Agoraphobia, Walking and Sunshine

I was stalked as a teen. Female police officers took to patrolling my street each day, as the danger was ever-present. My world contracted in, to the point where going to the letterbox or even sitting in my backyard, felt beyond imagining. I was a hermit for a very long time and it was only the arrival of my daughter that saw me venture out. It was accomplished in little bite-sized steps, over a long period. The pandemic arrived and suddenly, life contracted in again, not just for me, but for many people suffering anxiety, depression and those who have suffered agoraphobia at some stage in their lives. Working from home, there have been weeks when I haven’t seen a single person, other than my daughter. You think you’re chugging along nicely, until you’re not. Being in constant pain, isolated at home, a background of trauma and absorbing every aspect of what’s been happening in our world, is a recipe for poor mental health.

Why is it, that the very activities you need to maintain, are given the least precedence? They’re the first things to go, when you get busy and the last activities you resume. Convincing yourself that you don’t have time, what with work, study, looking after the house and kids… Poor mental health skulks up on you. The first signs may be insomnia, or being able to go to sleep, but waking abruptly a few hours later. It can be lethargy, lack of enthusiasm, loneliness (though not having the energy to reach out), physical aches and pains, agitation, feeling restless and fidgety and not being able to think clearly. It may present as feeling the need to up your caffeine and alcohol intake. Inside what was once your sanctuary, it now feels like a cone of silence and the mind starts playing tricks on you. You feel as though you don’t matter and that nobody wants to see you. You may feel invisible and doubt your very existence (as well as importance). Social media may add to the distress. The untruths take hold and have 24 hours each and every day to hold you captive.

It’s spring in Sydney and the weather looks delightful, as you cast a cursory glance through a window. You vow to get out there, ‘as soon as you can,’ yet somehow, the day is chewed up and before long, night falls. You slumber, then prepare to do it all over again. Hours stretch into days, stretch into weeks. Depression doesn’t come to your door, announcing itself. It creeps through the back gate, under cover, calling itself many other things. Once I had identified what was actually going on, I made adjustments; life-saving alterations. I made myself get out of the house for an hour each day, every day. It didn’t matter what I had to do, I made time. If I had any other illness, I would ensure that I maintained my health and did whatever was needed; why are our brains so different? I had to see walking as the medicine it was. On Monday, I walked with a friend. We bought coffee and walked our neighbourhood for miles. We talked to people we met, admired gardens and visited hidden areas of loveliness. This led to other walks; some early morning or at dusk. Now, it isn’t negotiable. It’s for pain management, to lower anxiety and to help me sleep better. It is to help me manage my life and stressors.This is why I am taking part in the following: Make a Move for Mental Health. Dedicate 15, 30 or 60 minutes to improving your wellbeing every day throughout October. You can challenge yourself with physical activities like running, or with self-care activities like meditation; either way you’ll be doing something positive to help young people and yourself.

1. Sign Up (It’s Free)

2. Set Your Goal. It could be 15, 30 or 60 minutes a day.

3. Spread the Word and maybe, a few people may sponsor you!

4. Throughout October, make it a non-negotiable!

5. Log in Daily to record your mental health minutes and keep yourself accountable.

Sign up at Make A Move

City 2 Surf for a little boy named Archie

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Walking is magical! It is a free tonic for what ails you. I have walked through grief, depression, feeling lonely and lost. I have walked when I am happy, laughing with friends. Yesterday, I walked for a little boy called Archie. I met his beautiful mother at a kid’s party a while back, and adored her on site. I had never entered City 2 Surf before, although it was on my list of things to accomplish. When I saw that this mum was raising money for Bear Cottage, I had the incentive I needed.

We caught a hire bus from our town with the most wondrous group of people. Before we knew it, we were in the city, ready to go!

 

 

My daughter and I paced ourselves, after I realized that 14km is a long way, and it would be best not to peak in the first hour! We didn’t want to show anyone up! I was silly on heavy painkillers and had my trusty TENS machine stuck to my back. It was a thrill to walk the city streets and go through tunnels without the interference of cars. People took their jackets off and they were in piles, of which the homeless could look through for one their size. Sydney isn’t a cold metropolis; this was shown through many kindnesses I witnessed. Encouraging strangers and helping those who were struggling. We stopped to chat to enterprising kids on their lemonade stands and made a sneaky detour to a service station for chocolate!

Heartbreak Hill came into view, and my daughter chose to cartwheel through a large portion of it! When you started to slow, there were bands playing awesome music to get you back into the swing of it! Archie was never far from our thoughts, an angelic little boy with an infectious smile and chubby cheeks. He and his family had spent a lot of time at Bear Cottage, and they wanted to raise money for them, whilst paying tribute to their little boy.

 

 

We met so many amazing people, and the people of Sydney felt like a big family, rather than a large group of strangers. When we saw the finishing line, we squealed and hugged each other. It’s funny how you can cope with such a big walk, but when you cross the finish line, your legs feel like jelly! We stumbled into the Bandaged Bear tent, where we were fed and given refreshments. We met up with the rest of the team, and found that Archie’s mum had injured her leg. She was being so brave, in spite of the pain. She has a long history of being brave.

 

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It was an amazing experience, to be part of a team of beautiful people, and to finish what we started. “You can do anything!” I whispered to my daughter, “this proves it!” We had a bath filled with Epsom salts, and lit a candle for Archie last night. I am sure he carried everyone through. Donations are still open for a few weeks. If you would like to make a donation to Bear Cottage, you can do so here.

 

The Reverse

I was feeling adrift on Good Friday. Wistfulnes came upon me and I was listless. Thinking of this world and the tragedies which occurred the past week…My mind was insisting that I curl up in bed and not move. I know enough about myself by now to defy this edict. I ended up doing the reverse. I took my daughter down to the river and went for a walk. I was joined by friends and as the kids played, we chatted. On my way back home, I met another mum, who was trailed by two little boys. Her face was cast in sadness, and she disclosed that she had only been at her in-laws for fifteen minutes and already they were irritated by her gorgeous sons. Rather than stay and become more and more upset by their cantankerous  behaviour, she walked to the river. The boys burnt off energy and we had a lovely time, picking up sticks and errant treasures. 

  
My daughter was overjoyed to find that the Easter Bunny had been Easter Sunday ! There was a trail leading to the backyard, a little girl with a basket, hot on the scent. We lit a candle at breakfast time, and stated what we were thankful for. Afterward, we went to church, and were greeted by many familiar faces. This place is about love, and about service. You can be real here, and the relief is palpable. 

We messaged a friend, and found her to be depressed. She was alone in her unit, and I said that we were coming to see her. “when you are feeling despondent, you sometimes have to do the opposite of what your brain is telling you to do,” I insisted. I know from personal experience. If you feel like isolating yourself and staying in, you have to do the reverse. If you feel like drinking or binging, the same applies. Holidays are a cruel reminder of what you are missing out on, if you are alone. You see the myriad of families enjoying each other’s company on Facebook via status updates and photos. You can’t even watch TV without ads appearing, showing you how it is meant to be. Feelings of rejection, abandonment and fear emerge from the recesses of one’s mind. It is hard to escape. 

   
 I mentioned to our friend that we were going to Vaucluse House, so my daughter could take part in an Easter trail. To my delight, this friend wanted to come along. It takes guts to do the opposite of what your mind is demanding. We watched my daughter and her friend playing amongst the ancient trees, and had a Devonshire tea afterward. It was a perfect afternoon. Next time you feel like isolating, or are pressured to stay inside a home with people that make you feel unwelcome, do the reverse.