A Simple Cure for Moderate Depression?

Amber's Cindy clown

Photo by Amber McCaig

I haven’t blogged for nine months. I could go on at length about busyness, holidays away, and Christmas commitments, but I suspect the reason for my absence from the blogosphere is more likely to be related to the subject of my last post, Dealing with Stress in my Forever Life.

When I wrote that post, I thought I’d found the solution to my first world problems, but apparently, I hadn’t. The stressful feeling became more consuming as time moved on.

When I moved back to Australia, I lost control over certain areas of my life. As an expat, I did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, but back here, I found myself pulled in many directions by  my children, extended family, grandchildren, and old friends.

My routines were out of whack, and making time for writing and those activities I’d filled my expat life with seemed lost.

As the months passed, and I continued to struggle with what wasn’t quite right in my life, I began experiencing sleepless nights, and last November the heart palpitations arrived. Over the next three months, the palpitations became more frequent, and were accompanied by a tight knot of anxiety in my chest that made me feel physically ill.

I realised I was moderately depressed and needed help. I made an appointment with my GP, and requested a referral to a psychologist.

The advice the psychologist gave me worked like magic. At the end of the first session, she asked me to do three things:

  1. Spend ten minutes twice a day breathing to a pattern of ‘in to the count of 7, hold to the count of 5, and exhale to the count of 7’. Ten minutes is a long time to simply focus on counting the air entering and leaving my lungs, so I set a timer to do it. That was the only way I could be sure I would commit to the exercise for the allotted time, and it was important, because ten minutes was long enough to send calming hormones around my body, signalling there was no need for the exhausting flow of adrenaline.
  2. Keep a journal. I’ve kept a journal since 2007. It’s a wonderful way to solve problems, but it hadn’t solved my anxiety. The breathing exercise did that.
  3. Get back to the rewrites of my second book. I’m not ready for that, but I had an urge to return to blogging, which is why I’m here today.

I did the breathing exercises twice a day without fail, and after one week, my improved state of mind astounded me. Over the following two weeks, my palpitations and anxiety vanished. If I felt them threaten again, I didn’t worry, because I had a weapon to stop them.

It’s been three months since my appointment with the psychologist, and I’m ridiculously happy. I sleep well, and have magically gained a sense of control in my beautifully chaotic and fulfilling life.

Writing is still missing, but I’ve given myself permission to take a break from it. I’m hoping that by writing this blog, I’ve recommitted to writing in a small way which will eventually lead me back to the rewrites of book number two.

As I wasn’t seriously depressed, the thought flitted through my mind that I was wasting the psychologist’s time, but that was crazy thinking. It was the best decision I made, and I’d highly recommend the same for everyone struggling with anxiety or depression.

Are you guilty of avoiding getting help for depression? And if you’ve been depressed, did  a simple breathing exercise help you?

 

 

 

Dealing with Stress in my Forever Life

On this day, two years ago, we arrived back in Australia after living in other countries for the prior ten years. It has been exciting, wonderful, and fun to be back, but much to my amazement, it has taken me the best part of these two years for me to settle into life here.

I now see my expatriate life as a Temporary Life. Even though I made friends and a life for myself in each country we lived in, everything was done with the subconscious knowledge that I wouldn’t be staying in that life forever. My Forever Life would happen when I moved back to Australia.

So I fought against the notion that my dreamed of Forever Life was making me stressed. I touched on this in a previous post, Repatriation can be Hard.

That stress peaked a few months ago, forcing me to examine why it was happening. My life has been blessed and it shamed me to complain when I’m very aware of  how lucky I am, but shame just added to my discontent, so I asked myself three questions:

  1. How can I share my time among all the things I want to do without getting stressed?
  2. How can I replace the close friends that died while I was away.
  3. What is my purpose?

The answer to question one came to me when I took a step back from all the high expectations I placed on myself. My tendency towards obsessive compulsiveness means that I spend far longer on tasks than most other people. Recognising this, I gave myself permission to ignore my To Do List for a week. That helped me discover that when I didn’t stress about what I wasn’t achieving, I had more time and energy. My stress was the problem, making me too tired to manage everything. Since then, I’ve learnt to let myself off the hook when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I’m now achieving more. 

Which brings me to question two. I was seeking replacements for the friendships I had before I left. Friends that lived close to me, people I could drop in on at any time and know I’d be welcomed. I was looking for a particular kind of friend to fill the hole that wasn’t as obvious in my Temporary Life, but was a gaping wound in my Forever Life. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends, my problem was that I didn’t have THOSE friends.

Then, I read something that resonated with me when I altered the words a little to this:

Instead of trying to find the perfect friend, find the perfect in the friends you have.

The close friends that died while I was away are irreplaceable, so I grieve for them when I miss them, but it’s okay because I have other wonderful friends who now fill me up and make me happy.

And it was one of those friends that guided me to question three when she told me she was reluctant to retire because she feared feeling purposeless. She’s a nurse, as I was, and thinking about what she’d said, I realised that we had both felt our lives held real purpose as mothers and nurses. We were carers and we still are, but I now care for my family, friends, and grandchildren. It’s not a purpose that engenders the same level of appreciation that caring for strangers did, but acknowledging that the role is important to me has stopped me from resenting the time it was taking from the many other things I wanted to do. Caring is my purpose.

These questions helped me to be a little more forgiving of myself, and to pay more attention to what I have rather than what is missing from my life. My stress was caused by imagined problems.

My Forever Life isn’t perfect, and it’s bound to present me with further worries from time to time, but I hope to keep these lessons in mind. 

What do you do to relieve your stress?

Repatriation Can be Hard

It is now over five months since we arrived back in Australia, an event I looked forward to immensely, especially after my sister Helen died in January, 2011. Her death was like a reality check that made the world feel larger and the time and distance between those near and dear to me became magnified into scary proportions.

As a daughter, sister, friend, daughter-in-law and nurse, I have observed first-hand how the dying lose interest in worldly affairs and possessions, but what does become important to them is their family and close friends.

We don’t know how many years we have on this planet. It’s remotely possible I could live for another thirty-plus years, but as Helen’s death so clearly demonstrated, I can’t count on that, so it suddenly seemed insane to be spending most of my time so far from my children and other family members.

Five months ago, I righted all those concerns. I am here and all is well with my world.

Or is it?                      

Perhaps not! I am often stressed, overwhelmed and befuddled.

I expected certain stresses on my return to Australia, there are legal and financial issues to deal with as well as the usual considerations needed when you move anywhere.  However, I coped well with my move to America, and later Scotland, so I expected this move to be a breeze.

Instead, it appears to have turned my brain to mush,

I’m having trouble remembering the things I should be doing, and that lovely sensation of feeling as if I have oodles of time is like a distant memory that I’m beginning to doubt was real.  There have been moments when I’ve convinced myself that I have early Alzheimer’s.

I asked other people I know who repatriated before me about their experiences and their responses have varied. It seems the shorter the time overseas, the less stressful the return, but some of them, like me, found the move back more difficult than they expected. An American friend used the word ‘grief’ in her explanation of how she felt when she moved home after a few years living in a foreign country. Initially, I rejected the possibility I could be grieving for my expat life. This is where I want to be, I love it here.

But on further reflection, it occurred to me that maybe I am suffering from a degree of grief.

I’m grieving for my lost, peaceful, and self-indulgent expat life.

When I moved to Florida and later, Glasgow, I didn’t know anyone. There were no friends, no relatives, no former work colleagues, and for the first time in many years, I didn’t have a job to go to. My husband and daughter were pretty much all I had to worry about. I couldn’t remember a time in my adult life when I’d felt so time-rich.

I focussed on finding and setting up a home for us, and exploring my new environments at leisure.

Since I’ve been back in Australia, as well as finding and setting up a new home, I’ve been busy catching up with former co-workers, friends, family – even cousins I haven’t seen for years – and of course I’ve spent large chunks of time with our children. We’ve celebrated four family birthdays, Christmas and New Year, made changes to our new home, I’ve been the driver for an injured son and my frequent-flyer husband, and I’ve helped three of my children move house.

It appears that the main reason I was desperate to come home – to be physically closer to family and friends – is largely responsible for the increased stress levels I’ve felt since I’ve been here.

I’m not complaining, I’m truly happy to be surrounded by these people, but I thought it may be of interest to those of you who still have this experience in your future. I probably wouldn’t have paid attention to my own advice when I was champing at the bit to get here, but you might be smarter than me, so here’s my advice to you for when you move back to your homeland —

  1. Expect to be busier.
  2. Don’t plan to write a book, like I did! Unless you’re better at time-management than I am.
  3. Go easy on yourself and enjoy the process.
  4. Don’t try to do everything at once.
  5. Go with the flow.

I’m working on taking my own advice, but it can be difficult.

One Last Look at 2013

The first Full Moon of 2014

The first Full Moon of 2014

Before January 2014 and all talk of resolutions and goals disappear, lets take a look at  the resolution list I made in January 2013.

1. Move to Australia to live. – Very happy that this one is now off the list.

2. Find a new home in Australia. – Also happy to have found the home we did!

3. Publish Absent Children That was enormous!

4. Successfully market Absent Children  -How to define success? Millions of sales? Or hundreds. I didn’t get near either of those marks, but despite my avoidance of marketing over the past few months, I haven’t given up yet!

5. Complete first draft of Crystal.  Failing at this has provided me with far more frustration than anything else. I desperately want to finish it, partly because having a second book up there is a marketing tool, but mainly because until it is finished, I can’t know if it works as a story.

6. Meditate regularly (stealing this one, but it has been an intention for two years now, time to make it a reality.) – I began well with this, and felt I benefited, but when life became chaotic, meditation was one of the first things to go. Silly, because I probably needed it more than ever over the last six months. 

7. Maintain good relationships with family and friends  – I believe I’ve succeeded in this one.

8. Read for pleasure as well as work. – I have done this, although perhaps not as much as I’d like to. An important part of my writing life involves critiquing and beta reading for others, and there have been times when I’ve barely managed to keep up with those in recent months.

9. Create two new blogs – one on birthing practices and one on writing– Rethinking this as it still hasn’t happened. I hoped to have blogging down pat by now, but to do it well requires more technical know-how than I’ve been willing to learn this year. I hope I can make time to change that, and when and if I do, I plan to merge the writing blog with the birthing one… maybe.  

10. Enjoy myself. – Overall, I did enjoy 2013 immensely. There were many highs –

  • while still living in Scotland we had visits from Aussie and US friends and family,

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  • visited my brother and his wife in their UK house sit,

Gorsty Knoll Feb 2013 028

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Norway Chile and Florida, January 2013 030 Chile and Florida, January 2013 017

IMG_3007 Chile Jan 2013 036

Since returning to Australia, the good times have continued –

IMG_3584 IMG_3705

January 2014 016

  • catching up with friends, seeing heaps more of family,

Full Moon Jan 2014 510  Photo by Cindy Townsend

Photo by Cindy Townsend
  •  and celebrated Christmas in our new home.  

Full Moon Jan 2014 635

I’m so lucky to have had such a great year, but there have also been a very stressful times; many big decisions made, lots of  money spent and at times, simply too much going on, so this year, I’m shying away from listing goals.

I need to consolidate my new life here before embarking on even a ‘Catherine, Caffeinated’-style of goal setting.

Maybe I’ll make a list next month, or in June? Perhaps December? Or not at all.

Are you a fan of New Year Resolutions?

Goodbye Scotland

Well, the time has come and we have finally left Scotland. In six hours, we leave the UK.

Scotland, I want you to know, it’s not about you, it’s me. You are a beautiful country filled with wonderful people and I still love you, but it is time and I have to go HOME. The Pull is too strong! Thanks for all the good times. xxxx

Speaking of home, I had to post and watch this one more time, simply because the words speak to me and echo exactly how I feel about my homeland: – I Still Call Australia Home – To listen and watch, click on the title or here.

Thanks to the Outback Singers for this version, and to Peter Allen for writing the words and music. Thanks also to Qantas for taking me home and finally, thanks to Australia for being there.

See you soon.

Missed Deadlines

Somehow in the midst of my current chaotic situation, I missed the full moon!

The Moon

That’s right – I missed my own deadline. And that, my friends, is something I recommend we all do from time to time, particularly when stressed, because it’s wonderfully freeing. The fail has happened, I can’t fail more than I already have – how great is that?

With all pressure gone, I took my time to get this to you.

I’ve sorted through mountains of papers, most of which could have been thrown out weeks/months/years ago, and as I progressed, I wondered if I’ll ever overcome this tendency to accumulate useless pieces of paper.

I’m the type of person who  wanders around hardware stores, loving the way they have everything in a special place, cataloged and easy to find.

Interior, Tweedy & Popp Hardware Store, 1916 N...

Interior, Tweedy & Popp Hardware Store, 1916 N 45th St, Wallingford neighborhood, Seattle, Washington. Seattle’s oldest extant hardware store, founded 1920, in the same location since 1949. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve also been known to spend too much time in office supply stores, looking at various containers to keep things in.  I’m not predisposed to keeping things tidy beyond a certain point, but I do dream of orderly file cabinets and shelves. I dream of knowing exactly where to go to find that travel brochure we brought home from our last trip, the one that I put ‘somewhere’ out of sight because I needed to clean up for some reason and I was busy with living,

And then there’s the man I married – hi Tony!

Order to him is piles of papers where ever he leaves them. He knows where to find what he needs, but the problem I have with his system is that when he no longer needs something, it just remains in a pile untouched. Until we move and I throw them away.

Throwing away ‘stuff’ is another liberating activity.

Some of the papers I’ve thrown out belonged to me, and among them there have been many memories. Maps and brochures from places we’ve visited, and stories written by my writing friends. It is lovely to glance at them and remember when…

One of the piles of papers to be discarded.

One of the piles of papers to be discarded.

But, if we weren’t moving, I would never have looked at them. Is this a benefit of moving? Maybe.

When we sold our family home in Australia, my daughters took endless photographs of the important memories they wanted to keep and I thought that was a great idea, but photos of stacks of brochures, maps, and printed papers won’t provide me with memories, so I’m letting them go.

The important memories are in my head.

But I still yearn for an orderly life.

In my orderly life, I would place those pamphlets on a special shelf until we are settled back from our holiday, and then I’d use them as prompts to create some type of record of where we went and what we did, something that would be easy to flip through and read.

And those printed stories and paper bills – I’d allocate special shelves or drawers for certain months, and then every three to six months, I’d clean out the the old to make room for the new. How sweet that would be!

It would, however, involve more deadlines. Perhaps not so sweet, but I won’t worry about it because it won’t happen. There is always a far more important desire that takes priority in my life. It changes from time to time, but somehow, the orderly life never seems to hit the top of the list. Maybe I like the dream more than the reality.

In two more sleeps, we leave our Glasgow home and as I sort and toss, filming of The Pull is coming to a conclusion. It’s been a fun ride watching movie magic in the making, and today I’m going to share some of it with you. Click Here to see a preview!!!! 😉

Enjoy.

Australia, I will see you at sunrise in one week and one day. Looking forward to it very much. xxxx

Moving Panic

How To Stop Panic Attacks

I’m having fleeting moments of panic when I think of all the little jobs I’ve yet to do before the big M day. The only solution is to get serious about this moving business and begin working at it. In an attempt to prevent my head from imploding, I made the following list for myself more than anyone else, but it may prove handy for others planning an international move. I’m sure most people would have done a lot more by this stage, which is why I was too embarrassed to make it public until I could cross off at least a few of the items.

  1. Book move and fill out formal paperwork
  2. Complete customs forms
  3. Send Invitations to Farewell Party
  4. Prepare for Farewell Party
  5. Farewell Party – that was great fun!
  6. Notify Dentist

    notify_me

    notify_me (Photo credit: Inspiredhomefitness)

  7. Notify Doctor
  8. Cancel house insurance
  9. Cancel car Insurance
  10. Notify Gas and Electricity
  11. Notify water
  12. Notify telephone, television and broadband company
  13. Notify bank
  14. Notify postal service
  15. Arrange mail forwarding
  16. Notify city council
  17. Notify milkman
  18. Notify change of address with Australian companies – rates, water, taxes, MCC, insurance, shares
  19. Sorting through papers, clothes and other items we no longer need and giving them away – aaaagh!
  20. Marketing book – what book?
  21. Writing – what’s that?
  22. Blogging -struggling.
  23. Keeping up with everyday activities like cooking, eating, cleaning, washing, ironing – struggle getting bigger every day.
  24. Super clean of house after furniture gone – frightening prospect
  25. Super tidy of garden – what if I leave this to last, and it pours with rain????
  26. Notify friends and family of move.

It actually doesn’t look that bad when I list it like this. Of course, the other small disruption I have going on is that my daughter and her friend are staying with us at the moment, and they are extremely busy making a movie, The Pull. Read more about it here. Many of the scenes in the movie are set in our home, so some days are far more discombobulating than others – the days when the crew are filming in my kitchen or living spaces. It sounds like the worst of possible times for this to be happening, but in reality, I think it is providing me with a wonderful distraction. Watching how low budget movies are made is fascinating, chatting to the crew and cast is fun, and overall it’s exciting. Far better than stressing or losing my head!

Countdown

Have a peek at the countdown calender on the left? You’ll have to scroll down – it’s below the Absent Children image.

It says that in 28 days, I leave Glasgow.  That’s right, there are only 28 days of living in Glasgow left.

This time next month, I will be living in Australia!

I’m ridiculously excited about this!

The List

Lately, with the months ticking away, I’ve been thinking more and more about what I will miss about Scotland when we leave, and this has set in motion thoughts about what I missed about Australia when I left there, and what I missed about Florida when we moved to Scotland. I decided to list the things I miss from each of those places, and have a go at predicting what I may miss from here.

Keep in mind that whenever I leave a place, I miss the friends and family I leave behind, but I’m going to keep this post simple, so it’s about the other things I miss.

Let’s start where it all began –

What I missed when I left Australia:

1. The beautiful gum trees in all their varieties and the scent of eucalyptus.

A White barked gum tree

2. The friendliness of strangers, the smiling faces in the shopping centres.

3. The noisy colourful birds.

4. The ability to visit a friend unannounced.

5. Shops, schools, doctors, dentists, friends, beaches and buses, all within walking distance of where I lived.

6. The soft tones of the Australian accent.

What I missed when I left Florida:

1. The hot humid weather which meant I knew exactly what to wear to be comfortable almost every day.

2. The dramatic thunderstorms and brief torrential downpours.

3. Eating dinner outdoors almost every night, watching the wind make patterns on our lake.

4. Looking over our tropical garden to the lake and the reserve beyond.

The Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow shrub in our garden.

The ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’ shrub in our garden.

5. Swimming in the warm waters of the ocean and our swimming pool.

6. Our lovely home and magical garden.

What I think I’ll miss when I leave Scotland:

1. The thrill I get when big fat snowflakes flutter out of the sky.

2. Walking in the snow and feeling the snowflakes land on my nose.

3. The way my world can be transformed into a white wonderland when the snow stays for a few days.

Looking out my bedroom window.

Looking out my bedroom window.

4. The beautiful hoar frost on the trees.

A frosted tree at Glasgow University.

A frosted tree at Glasgow University.

5. The crunch of autumn leaves underfoot.

6. The long slow approach of spring, becoming more outrageous as each month passes. First the snowdrops hint of it’s approach, then the crocus announce, ‘not long now.’ Next come the fields of bluebells and daffodils before the grand finale when the trees dress themselves in magnificent shades of bright new greens.

Crocus in the Glasgow Botanical Gardens

Crocus in the Glasgow Botanical Gardens

Wild bluebells

Wild bluebells

Daffodils

Daffodils

7. The ability to visit anywhere in Europe, inexpensively and quickly.

8. The lilting Scottish accent and the quirky dialects.

In truth, I’m not sure I will miss any of these things when I return to Australia. These are the things I love about living in Scotland, but I doubt I’ll be hungering for them much, because I’ll be in my country with those things I began missing almost ten years ago.

And now, the final verse of Dorothea McKellar’s My Country –

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

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Uluru