I know exercise is good for your mood… I just don’t wanna do it!

I’ve got something to admit.  I’ve read countless articles that talk about the benefit of exercising for people with mood disorders.  I’ve listened as researchers promote exercise as a way of relieving stress and lifting your mood.

And still… I don’t do it.

Every morning, I open one eye as my husband gets up to train for an adventure race he’s doing in Thailand this month.

And then I pull the covers closer around me and snooze until I’ve got half and hour left before I need to have school lunches made, bags packed and be driving out of the driveway for school drop off.  An hour later, I sit down at work, inhaling a cup of coffee to give me the boost I need to start my day.

Needless to say, I’m not a morning exercise type of person.

Problem is that I’m not an evening exercise type of person either.  By the time my husband and I have our three kids fed and in bed, the last thing I feel like doing is pulling on my active wear and heading out in the cold to the gym.

I could hit the treadmill collecting dust in my garage, but problem is, I’m not an exercising alone type of person.  I prefer to exercise while catching up with friends. Only problem is that we usually skip the exercise and just catch up over a cup of tea.

So this leave me in a dilemma.

If I want to be serious about my mental health, I know that I need to prioritise some form of exercise.  But it needs to be something that I can commit to without it seeming like a chore that I’d do anything to avoid.

I was dwelling on this in recent weeks when a newspaper article caught my eye, extolling the benefits of “tree walking”.  Apparently, benefits of a long walk compound when you add trees to the equation.  Being among nature, with trees around you, is now scientifically proven to boost your mood significantly.

Which brings me to my new resolution.

I am going to commit to going on a walk among trees every week – rain, hail or shine. And I’m going to find a friend who wants to come with me. Lucky for me I happen to live at the base of a mountain range, with lots of trails to choose from.

So now, I just need to get off the couch and up that mountain!

Mariska xx

Do you use exercise as a way to boost your mood or reduce stress?  I’d love to hear what you do or if you struggle with finding the motivation to exercise.

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What a cup of tea taught me about bitterness

I have to admit it – I love a nice hot cup of tea.  There’s something about being forced to stand quietly, waiting for the kettle to boil that seems to calm my spirit.  And don’t get me started on the lovely feeling of a warm cuppa nestled in my hands.

When I have time – and have someone to share a cuppa with – I love to get out one of my favourite loose leaf teas and use my favourite red teapot.  The English have it right – a cup of tea and a good chat can fix almost anything.

picture of red teapot and cup

My favourite red teapot – a gift from my hubby.

I was standing by the kettle just now, fixing myself a cup of tea (sadly, a cup-for-one with a teabag), when something struck me.  It doesn’t take much to turn a cup of boiling water into a cup of tea.  Within seconds of dunking a teabag, the water has been infused with the colour and flavour of the tea – turning it from clear to murky brown.

Watching my cuppa change colour just now has got me thinking.   I wonder how much the bitterness I’ve been feeling about having to live life with a mental illness has been tainting my life?

It’s not fun having a mental illness.  It’s not fun dealing with the side-effects of various medications.  And I’ll be the first to admit that somewhere, deep inside me, I still hold some bitterness about the cards life has dealt me.   Sure, I can now see a bigger purpose for my life – complete with my bipolar diagnosis – but that doesn’t mean I don’t still sometimes struggle with accepting it.

Most of my friends and family will say that it’s perfectly ok to feel bitter about being diagnosed with a mental illness. The only trouble is, it’s been almost twenty years now since my original diagnosis.  And these feelings of bitterness have a nasty habit of acting like a tea bag: infusing me and my life with anger and regret.

The effects may not always be obvious… but this bitterness got a nasty habit of bubbling to the surface when I’m feeling at my lowest and want something to strike out at.  It’s not something that I want my kids to see in me.

And so, I’m left with a choice.

Do I allow this ‘bag’ of bitterness to continue to colour my life?  Or do I make a conscious effort to finally accept my diagnosis – acknowledging that it will have an ongoing impact on my life and that I will most likely need to continue taking medication for the rest of my life to keep it under control?

It’s a difficult choice.

And yet – looking at the effect tonight that one small teabag had on my big cup full of crystal clear water, I’m determined to not let my diagnosis taint the rest of my life.  Sure it’s almost certainly always going to be part of me – but it’s not going to affect who I am – or the life I was created to live.

Mariska xx

Do you feel bitter or angry because of your mental illness or something else in your life? Have you had to take steps to deal with your bitterness? I’m sure other mums would love to hear about and learn from your experience. 

 

What shiny pink nails taught me…

I have something to admit….  I’m a nail-biter.  I’ve got a stack of nail files in my bathroom cabinet that never get used.

My nails will no sooner start growing… then I watch a scary movie, or sit through a boring talk, and all that’s left of them is a jagged mess.

I was reminded about my poor nails this week at work, when I got chatting with a lovely colleague while making a cup of tea. Looking down, I couldn’t help but notice her lovely long, shiny pink nails wrapped around her tea cup.

Before I could stop myself, I found myself commenting on her beautiful nails – and asking what it took to keep them looking so stunning.

She enlightened me on the world of acrylic nails… and then told me something that suprised me.

Apparently – underneath the shiny exterior of her perfectly shaped pink nails – her real nails were thin and brittle. Years of applying acrylics had left them in a shocking condition.  So bad in fact that she now had no choice but to continue forking out money each month for the acrylics.

You may be wondering what nails have to do with bipolar.  Well, hang in there – I promise I have a point.

My nail revelation taught me something.  You see, there’s times in life when we as mums can be like shiny pink acrylic nails.

We present with a happy face at school pick-up or work… looking, for all the world, like we are perfect mums with perfect lives. But underneath this ‘perfect’ exterior, we can be hiding our true selves: our pain, our brittleness, our troubles.

My challenge – to myself and to you – is to acknowledge that life isn’t always shiny and perfect.  To know that life is much more like my poor nails… irregularly shaped, jagged and prone to being decimated during periods of stress.

It’s when we can show our true selves to each other, that we realise that noone has a perfect life.  Nobody has everything together all of the time.  Nobody’s life is without its own troubles.

We all have things that we struggle with – whether that be a mental illness like bipolar – or something else. We should feel free to be honest about what we are going through.

Who knows what’s going on beneath the shiny exterior of those around you?

Mariska xx

Life’s a game, you’re the quarterback.

Despite being Aussies, our household is in the grip of NFL fever at the moment.  My husband, who spent part of his childhood in St Louis, Missouri, has passed his love of the sport on to our three kids.

Picture of two year old trying on NFL helmetEven our four year old daughter – who is as girly as they come – can recognise all 32 teams in the NFL, by the logos on their helmets.

This week, while watching Sunday night football (which for us in on a Monday), my six-year-old son explained what the ‘end zone’ was to me.

Basically – for those of us from Australia – this is where the team needs to get the ball to score a touchdown.

Notice the key word here: team.

Unlike Aussie Rules Football, NFL teams have a LOT of players.  Each of the 53 players has a distinct role and responsibilities – linebacker, quarterback, wide receiver and so on.

At the heart of each team is the coach – responsible for designing ‘plays’ (strategies to help the team get the ball to the ‘end zone’).  Players work hard to memorise huge folders full of different ‘plays’ before they are called out.  If they don’t, they risk not only embarrassment but serious injury.

Watching the Panthers vs Patriots this week, my mind drifted and I started to think of myself (as someone with bipolar disorder) as a quarterback and my support network as my team.

At the helm is my psychiatrist – acting like my coach and working to map out ‘plays’ or an action plan that will see me get into the ‘end zone’ (a.k.a stay well).

As quarterback, I’m usually in control of what happens around me – giving directions and communicating well with my team.

However, in the event I become unwell, I need to rely on my teammates to rally around me, and my coach to step in and call a ‘time out’ (possibly in the form of increased medication or a hospital stay).

Although it might cause initial angst, no player would begrudge his coach for putting him on the bench if he was injured.

Unlike us tough Aussies – who play with only a mouthguard – no quarterback would go out on the field without his helmet and padding.  So too, I don’t go without my daily preventative medication, that protects my most precious asset (my brain) and keeps my bipolar disorder in check.

So there you have it…. the MOST unsporty woman on the face of the earth has just written a blog comparing herself to a quarterback.  I can’t wait to see my husband’s face when he reads this!

Are you surrounded by a good team?  Do you follow the strategies or action plan set out by your psychiatrist?  I’d love to read your comments!

Live life like a scone

Tonight my husband had a craving for scones (or ‘biscuits’ for those of you from America). Despite loving baking, for many years I have found the simple scone a struggle.

As a newlywed, keen to impress my in-laws, I whipped up a batch of scones.  Looking into the oven 12 minutes later, my confidence was dealt a cruel blow when I was confronted with small, hard rocks.  Even Polly, our six-month-old Golden Retriever turned her nose up at them.  And considering she’d eaten my watch and my parent’s camping tent the week before, that said a lot about my baking skills.

Fast forward thirteen years and I have finally discovered the key to a successful batch of golden, tall scones.

It turns out that scones need more than just self-raising flour to rise.  They need other scones. And not in neat, spaced out rows like biscuits.  They need to be bunched in real tight – with their edges just about touching.

Positioned like this, something magical happens.  I’m no scientist, all I know is that the scones somehow help each other on the journey upwards. And presto!  They come out of the oven as the light, fluffy scones we all love to eat with jam and cream.

Showing my four-year-old daughter how to position the scones close together on the tray tonight, something struck me.

As women, we’re like scones.  We’re built for relationships.

When the going gets tough – when the heat is on – we need close friends and family to stick close by.  If we attempt to cope all alone, it’s more than likely that we’ll struggle to meet our full potential.

For those of us living life with bipolar disorder, or another form of mental illness, it’s even more important to surround ourselves with supportive people.  My close friends and family have stuck by me through the best of times and the worst of times.

When I became unwell after my first son’s birth, our parents and my sisters helped my husband look after our six day old baby.  Other friends dropped off meals and a couple even braved the (very scary!) psychiatric ward to visit me.  In recent years, as I’ve started to get back into my career, my close circle of friends and family have built up my confidence in my abilities and encouraged me to grow.

When my daughter and I pulled those scones out of the oven tonight, they had grown so tall that from a distance they looked like one giant scone.

I guess scones are a good analogy for life.  Instead of isolating ourselves and just focusing just our own needs and wants, we should seek to be part of a supportive community, all helping each other to reach our potential – our own version of a “giant scone”!

Do you have have a group of friends or family to encourage you?  I would love to hear your thoughts below.