Sticking with the stick

I am still having to use a walking stick to get about, I have found out that I haven’t done any major damage to my knee, just worn away a bit of the cartilage, but it is not something which can be fixed. I am going back to the physio next week, but they have told me I will not be able to run distances again, probably only 5 or 10Ks and certainly not on the road. My dreams of doing Ironman cannot happen. And that is ok, I can find other ways of keeping fit. My dog means that I am walking a great deal and it is certainly kinder to my joints. Which really, I do need to start thinking about as I am hypermobile, and not invincible.

But it does not give me the all out high that running does, when my knee is a bit better I am going to try cycling again, but I only really took up cycling proper because of doing triathlons. I suspect they are not going to happen now, although in a few years time if I find ones that run off road then I might be able to. I guess it is a case of patience something I am really, really not known for at all!

In the meantime I will carry on using my stick, because when I let vanity or pride get the better of me and I spend a day out and about without in by the end of the day I am limping and shuffling along at half pace and in a lot of pain, where as using the stick I am able to keep going for longer, with good posture and with only a little pain.

As it looks like the stick is going to be around for a while I have decided that I am going to get a funky one, so I have found the one I want, it is just out of stock for a couple of weeks, so I will have to wait that little bit longer. I have been putting off buying one as I was hoping it was a temporary thing, and it still might be, just kind of longish term temporary – not the few months I originally hoped – it has already been much longer that a few months.

It is hard adapting to using a stick, it is a very obvious declaration of a problem, but when you have something like a plaster cast people seem to be able to process it as broken leg, that’s ok. Whereas I get stared at by people. I am still relatively young to be using a walking stick and when I am using it there isn’t much of an obvious limp, so I guess people don’t know what to do with the information, so they look at me strangely. That’s ok, I can cope with it, but sometimes, when I am feeling vulnerable for using a stick, it makes me feel bad.

I have noticed I keep saying to people, when they mention the stick, ‘but this time last year I was training for a marathon’ as if I need to justify that this is only temporary, its not who I really am. Which is strange and it is teaching me a lot about identity.

I am also deeply uncomfortable using my stick when I am meeting new clients or have pitches, it feels like a massive weakness to be admitting and putting out there. And of course what does this say about my attitude to disability, or societies attitude? I am rubbish at being ill – even just a cold, because I do not like showing weakness, this is something I am working on and its ok to be ill and to need rest. I think in my head it is ok for other people to be ill, just not me.

I have done a lot of work with people with disabilities – I volunteered when I was a teenager at a playcentre for handicapped children and I never saw them as ‘weak’. It is just me I am seeing as weak. I think that also links in to depression too. I have never taken time off of work because of it, even when quite frankly I really needed to.

A lesson in patience, kindness and identity, all symbolised in a stick.

Flurry of metta

As you know I have recently swapped to writing 3 times a week, but I have more to share than that and I have a massive backlog of posts and it is getting really rather confusing when I am writing! As such I am going to have a flurry of posts as I catch up with myself. They are focused on metta – some extremely positive and others are very open about the struggles I have. I guess what I don’t think I have made explicit on this blog is that I suffer from depression and, like everyone who suffers from it, it has a hold on my life in different ways at different times. I have always put work first during my depressions, I have always managed to go into the office and deliver great work. Of course, this has meant that I have not had the energy for other parts of my life.

I made a choice to become self employed after my masters (after much encouragement and support from my wonderful husband Gavin), working in an industry which I care passionately about – the arts and education – but also where I have control over my time, for the most part anyway. I allow myself to take the time I need to rest, relax and look after myself.

My work is still of a very high standard, and I probably still put it first, but it is done in a more compassionate way now, I give myself time off, I look in my diary for busy times and then book out time to recover. This sounds basic, but it is something I have never done before.

All of which, combined with living my life in a more compassionate way is helping me with my depression, but is still takes hold sometimes, with its firm, iron grip.

So, I thought I would share that here. In an open way, I am not the only person in the world with depression and it is still not talked about that much. Although this will not become a blog about depression, it is a blog about my spiritual journey, depression is a part of that journey and I am no longer going to hide it, as you will see over the next few posts, where I go from trying to be very positive to being more honest. Another point to remember is these metta posts have been written over a period of a few weeks and I am sharing them in a short time!

Meditation – techniques

Meditation for me is something which is really important to my mental health. I love to say that I meditate for an hour every day without fail, but that just wouldn’t be honest! I do try for a minuimum of three times a week and something each day – whether that is my prayer bead work (post to follow soon), or a 20 minute meditation session.

I have already posted about my meditation stool and how that has improved things for me. In case it is not clear, I highly recommend a proper meditation stool or cushions, the right posture makes a world of difference for me.

Firstly, what is meditation? Well to me it is the act of quietning or focusing the mind. I am sure there are other definitions, but that for me is what it is.

Quietening the mind

This is the main practice for me, the act of trying to get the mind to settle, to get it to stop THINKING and CHATTERING and GOING A MILLION MILES AN HOUR. Now, in Buddhist circles this is called the ‘monkey mind’ and I really love that image. A monkey jumping up and down in my brain screeching and chattering away. Yep, that’s my brain! I find it really hard to relax and switch off, my brain just never shuts up!

To try to calm this I primarily use the Buddhist practice of the Mindfulness of Breathing. Here is a link to the London Buddhist Centre explaining that practice and a guided meditation. I did all of my meditation ‘training’ with these people and I like the centre a great deal. If you are in London I recommend you go along to an introductory session – they do not push Buddhism in any way and I have now been on several retreats with them too.

While you are meditating, unless you are in fact enlightened, I can guarentee your mind will pop up and start chattering away in some shape or form. A technique I have taken from Jon Kabat-Zinn is just to think ‘thinking, thinking’ or ‘planning, planning’ or ‘worrying, worrying’ or some other label for the thoughts. Don’t mentally shout GO AWAY I AM MEDITATING, this is not a mental fight with yourself. I say that because when I first started meditating I did – I approached the whole thing like it was a battle that I could WIN! I will beat my mind into submission and it will be quiet. I also berated myself as thoughts occured, or when I had totally drifted off into my thoughts and had lost count and was all over the place. I still do sometimes. But it is not helpful at all. By labelling the thoughts you allow them just to drift away. It sounds daft, but it really does work.

Speaking of Jon Kabat-Zinn, he was one of the founding parties of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, if you remember I completed this course, last year  and I loved it. I am returning this year as a team member and I am really excited to be doing so. I highly recommend his book with The Mindful Way Through Depression, he also does one for stress and general ones on mindfulness. He has a lovely voice and I love the CD which accompanies the book. You might want to check out his materials if you like doing lots of research on a subject.

Of course, I am talking like I am now a world expert on meditation, but this is not where this post is coming from at all. I just wanted to share my thoughts and experiences on meditation – to reassure people that it is not complicated and is a simple practice, it also does not have to be associated with Buddhism, or any form of spirituality. I haven’t ‘mastered’ meditation at all. But it honestly is a key practice for me in managing my depression, along with eating well, exercising and sleep. They are the four foundations of my mental health and I try to keep aware of them all the time. This has turned into a much longer post than I anticipated, so I will do the section on focusing the mind on another day.

Meh

This is a time of the year that I normally love, but I am struggling a bit at the moment. I think it’s because I have been stressing about the lack of job, stressing about starting uni and just generally stressing.

I am a bit of a stress head.

I now have a little job – weekend working in a bar – the irony being that I don’t actually drink. I am trying to keep that one quiet! But it is not enough for stretch my career development loan to last until the end of my course. So I am still hoping that some supply teaching/tutoring comes through, but so far there has been none.

Uni is fine – a little frustrating as we have a three hour lecture on marketing. The first two were fine, as it was talking about the reasons people are involved in the arts and quite frankly a spiritual/emotional/intellectual/social connection is not a reason for people to buy IT products (which is what I used to market) – so that was new. After that it has gone onto strategic marketing etc. I have a Professional Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, so I am fairly on top of that!

But the rest of it is interesting, but we have a lot of visiting lecturers who talk to us about their thing. Which is great, but so far there hasn’t been one which is talking about my thing. One of my friends was totally rapt with what we were being told the other day and I was mildly interested for the first hour and then bored as we went onto the next hour!

A big part of my problem is I don’t know what I want to do – I am open to options, but I don’t like not knowing what is coming or what is happening – I am a bit of a control freak. We need to start thinking about what we are going to do for our internships (I am opposed to them on priniciple, but it is  short term thing and an important part of our course – a 6000 word essay is to be written). And I don’t know.

Lots of the people on my course are practitioners, they do things – like run drama workshops with kids/dance/sing/play etc etc. I don’t do any of that. What I do is GET SHIT DONE. This is my main skill. It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, it is. There are always lots of people who have ideas, but few people who can pull everything together, use their amazing powers of organisation and make it happen.

So I want to be in a creative enviornment, where I am the person who makes stuff happen.

Not sure I have seen that in a job title anywhere.

So, all of these things combined have left me stressed and exhausted. I can feel myself tipping onto the edge of my downward depression spiral. But this is the first time I have noticed myself at the edge before I have slipped down the spiral. So I am continuing to meditate, my OH suggested a walk in the woods before I start work on Saturday and I have bought lots of smoothies and soups. Yes, I know I could make them myself, but I know that is not going to happen and I need to make sure that I have healthy food that required no effort to eat.

Oh and I have just reorganised my Filofax and rewritten all of my to-do pages. Yes, I know it is neurotic, but I do feel so much better and in control. 🙂

 

Mindfulness

I have just completed a course which has taken up quite a bit of my time – Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy:

If you’ve had depression before and are worried it might come back, you could find Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) very helpful. Clinical research has shown that MBCT is one of the most effective ways of preventing relapse into recurrent depression. MBCT is a meditation-based course that helps you become more aware of the habits of thinking that can lead into depression – and teaches you ways to change these habits.

Depression has been a major part of my life for well over half of it and it has ruled it at times. Although I have never missed a day’s work because of it (partly due to my high work ethic and determination not to be weakened by it and work is all important) it has ruled my life at times. I don’t want to go into details, but it has been very bad…

I have had a year and a half of one to one psycho-dynamic psychotherapy and spoken to various people and it has never helped. To be frank I was bored of it taking such a massive part of my life, talking about it all of the time and scared that at any moment I was going to be sucked back down into it again.

I know what I need to do to stay healthy – sleep, exercise and eating well are the main keys for me, but it is never that simple to escape from it.

And so I wanted to try something else.

When I have been on retreat in the past I always came away feeling great, mainly because of the mediation and just slowing down.  I felt happier and all-round well, but I struggled to maintain that practice of mediation in the real world. Even now, 5 years later I sporadically have periods of meditation and then stopping again. Life getting in the way…etc, etc.

So I Googled around for meditation and depression and came across Breathing Space, which just happened to be held at the London Buddhist Centre, with whom I had done my retreats with. I  read the site, then I got the book and decided that I would commit to it for the eight weeks.

I have found it so useful, I really feel that it has enabled me to cope better with everything and I have hopes that it will help me control my depression and maybe, even, hopefully prevent a relapse, or lessen the depth of the depression next time it strikes.

I really feel like I have been on a profound journey with it and that it will make a difference to my life. Only time will tell, but I am make a public declaration of my commitment to continue to be mindful in my daily life and to keep up my mediation practice.

Stepping back and cutting down

My life has become extremely busy of late – trying to balance working for money, studying for my teaching qualification, teaching and preparing for teaching, as well as normal life things. Its been a big change for me from nine months of working a couple of days a week.

I have a tendancy to getting myself into an extremley stressed state, which can develop into depression if I am not careful.

So, I have decided to step back and cut down. I have loved reading blogs – all sorts – green, crafty, feminist, pagan and everything in between. But recently my RSS feeder has been a source of stress for me – it had 6 subject tabs with loads of blogs on each, making me feel guilty for not reading them all. So I have cut them down – to just a few which I read now and even then not every day. It has been strangely freeing to do so.

I have also stepped back from making all of the Christmas presents I had planned to do. I realise from a green or frugal perspective this is not great, but I just cannot do it all and I have to look after myself. Next year, I will make presents in my summer holidays!

Although I have high ideological stadards I would like to attain I have to realise that I am only human and I cannot do everything at once. I cannot compare myself to people who are retired, or have children, live in America or Australia with huge grounds, or have a different life to me. We are all in our own place and we have to make the choices which are right for us right now.

Being Pagan isn’t about escapism, it is about being part of the world which surrounds us and interacting with it in reality. For me, this means being true to myself, including admitting that I have limitations, and sometimes I have to step back and cut down in order for me to remain my best.