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.
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.
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. ****
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I spent some time trying to discover the best way to visualise my experience of living with anxiety. After looking at different styles of photography and painting I settled on double exposure photography.
Being completely new to the genre I decided to dip my toe in the water through the use of an app for my iPhone. I quickly realised what worked well for my particular style of image making and began making images that I am happy with. This past week I made my first attempt to create double exposures using my Fujifilm camera. The somewhat dire feeling of the landscape I had set out to photograph suited the feeling I am looking to represent.
Yet I don’t think I’ll ever be able to capture just what it is like to experience a panic attack through a single photograph. There is too much going on in my mind when I am overcome by a panic attack. Racing thoughts that cannot be contained, anger quickly turning into destructive thoughts, sheer panic that cannot be contained. Or even when my mind starts racing towards anxiety, but is able to be reclaimed by the remaining non anxious part of my mind. It takes so much mental willpower to control my mind from becoming panicked I am often spent afterwards.
I think the only way I can really express all of this is through words. Perhaps what is needed is a body of work, images interspersed with words, attempting to show just what it feels like. It’s possible that this project won’t work. It’s possible onlookers – especially those who have never experienced mental illness themselves – will never truely understand what it’s like to live with anxiety. Maybe, just maybe however someone will see my work, who themselves has anxiety, and will feel comforted in knowing that someone else feels like they do. If nothing else that’s all that I can hope for. To help someone in some small way.