Anxiety Champions Part2:

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-12-45-53-pmPart two in my series on Anxiety Champions is someone that I have never had any interaction with but I would love to meet one day. If you have never heard the name David Wright then you have very sadly missed what I believe to be the greatest season ever of Survivor (yes, my favorite show!).

David found his way quickly into the hearts of all the Season 33 fans not so much because he had anxiety but because he truly dug deep (as Jeff would say) and has for me become somewhat of an ambassador for what digging deep really means. During the first few episodes, he left me cringing and wanting to protect him. He could not have faked those instantaneous moments when he almost constantly jumped out of his skin. I know that there is a whole lot of editing in all these “real life” shows, but you can’t fake a reaction like that. By a third of the way through the season, this guy had found his groove. He realized that people loved him just for who he was and he didn’t try to be someone different. He simply allowed himself to be David, and everyone fell in love.

For me, David is someone who put his anxiety out there. He is also someone who is not afraid to talk about it. If you know anything about me by now then you would know that I am all about being transparent and being real and David is both of those things.

I believe passionately in building community in order to make a safe and fertile environment for anyone to heal. And season 33 was a picture perfect example of that. David thrived because the community that he was in accepted him for who he was. We need to keep making communities like that in our own corners of the world so that we give people safe and fertile places to do just that. This gave David the space to win hands down, and he is also no doubt someone who is still fighting hard.

I would love to know how he is going and I hope that he becomes a long-term ambassador for anxiety. Thanks, David!

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#NaNoWriMo2016 Day 1:

This is my first year participating in the National Novel Writing Month for 2016 (#NaNoWriMo2016). I actually signed on a while back and forgot about it, and to be honest I didn’t really know what was going on.

As you all know I am writing my story, but what you probably don’t know is that it is already at least 3 books long. It doesn’t hugely work as a string of chronology but I have been struggling with how to group the parts of the story that mean so much and I think have a story to tell, in the right way for flow, hooks and meaning. It was starting to get quite overwhelming.

Then as I was about to fall asleep on Monday night (which just happened to be October 31st) I had an epiphany… and decided to start a whole new book the next morning. So when I woke Tuesday morning to also see that it was day one of #NaNoWriMo2016 I was so excited!

I am not sure that I will get all 85K words done by the end of November but my aim is to have at least 60K done by then and the whole book finished by the end of the year. I am soooo excited, and glad that I am starting from this end rather than where I had planned to. The first book that I had planned will still be as is, but it will come out second instead of first… more on that later, I have writing to do!

Update:

Yesterday was day one and I did 3.8K words, and I am hoping for more today, but I know that there will be days when I will get nothing done… but watch this space 🙂

(I think that this hotel room is going to get messy the next few days!)

Caught in gun fire!

My husband and I travel a lot. We always have, as young backpackers then as a young family, then with work as we grabbed a bunch of fabulous opportunities around the globe. We are somewhat more settled now, having come full circle and literally emigrated in such a way that we circumnavigated the globe, east all the way until we returned home four years ago, back to Johannesburg where it all began.

Our story is long and complicated and beautiful and painful and I’m slowly trying to condense it into something readable, (even though in many ways our journey has only just begun). We have been through all manner of strife of many kinds and feel as though we are well versed and well balanced in so many areas and that we have collected a healthy respect for people of all kinds, and don’t jump to conclusions or judge.

So this week as we flew into Cape Town for a week of work for him and writing for me, we picked up our little hatchback rental and headed out from the airport for the expected hour or so drive out into the country to our destination. But as we neared our turnoff and saw the Friday afternoon traffic jam, my husband made the snap decision as he often does, to keep driving instead and asked me to quickly consult Mr Google and find an alternative route. The new route was only 2 minutes longer and took us off the next exit and asked us to turn right instead of left. The route was fairly simple with few turns and all major roads, but we were starving so dipped into a side street to find the closest KFC. But we didn’t turn slow down fast enough to make the sudden change, so took the next turn only a couple of houses down thinking that we would just go around the block and come back again.

It seemed simple enough, and we could see that we were in what could be described a “dodgy” area, but as we are adventurous, non judgemental (or try to be), I simply said these people are probably as nice as can be. It was mid Friday afternoon and school was out, the sun was shining, and the heat of the day was already subsiding, ….so the streets were full of people, many of whom were children and teenagers and most of the adults were women. There were balls being kicked, dogs and children squabbling and laughing, and while there were many people around, there were very few cars. The streets were single lane each way without the need for a white line down the middle. It was by no means a major thoroughfare, and the tangle of dead ends that we came upon as we tried to get around a single block confirmed that this was nothing more than people’s homes. It was struggling class suburbia at it’s best from what I could see; salt of the earth, rich in culture, survival at it’s best. There was a part of me that would have loved to stay, and to speak to the woman at the door with the baby on her hip who was laughing with her toddler kicking his ball, to have a meal with the family who were unpacking their meagre groceries from their walk to the local corner store. A thousand or more deep rich stories to be told around me.

But we were locked into this rabbit warren for no more than 2 or 3 minutes as my husband turned the car around and we headed out again the way that we had come in. Our wrong turn had been quiet the first time, but now that we were exiting, with the same people on the streets and the same kids playing with a ball, we heard a couple of gun shots behind us. Two shots fired one immediately after the other, and as we couldn’t actually see anything happening, in the second (or less) that it took to process it, we kind of looked at each other, registered that something had gone down, and for some reason assumed that it was over …and that is was a good thing that we were on our way out instead of in.

But in front of us a police siren started just seconds after the gunshots, and a police car came flying around the corner towards us, obviously heading to the gunshots behind us. It all happened so fast that there is no way that anyone cold have called the police that quickly and we suddenly realised as the second, third, fourth and fifth police vehicles came screeching around the corner too, taking up most of the road and blocking our exit, that something huge was going down and that their war and our exit had collided. We were the only car on the road in the 50 yards or so between the good guys in front of us and the bad guys behind us, the guns started up again and we realised that they weren’t in any way small guns… It also took less than a second to realise that at least two of the police vehicles were SWAT teams in cammo, full body armour and bullet proof protection, face masks, and MASSIVE artillery which was aimed in every direction in front of them.

It didn’t occur to me until afterwards that they had no idea who we were or that we were good guys, so my husband had one guy (hanging out the  doorless vehicle like you see those army guys hanging out of doorless helicopters), lock eyes and gun on him as he came flying around that corner! We had to jump the curb to get around them and as the gun shots kept going for some reason we didn’t even look back. We just floored it and left as fast as we could.

We are still processing everything, and in a country where nothing but the worst of the worst makes the papers and news, the likelihood of us finding out what was going on was slim. So last night we googled the area that we were in, and sure enough there were a number of very small articles on what went down. Here is one of them. I’m pleased to hear that the good guys one, and it doesn’t sound like any lives were lots in the process.

I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not to write this. I am enormously protective of this country and I do not want to contribute to it’s negative reputation. But on Friday this was my reality and part of my goal in all my writing is to be honest, congruent, transparent and to keep it all real. For me it was a massive lesson that anything can happen to anyone anywhere, that our two worlds had collided and there was nothing that we had done “wrong” and nothing in that neighbourhood that was inherently “wrong”. I still believe that most of those people are good people and I would love to hear all their stories, have a meal with them, and spend some time there.

I was asked only the week before by another family on the expat circuit whether I would recommend this country as a posting for them and my answer remains unchanged; I can’t guarantee anyone’s safety in any country, but if you are prepared to take the risk on being anywhere on this earth and you have the opportunity to live in this country, then I’d grab it with both hands as we have done …

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3: Self Care is not following a script…

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.58.44 PMThis one is really simple. There is very much a formula around the space of implementing self care; knowing when to self care, what works for us personally, and sometimes even needing to methodically implement it. Paradoxically however, the worse shape I am in the more I need self care, but also the less my brain is helping me to do the right thing. A formulaic approach to self care really helps me in that I have taught myself to know what helps in theory and to just do it. To trust the process and go with it. And it nearly always works.

But sadly there isn’t a script on working out what our self care needs are. There isn’t list of things that work for everyone and nor is there a list of trick questions to tick, which will then spit out the answers at the other end. Self care is extremely personal and trial and error with a deliberate mind appeared to be what worked for me. I painstakingly “stumbled” upon the things that worked for me, ….slowly over many years. They seem so simple now, but my brain had never searched my soul for answers to what I needed before, so it didn’t know where to look and my soul did not know how to tell me or my brain what it’s needs were.

So if someone you love is struggling and can’t find how they need to self care, or is forgetting to self care, maybe ask them if they need help for sure, but don’t be too hard on them if they are struggling to fit a list of self care options, or work out what their needs are.

FAQ: Chronic vs Acute Abuse

Today’s post is a biggy. Not that there is ever anything small about abuse of any kind, but another blogger asked me a question the other day about the word Chronic and what it is. This is SUCH an important question, and the answer even more so.

All around us these days we see stories of the most traumatic and unbelievable abuse, from fathers and strangers stealing and hiding young girls in their basements for years on end, to brutal attacks and rapes. Like it or not, because it is everywhere on the news, in movies, and on the small screen, we are becoming somewhat desensitised to them. We are still horrified and we are still shocked, but the line has become blurry between what is real and what isn’t, but worse than that, is that our measure of what we think abuse is, is so extreme that we miss a different more subtle kind of abuse that is often right under our noses.

Domestic Abuse is also very much in the spotlight right now (and rightly so) and on those screens we see women with black eyes and swollen lips, purple and blue bruises and frazzled hair. The look in their eyes often speak even more deeply of the tragedy and the violence, as well as the deep emotional pain that they are in. We are shocked and horrified and look around us but don’t see anyone in our neighbourhood looking like that and so we assume that we don’t know anyone who is, or ever has been abused.

Sexual abuse is another deeply traumatic and violent act that we see on the big screen. This one in theory we know happens all around us, but we don’t like to pry or ask. 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually abused in one way or another, and we assume that for all of them, they are people we don’t know, and that they were physically raped.

Abuse can be at the hands of loved ones or strangers and it can take many forms. Physical and sexual abuse are the obvious, but we do hear from time to time about emotional abuse. I don’t want to take anything from these deeply tragic and abusive physical situations, but my concern in this article is for both women and men and a different kind of abuse. One that goes “unnoticed” and “non validated” sometimes even by the victim. Emotional abuse is much harder to define and capture, and because it goes hand in hand with squashing the voice of the victim, it is very hard to see or even measure the impact. For these as well as those who are more “subtly” sexually abused, there are no dark basements, no physical bumps or bruises, but the damage can, and often is, just as bad.

Let me go back a step and explain a very important concept, the difference between Chronic and Acute. We often hear these two words associated with medical things and the easiest way to explain it is to use a cough as an example. Someone with an acute cough would have a really really bad one. It may even be Pneumonia. It requires hospitalisation to treat the cough and maybe even save the patient’s life. We all get a huge fright especially the patient who is suffering tremendously.

A chronic cough on the other hand doesn’t look so bad, but it goes on and on and on. A normal cough virus (or bacteria) should last no longer than 10 days, and then if all goes well it goes away. But a cough that lingers for weeks or months or a cough that is not so bad and heals, but keeps coming back over and over again can be a sign of something  else far worse going on.

Take a different example. Say someone hit you over the head with a hammer. Hard enough to knock you out and leave you in hospital with a major head injury. That is called a brain trauma and it is a massive assault. It is called an acute trauma.

But what if someone only hit you with a rubber mallet? Not hard enough to knock you out or cause any “damage”, but they did it over and over and over again. What if every time you woke up someone hit you once on the head with this soft rubber mallet. Over time, it would still be a trauma, but a different kind of trauma, a chronic trauma. The mild bruising that occurred would never get the chance to heal, and the same spot would become tender and damaged in a different way. The bruising and healing would become stagnant and the body would not get a chance to take the damaged cells away. A blood clot could form and the person could eventually have a stoke and land up in hospital in just as bad shape as the person who was hit hard with a metal hammer that broke through their skull. This is called chronic trauma.

Much of this may seem obvious to a lot of people when looking at the outside world or the theory of abuse, but I have a huge heart for men and women who live in all kinds of chronic abuse. Bullying is a perfect example of constantly and consistently being emotionally (or even physically) hit over the head with a soft rubber mallet.

Physically it can mean a parent, sibling or school mate who constantly and regularly smacks you on the back of the head “in jest” each time you walk in the door. One whack can be funny, or simply “not nice”, but when you can’t ever get them to stop, it is abusive. More than that, it may look physical but it is actually emotional. For the bully it is a mild yet chronic way to remind someone who has the upper hand, over and over and over again. To constantly and consistently knock a person down a peg. It may not be about squashing them under foot, but it is a way of never allowing that person freedom to grow or branch out. It is about keeping that person trapped by fear and insecurity.

If someone who is hit over the head like that every single day complains, we tend as a society to measure that against the stories on the TV. We assure them that what they are suffering is nothing compared to “real” abuse and tell them that they should be thankful that it isn’t worse. We tend to judge their experience and diminish it, and we don’t help them to rise above it and to stand up to the “bully”. But no one likes to stand up to bullies right? …and anyway, these kinds of bullies are so subtle and because as they whack us they laugh and tell us that they love us, or scruff our hair …. No one else notices the victim’s hurt, and we all think that the bully is wonderful for saying that they love them. The victim then often feels bad, as though being hurt (emotionally or physically) is their own fault, and that they should the bully like everyone else does. And so way too often these kinds of experiences are never validated or recognised.

This chronic abuse can be emotional or it can be sexual as well. We constantly hear of rapes, multiple rapes, and the massive, life destroying impact on the victim by these massive, acute, sexual, emotional and physical traumas, and my heart absolutely breaks for the victims both at the time and forever onwards. But what if a young boy or girl was being chronically abused? What if a family member kept trying to look at and laugh at her budding breasts? What if she was mocked for not growing them fast enough or big enough for someone’s liking? What if a mother kept “accidentally” leaving the buttons of her shirt undone and wore no bra when her young son is the only one home and tries to get him to have an eye full, …then mocks him when he tries to look away? What if there is no sexual touch as such, but while watching TV many evenings a mother sits way too close to her hormonal teenage son, becomes sexually aroused and makes comments and gestures that leave him feeling ill and confused, or a father who does the same to a daughter and his breathing becomes heavy and hot on her neck? What if all these children have no words to explain their experiences and one to tell anyway? What if they are confused and degraded confused about what they are feeling anyway? What if when they try to verbalise it even to themselves they sound like they are making mountains out of molehills and so they silence themselves in fear of sounding stupid or being told that it is their fault?

In a completely different way, what of the child who is constantly mocked by her parents for the colour of her hair or the freckles on her face? What if she is mocked and blamed for being a girl instead of a boy? What if the focus was too much on the negative and not enough on the positive and that she was never equipped for the world out there? What if she is never taught skills to use her voice, to stand up for herself, to ask healthy questions, or to find her own skills and passions, … what if she doesn’t know how to healthily say no? What if her parents kept her isolated from family and friends so that there were no other influences on her life to fill in the gaps that she so desperately needed? What if she was never cared for medically and always told that she was making it up, …so no one even looked to see what was going on under the surface?

Silence and secrets, unspoken pain and confusion, youth and innocence … all these things conspire against anyone who grows up in or lives with chronic abuse; the constant hits on the head by a rubber mallet, which dull our senses and keep us in fear. For every battered face there are a dozen battered hearts and broken souls. For every rape there is a handful of sexually broken men and women who don’t understand what is going on other than that somehow it hurts like hell.

Much of that emotional abuse is mild, but psychologically a good chunk of it is actually not as subtle as it appears. But even if it is all mild, the constant whacking over the head with the emotional hammer, all through a child’s growing years, does not equip him or her for adult life. It sets paths for their future which were no where near to the God-given potential that they was born with. Patterns were set for choosing partners, building relationships, and the bruised and battered effects of abuse continue into adult life….

Unless … what if they are brave enough, and strong enough and manage to break free… to start on a decades long lonely, exhausting journey to achieve what is supposed to be the impossible, …and what if they are prepared to lose everything to get there?

An anxious Piece of Pottery

I made this bowl the other day, … (well, this is only the underglaze, those pencil lines will burn off in the kiln and the colours are all actually bright and dark). But I made it after seeing a similar quote on the Facebook page of a fellow writer, and it speaks to me on so many levels. Not just because many writers can relate to this, but also as someone who has been silenced all my life and not allowed to use my voice in any forum, writing my memoir has become a powerful way of expressing a pain that is and was extremely deep …and yet I could not explain.

As I break out of that, one of the key tools that found the cracks in my enforced emotional “prison” was 6 years ago when I started to write my story for myself. It slowly began the season in my journey to healing, that allowed me (and my psychologists) a small window into my broken damaged soul. I can write things that I cannot say, my soul speaks through the keys with words that I didn’t know I had, when I write it out and let people see it I can face it without the extreme emotions of loneliness that went with living it in real life. I feel as though when I tell my story to someone I find that I lose the ability to breath and the emotional and physical pain becomes too consuming, …but when I let my fingers and my soul connect and do their thing, I feel like my readers are holding my hand as I “go there”. and I am more able to stand back and let it happen without reliving it nearly as deeply.

Don’t get me wrong, it is still painful, and I have nightmares for a few nights and through the writing sessions themselves I frequently need to make a dash for the loo, but there is somehow a level of protection. My greatest healing comes from my writing, telling this story that I have borne for all my existence …

And so this speaks to me at the deepest of levels, it is about my pain but it also about the freedom that I am finding in getting it out! This statement is extremely validating and freeing for me, and I wanted to write it somewhere that I can always see it. But when I showed it to a couple of people, the reaction was: “what an anxious piece of pottery”! They weren’t being at all unkind, but it was a huge reminder to me that my freedom, my voice, and my pain do not speak to all people, and that I mustn’t take that personally. It is not about me, and it isn’t even a negative about them…

2: Self care is not what everyone else says it is

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.58.44 PMSelf care is not simply what everyone else says it is. After I got it through my thick skull that self was not going to force me into a beauty salon, we started looking for other things.

One of my psychologists kept telling me to join a bookclub. Again, it did nothing but make me upset with him, and I after about the fourth time he suggested it I decided that if he did it again, I would tell him where to stick his suggestion (thankfully that was not necessary). I didn’t need more people in my life, I had lot of friends and colleagues and as an adult have always been a sociable person. But I had lived behind a mask of happiness all my life for no other reason that I did not have the words to express what was underneath to myself, never mind anyone else. And I desperately needed to get out from behind it.

I didn’t know how to do anything that was just for me, and when pushed to think of something the idea of meeting more people was exhausting, and I knew that I couldn’t walk into a room and say “Hi, I’m Jennifer and I am broken and scared and damaged goods, can I please be real with you?”. I’m pretty sure that I would not have been invited back again after that! I didn’t need more people I needed more ME.

So I decided to to confide my problem with a few trusted friends and the outcome (through no fault of theres) was the same as the psychologists. Everyone suggested what they find calming and soothing and they were all activity based.

  • spend time in the kitchen
  • go for a run
  • phone a friend
  • go away for the weekend
  • have your hair done
  • have your nails done

The lists were endless, but again they caused me anxiety, and made me feel more and more different, weird and strange compared to everyone else. I didn’t need a good girls night out, I cook for a large family every meal and I hated it, and my body couldn’t keep up with being on my feet in the kitchen never mind going for a run or a big night out. I have no doubt that they are great things for most other people to do, but for me I was spending too much time and energy trying to do what others do, instead of finding my own safe place and activities, but the problem was that I didn’t know where in my soul to look for it, as it had never been planted there in the first place.