The Latest, Perhaps Greatest, Swear Word

Last week I asked my students to do something creative. 

 Today, Student A  wasn’t very impressed with the outcome of their efforts. “I tried, but it’s turned out a bit 2020.” 

“It’s a bit what?” I asked. 

“2020.” 

Obviously, I was expected to understand. 

“Mine’s pretty 2020 too, to be honest,”  Student B admitted. 

I looked at their faces on my screen. They were being serious. 

“So…” I asked, “Are we using that as a swear word now?” 

They’re right. It actually works.

“More meaningful than swearing, Miss,” said Student B.

The rest of the class concurred. 

“And we can’t even get in trouble for saying it.” Student A grinned, clearly rather pleased with that reality. 

I smiled, told them their work was way better than 2020, and moved the lesson on. 

I don’t know if they just started doing that by themselves or picked it up from somewhere else, but at least they’re finding some practical use for 2020. I may just follow suit. 

A Handy-Dandy Social Media Skill

I have a really handy social media skill. It may actually prove to be a talent: time will tell. 

It’s super for my mental health, and has amazing benefits in maintaining positive content on my social media feed. 

It is, quite simply, deleting rubbish content on social media and snoozing the people who post it. 

Obviously, “rubbish content” is a highly subjective term. But since it’s my hobby, and since it’s my social media feed, I get to decide what’s rubbish and what’s not. I don’t dictate to anyone else what they post, or what they read, or what they want to see. But I do get to decide on what I allow to speak into my life. 

Things that get an instant veto are racism, intolerance, and hatred. The chances of them changing my mind on those issues range at the lower end of remote to zero. Also high on the veto list are conspiracy theories, politics, and ignorance. I’m not limiting their right to free speech, nor am I insisting that they think or believe. I am simply choosing not to engage with them. All I am limiting is their ability to speak into my space and my mental health. 

To that end, I have deleted comments. Obviously, people can see if their comments have been deleted. If that bothered me more than  the comments do, I wouldn’t delete them.

I have also muted conversations in messenger. The person on the other end of the conversation won’t know I’ve muted them, because I don’t often respond to general content in messenger anyway. Forwarded messages, videos, chain letters, those virus-laden ‘OMG I can’t believe this!’ messages and spam only ever come to my inbox to die, friendless, unacknowledged and alone. If it’s a personal message, that’s a different thing entirely. 

I have snoozed or unfollowed people on Facebook. The advantage is that you can do both without those people knowing and getting all offended and being weird with you when you see them at the next family gathering or in the supermarket. 

Furthermore, I have zero shame about doing any of it. 

I have chosen to not engage in debates because I don’t have the energy, nor do I have any inclination to enter into conflict. My social media feed is not the place for a bunfight about whose lives matter or whether or not something is real. And if I post something and someone disagrees, they’re completely free to do so without starting an existential debate on my thread. They can do what I do, and simply walk away. 

As someone said to me last week, it’s a bit like peeing in a wetsuit: it gives you a warm feeling, but nobody else notices. That’s absolutely true, but that doesn’t matter one bit, because I’m not doing it for anyone else. I’m doing it for me.

Here’s the how-to:

At the top right of a Facebook post are three dots, like an ellipsis. Click on those. 

From the drop-down menu, you can choose to snooze the person who made the most for 30 days OR to unfollow them entirely. This means you won’t see anything they post unless you go to their profile. 

If that person is sharing someone else’s post, you have another option. 

I changed the names on this post so that there is no inferred suggestion certain pages should be hidden or unfollowed. I made this name up. Any resemblance to existing pages is entirely coincidental.

You can hide all content from the creator of the original post without affecting your friend’s usual posts. This is usually my first choice, and I don’t snooze or unfollow my friends until they have deliberately and repeatedly shared what I consider to be rubbish on multiple occasions: that’s when I understand that I am better off just not seeing their posts. 

Finally, if people think something I post is rubbish or disagreeable, they’re welcome to ignore it or snooze/unfollow me, too. Fair’s fair, and I’m really not that easily offended. 

A Sweet Act of Kindness.

Today I received a mystery package in the post.

Well, this was intriguing!

It turned out to be a box full of kindness from a former student who read Sunday’s post about my first Father’s Day without my dad. 

Beautiful cookies by @adornedbybeth on Instagram

The cookies were accompanied by a lovely note.

In case you’re wondering… yes, I cried.

In that moment, I felt so cared for. I felt valued and understood. 

What a blessing to receive such kindness. 
What an honour to know that a former student likes and respects me enough to do something so sweet and generous. 

Highly recommended.

Finally, those cookies! They’re sensational – and almost too pretty to eat.

Only almost, though. 

Good Grief! Getting Through My First Father’s Day Without My Dad.

The challenge: dealing with my feelings on a day I’ve always enjoyed celebrating before.

Over the past few weeks, I found myself growing heartily tired of advertisements and posts about Fathers’ Day. 

I sincerely wish all the dads out there and their kids a very happy Father’s Day, and I truly hope they can spend some quality time together. I hope kids of all ages cherish their dads and make the most of every opportunity to spend time with them while they still have them. 

For me, though… it just hurts. This is my first Father’s Day without my dad after 53 years of having him in my life. It has only been 11 weeks since he died and I miss him enormously every day. 

Dad enjoying a great coffee at Camperdown Bakery in March 2020.

I have so much to be thankful for. Dad was wise, and funny, and encouraging, and consistent, and caring, and always there when I needed him. I loved being able to care for him and provide for him, to spend time with him every day, and to take him to the places he needed or wanted to go. We were father and daughter, but also great companions and partners in laughter, day trips, good coffee and sweet treats. 

All of that is why I miss him so much. And while everyone else is celebrating their dads as they absolutely should, it feels empty for me. 

So, I spent part of my day commemorating my father. 

I went to visit the grave where both my parents are now buried. I placed flowers there, took some photos, and had a big howly cry. 

There was a young guy nearby, placing something on a grave — maybe his own dad’s or grandfather’s resting place, I don’t know. He approached me gently and asked, “Are you okay, miss?” We we’re both wearing masks, but his eyes were kind and I could see he was genuinely concerned for me. I thanked him and explained it was my first Father’s Day without my dad as he died in June, and he nodded. “He was lucky to have a daughter who would cry for him,” he said. Then he patted my arm and walked away. What a kind, compassionate soul! 

As I calmed my breathing and emotions, I took some photos for the family. 

My next stop was the Camperdown Botanic Gardens. I love walking there. It’s so pretty and there is always something lovely to see. It was the perfect place for reflecting and mindfulness as I walked.  Surprisingly, I was the only person there: everyone else was missing out, because it was an absolutely glorious day. There were blossom trees covered in buds and blooms, new leaves on limbs that have been bare all winter, a glorious grove of bluebells, pretty tulips and cheerful daffodils and jonquils. They were all sights that were good for the soul. 

My third destination for the day was the nursery: I wanted to buy a tree to plant in memory of my dad. There were some lovely options – silver birches, ornamental pears, weeping cherry blossom, and a range of decorative blossom trees. In the end, I couldn’t decide between the crabapple and the Persian witch hazel, so I bought both. They both have leaves that change with autumn colour, and pretty blossoms to give cheer in late winter and early spring. 

There was one funny moment when the lady who runs the nursery suggested a maple tree. I had to confess to her that I adore maples — they are my favourite tree— but I couldn’t get a maple this time because nobody would believe I bought it to remember Dad. A maple would definitely be just  for me. 

It has been an emotional roller coaster of a day, but I have tried to fill it with positive things and happy memories instead of dwelling on the past or wallowing in misery. I experienced a beautiful moment of kindness from a stranger, enjoyed fresh air and sunshine on an absolutely cracking spring day, and I have two lovely new trees that will brighten the garden and my life. 

The crabapple has been planted, and the Persian witch hazel is just waiting until tomorrow evening for its turn. 

Counting my blessings instead of my tears is definitely what Dad would have wanted me to do.

So, once again, job done.  

Tristful.

Image by huskyherz on Pixabay.

Tristful is an archaic word that means to be melancholy or full of sadness. Like forswunk and forwallowed, it is a word which is said to be obsolete now, but it is so beautiful that I want to bring it back. 

It came into the English language, as many words did, courtesy of the Normans and the Plantagenets, in medieval times.  The Latin word tristis gave French the word triste, which gave English trist meaning sad or gloomy, and thus tristful. 

I discovered this word today while looking for words to describe my feelings and state of mind at this point in my grief journey. Over the past few days, I have been feeling as though everything is too hard, and I just want to withdraw into my cocoon and wallow. I’m not angry, nor am I ungrateful, but I am definitely not numb. My emotions are very close to the surface, and at times I am unable to hold back the tears. 

I know all of that is completely natural, and I know I need to accept it and work through it. I know it won’t last forever.

But I also needed the words to understand and express my emotions. 

I have been using the term ‘melancholy’ a lot, and it describes my condition perfectly. However, I know that while one cannot actually wear a word out, it is entirely possible to cheapen it with overuse. Melancholy is a word that I love because it is so expressive, and because it’s beautiful to say and to hear, so I would hate to be guilty of turning it into a cliche. 

Sad isn’t deep enough. Miserable would be appropriate, but it feels more temporary and somehow more minor than what I am experiencing. 

I very quickly rejected morose and in a funk because both suggest sullenness or a bad mood, which is not reflective of my feelings or state of mind. Moody was no better.

When I saw tristful listed in my thesaurus under the entry for melancholy, I had an immediate sense of having discovered a gem that most people had laid aside and forgotten about. As I researched its meaning and etymology, I knew I had discovered the perfect alternative. 

Tristful: to be melancholy or full of sadness. #words #emotions #etymology #English #blogpost

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

Stepping Back Out Into A Changed World

Image by qimono on Pixabay

Tomorrow school starts again for Term 3. 

Tonight, I am contemplating — somewhat anxiously — what tomorrow will bring. That’s fairly standard territory the night before returning to school for a new term, but right now it’s even more complicated than usual. 

Phrases like “back into routine” and “good to keep busy” have been bandied about altogether too casually by people who don’t understand how I feel. In one sense, things may seem as though they are “returning to normal”, but I don’t feel that way at all. Instead, it feels very much like I’m stepping into the vast unknown. 

The world out there is anything but normal. 

The state in which I live ihas been cut off from the rest of the country by border restrictions because of the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne. We’ve all been quarantined to an extent, and Melbourne itself is locked down much tighter than we are out here in the western region of the state. 

The distance between us and Melbourne is no room for complacency, though. Just today we heard the news that Warrnambool,  the regional city in which I work, has reported its first active case in months. It’s sobering news, and terrible timing for the beginning of a new school term. Honestly, it just adds a greater sense of impending doom to the craziness that is going on out there. 

I’m keen to see my students, though. My hope is that they will take my mind off things through each school day and keep me motivated when I’m feeling low.

So, I’ve invested in masks and extra sanitiser. I even have sprays to disinfect any work the kids hand in. I will be even more conscientious and deliberate about social distancing, because I don’t trust other people to do the right things.  At least my natural cynicism about human nature is intac which, I suppose, is something. 

Life isn’t ‘normal’ on a personal level either. 

I miss Dad. 
I miss Helen. 
Enormously. 

I have lost two of the constant, consistent encouragers in my life. I keep thinking of things I want to tell them, and photos I want to show them, and I can’t. I want them to know about my new great-nephew. I want to tell them I love them. It’s really, really hard. 

I’m trying to work through my grief, but that isn’t going to happen according to any timetable.  That’s a process that will take as much time as it will take. 

The past three weeks have changed me, although I can’t define exactly how. 

I feel like I should be more resilient, or better at handling things, or at least better at faking an appearance of being able to manage, but I’m not. 

I feel like I should look different somehow, but I probably don’t. 

That is, of course, if you don’t look too closely at the dark circles under my eyes. 
Sleep has been evasive ever since Dad was admitted to hospital with coronary issues on June 16. During the week in which both he and Helen passed away, I barely slept at all.  Last night I managed seven hours, but it was in two instalments with an hour off at half time. It’s no wonder I feel like rubbish. 

My purpose in expressing my thoughts and feelings here is not to moan or whine. I know I am not the only person experiencing these things. I am not the only person experiencing grief, or lugging emotional baggage everywhere. 

I want others in similar situations to understand that there is nothing wrong with feeling the way they do. All of this is part of the grieving process, and it’s crucial to be kind and patient with ourselves while we sort our various burdens out. 

I want other people to understand that they can’t expect people who are grieving, or anxious, or caring any other kind of burden for that matter, to feel a certain way or simply “get over things” in any set period of time. 

Grief is not a tidy and well-organised domain. Everyone experiences it differently. It brings with it a whole variety of secondary emotions that are unpredictable at best.  Denying it, suppressing it, or trying to make our grief fit preconceived expectations are futile and unhealthy ways of dealing with it. 

That means each of us has to deal with it in our own time, and each of us can expect to be as messy as our grief.  Each of us will, at some point, have to step out into a world that has changed significantly and irreversibly.

Acceptance, kindness, patience and self-care will help to make that a healthier process for everyone. 

Stepping Back Into A Changed World
#grief #emotions #anxiety #personal #blogpost

The Child With A Balloon

I was looking at figurines in my favourite gift shop, trying to choose one to commemorate my dad and another to commemorate my friend.

I noticed one that represented a child running with a balloon trailing behind her. The balloon was made of gold wire with 2020 woven into it. 

“Way too pretty,“ I observed. “That balloon should be on fire,” 

There was no argument from my sister, nor from either of the two ladies who run the shop. They all just nodded. 

The Child With A Balloon ‪#2020SoFar #2020worstyear #accurate #TrueStory #metaphor‬

Upside Down.

Image: ©2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

My father and one of my closest friends recently passed away within five days of each other. In fact, Helen died on the afternoon of Dad’s funeral. It was too much loss. It was too painful. It was definitely too soon and too final. And “upside down” is exactly how I felt then and still feel now.

As always, my feelings have turned into poetry.

I wrote this poem on the morning of Helen’s funeral. It was impossible to contemplate one without revisiting the other in my mind.

So, this poem is for both of them.

Upside Down.
#grief #emotions #poetrylovers #poem #personal #blogpost

Image: ©2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

I don’t know how to do this.
I don’t want to say goodbye,
But I have no choice,
You have taken your wings,
And I have to let you fly. 

In a moment you were gone
And life turned upside down;
Too soon. Too final.
And now we gather to lay you
To rest in the lonely ground.

The grave seems so absolute,
Stark proof you’re really gone:
It’s a mystery
That your life can be over
And yet, your soul lives on.

Your life is now in heaven,
Eternal peace and rest,
My comfort is knowing
You’re in Jesus’ arms
Safely treasured, fully blessed.

Life here without you is hollow,
The days all seem so long,
I have grown weary of cliches
And platitudes
That feel so empty and wrong.

The future is bleak without you, 
I don’t know what life will be, 
But…

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Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing.
I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.

The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.

I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.

I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.

Project One: reinventing my career
Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring.
Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives.
Verdict: Aced it.

Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care.
Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments.
Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing.
Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.

It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.

So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.

I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.

I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.