Pieces Falling Into Place

A complicated puzzle became both a memorial and an allegory for my grief journey and my life.

I’ve been working on a beautiful jigsaw puzzle over the past month. I chose it in honour of Helen, because she and I often did puzzles together. In fact, this was the first jigsaw puzzle I’ve done without Helen in probably twenty years. I also chose it for my dad, who would have loved both the map and the fact it was created by a Dutchman. 

The image is an antique map of the known world, complete with solar systems and representations of the four elements; highlighted with gold embellishments. It was created by F. De Wit in Amsterdam in 1663, and the puzzle was produced by Hinkler Mindbogglers. Boy oh boy, did they get that branding right! 

It really was a mind boggling challenge. Intricate lines, many pieces that still looked almost the same, and corner and edge pieces that were almost identical to one another made putting this puzzle together quite the labour of love. 

Mind boggling, to say the least!

Piece by piece, though, it started to happen. It is no understatement to say that I felt a profound sense of achievement when I finished a section and could anticipate how beautiful the whole thing was going to look. 

Piece by piece, it started to come together…

Doing the puzzle in honour of Helen and my father gave me purpose, but the concentration it required and the distraction from other things in life gave me a sense of mindfulness and peace that really helped me in my day to day life. 

Almost there! But those last couple of hundred pieces were the hardest!

Dealing with my grief and managing tasks related to Dad’s estate were somewhat complicated by the challenges of teaching online again during Victoria’s second major Covid-19 lockdown, but working from home also gave me the space I needed to do those things and start to heal. 

In many ways, that puzzle became an allegory for my own life. I was putting those pieces together too, seeing how things fit and getting an idea of how things would look. I too have intricate lines and a complex design that needs to be observed carefully in order to achieve the desired outcome. My life is full of pieces that fit together neatly, and it’s up to me to make sure I get that right. 

So, while the puzzle on the table is complete, the puzzle that is me is still a work in progress. 

A beautiful picture indeed!

Today marks thirteen weeks since my dad graduated to heaven. Thursday marks the same interval for Helen. 

Three months seemed like an appropriate goal for completing the puzzle, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction at having done so.

This week, I will make arrangements to have it framed. 

When it is hanging on my wall, it will be a daily reminder that doing life well is a process, not an event. It will remind me that every piece matters. And it will remind me of my love for Dad and for Helen, of their love for me.  

I am so blessed to have known and loved them both, and to have been loved by them. The pieces they contributed to the puzzle of my life have helped to make it a thing of beauty. For that, I am very, very thankful. 

I know that as the pieces of life continue falling into place and fitting back together, my grief will remain present, but it will change. It will transform to become a part of the bigger picture, while keeping its own shape and character. In time, it will be differently painful, but the picture of my life would be incomplete with out it. In its place, fitting in with the pieces that represent joy, achievement, love, and hope, it adds its own detail, texture and embellishment to the canvas. 

Balancing Positive and Negative Emotions

Today’s professional development day at school focused on Positive Education and how we can help our students and our communities to flourish. 

One of the aspects I found most thought-provoking was the discussion about positive or comfortable emotions and negative or uncomfortable emotions. It was particularly relevant to many of the things I have been experiencing and observing about life in recent weeks, and I want to share my observations and reflections on those things with you here.

Before I go any further, though, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not a medical or psychological expert or professional. I am, however, a high school teacher of 30 years’ experience, so I have had time and opportunity to make some observations about the things that happen in life and how we deal with them.

More personally, as someone who experiences chronic physical issues and mental health challenges, and who has experienced many conflicting emotions recently due to profound personal loss, I’m confident I know at least a little bit about dealing with adversity, and I’ve learned a few things about the importance of balancing negative emotions with positive ones. 

Both positive and negative emotions can be powerfully motivating.  Fear of failure or embarrassment is as strong, or stronger, in some people as desire for success is in others. 

Negative or uncomfortable emotions can motivate and fuel positive outcomes such as creativity, empathy, and relationship building.

Positive and negative emotions can actually be highly effectivecompanion emotions‘.  I don’t expect that this is a scientific term at all, but it seems to me a useful term that describes how contrasting emotions experienced at the same time can provide some healthy balance and perspective. 

I can testify from the past few weeks that gratitude can moderate grief, and enjoying a few quiet moments in the beauty of nature can transform abject misery into much gentler sadness.  

In different contexts, fear can be a healthy addition to awe or wonder – think of a child at the zoo, for example, for whom interest and desire to engage with the animals should always be balanced with both respect and a little fear or mistrust, so that the child and the animals all remain safe. In yet another situation, a little anxiety or nervousness can actually heighten deliberate preparation and performance if it is paired with intentional and thoughtful preparation, because it can stop one from making rushed or careless errors, or from taking success for granted. 

Life is not about always avoiding the feelings that make us uncomfortable or sad. Hoping to do so isn’t realistic at all, given that there are many situations that we can neither actually control or entirely avoid. 

Instead, it’s crucial that each of us learns to manage those negative or uncomfortable feelings and use the situations in which we encounter them to develop and consolidate our personal strengths and resilience.  Learning to look for the positives in life and choosing to find a balance for the negative experiences or emotions we encounter is how we grow and move forward in life. 

“Whether dealing with a major lifeshattering event or a small bump in the road, we can use gratitude to help boost our happiness and change our outlook. While gratitude won’t change our circumstances, experts say gratitude can change how we feel about them.”

Paula Felps in ‘Your Brain on Gratitude’ by Paula Felps 

That’s certainly what I’m seeking to do while working through my grief. It’s okay to take the time to mourn my losses, but I can’t afford to unpack and live there. Finding a constructive way through my pain will enable me to heal, and come out stronger at the other end. 

In being honest about how I feel and what I’m thinking in my posts on this blog, my hope is that my words will help and encourage someone else get through their personal challenges, whatever they are, and to deal with both their circumstances and their feelings.

I have no doubt that knowing we are not the only ones going through grief or pain or whatever trial it is that is burdening us actually helps us to start to heal. That’s why empathy and compassion are so powerful. That’s why the support and love of family and friends is what we yearn for and seek out when things are hard.  

Tonight, as I reflected on these ideas and considered the fact that I had no evidence for my inexpert assertions, I did find a number of articles that show my conclusions are consistent with current science and research surrounding emotional and mental health. 

Of those articles, some were quite wordy and far too academic to be accessible, but I did find two easily readable and very interesting pieces that discuss the ways in which positive emotions such as gratitude and self-compassion can help individuals deal with adverse situations more constructively.  They are:
‘Your Brain on Gratitude’ by Paula Felps via livehappy.com
’The Reason You Make Unhealthy Choices’ by Mandy Oaklander via time.com

“Being kind to yourself, as opposed to tearing yourself down, leads to fewer bad feelings and, in turn, healthier actions.”

Dr Fuschia Sirois, quoted in ’The Reason You Make Unhealthy
Choices’ by Mandy Oaklander
, via time.com September 25, 2014

Balancing Positive and Negative Emotions
#emotions #feelings #psychology #thoughts #reflection #personal #blogpost

A Positive Thought For Today… and Every Day.

A quick tip for staying home and staying positive.

In this time of social distancing and staying home, some people are feeling very restricted and isolated. It’s easy for people to give into negativity and resentment, particularly if they are used to being out and about and interacting with people.  It’s crucial that we don’t fall into that trap, especially as it is, in all likelihood, only early days yet. 

I have one single thought to share with you today which has the power to completely change a person’s perspective and re-focus their thoughts in much healthier directions. 

Don’t think about what you can’t do. Think about what you can do. 

This is going to be my response to every expression of negativity about staying home.  

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

Self Care At Home During the Corona Virus Lockdown

Taking care of ourselves has always mattered, but it’s even more important during times of restricted personal freedom.

I get it. We’re at home, our kids are home, we can’t go anywhere, so let’s stay in our pyjamas all day! Right? 

Wrong. 

When everything else in the world is in limbo and the rules are changing on a weekly — or daily — basis, it’s really important for our health to keep some kind of routine and not let the basics fall by the wayside. 

Yesterday, I mentioned that taking care of ourselves is one of the positive things we should all be doing. While everyone’s situation is unique, there are some commonsense strategies for taking care of ourselves which are particularly relevant during the disruption to our regular routines by the corona virus lockdown. 

Nutrition matters. It’s tempting to live on pizza, chocolate and peanut butter sandwiches, but being sure we eat well and nourish our bodies properly is crucial to maintaining good health.
The healthier we are, the more resistant we are to germs of any kind, and the recovery from any bug we might pick up will be quicker.
Not only that, but we’re going to have to go back to work sooner or later, and it would be good if those business suits or uniforms still fit when that time comes. 

Hydration is also crucial to keeping the body healthy, but most of us don’t drink as much water as we should.
It was only when I started keeping track of how much I was drinking in a day that I realised how far short I had fallen from what my body actually needed on a daily basis. 
Remember, too, that alcohol is a diuretic, so for every beer or glass of wine, we need to drink more water. 
For a great discussion on how much water we need to drink, listen to this interview from ABC Australia. 

Exercise is similarly important, and for more reasons than just not bulking out while we’re hibernating. Exercise is good for the brain and the emotions as well as the body, so even when we can’t leave home, it’s important to walk, or get on the treadmill, toss a ball with the dog, follow a cardio or dance video tutorial, or get into stretching and yoga. Even cleaning out a cupboard or doing some gardening qualifies. There are lots of options for people to pursue at home, and your exercise can be as gentle or vigorous as you want it to be so there’s no excuse for staying in bed or living on the couch for the foreseeable future. 

While it has been widely publicised that sunlight will kill the corona virus doesn’t like the sunlight, that is not actually true. Even so, it dos kill other germs and bacteria.
Stepping outside the house and into the fresh air and sunshine is highly beneficial for wellbeing. You don’t have to go far – just into the yard will do if you can’t or don’t want to go any further.
While people who live outside the city are at a definite advantage here, most neighbourhoods have parks, gardens or reserves where you can go and walk without being in close proximity to anyone else or even touching anything. 
Letting light into your house is important, too. it helps you maintain a natural circadian rhythm, and therefore promotes better sleep hygiene. 

Personal hygiene may seem mundane, and there are probably people out there who are treating it as optional, but showering every day, wearing deodorant, and taking care with presentation is an important part of taking on each day with a positive attitude. It’s psychologically proactive and It makes a difference to our physical health and wellbeing. Just as importantly, it makes you much more pleasant to be around. You might just be at home with your family, but they are actually the most significant people in your life. If you couldn’t be bothered doing it for yourself, do it for them. 

Maintaining a routine is also a very positive psychological strategy. If you normally work from 8.30 til midday then break for lunch, try to do that at home, too. You might have some interruptions, or you might be sharing a workspace, but it’s a powerful way to model to other people, especially kids, that keeping going in times of adversity is both possible and beneficial. It also keeps the brain trained for returning to work when the time comes, and gives you a great sense of satisfaction of achieving something each day. 

Similarly, keeping your home spaces clean and tidy promotes health by not giving the germs a foothold. Do the laundry, wash the dishes, and clean the surfaces regularly. That way, things are easily maintained without turning into hard labour. 

Relaxation should be part of every day. Whether it’s reading, crafting, meditation, writing, doing a puzzle or listening to music or a podcast, spend some time each day in quietness and peace.
If your kids aren’t good at quietness and peace — and many are not — now is a better time than any to model positive mindfulness and teach them some strategies they can use. They should also be learning to respect your need for some downtime, too. They may be getting frustrated, but it’s actually not all about them. 

In keeping with all of this, my own personal strategies include are: 

  • Maintaining my regular morning routine: get up at a reasonable hour, shower, dress, have breakfast, and then get into the things I need to do each day. 
  • Creating an achievable “to-do” list for each day. It helps me organise myself, and ticking things off the list is incredibly satisfying.
  • Sticking to my usual school timetable as much as possible when I’m working from home.
    I’m a teacher, so there’s always plenty I can do. I have to take care not to let work consume the entirety of each and every day. A routine helps me to manage that more effectively, and keeps me on task this week as I’m working to get done what I need for the beginning of Term 2.
  • During the scheduled term break of two weeks leading up to Easter, I need to ensure I have the break I have earned. There will be some school work to do — there always is — but I will not be working the whole time.
  • Spending time outdoors every day. I can choose to work in our courtyard, spend time in the yard with the dog and talking to the sheep over the fence, or spend time in one of the parks in town. Mixing it up from day to day is how I roll. 
  • Eating properly. The temptation to snack all day is huge, and having dropped a few dress sizes since August, that’s not a habit I want to get back into. I’m shopping strategically – I go only when I need to, and when my resolve is strongly in favour of buying apples rather than chocolate. 
  • Punctuating  between activities by drinking a glass of water. 
  • Maintain my regular habit of reading for at least an hour a day. 

Self Care At Home During the #CoronavirusLockdown #mentalhealth #HealthandWellbeing #selfcare #Priorities #stayinghome

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

If you have suggestions or tips to add, please leave a comment.

Positive Things We Should All Be Doing While Staying Home

Sometimes it really is the simple things in life that add up to make a huge difference.

While many of us are staying in and working from home in the interests of slowing down this drafted virus, there are some important positive things we should all be doing at this time of social distancing and isolation during the time of Covid-19. 

The good news is that you don’t even have to leave home to do them. 

Some of the positive things we should all be doing include:

  • Check on your older family members. They are susceptible to loneliness at the best of times, and this is definitely not the best of times. 
  • Check on your extroverted family members and friends. They are probably already a little stir crazy, and it’s nowhere near over yet. 
  • Sincerely thanking everyone you know who works in the health
    profession, in a supermarket or pharmacy, or who drives a truck delivering the produce and goods that we are all relying on. They are the ones making it possible for us to stay home and stay safe. 
  • Share encouragement, kindness, and support, instead of germs. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make that stuff go viral?
  • Social media is full of parents who have suddenly found themselves homeschooling their kids and wondering what level of purgatory they have landed in. Now is a great time to send a message of thanks to your kids’ teachers, acknowledging what an incredible job they have been doing.
  • Take care of yourself. Nutrition, hygiene, exercise, and fresh air and sunshine are all super important. 
  • Sharing great ideas and resources for things to entertain, teach, inspire and motivate. It’s not just kids needing something constructive to do— there are plenty of bored grownups out there, too.  Can you imagine how different a place Facebook and Twitter might be if we filled them with cool posts to help each other instead of all the complaints that seem to be there? 
  • When a friend shares something good on their feed, give it a thumbs up or a heart, and share it around. If you enjoyed it, you can bet there’s someone else out there who will benefit from it, too!
  • Support local small business. Now more than ever, your local stores need your support. When you have to go out and restock the pantry or replace something that has broken, buy local, support your neighbourhood businesses, and keep the community going. It can’t be said often enough: your $50 or $100 won’t actually mean much to a huge multinational company, but it will make an enormous difference to a family business that is endangered in this current economic climate. You’ll help to feed or clothe someone’s kids, or keep the lights on. 

These might sound like quite basic ideas, but it’s so easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when things seem dire. A bit of positivity here and there adds up to a mindset that can completely change your day, or your perspective. Give it a go! 

Positive Things We Should All Be Doing While #StayingHome
#StayHomeandStaySafe #positive #stayingpositive #PositivePosts

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

Staying Informed Without Getting Overloaded

How can we keep things in perspective and maintain a positive balance during the corona virus pandemic?

During any crisis, be it war, fire, flood, famine or pestilence, it’s important to stay up to date with important information, but it’s also really easy to be overloaded by non-stop discussion and bombardment by both media and social channels. 

In recent weeks, it seems that every time one turns the radio on or watches anything on commercial television, the only thing anyone talks about is corona virus related. It’s relentless. Government officials, scientists, medical authorities, celebrities, talk shows, podcasts, and current affairs specials are all contributing to the conversations, with varying degrees of accuracy and relevance. Every news bulletin tells us how many people have been diagnosed and how many have died. 

It would be quite possible to consume media about global developments, self isolation, quarantine, and empty supermarket shelves all day, every day— and there are probably people doing that. 

That’s not healthy. 

It very quickly becomes emotionally  and mentally  overwhelming , and can blow out into quite disproportionate fear and paranoia. 

We are all as susceptible to that as anyone else, so it is important to strike a balance between keeping abreast of what we need to know and limiting the amount of constant discussion about the virus that we allow into each day. 

My strategies and decisions for achieving this include: 

  • Being very selective about where I get my news and information. Each day, I inform myself via reputable and balanced news services. Then I turn my focus to other things. 
  • Choosing to deliberately reject “fear language” and negativity, because that doesn’t help anyone. 
  • Being discerning about the content of social media feeds, and how much time is spent reading them.
    Keep in mind that social media is very rarely one of those reputable and balanced news services. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.
    The “mute” functionality is very useful in those circumstances.
  • Adopting an “only positive” approach to sharing and promoting other people’s content. If it’s encouraging, entertaining and constructive, share away. Spread that stuff around like a five year old sprinkles glitter. 
  • Occupying our thoughts with productive and proactive things. Whether that is work, recreational, or creating positive content for our own social media depends on the needs and demands of each day.
  • Balancing the amount of screen time in each day with screen-free time. Especially in these times of social distancing, it’s vital to ensure that healthy habits are maintained. Go for a walk, enjoy some sunshine or look at the night sky, prepare and enjoy good food, talk with family and friends, dance to a favourite tune or two, read a book, play with the dog, clean out a cupboard or pull some weeds in the garden… the possibilities are myriad. 
  • Keeping things in perspective. Yes, there is a global health crisis making many people sick and curtailing personal and social freedoms. People are losing jobs and businesses as a result. The economy is wallowing. It is a very serious situation. 
    At the same time, most of us are simply being asked to stay home and find ways to entertain ourselves. It might be inconvenient, and we might have to abandon or change plans, but it is still a much better option than what some people are facing.
  • Supporting local community. When you do need to buy things, try to invest in local and small businesses so that they can survive the crisis, too. This can help you to develop a sense of connection and belonging that is as encouraging for you as it is for the folk you support. 
    An additional benefit is that many small businesses are currently offering contactless shopping and delivery options at no extra expense, and the quality of the goods and services they offer often far surpasses their bigger competitors.

We can’t control the virus, but we can control our own responses to the disruption and social climate it has created. By being proactive about keeping informed and staying positive, we can avoid being overwhelmed by the volume of discussion and the fear and negativity that can so easily take hold as a result. 

Staying informed without getting overwhelmed during the #Coronavirus #pandemic
#perspective #mentalwellbeing #blogpost

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

How to Stay Motivated in Spite of Mental Health Concerns

There are some fabulous tips here for staying motivated despite the things that try to drag us down.
I found this post hugely relatable, and also got some great new ideas from it.

Plus, on an entirely different note, like this blogger, I also have a calico cat. Her name is Scout – after the central character in To Kill A Mockingbird – and she is divine.

Scout Kitty may have gotten her nose out of joint when I featured Abbey the Labby in yesterday’s post, so this was a good opportunity to make it up to her.

Two Girls and a Calico Cat

Hi lovely readers,

Thursday is my least favourite day of the week, because I have a 3 hour class followed by 3 hours of work (I am a teacher’s assistant for a class I took a few years ago). I am my most awake and happy in the morning, but on Thursdays I have to relax during the morning and try to sleep in (I never end up doing this) and do some self-care so that I’m not totally drained by the time I have to head to school.

Every Thursday morning I wake up with dread because I am genuinely afraid I will end up having paralyzing anxiety, or start a depressive episode, or just plain get so tired I cop out of class and work. In the past, I did – often. When I was still using (I am a recovering addict, if you haven’t read my blog…

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Appreciate the Gifts and Differences

I can relate to the feelings of inadequacy expressed by this blogger on so many levels: as a teacher, a writer, and as someone who has had to adjust to living with chronic pain and illness.

I can’t do all the things I used to do so easily. My motivation to make things perfect creates perpetual conflict with my physical inability to achieve that.

And yet, thankfully, there is still much that I can do.

This post is a great reminder of the importance of doing things, rather than doing them perfectly, and of being present and engaged in the lives ofour family and friends. Thus, I repost it with heartfelt thanks to C.J. Langer for the very timely thoughts.

c.j. langer

IMG_20191127_0553Perfectionism rears its ugly head at the weirdest times. At least for me. I have tried very hard for the last 15 years or so to let that part of me go. I know striving for perfection can only lead to frustration and, in severe cases, depression. At the very least it can lead to an increase of anxiety and stress.

But as hard as I try, I find myself thinking bad about what I do when something doesn’t turn out the way I think it should. You know, perfect. I tend to compare my work to what others do and become embarrassed about giving others sub par work.

In this instance, it was my wrapping skills. I’ve known how to wrap a present since I was a kid. It was something my mother knew how to do exceptionally well so she taught me how to do it too. It’s…

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On Top Of The Mountain

Today, I reached the top of Mt Marking

Assignments finished.
Essays graded. 
Exams done. 
Results entered. 
Reports written. 
Proofreading completed.
Boxes ticked. 

And it feels like a huge achievement. 

Sure, there is always more work to be done. 
But tonight, I can relax knowing I have done my job well. 

Climbing Mt Marking.

I’ve been largely out of action here this week, because I have been on my annual personal personal pilgrimage attempting to scale Mt Marking.

You may not have heard of Mt Marking. It is a steep and imposing mountain, located right near Mt Grading and Mt Evaluation in the End-Of-Year Reporting Ranges. It is difficult to climb, and can quickly turn into a slippery slope if one does not pay attention to one’s preparation, time management, and self-discipline. 

After several very long and arduous days, I have made it about half-way up. It is getting somewhat harder to breathe, and it is exhausting, yet I must persist. I find myself relying more and more on coffee and, while I have been careful about nutrition in past weeks, I find now that I need to supplement my diet with chocolate to keep my strength and attention at sustainable levels. 

And when Miley Cyrus sang that “it ain’t about how fast I get there” and “it ain’t about what’s on the other side”, it was not Mt Marking she was climbing. There are deadlines, after all, and the dangerous, rapidly-flowing Reporting River is what awaits on the other side, with the broad and intimidating Planning For Next Year Wilderness beyond that. 

I will be able to see it all once I stand triumphantly on top of Mt Marking. On a clear day, you can see almost all the way to the end of the term.