STEPPING INTO THE UNKNOWN

Overthinking and overanalysing is a common problem with anxiety sufferers. The mind likes to run in endless loops of worthless conjecture, questioning, dissecting and criticizing every decision and response. It becomes a hardwired obsessive behaviour that leaves the person physically exhausted and emotionally drained. Without intervention and retraining of the mind, life can feel like an insurmountable hurdle.

I’ve suffered from anxiety for a long time, possibly since I was a child. Yet, it wasn’t until my breakdown at work last year that I was willing to accept that I was mentally unwell and needed help. My unchecked and untreated anxiety had become all-consuming, affecting my every thought, decision and action. It had become mental warfare to my subconscious and conscious mind, making me overfraught and fatigued. Simply avoiding anxiety triggers and shying from new experiences were not keeping that beast of anxiety at bay any longer. I had to be in control, in everything and everyone – an impossible task.

Since undergoing psychological counselling and treatment, I better understand what drives my patterns of negative thinking. I’m learning to recalibrate my thought processes through mindfulness. Instead of avoiding triggers (e.g. school runs, meeting new people), I consciously put myself in those uncomfortable situations, accept the unwanted fear and stress, and try to reduce my anxiety levels through exposure therapy. Baby steps. Tiny baby steps.

Recently, we visited Erskine Falls, a popular tourist attraction in Lorne. We travelled a small stretch of the 243km length of the Great Ocean Road to get to this destination. We drove on winding roads that mostly hugged the coastline with scenic views of beaches, limestone and sandstone cliffs, passed through several popular coastal towns before traversing through beautiful rainforests.

Most people would have admired the views, taken a great deal of photos and chalked up the drive as a great experience. For someone like me who is terrified of heights and has an abnormal fear of death, the drive was akin to an extreme form of exposure therapy. I was shitting my dacks.

“Slow down around the bends!”
“The sign says 40!”
“Should we use fog lights?”

I was the unwanted backseat driver (in this case, passenger seat driver) that everyone loathes to travel with. My husband was at risk of repetitive strain injury from eye-rolling. That was how bad I was with projecting my fears.

“Why is Mum so scared?” my children asked.
“Mummy sees danger everywhere. She finds it hard to relax and just enjoy things,” my husband replied.

I had an irrational fear that the car would veer off the road and crash on the jagged rocks below. Rationally, I understood that it was unlikely and that my husband would never put us in harm’s way. It was like a bad rollercoaster ride that I couldn’t get off and all I could do was grasp the car door handle with white knuckles and close my eyes every time we took a sharp bend. Eventually, we made it to the destination. I was in one piece, relatively speaking.

Oh, but the fun didn’t end there! As we entered the trails, I saw a sign that sent shivers down my spine.

ARE WE GOING THE RIGHT WAY FOLKS??

Immediately, the alert beacons sounded and danger in flashing neon lights threatened to overwhelm my logical mind. 

Did we REALLY want to look at some water falling down rocks? What if someone slips and gets hurt? Ssssssnakes?

While I was having a mini-mind meltdown of what ifs, the crew bounded down the rock steps before I could voice my concerns. I forced my feet to move after the kids yelled out “Come on Mum, stop being a scaredy cat!”

STEPS… SO MANY STEPS!

Have you seen anything more frightening? I was worried to see fit looking people huffing and puffing as they struggled back up the steps. For someone who hates sweating and is unfit, the sight was disturbing. There was a distinct possibility that I’d need a rescue team to retrieve me from whence I lay.

By the time I got my plump behind to the bottom, the crew had begun to venture off the dirt path and rock jumping along the stream bed.

“It’s fine. Don’t be a party pooper. Live a little.” This was my husband’s response to my concerns about safety.

“You’re only as old as you feel and I am not old. Don’t make me old cos you want to be old.” This was my father in-law’s response to my mother in-law’s grumbling over him joining in on the fun.

ROCK JUMPING ON STREAM BED

Unfortunately, my husband slipped on a rock while holding our three-year-old son, Henry and fell into the water. Luckily for Henry, my husband had turned his body to take the brunt of the fall. Panicked at the sight of the two of them in the water, I yelled at my seven-year-old daughter and the in-laws to stay put while I raced over to inspect the damage and placate a wailing child. I really wanted to say ‘I told you so!’ 

My husband sustained massive black bruises along his right shin, knee and thigh. Thankfully, Henry only had to deal with a wet shoe. As we trudged back up the steps, Henry kept saying over and over “That was a terrible idea! A terrible idea Daddy!” To which my husband would apologise for not turning back when he felt uncomfortable. However, by the time we reached the top, Henry had exclaimed “Let’s do that again!”

Upon reflection, I’m grateful that my children are inquisitive, energetic and ready to seek new adventures. I hope that they always see mistakes as opportunities to improve and learn from. I want them to feel that it’s okay to take a chance, try something new and not be downtrodden if things don’t go to plan. That it is not a sign of failure.

Raising resilient children is important to me. I hope that by facing my fears, by not depriving myself of new experiences, being open to personal growth and development, and building my emotional resilience, that I am setting a better example for my children.

In saying all this, I don’t think I was supposed to jump in the deep end and almost drown in anxiety with this whole exposure therapy business. Remember… baby steps.

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SANDY VAGINA

I am not a fan of the beach. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like feeling self-conscious in my bathers. I don’t like stepping on hot sand. I don’t like finding sand in places where sand should not be. I don’t like getting hot and bothered under the glaring sun. I don’t like sweating. I don’t like getting sunburn. I don’t swim. I think you probably get my drift.

I would never go to the beach willingly or suggest a beach holiday destination. So when my dad suggested that we should spend a day at the beach with the kids on New Year’s Day, my immediate response was ‘Hell No!’. Unfortunately, the children and my dad banded together and whined until they broke my resolve and I relented.

We met at my parent’s house so that we could follow each other down to the beach. It was a poor start to the day when I eyed my dad carrying four camera tripods and four rain umbrellas to his boot. I got snappy when my mum attempted to toast bread as a kiddie snack for the short car trip. Already feeling annoyed, I herded my crazy parents out of the house and drove twenty minutes to the nearest beach.

It’s been an age since I’ve been to the beach and I hadn’t realised that in place of ticket meters, you have to download a parking app or call a hotline to pay for tickets. How advance is that? I guess not many people carry coins or cash anymore. Makes sense. Anyway, after fumbling around and organising that, we trekked down to the beach.

When my dad told me he had sunshade under control, I wasn’t expecting him to use cable ties to connect handheld rain umbrellas to camera tripods. He set up four tripod-umbrella creations that offered little sunshade during high noon. Then he brought out his brand-new drone, a device he didn’t know how to set up or fly and had to get my husband to fix.

Meanwhile, my mum was unloading an array of sweet biscuits and cakes for the kids to eat and get high off.

Luckily, the children were eager to slather on sunscreen and make their way down to the water. Our three-year-old and I waded in the shallow waters and built sand castles while my husband and our seven-year-old ventured out further.

My suggestion of setting up closer to the water was dismissed in favour of being near the bushes for extra shade. This meant that anyone who returned wet was immediately covered in sand. There was sand everywhere! I had sand in all crevices and suffered a nasty case of inner thigh chafing.

On the way home, while I was complaining about the sand, my daughter yelled out “Mummy, why are you so grumpy? Have you got a sandy vagina?!” and cackled like a crazy hyena.

I was grumpy and being a sandy vagina. As for sand in the vagina, that was quite possible too.

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ANXIETY AND ME

Does it ever end?
I’m tired of the inner turmoil
I’m tired of being anxious
the rollercoaster ride of emotions
swirling and churning within
old scars reopen
past nightmares haunt
doubt invades, fear paralyses
silent screams that noone hears
I keep building my wall
uninviting, tall and proud
but the facade is brittle
weathered by the years
I’m lost in despair
unsure of who I am
uncertain of how to change
afraid of the road ahead
I am tired of being me

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CHRISTMAS CHEER OR CHRISTMAS FEAR

Note: If you love Christmas and family gatherings, please don’t read this ranty post of mine.  

I don’t enjoy big family gatherings. I find the whole shamozzle stressful. Who is hosting? Who is invited? Who is bringing what? If you host, there’s the clean up before and after the event. Not to mention the costs involved. 

You’re probably thinking, what’s the big deal? It’s only once a year, surely I can just cop it for a day. Well, add in dysfunctional family members, readily consumed alcohol, the undercurrent of unresolved family matters, mismatched personalities, eccentric and dementia-prone oldies, and you have the perfect storm for a catastrophic Christmas gathering. And if by chance, it doesn’t fall into utter chaos, the anxiety suffered from the anticipation is enough to make one keel over.  

Maybe it all stems from my childhood. I never enjoyed being dragged by my parents to attend our big family gatherings. Other than a few cousins that I played with, those gatherings were just an excuse for relatives to boast about their new cars, (mediocre) salaries and children’s academic achievements. Aunties would readily dish backhanded compliments to each other and drunk uncles would argue over who disrespected who. All under the watchful eyes of a cold matriarch and a distant patriarch.

By the time I reached adulthood, I had stood my ground and refused to return to the dysfunctional bosom of my extended family. I gave them all the cut. At eighteen, I decided that I didn’t need an extended family or their negativity. If my parents wanted to belong to that brand of crazies then so be it.

When I got married, there were occasions when we simply opted to go away somewhere to avoid the pressure of family gatherings. Now that I have children, it’s no longer about my wants or me. It’s about giving the children the opportunity to experience Christmas with extended family, opening presents, catching up with uncles that they don’t see often and being merry. So while it is a chore and I prefer to avoid family gatherings, I make the effort for my children. I go willingly (more like unwillingly) and I keep my grumblings predominantly to myself (and the husband).

This last Christmas, we celebrated with my parents, my brother and his fiancé. It was a small lunch affair. Between my brother and I, we organised that I would bring sides and he would cook the roasts. We agreed that my parents would have no involvement in the meal preparations. Their only task was to tidy up the house and tiny backyard.

Let me back up a bit. My parents are hoarders. My dad has at least three of everything and crams it all into his small townhouse. The garage is chock full with secondhand market goods that were ‘too cheap to pass up’. The bed in his room is cluttered with large speakers and electronic junk. There are fish tanks everywhere! Two large ones in the loungeroom, three in the dining area, one in the backyard. My mum, while not as bad, loves planting orchids. The backyard is a jungle. Nothing makes sense in their house. The kids love going there because it’s like going to a two-dollar store, jammed full of goodies to see and touch. Every time my daughter goes there, she gets a plastic bag and collects random trinkets and junk to bring home. My son just loves to feed the fish and dogs.

So on Christmas Day, we drove over with a potato salad, green salad, coleslaw and a sponge. The minute I entered, my dad proudly told me he spent hours cleaning the backyard so we could have the BBQ. He managed to clear his jungle to create a small seating space. My first questions were… What’s with the nesting pigeon and her babies doing perched underneath the café umbrella? And what BBQ, aren’t we doing roasts?

My brother was on a rant rampage on how my mum had ruined his roast chicken and roast pork. Evidently, she didn’t believe he could cook, so she took it upon herself to stuff the chicken with a pork mince mixture (instead of stuffing) and marinated it with some kind of weird mint (only herbs she had). She boiled the pork belly and shoved both the chicken and pork roasts into the oven with no regard to temperature or timing.  

My dad and his hard-of-hearing-ears-while-semi-drunk, had the radio blaring so little conversation could be had. My mum decided that feeding the kids cheese bread an hour before lunch was a good idea (there is no stopping my stubborn mother without a fight). There were prawns being barbecued on a tiny contraption, making my seafood hating husband and children barf.

By the time my brother’s fiancé had arrived, my brother and I had begun a heated debate on euthanasia of the family pets (I blame the stress of the day). We immediately put our best faces on (new fiancé didn’t need to see our crazy) and had a relatively calm afternoon with the children opening their Christmas presents. Of course, my dad took out every camera and video recording device he owned to capture the moment. And like every other occasion, the photos will be blurry and off-centre or he’ll have forgotten to press record on his devices. 

The kids were too full on bread to eat lunch but really, who could blame them for not wanting to sit with us while the creepy pigeon and its offspring watched from above.

Folks, the best part of Christmas… whimsical enjoyment by the children. Is it really worth it?

 

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THIN LINES OF LOVE AND HATE

Cackling laughter erupts from afar
Loud, boisterous and carefree
Warming my soul and bringing a smile
I’m heartened by the sounds of child’s play
Not but a moment later
A woeful wail ensues
Stomp, thud and slam
A shrill cry pierces the air
My temporary peace shattered
Mummy! Mummy! Mum!
Sibling love and rivalry
Adds another wrinkle
To this worn mother’s frown

School holidays are a test for every parent’s patience. Let’s hope our sanity is kept intact long enough to send these squirts back to school!

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AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES

Happy New Year to all my fellow bloggers and readers.

For my first 2020 post, I want to draw attention to the devastating bushfires that are currently ravaging many parts of Australia. To date, wildfires have destroyed 12 million acres and nearly 2000 homes. Twenty-five people have died. It’s estimated that half a billion animals have perished. About a third of the koala population in NSW has gone. Drought stricken farmers have had massive loss in livestock. There are many short term impacts and there will be great long term ramifications from these bushfires.

I want to support and bring awareness to the fundraisers and charities that will help those affected; people who have had their lives shattered through the loss of loved ones, displaced by homes burnt down, and livelihoods destroyed. Not to mention the many animals injured and their lost habitats.

If you can donate, please do. Every bit counts. These funds will help provide immediate relief and go towards recovery and rebuilding efforts. I’ve included a few links.

National – Celeste Barber Facebook Fundraiser 
Victoria (my home town) – Victorian Bushfire Appeal or Country Fire Authority
NSW – NSW Rural Fire Service
Wildlife – WIRES Emergency Fund for Wildlife

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