Colour me breathing

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Over the past two days I have been over analysing everything.

Why did I have a panic attack again? What did I do in the lead up to it that caused it to happen? How could I have changed things to avoid it? What did I do wrong? How come this happened to me again?

Who? What? When? Where? How?

Gah, if there were an Olympic sport of over analysing then I am Usain Bolt. Nah, I am Flo-Jo in all her manicured glory. Because that 80s wonderwoman showed us how awesome super long nails and running fast could be. I am going to pretend there were no drugs because I am staying in my happy little bubble right now.

But this morning I burst into tears in front of the coffee machine. The kids also burst into tears except the one fanged monkey who said, “Wotwongmum.” High fives buddy.

So I decided to stop over analysing because it just is.

IT. JUST. IS.

The one thing I know I have forgotten to do lately is breathe. Long, slow, deep breaths. Mindful, conscious breathing. Taking a moment to realise this has immediately made me feel better. Knowing that if I continue to breathe then I will be okay.

So today I will take in the neighbours’ blossoming magnolia, the sunshine, cuddles from my family and a tremendous sense of love that everyone here has given me. If there is strength in numbers then all of your support here has made me feel confident again. Because nothing knocks the wind out of your sails like panic.

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I think I just forgot to breathe.

Colour me blue – calm + mindful. Bathe me in blue. Allow me to breathe in the blue and out the grey.

 

Colour me a new day

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Tonight I had a panic attack in a restaurant with the kids and the Baker. I’m not really sure how it happened. What a bitch she is, that anxiety, to visit me unannounced. Those chest tightening, breath stealing, heart racing, motion freezing feelings that had remained aloof for over twelve months crashed my peace party. My months of calm, that I kept congratulating myself on, high fiving, back slapping, thanking my lucky stars, go back to square one as I reset the non panic clock again. What an all together fucking shitouse wave of super crappy emotions.

Fuck you anxiety and your crippling ways.

Fuck you anxiety and your raining on my parade.

Fuck you anxiety for just being.

I am angry and disappointed and shocked and edgy that you got through my amazing barrier of calm. How dare you break through my wall of mindfulness. My heart is brimming with love and kindness so don’t you try and fit in worry too.

But most of all anxiety, you are not welcome. The busyness of my life may slow for a bit. The fragility of my mind may take a bit longer to repair. And the unwinding of my edginess will be fuelled by my determination. You will not beat me.

Back to basics it is. Simple food, mindfulness, exercise and love. Writing is helping me right now, which is lucky as I’d quite like to sit in the wine cupboard for a while. And then there’s the Baker who has taken charge of the kids’ bedtime and sent me to my room. I hope I sleep tonight for it will be doubly shit if I can’t.

I know there is a silver lining here somewhere. Maybe there’s a sign telling me to slow down, stop and listen. Take charge, restock, all the cliches. Did I miss it? What a fucker this sign came at all. But it is here, and I will find out why. I will. I must. I can.

Hello grey – moody and just not feeling right. It’s been a while since you visited me. I’m not happy to see you. I beat you quickly tonight and came out of my panic much quicker than my old self would have ever been able to. I should be proud of that if I wasn’t so exhausted. No, I am proud of that even if I am shocked.

Tomorrow is a new day.

 

Colour me doing the best I can

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I started writing this post a few days back before I had my tantrum that saw me quit parenting for a night and fall asleep at 6.15pm. Those who follow my Facebook posts clearly resonated with my mummy meltdown.

But back on Tuesday, I so was frustrated with myself that I couldn’t get my words out. I sat at my computer trying to write both a column and a blog post and approximately four coherent words fell onto the page. Even less fell out of my mouth. In hindsight (oh, that value is priceless), it was because I was exhaustimipated.

It has, without a doubt, been a massive week and weekend. Two birthdays then two birthday parties. We do a party every second year but it appears that they are getting bigger then Ben Hur. I was super organised because that is how I roll. I was very calm all weekend which also surprised me.

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During the busyness that is a birthday extravaganza, my reaction to some stupidity that seemed super important to a newly nine year old was blurted out as, “I am doing the best I can.”

Wash, rinse, repeat after me.

I AM DOING THE BEST I CAN.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that the kids would be very accepting of this as a satisfactory answer. And to be quite honest, I was really comfortable saying it and a little bit proud. Nay, a lot proud.

The kids spent the week in a spectacularly impressive “want, want, want” mentality as they were inundated with birthday excitement. Although I wanted to shout that theirs were simply first world problems, I refrained and answered their constant (and often unreasonable) demands with, “I am doing the best I can.” Mostly they shrugged their shoulders and walked away. They were either happy with my answer or knew that they’d pushed that boundary. And most of the time when these words left my lips, I did not shout. All remained calm and coordinated.

The one thing I do know is that my ‘best I can’ is really actually quite good. I don’t mean this to sound arrogant for it is the furthest thing from that you can imagine. When you do the best you can, it really is good. Really good. Because it is the best you can do. We should pat ourselves on the back more for this very reason. And not Judgy McJudgerson. For in my world, and for that mum on the iPhone like me, judging is for bitches.

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My best I can weekend included a great disco party for the entire class plus the teacher which was as chaotic and noisy and exhausting as it sounds. But my seven year old loved every bit of it. She even loved her sugar free and dairy free cake which most kids left on the plate. Her resilience is phenomenal and sometimes she surprises me with her insightfulness. She knows that this is her birthday cake option so she scoffed it with coconut cream and all. If it was on offer she would have eaten it with a camomile tea. She is doing the best she can.

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The next day we backed it up with a roller skating party. “It is roller BLADE-ING now mum”, says the newly nine year old rolling her eyes. I’d like to roller blade her rolling eyes.

Nine year olds are an awesome lot. The only problem were the bazillion extra grey hairs I sprouted watching precious offspring whizz around on concrete. Whilst many of them were completely hopeless in the first 30 minutes, they all kept trying and did the best they could. At the end of the party there was a whole room of exhausted but proud nine year olds. And I learnt a lot from them.

I learnt that trying is the best you can.

I learnt that resilience and bouncing back (or bouncing on concrete) is the best you can.

I learnt that friendship and awkwardness and learning how to manage all of that, is the best you can.

I learnt that birthday parties and parenting and trying to hold a conversation are the best I can.

And I learnt that sometimes just getting through my day without having a complete meltdown is the best I can.

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So I invested back in myself this week. I will do extra Pilates and no mid week running thanks to sheer exhaustion. Then I decided to give a shit about my exhausted appearance and play along with Style and Shenanigans and her #snstexture. This means that I consciously get dressed and put on my game face every day. Faking it has worked for me in the past and this week, it has been a fabulous way for me to feel like I am doing the best I can.

Then at the end of a seriously large amount of sleep over the past two nights, I picked up the one fanged monkey from day care. He has oddly had an aversion to painting (I know, go figure) for the entire year. He straight out refuses to join in. What it is about, I have no idea. His speech is not clear enough for him to articulate that. But for whatever reason, he decided that yesterday was the day that he was going to do the best he can. And he did this.

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Colour him a painter. Colour him doing the best he can.

Colour me red because doing the best I can should scream confidence + bravado. Doing the best I can IS the best. And that feels like the bravest thing I have done in a long time.

 

Colour me a silver lining

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In my darkest, nastiest days I had a really strong desire to get out of the black. I don’t know where this desire lived when the nasty took over but it would come to visit me every now and then. Then when the colour started to return to my clouded, grey vision it sat closer to the front of my mind. It didn’t jump up and down but it did let itself be known. If it could speak, it would have said, “I have your back.”

It was this sense of hope that I believe helped me to get better. It was a really, really strong will to not feel bad anymore. And yesterday, as I stood in front of 1,100 students I realised that I had shaken the throes of anxiety.

Yes, I am a worrier.

Yes, I am a planner. Although lately I seem less concerned with this.

Yes, anxiety may come back to my busy mind some days but mostly, I feel free of it. I have recovered. I had hope so I found resilience. And although I feel like I have to fight it away each day, I am immensely proud. And calm. I am going to enjoy the ride whilst it lasts.

In those darkest, nastiest days there was a silver lining. I am the person I am today because of my anxiety. And I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.

I don’t quite know how to colour myself today.

I do feel very blue – calm + mindful. It seems like a good place to be.

Here is an extract from my speech as my first appearance as a beyondblue speaker. It has been modified due to the age of the audience.

I hit the wall in May 2012.

It is quite tricky to put into words how I felt when I was diagnosed with anxiety.

The main feeling was one of overwhelming panic.

It was the kind of panic that stopped me from making simple decisions. Some days I would stand at the kitchen bench completely frozen because I had no idea how I was going to get the kids their breakfast. Other days I would stare at my wardrobe trying to work out how I was going to get dressed.

If I had to just write down all the feelings that I felt it would look something like this:

Panic, indecision, fear, a racing heart, pains in my chest, unable to make a commitment to anything – fun or not fun, unable to deal with a change in my plans, I could not see colour – everything was black and white. I felt like I was wearing blinkers, that my vision was impaired in some way. It all looked grey. There was literally no colour in my vision.

I was constantly on edge with the tiniest thing pushing me into a state of panic or rage. Some days I even scared myself with how angry I could become and how quickly I could become angry.

I was so exhausted yet I couldn’t sleep. The most simple tasks were completely overwhelming. Some days it was difficult to breathe. I cried a lot. I cried at least every day and sometimes several times a day. I was exhausted from the crying and the lack of sleep.

I lost my ability to concentrate, my short term memory was awful and I lost the ability to complete sentences. I would quite literally stop speaking mid sentence.

At my lowest point, too many things were falling apart. I started to have panic attacks where I would feel like a really uncomfortable pressure was building inside my head and a weight was on my chest. My vision would blur and my fingers felt like they were tingling. Then my heart would start to race and I would begin to sweat. And panic more.

At work, I would sit at my desk and watch emails come in. I could hardly read them let alone action them. At home I just couldn’t hold it together and daily tasks would render me useless. One of my worst panic attacks was trying to pack a suitcase for a weekend away. It became too much.

I stopped wanting to socialise. I didn’t enjoy food anymore so I didn’t see the point in going out for dinner. I no longer wanted to talk to anyone. Conversations were really, really hard because I couldn’t concentrate on them. I would forget what people were saying just a moment after they had spoken. I was easily distracted and worst of all I had absolutely no resilience.

Seeking Help

I knew that things were not right but I just could not articulate my feelings. I could not explain how my seemingly fabulous life was causing me so much sadness. And how I could literally feel my body falling apart under the weight of the stress I was putting myself under. I think deep down, I knew that something was really wrong but it took a panic attack in front of the kids and my husband for me to rally myself into action. Until then, I was really, simply, only just treading water to survive.

A series of appointments with health professionals highlighted to me my inability to cope. I had lost weight, my hair was falling out, my immune system was struggling and I was hardly sleeping.

After my most severe panic attack my mum suggested for me to see my GP. I think I had known that I needed to go for several weeks but it took someone else to tell me to. I was so indecisive that I needed that gentle push.

My GP referred me to a psychologist. I came home and spoke with my husband and my parents and we all decided that I needed to address things. I was 37 years old, a mother of four and I had to move back in with my parents, which was pretty embarrassing.

Recovery

My diagnosis of anxiety made me feel humiliated, ashamed and so, so sad. Thankfully though, there was an underlying sense of relief that what I was feeling was not normal and that I could get help to feel better. I also remember feeling determined that I wasn’t going to accept that this what how I should feel. I was determined to get better. That was my sense of hope.

This sense of hope was vital because I was a complete mess. Probably the thing that really got me through it was my desire to not feel this bad anymore. And although it was a lot of two steps forward, one step backwards as long as I kept moving in the right direction, that was all that mattered.

My recovery was successful because I chose to do one simple thing. I listened to people and not my head.

I listened to my GP when he told me to stay away from alcohol.

I listened to my psychologist when she told me to meditate. So I meditated a lot. And I still do.

I listened to my naturopath when she explained the impact of blood sugar levels on mood stability. So I adopted a largely protein based diet full of greens and with very limited sugar.

I was, and still am, a very keen runner but a series of nasty injuries meant I had to listen to my osteopath and my body. I have become a big fan of Pilates, which also offers a degree of mindfulness.

I listen, every single day, to my body. I will let it rest if it needs rest. This doesn’t mean I stay in bed and sleep. It just means I might say no to a couple of things and allow myself to slow down for a little bit.

Resilience

Every cloud has a silver lining. In my darkest, colourless days I began to write. It was a wonderful way for me to empty my very busy head. I kept a diary where my deepest, most dreadful thoughts were allowed to escape onto the page. Where no one would judge me. It was an incredibly cathartic way for me to manage and process my thoughts and emotions.

My writing has led me to a new career as a writer. I have a blog where I talk about my recovery from anxiety. It led me to an interview in a local magazine, which was read by someone at beyondblue and here I am today.

Every day I eat well. I get a good amount of sleep. I exercise because it is fabulous for my head and it makes me feel really good. I use the Smiling Mind app to meditate and I cannot recommend it enough. I practice daily gratitude both around the dinner table and in a journal I keep beside my bed. I write and I embrace colour.

I need to be mindful and careful when I get tired or too busy. If I get injured, I need to be aware of the impact a lack of exercise has on my head. I put my hand up when I am not quite coping. I talk to people and I ask for help.

Hope

The biggest lesson I have learnt from this experience is to ask, “How are you?” I ask this all the time on my blog and FB page. I ask it of friends and most importantly, I ask it of myself.

By being in tune with how I am feeling I can adjust my way of thinking to manage anxiety.

If you ask yourself how you are and the answer is not quite right then I can only encourage you to seek help. Talk to someone, your friend, your family, your GP or beyondblue. You cannot get better if you do not help yourself.

You also need to check on your friends or family. Ask them if they are okay. Tell them you have their back. Not one single person that I have talked about my anxiety with has been anything but amazingly supportive. Go on. Ask them, “How are you?”

 

I am a member of the beyondblue Speakers Bureau where I volunteer at community events and speak about beyondblue’s work and share my personal story about depression and anxiety. If you would like to book a speaker for an event, please email speaker@beyondblue.org.au.

 

Colour me surprising myself

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I am, at present, a study in contradictions.

We just spent the weekend with friends in Melbourne. There was sunshine, friendships and that vibe that some weekends just have. A vibe of relaxation or go with the flow or Que Sera. I’ll blame Justice Crew for that little bit of whatever will be, will be as this song is on high rotation thanks to my gaggle of girls. But I will say this catchy, tinny little number has some pretty cute lyrics that scream resilience. And if you have dude hair and wear matching clothes then you can dance like a dick.

The most planned part of the entire weekend was that on Saturday night we would crash at our friends’ new pad. The rest was played out under a very fluid itinerary. And you know what? I coped. Shit, I even enjoyed myself. I kept waiting for myself to lose my foshizzle but I didn’t. Instead, I laughed and stayed in the moment and rolled with the punches. This dedicated planner surprised herself.

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We went ice skating. I know, danger and public places and more danger. I actually sat on the sidelines thanks to my dodgy back and because I am a big scaredy cat. No one got hurt, not even the Baker who did, however, swear A LOT whilst balancing on tiny knives. My one fanged monkey rocked the balance wagon by walking on ice skates after riding on the seal. High fives to this kid. He can’t talk but he can rock an ice skate with his pigeon toes. Go figure. He then threw an almighty tantrum when we had to hand the seal back. Some you win, some you lose. Justice Crew has it sorted out.

Later that evening, we ate pizza, drank red wine, sat by the fire and just chilled. The kids slept in sleeping bags, which is about as close to camping as they’ll ever get under my watch. They need a much cooler mumma than me to camp with!

On Sunday we shopped, lunched and went on the Melbourne Star at 5pm. Yes, five IN THE AFTERNOON. On a Sunday. A school night. Do you fully understand the consequences of this? A 30 minute flight, a 60 minute drive home, four kids, no dinner organised and wait for it, no rice bubbles or milk at home either.

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Instead of losing my foshizzle, I saw the excitement in the kids’ eyes as I agreed to us going on the observation wheel. They were as stunned as myself with my positive response. I was accutely aware that because I say no so often because of all the consequences that I have in my head, both real and imagined, that I often stop really enjoying that moment. The moment of watching a sunset over a fabulous city with five other people that you love so much you want to squeeze them all so hard.

And the oddest thing of all, I didn’t get stressed. Not one little bit. Who knows why? The Baker was very chilled so that helped. There was just that vibe running through my veins. That great weekend slash holiday vibe that injects relaxation into your persona and you can rock spontaneity. What a fabulously lucky state of being I found myself in. And for that, I am so grateful.

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I am so shocked and so proud of myself that I have no idea what colour I am. There is a bit of red – confidence + bravado – especially as I am not a super big fan of heights (see, scaredy cat). There is also a bit of blue – calm + mindful. But mostly, I felt a mellow yellow – bursting with optimism + happiness.

Two yellow posts in a few days? I could thank the sunshine but deep down it is me that wants to change. Let’s hope I can keep some of this sunshiney yellow happiness when I am next feeling frazzled. Perhaps a yellow cloak would be useful?

 

 

Colour me prepared

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If there were a picture of a girl guide in the dictionary, which would be wikipedia because hardly anyone uses an actual dictionary anymore, then I could be it.

I am prepared.

My management of myself nowadays involves some pretty awesome organisational skills. I thrive when I am feeling organised, prepared and ready to go. I have three of the four kids with birthday parties coming up in mid-August and September. The party bags are done. The sausage rolls have been made and are in the freezer. The bottles of water and straws and napkins are in the cupboard. The cake has been ordered. I am happier than a pig in shit.

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I am currently researching costume ideas for the school concert in mid-September because NOTHING freaks me out more than dress up days. Except maybe spiders and drying three lots of hair on swimming night. And the book week costume for the end of this month? Freaking me out too.

Sidebar: If anyone has tips then throw them my way. There is ANZACS for a girl – I’m thinking nurse but most of the costumes make her look like a slut instead of a 1914 war hero. The next theme is trains but I am not making a cardboard anything because that thing will be collapsed before it gets in the car. And finally a book week costume that is not fucking Elsa. I need to let it go, let it go…

So you see I am a planner, a restaurant booker, a timetabler, a midnight talker. I mean check out my laundry soaps. Does anyone else put them in nice jars? Sheesh.

I do not fly by the seat of my pants. I don’t even do change very well. I try hard to be in the moment although often, even this can be challenging.

I am so stuck in my ways that when I do have a random spout of spontaneity, the Baker and the kids look at me like I am just some odd woman that looks like someone they know but is totally not acting that way. And I’ll be all like, “Yeah, let’s just do this!” And they’ll be all like, “Who are you and what have you done with Anna?”

I guess you could call it a survival skill. A way of managing myself. My way of making sure that I can manage my head and my life without completely losing my foshizzle. It doesn’t always work for I regularly lose my foshizzle. Mostly it works though.

I have been emptying and managing my head for the past two years. Sometimes I have done it really well and other times, not so good. But even if I take one step backwards, as long as I keep taking two steps forward, then it is a path I am happy to travel. I am also loving the cliches today.

I have been thinking about it a lot lately because I have been working on my personal story for beyondblue. On Tuesday I am going to my first public speaking engagement and I could not be more proud. Or prepared.

I am ready to talk on a stage. I am ready to share my pain, my resilience and my hope. I am ready to answer questions.

I won’t get anxious about being on the stage in front of 1100 teenagers. I will get anxious about the floors not being swept before I leave the house, such is the frustration of my anxiety. I may offer the kids a shiny gold coin to sweep for me.

I know I will worry about what to wear because I am vain as fuck and unlikely to change between now and Tuesday.

But mostly, I will just be proud.

Colour me yellow – with optimism + happiness.

And whatever colour proud and resilient and slightly crazily organised may be.

 

I am a member of the beyondblue Speakers Bureau where I volunteer at community events and speak about beyondblue’s work and share my personal story about depression and anxiety. If you would like to book a speaker for an event, please email speaker@beyondblue.org.au.

 

 

 

Colour my Personal Take: Teaching me a thing or two

I just had an hour in the classroom and I am ready for a lie down.

Here is my Personal Take in Geelong Advertiser’s gt magazine. The original article is online here.

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Sibling rivalry is fabulous thing.

My younger brother has an uncanny ability to land himself in the most enviable of positions. At school I studied like a teenager possessed. This made for a messy personality and a strung out VCE. My brother however turned the legal drinking age halfway through the year and spent the rest of it enjoying that privilege.

When his results came out they were equal with mine. He studied for 15 minutes for the entire year so the competitive gene that I inherited was more than displeased. At the end of Year 12 he jaunted around Portugal and Oxfordshire whilst I measured inside trouser legs in a factory in North Melbourne.

My first job was data entry at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, which was even more boring than it sounds. His first job was as a writer for Lonely Planet. He flew straight to India. As you do.

When he decided to become a teacher, I knew that he was having the last laugh.

I have always been envious of the seemingly cruisy lifestyle that teachers enjoy. How fabulous is a job where your working days finish with the school bell at 3.30pm? And who wouldn’t sign up for ten weeks of holiday each year? “Me! Me!” I shout accompanied by enthusiastic hand waving.

I have visions of him singing songs and decorating student diaries with stickers and smiley faces. Every now and then he might organise an excursion or an art show or anything that requires parents to fill out another permission slip.

As a side note, I fill out every one of those forms twice because 95% of the time my kid will lose theirs somewhere between their locker and the teacher’s hands, which is about three metres.

So confident was I that I could cope with this teaching caper that I volunteered my time to help in the classroom.

Little did I appreciate that being in a confined space with 20 kids makes parenting your own children more appealing than lying under a Balinese sunset with Ryan Gosling. In the first 32 seconds of walking into the classroom, I have sharpened 47 pencils, rehomed six lunchboxes, corrected some spelling and accidentally attempted to log into the education department’s server. Then when half the class asks to go to the toilet AT THE SAME TIME I realise that multitasking and patience are required. Together.

The fact that I have not actually taught any of them a single thing is not lost on me either. Apparently stopping them from wrestling on the floor isn’t enough, as they have to learn, you know, stuff.

A parent I may be, but a teacher I ain’t.

Clearly teachers have prewired DNA for general calm that the rest of the population was not gifted. Honestly, how that staff room is not a frazzled den of winged out adults is beyond me. I reckon I’d need a Shiraz in a take away coffee cup just to get me to recess. And by lunchtime I’d be in a rocking chair talking to myself.

So then imagine my spinning head when my eldest child came home with Grade Three mathematics homework. All will remain good in my world if I can remember that a hexagonal prism has eight faces.

And in Grade One, I can tell you all about the olden days. Because, you know, according to my child I am THAT old.

So for now, I will live vicariously through my brother’s holidays. And respect his wise career decision.

For the saying should really be, “Those who can’t, don’t. Those who can, teach.”

 

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