Indoor Plants & Mental Health

My love affair with indoor plants began slowly, about two years ago. The small space we were living in at the time was utilitarian out of necessity but its drabness was driving me a little batty. I wanted something pretty & decided a couple of house plants would be perfect. I bought a Dracena Marginata and another plant that had no nursery label. I thought it was a Philodendron; I recently discovered its actually a Syngonium Podophyllum or Syngonium White Butterfly. Within weeks my White Butterfly had exploded in growth, going from a small plant with only a few leaves to a plant double in size. Some days it felt like she was growing whilst I watched her, so quick was her growth. Her stunning leaves resemble an elongated heart shape with pale green or white veins which I guess is where the name White Butterfly comes from. 

I’ve found bright indirect light suits her most, although I’ve seen suggestions that she will also cope with lower light situations. Wikipedia advises that the White Butterfly is a native to semi-tropical countries such as Brazil, Ecuador & Mexico. I wonder if her growth would be even faster if she was placed in a bathroom? Perhaps I should put one of my propagations in my ensuite, to compare with growth in a non humid space? Oh yes, I’m propagating my White Butterfly. Her growth is so much that I’ve found propagation is a nice way to control it. Propagation is very easy, simply cut off growth near a node, place it in water & wait a while for roots to grow. The growth will depend on the temperature; I took cuttings from my mother plant a week & a half ago & they’re already developing roots. Pretty soon I’ll have another five plants to add to my collection.

So Kim, I hear you saying, what exactly does this have to do with helping your mental health? And more importantly how can owning plants help my mental health? Well, it’s simple really. My plants make me happy. In a world that currently feels like its gone crazy I’ll take simple happiness whenever I can get it. I check my plants every day. I check them to see if they need a water, to make sure that there hasn’t been an influx of bugs since I last looked at the plant but also to check plant growth. It’s so exciting to watch a new leaf push its way out of a plant, going from a tiny green thing to a fully formed pale coloured leaf, eventually becoming a hardened fully grown leaf. Sometimes I grab my camera to photograph a leaf but mostly I just watch them in awe. Plant life is a little bit magical & I love having that in my life. A couple of times when I’ve been anxious I’ve gone looking at my plants, because I know doing that will ease the anxiety a little. 

I haven’t yet dived into the psychology behind the actual scientific studies that look at the mental health benefits of plant ownership, but I will. And if it’s ok with you I’ll share it in a future post. For now, trust me when I say plants will help improve your mental health. If you don’t already own house plants, treat yourself to one or two. And you’re allowed to blame me if you find yourself addicted 🙂

So I Made A Zine

The idea came to me this past Saturday evening to put together a mini zine containing short quotes about anxiety. I woke up Sunday morning & started working on it.

I made the decision to make several copies by hand & I’ll photocopy the best one to make several more copies. Towards the end of the day I was wondering what I’d gotten myself into, bored as I was with the repetitiveness of writing out the same thing eight times. If I make a second issue I won’t create it this way; instead I’ll make one version & make mutiliple copies of it.

But for the sake of the exercise, of wanting to create a zine & have more than one copy of it, making eight individual copies by hand was the way to go.

Initially I thought I would make it full of drawings to go alongside the words but as I began I didn’t feel like that would suit this project. Instead as you can see from the photos, I’ve kept this zine word heavy with only a sprinkle of hearts & weird scribbled flower that I love to draw as a doodle.

Why quotes about anxiety? Well, the subject felt right to me. You know I’m living with it. Loved ones have it. And I want to talk about anxiety as much as possible to help reduce the stigma of anxiety. I hope this little zine will contribute to this, in its’ own small way.

If you’d like to buy a copy, I am selling it for $5 plus postage. Send me an email expressing your interest & we can go from there.

Food, Glorious Food

I am a passionate believer in making & eating quality food. I think good food is one of life’s most important things.

One of my favourite things in life is to prepare & serve food to share with others. It could be something as simple as a couple of homemade biscuits & coffee or an elaborate meal that requires hours of preparation; it matters little to me what it is because I love it all.

When it comes to the preparation of food I am both a follower of recipes & a creator of them. Well, I suppose I’m technically not creating recipes because I’m not taking note of measurements but I’m certainly using combinations of foods that I know work together & that I like together & repeating a particular dish multiple times.

I thought I’d share with you today links to some of the recipes that I return to. Note that many of these are sweet treats, cause that’s the mood I’m in as I write this post 🙂

First up is a link to make soda bread. This is incredibly easy to make & is really tasty. I treat myself to freshly baked soda bread as a delicious lunch. Usually I’ll bake it on a Saturday, have more either for breakfast or lunch on Sunday then freeze the remaining bread. I like the flexibility of this recipe. You can use whatever dried fruits & nuts that you’ve got in the pantry. I don’t use store bought buttermilk. Instead I add a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar to the milk at least ten minutes prior to needing it. Purists will probably be horrified but if I was to buy buttermilk I wouldn’t be baking soda bread as often as I do 🙂

Slices of freshly cut soda bread

As we are a family of two, a lot of recipes I return to frequently are small batch. This saves excess food going to waste & has the added benefit of us not eating the same biscuits or sweets day in & day out 🙂

My most small batch visted website is Dessert For Two. A food blog by Christina Lane, it’s full of fabulous food. Over time Christine has added to her repertoire, expanding from desserts to covering main meals, gluten free options & more. Every recipe I’ve made is delicious; I don’t think you could go wrong with any of Christine’s recipes. Her raspberry brownie recipe is a must, although I’ll confess to only using raspberries once when making it. I usually use strawberries, blueberries or if I have none then I omit the fruit completely.

I love chocolate chip biscuits so I’m often making them. I’ve yet to find the perfect recipe, although I’ve found a couple that come close. One of them is by Sally of Sally’s Baking Addition. This particular recipe makes one giant chocolate chip biscuit (or cookie, as Sally calls it. Because she’s American, & American’s cookies are us Australian’s biscuits) however I usually prefer to make it as three smaller biscuits. Two for my husband & I to enjoy whilst they are still warm & the third to be eaten by me the next day.

I like brownies a lot, so here’s another recipe for them. This one isn’t a small batch recipe, but thats ok. Sometimes its ok to eat brownie every day for a week 🙂 Or to make & share with loved ones. This recipe, by Broma Bakery uses red wine. This sounds indulgent, & it is. If you like brownies, give them a try. If. you like red wine, then you must try these. Enjoy them with coffee or red wine if you dare.

Turning away from desserts, another love of mine is risotto. I make beetroot risotto a lot when beetroot is in season. The recipe I use was pulled from the pages of a magazine many years ago so I’m not sure how I’d go about sharing it here. Sometime last year, after buying more pumpkin than needed I searched online for a pumpkin risotto recipe. I found this one by ReceipeTin Eats. It has entered my list of recipes to return to. It’s easy to make & is delicious is I’m absolutely recommending it to you.

My list of go to recipes is quite large, so I think I’ll write another post about this in the near future. In the meantime, let me know if you make any of these recipes & how they go for you. I love hearing your thoughts.

Art Journal Fun

I’ve been fascinated by art journals for a while. They show up in my social media feed & some of the artists I’ve interviewed for Art Supply Posse keep them or specialise in them. But I was hesitant to start my own. My style of art isn’t the same as that of the artists I admire & the quality of my work isn’t as good as others. I was comparing myself to these artists & I was convinced that my perceived shortfalls was a good reason to not keep an art journal.

My art journal, awaiting the addition of an origami crane

Thank goodness I came to my senses! I finally woke up to the nonsense I was telling myself & realised that I could make an art journal be exactly what I need it to be.

I had been using a Midori Travellers Notebook as a daily todo list & calendar hybrid. It suited me for a couple of years but by the end of 2019 I’d become bored by this setup. I like the size, the feel of the stunning paper & it’s portability. Enough reasons to turn this daily boring thing into an art journal that only a few weeks in I can say I’m already proud of.

To make it work best for me I utilise two pages at a time, which are given over to a week. Instead of listing out days & dates, as I had been doing, I’m now writing the start date & end date of the week followed by the particular month. Year isn’t included as it’s noted when a new notebook is started.

Because I love fountain pen ink (& also as a convenient excuse to buy/try more ink) I’m washing ink over the pages as a background. I’ve created about 20 backgrounds so far, allowing each double set of pages to dry completely before moving to the next set. Thats the only criteria I’ve set myself for the journals’ contents, although I recognise this might change in the future. From there I am adding art to the pages as I see fit.

Sometimes I’m making art directly onto the page, other times I’m making art elsewhere & pasting it in. It really depends on what I feel like doing when I decide to art. My daily breakfast art practice continues so some mornings whatever I make will end up in the journal. Other times I’ll fold an origami crane or make a small piece of fountain pen ink art, pasting it into the journal afterwards. It all depends on my mood.

I’m glad I had this change in mindset. I do deserve to have an art journal. And so do you. If you’ve ever wanted to give one a try, I say go for it. Consider this me giving you permission to keep one. If you do, let me know how it works out for you. I’d love to hear your feedback.

Dog Walking For The Soul

My husband David walking our dogs last Monday

Stumbling out of bed, I wonder ‘how can it already be morning?’

As I move through our home I notice the sun isn’t awake. Hints of mauve & pink in the sky hint at what’s to come.

I dress in autopilot, unaware of temperature or weather conditions.

Stepping outside I can barely make out the stairs leading from the verandah to the back yard.
‘Are we really doing this?’ It seems we are.

Zena & Cadel sir, patiently impatient, desperate to begin their morning walk yet knowing that it cannot begin until their leads are on.

I marvel at how awake & present they are & envy them a little.

As we walk I feel the fog of sleep slowly lifting. I may not have boundless energy like they do but I’m beginning to feel alive.

The chatter from a pair of small grass parrots is drowned out by a flock of galahs flying overhead. Their screech pierces the air & im surprised to not hear the sound of something shattering as they pass.

When we’re done, when I’m sitting inside eating breakfast, I feel gratitude for these two dogs. They are teaching me to be in the moment, even if that moment is too early in the morning for my liking. I’m honoured to have them in my life & hope to continue learning from them every day we have together.

Daily Dog Walking

Zena sitting in the hallway enjoying the morning sun

A little over a year ago I decided to start walking my dogs Zena & Cadel every day. I had been walking them about three times a week even though I knew they would benefit from daily walks. So propelled by the fact that I’d stepped away from the workforce I decided to begin daily walks. It’s safe to say Zena & Cadel adjusted to this new routine a lot quicker than I! Whilst I had always enjoyed walking my dogs I don’t experience the same exercise highs I get from riding my bike. There is always a moment when I’m riding my bike that I realise my mind is empty of all thoughts. There is no anxiety, no stress, not even happiness. Just simply a mind hearing my feet push pedals & the sound of bike tyres on the road. That emptiness does not come with dog walking. And daily dog walking meant I had little spare time or energy to ride my bike.

Despite this I pushed on with our new routine. I’d fall out of bed, barely awake as I dressed then I’d walk outside, dogs shadowing my every step to make sure I didn’t forget them. As if I would! They were the only reason I was bleary eyed & walking. Gradually I came to appreciate our walks. Expending energy first thing in the morning left Zena & Cadel happy & settled for the rest of the day. I’ve come to the realisation that the saying shouldn’t be ‘happy wife happy life’ but instead ‘happy dogs happy life!’ Sure it doesn’t have the same ring to it but it’s certainly true.

Twelve months on & I’ve returned to the workforce. With this has come a lot of adjustments for me as well as Zena & Cadel. I found myself unable to walk them daily; my body had fallen out of the rhythm of being at work. After a few weeks of this I’ve realised that I can’t continue not walking them daily. It’s become a much loved routine that has benefits for the three of us. I might not get the empty mind that comes from bike riding but I have benefitted from a mind that wanders. Suddenly a problem is solved without my conscious mind thinking about it. Or a photographic or writing idea will come to me.

I’ve missed not having these moments. So I’m happy to report we’re back at it. I’m again falling out of bed, finding some clothes to wear & getting the dogs. Then the three of us are off, walking, strengthening our bond & enjoying each others company.

If you could ask them in that moment both Zena & Cadel would say everything is right in their world. I’d agree with them. Things are certainly better when we’re walking together.

A foggy winters morning in 2019

The Anxious Life

Practicing Elbow Ayesha

I’ve been berating myself for days because this blog post is late. When I decided to blog regularly I made a promise to myself that I would write weekly. Weekly posts felt manageable & for the most part I’ve managed to keep to the schedule. This past week has seen me return to working outside of my home. I’d forgotten how difficult it can be to work full time hours & have some kind of existence outside of work life. I’ve only used my camera once this past week, my breakfast art has taken a hit as has my daily dog walking. So far my anxiety has mostly remained under control with only a few small moments where I thought it might become out of control.

I’m taking that as a win, regardless of how small that win is. Aside from medication & regular GP & psychologist visits I’ve learnt what works for me to keep my mental health stable. Of course i cant control everything so sometimes I have an unexpected anxiety attack.
A week ago I had a mentally tough day. I hoped that attending a couple of pole fit classes would pull me out of the anxiety attack that I’d spent the day fighting off. Turns out I was wrong. I felt uncomfortable & out of my comfort zone & despite trying to shut off the voice that was telling me have terrible I was. Eventually it won & not for the first time I left a class mid way, unable to control the anxiety that was taking over.
I hate when this happens. I feel like a freak & have an overwhelming sense of self hatred. I wish that i could disappear off this planet, erase my entire being & cease to exist. As I write that now I realise that it might sound extreme particularly if you’ve never experienced anxiety yourself. But that’s how I feel after an anxiety attack. Thankfully with therapy, time & medication those feelings go away a lot quicker than they used to. But I write of them because I believe the more we as a society talk about mental illness the more likely it is that the stigma around it is reduced. Perhaps one day it might even disappear. If you’ve read this post & it resonates with you, know that you aren’t alone. There are people you can reach out to for help. Look around you, find who those people are & engage with them. It’s ok to ask for help.
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To end this post on a lighter note my pole fitness classes this week went a lot better than last. I was exhausted from work but happy to be among friends. I was again pushed out of my comfort zone but this time took to it with relish. I laughed at my fails & felt joy at my successes. The above photo shows me in one of the moves we learnt, where I actually managed to succeed. I know not all days can be like this when anxiety is part of my reality but I’m thankful there’s more good days than bad.

Oh Anxiety

Tomorrow is RUOK Day here in Australia. Today’s post wasn’t going to touch on mental illness but i feel like I’m surrounded by it at the moment so it feels like I should write something about it.

Someone close to me experienced anxiety for the first time in their life recently & I felt it was an eye opening experience for the both of us. Person X (an easy way to reference this person without giving them away) had up until recently gone through life without experiencing a mental illness. Sometimes I would think how lucky X was, to not have first hand experience of being mentally unwell. I would occasionally feel a little jealous of X, because of my familiarity with mental illness. I’ve had diagnosed depression three seperate times & am sure I had it in my late teens although it went undiagnosed. This coming November will see the third anniversary of my diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

So when X was given an anxiety diagnosis I knew I’d be able to offer support. I watched the mind of X (yes, writing that makes me think of an old school spy movie, but I’m committed to using it now so I’ll chuckle to myself & keep writing) loop over & over in the anxious way I know intimately. A thought would occur & despite reassurances from me or others it would loop over & over on a constant thread of what if.

“But what if this happens? Or what about that scenario. Won’t this other thing then take place?” Over & over & over the same things were repeated, making me wonder sometimes if I was being heard at all.

It felt a little like I was having an out of body experience. I watched X run through their anxiety & think to myself ‘this is what I do.’ My mind will latch onto a thought, an often ridiculous, impossible or sometimes catastrophic scenario & loop it over & over in my mind, seemingly unable to stop. I would sometimes feel tired from repeating my words to X & knew in those moments X had felt the same tiredness from conversations with me.

Or I’d be reassuring X to try to stop the anxiety & knew that X had been in this exact same position, offering reassurance & support to me while feeling the fruitlessness of their words washing over me & having little effect. This must be why X has expressed the desire to flick a switch & turn anxiety off.

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There have been people other than X talk over their anxiety with me this year & other years & I’ve done my best to offer support, letting them know I’m here for them when they want to talk. Or sit with them when they need to get angry or just to offer a shoulder to cry on. If I can offer them just a tiny bit of support, to let them know that they are loved, then I hope that it helps them in some way.

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So what is the point of this blog post? I’ve touched on living with anxiety in previous blog posts & I will again in the future. It’s a constant on my life & touches everything thing I do. Increasingly it’s impact is smaller on my life, due in large part to my daily anxiety medication & frequent GP & psychologist visits. I’m learning to use my experience with anxiety for good; the above photo forms part of my small but growing body of work trying to photograph the world as seen by me through the lens of an anxiety attack.

If you’re one of the lucky ones to have not had a mental illness you can still be supportive to those who have. You don’t have to have experienced something to be empathetic. But if you feel you would like to learn more, there are countless places online to learn. Beyond Blue is a great place to start, Sane Australia is another. Spend a few minutes getting to know the signs of someone who might be experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. Learn how to ask someone if they need help. Or to tell them that you’d be happy to sit with them so they can talk to you. Learning these things will benefit you & possibly allow you to see signs of someone’s undiagnosed mental illness. Do it with compassion & love. You’ll be a better person for it.

Sharing Writing

I have been tentatively stepping back into the world of writing. I remain a little wary, the old noises in my head questioning who do I think I am by writing? More & more however when I hear that noise my response is ‘who I am to not write?’ I’ve always loved to write. I remember writing a convoluted murder mystery as a young child, across a variety of scrap pieces of paper. I’m sure it was terrible but the excitement I felt as I wrote is still vivid.

Like photography I fell away from writing, letting my anxieties around my ability take hold & stop me from producing anything. But now I’ve decided no more. I’m sure I’ll always feel a sense of unease at the quality of what I make but my desire to write & take photos is stronger than that unease. So here’s a little sample of writing. I’m not exactly sure what to classify it as, but I think that’s ok too. It’s better to be writing something whose category I cannot quantify than to not be writing at all.

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Constant weariness makes the day difficult. The desire to stop overwhelming. On & on we push. We cannot stop. Or rest. Not until it is complete.

I wonder why did we begin? Why were we sure this was a good idea?

The costs physical & mental. We will never be who we were. We are shells of our former selves. Do will like our new selves? Does it matter?

Each day hour minute we move closer. It’s now tangible. It can be seen. Smelt. Touched. No longer imagination. Not yet reality. So we edge closer. Hopeful. Wanting. The end.