This is my Adventure

The following foreword, written by Bear Grylls for Julia Immonen’s book – Row For Freedom: Crossing an Ocean in Search of Hope – really struck a chord with me when I finally started reading it this weekend. It made me think about my life, my travels, my time here in New Zealand.

“All of us have adventure in the blood. Go back far enough into your family history and you’ll find the stories. An ancestor who left his homeland in search of a better life. A distant relative who fought against impossible odds and won. A family who took a risk and made a change.

That’s what adventure is. It’s about starting the search when we don’t know exactly what we’ll find. It’s about doing whatever it takes to make a change. It’s about saying yes to the struggle.

And it’s a part of all of us.

The question is, how big an adventure is each of us going to live?”

I’ve been pondering this; thinking about my current situation – about my journey to recovery from the darkness of depression, and about how I am doing whatever it takes to change. How despite the struggle, I am saying yes – because I’m not giving up hope of getting through this. I’ve had many adventures in my life – I’ve travelled to Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve experienced different cultures, made friends across the world, seen amazing places and yet somehow – this seems like the biggest adventure of all. This adventure of discovering my true self. This adventure of finding what it truly means to live. This adventure of struggling through extreme darkness and knowing I can make it.

Since my last blog post I’ve continued to write, continued to explore my senses in the world around me, continued to find joy and contentment in the little things. I still have so far to go, so much to learn – and yet I feel like these small changes I’m making in my day-to-day life are making such a huge difference.

Here’s a collection of further musings – of my thoughts and feelings when I’m in the moment, reminding myself of the incredible world around me.

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I’m sitting at my desk at work and I’m starting to feel overwhelmed, starting to feel like I’m falling back into my pit of despair. And it’s so so hard to stop myself from falling again, to stop the thoughts of hurt from circling around in my head. I can’t concentrate, I can’t think straight. I’m just staring at my computer screen, not seeing what’s on it, it’s like I’m just looking into the darkness. But then I snap awake and realise that I can’t go back there again. I need to focus on what’s around me, to stop thinking horrible, terrible thoughts – to focus on the classical music I have playing to calm me – I stand up and stretch, go for a walk, breathe deeply.

And slowly I return to reality. To try and find some small things that bring me some joy in this workplace. A cup of tea. Some music. A brightly coloured Rubik’s cube on my desk. A to-do list to make everything more bearable. These small things are enough, to raise me from darkness.

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I’m standing along the waterfront in Wellington. Looking out at the beautiful pink clouds and the sky slowly changing colour as the sun sets. The sound of the water softly lapping on the rocks below me, the feel of my hair tickling me across my face, the sounds of passers-by and snippets of conversations. My heart feels full again at this moment of calm as I’m walking to climbing.

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I’m kneeling on a rock, right next to little pools of sea water. I’m watching the sea flow in and swirl around and shrink back. The simplicity and the mesmerisation of this moment. The clarity of the water, being able to see the patterns of light on the sea bed, the floating sea weed, the tiny pebbles – it’s totally clear. I feel the water, the coldness on my finger tips. The smell of the fresh sea air. The sound of the calm lapping of the waves on the rock edge, the rush and splash of water as the waves come in at speed. I see the colours – the bright white and yellow, the muted brown and orange – on the rocks. The patterns and bubbles and lines covering their surface. The sand paper texture underneath my hand.

A huge waves comes, the massive rush, the hissing of the foam, the whiteness on the surface of the clear water. I run back, but don’t quite make it, I feel the cool spray of water on my arms. Then the calm comes… momentary bliss.

This is me, this is my emotions. The sudden rush of negativity, how it builds up and crashes – spraying over me, swirling around in me. But then the calm… the quietness as I’m coming to realise my senses, immersing myself back into nature and into the joy of things around me. It’s still a process, I’m learning so much. But I’m getting there.

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The sound of nature surrounding me, the sound of a plane taking off, the sound of someone cutting down trees, the sound of cars on the road below. Looking out over Island Bay and the sea. The sky runs from blue to yellow to pink and blends with the sea on the horizon. The lush green trees on the hills, colourful houses nestled in between. I feel content, I feel euphoric at putting myself in this moment – surrounding myself with the beauty of this world, of this city. And it’s completely wonderful.

I feel happiness at where I am right this second. But I can’t help feeling the sadness, at knowing what I’ve lost and the knowledge of all the things I did wrong and could have done so differently. But I know that all I can do is change. All I can do is learn, and to truly appreciate and love the life I have been so blessed with.

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Lying on a bench in the garden on my lunch break. Listening out for all the sounds around me. Children’s shouts and laughter coming from the nursery, the hum of traffic on the road, the beeping of a horn, the buzz of an insect flying over my head, the rustle of leaves in the trees as the wind blows – how this flows from my left to my right ear as the wind goes from tree to tree. The orange light I can see on the back of my eye lids, the heat of the sun on my face, the feel of my hair tickling my face as the wind blows.

Thinking about my senses, feeling and listening, relaxing my body, forgetting my worries. Putting myself into the world around me.

**

I can feel the sunlight on my face. See the bright orange underneath my eyelids. It’s like watching the sea flowing – the patterns forming, the tiny sparkles glistening, the different shades of orange. The sun almost burning its way through me. But then the cool breeze moving my hair across my face, the feeling of goose bumps forming on my skin because of the change in temperature as the sun fades. The sounds around me. Leaves rustling, wind blowing, birds chirping, cars humming along on the road behind, children playing. My eyes still closed, feeling, exploring and sensing the world around me. Holding onto these snippets of life, marking this moment into my memories.

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Watching the birds flying above me. Following one as it descends higher and higher, soaring upwards. Coming to a glide as it follows the pattern of the wind. How others join it, it’s as if they’re dancing together. In unison with each other, gliding together, following one another. The freedom of a bird, flying in the wind, over the land, looking down on us. The wind in my hair as I look up at them – how it’s almost as if I’ve joined them. I’m lost in the motion and the wonder of the freedom of flying.

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Taking myself out of my thoughts. Out of my mind. Concentrating on the life around me. The people, the buildings, the wonderful sounds of nature mixed with the raw sounds of man made existence. The cacophony of noise. But it’s so beautiful to my ears. Experiencing the motions around me, marvelling at creation, at life. Fresh wind, sea air, the incredible colours as the sun goes down on this grey day. But it’s not just grey – the different shades and patterns the clouds form as they race above me. Watching the birds soar through the air until they disappear. Forgetting my worries, the thoughts trying to entwine their wretched tendrils around me. Realising the feeling of life. Experiencing the world in a completely new way.

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It’s so windy, I hear the rumbling in my ears, the feeling of ear ache beginning. And yet… I feel so alive! Sitting on the cliff edge, looking over the beach below. The coastline of Wellington. The footprints dotting the sand, the intricate trails of so many – taking steps across this beach. My nose is running. My hands are stinging with cold. But I still don’t want to leave this spot. I’m elated, the feeling of nature’s power and beauty over me. It’s so healing, so freeing, so emotional. Looking across the ocean, the sprinkles of white on the waves, the dots of grey clouds in the wonderful blue sky. Oh the wonder, the joy of opening myself to this world. Forgetting my sorrows, feeling peace descending, renewing my soul.

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I’m standing on a beautiful tree stump on the beach. So many branches, so many twists and turns in its roots. The sound of the sea right in front of me. The sound of waves breaking, the crash and hiss on the beach. The feel of the fierce wind in my hair, the coldness and buzz in my ears, the feel of my shirt trailing behind me. The cold of my hands as I write this down, trying to remember, placing myself in this moment – immersing myself in the feel and the sounds and the cold around me. Trying to forget. The thoughts taking over my mind – trying to wash away this negativity and pain. Making myself embrace the feeling of life, of being in the here and now. Of realising that my thoughts do not control me. My thoughts, as they try to consume me, slowly wrapping their tentacles around me. There’s a better feeling than this. There’s the feeling of complete contentment at standing here on this beach on a windy day in Wellington. There’s this feeling of flying – as the wind encircles me – the feeling of freedom. Of hope and happiness and healing. I can feel the negativity unwrapping, my heart starting to beat with excitement – the feeling of amazement at myself, at this moment. Knowing I can get through this.

**

A journey of self-discovery in New Zealand

It’s been just over 2 years since I first landed in New Zealand. I’ve travelled the country extensively, lived in my car, worked in Queenstown over the ski season, learned to surf in Ahipara, and I’ve called Wellington home since February last year. So many amazing memories, so many stories to tell, so much self exploration. And yet I feel like only now, after so many years, I’m truly discovering who I am.

I was first diagnosed with depression 5 years ago, and it was an extremely tough time – I was put on medication and had therapy, but perhaps I never fully recovered. Perhaps I never fully grasped how to deal with situations and circumstances. Never fully realised how to deal with emotions and feelings, how to come to terms with finally figuring out who I am.

For years I’ve struggled with Christianity – of wondering why I never felt good enough. Why I never felt God’s never-ending completely perfect love that so many of my Christian friends spoke of. Why God would create me in a way that makes me feel rejected and unwanted in the Church – something that is so important to who I am and how I was brought up. God knows our past, present and future before we do. He knows our likes and wants and desires, He knows everything about us. Every tiny little intrinsic detail, because He knitted us together in our mother’s womb. So why – I’ve asked on so many occasions – would He make me gay? For years I’ve questioned who I am in God’s eyes, not known who I was in my own skin – of wondering why I never fancied the guys, or forcing myself to think I did because that’s what was normal and accepted. Of being scared of being found out and laughed at – or told I’m inherently wrong. And it slowly destroyed me. But New Zealand has saved me. I’ve slowly been exploring myself – my sexuality, my relationship with God. And finally, I’ve come to accept myself – come to accept that I shouldn’t live in shame because of who I am – that I am a gay Christian woman and that’s completely OK. But perhaps I’m only just processing all of this hurt and pain – all these mixed emotions cascading over me – it’s like I’m slowly crawling out of this pit of despair and coming into the light.

The last few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster, a lot has happened, a lot has changed – I’ve been in and out of hospital, been to the lowest point I’ve ever experienced. But slowly, finally, I’m noticing things – an accumulation of everything that’s been building up for years. Noticing changes and feelings, experiencing my senses in a way that seemed foreign a few months ago.

The below are a series of musings that I wrote in a spur of the moment kind of way. About my thoughts and feelings – about how I’m finally starting to experience so many conflicting emotions all at once. And how powerful and overwhelming and terrifying it all is – yet it’s all so liberating. These thoughts hopefully give an insight into the way depression numbs – and the enormity of finally beginning to feel…

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Depression is a powerful and completely exhausting illness to live with. It impacts my thinking, the way I perceive people and their perceptions of me, the way I deal with situations, the way I see myself, the way my mind overthinks and constantly worries. It makes you doubt and makes everything so horrible – it feeds you lies until you believe them. And it’s a terrible vicious cycle, because once these thoughts start, it’s hard to stop them. Everything feels so grey and impossible. It’s like I just sit there motionless and can’t turn my thinking off – the thoughts swirl around until they can’t get any worse – I almost feel like I’m in a dark tunnel and there’s no light at the end. I feel dazed and helpless. I feel like life is just so much effort, that there’s nothing bright or joyful in it. That my head struggles to be positive once I’m surrounded by all these thoughts.

But this morning, whilst all these horrible thoughts were going around to the point where I almost forgot where I was – I told myself to stop. To force myself to think of 3 positive things – no matter how small and insignificant they may seem. And I focussed on the comedy show on the radio – at the sounds of the laughter – at the feeling of happiness radiating from my speaker. And I thought about the cup of tea I wanted so badly even though it was so hard to get out of bed. And suddenly I felt my head shift. Like there was some light bursting through. It’s like I can almost feel my mind lifting itself out of despair. I begin to see where I am – begin to notice the little things around me that bring me some form of joy. And it was beautiful.

And this is what I want to feel. This is how I should feel when I think about my life. And despite today’s physical greyness outside, I feel positive. I see the beauty in the clouds on the hills opposite, I feel warm and content listening to classical music with the fire going. This is a beautiful moment. And I finally realise what it’s like to be happy. I don’t have to be doing something, I don’t have to be with people at a gig. I don’t have to feel left out or worry that people are having fun without me. I’m not thinking or caring about that. Because finally. FINALLY, I feel peace. I feel like this is OK. That this moment, by myself, is enough to feel content.

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I’m lying in my car with the door open. It’s a beautiful day – the birds are singing, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, I can hear the river rushing past down below. I’ve missed these moments in my car, waking up in nature – so far away from real life. Time to contemplate, time to think, time to appreciate life and the beauty of this world.

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Walking through the bush from the campground with my friends and we’re looking out for mushrooms and berries and flowers. And I started to feel emotional because suddenly it’s like I can see in colour. I can see the orange in the mushrooms, and the green in the grass and the trees, and the blue in the sky. It’s like these last few months everything has been so grey and dull – I can see the nature around me but I’m not totally, fully seeing it. But now, it’s like my eyes are open. I can see the colours – the brightness, the vibrancy. And it’s so emotional and so beautiful. It’s like suddenly my senses are open. My eyes can see, my ears can hear the birds and the river and Clem strumming the guitar behind me. I’m just overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of it all.

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Standing with my feet in the sea. The feel of the coldness seeping over my legs, the feel of the sand falling away under my toes as the sea comes in and falls back, the feel of the wind on my face. I’m seeing the beauty. I’m feeling the powerful impact of this earth, experiencing the motions of so many feelings slowly falling on me. I see the rain falling on the horizon, the blue skies dotted with intricate clouds overhead. I see the haze of sea spray on the beach in the distance. The reflection of the bright blue in the wet sand beside me. It’s absolutely incredible. And finally I’m noticing these details. I’m seeing and feeling the splendour of this moment. Gah! I can’t even explain the power of this. It’s like I’m flying, soaring in the skies – feeling free and completely full of emotion.

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The patterns in the sand, almost like fish scales. The hissing of the foam on the wave as the sea comes up to greet me. Watching the sea melting back into the sand as the wave retreats. The sound of the crashing and the constant hum of waves in the distance. The light spatter of rain that I feel on my face. The softness of the sand beneath my feet.

I feel complete wonder and awe at this moment of beauty on the beach. And yet my heart feels like it’s breaking, falling into the pit of my stomach.

So many emotions swirling around inside me. So many thoughts, feelings wrapped around underneath my skin. I feel like I’m flying but falling at the same time. I feel free, free from the suffocation that depression has plagued upon me for months, and the numb almost emptiness that it brings, and I’m finally feeling so much. Pain, mixed with joy. It’s overwhelmingly heartbreaking yet liberating.

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Standing on the beach in the darkness. The cold, wet sand beneath my feet. The sound of the sea in front of me. And looking up. Looking up at the beautiful night sky. Of all the tiny sparkles that are millions and millions of miles away. I can see the milky way, feel the complete awe at our existence – that there’s life on this small planet, out of all the darkness that stretches out into space. This feeling of complete amazement at the complexity and beauty of this life.

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Watching the powerful rise and fall of the sea against the cliff edge. The different shades of blue and green, deep turquoise and light azure. The foam that forms as the waves crash against the rocks. The spray that I can feel against my face – it’s almost like the sea is trying to reach me. The sounds. The smell. The feel. The colours. The mighty power of nature. It’s almost as if I’m in it, in the rising and falling waves. Because this is how I feel, so many emotions swirling around inside me – wanting to get out. To release, the rise and fall of everything that’s so joyous yet so painful. It’s so overwhelming it hurts.

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I see the stairway ahead of me, reaching up to the top of the rock overhead and it’s so full of meaning because this is what life feels like. Like I’m walking and trudging upwards, it’s so exhausting and tiring and draining, but the top is in sight. And yet it’s still so far. But when I reach it, the feeling of sheer exhilaration and freedom and liberation washes over me. Leaving the hurt and the ache of depression behind, and reaching out to a new life of wonder and awe and beauty. I sit here sobbing, alone on the cliff edge, feeling the sting of tears rolling down my cheeks. Because I’m no longer empty. I’m crying at the sheer magnificence of the New Zealand landscape before me, at the feelings of calm and peace washing over me, at the sounds of the bird song and the powerful sea below.

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These cuts on my arm, the outward expression of pain I’ve been unable to feel until now. And it hurts so damn much, all this pain soaring inside me that I can finally feel, and yet it’s so liberating.

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I’ve just finished a counselling session and I’ve walked up to a viewpoint over the city in the botanic gardens. And I’m looking out at the beauty of Wellington. Listening for the hum of traffic on the motorway, the beep of a car in the distance, the rumbling of an airplane taking off. I can see the sun shining on Mount Vic, the shadow of the cloud across the trees, the reflection of the buildings on the sea water along Oriental Parade, the grey clouds over the hills in the distance. And I can feel the warmth of the sunlight on the back of my legs, and how this slowly fades away as the clouds come. I’m putting myself in this moment. Focussing on the senses around me, realising that this is what it feels like to be alive.

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The above thoughts, so full of meaning and realisation that there’s something more – that I’m starting to experience all these feelings in a single moment. Putting myself back into this world, into this life. And I just want you all to understand, the strength that I’ve found deep within to get through this suffering – the knowledge that in the end, everything will be better, better than ever before.