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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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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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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