Don’t give up… ever

I like op-shopping.  There’s nothing like walking into an opportunity shop, with a purse filled with coins, and walking out with some amazing recycled finds.

At the moment, my favourite winter jacket, scarf and leather boots are all from op-shops and cost a total of AUS$18. The boots are a brand I really like and had never been worn, the jacket is a stunning blue wool and just looking at the gorgeous orange striped scarf makes me feel happy.

Me in my op shop jacket

Me rocking my op-shop jacket and scarf!

I’ve written before about how much I love taking something set for the rubbish dump and turning it into something beautiful and useful.  One of my favourite rescued pieces is the white buffet, sitting in my family room.

The last time I was in an op-shop, I came across a pile of old sheet music.  Something about the beautiful old music, printed in the 1920’s and carefully wrapped in brown paper,  caught my eye and I couldn’t leave without buying it.  I had no idea what I would do with it – my piano playing skills are a little too rusty for such complicated pieces – but I knew that I couldn’t leave it behind.

Today I woke up to the sound of rain.  Being Saturday, I was looking forward to spending some time with the kids – and a crafting afternoon sounded just about right.  While the kids made cards for friends, I pulled out some supplies and set about turning the sheet music into something special.

A few hours later, I had turned the unwanted music sheets into a couple of cute heart pictures (see below) and a bunch of unique cards for friends’ birthdays.

Recycled sheet music

A new use for old sheet music

Hanging the pictures on my wall, I was struck again by how something that seemed old and not good for anything but the bin, was – a couple of hours later – something so beautiful.

Sometimes life can leave us feeling so down, that we start thinking we’re no longer of value to society.  I know when I was sitting alone, locked in a psychiatric ward after the birth of my first baby, I started thinking that my life was pretty much over.  The fear and loathing in the eyes of the ward staff affirmed this thought – that I was no longer an educated, articulate young woman respected by those around me… but someone who had to be kept heavily medicated and away from the rest of society.

At that time, I pretty much felt like those sheets of music, once highly-valued but now abandoned and destined for the bin. And yet, looking at the new pictures on my wall – made from the recycled music sheets – I was reminded of my own journey.  Here I am, eight and a half years later, not only living with mental illness, but thriving.

Being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 18 was a huge blow.  And it’s something that I’ve had to learn to live with over the past 19 years.  But it hasn’t meant the end of life as I knew it.  I have still gone on to become a wife, a mother, an employee and a friend.

Like the sheet music transformed into something very different, my life may not look exactly like it used to – but it is beautiful in an equally special and valuable way.

My prayer is that everyone reading this who is going through hard times, will realise that while your life may not look quite like you had planned, it may well in the end turn out to be even better than you originally hoped.  Don’t ever think that your life is not worth living.  Don’t ever give up.

Mariska xx

Does anyone else love seeing the potential in things?  Got any stories or photos of your favourite op-shop finds?

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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!

 

 

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.

Life without limits

Every couple of months, I have a regular appointment with my psychiatrist. Most times, there’s not much to report, but for me these check-ups are an important way of keeping on-top of my bipolar disorder.

Last week, during one of our appointments, I mentioned to my psychiatrist that I had received a promotion at work. Invariably, this job will involve more work, more responsibility and – potentially – more stress.

Upon hearing this news, my psychiatrist commented (to my surprise) that – in fact – not all stress is bad. She told me about a successful businessman she knew, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his early 40’s. Since his diagnosis, he has been so scared of stress – and what it might do to him – that he has quit his job, refuses to travel overseas and rarely leaves his home. In his case, the desire to keep all stress out of his life has actually stopped him from living life to the full.

To be honest, I could kind of see where he was coming from. Knowing that stress is a big trigger for my condition, my friends and family often warn me against taking on things that will cause too much stress. And I try to listen… in most cases.

The thing is though, I tend to agree with my psychiatrist that not all stress is bad. Without some stress in our life, we probably wouldn’t be motivated to get things done, or achieve new things.

The trick is trying to find the right balance. While a little stress before a presentation or deadline might help me to put my head down and get the job done – too much stress will see me lying awake at night, thoughts racing through my head and having difficulty sleeping.

For most people, loosing a couple of night’s sleep might just mean they need an extra strong coffee in the morning.  But for me, a string of sleepless nights could be enough to trigger a manic episode.

With this in mind, I try to keep a close eye on the level of stress in my life and – where possible – keep it as low as possible.  One of the ways I do this is to stop myself from volunteering on every committee I’m asked to join, or booking up every night of the week.  I’ve also chosen to work for an organisation that encourage work/life balance and values their employees.   After all, at the end of the day, my health and happiness are more important than the size of my paycheck.

Still, like anyone, I find stress creeping into my life.  Last year, during an especially stressful period, I went to see a psychologist.  She gave me some great tips on keeping stress – and subsequent anxiety – under control.  One of her tips was when I found myself stressing about something to take a break and do something to distract and soothe my anxious mind – like making a cup of tea, or taking a walk around the office or block.  She then suggested I ask myself, “what’s the worst thing that can possibly happen?”

I found myself using this advice when dealing with my seven year old on the way to school this week.  Running late, he was starting to stress.  I casually asked him, “what’s the worst thing that could happen if you are late?” and listened as he told me he was nervous about having to go to the office to get a late pass.  I then told him that if we were late, I would walk him into school and I would tell the office staff it was my fault he was late (which it was!) and then walk him to his classroom.  This immediately calmed him down, as he realised that actually – being late wasn’t going to be the end of the world.

So the moral of the story?  I’ve learnt that stress isn’t always a bad thing – it’s how we deal with it that matters.  There are great strategies to keep our stress levels under control. I’ve just got to start putting them into practice…