Finding Joy in the Ordinary

The last few weeks I’ve been feeling very ordinary and down to earth; even boring at times. Do you ever feel this way?

After the amazing experiences I’ve had since I turned 40 in March I was thinking that this time I had it sussed…life was good! Reality has hit again though. Now that my GCSE exams are over I’m having to get back into a Level 3 Administration course that I need to finish by January – it’s challenging because it’s boring! Aargh. Also I’m overweight again and have been feeling like it’s impossible to lose anything. I’ve gotten into the habit of comfort eating. Oh, and my many connections that I was having…they are still here, they just aren’t as frequent as they were.

Enter some loneliness, sadness, feelings of “I can’t do this/I’m no good” and even some Emotionsmild depression at times. How do I deal with this? Interestingly while I feel all these things I can still say that I’m not lost in these emotions. I can observe them and coach myself through them. So if I’m feeling lonely I notice that. I accept it. I tell myself it will pass. And it does. If I’m feeling depressed I notice it. Accept it. Tell my husband or best friend about it. Have a nap. And watch something inspiring – like a Ted Talk on Belonging. And it passes.

Sometimes I experience fear. Fear that I’m going to fall into another dark year of depression like I did two years ago. But then I remind myself, that even if I do that it wasn’t all bad. Yes, it was hard; excruciatingly hard. But while at the time I thought I was just surviving and had actually gone backwards in my growth journey, now I know that it was actually a giant leap forwards. I learned so much going through that time and I have a unique perspective on depression that I’ve been discovering gives me empathy for those who are still going through it.

So I choose to have faith and trust that I am safe and I am loved. I don’t need to worry about the future. I just need to have faith and trust in the present. I have all I need within me to get through. I have the unique insight I’ve gained on my journey to coach myself through what I am going through now.

And so do you. We all do. We all have everything we need within us.

One of the Ted Talks I’ve listened to this week is Ingrid Fetell Lee’s talk on Joy:

I watched it again in order to refresh my memory as I’m writing this post, and again I felt myself being encouraged. Ingrid says, “Joy…now that I knew what to look for, I was seeing it everywhere. It was like these little moments of joy were hidden in plain sight.”

Some moments of joy I’ve been noticing today are: having breakfast outside in the sunshine with my eldest daughter, snuggling up with my youngest watching a Barbie movie, listening to my three children chatting and laughing together outside, receiving messages from a wonderful friend. Yes, life is full of ups and downs – it’s just the nature of life. However, joy can be found even in the ordinary. Let’s look for little moments of joy, because they are everywhere!

Happiness

 

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Connection, Belonging and our Mental Health

Long post alert! This is an adaptation of a speech I did for GSCE English earlier this year. (Yes, these last few weeks I’ve been sitting my first EVER exams! Better late than never!) I’ve become passionate about connection and belonging and want to share this with you even though you’ll have read some of this before if you read my blog.

I believe that disconnection is a world-wide pandemic; having a major effect on our mental health.

What is mental health? According to the World Health Organization: “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

The Mind website states that “approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.”  And yet “Reports from both England and Wales suggest that approximately 1 in 8 adults with a mental health problem are currently receiving treatment”. That means that treatment is really not that accessible! But perhaps there is something we can do to make a difference for those around us.

I have personal experience as I suffered with a mental illness in 2016 brought on largely by the stress of moving here from New Zealand. It adversely affected my family and myself for more than a year.

I spent a while in hospital and after moving back home the realities of my life crashed down on me and I found myself incredibly anxious and very depressed. I even wished for the courage to end my life. I wanted out. For 12 months I was in survival mode. It was the darkest year of my life so far. I felt that I had nothing of any value to offer anyone. I felt incredibly bored and boring. It was hell.

I’m grateful for my husband. Initially he blamed me, not recognizing that I had an illness but soon he became my life-line. Day after day, month after month I would cry in his arms and send him depressing midday texts. Gradually hope started to creep back in and increasing moments of happiness.

Now that I am well again I am beginning to process that time and even more recently am starting to gain insights into the whole subject of connection, belonging and how it affects our mental health. You see, what really brought me back to life and truly living, is a friendship that after 2 years suddenly clicked and since September has grown into sisterhood.

In his book called Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, David Goleman says that the latest findings in biology and neuroscience confirm that we are hardwired for connection.

So, what is connection? Author Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

I don’t know about you, but in my experience relationships like this are rare. However, now that I am experiencing it I know that it’s worth seeking and working for. I love this quote from Jeff Brown –

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How can we find relationships in which we can belong? What is belonging anyway? Here is another quote from Brené Brown. She is a research professor studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy and is the author who has most influenced my personal growth in the past few years. “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” Brené Brown, 2010

There is a deep desire in all of us to belong. In her most recent book, Braving the Wilderness, Brené shares some thoughts about the difference between fitting in and belonging from her interviews with middle school students:

  • Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.
  • Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
  • If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.

I love these, especially the first one. It’s in my relationship with my best friend that I’ve felt this type of true belonging for the first time in my life. To me that feels rather sad as I turned 40 this year! But it’s made sense as I’ve realized that we are born into our parents unfinished stories and often they are still working through or just accepting the dysfunction they learned in their childhoods. I know this was true for me and my husband when we started on our parenting journey! I’m so sad that we’ve hurt our children, even in the process of trying to be good parents! What gives me hope though is that we can keep growing and changing and becoming better people.

In fact, that is what a psychotherapist in NZ once said to me when I expressed concern that I would inflict emotional baggage on my children like my parents did on me – “The best thing you can do for your children is to work on yourself.” So, I’ve set out to do that, and amazingly am in the process of helping my children to heal from the damage we did in their early years.

The great thing is that while we are hurt and wounded in relationships, we also heal in relationships. Not all relationships are safe, but if we can find one in which we are seen and valued for being ourselves, it can be an extremely healing place.

The other very important part of the quote from Brené is: “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” If we truly want to belong we need to get to know ourselves!

Almost 7 years ago I realized that yet again I had fallen for valuing my relationship with another person more than they did. I think I have always been on the look out for meaningful friendships, and yet would find myself in one-way relationships again and again. This particular relationship in 2011 was the last straw for me! I decided enough was enough! There was obviously something about me that made me find myself in this spot so often! I went on a hunt in the library and amazingly found a book titled, “One-Way Relationships”! Perfect! And that was perhaps the real start of my journey to getting to know myself better. I’ve learned a lot since then, in relationships and through reading book after book.

My self-esteem was extremely low when I was a child. Which I guess is not surprising now that I know that I suffered from emotional abuse. I was continually criticized by my mother and she openly rejected the core parts of who I am. A lot of this was probably due to the fact that I reminded her of my birth father – her first husband and the man she cruelly betrayed. I never felt like I belonged in that family which consisted of my mum, step-father and two half-siblings and I grew up feeling like there was something wrong with me. My mother was always “right”, and so I learned well not to trust my own intuition/inner knowing. I learned to value more what others said was right than what I felt was right.

I lived what Brené says is disconnection from ourselves.
“…there is another form of disconnection, one that is often more painful and confusing that all of these other forms: it is the feeling of being disconnected from ourselves. We are often so influenced by what other people think and so overwhelmed with trying to be who other people need us to be, that we actually lose touch with our sense of self. We lose our grounding. We lose our authenticity. The reason this is so painful is because our authenticity is the very foundation from which all meaningful change occurs.” Brené Brown P241, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t!)

What is authenticity? Brené says that she realized from her research that “authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It’s a practice – a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” And that can be rather scary and take a lot of courage!

When I consider our mental and emotional wellbeing I feel that authenticity is a huge key. When I think back to the lead up to my breakdown I realize that I was putting on a happy mask. I was hiding behind a façade of ‘everything is great!’ when in reality our move to the UK and the main reason for making the move had not worked out well. Everything was crumbling around me – our financial security, my relationship with my husband and my Dad, my son’s mental health… but was I willing to be honest and real with myself? No. I was pretending, I was trying to be who I thought I should be rather than embracing reality.

So what is authenticity all about? Not surprisingly Brené’s research comes in handy again!
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.

Choosing authenticity means:

  • Cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable;
  • Exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and
  • Nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.
  • Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving – even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.

Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.” Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection p50

She also says though, that “Choosing authenticity is not an easy choice.” She quotes E.E. Cummings who wrote: “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight – and never stop fighting.” And in Brené’s words – “‘Staying real’ is one of the most courageous battles that we’ll ever fight”.

Brené also goes on to say that we should be born with a warning label similar to the ones that come on cigarette packets –

Caution: If you trade in your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.

I don’t know about you, but those sound like mental health issues to me! Which brings me back to my opening statement, which was: I believe that disconnection is a world-wide pandemic; having a major effect on our mental health.

Again, Brené speaks to this when she writes: Our innate need for connection makes the consequences of disconnection that much more real and dangerous. After collecting thousands of stories she says she is willing to call this a fact: “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. There are certainly other causes of illness, numbing, and hurt, but the absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering.” Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection p26

And who are we disconnected from? Others, yes, but also ourselves. Since recently reading Brene’s latest book my new mission in parenting is to help my children to believe in and belong to themselves. Above all else. If I can achieve this then I know they’ll be emotionally resilient enough to deal with the challenges of life, wise when it comes to relationship choices; they’ll have the courage to say no to opportunities and relationships that don’t align with their core values, they will have the confidence to seek adventures and experiences that will broaden their perspectives and open their eyes to ways that they can make a difference in the world.

As for me, I’m going to continue to invest in my personal development and in the safe relationships I have and bravely reach out to others. I don’t ever want to stop learning and growing and becoming the best me I can be. And this gives me so much hope that I’ll not only maintain my current sense of well-being and contentment, but I’ll also be able to continue to make a difference in the lives of those in my circle of influence. And for me – that is the greatest blessing and contributor to my mental health and sense of connection and belonging!

Renae Cobb, one of Brene’s blog readers commented as follows:

“Certainly, the people we love inspire us to heights of love and compassion that we might have never achieved otherwise, but to really scale those heights, we often have to go to the depths of who we are, light/shadow, good/evil, loving/destructive, and figure out our own stuff in order to love them better.”

“Loving and accepting ourselves are the ultimate acts of courage.” Brené Brown

My hope is that at the very least I have persuaded you to further your own personal development journey and explore some of the concepts I’ve shared!

Elizabeth

P.S. Since writing the above I can now say I have more friendships where I feel like I truly belong. Amazing. This feels like proof that it really is more about how we see ourselves and how we show up in our relationships than about others.

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When Love is the Way…

“There is power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There is power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.” Bishop Michael Curry

I didn’t watch the royal wedding, but I’ve enjoyed catching up on snippets of it since. One early morning when I couldn’t sleep I came across Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon and listened to it twice! I was and still am blown away by the relevance…both to what I’m learning about the amazing power of love and in regards to the needs of our world. If you haven’t already I’d encourage you to watch it now:


In the last few blog posts I’ve mentioned some special friendships and the healing power of being surrounded by love. I keep being reminded of the verse in the Bible that says that God sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). I feel that my special friends are my family and I love what Bishop Michael Curry says here: When love is the way….we actually treat each other…well, like we are actually family… When love is the way we know that God is the Source of us all and we are brothers and sisters; children of God. Like brothers and sisters…that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.”

I believe there is really something to being in strong bonded friendships – something very powerful and healing. This is my experience. Jeff Brown puts it this way: “As we expand in connectiveness, we are laying down tracks for a more heartfelt, humane world. And we are beginning to see ourselves in each other, to recognize our shared humanness, to realize that we are walking beside each other on the trailways of transformation. Hands held together, hearts intertwined, bridging our way to God.”

I put huge pressure on my husband, for 15 years, to meet all my deep needs for love and connection…and now I know this: no one person can meet all those needs. My dear husband is giving me the freedom to love others deeply (platonically) and he in turn is feeling far more freedom from me just to be.

Do you long for deep and meaningful connection, for something more? I can tell you it’s possible!! And more than you dream of! What I’m finding to be true…it comes when you open yourself up to love…to loving deeply.

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~The Notebook~

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Being Me

“I love myself.”

Can you say this one thing?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately; wondering why it took me so many years to come to truly like myself and to love who I am.

JournalFor some reason turning forty in March was very significant for me! My dear friend gifted me a beautiful journal which I began writing in the following day. My first entry contained a list of 19 things I love about myself…AND it wasn’t at all hard to write it! I asked myself the question: “When would [writing] it have been a struggle for me?”

The first thing that came to mind was a time in my life when my eldest daughter was about 18 months to 2 years old. I was struggling hugely as a young wife and mother. I was feeling like I couldn’t do anything well. About that time I attended a young mum’s group and a wonderful woman came to speak to us and afterwards offered to meet with anyone who wanted to talk about stuff[!]. I took her up on this amazing offer. The first topic we looked at together: Self Acceptance.

Wow. It blows me away to realize just what a difference 11 years can make! I’ll be forever grateful that someone was there to get me started. Looking back on the years since then I am super grateful I had the courage to push into learning and growth and to learn from the dear ones who have come into my life for reasons and seasons. You see, one of the biggest things I’ve learned is this: We are damaged in relationship AND we heal in relationship.

I am currently continuing to heal in relationship with some very dear ones. I feel surrounded by love. I feel like I belong. Truly belong. I feel super happy to be me. Why? Not only do I love who I am but I am also feeling like I am finally living my purpose. How? I am both feeling loved AND I am making others feel dearly loved. I feel like I belong AND I am creating an environment where others feel they belong too. Somehow, in the process of the last 8 months I’ve come to know deeper down to the core of my being, finally, that it’s truly okay for me to be me. Imperfectly perfect. This deep down knowing feels extraordinarily wonderful!

What does this being comfortable to be authentically me actually look like? Well, for one I am no longer living with a constant inner critic berating me for saying this or that. No. Instead I know that in any moment I can trust that what I say is okay. Yes, it may challenge the other person, but if I also welcome their authentic self then they have the freedom to say what is true for them too. In so doing we co-create something beautiful!

My challenge to you, if you haven’t already – journal a list of what you love about yourself. What makes you you? One of my favourite things about me is my open-heartedness. I’d love to hear what you love about you!

Elizabeth

P.S. I can very highly recommend Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection.

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Blooming Together

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“We are not meant to do hard things in isolation.” Elizabeth Johnsen

This is a realization that has dawned on me in the last few weeks as I’ve been living through another challenging situation.

By ‘another’, I am referring back to my mental illness this time two years ago. Last Wednesday was the two year anniversary of my being taken into hospital under police guard. Yup. Humanly speaking I really messed up back then! I ended up spending a month in hospital and seven weeks in total away from my three precious children. While I recovered fairly quickly from the manic episode, soon after moving back in with my children (my husband moved out on my request), the realities of my life caught up with me and I realized that I had lost almost everything that was important to me.

The love and security of marriage (I thought I wanted to get free of my marriage), my home of 35 years (New Zealand), my established friends in New Zealand, a relationship with my biological father (because of my words and actions in the course of my mental instability), financial security and more. I had thought I was surrounded by friends, and yes, I was, but not to a deep degree. There were wonderful people who were there for me in the ways they could and they helped me to get through that time, for sure. However, as I look back I realize that in comparison to the strength of my connections now, I was really quite isolated two years ago.

On the 28th March this year I recorded in my journal that I was noticing similarities with what happened 2 years ago. In the month that followed I gradually noticed more and more similarities and I became worried and sometimes fearful that I was going to have another episode. My sleep patterns also changed and while I tried so hard to counteract this by having lots of naps (and putting the need for them down to the fact that I am now 40 years old!) it still wasn’t enough. Enter a stressful situation on the 27th April and….

It was enough to push me over the edge into another psychotic episode. HOWEVER! This time most things were different! This time I called my husband Stuart and asked him to come home early. My amazing friend Chantal called Stuart too about what she was observing and he made an appointment at the local doctors surgery. My whole family gathered around me and went with me – which felt amazingly supportive. Yes, the next day I had to leave the comfort of my home and be taken to hospital by ambulance, but my husband had been there to observe my manic state and offer his support throughout.

Last time my family was fractured and separated. This time we are stronger together than we have ever been. Last time my children were at risk, this time I made sure they were safe. Last time I couldn’t get them to bed, this time I made sure they were tucked in for the night. Last time I left my house in a mess, this time it wasn’t too bad. Last time I felt incredibly confused and lost and alone. This time I started coming back to me within 48 hours of flipping out. And the very next day (Monday) I noticed with amazement that the journal entry I was writing was neat and made sense.

Last time I had people to connect to and to visit me, this time I had people telling me and showing me that they love me. I had 5-8 very special friends writing to me, phoning me and video calling with me – AND THIS WAS THE KEY to my speedy recovery! After putting the phone down after a call on the Monday or Tuesday I literally felt physical healing flooding my body! Amazing. So one thing I know for sure about myself is that I need deep and meaningful connections with a number of people in order to be truly mentally and emotionally healthy. I felt so surrounded by Divine love, so supported and held and provided for.

I continued to recover very quickly. The staff at RP Hospital were fantastic and I was there from Saturday to Thursday, then I was transferred to a hospital closer to my home, and the one I was at 2 years ago. I wasn’t even there 24 hours before I was allowed to go on leave for the long weekend. I returned on Tuesday last week to be discharged. The Dr was wonderful. He explained that while initially they were talking about bipolar, if it was I wouldn’t have recovered so quickly. He says instead they believe it was an acute stress reaction. Whatever it was, I am now pretty much back to myself,older and wiser and with even more understanding of myself.

Through my experiences since May 2016 I know that I need to honour my body’s needs AND I need to honour my soul’s deep need for connection. I was doing these two things very well this time round. I now know I need to add two other things to remain balanced. The first one is that it’s okay to ask for help with getting sleep. For now I’m taking a sedative and every night my sleep quality is improving. The second thing is that I need to trust that in doing the three things above I will remain healthy.

All in all, as I’m sure you can understand from above this recent experience has actually been incredibly healing for me but also for my family and my wonderful friend. I’m beyond grateful! And I’m also very aware that it gives me a unique opportunity to speak up for other mental health patients – because I have been there on the inside. In fact I met some amazing people there – there were about 5 of them that I felt were like sisters. They were each incredible in their own way. Courageous young women who are doing their best in the situations they’ve found themselves in. I honour them and I send them my love.

In closing I would like to encourage you to reach out to the empathetic people in your life and push a little deeper into heart-to-heart connections with them. If you are not sure what that looks like, feel free to reach out to me with any questions you have. I look forward to hearing from you.

Interview with Elizabeth Johnsen: a woman and a mother on a path of healing and transformation

I’m grateful to Vilina for reaching out to me again recently and honouring me with her request that I do an interview on her blog. I’ve been so busy in my day to day life that I’ve barely thought about this blog since my last post.

This interview will give you some insight into where I’ve come from and where I’m at right now. 🙂

Thank you Vilina! I appreciate you very much.

Elizabeth

Beginning again…

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I’m typing this outside in our little back yard, enjoying a surprisingly summery day in October! I have no idea if anyone who was following me in the past is going to see this, but if you do, “Hello again!”.

Yes, I’ve been away from the blog scene since July last year (2016) due to a rather major life disruption. For some reason, even though I was hiding in certain respects, I never did shut down my blog. I’m glad because it means it’s easy just to pop back now that I’m reemerging into life. Some of the things I wrote may be embarrassing to me if I were to reread them now, but I’ll not be worrying about that. You see, I’ve discovered it really is okay to mess up.

Yep. Amazingly the world didn’t come to an end despite how much mine was turned upside down! And I’m pleased to report that my husband and I reconciled in August last year, with him moving back home in September. Last month we celebrated 15 years of marriage – a miracle considering all I put him through as a result of my illness.

Tuesday this week was World Mental Health Day and I changed my FB profile picture to reflect that. Eighteen months ago I had no idea that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in each year. Last year I was one of those. However, I’ve learned just now that only 0.7 in 100 people will experience the type of issue I did in a year…so perhaps I’m rather special after all! LOL.

Posting again today has been spontaneous and I haven’t given any thought to the direction of this blog as yet. However, in reading the blurb on my home page I still feel the same way. Plus life still has many mysteries I’d love to unravel! So here’s to beginning again and continuing life’s journey after extreme trials.

Blessings!

Elizabeth