Do It Badly: An antidote to perfectionism

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

– G. K. Chesterton

 

As an anxious person, I tend to think a lot. Often to the point where I don’t actually do the things I need to do. This is known as overthinking or perfectionism and is a hallmark of anxiety. It can impact all areas of life, and for me in particular, I believe it’s a major cause of my recent burnout at work.

Sounds like you? I’ve got good news. There’s a way past this. Continue reading “Do It Badly: An antidote to perfectionism”

Eight years on: My Christchurch earthquake story, part 1

On this day, eight years ago, Christchurch, New Zealand was struck by a magnitude 7 earthquake. This disaster, along with the earthquake of February 2011, stand as defining moments in New Zealand’s recent history. Their effects are still being felt today.

Many residents of Christchurch have shared their stories through projects such as Quake Stories, as well as countless news pieces and books. (For a poetic take on the first few years, I can recommend The Villa at the Edge of the Empire by Fiona Farrell.) But there are many stories yet to be told.

Like mine.

Until now.

This is my Christchurch Earthquake story. Well, the start of it. This turned out longer than I expected!

Disclaimer: Human memory is fallible. This happened eight years ago!

Saturday, 4 September 2010. 4:35am.

This date and time are permanently etched in my memory. Like the clock towers in the city that stopped at 4:35, there’s a little clock in my mind that’s stuck on this time, even now. Continue reading “Eight years on: My Christchurch earthquake story, part 1”

Spring!

A breeze so kindly

Softens a winters grip

Please wait with me

We can take in the sun

– Birds of Tokyo, White Leaves

 

Today, 1 September, marks the beginning of spring!*^ And it’s an absolute pearler.

1-flowers
Just don’t look at the forecast!

*In the Southern Hemisphere.

^Some may argue that seasons start at the equinox/solstice. They’re wrong. This is my blog, and I say they start on the 1st.

This turn of the calendar came to my attention when a fellow blogger posted about her plans to write 30,000 words this month. (Good luck, Lauren! 🙂) I’m not going to do that. But I would like to take the opportunity to “spring clean” myself a bit. Continue reading “Spring!”

Introducing National Mental Health Day

Watch winter melt away

Look for longer days

The sun comes out

Come up from underground

Yellowcard, The Hurt Is Gone

 

We all need a mental health day sometimes. But what if the whole country could have one at the same time?

Allow me to propose a new public holiday for New Zealand.

nmhd

Hard Times

I’ve noticed people around me seem a bit down this week. Work colleagues are visibly unhappy, even the usually bubbly ones. My flatmates tell me the situation is the same in their offices. I’ve been way off-colour myself.

This got me thinking: Is there something in the water that’s making the whole town upset? Am I generalising from myself with a heaping dose of confirmation bias? Have I just been unlucky with a small sample size? Or is Wellington just feeling flat right now?

I hit up r/Wellington to take the pulse of the community. The response was overwhelming.

rip my inbox

I got 39 replies in 24 hours. Not quite r/AskReddit levels of “RIP my inbox”, but strong for a modest community like ours.

Many culprits were suggested for the citywide gloom. Many workplaces were complained about. We even considered calling in Wellington Paranormal. But several commenters pointed to another cause – one that runs wider than any workplace.

SAD city

At 41° south, Wellington doesn’t get a whole lot of sun between May and August. This (somehow or other; reports vary) leads to the well-documented phenomenon known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Not everyone experiences it – some of my colleagues are still delightful rays of sunshine! But it’s common enough that it could plausibly bring down a large proportion of the city’s office workers.

Whatever the cause, mid-to-late August is the worst time of year for it – we’ve suffered for a while, tempers are starting to fray, and the end isn’t quite in sight yet. And as it stands, there’s no public holidays for two months either side. What better time to give everyone a day off?

Holiday spirit

How does one celebrate National Mental Health Day? As the commenter above suggested, it’s simple: Just do whatever you’d do if you took a day off work! Relax, socialise, create – whatever (healthy) activity brings you joy and gets you ready to face the world again.

And while you’re doing that, spare a thought for those of us for whom “mental health” means so much more. A National Mental Health Day would be the perfect conversation starter for New Zealand’s mental health crisis.

Awareness events come and go, websites are easily forgotten, but a public holiday would give the issue a permanent place in our consciousness.

Tell me you’re not thinking about Labour Day already. It’s still two months away! We could give mental health the same recognition as the 40-hour work week. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

calendar

New Zealand needs a National Mental Health Day.

To bridge that pesky gap between public holidays.

To blunt the impact of SAD.

To recharge for the final stretch of winter.

And to get people talking about mental health.

Let’s make this happen, New Zealand!

 

And in the meantime, fellow kiwis: Hang on till the hurt (of SAD) is gone.

Change comes for you

Even if you’re hiding out

So wake to this truth

And maybe you’ll believe me now

Alcohol: How I learned to love lemon, lime & bitters

Note: It has come to my attention that bitters is actually alcoholic. Reports vary on whether lemon, lime and bitters contains alcohol. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that it doesn’t, or that the amount is negligible.

It’s now August, which means Dry July is over. I’m pleased to report that I went the whole month without drinking. But I won’t be celebrating with alcohol – or really celebrating at all.

Because this was never about Dry July.

It’s personal.

My soul-searching session turned up booze as one of my triggers. I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with it. With three beers in me I can shoot the breeze – or rant like an angry grandpa – with the best of them. It’s an incredible feeling. But lately, the pendulum has swung from somewhere in the middle to plain old hate. (That’s totally how pendulums work, yep.)

It’s not the hangover that gets me. It’s how it affects my sleep. I’m a light sleeper at the best of times – an ongoing challenge I’ve struggled with for a long time. Add alcohol in the mix and I’m reduced to a few hours of low-quality kip. Being on medication as well just exacerbates the effect.

1 limit alcohol intake
I don’t like the drugs and the drugs don’t like me

I cut back severely after starting on meds, but continued with quiet drinks in the right social settings. Sadly, though, even this proved too much. So, one Friday night in the office with a half-finished beer in hand, I decided: “no more”. I put the beer down, packed my things, and snuck out through the stairwell.

This was on 15 June. I haven’t had a drop since.

Me and alcohol

It’s fair to say I don’t have a typical relationship with alcohol. I skipped the “drunken student” phase, and I barely touched booze before I moved to Wellington. After the move I developed a more “normal” pattern of drinking – Friday drinks at work, evening meetups, a beer or two with the football team, occasional quiet ones at home. And, yes, the occasional wild binge, one of which left me crouched in front of the loo at the George. (Not my proudest moment.)

There’s something else about my experience that’s not typical as far as I’m aware. I hate the taste of beer. And wine. And basically every alcoholic beverage but cider. There’s the odd lager or dessert wine that I find palatable, but I wouldn’t say I like them for their flavour. If I do go for a bitter beer, it’s usually late in the evening when my taste buds have checked out. But overall, my distaste for drinks puts a natural damper on my consumption.

I just don’t want to drink as much as my peers. Unfortunately, this can make socialising a little tricky. What to do?

Enter my new favourite beverage.

Lemon, lime & bitters (henceforth, LLB)

Like coffee, I didn’t like this when I first tried it at a young age. It’s in the name: “bitter” is your body trying to tell you that you’re consuming poison and you should stop. It really did taste bitter when I first tried it.

Fast-forward to last summer, when I tried one on a whim and loved it. I guess my tastes have matured – either that or my taste buds are shot. Whatever. It’s a sweet drink, most bars serve it, and – crucially – it’s a big step up, in terms of refinement, from the usual coke and lemonade. Just look how fancy these are:

2b beersies
Not beersies
2a not
Also not beersies

Some places make it with the kind of flair you’d usually associate with a full-on cocktail. One bartender even asked me if I wanted more bitters, which was awkward but sweet! This stuff is every bit as sophisticated as beer. I felt like a 10-year-old kid drinking coke at a social gathering. Not so with LLB. It fills my need perfectly!

Where do I stand on alcohol?

Let me make one thing clear: I’m not a teetotaller. I won’t judge your drinking habits unless they’re obviously out of hand. But I am avoiding boozy situations, like after-work drinks, more than I used to. Even if that means distancing myself from certain social circles. (Sorry not sorry!)

I’m so much better off without alcohol, and I’m really glad I made this change. I’ve reclaimed my Saturday mornings. I’ve kept my friends (mostly). And I’ve made social occasions sweeter, healthier, and less awkward. So while I said I’m not celebrating, I did mark the end of July with a variant on my new favourite treat:

3 product placement
[product placement]
Here’s to sobriety. Care to raise a glass of LLB with me?

 

Did you do Dry July? Have you tried cutting back on alcohol long-term? How did it go? Let me know!

The power of one (coffee a day)

Coffee interferes with your medication. You knew that, right?

– My flatmate

Well dang. That explains a lot.

1 good day
It’s a good day to have an “It’s a good day to have a good day” mug!

In the lead up to my mental health day, I thought the meds had stopped working. I felt like I did before I started on them – constant tension, fatigue, pounding heart. Oh, and difficulty getting to sleep.

I was having three cups of coffee a day. With a heaped teaspoon of powder in each – so effectively six “standard coffees” a day. (Side note: why is standard coffee not a thing?) And guess what? Caffeine basically does the opposite of what the meds are supposed to do.

2 powder
There’s power in the powder

I don’t know how this didn’t occur to me. Did the doctor not tell me this? Did I not find this in all the research I’ve done on anxiety? Did I know it but just forget?

I had a quick google and supposedly the two don’t “interact”. The drug info sheet doesn’t mention caffeine. But surely if it undoes the effect, it’s worth a mention? Whatever, I guess I don’t have to feel quite so bad about missing this.

Still, I was left with a couple of questions:

  1. How did I get here?

and

  1. How do I get away from here?

Time to search my overcaffeinated soul for some answers…

3 water in
Hot stuff
The coffee capital

When I moved to Wellington, aged 24, I’d never had coffee before. I couldn’t stand the smell when I was a kid. It didn’t occur to me that my tastes might have changed since then.

Enter my uncle. I crashed at his place while I looked for a flat, and being a long-time Wellingtonian he instinctively made me a cup of coffee – as he would for any guest, I guess. I drank it out of politeness, and something amazing happened – I didn’t hate it!

4 cool off
…too hot!

One thing you need to know about Wellington is there are cafés everywhere. Seriously. Our café density is off the charts. So of course we had a café in the building where I worked, and the team went there once a week. And so the habit was born. A habit which, as I alluded to above, eventually got out of hand.

That other hot beverage

I never got into tea either, much to the dismay of my English parents. I didn’t hate it either. It just seemed kinda meh.

I’ve had several work colleagues espouse the benefits of drinking tea instead. (You know it’s bad when people tell you to cut back!) Yes, there’s caffeine in tea too, but not as much. And, crucially, it still satisfies the craving for a hot drink. I’ve come to appreciate it, even if I don’t love it!

So here we have a viable alternative to coffee. But I wasn’t prepared to quit cold turkey, so I made a compromise: I’ll have one coffee a day, and I’ll make an event of it. Even if it’s just the instant powdered stuff I get free at work. Because it’s all tea from there on in. (I get that free at work too.)

It’s coffee time. This is all you’re gonna get today. Make the most of it.

5 cuppa
Whoa whoa… What if this is all the [coffee] you ever get?
How am I coping?

It’s been two months since I cut back and I feel so much better for it. The panicky heart-pounding sensation has faded, and I feel like I’m back in control, or at least a little more than I was. And I reckon I fall asleep quicker too. (Staying asleep is another matter, but this is a start!)

More importantly, I no longer find myself hanging out for the next coffee. It’s distracting to know that I’m due for another hit soon. I’ve been able to let go of this and concentrate on the task at hand instead. The tea breaks are worth looking forward to as well, of course, but they aren’t nearly as compelling.

Best of all, I still get to enjoy coffee every day – and because I have to make the most of it, I genuinely enjoy it. Even more than I used to enjoy three coffees!

6 empty
It’s over!

How many coffees do you drink a day? Have you tried cutting back? How did it work out? Let me know!

 

Cold feet

I’m not sure about this.

I’m having second thoughts.

I’m thinking of chucking it in and starting something new.

I have cold feet.

Again.

I’ve been here so many times before.

Why is it that every time I start to get into something, I pull back?

Why is it that just when I might be about to accomplish something, I give it away?

Why do I want to stop now?

Is it because the novelty is gone?

Is it because it’s starting to get difficult?

Is it because I’m overwhelmed by the thought of doing this long-term?

Am I scared?

Of what? Failure? Success? Change?

Can’t I just take it as it comes?

Can’t I just keep this in the present and let the future come to me?

Can’t I just enjoy the journey and forget about the destination?

What destination? The grave? Screw that.

☀☀☀

I’m on a plane.

On a return flight from my hometown.

With a pen and notepad.

Writing.

In the moment.

And I feel great.

Because in a world full of distractions, here I am in a place that conveniently cuts them off.

A place where I can shut out the world.

A place where I can focus.

A place where the words can come to me.

And as the page fills, I feel a spark.

I feel the fire coming back.

The same fire I felt back at the beginning.

The sunshine.

And I feel warm.

I feel warm in my heart.

In my chest.

In my mind.

In my arms.

In my legs.

In my feet.

☀☀☀

I’m back in Wellington.

Off the plane.

Back to earth.

Back into the noise.

Can I keep the fire going?

Can I find the moment amid the distractions?

Can I find the time? The space? The energy?

It seems so simple when I’m there.

Just me and the notebook.

Just me and the weights machine.

Just me and the spreadsheet.

In the moment.

But of course it’s simple when I’m there. The question is, can I get there?

Can I get there often enough to keep the fire burning?

Can I get there often enough to keep the sun shining?

Or will my feet freeze once again?

For the record, the water is 12°C/53°F. Brrr!