Small wins

Ever wonder how the big ships feel when anchored on the dock too long? Do they miss the sea? Do they long to be out in the water, chasing the wind, no land in sight? Do they just float and enjoy the moment knowing they are built for the seas and it’s only a matter of time until they can do it all again? I feel like a big ass ship, built to ride the waves and show off her bows out in the world yet here we are – on the dock wasting time.

A friend said to me, “You really need to stop feeling stuck. Give yourself some grace. We are in the middle of a pandemic and just surviving is enough right now. Holding down your job, being there for your family, healing and stuff that’s a whole lot right there. The problem is you are a high achiever and so used to chasing big dreams that you feel like you are doing nothing because there are no big dreams-achieved for you to tick off your list”.

I felt that, hey. I felt it in that deep place only hard truths from people you know care deeply about you can hit. You know it’s true because they know you so well that they can’t be wrong about this. And that sucks, but in a good way.

I am a big dreamer, you see. List of goals as long as my arm. Big, hairy and audacious goals because why not, right? The way COVID-19 has brought parts of my life to a stand still really does feel like nothing worthwhile is happening. Its a kind of funk that’s hard to acknowledge, hard to cure.

But then I realised something. For now, while we are here unable to go after the big dreams and record big wins, the small ones will do too.

Plant a garden.
Clean your windows.
Declutter your lingerie drawer.
Buy something you really want.
Fall back in love with your partner, with yourself.
Lose weight.
Learn to paint or play an instrument.
Give to charity.
Do what you can, where you are.

Every achievement, no matter how small, brings joy just the same and stocks the fire of hope we need to make it through these trying times. And if you find yourself feeling like a big ship longing for the sea remember that your circumstances don’t change who you are and your destiny will always find you. If not now then later. Stay sharp.

Take Your Time

Take your time and drench your pillows in it.
Let the tears flow like rain.
Take your time and feel the pain, will you
Let it wash over you in waves
Wounds heal with time
This too shall pass
When walking through the valley of the shadow of death
Let it be

Finding the answers

Art by Elena Gual

The answers to every question under the sun are in a book somewhere waiting to be found.

There is something to that old saying – there is nothing new under the sun. Whatever you are going through you can trust that you aren’t the first or the last to experience it. We are lucky to live in a time where it’s become common to write problems and share their solutions for free. So read, read widely.

Find books, forums, blogs, social media accounts that speak to your issue and educate yourself to better understand your own struggle and how others overcame it.

My all time favorite reads are:
1. It Did Not Start With You
2. The Body Keeps Score
3. Love For Imperfect Things
4. The Bible

Some IG accounts that helped me are;
Yvette Aloe
Kier Gaines
Michell Clark

As you read you will discover the language to talk about yourself and your wounds as well as the tools to heal them. Be deliberate about the content you consume, it can make or break you.

Routes to healing

Art by Elena Gaul

Three routes to healing
1. You must let the pain visit
2. You must let it teach you
3. You must not let it overstay
– Ijeoma Osike Umebinyuo

Journaling saved my life. For real. Because the route to healing involves sitting with yourself, listening to where it hurts, asking your pain the right questions so you learn why it hurts and finding ways to be in care with yourself so you can heal the hurt and replace it with something else – something good.

Therapy allows you to do all of this through talking to someone who is trained in the art of healing and can guide you in your introspection, help you figure yourself out. Journaling allows you to do the same thing by pulling out your thoughts and feelings, putting them on paper so you can better see and untangle them by yourself.

I have kept many electronic journals during my journey to wellness. I love them for the ability to customize how I re-organise the chaos in my head and lock  away the horrors of my heart with a secure password.

You can also track your moods with smileys or words and get a better sense of what your happy/sad ratio is. This is especially important because feeling sad is a normal feeling for all of us and generally a 60/40 ratio between positive feelings and the negative is considered healthy.

I highly recommend making journaling a part of your life if you want to be well and happy. It’s a really good way to get to know yourself, to pick up things that are stressing you and start to find healthy ways of dealing with them. And if you are not much of a writter most journal apps let you record voice instead.

What’s not to like?

The Big Cry

Art by Elena Gaul

Every so often,
surrender and let the water do it’s work
Maybe the big cry
comes right before the big miracle.
Maybe the big cry is the miracle.
-Upile Chisala

Whenever we talk about mental health, wellness and routes to healing we must talk about crying. We need to talk about why it’s okay, even necessary for your wellness journey.

Surrender and let yourself cry at some point so you can let the stress go, so you can let it heal. We often resist tears but when you open the flood gates it’s not just water that washes over you but a strange kind of relief and calm. I say strange but there is a science to all this, hear me out.

1. Emotional tears contain stress hormones and flush them out of your system
2. Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS helps your body rest and digest. A good cry is triggers a period of rest.
3. Crying releases hormones called oxytocin and endorphins, these are our own in built self soothing mechanism.

In short, crying balances out your emotions and is a scientific miracle self healing mechanism.

I often found myself crying as I processed things at various stages of my own journey. Small small tears as an old memory surfaced, a river of tears as I pulled the scabs of old wounds oozing pus from years of neglect,rolling-on-the-floor-sobbing-and-screaming tears as I finally let go of things. It’s all a necessary part of the journey and the beauty is you live to tell the story of how you overcame and you get to create the future you desire with no baggage.

I hope you give yourself permission to the water do it’s work. Behind closed doors or safe in the arms of a loved one or under the watchful eye of a trained professional. Do the needful.

The Good Life

Art by Elena Gaul

We all want to live the good life. And when you grow up poor you often associate that with having money and being able to afford certain things, live a certain kind of lifestyle. That was me, small town girl moved to the big city, got educated, got a job, got small small money and made good – sort of.

I didn’t have a lot but I had enough and was living my dreams in many ways. Life being life, I got my fair share of Ls but I was dealing with it like you do, getting over stuff and “keeping it moving”. Then I started to realise more and more that I was deeply sad and didn’t know why. The sadder I got, the more randomn illnesses I had – migraine, heart palpitations, fainting spells you name it. Turns out the good life is not just a state of having but also a state of being.

Not knowing who to turn to I spoke a General Practitioner. They said I had classic symptoms of depression and referred me to a psychologist. At the time I struggled to find one who would accept my medical aid, struggled to find any therapist who would take me on as a client really. I have since realised just how hard it is generally to get professional mental health services of any kind in Zimbabwe, and how expensive.

Most people are going through what they are going through alone because they  cannot get help. This is why I think we need to normalise talking about these things so people have the information and tools to take better care of their mental health by themselves so things don’t reach breaking point.

Well & Good

Art by Elena Gaul

I was looking back on my journey with wellness over the last couple of years and marvelling at it all. The things I had to learn about trauma & healing. The unlikely connections I made with others who were struggling and in the pursuit of happiness too. The calm waters I have found right here amidst all the chaos. We don’t talk enough about the things that keep us awake at night, that drive us to drink, the things that break us and how we can overcome all of that and flourish.

This week I will share parts of my journey in a series of blog posts. I want to tell you about the things I have learnt and the wonderful people I have met.

Maybe this could be start of a beautiful conversation and healthier lives for us all. Because I really want for us all to be well and good in every possible way.

In the words of Gabrielle Union, “We are going to need more wine.”

#wellness

The Invisible Man

Yesterday a man died in my hometown. Cause of death: Suicide. Suicide rates have shot up in recent years and are highest among men. I want to believe the true cause of suicide death is lack of mental health services and social support because with the right support anyone can get through anything.

Accessing mental health practitioners should be as common place as consulting a GP to treat a headache or flu. Yet this is not possible in Zimbabwe and in many African countries. We should be concerned.

The deceased was a well known local, a family man, distinguished in his trade as a photographer. He was the first to take polaroid pictures in our town and was seen as a bit of an innovator for it. He was a serial entrepreneur, always hustling, always cheerful. He also happened to have been born with a physical impairment that necessitated use of a wheelchair. Many loved him, his disability was never inability as the saying goes.

Then last week one of his children drowned while playing with friends at a nearby stream. Soon after the funeral he discovered his wife had been cheating on him with a neighbor. The love birds eloped together leaving him heartbroken and grieving as a father and husband. So he drank poison and ended it all.

Now that’s a tough week for anyone! It’s a lot to take and would feel like the world is crushing down all around you. But it did not have to end in suicide.

Death and betrayal are perhaps two of the hardest feelings to deal with. Both leave you asking “Why?”. Why did this have to happen to me? You wonder what you did to deserve this tragedy. You wonder what you could have done differently to stop it. Anger follows not far behind and so many other feelings and thoughts we cannot even begin to imagine. It’s a really dark space to be in.

Here’s the thing, it is possible to walk through these phases of life. With the right support we can deal with the most painful experiences and not only survive but heal and maybe even emerge stronger. There are a wide range of mental health services available in the world now to help with this yet they remain inaccessible to many.

Counsellors, therapists, psychologists and a plethora of others mental health professionals are specifically trained to help us navigate the turbulent parts of our lives. They have the language to help us process the things we go through and the tools to help us heal.

The mental health professionals that are in practice tend to be expensive and based in the capital city. As a result many turn to social support to help manage stressful life events. They talk to a trusted friend or family or they talk to their pastor. Talking in any form helps release the worst of our emotions and the advices we share with each other can help with ideas on how to handle things. But not everyone has a community of people of who care, though, and often people are left feeling isolated and desperate trying to get through their storms alone.

When you are in your feelings it’s easy to think ending your life is the only option. But it should never come to that. I dream of an Africa where therapy is common place and carries zero stigma. I long for universal access to affordable, quality mental health care for all.

The silver lining in all of this is men are starting to normal acknowledging, sharing and managing stress. Albeit at the pub with half joking advices on how to deal with the issues they are struggling with but it’s a start. And while we wait for governments to take mental health seriously and invest in universal access, lets be there for one another. There is nothing that can happen in this life which you can’t get through. Absolutely nothing. We are strong enough to handle anything that can come our way. We get stronger as we break.

The soles of her feet

I had a bit of a moment as I was taking an evening bath the other day. An epiphany of sorts. The kind of sudden realisation that feels like divine revelation and can be completely life altering if you let it. The thing happened as I was scrubbing my feet, banal as that may sound, I swear something absolutely profound happened. Let me tell you.

Self love is a funny thing with me in that it’s seasonal. Sometimes I am so in love with me and taking great care of myself, happy and at peace. During these times I take long elaborate baths and love on myself with scented products, salts and all the paraphernalia of self care. When I feel down, fat and ugly the lack of love shows in my routine. Most days I can barely drag myself through the shortest of baths. The thing that suffers most of all during these down seasons is my feet. One look at the soles of my feet can tell you all you need to know about my state of mind.

So with the hope to turn a particularly shitty day around I planned a long, elaborate bath. Doing the complete opposite of what you are feeling has a way of making you feel different. As I soaked, washed and scrubbed, a heaviness I had been feeling began to melt away. My head cleared. My muscles let up and in the excitement of it all I set about tending to my feet.

And while I was massaging them I felt so loved, so taken care off. I mean, touch is definitely a love language here. Then it occurred to me how long it had been since I did this for myself and what that says about how I have been feeling about myself. If tending to myself makes me feel so loved then taking time to give TLC to my feet , which I care zero for, is the ultimate act of love isn’t it? Caring for the least is the ultimate care there is, it’s a high form of love for the self.

In that moment I realised there’s a love we give to ourselves that’s due to even the parts of ourselves that we hate. The ability to do that consistently shows just healed we are, how whole we are as we move through this life. I have a ways to go here but I am starting. A daily practice was born out of this experience.

Shedding fatigue

They said after hardship comes ease
So I toiled and waited
Still nothing
Now I want to shed this fatigue
It’s heavy and doesn’t feel like it’s meant for me

Learning to breath

When you are co-dependent, it’s always about the other person. Always about “us”. You get so used to putting others first, you see, that it feels as natural as breathing. Only you do it for a lover, a friend, for family, for the collective.

When you expect others to put you first always the way you do for them and they don’t return the energy you give it makes you angry. Except it’s unnatural for anyone to love like you do. Can you really ask it of another?

When it’s you who feels like you are underwater and running out of breath it’s you that has to come up for air. It’s you that’s gotta breath or die.

So you make a mad dash for the surface. You come up gasping, lungs burning fit to burst. You take one hungry gulp of fresh air, and then another, inhale, exhale, choke! Inhale again, exhale. Learning to breath for yourself, just yourself.

After a while you look around and realise the lovers, the friends, family, the collective – they are all doing just fine. This entire time you were breathing for everybody, making sacrifice after sacrifice, stretching beyond your limit, they could cope by their own damn self!

Stay a while

Photograpy by Lexonart on Instagram

This image has been my WhatsApp wallpaper for the last 3 months. To me it shows three women who enjoy each other’s company. They are taking some time out of the busyness of everyday work to catch up and clearly loving it.

I chose it for my WhatsApp as a reminder to my introverted self who is leaning towards isolating myself from people when life is heavy. It’s a reminder to stay awhile and chat, to ask how people are and mean it. It’s a reminder to say more if I possibly can, to joke, to tease, to laugh. It’s a reminder to be the bigger person and check in on loved ones I haven’t heard from in a while. It’s also a reminder that it’s okay when I really would rather be in my own company, to do that because these kind of friends would understand and we can pick up where we left off – anytime.

I usually change wallpaper every month but think I will keep this one a little longer. It’s doing the Lord’s work in my life.

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