A happy new year

At the start of a new year I like to set a few goals for myself in order to visualise what I’d like my year to be. I’ve always done this to some extent. Writing down goals helps me achieve them because it enables me to remember what I want out of life. It keeps me focused.

Last year I wrote down 13 goals and managed to achieve 9 of them. It ranged from things like “get a lemon tree” to “get married”. This year I have a few more goals, but my main goal is to take care of my mental health. Since this is such a huge and undefined goal, I’ve written down ways in which I can achieve this.

  • give cbt a chance (if there’s an opening at one of the clinics in town)
  • do yoga
  • allow myself to practice wellness activities
  • go for long walks more often
  • be in nature more
  • spend less time worrying
  • care less what others may or may not think

So the two first ones are pretty straight forward, but the third one is something I just recently realised that I need to change in order to get better. I am currently unemployed due to my stress-related depression and anxiety, meaning I have a lot of free time. One might think that I’ve been using that free time to focus on getting better, but that is not the case. The truth is that most of the time I’ve just been staring into the wall or watching youtube videos that I don’t even find interesting. Why? Because I didn’t think I deserved doing something for myself. I basically punished myself for being unemployed. I felt stressed whenever I had a longer shower or skincare routine, when I sat down to meditate or when I tried to read a book. Doing something for more than 10 minutes that would benefit my wellbeing was just not something I allowed myself to do. What I’ve realised now is that I will never get better unless I actively do things that benefit my mental health.

It is okay to prioritise myself.

I can tell you that I already feel much better, even though I have bad days still. Today is day 9 of my yoga challenge, and it’s been hard, not gonna lie. But I’m doing it! I also finished reading two books. TWO books! Yeah, I might have started reading them back in 2018, but nevertheless, I finished them and already started reading a third one. Reading has strangely become something I enjoy, and I’ve always been the kind of person who falls asleep when I read. A few days ago I felt pretty anxious and could sense sadness creeping in on me. In an attempt to calm down I left my computer, made myself a snack in the form of an apple with some peanut butter, cuddled up on the couch and picked up the book I was reading at the time. A few pages in I realised that all the anxiety and sadness was gone. I was happy and calm again. It’s amazing what reading can do.

I’m also taking care of my skin. A while ago my acne came back and it’s pretty bad, but this time I don’t worry too much, I just take care of my face as best as I can, with the focus being moisturisation rather than acne treatment. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from having acne it’s that it doesn’t matter what cream or treatment I use. It doesn’t matter what I eat or if I touch it or not. It’s there, and the best I can do is to not get upset about it. I think this has been an important lesson for a control freak like me. There are some things that I can’t control, and it’s okay. It’s all about perspective and where you choose to put your focus. (Wow, never thought I’d say something like that!)

2019 is the year I put my health first so that I can be a happy person. I’m sure everything else will fall into place eventually if I let myself heal first. Happy new year!

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Time equals money equals stress

My life as a fulltime freelancer took a bad turn after a shoot last week. I had a stressful day and a half, and while I was chilling on the couch later that night, my husband pointed out that I was scratching my face. This isn’t new, I often scratch my skin when I’m stressed out, but when he pointed it out I realised that it actually itches. So I went into the bathroom and discovered that not only is my face itching, my arms are itching as well. I pull up my shirt and find that the rash I had before the wedding is back. And it’s everywhere.

Somehow I think I’ve always handled my time carefully. I always show up early for meetings, get up extra early so that I have time to take it easy in the mornings, plan my work so that it doesn’t pile up and almost never wait until the last minute… and yet here I am, covered in rashes with a brain not operating fully due to long-term stress. I’ve blamed myself for this. “It must be me, everyone else seems to be able to handle life”. But in the last few months I’ve watched people around me break down, one by one, and I’ve realised that it’s not just me. It’s not up to us as individuals to try to cope, something needs to change.

Looking back at past jobs and job interviews where they ask you how well you operate under stress, makes me want to go back in time and give a lecture about the negative effects of long-term stress and how it isn’t a positive thing for the company to hire people on the premise that their job is stressful. If the job is stressful – change something! No one will thank you a few years down the road when you crash and can’t function like a normal human being.

Stress-related illness is a rising problem in society, and we cope by changing our mindset, trying out a new diet or becoming more “spiritual”. Sure, we can try to learn mindfulness, do yoga on the weekends and “not get ourselves worked up”, but how is that going to change anything? How is mindfulness going to help you when your boss emails you late at night, telling you he needs your project, that you haven’t even started, to be done by lunch tomorrow? How is mindfulness, or yoga, or excersise going to fix the core problem? The core problem being that time equals money.

I blame consumerism and our outdated views on work. We need to realise that yes, time is precious, but time isn’t money. Money requires time. Quick results might seem tempting, but letting things take their time is more beneficial in the long run. Innovation, inspiration and new ideas can’t grow in stressful environments. And think about how much money society loses on sick leave due to stress. We’re talking billions.

We need to talk more about these issues, especially with employers, and not apply for jobs where the word “stress” is in the job description. Health comes first.

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The struggle of realising you’ve chosen the wrong path – again

Today I finally did it. I opened up Gmail and started writing that dreaded email to my professor, telling her that I’ve decided to drop out. I had to make several pauses and look at the words I was typing down. I’ve managed to take the wrong path in life – again. How did this happen? Just a few months ago I was overly excited about this programme. I sat in front of this very same professor during the admission interview and went on and on about how I really wanted to become an archivist. I was leaving the room so excited that she had to pull me back down to Earth and remind me that not everyone will be accepted, no matter how much they want it. But I had no doubt I would be accepted. I aced the interview, like I almost always do. A few weeks later I got accepted and I was so incredibly proud of myself. I told everyone about it. Finally I had found my thing and I was gonna become something! An archivist! “What’s that?” people asked. “Well I’m gonna sit in an office or an archive and sort documents, kind of…”. It sounds so strange to me now. Archiving? What the hell was I thinking?

I was thinking that what I need is a somewhat easy job that pays me enough to not have to worry about money, and where I wouldn’t have to rely on my creativity too much. I would lie if I told you that the decision to drop out was easy, despite the fact that underneath I knew all along. Just scrolling down this blog and reading about how I came up with the idea of applying to this University programme makes it pretty obvious that I had doubts long before I even applied, but I chose to ignore them. The first few weeks of school I had panic attacks on my way there, every single day, but I chose to supress them. I told myself that it was because I had just stopped taking my medication, that it was a lot of new things to take in and a new environment. But as the weeks went by I realised that it’s not about that. I like the atmosphere at school. I like my professors. I like my classmates. I loved the conversations we had outside of the classroom about stress, purpose and life in general, but I had no interest in the subjects taught in class, except for the political and philosophical aspects of it.

“[…] one day you wake up and realise that you are angry and sad and frustrated over a job you didn’t even want in the first place.”

An archive is a cultural institution alongside museums and libraries that have been the same for a very long time. The idea that I could make a change and develop this cultural institution into something more interesting and sustainable is what kept me going. But after some time I realised that the idea that I alone could be a breath of fresh air in this institution and somehow manage to change things up is extremely far-fetched. Especially since it’s an administrative job where every decision goes through someone higher up the ladder that most of the time has no real understanding of the work you’re doing, which leads to frustration and ultimately resentment. Then one day you wake up and realise that you are angry and sad and frustrated over a job you didn’t even want in the first place. And it’s not that I don’t think I could do it, it’s the realisation that I don’t want to.

I feel extremely priviledged and self-centered when I tell people about my decision. Like I think I’m better than everyone else for wanting to pursuit something bigger. Well I’m here to tell you that I’m not. I do think that I’m capable of more than sorting and handling documents, but in no way do I think I’m better than my classmates or people who do other kinds of honest work. We’re all good at different things, and we’re all interested in different things. But the bottom line is that if we want to help people, which I believe should be the core of every profession, we need to pick a profession we are excited about. I am certain that my classmates will become great at what they do because they enjoy the history, the books and the aspect of helping people find the information they need.

“Nobody remembers the teachers that were, at most, okay at teaching.”

Not everyone can love their job, but I never want to become so unhappy with what I do that it affects other people negatively. For example I’ve had teachers in the past that so clearly weren’t happy with their job that it affected the students, making us less motivated. Sure, you can pick a profession you’re not particularly passionated about and be mediocre at it, but how is that helping anyone? Nobody remembers the teachers that were, at most, okay at teaching. We remember the good ones, the ones that inspired us to become better, the ones who saw our needs and had them met. We notice the bus drivers who greets every single passenger with a smile and a hello. We remember the doctors who make us feel taken care of. We smile at the enthusiastic tour guide, the barista who made a smiley face in your coffee and the shop owner who was so passionate about what they were selling that it rubbed off on you.

I haven’t quite figured out what it is I’m passionate about yet, but now I know it’s not archiving. At least that’s something.

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How my PMS helped me realise I’m not actually an angry, sad person

For a while now I’ve been taking antidepressants. This is something that’s been shameful to me, something I said I would never do because “I’m a strong person”. I looked down on people who couldn’t manage without them, and that is something I’m not very proud to admit. Thankfully I now no longer look at it that way.

These last couple of months have been a learning experience. Since I became a teenager up until now, I’ve had a lot of anger issues, especially around my period. I know that a lot of us with periods have this kind of problem, but for me it was so bad that I actually had a huge punching bag in my room during high school. I frequently smashed things, threw furniture, and don’t even get me started on how this affected all of my relationships. Passive agressive was my middle name. When I wasn’t angry, I was sad. And I started to identify myself as this negative, angry, sad person. My hormones were affecting my whole life, or rather INFECTING.

There’s this quote I read on Humans of New York that really spoke to me and put words on how I viewed myself.

“I’m always sad. Are there certain thoughts associated with the sadness? No, the sadness is under the thoughts. It’s like when you’re on a camping trip, and it’s really cold, and you put on extra socks, and an extra sweater, but you still can’t get warm, because the coldness is in your bones. Do you hope to get away from it? Not anymore. I just hope to come to peace with it.”

I truly believed that I would always feel this way. But something amazing happened when I started taking medication. I am suddenly a generally happy person. Not like jumping-around-with-a-huge-smile-on-my-face-singing-tunes-and-being-ridiculous-kind of happy (although that does happen), but more being thankful for what I have, trying to see everything in a positive way, and handling my relationships more carefully. It’s groundbreaking, really.

So then one day I woke up and felt… not great. I was annoyed, melancholic and somewhat anxious again. For no reason. Did the medication not work? Was the happy me just a phase? I struggled through the day when I suddenly got a notification on my phone. I have this app that tracks my period, and it reminded me that my PMS is coming up, which explained all of those negative emotions I was feeling. At first I was upset that my medication didn’t help me with my PMS issues, but I realised that there’s a distinct change in me now. There is a solid line between myself and my PMS for the first time since I got my period at 12 or 13. I am no longer my PMS. I no longer identify with my negative emotions.

For about a year I went to therapy talking about my anger issues, my negativity and sadness, and it didn’t help. Now I realised that the reason it didn’t help is because those emotions aren’t who I am. I went in there thinking that I would become a better person, learn to control the feelings and not let it get to me. But how can you change and control something that is a chemical reaction in your body?

It’s obvious to me now that there is a correlation between mental and physical health. I am not crazy, nor am I less intelligent or strong. I had a chemical imbalance in my body that made me do and feel things that I somehow started to identify with. Notice that I’m speaking in past tense. I still have that imbalance, but it is now concentrated to the week before my period. And honestly I’m so happy to experience the clear difference between everyday-me and PMS-me. My PMS helped me realise that everyday-me is not an angry, sad person.

Now don’t get me wrong, antidepressants are not the solution to every problem. I still struggle and I still have a long way to go in terms of my ongoing exhaustion that’s affecting my stress tolerance. But I know the signs now and the fact that I’m not feeling this way all the time is a huge win for me.

Turns out, the coldness is not in my bones. It’s a chemical imbalance that’s totally seperated from the person I actually am.

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“That weird part of Youtube” – The addictive spiral of videos that leave you feeling awful

You know when you go on Youtube and there’s a video recommendation that kind of stands out from the rest of your usual type of videos? They most likely have a title that draws your attention, like “My boyfriend died” or “What it’s like being allergic to water” or “I’m married to my cactus”. For some reason you have to click. And once you click, you know you’re screwed. 10 horribly depressing videos later you find yourself feeling awful, sad, anxious or just left with a weird feeling inside. So you go back to the main page, only to find that all of your regular recommendations are switched out by more horrible stories and topics that just make you feel even worse. It’s like Youtube is saying “Hey! You seemed so interested in those topics, so here! Have a look at these ones too!”. And you feel like screaming “Get me the hell out of here!”.

“I’m in that weird part of youtube again”

Often when you scroll through the comments on those videos, you find people writing “I was watching makeup tutorials, how did I end up here?” or “I’m in that weird part of youtube again”. I think we can all relate. But being a person who’s very curious and also has a compulsive need to know everything, this spiral is a dangerous rabbit hole. Once I get into a topic, I start googling more information. Reading every article, news story, blog post and comment about it. I can honestly sit for hours just reading and watching videos on the topic, and when I finally get back to reality I feel awful. And I keep feeling awful for sometimes days because of all the horrible stuff I learned.

“I’m wearing everyone else’s pain as well as my own”

I think the reason I so easily get emotionally involved is because I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP). I not only watch people tell a sad story, I can feel it. I start imagining what they went through, how it felt, what their thoughts were. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because I have a lot of empathy for people and I care deeply. But it’s like I’m wearing everyone else’s pain as well as my own. How do you cope with this issue when every single day we are bombarded with these kinds of stories through social media and other media outlets? It’s not like I want to close my eyes and not learn about what’s happening in the world, but sometimes it just gets to me in a way that’s not healthy.

It is important to remember that it is in fact a positive thing to care and to have a need to learn. I feel like I’m feeding my brain, making my thought process more complex and interesting. But where do you draw the line between enthusiastic learning and unhealthy compulsive consumption?

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The struggle of wanting more – while being exhausted

Photo by: Victor Norgren

When I was a kid, “The Little Mermaid” was my favorite movie. It spoke to me. And it stuck with me. The feeling of being different, of not settling, of wanting to explore and do more. One of my high school teachers once told me “You seem to be a strong person. You run your own race”. It’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. But in many ways the “wanting more” has made my life miserable.

To me, “more” doesn’t mean money, power or fame. It means doing something meaningful. Something that will have a positive impact on people. I have such a strong feeling that I should be doing something else. Right now, my life is all about survival. The only thing I think about is money, and how we can earn enough to get by every month. I’m making decisions based on what I think will give us a more stable future in terms of money. And it’s making me sick.

I don’t know enough about life to know if it really pays off to be a good person and work towards your dreams. But I do know that I don’t want to spend my life working a meaningless job, feeling shitty about myself every night and having anxiety 24/7. And that is why I’m in this position right now. That is why I’m on antidepressants, why I’m not employed and why we struggle to get by. And you know what? I am so grateful for everything I have at this moment. Right now I have love, I have a roof over my head, food on the table, lovely friends and family that care about me. What more could I possibly need right now that money can buy? Nothing.

But I need to find my purpose. I am and have always been an ambitious person. When I do something, I go all in, which is why I haven’t really done anything in the past year. I haven’t had the energy to go all in. I think that might be the problem with us who struggle with exhaustion – we constantly want to do more, and nothing is ever enough.

The University programme I talked about a couple of weeks ago is still on my mind. It’s not what I’ve dreamt of doing with my life. Quite frankly, most people would call this profession boring and old-fashioned. But being the ambitious person that I am, I already came up with my own ideas of how this profession could evolve into something global and groundbreaking. Because that’s who I am. I question the way things are. Which is not always welcome in the educational system, despite what you may think (but that’s a totally different story).

I’m not sure where this blog post is going, I just felt like I needed to get these things off my chest and to give you an update. I’m alive and doing pretty well in terms of my mental health. So now I’m slowly trying to stear my focus towards personal development instead of survival.

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How do you find your life purpose and choose a career?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my life purpose since the realisation that I chose the wrong path in terms of my career. A couple of weeks ago I got an idea of what I wanted to do instead, and it didn’t take me long to get things moving. I found a programme at the local University, asked around for internships and even managed to get an interview with two people who are working in that particular field. I wanted to know what I was getting myself into before I decide to apply for two more years of school. It all seemed great and I was super excited. But surprise surprise, I’m starting to doubt the whole thing now.

The applications aren’t open yet, so I haven’t made an official decision. I’m afraid that this is going to be another bad turn. When talking to the two professionals I got the sense that one of them wasn’t very happy with his job, and the reasons for it are reasons that I know will bug me as well. It’s an administrative job, often controlled by other decision-making people, and everything has to go through them. Me being a person who needs control and has an issue with authorities, might have a problem with such a business structure.

But I need money, I need to make a living, and this job would mean a steady income. That is, if I actually get a job after the studies. Cause you never know. The statistics are looking pretty okay at the moment, but a lot can change in two years. Including my mental state and feelings towards this line of work. The whole reason why I came up with the idea in the first place is because I was searching the internet for jobs that suit my introvert personality. I found this profession interesting and “easy” enough to work with my anxiety problems. But is that really the right way to go? Am I settling for less than I actually want out of life?

I’ve always wanted to have my own business. To do great things that people will acknowledge. I wanted to help and change people’s lives. I still do. But I’m not well and have no energy to attempt something greater right now. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Maybe I’m just afraid of failure? Or stressed out about the whole money situation. Having your own business can be very rewarding on a personal level, but the money won’t exactly pile up the first couple of years. It’s tough, and you need to be mentally prepared to stick with it, even when business is bad. I guess the key is to start a business you’re really passionate about, and where you can see a sustainable future. I don’t know what kind of business that would be, and as excited as I was for that new path I started exploring, I think I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

But then again, do we ever find what we are looking for? I think we’re all just lost souls searching for something we believe will make us happy. But happiness isn’t around the corner, it’s right here. Even if I don’t feel it all the time, I know it’s here. To me it’s not the happiness I seek, it’s the meaning. A greater belonging. A sense of fulfilment. One of my greatest fears is being basic. Wow, I’ve never actually thought of it that way… That’s exactly my problem.

I feel like this is beginning to sound like a therapy session, so I’m going to end it right here. Please comment if you have any thoughts on this. Are you also afraid of not living up to your full potential? Have you found the right path? How do you know what you are supposed to do with your life? Do you just focus on surviving and providing for your family? Is your career important to you?

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Carpe that f-ing diem – And other harmful ideas to live by

I used to believe that inspirational quotes about seizing the day, living your dream and whatnot, was a good way to keep motivated. Not that I put them on my walls or reposted them on my social media, but you know, every now and then I might have liked one that someone posted. But when you get ill, really ill, these ideas of how you should live your life just makes you feel worse. Nobody wants to hear “carpe diem!” when they’re suffering from severe depression.

I’ve spent the last week on the couch. Crying, staring out into the void, incapable of functioning like a normal person. I wasn’t even a person, I was just a body with a person trapped inside. I’ve wasted what could be precious days of my life, not seizing the day. Not working towards my goals. Not being the best that I can be. Not visualising my dreams or helping others.

But it’s not just quotes about living in the moment that get to you. You know that quote by Mark Twain; “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do”? I often think about that by imagining myself as an old person lying in a hospital bed, reminiscing about the past. I image what my thoughts will be, if I’ll be happy with what I’ve accomplished by that time, if I’ll have any regrets. And I always feel bad about the countless days, weeks, months, years I’ve spend doing nothing because of depression, anxiety or just pure laziness. And this idea of future regret is dangerous. It’s making us focus our mind on future happiness and how we can attain it, which often makes us feel less of a person until we get there.

We need to remember that it’s okay to have bad days too. As long as those bad ones aren’t more frequent than the good or okay ones. We can’t all be living life to the fullest every single day. If you strive towards this you’ll end up disappointed. Trust me.

Here are some more realistic ideas to think about:

1. This too shall pass

I know, when you’re deep in despair it’s hard to see clearly and believe that it will ever get better. But it does. Sometimes it just takes longer. And better does not have to mean you are up and running, living up to your full potential. Better can mean getting out of bed, smiling at a stupid joke your partner made or taking a shower. Celebrate every step and give yourself some credit.

2. Appreciate the small things

Every day I am grateful for my home, my plants, my friends and my boyfriend. I take time to actually appreciate what I have. Sometimes all it takes is having potatoes for dinner, or when I ask the boyfriend to bring me some tea, and he brings me exactly the kind I was secretly hoping for.

3. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery

I am currently reading “The Power of Now”, and the most important thing I’ve learned so far is this. I spend way too much time thinking about what’s been and what will come, but the truth is that today, this moment right here, is all there is. The past cannot change, and the future is just an illusion. Think about it. No living person (physically) lives in the past, it’s impossible. So visiting the past with your mind and reliving painful moments is like spending your time at a graveyard, talking to ghosts. And you can chase the future as fast as you want, but you’ll never catch it. You will always be in the present. So try to let the illusion of time go for a moment and focus on how you are feeling right now. I’m not telling you to “seize the day”, but realise that you exist only in the present moment, and what you do with that is totally up to you.

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