Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Are you Co-dependent?

In my corporate life I spent a lot of time mentoring graduates and I can tell you that it was the best part of my experience. Better than the projects that saved the organisation millions. I felt appreciated and I knew that I was making a difference. The relationships were mutually beneficial even though the graduates thought that only they were getting something out of it. They were enthusiastic, grateful and eager to learn. I found working with them enormously rewarding.  

The example I used above is a healthy relationship, with give and take and both parties benefiting. However, there are relationships that are not so healthy. I’ve written previously about the importance boundaries in order to keep relationships healthy. An unhealthy relationship could also be a codependent one.

According to Wikipedia, “codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. Among the core characteristics of codependency, the most common theme is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and identity.”

I tend to be the reliable one. I tend to be the person who always attends or hosts the important family functions even though I’m struggling with my health and looking after two small children. I tend to be the one who pushes through difficult things at work rather than burden other people with them. I wonder if people appreciate how difficult it is to be the strong one all the time. It can be exhausting – an unnecessary drain on my already low energy reserves.

Being strong and being capable means that you can attract people into your life who need help and support. They might appear competent to others but around you they are needy in terms of the reassurance and acknowledgement they require on a regular basis. Of course it’s nice to be needed and I enjoy encouraging people and giving them opportunities for growth. But I don’t enjoy it when people rely on me for their future happiness. It actually makes me quite angry that someone would put that on me.

What kind of friend would I be if I placed my hopes and dreams in the hands of another? I think that’s unfair. I would never burden anyone with my well-being psychologically, emotionally, physically or career wise. There are many who feel that it is their manager’s responsibility to nurture their career. Why would you put your future in the hands of another? What guarantee do you have that they know what you want, and will spend their time and energy on getting it right? Surely, people are too busy spending their time and energy on their own needs? It's up to you to take ownership. 

The trouble with running a business and being the ‘boss’ is that people think it’s up to you to sort out their career path. They assume that you’ll always be there for them to lean on and to reassure them. No. My health has collapsed from a number of factors, one of those being the burden of obligation to others for too long.

I now realise that I’m fully entitled to shake off those hanging onto my coat tails and to insist that the relationship changes or ends. I wont be an enabler. I’ve got enough to carry around with caring for a family, getting my health right and finding a new career path. I certainly can’t be propping up other people if I want to get well.

You are responsible for your career. A good manager will keep an eye out for opportunities and help you grow in order to equip you for future roles. But they are not accountable – YOU are! Take action to make your life better instead of lamenting your troubles when people don’t deliver your happiness. Do you see how ridiculous that sounds?

Monday, 25 May 2015

Nostalgia can be a Mood Booster

Yesterday I was looking for a mosaic kit to do with my six year old and I came across an old shoe box of letters. Yes, letters that were handwritten and posted with an actual stamp on the envelope. It doesn't seem like so long ago, only the 1990s when mobile phones and email were not so prevalent for us. The letters were from my time at university and I read them with great enjoyment.

The contents were from a few close friends and even some postcards from my mother. You see, I went to stay in another city for my studies. For most of my childhood I had to play the adult role, bringing peace and order to a chaotic environment. I was the mediator between all the various factions in the family. As I've mentioned previously, harmony is my top strength on the Gallup Strengths Finder. So it was quite a blessing to go away to university and to be able to have some fun. I consumed far too much alcohol and have memories of a few antics that I’d rather forget. Finally away from the tension and drama of home, I let my hair down and really relished the university life.

In the first year I had to share a room with a rather interesting roommate. She was stick thin with short dark hair and very pretty. All the boys envied me and tried to elicit details as to what she looked like without her clothes on. Her childhood was not neglectful but rather oppressive. In true student style she rebelled and was intoxicated almost every night. She partook in something called ‘bush diving’ where you fling your body into nearby bushes after taking in sufficient liquid courage. Needless to say she didn't obtain her degree and left university after a few attempts at various other degrees.

I felt no need to rebel since I was given a front door key when I was about thirteen. My brother and I spent a few Christmas holidays on our own, throwing some rather fun dinner parties on the lawn of our family home. We lost our home due to my father's company debt while I was away at university. None of my toys or possessions were kept so I have very few items to hold onto for nostalgia. I suppose that is what made reading the letters such a treat. Losing everything  helped me not to hang onto material things because they can always be replaced. It's relationships that are the key to a happy life.

Reading the letters and notes from university friends and my old school friends, I noticed how many people were thanking me for favours. I found it so wonderful how people took the time to actually write in the first place, let alone such a lovely gesture to thank me in writing. 
In recent years I've been so consumed with my troubles and my stress that I have had difficulty being a good friend. Graves’ disease has symptoms such as irritability and depression and the pure fatigue caused me to be really ratty with those in my vicinity. I'm noticing as I get better that I have the capacity to notice what is happening in the lives of others. Hopefully I can regain the ability to be a caring friend again as I sort out my health. 

The contents of the letters made me laugh at what things were important to us at age nineteen. It’s sometimes the daily routines and the small things shared that keep relationships alive. The little notes at my university residence telling me that I missed a tea party and the letters from school friends saying that they missed me. I found cards from my family and our cleaner even, who is now deceased, welcoming me home and saying how much I was missed. 

I think at school and university I used to laugh such a lot. I had a great deal of energy and had so much more fun than I do now. I often wonder if my daughter somehow extracted my fun when she was born because she seems full of life as I used to be before having children. Isn't it a pity that we lose our fun-loving side when stress and responsibility take their toll? 

I have always enjoyed small groups and one-on-one interactions. I like to have discussions on a deep level, discussing issues that bring real meaning to life. I struggle to enjoy situations where the men separate to drink beer and talk business and the women discuss child rearing and grooming. 

I think I’m getting so much better spotting the appropriate depth that I require in a friendship. I have also come to realise that when you have an experience such as a serious diagnosis, you can outgrow some relationships. Some things that seemed so important in the past have become trivial and don’t require the same focus. It is sad to have friendships dwindle but I think that as I recover I will attract a different sort of person into my life with friendships that will feed my soul more.

This weekend I was amazed to see a school friend post something on Facebook that suggested she has no hope or desire to improve her life. I find that to be frightening. For me life is more than having things just happen to me reactively while I wait to die. I know that I'm empowered to change my life for the better, despite what the wet blankets say. I'm already doing it in fact. I want the people around me to be inspiring and to push me to improve myself and enhance my happiness. More active happiness enhancing and less despair, please.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Progress and Set-Backs

I have been told many times that I’m too hard on myself. I hold myself to high standards and when things go wrong, I do probably attribute blame to myself more than to others. It’s important for people like me to make a point of reflecting on progress and successes. We are in the habit of looking forward, frustrated that we are not further ahead on our path. Looking back often provides a welcome relief to those high standards in the acknowledgement of how much progress has been made.

I went on a longer walk than usual today, mostly to escape the mayhem at home. On my walk I had the realisation that it has only been a few short months since my diagnosis. Only four months have elapsed but it feels like a year to me. I think that’s because there has been so much personal growth. I have found myself being irritated that I didn't have insights earlier than I did, like that I took a while to realise that daily naps are important. But in reality, only a few weeks elapsed before I implemented that regimen. Perhaps all the turmoil of addressing important life issues has left me feeling that I've aged a year in only four months.

Some recent emotional wounds were opened yesterday. Sadly, it does cause me stress and it has taken its toll on my energy levels. Because I don’t feel rested today I’m having a lot of difficulty being at home when the family is here. My girls are driving me crazy and I’m finding myself being overly irritable with them. It is certain that stressful events slow down my recovery and set me back. I’m feeling the need to withdraw to recover. Unfortunately my environment expects me to mediate fights and provide entertainment for small children. Not so aligned to my needs today. The good news is that the girls are close to their father after me spending a weekend away recently, so they are in good hands and happy to be there.

I’m reading a wonderful book on building resilience which I’m hoping will help me bounce back quicker in adversity. I have applied the happiness building techniques learned from books I have read, so I have no doubt that I can improve my resilience as well.  Next time those wounds are opened, I will hopefully be able to reduce the impact on my energy reserves and not let it affect me so much.

I feel that I’m gaining more and more clarity on my career path. I suspect that I’ll receive income from a variety of sources in future. I’m so very grateful for the opportunities that are coming my way. I’m certain that it’s due to being clear on what I enjoy and what I want in my life. Sometimes I feel that the answers are unfolding faster than I can handle.

Looking back over the past four months I have gained an enormous bundle of personal insight and have been able to define a future path for myself that supports my talents. I've been clear in knowing what must disappear from my life and what must enter, in a generalised way. I've been reciting my Best Possible Future Self every day and in so doing, I've put my intentions out there and the clarity is improving with each week that passes.

It’s strange to realise that I've only recently connected with my needs and talents. In my previous role I spent a lot of time doing what I could do and not want I really wanted to do. That has been a key learning for me on this journey in that although I’m good at something, it has no place in my  job function if I don’t enjoy it.

The recovery process takes time and requires patience, both of which are in short supply. But I do have the sense that the next few weeks will see the fruits of my efforts unfolding further. I’m hoping that in a month’s time, I’ll be in remission and well enough to do work that is aligned to my passions and that builds me up.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Power of Affirmations

This weekend I was reminded of the fact that many people speak negatively about themselves. I don’t think many people would dispute that negative self-talk is quite clearly destructive. The thoughts we have and the things we say about ourselves can cause damage. If we cultivate an environment where we constantly criticise ourselves, it is hard to thrive. I’d like to encourage you to take the first step in combating negative self-talk: noticing it. Try to catch yourself as you think negatively about yourself or say something unpleasant to yourself, or about yourself to others.

Once you start noticing, replace the negative thoughts with kind and compassionate words such as ‘well, I’m doing my best at the moment’ or ‘let me be patient with myself while I learn this’. It sounds contrite but just noticing and being kinder to yourself can make a difference.  Hating yourself does not serve anyone so find something that is more constructive.

Personally I have struggled with affirmations. I feel a bit silly and I’m terrified someone overhears me and I hear guffaws in the background while I'm saying 'I have a happy and slender body'. I have failed to implement them properly in the past but lately I’m getting it right. I have included an activity on my self-care roster to do affirmations daily. This is my reminder and if you need to use your calendar or a reminder on your phone, do so. If you can’t bring yourself to come up with positive thoughts about yourself, try some ready-made affirmations. It’s like a TV dinner for self-improvement.

The affirmations I use are from a few sources but in my view, the queen of affirmations must be Louise Hay. She spent years interviewing people and uncovered trends in terms of the ailments in the body and associated thoughts and emotions. If our thoughts are dominated by the negative, there is no question we will become sick, literally poisoned by our thoughts. I read her book You Can Heal Your Life and I earmarked all my ailments and their accompanying thoughts. 

I typed out the affirmations aligned my ailments into a spreadsheet, with the ailment in brackets behind it. I colour coded them, printed them and stuck them on a piece of cardboard. Each day I read these affirmations out loud, focussing on ones that might be more pertinent. I do this even if I don’t believe them straight away. I have found that in time I have started to be kinder to myself. Part of the reason I became ill was inadequate self-care and I have been told many times that I'm too hard on myself. Affirmations are my method of approving of myself and of graciously accepting good things into my life. 

Affirmations can be centred around many different aspects of your life, not only healing your body. They can address aspects such as abundance, relationships, career and spirituality. The mechanics are important however: always ask in the positive (exclude any terminology  such as ‘not’, ‘don’t’, ‘should’) and say it as if you are welcoming it into your life. An example would be ‘I now accept a happy life with my dream job’.

I have noticed lately that many of the people I care about are sorting out problems in their lives. Things appear to really be falling into place. Whether it is prayer or affirmations or simply letting the Universe know what you want, it can’t do any harm to put it out there. I believe that as soon as we know what we want, we must ask for it regularly. Affirmations can be a way of doing that so if you need to think if it as a prayer, do so. 

Many people dislike affirmations as it feels foolish or seems like brainwashing. I see it as a way to cement positive thinking about myself and to ready myself for accepting good things that come my way. It takes literally a minute or two of each day and it helps to program my thinking to be more positive about myself and my future. I’m willing to sacrifice two minutes daily in the interests of trying something that can improve my life. Are you? 

Monday, 18 May 2015


This weekend I went on a women’s retreat. On the first night I admitted to the ladies that I was really there to escape my children. Of course, I also went to renew myself and spend some time alone. It is the first time I have attended a retreat and I’m glad to say that there were no intolerable team exercises or war cries. The activities included art, dancing and reflection (including guided meditation).

I enjoyed the art tremendously and experienced true flow while constructing my pieces. The dancing was more difficult for me in that I am inhibited and restrained. I think my health concerns have led me to not trust my body anymore. The concept of free flow dancing makes me quite uncomfortable but I participated nonetheless. I found that the more I let go, the more I enjoyed myself. 

There were wonderful opportunities for solitude and reflection which I enjoyed thoroughly. Aligned with my current path of restoring myself and finding some peace, the quiet was something I really needed. I was able to let go of a major fear that has been holding me back. I feel a greater clarity of purpose going forward in my life and I've pumped up my happiness level, even if just for a while.

Something that I did not anticipate was that I’d really enjoy the people. Usually in a group there is one irritating person who talks too much and asks too many questions. But the group of people were genuine, supportive and nurturing. Being an introvert I do struggle with new people and these days I am less willing to keep up a high-energy facade. The people seemed to accept me regardless, and I really enjoyed aspects of everyone on the retreat.

Something that I've often observed is how many people speak so badly about themselves, even to people they have just met. They are willing to expose so many flaws and yet they get coy when being complimented. We often struggle to accept positive feedback with grace, and will argue and disagree. It is far more gracious to accept compliments considering the word emanates from ‘gift’. I have read that we should ask ourselves whether we would keep a friend to talks to us in the same way we talk to ourselves. That helps to remind us to be kind to ourselves, and to notice and rectify negative self-talk.  

While spending time on self-improvement it is expected that personal insights emerge. I have always resisted leadership and sticking my head above the crowd. Being an introvert I am often quite uncomfortable being centre of attention, despite the fact that I often end up there anyway. I was flabbergasted to be selected as a prefect at school. The first time I rose up in the corporate ladder, it was my team members who suggested that I should put my name forward when our manager moved on to greener pastures. It occurred to me that everyone else can see me as a leader and someone who can really shine. It’s time I transform my thinking and take my place as an eagle instead of a timid chicken.

While driving back, I encountered a large fire on both sides of the highway. In parts of our country the climate can be very dry, leading to bush fires. Often farmers intentionally create firebreaks to ensure that fires don’t spread too far and become catastrophic. With my health having been so poor in the past few years, it occurred to me that this retreat was like a firebreak, needed so that life does not engulf me.

I did think about my family a lot and I missed them. Getting home I appreciated my sweet girls, my husband, my own bed and shower. However, the feeling on the weekend of not being relied upon for every conceivable eventuality was an enormous relief. I will most definitely make an annual event for myself to get away and to care for myself, even if it’s just to feel that relief again.

I believe there is no greater investment than to invest in yourself. Once you start working on yourself and letting your creativity out, life's treasures start unfolding. I'm ready to embrace them and to see where it takes me. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Creativity: The Secret to All Things Good

I marvel at what people can create. Just looking at paintings, drawings and sculptures reveals the diversity of talent in our world. Even people who are not artists create beautiful things every day. I enjoy crochet and knitting so I took a look at some of the creations shown on Tumblr and was astounded. I have friends who create the most spectacular cakes and baking creations, friends who take scrap booking to a new level, and I am by no means unique with the collection of people I know.

Years ago a school friend and I attended weekly classes to learn about stamping on cards, plate painting, decoupage and various other things. My friend’s mother joined in and the three of us had ‘play dates’ sharing our art supplies and creating some wonderful things. I always felt that their creations were so much better than mine. But looking back I also created some wonderful pieces of art and sadly, I have no idea how they were done. Once we had children, we stopped attending the classes and our play dates dried up.

We became parents and we stopped playing. Many of us have forgotten what it is to play and to have fun. Having children of my own I see how much fun they have while painting. I habitually resist their painting at home because the tidying up rests with me and I find it most unpleasant. Perhaps this is one of the lessons I still need to learn and sometime soon I will embrace their painting and to dive in too.

This weekend I am attending a women’s retreat. I keep telling myself my primary reason for going is to escape my children but to be honest, it’s more than that. It’s allowing myself to invest in me. I think it is a key part of my recovery and I hope to make it an annual occasion. The weekend includes expression through art and through dance and as I have mentioned in previous posts, self-expression really necessary for me.

I find music to be such an interesting form of expression. There are songs that are so joyful and others so full of pain that you can hear the suffering in the words. How blessed are the artists who can express emotions through such a medium.

About a year ago I was going to a coach and I remember telling her how much joy I get from creating crochet blankets. I made one for a friend for her birthday a few years ago and she told me that it was the best present she had every received. I love the creative aspect of planning the pattern, colours and border. What I didn't tell my coach in so many words is that I enjoyed the blankets much more than work. Because at work I had no control over the goal and I was not able to be creative in my work. My work goals were extrinsic in that it was more for others, while creating a blanket is done for its own sake, an intrinsic purpose. Research shows that intrinsic goals make us happier.

It is true that I am undergoing a transformation from the stressed and unhappy person I was last year, to a fulfilled, peaceful person who is comfortable speaking her truth. Big change is happening in my body, in my life and my career. I choose to focus on what works for me and I unburden myself of the shackles of obligation to others. My journey has included a multitude of aspects including healing practices, diet change, exercise change, rest and meditation, focus on self-care, medication and supplements but most importantly, Creativity

You don’t have to be an artist to be creative. We are all born with creative talents which are sadly dormant in many of us. I’d encourage you to find some time to play or create in the next week. Express yourself in some way and note how it makes you feel. I have found that in writing, I am healing myself. It is in expressing my long-suppressed thoughts and ideas that I feel free.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Power of Novelty

I’m a strange combination of attributes I guess. I’m right-brained and creative but also I’m disciplined and focussed. I’m a great fan of structure and I tend to create order out of chaos wherever I go. But as much as I love and need routine, it’s really fun to break free occasionally. In the months, or years, where I was just trying to survive and not really living life, I just chugged away on the treadmill of my existence.

In the process of recovering I’m focussing on actively improving my quality of life and I’m forcing myself to try new things. Many of the things I have tried are in the interests of healing and today I’m trying a new approach called Theta Healing. I’ll report back on the various healing practices in another blog post in future.  

I also try to include novel experiences, apart from healing, in order to make me feel more alive. Last week I tried something called fish therapy for the first time. You place your feet in a warm tank full of fish who feed off dry skin. The tickling sensation is rather fun and the mere novelty was really enjoyable. I don’t think I’ll do it often but it was well worth a try.

I believe that creativity and novel experiences greatly enhance recovery and stimulate self-improvement. On the weekend I tried a new technique called ZentangleThe teacher spoke of its various benefits such as having a calming effect. She has no awareness of the concept of flow but I suspect Zentangle is a flow-inducing activity. You have to concentrate, you lose track of time and it can be all-consuming. I've already done a few more since the class and have some ideas about larger scale drawings incorporating the technique.

Many people on a growth path or having a ‘mid-life crisis’ try new experiences and buy themselves fun toys like sports cars and Harley Davidson motorcycles. I can see how the thrill of something new stimulates people and helps them to feel like a kid again. Many people have developed a Bucket List from the concept in the movie of the same name. 

These activities can include travel to new places as well as daring activities such as sky diving. Considering the fact that I’m suffering from a stress-related illness, I’m not seeking any thrills and extra adrenalin is not welcome in my body right now. I prefer to focus on creative experiences as well as seeing new things, in different places or even while shopping in places I haven’t visited before.

I made sure on my weekend away at the beginning of this month, that I walked around the town, observing as much as I could. The town we visited is well known for art and the many galleries and stores displaying crafts were really stimulating for me. That’s despite dragging around two little ones who wanted to touch everything and who kept asking ‘when are we going?’ every few seconds.

I have found that new experiences help me feel more awake and help me to notice the things around me. It is helping me live my life more fully. I couldn't think of anything worse for me than to be trapped in a cubicle or office every day all day. I want to be experiencing something new, having flow experiences regularly and stretching my consciousness. I’m confident that it will help me be a better, happier person, at home and at work.  

Passengers on the journey

Passengers on the journey