Saying Nice Things

I told my therapist this morning that ‘I don’t know how to say nice things’. ‘What nice things?’, you may be asking. You know…how at times, you are asked to write a character reference for someone who is applying for university or a new job or a grant and you try to write nice things…good and positive attributes of that person? This is the ‘nice things’ that I am talking about. The past three months I agonised over my personal statement that I needed to write in order to convince the university selection committee that I am worthy of one spot out of the twelve allocated for postgraduate studies. Applicants are allowed to ask a family member (or members) to write a character reference. My wife wrote one that for me. It was beautiful. She definitely sees me in a very different light from how I see myself most of the time. Reading what she wrote and looking at the language and words that she used, I realised that I don’t know how to say nice things. If the tables were turned and my wife asked me to write a character reference, I wouldn’t know how to write one. This is sad isn’t it? Knowing that you can’t articulate in words to say how wonderful someone is, especially when that said person is someone really important in your life, has only recently come to my awareness. I don’t have a template on how to do this at all. What I am very good at is saying stinging words of criticism that I have had a lot of practice. I was at the receiving end of a lot of these type of scathing remarks from my teachers and most of all from my mother. They were my mentors in this regard.

Would I ever un-learn this way of communicating? Would I ever find the words needed to say nice things? It’s strange how my experience as an english teacher has not taught me the vocabulary that is needed for a lot of what’s going on with me. The years of abuse has stripped me of any modicum of self respect and all that is left js self-loathing. How can I love and appreciate someone else when I don’t even remotely feel much love for myself? I don’t know… It is so easy to be aware or have insight about what needs to be done to heal from complex trauma. It is putting it into the work that needs to be done through therapy, self-reflection, journaling, meditation is very, very, very difficult.


Writing Has Become Difficult

It’s strange when something you used to find comforting has become distressing. Picking up my fountain pen and writing down my thoughts used to be helpful. Somehow, I have found writing has become extremely difficult the past couple of months. This is why I haven’t written anything for weeks now, despite having the time to do since I have taken time off work.

My partner was subtly trying to tell me that I should start writing again, even if it is just jotting down short sentences or words. Even this, I have found difficult. As I write this post, my mind struggles to find the words to describe the mess of my thoughts and feelings, or should I say, lack of feelings. Sometimes, feeling extreme sadness is better than feeling nothing. Even my thoughts are quiet but messy. Not sure if any of you out there know what I mean by ‘quiet but messy’, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it.

Letting People In…

A trauma brain is a brain that is reactive and vigilant all of the time, affecting the way we regulate our emotions, heightening our sense of anxiety and making it hard to trust anyone. Scientific data shows that traumatic stress can reduce the functioning of the prefrontal cortex that is responsible to assist us to analyse and think logically, regulate and interpret emotions, control impulses and solve complex problems.

I’ve been unable to write anything the past 4 to 5 months because my mental health has been deteriorating. There has been so much going on at work, mostly interpersonal relationships with my colleagues, that has been very challenging because I find it very difficult to set boundaries and be assertive, thus, to avoid conflict, I bend over backwards to avoid it at all cost, making me a people pleaser. My therapy sessions the past months have all been about interpersonal struggles at work, feelings of utter helplessness in my inability to set boundaries and be assertive.

I started this blog entry with an ambition that I was going to write a long one this time around since my long hiatus, but, I don’t think I can manage it, so, I am going to cut to the chase. What I really want to say is that I now have insight that all my interpersonal struggles the past couple of months, validating as it is, was exacerbated by my trauma brain. Everything gets amplified, and thrown out of proportion. I know now because today is my farewell with my colleagues as I have made a very difficult decision of resigning from my work as a mental health nurse to focus on myself… to pause and focus on my recovery. It still feels like I have given up at this point, but I am certain that I’ve made the necessary decision because I am in a really, really bad place. My colleagues gave me a bouquet of flowers and a hand made card, which was painted in watercolour by my associate charge nurse! (the profile picture of this post is the handmade card) and lots of hugs and encouragement. One of my colleague reminded me this: “You are walking the talk as how we always tell our clients. You’re not giving up because you know, that you will never say this to your client. I am so glad you have made this decision to focus on yourself to heal.”

What I’ve realised from this is, “I need to let people in… I need to learn to trust again… it’s time to stop keeping people at bay.”

How Work is Like Currently

The last post I wrote about how I am coping with work was on January 17, 2021. I know that it has not been too long ago for an update about how I am coping at work, so, I thought I share some thoughts on what’s going on.

The past 2 to 3 months, work has been exhausting. I find myself dragging myself out of bed when the alarm goes off and forcing my brain to stop the anxiety thought loop that would start the moment I open my eyes. The level of stress I feel on each work day is all consuming and difficult to describe in words. Recovery is long and difficult and the days when I feel that things might finally start to look up, these days never seem to last long enough for me to sustain some respite from the constant struggle day-in-day-out. At work, it seems that my eyes and mind are focused on the task at hand but my soul was somewhere far away, like a distant observer watching me carry out work tasks, one after the other.

Since the start of last week, I have taken some time off work. I have 4 more days remaining for some respite before I need to go back to work at the start of next week. I am not looking forward to it as I know what it entails. But, life goes on, and I need to continue pushing forwards, even when I feel I’m dragging myself through mud. My relationship with my colleagues have been difficult because I still don’t have the language I need to create boundaries and to be assertive. My opinions and ideas doesn’t get heard or it just gets disregarded during meetings. Decisions have been made on my behalf while I am away from work, assuming that whatever this decision might be, would be ok with me. I don’t have a voice yet. Maybe, one day, this would change. I need to start learning to find the words to create boundaries and to be assertive.


Everything I am doing is towards mt recovery. Every decision I make on a daily basis is rooted on ‘doing the work’. The constant juggling of emotions, thoughts, exercise, work, studies and self care is exhausting. My therapist reminded me that I have come a long way from where I was at 13 months ago. My rational brain knows that what he said holds true in my recovery journey, but, I haven’t reached a point where I feel totally comfortable in acknowledging that just yet.

Roller Coaster Ride

Last Thursday, I felt the best I have felt in a very long time. Why did I feel good about myself last Thursday? The reason is simple enough: I had enough mental reserve to provide a distressed client the mental and emotional support that she needed at the time. I can’t say more about the encounter due to confidentiality, but, what I can say is that it felt good to be able to support someone else and direct my focus away from my own mental health struggles to give another some reprieve from theirs. This warm, fuzzy feeling lasted for the rest of Thursday evening. It was short lived though…Come Friday, my mental health started to take a dive and at this very moment of writing this, I can feel myself plunging into the depths of darkness, the darkness that pulls you in, deeper and deeper, until there is nothing left to feel, apart from the emptiness and vast open void that you feel inside.

I am getting hooked with so many thoughts and feelings and I know what I need to do to diffuse and unhook myself from these unhelpful thoughts and feelings. Believe me, all I have been doing since Friday morning was that every chance I get an ounce of strength… to ground, re-centre and bring myself back to my present self… damn it! I even have a worksheet that my psychologist have given me to jot down how it went each time I used diffusing and unhooking strategies… it isn’t working. I think the reason why I am writing this post is because I need to try and quiet my thoughts, quiet my feelings … suppressing and numbing is not really working for me anymore. Supressing and numbing was all I used all these years to cope, and it isn’t working anymore. What do I do? What do I do?!

Focusing on the Present Moment

Firstly, I just want to say that this is going to be a short post. I have not have time to really sit and write; to just ponder and write. Juggling part time study and full time work is much more of a challenge now then a year ago when I was in a better headspace.

Today is my last day of the Easter weekend holiday. I am glad that I have some time off work, but the anticipatory anxiety of going back to work tomorrow, has started bubbling up since Sunday morning. I do like my days off, but at the same time, it is like a double-edged sword because I feel at edge, almost untethered, knowing that I have to function and face work until the weekend arrives again.

Saturday morning was supposed to be a relaxing and calm day, because I finally convinced myself that going for a short hike nearby would do me good. Unfortunately, I was not able to enjoy the hike at all, my mind would not quiet down. I tried grounding myself to the sounds of the birds and the feel of the breeze on my face, but it did not work. What was supposed to be a calming and mindful outing, turned out to be a stressful one.

Since then, I keep berating myself for not being able to just enjoy the present moment. Little things would bring my thoughts back to my past and my mind would start to feed into the self-loathing and feeling unloved.

Focusing on the present moment sounds simple enough. But, really, it does take a lot of effort to make it work. Sometimes, it doesn’t not work at all. I guess I just have to keep practicing.

Note: the photo was taken during the hike at Taeri Mouth.

There is Kindness in this World

Sorry for going quiet for almost 3 weeks. Works has been hectic and stressful since I started 40 hour work weeks since March 1st. I will try to write more often. But, it might be quite scattered for the next couple of months until I find my footing again, juggling a psychology paper and full time work.

When you have a childhood that is riddled with abuse, I guess, it’s only natural to grow up untrusting and cynical about everything that happens in life. Growing up, I craved acknowledgement and acceptance and was willing to bend over backwards for anyone who was willing to be my friend. I would go out on a limb to help a friend in need, never expecting anything in return. I learned to never ask for help, because I believed that I wouldn’t get any. The voice in my head would tell me: “Your own parents don’t even care for you, what makes you think that a friend would want to help you?” Despite believing this, I would still help those that I consider as close friends, because I know what it is like to not feel loved. I did not want my close friend to feel unloved, uncared for as well.

As a young adult, I eventually started to realise that my insistence of helping and always being there for my close friends at the expense of my own needs, was not a healthy way to maintain friendships or romantic relationships. My need to feel accepted and loved was so strong that I sacrificed my own needs to fulfil needs of those that I care most. Since moving to NZ, I have not had many opportunities to foster close friendships. I used to think that it is mostly due to cultural differences, but, lately, I am starting to realise that I have erected a wall in my heart, not wanting to feel ‘abandoned again’ by close friends that I have experienced most of my life. This feeling of ‘abandonment’ is probably just my inability to logically process or look at situations in a different perspective. Most times, I get blindsided by my amygdala (emotional brain), which takes over and the pre-frontal cortex (rational brain) gets stifled and muzzled. It all boils down to my anxieties about social relationships and what is expected of me to be a good friend.

My work has been stressful, but for the first time in my adult life, have I experienced genuine support and care for my well-being from my work colleagues. Since my depressive episode mid of 2020, I have been open to my colleagues about my mental health struggles and they have offered support and assistance on a daily basis, always checking in on me and asking how I’m coping with work. It still all just feels very surreal to me, and my cynical mind goes into overload, my critical/suspicious voice in my head tells me that these gestures of support can’t be sincere. But, I think tonight, I am going to bury this voice away into the deep recesses of my mind and accept the kindness that is being shown to me on a daily basis and to practice gratitude. Also, at the same time, I am going to allow myself to grief for the lost childhood and to feel the sadness that I feel because my parents did not extent the same kindness to me as how my colleagues have the past couple of weeks. Things are getting better.

Running an Off-Road Marathon For The First Time

After the Queenstown marathon last November 2020, my partner was looking for another marathon that I could aim at doing. At that point, I was still in the throes of depression that I was not thinking of doing anything, let alone another marathon. Nevertheless, she found the Big Easy Mountain Run, a 42.2km run that starts from Snow Farm and finishes at Luggate. I have to say, I did get quite intrigued by the prospect of exploring this area as I have never heard of Snow Farm nor Luggate. Despite, not being very sure about completing another marathon at just only 8 weeks after the Queenstown marathon, I decided to just do it.

As expected, I pretty much regretted making this decision the very next day! Spoiler alert: I enjoyed every minute of the run and I am still feeling the euphoria three days since completing it!

My training for this marathon only consisted of running daily at short distances of 6-8km and a 10km run on a Saturday or Sunday. But, I made sure I was out with my running shoes daily and hitting the kilometres as planned. I did not feel that I had the motivation to run anymore than those distances. I knew that this would not be enough to train for a mountain marathon, but, it was all I could make myself do in terms of preparing for it. I did make sure that my runs pass through routes that I needed to do climbs up and down hills, which was not difficult to find in Dunedin.

The marathon website stated that there is a 9km uphill run, before 12km of undulating terrain and the final 21km would be a downhill run all the way to the finish line. With this information at hand, I thought to myself, “Well, I guess half of the run would be downhill, depending on how tired I am then, would determine how my legs would feel running downhill at that distance”. I knew that running downhill can be tougher than running uphill because you are basically abusing your quad muscles as you control your balance on the descend. However, I was pretty comfortable that it might not be that bad. Am I in for a surprise!

The first 9km uphill was, in the scheme of things, the easiest bit of the whole marathon. By the 13km, I was struggling to keep my pace while running uphill as I tackled the undulating terrain that I needed to cover before reaching the 21km point. It did not take me long to start walking uphills and only running when I am going downhill. Reaching the 21km mark, I thought I would have some relief from pushing myself uphills as I started running downhill. I sighed a breath of relief as I raced down until I saw from a distance that an uphill stretch came to view. My heart dropped, but I still had hope that it would just be that one odd uphill stretch and then it would be downhill till the finish line. It was not to be. I was greeted by undulating terrain for what it felt like an eternity. I felt exhausted at this point and wondered to myself if this is THE marathon that I would have to call it quits before the finish line. Somehow, that thought came and went as quickly as that thought ended. I told myself that I will finish this even if I have to walk all the way to the finish line.

I took me 6 hours and 59 mins to finally cross the finish line. I did not walk all the way to the finish line. I continued running downhill and walking uphill as I passed each kilometre. Crossing the finish line always puts a smile on my face, no matter how much my legs were screaming to stop the abuse. As I write this, I still feel the sense of achievement that is hard to describe in words. All I can say is that it is an intoxicating feeling that you will feel for the next couple of weeks.

I have taken advantaged of this feeling and signed up for my next off-road marathon. I heard about the Motatapu Marathon from another runner at the post-race meal. He wanted to know if I have heard of it, which I answered that I have not. I have no felt so excited about something for almost a year now because of my depression, and I am thrilled to say that I am excited about Motatapu. I have 6 weeks to continue my training and I am sure I will enjoy Motatapu as much as I enjoyed the Big Easy Mountain Run, despite the torture and pain of running a marathon. This is good. Feeling excited is good for me. Feeling excited means I am on my way to my long and slow journey of recovery.

photo courtesy from the Big Easy Mountain Marathon website:

When Does Avoidance Become a Useful Coping Method

The past month since I started back at work on a part time basis, I have very quickly fallen into my default mechanism to cope: AVOIDANCE. The Oxford English Dictionary defines avoidance as ‘not doing something; preventing something from existing or happening’. What do I mean when I use the word Avoidance? How I use avoidance is not about not doing something, it is more akin to the second half of this definition, which is where I prevent something from existing or happening.

This is probably my default coping method because it has been drilled into me by my mother that hard work is a ‘virtue’ that is necessary for one to succeed in life. Her perception of what ‘success’ means scoring straight As, have a good career that pays loads of money. I use hard work as a means to block everything out; from the sexual and emotional abuse to making sure that I would be allowed play time when I was a child. Mother would not allow me out to play until all my homework was done and I have revised what I learnt in school that day. Whenever I fall short in achieving this goal that was set for me, I was reminded that I am not smart enough or too lazy. Guilt and shame was what my mother would use to condition me into fulfilling her expectations of me.

The guilt and shame has never left me. I still feel guilt and shame whenever I choose pleasure before doing anything productive. This conditioning of ‘work first, play later’ followed me throughout my teenage years, through university and everything I do in life. Guilt would eat me inside when I decide to just relax for a few hours, instead of starting my days off work studying or doing prep work for lectures when I used to work as a university lecturer. Even when I have worked hard and earned my time to do something pleasurable, this voice in my head would rear its ugly head and tell me that I have not done a good job, that I should not be relaxing. So, I don’t think I have ever really truly enjoyed the moments whenever I was doing something that was pleasurable. The pleasure out of the pleasurable activities/moments gets blunted because of this.

Any achievement that I have achieved has never made me feel that I am good enough. I struggle to acknowledge the achievement even thought the success was tangible and measurable. I still struggle with this. Growing up, I have been told by my mother and teachers alike that I am not smart enough, that I am stupid, that I am lazy. I know that it is ludicrous to still believe the validity of this, but the truth is, I still do. I truly believe that these negative attributes are part of me. I am working towards slowly changing my perception that I am not all that. That I AM smart enough and hard working. At this point, even typing these words right now, makes me feel that I am a fraud to think so.

So, when is it good to use avoidance as a coping method? Till now, I have not really answered this question. Well, in my opinion, I think avoidance is necessary when you feel that life is getting too difficult and your mind and body is telling you to not ruminate on these difficulties because it will only paralyse you. This is exactly what I am letting myself do, so that I avoid feeling the repressed feelings that I need to feel for my recovery from all the traumatic pass. I am reminding myself that this avoidance, must be temporary and that this time, avoidance will not numb and suppress my feelings and pain, which will inevitably bubble up and plunge me into the depths of depression once again.