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You can run…

28 Apr

I’ve always been a bit of a nomadic soul. For many, many years I moved house about once a year. I enjoy change. I get bored quite quickly. I like “new”.

So, whilst most of my friends and peers seem established – with a family, a mortgage and steady employment – I find myself two months into a three-month trip to South Africa. And with no home to return to.

My hubster and I decided to come out here to volunteer at a project and explore future possibilities in Durban – a place very close to my heart. I love South Africa – the people, the sunshine, the optimism and opportunities. I love it, and yet I find myself feeling strangely displaced. Not-quite-at-home.

It’s a feeling I am accustomed to.

I tend to gravitate towards the periphery, towards the outsiders. I often feel not-quite-at-home.

I am realising, however, that being-at-home is much more about the inside than the outside. Much more about feeling at peace and settled in myself than whether I live in Durban, London, Mumbai or Texas.

I can “move home” as many times as I choose, yet one thing remains constant – me. I can relocate anywhere in the world, but I cannot escape from “Becca”. I cannot hide from the flaws, doubts and insecurities; they refuse to stay in the garage with my belongings.

Being away from the life-I-got-used-to-in-London has taken me out of my comfort zone. In some ways, there are less distractions here – no internet in our home, no TV, fewer phone calls and text messages. This makes it harder to hide from myself.

So I find myself searching for definitive answers and, as yet, uncovering frustratingly little that is certain or absolute. I am desperate to know what is next – to find some comfort and security – and, yet, this is eluding me right now.

I am learning, once again, that maybe it’s not “what we do” that matters most anyway.

Maybe a better question is: “who am I?”. It requires more soul-searching and wrestling, but the discipline of facing ourselves – looking in the mirror – is far more important than “what we do”.

This is a hard lesson for me – I am, by nature, an activist, a doer. I like to be busy, to feel productive. I find it hard to just sit and “be”.

All the running, though, has made me tired.

So I am choosing, once again, to look in the mirror, to face the deeper questions and doubts, and ask again: “who am I?”.

It is, I think, only when we choose to move on from our futile attempts at hiding – from myself, from others and from this world – that we will find “home”.


Under the cloud

9 Nov

It’s been one of those weeks.

I saw the dark cloud approaching, hovering on the horizon, probably about ten days ago. I spotted it and I ignored it.

For some reason, I thought that denial might work – this time.

And as the cloud approached, I remained naively optimistic. It will be different this time. I can do this. I can win this battle.

I started feeling slightly disconnected – from those around me, from conversations, from life. And I still carried on thinking I would be ok.

Then. Then – the crash. Unable to get out of bed. Unable to answer my phone. Unable to connect – with anyone, anything.

The cloud had enveloped me. I could no longer deny its presence. I could not fight, I had no resources or strength. Nothing.

I felt so sad. Overwhelmed by disappointment. A sense of loss. A sadness at the world we live in, at the suffering of those I love. A sadness and a questioning – of the path I am on, the world I occupy.

I could no longer see, enveloped by blackness. Bleakness.

I have been under the cloud before. And it is horrible. Awful. It is lonely, isolating, enveloping, all-consuming.

No-one should ever have to live under the cloud.

And today? Today, the cloud is still there but there are some rays of light too.

So please don’t worry. I write these words not to alarm anyone, but in the pursuit of honesty and truth. Of vulnerability.

For I spend many years pretending I was strong. And I am not.

I cannot do this on my own.

And I cannot pretend anymore. It’s been one of those weeks.

The savagery of schizophrenia

22 Oct

I recently wrote a blog post on Elyn Saks’ TED talk about living with schizophrenia.

Here are some truly beautiful, sad-making and true words about the same condition. This is a must-read article by Caitlin Moran (and – if you are in a rush, read anyway for it won’t take you long).

I love how words can be a force of life: a rampage against darkness or an acceptance of this darkness, an articulation of truth or its denial.

Words can heal. And hurt. Encourage. Or destroy.

Words can create. And they can shut down.

I love reading the words of true wordsmiths. These ones made me want to cry. And that is good – for they reveal truth, love and life in all its messiness and ambiguity.

Thank you Caitlin.

We all struggle

11 Oct

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day.

Yesterday, a very brave friend of mine spoke out about being diagnosed with bipolar earlier this year.

Yesterday I was reminded of Elyn Saks Ted Talk – one of the most open, compelling narratives I have ever heard from someone living with a long-term, isn’t-going-to-go-away mental illness.

Elyn Sacks is a legal scholar. A highly-qualified, highly-respected woman who does not want to be defined by her condition. A woman who doesn’t want to be labelled ‘schizophrenic’, preferring to be understood as ‘a person with schizophrenia’.

I love this distinction. It helps us all. Who, after all, wants to be defined by their struggles or scars? Who wants to look in the mirror and see the label ‘depressive’ or ‘loner’ or ‘addict’ or ‘loser’ stamped on their forehead (and all over their heart – where no-one else sees it)?

Who wants to be ‘the other’ when we are all, actually, in the same boat?

As Elyn says – so beautifully – “there’s a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life … we are people, not diagnoses”.

How true.

Yet how we forget this: that we are people, each of us brimming with hopes and fears, dreams, struggles and potential. We are people who need to be loved, accepted and included. We are people. Human beings. And all of us struggle – some with physical ailments, some with emotional heartache and others with mental illness.

Let us not forget. We are all human, whatever our struggles.

We might try to cover them up. Yet we all struggle.

We all struggle. Maybe every day should be World Mental Health Day.

Life observed

18 Jun

I haven’t felt “right” for a little while now. Under the weather physically. And in my mind and heart too.

Not sure that I can articulate why (and why do we always need a “reason” anyway?). And so I find myself retreating – it seems easier than trying to explain that which I don’t understand.

These times – of discombobulation, of uncertainty and anxiety – are hard. I find myself retreating from “normal life”, struggling to do the simple things. The basics – like getting out of bed, getting dressed, going to work – feel, each time, like a mountain that needs climbing, rather than the everyday habits of a 35 year old urban dweller.

I am not used to these sort of mountains, they scare me and I feel so ill-equipped. Life becomes a battle rather than a joy, an unknown rather than familiar.

And so it is, during the difficult days, that I feel like I am observing life rather than living it. I am watching others “live” whilst I just “get through”.

It is the strangest feeling.

As though life is passing me by, happening to others. While I am on the sidelines.

I am trying to learn how to respond. How to not simply “get through” but live – even when life feels hard.

How do we embrace uncertainty when we crave the feeling of being-in-control?

How do we find peace when anxiety is intent on crowding it out?

How do we enter into life – in all its fullness, ups and downs – and not stay stuck on the sidelines?

For the sidelines might feel safer, but they are – after all – not the main event.

Be yourself (or how do you find your words?)

3 Mar

I have just come across this fantastic TED talk by Susan Cain. She extols the virtues of an introverted life in a world that seems to favour extroverts – those outgoing, confident, “I-know-where-I-am-going” people. I fall far more firmly in the “haven’t-a-clue-but-I-like-thinking-about-it” bracket.

I am an introvert. It took me quite a few years to realise this, for I am also pretty sociable and love being around people. I am certain, however, of my introvert tendencies as I crave and cherish time on my own. Time to think, to read, to write, to process. Time to be. Without this time, I feel out of sorts and get a bid moody (as my husband will tell you!).

I am not writing today to claim that “introverts are better”. No, of course not. Rather this talk has made me reflect on the importance of being yourself – wherever you fall on the introvert-extrovert scale. And if being yourself means being on your own – that is ok. In fact, it is more than ok, it is good.

For the world needs you to be yourself – to bring all that you are and have, to live in your “element”, to create and lead in the ways only you can do – in order to make our world a richer and better place.

I sometimes find myself wishing I’d been created a bit differently – a bit less introverted and reflective, a bit less “angsty”, a bit more “normal!”. I look at others and wish I was more like them – a bit thinner, a bit more thoughtful/productive/capable/confident, a bit less “me” and a bit more “you”. I imagine life as “someone else” and think it would surely be better than today. When I feel “up”, these thoughts rarely bother me, and, if they do, I find it easy to brush them aside. When I am down, they can haunt me, follow me round for days, lodging themselves in my sometimes-fragile mind and refusing to go away. Maybe this is the curse of the reflective introvert.

Like Susan Cain, I love words. I have always loved books, always adored reading and getting lost in a book. Like her, I hadn’t seriously considered that I could become a writer until more recently (and my various career attempts until this point have been far less successful than her years as a Wall Street lawyer!). I still have days where I feel it could never happen – who would ever pay me to write? Why would they want to? How can I ever make money out of the randomness of thoughts in my oft-slightly-screwy brain?!! But I know that this is when I feel most alive, most “me”.

I absolutely love writing this blog. I love the people it has brought me into contact with. I love the ways it has challenged me to be more open, vulnerable and transparent (even when it hurts). I love it – this blog might not pay the bills, but it helps me stay connected, creative and much more sane than I would otherwise be! I love the power of words – and spending time on my own helps me to find my words. In the words of Susan Cain – “solitude is often a crucial ingredient for creativity”.

How do you find your words? Make sure you don’t deprive yourself of these experiences – whether you require solitude or crowds, whether on your own or with others. Don’t try to be someone you are not – it doesn’t work (I can tell you that one from experience!). Be yourself. And find your words – for the world needs to hear them.

Beautiful words, ugly illness

10 Feb

Just discovered this website Depression Marathon, full of beautiful words about an ugly illness. The writer is candid and bold, harnessing writing as a response to the black clouds that engulf her. She also runs to combat her lows. I felt inspired as I read her posts – coping with depression requires courage, honesty and a willingness to ask for help. None of us can make it on our own. Yet asking for help can seem like the hardest thing in the world. In fact, it’s sometimes easier to write about depression on a (very public) blog than to talk about it with close friends and family. Ironic but true. I don’t want to use this blog as a means of avoiding real-time conversations with real people, that would not be brave. But I do want to use it to put some of my struggles out there, in the hope that others find hope in the breaking-of-silence.

Today I am recognising again that life rarely proceeds in the way we expect. Or want. Maybe periods of depression are simply part of the journey. Some of the lows amidst life’s highs. I feel low right now. I feel alone, isolated by my feelings and confused thoughts. I need to say it, put it out there – so that it does not swallow me up, so that it cannot engulf me.

I took hope from reading someone else’s blog, someone else’s honest struggles today. I hope my blog helps at least one other person in the same way today.

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