Stop. Summertime!

I had the most frightening dream. The walls were closing in and I was hopelessly trapped. A storm rolled in, the rain poured, and I had no shelter or protection. The water was rising and I was drowning. Suffocating, freezing and choking, I desperately clung on, hoping against hope for a miracle, for someone to come and save me.

Just as I resigned myself to fate, a hand reached out, grabbed me by the wrist, and pulled me from the wreckage. At that moment, overwhelmed by the struggle and overcome with emotion, I blacked out.

When I woke up, the storm had evaporated, the sun shone brightly in the sky, and I was safe in my own bed. It was the start of summer.

But I couldn’t help wondering: was it really a dream? It felt so real… Continue reading “Stop. Summertime!”

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”

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

Mental health self-awareness: Doing a little soul-searching

The following is adapted from a story I shared with my online community. I’ve received many thoughtful responses and pieces of advice, which I’m very grateful for. So if you’re from there and you’re reading this, thank you so much, and sorry there’s not much new here for you here!

Confession time. So, that self-improvement journey I mentioned? It’s actually a mental health journey.

I’m dealing with a long-term issue, and for the most part I’m on the way up. But, as you’ll see below, there are down times too.

This blog just turned the corner into mental-health-ville. Enjoy the ride. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of sunshine ahead!

My mental health day

Despite what my last two posts may have you believe, I’ve been really stressed out for the last little while.

I hit the wall this week. To be honest, I saw this coming and didn’t do anything to stop it – but I didn’t expect to break so soon.

It was a beautiful sunny day out, so rather than hide indoors, I did what any sane (?) person would do in this situation: I took a pen and notepad and went down to my local park to do a little soul-searching.

Park & write
Greetings from sunny Katherine Mansfield Park!

Maybe it’s a coincidence that my local park is named for a famous author. Because I got inspired to write. A lot. I drafted this entire post there over the course of two hours.

All these things that I’ve done

This was set in motion two weeks prior when a change was announced at work. I can’t do much about my work situation (besides job hunting – let’s not even go there), but I realised there are a lot of factors that are completely in my control. So I came up with a laundry list of all the things I’ve done that might have led me to this point.

tl,dr: I tried to do too much at once.

  • Alcohol. Between work drinks and other social events, my alcohol consumption has shot way up lately. I never developed a tolerance for the stuff so it hits me really hard – great on the night, not so great in the following days. And of course it messes with my sleep.
  • Coffee. About a month ago I went up to three cups a day, and that third one really bites. I basically turn into a jittery mess for the rest of the day. And even though I don’t drink it after 2pm, it probably messes with my sleep. (There’s a pattern emerging here.)
  • Screen time. I spend most of my workday on a computer with two screens, and then I go home and turn on the laptop. I’ve known for a long time that looking at screens in the evening messes with my sleep, and yet I keep doing it. It’s hard not to. Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing else to do.
  • The blog. Yes, the one you’re reading right now. I stayed up late on Sunday night for last week’s post. Exactly what I wanted to avoid. I have other material ready to go but I wanted to put that out while it was fresh (like the muffins). See the above point about screen time.
  • Baking. Like the blog, I’ve only just started this. But I stayed up Monday night to bake for a work lunch that I didn’t even make it to. (I brought the muffins in for the team the next day!)
  • Food. I make healthy-ish food for myself, but lately I’ve been eating out more in the interests of time and/or social life. Healthy options are available (usually) but I don’t tend to take them. There’s also work afternoon teas (which at our place are mostly cake and chips), baked treats (not just the ones I make) and questionable snacks (such as waffles at 3am).
  • Gym. I joined a month ago and I have a weights routine figured out (yay!) but my body isn’t coping at the moment. I can get through a session just fine – in fact I really enjoy it – but it really drains me for the next couple of days. I get that there’s a temporary phase of adjustment when you start working out, but the timing hasn’t been good. It’s also a big investment of time, especially since I’m doing yoga there as well. We’re talking an hour a day here if I do it all.
  • Busy weekends. I had two full-on weekends in a row leading up to this, which means I effectively didn’t have a break in over two weeks. I used to stay home gaming all weekend so I’m not accustomed to moving at this time of the week!
  • Social media. I’ve recently become part of an amazing local community. I invest a lot of time and emotional energy here, and up to now it’s been repaid in spades. Many of the above things have come about through this group, and I’ve had some great new experiences. But the site itself is quite addictive, and it’s become my go-to distraction – not good when I need to get stuff done.
Ok, laundry listed. Now what?

On the face of it, this might sound like a fun, fulfilling lifestyle. But here’s the thing: I’ve taken on most of these things in the last month, and many of them for the first time. And in every case I’ve invited more stress into my life. None of these things is overwhelming in itself – it was the cumulative stress of everything at once that got me.

At this stage I’m not going to single out any of the above to dial back, even though it may seem obvious in some cases. I hope to address them all in due time – for now I’m just getting it out on the page.

But something’s gotta give. And I don’t want it to be that last one.

Note to self: Too much sunshine can be bad for you!

For those of you in the UK, Monday 14 May marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme this year is stress, and this site contains some excellent resources on managing stress. Give it a read, and take a moment to think: what can you do to reduce the stress in your life?