‘Those aren’t snowflakes!’

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Artwork by Tabitha Moses (see below)

I was reminded the other day of what our tenacious bodies go through as they endeavor to contend with the everyday, and sadly, how little I will thank, apologise to or love my body in return.At a routine hearing test, the doctor drew a short intake of breath as she popped an otoscope into my ear and looked at the mess within.  She said: ‘That must feel intolerable!’  It was said with such empathy that my eyes welled up.  The doctor was referring to the psoriasis inside my ear.  (It covers my head too and it started over 20 years ago, when my cat was run over; it’s never left me since.  Fudge’s parting gift.)  It’s not something I give much thought to (apart from the infernal itching), my case is relatively mild (although horrid at the moment) but still, it got me thinking.

Sometimes, symptoms that stem from sadness, or depression, can be as vexing and challenging as the depression itself.  Take psoriasis for example – it is skin cell production in overdrive.  Skin cells are normally made and replaced every 3 to 4 weeks but with psoriasis the process is sped up to every few days.  It reflects well the interminable, anxious pathways that my brain traverses each and every day.
Films often portray this malady as belonging only to unhygienic individuals (always accompanied by halitosis it would seem!).  It’s distressing enough without having this stigma attached.  Here is how a potential conversation could roll:’Oh wow, is it snowing outside?!’
‘No, I don’t think so?’
‘But you have snow…flakes…oh…er…’

There can be other physical complaints, some embarrassing, that result from poor mental health, can’t there? IBS, shaky hands, insomnia, weight loss, weight gain, excess sweating and other skin conditions.

 

That acknowledgment, that validation, by Rosie, the doctor above, made  me feel sad for my body.   I’m not talking of self pity here, oh no.  I simply mean that it helped me feel a little more self compassion for myself.

 

If we look at just one side effect that is symptomatic of a bigger picture, it can, just maybe, help us to see what our bodies and minds are contending with as a whole.  This, in turn, can help us want to be more nurturing of ourselves.

 

Writing this post, the quote by Henry Maudsley, a psychiatrist, was brought to mind: “Grief that has no vent in tears may make other organs weep.”  Given that the skin is an organ, those words could surely be a definition of psoriasis.

 

It’s a very strange coincidence though, that having scribbled down all of the above in a museum cafe, that I then walked over to the shop, only to find that very same quote in a small book about the artist Tabitha Moses, who has actually produced art work about psoriasis!  Synchronicity or what?  Her art work  on psoriasis is beautiful, delicate and a tad alarming at the same time.  (You can see pictures of, and a link to, her work below.)

 

In conclusion then, the next time you observe “snowflakes” on either yourself or someone else, try to see them for what, in all probability, they are – visible, tangible evidence of someone’s deepest emotions, sadness and fragility.  Looking at it from that standpoint, one will see only beauty and feel only sensitivity.

 

 

Pictures below are works of art by Tabitha Moses.  To view more of her works on this topic, click here and here.  It’s extremely poignant actually.

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Lovely comments received when this piece was posted on Moodscope.com…

  1. Thanks for your openness on this one – my family also suffer from psoriasis – believe it’s related to the gene for eczema and hayfever – and the worse you feel, the more you get – I’m getting the idea that life is a tad unfair …

    I’m sure you know many things that can help …. but not for long, so you have to ring the changes – latest idea is lemon juice, salt and olive oil. I’ll add some garlic n herbs and make up enough for salad dressing … at least I’ll be eating healthily …which should assist!

    That’s a beautiful quote from Henry Maudsley – thank you.

    Moodie x

    Reply

  2. Just “thank you” – for an honest and brave blog. It is a good reminder of how physical and mental health are inter-linked.

     

  3. From right this moment I am stating to treasure my psoriatic flakes, just as my tinnitus is really the sound of the earth rotating

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  4. Oh Suzy, thank you so much for this post.

    I have relatives who developed psoriasis when a close family member died unexpectedly. Their life was difficult. My own father died of a long-term illness when I was three, photographs indicate the change in my posture. I have been told that my rounded shoulders are my body’s defence to deep and unexpressed sorrow, this has led to long-term spinal problems which are now acute and painful.

    So yes, I agree, our bodies work in tandem with our emotions and reflect our feelings. Often without us being aware.

    I once moved house and had acute stomach cramps in the days before. They were very painful but undiagnosable. Years later, I realised it was a move I knew I should not be making but I repressed my concerns and they manifested physically.

    It’s as though my body insists on manifesting the emotions that I am denying and.at last, I am beginning to honour my feelings and trying to avoid blinkering myself. In my case, I believe it is linked with my HSP but I don’t think it’s exclusive to highly sensitive people.

    Thanks again for your post Suzy.

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  5. Thank you so much for that Suzy. It’s beautiful and compassionate, and so true.

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  6. This is the most eye-opening blog I’ve read in a loooong time, thank you. This makes so many little things I’ve noticed about myself make sense. Plus, looking at friends with serious depression (I notice that seems to be all of my friends: like to like, as it were) have small physical problems that nothing can make better, and I because of this blog, I can mention to them, AGAIN, about Moodscope. This one blog is so worth the time I spend everyday taking the test. And I won’t be so hard on myself for minor physical problems that I never had before coming to my attention. Thank you. I bet you’ve opened up a LOT of eyes!

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  7. When Jon left Moodscope I was depressed for quite some time and felt abandoned, as his blogs had been a lifeline to keep me afloat through the low times. However, over the recent months the blogs and quotes have been of such a high quality – this one especially touched me. Moodscope now has a quality of mutual support that has enhanced it’s effectiveness. I am sure Jon is proud of how it has evolved.

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  8. Thankyou for sharing. I broke out in Psoriosis when my job became intolerable and my brain “broke” that was 7 years ago and I’m not recovered.
    I take out how I feel on my body.
    Thanks for reminding me how inter connected we are. Body soul spirit.
    Lovely post suzy.

    Julie

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  9. “Don’t be a cry- baby ” is a common and very unfortunate comment. – which I believe tends to dwell deep in the subconscious of many people. Tears actually
    contain a ‘poison’ which we need to release when we are sad.

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  10. This is a really touching post, Suzy; thank you so much. I remember when my therapist taught me not to judge people who are vastly overweight. “Just consider what might have happened in their lives that they have to overeat in order to cope.” she said. Having gained 25lb through comfort eating in the last 8 months of grief following the death of my uncle I feel even more guilty for any judging I might have done in the past. There is truly no separation between our mind and body. I wish you well with your condition (not going to try to spell it here). Thank you again for a lovely and helpful post.

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  11. I always think people who have psoriasis are the nicest, kindest people.

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  12. Suzy, your blog is probably the bravest I have read. This morning, ” Imagine ” played on the radio. I had no qualms opening the window and turning it up pretty loud. I just wish people’s ignorance about others and their problems had an “off” position.
    Please keep writing.
    Peace and Love, Richard.

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  13. I love “Imagine” and all the lines you often quote Richard.

     

  14. Oh dear Suzy, how awful, what a legacy your cat left. If you cat could talk it would be the last thing it would have wanted for you and how painful too. I assume you have been to specialists? It is not always an obvious thing for us to do. The docto invariably says nothing and we just trust the doctor. Of course you must demand a specialist if you have not seen one. There are many things that can be done and used to alieviate and stop psoriasis. I had odd patches of something coming up on my skin and the doctor (a male!) just looked and grunted something, gave me something which made it worse. I happened to try Ibuprofen gel that I had about my person and, well the problems stopped. Whether it was me taking care of me or the ingredients I care little. I do hope you find something becasue I assure you there is something out there or inside you that can change that.

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  15. A friend of mine is adept of auto hemotherapy. After six months of weekly care he is now seeing first results.
    Silvia A

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  16. Great blog.
    I find that the more I focus on my own imperfections the more I see imperfections in others, and that isn’t how I want to look at people or the world.
    It just shows that how we view ourselves has a pervasive influence on how we see the world. I’m not sure it’s possible to separate them.
    I’m trying to learn to accept myself more.
    I agree with a comment above about how great these blogs are and the Moodscope community. Whenever a person shows their vulnerability it is so attractive and beautiful to others, maybe because we see the emotions and vulnerability we all share underneath.

    Reply

  17. Wow folks. All your comments have moved me in no little way today. Hearty thanks to each and every one of you.
    ;oD xxxxx

     

In need of a happy ending (No 2)

(written for Moodscope. March ’14)

Back in February, an elderly friend of the family passed away suddenly.  He had no next of kin and left no will.  His house and all its contents were soon to be passed over, unceremoniously, to local government.

Mark, however, also had two cats, whom I know he adored.  They were to meet certain doom unless homes could be found and quick.  A kindly neighbour took in one and mum and I the other.  Binky the elder.  (Although, in all honesty, we needed another cat like we needed a hole in the head.)

Poor Binky had already endured a stressful couple of weeks and by the time he arrived here, without anything of everything he had ever known, he was wide eyed with fear.

As we have done with all waifs and strays we’ve helped in the past, we set up a comfy corner in the cellar (it’s a nice cellar) allowing him to become accustomed to us, as well as all the scents and sounds of the house, before introducing him to our two other cats.  Alas, all did not go to plan.

We had completely underestimated poor Binky’s terror and he somehow squeezed through a tiny tunnel in the cellar ceiling.  This was a new and worrying development.

We left out food and water, of which he availed himself but never when we were around.  Two days later, I realised that I could get to Binky by crawling through 3 holes under the floorboards.  (Fact: iphones have an excellent built in torch!) Now at the other end of the tunnel, it was still impossible to reach Binky but at least I could now talk to his face.  I took care to blink softly at him.  (Also known as ‘cat kissey’s’.  Never stare at a cat you are trying to befriend.  Blink.  Fake yawns also indicate friendliness.)

It was a funny thing sat there under the house, amidst dust and soil that hasn’t seen the light of day for well over a century.  Sounds from the four floors above became dulled and distorted and yet, in a strange way, noises felt louder and more intimidating.  How similar to a depression, I thought.  You know there is life going on around you, life you could be part of even, but choked in your own darkness, everything becomes muffled.  Inaccessible.

And how too, we ‘bite the hand that feeds us’ so to speak.  We may react to well meaning family/friends like an injured, frightened animal – with snarls, hisses, growls;  It becomes impossible to distinguish between someone trying to help and someone trying to hurt us, so we feel its safer to withdraw completely.

Well, the saga went on.  We had moments of panic.  Should we rip up the bathroom floor or tear down the cellar ceiling?  As the RSPCA wisely said though, while he has access to food and water and is in no immediate danger, there’s not much to be done but show patience.

Like Binky, when we’re depressed, we’ll run for the dungeon, pull up the drawbridge and withdraw into the darkness.  We all know there are things that can help, like eating properly and regularly, but there are some depressions that cling to us like a bad smell and it’s all we can do to just sit tight and allow for it to pass.

After several weeks of frequently sitting in the bowels of the house, blinking and yawning like an idiot, hopes of ever gaining Binky’s trust began to recede.  At last, one day, he started to slowly stay, albeit momentarily, out of his hole.  Then, all at once, he allowed his barriers to melt.  Binky cautiously ate some ham from my hand and the rest was history.  Purring as loud as an engine, he seemed determined to make up for all the loneliness he must surely have felt in recent weeks.  Jumping on my lap, greeting me enthusiastically.  What a beautiful, beautiful moment that was.

Often you know, we humans, demand things, life, feelings, situations, to be fixed.  Instantly.  Sometimes though, a handful of acceptance and a sprinkling of patience are the requirement of the day.  Binky ventured out of his dungeon.  And so will we.

 

Hole No.1the first hole to crawled through

Hole No.2

Hole No.3Hole No.3

Binky’s TunnelBinky's tunnel

Can you spot Binky?Cat's eyes in the dark tunnel

Meeting Binky properlyMeeting Binky properly for the first time

Binky enjoying the sunshine after a month in the darknessBinky enjoying the sunlight after a month in the darkness

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Binky admiring the blossom tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Spring cleaning of the soul

Daffodils in Sefton Park

Posts maybe a smidgen erratic in the coming weeks folks (yes, I know they already have been. Sorry about that!).

The Sleepy Soul is currently sat at the bottom of her well and there are no reserves.  The good news is that I have reached the bottom and now, well, it is “simply” a matter of riding back up to the top, to the daylight, once more.  Whenever I reach this place, there is always a sense of déjà vu.  I’ve been here oh how many times before.  It’s a sign, yet again, that I’ve overdone things, not rested enough, probably eaten rubbish along the way and stopped listening to my body; my feelings.

I stop crafting, drawing, making;  I stop seeing.  I stop seeking the beauty each day.

The Navajo Indians have it right.  They don’t say they are ‘depressed’, instead they say that they are ‘souls accompanied by sadness.’  I rather like the latter version better.

A Spring clean is what is required.  Not just of the space I live in (and man, does that need a purge!) but also of my mind and body.  I need to strip back everything that is superfluous; unnecessary.

You’ll still find me over on the Moodscope daily blog here and there.  And when I come back here, I’ll be taking you to Liverpool’s version of the V&A (kind of), Williamson Tunnels (a labyrinth of underground tunnels in Liverpool), a lesson in tea tasting, aromatherapy and spinning wool and just generally finding beauty amidst the tedium of everyday.

In the meantime, I’m not one to beg but should you visit this site, I wonder, could you help facilitate the Sleepy Soul’s wish to write for a living?  ‘Like’, ‘Follow’ or comment, by all means!  A quote from the 1995 version of the film ‘Sabrina’ comes to my mind – the one with Harrison Ford:

David Larrabee: [to Linus] When you guys meet her, just try to make me look good. I mean I know I look good, but, you know, try to make me, you know, sound good. Mention my accomplishments, my qualities.[earnest look from Linus]

David Larrabee: You can be creative.[another earnest look]

David Larrabee: Lie, okay?
See you good folks very soonly x x

Wildlife and Wellbeing

A beautiful butterfly

It was very interesting listening to the splendid Jeremy Vine, on BBC Radio 2, one Tuesday to discover that a discussion was in flow as to whether it is our moral duty to be more aware of our surroundings, in particular, that of bird life.

It was heartening to hear the callers and comments who expressed a love of, and appreciation for the birds, as opposed to those who feel we live in a new era and that ‘times have moved on’ from the days of learning the names of different species of birds, as many once did, as children.

I’m no expert but here are just two reasons why I personally cherish wildlife as well as those who take the time to notice it.

1)  Who can fail to be drawn to someone who just seems to know “stuff”?  They may not be an expert in Ornithology or go by the name of Monty Don, (for those not acquainted with our lovely Monty, he is famed in the UK for programmes like Gardener’s World on the BBC) but they can tell you a random fact about the life of a blackbird, or mention by the by, that the chamomile flower, in Victorian times meant ‘energy in adversity’. (Oh I love that!) They might pause in mid-conversation to point out a goldfinch or robin foraging nearby.  It can disclose a lot about the individual.  It may reveal that they are observant, appreciative of the small pleasures in life and are, in all probability, quite gentle company to be around.

2)  To not feel lost in wonder at the wildlife around us – and there is nature to be found around us, no matter how built up an area – is to perhaps suggest that we are not in touch with our inner soul.  How so?  Well, in short, it can be incredibly helpful and soothing to our wellbeing.  Here is a list of fleeting moments I’ve enjoyed today alone:

Standing by a tree, alone with my thoughts when I heard enchanting bird song above me.  I looked up to see that a robin, was looking right back at me.  I think he’d seen my sadness and decided to serenade me. ;o)
Seeing a carpet of crocuses heralding Spring.
Watching wood pigeons (I unashamedly hold a huge soft spot for all pigeons) sweep up an invisible “hill” in the air and swoosh down, like they are on a roller-coaster.  It’s obvious they do this for the sheer thrill and joy of it.  (Yes, you may not agree but please, leave me in my own little world.  I find peace, pleasure and priceless joy in these wee snippets of wildlife ;o)  )

Written for Moodscope.com see comments

A very well fed robin!

A squirrel looking in my window.  No doubt hoping for some nuts!Daffodils

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Pennington’s of Slater Street, L1

Pennington's, Unit 2, Slater Street. Liverpool, L1 4BS

Pennington’s, Unit 2, Slater Street, Liverpool, L1 4BS
Closed Mondays.
Tues – Sat 11am to 6pm
Sunday – 11am to 3pm

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Some years ago a book plopped through my letter box, a gift from a friend when I was in full blown grief after the loss of my father.  It was a delight to receive and has been so well loved and used that some of the pages have actually come loose.  It was ‘Cath Kidston’s ‘Tips For Vintage Style’.

I loved that the book inspired you, the reader, to get creative about being creative.  I can’t lie, I still enjoy a mooch in a Cath Kidston store, who wouldn’t?  It gives ideas and inspiration for our own creative endeavours.  But like many, once something becomes high fashion or big brand, I’ve a tendency to recoil slightly and withdraw.

For me, to delve into that book was to escape and embrace the ‘sky is your limit’, ‘I could do that!’ make do ‘n’ mend, thrifting spirit.  Now?

Whilst obviously admiring the style and success of the mighty, high street name that Cath Kidston has become, I admire only from a distance.  Any urge that rises within to make a purchase in the shop, I suppress by buying a few packets of pretty tissues.  (They make for great wee gifts and really, ought not every self-respecting gal possess floral tissues in her bag?  It’s surely even more important than matching underwear.)

So, ever in search of the unique, independent  or locally made, it was a treat to discover Pennington’s of Slater Street, Liverpool.

The proprietor and purveyor of locally sourced artisan products, Caroline Pennington, told me that the shop was borne out of her own hobby and passion for  up-cycling old furniture and creating home textiles.  Caroline ended up with a room full of such creations but would, like so many with a talent, only give her treasured labours away as gifts, she was too afraid to sell her work.  I’d wager that even Cath Kidston felt the same at some point.  This fear of being caught out as a ‘fraud’ seems to be a plight common to so many creative or sensitive souls.

As birds of a feather flock together, Caroline realised that she had friends that were also talented and shared a love for the ‘homemade’.  It was time to find a permanent space to sell her wares and those of others.

‘…I attended a few local craft fairs and asked artists whose stuff I really admired if they would be interested in selling their work in my shop – my shop that I hadn’t opened yet!’

There are currently around 20 individuals who have their arts or crafts on sale at Pennington’s but that can change week to week.  Next week, there maybe as many as 30.

I was coveting some old glass, dessert dishes in the shape of an apple, still in the original box – perhaps the type my nan would have kept for ‘best’.  I was standing in the vintage corner of the shop.

Having a vintage section gives Caroline a chance to still indulge in the thrill of buying up second hand, once loved treasures but with the added joy of being able to sell them on to an equally excited soul.

‘Otherwise, I’d have no room left in my home!’ Says Caroline.

The ultimate goal of Pennington’s, however, is to sell only handmade fare.

‘I’m very excited about a forthcoming collaboration  with a dressmaker (Caroline’s patchwork combined with the skills of a dressmaker.  Imagine a dapper patchwork waistcoat for your young nephew, for example.) and selling one of a kind, handmade clothes of high quality.  I’m especially excited about our plan to have a children’s range.  There are handmade shops in Liverpool but there aren’t many places where you can buy unique, handmade, well made clothes.’  Too true.

I leave Caroline sat snugly in her solid wood rocking chair, at an old school desk, under the light thrown out from a large, vintage floral lampshade.  This is where her sewing machine is patiently sat, awaiting her nimble fingers to whip up some splendiferous patchwork offering.  The scene looks so cosy that Caroline might well be home from home.  And what a comely second home it is.

We have learned to cherish the old again. We adore all things vintage; natty tatters with a tale.  So what’s next?  To take homemade and put it in our hearts and mindset.  I’ll always gain pleasure from a perusal in Cath Kidston but it, like every other high street brand, is generic and mass produced.  Going the handmade route feels altogether more satisfying for a sensitive soul.  How so?  Well, apart from it arguably being more green and ethical, observing the intricate work of someone’s fingers bears witness to the love and care that has gone into each individual product.  The pellucid quality and painstaking detail of ‘homemade’ means you are purchasing something for life and not simply until the ‘high of the buy’ has worn off – which, often, is all too quick.

I love making my own gifts and presents, whether it be when visiting friends from outside Liverpool or ‘just because’, or, for the special occasions of weddings, births and anniversaries.  As I’ve said before, living creatively keeps me well.  Sadly though, it’s true,  we don’t always have the energy and if we have the energy, perhaps we don’t have the time.  The next best thing?  Definitely someone else’s handmade.  So c’mon, let’s not allow the likes of Columbia Rd, London, E2 to have all the fun!  Let’s support local handmade and get down to Pennington’s!

I think you will also love Land Baby of Bluecoat Chambers.

Books:  My favourite ‘handmade’ book at the moment is Granny Chic by Dottie Angel and Ted&Agnes.  It’s as ticketyboo as a ‘how to’ book gets and no matter how sleepy I’m feeling, it never fails to inspire. Never ever.  Never.

Hand painted cup and saucer

Hand painted cup ‘n’ saucer

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Vintage corner and drift wood art

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Even the driftwood is sourced at local beaches

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Pennington’s as seen from Bold Street

I’d love to see a book in the future entitled:  ‘Pennington’s’ and it would contain a wee pen portrait of each of the artists or crafters selling there and each would give a simple, ‘I could do that’, lesson on making something unique and handmade.

Humans of New York

I treasure sharing a fleeting moment in time with a stranger.  A shared joke on the train, a warm smile, asking someone a question, offering a compliment or a simple exchange of words.  I bow as leave a person or salute them.  (Withdrawing from a phlebotomist recently, I bowed farewell.  He was an Indian chap and became very excited.  Apparently, I’d bestowed great respect upon him.  That was a lovely moment.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him I have the habit of bowing to everyone.)  I’m definitely an introvert but find human interaction and contact, with fellow citizens of the planet, an absolute pleasure.  Rarely do I feel close to any one person but seem to prefer a general friendliness with everyone.

It’s probably for all of the above reasons that I love the blog, Humans of New York (you can follow it on instagram too).  HONY is a photographer who goes out each day amidst the hubbub of New York and takes photographs of the people in the Big Apple.  What pulls you in though, is the comments made by these people in response to a question the photographer, Brandon, has thrown at them.  Many of the comments are so poignant.  A pithy statement that can really pack a punch.

I think it’s actually the sadness of some the comments that I’m drawn to.  Just like my own wee encounters with unknown folk, it makes me feel less desolate in my own heart.   The blog shows old folk to be anything but invisible, young people to be wise, grieving or depressed souls to be beautiful and the frail, strong.

Ah human contact.  It’s the stuff that makes us feel Hope.  Every city ought to have a Brandon.  Or maybe, they already do?

http://www.humansofnewyork.com/

 

Written for http://www.moodscope.com

 

A Contradictory Enigma

Do you sometimes feel like you are a mass of contradictions?  Ditto!

I feel strong and yet feel that at any moment, I may snap in two.  I’m happy to interact with strangers but put me in room full of people I know, I feel panic.  I live a very solitary life, yet, in some senses, I can be quite extroverted.  I’m calm and laid back, yet ever anxious.  I’m dog weary and yet possess energy.  Going to bed, I often feel like I did the day before the start of a new school term – I want the world to end so that I don’t have to go through with it.  Yet, I push forward with life, scared of missing anything.

I despair at life and yet I love it with equal passion.  I feel sadness in everything.  I see beauty in everything.

Living and loathing life with equal passion is a delicate and sticky deal.  It’s like trying to take a tortoise for a walk at the same time as a lively puppy.  It’s frustrating and wearisome for all involved.  When there are two parts of you, complete opposites, constantly vying for supremacy, it’s hardly a recipe for emotional equilibrium.  I want to ‘dance as if no one is watching’ and yet I want to fall to my knees and howl at the sadness and disappointments of life.

No other human will ever understand you as you understand you.  Plus, understanding how complex and contradictory you are can lead to a greater understanding and empathy of others, not to mention, help forge peace with your biggest nemesis – yourself!

I like me.  I dislike me.  But I’ll always be me.  Better to nurture the former then because I sure can’t take a holiday from myself.

Written for Moodscope.com, 2014

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Coping when unable to work (part 3)

Keeping self worth levels buoyant when unable to work due to poor health can be a daily battle.  Here are four ‘don’ts’ and one ‘do’ that sometimes help me.  Please share anything that has helped you to stem the tide of hopelessness if you are unable to work.  Remember, encouragement is like a peanut butter sandwich, the more you spread it around – the better things stick together.

DON’T explain yourself.  I live in perpetual fear of the following question:  “So what do you do for work?”  My face flushes, I stutter and stammer and before I can stop myself blurt out explanations and half sentences.  It’s excruciating (for them as well as me), and the more I explain the less I feel understood.  Be prepared for the question.  Keep it simple.  Smile and try something akin to “I’m not actually working at the moment but in my spare time I’m enjoying learning French/playing the bassoon/cooking soufflés…”  This shifts the conversation into a different direction, switches back to positive and to you as person.  (We are all, after-all, more than a job title.)

DON’T lose contact with friends.  This can be a tricky one.  We may feel our contemporaries have moved on and couldn’t possibly understand how we feel.  And yet, isolation can produce sickness in itself.  Invite someone for a cuppa, make a phone call (a tough one for me!), write a wee card ‘just to say’ or fling someone a text.

This may mean putting a limit on how much we talk about our health complaints and disappointments.  Just as a job title doesn’t define a person, neither does our illness.  The best vitamin for making friends?  B1.

DON’T lose your sense of humour.  This will make it pleasant for folk to be around you but conversely it will do you good too.  As Susan Milstrey Wells says, an author who is chronically ill herself, “laughter, unlike some other remedies we try, is completely safe, nontoxic and fun.  All we have to lose is a bad mood.”

DON’T rule out voluntary work.  There are some weeks when it is simply not possible but on the weeks it is, it gives me human contact, self-esteem, forces me out of the house, keeps my thoughts in perspective and, arguably most importantly, gives me the scientifically proven “helper’s high”.

DO pamper yourself.  This is the hardest for me.  Because my illness demands so much sleep and rest, I feel that every wakeful hour ought to be spent doing, accomplishing, giving or making.  It’s undoubtedly Guilt at the wheel here and Guilt does not allow for “me time”.  This, of course, is erroneous thinking and can worsen symptoms or lead to a depression.  So give yourself some respite, indulge in the things you enjoy; a long bath, reading a book, watching a good film or, if creatively inclined, allow time for this.  If you are able, go for a walk, take a date with yourself, sit in your favourite cafe, visit an art exhibition.

This is all very much ongoing work in progress for me.  In fact, I think this past year I’ve struggled more than ever to accept my limitations.  I refuse to give up on the goal of earning my own daily bread, even if just little crumbs.

Joseph Campbell said that “the privilege of lifetime is being who you are.”  So, despite being unable to work, we each have our own unique gifts, qualities and attributes to offer those around us, enabling us to add our own personal stamp of beauty on the world.

Coping when unable to work (part 2)

Acceptance and adjustment to life, when poor health renders us unable to work, is no easy feat. Here are four practical “dos” and one “don’t” that may be of benefit. (If reading this during a bad depression, please disregard. Take the principles by all means, but these are not rules or intended to provoke pressure, they are merely suggestions for those who feel up to the task of implementing them.)

DO reduce stress. Stress exacerbates the physical symptoms of any illness, while stress reduction can make symptoms bearable. It’s true, we can’t erase stress in this life but we can be aware of our reaction to stressful situations. We may have to remind ourselves continually to be calm; our life, our health is at stake.

DO get dressed. No matter how tempting it maybe to remain in your dressing gown and pyjamas, get showered and dressed. For me, getting dressed miraculously changes my whole mindset. Once dressed, I feel more in control and can go about my daily tasks in a more organised and constructive manner. (It also means the added bonus of not needing to fling myself behind the sofa if the postman or a visitor should knock.)

DO establish a daily routine. Obviously, it’s a given that flexibility and adjustment will always be necessary according to what kind of day you are enduring. The very fact you are unable to work proves that pressure or rigidity will not enhance how you feel. However, attempting to get up at the same time, to go to bed at the same time, to eat healthily and not skip meals or, continuing to keep a diary for appointments and arrangements – things like these will go a fair old way in preserving our self-esteem.

DO set reasonable and attainable goals. Setting goals keeps us looking forward instead of gazing at what we were once able to do. Even if the goal is seemingly small – write it down. It maybe to “simply” get dressed this week. Reaching a goal gives us a feeling of accomplishment and motivates us to look forward. This builds our often floundering confidence.

DON’T compare yourself (or your goals) to anyone else, even someone with the same illness.  Your emotional, physical and mental makeup differs from every other individual. We couldn’t expect our little toe to stand in for our nose, or visa versa, for the day and yet both body parts are important. To compare ourselves is futile and often disheartening.  Resist the urge to compare yourself.

Coping when unable to work (part 1)

When you have lost something as precious as your health it’s natural to mourn. But if the loss of good health means that holding down a job has become impossible, this can give way to a grief and sadness that’s hard to get the upper hand of.

If we were to look permanently in the rear view mirror whilst driving, ultimately, we’d crash. So too, if we keep dwelling on the life we had before poor health hit us, we’ll find it hard to move forward. Like the driver, we must focus primarily on what’s in front of us.

I grapple daily with an overwhelming sense of failure and frustration at now being unable to work. So, I’ve written three posts primarily for those unable to work due to poor health and it’s my hope that in doing so it will help me to overcome my own personal sense of shame and embarrassment.

1) There is a proverb that says: With knowledge a man increases his power.

Reading up on our condition (whatever it may be) can have a two-fold, positive effect.  Firstly it validates everything we feel. It’s a relief to see in black and white that it’s neither laziness nor lack of motivation that’s the cause of your plight but very real symptoms. Secondly, gathering information helps to keep you abreast of available treatments and coping techniques. It helps you see that your life may have changed but it is not over. But oh how slickly this slips from the tongue! Acceptance, just like the loss of a loved one is so hard. Yet, whereas a diagnosis closed doors, acceptance can open new ones.

2) It’s not the illness that tests us but our attitude to the illness. Undoubtedly, our biggest battle takes place in the mind. (This maybe obvious if dealing with depression or anxiety but less so if diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a sleeping disorder or multiple sclerosis, to use just a few examples.) The illness may dictate big changes in our circumstances but we are in charge of our response to the illness. Succumbing to despair is to perhaps insist on looking through the rear view mirror instead of what’s ahead.

3) Remember what cannot be changed. In all probability, our illness has had little impact on the qualities peculiar to us. For example, your empathy, your warm smile, kindness, the ability to be a good friend or appreciate beauty. What’s more, our own poor health can sharpen our empathic skills, perhaps enabling us to become more sensitive to the struggles and pain of others.

To accept, adjust and act on what we can do is far healthier way forward.

Tomorrow in part 2, I will list some practical dos and don’ts that can help elevate our self-esteem and keep our mood buoyant if currently unable to work due to ongoing health challenges.