Life can take many twists and turns along the journey. Everyone has hard times; everyone struggles from time to time. It is not necessarily what happens to us along the way, but more how we learn to deal with the things that life throws at us.
If someone had said this to me 3 years ago, I would have thrown something at them, but today after nearly 5 years of hell I can actually understand that sentiment more than most.
For a while I was in full on victim mode, nobody understood what I was going through and nobody really helped me. This didn’t change, nobody really understood the load I was carrying and nobody really understood the immense pressure I felt or the total roller coaster I was going through. What changed was me.
After 5 years of what individually are classed as the most stressful events to happen in anyone’s life, but collectively knocked me off my feet for a great deal of time I suddenly woke up. It was like a veil or fug was lifted from me. I simply changed my attitude and although still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I am functioning on a normal level for the first time in years.
During this time my Mother got sick and passed way, meaning that I took up the carers role for some months, I got divorced, moved to the UK to care for my Mother and later to take up a career opportunity, was stalked and harassed by a family who seemed to have nothing better to do, constant emails, sms messages and phone calls, my son was slowly going off the rails and later I discovered he had a serious addiction and mental health issues and I had to restart my life again, twice over.
Some decisions I made during this time were made under pressure and carrying a responsibility for another person. This person I begged to notice what I was going through and the responsibility I was carrying. They had chosen to step back and not carry the load, or make anything that I was doing easier for me. When I was overwhelmed with the legal issues surrounding the stalking i simply thought he would step up and assist me in other areas, take some pressure off so to speak. Sadly he never recognised my struggle but could only recognise his own. He expected me to see his pain but was unable to see mine.
For a long time I held onto this, I was so focused on him seeing what I was going through and after some years realised it was never going to happen. I simply re focused my energy on getting myself in order to get myself through things as although I was expected to look after others it was clear that this was not reciprocated.
This brings me back the reason for this post; it is simply not what happens to us, but how we cope with it. Some people can cope and see others needs as well as their own, some people are not as self aware and can only focus on themselves. This is an individual choice or ability if you like and separated the wolves from the sheep. Which are the sheep and which are the wolves I have yet to work out, as although I felt wolf like at times, it was clear that I was a sheep as I put others first.
My strategy changed just on a year ago and my focus shifted almost immediately. Instead of waking up every day with a dream in my stomach and a fear of what may or may not happen I wake up and am thankful for my life.
I learnt to manage my own expectations of others, cut those that only take from my life and to structure my life around my needs and facilitate others rather than put them first.
I realised that surrounding myself with people who think like me is important. Those that give as much as I do. The smallest kindness is recognised and shows that people can be thoughtful.
Someone making a meal to make sure I eat, knowing that I had been focused on my son.
Someone that offered to drive me to an appointment, knowing I was exhausted.
Someone just calling to ask what I needed rather than saying they couldn’t do anything
Friends that simply send a message telling me they are thinking about me.
Small kindnesses have made me who I am today, not fighting for recognition.
Realising that others people’s choices are their choices, they don’t have to be kind or thoughtful, but neither do you in return. Everyone has the freedom to make choices, but nobody has the freedom to escape the consequences of those choices. That is my new favourite motto.
Showing my vulnerability has also been a steep learning curve. Sadly someone I knew very well and was close to me used to make me feel guilty and over emotional if I showed my vulnerability. I was berated for it and made to feel abnormal. No! What I went through over those 4 years, it would have been abnormal not to show emotion. I allowed someone else to stop me showing this and therefore others could not help.
My girlfriends have held my hand and had no expectation of me. Once I told them, once I showed how scared I was they stepped up, the claimed me as their own and showed me what real people do when someone close to them is in trouble. Showing your vulnerability allows you to feel the sadness and fear but also allows in joy too. This is something we don’t learn if we are taught to hide our emotions from others.
Don’t protect other people who are not willing to protect you.
I hid from others that another person was not stepping up, this meant that not only was I unsupported, but others thought I was supported. This meant that I was losing out on so many different levels. I protect him against other people’s opinion of him, so that he did not suffer. This is a lesson I will never repeat again. I have learnt now that nobody in any situation is more important than me. How can I be expected to care for other people when nobody is caring for me?!
So my tips for coping with undue stress and anxiety are
- Be grateful for what you can be grateful for, wake up every day and list 5 things you are grateful for. For me it was my home, my family, my job, where I live, maybe something that happened the previous day. Anything, even if it is something that you don’t feel you should be grateful for. It puts life in perspective and changes your way of thinking within weeks. I smile now when I say these. Often I do this as I get in the shower and it is as simple as being grateful for that first sip of coffee in the morning and the feeling of the water on my body. They are all sensations that we forget to notice over time when we are overwhelmed with sad sensations.
- Seek out those that WILL support you. Don’t judge your worth on how other people cope, not everyone is emotionally intelligent or can see past their own needs. My favourite saying recently is “someone who has their head up their arse will only ever see their own arsehole” This makes me smile, you have friends that you trust, everyone does, even if you don’t think you do. Someone will listen to you.
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable, being vulnerable is a strength not a weakness. Showing other people your needs is important and if they cannot see them then move on, they are not good enough to be your friend as they will only reach out when they have a need.
- Seek medical help if you need it. This was important for me and has taken 2 concurrent counsellors to deal with my issues as they were both very much different from one another. At one time I said I did not have time, but it was pointed out that I didn’t have time to NOT do this. I learnt so much about myself, why I reacted or allowed things for a long time and again changed my way of looking at myself and life.
- Be kind to yourself! Nobody else will if you are not. Stand up for what you need and want and also take time out for you. As ridiculous as this sounds I gave up exercise for 12 months. I may be a few kilos heavier but It was an added pressure i didn’t need to fit into my life. I took up television instead and the amount of box sets I watched over winter is embarrassing, but it wasn’t alcohol or drugs, it was my distraction.
- Talk, talk to friends that will listen and listen. I listened to the wrong person for many years and realised I had put my loyalties in the wrong place. If I had talked to others about this I would never have hung on for so long. I finally opened up and someone that really cared for me told me what they thought without holding back. I didn’t want to hear it, but she was right and her advice has helped me heal.
- Don’t be scared, you can get through whatever it is and it will pass, nothing lasts forever and unless you adopt a new way of thinking you are going to lose many more years to the fug you are living in. It is not normal to not be happy, to not feel content. It is not normal to blame others for your emotions, you are responsible for your happiness and waiting for another to recognise things and blaming others will only make the depression last longer. Admit your failures and learn a lesson. Once you have done this, you will heal and feel much better.
Those are the tips that worked for me, I am lucky! I am grateful and feel fulfilled for the first time in years. Although i am grateful for those friends that did support me, I am so proud of myself and all I have achieved in the last year. I am unrecognisable to those that new me previously. I wake up every day with a spring in my step and looking forward to my next challenge. I love my home, my job, my kids, my friends and I smile and laugh. Something I had forgotten to do.
Good luck to everyone going through a journey that is testing you, but start thinking positively, even when you don’t think it possible, you will be amazed at how much it will change your life.