I’ve been away for the last month from this blog, from Twitter and, pretty much, from most of the Internet. I have a backlog of blogposts to read in Bloglovin, a mountain of emails to respond to, and have missed so much stuff on Facebook. I missed having an Internet connection.
The reason for this month long absence has been the achievement of my main goal for 2014- to move out of our old damp and rundown apartment and into somewhere warmer and more modern. While the move has been great (bathtub, big kitchen, no mould), our internet provider dragged their heels getting our connection setup.
However, I’m back and will be back on the blogging wagon from tomorrow.
While 2013 was a rough year for me, I intend on 2014 being an amazing year, full of adventures and exciting new experiences. I want to challenge myself to learn some new skills, and develop and expand on what I already know.
Read 52 books.
Move to a larger and warmer apartment than our current rental.
Have a no-spend month in which I only spend money on necessities.
Take a French beginners class.
Grow my hair out beyond my shoulders.
Be a happy person!
Become more organised.
Keep in contact with more people, both online and offline friends.
Have a junk food (including diet drinks) free month.
Learn how to drive!
Health & Fitness
Continue to manage my diabetes as well as possible.
Take a yoga or pilates class, and improve my flexibility and core strength.
Run a sub-27 minutes 5km and a sub-60 minutes 10km race.
Take a kettlebells/ TRX/ strength training class once a week, and get a set of guns!
Take a rock climbing course.
Learn how to swim.
Create and use a blog planner to have a more regular posting schedule
Continue food blogging and hopefully, blog over 100 recipes here
Comment more frequently on other blogs.
Post a photo blog every Monday.
Publish at least 150 posts in 2014.
Take a photography course.
Join a photography club.
Go to more photography exhibitions.
More nighttime photography.
Save up for a new camera body and macro lens.
Cooking & Baking
Continue organising recipes using Pepperplate.
Find the perfect chocolate cake recipe.
Menu plan every week.
Experiment more with baking bread and pastry.
Cook more Indian, Lebanese and Thai food at home.
Eat more fish, more vegetables and more beans and lentils.
Visit more friends who are based in Europe- Germany and Netherlands, here I come.
Take a week long trip to London.
Spend more weekends visiting Irish cities and attractions.
What are your plans for 2014?
As 2013 draws to a close, it seems fitting to look back on this year and reflect upon the struggles and high points of the last year. It was such a tough year between illness, unemployment, grief, and depression, but this has also been a period of learning so much about myself.
January to March
This year opened with some of the worst news anyone can hear- that someone I was close to had lost their fight against cancer. Many tough weeks followed this, as I struggled professionally in an internship which I desperately wanted to succeed at and personally as I tried to overcome a bad shoulder and neck injury. The endless winter further compounded my low mood and my overall feeling that life was absolutely shit.
Life lesson 1: I’m not too sure I actually felt I could learn anything from these struggles at the time but looking back, I realise how fortunate I have been before 2013 to have not felt this low or bad about my life.
April to June
Eventually my depression got so bad that I went to my GP about how I was feeling, and started a course of anti-depressants. My work contract finished in May and I was glad to take some time off work. It gave me some time to focus on improving my mental health and also to tackle the other health issue which was diagnosed in April- diabetes. April to June was really a period of taking one day at a time and trying to do just one thing at a time.
In an attempt to tune out the noise in my head and to also lose the weight which had crept on as a result of my rising blood sugars, I rejoined the gym and took up running. Setting myself small achievable goals helped me to rediscover my sense of self-worth and pride.
Life lesson 2: Sometimes checking out and taking some time off is the best thing you can do for yourself.
Life lesson 3: People are amazing.
Life lesson 4: Antidepressants work small miracles. (YMMV, of course)
Life lesson 5: Running is meditation and therapy on the move, and running up hills is good for deep thoughts about life.
July to September
These three months were really about recovery and figuring out how I should tackle the next phase of my life. Unfortunately blood tests revealed that my diabetes is of the autoimmune variety and will eventually result in daily insulin injections, but my improved mental health and the excellent advice and care received from my diabetes team meant that it seems so manageable going into the future.
However, a rediscovery of the things which give me joy (music, books, photography, food) and a glorious heatwave for most of the summer meant that my battle against depression was well and truly on its way to victory. This was also helped by several sessions of counselling with a wonderful psychotherapist, a service which I was extremely lucky to be able to access at a low cost.
I was also fortunate to be able to travel this summer, and a 12 day trip to Cambodia meant that I visited one of the most beautiful countries in the world. This was very clearly reflected in the 2000 photos I took in 10 days of sightseeing. I also got to meet my then 10 month old niece during this holiday, and was utterly charmed by her sweet nature and love of stealing my glasses. The only low point of the trip was the most horrifying stomach bug from eating all the food the travel guides advise against when travelling in SE Asia (salad, shellfish, soft cheese, street food).
Life lesson 6: Family genetics run a little deeper than having the same nose. Thanks mother for the diabetes!
Life lesson 7: The guidebooks may contain some useful information… ahem…
Life lesson 8: Rediscovering your emotions is a beautiful thing.
Life lesson 9: Once again, people’s kindness and love know no end.
October to December
The final three months of 2013 saw my life turn around and the struggles from earlier in the year seem like a lifetime away. I got a full-time job working in a position I really enjoy, and it has really restored my confidence in my professional skills. Apart from that, being able to plan ahead and look forward to events/ weekends away has been a big bonus of having a regular income.
In the space of three months, I ran my first three timed road races- the 8km Limerick Mini Marathon in 52 minutes, the 5km Race in the Dark in 31 minutes and the 10km Fields of Athenry in 73 minutes (I know, shite time!!), and as a result, I’m plotting out a training regime to absolutely smash those times next year.
Life lesson 10: Life does improve, even when it seems impossible during the darker days.
Life lesson 11: Running is addictive.
Life lesson 12: Money mightn’t make you happy but it does help!
Life lesson 13: A year is a long time and anything may happen.
How was your 2013?
On World Mental Health Day, I think it’s really important that we start to talk about our mental health and what we can do to support ourselves and others. Most mental health campaigns have really emphasised that we, as a society, need to talk more about our struggles and be more open with one another when we need help. This is a really laudable aim in our attempt to overcome the stigma attached with mental health issues, but I think there is another aspect missing from all the campaigns to get people talking.
It’s about teaching people to listen, and to give people the skills and confidence so they can be there for their friends and family. As I am quite open about my depression with most people, I often hear stories back from people who have struggled about how they felt they couldn’t talk to anyone about it for fear of being judged or being told to get over it. I experienced that exact feeling myself as well. There is also the other side of this, that people feel that they don’t know what to say, or they’ll just say the wrong thing, and it’s perfectly okay to feel that way too.
But here is what you can do to help out your friend or family member with depression…
When I was severely depressed, I wouldn’t answer my phone, rarely got out of bed and could barely have a conversation with anyone. Anyone who was concerned was rebuffed or ignored, and I’m sure I hurt some feelings by doing this. When things started to improve a tiny bit, I was able to explain some of what was going on in my head to those people, but it still took a while. Even if your friend or family member won’t talk to you about what’s going on, tell them you’ll be there when they are ready and want to talk.
Tell Them You Are There…
The most reassuring part of when I started to recover from depression and started to share my story was the amount of people who said to me that they are there for me and are only ever a tweet, phone-call, email or text message away. I didn’t end up taking many of them up on their kind offer of a shoulder to cry on, but the knowledge that so many people cared about me got past all the lies and nastiness my depression was screaming at me everyday.
So tell them that you are there for them, whether they need a conversation or some much-needed distraction, and you are only ever a phone-call away.
Sending a occasional text message to ask ‘how are you doing today’ is a brilliant way of reminding someone that you are there and care for them. It tells them that they are not as isolated and unloved as their depression wants them to think they are. Maybe they mightn’t answer but eventually the message will get through.
When they eventually want to talk, the main thing to do is listen. They may say some hurtful things or stuff which may upset and shock you, but the main thing is to be there for them when they start to open up to you. Many people will want to start solutions and suggestions to fix the various problems being discussed, but please try to restrain this part of you as long as possible. It is quite likely that the person has already tried that or at least considered it, and may just be at the stage where they just need to vent and rage about what is going on in their lives.
Of course, if there is a genuine solution that you feel has been missed, do suggest it, but the main thing to avoid is the imperative feeling of ‘well, if you just did this, that and this, then your life will be fixed and everything will be fine’. Depression is more than a series of unfortunate events, it is the total loss of your energy, self-worth, self-confidence and happiness. Just fixing the events surrounding the depression will not fix the depression.
At this point of even when a person with depression wants to talk, they often feel like they will be judged or dismissed. Now is the time to reassure them that you love them and care for them, and want them to feel better. Remind them that you will be there for them during their journey to recovery, however long it takes.
One of the nicest things said to me at this point was by my dad who went on a long rambling speech about all my positive qualities and achievements. This; coming from my dad, a man of few words; meant the world to me. At the time, not much of it went through the fog but it empowered all the positive thoughts that I was building on in my recovery.
If you’re in the fortunate position of having someone trust you enough to talk about their depression with you, you are also in the position where you can encourage them to seek further support. This message needs to be couched in a language which says that ‘I want to help you and I appreciate that you are talking to me but it might also be useful to talk to someone like a counsellor or therapist to give you the skills to be able to overcome this’. Mention it once or twice but if they are reluctant, don’t keep pushing the topic.
On a side note, therapy and counselling can be quite expensive but there are some low-cost options available such as MyMind and InsightMatters for students, people with low incomes and unemployed people.
The most annoying part of all this is when you open up about something and someone says something dismissive, even unintentionally. Recently I went to my doctor and he asked how I was emotionally coping with my diabetes. I commented that sometimes I feel that my body is abandoning me after doing so well together for so many years. He replied to tell me that he wouldn’t describe it like that and I shouldn’t feel that way. Well, my illness, my feelings, my way…
This brings me to my final point, don’t dismiss someone when they are talking about their feelings, no matter how irrational those feeling are. It’s very easy to say to someone that they shouldn’t feel a certain way. I still catch myself saying it all the time. The truth is, regardless of whether they should or shouldn’t feel that way, they do feel those emotions. Telling them they shouldn’t feel like that is of no use to them in a practical sense, and may make them feel shame and guilt for getting upset about something unimportant.
The most important part to take away from all of this is to be there with the person who has depression. Listen to them, be there with them and don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing. Even if you accidentally say something dismissive or critical about their recovery process, the main thing is that you are there for them and want the best for them.
The people who were there, even through the worst time and even if they didn’t necessarily say all the right things, are the people that I owe the biggest part of my recovery to.