Dona Nobis Pacem (2013)

(That’s what ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ means)

Today I am participating, for the second time, in Blog4Peace…   because peace is something that I strongly believe is desperately needed in our world.  Bloggers from over 200 countries are participating today, and that just says to me how important our quest for peace is.

Sometimes I’m not too good at sticking to ‘the rules’, especially with blogging challenges and the like.  Hopefully Mimi will forgive my errant ways.  Usually bloggers create a template of their statement of peace, and post it on their site on 4 November.  I have borrowed a template (above) for this post, but came to the conclusion that firstly, I’m a better writer than an artist, and secondly, I had something to say that I couldn’t contain in a template. As well as that my brain isn’t quite functioning straight right now and to achieve both tasks is simply beyond me.

The Mission (1986 film)
The Mission (1986 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was watching a movie the other day.  A favourite from years ago, of which I have just managed to get my hands on a copy.  It is The Mission (1986) starring Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro.

The brief summary of what this is about is that some Jesuit priests are living and working with locals above the Iguazu Falls in the South American jungle in the 1750s.  There is some outstanding music in this movie, probably one of the reasons I love it, but there are difficult moments too when Portuguese rulers take back the land, destroy the mission built with the Jesuits ,and try to enslave the locals.  The priest, played by Jeremy Irons, believes that God is love, and violence is a direct crime against that love.  He argues that they should trust God rather than fight back.  He chooses to stay with the villagers in peace while other Jesuits decide to renounce their vows and fight with many of the male villagers.

It’s hard to fit a movie into a paragraph, but the reason I raise it is the two choices that are made, effectively between peace and war.  I sat watching the movie, and there were villagers, priests and soldiers representing the Portuguese rulers dying everywhere.  Most of it was played out beside the river and I was struck how easily dead bodies were cast aside, out-of-the-way, so that the fight could continue.  It seemed to me those bodies meant nothing, and I was struck with a knowing that I could never kill another being (human or animal), in such a situation because I simply couldn’t allow myself to let them mean so little.  It was difficult enough to stand and watch my cat being euthanised last year.  I knew it was taking away her pain, but it was so difficult to let a life be taken.

That said, that’s an easy statement for me to make.  I’m not back there in the 1750s with the threat of my village being destroyed, and I’m not even in a position where I have to consider that I might be sent to war here in the 21st century.  I live in a country (New Zealand) where military involvement is not mandatory. It was for young men (including my grandfather) in the first and second world wars, but as a woman, that was never something I would have had to face doing.  Yes, it’s easy for me to say.  My choice not to bear arms would not have any affect on my family and/or loved ones.  Saying no is definitely an option for me.  But I get that for so many, it’s not that easy.

Peace is one of those things that I think we all have our own views of what it is about.  For me it is about respecting the value of each human being to a point where that person deserves to be saved.  This post isn’t directly about war, although obviously it is not ignored because without peace we often have war. My personal belief is that war is never necessary.  There is always another way of solving a dispute, and every effort should be taken to preserve life.  Maybe it’s more difficult, maybe it takes longer.  Jeremy Irons, in his role, chose to take what he viewed as God’s way.  That’s not why I like it but rather what I do I like is the respect a peaceful solution offers to each individual.

We are all worth saving.  None of us deserve to be left dead or injured on the side of the road, or permanently traumatised by the horror that soldiers, and the indigenous and local people have witnessed in the name of war.  My belief is that peace values each of us.  It says we are all too important to be cast aside as I saw in the movie.

That’s why I have taken time out from my usual blogging to take part in today’s Blog4Peace.  All of the bloggers taking part in this event believe that if words are powerful….this matters. The wider we spread this message, each in our own way, the more people will see that the right thing to do is to lay down arms and live at peace.

What does all this have to do with blogging for mental health?  If we had peace world over then we could all let it be.  I am convinced that our overall mental health would be significantly better.

Music drew me to that movie, just as I believe that music draws us in peace toward togetherness.  That’s why I’m finishing this post with music from Playing For Change Songs Around The World.

“Dad, how do soldiers killing each other solve the world’s problems?” 

― Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995

Image credit:  Shannon Pinkley-Wamsley

You Should Have Protected Me

Since I started to write about my life experiences and journey with mental illness, I have had a variety of responses to my experiences from friends and family.  That’s not surprising.  Often I reminded them of things that had happened in the past, people who had been in our lives, and often too, they have also gained a different perspective to our shared histories.

“I wish there was something I/we could have done”

“I wonder if I/we could have helped”

“Perhaps I/we could have protected you”

Sometimes their responses were affirming for me, but other times I admit I wished I hadn’t written it in the first place, because now it seemed that some were holding guilt for something past (whether or not it might be warranted).  It’s hard, because it wasn’t something I was seeking.  For most of the bad things that happened along the way, I wasn’t consciously blaming others, although I know that, mostly, unconsciously there was a conversation going on in my head of “if only“.

“If only it could have been different”

“If only someone had been there”

“If only someone had protected me”

But ‘if only‘ didn’t happen.  Or perhaps if ‘if only‘ had happened then I wouldn’t have been writing about it.

For that conversation in my head, I have had to travel a journey of forgiveness and letting go.  Sometimes it has been easier than others, and I admit I am far from completely through that journey.  Sometimes I think I’ve got there, but then it hits back and I know I have more work to do.

Perhaps the bigger battle though, has been the statement that I see now that I have spent most of my life telling myself…

“You should have protected me”

I should have protected me.  Right or wrong, that’s what I’ve been saying.  I should have made sure the harm I came to, or the experiences I went through, didn’t hurt me.  I should have protected me.

What strikes me is that even as a child I expected myself to be the one doing the protecting.  That seems like an awfully big ask for a child.

I realise I continue in my life today saying I should have protected me.  If I look at the events in my life of the past year or so, I have struggled more so with somehow letting myself down, than with what anyone else might have done to me.

As I have written recently, I felt let down by my gut instinct (see Gut Instinct).  My gut instinct appeared to have not warned me of danger.  I felt so sure of what I was doing, certain I was on the right path… only to crash and find I was ‘wrong’.

I put that in inverted commas because I felt wrong.  I was certain I had got it wrong, but I’m starting to accept that while my gut instinct didn’t lead where I thought it was going, it wasn’t necessarily wrong.  And that is a huge thing for me to be able to start to say (actually a friend said something similar to me a while ago and I couldn’t possibly see what she meant).

Right now I have little idea how it can be can be ‘not wrong’, but I’m willing to let it be a possibility.

While I have had another outstandingly, horrible week, I’m learning in the process of pain.  I’m learning to forgive myself.  To remember that I am human too.  I am allowed to make mistakes, and I don’t have to punish myself for a lifetime ever after.  I admit I know very little about self-forgiveness because I’ve never given myself that chance.  I’ve been so hard on myself that self-forgiveness was never an option for me.

Today, I realise that I can forgive myself.  I can allow myself to be human.  Just as I allow others to be human, it counts for me too.  I think I’ve turned a corner.

“Therefore, you really need your inner protector to stick up for you: to put your weaknesses and misdeeds in perspective, to highlight your many good qualities surrounding your lapses, to encourage you to keep getting back on the high road even if you’ve gone down the low one, and – frankly – to tell that inner critic to Shut Up.”

 – Rick Hanson, Wildmind

An Anniversary I’m Not Celebrating

Twenty years ago this weekend, I dived off the platform into the murky waters of mental illness.  Twenty years!  It does seem like a long time ago, but twenty years?  That is a good chunk of my life down in those muddy waters, trying to hold my breath and not drown.  I celebrate that I didn’t drown, but twenty years?

I had won a weekend holiday in Queenstown (a tourist trap for kiwis and plenty of overseas tourists).  My boyfriend, D and I chose this particular weekend to take the trip because it had been my birthday during the past week, we had just got engaged the weekend before, and we both needed a break.  Over the past couple of months I had Glandular Fever (mononucleosis) and was still feeling pretty fatigued.  A weekend away (from Auckland where we were living then) was just what was needed.

The weekend started okay.  We flew to Queenstown and picked up a rental car.  We were feeling pretty lucky to have won this weekend because money was tight and it’s not something we could have afforded.  I had been off work for about six weeks and was only back part-time.

But life was pretty good.  I was a career girl in a job I loved, I had shifted to Auckland the year before and so had finally escaped the stalkers who had plagued my life.  I had good friends.  I owned my own home,  I was a committed Christian who was at church twice on Sundays, and most of all I loved the lifestyle I had.  But wow!  How life can change?  Twenty years on and I am a completely different person.

Back to our weekend away, I wasn’t really aware of anything but at one point D said to me that I had been really negative all day.  It wasn’t about anything specific, just everything.  I hadn’t realised but now that he mentioned it, I started to realise he was right.  So I stopped talking.  That seemed like the best way (at the time) to fix the problem but by the end of the day everything had got too much and we were back in our hotel room, me bawling on the bed.  For hours.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

D had no idea what was wrong, or even why I was crying.  Neither did I, really.  I just knew my life had crashed somehow and I couldn’t stop crying.  The glass in the mirror had shattered, and somehow I knew I couldn’t put it back together again.

And so began 20 years of mental illness.  It seemed my mental health had got on a plane to Queenstown, but didn’t come back.  First, I was diagnosed with Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Next, those two triggered Anorexia and that became a whole different ball game as not only my mental health but my physical health was under fire.  Much later came the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Adult Attachment Disorder.  It seemed like once it started, there was no stopping it.

As I said earlier, up until that weekend it seemed like I had life together.  Sure, bad things had happened in my life but I had held myself together and survived.  The thought that I would dive into the mental illness pond was the furthest thing from my mind.  It wasn’t anything anyone else seemed to expect for me either. My parents had only recently given me a birthday card which said “for the woman who has everything“.  I never thought of myself that way, but life was pretty good at that stage.  I assumed it would just go on that way.

But life has a way of surprising us, doesn’t it?  Really, I had a lot of things go wrong in my life and my strategy was to hold it all together, rather than deal with it.  The years of stalking had a price to pay, and now I know that when the trauma ends, that is the time the effects of it really hit.  Until then you’re just fighting for survival.  But I could finally relax.  Perhaps it was finally safe to let go and cry. But then I couldn’t stop.

I remember in the early days reading a book about a woman who had depression for two years.  I was appalled by the idea of two years of this hell.  I couldn’t consider I might be depressed for months, let alone years.

Contrary to popular opinion I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.  I also don’t believe that, as I was taught as a child, I should be thankful for all things.  What I do believe though is that I can learn from all things.  I have learnt many things across that twenty years.  I have learnt that kindness and compassion extend to all people, regardless of who or what they are.

I’ve learnt a lot of things I’d rather not have learnt too.  But that’s how life goes.  We don’t always get to pick and choose.  I’ve seen a lot of things I’d rather not have seen.  I wouldn’t choose this route.  I would never choose mental illness over health and life, but having gone down that route I choose to let it be.

I finish with this thought.  For a (very) long time I wished for my life back.  I wished for a return to the ‘old days’.  I know that’s not going to happen now.  This is my life as it is.  That old life is gone and wouldn’t be relevant to me now anyway.  I went to Queenstown as one person, and came back as another.  If twenty years of mental illness has taught me one thing it’s to live one day at a time and accept what I have.  I won’t always have the answers to why, but I can just let it be.

“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers…To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy…If I try self consciously to become a person, I will never be one. The most real people, those who are able to forget their selfish selves, who have true compassion, are usually the most distinct individuals” 

― Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

Grieving For My Red Balloon

Image courtesy of [image creator name] /
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /
Just last week I wrote about  Letting Go Of Balloons.  How appropriate, because in the days following I had to let go of a very special red balloon.

Red is not my favourite colour (that’s green) yet I regularly find myself picking red when choosing an object by its colour.  Whether it’s a red ribbon for Ted, or red shoes (I have a number of pairs including some I picked up in England recently and can’t wait to wear when the weather gets warmer), or red balloons.  Red is a bold colour.  It stands out.  It says “look at me“, and everyone does.  Even though its confidence may in fact not be great, the colour says “I’m me, and I’m proud to be me“.  Well that’s how I like to think of it.  I would always pick the red balloon.

Back to the red balloon I lost.  It was a very special balloon, and I had been honoured to have it in my life, and yes, I loved that balloon.  That  balloon was a very big part of my life,  but the time arrived for it to leave.  As I said last week, sometimes balloons are meant to be set free, sometimes they are happier to fly free, maybe to find another person to hold their string, or maybe to fly solo.  Whatever the reason, sometimes it happens and while you know it’s going to hurt like hell, it’s time to say goodbye.  But I will always remember my balloon with love and great fondness.

As the balloon lifted off into the sky it felt to me like it’s string wrapped around my right arm and ripped it off as it left.  Yes, that’s a painful image and the reality has indeed been very painful.  I felt (and still feel) like my world has tipped on its axis, I am left without not only my red balloon, but also a limb ( or maybe life as I knew it) that I needed to function.

My life changed, and I am left not only grieving for my red balloon, but also the limb that somehow made life work.  It ripped away from my body with ‘violence’ and oh, how that hurt. The red balloon is gone now, and was perhaps never mine to have.  Maybe I only had it on loan.  It has more important things to do.  As for my arm, which leaves me feeling incomplete? Maybe it won’t grow back, but I will learn to adapt.  A part of me is gone with that red balloon, but when I have licked my wounds, and treated my hurts with care and time, life will return.  Perhaps not the same, but there will be hope again.

With that red balloon were hopes, dreams and plans.  They are now gone, and in time I must build my life again.  It will happen, but for now it is painful and difficult to adjust to life without my red balloon, and the part of me that left with it.

PS. If you have no idea what I’m on about, then that is okay.  Bear with me.  This is just something that I needed to write for myself, while retaining some privacy.  

The Beatles sums up what I must do for now.  This version, with a few others along for the ride…  Music is such great therapy.

“Even on my weakest days I get a little bit stronger” 

― Sara Evans