Leaving My Comfort Zone

Recently, I bought a book, which I haven’t read yet, so I’m not going to give it free advertising (until I get a chance to read it and see if it is any good).  It caught my attention because it challenges readers to get out of the comfort zone of a mental illness.  I was struck by this suggestion (on the back cover) that we could get comfortable in our mental illness, but I’m starting to wonder whether there is some truth in it for me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying mental illness is easy, nor am I saying it’s comfortable and the only observations I make are about myself.  This is not a judgement of anyone else.  I just hope that I can explain my thoughts in such a way that this is understood.

For a long time I would say that I was anything but comfortable in my mental illness.  Actually it was anguish, day by day… but things have got a little easier lately, and if you read my recent posts you will see that.  Actually it’s been a complete surprise to find myself not having to struggle daily whether to live or die.  I haven’t been as tortured by my thoughts, or my feelings.  I started to understand that the two are quite different, and that the problems come for me when I choose to act inappropriately on those thoughts and feelings.

I’ve realised though that I could just keep existing, as I have done.  I effectively separated myself from people some years ago because I was tired of being hurt. I drew the conclusion that I was better off just sticking to me.  I refused to even consider the idea of any intimacy because my experience was of feeling completely swallowed up by the other person, leaving me unable to breathe.  Eventually I ended up either destroying, or running from every relationship I had.  Again I concluded that I was better on my own.

It would be possible to continue that way.  To continue to be shut off from the world.  There on my comfy couch, I could continue to exist.  The thing is that I’ve realised that I don’t want to.

I want to get off that couch, actually I am already getting off.  There is life and love to be had, and while it was safe from hurt on the couch, I want to risk that ‘safety’ for the joy that is on offer.  Yes, it is possible that I will get hurt again.  I guess it is possible that I might feel suffocated again, yet I know I have learnt enough about myself to understand where this comes from, and to hold on tight to who I am.  And to wisely choose who I let close.

When we jump into the unknown there is always a risk, but I can trust myself enough to know that I will only jump where it is likely to be safe, or where someone I trust will catch me.  I don’t have to doubt my ability to be me, or my ability to take precautions.  I don’t have to hide in what was becoming for me comfort in my mental illness.  I can still guard my heart and soul to some degree, but have some fun.  And that is what I intend to do.  I am prepared to take a few risks.

I have spent a long, long time stuck in mental illnesses which arose for very good reasons.  I was very sick for a long time, and my family will tell you that even when I didn’t doubt my ability to survive, they did.  There seemed no hope, but through a whole lot of hard work I have this chance to fly again, and I’m taking it.

“I swear, with Chloe Bear once again as my witness…
That my problems and failures will not stop me, nor will they dictate who I am.
That I will continue to be my own person.
That life is too short, and I will live every day as the best person I can be.
That I will grow and that I will change.
That I will smile and hold my head high.
That this is a new start and a new day.
That I will allow myself to cry or sit by myself when I need to.
That I will find things to really smile about.” 

―    Stephen Emond,    Happyface

I’m Just Plain Weird

The Butterfly Emerges                         Image credit: imgpress.com

Yesterday afternoon I had an appointment with a new psychiatrist.  My last one, who I hadn’t seen for two years, had flown the nest and because I needed some advice on medication I was referred to this new one.  Now I don’t have a lot of faith in psychiatrists (no offence intended to my friend who used to be one) because in my experience they leap to the wrong conclusions about me.

I have never been a textbook case of anything, so I guess I make it difficult for them.  And then they are always pressed for time so don’t have the time to really find out what it is that makes me who I am.  So I was a little hesitant and stress levels were rising in advance.  That said, I was also curious because I know I have come a long way in my recovery and I wondered what a psychiatrist would make of it.

What I wanted to do (and got the okay to do) is to come off lithium (gradually), which I have been on for about 10 years.  I want to come off it because it is standing in the way of getting some reasonable medication to treat fibromyalgia, which was diagnosed earlier this year.  I talked about this in To Earn Trust After Past Mistakes.  While lithium has created some real problems for my physical health, it has been great for my mental health and my concern was for what might happen if I came off it.  Would my level of mental health go downhill?  Time will tell.

But of course seeing a new psychiatrist involved the full psychiatric assessment. One and a half hours later this new psychiatrist, who seemed to know his stuff, and I felt comfortable with, told me his conclusions.

I’m weird.  I actually already knew that, but it’s interesting to be told that by a psychiatrist.  Next time I’m asked for my diagnosis, do I say ‘weird’?

He also told me that while he could see I was severely depressed in the past and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) he didn’t see that there was any label he would give me now other than having some serious attachment issues.  As for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) he could see that there were aspects of this in me but he didn’t accept that it was ‘the issue’ for me now, as diagnosed two years ago by the last psychiatrist.  We talked about the eating disorder but he didn’t seem too interested in that, accepting that I seemed to have it pretty much under control now.  One thing that he did say is that there were perhaps five or six labels that could be assigned to me, but he didn’t think they are necessary now.  I’m just weird. :-)

Wow!  It’s nearly nineteen years to the day since I was first diagnosed with a mental illness.  I have been collecting numerous labels ever since, although struggling a bit because no label ever seemed to fit me perfectly.  When I was given the dreaded BPD label two years ago it actually felt a bit of a relief, because I could finally see something that actually fit.

Now it seems I don’t have any labels.  This is very odd.  I’m sure ‘weird’ is not in the DSM-IV, although I prefer it to some other labels I’ve had.  Maybe it is in the DSM-V, which is on it’s way.  Obviously (as he said) I still have some issues, that I’m working on in therapy.  And while he was happy for me to wean off lithium he wanted me to stay on the anti-depressant I have also taken for 10 years as a precaution against the depression returning.

This has completely blown my mind.  I think he expected me to dance for joy and I can see that element, but my first statement to him was “so you’re saying I’m nothing“.  Of course he hastened to assure me that wasn’t the case, and then wanted to understand why I would think that.  He then suggested I shouldn’t think too hard about it, and in that he summed me up perfectly.  It was exactly what I was inclined to do.

I am only too well aware that BPD is a personality disorder and is such part of who I am.  My understanding of that has always been that it is not something that one recovers from.  Yet perhaps I have.  I don’t know, and part of me wants to race to another psychiatrist and check that the first one is right.  But as I paid NZ$345.00 for this information today, I won’t be rushing to another any time soon.  At that price once in two years is quite enough.

This information is still sinking in and weird is exactly how I feel.  One on hand it is great news to not have those labels and to know my hard work has paid off, yet for nearly 20 years I have been labelled a psychiatric patient.  And believe me, I did it in style.  If one can call it that.

So what am I now?  Other than weird?  I’m not sure.  Time will tell.  Life is far from perfect, but it is so much better and the butterfly is finally emerging.

I am spinning the silk threads of my story, weaving the fabric of my world…I spun out of control. Eating was hard. Breathing was hard. Living was hardest.

I wanted to swallow the bitter seeds of forgetfulness…Somehow, I dragged myself out of the dark and asked for help.

I spin and weave and knit my words and visions until a life starts to take shape.

There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever.  There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.

I am thawing.” 

―    Laurie Halse Anderson,    Wintergirls

Cate: 1 BPD: 0

Image credit: D.Hilgart/Flickr.com

I’m celebrating a victory today.  Small, yet still very meaningful to me.  Personally I think celebrating the small steps is just as important as the major break-throughs.  Always.

Someone swore at me today on my Facebook page.  This was a first, although it is something I am used to in the support groups I run (although only when trolls sneak in).  I can handle that when it happens  I have a responsibility to protect members of the groups from these people and so have come to accept that it is simply part of the job.

But to swear at me on the Facebook page associated to this blog was new to me.  I immediately recognised the name as a friend of a friend, but had no reason to think why this person would do that.  The victory though, was that I didn’t immediately take it personally.  Actually my first thought was that the person didn’t agree with the quote I had posted, and it wasn’t until later that I thought that perhaps it was aimed at me.

Now I know this stuff goes on in social media all the time, and I have handled it so that it won’t happen again (from that person anyway).  But let me explain why this happens to be a victory.  Firstly I need to put it in the context that I’m not someone who swears often.  When it happens (like when a family member accidentally lost control of their car and tried to run me over recently) there is usually a pretty good reason.  That said, I accept that unfortunately, for a lot of people swearing is almost second nature.  I find that sad.  Why can’t they find some real words to express themselves properly?

People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) invariably assume that everything is directed at them personally.  We can have paranoid thoughts (although that has never been a great problem for me) but more so, we have a very unstable sense of self.  That means we take things personally.  We have a tendency to assume everything is about us, although I hasten to add that isn’t some sort of vain pride but rather the inability to separate ourselves from the situation.  Anyone who has BPD will tell you that it is a constant battle to achieve this separation.  While we are great at splitting, realising that the whole world is not about us is a little more difficult.

But I did it.  My automatic assumption was that this torrent was not aimed at me but rather at the quote.  This is big!  It is very big for me.  Actually in hindsight I’m sure it probably was aimed at me, although I don’t understand why, but it doesn’t actually matter and I can shake it off and not let it wreck my day.  Actually the person who posted it is the one with the problem and this is not all about me.  It’s time to celebrate.

Oh, and if you were wondering what the quote was,  it was something very relevant to me right now:

“We need others.  We need others to love and we need to be loved by them.  There is no doubt that without it, we too, like the infant left alone, would cease to grow, cease to develop, choose madness and even death.”

 - Leo Buscaglia

I Don’t Do Grey, Not Even Fifty Shades

Fifty Shades of Grey

Image credit: flickr.com

I’m not sure why anyone,especially E L James, would expect someone who has extreme aversion to the colour grey to read her trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey.  I don’t do grey.  I’d like to, although let me be clear, I have no desire to ‘do grey’ it in this manner.  People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are well-known for their black and white thinking.  I am no different.  Much as I try, I so often find myself seeing only black or white.

You have to agree that it would a bit of a joke for a ‘no shades of grey’ person like me to enjoy, or rave over this book.  Actually I am completely black and white on it.  Yet again, there is no grey because this is rubbish.  Okay to be honest I only read 100 pages of the first book.  By that time I was nauseated and decided there were plenty more books that I’d rather spend my time on.

I started to read it out of pure curiosity.  In a country where selling books is pretty hard, this book had completely sold out.  All I can say is that it was a complete waste of money.

Are relationships really about how character Christian Grey puts them across?  What’s more are women really just play things?  Actually I hated the way women were portrayed in the 100 pages I read.  And had I carried on I am sure I would have eventually hated every man, as well as hating myself.

I am so much more than that.  I will always be so much more than that, and my lasting regret will be that I put more money into the author’s purse.  For some reason women all over the world have been flocking to read this.  I have no idea why.   If I ever find myself thinking that is what life is about, I’ll hope for an early death.

Can anyone tell me what is so good about this Trilogy?  Am I alone in my apparent naivety?  Is there not more to being a woman than this?

Now I’ll get back to something that is worth reading…

Meanwhile this sums it up:

“While Twilight is flawed in its writing style, at least the story line paints a picture of loving and committed relationships – something that is completely butchered in 50 Shades of Grey.”

 - Book review from Escape into Life.com

Am I A Strong Person?

Three people have now nominated me for a Strong Person Award.  What’s more, they are people whose opinion I appreciate, so I need to stop and listen.   First, Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars, then Carla from Seasons Change, And So Have I, and then Sharon from Day in the life of a Busy Gal… have nominated me.  I very much appreciate the nominations, so thank you ladies.

The thing is that I struggle to see myself as strong.  Today I have been stressing out over something a very good friend said and have felt as weak as a wet lettuce leaf.  I’ve tried to be strong when it has been necessary but then when I am back on my own I feel more like a complete wreck.  Not strong at all.

It’s interesting because I know that how I see myself is different from how others see me.  I’ve always felt like the fraud, just waiting to be discovered.  I’ve always been sure that if people really saw the ‘real’ me then they would run and hide.  I’ve just spent forty something years waiting for the bubble to burst.  Well sometimes it has, but other times I’ve just been convinced that everyone else around me has it wrong.  They must have.  Surely, I’m not strong like they say.

I’m just in the beginning stages of learning to trust another voice.  Not the one inside me who is constantly knocking me down.  If I can start to believe in my own strength, then maybe I can go places.  Exciting places.  Places I never dreamt possible because I was so convinced that those voices in my head were right.  It makes me start to realise the truth in the saying that from a tiny seed, grows a mighty tree.  I also realise that if we tell each other what we see, that we see a strong person, that might just be what that person needs to start to believe.

Earlier today I posted this picture on my Facebook Timeline:

Image credit: FB – Woman 2 Woman

At the time I saw it (and liked it) I didn’t realise it would be relevant to this post and the Strong Person Award.  I think mountains begin to move when we start to realise the stores of strength within ourselves.  And hopefully the Chinese won’t mind me saying this but I’m sure that when sleeping men wake (and realise their strength) then mountains will move too.

Enough of that, there are rules to follow:

1. Make sure to add in the text (below) and image (above) to spread the love and add how little or how much you want!

You heard me right! You are not weak, you are strong. You are not a failure, you are a fighter! This goes out to all mentalists. And it’s a gift from The Quiet Borderline to you all – Please spread the love. Mental health is not something to be sneered at and it deserves much more respect. Stop the stigmatising.

2. Name your diagnoses – Stand loud and proud! You can tell us a little about them also if you’d like. How you’re affected by these diagnoses and how you are fighting your way out of them.

3. Add a photo of yourself, or some abstract picture that represents you, anything you like!

4. Send this on to as many, yes, as many, people that you like. It can be five, ten, fifty.

My diagnoses?  Standing loud and proud is not a problem and I readily admit that right now I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and I think I still have ED-NOS (Eating Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), but no one has bothered to comment on that recently.

But I am not my diagnosis.  I am me, and the diagnosis just goes a little way to explaining a few difficulties I face.  I have a therapist who doesn’t treat me for these diagnoses.  He treats me, Cate Reddell, no labels attached.  And actually I love that.  I’m not ashamed of my labels but they are only a small part of what makes me a strong person.

As for passing this on, I happily pass it on to all the bloggers I follow as I believe that each one of them, while at different stages of different journeys, is strong.  I’m going to hold off and reserve the right to name individuals later.

And in the words of one of my favourite bears:

“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.” 

―    Winnie The Pooh, A.A. Milne

Kia Kaha

Kia Kaha    =    Be Strong

Kia Kaha’ in Maori means ‘Be Strong’ ( or sometimes ‘Stay Strong’).  It is a regularly used phrase here in New Zealand in a huge range of places.  For example, when the three kiwi soldiers who died in Afghanistan last week were returned home in recent days, Kia Kaha has often been repeated to their friends, families and colleagues.

It is a warm expression of support and encouragement, sometimes used as a greeting; used by Maori and increasingly by Pakeha (white-skinned New Zealanders) alike.  It is uniquely New Zealand, and I admit that I like that.  If regular readers hadn’t noticed I am proud to be a kiwi.

Kia Kaka chch

(Photo credit: KimMcKelvey)

Kia Kaha Christchurch

The phrase Kia Kaha Christchurch became a popular call after 22 February 2011, when we were struck by the deadly earthquake that killed 185 people.  At the time, and since because it continues to be heard today as we rebuild, it seemed like a nice expression of support that the rest of the country was giving us.  Actually even Prince William used the phrase when he addressed many Christchurch residents at a Memorial Service in the months after.  Someone had clearly told him that it would be a welcome phrase to use, and I’m sure many who heard the speech were encouraged by it.

Yet to be honest, the use of kia kaha after the earthquakes is nice in terms of support but it just  doesn’t quite sit right with me.

I read a comment on a blog recently that caught my attention and perhaps summed up what I was thinking but hadn’t dared to even think, let alone, express.   It said:

“… I just find the whole earthquake terribly cruel,
depressing, crushing, and awful, and nothing
to be kia kaha about” 
(1.)

I accept the phrase kia kaha in the manner in which I think it is meant, but when people have lost lives, limbs, homes, possessions, businesses… I’m not convinced that being strong is always the appropriate  response.

Don’t get me wrong, being strong was pretty much the only option for so many people in the days immediately following.  My own experience was that I had no choice than to be strong as I turned my attention to helping my elderly parents deal with the losses they had encountered.  Neither of them were thinking straight, yet there were many things that simply had to be done.  They had left their home with nothing, so had no clothes, no money, not even any identification.  There was help available for them fairly quickly but it involved dealing with bureaucracy.  Yes, even in a disaster someone is going to want forms filled in.

So I had no time to do anything but be strong.  There simply wasn’t any other choice.  But while being strong was appropriate in the early days, there came a time when it was necessary for me to feel the emotion that I had switched off and buried.  It was buried so well I hardly knew it existed.  It was only in rare moments with just my brother that I was even able to feel the stress that was building.

Six days later I was fortunate to get half an hour of my weekly appointment with my psychotherapist.  It didn’t matter that I was sitting in a field on my brother’s farm talking to my therapist by phone.  My friend Plonker was alone in being able to listen in.  It wasn’t the usual environment but the chance to talk about how I was feeling made a huge difference to me.  I didn’t have to be strong right then.

I worked out at that point where I needed to be strong, and where it was safe to have the feelings that were bubbling over.  That made an enormous difference to me, because I knew that there was space for me.

What concerns me is that not everyone has that space, and for many the term kia kaha is the only words they’ve heard.  A friend of mine (a man of about 60) told me some months later that he had been diagnosed with depression following the earthquakes and had come to accept that he didn’t have to be strong.  For the first time in his life he saw that it was okay to be sad, it was okay to be weak.  Having realised that, and with the help of medication and counselling he was starting to recover, but understanding that he didn’t have to be the stoic one in his family was the break through.

Today I came across a blog post saying a similar thing.  I’m not exactly sure how I came across it.  I guess it was something I fell upon but was exactly what I needed to read.  It fits perfectly with what I am saying, although I admit that the post is addressed to men.  Carlos Andrés Gómez says in his blog:

…I was fifteen when I heard about my closest childhood friend being killed in a car accident, and I will never forget this tremendous burden I felt to “stay strong” and “tough my way through it.”  I didn’t want anyone to know how much I was hurting.  I didn’t want to ask for help.  I accepted it as a given that I would bottle up all of my emotions and deal with them alone.  I took great pride (at the time) in the fact that I excused myself from the table to cry alone in the bathroom after my father told me the news. I never shed one tear in front of my sister and dad, and it somehow felt like undeniable proof that I was finally ready to be a man. I quietly celebrated that moment of shutting myself down emotionally, as though it were an accomplishment.  I wore it like a badge of honor that I could conceal the hurricane of emotions in my chest…”

Whether man or woman I think there are times when shutting down probably seems like the best course of action.  It’s what I did in the immediate days after that quake because there was simply too much else that needed to be done.  And while I welcome anyone greeting me with kia kaha I’m not sure that it is the phrase I need to hear now.  Now I need to hear that I don’t need to be strong.  Even if it is only me that gives me that permission, I need to know that it is okay to be as I am.

This doesn’t just apply to the aftermath of natural disasters.  It applies in day to day life.  I spend a lot of my time concerned with the well-being of other people, and have recently attached a note to my computer screen.  It says “sometimes you have to do what’s best for you and your life, not what’s best for everyone else“.  For me, this is the message I need.  I don’t always need to be strong for others.  Sometimes it is okay to simply look after me.

PS. If I have offended anyone in my interpretation of the term kia kaha, I apologise.  My intention has not been to criticise the use of the term (which is one I use and appreciate), but to explore the use of it.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are
strong at the broken places.” 

―    Ernest Hemingway,    A Farewell to Arms

The Tale Of Plonker The Pig

A ‘relative’ of Plonker’s                Image Credit: thornypup / Flickr.com

I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that people (and animals) come to us at exactly the right time.  I have long struggled with the phrase that there is a reason for everything.  I knew in my head that it was probably true but there were some things that really stumped me.  How could there possibly be a reason for some of the terrible things that happen?

Last year I developed a rather good friendship with Plonker, one of two pigs then living on my brother’s farm.  Plonker was named by  my nephews.  I’m not exactly sure how he earned this name and I can’t remember what his friend’s name was.  No doubt something apt to their then, thirteen and eleven year old’s minds.

I admit that I have been known to talk to inanimate objects (selectively) and so to talk to animals is not strange for me.  My cat Penny and I used to have long conversations, each taking turns to speak.  We didn’t necessarily know what the other was saying but we at least had our timing worked out.  And I always felt she understood.  So when I met Plonker and his mate it was quite natural for me to strike up conversation with them.  One can get a lot of sense from talking to animals.  Often much more than humans.  For some reason Plonker has a special character and he became very special to me.

The time was the days immediately after our deadly earthquake in February, 2011.  I had my parents staying with me, after they had lost their home and belongings  in the quake.  I had temporarily lost my car (for a few weeks) because it was parked trapped between two damaged buildings in a cordoned off part of town, and so I was reliant on my parents for transport.  We were asked not to move around the damaged city if we could help it but because I had no water, no sewage, and for a while no power we opted to go out to my brother’s farm during the days.  For some reason my parents wouldn’t go and stay out there.  I think they wanted to be near their home, in the hope that they might gain access.  That didn’t happen of course, and so for the sake of everyone’s mental health, we went to the farm (where water, sewage and power were operational) during the day and returned back to my home to sleep.

It was very stressful, and that is a big understatement.  Actually it was probably the most stressful time of my life.  Aftershocks continued, as we listened to news reports of bodies being dug out of collapsed buildings.  The personality of both my elderly parents changed markedly at that time (my father died six weeks later as a result of the stress).  The change in their personalities wasn’t really any surprise, considering what they were going through, but it was difficult for all of us, grandchildren included, to adapt.  It was almost like suddenly having completely different parents to those we had known before.  The only one who didn’t struggle seemed to be 10 week old L.  She slept on regardless.

I quickly took up walking around the farm to get some space from everyone.  It was also a chance to have a smoke (a habit I had taken up again when the quakes started several months earlier) which I attempted to do away from the kids.  I regularly went down to the pig’s hangout to visit Plonker and his mate.

Finally someone talked sense.  Plonker was interested to know if I had food for him.  He would start to get excited about company when he saw me walking his way.  I hadn’t completely forgotten that he was a pig but I felt appreciated, especially when I brought food.

I don’t know much about pigs but I understand they are social animals, and so when Plonker’s mate headed for the ‘dinner table’ (my vegetarian tendencies start to struggle at this point), Plonker seemed  to be lonely.   I used that as an excuse to hang out with Plonker more often.  The thing about Plonker was that he had no expectations of me, and what’s more he didn’t seem rattled by the constant quakes.  He was in my mind, the perfect company at the time.

Plonker has since made his own way to the ‘dinner table’ sadly.  Thankfully I wasn’t told who dinner was until after I had eaten.  The thought still leaves me feeling a little unwell, and I admit I haven’t formed such a close attachment to subsequent farm animals.  Saying good-bye was not easy and while my nephews laughed at me giving Plonker a leaving present (a bag of fruit purchased just for him), he will always have a special place in my heart.

Plonker saved my bacon (pun intended).  Spending time on the farm with him soothed the trauma of everything else happening, and the stress of suddenly finding myself living with my parents again (after nearly 30 years).  Plonker was there at the right moment for me.

In the same way there have been special people along my way who have appeared in my life at just the right time.  One was my friend A who I came to flat with just months before first getting sick.  At the time she was recovering from a two year battle with depression and actually that was significant in helping me accept my own depression that would follow.  We were only in each other’s lives for a couple of years and since have gone our separate ways, but I firmly believe that she was there for a reason.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is more than just coincidence that particular people (and pigs) come into my life.  There is a reason for these things, and actually I don’t need to know what that reason is, I simply have to accept them.  I’m slowly realising that I don’t have to understand, all I have to do is accept the gift I am offered.

“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself-and especially to feel, or not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at any moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.” 

―    Jim Morrison

What ‘Nice’ Means

Normally I can find a way to get along with anyone.  I am particularly good at getting along with people others might find difficult.  Actually I did this for a living for a long time and enjoyed the challenge greatly.  Every so often though, I find the odd one who trips me up.  One that I find incredibly difficulty to like, and when that happens I conclude that I can not be a very nice person.

Why?  Because I was brought up to be a nice person.  I was brought up to get along with everyone.  My upbringing said ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.  Actually I didn’t love myself at all (but that’s another story).  I was taught to like everyone and get on with everyone.  To be polite and well-mannered.  I was taught things like The Ten Commandments.  They were actually one of the earliest things I can remember learning and I concluded that these would make me into the nice person I was supposed to be.

I was about 14 years old when I first came across this poem.  I know it’s long, that’s why you have a choice of reading the text or watching the clip, based on the text.  It made a big impression on me at the time, and today it came back to mind.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all it’s sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

© Max Ehrmann 1927 (1.)

I first came across Desiderata at the house of a woman I had visited with my family.  She was someone we knew through church.  Someone I never found easy to like.  And actually being ‘nice’ had it’s difficulties at times.   Actually I never felt like she was being nice to me.  She always seemed critical of me.  Nothing I did was ever good enough.  I didn’t understand her sense of humour so didn’t laugh at what she said.  Actually it seemed like she was laughing at me.

I think that’s why I was surprised to find, and read the framed copy of Desiderata in her home.  It didn’t really strike me as something she would have.  Somehow it didn’t go with the personality I saw, but then it made me start to realise that people are often so much different from they appear.

‘Nice’  was all a nice ideal but not too far from the surface lay some pretty big restrictions.  It simply screwed up my thoughts about myself further when I realised that for a few (and it was only a few!) people,  I just couldn’t find a way to like them.  I couldn’t like what they said and did.  Suddenly it condemned me as not a very nice person.  I was no longer what I thought I was supposed to be.

I’m not talking a lot of people here.  I have been tripped up by one just recently, and that is the reason for this post.  Just the occasional one whose wilful ignorance, cruelty and complete lack of regard for other people (and beings) really upsets me.  I admit I don’t know how to be with these people and actually I find myself very impatient to get away from them.

Once I used to want to change their thinking.  I guess I wanted to be the ‘nice person’ who would change them from their ways. Now I realise that I do myself a favour by not trying to change the sometimes unchangeable.  If anything I’d rather spend my energy in making up for some of the damage they create.

I also think that being in ‘nice places’ where I was taught to think ‘nicely’ does not protect me from these people.  Actually those nice places contain not-nice people too.  I have a lasting impression in my mind of the church-going smokers outside church smoking after the Sunday service.  There was an (usually unspoken) impression that these people were second rate amongst the church goers.  I hated that.  Actually this impression is one of several reasons I eventually started smoking myself.   I preferred to be seen as second-rate rather than ‘nice’, if that’s what nice people did.  What it might have done for my physical health or bank balance is another issue and I’m working on that, but here were ‘nice’ people judging others.

I can’t just assume a particular group of people will have the compassion  and niceness I long to see.  I know from experience this is not the case.  I learnt that the hard way.  Many times over. I’ve also learnt that it doesn’t pay to try to put labels on groups.

I admit that I was confused by the things I was taught, as both a child and an adult.  Some things seemed impossible to achieve and some were not particularly helpful to me.  Some things ended up harming me and then I wondered where I went wrong (note that I assumed it was always me who was wrong).   Nice was not as easily defined as I had been led to believe.

I find that I can now go back to Desiderata and find something I can live with.  One part particularly speaks to me:

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the
stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is
clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

I am no more nice than any other being.  I have just the same right to be here.  I still find it difficult to accept those who are cruel and show no regard for others.  I still don’t know how to be alongside them but I don’t think I have to try to re-mould them into ‘nice’ people, or perhaps more importantly, re-mould myself into what might suit them.   I don’t even have to understand them.  Strangely I still find it easier sometimes to get on with the people who might be defined by others as not nice.  I guess I have my own definition of nice nowdays, and that works a whole lot better for me.

Actually all I have to do is be true to who I really am, and if that occasionally makes me into not a sometimes second rate person, then that is perfectly fine by me.  I don’t have to like everyone I come across.  All I have to be is me.

“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight.  Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward.  Your life will never be the same again.” 

~Og Mandino

An Idealist

Image credit: Iguana Jo flickr-15601096 – fotopedia.com

On more than one occasion I have been labelled an idealist, and I don’t care.  I would rather be called this than have my mind so closed to the difference of others around me, and around this planet where we live.

This morning I woke to disturbing news that three more kiwi soldiers have died in combat in Afghanistan, including our first female soldier ever killed in combat.  I know the numbers of soldiers lives lost in New Zealand is negligible compared to other countries but we are a small country.  Our population is only 4.5 million and every death is a big loss, of course especially to the friends and families of these people.

I have written about my feelings about war before so I won’t repeat myself.  I don’t claim to have a firm grasp on the subject of international relations but I find it so difficult to accept that death in the name of war is necessary.  When will it be that we learn to talk rather than fight and kill?

I was taught to live on the basis of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’, and while I don’t accept all the teaching I was given as a child, this is one that I firmly hang onto.  Simply because my neighbour might be a different race, religion, gender, culture or even sexuality gives me no right to judge them as being wrong.

I also read other news this morning that disturbed me.  Here in New Zealand church and various moral groups are arguing over the proposed marriage amendment bill that, if passed, will allow the way for same-sex marriage.  While it is an entirely different subject than war, I am inclined to think that the issue is the same.  The inability to accept the difference of others.

It is not my place to judge anyone as right or wrong.  I am simply another human being walking this planet and I have as much right to freedom as anyone else.  I believe that if I should choose to marry another woman I should have that right, and should have that legally recognised as a heterosexual couple would be.

More and more, I find myself objecting to what so many people say is simply ‘right’.  I’m not convinced that right and wrong is that clearly cut, and that is coming from someone with the black and white thinking of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  There is hope for my adoption of the colour grey  after all.  I know that I have family and friends who might disagree with my views but that is okay.  I think it’s a whole lot better that I stand for what I believe.

For so many years I couldn’t care less.  Don’t get me wrong, I have always cared about inequality and fairness,  but because of having my head so far into that mental illness fog, it was impossible to stand for anything.  Now though, I get too disturbed by  that inequity and judgement to just simply accept it as life.  People dying at war, whether soldiers or civilians is unnecessary.  People being denied the right to live as the people they are to is also unnecessary.  For that matter people (like me) being judged for having a particular kind of illness and being unable to get the job or the home they need?  It is also unnecessary.

Somehow we need to find a way to live together in harmony.  I might sound like I’m left over from the 1960′s but I will never accept that we can not achieve this.  So call me an idealist. I’m a proud one.

“Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:

 - I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
- I shall fear only God.
- I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
- I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
- I shall conquer untruth by truth.

And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.” 

―    Mahatma Gandhi

Worth Fighting For

I have spent more years than I care to count stuck in a very dark fog of mental illness.  While stuck there I did a lot of things that I hoped would help, like seeking treatment in various forms, getting support from others, reading lots of books, and a fair bit of navel gazing.  It’s not like I was sitting there doing nothing all that time, although I’m sure there were many who thought that was exactly what I was doing.  There were also a lot of times when really all I was doing, was making a bad situation worse.  ‘One step forward, two steps back’ seemed my pattern but I couldn’t actually see how to make it better.

There were two possibilities in terms of the future of my life (if that is what I chose).  One was that this was my lot of life.  Life would always be this bad and dark, and there was no point even contemplating that things would get better.  The other possibility for me was that one day I would wake up and everything would be ‘back to normal’.  My life as it was when I first got sick, would somehow, magically be restored and I would go back to how things were.

Actually I realise now that neither of those options is what I want for my life.  I certainly wouldn’t want to remain in that dismal fog, but neither would I want my life back as it was.  As far as I’m concerned that Cate has gone, and actually thankfully won’t be coming back.  I want more than she was.  I want something so much better.

I also realise now that the new life I want isn’t just going to appear magically.  Instead, as well as the continuing treatment, I need to make some choices for my life.  I need to work out what is important, and what I think is worth fighting for.  If I want that much better life, there are some risks involved for me.  To gain the advantage of a fulfilling and satisfying life I have to take risks that I thought I would never take again.  Things I always said I would never do again, I would need to try.

For some time now I have had this growing sense of health (which you have no idea how exciting this is) and I had this vague notion with it that I would discover my purpose for life.  Then a few days ago I was talking with a friend who is very depressed and she couldn’t see what possible purpose there was for her life.  It made me start to think about that seemingly magical purpose for life I was going to discover.  What I’ve realised in thinking about it is that I make the purpose as I go along.  It’s the same as sitting waiting for happiness.  I believe that I have to get out there and make it happen, and I’m coming to the conclusion that I will make my purpose as I go.

If you’d asked me about that six weeks ago, you would have got an entirely different answer.  Then I was just waiting for it to magically happen.  Now I’m starting to realise that it’s within my power to make my life purposeful (and great fun too! :-)).  Don’t get me wrong though.  I know that when stuck in the middle of that mental fog, it is hard to see it.  I believe that the way I have gotten through is to stop fretting about the global picture of my life, start focusing on specifics that I could actually impact, and most importantly take one step at a time.  Sounds simple but actually when you try it, you realise it is a constant challenge, but a good one.  It is a new way of life.

The next question I come up against is what do I do now?

Image credit: FB-Inspiration is Everywhere

Again, I was dumb enough to think all this would happen by some form of osmosis but I’m realising that I’ve got some choices to make about my life.  My life has been pretty ‘dead’ for years but I’m not prepared to accept that anymore.  I’m not even prepared to accept ‘life as it is”.  I want life to be the goddamned best that it can possibly be!  Why shouldn’t I have that?  I realise now that actually I deserve this, as much as anyone, so why would I settle for second best?  I shouldn’t.  And I’m not going to.  I need to work out what makes me come alive, and go out and do it.

It brings me back to the risks again, because certainly there are risks.  I might fall flat on my face or someone else might trip me up so I fall flat on my face.  These are distinct possibilities, and actually in my experience they almost rate as probabilities.  But I’ve spent too many years not living, being dead.  I want to be alive and as I am finding the people and things that  help me feel alive, it is those people and things I want in my life.

No more second best.  Yes, the risks might hurt badly if they go wrong but unless I try I will never know.  And imagine the joy if it goes right.  It has to be worth it for me.  I seriously don’t want to get to the end of life and be wondering what could have been.  I’ve come to the conclusion that those risks are worth it, and getting what makes me feel alive is worth fighting for.

Image Credit: FB-Of All The Things I Lost I Miss My Mind The Most

NB. Apologies to those who follow my Facebook page, for the repeat of the images posted.  When I posted them there earlier in the week they had a big impact on me and I decided to use them again here too.  They perfectly sum up what is on my mind.