“There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” Toni Morrison
High on the Horse’s Back, She Danced, and Felt Herself Return Home
Recently I attended an online writing workshop called Writing for Resilience hosted by the wonderful Nancy Siebel. One of our assignments was to write about our year from the point of view of a very kind person; therefore third person narration. This was a great exercise – worth trying – particularly if you struggle to give yourself positive feedback. I really did feel that someone outside of myself was giving me praise. I feel a little funny sharing this as it might come across as boastful but hopefully it might encourage you to find a creative way to conduct a kindly review of your own year.
2018 was the year that Lyn rediscovered her bravery. She escaped the confines that fear and anxiety had woven around her. She overcame shame and let herself be vulnerable. She listened and she shared. She collaborated and she created. She loved and cried and laughed and sang. She burst out into the world like a bright and shining star. And she retracted and curled inward and let her spark burn low. She opened the door to her trauma and allowed Rose to lead her through these dark and angry places. She reached understandings about herself that will transform her life and allow her to transform the lives of others.
2018 has been an extraordinary year. For some years Lyn had allowed life to make her small and quiet. And then, suddenly, seemingly from nowhere – she emerged fully formed and alive. It was like she ripped open her chest and let her heart be seen. She was courageous. She was incredibly courageous.
She discovered the weapon which is radical honestly. She shared her shame – the things she had been holding and hiding for many, many years. She gave people the chance to reject her, to judge her, to condemn her, to misunderstand her.
She learned to accept the gifts of her deep sensitivity. She saw how she runs and hides when wounded. And although she still tends to run – she no longer hides.
She has forgiven herself for her youthful impetuousness. And she has come a long way towards forgiving those who have wounded her. She no longer trembles when she sees a Police car. And she no longer hides her long battle with depression. In fact she has even begun to explore the beauty of depression. Its pared down, intense, solitary, singular, light. Like a single bed, in a small room with pale green walls and a small window that looks out onto a tiny corner of the garden. The steady determined focus of turning over the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The comfort of an English DVD. The tenacious clinging to life while at the same time existing outside of life. And finally, the re-commitment to life. The rediscovery of the senses, the beauty of this world. Falling in love all over again with this earth – this beautiful, magical, vital earth.
Politics and her own internal journey have walked hand and hand. She watched the Me Too movement unfold across the globe as she too explored and expressed her own Me Too moment. She saw fear, and darkness, and division dominate the news cycle as she once more was drawn down into the darkness of depression. But this time she didn’t let herself be alone. She told people about her struggle and she gave them permission to tell their stories too. She realised that along with judgement there is kindness, and compassion, and understanding.
She held both the love and the fear of horses in her heart and she watched as the love finally conquered the fear. She saw the inherent kindness in these powerful creatures. She learned to trust them as she began to trust her ability to be with them in a place of mutual power and partnership.
She connected with children who were wounded, and angry, and wild. She witnessed the bonds between rider and horse grow. She encouraged and supported these children to stay on their horses – to assert themselves and listen to their horse. And finally: she rode again. High on the horse’s back, she danced, and felt herself return home.
Shame, Judgement and Vulnerability
Lately my counselor has set me the task of exploring the topic of judgement. This came about because of an event in my past and the sense that sometimes certain people give a double take when they see me. Like there is an initial spark of recognition and then a moment of judgement. This makes me feel very vulnerable and ashamed. That is because I have something to be ashamed about. A number of years ago I lost my job in pretty dramatic circumstances. I was marched past my colleagues, clutching a cardboard box containing some personal possessions, straight out the door of my workplace. Seriously – it was like a scene from a movie. You have to realise I am the kind of person who complies with every regulation – great or small. I want desperately to be “the good employee” and “model citizen”. Unfortunately I also have some conflicting characteristics. I have some quite strong views about right and wrong. I am also unimpressed by hierarchy – I don’t respect titles or uniforms. Combined with the reckless disregard of youth I ended up doing the wrong thing for the right reasons with catastrophic personal consequences for both me and others. So when I say certain people look at me twice – I’m not making it up. And I’m not making up the fact that I am sure some people do in fact judge me for it and many times not kindly. You might be judging me right now.
But judgement is a tricky thing. I know of people who have a relentless self-critic in their head. They are berated day and night. I’ve never had this. But what I have noticed is that I have a tendency to take my own self judgement and project it onto other people. Particularly in social settings, I’ll tend to believe that others are thinking I talked to much, or too loudly, or I talked nonsense. But when I really drill down on most of these thoughts I realise these are my own judgements. I just can’t own up to them so I make someone else the bad guy. Part of releasing this sense of judgement from others has been coming to terms with what I did and forgiving my younger self. I’ve had to take a very mature approach – to try and understand my motivations and the motivations of others.
The other big topic I’ve been considering lately is vulnerability and this links directly to shame. When you carry a story around (like the one I shared above) you can feel extremely vulnerable. You know you have this soft underbelly that you never want to expose to others. You feel that if they knew; you would be judged and judged harshly. So, what is the antidote to this? What is better than carrying around secret shame, hiding the truth and living in fear of exposure? For me the antidote is radical honestly. It is getting on the front foot. It is telling my story of shame openly, in my own words and allowing people to judge me to my face.
Earlier this year I very openly shared my episode of depression with clients, with podcast listeners, with people who read my blog. And it felt vulnerable to do that – but it opened up the opportunity for people to respond. And most people were very kind. I got lots of well-meaning advice, someone made me homemade chocolate, people shared their own stories and the stories of their friends. But mostly people thanked me for bringing the topic out into the light and giving them permission to be okay with sharing as well. I ended up connecting with people at a level that I never would have if I hadn’t been vulnerable with them.
Which reminds me of my dog. Whenever I’m away for a bit and I return home my dog responds by rolling onto his back and exposing his soft underbelly. This is a way for him to communicate his trust in me – for us to strengthen and reaffirm our bond. And in many ways – being vulnerable in front of others does the same. I am not suggesting you should share everything indiscriminately. Don’t share with those you know will be hostile or unsupportive. And don’t share things until you have explored them fully in a safe place preferably with someone you trust. Also make sure the timing is right. If the topic of depression comes up with a friend – then share your story. Or if you are in an online forum and a related topic comes up – don’t be afraid to be personal.
Finally, another suprising thing I learned from opening up, is that being vulnerable with one person is a lot harder than with a large group. I had zero vulnerability in sharing my story on my podcast. Okay, well not quite zero, but my discomfort dissipated quickly. Whereas sharing with my friends made me physically tremble. And this comes down to a key aspect of vulnerability – consequences. When the consequences of your sharing are greater then you naturally feel more vulnerable. Being rejected by a close friend hurts way more than someone unsubscribing from my blog or my podcast. So in some ways the place to begin with exploring vulnerability (once you have come to terms with it yourself) may be with a large anonymous group rather than your best friend. Perhaps it is time for you to start a blog of your own.
Resilience 2018 – My Personal Journey
This journey began near the end of 2017 when I received the message that I needed to turn my weakness into strength. I can’t remember the source of this message but it resonated strongly with me. One of these weaknesses, as I perceived it, was my inability to cope with stress. This belief stems from my high school principal testimonial which read “Lyn needs to learn to cope with the stress of every day life” or words to that effect. These words burned inside me for years. I alternatively railed against them and embraced them – but most importantly I believed them. And I believed that there was nothing I could do about it. Despite my principal telling me I needed to “learn” this skill – no one at high school taught me this. And no one close to me modeled healthy coping strategies either. This is not a criticism – we’re all doing our best with what we know. But combined with my naturally sensitive operating system – it was a recipe for disaster. Well, perhaps that is an exaggeration, but I’ve certainly flirted with disaster many times.
Once I finally turned to face these words, and actually follow their advice, I very quickly stumbled upon the term resilience. Like mindfulness, resilience is a word that is bandied about a lot these days. So, I set out to make 2018 – the year of resilience. I researched and learned as much as I could about the theories behind the word – this led to all sorts of modalities and therapies – including meditation, yoga, mindfulness, positive psychology, nutrition etc.
I started the Inside Knowledge Podcast – resulting in 48 episodes where I interviewed people about both their expertise and their lived experiences. I have loved creating the podcast and I think it has added something valuable to the ongoing conversation. I also hope that it has helped and uplifted people. However, it fell short in teaching the tools of resilience. This is a somewhat harsh criticism of the podcast because a 30-minute unscripted conversation – or series of conversations – was never going to be able to go deeply into the mechanics of the topic.
So, I set about creating a series of online courses which teach the foundations of resilience. I’m pretty proud of what has been created and what continues to be created. And I’m so grateful for those people – Lisa, Brigid, Yanina, Steph, Mandy and Jo – who have collaborated and helped me in this process. I’m also grateful for the support of The Insiders – members of my various social media pages and groups (and some time listeners of my podcast). The journey has been so much easier knowing I was not completely alone.
But this is only half the story. 2018 was also the year of resilience because it has been the year that I have tackled one very big historical event for me – being indecently assaulted back in December of 2005. This wasn’t really a choice. The return of symptoms of PTSD meant that I fell back on the help of the local Sexual Assault Support Services. I was so fortunate to be assigned an initial crisis counselor who was wonderful and well versed in the use of mindfulness to reduce the trauma. I have since been referred to and have been working with my wonderful counselor Rose for a number of months. But this kind of work is hard. It is sometimes traumatic. I want to be able to come to terms with what happened and to be able to fully move forward. I want, and need, to release a lot of the residual anger which serves no useful purpose. I have been aided in this by the use of the many tools of resilience that I have learned this year – and I am very grateful for that. In many ways I am using myself as the crash test dummy for my courses.
Then in early July of this year depression took me out of the running for two months. Fortunately, I had back episodes of my podcast that I could release for the first five weeks. But all development on my course came to a grinding halt. Deadlines were missed – and I wasn’t sure that even after recovery I would be able to resurrect my work. Fortunately, I have, and just three weeks into my recovery I’ve was able to release my first course. This feels like a victory of momentous proportions. But it is a quiet victory. Working alone from home means that there has been very little in the way of group celebrations. Also I’ve set myself ambitious deadlines which means I have had to sit down and get straight back to work.
So that’s an outline of my year of resilience 2018. It leaves a lot out – and so it should – Inside Knowledge is not all about me – in fact its not about me at all. Inside Knowledge is my attempt to leave the world a slightly better place. It is my attempt to create something good; something that hopefully will makes people’s lives just a little bit better.
And finally, because I asked it of most of my podcast guests, what is my personal definition of resilience? Well, thank you for asking. I’m not going to talk about bouncing back, or coping with challenge – because I’ve come to see that as the outcome of resilience – not the definition. I think to define resilience you need to describe it in action – and that is about having the sensitivity and the self-knowledge, and dare I say it mindfulness, to be aware of your current state; and having and using skills and tools to be able to bring yourself back to a state of balance and wellbeing. It is those skills and tools that I hope to teach now and into the future.
Embodied Resilience – Breath and Body
I am pleased and proud to announce the launch of the first online course offered by Inside Knowledge. This course will introduce you to the power of the breath. You will experience what it feels like to move mindfully. You will start to know what it feels like to inhabit your body. By repeating the exercises you will become more embodied and that will strengthen your partnership with all your senses. By taking this new found sensitivity and combining it with what you will learn about your reactions to the exercises; you can begin to develop your own toolbox. In time you will be able to quickly scan your body, notice your state, and know what activity is required to return to a state of balance. By operating more and more from a state of balance you will experience a more harmonious way of life which will support your general health and wellbeing.
Here is the link to my landing page which provides links for enrolment if you wish to take this course. https://lyn-s-school-094e.thinkific.com/…/embodied-resilien…
Candle Making Day
I was running low on candles so yesterday I made some more. When I am working at my desk I always have a candle burning. I have one candle for general work and another candle that I only light when I am interviewing. My candles are made with beeswax from our commercial beekeeping operation. My husband and I have been making them since before we were married. Our wedding tables were all decorated with home made beeswax candles.
The making of the candles is a very intentional process. As I sit waiting for the wax to melt I consider the different qualities that I want to feel and to express while I am working. I try to impregnate the wax with the energy from these thoughts so that they will later be released when they were burnt along with the fragrance of honey.
Candles help to centre me and provide a feeling of calm. The lighting of the candle helps me set my intention and gives a feeling of ceremony to my work. They also remind me that my podcast is supported by our beekeeping operation and I am very grateful to have been given the gift of this year to explore my own work.
Candles are not the only touch stones that surround me at my desk. I always work under the watchful eye of my sheep. This was a gift from my gorgeous nephew and it reminds me of family. It is also another way (like the candles) where I can bring a reminder of the fields into my room. A very unique form of indoor outdoor flow.
I recently read a wonderful book called The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life by Thomas Moore. I would encourage others to consider using “sacred” objects to enchant their office and their lives.
I Would Love to Make You Uncomfortable
This heading sounds really terrible but honestly, all the really good stuff is waiting for you outside of your comfort zone. There is nothing inherently wrong with your comfort zone. We all have one and we need to spend a fair bit of time there. It is important to allow time for recovery, rest and rejuvenation. All those good things happen inside the comfort zone. However, if you want to try something new, learn, reach for big goals, you will have to reconcile to the fact that things are going to feel uncomfortable at times. Just as when you start a new exercise programme your body feels pretty sore for a while; starting a new project leaves you feeling somewhat vulnerable and exposed. There is a chance you will fail, there is a chance you will embarrass yourself. But if you don’t take that chance, if you aren’t willing to risk discomfort, you will only ever have and do what you have and do now. And if you retreat further and further to the centre of your comfort zone it will actually shrink. If you have ever experienced depression or major anxiety and have withdrawn into yourself you will know how it can be scary just walking to the letter box. The boundaries of your comfort zone are fluid and can shrink but the good news is that they can expand as well. When I began podcasting it felt really uncomfortable at first but now it feels completely normal. I know what I’m doing and I enjoy it. But rather than sit back and relax I’m now pushing my comfort zone again and learning about a new format – writing. Once again I risk failure and embarrassment but what I don’t risk is becoming stuck with the familiar. I know that whatever happens it is going to be exciting. Even if I’m not successful in this field I know I will still have learned lots and had fun along the way.
When you have a spare 10 minutes this Ted Talk about comfort zones is well worth listening to.
On a similar theme I’m currently reading the Other Side of Happiness by Brock Bastin and there are some fascinating studies contained within it about pain. Rather than always avoiding pain this book shows that pain may be a necessary part of happiness. It is a very thought provoking topic and I will be posting a review once I have finished.
Living Resiliently During the Dark Night of the Globe
My podcast has taken me down some unexpected roads. I have started exploring how our environment relates to our resilience. There are people who develop symptoms of PTSD because of their fears for the future of the planet. There are also environmentalists who burn out in the face of public apathy and government inaction. But what is interesting to me is that our relationship with the environment is reciprocal. We can work to try and help the planet become more resilient but being in nature (often the actual environmental work that we are doing) helps us to become more resilient. Also, because many of the actions required in environmental work require a group effort, we get the benefit of being part of a community and having a sense of meaning and purpose. We talk of a sense of meaning as often being related to our spiritual beliefs but for many people I believe their understanding of themselves as part of the earth, and sharing a common history with the creatures of the earth, gives a sense of meaning.
If we want to reduce the amount of anxiety we feel about the environment we need to focus most of our efforts on areas where we can make a difference. My upcoming guest Natalie Hormann talks about “your circle of influence”. Focus on local solutions to global issues. Make sure you become part of a group so that you can be bolstered by the support of others. And take time to enjoy nature as it is now – walk barefoot on the grass, feel the warm soil in your hands, notice the insects busy pollinating the flowers. There is still a lot of good in this world. Yes, the earth faces some major threats, but while focusing on future goals we also need to take the time to be here now.
I discussed with one of my guests, Julie Moreno, whether the way we spread environmental messages needs to change. Most documentaries and books start with dire predictions for the future and paint a very bleak picture of the present. There is a danger we can become demoralised before we even get to the good stuff – what we can do at a local level and the differences we can make. I watched a documentary recently that was made locally – Living the Change by Happen Films. It showcased lots of great examples of local people taking local action. Most of it was very uplifting but again that was the second part of the film. The first part was distressing images of clear felled forests, dirty rivers – you know the drill. I would imagine that anyone who has gone to the trouble to purchase a film such as this is already convinced that there is a problem and is well aware of what those are. We, the environmentally conscious, really want to find out ways we can help to make things better rather than be further depressed and demoralised.
Another interesting point I discussed with Julie is that whether talk of new technologies that could help the environment creates a false sense of hope – that someone else will save the planet not us. I believe that there are very exciting advances that will make a very real difference; but this in no way suggests that we don’t also need to make some lifestyle adjustments at the same time. Green technology is great – but we also need to reduce our level of consumption. Ultimately, we need to live in alignment with our beliefs.
So we’ve managed to convince ourselves of the need to take action, and we are doing that, but how do we convince our friends and family. Natalie Hormann advises against dazzling people with facts as we can always debate the statistics. Just how much is the ocean warming up, just how much is related to human activity etc. Instead we should focus on the human stories behind climate change. People that are having to leave their island homes because of sea level rises, people who don’t have clean drinking water, landslides caused by unsustainable forestry practices that wipe out whole villages.
I have just finished reading a few books about the environment which I can highly recommend. Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward Wilson talks about the biodiversity of planet earth and the species that are under threat. What struck me is how many life forms have not even been discovered yet and will perhaps become extinct before we even do so. Animal and insect life matter in and of themselves but they also can provide valuable information and tools that can be applied to support human life. When you take just one species from an environment it can create catastrophic changes. Half Earth refers to allowing half the earth to return to wilderness states. This involves a commitment to leaving resources in the ground for future generations. It requires some major long term thinking and would involve a major change in the way we view the earth. Savage Grace by Andrew Harvey is also about living resiliently during the dark night of the globe. It provided me with a number of ways that I can cope with my concerns and it also gave me my favourite definition of resilience. “The life-giving ability to shift from a reaction of denial or despair to learning, growing, and thriving in the midst of challenge.”
It has become common to ostracise, criticise and demonise men (I have yet to see it happen to a woman) as a result of mere allegations of being a sexual harasser, rapist or a perpetrator of unwanted sexual acts. The trend began with the as yet unconvicted Harvey Weinstein, and continued on to the #metoo and #timesup movements.
The definition of the word “mere” is small, insignificant, trifling – I’m not sure how you can apply this word to allegations of rape. Oh and by the way Max, women get ostracised criticised and demonised all the time. Ever hear of the Salem Witch Trials?
Dr Jackie Blue, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, said: “It is a human right to feel safe as you go about your business.”
What a silly idea. Feeling is something wholly internal. My actions cannot be held up to how you “feel”. I have no control over your feelings, only you do.
Actually Max, your actions can affect how I feel. For instance if you corner me in an enclosed space, grind your erection up against me and try and force your tongue into my mouth I’m going to feel terrified. You are responsible for that feeling – not me.
Let’s draw a distinction between “feeling safe” and “being safe”. Yes, you should be safe (but only to an extent). That doesn’t mean you need to feel safe.
Um, I do need to feel safe. I should be able to go to work and feel safe. If I don’t feel safe because women are being preyed upon by oversexed men in positions of power then that is a problem.
A potentially baseless accusation (or misunderstanding or misinterpretation) could lead to someone (probably a man) losing a job and forever being ostracised for an action which may have had an unintended consequence.
Don’t worry Max. In my experience most men get away with sexual harassment. At the most you are likely to be asked to quietly resign. I wouldn’t want you to think there is about to be a mass firing of sexual predators.
On a practical note, in order for people to get to know each other, have relationships and propagate, they must engage with others. Fear of rejection is already massive. Add to it the fear of your actions being labelled as sexual harassment, and most men will shy away from anyone they were attracted to.
My heart bleeds for you Max. It must be so hard that you can no longer use your workplace as a hunting ground for propagation. How about simply going to work to do your bloody job!
• Max Whitehead is an expert in employment law.
He is also a gigantic dickhead.
Often my best insights occur when I have encountered something that upsets me. When I allow myself time to sit with my emotions and then explore deeply where they are coming from I often find what really matters to me. The following excerpt was taken from a recent interview conducted between a well known sportsperson / motivational speaker and the guest, a well known mental health advocate. I am not naming either as this is not a criticism of them or their work. I respect both people however I found the message deeply dis-empowering.
Interviewer: In your book you say that someone asked you if you’re afraid that you’ll ever slip back into depression and your answer was an emphatic “No” because you have all the tools you need to be well. You mentioned a life philosophy that you stick to that helps you through really tough, or dark times. Can you share a little about that?
Response: I knew that if I had the fortitude to face the fear that I was feeling head on that I would be able to push through it.
Depression is a very difficult illness. It is actually a name for a set of common symptoms that are caused by multiple different factors – so in that sense it is not one illness at all, but many. For the same reason people with it respond very differently to treatment and their outcomes are also very different.
I have classic clinical depression. This means that there is a mechanical failure of my brain and body to manage my levels of neurotransmitters. What this means in real terms is that this is a lifelong challenge for me. It also means the treatments that work for me are predominately targeted at the physical – diet, exercise, meditation etc. You see I manage my illness well. Like the person interviewed I have the tools in place but unlike the person interviewed I will probably never be fully symptom free. I will continue to experience depressive episodes for the rest of my life. I can accept that but it can be very hard for someone who is newly diagnosed.
Mental health campaigns focus heavily on people who have overcome their illness – they think this gives people hope. But I think it can do the opposite. For those people facing their second, or third episode these messages can make it worse for them. They are left feeling that they have somehow failed; they don’t have the right tools, or they didn’t implement them well enough.
The second episode of depression is a very dangerous time as the person is fully aware of what they are about to face and they know that they may have to face a lifetime of this. If there were more role models in society who could show what a wonderful, rich, fulfilling life you can have while continuing to manage symptoms of mental illness it would be truly empowering. I am hoping to find and highlight some of these people in my podcast. I also hope to model this courage in my own life; as I continue to work around and through my own episodes of depression. I am currently formulating a plan to ensure the podcast can continue when I am unwell and I need a team around me to do this. But I am determined to not hide away when I am unwell; I will do as much as I can and show that it is possible to flourish despite this challenge.
I am aware of so many people out in the community who not only triumph over adversity but do so on a daily basis – I want to bring those people forward into the spotlight so we can have realistic role models. Not ones who never fall on their face but those that rise over and over again.
When you leave school in New Zealand you get a written “testimonial”. This is like a character reference of sorts from the principal of the school. Mine included the line “Lyn needs to learn how to cope with the stress of everyday life.” I remember wondering why I had managed to go through 13 years of schooling without anyone teaching me this skill. I am not sure resilience was even a word back in 1993 but it is a very popular one these days. So what is it? How can we get it? Can it be taught or is it only acquired through life experience? These are some of the questions I will be trying to get answered in the first story of my Podcast. I would love to hear your feedback about this subject. Do you think you are a resilient person? Do you think you learned resilience or did you acquire it naturally? If you don’t think you are resilient do you believe you could learn to be? Your feedback will allow me to develop my interview questions and create a Podcast which provides practical help in “coping with the stress of everyday life.”
The Soundtrack to your Life
Synesthesia is a rare neurological condition in which two senses become intertwined. People with this condition can see, hear or even taste colour. For me music and place often intertwine. When I walk at The Lakes in Tauriko I hear strains of the Sesame Street song. This song is inextricably linked to my childhood and is one that makes me feel happy and loved. Consequently whenever I go on this walk I feel these feelings. There is nothing visually about this walk which reminds me of my childhood. So today on my walk I explored this further and realised that it was a smell. The smell of damp, fertile earth. I spent a lot of my childhood digging in the dirt, building huts, and creating grassy paddocks out of moss for my Smurf collection. So dirt is the smell of my childhood. I love how everything links together – the smell of The Lakes reminds me of childhood which in turn reminds me of the Sesame Street song.
Can you imagine your favourite movie without the musical sound track? How about your favourite TV show without its theme song? Without the music everything seems a little bit dull and flat. Well I think life is the same. Life is a lot better with a sound track. I find that setting all my little dramas and tragedies to music makes me approach them in a far more philosophical frame of mind.
We all have songs that remind us of a particular time in our lives. Usually it just happens by chance. The number one song that was on constant repeat on the radio is the one that gets linked to a certain life event. I prefer to be a bit more calculating. I choose the song that I will link to a certain time in my life. I play it over and over again until the emotions and memories are embedded with the music. This is the song I chose for launching my Podcast.
This song is playing while I write this. The song captures the excitement and fear that I am experiencing right now. It adds an extra element of intensity to my experience which I enjoy. It also adds an element of fun. I can imagine myself as a character in a movie which also gives me a little creative distance from my experience.
This is the song I play whenever I brain storm or write for my first Podcast subject. It provides the impetus and motivation as I imagine all those people who are left behind by society. I want to shine a light on the issues that we hide away and add my voice to those crying out for change.
What is the theme song for your life right now?
Unedited at Midnight by True Henderson
I’ve been thinking a lot about mentors lately. Whenever we strike out for new territory it is helpful (almost essential) to have people around us to smooth our path, light the way and shout words of encouragement. I am focused right now on inviting mentors into my life but I believe there are also other types of mentors. One are the authors of great books. Whenever I am gripped by fear I throw myself into a book and onto their mercy. Because I am reading amazing books written by very wise people their words never fail to bolster my resolve. My other mentors are my ancestors – those people who have now passed away but have left a legacy either in their genetic material or by their remembered presence. Here is one of my mentors and the gift she left for me; an untitled poem which ended with the words “unedited at midnight.”
I stand at the edge of my future
Looking out at the tangled undergrowth and tall trees before me
So many paths heading in different directions
I think I know which one I want to take – it seems clear and exciting
But why these claws of fear gripping my ankles –
Why can’t I move forward
I might not be good enough to find my way
I might get lost
Is the path right
I just can’t …
I rest quietly now on the edge of my future, considering quietly
I wonder what, ten years on and looking back on this moment, I will see
Did I turn away too fearful and choose an easier path – one with an end in sight?
No – I see I did not
I kicked hard at those paralysing claws
I kicked and fought until I was free
And then I moved forward down that path I’d chosen
A little stronger for the next fight
From that point ten years on I see it’s been a well defined and fulfilling journey
Yes, I’ve tripped up now and then on hidden obstacles
And, yes, occasionally lost my way and had to go back a little
But thankfully I was kind to myself and I laughed at these glitches and “boxed on”
Learning each time a little more courage and strength and persistence
I guess all of my life now will be following these dream paths
I wouldn’t trade them for the safe and known ways
No, not for anything.
My great great grandfather was known in the family as a “political loudmouth”. It was not until much later that my mum found out he was in fact a member of the Cato Street Conspiracy; a group of radicals who attempted to murder all the British cabinet ministers including the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool in 1820. The illustration above shows the moment in which 13 of the conspirators were arrested in a hayloft in London. During the scuffle a Policeman was killed.
These were the charges they faced: “1. Conspiring to devise plans to subvert the Constitution. 2. Conspiring to levy war, and subvert the Constitution. 3. Conspiring to murder divers of the Privy Council. 4. Providing arms to murder divers of the Privy Council. 5. Providing arms and ammunition to levy war and subvert the Constitution. 6. Conspiring to seize cannon, arms and ammunition to arm themselves, and to levy war and subvert the Constitution. 7. Conspiring to burn houses and barracks, and to provide combustibles for that purpose. 8. Preparing addresses, &c. containing incitements to the King’s subjects to assist in levying war and subverting the Constitution. 9. Preparing an address to the King’s subjects, containing therein that their tyrants were destroyed, &c., to incite them to assist in levying war, and in subverting the Constitution. 10. Assembling themselves with arms, with intent to murder divers of the Privy Council, and to levy war, and subvert the Constitution. 11. Levying war.”
John Shaw Strange (my g-g-grandfather) narrowly avoided death by hanging and a public beheading (five of his co-conspirators were not so lucky) and was instead transported for life to Australia. He went on to become a successful businessman and worthy member of society in his new home. Sadly he was never reunited with his wife and children. Instead he eventually remarried and I descend from that marriage.
So how come a hardened criminal was so successful at integrating into society? Primarily because he was motivated, not by a desire for murder, but in order to champion the rights of the poor and dispossessed. He was a political animal in a time when people of his class were excluded from participating in political life.
“At the end of the 18th century and in the first three decades of the19th, Britain was still predominantly agricultural. But society was changing. Rural living was giving way to industrialisation and urbanisation. To add to these upheavals, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars – which had lasted for more than two decades – unemployed soldiers and sailors began to flood the labour market.
This newly industrialised world produced inflation, food shortages and new patterns of factory employment, and it was during this time of social change that a climate of discontent and radicalism developed. A series of riots and industrial unrest occurred. The government responded with a series of repressive measures, including the Combination Acts of 1799, which forbade the gathering of working men with a common purpose.” http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/rights/cato.htm
I find thinking about John Shaw Strange very comforting. In my own small way I am trying to highlight issues that I think need addressing. I am trying to bring attention to people who are marginalised by society and champion their rights. I am trying to be a change maker. I feel honoured to be following in the steps of my ancestor in a time when I don’t feel driven to wage revolution with anything other than a keyboard, a microphone and an Internet connection.
Meet my friend Max. Max has helped me through quite a few challenges in the last eight months. Many of you will recognise this little guy from the wonderful book “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. I loved this book growing up. This is one of my favourite quotes from the story, “And when he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said, “Be still” and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once. And they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all.” We can learn so much about facing fear from Max. We don’t have to be the most terrible, fearsome monster of them all: we simply have to be prepared to stare those monsters in the face, say “be still” and not blink once.
In June of last year I was preparing myself for elective surgery. It was something I had wanted for a long time but fear had held me back. I was still absolutely terrified. Then I saw this wonderful pendant on a friend’s Facebook page and it reminded me that all I needed to do was be like Max. I’m sure that little Max wasn’t really unafraid but he faced his fears directly and they bowed down before him. I took that same attitude into surgery. Walking down the hallway to the surgical room was the scariest thing I’ve ever done but I just kept on walking and I didn’t blink once. The wonderful thing was that once I had completed the surgery, once I had faced my terror, I felt unbeatable. Suddenly things that used to frighten me no longer did. I had intentionally left my comfort zone, felt my fear and triumphed. That gave me the courage to deal to other things in my life. And in many ways led me to creating this website and Podcast.
I bought that pendant and I now have Max with me whenever I’m frightened; whenever I forget how courageous I really am. Having a talisman, something concrete you can hold onto in challenging times is a great idea. And if you too want to own a “Max” pendant you can let my friend know by clicking on the link below.
Anger Without Enthusiasm
The other day I read something on Facebook which enraged me. And no matter how much I tried to tell myself that the person who posted this was a good person who intended no harm I could not reconcile myself to her words. This is what she said:
“Truth bomb: Depression is anger without enthusiasm.”
Even just typing those words causes my heart to race and my chest to tighten. And here is why. Depression is a mental disorder – it is not a moral failing. This statement suggests that not only are depressed people just angry – we are not even very good at being angry. Wow, what failures we are.
Having experienced depressive episodes since I was 14 I’ve accrued quite a lot of experience in this field. I have explored the topic very deeply and I know without doubt that depression is a physical illness – just like any other physical illness. I know enough about neuroscience to know that what we experience as emotion is set off in the brain by either an electrical or chemical signal. It involves neurotransmitters some of which are created in the gut. We don’t know exactly what causes depression but we do know that depression is a name for a set of symptoms which have multiple causes. To name some – depression can arise after a traumatic event, it can be part of the grief process, it can have a hormonal basis, it can be the result of a thyroid problem, or it can be a result of a problem managing levels of neuro transmitters in the brain.
As you can see it is a complex illness but for some reason when we don’t know for sure what causes something; this seems to be an open invitation for people who have no idea to share their ignorant opinions with the world. Once again, I am sure this woman didn’t mean to upset me, but by god she did! Because depression is a bloody awful condition to grapple with. It has changed my life in so many ways and it has crushed my potential. It has stopped me from doing the things that I love and being the person that I would like to be. I manage my illness every day but it is not easy. And on top of dealing with all that I also have to listen to ill considered dribble about how I think myself unwell, or I just need to exercise more, or eat more broccoli. I know I am not a total victim of depression – there are things I can (and must) do to keep myself well for longer, and to manage my symptoms when they inevitably arrive. And they will arrive. I have lived through this enough to know that I will never be cured. And that is enough to be dealing with. I don’t need the world’s ignorance piled on me too.
So on behalf of those struggling with mental illness, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, please refrain from talking. And perhaps try listening instead.
PS. I’m quite enthusiastically angry right now so at least that means I’m not depressed.
PPS. With further research I realise that this person was quoting the comedian Steven Wright. Thanks Steven – what a belly laugh that was!