LIVING WELL IN TIMES OF STRESS

I spent about 3 hours writing a long post (with photos of course) to upload last night and when I re-read it, I found it didn’t quite send the message I wanted – so I deleted it and decided to start again this morning.

I do that with emails too.

I find writing down my innermost thoughts, as if in conversation, highly beneficial to my mental well-being.   I can rant, rave, laugh or cry and nobody but me knows what I feel or do (in these self-isolating housebound days).

I might add, I don’t usually send that email, blog post or message.   I just use it as a one-hour session in place of a psychologist, or psychiatrist’s, consultation.  I have a regular consultation with my computer screen and leave it knowing that it hides anything and everything and doesn’t answer back or tell me what I should, or should not, do.

It’s like a pet with no name.   It looks wide-eyed and hopeful about what I am about to impart that day.   It is my best friend and the soul of discretion.

Writing down how you feel in these challenging days of fear, anxiety, self-isolation and ‘not knowing’ can form the basis of releasing all that negativity.

But it’s the ‘not knowing’ that I want to address today with you.

When I had to quit my job in February 2010 due to chronic illness and pain, I was in such a deep well of despair I didn’t care if I lived or died.   I had no savings, assets, property or anything to pay my rent and bills or ongoing living costs.   I had thousands of dollars of credit card debt accrued over many years of unaffordable medical bills. I was barely managing to pay the interest on my credit card(s) – for I had 2 back then.

I’d started a spreadsheet and health diary many years before and added it up one day to find over $200,000 of health bills.  I had top private health insurance and of course the Government’s Medicare health scheme and STILL, was out-of-pocket by about $69,000 to explain some that debt.

I was at the end of my life here on this earth I thought.   I had plenty of prescription drugs to O/dose on.  One never-ending night of excruciating pain I actually plucked the sleeping pills and valium bottle from the kitchen shelf (prescribed by a psychiatrist during my 1998 nervous breakdown), stared at them and put them back (but that’s another story for another day).

I’d been an avid student of Buddhist Philosophy for many years and have developed some coping mechanisms which I used up to this point (and still do to this day), but they weren’t working back in January/February 2010.

They were invisible.   I was a prisoner of this invisibleness (or should I say invisibility).

The only thing I didn’t quite adhere to was that this life on earth is precious (according to Buddhist texts).

I was single, no children, minimal contact with my family and not really well enough to have much social life by that time.  I was totally fed up with ignorant insensitive comments from family and work colleagues, let alone my Boss.

Anyway, I quit my job and with the support of my wonderful GP (primary care physician) applied for a Government Disability Pension.  My GP was (intially) shocked that I’ve quit my job, but understanding (as he knew my health history and with several surgeries and many specialist tests, MRIs and so on, knew my list of complaints was not ‘all in the head’).    I had a dozen different serious health conditions which impacted my daily life.

My pain and fatigue (aka exhaustion) along with other debilitating symptoms, was real.

I was at an age where I could access my small Superannuation fund to pay off all my debts (fortunately), so that was first on the list in those early weeks.   It was several months before the Disability Pension landed in my bank account.

……and while my rent was close to half of my (eventual) pension, I could manage if I was very frugal.   Well, I’d spent over 25 years being ‘frugal’ to a certain point while working, so just had to pull the belt a bit tighter.   I was used to having minimal clothes, shoes, haircuts, no social life and being the solitary person I was, able to cope better than most people might in that same situation.

I loved my solitary life – my lonesomeness (a word I picked up in a Mary Wesley novel Thornyhold).

I love my close friends too, but was really quite happy spending most of the day as a recluse or hermit, thinking, meditating, living Mindfully.   Once I didn’t have a stressful job I couldn’t cope with, I became surprisingly mellow and happy.

I became blissfully happy for one of the first times in my adult life…..as long as I didn’t see or engage with negative people.

I bought a camera and eventually spend many hours walking in nature, observing the birds and little critters, flowers & trees.  I because so observant that I literally watched some plants, particularly in my apartment building’s community garden, grow.   My poor hearing (tested when I couldn’t hear in a crowded restaurant on my 50th birthday) suddenly developed this exquisite finely-tuned skill of hearing the smallest bird cheep.

I heard the wind whisper for the first time and spent hours on the weekend just sitting, watching the birds visit my (1st) balcony garden.  I spent much time sleeping and resting, pacing and recharging.

I have extreme myopia (short-sightedness) and  Astigmatism, so to this day, I see slightly double.  A dry eye condition developed over 40 years of wearing contact lenses forced me to revert to thick coke-bottle base style glasses.   And they are thick and continue to aggravate my daily headaches, but at least I get to decide what I do each day now.

Each new leaf on the herbs I grew on my balcony potted garden became a source of joy and wonder (as well as food and nourishment).

A well-tended herb garden can become a healing supplement to your diet too.

A healing balm.

3 weeks after I stopped work and sleeping 12-14 hours a day (after many years of sleepless nights), I tried walking a few hundred metres (I have inherited obstructive Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), but chest pain and exhaustion forced me to return home.

I persevered and by the time I bought myself a small Canon Point & Shoot camera 4 months after ceasing full-time work and set off every second day, I was able to walk further & further over a period of about 2 months.

A brisk walk was way beyond me and is to this day.  Camera in hand, I became an expert at slowly walking about 20-30 feet in slow motion (as if in a Spaceship in outer space), stopping to look around for something to photograph, and then resuming my walk.

Eventually, I learned walking meditation and was able to walk for an extraordinary amount of time, capturing the everyday sights in nature that caught my attention.   My walk home from whatever location I chose for the afternoon, was engaged in Walking Meditation – something the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh details so clearly in some of his books.   No matter how much pain I was in that morning on rising, stiff and stumbling, by the time I arrived home from my photo walk, I often had several hours pain-free.

The pain always came back, but I had the extraordinary ability to cope more and more as each day passed.

My expanding appreciation of being and living in Nature soared.

I lived one street away from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne and they became the healing balm that gave me back my reason for living.   I set up a blog and talked about my walks in nature and shared the images I captured – beach, zoo, parks & gardens, National Trust Properties I could reach via public transport, (as I’d sold my unreliable 1976 old Renault car in November 2003 and couldn’t afford a replacement).

Finally, I was free from the Depression, Anxiety, Stressful job and need to conform to what society deems as ‘normal’.

I was free to be Me – the eccentric, (now) grey-haired lady, (with the slight staggering limp in more recent months).

With this Coronavirus pandemic, I find the most extraordinary thing is my lack of anxiety.

I seem to have acquired this ability to cast the sense of ‘not knowing’ how the world will cope into a non-event in an invisible cloud.

No point worrying about what you can’t control and no point trying to control your capacity to engage with Worry.   It’s absent.  ‘Not knowing’ where this pandemic will end up and the resulting state of the World is not on my radar.

Of course 99% of my life has not changed since the Coronavirus entered our lives.   I’m still doing the same activities indoors that I’ve done for years.

Monsieur Pain and I are old friends now and we have known each other for close to 40 years.   All my Brain Fog, short-term memory and intermittent cognitive function are just that – intermittent.    I post on my blog(s) when I’m thinking clearly.  Now I don’t multi-task any more, they (Brain Fog & Cognitive Function) are constant companions who wax and wane with the seasons, not unlike the plants and trees visible from my Room With a View.

A small pension pays the rent and bills and a freezer/pantry full of basic food staples and a small balcony garden with several pots of highly nutritive herbs and some leafy greens feeds the body.  Some simple meditation and reading Buddhist texts and teachings bring me a source of comfort and well-being in these difficult days of World Pandemic.

I have been mainly housebound for close to 15 months now, since the last fall down at Jawbone Conservation Reserve when I broke my wrist (minor hairline fracture) and a $1000 telephoto lens (which I ended up using the last of my ‘spare’ money for repairs as I couldn’t bear to miss capturing the bird-life which visit my balcony garden every day).

I mainly catch taxis when I finally get out the front door to do errands.

A walk to the local pond a couple of times and a taxi to the nearby wetlands to walk around has only exacerbated my hip pain, since the late 2018 MRI revealed severe osteoarthritis. It’s not worth the resulting exacerbation of pain going on nature walks, so it’s not high on my daily agenda, let alone my monthly activities.   I don’t strive to walk outdoors in nature to feed my soul.   It’s fully satiated with where I am now.   Staring out the window between typing paragraphs for this post.

My soul gets fed in other ways now.

Nature comes right to my desk with large floor-to-ceiling windows in my tiny studio apartment.   I eat, sleep & do whatever I like, whenever I like, within the confines of several serious pain health conditions.   I ended up in the cardiology ward in the local hospital again for the umpteenth time last Friday/early Saturday, but was finally released 30 hours later.   The Cardiologist referred me back to my own specialist HCM Cardiologist as they’re thinking it’s time for surgery.   Anyway, I’ll worry about that after the Pandemic ends – and it WILL end – one day.

Believe me, it WILL end.

All those old orthopaedic injuries from the past rear up occasionally and join Monsieur Spine and Hip pain in a vigorous romp, but they quickly dampen down with some prescription analgesics and a couple of hours of my favourite Italian Detective series set in Sicily.   Or a new series set in 1930s Corfu – a Greek island I spent a week on in 1976 (which brings back sweet memories).

I have a couple of Buddhist DVDs which complete my distraction tools.

I spent the last of my ‘nest-egg’ on a new telephoto lens and a large fridge-freezer 15 months ago.  but I have ‘just enough’ to lead a simple life with simple pleasures.

I do get a bit of ‘cabin fever’ every now and then, but an hour or two in my garden weeding, tidying and watering gives me a sense of well-being that only Living in Nature can bestow.

‘Not knowing’ has become a state of mind which I visit for brief moments and then move on to other more enjoyable mental pursuits.

Sure, in the last few weeks, I haven’t lost my job, don’t have a stiff mortgage (only rent), and no high credit card debt like many in the western world (who are used to regular salary and instant material and social gratification) in these difficult times of World-wide pandemic.  In many ways, my future is not as black as many paint the rest of society.   My sky is always filled with a silver lining nearly every single day.  And so should yours be.   The clouds are still there but a sliver of silver reminds me of Hope in these difficult times.

I know what it’s like to lose your health, job and with no source of income for a period of time.   I know what desperation, depression and fear is like.   

I’ve lived it and come through the other side.

I am well-fed in Mind, Body & Spirit which is enough for the present time on Planet Earth.

Optimism

The Difference between Stumbling Blocks and Steeping Stones

is How you use them  

Are you going to allow ‘Not Knowing’ to cloud your day OR are you going to step up to the challenges in the current climate and come out the other side in 6 or 12 or 18 months time?

Can you find the creative juices and initiative to live the next few months (well probably more like a year)  expanding your Mind and climbing out of that Well of Fear OR are you going to let Pessimism and Fear win the day?

You can choose.

Our Australian Government have now put in place massive financial assistance for many over the next 6 months and no doubt will update this as time goes by.  At least this may help your financial worries, fellow Aussies.

Remember you have a choice.

Deal with it or Crash.

The wounds from my Crash are almost invisible now and the memories well insulated within my brain.   They haven’t gone away.   They’re just relegated to the Past.

The Future isn’t here yet so no point worrying about what may, or may not, happen.

Try living your life Mindfully, just concentrating on today and a load of unknown tomorrows will be a much lighter burden.

NOTE: I could add images from my archives to this new blog post, but for a change all you get are words.

MINDFULNESS……

AFRICAN BLUE LILY (Agapanthus) – 28th December, 2012 – in a blissfully cool shady location, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

Karl Duffy on his Mindfulbalance blog has the most beautiful quote this morning and I couldn’t resist sharing……

Not being tied to our urgent to-do lists:

Consider the lilies of the field…

And you — what of your rushed and

useful life? Imagine setting it all down —

papers, plans, appointments, everything,

leaving only a note: “Gone to the fields

to be lovely. Be back when I’m through

with blooming.

Lynn Ungar, Camas Lilies

I find his daily quotes and words of wisdom very uplifting and inspiring.  If you have the time and interest, his blog is well worth following.

His email notification of a new blog post is one of the first I view after opening my computer in the morning.