The Art of Anticipation

I’ve got a golden ticket.

It’s a ticket to a magical place full of wonder. There are edible plants and astonishing creatures. There are mysteries. There is magnificence. There are strange and unpredictable events. Some of them benefit me, some leave me feeling like I’ve been blown up into a giant blueberry and sent to the juicing room to be juiced.

I began my journey to this place, filled with wonder. I licked wallpaper, ate dog biscuits, crawled into tiny spaces and was in awe at every turn. The further into this place I’ve ventured, the more cautious I have become. I don’t laugh as much. And, I don’t lick wallpaper or eat dog biscuits anymore. Partly because wallpaper tastes disgusting and I realised dog biscuits were for dogs, but the point is, I once was curious and adventurous enough to try them.

Although it bares a remarkable resemblance, my golden ticket is not to Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Had you fooled there for a second, didn’t I? In actual fact, my golden ticket is to life. And, there are no guarantees in this place. I keep thinking there are though. I keep expecting guarantees. Even when I don’t think I am, I am. And when things don’t turn out as I think they should… that’s when find I get blue (and need to be sent to that damn juicing room). Expectations are my kryptonite. See the chart I created below for a breakdown.

Expectations, Reality & Resilience

I’m not saying that it is wrong to have expectations. In fact, we need them. It is important we have high expectations around how we are to be treated, for example. Similarly, plans, goals and dreams are an essential part of being a vibrant human being.

Where things can go awry is when we get formulaic about life: If I do x, then I should and will get y for a result. I am a total sucker for this, and like Julia Stone, I blame you, Hollywood. I have had to do a lot of unlearning in this department. The pentecostal prosperity message I was accosted with as a child certainly has not helped with this either. No. But, that’s another blog post.

I like to think I am a realist, but I’m not. I’m a depleted romantic trying to clutch onto the security of certainty. Following dreams gets to be just exhausting when you encounter what feel like endless valleys. I tell myself, just stop expecting anything too much and you’ll be fine. But when I do this, I die a little bit inside. I don’t want to be fine. I want to be alive. I want to hope and dream and become.

Lately I’ve been looking for a full-time job. I’ve always landed on my feet in this area. Always managed to find interesting and satisfying work with ease. This coupled with the fact that we recently had a door slammed in our face direction-wise, meant that I would snap up a job immediately, as that was what I was owed, right? Wrong. It hasn’t happened like that. As a result, I’ve experienced some inner turbulence, which has reminded me of a tune my brother, 11 years my senior composed on the piano in response to his frustrated efforts to break into the IT sector as a graduate in his early 20s. The piece was entitled Unemployed. It was a long series of dark, disturbed, disjointed, foreboding and rather hilarious crashing notes. He is not a musician, at all, but he captured the space well. The good news is I have managed to curb the self-destructive talk and become a bit more philosophical about it all.

I asked myself, if expectations are a form of belief, of faith, then how do I manage them, so I don’t feel like a deflated balloon every time things go a different way to what I imagined?

The answer to this struck me the other week, in the middle of a coffee shop. It’s not a new thought. It was something I just needed reminding of at this specific juncture of life. It was simply this: nothing will unfold as you expect it to, but it will be ok and maybe it will be even better than ok. Roll with it.  Since having accepted this notion, I have experienced an uncanny calm spread through me, like a warming mug of hot chocolate.

So, my aim is not to quash my expectations. It’s to throw them open. It’s about trusting that some of those seemingly ‘crappy’ life experiences are potentially opening up opportunities that will take me to a whole new place. When I think about the surprise arrival of my daughter and a bunch of seemingly impossible challenges that enshrouded her arrival, which ultimately were the makings of me, I know that is the case.

Life really is a little bit like Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. You never know what you’re going to stumble into. So, here’s the deal, I am going to keep open, anticipate and wonder at strange and unimagined rooms, which I never thought I would find myself in. I’m not going to get fixated on the fact that certain doors led to rooms which were not as wonderful as I was thinking they would be. I’m going to keep moving through the factory and anticipate adventure.

Do you have any examples of how unexpected challenges yielded some gold? I’d love to hear about them.

MIO
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Mind Mending: 4 Foundational Tools to Combat Depression

I’ve majorly stalled in getting this ‘series’ going. Sorry ’bout that. It is for good reason – to be outlined in my up and coming post, entitled, Crazy Life Tsunamis.

I happened to have created a juicy list of tactics to tackle depression, complete with anecdotes, but it’s been pummelled up amongst the debris of the Crazy Life Tsunami (CLT), along with a bunch of other nice plans. This has bothered me, but I have decided that this is something I can do something about, so I will.

I must admit I have felt some reservation around not wanting to just dish out a set of trite formulas for ‘fixing’ depression. Let me highlight, there is no one formula. There are a general set of human experiences that we categorise under depression – causes, symptoms and severity differ for us all. Your experience falls within a unique part of the spectrum. Similarly, the combination of tools to release you from this place are also individual.

I hope to provide my fuller list at another time, when it bobs to the surface of my hard drive or my mind.

So, if you are weathering a version of low life-ebb, I humbly offer some of my foundational mind mending strategies.

1. Acknowledgement is power

I know this is Captain Obvious, but it’s so very important to start with. I have found that the sooner I acknowledge that things are out of balance and shift my life around to accommodate some introspection and find some remedies, the better chance I have of addressing these imbalances without a major life-halt. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It actually robs you of getting in touch with your authentic self and living life to its fullest.

So if you can tick off a number of these symptoms or get a high score on this test, chances are you are not doing so well and need to take some action.

2. Surrender, Fight and The Prayer of Serenity (or Sanity)

serenity-prayer

In amongst the debris of our Crazy Life Tsunamis, I have been floating on a small but practical raft: the serenity prayer. This eloquent little prayer is so very powerful. As our own whiskey bottle has taken a little bit of a beating – I can see that there is a reason that this prayer is the creed of Alcoholics Anonymous. In our CLT situation, there are things which we need to fight for, there are things that we need to make happen and there are things that we need to surrender. It’s taken us a while to figure out which is what, but with this plea at the heart of our decisions, we have got somewhere and remained remarkably sane as a result. Thus far it has helped us avoid a depressive wipe-out.

The serenity prayer is not THE answer, but it is definitely a kind of map to getting through darker days.

Many times we get in slumps because of our expectations not matching up with our reality.  There are many ‘un-changeables’ in life and it would seem in my experience that identifying, accepting and surrendering these will set me on my way to inner peace. Recently I discovered an un-changeable and it has been excruciatingly painful. Someone very unhealthy has a lot more power over the life of my family than I would have ever chosen to give them. For the time being, I have to surrender this to this harsh reality and I am needing supernatural doses of serenity to do so. Whiskey will never fully cut it.  It is encouraging to me that even with the un-changeables, we can do something – we can become serene… What can I say, Ghandi is my hero at the moment.

Recently I was reminded of this jewel of a quote from Gregory David Roberts’, Shantaram,

“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them.”

There are many things that we can and need to change. It’s not always easy to do so, as it probably also means letting go of something, perhaps a fear or a comfort or a belief or all of the above. It means accepting change or fighting for it. That wrestle is often a part of the cognitive dissonance that comes with depression.

We can’t change the past. We can’t change the un-changables. We can accept these. We can change our focus. We can change our future.

Yes we can. (Thanks Obama)

We can’t change somebody else’s misery, their choices or their actions which may continue to make our life hard, but we can always work on our own needs and responses. If we feel miserable about stacking on weight or disappearing in our marriage or feeling purposeless or having had someone leave us, we can do something – lots of things about those things.  We can stare them in the face cold and we can grow beyond them.

For these reasons, this very simple prayer is a phenomenally awesome philosophy to hold close in combating depression.

3. The More Decisions I Make, The More I Become

Once you have decided to recognise that you are in Struggle Town and you have put yourself in a place of surrender, half the battle is won. You then need to make another decision to do something about it. Something. Anything. Everything. But, just start with one thing. It might be saying the sanity prayer. It might be talking honestly to someone you trust. It might be booking an appointment with your GP. It might be stopping and sitting by a moving body of water to think about what is really going on and what you might need. Be really proud of yourself once you have done that. Then, make another decision. Then make another. Then another, then another. Keep being proactive. Before you know it you will be moving through the paralysis, one decision at a time. Be brave. Keep gently moving forward. On that note you may need to…

4. Slow the Frack Down

The first time I found myself in a depressive slump, I was 17.5 years old. Did I even recognise what was going on? No. No I did not. I ate  my feelings, started drinking coffee, kept really super busy by putting all of my effort into achievements and cried my way all the way through every fantastic accolade of my final year at high school. During the following year, I ramped it up and kept myself extraordinarily busy with university, 4-5 different jobs, a trip to Nepal and Thailand and voluntary youth work at my local church.

Naturally, I got sick (with glandular fever) and burnt out. I kept ploughing on and soon after, I was diagnosed with clinical depression.

If you don’t know this already, burn-out leads to the dark side. If the burn-out doesn’t stop you, the depression that follows will absolutely force you to a grinding halt. I was completely stopped in my tracks for months on end. This was my first lesson in maintaining mental health: if you’re not so okay, steady your horses and be gentle with yourself. Even if you are okay, steady horses and be gentle with yourself. You are a human-being, not a human-doing. You need maintenance and servicing and tender loving care to thrive and when you don’t get this, just like your car, you will break down.

So these are my long awaited, all natural foundational tips for combating depression.

Acknowledge. Surrender. Accept. Make space to take stock. Get proactive.

Have the courage to face your dis-ease and make the changes you need.

M.I.O. x

 

 

 

A Letter to The Black Dog

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Dear Black Dog,

We used to hang out a lot. Remember? Yeah, that’s right, back in my early twenties when I was wearing my poo-goggles on a bit of a full-time basis. In the beginning, we’d sit paralysed on the couch at my parents place together for hours. Me staring into space, with a mind that was simultaneously racing and empty. You would sit on my lap. Or was it my entire being?

One thing is for sure, you were a crushing son of a bitch.

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I’m trying to remember how it was that you came to arrive in my life. There are a number of events and triggers; like a bad heart break or two. Like being misled by mentors and having my wide-eyed youthful trust bruised blue. There was the burn-out from studying, working and volunteering as a youth leader. A disconnection with my passion for performance and writing. Oh, and the tsunami of cognitive dissonance with my faith, followed by the alarming rate at which my friendships dropped away when I expressed anything about it.

Really, when I think about it, your presence was a formative part of my early adulthood.

I’m also trying to remember how it was I got you to leave my life. You were around for a while. Years actually. Sometimes it seemed like you had disappeared, but then, when I wasn’t really looking, something would happen, and you would appear. I tried a lot of things to get you to leave. You weren’t exactly welcome. I read books about you and therapy helped some. I wasn’t interested in anti-black dog drugs. I wanted to work you out. I sat with you. I looked deep into the pit of your hopeless tar eyes and attempted to make friends with you. What was it you were trying to tell me? Was I on the wrong path? What was the right path?

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When the answers came in the form of your black fog breath, I began to make a series of drastic decisions to move you out. I quit university, left church leadership and took up a full-time job – but you stuck around. I decided to test my faith by taking it to an extreme; I found a crazy missionary lady, travelled to Burma with her and smuggled Bibles – turns out I was smuggling Black Dog in my bags as well. Trying a new tact, I quit church, started studying Social Work, moved out of home and found some open minded friends. Still, you were there – to the point where I couldn’t even write an essay. You had set up camp in my mind.

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So, I had to quit that course. Hoping to ‘experience’ a course worth of essays, instead of writing them, I picked up a job working in a Detoxification Unit with drug addicts and criminals; the homeless and the helpless. Exposing myself on a daily basis to a number of your larger relatives, you seemed like a puppy. Having had you around made me more compassionate and gave me a depth, a humility and an understanding I may not otherwise have had. This job provided perspective of sorts. It made me feel important. At the tender age of 21, it seemed like a solution; to bury my black dog with other people’s bigger meaner black dogs. Yes. Finally. A way forward.

Seeing as this strategy was working so well, I stepped it up by dating a co-worker. He had a beast of a Black Dog, and, being that he blocked it out with marijuana and alcohol, I made it my mission to focus all of my attention upon dealing with it, ignoring that you were right there feeding off of the angst.

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And so began my lessons on the pitfalls of playing the ‘Rescuer’ and ‘Wounded Healer’. Four and a half tumultuous years and an unplanned pregnancy later, I sat in a field on the first birthday of my first child, alone, watched a sunset and realised I could never be responsible for someone else’s black dog. And, I realised I still had one of my own. You had grown, but so had I.

This was a pivotal moment.

Today I heard someone talk about choices as being like steering a ship. I like to think of the Spirit of Tasmania, as I can hear it honk every night from my house. If you steer that ship just one degree differently, nothing much will change in the next two days, but over the course of 2-5 years, you will be on a completely different trajectory. You will not end up in Launceston, you will potentially wind up somewhere much more perilous, like Antarctica… or possibly somewhere much milder, like, oh, I don’t know, Vanuatu. This shift in perception did exactly that for my life.

Armed with sobering fragments of truth, I made some more drastic decisions. Some of those choices meant I had to painfully learn the same lessons again. Such is the nature of one rehabilitating from any pattern of escape from their demon… I mean dog. However, mostly, they were good decisions. The decisions to go on alone as a parent and to complete a double degree in Education and the Arts were foundational.  Five years and what felt like several hundred thousand hurdles later, I graduated from that marathon chapter of my life. I met and married a wonderful man, got a job and fell in an exhausted heap.

Here’s the thing though, last night, my husband plucked a short black hair off of my tear stained pyjama sleeve and, despite the fact that I have a beautiful family, great work and I’m not living in a caravan in some God-for-saken suburb in the Boganisphere of Melbourne (as I may well have if I didn’t shift that degree), I realised you’ve caught up with me.

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I stopped running, you see. I removed all the distractions and now I can see we’re still rather attached.

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So I know you’re here, buddy. But, guess what? I’m bigger than you and I have faith in something even bigger than me. That’s the order of things. With our eyes wide open, we are going to figure out why it was you came in the first place. We are going to stop trying to bury you in tasks and achievements. We are going to find that passion and sense of purpose I lost a long way back, together.

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Acknowledging pats from,

M.I.O.

P.s. I am going to share this letter, because it has helped so much for me to write it. Hopefully it comforts someone else out there. Let’s face it, most of the time we only provide the highlights reel.

*** Many thanks to the very talented illustrator, Matthew Johnstone and the following sources for providing the poignant imagery in this post: Black Dog InstituteJourneys with the Black Dog: Inspirational Stories of Bringing the Black Dog to HeelI Had a Black Dog and Living with a Black Dog. 

mOther’s Day

I found you
in a valley
in a thicket
filled with briars.

It cut to take hold of you
and unravel you from the tangle;

a tiny shiny thing,
a glimmering seed,

You

took root in my heart,
opening a dormant chamber
filled with the music and mirrors
of life itself.

The Aurora Borealis
lit night in full spectrum,
as you grew into
flesh apart from mine.

Our umbilical connection remaining as
a guiding star of reason
beyond any doubt, or fear,
to forge a better way
to a better place;

To make you shine,
Always.

Jesus versus Chocolate

On Easter Sunday we discovered we had been robbed. Our house was broken into by a man – we know this because he left his dirty big boot print on the couch under our window. He, literally, stole through the house, trashed our bedroom, collected a camera, the little precious jewelry we had; including heirloom pieces, my original engagement ring and the pearls my daughter, Magic wore on our wedding day. He took an iPod and… my new Macbook. He even let our pet bunny loose onto the street – which was sort of comical, being Easter Sunday and all.

One could almost link this occurrence as a response from the universe to my revolt at our love affair with things, particularly Apple things. It could be seen as some sort of challenge. We were probably just unlucky, but the timing has certainly made me think.

It is upsetting, disappointing and a little scary having someone invade your space and take your mementos and belongings for quick cash. Especially on a day when there is meant to be a holy reverence. But, let’s face it, Easter is, for the majority of Australians, more about consuming chocolate, than Jesus. We consume more easter eggs per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Most alarmingly, Easter, for my daughter is more about consuming chocolate than Jesus. Just like “the robber”, as she likes to call him, Easter has become more about what she will get than taking stock of the most significant event for the human soul in the time-space continuum. Events of 2000 or so years ago mean very little to her compared to cracking and sucking on that sweet brown goo found under the coloured tin foil. Who can blame her? It is tangible, tasty and she is seven. And, for some reason chocolate crucifixes haven’t taken off in the same way as Cadbury bunnies and eggs.     

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Hmm, can’t see these catching on.  They just don’t seem to have that ‘cute’ factor.

With the benefit of hindsight, I realise I have made a massive mistake. I introduced the Easter Bunny and his mate Santa Claus, with little question. My parents did it for us. It seemed mean spirited not to do it. It was about the “magic” and it was kind of fun to put out the stockings, balloons, port, shortbread and reign deer food. It was sweet to watch Magic delirious with excitement in the mornings on an Easter Egg hunt.

That was until it recently became an unhealthy obsession for her. She could not sleep on Easter Saturday, as she anxiously gawked wide-eyed around the dark room, looking for a sign of Easter Bunny. For weeks leading up to Christmas, all she could think about was Santa. With the irony being that she doesn’t actually like Santa. She is petrified of him. She just wanted the goods. The questions were endless, too. The details we had to come up about Santa became more and more elaborate. Until, I found myself writing a long letter from Santa on Christmas eve, pointing her back to the fact that Jesus was the special reason for Christmas and that he was just a big fat man in a suit that didn’t really matter. Yeah, I know, Santa had to give cred’ back to Jesus. It is just not right.

I also found myself a bit annoyed at getting zero credit for the great gifts we gave with our hard earned money on Santa’s behalf. Magic would declare excitedly, “Santa got me a scooter…” and less enthusiastically, “Mummy got me a helmet”. Ok, so that was bad planning on my part. The point is, we have to phase them out. It’s time to go, mythical Fat Man and fanciful Fluffy Bunny.

The meaning has been lost. We need to change the focus.

On Easter Tuesday, my husband and I decided to pray about a bunch of stuff that is concerning us – something we don’t do nearly enough. During this time, my husband began to pray about the robbery. I was genuinely touched by his prayer and my admiration of him went just a little bit deeper in that moment. He did not ask that our things be found and returned to us or that burglar be caught. He prayed for the thief. For his life and for him to find a better way to exist as a human being. That was it.

*Pause*

Let’s just take that in for a minute… Rather than getting mad and asking God for justice – which was warranted, he prayed for mercy and for freedom for this person. Wow. That sends shivers into the deepest recesses of my being. And, well, it reminds me of something. Of someone. I’m not saying my husband is Jesus – although, to my amusement, physically, he bears a remarkable resemblance. It reminds me of what happened at Calvary. Jesus had pretty much been shat on by all; kicked, beaten, broken, stabbed, ridiculed, nailed up to bleed to death – despite doing nothing but promoting good and what were his last words?

“Father, forgive them…”

This profound, even divine shift in focus, from retribution to grace, compassion and forgiveness, is what Easter celebrates. That is what Jesus did.

This is is who Jesus is and what chocolate will never be.

…….

What do you do to make Easter meaningful? What are your feelings about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus? Whatever your religious persuasion, I’d love to hear your thoughts.