Monday, August 13, 2007

How Did This Happen?

This is post number 6 in a series of posts related to our journey toward a simpler life.

If you haven't read the first 5 posts, you might like to read them first:

Post 1: A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step
Post 2: Joe Dominguez
Post 3: Tracking Spending
Post 4: You Cannot Steer a Stationary Ship
Post 5: Living the Dream

I seem to have this tendency to present the image of being "fine" and in control as much of the time as possible, regardless of how I'm truly feeling. A typical response from me over nearly any topic is likely to be "no worries". If someone asks you how you're going, how do you respond? I'd imagine the most typical responses would include the words "good" or "fine", no matter how things really are. Why are we like this? Do we somehow think that people will think less of us if we're completely honest with how we're going? Or is it more to do with how we perceive what the person is really asking - are they really asking how we are? Do they really want to know?

Maybe it’s just me that struggles with this, but somehow I doubt it.

In May 2006 I was diagnosed with having had a nervous breakdown. A situation that once I began to recover, made me scratch my head and wonder “how did this happen?” “How and why did I let things get to this point?” I think perhaps it left some of my friends wondering how they hadn't seen it coming either. Even my DH hadn't really seen it coming.

On reflection, perhaps it’s not all that surprising at all. We had had quite a line up of stresses in our lives in the lead up to this point. Family struggles, business issues, deciding if we should move, dealing with drought, kids in hospital, motorbike accidents, building a house and moving were some of the major ones. On top of all that life was moving at a lightning pace and while we knew we needed to slow down a little – deciding what to cut out was all but impossible.

And I’d not really felt myself ever since my 3rd child had been born. I had been diagnosed with mild Post Natal Depression when he was 6 weeks old, but for some reason I had expected it to just go away on it’s own. I put my decreasing ability to cope with day to day stresses as being more about my lack of ability to mother 3 children than anything else.

I was unraveling some knitting last night and marveling at how much easier it was to unravel it than it was to knit it. Once I got the process of undoing it started, it all seemed to fall apart quite easily really. That’s a bit like what happened in my own life in 2006. Smaller stresses got bigger and bigger. Tears flowed more and more readily and my sleep patterns became more and more erratic. Once I wasn’t sleeping properly, the tiredness added to all of the other issues and things kind of spiraled quickly out of control from there. I was left a bit like my pile of unraveled wool. Bent out of shape, all over the place, in a limp pile on the floor.

According to my GP, my driven nature (me? Driven?) had led me to push myself until all of my emotional reserves were used up and I kind of fell in a heap. My body and my brain revolted on me and said “no more”. Physically I was exhausted. Mentally I was exhausted. And emotionally I was running on empty. I reached the point where I just could not face going out amongst people. I knew that they would want a piece of me and I simply didn’t have any pieces left to give.

It certainly wasn’t an easy time in my life. To begin with I wasn’t too concerned. I knew I’d been running on flat out for pretty much most of my life. So I figured a few days of rest and I would be right again. Some of those days are quite a blur to me now. I remember thinking perhaps it would help if I did some things I enjoy – like baking. I couldn’t bake! I couldn’t cook a meal. I couldn’t read my piano music. I couldn’t read a book. Most of the time I couldn’t even carry on a decent conversation. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat. I couldn’t remember things (which was a real dilemma for DH as he’d always relied on my memory since his isn't very reliable).

There was a bonus with losing my memory though - I didn’t remember the things I’d forgotten so there was less stress there! In fact, there was an underlying "ignorance is bliss" kind of feeling in those early days. Perhaps functioning in a similar way to a medically induced coma, my brain seemed to shut down all non-essential functions in order to restore itself to a better state of health.

During this time my body couldn’t handle sudden noises or even minor amounts of pain (in fact, I still have a low pain threshold and a very sensitive nervous system). On a good day I could manage to give my children a hug goodnight – but that was it. Much of the time we had to try and farm them out to neighbours, especially in the early days when DH was busy trying to put our crop in. Not being able to mother my children was the most painful blow of all. All of my life I’ve wanted to be a mum and I really didn’t want to stop now.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months - my initial lack of concern grew into severe frustration that I couldn't just "fix" this problem or make it going away.

There was one moment during that those early weeks that has stuck vividly in my mind. DH had taken the kids with him around the farm and I was home alone. I remember sitting on his side of the bed and thinking “this is it”. “This is all there is for me.” “I’m going mad and I’m going to end up in an institution.” I talked to DH about it when he got home and he very wisely told me that thinking I was going mad was possibly the surest sign there is that I wasn’t. That if I truly was going mad, chances were that I would have no idea of the fact. My GP agreed with him and assured me that what I was going through wasn’t going to be a permanent state – it might take some time but I really was going to come out the other side of this.

I suspect though that this moment in time will remain a very pivotal point in my life. I guess in a way it was similar to a “near death” experience. When you think life as you know it is over, it really starts to bring into perspective the things that are truly important in life. I can tell you right now, how much money in the bank account or how much “stuff” we had accumulated were far from my mind as I went through the process of grief, wondering if I was ever going to experience “normality” again.

Thankfully for us, this wasn’t a huge revelation. We’d already started to turn our backs on the consumer mentality by this point (although it was definitely still a regular struggle). What it did do for me though was really cement in my mind that we were heading in the right direction. None of us know what tomorrow is going to bring. The only guarantee we have in life is the moment we live in right now.

It’s not about living life in fear. It’s about living life in freedom. It’s about being able to reflect on your day or your week and saying “yes, I made some good choices with my time”.

As 2006 progressed and the rains dried up, the stress levels of many farmers around us rose. But my nervous breakdown had been a precious gift to DH and I. We were truly able to step back and say “hey, we might lose the farm and that would be horrible and sad, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. We have each other. We have 3 beautiful children. Money really ISN'T what it’s all about.”

We’ve been through a lot in the past 18 months. And my recovery still isn’t complete. Do I look back and wish that none of it had happened? Not for a second. Many times I wanted it to be over but I haven't regretted going through the experience. They say that during the difficult times in life is when we learn and grow. I have learnt so much about myself, about life and what’s truly important, about how our bodies and brains are so intricately linked together. Yes, it was hard, but I feel that what I gained through that time in my life was far more than what I lost.

I’m not the same person I was 18 months ago. And I like the me that I am now better than I like the me I was back then.

There’s still some hard yards to go. My body is taking a long time to get back to “normal” and I have to be very careful that I don’t overdo it. Something that is easier said than done as a mother to 3 children. It’s kind of ironic though. Back at the start of 2006 DH and I struggled to know what we should cut out of our lives. Everything seemed SO important to us. In the end we were forced to cut ALL of it out and you know what – the world didn’t stop turning.

I think at times we can be just as guilty of cluttering our lives with too many activities as much as too much stuff. Somehow we are convinced that it’s important to DO all this stuff. We rush around in a crazy haze, feeling like life is already too short to fit in everything we want to achieve. Where does this come from? There's a whole lot more to simple living than just turning our backs on rampant consumerism. Our lives can get just as complicated and overwhelming by our "volunteer" activities as they can by desire to work flat out to build wealth and possessions.

My nervous breakdown has presented us with many gifts. One of them was a clean slate with our activities. We had no choice but to stop them all and now, as my health improves, we are choosing which things are the most important to add back in. Just like the unraveled knitting, as the needles resume their work, stitch by stitch life begins to take a new (and hopefully better) form.

As you might imagine, this post has been hard for me to write. Hard from the point of view that reflecting on such a difficult phase of my life brings with it a certain amount of grief. Hard from the point of view that sharing it takes from me some of my low levels of emotional energy. Hard from the point of view that sharing something so *deep* makes me somewhat vulnerable. But most of all hard from the point of view that so much has happened in the past few years and I have learnt so much that I don’t know which bits to include and which bits not to include (hence a half a dozen rewrites).

Does all this mean that we now have our lives all together? LOL. Not even close. Does it mean that we’re now on the path to simple living without wavering? Unfortunately not. I’m still susceptible to niggling doubts about whether we’re moving in the right direction. And I definitely still have my “keeping up with the Joneses” moments. *sigh*

I know this post has been long so if you’ve gotten this far – thank you for reading. It's nice to have you along for the ride as I reflect on this journey. I'm finding it a really helpful reflection time for myself about where we've been and where we're heading.

Next Instalment: Words of Wisdom


Ali said...

Thank you so much for sharing such a pivitol part of your life with us all. I do understand how difficult it would've been for you to write this post ~ you have worded it well. I'm happy to read that you see everything as a step forward in you and your family's lives. **hugs** Ali :)

I suffer from depression and anxiety, though I don't tell many people!!

Anonymous said...

Your bravery and courage are inspiring. You have made huge progress in the time that I have "known" you. I think that we could all learn from you, in regards to what really is important in our lives. Look after yourself and your family and keep making progress, one step at a time. Look how far you have come, rather than how far you have to go. {{{Hugs}}} Priscilla

Anonymous said...

You are one courageous woman!! Thanks so much for "baring" your soul and innermost thoughts and feelings. You have come a long way! keep taking those baby steps and know you are not alone. God is with you all the way and so are many friends, bloggers and all! I am sure through all this you are helping others who may have similar experiences. You are an awesome Aussie! Lots of love.

Ali said...

I have just given you an award ~ details are on my blog :)

Anonymous said...

Wow what an honest and brave post. Thankyou so much for sharing, I know that I've taken some really valuable insights from this.
Great to hear that you are moving forward and feeling happy with who you are now.

Cheers Lenny

Polly said...

I'm very grateful to you for having the courage to share your experiences with depression. A member of my family is currently undergoing treatment and her depression started out as mild post natal depression too. You have helped in my understanding of what she is going through.
Wishing you all the very best :-)

emma.jean said...

Hi Jodi,

It's taken me a little while to find the time to read this post the way I wanted to, but it has definitely been worthwhile. Thanks for posting this, it definitely struck a chord.

Take care,


Kez said...

Thanks for such a brave post J - {{HUGS}}

Busy Woman said...

There is freedom in being truthful. I think it eases the burden you carry. The good thing about reaching 'rock bottom' is that the only way is up !
Thankyou for your honesty.
I too read Your Money or Your Life and it is the basis of many of my frugal principles.
Thanks again for a wonderful website.

Lisa said...

Wow! Your post has really moved me and the words "They say that during the difficult times in life is when we learn and grow" are so true.
I have always believed that life never throws at us more than we can handle and some of us can handle a lot more than others. I've lived with loved ones who have suffered depression and as you know it is a long road to recovery from any sort of breakdown. Keep doing the babysteps as I know you are getting their one day at a time.
Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

So glad things are getting so much better for you!

lightening said...

Thanks everyone for your comments and support. :-) I think depression is slowly becoming better understood. Sadly it seems to be very widespread.

Lisa said...

Lightening & Ali, I'm a sufferer too. Why don't we talk about it? I wouldn't say I've "enjoyed" reading this post, but it has certainly articulated a few things in my life as well and for that, I thank you. I've suffered one relapse since falling into the black fog big time in 2003...but fortunately that time I felt it coming and found the energy to ask for help. We're so busy being self reliant and strong we forget to look after ourselves. Well done - I send you a virtual hug!

BethP said...

Thanks for sharing part of your was very inspiring and motivating.

You have such an optimistic outlook. Our family had a life crisis a couple of years back and it has been a real journey of recovery for us. It was good to be reminded that we have the opportunity for growth through these crisis (I often fall into 'if only it hadn't happened' musing) and it is much more useful to see what learning you can take with you on the journey.

Thanks so much for sharing!!!

lightening said...

Hi BethP - thank you for your kind words. I can fall into the "wish this wasn't happening to me" thinking as well. I think it's easier in hindsight to see the positives and the growth. I guess I tend to go up and down a bit with the optimism. :-)

agrantham81 said...

I have tears in my eyes. I feel your feelings. Thanks so much for sharing. I needed the wake up call your post just gave me.


lightening said...

(((HUGS))) Amy. Hope you're going okay. It's nice to know we're not the only ones isn't it? :-)