"It's such a foreign feeling that I'm not sure how to cope with it. Ultimately, I'm scared to be happy. My depression has formed such an important part of my identity that I don't know who I am without it."
Depression is a strange thing; we have a chemical imbalance in our brain caused by some pretty unbalanced gut bacteria, supported by life traumas and events and probably most pertinent to this post - it's a part of our identity.
I've always had depression. Most people who have a mental illness will show signs of it before the age of 25 and I'm no different. I first remember feeling really empty inside at age nine. I don't remember the circumstances at the time, but given the science about the biology of depression now, it probably had nothing to do with events, but gut bacteria.
As I wrote last week, I'm in a pretty dark place. I have thought about suicide and my own death on occasion but nothing that I'm willing to take action on. But this week has been somewhat of a roller coaster. I've had these moments where I've forgotten about my misery and can almost feel the flickering of joy that's trying to escape from me.
I'm terrified of being happy. It's ironic really - to be so miserable and wanting to not feel so hopeless and helpless - yet having this simmering happiness just sitting under the surface of my heart. It's such a foreign feeling that I'm not sure how to cope with it. Ultimately, I'm scared to be happy. My depression has formed such an important part of my identity that I don't know who I am without it. I know that I'll always have a predisposition to it, yet who am I without being a miserable, melancholy, introverted person. It's like I have this other person just sitting inside me waiting to come out - a joyful, happy, contented person - but my ego just doesn't want anything to change. It is happy with the status quo, it is comfortable, it is known and it is easier to be miserable than to be happy.
My power word, or Guru word - as I learned in a workshop with Marcus and Andy from the Wellness Leadership Revolution - is JOY. The word that both terrifies and excites me. It is a word that I can feel deep within myself but I'm coveting it just for myself, I'm not willing to let anyone else see me in a state of joy. And yet, I'm excited by how I could be if I could just strip of this coat of depression and be in that state of joy. Of course, it's unrealistic to expect to be in a constant state of joy - life isn't like that - but it would be nice to try it on sometimes and put that coat of depression in the cupboard, just like a winter rug that's put away in summer.
Perhaps being in a depressed state protects me from stripping back my vulnerable heart because I'm already punishing it enough on my own. So, this week I am going to do two things to help me to tap into that joy:
1. Listen to music that makes me want to dance or makes my heart sing.
2. Allow that joy to come to the surface when the bubbling arises. It is safe for me to be happy. It is okay for me to be happy. I have permission to be happy.
I hope this helps you too.
Until next time,
©Alyssa Curtayne 2019
I am in the midst of a full-blown, life-altering, cannot-see-my-way-out-of-it existential crisis so I can't really say that I've survived it - yet. But I'll make it, eventually. So I've decided to put down some of the strategies that are helping me at this time. Besides, writing helps me to unpack a lot of this stuff in my head. I hope it helps you too.
An existential crisis is a confusing time when a person is trying to resolve and find the answer to the greatest question of all time, that is 'Who am I?' In other words, it's an identity crisis and I am in the middle of it. According to Andrews (see reference above) it can affect anyone, at anytime and can include groups as well as individuals.
So how to survive it? Well, first we have to understand where it comes from. For me I have a number of major life events occurring simultaneously: empty nest syndrome, moving in with a partner and becoming engaged, feeling homesick and missing my tribe, grieving the loss of my house and the ensuing bankruptcy, a few injuries (including my neck), the unexpected deaths of colleagues and friends far too young, losing my identity that was built around spirituality and yoga and generally feeling dissatisfied with my life and career at 44. Of course, I have a lot to be grateful for, after all, existential crisis really is a Western phenomenon, but it doesn't stop my crisis as presenting as depression, not anxiety, like the literature says it should.
In early 2016, I was feeling great; I was confident, life was good and I had purpose and direction. I was healthy, I was happy and I knew where I was going. You can see some of my memes at the time here on Instagram, and to be honest, I was feeling really inspired. Then the great yoga debarcle of 2016 happened. I can trace the start of this crisis to a moment sitting in meditation three years ago. Three years. I've been in this state for three years. You can read about it here. Now, I'm starting to pick back up who I was but more importantly, who I want to be, or indeed, if I want to be here at all. I'm starting to pick up the literal pieces of my soul that were discarded in that time (you can see my poem about it here) and so far, I only have one piece of my identity that is sticking. And that is: I AM TASMANIAN. It's my home, my "country", my place of belonging, it's where I come from and where I want to be when this body dies, it is WHO I AM. Everything else, the pieces of identity come and go and yet, this tiny fragment of light that remains the core of who I am. It's all I can hang onto at the moment and to be honest, it's better than nothing.
It's such a deep depression that I'm in, and I'm not sure how I will find my way out of it, but here are some things that seem to be working for me at this time;
1. A professional psychologist - there's nothing better than doing a brain and body, verbal-diarrhoea-type of dump all over someone who is paid to listen and provide some form of therapy. Sometimes just talking to family and friends isn't enough.
2. Figuring out my core values - What is the most important to you? Career? Family? Wealth? Creativity? Health? Find out what your core values are. Once I found these, I knew I had some sense of stability within me about who I am and what's important to me. I'm not there yet. The psychologist has suggested that I do some short- and long-term goal setting around my values to help to frame some direction. We'll see how that goes in the coming weeks.
3. Gratitude - My sister has sent me daily reminders of things to be grateful for. And while it is only a surface level that I feel this gratitude, it's reminding me that focusing on the good is helpful, even if the feeling is temporary, for now.
4. Writing - There is an incredible amount of research into writing as a means of healing. Just getting it down, physically out of your body onto paper with a pen is incredibly cathartic. I have kept a journal since I was about 14 and in the past few years have not used it often enough. Writing for me is life-saving. It lets me see my thoughts and re-read them after a few months and see the patterns in my life.
5. Reaching out to others - I used to consider myself to be an incredibly strong, independent woman, but perhaps in striving for my independence, I had not allowed others to see into my vulnerable heart and now, when I'm in crisis, I'm seeing all the wonderful people in my life and how their thoughts and actions can make me feel less alone in the world. I have had lots of offers from people who care and for someone who feels alone in the world, this is gold to me.
I hope that in some way my process of getting through my existential crisis has helped you,
©Alyssa Curtayne 2019
"Our kids are with us for only a short time, but if we want to raise strong, independent young people on our own we need to be able to look after ourselves as well."
Being a parent is not easy. It's the hardest job in the world.
But being a single parent is even harder. Doing absolutely everything without having someone to take in turns with is exhausting.
I know. I was a single parent to three daughters, now aged 20, 18 and 14 up until my youngest was 12 when I met my partner, Kind Man.
If you are a single parent and are having a bad day, this is what I wish I had known.
1. Make time for yourself.
You need to have balance in your life and that might be a sport or hobby or working or just having one night a week to binge on your favourite show. That time you have for yourself is just as important as looking after your kids. If you have a shared custody arrangement, appreciate your child-free time. I did NOT have a second parent to raise them with. He was unwilling, so I had them 24/7, 365 days a year for 18+ years. There are times when I desperately wished that he would have them so I could have some time for me, just to remember who I was. I'm now at the other end and in the midst of an identity crisis because I've forgotten who I am without my children. Don't let that happen to you. Nurture you, your interests, your friends, your spiritual self, remember who you were before children so that when they spread their wings, you can just roll back into your life.
2. Surround yourself with a tribe
The biggest mistake I made in parenting, was taking them away from their family support network for too long. We went on an around Australia adventure (see point 10), but we never went home. I never had my family's support as they started entering adolescence and that was when I needed their support the most. I needed to have that support around me, but instead I was doing it all on my own and it exhausted me and to be honest, the problems I had during Miss 20s adolescence broke me. I'm not the same person I was because it was so hard to parent her.
3. Stop focusing on being single, enjoy the ride of being a parent, it'll be over before you know it.
Dating can wait. While it would be lovely for your child/children to have a step-parent or other siblings, my experience of dating was a nightmare. I always thought I wanted a partner, but when I look back on the realities of introducing them and the attention required for a new partner in the early stages I realise that I really was being selfish to waste all my time on that, What I should have focused on were all the amazing and beautiful FRIENDS and role models in my girls' lives instead of trying to hurry a relationship that I, and they, weren't ready for. Of course, if you feel you can do it, go for it. My experience was that like all relationships, they take work, and when you are a parent, 99 out of 100 times you will choose your child. Wait. There will be time after for making love on the couch in the middle of the day without being interrupted. Sometimes we get what we need, not what we want.
When you have a 4 or 14 year old in the middle of some existential crisis about bananas or yoghurt or something else, focus on your breath. You are no good to your child in teaching them calm and rational conversations if you lose your shit. Take a breath, ask if it's worth a battle and then move on. If they are not in any danger, or putting others in danger, it really just is a battle of the egos and children's egos are always bigger than yours. Breathe. Inhale love, exhale compassion.
5. Pace yourself, life is a marathon, not a sprint.
You don't need to get your career sorted or do all the things you've ever wanted to do while they are little. We only get them for about 13 years before they start making their peers more important than you. It's not long. There will be time after they've gone to get the promotion, or study, or travel or have a career change. Of course, you can start the process of these things while they are younger so you are ready when they leave.
6. Ask for help.
My biggest regret in parenting was pushing away help. I never accepted offers of help and always felt like I had to do it all because they were my responsibility. If someone offers to help, accept that help. Nobody offers unless they mean it. I have had suicidal thoughts at various points in the parenting journey - mostly during their adolescence - psychological and familial support is so important. Your kids might be little bitches or bastards right now, but they will still need you. Look after your mental health and ask for help.
7. Remember not to say bad things about their other parent or his/her family, it will come back and bite you.
This goes without saying. Whether you like them and their family or not, the children have a right to know where they came from. This is an important part of their identity. I wish I hadn't said bad things about him in-front of them, but it's hard when you are hurting yourself. They will either seek out their other parent or choose to live with them later. You need to be ready for that because ultimately they have a right to know their parents, regardless of what you think of him/her.
8. Keep the lines of communication with your kids open, you will need them to communicate with you when they are teenagers.
When they become teenagers, they stop talking to you in the way that they used to. To be honest, I don't know how I have lived through the past 5 or 6 years, it's been hell. I was just about to give up when Kind Man came along. I was fortunate though that the girls and I had open lines of communication and the they continued to talk to me, even if it was just grunting sometimes!
9. You are allowed to make mistakes, you are human. Don't be so hard on yourself.
I have made a lot of mistakes - not put the nappy on backwards sort of mistakes - but disciplining mistakes, bossy parent at school mistakes, not making boundaries strong enough mistakes and losing all rational control with them mistakes. We all make mistakes and even if they don't forgive us now, they will later. Being a single parent is hard, you have nobody to bounce ideas off, nobody to be the good cop-bad cop and nobody to hold you when you cry curled up in a ball at night. As long as you did your very best as a parent at the time, that's all you can expect of yourself. Besides, when you become a grandparent, you can hopefully get it right!
10. Create adventures with your children.
Create memories, because one day you'll wake up and they have moved on and those memories will be your heart's treasures. My greatest memories are the ones we made when we were camping, travelling around Australia, or trying new things together. Some days, when I sit alone in this big, empty house, those are the things that keep me smiling. Money is just money, but memories are priceless.
Our kids are with us for only a short time, but if we want to raise strong, independent young people on our own we need to be able to look after ourselves as well.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2019
Please let us know if you have any more tips to add in the comments below.
"I didn't feel like I had permission to be here, to be seen, to dress up, to look nice or to feel empowered. I felt like I didn't have the right to ...well, exist - anywhere outside of my house, my family or my workplace. I felt like an imposter, not just in the restaurant, but in the WORLD."
Since the great yoga-teacher-training-ego-death debarcle lessons of 2016, I've not been well. I've been floating in this space of uncertainty and grief looking for a part of me that I have lost. This is a poem I wrote recently that captures that feeling...
My ego death about my yoga identity, the empty-nest hollowness I feel about my children growing up and the loss of my home have all converged in this massive ball of grief that I feel almost all of the time these days.
What my children leaving has done, however is to remind me who I was BEFORE I became a mother.
Last night, my partner took myself and my youngest daughter out to dinner at the casino. I looked around at all of the women who were dressed immaculately and I could feel a mass of anxiety rising in the pit of my stomach, the realisation that I was an imposter; like I shouldn't have been there, because I had no right. Just like I did as a teenager and a young adult at university.
In both situations, I didn't feel like I had permission to be here, to be seen, to dress up, to look nice or to feel empowered. I felt like I didn't have the right to ...well, exist - anywhere outside of my house, my family or my workplace. I felt like an imposter, not just in the restaurant, but in the WORLD.
I am afraid of being seen and to be honest, my greatest fears (apart from tsunamis - and who isn't scared of them?!), is to be the bride in a wedding because that would make me the centre of attention. All of these fears were hidden while I was a mother, but now, it's come back in a full-frontal assault on my consciousness. There's this real sense of a feeling that I don't have permission to be happy, to have fun, or be successful outside my comfort zone of my introverted protective bubble that I created while my kids were around.
Recently I signed up for the Femme-preneur training with Marnie Le Fevre and the moment I signed up I realised that this was a woman who wouldn't allow any of this inner crap stay inside me, the training will break down these walls that I have put up to protect myself from rejection and hurt by others because in truth, I'm afraid to shine. I'm afraid to shine my own light and to just be fully in myself as Alyssa Curtayne. The moment I signed up, it was as if I actually started the training with her on an energetic level and I'm scared, I'm excited but mostly I'm tired of pretending that I'm okay with how things are because I'm not.
So, today, I'm asking myself what the most extraordinary thing I could imagine for my life. I'm breaking down the walls and giving myself permission to live an extraordinary life where I am comfortable in being the very best me I can be, the most beautiful me I could be and the most happy me I could be and in August I experience the training with Marnie, I know I'll just be ready to shine and let my vulnerable brilliant self be.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2019