Celebrating an Ordinary Life

“And while it takes courage to achieve greatness, it takes more courage to find fulfillment in being ordinary. For the joys that last have little relationship to achievement, to standing one step higher on the victory platform. What is the adventure in being ordinary? It is daring to love just for the pleasure of giving it away. It is
venturing to give new life and to nurture it to maturity. It is
working hard for the pure joy of being tired at the end of the day. It is caring and sharing and giving and loving …”

~ Marilyn Thomsen

My first half of life was lived in a hurry and in the limelight. With a demanding role as a minister in a large faith community and traveling the globe, whilst also raising a family, there was no time for ‘ordinary’. I spent a lot of time on platforms, speaking to people. Add an embedded ideal of ’save our broken world’ and a slight Messiah-complex, easily adopted through the importance modern, charismatic Christianity puts on speakers and leaders, and I was a zealot convinced that ‘ordinary’ is simply missing the mark. You would be forgiven for thinking that ‘ordinary’ is really an unpardonable sin when listening to the many sermons preached from pulpits on Sundays.

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Other than religious ideas, we also live in a world that is enthralled with extraordinary. Don’t believe me? Pay attention to the relentless, consumer marketing machine or just have a look through the titles in the self-help section of a bookstore. Do you notice the obsession with perfection and excellence? It seems, at least in many developed countries, that being extraordinary equates to the right to exist. Now add the hyper-reality of social media, with photos of the ‘perfect’ family, holiday, house, car, designer-dog, and you have a virtual social world frantically trying to convince one another that they are anything but ordinary. The anxiety and stress this farcical comparison has created even has a name: FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – and it has reached epidemic levels.

So in direct protest, I am calling out this infatuation of our modern world with the idea of being extraordinary. In fact, not only am I calling it out, I am convinced that the worship of extraordinary has created a long list of human emotional maladies: comparison, frustration, depression, anxiety, discontentment, despair, exaggeration, lying, etc. No, I am not suggesting that someone suffering from a mental health issue has a problem with FOMO. I am suggesting that our continual obsession with excellence has created a toxic oxygen inhaled by modern society in every dimension of life (work, leisure, relationships, etc) and plays a contributing factor in mental health.

So I choose to celebrate Ordinary!

I am celebrating my tattered garden pants and gumboots.
I am celebrating the wrinkles and grey hair that points to living life.

I am celebrating the ordinary people behind the scenes, working
ordinary jobs.

I am celebrating the ones who society sees as a ‘burden’, their beauty and kindness so often overlooked in a world of botox and plastic surgery.

I am celebrating all the students who have the privilege of education no matter what their ‘score’, in a world gone mad on comparing the
intellect of the young.

I am celebrating the young ones who will never receive an education, stuck in some factory to serve the greed and vanity of others.

I am celebrating those millions and millions of ordinary people living in parts of the world where their life is hard and their death goes
unnoticed.

I am celebrating the places and people who live in parts of the world where the ‘prosperity’ gospel is exposed as a sham, but the good news of Immanuel flourishes.

I am celebrating the people in the pews, who hang their head in shame when they don’t feel they measure up to the challenges of ‘change’. You are beautiful.

I am celebrating our planet and its creatures, used and abused by
practices that are fed by the search for greater thrills, wealth and
importance.

I am celebrating the poor, those who are mourning, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty, the merciful.

Today, I celebrate my very ordinary life – so far removed from the adrenaline rush that was the first half of my life. I celebrate the shattered triumphal ideologies that lie at my feet, grateful for the many failures that destroyed them. Day by day I live my ordinary life, I take a breath and reflect on the fact that I am a living being. Life does not need inflated ideas of self-importance to matter. Life is a miracle all by itself.

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So dear friend, pay attention to the voices that speak to you on never-ending sound waves. Are they suggesting that you are simply not enough? That you are ‘wasting’ your life with your ordinary routine? That you should be this or that – anything but you? Then perhaps it is time to ruthlessly declutter the voices that make you miserable. Life is Ordinary. Life is Beautiful. Grace is sufficient. You are enough.

“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.” 
– William Martin

 

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Hildegard of Bingen and her Love Affair with Fennel

“Even eaten raw fennel does not harm the body in any way. In whatever form one eats fennel, it makes us happy, gives us a good skin colour and body odour and promotes good digestion.”
– Hildegard – 

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Fennel was a regular star in the meals consumed in my childhood. To this day I can identify it blindfolded, simply by its unique, slightly sweet taste. It is also somewhat of a divisive culinary accompaniment, a bit like coriander. People such as my parents and grandparents were devoted to this humble vegetable, while others refuse to allow it anywhere near their kitchen. But there was one historical figure who swore by fennel – and her love affair was recorded in the annals of history.

In the fertile, temperate Rhine valley, near the River Main, a convent of Benedictine nuns became the focal point of many religious devotees in the Twelfth Century. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) remains somewhat of an historical phenomenon to this day. Her many visions and knowledge about the meaning of Scripture drew the attention of people such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Pope himself, Eugenius (1145-1153), who read her writings to a synod held in the German city of Trier. It did not take long for the news to circulate that a prophetess was living in Disibodenberg. You can read more about her remarkable life here.

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Hildegard may well have been Germany’s first nutritionist and produced writings on medicine, science and the healing power of nature. She saw fennel as one of the most important plants for achieving physical wellbeing. It is excellent, she wrote, for the eyes, brain, hearing and heart. Eating fennel makes one happy. Her applications for fennel were numerous:

– For puffy eyes, place 2 tsp of roasted fennel seeds or ground fennel seeds in hot water, let steep for 5 minutes or more. Once cool enough to touch, dip the corner of a folded paper towel in the solution and apply to the under eye region.

– For weight loss, steep 1/2 tsp roasted fennel seeds in warm water and drink twice a day.

– For a cold, drink warm fennel tea 2-3 times a day.

– For heartburn, bloating and gas, eat a pinch of roasted fennel seeds immediately following a meal.

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Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family, second cousin to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. It contains a unique combination of phyto-nutrients that allow for strong antioxidant activity. Research has found that one of it’s most interesting phyto-nutrient compounds is anethole. Anethole has reduced inflammation and prevented the occurrence of cancer. It has shown to be able to protect the liver from toxic chemical injury. The high Vitamin C content in the fennel bulb is anti-microbial and needed for the proper function of the immune system. It is also a great source of fiber, folate and potassium.

Fennel has also been called the pearl of aphrodisiacs. A recent concoction of fennel seeds, liquorice root and water was named the ‘tonic for happy lovers’ (yes, I know, you will all rush to brew this now!!). It holds benefits for lungs, liver, pancreas, spleen, kidneys and to help dissolve kidney stones. One of its main historic uses was to cure issues surrounding indigestion. In short – fennel is fantastic! Why aren’t we all in love fennel?!

I find it surprising how many people shake their heads at things they have never tried. Over the years we have had countless people around our dinner table. Herbs and vegetables have been the ones regarded with the greatest suspicion by many. Of course, I understand that once tasted some may decline delicious vegetables or salads because of poorly-evolved, artificially-sabotaged taste buds, but at least give it a go. Shock horror – it may even improve your health!

You may never develop a love affair with fennel like Hildegard did. However, you could discover in fennel a friend that has been sent to make you feel happy! Here is to health, and cheers to a beautiful earth that graciously shares with us her fennel friend.

“There’s fennel for you, and columbines; there’s rue for you; and here’s some for me; we may call it herb of grace o’Sundays.”
– William Shakespeare (Hamlet) –

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The Challenge: Learn Something New!

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. 
– Ghandi –

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How fortunate are the ones who at least once a day can exclaim, “I did not know that!” What a privilege to be able to walk with our eyes open, with a sense of wonder, and hopefully with enough humility to recognise that our specific field of knowledge is minuscule, no matter how well educated we are. There is always more to learn.

Most of us have a very broad understanding of the world around us. We may specialise in one or two areas of study, but it is a wise person who adopts a posture of learning that lasts a lifetime. We can all discipline and train our minds to think critically and to ask key questions. Practicing mindfulness helps us slow down, open our eyes, breathe and learn. It is also one of the best things we can do for our health and well-being.

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We recently relocated to the Sunshine Coast from Melbourne. In this new place, I am learning something new every day. For example, I discovered that I could have spared myself the freak-out meltdown when I found a tick burrowing itself into my hip. A calm Queensland nurse informed me that this is not of the virulent type I encountered in South Africa. I was ecstatic. I would have hated to have been taken by a tick … that would have just ticked me off (sorry, I had to!)

I learnt that the people who live here are relaxed, compared to this adrenaline-driven Southerner. That they keep pet pigs to keep “the JW’s from knocking on my door” and they say “F..k” really loudly as it keeps their pious, Christian neighbour at bay. I also discovered that they are infatuated with the word “but”. In this sunny part of the world it is placed at the end of sentences. Which sounds a tad strange but.

I learnt that there is a cool breeze that blows every afternoon in this warm, hilly place that I now call home. I anticipate its arrival and welcome my new friend.

I also learnt that there are people who really go out of their way to make you feel welcome in a new place. Thank you to those salt-of-the-earth folk who brought so much love, kindness, food and wine. For someone in major life transition, you have been angels in disguise.

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It truly is a wonderful thing to discover that we may have been ignorant in some areas. How easily we allow paradigms and ideals to become deeply embedded in our psyche without question. Especially, it seems, if those ideas are delivered by people we see as ‘experts’. The good news is that we are allowed to do our own research and investigation. We are given full permission.

So what new things are you learning?

According to Dustin Wax, learning something new:

– Gives us a range of perspectives to call on every day.
– Helps us to adapt to new situations.
– Feeds innovation by inspiring us to think creatively.
– Deepens our character and makes us more inspiring (and less arrogant!).
– Creates confidence.
– Helps us broaden our understanding of historical, social, and natural processes.

(His blog also provides tips on expanding your horizon)

So, dear friend, it’s time to become uncomfortable and stretch the brain and the imagination. Maybe cares and concerns have clouded your ability to dream and reflect? I empathise, as I know that feeling well. It is difficult to consider learning something new when we are barely coping with the present and what we do know!

A friend recently said to me, “There are many times in life when we need to be brave”. As you stand tall, adjust your eyes and follow your heart, may you be brave and discover the beauty of wonder. Here is my challenge to you: Learn Something New Today.

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Slow Down and Chew Your Food!

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I used to eat fast. No, I mean it. I used to eat really fast. In fact, if you sat around our dinner table you would have noticed this terrible personal habit had become a family trait. We all tended to inhale our food. As a child, my parents worked busy and stressful jobs and I remember meal times were somewhat like the Grand Prix – ready, set … finish. That is until my grandmothers came over. I can still hear their voices, “Slow down and chew your food!”

This reprimand was most often ignored as we continued to shovel
nutrients into our facial cavity. In my hurried, stressful, all-consuming first half of life as a religious zealot, I continued eating with great haste. And my poor children probably felt they had Mr. Squiggles’ grumpy chalkboard at the table (not their mother): “Hurry up, hurry up.” And then it struck … acid reflux. My gut began to protest the
under-masticated volume of fodder thrown at it because of a frenzied need for speed. And so the wonderful and under-rated discipline of mindfulness began to be a part of my meal time routine.

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Let’s just face it: we are creatures of our hurried culture. Most of us hardly give any thought to chewing our food. It has simply become a habit. Yet this chewing process is a vital step in a functional digestive process – the way you chew and how long you chew dramatically affects your health.

Dr. Mercola provides 7 reasons why chewing your food properly has
significant benefits
:

1. You absorb more nutrients and energy from your food.
Smaller particles are easier to digest and increase nutrient absorption by your intestines.

“Particle size [affects the] bio-accessibility of the energy of the food that is being consumed. The more you chew, the less is lost and the more is
retained in the body.”
– Dr. Richard Mattes (Medical News
Today July 18, 2013)
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2. You maintain a healthy body weight.
It takes time (generally about 20 minutes) for your brain to signal to your stomach that you’re full and this may explain why one study found people reported feeling fuller when they ate slowly.

3. The longer you chew, the more your food is exposed to saliva.
Saliva contains enzymes that assist in breaking down food.

4. Chewing assists digestion as it pre-digests food into small pieces.

5. It is great for your teeth.
The bones holding your teeth get a good workout while the saliva produced cleans the mouth of food particles and bacteria.

6. Properly chewed food decreases excess bacteria in your intestine.
Excess bacteria causes side effects such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramping and digestive problems.

7. Chewing your food helps you enjoy and really taste your food.

Over the last few years, I am slowly learning to eat at a far more leisurely pace. I am learning to enjoy my food and to be grateful. It has made a remarkable difference. How I chew my food these days is probably a
picture of how I am now living this second half of my life. I have learnt to breathe, to allow space, and to say ‘no’ without always feeling responsible or guilty. My grandmothers would be so proud.

‘Hurry sickness’ is the malady of our modern culture. How are you
faring? Are you overloading your intestinal tract with copious amounts of junk hitting it at lightning velocity? Slow down. Think about the food that you eat. Will it nourish your complex, wonderful body? Take a moment to consider your meal choices. Are they harming our intricate planet? Remember, you are part of this world and with it comes responsibility.

You will find that as you begin to live and eat more mindfully you won’t need the volume of food you normally consume. So eat in peace, dear friend, and chomp, chomp, chomp.

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Laughter: Tonic for the Soul

 

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common
denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.

— W. H. Auden

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A couple of days ago, I was sitting in my car at the traffic lights, deep in thought and paying very little attention to the world around me.
Suddenly I began to awake from my mindless stupor and noticed that the couple in the car next to me were having a rather animated
conversation, possibly a family feud or a heated disagreement. The
elderly female passenger turned her head my way, threw up her hands, rolled her eyes and uttered a rather choice expletive, one that even my limited lip reading skills could decipher without any difficulty. We then caught each other’s eyes and began to laugh. Two strangers, no language to connect, just a moment of hilarity and laughter that stayed with me through to my destination. Laughter truly is a tonic for the soul.

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Laughter cleans the soul. It has the ability to create an effervescent transformation that is tangible. The pursuit of laughter can dramatically change our lives. Laughter reduces pain, strengthens the immune
function, decreases stress, and triggers creativity. Laughing at ourselves prevents us from becoming serious, intolerable, and very self-important pains in the arse. Did you know that laughter contributes to the lowering of blood pressure, reduces stress hormone levels, improves cardiac health, boosts T cells, triggers the release of endorphins and produces a general sense of well-being? The author of Proverbs suggests that a ‘cheerful or merry’ heart is fabulous medicine (17:22).

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Meaningful relationships are far too important to be taken seriously. Laughter improves communication and builds relationship because everyone laughs in the same language. Children are more receptive when they are having fun. Laughter improves all of our memories,
because we tend to remember what we laughed about. Laughter makes us approachable, removes barriers and smoothes over differences.
Humour is vital in delicate circumstances and provides fantastic cover for shooting sacred cows, like Oscar Wilde drily remarked, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” Of course, humour that is used to intimidate, manipulate, silence or embarrass another person is not really humour, it’s being a jerk.

So, with countless evidence on the benefits of laughter, how can we
introduce more of it into our lives?

– Learn to laugh in the dark and serious times. This is a ‘skill’ I learnt from my parents. They managed to find humour even in the darkest
moments. We found ourselves laughing even at the most inappropriate times, not to be inappropriate, but to cope with life. It is a ‘skill’ now developed in my children. An ‘evil’ sense of humour is one of the great weapons against stress.

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– Learn to laugh at yourself. To my religious friends out there – please don’t become a serious, pious pain in the bum, so that people think that’s what your faith does to you. It’s not meant to do that. Laughter is a choice. Learning to not take
ourselves seriously is tonic for the soul. Serious self-importance really is one of those major relationship killers.

– Watch the kind of comedy shows that make you laugh.

– Tell your face it drastically improves it’s appearance when it smiles. Smiling is so underrated. A smile can literally make someone’s day. It
really is an instant makeover for our skull surface.

PIC BY THOMAS MARENT / ARDEA / CATERS NEWS - (PICTURED: A juvenile Borneo Orangutan in, Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesia laughing) - These comical creatures are clearly up FUR a laugh in these sidesplitting images which show a variety of ecstatic animals enjoying a good old chuckle. The hilarious snaps, taken by a whole host of photographers from around the globe, prove life in the jungle is most definitely jolly, as creatures from an orangutan to a elephant seal are pictured mid-laugh. A cheery chimpanzee can be seen sporting a toothy grin as he enjoys life at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia. And a pot-bellied pig is clearly tickled pink at his home in Lower Saxony, Germany. In another image an Icelandic horse appears to crack up when he spots a photographers camera, while a chuckling cheetah creases up in Kenya. SEE CATERS COPY
PIC BY THOMAS MARENT
Friend, I wish you much laughter. Life is not always easy. There are many times when we find ourselves trudging through the valley of tears. Even in those sacred moments, may you notice something ridiculous, throw your head back and laugh in the face of your opposition!

“Laughter is poison to fear.”

– George R.R. Martin

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The Weed Mat Trap

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It was over seven years ago that we began to build a new home in a semi-rural part of Melbourne. Building on a slope presented its own set of challenges. Large portions of slopes that needed to be turned into
garden was one of them.

In my frenzy to create order out of chaos, I put down tons of old, woollen carpet that I had elegantly and ceremoniously dumpster-dived out of
local carpet factory dumpsters. This was a great idea, as the organic
nature of wool slowly decomposes. However, when the carpet ran out, I bought plastic weed mat. My father, who has only established several umpteen gardens, warned against this. But I wanted a neat, weed-free garden.

Fast forward seven years. What have I been doing with my spare time in the garden? Removing those same layers of weed mat that I’d installed seven years earlier! Weed mat that looks as fresh as the day I put it in – no decomposition. Why am I taking the time, swearing silently in
German at my own stupidity, to cut this stuff out? It created a ‘neat’
garden – and a dead garden.

The places where I had put weed mat were suffering. It took me a long time to realise that it was this plastic invader that created a sterile
environment. Plants that I chose to place in my garden still grew (I had cut holes into the weed mat when I planted them), but the earth smelt dead. There was no thriving eco-system like the rest of my garden. So my beloved partner presented me with a new, large Stanley knife and I have been undoing my doing. The need for order and a clean, effortless
garden, ended up killing life.

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So as I am pulling out this weed mat, I am reflecting how in our modern, time-starved, capitalist society we tend to weed mat our lives. It is easier to shut down ideas, creativity, interaction with messy humanity, or
innovation, than to let these grow and develop in organic, full-of-risk
manners. It is easier to create a corporate culture of water-tight, weed matted  policies, than to consider unique ideas. It’s easier to create hierarchical religious systems that weed mat thought and behaviour, than to create a community of mutuality and open dialogue. It is easier to allow our minds to be hooked to a dictated, re-gurgitated, unexamined set of
paradigms, than to ever step into a place of difficult questions. Weed mat creates order and an appearance of success.

Weeds are annoying. They are time consuming. Weeds are also, as I have since discovered, an indicator of health and healing. In the seven years we have lived here, my father, who lives with us, has taught us how many of these ‘weeds’ hold healing properties, like dandelion and
epilobium. There are also noxious weeds that threaten our native
biodiversity and need to be controlled. Slabs of weed mat provided a tempting solution, but in the long-term, created greater problems. If I wanted a garden, I had to care for a garden. There were no short cuts.

Friend, let’s take time to consider our lives. Have you placed some weed mat into your world, all with good intentions, only to realise that it has affected the quality of your life and well-being? Where have you hastily laid weed mat to try and ignore, perhaps a painful part of your life or history? If you are in a position of leadership or management, have you fallen into the weed mat trap? The tendency to discourage and shut down innovation before it has time to breathe? It is so easy to do. What about if you are a person of faith? Have you placed weed mat over your mind? Have you allowed other people to dictate to you exactly what to believe and how to behave because it is so much easier than doing the hard yards of critical thinking?

In a world where success and order is worshipped, weed mat provides the perfect solution … for a while. Until you realise that you are standing in a sterile field of your own making. Stanley knife anyone?

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Anxiety and Eating Disorders: Tash’s Story

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In the previous blog post, I presented an introduction to anxiety disorders, which affect a large percentage of the general population. I would like to keep the conversation going in the hope of creating further awareness and chipping away at the ridiculous stigma that often
surrounds mental disorders.

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental disorders in
Australia. One in four Australians will experience a form of anxiety
disorder in their lifetime. Eating disorders often go hand in hand with
anxiety disorders. In struggling with severe anxiety, for instance, being able to control an aspect of one’s life, such as food, weight, and exercise,
indirectly gives the sufferer a false sense of control.

In this post, I am interviewing my daughter, Natasha. Tash is 23. She is a vibrant, passionate, focused and determined woman – characteristics that were always there from an early age. She completed her Bachelor in Health Science with Honours and is currently pursuing a career as a chef. Tash went through an exceptionally difficult time as she struggled with anxiety that outworked itself in an eating disorder. As a family, we were totally unprepared and uneducated in dealing with this.

Several years on from this dark time in her life, she is now well on to the road to recovery. She was prepared to be interviewed for the same
reason I am blogging about this: to create awareness and help destroy the stigma. As a family that cherishes privacy, this has not been an easy post.

1. “Tash, when was the first time it dawned on you that you were struggling with anxiety disorder?” 

“I started dealing with anxiety during my first year out of high school. I was involved in two car accidents in a short period of time. It was the second car crash, only a few weeks after getting my driver’s license, that I slowly began to spiral and develop, what I now recognise as, an anxiety
disorder. In the years that followed the crash, I was conscious of my
anxiety, but I only became aware of it as a disorder when I
acknowledged my eating disorder. As mentioned, the two are often
interrelated.”

2. “Was there anything you think that triggered it?”

“The second car crash was when I began to unravel. However, I think this was merely the trigger, not the cause, of the disorders. Through my last three years in high school, I had repressed a lot. Not only was I repressing the death of my Oma and the near fatal car crash involving my brothers, I was repressing years of unrealistic expectations and forced beliefs/ideologies experienced in a religious church and education
system as a pastor’s daughter. These unrealistic expectations, projected upon me by systems and people (most of them well-meaning, I’m sure), burdened me with an ongoing sense of guilt and shame. I still struggle with this and, no doubt, it was also a key trigger in my anxiety and
eating disorder.

What I have learnt in my battle with anxiety and eating disorders is that triggers are different for everyone and in many situations there are
multiple triggers. My own experience, and also my studies in health at
university, showed me that a person’s traits and characteristics can also determine their likelihood of experiencing a mental illness. OCD and perfectionist tendencies are not uncommon in our family, and, in my non-healthy mental state, they became my enemy and drove me further into my disorders than I could ever imagine.”

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3. “How did it outwork in your life?”

“An eating disorder can be paralysing, suffocating and exhausting. I
consider myself a pretty rational, educated person, but when anxiety hits you, ‘reason’ does not help. Sometimes it hit me hard in the forms of panic attacks, where it felt like I couldn’t breathe. However, most of the time it was just this ongoing sense of dread that I just couldn’t shake. As an introvert, it also made me withdraw more from social events because being around some groups of people only made it worse. I obsessed over whatever was making me anxious and then I crashed emotionally once it had passed. My moods were often up and down and this affected my
relationships, even with my family. I would then feel anxious and guilty for being so moody towards them. I felt as if I was at war with myself, fighting a battle that no one understood.
 
4. Can you describe to people what goes on inside you when anxiety outworks itself in trying to gain control through eating/food?”

“Poor body image is often a trigger that comes to mind when you hear about someone with an eating disorder. My case was very different. My eating disorder stemmed from my anxiety. It was perpetuated through a need to control and a deep self-loathing from years of shame and guilt.”

“What made the combination of the two disorders so detrimental is the strain I put on my body from losing so much weight. I was completely
irrational, moody, cold and exhausted all the time. Battling an anxiety
disorder while being somewhat physically healthy is hard enough, but when your body is malnourished all it’s energy is focused on staying alive.”

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5. “What was helpful during this time?”

“When I was in the midst of it, I only spoke to my mum about it. At that time, I had no interest in talking to anyone else because I was in denial about how big of an issue it really was. I know now that this would have been quite a burden for her, but it was life saving for me. I knew she couldn’t ‘fix me’. I didn’t expect that. But she was there. She calmed me down when I was hysterical, rationalised with me when I was troubled, and celebrated with me in my triumphs. Most importantly, she didn’t give up on me despite probably feeling very hopeless and helpless many times. It wasn’t a quick and easy step, but eventually I came to accept what I was battling, and this was when I began building my support
system.”

“Once I had acknowledged my disorders, the most helpful, yet painful thing to do was talking about it. I remember telling my oldest brother over dinner. I was emotional, ashamed and embarrassed. I didn’t like showing vulnerability and I felt silly trying to explain what anxiety feels like, especially to my brother. He’s the least anxious person I know, but,
despite having no understanding of what it felt like, he recognised the
torment it put me through. He listened and comforted me. I walked away from that dinner as if I had taken my first breath of air after being
underwater for so long.

“Again, it didn’t happen overnight, I am a very private person, but I began to talk about my situation more with safe people from different walks of life. One of mum’s friends was a saving grace. She understood anxiety and she understood me. She encouraged me to talk to another one of her friends who went through a similar struggle growing up.”

“Eventually, I sought out professional help and that wasn’t without a few failures. I ended up seeing a friend’s doctor who specialised in mental health and it was one of the best things to happen to me. He gave me a proper diagnosis and helped me address it from a psychological and medical point of view. The ongoing support from my family and friends and the help from my doctor was the most helpful and significant step in my recovery.”

6. “What made you decide to seek help?”

“Although I didn’t talk about it for a while, my family and many of my friends could see something was wrong when I began losing so much weight. No one really understood what I was going through and no one said anything, mainly because they were worried I would react. It was an emotional, eye-opening moment when I realised how many people were so concerned about my health and drastic weight loss.”

“As important as a support system is, no one could help me make changes but me. I got to a place where the pain of living like this outweighed the fear and denial. I know of many other people’s situations that become so life-threatening that someone has to intervene. I’m thankful that I came to acknowledge my problem before it got to that state, but that didn’t mean that I was very proactive about seeking help. I wanted to deal with it myself and it felt like I was being dragged kicking and screaming at times. I certainly would not have persevered without the encouragement of my support system.”

7. “What was unhelpful during this time?”

“People trying to diagnose me by reading a book or something they have heard. Books are certainly helpful, but if you are not an expert don’t try and diagnose people from a book or random stuff you find on the
Internet.”

“Downplaying someone’s anxiety is not helpful and can cause great harm. I know that for people who have never experienced anxiety or eating disorders, it can all seem silly and unreasonable, but telling someone that is not helpful. Most of the time we know this and if it was as easy as just shaking it off, believe me, we would.”

Thank you so much, Tash, for being willing to share some of your story. What is a final thing you would like to say to anyone dealing with anxiety and/or eating disorders (or for that matter any mental disorders) reading this, who perhaps is concerned about any stigma/perception from the world around them? 

“Be hopeful about recovery and be kind to yourself in the process. Recovery is not easy and you will battle everyday between wanting to recover and wanting to stick to your habits. Don’t be disheartened. Whether it is an eating disorder or anxiety you are struggling with, there will be bad days and set backs and that is okay. Sometimes you just have to accept that it’s a setback sort of day and that it will be a new day tomorrow. Bad days don’t mean failure. If anything they can give you perspective on how far you have come. What’s important is that you keep choosing life, be kind to yourself and be patient.

The process is not easy either. I tried multiple methods including doctors, focus groups and self research. Many were hit and miss, but it was important that I continued to pursue recovery, even when these things weren’t always helpful.

I also had to let go of the idea that recovery meant going back to who I was before my disorders. I can’t promise you that life after recovery means you will never be anxious again or think about your food or weight. The difference is that you get to a point where you control the power they have over your life rather than them controlling you.”

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Let’s Talk about Anxiety

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Anxiety disorders are one of the most common class of mental disorders, affecting a large percentage of the general population. There are six main types of the disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder,
phobias and panic disorder, and they tend to be more prevalent in women than men. Anxiety disorders affect 9.7% or 1.3 million adult
Australians
, from all walks of life. The causes of the disorder are likely to be complex. However, assistance and recovery is possible with
specialised treatment, education and support.

It is most unfortunate that even in this day and age, people with mental illness remain stigmatised around the globe. This stigmatisation can
result in sufferers not seeking the professional help that is available
because of the fear of rejection. It can also result in misdiagnosis and mismanagement: Misdiagnosis in not taking the symptoms seriously, which in turn results in mismanagement, as there is a reluctance to
investigate the symptoms fully.

Religious ideologies have played a major role in shaping the values and morals of many societies, including perceptions about mental illness. It is sad that patients who come from religious backgrounds are often the ones who fail to receive proper medical care. Although modern
Christianity has taken some steps forward in recognising and addressing mental health issues, including anxiety disorders, there is still a long way to go in recognition and education, as well as in discarding the
tendency to blame the victim.

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My experience with anxiety and anxiety disorders has been fairly minor and I operated out of sheer ignorance for many years. However, a few years ago my daughter developed an eating disorder, something which goes hand in hand with anxiety (an interview with her will be the focus of the next blog post). Suddenly, our family was confronted with the
relentless torment faced by so many people suffering from anxiety.

In retrospect, I would also say that my mother, who passed away suddenly in 2007, suffered from undiagnosed anxiety disorder all her life. As a young child she vividly recalled the horrors of World War II –
running to the bomb shelters, the sounds of Gestapo boots, and her
balcony being blown off by a bomb. Unfortunately, the hyper-vigilance that was part of her everyday life and pointed to post traumatic stress,
remained untreated. Anxiety disorders only began to be recognised in 1980.

Last year, I had to face  anxiety in my own life, which was a result of
bullying. Anxiety is difficult to describe. Everyone experiences it
differently. For me it felt little like being hopelessly tossed around by a giant wave, unable to gain footing or control, feeling like I will never come up for air. I recalled the naive ideas I held over the years and the imbecilic comments I had made – they came back to haunt me!

In this blog post, I simply wanted to present a short introduction to a
disorder that affects so many people. I want to make it very clear that I am not a therapist and I am only blogging my own observations and
experiences. The advice I would give to anyone suffering from anxiety is to seek professional help. You would think nothing about taking yourself to the hospital to have a broken arm tended to. Please do not allow
perceived or self-stigma
from seeking treatment and a better quality of life.

To the family members and friends of people suffering from anxiety
disorders, and anyone in a position of influence (social, religious, etc.), please do not shoot from the hip in ignorance. Educate yourself about
issues surrounding mental health and anxiety disorders. Keep updated and informed. Consider the words that come out of your mouth and be especially careful about silly, religious cliches, that are often simply
recycled, ignorant ideas from someone’s book who holds no qualifications. Instead, read some of the excellent and researched resources available and become proactive in establishing a safe and informed support system.

I finish with the words of blogger Heather Rayne:
 
Living with anxiety and/or depression can feel like constantly
trying to climb out of a deep, muddy hole with an armful of sandbags. Everything seems so much more difficult – even getting out of bed in the morning can be a monumental feat. The simplest tasks can be a dreaded challenge. Nobody
 wants to feel this way. And they are not doing this TO anyone. It is happening TO them and sadly, others are caught in the crossfire. But eventually the bullets will stop flying, the smoke will clear and blissful, fulfilling lives and relationships could appear just beyond the horizon. Together, it can be reached.”

Next Post: Tash’s Story – Recovering from Anxiety and Eating Disorders.
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My 2016 Challenge to You: De-Clutter Your Life

I can imagine that this heading may create a fair amount of angst and protest amongst readers: “Are you kidding? Have you seen my cupboards? Have you seen my garage??” or “I will keep my clutter and I will keep lying by the pool!” I hear you. I am not suggesting that you spend all your precious free time turning your house upside down. Perhaps just try some simple steps into de-cluttering. Start with those cupboards that you cannot open because you could cause yourself injury as junk hits you on the head – the cupboard that you like to keep tightly shut. You may be surprised at what such a simple exercise as cleaning out a cupboard at a time can do to for the soul.

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We have come a long way from our nomadic ancestors, who spent most of their time on the move, carrying everything they owned. Nowadays, it is fashionable to purchase the largest possible house in order to store stuff. Stuff we seldom or never use. But we keep it … just in case! Hoarding stuff affects many humans, especially those in capitalist societies, relentlessly bombarded by clever marketing slogans, convincing us that we need even more than we already have. For some, the collecting of stuff has become a chronic problem and it can be totally debilitating. Stuff is not only cluttering our homes, it’s cluttering our soul.

These holidays, I started de-cluttering my cupboards – a habit passed on to me by both my mother and grandmother. Moving houses many times, including moving to different nations and continents, has made me more aware of humanity’s hamster tendencies. Yet I still fill boxes and suitcases with stuff: Clothes, kitchen utensils that I have never used, pots, old linen. It never ceases to amaze me how much stuff I manage to accumulate in a year! As I get older, I become more intolerant of stuff. I have noticed how little I actually need. I still fall for slick marketing ploys, but not nearly as often.

Something happens when you clean out cupboards. You have time to think. You make a conscious decision that you are not defined by your ‘haves’ or ‘have nots’. Rather, you realise that you are a pilgrim on this earth. You have one short, magnificent life to live. How sad when we allow stuff to burden us from being truly alive. When you clean out cupboards, you make a silent protest against a stealthy campaign that tries to convince you that you need all this clutter … and more. You don’t, dear friend, you really don’t. You are so much bigger than stuff and anyone who judges you by the quality of your stuff really is not worth your company. Perhaps that’s why Jesus always felt so sorry for rich people?

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Clearing clutter is an elixir for the soul. The enormous social move towards minimalism is an indication of how many people have discovered that de-cluttering your space has a mysterious effect on your emotional world. A de-cluttered space speaks of freedom. A de-cluttered space de-clutters the soul. When you de-clutter your environment, you begin to seriously question what else makes your life complicated. What habits, ideas and relationships keep you bound to the hamster wheel of the toxic familiar?

In 2016, don’t let stuff own you. Don’t permit yourself to be burdened by imagined social norms that continually demand of you to buy the latest, greatest, fastest or sleekest temporary piece of junk. Don’t allow yourself to continue in webs of toxicity. Discover the power of a de-cluttered life. Discover the joy of living simply, with little or no debt, and without the fear of getting your stuff stolen. Discover the joy of sleep and wonder that comes when we de-clutter our lives. For you, my friend, I pray the blessing of a simple life.
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