The Masks we Wear
Recently, I was shooting a large number of headshots in a medium sized company
Why am I sharing this with you? Well, one remark stood out to me and made me pause for thought. This young woman asked for another shot where she wasn’t smiling, because she felt she looked unprofessional.
Does that resonate with you? Do you think that smiling at work is unprofessional?
It made me think about the masks we wear throughout or lives. Some masks simply oil the workings of society, don’t they - smiling at the bus driver even though you feel down, waving at a neighbour when you’re in a hurry. We can wear masks at work, in relationships, at the school gate… do you think that sometimes we forget that we are wearing those masks and start to think that is who we are? Do we forget sometimes who we really are as we get to our middle years?
Depression is often an expression of not being true to who we are. Forcing ourselves to behave in ways alien to us for...
How are you? Fine?
Ok - how are you really?
I talk to a lot of women in their middle years and one thing that many of them say to me is that they feel tired. Not just tired through lack of sleep - though that is a topic in itself - but weary.
Very few of us get to this stage in our lives without worrying and striving and taking wrong turns and picking ourselves up again and again and again. We've seen governments come and go, catastrophic climate events, social campaigns. We've lived through a dizzying period of technological change and, more recently of course, through a global pandemic. And that is just a snapshot. Of course we're weary.
How do you protect yourself? How do you ensure that you don't get overwhelmed by the troubles of the world? It's all very well to put up a screen, to observe without absorbing, but for many of us, negativity, pain and suffering inevitably leech through and sap our energy. And how can we help anyone if we are constantly depleted?
Are you missing the sun? I don't know about you, but I always find my energy levels and mood become lower during the short, grey days of winter. Our Guest blogger, Holistic Therapist, Helen Buckley, was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder in her teens. She shares some of her thoughts and tactics on this common problem here.
Season Affective Disorder or more commonly known as SAD is described as a form of depression that has a seasonal trend. It is estimated that 29% of the population suffer from it with women 40% more like to suffer from it. Of the population 8% suffer from acute symptoms and the remaining 21% of sufferers with mild symptoms.
Symptoms tend to increase during the winter months with some rare occasions of summer months causing SAD symptoms. The cause is thought to be the reduced hours of sunlight that increases the production of melatonin which increases the requirement to sleep, lowers serotonin which increases appetite and disrupts the body’s...
Today is my birthday, so I am feeling a little bit down.
You see, when I was very small, my birthday was always the beginning of a period of mourning as my mother died 9 days after I was born. So for all the adults around me, my birthday was a reminder of a tragedy they were still grieving.
Then, on my 7th birthday, my half sister was born. Which meant my birthday thunder was stolen forever :-D
Every year, a few days before my birthday, a dark cloud descends that I can't seem to shake off. Some years it's been so awful I've pulled the duvet over my head on the actual day and slept through it. It doesn't make sense, it infuriates and puzzles the people who love me and it leaves me feeling upset and confused.
Why am I telling you this? Well, of course, that sadness I feel doesn't really belong to me - it's something I picked up as a tiny tot from the people around me.
It isn't my sadness.
By the time we reach midlife, we can often carry other people's "stuff" around...
I realised this weekend that I was not ok.
Perhaps I am "supposed" to be. As the Founder of this Midlife Movement I do my best every day to be measured in my responses and careful what I post. And I am, as a rule, ok most of the time.
But I am only human and the current situation, I think you will agree, is testing for us all, to say the least!
As I always do in a crisis, I "look for the helpers" as Mr Rogers would have said. And I am finding them, and posting about them and aim to do my best to help calm the anxiety and fear that is surrounding us as much as I am able.
So how do I know that I am NOT OK?
It started with feelings of irritation at small, silly things. Not being able to get the lid off a jar, losing work because I forgot to press save - that sort of thing. Then yesterday I lost my temper - very rare as I have a very slow burn - at some misinformation doing the rounds on social media. (Not at the well meaning people sharing it, but at the irresponsibility of the...
Do you still dream? Not when you are asleep, but properly daydream as you might have done as a child and a teen?
So often we abandon the dreams we had when we were young and swap them instead for what we believe to be a sustainable life. Marriage, perhaps, mortgage, children, the corporate career climb... and we forget to create new dreams, telling ourselves not to be silly, impractical, unrealistic...
Those dreams we had don't quite go away altogether though. Whether we are conscious of them or not, they reside within us, dormant, waiting, just in case they might be needed again.
There's something about hitting midlife that triggers a stirring, a little tremor that can awaken old dreams and desires. Slowly, we often feel an almost imperceptible shift, a yearning for something we can't quite pin down, but that causes us to feel restless, often dissatisfied.
It raises questions, causes us to become reflective, reminds us of our long abandoned dreams. It can be a bloody nuisance,...
Worry is such a pointless occupation, we all know that. And yet sometimes when hormone levels start to fluctuate some of us are beset by anxiety that seems to come from nowhere.
Anxiety caused me untold angst during my own perimenopause. It didn't matter how much my head reassured me that all was well, something nagged away inside my brain, telling me it was a lie. I walked around with a vague feeling of dread which sat in the pit of my stomach like a heavy stone.
I would wake up in the morning and was immediately assailed by a horrible sense of impending doom. To try to counter it, I would lie in bed and think about each of my four children. "He's doing x with y and is going to go to z," I would think, "so I know he's ok." "I'm seeing her at lunch, so I can check she's ok..." It was endless.
To be fair, our family were dealing with some serious difficulties at the time. Weirdly, I seemed to be able to cope with the big, obvious stuff. It was the little things...
It comes round, so fast.
One minute, you're learning how to be a parent, how to keep this tiny, delicate human being thrust into your care alive. You help them learn to walk, talk, function. Navigate milestones like first teeth, potty training, first day at school.
Before you know it, you're helping with homework, freezing your bits off at the edge of a [insert appropriate ball-game here] pitch, washing dirty kit, learning the offside rule.
Then there are hormones to contend with, slammed doors, broken hearts, exams...
Until, finally, the day comes when they fly the nest.
It's a happy day, right? After all, isn't this what we wanted? Happy, confident, independent children? We're pleased for them, proud.
1. Recognise your Feelings
So what is this hollow feeling in the pit of the stomach? Why do our eyes smart with tears on the drive home? Why does walking into that quiet, empty house for the first time without them make your stomach turn over?
If someone you care about is in the throes of a bout of depression it can be really difficult to know how to support them. I've been clinically depressed myself and I've supported people who are depressed, so I have experience of this horrible condition from both sides as both carer and cared for.
I've been talking to fellow sufferers and, drawing on their experience and my own, here are my tips on how to support someone who is depressed:
I'm fine, thanks. That's what we say, isn't it, when asked how are you? I'm fine, thanks. But what if you're not? What if you are sinking, struggling, not fine at all?
I live a fairly public life insofar as I have written about myself on blogs and in books, I show up regularly on Facebook live videos, on Youtube and, now, on the new Midlife Movement Podcast. Most people know me as optimistic, generally happy, always smiling.
If you follow my output regularly, though, you will know that I have had my battles with anxiety and depression throughout my life at various points. I always know when I'm starting to "slide".
There are warning signs that I dare not ignore. These include: