Life can throw us challenges which knock us hard, but there are ways to cope without it breaking us
Coming out this November morning to walk the dog, I encountered a brave sunbeam trying to break its way out of the rain laden clouds. It discovered the Autumn toned hydrangea hiding in the corner of the driveway & created semi abstract patterns through its drying petals. It made me stop & gaze for a while, admiring its hopefulness.
Much like that sunbeam, I’ve been hiding away for a while. A life full of positive thinking & determination had abandoned me, leaving a bit of a dark hole I fell into & couldn’t quite get myself out of over the past couple of months. Knowing that I have all the dependable tricks & tools I need to conquer this cloying feeling of despair, but have been unable to access them at all, made it feel even worse. Dealing with so many things, being bombarded from every direction by demands, stresses & disappointments. Every time I turned on the news, looked at a headline, saw how people behave towards each other, my sense of numbing sadness gew.
I shared a post about this on my socials & realised that so many of you have been feeling the same way. Living in this world of ours is becoming ever more difficult for those of us who have empathy, caring & soul,
My aim in life has always been to spread joy & wellbeing through my work & stories, so I rarely speak of the battle to stay on top of things & keep my mind focussed on the light not the dark . But for the first time in a very long time I couldn’t even pick up brush & paint, which have always kept me tethered to strength & balance.
When our usual coping mechanisms let us down it's easy to plummet
My Art has always been something which creates well being & gives me what I need on tap. It’s been an unpleasant & scary place to be to feel abandoned by my main coping mechanism & if it wasn’t for my incredible son & responsibly to care for my elderly Mother, I would hate to think where this phase could have taken me.
I noticed that the goings on of humanity & the troubled world we live in was sucking me into a vortex of desolation & a deep wanting to not be part of it all. My empathic nature allowed the horror & downward slide of this planet we live on to crush hope & happiness & engulf me in pain
Showing vulnerability is not a weakness
My desire to be a voice of positivity made sharing this weakness & vulnerability something I hate to do. However, to be authentic I guess every shade of grey should be shared as well as the rainbow of the good times. For all of us, showing our softer self can be a vital way to acknowledge how we feel & to allow others to be strong & give us a bit of support.
Sometimes, we all let life & events get us down & that's okay. I’m sure each of us has been in the dark places as well as the bright ones on than one occasion & it’s ok to voice it & share what genuinely goes on below the surface. we cant be superwoman all the time! in fact, the energy it takes to always appear on top of things can be incredibly draining in itself.
By allowing myself to open up & be with how I was feeling, I could separate the external from the internal & work out how to look at it with clarity. The experience has not been pleasant & turned me into a total hermit, avoiding interaction as much as possible & not wanting to allow people into my life.
The safety of my nest & these two souls who are my entire life has been the only place I felt safe to be. A sense of total physical & mental exhaustion, a lack of desire for anything at all, a lethargy accompanied by an unnerving inner tremor, making it impossible to settle or think clearly.
I’ve never labelled myself with depression because I have had a powerful ability to look beyond how I feel & use all my gathered knowledge to keep on top of things. If truth be told, I think depression has been something so present in my genetic history that it would be a miracle for it not to be deeply ingrained in my genes & my psyche. I actually found myself one afternoon wanting to curl up into a ball & disappear. Literally just not be part of this world anymore. My deep sadness for how human beings are behaving towards each other, Nature, the planet just felt overwhelming.
Usually, my daily practice of gratitude & putting out positive thoughts & getting into action has been enough to carry me through & maintain a sense of stability & balance. However, an accumulation of stress over the years, with a particularly demanding time this year had just propelled me into the deepest pit of dark thoughts & inability to keep my head above water.
Working out what is really going on
Over the past 20 years I have used the Summer as a battery charger. Spending days in the garden or terrace painting, surrounded by Nature, garden & fresh air. This time of soaking in sun-rays, the meditative process of creativity, birdsong & flora boost me enough to see me through the dark days of Winter. It's this being outdoors which I so often recommend to others. I realised the other day that the way I have been feeling is not just what’s going on, but that my batteries are totally flat.
Living as I now do in a home with some fabulous views but very close neighbours with no separation in the communal grounds had presented a particularly difficult challenge. Building work on a major scale has been going on either side of me for two years now, with scaffolding across my terrace & constant noise. I realised last week that a large part of how I’ve been feeling is because that intrusion has meant two years of not charging my batteries up. It’s incredible what a difference that had made to how I feel.
So I need to find another way of getting that well-being topped up. The way out this hole has started to reveal itself & slowly got me climbing back out.
Change what you can & manage the rest in little bites
The important thing has been to identify which stresses & burdens I have the power to remove, then break down what’s left into manageable chunks. There is a powerful saying in many self development programmes 'Give me the power to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.'
This takes a bit of thought & sitting with all those feelings... to just sit & slowly go through the separate issues which have built up into this overwhelming jumble. To characterise either in mind or writing down on paper which elements you have any control over & which are external & cannot be easily fixed. it's a bit like unravelling a tanged ball of string , difficult to start with but very satisfying & it gets easier as you go along. Even just doing this as an exercise starts to lift a bit of the the intensity of how you feel. I found myself gradually dissecting from my life the things which really weigh me down, obligations which drain me which I don’t need to take responsibility for & the people who it’s just not worth trying to have interaction with when all that is returned is negativity.
Learn to say 'No'
One of the things which came up for me was that I'm a perfectionist & put a lot of pressure on myself to do things to the full. I end up taking on lots of jobs which other people just dont get around to so I feel I have to do them so that they get done! In a home where the grounds with all their maintenance & garden need sorting I ended up taking on everything, including trying to keep the peace, deal with peoples demands etc. I've now firmly drawn the line & suggested that maybe if they need something done so badly, they can do it themselves! A useful phrase I found to soften the blow was "let me get backk to you on that' & then say 'No'.
The removal of the weight of needless stress quickly took a burden off my shoulders so I could see the rest clearly, rather than as an unmanageable melee. The perfectionism also covers things I need to do for myself. That is flipping exhausting at the best of times. So accepting that doing something is better that doing nothing, even if it isn’t done to my exacting standards was something I also took on. Other things can be passed on or delegated.
There is a freedom to saying ‘No’ & looking after yourself rather than everyone else.
Take small steps
Once things are a bit more in perspective & listed down in order of urgency, they can be tackled one at a time. When feeling low, energy can be hard to summon. So taking small actions in teeny bits was much easier to achieve. Celebrating that even the smallest action is still action & was moving me forward made it easier to move forward. The steps start gathering momentum & where I found one thing a struggle to start with, as days went by I would be doing more. That steady momentum is so much easier to sustain. At this stage I being the tortoise is more effective than the proverbial hare.
Getting into action when feeling glum isn’t easy but step by step, I can see the light. Accepting that one small step is ok, is enough, is the hard part. But visualising a winding path with steps leading to beautiful light & that each one step is taking me closer to it helps.
Finding ways to offload
Self care is vital & it’s something I’m not very good at doing. Finding a ‘listening partner’ also really helped & I could in return be a source of off-loading for the other too. They say a problem shared...Talking things out can be so powerful in a way that keeping silent does not. By a bizarre fluke the right person randomly popped up online & we chat once a week to clear whatever is stopping us off our minds. Sometimes a complete stranger can be the easiest to talk to, as they have no preconceived ideas of you.
Mindful moments, noticing the good & beautiful
Just noticing the tiny things around us which fill us with awe & wonder is something which has always filled my heart with happiness. Just remembering to stop, notice things, find & appreciate what is good can tip the balance from the dark to the light. A glum rainy day often leads to a stunning sunset, that sunbeam in the Hydrangea brings a ray of hope. A strangers smile, a hug from your family. Let these things fill you with warmth, bcause that is what most powerfully can make all the difference.
Trust that things will get better
I know from experience that this too will pass. That I’ll shake myself up & be the positive tough cookie again. But accepting that part of myself which is vulnerable & capable of reaching such depths of despair is ok too. Giving myself some self care is not a weakness nor selfish… To be able to do anything for anyone else, I need to be strong. I need to give my fragile part a big hug & tell her that is all going to be ok.
So, If you have been feeling overwhelmed & down, here's a quick recap of things to try
- realise that you are not alone in feeling like this & allow yourelf to be vulnerable
- break things down & separate them from the big feeling of overwhelm
- handle the things you have power over one at a time
- remove things from your life which do not serve you
- stop trying to be perfect at everything
- learn to say 'No'
- Nurture yourself
- Find a listening partner
- Ask for help
- notice the little bits of beauty all around
I really hope that in sharing my own struggles i may touch at least one of you out there & help you see the light at the end of the tunnel
all my love