After having stuffed my belly once more with a great breakfast at the hotel, we made our way to the train, that would lead us back to reality, back to the city. After almost 2 days of relaxing, eating, sleeping, swimming and reading, I felt tired. Not the exhausted kind, just silent, lost in thought and looking out of the window. Again, we’ve managed to spot hares, deer and a pheasant – yay! I apologized for being in-eloquent and tight-lipped to my love. That’s something I would like to learn in the next months, to not apologize for myself. I really mean it, when I apologize for anything. I don’t like that. I feel like I need to apologize, for just being myself that moment. It’s like making an excuse for not being as I think people want to see me that moment. For me it’s a symbol, that I am not yet appreciating who I am, that I am not claiming my space and accepting, that sometimes, it’s totally ok to be silent without people thinking that you are a complete lunatic and a selfish, self-absorbed ignoramus. The fresh air on the way back home cleared my mind and I felt awake and in the moment very soon. The moment I stepped through the door, I was presented with today’s challenge. I started to unpack the carry-on bag, loaded the washing machine, emptied all vanity cases (yes, cases, the man of the house grooms himself, much to my pleasure) and put everything back where it belonged. I had help, of course, don’t get the wrong idea. When my boyfriend then sat down to finish up with some work stuff before leaving tomorrow for a business trip, I still did not pause. I got us new sheets for the bed, hung the blankets out the window, shuffled through the wardrobe and dressers (which I previously had freshly organized and emptied of all unwanted stuff) looking for something to do, clean, organize. I wouldn’t have stopped there, but a friendly intervention of my love made me think. He told me that I was punishing myself for having dared to relax and be lazy for two days, that it was totally ok, to let the weekend end on a recreational note, instead of trying to make up for the time lost. He was quite spot on, although I didn’t see it like that, that moment. I even panicked a little, when I tried to figure out what to do now. Standing still makes me feel useless. As I was very behind on blog entries, I decided to post something. I just finished with the second entry, when I realized, that I had replaced cleaning, keeping busy and performing like a clockwork with frenetically writing down words, trying to write as many entries as possible. That’s when I really realized what was going on. That urge to prove myself, to achieve as much as possible, to work, work, work till its time to go to bed, is really a bitch to control. Sometimes it kicks in without me realizing, sometimes I realize it, but it makes me feel valuable, worthy, important, useful, loved and those emotions are equally hard to battle and to not give in into feeling appreciated. I turned the pc off, sat down and grabbed the nearest book. I am proud to report, that it was so suspenseful, that I didn’t stop, until I finished the last sentence. Even if that meant hours of reading, not preparing dinner and forgetting to drink my tea. Take that, urge to perform. In your face!
The next and last day at the spa went similar to the first one. Some small challenges, a lot of water, sauna, food, and quiet time. It wasn’t as easy for me to let go, relax and be alone with myself as on the first day. I experienced some hours of heavy mood and sulkiness, but I even managed that, with a loving helping hand. I guess, you can’t turn off and on depression as it pleases you. Even in the most wonderful places and circumstances, the embrace of the grey cloud can get its hold over you. It does help me a great deal, that the people around me now know, that this is not a bad temper or foul mood, but a mood change, that I don’t want and often do not know why. Before the breakdown, no spa, no dinner, no nothing had any effect on me, in a positive way. I wouldn’t have appreciated it. I would have stayed at home. And if someone, out of the wish to ‘help’ me and make my day better or life easier, and took me to dinner or somewhere else, I would either have cancelled or not enjoyed it. Before the burnout, if my mood changed, I would pressure myself a lot to ‘get out’ of that mood for the people’s sake, that have to endure this, even though it’s a nice day or what not and they took a great effort to make it a nice activity. That never helped and it got worse and worse, often ended in tears and fights. This time, my love realized something was wrong, asked me, told me, that I didn’t look as relaxed as I was yesterday and if I wanted to talk. It’s these small things, that make it really possible to deal with depression. It took a bit, but after a while, I felt better. I appreciate that a lot. And I love, that I can enjoy beautiful things again. The world is much more beautiful, if it’s not only gray and black.
As I sat in an outdoor hot spring pool, I noticed a couple in my age, that seemed very nice. They would laugh with each other, make funny things, and smile at other guests and seemed to enjoy themselves. Most other couples kept to themselves, did look a bit grumpy and avoided to get in contact with anyone else. Can’t blame them. But at that moment, I was reminded of a really tough challenge for me, a challenge, I really think is quite essential for me. The challenge of talking to strangers, to discard the cloak of invisibility, to melt the ice fortress I built around myself and to set a purposeless conversation in motion. I have tried this with my therapist already. A few months ago, my challenge was to small talk to the bakery lady, the cashier at the supermarket, you catch my drift. Anything, that goes beyond a hello and a grim face. Now, the challenge is a bit more. See if a conversation develops, to take interest in other people and so on. I am way better already at this. If people approach me, I do no longer hurry away or pretend to not have seen or heard them. I can talk and react to other small talk and meaningless conversations. But to initiate a conversation, to get out if my snail-shell and take the risk of actually approaching people, is a major problem for me. And my major, I mean gigantic, enormous, bodacious, humongous, immense. I am going as far as to admit, that I haven’t spoken to a person, that was unbeknownst to me, not even to friends of friends, in many years. I exchanged glances, said hello, introduced myself and would then stick to people I know or myself. Due to depression and the burnout, I can’t even remember, what it is like, to show an interest in other people. My therapist is great that way. When he gave me examples for great questions to ask strangers, I realized, he doesn’t react to people (oh, Italy, that’s nice, I was there once, blabla etc. ) he shows a real interest. He would ask: ‘What did you like in Italy? What made your trip so great? How did you feel, when you arrived there?’ and so on. A totally different approach. I found that pretty interesting and stunning. When I thought I was engaging in a conversation and showing interest, all I did, was to react and talk about my own experiences, to create some kind of relatedness. Showing real interest is something else. Really getting into a conversation is something else. Later that day, I told my love, that I thought, this couple was nice, he agreed, and I secretly thought to myself, that I would try to talk to them. I ran into them 4 times, I never spoke to them, smiled at them or showed them, that I recognized their faces. I kept to myself and pretended they weren’t there. I don’t know what I waited for, maybe a sign, an inviting smile, I don’t know. But I regret, that I didn’t manage to take this huge step, even if it was only to have said ‘Hi, nice weather’. I wasn’t looking for a friendship or anything. I won’t ever be a very outgoing person, and I am not planning to ramble with as many strangers as I can find. But I want to step out of the shadow. Just if approaching strangers serves as a test run for talking to friends of friends, the neighbour girl or that interesting person at the yoga class. Not that I have been to a yoga class. Yet.
For christmas, I got a little voucher for a hot springs spa. I’ve only been to a hot springs spa once before, two years ago, with a friend, shortly before christmas. It was really nice. So when I opened the voucher, I thought, that this is just what I needed. Maybe one or two days, without worries, sorrows and everyday activities. As one dear friend put it so nicely just a few weeks before: a time-out from working on myself and rebuilding my life. I was expecting to go there either alone or again with a friend. I would have been totally fine with that. Regained independence wise, you know. I was really surprised, when my boyfriend started to look at offers for the weekend and out of the blue suggested, that we go, for two days, spontaneously, together. I was astonished. Thunderstruck. Who are you, and what have you done with my love? It was kind of new for him to be the decisive one, something I always wanted, something that my therapist and I determined to be really important for me. The more decisions I have to make, the more I feel in control, the more I am made to take charge, the more overwhelmed, exhausted and overburdened I feel. But important and conclusive at the same time, which made it almost impossible for my old self to just let go. Sometimes, no matter how strong you are, how controlling you may be, how self-contained you think you are, it is nice to hand over the reins, to feel taken care of, to feel spoiled and treated like someone who matters, whose well-being matters. When my boyfriend and I had some sessions together with my therapist, this was one of the topics I brought forward. I was hoping, he’d understand how important it is for me to have someone determined and equal in my life, to have at least one place, where not everything depended on me. Turns out, he did not only understand, but really thought about it and incorporated my wish into his everyday actions. So much more, than I ever expected. He’s the greatest. And so he decided and booked a room for us. Just like that. I was happy, but I couldn’t really show it the day before. Depression lies. I was shortly before cancelling, but I managed to gather enough positive energy the day before, and so, off we went.
On the train ride there, I felt really excited, like a little kid, which has to do with the fact, that I was very familiar with the train route. My family lived close to the hot springs spa for a few years when I was very little, but we took that train so often, that I remembered almost everything about it. I pressed my face against the window to not miss the road leading to that small village we lived in and I didn’t. Yay! I have almost only good memories of that place, our family was still intact and relatively happy then. I also saw hares, deers and even a pheasant on the train ride, which furthermore lifted my spirits. I love animals. I love nature. So exciting! Enough about that now, let’s start with the actual blog purpose – the challenges. It won’t surprise you, that this trip challenged me in many ways. To go away for a weekend, to leave my own four walls, is something that still takes courage for me, but it wasn’t as bad this time, I had great, protective company. When exiting the train, I realized we weren’t the only guests that day and time making their way to the hotel, but we decided to walk there, as it was sunny and beautiful and we’d be doing a lot of slacking around in the next days anyway. My old fear of being the last to arrive, to be overreached, to get a worse room, because of the others, to arrive at the spa a few minutes later and to, of course, miss something really huge (please, don’t ask me what huge thing one could be missing out on at a spa) overtook me, and I lamented about it a bit on the way there. It did help, that my boyfriend dismissed these worries and we had a little laugh about it even. When we checked in and went to the room, I was relaxed again, as it was very nice and I felt confident, that we had exactly the room, that was supposed to be ours. Next challenge, bathing suit. I am pretty aware, that amongst us, I probably won’t find a single person really confident with his or her looks in a bathing suit, or even naked. We all have our problem areas and low self-esteem concerning our bodies, so I won’t bore you with a long explanation of why this is difficult for me. Moving on.
The silly girl I am at times, at the moment believes I can only go outside, if wearing make-up. I feel more confident with it, like not giving anyone a point of attack, when seeing my face. I didn’t wear a lot, I am not that silly doh. Once in the hot springs, it took me an hour or so, to let go, but then I felt relaxed and more sure of myself. With a devil-may-care attitude, I washed all of the make-up away and even dived underwater, which makes my hair look very weird and leaves me looking like a poodle, who was out in the rain for hours. How some people manage to look elegant, beautiful and really pretty when swimming or diving is beyond me. Sigh.
For a quick afternoon snack, hotel guests can go to the lobby to have a soup and fruit. When I was there the first time, my friend and I were told, that it was totally acceptable to eat while wearing the bathrobe, the hotel gave to us. This time, no one told us, and my insecurity got the better of me and I wanted to go there fully dressed. In between a hive of half-dressed people in bathrobe, we looked like dorks. Moving on. When we went to dinner, after a really nice, relaxing afternoon, sparkling clean, with elegant clothes and make-up on (me, in case you were wondering) I again felt nervous. Entering a room full of people, where usually all eyes are on you, because, you know, people like to stare, being seated maybe very close to another table or even at a table with someone else, being watched as you sit down, get up again, is usually not my comfort zone. I never can be who I am in these situations. I try to adapt the habits of everyone else, I am afraid to laugh, to talk or to, you know, just sit comfortably on my chair, concentrating on my company. I constantly check the room for everyone else, what they do, if they are not looking at me, if I do a good job of being as pleasant, low-key and as invisible as possible. Also, where would our table be located? I like to sit with a wall or window in my back, I guess that’s because our ancestors had to battle all kinds of wild animals and leaning against a cave wall, usually means, that at least you weren’t going to be attacked from behind. I do not like if my table is located in the middle of the room, next to a pillar (I need space, come one!) or very close to another table. The table we were led to was very close to being perfect. The only thing worth mentioning, challenge wise, that evening, was that you had to get up to the buffet to get your appetizers. Silly as we were, we went to the buffet separately. Not very clever. I managed though. More to come in the next blog entry. Hope you are staying with me.
I’ve always loved nature. I was born in a city and raised in a city for 4 years, but I actually never really lived in a city until I went to university. I spent years living in the most isolated houses, farms or flats on the countryside, playing with animals, branches and flowers instead of actual toys. I endured grim winters, hot summers and beautiful spring and autumn wherever I was at that time, as long as I could go outside, and by outside I mean taking a step behind the house to find a forest, rivers, mountains, fields or at least a garden, right before my eyes. You see where I am going with this, you clever people you. Once a country girl, always a country girl – nature sticks to you like odor from a horse shed, and if you ever had to clean a barn full of horse poop, you know what I am talking about. When I moved to the city to start my education at university, I was blinded by the abundance a city has to offer. Streets and shops took over my walks in the forest. Meeting at coffee shops and restaurants took over barbecuing outside or just sitting at the river, enjoying the sight. For a brief while I forgot what nature meant to me, how much I missed it in my daily life. I still went outdoors whenever I travelled home, went on a hike or took a bike ride. But that’s not really the same to being outdoors every single day.
In the years, that led to my break down and burnout eventually, where the lurking depression got more and more hold of me, I almost completely lost touch with my inner country girl. And when the big collapse was inevitable, I didn’t have the desire to go out anymore completely, let alone, taking a walk somewhere outdoors. Even when I moved to the countryside again temporarily, the green was not alluring anymore. Sunshine, clouds, water, rain, summer, spring, autumn, were indifferent to me. I felt no joy, when the warm summer air touched my skin, I didn’t even realize it. I still went outside almost every single day, as part of my treatment. One activity each day, no more, no less. That was the deal. So I went outside, without joy, without seeing the beauty, just because I had to. At first, I had a swim, rode a bike, walked a bit, sat at the lake, because I had to. It gave me nothing. Over the course of many months though, something changed. Grass seemed green again, sun was something to look forward to, a swim in the lake had an almost irresistible allure and when I looked around, I realized, that there was reason to smile again, to breathe in deep and to appreciate the peace, quiet and calm of nature. It was great!
I am currently back in the city for a little while. Breathe that air again, see how it feels and to test, how far I have come with my recovery and treatment. At first, I was very energetic and had a lot of drive, similar to the days before. Then, something changed. I felt stressed again, restless, overburdened and almost helpless, as I didn’t know why or how that happened. I still don’t. But I am not giving up like this. Yesterday was a beautiful day. There was sunshine, springy temperatures – and it was saturday! I took a big leap that morning, when suggesting to my love to go outside to a very big national park like area in our city. For 10 years, I have never set a foot there. Of course not, for a country girl, this is just a park. Silly city people go there, with their hiking shoes and outdoor clothing, pretending they just took a real, challenging hike! As my condition got worse, I never had the will or strength to go there first by public transport, which seemed like a day long assignment (people, hot, sticky, long!) only to walk somewhere with trees and grass, when I didn’t find that any relaxing or beautiful anymore. Hence the leap!
I went there yesterday, and it was really nice. The journey there didn’t take as long as feared, there were only a few people, not the masses of chattering city people I expected. I thought, it was going to be a moderate walk, with maybe one or two little inclines – boy was I wrong. In total, I went up and down 400 meters in altitude difference, walked for more than 12 kilometers. Dressed in a thick, woolen roll-neck sweater, of course, it was supposed to be just a little walk and it was windy outside, ok? Give me a break. What was really wonderful for me to see was, that although I spent close to 6 hours outside, I didn’t feel as if I have missed anything. A year ago, a saturday, would have been THE day, to get as much done as possible. Get up early, clean, organize, do food shopping, have a coffee somewhere, take a stroll along the near farmers market, have breakfast, go to the city and buy something or browse, get home in time for dinner and pretty much afterwards collapse on the nearest sofa. That’s a huge pile of nonsense, of course. I do believe, that you only think, that you are missing out on something, when you fail to enjoy the life you live, when you don’t live the life you want, when you are afraid, that you are always one step behind life. Feel free to remind me of what I said right now, in a year or so, when work has caught up with me again and I forgot about enjoying each moment, as it comes. Which will hopefully not happen. Close to the flat, I ran into our neighbour, who has been living next door with his girlfriend for 5 years now, and I never was able to take the step and invite them into our home. Yesterday, out of the blue, without weighing pro’s and con’s before, I asked him, if he and his girlfriend would like to come over sometime next week, for some table top games and talks. Just like that. He said yes, and I am already nervous and doing my best to maintain my zen and to fight the urge, that everything has to be perfect, including me. I will let you know, my dearest little army of readers. Have a beautiful sunday and enjoy each minute of it.
PS: It was pointed out to me, that with this blog, I once more fed into my urge to be perfect, successful and to accomplish something. I expected a lot (reader wise, site view wise, writing wise), wanted it to be perfect, only thought of the challenges as topics for the blog, when it originally was intended as some kind of public diary, where I would talk about my challenges for myself, mainly. Instead of writing an entry for day 5 yesterday evening, when I was really tired and exhausted, I chose to blog about it today. One step at a time.