From left field

Anxiety can hit you at a moments notice, from nowhere and make you feel completely useless. 

How hard is it to pop to the shops and pick up a quick gift for someone before work? 

Probably not very hard… But it can be with anxiety. 

I want to talk about how we should control our anxiety and not let it control us, but it’s just not that simple sometimes. 

Things start not going to plan, my time restraints start bearing down on me and suddenly I need to retreat to the bathroom and let my guts do what they gotta do… 

If I didn’t have support, this would be a nightmare. As it is, I received a text from my favourite person just as I was starting to feel the pressure, telling me she was having a similar experience; but she’s hardly left the house before it hit. 

So I’m sitting on the toilet in a shopping centre bathroom, feeling physically rough and mentally fragile. All because I couldn’t find a stupid calendar or choose appropriate Christmas decorations… It’s not always like this. Sometimes I can waltz into a store, pick up what I want and waltz out. Sometimes I cannot. And I hope that one day I can stop that moment of feeling like a complete failure of a human being on the cannot days. 

I’m so thankful for friends that understand. Being alone in this would be just awful. I truly hope if anyone reading this is too afraid to talk to people about their anxiety, that I might at the very least encourage you to open up to someone you trust. I know you feel broken and faulty and inadequate. But you aren’t. And your friends won’t judge you as such. If they do, I dunno if I’d be comfortable calling them my friends for too long… But most decent humans (and we would all hope we’re surrounding ourselves with decent humans) will accept and support you. Even if they don’t know what to do. 

I’m lucky, I have several friends who suffer similarly or more acutely than me, and we band together. We don’t judge one another for having to bail on a night out because we “just can’t”. We don’t get embarrassed when we have to rush to the bathroom every 15 minutes sometimes and a 20 minute shopping trip takes an hour… And we don’t ever see each other’s anxiety as a burden. 

I’m about to leave the cubicle. I’m feeling better. I’m breathing deeper and more calmly and can totally do this. 

Be kind to your anxious selves. You can control it. But you can’t deny it. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. Dance through the times you have control and breathe through the times you feel you don’t. Work on it. Stay mindful. Do yoga. See your therapist. Talk to your friends. Talk to me. You’re all bloody superheroes for getting through each day. 

Whatever comes out

Sometimes, when I open a new blog post, I know exactly what I want to write about. I plug in the title and I start chipping away at what’s flowing through my brain, trying to get out…

Other times, I just want to write, but have no idea what I want to say… I’ve always written… whether stories, journals, poems or lyrics; I’ve always written. It’s a comfort in dark times, a centering exercise in confusing or transitional times and a celebration in the good times.
When I was young, I used to create elaborate ‘novels’ and ambitious short stories to create the world that I wanted to live in… Reading about it in books wasn’t enough; that was someone else’s idea of the ideal. I wanted my own. Adventures, unbelievable events (literally; Completely absurd and unbelievable ideas, relationships and events), and unlikely relationships weaved clumsily by an albeit talented 10 year old, into vaguely organised and sometimes finished stories.
Some of them were submitted as school projects; others were submitted to broader writing competitions, some were just left in note books and forgotten about.
I remember finishing primary school and writing a ‘novel’ about a Haunted Norfolk Island Pine Tree over the Christmas break. I’d never been to Norfolk Island, but I had a tshirt that said I had…
I worked long and hard on that story. It was one of the first that I’d actually mapped out character relationships, potential plot holes to fill and had an idea of the desired outcome of the story…
When I started highschool, my 7th grade teacher set a creative writing task where we had to submit a story that was NO LESS THAN five pages. No LESS than.
“GREAT!”, thought 12 year old me, “I can just submit the Haunted Norfolk Island Pine Tree story!! It’s about twenty pages now, and I’m just fixing it up. Brilliant plan, Cherie!”

I submitted my story, grinning for ear to ear, probably feeling a little proud of myself that I’d completed such an epic fictional adventure and someone else was going to read it… Someone that wasn’t me.

Isn’t it funny, the moments that stay with us… “Can you pinpoint the moment you decided to become a counsellor?” Nope. That whole thing has been a journey. “When did you realise your partner was the one?” Umm, dunno. There wasn’t an earth shattering realisation… It’s just become slowly more obvious.
But “Can you remember the moment you first had your dreams profoundly shattered?” You bet I can. I can still remember the physical sensation of having all the fire inside me extinguished by a cold bucket of doubt-water. And, as I write this, my gut sinks, my heart is heavy and my inner child is forlorn.

I wanted to be an author. I wanted to write every day. I wanted to share stories, tell stories to the world! In year 7 I was ecstatic to learn that my school offered Latin as a language so I could learn more about the origins of words, expand my vocabulary and better serve my chosen profession.

… The printed and bound version of my story was in my hands. It had cover art, a title page, and all my hopes and dreams resting upon it. This was high school. High school had the answers. High school was the real world. Marks in highschool mattered.
I handed it to my teacher excitedly and awaited his reaction.
“What on earth is THIS?!” He exclaimed, flipping through the multiple pages and staring at me in disbelief.
“It’s my story! It’s umm, twenty four pages”
“I said no less than FIVE pages though!” Looking at me like I had just handed him a maths assignment in an English class.
I faltered. This wasn’t going according to plan… He wasn’t as excited as I was… I felt like I was getting in trouble. His tone was agitated, his expression almost pained.
“I… Bu… It IS no less than five pages though… You didn’t specify a maximum number of pages…”
My teacher stared at me in disbelief.  I had him there… It was no less than five pages…
The next words that passed his lips were like a wrecking ball.
“Well if this is crap, I’m not reading it. I’m throwing it in the bin and you won’t get a mark for it.” And dismissed me.

I don’t remember anything else from that day. I mean, not that I remember many daily events 19 years ago, but that day was important… and the rest of it was completely numb and black…
What had I done? I might miss out on a mark because if my teacher didn’t like my story he wouldn’t read it? Also, in the BIN?! That was my only bound copy! I wanted it back! Could he even DO that? Throw an assignment in the bin?

So that was it. My efforts weren’t appreciated, I’d never make it as a writer, my story was terrible (he hadn’t read it at this point, no one had) and my life was over.

I didn’t write another story after that.

I just read other people’s.

I haven’t written a story in 19 years.

The girl who wanted to be an author. No stories. 19 years.

Isn’t it interesting, the comments we take on board, the words that stay with us, the profound impact someone else’s passing comments can have on our lives.

How different would our lives be if this didn’t happen? We’d miss those soul-shattering, gut-wrenching dream-crushers. Those “I can’t do this anymore, my heart’s not in it” relationship enders; those “You’re a freak and no-one likes you, freak” fear-validating schoolyard taunts… Our inner critic would have no external fuel to add to its fire…
But we might also miss those ones that impact on our lives in a positive way. Things like “I listen to your song when I’m sad and I feel less alone” or “that mantra you told me was the only reason I could get out of bed this morning” and “I’m lucky to have you in my life”.

I got 20/20 for that story. Full marks.
But by that time, it didn’t matter, the damage was done, the seed of doubt was planted and the fear of failure had grown like Jack’s beanstalk to the giants of doubt in the sky.

I’ve struggled with self doubt for most of my life… But that singular comment in 7th grade was the start of an incredibly tumultuous relationship between my self-love and self-doubt.
I might have been a completely different person now if perhaps a) that comment hadn’t been made, b) I hadn’t taken it to heart, or c) I’d taken the 100% score as enough validation to repair the damage of the nastiness…

But the comment was made, i did take it to heart and the mark meant nothing to me.

What I can take from this experience now is that we’re all shaped by our environment. The nature/nurture debate can go on forever, but the reality is that we’re all affected by both. We’re born with certain traits and attributes that mean the people, experiences and environments that we’re exposed to throughout our lives are met with different responses, different emotions and different life skills. And that, in my opinion, is what makes the world interesting!

Starting this blog was the first step in challenging myself to write again… Sure, I’ve spent years writing songs and poems and I continued to pursue creative writing throughout high school… but I never believed in any of it. I never believed the marks I got were valid or justified. I never believed anyone’s positive feedback…
Putting my words out there for people to read has been a little scary… Opening myself up to judgement again and, for the most part, not getting any feedback to know if I’m connecting with anyone or making any difference is confronting, and I’m thankful to my little blog Angel who gives me feedback when she can…
But that’s part of the journey… and that’s why I started this blog. To celebrate the journey. To realise that every profound, life-changing comment has helped to shape me into the person I am today, and every profound comment to come will continue to help shape me. And that’s a good thing! I want to change. I want to grow! I want to have feedback. The challenge is (and I’m starting to get the hang of it), not being shattered by the comments, but instead observing them, judgement-free as they wander into my life. Then work out what to do with them to best serve my personal growth and my aim to enrich other people’s lives…

Curiosity isn’t a swear word

Growing up, the family motto seemed to be “Don’t make waves”.

It was so habitually thrown around that to me, as a curious, intelligent, eager-to-know-things child, the words in the phrase lost their meaning. “Don’t make waves” just became the response to a question that was too hard; or a reaction that was a little too left of the very, precise, exact, absolute centre.
Don’t make waves. Keep quiet. Don’t ask questions. Don’t challenge authority. Do as you’re told. Don’t think, just do.

Don’t make waves…

When my partner and I first got together, he would frequently ask me why I didn’t ask questions about his life, his feelings and his thoughts.
My response at the time was so ingrained with that social norm of my family. Shrugged off as “just how I am”; dismissed and defended with “not wanting to be nosy”; “I don’t like to pry”; “If I’m supposed to know it, I’ll find out about it”… THAT was the one that sent a little red flag pinging up in my brain.
“If I’m supposed to know”… Like I’m not allowed to want to know more about my partner. Or a friend. Or a colleague, or a job description, or anything ever.

It wasn’t until my first clinical supervision session of the semester, that I realised I’d been disagreeing with the concept of “not making waves” for most of my life. Trouble is, I’d become so practiced at sailing a calm blue ocean that I kinda forgot that I didn’t even enjoy it!
Another student was presenting a complicated client case, and our supervisor calmly urged her to: “Be curious about that”. About what? I thought… Be curious? How is that going to help anything? She continued; “Be curious. Always be curious. It’s how we learn more about our clients. It’s precisely how we help them”

Be curious?

Curious?… Doesn’t make sense. Curiosity killed the cat.
Saint Augustine wrote that God ‘fashioned hell for the inquisitive’. Being curious meant prying, and prying into other people’s business was a sinful vice…

No, see, what suddenly dawned on me is that curiosity removes judgement. Being curious about something means innocently, openly asking for more information, clarification and striving for understanding. Curiosity is how we learn! Puppies, kittens, foals, calves, baby-anything’s learn about their world by questioning it! “What happens if I touch this?”, “What does that taste like?”, “Can I jump over this thing to get over there?”.
What if no-one was ever curious?
What if EVERYONE made no waves?
We’d still have a flat earth, would never have made it to the moon, be afraid of the dark, and would probably still be walking everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
Curiosity is defined as “A strong desire to know or learn something”. How can that POSSIBLY be bad? I live in one of the most privileged regions of the world. HOW can I have been taught, (with two exceptional academics in the family, no less) that curiosity is a BAD thing!? Ask the family and they’ll deny ever teaching me that, but that’s child-raising, I think; the intentions of the adults and what the child actually takes and latches onto, don’t always align… Perhaps they’d say it has nothing to do with curiosity, but everything to do with respect. But how can we respect people if we’re not doing what we can to understand their situation better, and understand their feelings.
Maybe I’m being a counsellor when I say that… Because my JOB is to understand people… But maybe it really is important for everyone.

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Curiosity showed the cat a whole new world! Curiosity sees something it doesn’t understand, and wants to know more. Curiosity questions why things are they way they are and searches for more possibilities. Curiosity isn’t gossip. It isn’t judgement, it isn’t inappropriate, and it isn’t a dirty word.
I’ll make waves now. I try to be gentle around my family so I don’t make them too uncomfortable… but making waves is a side effect of passion! And passion is (should be) a symptom of life! Passion for something or about something. And passion is what led us to modern aviation, space travel and mobile phones.
Be curious. Without judgement.

Learn more.
And love more.