Pass the tea and empathy

I’ve been experiencing another cycle of grief and loss which I guess explains my lack of activity over the past few weeks. My husband’s sister ended her life after a long battle with mental illness so it’s been quite difficult lately. It wasn’t altogether unexpected but the whole process was horrible and included the police arriving on our doorsteps to tell us the news, just like in a television show. We are through the worst of it now I think. We also had to go and clean out her room which was a confronting experience as there were many signs of her mental illness, not least the many many bottles of pills of various kinds. She was living a very unhappy and limited life, so although it was very sad when she passed away, it was also something of a relief. This might sound harsh and I appreciate that you will all have different views on the subject of suicide or may have personal experiences, so I won’t presume to know what you are thinking, but I guess this leads me to the reason for this post.

It’s been strange to see how different people react when you tell them that someone close to you has died. Sometimes they are very sympathetic and at other times they are surprisingly cool. One of my close friends lost her sister to cancer last week and when she told her work colleagues, one of them actually burst into tears, which surprised her a little until her colleague began recalling her own grief at the passing of her grandfather some 12 years ago. It turned out that she wasn’t really that concerned about my friend’s situation, it just brought back her own sad memories and she couldn’t cope. My friend said she just stood there wondering if she should be comforting the other person. She was a little angry that her colleague chose to focus on her own emotions rather than offering her any support. 

 I haven’t told many people that my sister-in-law ended her own life as it can be very confronting for them and I don’t want to upset people unnecessarily. Another reason is because some people seem to be overly interested in the gory details and I find this both disturbing and annoying. At the funeral, a friend of the family bailed up my husband and wanted to know all about what the police had said, and how they had identified the body. Fortunately my husband had the presence of mind to say “this is not the time or place to be discussing this” and I was glad that he said that. Some people can be incredibly tactless.

Another woman at the funeral came up to me and said that I had been my sister-in-law’s “bete noire”. I didn’t really know what this meant,  but I gathered she wasn’t paying me a complement. (When I got home and looked it up, I was alarmed to find that it meant someone to be detested and avoided. Lovely!) I have spent the last four years trying to help my sister-in-law manage her finances as she wasn’t able to do this on her own. This meant that I sometimes had to say no to things, which was hard. I often felt like an ogre but I tried my best to look after her interests and well-being.

I was pretty upset by this woman’s comments and shared my distress with my daughter. Fortunately for me, she’s a feisty young thing, so after the funeral was over she spoke to her and told her that she’s been tactless and unkind. I hadn’t been able to do this myself so I was secretly pleased and proud of my daughter. She doesn’t take any shit from anyone, especially when it’s been directed at her mother!

I wanted to end this post with some advice on what to say to someone who is recently bereaved but I don’t think I have the right to lecture other people and I also know that every situation is different. I think that if you are struggling to know what to say in this situation, it’s probably best to say “I’m sorry for your loss”. Then you aren’t being too inquisitive, but you are leaving the way open for someone to talk more about how they feel, if they want to.

I hope that you are all travelling well, but if you aren’t, please talk to someone. Life can be hard and we all need a shoulder to cry on.


Start the day right

We have three dogs and a cat so I don’t usually need to set the alarm to get up in the morning, but one day this week I had a particularly early start so my partner set the alarm for 7am. As I lay in bed listening to the news I realised that this was a very depressing way to start the day. None of the news was good. People had been killed in traffic accidents, the economy was in a bad way, and the American with the ridiculous hair was talking on my radio without my permission! How I hate listening to his voice.

I remember reading that people who watch or listen to the news first thing in the morning are much more likely to report that they’ve had a bad day at the end of the day. I really believe that this is true. When I listen to the news first thing in the morning or on the way to work I tend to feel really low all day. I think it frames things for me in a negative way.

A lot has been written about the practice of keeping a gratitude diary and although this type of activity is not quite my cup of tea, I can really see that it would have benefits for many people. The cynical part of my mind is resistant to these type of practices (too new age), but the other part of my mind insists that there’s value in thinking positive thoughts and being generally optimistic about life.

According to the “experts” the trick is to not force yourself to keep a diary every day, but to write things down every few days or perhaps once a week. This seems to be more effective that simply going through the motions for the sake of it.

I would be interested in knowing if any of you have tried keeping a gratitude journal and whether it resulted in you feeling more positive about your life?


To be or not to be

I always a struggle a bit at this time of the year. I think it has to do with being on holidays. The heat doesn’t help and neither does the availability of excellent white wine. It all contributes to a state of ennui (one of my very favourite words) whereby I am reduced to reading trashy books and sleeping a lot. It’s fun, but I also worry about the fact that I’m not making any progress towards my goals.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I don’t really have any concrete goals, so I’m not even sure what I was hoping to achieve last year, but I’m plagued with the idea that I should have made more progress. Someone once told me that I was an over-achiever which I find hilarious as I’m chronically lazy. I tell myself that it’s okay to have a rest and a break, but I worry about my inability to focus on anything or make a decision about what I’d like to achieve in the next 12 months.

It’s a first world problem I know, but I suspect that by not setting any goals I am effectively protecting myself from failing. It makes perfect sense that if I don’t try, I can’t possibly fail, but I can still fool myself into thinking that a brilliant future awaits me if only I had the time and money to pursue my dreams. 

The reality is that the only thing holding me back (apart from fear of failure) is deciding where I should focus my efforts. It would be great if a great big sign descended from the sky to let me know what I should do, what things I might find interesting, but not too difficult to master. Alas, there is no-one to make such a prophecy so I’ll have to resort to trial and error.

I’ll be going back to work on Monday so no doubt I’ll be too busy to worry about re-inventing myself or deciding who or what to be. Once again, busyness will be my saviour and I can go back to daydreaming about writing that best-selling non-fiction book on a topic yet to be decided.

Getting Feedback Can Hurt—Here’s How to Ask for It

Here’s a lovely piece that I thought was worth sharing. I still cringe when I think of the time that I corrected the grammar in a poem lovingly presented to me by my partner. I’m still wary about giving feedback and always try to be both kind and constructive, but this article gives me more options.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz-roger_0991By L. Roger Owens

Asking for feedback on your writing is a delicate dance, the steps tricky to learn, as I was reminded when my eight year-old read me her story the other day.

She ran to me with the unlined pages clutched in her hand. I could see how her impossibly small scrawl sloped down the right side of the page; she had to tilt her head slowly, yoga-like, as she read. The story was a barely veiled display of her deep wish to join the family of a wealthy friend. A protagonist (with my daughter’s name) and seven siblings (one of whom is named after her best friend, their parents named for the friend’s parents), have magical powers, but the use of these powers is stymied when one of the siblings falls from a tree and shatters his arm.

She finished with a smile, and as she held…

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Dear Muse

A lot has been written over the years about the difficulty of getting started, or maybe getting re-inspired after a hiatus, but nevertheless this post really resonated with me. I am only too conscious that reading about writing is also just another form of procrastination but it’s more fun than doing the ironing.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

mulloyBy Marla Mulloy

Write a letter to your muse, my writer friend said, in answer to my sad, self-loathing, whine about the writing life.  So I did.  I was mad.

Dear Muse,

I haven’t heard from you for a long time.  I wonder, are you having a nice time on your little holiday?  You must be having a holiday; you are certainly not paying any attention to me.  Perhaps you are on a beach somewhere in the sun, reading something that someone has actually written?  Or maybe you are simply watching people cavort in the sand or wander by the ice cream store, bored silly by my procrastination and delusion.   I realize I wasn’t the easiest charge you’ve had.  I realize I was hard to motivate, boring to watch.  Most likely, you are in my living room sitting in that chair that I placed near the small table where I…

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I finally finished my first podcast!

About six months ago I decided to make a podcast called “Finding your Passion”. My idea was to talk to interesting people about their life journeys.

I interviewed my amazing niece Olivia who lives in London and works for an innovation organisation called Nesta. She was visiting Australia at the time, so I was able to catch up with her in Perth. We had a great chat, most of which has made it into the final podcast.

After six months of editing the interview and fiddling around with it, I thought it was time to take the plunge and publish, so here it is. I hope you enjoy listening to my first ever episode. You never know, I might even make another episode!

The unfaithful blogger

It’s nearly the end of July and I’m conscious that it’s over a month since I posted on my blog. I feel a bit bad about that. I know that I usually use the excuse of “I’ve been busy” when I haven’t posted for a while and although this is true, there are plenty of times when I’ve been busy but I’ve still managed to write fairly regularly.

The real truth is that when I stop writing I can almost feel my confidence draining away. Those mean little voices in your head say things like “what were you thinking? Why would anyone be even vaguely interested in anything you have to say?” I’m not sure if you suffer from the same problem, but once I stop writing I find it increasingly hard to convince myself that I have anything new or interesting to offer.

On the other hand, I still find articles I’d like to share and I feel that perhaps someone out there in the world just needs a little boost, so today I’d like to share this article from the Book of Life on the Origins of Confidence. 

There are a couple of ideas in this article that I especially like. One is the notion that we have a variety of voices in our heads that speak to us. Some are kind and gentle and some are mean and critical, but we can choose to listen to the supportive voices. Typically this is the voice of a beloved parent or perhaps grandparent. This is the voice you should listen to. This voice doesn’t tell you that you are awesome. It just tells you that you are capable and you should give it a try. It’s the voice of the friend who knows your innermost secrets and loves you without judgement.

The other idea is that if things aren’t going to well at work you shouldn’t assume that this makes you unloveable or less of a person. The degree to which we succeed in our endeavours at work or at home isn’t related to what kind of person we are. It’s just work.

I heard a nice quote the other day that said that people don’t remember us for what we do or say, but for how we make them feel. I think this means that if we are kind to other people (and ourselves), that’s how we’ll be remembered. I like that idea.