Champion.

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The TV commentators during the Tokyo Olympics have been using the word a lot lately. They seem to be using it in different ways, though, which makes one wonder just what qualifies someone as a champion?

Is just making it to the Olympics enough? Or is it winning a medal? Does one need to make it to more than one major competition? Does a record have to be beaten?

Champion is a word with a number of different senses or meanings, so it can be used in all those ways, and more.

Sadly, there are some commentators who seem to suggest that whoever gets the gold medal is the winner, and everyone else somehow falls short. Even the silver and bronze medals are some kind of consolation prize.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Just by getting there, each competitor is a champion. Each of them is the fittest, strongest, fastest or most accomplished of an entire nation.

The person who comes fourth, or sixteenth, or twenty-first in any given Olympic competition has still achieved something most of us never will.

Similarly, any competitor who has to withdraw because of injury or issues of mental health is completely undeserving of criticism for doing so. Not only have they, too, achieved something most of us cannot do, they have demonstrated that it is entirely possible for even the strongest or fittest person to reach the extent of their ability to go on with a particular pursuit.

As a person with ongoing physical and mental health conditions and acquired disability, I find that enormously encouraging. It is a reminder that it is not only acceptable, but in fact absolutely essential, that we acknowledge our limitations and live within them. That is healthy. That is human. That is an excellent example for the rest of us: you cannot ask anyone for anything more than their best.

So, whether we are watching the Olympics or any other sport, or reading a child’s school report, or considering the performance of a colleague,  or responding to the behaviour or words of a public figure, let’s break the habit of automatic criticism and condemnation.

Instead, get some perspective: did they do their best?
How might we reduce any pressure or expectations that might have limited rather than lifted them? How can we encourage them to keep going or do better?

We cannot know what others are going through behind the scenes. We do know, though, that criticism and cruelty can be incredibly destructive: they can main and kill just as effectively as blades or bullets.

Choose to leave your negativity unspoken. If you must speak it, try to be constructive, and try to be diplomatic and discreet.

Choose kindness.

Choose empathy.

Choose love.

Those things never harmed anyone.
And that will make you an absolute champion, no matter what else you do — or do not— do.

Not Ready To Make Nice

Forgiveness does not mean being a doormat. Far from it.

Today, for reasons of my own that do not need to be shared publicly, this song is playing in my head.

Screenshot: The Chicks — Not Ready To Make Nice

Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe in forgiveness. Even if the other person never knows I have forgiven them, it’s important for myself spiritually and emotionally to move on from carrying that burden.

That does not always mean I can trust them again.

Contrary to what the platitudes say, time does not heal all wounds and forgiveness does not erase the memory.

It is also important, both spiritually and emotionally, that I protect myself and those I love from harm. If that means not giving someone the means to damage me or my family again, then that is what I must do.

I can be civil without letting a toxic person into my life or my home. Those barriers are not coming down.

I can let others have a friendship or relationship with that person if they are determined to do so, but if I see that they are in danger of experiencing significant harm, I will speak up or stand between them if I must.

I know that many of my Christian friends and family would say that my forgiveness is incomplete. They might suggest I am not showing love.

I would argue that sometimes the kindest and forgiving thing you can do for a person is to stay right away from them. I would also argue that neither God nor the nature of forgiveness itself demands that one must become a doormat or a willing receptor of someone else’s malignity.

There are a handful of people about whom I have made that decision over the course of my life, and I am confident that in each situation, slamming that door firmly and permanently shut is the best thing I could have chosen to do about it.

Sometimes, you just have to leave certain people behind and move on.

Not Ready To Make Nice #forgiveness #selfcare #Boundaries

A Much-Needed Break

COVID-19 restrictions were recently eased in our area, just in time for us to make the most of us both having four days off work.

We took the opportunity to sneak away for a break and headed down the coast with our friends, caravans in tow, phones switched onto silent, and four days’ worth of food, drinks and comfy old clothes ready to go.

At this point of 2020, we fully realise what a luxury four days away from home really is. After months of staying home, teaching from home, and only leaving home when absolutely necessary, the change of scenery was most welcome. Of course, Melbourne and its surrounding area are still under restrictions, so this is a privilege most people in my state do not have. I do feel sympathy for them, but not sufficiently to forgo the pleasure of my first real break since January.

We are camped at the little coastal hamlet of Yambuk on the south-western coast of Victoria. It’s a picturesque little spot, overlooking a lake that is kept separate from the ocean only by sand dunes. We can see the ocean beyond the dunes, hear it murmuring all night as we rest, and easily walk to the beach whenever we so desire. The lake has a bird population of a dozen gulls and one magnificent pelican, while our campsite has several blue wrens that keep us entertained.

Not that I need much for entertainment. I’m happy to gaze at the sea, or the birds, or watch the sun dip behind the dunes as dusk cloaks the countryside with a blanket of almost-but-not-quite-darkness, illuminated by stars and a full moon so bright you could almost read by it.

I had planned to record and upload a couple of spooky stories for Halloween, but the phone signal is so low, I can’t even upload images to Instagram unless I drive twenty minutes to a bigger town. This would usually frustrate me but, this weekend, I really don’t care. So, I put my phone down and decided I would also take a good break from screens.

I have taken the opportunity to walk, to nap, to read books, to do puzzles, and to sit in companionable silence with my friend. I have managed to get a few nice photos. I have taken time to contemplate the huge differences in my life between last January and now. I don’t know if this year has changed me, but it has changed lots of things for me.

I suppose I am stronger, but I don’t feel it. It’s going to take more than four days to heal that amount of damage, but at least I’ve made a bit of a start.

I’m very thankful for this beautiful place and the time off that made this little getaway possible.

Most of all, I am thankful for the people who are willing to nourish me physically and spiritually, and to hold my hand or encourage me while giving me time and space to work on myself. I am blessed to have some of those people right here with me this weekend, while others are still on the other side of closed borders. It may have been one of the most rubbish years ever, but I am richly blessed to have some amazing people in my life to help me get through it.

This post and its pictures actually uploaded after who-knows-how-many attempts. I had actually given up and put my phone down again, and noticed some time later that it has uploaded. And they say miracles don’t happen!

6 Things to know about Invisible Disability Awareness

Everything this post says is true.

I, too, suffer from chronic, invisible illnesses.
I have fibromyalgia. I have a permanent back injury. I have depression and anxiety, and I work hard to keep those under control. I strive to take good care of myself, and to manage my conditions. I avoid aggravating them. I also make every possible effort to stay positive and to do the things in life that I enjoy doing.

The fact is, though, no matter what good care I take care of myself or how positive and proactive I am, I cannot heal or cast off my invisible disabilities.

The debilitation is real.
The exhaustion is real.
The misconceptions are real.

And the judgement? Many people would not be willing to believe how real, and how consistent, and how very, very toxic that is.

The critics are only right about one thing: I don’t look sick.
That’s because I’ve been faking being well for years.

Brainless Blogger

This year Invisible Disability Awareness Week falls on October 18th to 24th.

According to the Invisible Disabilities Association, the term invisible disability refers to symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunction, brain injuries, learning differences, mental health disorders, as well as hearing and visual impairments. They are not always obvious to the onlooker, but can sometimes or always limit daily activities range from mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person

Invisible Disabilities You ShouldKnow

6 Things to know about Invisible Disability Awareness

Unseen

Because Invisible Disabilities are not visible to the eye it can cause issues. Some of these issues are judgments when we use disabled parking or disabled bathroom stalls and others feel the need to make an issue out of it… because we do not Look disabled.

1994-1995 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) found that 26 million Americans (almost 1 in 10) have a severe disability, while only…

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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. 

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. 

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.

Chalking One Up For Positivity

Who knew a few pieces of chalk and a positive message could make such a difference?

This is one of the best things I’ve seen in ages. 

It’s cheerful, and simple, and sincere, and it’s just so beautiful. 

In the midst of these bleak and socially-distanced times, these messages are a delightful trend that is bringing heartfelt encouragement to communities. 

This story comes from ABC News, Australia. 

Chalking One Up For Positivity!
#StayingHome #StayingPositive #positivemood #PositiveVibesOnly

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

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.