Out here studying stones

Tonight on the coaching call we were talking about the idea of self-alignment and what it means to be in balance and at peace with yourself.

We talked a bit about the last time I actually felt like that, and having thought on it this week I realised it was circa 2008 or so. I was hanging out with some good people and I had made a few really brave decisions and done some (what felt like) pretty brave things. The result of all this was me feeling pretty good about myself. And feeling like there was really no end to the things I could do with my life.

No shock, I guess, that the last time I felt myself balance up was when I started liking myself. When I started giving myself props for making the brave moves and stepping outside of my comfort zone. Building a life for myself that I felt I could be proud of.

What’s different now, though? Because something’s different. It feels like there’s something huge I’m pushing against and can’t push through.

It can’t be the doing-the-brave-things thing. I have made some legitimate and pretty fucking big and brave moves over the last 12 months. And I was brave at a time when my anxiety was at my worst and even leaving the house felt terrifying. And I feel like in smaller ways I’m still doing the brave things. So it can’t be that.

It can’t be my weight. At that time I was very overweight. Heavier than I am now, even. And not really happy about it, sure. But also not wrapping my whole persona within the physical package of myself. Understanding that my worth was not my physical vessel. So whatever is blocking me now that wasn’t blocking me then can’t be that.

I have less people in my life now. Close people, that is. When I got sick, there were a lot of people in my life who kind of dropped away. And it’s understandable, right? You cancel enough social engagements, not RSVP to enough parties, and avoid social media long enough and people just sort of forget you’re there. I’m not bitter about it. It just is what it is. I have less people in my life day to day now.

My health is different now. I have a lot more challenges. Some days I am better than others at convincing myself they’re not insurmountable. I think this is probably at least part of the problem.

I actually think, when I really drill down to it, a lot of what is blocking me mentally right now will be what happened when I got sick. Like the fact that I even write it that way – ‘when I got sick’. Not ‘when I got cancer’. Because cancer is such a loaded word, right? Why does it make me so uncomfortable to even type it? That’s probably something to think about.

I mentioned on Saturday morning, when we were discussing this stuff, that sometimes, regardless of how good and wholesome your intentions are when you set out, doing the work past a certain point can be difficult. In my case, when I set out to start processing a lot of this stuff a couple of years ago, I realised pretty quickly how much work there was to do. How dark it was all going to get before it got light again. And that’s pretty scary, no? Knowing how far down you’re going to have to go before you can work up again. It’s human nature to want to just stop and go…

Nah, I’m good.

But I’m not good. At least, not as good as I know I can be. And so I guess the thing is to start digging, knowing how deep the hole will get, because you’ve got to start somewhere.

Tonight I am grateful for the online group, and for this accountability challenge. I think it came at the time that I needed it most.

One positive thing about myself today: I actually got out my physio roller and used it after my walk this morning. I really need to do that more.

Sunday

It’s 9:20pm and I’ve left it too late to write tonight. My brain started shutting down half an hour ago.

But here I am, because #accountabilitychallenge.

I am loving this colder weather. The rain has also been kinda nice, although I had to basically wade from the car to the gym and back to the car this morning.

I did a spin class this morning and actually enjoyed it a lot. My energy levels have been really low this weekend and my lungs have not felt great but it felt good to be in a dark room with loud music with a group of people all sweating physically pushing themselves.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened in Christchurch. I have Very Strong Feelings about it. I wrote a piece a few months ago for a scholarship application about racism in Australia and I feel like everything I wrote has been borne out in real time. I’ve had to get off Twitter today and stop watching CNN because it’s easy to be obsessive about it and dig yourself into a hole of outrage and despair.

Tonight I am grateful for books. I just finished a really good one (Normal People by Sally Rooney, if you’re after a recommendation), and I’ve started Leigh Sales’ new book. Books, for me, are a place of comfort and safety. A place to always go back to.

A positive thing about myself today: I’m going grey (like, a little bit, and it’s not that noticeable because of the colour of my hair), but I actually don’t mind that much. It might be different when it becomes really obvious but right now I feel like it’s not a terrible thing.

When there’s nothing left to burn

I was noodling around on the laptop this afternoon (googling ‘how big do spiders need to be before they can bite you’), when my mobile rang.

“I was speaking to (ex-boss) today and she said you’d left. I had no idea you might be available. We’d love to have you come work with us. Full time, part time, contract – whatever you want.”

This made me feel good for a few reasons.

The first is the obvious ego-boost I got from hearing how much they want me to come work with them. Like, a lot.

The second is the fact that I realised, pretty quick, that I’m okay actually. I’m not looking right now. I appreciate the opportunity, but I’m happy where I am.

Sometimes it takes a picture of the grass on the other side of the fence for you to realise you’re actually in a pretty good pasture.

And thirdly, because regardless of how things ended up at my last job, they’re saying nice things about me. I mean, they should. But you never really know in this world. I wasn’t expecting that to be a relief but it was.

I read this ABC News article last week. It rang so true that I said the word ‘YES’ out loud more than once while I was reading it.

I stayed way too long in my last job. Like, 3 years too long. I poured every ounce of myself into that business like it was mine. I was under the false impression, mainly because they kept saying it out loud, that we were more than just a workplace. ‘We’re like family’. I think that’s a fairly common experience.

But at the end of the day the employer/employee relationship is transactional. I gave them my time and they gave me money in return. Only, in the end it wasn’t just my time. It was my health – mental and physical – also.

I earn less money now. But, I work a whole lot less hours. I get to work the hours I want, and I get to do the majority of them from home. I wouldn’t trade that right now for anything.

Today I am grateful for the cooler weather. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I honestly can’t wait for the cold.

One positive thing about myself today – I struggled a bit at boot camp this morning, but I don’t feel like I gave in to it mentally. Some days are better than others right now with the energy levels and the dizziness, and today I woke up a bit rough. But I got through it and I didn’t let those ‘everyone else is fitter than me’ thoughts creep in. I felt good about that.

Friday

Around a week ago I noticed a dark grey spot the size of a 10 cent piece on the architrave above the window in our bedroom. I kept making a mental note to look at it properly and remove it, and I just haven’t got there this week.

Tonight, though, when I looked at it I noticed it had changed shape.

On closer inspection I’ve realised it’s not dirt, or fluff, or mould from the rain.

It’s a nest of teeny, tiny spiders. Hundreds and hundreds of them.

And now I’m not sure what to do. Do I leave them there and never sleep again? Or do I kill them and feel the weight of ending hundreds of tiny spidery lives?

I don’t think they’re going anywhere tonight. I’m going to sleep on it.

I got a text message yesterday from my ex-boss. The job I left around 8 months ago. When the notification popped up on my phone I had a violent negative reaction. One that surprised me a lot actually. I know I have negative feelings about that workplace and what happened there, but I thought I had moved on from a lot of it.

I’m a lot happier now. I am really happy with my work situation (for now). I am bigger and better than all of them.

And yet, one text message and I am back in those feelings. I felt physically sick and it took a good hour to shake it.

She had had a dream about me. Is that weird? Weird that she dreamt it, and also weird that she told me about it? I feel like she might also have some leftover feelings about my time there. If the energy in the world works in the way it should, she should have some residual feelings about it too.

And has hopefully learned as much from it as I have.

Today I am grateful for Fridays. I don’t hang out for them anywhere near as much as I used to (by necessity), but I still look forward to them.

A positive thing about myself today: I am a really good dog mum. I might have been a really good people mum too, but that definitely was never on the cards haha. My dogs love me. I do a good job providing everything that they need. And I have turned a little, terrified dog into a loving (although still very nervous) pupper.

I’m your monster, I’m just like you

The lineup for Sydney Writer’s Festival was announced at around 6:30 tonight. I was so excited when I saw it I forgot I was cooking and burned dinner.

We’re all a bit on edge here tonight because of the storms. The air is still and feels thick with humidity and it’s given me a bit of a headache. The dogs, and Hannah in particular, feel like the world is ending.

It must be strange being a dog and not understanding why there is an animal growling in the sky.

I used the word hate last night to describe my relationship to health and exercise right now. Some comments on the post have made me think about that word today, and whether it was the right one to use.

I think my relationship with exercise runs parallel to the relationship I have with my body. And the relationship I have with my body right now is complicated.

I genuinely feel gratitude for the fact that it has carried me through a fuckton of pretty big challenges over the last few years. I’m not blind to the fact that others have faced just as scary health situations and their body hasn’t been able to carry them through to the other side of it. It’s sobering and I think about that a lot.

But the body I have right now feels broken. I feel some days like I am separate to it almost – there’s the corporeal version of me – the meat and bones – and the actual me. The actual me keeps pelting stuff at the meat-and-bones me like exercise and health and AIP Protocol diets and supplements and thyroid meds and sleep and it all just keeps bouncing off like my body is made of taunt, wound-up rubber. Completely impervious.

I’ve also had the questionable privilege of experiencing body dysphoria both ways. I’ve never felt like my fat body belongs in the world. Those of us who are past a certain size always feel that way. On buses and footpaths and couches and cinema chairs we’re always folding up in on ourselves, trying to will ourselves smaller. Then when I lost weight, I didn’t recognise myself in reflective surfaces and I was still apologising constantly for taking up space. Now that the weight is back, I feel a bit like I’ve had to re-learn what it’s like to take up this space. Learn again how it feels to walk into a room, into the gym, into a gathering of people.

The biggest issue, though? And one I’ve only been thinking about recently…

I don’t trust my body right now.

I don’t trust it to get me up off the ground when I squat. I don’t trust it to keep me balanced when I have a foot off the ground (or even with both bloody feet on the ground). I don’t trust it to not break a chair when I sit on it. I don’t trust that it will respond the way it should when I exercise in a certain way or eat a particular thing.

So yeah. Hate probably isn’t the right word. But I think the health and exercise stuff pushes up against parts of myself that I’m struggling with right now. It feels hard, because it’s forcing me to place trust and hope in my body.

But that’s the point, right?

Tonight I am grateful for the annual ritual of Sydney Writer’s Festival and the fact that every year in the middle of winter it gives me something to look forward to.

Something I like about myself today: I took a call from a client that I had kind of been dreading, even though I could have put it off. I did the adult thing and took the call and it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Which is always the way these things go. I feel like as a person I am good at facing up to things generally. I’m usually the one in a group of people that’s hemming and hawing that says ‘God, let’s just get it over and done with.’

Less thunder tomorrow please.

My bed is pulling me, gravity

It has been a long day, but a good day.

I felt good in my PT session this morning. I’m sure this had a lot to do with the fact that I got a decent night of sleep last night.

The balance of the work I’m doing right now is a tricky one. The client work is actually easier in a lot of ways – the work is formulaic and structured, it happens during business hours, and it follows a fairly predictable path. For the most part, that is.

The writing is different. If I want it to be good (and I always want it to be good), I have to tap into the creative part of my brain. And the nature of that part of the brain is that it sometimes cooperates and sometimes doesn’t.

I can write all day errrrr day. But to write well? Something that really jumps and that I’m proud of? That takes inspiration that comes and goes, and you can never really tell when it’s coming or going.

As a for instance, I slogged for four hours this afternoon on a submission about the review of the FOI Act in Victoria (which is about as riveting as it sounds). By the time I left for my guitar lesson tonight I had 1,700 words on the page and I hated every single one of them.

Then, I got home and had an idea for the closing paragraph. Once I had that down it’s like a creative tap was turned on – I got the whole thing nailed down in around an hour and a half. And I’m really happy with it. Only now it’s almost 11pm haha.

I’m kinda hoping the health/fitness thing is the same deal. I keep slogging and it feels hard and I hate all of it and then one day a light goes off and WHOOSH.

Today I am grateful for the fruit shop at Marrickville Metro that always has the good watermelon. Really good watermelon can completely turn my day around.

Wincing like something brittle trying not to bend

Tonight was hard.

We’ve had tickets to see Neko Case for weeks and I told the boy at around 7pm I wasn’t going to go.

He’s overwhelmingly supportive the majority of the time. He understands that when I say I’m tired it’s not just the ‘oh I didn’t sleep great last night’ version of tired. He always asks how I’m feeling and he messages me when he knows I’ve been to the gym in the morning to see how I’ve pulled up and tell me how great it is that I went.

I’m really, really lucky.

But tonight was hard. As soon as I said I wasn’t going I felt that overwhelming thud in the gut that comes from disappointing someone you care about. He didn’t take it well. But I woke up not feeling great this morning and I have had to really bully myself through today. I have a PT session tomorrow morning, and I could really do without being awake and on my feet until midnight.

He’ll be fine, because he always is. But fighting for space to rest can be difficult.

I remember, at the first specialist appointment I had after the cancer diagnosis we spoke at length about the effect stress has on the body and the documented impact it has on cancer patients. Then, I got back on the train and rushed back to the office because I was already panicking about the amount of emails that had come into my inbox.

But that afternoon I was brave and I set a meeting to talk to management about what we’d discussed and the need I had for decreasing my stress levels. What I ended up with was a rushed ‘yes yes whatever you need’, and then a number of passive-aggressive emails in my inbox over the next week insinuating I wasn’t keeping up with the workload. It ended up with me in the bathroom having a panic attack, feeling like pushing myself to keep up with the job might literally be the death of me.

It’s funny that the notion of ‘rest’ conjures up passive images of reclining and sleep and relaxation, when really, you often have to be downright aggressive in your life to get even close to enough of it.

Tonight I am grateful for the company of my dogs. They would prefer I rest as much as humanly possible because that is also their favourite pastime. I am also grateful for the fact that I’m working from home tomorrow, and that I have a job that allows me to do that.

One positive thing about myself: Day 2 and I’m already struggling. Which is I guess the purpose of the exercise. So a positive thing today is that fact that I am still here, and still trying. Still showing up and trying to make more forward than backwards steps. I feel like there have been more backwards than forward steps for a while, but if I keep showing up that will turn around, right?

A little bit of tender mercy

I’ve been writing on this here blog since 12 December 2005.

That’s a bloody long time.

Between 2005 and, say, 2009, I wrote almost every day. Initially it came from a need to talk about the stuff I cared about. There’s only so many times you can talk out loud to the people in your life about the pre-4AD Mountain Goats albums and whether they lost something when they stopped recording into four-track.

The internet will always listen to you gush about the Mountain Goats.

It turned pretty quickly, though, from somewhere to channel my fan-girling, into a daily cathartic dump of everything that had happened to me during the day. Tricky job situations, my parent’s marriage breakdown, my Nan passing.

From 2005 to 2008 I was a Very Lonely Girl. This blog was, in a way, me shouting into the virtual darkness what it felt like to be me.

Then, in 2009, I moved in with the boy. I had someone to talk to. I didn’t really need the outlet anymore.

The posts went from daily, to weekly, to monthly, and then… to nothing at all. As is the Way Of Things.

I’ve kept all those posts, even though some of them from when I was in my late 20s are excruciating to read. I’ve gone back and made every one of them private though. This is partly because I feel like there’s merit to starting from scratch at this particular point in my life, and partly because no one really needs to read about my neighbour in South Windsor at the time who liked to water his lawn wearing nothing but his open dressing gown.

So here I am starting, in a way, from a beginning. Part of a 30 day accountability challenge. I have a lot of guilt spirals in my head at any given time, but the one telling me I should write more for myself is pretty loud. It has been there for a while, too.

It’ll likely just be a lot of stuff about my dogs and how tired I am haha. Really though, I have some mental shit to work through, and a commitment to write for at least 30 days running is only going to help.

Part of the commitment is putting down one thing I like about myself, and one thing I’m grateful for.

Tonight I’m grateful for rest. I saw something on Instagram this week that said a variation of rest is revolutionary. It resonated hard with me – I am perpetually berating myself for not going hard enough, trying hard enough, working hard enough. The idea of prioritising rest is foreign and only something I’ve recently (read: since the nervous breakdown) got my head around. I know a lot of people feel like that.

I’ll be in bed by 9:30 tonight, and I’ll get a solid 8 hours. I really love my bed.

Viva la revolucion.

One thing I like about myself: I actually got off my ass today, even though I was feeling bloody exhausted, and did a program workout. And I got through it, including warm-up, in under an hour. I felt really proud of myself afterwards.

Day 1 of 30. Let’s do this.

My insides are pink and raw
And it hurts me when I move my jaw
But I am taking tiny steps forward

And I feel sure that my wounds will heal
And I will bloom here in my room

With a little water
And a little sunlight
And a little bit of tender mercy
Tender mercy

The Mountain Goats – Absolute Lithops Effect