Slowing down is hard to do

Surfyme

My husband just walked past me, read the title of this post “Slowing down is hard to do…” and then murmured, “you seem to have managed ok!”

Considering I’ve just spent the last 14 days lazing around the pool and reading books on the beach during our family holiday, he’s probably right.

There’s something about camping that forces you to slow down.  Without TV or electric lights, I’ve been going to bed a lot earlier than usual.

And away from my desk, the pressures of work seem to have melted away… giving way to a new rhythm of breakfast, swimming at the beach, lunch, swimming in the pool, chatting with family over a BBQ dinner and then reading a novel in our cozy tent.

Yet, every now and then my tendency to overdo things slips through the cracks.   Looking forward to making another mosaic as part of the campsite’s art program, I eagerly set to work on a picture of a rosella – working on it each morning alongside my mother-in-law.

Racing to finish it, I took it back to our campsite to work on it at night.  And then because I’d finished it early, I quickly started  another picture  – pushing myself to finish it before the deadline, when the art teacher was going to help us to grout them.

Proudly holding up both mosaics for the obligatory picture (see below), the  teacher commented that I was a “typical overachiever”.

Mosaicpicture

At first, her comment struck me as a bit mean-spirited.  But then I realised: she’s right.

Rather than be happy with the first mosaic I’d done – I had pushed myself to do another one.  The activity went from something I’d enjoyed – something that helped me slow down – to something that became a burden.  Rather than read my novel, I “had” to work on my mosaic each night in the camp kitchen to get it finished in time.  By the end of the second mosaic, my hand had blisters on it from cutting tiles.

Looking back, I realise that this compulsion to push myself to do more and achieve more has always been part of my personality.

But I can also see that it’s not always a healthy thing.  It can turn enjoyable activities into a burden and it can take me away from the joy of just “being” with my family and friends.

And this tendency to go overboard – whether its with craft, work or another hobby, is something that becomes even more obvious when I’m hypomanic or manic.

Each time I look at my two new mosaics, I hope that I’ll remember this and  make more of an effort to slow down and just “be”.

Do you have a tendency to become overly “busy” or do you push yourself too hard in some areas?  Do you find this gets worse when you’re hypo-manic or manic? We’d all love to hear from you!

 

 

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It’s beginning to look a lot like “Stress-mas”

Decorating a gingerbread house

Decorating a gingerbread house is a little tricky in sweltering heat!

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved Christmas.  Decorating the Christmas tree, dressing up our dolls for a nativity scene in the fireplace and spraying fake snow on the windows.

In our family, with parents who migrated to Australia from Holland, Christmas Eve was almost magical – unwrapping gifts together after walking home from Carols by Candlelight.  Christmas Day was spent with family, which in my case involved more than two dozen cousins.

As an adult, my love affair with Christmas continued.  Seeing my kids in Christmas plays, decorating the house, making gingerbread, hosting family dinners… you name it, I’m there.

But in the past few years, with struggles with anxiety, I’ve had another reaction to Christmas… to flee from being home for the holidays.

You see – in Australia – Christmas isn’t a one-off event.  The arrival of Santa also signals the start of Summer holidays.

While this sounds great in theory – and is awesome when you’re a child – in reality this often means a whole nation of stressed out mums.

In years gone by, I’ve found myself spending hours after work in overcrowded shopping centres (conveniently open 24/7) in pursuit of the “perfect” gifts.

I’ve spent hours stressing over preparations for the “perfect” Christmas dinner – and found myself in floods of tears when I haven’t been able to live up to my own expectations.

Coupled with the stress of  packing for an annual holiday, and the fact that it was the busiest period of the year for my husband’s retail store, and it’s beginning to look a lot like “Stress-mas” rather than Christmas.

Which brings me back to the point I made earlier about fleeing.

Last year, having just sold our retail store, we realised that we’d left our run too late to book a holiday in January – peak time in Australia.

So we decided to squeeze in a quick two week break before Christmas instead.

We swapped crowded shopping centers for empty stretches of beach. Took our kids to the caravan park’s pool and mini-golf instead of dragging them around to endless work, kindergarten and church break-up parties.  I even had time to make my mum a handmade mosaic for her Christmas gift.

And it was bliss.

We arrived back into town two days before Christmas, relaxed and ready to celebrate the true meaning of the day with our friends and family.

This year, we’ve taken off on a pre-Christmas break again.  And we’re taking with us both sets of parents and my sister and her family.

It seems I wasn’t the only one who liked the idea of escaping from the stress of a perfect Christmas.

Mariska xx

This post has also been published on stigmama.com – a great website about motherhood and mental illness.

My Happy Sad Mummy: Why I’ll be reading this to my kids

My Happy Sad Mummy

Earlier this week I noticed a strange thing in my letterbox.  An actual handwritten letter – from an unfamiliar address.

Expecting a Christmas card from one of the few friends who haven’t discarded this charming tradition for a digital greeting, I ripped open the envelope.

Inside was a short note and a newspaper clipping – from the step-mum of a girl I went to high school with 18 years ago.  Strange huh?

But moments later tears pricked my eyes as I read her beautiful words – encouraging me to keep speaking up about mental illness. She also mentioned that  I might be interested in a new children’s picture book she’d read about in the local paper: My Happy Sad Mummy.

I quickly read the book review and then jumped online to order our family a copy.  For so long I’ve been searching for ways to explain my Bipolar Disorder to my young children in a way that’s easy for them to understand and doesn’t scare them.

Well, my copy of My Happy Sad Mummy arrived today and it’s fantastic. Using beautiful illustrations, it tells the story of a young girl living with a mother who experiences manic and depressive episodes.

The author, Michelle Vasiliu draws from her own experience of Bipolar Disorder, to portray the emotional rollercoaster of this illness, as a young child might perceive it.

Here’s four things I really love about this book:

1.  It doesn’t mention the label ‘Bipolar Disorder’.  I don’t fancy my chatty five year old talking about my diagnosis with kinder teachers, school friends and other random strangers in the supermarket check-out queue.

2. It emphasises the strong bond of love between the child and her mum. Despite having days when her mum struggles to get out of bed, or is caught up in manic activity, there’s no doubt in the child’s mind that her mum loves her.

3.  It’s really engaging for young children.  I’m planning on reading this story to my 3, 5 and 7 year old children every few months – gradually introducing the idea that they have a ‘Happy Sad Mummy’ too.  My older children know I take “brain medicine” every day – this will be a nice way of explaining why I need to take it.

4. It’s an example of a Bipolar mum using a painful experience to help others. Michelle’s motivation for writing the story came about after she had experienced a crisis: being admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 2007. At the time, her children were three and six and Michelle wanted to alleviate their fears about what was happening. Now, she’s trying to help other mums who find themselves in the same situation.

If any of you are like me – and struggle to find the right words when talking to your children about your illness – why not check out this new book.

Mariska xx

Can you recommend any other picture books that can help mums to explain Bipolar Disorder to young children?  Got any other tips for other ways to talk about this with children?  Would love you to share them with us.