FAREWELL UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

Stepping through the building’s revolving doors and swiping my work card for the last time, I felt overcome with nostalgia. My mind went for a trip down memory lane to the first time I stood in front of the security gates, desperately trying to get my visitors card to work so I that I could get to my job interview on time. I remember feeling self-conscious that I was holding up the flow of morning traffic as I did my awkward forward and backward shuffle trying to get the barriers to open. I remember rushing to the toilet to calm my nerves, flapping about trying to cool my sweaty body, and checking my armpits for embarrassing sweat stains.

I really wanted the job. At the time, this government role was what I deemed in my mind as the pinnacle of my career success in my profession. I believed that my self-worth was directly linked to my job title, and this role would be validation of that. It would satisfy my ego and dull that little insecure voice in my head telling me that my value and existence was defined by work and its accomplishments.

I remember taking extreme care in my appearance, rehearsing the lines that I would say, and trying to give myself the pep talk I needed to come across as a capable and confident person. I remember the elation I had felt at news of my success. I remember meeting my work colleagues and feeling nervous but eager to please. This job was pivotal to me feeling complete.

Over the years, I began feeling frustrated with the system, felt downtrodden with my inability to effect change, and resentment built to a point where I became an ineffectual team member. It was also around the time I was gifted with a second job title – mum – and my struggles with work-life balance, mother’s guilt and anxiety reared its ugly head.

Why did I stay, I hear you ask, if I was so unhappy?

I made excuses to myself: I needed a job, we needed the money, it was well-paid and secure, and I should have been thankful to have a job when so many others struggled to find one. In truth, I stayed for longer than I should have out of fear. I was fearful of the unknown. I didn’t believe in my own abilities or capabilities. What if I didn’t find anything better? Don’t they say the grass is always greener on the other side? My anxiety made sure to shred any remaining confidence.

And so, I stewed in my misery, negativity pouring from me like a poison, darkening my thoughts and affecting everyone around me. I was depressed and couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. People were moving forward, grabbing opportunities with gusto, and surviving within the murky waters of the workplace restructures. I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore and I certainly didn’t feel I deserved to be there, taking someone else’s spot. I was lost. I was a failure as a teammate and as a parent. I was in a very bad head space. For the sake of my mental health and my family, there was only one solution and that was to resign.

Today, as I said my farewells to my friends, I felt strong emotions of grief and loss. These wonderful people had become my second family, unwavering in their support, encouraging with meaningful words and enriching my life with their presence. Today, I close this chapter of my life with fond memories that will forever be etched in my heart.

Where will my new adventures lead? What does the next chapter look like? What are my plans? I do not know.

The only thing I do know is that I am ready for the magic of new beginnings.

 


To my friends, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

FT – I will miss your hugs and infectious laughter.
MD – I will miss your jokes, even though I rarely got your punch lines.
QG – I will miss your D&Ms, you gave me strength through some of my darkest days.
WY – I will miss your tough love, no-nonsense attitude.
GS/MN – I will miss your generous and kind spirits.
MS – I will miss your inner strength and words of wisdom.
GP – I will miss your wildly inappropriate but funny comments. Don’t go changing.
JL – I will miss hearing of your small wins with coupons and freebies.
EB – I will miss your words of encouragement and support.
HS – I will miss your self-deprecating humour.

And to the rest of the branch, who are no less important to me, thank you for being a part of my life journey.


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LIVE WITHOUT A NET

I am a control freak. It’s a coping mechanism, a safety behaviour, an intolerance of the uncertainty, that makes me want to take charge of all situations to ease my anxiety over not having control of the unknown. These vicious cogs of anxiety have me worrying over hypothetical situations, ruminating and overanalyzing interactions, and avoiding any circumstances that may induce negative feelings. Unchecked over the years, my brain has learnt that to eliminate the symptoms of anxiety, I must either avoid anxiety-producing situations or have complete control. You can imagine how tiring being me is, can’t you?

Part of my personal growth has been working on breaking the negative internal dialogue through graded exposure; small steps to challenge my fears. With that in mind, I left the organising of my father’s birthday dinner to my younger brother. I had relayed my wishes for an early dinner for the kids, and he already knew of Gary’s dietary restrictions, so it was simply a matter of booking a restaurant. There was no need for the control freak to loom her ugly head. What could go wrong?


We’re ten minutes late.

“Ugh, they’re late,” I groan as we enter the Korean BBQ restaurant. It’s a helluva lot warmer than standing outside in the cold.

“You have a booking Ma’am?” asks the waiter, standing at the entrance.

“Yes, it’s under Andy,” I reply, stamping my frozen feet to elicit some warmth.

“I can’t see anything under that name Ma’am,” informs the waiter. “Are you sure you have a booking?”

I call my brother and let him sort it out. The waiter walks to his podium, checks his book and shakes his head. He returns and hands back my phone. “Sorry Ma’am.”

I stare at him in confusion as I put the phone to my ear. “Hey Sis, sorry they got the date wrong. I’ll find another place and text you the details.”

So I bundle the family back into the car and wait for his text. Breathe. No big deal. Happens to all of us (not me). It’s still early, and the kids have yet to show signs of the dreaded hangry. Hungry and overtired kids make any outing a nightmare.

“Why didn’t I bring snacks?” I wonder. “This is exactly why I should always have snacks on me, like a vending machine.”

I’m only mildly anxious at this point. At least we are warm in the car.

Meet at Japanese Teppanyaki.

We head to the new restaurant and luckily it’s only ten minutes away. The detour has delayed dinner by a smidgen. It’s raining cats and dogs by the time we’re parked. We make a dash for the front door. The wind is fierce and icily cold. I get to the entrance of the restaurant, Henry weighing heavy in my arms, to find the doors unmoving. I peer into the restaurant to find the lights off and not a single employee in sight.

“Why did you leave the car? It’s freezing,” Andy stutters, shivering from the cold as he reaches the door.

“What are you talking about? Why is this place closed?!” I yell, frustrated at the turn of events.

We rush over to the nearby gazebo and take cover from the unrelenting rain. Gary has been tasked with the job of getting our jackets, an umbrella, the kid’s water bottles and Henry’s baby bag. I’m in anxious terrain now.

“It’s not open until six p.m. I thought I told you,” Andy replies, looking sheepish. “Sorry about the booking.”

“No you did not tell me, otherwise we would be in the car!”

“Relax,” Gary returns with our things and tries to calm me as I continue my rant, “we only have to wait ten minutes until it’s open.”

Eventually, we’re inside and dinner ensues. The cook is wearing a red toque and samurai-print robe, his belt fitted with several knives, and pepper and salt grinders. He performs a myriad of cooking tricks. Instead of looking entralled with his performance, Mandy just looks bored. She doesn’t even bat an eyelid when the salt grinder is flicked into the cook’s torque hat.

“Want to see fire?” the cook asks, looking at everyone for their approval. He lights the oil with some water and a whoosh of fire shoots up into the air.

Henry jerks back in fear before crying uncontrollably and screaming out “I’m scared! I don’t want the fire!”

For the remainder of the meal, Henry clings to me like a koala baby to its mum, while I desperately try to coax him into eating some overpriced meat. Mandy is slumped over her meal, tired and uninterested. It’s like she’s seven going on fifteen-years-old.

“Who wants to catch some egg?” the cook asks, holding some omelette on his spatula.

My brother and his girlfriend catch their egg on the first attempt. They make it look easy. I decide to step out of my comfort zone and agree to participate.

The first attempt has the egg flying past my face and landing on the floor. Ok, so if at first you don’t succeed, you try again. The second shot lands next to my mouth and falls off. I am so close that the cook insists on another go. The third bounces off my left eye and drops unceremoniously onto my plate. The cook gives up. He’s probably never had anyone as unco as me. In all honesty, I think it’s in my best interest to stop. I only have two eyes and my left eye is tearing up, ready to shut up shop. I gave it a go (three, to be precise) and that’s all that matters.

We end the night with a bill of over five hundred dollars and a drive-thru to KFC for a top up.


What did I learn from this experience? While there were some anxiety-producing moments, I think I coped rather well. The outcome of unforeseen events wasn’t catastrophic; we found another place (although more expensive), the kids were fed (eventually) and went to bed a little later than usual, and no one was worse off for standing in the cold. I climbed a step towards my goal of breaking the cycle of anxiety. Overall, a good achievement for me.

Does that mean I’ll let my brother book another family function? Of course not.

Copyright © 2019, KN J Tales and Snippets. All rights reserved.

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REMEMBER TO BREATHE

Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. No big deal. They are children. You’ve presented to adults before, and they are a tougher crowd. This is easy peasy.

I stop fiddling with the computer, take a deep breath and turn to face my audience. The chatter stops, a quiet descends on the room and a hundred curious eyes stare back at me.

Shit in a box. Why are there so many of them? And staring so intently? Oh man, it’s ‘Children of the Corn’ creepy.

My face heats with embarrassment. Sweat beads form on my brow. My heart thumps like a jack hammer against my ribs. My armpits feel damp. Giant waves of nausea rolls through me. I could puke. The power pose and the upbeat song did little to quell my nervousness.

I stand next to the teacher as she introduces me to the grade one year level but I quickly make use of the nearby stool upon realising that my legs don’t want to play ball. I babble about needing to drink water for my non-existent dry cough. I rub my sweaty palms along my thighs. I take another fortifying breath and try to calm my frayed nerves. I’m a jumbled mess inside. I feel exposed and naked, like my self-worth rests on this one presentation. It’s no wonder public speaking is feared more than death.

“Hi everyone, I’m really excited to be here,” I say, mustering all the enthusiasm that an anxiety ridden person with a humongous fear of public speaking can. I hear the tremble in my voice. I wonder if anyone else notices.

As I begin my presentation, a glance at one of the teachers makes me lose my train of thought. People say to make eye contact with the audience and to find a friendly face to build your confidence. So what do I do? My eyes scan and fall on the one person in the room wearing a frown.

Why is she scowling? She looks like she’s constipated. Maybe she’s concentrating. Yes, that’s gotta be it. No way is she judging me so early in the piece. Fudge, where was I?

“Uh… so… um… you take a plane to get there?” I stutter as I point my shaky finger towards the map on the screen.

Fudge, I have no idea where I am.

People say to rehearse but not memorise because it will give you a false sense of security and can hasten brain freeze if you forget a phrase or sentence or are thrown off track. The increase in stress hormones causes a shut down of the frontal lobe making retrieval of memories harder. You can guess what I chose to do, can’t you? The distraction causes my stress levels to erupt to catastrophic levels and my mind decides that it has had enough. It erects a sign, ‘Gone Fishing’ and blanks. I cut my losses with this slide. One down, seven to go.

“Let’s move on to the next slide,” I mumble, turning back to the computer to press the arrow key. Nothing happens. The screen goes dark.

Shit. Train wreck! Can I have a meltdown now? I don’t need this. Fudge, carry on fool, carry on!

A teacher fixes the PowerPoint presentation. I turn to face the children, who are waiting expectantly. People say to take elongated pauses, to take deep calming breaths and to shift your attention to the next point. I take a moment to remember why I am here. I look at Mandy and gather my strength to continue.

Remember to breathe. Calm the farm. I CAN DO THIS!

I decide to forget my talk and go with the flow. I take pauses between slides and pick a couple of important points that are interesting for a seven-year-old. I interact with the crowd by asking impromptu questions. I remember to smile and eventually I relax. The children are eager with their questions and that encourages me to soldier on. There are smiles and giggles. Seeing their excitement and interest makes me feel less anxious about my performance.

Enjoy this. Live in the moment. No one is judging you.

I see a child fervently waving his hand to get my attention, so I stop to let him ask a question.

“My dad’s a lawyer,” he states proudly.

Ugh, OK. Cool story dude.

“Wow, that’s… awesome,” I reply. Children really do say the most random shit.

I plow through my presentation and I’m relieved to feel relaxed and confident delivering my last slide. The bell goes and the children ready to go home. There is a small group that stay back to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation. One of the boys brings me a page of his artwork as a gift for my efforts. A girl tells me that she thinks I look pretty in my dress. The teachers tell me I did a great job. I’m just glad it’s over.

As I leave hand in hand with my daughter, she glances up at me, eyes full of admiration and says, “You did a really good job Mum.” My heart swells with love for my child. Her words of praise make every minute of my discomfort and anxiety worthwhile. Plus, it really wasn’t that bad.

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THE CALM AFTER THE STORM

It has been seven weeks since I had an emotional breakdown at work. It was bound to happen. I was a pressure cooker, at a dangerously high boiling point, needing a release to avoid catastrophic results. Instead of finding a solution to my ever growing anxiety and stress, I filed them in the ‘To Re-Evaluate Later’ box. I was too busy and tired to take pause, at the detriment of my mental health.

Returning to work after maternity leave, I struggled to re-assimilate into my old role. I felt inadequate and redundant, having to re-learn old processes and familiarise myself with new changes. I didn’t feel worthy to contribute to team efforts or discussions. I felt replaced by fresh faces proactive in voicing solutions to challenges, confident in their capabilities to create value and eager to seek further opportunities. Feeling anxious at my lack of ability, I hid in the shadows and made myself inconsequential. It didn’t matter that it was a toxic work environment, tainted with stressors of unreasonable and excessive workload or the constant looming cloud of job insecurity. I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore.

It didn’t help that I was struggling at home too. I was suffering, both mentally and physically, grasping at the threads of my diminishing sanity. Sleep deprivation was wreaking havoc with my ability to function. My two-and-a-half year old son was a poor sleeper and couldn’t self-settle. I was too tired to rectify the situation, choosing to kick the can down the road. I felt overburdened with responsibilities of running a household, even with lots of help from my husband.

I had become a poor man’s version of a parent; a cheap imitation. I had no energy to engage with the kids. School readers were neglected. Dinner was whatever I could throw together at the last minute or leftovers, often opting for take-away. I was prone to being snappy, and yelling was my default means of interaction. This led to feelings of mother’s guilt and overcompensating in other ways. More TV, more junk food, anything to lessen my guilt. I was a freaking mess. I was drowning in my misery.

It took only one simple email at work to push me over the edge. One small request. I had reached my upper boiling point, there was nothing left but to self-implode and decompress. I was mortified at letting coworkers see my vulnerabilities, showcasing them like open wounds, and admitting defeat. All I could do was call a time-out. I was spent.

In hindsight, it was the best decision I could have made for myself and my family. I started seeing a counsellor, and working on improving my mental health. By allowing my mind to take a break from the constant noise, giving myself the opportunity to self-reflect, and talking to a complete stranger, it has given me the strength to finally admit and face a few hard truths.

I am sh*t at being alone with my thoughts. It opens my mind to many unwanted and self-criticising mental abuse. I loathe my own company, and I fear the unknown. I’ve let the judgements of others influence and dictate my life choices. I am flawed, indecisive and insecure.

BUT, today I had an epiphany. One that smacked me hard in the face.

I no longer feel ashamed to admit that I have mental health issues; that I battle with debilitating anxiety and suffer from depression.

I no longer feel the heavy chains of societal expectations weighing me down. I am NOT a superwoman. I don’t need to ‘have it all’, and I’m okay with that.

I am ready to commit to the journey, making that arduous climb away from the dark pits of depression and anxiety, with one step at a time.

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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MY STRUGGLE WITH SMALL TALK

Do you find it hard to partake in small talk? Does it make you feel anxious? Or do you have the gift of the gab?

There are so many factors required to have a successful conversation with another person.

  • Using exact words to effectively express your thoughts
  • Understanding body language and its nuances
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Finding a balance between listening and speaking
  • Showing an interest in the person and what they have to say
  • Offering interesting topic threads
  • Remembering to relax
  • Smile

If you suffer from social anxiety, being thrust into situations where you must engage in conversation can be scary. It might feel easier to avoid it altogether.

So why do I force myself to engage in conversation?

I recognise that to communicate and engage with others means social interaction. It means forging new relationships and strengthening others. It means developing my sense of self and belonging.

Ultimately, I don’t want my life to be consumed by my anxiety. I won’t allow it to tear me down. Therefore, I must engage.


Butcher: “Hello there!”

Me: “Hi.”

Butcher: “How can I help? What would you like?”

Oh my God, I don’t know. Shit, I better hurry. Shit, how do you say that word ‘enchiladas’.

Me: “Um. Six en-chill-a-dars please?”

Butcher: “My wife just took one of these last night and upped to Mildura.”

What? What did he just say? Am I supposed to reply? I just want to tick dinner off my list.

Me: “Oh. That’s a long way.”

Butcher: “She loves them. Drove after work last night and got there this morning.”

Okay, I think I’m supposed to say something here. Fudge if I know. Why is he telling me this? Breathe. Relax. You can do this. It’s just a conversation. Be normal.

Me: “Yeah, she must love them to drive that far.”

Did he mean she loves enchiladas? Is six enough for dinner?

Butcher: “My daughter lives up there and had her baby last night.”

How long does it take to wrap these enchiladas?! I feel my anxiety levels rising. This conversation is hurting my mind. New baby. Ok, so remember to congratulate him.

Me: “My husband loves your enchiladas.”

Butcher: “Thanks. My wife’s already saying she wants to come back.”

You seem like a really nice dude and I’m really glad you’re chatting to me but I suck at this and I feel awkward. Please have mercy on me!

Me: “My husband loves your enchiladas.”

Fudge! That’s not what I meant to say. I forgot the congratulations.

Butcher: “Uh, thanks?”

Me: “Um, congratulations?”

Oh my God, he did say his daughter, right? He looks young. I hope I haven’t misheard. This conversation is going downhill. Abort! Abort!

Butcher: “It’s my third grandkid. Here you are.”

Oh thank goodness.

Me: “Thanks. Have a great day.”

I need to get out of here.

Butcher: “You haven’t paid yet.”

Me: “You too. I mean, sorry I haven’t.”

Did I just say that? How embarrassing! I hope the next butcher isn’t as talkative.


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FIND YOUR STRENGTH

I walk down this well-trodden path, resigned to my fate. The sky is filled with dark clouds, threatening a downpour that will sweep me off my feet and drown me in its flood. There is no light; no rays of sunshine; no warmth. Despite efforts to protect myself, piling layers upon layers, I feel the cold penetrating into the depths of my soul. Winter is here. Well and truly.

What do you do when your mind begs to succumb to the deep pits of despair? How do you crawl out from the sinister tunnel of self-doubt? You’re in pain; mental fatigue; physical stress. You’re on the brink of shut down mode.

Oh, but The Show must go on! The children need to be fed, clothed and loved. The house should be cleaned. The bills must be paid. You have to turn up to work. People rely on you to function. Society expects your contribution. Life stops for no-one.

“Mummy, why are we going round and round?” asks Henry, my two-and-a-half-year-old son.

We’ve been driving around the neighbourhood for the last half an hour. At any moment I expect a police car to pull me over and write-up a ticket for public nuisance. I’ve taken the same roundabout ten times now and I see people peer out from curtains. I must look like I’m casing joints or seriously lost with directions.

“You need a nap,” I reply. The truth of the matter is that I need a nap but at this stage, I’ll take the consolation prize of a break. I am beyond exhausted, physically and mentally. Parenting is damn hard. It is relentless. You are on call twenty-four-seven, every day for at least eighteen years.

“Mummy, I need a chino!”

“Mummy, I did a fluff fluff!”

“Mummy, where’s Daddy?”

“Mummy, I want Donalds!”

I drive for another half an hour before there is silence. I park the car and rest my forehead on the steering wheel. It took everything I had to concentrate on driving without incident. I feel overwhelmed with the burden of responsibility. It creeps and climbs like vines, slowly choking and leaving me gasping for breath.

As I silently fall apart in the car, I realise that I need to seek help. I need to reach out to my village and remember that there are people willing to support and care for me, if only I ask. I need to pause to allow myself the time to recover so that I can gather the strength to continue.

Right now I’m merely existing, living day-to-day, going through the motions. I’m a grainy black and white. Instead, I want to be vibrant and colourful. I want loud and bright. I want to live life to its fullest.

Why? I owe it to my children and husband to be the best version of me. I owe it to myself.

For the time being, I’m reminded that after every storm, there is a rainbow.

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