounding board for issues. Equally, though, I’ve made decisions that have kept me on the safe road at the cost of experience and discovery, and I worry about things before they happen, even when events are out of my control and I hesitate at the point of doubt and procrastination, and I’m unable to move beyond it. What if there’s a avenue for failure I hadn’t predicted? So I stop, half way through a creative project with an overwhelming desire to quit before I fail. Leading to not failing, but not succeeding either.

20150126_135537This is one of my many idiosyncrasies that I’m trying to resolve. Sometimes I need to trust that it’ll work out, that the repercussions of it not working out on the scale of importance from Stupid to Death, is off the scale at Inconsequential. So this week I painted the spare room a deep turquoise blue without second guessing myself.

And yes, it’s perfect.

New Spectacles

My friend and I were standing at the bus stop. She nudged me and pointed to the house across the road.

‘See that roof?’ she said, ‘Can you make out every tile?’

I nodded.

‘I never could before.’ she adjusted her new glasses on her nose.

It took seventeen years for her to discover she was short sighted. She’d compensated so effectively her poor vision went undetected.

Her new glasses were a revelation.

We only know our own experience, it’s ‘normal’ until we learn otherwise. The catch is, you only ‘learn otherwise’ if you can compare your experiences with something else. Or someone notices you always sit at the front of the classroom. You don’t mention it yourself because it is familiar and wittingly or not, you’ve learnt to work around it.

It’s a fitting analogy for my anxiety.

Firstly, for those not familiar with anxiety, here’s an introduction:

Trigger warning. Those who DO suffer from anxiety may find the following short video* a little too familiar.

 

Anxiety disorders and depression are hereditary in my family. While I grew up in an environment where we discussed this openly and respectfully, I still became aware of the stigma. I knew I couldn’t mention it to just anyone, I couldn’t broach it in casual conversation like it was arthritis or diabetes. I’ve listened to good, kind people confess their own torment in embarrassed whispers. I’ve witnessed others grow uncomfortable in its company and others dismissive of its existence. I’ve seen scorn, intolerance and judgement; treating these mental disorders as choices you could simply get over and medicating against them was a sign of weakness and failure. Fortunately, I think these attitudes are slowly changing.

I’d stopped discussing my anxiety. Not consciously and certainly not because I was ashamed but because I no-longer felt I needed to. I understood it, it would be like constantly mentioning a limp when I could still walk. I managed my anxiety cycles and I created coping strategies and thought patterns to tame them. I didn’t classify myself as someone with an anxiety disorder because I’d learnt to function.

It was my ‘normal’.

About five weeks ago, I worked myself up into such an anxious state I stopped functioning and for the first time in my life I began taking anti-anxiety medication. After about two weeks I began to feel a different ‘normal’.

Someone had handed me glasses with an anxiety filter.

I didn’t know I was missing them.

Once, if you’d asked me how often during the day I felt anxious, I would have said, ‘occasionally’. Now, I see it was ‘often’, a constant background noise. My anxiety had progressed gradually and cumulatively. I’d mentally work through each trigger in automatic and I’d grown numb to the energy this took from me. I’d stopped recognising these events as mini anxiety attacks, and if the trigger was embarrassingly lame, I’d prefer to attribute it to my own stupidity.

I described an anxiety episode in my post, Breaking Sad and it is one of my most visited blog posts. It makes me wonder how many how many other people are searching for understanding. I wonder how many other people are ‘functioning’ with unreasonable levels of anxiety and depression and not even realise it.

There are many ways to control anxiety. Taking medications designed to alter the chemistry of your brain is not a decision anyone should take lightly. It’s really important to seek professional advice before undertaking such a change. My medication took a couple of weeks to ‘settle’ into my system  and during that time I experienced some unpleasant side-effects. I actually felt worse before I felt better. Fortunately, it eventually worked for me, but I’m aware sometimes you may need to try a couple of options before you find one that helps you.

I am obviously not a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. I’m purely analysing my own experience but I do hope that sharing this encourages those who need it to seek professional help. Maybe that is you, and if it is – you are not alone. Everyone experiences anxiety differently with different symptoms and different triggers. Talk about it. Find people you trust and talk about it.

These new glasses are a revelation.

 

 

*The phone number at the end of this video is to Beyond Blue, an Australian national initiative to raise awareness of anxiety and depression. They also provide resources for recovery, management and resilience. Do you have a support network for mental health in your area? Leave a link in the comments, post on your own blog and generally spread the word.

Talk about it.

Reassurance. Because Cats

We built our cat his own shelf. We took a wide piece of board, carpeted it, attached support brackets and screwed it to the wall. In a complete leap of faith, we built this cat-space before we even had a cat. Obviously we planned to get a cat – we weren’t randomly creating shelves for invisible animals – but we did build that shelf whilst entirely cat-less. We did not know him, or his personality or his idiosyncrasies. Using our previous experiences with cats, and friends’ cats we theorised he would rate this shelf quite highly. This probability was largely skewed by the fact we’d attached the shelf above a heater.

Most cats love cooking themselves and gravitate towards any heat source, human or otherwise. The problem is, we were also vying against that other cat trait – indifference. Whatever you want your cat to do, they usually choose the opposite. You might create him a comfy little nest but he instead works his way into your wardrobe and sleeps on the clothes seemingly woven out of fur-magnets. He’s completely anti-social and shuns all guests except for the person allergic to cats. You get my point.

As much as we believed he would love his warm spot above the heater, we wondered if we’d jinxed the shelf simply by wanting him to want it. Not so. While it took a little food bribery for him to adjust to the concept, once he did, the shelf got more snooze-time than our laps. He persisted with it even though we made it a little too narrow and he’d often be forced to hang a leg off the side. He’s used his shelf (especially in winter) for the last nine years.

The Cat Shelf

A couple of months ago we decided to upgrade him to a wider and roomier shelf under the belief it would be easier as he approached his senior years. Just to spite us, he hasn’t shown any interest in the new one.

But, I digress. I know you’re wondering how any of this has to do with ‘reassurance’.

Well, I realised that the old shelf (the one we took down) would fit perfectly above that small window in the back room. As soon as I had that thought, I realised I’d had it before. Nine years ago when we built a shelf for a cat we didn’t have. It was my contingency plan for the shelf, in case our cat hated it. Of course, he loved it so my brain had dismissed the memory. Until now.

Sometimes I lose creative ideas because I’m unable to write them down. Sometimes, someone interrupts a thought just as I attempt to lock it into place. I panic. What if it was brilliant? What if it was the perfect thought?

So, the next time an idea is snatched from you, or you feel the need to stab someone because they replaced your awesome idea with a conversation on the weather, rest assured. You’ve already had the idea once, the second time will surely be easier. If you need to, you can retrace your thought processes but the real key is importance. If it is important, you will remember.

Why? Because cats.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Yesterday, my work colleague threatened to google me. I say threatened, quite loosely. She actually said, ‘Hey, we should try googling your name!’ and then laughed a proper warm-hearted, non-malicious laugh. Which isn’t a threat at all, but something quite innocent and unremarkable.

I laughed too. I told her I once googled myself and found pictures from a work function (they’ve long since been deleted). In an elegant segue, I spoke of how easy it is these days for people to post your photograph onto the internet without your permission.  Stories were shared and the initial comment was nicely deflected.

And I went home and changed my public profile.

While I disclose very little personal information about myself to protect my family’s privacy, if someone I knew were to stumble upon my little blogosphere they would (at the very least), wonder if this was me. With ‘Wally’ in the title, my family would simply know it could be no one else.

I don’t mind having my name here. It’s common. Perhaps not common like Smith, but when I make a doctor’s appointment, I have to give other details to ensure they don’t pull up the wrong records. In the world of the internet, although not ungoogleable, I believed myself invisible – who’d even want to google me?

The prospect of my friend finding me here suddenly terrified me. But why? It’s true I don’t tell people I write to write better – that part is a secret of sorts but mostly this blog is me and my ramblings – it hardly constitutes as a shameful or dishonest second life.

I am here as I am in reality yet I still hide. I don’t know what this fear is called, but I know it’ll be something I need to face.

Where do you hide?