The Observations and Obsessions of a Superego's Sidekick

Inspiration

Valse Lente

Music to my mind is a most puissant form of magic, and has the power to invoke such strong memories and emotions, that tune that always reminds you of your first love, or the song that could be your own biography, and all those happy reminders of your past.

When Liz first played Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Valse Lente for me, she did so in the hopes that I’d like it enough to start learning it myself.  I did, I really loved it, instantly, it spoke sweetly and dearly to me.  It spoke to me of  childhood memories; merry-go-rounds, music boxes and the Italian commedia dell’arte and its comedic and tragic characters, the Pierrot doll I had as a young girl, and still have to this day.  And I played it for my son, and to him it spoke of a fantasy computer game he used to play.  Ah, the generations!  Music speaks differently to people.

This beautiful piece however soon became a reminder of great loss, the last piece Liz and I worked on together.  I stopped playing it and listening to it after her sudden death two years ago.  I always knew that when I eventually returned to it, I would have gained at least some acceptance of what is a great loss for me.

I made a promise to you Liz, that I would keep working it, a promise I intended keeping.  I’m back working on it now, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to talk to you about it.  See I still forget at times, that you’ve gone, and I cry when I’m on my own, and oh I still see you walking down the street.  However I also think of you often with joy and happy memories and thankfully there’s more of these than tears these days.  And I think happy thoughts of a beautiful Valse Lente again.

For you my dear, dear Liz, for all the wonderful memories I have because of you, of music and books, the love of which we shared, lovely evenings with wine and chats, of laughter and silliness and an eternal friendship that will never fade.  I love you.  I miss you.

Cheers and shine brightly.

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The Power Of Words

 

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Have you seen the suggested posts on Facebook, I’m thinking of one in particular; “Are you depressed about the fine lines around your eyes”.  I see red every time I see this.  Why do we throw away words in such a thoughtless or careless manner, mindless of the implications and effects over others.  Whether it’s using such a powerful word to describe a few lines or making promises to friends we can’t or aren’t prepared to keep.

Depression isn’t being upset over a few lines on our faces, it’s being alone with your thoughts and those thoughts are telling you over and over, you’re useless, worthless and unlovable.  It’s pain and not just emotional, it’s physical, and your body aches all over.  It’s finding it damn near impossible to put one foot in front of the other, let alone get out of bed in the morning.  It’s exhaustion, physically and mentally, but not being able to sleep.  You can’t eat and when you force yourself, everything tastes like cardboard.  Every sense in your body is numbed, colours are faded, images dimmed, sounds muffled and then there’s the hypervigilence and every noise makes you jump.  People talking around you is akin to a jackhammer pounding away outside your door for the last eight hours.  You can’t leave the house because crowds make you panicky, shake and sob.  Your dreams die and your passions and loves no longer interest you.

Then comes isolation, as people drift away from you, the few that stay around, well you can hear in voice and see in their eyes, their desire to be a long way from you. And why not, you’re not fun to be around and you sap their energy and they’re busy getting on with life.  And the others, well they can’t be found, later they’ll tell you, “I didn’t know what to say” or “I wouldn’t have been much help anyway”.  Don’t you know I would have given anything to hear you say, I love you and I’m here for you, if you need me.  Why couldn’t you have given me that choice.  You’re trapped inside this aching body and insidious mind and you just want the pain to stop, so you consider what is unthinkable to a healthy person, and the planning of it is as mundane as making a shopping list.  And if things aren’t bad enough, people will tell you, there’s no such thing as depression, why don’t you just pull yourself together.  Everybody has bad days. To my mind depression is a grieving process, and the loss is of one’s self.  That’s the face of depression.  To use this powerful word in any other way denigrates the suffering and desperation of those with mental illness. 

But I was one of the lucky ones, I had a great GP, who kept in contact and who knew when it was time to hand me over to the experts.  I got a proper diagnosis, my medications were changed and adjusted gradually till they worked for me and then months of therapy.  A wonderful space to explore, talk and cry, where I wasn’t judged or hurried away. I learnt ways to process my thoughts and emotions in a more positive and harmonious way.

That was me two years ago, today I’m so much better, but I have to work at it everyday.  I can never become too complacent, but I’ve learnt to recognize my triggers and I know when I’m beginning to sink again.  What works for me is communication and open dialogue, the power of words, but sometimes it falls on deaf ears, and I’m left reeling from the emotional turmoil.  I am overly sensitive and in this dog eat dog world, I struggle.  Utopia to me is a world filled with compassion and empathy, what a caring and wonderful society we would then have.

I want to embrace life, it’s experiences and challenges, as well as new and renewed relationships, fully, but how do I do that without getting hurt.  Is it at all possible?  That is my challenge, I’m back looking for work, a somewhat disheartening process, but I keep my head up and move on to the next possibility.  So I’ve got the experiences and challenges under control, but relationships are very different.  I always seem to end up getting hurt.  Why do I dive in head first, and get so emotionally involved, when I know it’s going to end in tears.  Why do I keep making the same mistake.  Words again, I get lulled into this sense of security, of believing and trusting, in what others say, but at the same time I’m scared of not believing and not trusting and missing out on something wonderful.  What is the key, I really wish I knew.  All I can really do, is keep positive and strong and in time too, perhaps my relationships will come good.

 


Writing 101-Free The Mind

mooneye4Twenty minutes to write, twenty minutes to free my mind, and capture in writing my stream of consciousness.  Where do I start, there is so much noise inside my head, constant chatter, new ideas being born, dreams, some shattering, some still infinitely optimistic.  I’d love for you all to think that my thoughts are meaningful, inspirational and provoking, but the truth is there is more Homer Simpson than Aristotle going on in there.  Mindlessly and tunelessly humming a song I heard earlier in the day, cravings for something sweet, and crackpot ideas.

So lets focus a little, why do I write, to fulfill a dream, a dream 33 years in the making but along the way, I found me, a way of expressing myself, of capturing my deepest and darkest thoughts and memories and transforming them into words.  I’ve always admired writers who create images with words, those whose ideas and creations come to life inside my mind, and every time I start writing, my goal is to transform everyday words into lyrical and beautiful prose, my aim continues.

This is the first time I’ve taken part in writing 101, my goal is to expand my writing experience, to try something different.  I recently attempted a poem, two lines in and it’s still sitting in my drafts, was it rubbish, not yet, add a few more lines and it might be though, but what stopped me, is that I froze, and I had no idea where to go next.  I’d like to expand my horizons a little, push myself out of my comfort zone.  Who knows perhaps that poem may even get finished.  I need to be nudged, and that’s how I got into writing this blog.  Reveling a secret dream to a friend, who gently pushed and pushed until I jumped.  The time was right and it was fortuitous, being able to write during a severe and lengthy bipolar depression episode was a lifeline and a great way to keep track of my illness.  I’ve been writing now for a little over three years and not at all sure that I’ve progressed and improved as a writer since my early days, but I can look back and see how much I’ve grown as a person.

Hopefully these next four weeks will help me to develop a writing discipline, something I lack greatly, I tend to be all over the place, nothing for weeks and then a blast of inspiration and then barrenness.  I know to do anything well requires much commitment and practice and perhaps that lilting and lyrical prose will come.

Here’s to the next four weeks, day one down!

Wish me luck.


Embracing The Introvert Inside You.

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Introversion and extroversion became part of Carl Jung’s typology, a theory of psychological types defined by three dichotomies in ‘The Collected Works of C. G. Jung’ published in 1921, his works were extrapolated and expanded to include a fourth dichotomy and this became the basis of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a psychometric questionnaire for understanding human behaviour.  The purpose of this test is to make Jung’s typology understandable and usable in helping people develop constructive and positive changes in their lives by coming to an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

There are many definitions for introvert and several will have you believe that an introvert is a shy, reticent person, and while some introverts are shy, this is a misconception.  It is important to remember that introversion isn’t a personality flaw but a character trait, and is not the same as social phobia.   The main difference between introverts and extroverts is the source of their energy, extroverts thrive on social interaction and external factors, whereas the introvert thrives on solitude, creative pursuits and introspection.  All humans fall somewhere on the introvert/extrovert scale, we all have a propensity to lean one way or the other, however no one will be 100% either way, as Jung put it, “there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert; such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.”

However the modern world and society is geared toward the extrovert and yet it is estimated that the worldwide figures for introverts is 1/3 to 1/2 of the population.  We tend to think of extroverts as the movers, shakers and reformers.  But look again, many great achievers are introverts, think Barack Obama, J. K. Rowling, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Steve Wozniak, Steven Spielberg and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few.  And while these famous introverts have done great things, it’s in a world skewed toward the extroverts strengths.

The world is a noisy place, and society today, embraces gregarious, chatty personalities, the brainstormers, the quick problem solvers, and overconfidence.    Introverts are often seen as socially awkward, ruminating and dull, whereas the extrovert is sociable, friendly and outgoing, so right from the get go, the extrovert sounds more appealing.   But would it surprise you to know that there are many extroverts that are shy and many introverts who love to socialize.  While the gifts of extroverts seem to be obvious, introverts are excellent at the details, learning through observation, creative and solitary pursuits, and are considered to be thoughtful, self aware and empathetic.

Many of our writers, musicians, scientists, therapists, actors, computer/IT designers, and according to Buzzfeed professional Netflix binge watchers tend to be introverts.  However introverts can be found in every profession, in boardrooms, offices, courtrooms, in fact anywhere, where minds meet and ideas are exchanged, introverts have much to give.  With the extroverts confidence, enthusiasm and momentum, and the introverts attention to detail and creative thinking, just imagine what could be achieved.

The secret to my own personal contentment is self awareness and today I am a self confessed introvert, but for many years I forced myself to be other than what I truly was, in the belief that there was something wrong with me.  I tried to be Superwoman, to be all things to all people, the ‘yes’ woman, committee member, volunteer extraordinaire and the life and soul of the party, in my efforts to fulfill my desire to be wanted and needed, but in the end I was left mentally exhausted, unhappy and unwell.  When I stopped resenting and ignoring my introvertive nature, I found a wonderful inner peace.  Today I still belong to committees, but they’re the groups where my gifts, talents and knowledge are recognized, valued and appreciated.  I still attend parties and social events but carefully selected ones, and I love going out for dinner and movies and spending time with those I love, and some of those are incredibly wonderful inspiring extroverts.  But when I feel the need to retreat, I now embrace it, enjoy it and nurture it, it energizes me and then I’m ready for my next great adventure.

 

 

 


It’s Never Too Late To Learn An Instrument.

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I took up playing the piano at the age of 42, however my desire to learn piano goes back to my teens.  My siblings and I were allowed one extra-curricular activity and my first choice was ballet.  But I had a friend that I visited regularly and she played, so I got to have a little experience.  Nothing major, a few chords, chopsticks, you know the easy stuff.  But that desire remained and when we purchased a keyboard for the kids, I was probably the most enthusiastic beyond the initial novelty.  However keyboards are very different to pianos in that the dynamics of the piece are difficult to create with a keyboard, but it didn’t stop me and about a year later I started lessons and a year after that I got my own piano.

A big investment, but by that time I knew that this was what I wanted to do, and my passion for learning was strong.  That I suppose is a major advantage to learning anything new as an adult.  Often that dream extends all the way back to our childhood and it has become ingrained in our imagination.  And when the raising of our children becomes a little less hectic and we suddenly have more time for ourselves, these dreams come flooding back.  I’ve learnt to read music, simply because it’s an integral part of piano and of classical music study and performance and for the better part of the last eight years I’ve played classical music.  I have recently however started expanding my repertoire to pieces this side of the 1950’s.  And I’m currently learning The Cave by Mumford and Sons.  Who knows, one day I might get a chance to jam with a six-fingered banjo player.  Whether your instrument requires you to read music or not, I really think it is very helpful in getting a basic understanding at least, to help with the shaping of a piece.

But this does raise the question for me, can it be too late to start learning, especially with regard to developing any great proficiency.  My daughter started her piano lessons around the same time as me.  It always seemed to be much easier for her, than for me, despite the fact that I practiced ten times more than she.  Her fingers were so much more agile than mine.  I’m in no doubt that children and adults learn in totally different ways and perhaps that explains her ability to grasp what was in front of her faster.  Children almost intuitively learn and they’re not afraid to make mistakes.  Speaking for myself, I always beat myself up if I did something wrong, complete with headbanging the piano.  I’d over think the piece, apply reasoning and thinking strategies and the music became very wooden.

My friend and piano teacher passed away June 2013, and at that time I decided to no longer take lessons, to go it alone basically.  Sadly, I stopped playing for quite some time, it reminded me too much of Liz and didn’t help with everything else that was going on for me.  I’m back playing  again now, but still find myself thinking, I must talk to Liz about shaping this piece.  I still can’t believe she’s gone.

My daughter no longer plays, she simply lost interest and didn’t bothering practicing and finally stopped going to lessons altogether.  I guess making the decision later in life to learn is a big plus.  I still struggle with playing and learning new pieces, but I love playing.  And despite the fact that my fingers are not exactly long (I can barely span an octave), I muddle through, and I also take great delight in the fact that my favourite piano maestro Daniel Barenboim plays so beautifully with equally tiny hands.

Apart from the childhood dream fulfilled, there are many other benefits to taking up an instrument post childhood. It helps to reduce stress, and strengthens the brain, and yes there has actually been studies done in the area of brain power/learning music which show that the longer a person plays the stronger their non-verbal and visuospatial memory, as well as their ability to adapt to new information.  The reason for this and what appears to be unique to playing an instrument, is that it requires a wide array of brain regions and cognitive functions to work together simultaneously, in both right and left hemispheres of the brain.  Add to that playing and listening to music is one the greatest and simplest pleasures imaginable.

I think that the two most important decisions to make, are that you are prepared to practice consistently and that you choose the right instrument for you.  Not everyone can play anything, I have first hand knowledge of that.  I once considered the flute, but after trying one, I decided that I’d give it a miss.  If I was making any sounds from it, they were only ones dogs could hear.  Not forgetting my eldest son, who definitely has many other wonderful abilities, but persisted in torturing me throughout his primary education with the most appalling tin whistle playing ever,  which he eventually gave up to play the violin.  Oh dear god it was terrible, even worse than the tin whistle, think cats being tortured.  He now plays the guitar, much better, but he won’t be winning any awards any time soon.  When you think of a mothers’ love, it’s never stronger nor put to the test more than when they’re playing an instrument.  Make sure to try a few out, get the right one, it is after all a big investment and a lifetime commitment.  So if your tossing up whether to start, go for it, you won’t regret it.


For John

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“I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks…….”~William Shakespeare.

I had my last therapy session today, and I have mixed feelings.  A little sadness for an ending, very few of us embrace change easily, but I am certain that though my journey in your safe and inspiring presence has ended, I will continue to grow in my own loving care. My journey hasn’t ended, it is transitioning to a new phase and as my life moves forward, I meet many other transitions and I think I’m going to be just fine.

I’m thankful for the space, the tools and awareness and the ability to transcend beyond that awareness to a place of contentment and strength and growth.  I’m thankful for your humour, your wisdom and for pushing me just a little bit further than I thought I could stand.  For the safety and trust you inspired, when I was at my lowest and stripped raw.  I’m thankful for all the wonderful prose that brought tears to my eyes, not from sadness but from resonance.  And finally I’m thankful, for your teaching me, that I’m not alone.  That there is safety in numbers and there is always somewhere to turn.

I’ve learnt that forgiveness for me is not about accepting and condoning someone else’s actions or words, but in no longer giving them power over me.  That my greatest demons weren’t my past, but myself, all that pain, shame, guilt, grief and anger turned in on me, till all I could see was a worthless, loveless, hateful tortured soul.  Unworthy of any love or happiness.  A mask of acceptance to the world, yet inside a seething mass of self hatred.  I’m free from that today and if I ever feel myself turning in again, I have my toolbox, mindfulness, meditation, self hypnosis and breathing.  Concentrate on the breathing and mind follows till I can centre myself again and move on.  That which ails and troubles us, is not from without, but within and only we can make those changes.  It’s not our past or events or people that bring us to our knees, but how we process and internalize and turn that against ourselves.  External factors are not our enemy, but our mind can be, and it’s vital we make peace with her.

My last words to you, John was that you’ve given me back my freedom, something I haven’t had since my childhood.  The freedom to take risks, the freedom to say no, the freedom to not have to make apologies for my choices and finally the freedom to get to know and love the me that is, still slightly broken but oh so lovable and so worthy of everything life will offer and no longer seeking the need for approval or acceptance.

Happiness today for me is the simple pleasures in life, mesmerizing stargazing; playing the piano; making time for relaxation; gazing at a beautiful scene or image; beautiful flowers; wonderful memories, and looking to the past only as it makes us happy and reconnecting and touching base with my dear friends.

Thank you John, for helping me to make this all my reality.

And now I think it is time for a song dedication, I know just the right thing, how about a little James Blunt.  Yes!!  No, ok I can hear the moans and groans from here.  So that won’t do.  Well then how about that infectious and boppy Pharrell Williams song, Happy.  It seems appropriate and it’s playing away in the background as I write this.  Farewell for now.  So how about that certificate now.


For The Love Of Books.

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I grew up surrounded by books, my parents were avid readers and encouraged us all to read widely.  When I was twelve, my parents purchased a set of encyclopaedias.  I still recall vividly the visit by the sales rep with a few demonstration books, as we poured over the pages with such enthusiasm and anticipation.  An anticipation of a world opening up to us, and those encyclopaedias were still in the bookcase, where they’d always been when I left home for the last time.  Although I always remember reading, especially lazy afternoons, lying in the garden, my overwhelming passion for reading was ignited at 14, when I read for the first time ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.  No other school curriculum book, or for that matter any other book I’d read prior to that,  had that same hold as this gorgeous book.  For the first time in my memory, I could see the book coming alive for me in pictures, in my mind.  And that has been my guide to this day.

I’ve now a home and family of my own and like my childhood, books are everywhere.  There have only ever been two rules regarding books, don’t scribble on them and don’t damage them in any way.  They’re grown up now and I no longer have to remind them.  I’m guessing like most people I have my favourites, genres and authors, and I tend to return to them over and over.  However joining and belonging to a book club has opened me up to new and exciting authors and books.  I have one personal rule, if a book doesn’t grab me, I won’t finish it.  My time is too precious and passion for reading is too important to waste on a book, I find unworthy.  The greatest of books, take me on a journey, to a new place and time.  They’ve been my life line many, many times and have lifted me for the darkest hours and the darkest times in my life.  I owe them everything and to me there is a sacredness in reading, a very personal journey and great privilege in being able to read.  There was a time when reading only belonged to an elite few, and I wonder at how small their world and lives must have been.

Right now I’m re-reading for umpteenth time Pride and Prejudice, and before you all start saying, ‘oh she loves her romances’.  The only thing Jane Austen went dewy eyed and gaga over was real estate, Pemberley and to a lesser extent Rosings.  Any marriages that take place are swiftly pushed off the page to make way for Austen’s social satire, wicked wit and the glorious grotesques that grace the pages of this wonderful book.  Lady Catherine de Bourgh (of the piano “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”) one of her more unassuming proclamations, Mr. Collins, the loquacious and laughable parson.  But then I can laugh, because I don’t have to live with him, if I did have to live with him I think I would probably have punctured my own ear drums. The delightful Mr. & Mrs. Bennett, solo or in tandem and to a lesser extent the hapless and bitchy Caroline Bingley.

There are however two proposals which get more time than one or two sentences, the painful and cringe worthy fumblings and mumblings of Mr. Collins trying to woo Elizabeth Bennett and the first attempt at a proposal by Mr. Darcy….

(Cue romantic background Baroque/Classical music)

“In vain have I struggled.  It will not do.  My feelings will not be repressed.  You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

………..He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness then of pride.  His sense of her inferiority – of its being a degradation – of the family obstacles which judgement had always opposed to inclination,  were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed  due to the consequence he was wounding, …………… (music skids to a halt)

Yikes….you haven’t done this much, have you Mr. Darcy.

And just for good measure, he adds.

“……….Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related.  They are natural and just.  Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?  To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”

If you want to know where the pride in Pride and Prejudice comes from, he was shocked and stunned when she says no.

Jane Austen wasn’t a romantic, she was by all accounts a practical, acid tongued and occasionally coarse woman.  I think I like her.  Marriage for her was a contract, one of very few options for a gentlewoman of little means.  And this is very evident in her writing, Pride and Prejudice is a comedy of manners and Austen is at her greatest when she’s holding up a magnifying glass to the arrogance, vanity, stupidity and pride of many of the great characters in this wonderful and delicious book.

I tend to use my kindle a lot these days, apart from the obvious advantage of being able to store 1000’s of books in one place, it’s less likely than a mighty tome, to leave me concussed when I fall asleep reading at night.  However I often return to books, there is something magical about the act of turning a page in a book, a physical and emotional response and interaction, and an empathy with the characters and story that I don’t get in using a kindle.  There is a progression and immersion in books, that make you believe you’re living the story, that’s missing with an e-reader.  My kindle is a moment in time, disconnected and static.

E-readers do have a purpose but I don’t believe they will ever replace the book.  And thank god for that, I say.