Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 - The Year I Overcame OCD

The year’s end is a pertinent time for reflection, and such personal reflections belong more in a personal journal than a self-indulgent blog post. I don’t intend to run through highlights, lowlights, top-10s or any of that shit, but it was a significant year as far as my OCD and anxiety goes. And a primary purpose of this blog is to document my recovery from those afflictions.

Indeed, 2011 was the year I beat down my OCD, from a menacing beast to a humble, quiet dog. A little black dog that still lets out a yelp or two, but sits, largely restrained, in the corner. It may return – almost certainly will threaten to – but I now have the tools to manage it. Mild anxiety still lingers at times, and probably always will, but I continue to pursue a calm, happy life, knowing now that I can. The dog's days are over.

Most important was the understanding that recovery was not a fight (as depression so often is) but rather the ability to accept and let go, rather than waste tense energy fighting, which merely gave strength to my demons.

I’m now almost eight years into my ‘recovery’ so the progress made this year has been a long time coming. Where did it come from? I can’t fully know. Partly from the natural desire to change as time passes and the implications of resisting change become more uncomfortable.

It’s fair to say the acceleration in recovery was kick-started by a girl I became close friends with late in 2010. She understood me like few, if any, other people I have ever known and demonstrated the required tough lover to unashamedly and relentlessly push me in the right direction.

In January this year she walked away. So 2011 started amidst a fog of heartache and confusion; yet through it I could sense a newfound notion of clarity, and was equipped with a determination to pursue it now that I knew in which direction to head.

I started yoga in November 2010, at her behest, but moved to a new studio early this year. Yoga was something I’d long considered, and quickly saw the benefits. Some of those first classes taught and forced me to let go of my OCD/anxiety safety net (my mental compulsions) and were emotionally challenging to say the least.

Once I settled into my new studio in Hawthorn, which is a fantastic place run by friendly instructors, I gradually got into a routine habit. I came to crave the peacefulness it provides and sought to translate it into everyday life. Compared to this time last year I have a clearer mind, sharper focus, better health and fitness, and calmer thought through (finally) successfully practicing of mindfulness and being better able to let go of irrational, obsessive and unwanted thoughts. I have changed long-ingrained thought processes, something that takes time and effort but it enormously rewarding.

Yoga didn’t necessarily teach me anything I didn’t know about my OCD and anxiety or how to combat it, it just helped me (enormously) to put the pieces together, and forced me to let go of those damn compulsive thoughts, thus minimising the obsessive part.

2011 was also the year of my grand ‘coming out’. After telling all to this blog, in April I was featured on a Hungry Beast story on OCD. Other telling immediate family and a few select friends, I didn’t make a big deal about it being on, but the response from people who saw it was amazing. Even in the last couple of weeks I’ve had a former colleague tell me she saw it but wasn’t sure what to say at the time (when we worked together). With the secret out, a massive burden lifted from my shoulders and my perspective shifted. No longer was this in any way something I battled alone and bottled up. People, friends and strangers, actually contacted me for advice. I felt in a very good place and wondered why I’d been so secretive about my depression in the first place; but really I know – there are millions of people still out there, including people I know, no doubt, battling on in silence, unaware that there is far more help and understanding waiting for them than they realise.

Unfortunately, my TV appearance did not lead to stardom…

As a result of all of this, 2011 has been the best year of my life. I have achieved more than any other year so far. I’ve written more, read more, exercised more and played (even recorded!) more music. I got a great new job. I’m the fittest I’ve been in my adult life. I am surrounded by beautiful and inspirational people.

And I can only expect 2012 will be even better. I have much more growth and progress left in me, and some exciting challenges for the coming year. I don’t ever want to be a ‘grown up’, it implies no room left to grow – growth and learning are what life is about. I’ve learnt so much from my experience with OCD and anxiety; I never want to live through the worst of it again, but I wouldn’t remove it from my past.

I’m not going to go into goals and resolutions for 2012. I have a few things I’m focusing on – better and more regular writing, being more assertive, continuing my mental health improvement, maybe drinking less…

But I don’t believe in resolutions as such. The end of the year is an opportune time to reflect, and 1 January is a milestone date, but not one to be used as motivation for change. If you have identified necessary change, now is the time, not on New Year’s Day. I don’t know, I just feel like those milestones just provide excuses to put things off, and demand sustained change, where it often takes a few tries.

Anyway, happy New Years to anyone reading this. Thanks for dropping by during the year, I’ve enjoyed it. There’ll be more to come in 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Not Season's Greetings, Merry Christmas.

I'm not religious (anymore) but it will always be 'Christmas' for me. That is what it is, and what it has become is an all-inclusive holiday anyway; consumerism has done more to take Jesus out of Christmas than any leftist school or council looking to appease non-Christians. Whether or not he had an almighty Dad, Jesus seems to have been a pretty cool guy, so he can keep the naming rights for mine.

That rant behind me, I think I've become much less 'scroogey' in recent years. Not only because of the fact my niece and nephew are reaching the age where they actually know - and remember - if I bought them something (and something they actually like). I'm kinda tired of just railing against what I don't like about what Christmas has become. Yes the focus on shopping makes me sick, our love of the white-Christmas American carols from the 1950's makes me cringe a little and I will battle through another Christmas Day with people I'm obliged to spend time with rather than those I'd most like to.

But there is a lot to make you smile in these chaotic weeks leading up to the big day. I love the way it brings people together. I've been lucky enough to spend some time with almost everyone that's important to me in recent weeks. I've imbibed too much, but laughed, hugged, cheers'd and shared smiles with people more than any other month of the year. That's pretty special. You can't wrap that.

Since moving out of home five years ago I haven't had the decorations around at home. This year was the first that I found myself pining for it a bit. The Christmas rebellion in me is fading. Maybe I'm subconsciously preparing for a family in coming years...

Tomorrow I will enjoy hearing some of those old classic carols and thinking about the differently exciting Christmas' of my childhood. Then I will tire of them as they reach their third rotation and Bing Crosby's voice turns from suave to savage on my brain, and I'll attempt to put on some Dirty Three late in the afternoon when everyone is getting sleepy from the big lunch and booze.

I will be embarrassed handing over the presents I bought my family, especially the kids, not fearing my attempts at something special backfired famously. I will try to avoid watching the kids open theirs, as only one has learnt the importance of polite thanks. But I will burn off many Christmas lunch calories playing with them and enjoy watching them enjoy whatever toy is their new favourite - temporarily letting their smiles and excitement push aside my nagging social conscience and the humbug fact they already have many more toys than they'll ever need... It's not their fault after all!

And, of course, I'll eat like a pig - especially the pig, savouring the sweet crackling my mum does so well! - and make a hypocrit of that supposed social conscience anyway.

I'll cherish the time with my immediate family, and make the best of the other obligatory conversations. These people are part of me after all. Throughout the day I'll send text messages to the close friends and compare our days, and no doubt check Facebook and Twitter too much. I'll think of others I'd like to see on the day. I will desperately miss my brother in America - the old drinking buddy who helped me through the day in years past - and hope his young family are with us in the next year or two.

It is not my favourite day of the year. Not by a long way. But it is still pretty special.

And why be a humbug when there's so much to enjoy?

Merry Christmas

Mien famillie


Human Rights in Asia

First few paragraphs of another piece for Right Now, full article on their website.

"In a time of rapid change, human rights continue to be a central concern in Asia.

On 7 December, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, Elaine Pearson, and SBS’s Dateline presenter, Mark Davis, discussed human rights issues in the region – focusing on Sri Lanka, Burma, the Philippines and West Papua – and Australia’s response, at a session entitled “Human Rights in Asia – Situations of Concern”.

Opening the discussion, Davis noted that the governments of Australia, America and Europe have lost “their moral authority on key issues like torture, unlawful imprisonment and the torment of refugees” in recent years, and he now holds greater faith in lawyers as defenders of human rights internationally."

The rest ...