"I'm living my life for other people. I'm not being my true self - and what sort of example is that doing for my children? What message am I sending? That I'll settle, that I'll sacrifice myself for them at the cost of my mental and physical health?"
Increasingly I've been getting Facebook memories of my children saying things like "you're not your usual flowy self, Mum" or "You are like a business woman", and as you know, I've been stuck in depressive state for nearly three years, so it's about time I got to the bottom of this. I've always been a fairly transient person, I get restless after about three years and seek out new adventures, ideas or dreams, after all, life is only so short, so it's important to make the most of it, right?
But when we moved from living an outdoor, beach lifestyle in Broome to suburban Perth, I remember my middle daughter saying "I'm looking forward to being normal and living in a house," so we lived in a house. I sold our campervan and started living a "normal life". The kids were happy in a house with four walls, but it only took two years for me to start to feel restless again. So we moved to a nearby suburb, I thought having the expansive views of the city would help me to settle, but instead, I became restless again and my depression started to sink in. I wasn't following my heart, I was trying to give my daughters some sense of normality and a sense of stability, which I suppose they've had these past five years here but at what cost to me?
The consequences of not following my heart are significant - not only is my mental health is affected but my body is not coping. In my case, I've had injuries in my calves, a neck problem that just won't fix, no matter how many chiropractors, osteopaths or massage therapist's I've seen and I've gained 8kg which just won't budge, no matter what I do. I'm living my life for other people. I'm not being my true self - and what sort of example is that doing for my children? What message am I sending? That I'll settle, that I'll sacrifice myself for them at the cost of my mental and physical health? To be fair, their adolescence hasn't been a walk in the park, but I'm not happy in my life. I'm restless. This last move we had, I only lasted six months before I wanted to move again. I feel trapped by the walls of a home in the middle of suburbia. I feel trapped living in a city that I don't like.
I feel trapped by an innertia that up until this very moment I had forgotten I had power over. I have power, I have choice, I have to honour my true self, the little me that sits inside and just wants to finish the trip - to go home. I've been, as Jim Carrey puts it, "playing a character" for the benefit of everyone else and not for me. I've been so worried about upsetting my teenage daughters that I've pushed my true self away rather than owning who I really am. I'm tired of playing this game. I'm tired of living the life that other people expect of me. And, as a friend of mine just said "Whatever path you take ensure it is one that makes you happy. Smiling and feeling at peace with life is worth more than gold." And she's right. I deserve to be happy. I deserve to put my heart's calling into action and if it doesn't work out, I can always change my mind because I have choice.
*This is the author's experience of this, please consider seeing an appropriate professional if you feel like you have medical needs. Doctors. We need them. Use them. :)
©Alyssa Curtayne 2019
"Crying is universal - across all cultures. It appears in folktales and mythology and across ages, from babies to the elderly and even animals. Given this, why is there so much shame in it?"
You know when your face is all red and swollen, that heaving - almost vomiting - sadness that wells up from deep inside us and there are no more tears left? That moment when you couldn't possibly cry anymore because you have nothing left inside?
It's similar to the space between asleep and awake, an inhale and an exhale, the moment your foot leaves the ground ready to step forward, or backward.
When you're completely exhausted from sadness.
That is the moment that sits in infinite potential of our being. It's that moment that we are raw and vulnerable and our beingness sits in possibilities - the possibilities of awakening, the possibilities of exhaling, the possibilities of changing direction and the possibilities of allowing joy to bubble up inside us.
We have so much power in that moment.
Crying is as natural as breathing. But just like when we hold our breath or when we hold our tears and sadness in, it is us that suffers. We choke. We drown in our emotions. We are unable to live fully. Borgquist suggests that before we cry, we have an accumulation, where emotions build up until they can no longer be held by the physiological system. And yet, as awful as it feels sometimes, crying is good for us. It is hard for science to measure a good impromtu cry in a lab, but overwhelmingly (60-70%) of people found psychological benefits in having a good cry. Crying is universal - across all cultures. It appears in folktales and mythology and across ages, from babies to the elderly and even in animals. Given this, why is there so much shame in it? Why do we hide our raw, emotional feelings?
According to psychosomatic therapy, tears shouldn't be wiped away. The energetic release allows for the tracks of the tears to fall away along with the reasons for the grief. The Communication Queen Carmel Murphy suggests they should be allowed to flow past your chin "You simply must allow your tears to flow to allow release. Pschomatically your spirit does not register that you have released the emotion until your tears reach your chin. So cry freely and heal quicker." So let them flow. As my girlfriend rightly said yesterday "maybe it's about accepting...and not fighting it." Her wisdom was a timely reminder of loving what is, diving fully into the sadness, to sit in it, to sit with it - without judgement.
Life is not about our achievements or popularity or the stuff we collect, it is the moments. It's the moment before sleep or awakening, the pause between the in-breath and out-breath, it's the momentary pause between steps and it's the moment that sits between sadness and joy. Life is made of these moments. And in every one, we have a choice - to suppress our feelings, or to allow ourselves to BE in that moment, until our face is puffy, our stomach muscles are aching, the tears are exhausted and we feel empty. It's in that emptiness we have choice and that feels empowering.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2019
 Borgquist, Alvin. “Crying.” The American Journal of Psychology, vol. 17, no. 2, 1906, pp. 149–205. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1412391.
 Rottenberg, Jonathan, et al. “Is Crying Beneficial?” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 17, no. 6, 2008, pp. 400–404. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20183331.
"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