Spaghetti Arms

Chocolate

I understand it’s quite fashionable to talk about one’s mental health problems. I’m all for fighting the stigma around mental health, but part of the issue with talking about mental health like we talk about physical health is that is removes most of the nuance surrounding mental health conditions. I think people who suffer from mental illnesses should be allowed to say they are sick. I think they should be allowed to access the same health services as those suffering physical ailments. And I think they should be treated with the same gravity as someone suffering a long term physical illness. But I also think nuance is important in the discussion.

There’s a distinct difference between feeling depressed for a few days and battling suicidal thoughts for a few years. There’s a difference between the baby blues and prolonged post-natal depression. There’s a difference between concern over a big work presentation and debilitating anxiety. And like the general public has learned to recognise the difference between a sprained ankle and torn ligaments, the public ought to be privy to the differences in degrees of mental health concerns, and the circular causes that perpetuate certain mental illnesses. Every statistic and study and in the world won’t necessarily help the average, mentally healthy person come to grips with the complexity of what an unhealthy individual faces. That is why stories matter.

Mental illness is not untreatable, however, as a patient it can feel as though the future is bleak because it takes time, commitment, and experimentation for an individual health solution to be reached. The common remedy for most mental illnesses is a combination of good sleep, healthy eating, physical activity, routine, social connection, medication, counselling, and some kind of mental rejuvenation habit like mindfulness or meditation. To a healthy person, it seems like this is a manageable combination of factors with a little bit of dedication.

So why does a mentally unhealthy person have so much trouble managing?

Well, imagine the 8 things listed above are physical items you have to hold. Healthy people will find a way to cradle them in their arms, or just put 1 or 2 things down if it’s too much to hold all of them. The mentally unhealthy have arms made of overcooked spaghetti. So we stand in front of the very things that will help us improve our situation, with no way of knowing even how to move our arms. And so, we despair. How are we ever going to get better? We can’t move our spaghetti arms.

It’s not unusual that well-meaning people tell us sick folk to ‘just try to get up’, or to ‘have a green smoothie’, or ‘go for a run’. All good suggestions, all things helpful to overall well being. But you’re a step ahead of us, healthy people. We have the spaghetti arms thing going on.

Some people carry on as if they don’t have spaghetti arms, and these folk are one step behind again. First they need to be able to accept their slippery appendage situation. And this isn’t easy, especially when for your whole life, you’ve had normal arms, and you look at everyone around you with normal arms and you wish for all your life the spaghetti arms weren’t a thing. But they are a thing, and some of us have them.

This is one of the many reasons it can be so frustrating to hear stories of people who have successfully managed their mental illness. They say the same things helped them: exercising regularly, sleeping well, eating healthier food. I’ve found myself reading success stories thinking, “I KNOW all this, but I just CAN’T!” I haven’t learned to work my pasta arms. I hear these things and it makes me feel like I might never get better, which exacerbates my condition.

We need you to be patient as we learn to accept our new wobbly-armed existence. And as we learn to hold all the pieces in place with our wobbly arms, one baby step at a time. And for all my spaghetti-armed buddies out there, be kind to yourself. Sometimes you’ll hold it all together. Sometimes you’ll drop everything and have to start from the beginning again. But on those days, just wave your spaghetti arms high in the air with me. You can count it as exercise for the day.

The ‘what’ might be very similar between people when it comes to recovery, but the how is going to change from person to person. All the spaghetti arm stories matter. They’re all a little bit different.

On the days when we’re waving our wavy arms in the air, we have to be kind to ourselves. Most of us have some kind of coping mechanism we resort to. I’m a big fan of chocolate.

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I tried really hard to eat less chocolate, by investing in Chocolate tea. And hear this: it’s a great tea. It’s a strong black tea with cocoa husks in it. This means it tastes like black tea, but comes with some added sweetness and an aftertaste a little like you ate dark chocolate half an hour ago. It’s a terrific tea. A little bit of milk makes is creamy, but I like it best all on its own.

But when you are looking for a block of chocolate, don’t put those expectations on the tea. It will not deliver. If you’re like me, some days you can’t substitute the big guns.

Chocolate: 3/5
Enjoy with: spaghetti-armed chums

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Pulling it Together

Irish Breakfast

It’s Sunday afternoon. No matter what stage of adult life I find myself, Sunday afternoon seems to feel very similar. It’s those final hours of daylight I have to prepare myself for the week ahead. And the manner in which I spend these hours has some kind of impact on the type of week I will have.

As an undergrad student, Sunday afternoon was a time to order my week and determine how I would complete my readings and work on enough of my assignments to reach my due dates on time. All of this had to occur around errands, chores and work throughout the week. And when I was learning a new language, it was the only part of Sunday when I had time to review my language materials. During my postgrad study, it was the hours where I could fire off a few hundred words more, reach the target I had set 7 days earlier, and start the week with a clean slate. That was rare. I spent month upon month playing catch up to myself, but only being responsible to myself. There are a handful of benefits to having a negligent supervisor.

When I was working full time, Sunday afternoon was the time to inject some calm into the week. I would iron my clothes for the work week. I would prepare what snacks and meals I could, so I had food on hand. This was the time in life I was planning my wedding, and Sunday night meant dinner with my fiance. This acted as brilliant motivator for getting everything done. Completing tasks on Sunday afternoon gave me more time to consider wedding details during the week. And I was rewarded with the best dinner company I could imagine.

When I was a working mother, Sunday was the afternoon to lament the week ahead. It was peppered with lists and anxiety, the feeling that I never got on top of the previous week, and was unlikely to get on top of this week. I had to live each day in an anxious grip of fear and pain. I was sick and I had an injury, both of which inhibited my ability to be a good mother. I was desperately vying for promotion at work, only later to discover I was chasing an imaginary carrot. I was never at home when I was at home, and I wanted to be with my Little Lad when I was at work. Sunday afternoon was the time to be with my boy, to be with my Main Man and to hope that this week would be better. Unfortunately, the weeks never got better. I only got sicker.

And here I am now: living away from the city that feeds my anxiety, body gripped by chronic fatigue syndrome, back injury and PTSD. Unable to work, largely unable to mother. My Main Man is a Super Dad to our Little Lad, and I spend my weeks resting, predominantly in the hope my health will improve. And Sunday afternoon is the time to focus on a good week ahead. I’ve been imagining and attempting to engineer good weeks for a couple of months since we arrived in the country, but they haven’t been forthcoming. But still, I try. Two Sundays ago, I found myself planning a good week. And for the first time in over a year, I had one. I exercised every day, and noticed a reduction in my level of pain. My mood improved. I was present with LL more than I had been since he was a dependent infant. So last Sunday, I felt invincible, I could have another good week. Then Monday arrived and I had not slept the night before. The week was off to a rocky start. But I would not be deterred. I listened to my body and slowed down, hoping for a better day Tuesday. Tuesday arrived and I seized it with both hands. It was a good day, or so I told myself. The week was back on track, even though I was feeling more weary than I ought to. And then Wednesday came. I got up, slowly. I spent the morning with my family. And by 11am, I collapsed back into bed, where I stayed. I couldn’t believe the week was not going to pan out. Wednesday night came, and I didn’t sleep more than 10 minutes at a stretch. I was getting a cold, my burning throat swelled and I struggled to swallow. Thursday, Friday, Saturday: the cold took over and I was slave to it. Today I roused myself from bed, very late, and took stock of my Sunday afternoon, the cold still lingering.

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The house is untidy, my library books are overdue and a week’s worth of expectations have been swept aside. But Sunday afternoon feels the same. I’ll attempt to tidy something. I’ll fill my planner with my hopes for the week, though they have dwindled in number from my former years. Each day will contain something like: exercise, read, write, spend time with LL. Maybe just 2 chores this week. That should be achievable.

And here rests the cup of Irish Breakfast. A faithful cup, but in its own way, a little disappointing. Despite its names, I’ve always preferred to drink it in the afternoon. It is bold with a musky flavour and malty notes. It isn’t smooth, so milk and sweetener are almost a must. And though I’ve tried, time and time again to like the T2 version, I struggle to elevate it over Twinings. But I go back to it. I hope it will improve. It hasn’t yet, but a good cup could be on its way. I hope it brings a good week with it.

Irish Breakfast: 2/5
Enjoy with: hope.