Year In Review: Personal

2019 is fast coming to an end, & with the end of another year, the end of a decade in fact, comes reflection of how we’ve lived our lives thus far. This piece serves as my own personal reflection of the year that was, the lessons I’ve learnt, and everything in between.

This year has been different to years previous. I’ve experienced a lot that I never really expected, and, to say the least, I’ve grown as a person. It’s come with it’s fair share of challenges, that’s for sure. I’ve had to deal with things that I didn’t see coming, things that were completely unpredictable in nature. But with the bad came the good, & the happy moments shone through when they were needed.

I started 2019 off in a good place. Up in Noosa with family, celebrating the New Year, going on adventures to Ipswich & Australia Zoo, seeing some of the most amazing creatures on the planet, becoming obsessed with meerkats, reacquainting myself with some of the cutest otters I’ve ever seen in my life, & seeing some spectacular sights. All the while, I was pondering things, considering the year ahead, considering decisions I would have to make, doing all the regular thinking & more. And whilst I may not have realised it at the time, the stay in Noosa would be one of the better parts of my year. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent up there, & I’m hoping to go back soon. My first times on an airplane were pretty cool too.

Mentally, I was in a decent place. I’d been in pretty good condition mentally for years, with no real issues since a battle with anxiety back in 2012, something I thought was a one-off. Maybe that was why things caught me completely off-guard.

A few weeks after arriving back from Noosa, I faced my first challenge of the year. By the time February hit, a number of things happened that led to a major mental break. Mind barriers were broken, & the anxiety flooded my mind & body. Ultimately, a battle began, a battle between myself & my mind. It was something completely unexpected. Of course, I knew there was some degree of risk with things coming up in the year, I just didn’t expect them to awaken what must have lain dormant within me for years.

A number of you would have read my article from earlier this year detailing my battle with anxiety, something which can never be underestimated. Briefly, things escalated over a matter of weeks. I was mentally off-kilter, & felt physically unwell. After about a month, I finally decided to get some professional help, seeing a counsellor/psychologist, who was extremely helpful.

The next big event in my life was starting university. The process of simply enrolling was stressful enough to begin with. Having attempted to get in to a different major area for my degree at UTS (University of Technology Sydney), going from Creative Writing to Journalism, with no success online & over the phone on multiple occasions, I travelled to the Student Centre, talked to multiple people, & found a major flaw in the university system (the first of many). I enrolled in the necessary subjects for the Creative Writing course, & prepared for study once again. Yet it was not to last long at all.

After a single day at UTS, I knew something was wrong. Sure, it wasn’t a great day for me personally on a mental level, being alone at a new place, experiencing amplified anxiety levels for most of the day, doing all I could to keep the symptoms at bay. But coming home on the train that night, I knew I wasn’t doing the right thing for me. And that was when it clicked. I needed to do something for me, not for other people. It didn’t matter if others found it to be unconventional, it just had to be right for me. Whilst I’ve never been a quitter, I knew this degree, this university, was going to be toxic for me. So after one day, I quit.

Having come home & relayed my feelings to my immediate family, I felt lost. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I made contact with some people, some friends, & did some research. I eventually came across an amazing university degree run by Griffith University through Open Universities Australia, an online uni degree. Yet I knew that it would not appease everyone, considering it was not a physical university. The added pressure of that was something that weighed heavily on my mind, a similarity in many of the decisions I’ve made throughout this year. However, I chose to go ahead with the degree, & thus enrolled. I’d made a decision, a big decision, something I hadn’t really done before.

Around mid-March, in fact, right after I made the decision to withdraw from UTS, I made another decision that would really change my life for the better. For context, in late 2018, I had taken on a temporary role as a Special Religious Education (SRE) helper, assisting for a Year 6 class. It was a highly rewarding experience, & while I wanted so much to continue on in 2019, I ultimately knew that my university degree would make that difficult. This probably had some impact on the decision I would ultimately make to quit my degree & change things up.

I should say at this point, before I continue on, that there were a number of reasons that factored into my leaving UTS. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. Being able to go back to SRE was a mid-range factor, as it was something I was passionate about. The content of the degree itself was also a factor, as well as the culture of the university in being quite the opposite to my own political views. That’s not to say that I withdrew because I couldn’t deal with opposing views. It was more to the point that I felt like I was putting myself in a space where I was going to be suppressed for three years, a place where if I spoke to my values and political opinions, or challenged the ones being put forth by lecturers & tutors, I would find myself being penalized simply for having a different set of views, a free speech issue. I thought about this, & I knew I couldn’t do that to myself. It should also be said that, whilst I could express those views online & through my blog, the university lecturers & tutors had said they were going to be checking the social media of students, something which I personally saw as completely unprofessional & unnecessary. The purpose of such a scheme could only be to find out the personal views of each student so as to categorize them into the political spectrum, something I find truly appalling. I will write more to this in a separate article, however I felt it fit here. To some degree, this whole keeping quiet thing stirred my anxiety, something which also led to my leaving UTS. That’s not to say that I still haven’t experienced similar occurrences online with Griffith. In fact, a recent assessment marking of mine, an assessment that I worked extremely hard on, came back to me with some fairly unfavourable feedback, which seemed to be politically motivated. As I said previously however, I’ll speak more to this in an upcoming article.

Back to SRE now. In mid-March, I made the decision to rejoin the SRE program in a permanent position. I became an assistant to a Year 5 class, who I ended up having the great pleasure of taking for around 6-7 weeks while their teacher was away on holiday. It was truly an amazing & extremely rewarding experience. Whilst it was nerve-wracking at first, as I got to know the students, I began to establish a real spiritual connection with them. Seeing them learn & understand more & more each week, building their relationship with God, was incredibly special. Throughout the year, up until the end of Term 3, I watched the students progress, & there was always a smile on my face when I was in the classroom with them. They were a joy to teach, & I couldn’t be more grateful for the time I had with them this year.

In Term 4, I got a promotion of sorts (well, not really, but a level up perhaps). After another SRE had to take time off, I was asked to take their Year 6 class for the term, an offer which I immediately accepted. It was incredibly daunting going in to take over a class who had been set with one teacher throughout the year, & I found it challenging at the best of times. The students, however, were amazing in the way that they guided me through how their lessons were usually run, & by the time we were a few weeks in, I was once again amazed to see how dedicated some of them were to building their relationship with God. While I had my fair share of challenging moments with some students, time flew by, & I felt blessed to have been a part of the spiritual journey of these students.

Alongside being an SRE, I completed a Level 1 Training Course, a requirement for becoming a full time SRE. This was a valuable learning experience, & something I was again truly grateful to be a part of. I met some wonderful people whilst participating in the course, we shared our experiences with each other, & we all grew in our faith & as SREs. I completed the course in November, & am now qualified to take my own class, something that I am looking forward to doing in the new year.

This year also brought with it it’s fair share of fun & friendship. I kept up to date with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, & saw the final instalment of the Eastrail 177 Trilogy (if you’re not familiar, that’s Unbreakable, Split, &, most recently, Glass). I also spent days out with friends, & went to a number of family gatherings, which are always a blast. I also got to see my Aunt & cousins who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, & hung out with them for a few days, which was a highlight. I also got into new seasons of all my favourite television shows, but I also found a new love: The Office (the US version). This show became my all time favourite television series within the first few episodes. After watching all nine seasons through, plus highlight & blooper reels on YouTube, I watched it again with my brother. And trust me, it never loses its charm nor humour no matter how many times you watch it. The cold opens are fantastic. I’ve watched some scenes so many times, I’ve memorised the lines. And some of the catchphrases the characters use have also become a part of my own repertoire. It’s a fantastic show, & I’d highly recommend it. I’ll for sure watch it again.

Sporting matches were also in, this year’s feature being the NRL Grand Final, an event I never thought I’d go to. More on that in a moment.

Music also continued to play a major role in my life. I stuck by my favourite group by far, OneRepublic, listening to their new music as soon as it dropped. Other artists also made their way into my life, likely due to different moods & various goings-on. I got hooked on the music of Charlie Puth (an amazing musician, who also happens to have perfect pitch). And at various points in the year, there were appearances by Andy Grammer, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Kygo, 5 Seconds of Summer & Guy Sebastian among others. I also continued to play music, playing piano & learning guitar, in addition to experimenting with producing music on my laptop. I’ve also recently purchased a microphone, something I’m planning on using to both record music & a podcast. Keep an eye & ear out for that next year.

Seeing as I love music so much, it stands to reason the highlight of my year would be music related. For around ten years now, basically since the beginning of the decade, I’ve been listening to the music of OneRepublic. More so since I was in Year 7, I began to follow OneRepublic & their front-man Ryan Tedder more closely. Ryan Tedder is likely my greatest musical influence, & one of the reasons I got into music. Their music has accompanied me through many times, good & not so great. For years now, I’ve dreamt of seeing them perform live, & meeting them, moreover Ryan Tedder, in person. So when OneRepublic announced this year that they were coming to Australia to perform at the NRL Grand Final, I jumped at the opportunity. Seeing them live, even for just fifteen minutes, was amazing. Although I’d really like to see them perform live at their own show, & I’m hoping they’ll be coming back to Sydney in the next couple of years, so that this time I can actually meet them.

Study has taken up a large portion of my year throughout this year, having been studying with no major breaks since the end of May. So far, I’ve completed four subjects, with another two underway currently. Thus far, I’m enjoying the degree, although there have been some setbacks over the last few months in particular which resulted in an immense amount of stress. Ultimately, this stress unfortunately resulted in a lapse of control over my anxiety, & so it’s returned. It’s something that has begun to impact on my life yet again, something which I hope to regain control over in the coming months.

I also had the privilege of going on a few holidays this year. The first was the one I’ve already mentioned, going up to Noosa. The other holiday was a Royal Caribbean cruise to the Pacific & New Zealand. This cruise was a good experience. It was nice to be able to spend time with family, particularly those I only get to see every now & then. The entertainment was good on some occasions, although it was a little underwhelming on others. Of the destinations, New Zealand’s Bay of Islands was by far the most beautiful. The food was also amazing, as were the waiters who served it to us each day & night. It was a true privilege to get to know these hard workers over the duration of the cruise. They made it all the more special. Whilst it was a good cruise, having the anxiety return did make it a little difficult for me at times, particularly in mornings. Overall though it was a really fun experience.

Looking back on this year, I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about myself. I’ve discovered my limits, but also my strengths. I’ve found that whilst you may hope for one thing, life will throw you a curveball & take you in a different direction. Personally, I’m grateful for not only the good moments this year has brought, but also the not so great moments. Because these moments show you things about yourself that you never realised. These are the times that truly bring your humanity to the surface, times of self-discovery. At the times when I was at my lowest this year, I took comfort in those who were there to support me. I’m so grateful to have those people in my life, because not only did they help me through my struggles this year, they also guided me on my journey of self-discovery.

There were moments this year when I was lost. There were times when I thought everything in my life was going wrong, & that nothing would ever go right. But certain people helped me to realise that there was still hope in my future. Hope is what kept me going, what got be back on my feet, & what inspired me to continue to share my stories.

Whilst 2019 hasn’t exactly been the most spectacular year, it’s been an experience that I likely needed. In some sense, I’m thankful to have gone through an experience that has changed me for the better. And I’m glad to have a platform to be able to share my thoughts & experiences with others, so that we can all be inspired to continue to have hope.

So, here’s to 2019: a year of learning, a year of growth, a year of self-discovery, a year of hope.

Cheers for a great year on the blog!

JJ

My Story: Living With Anxiety

This is probably the most personal piece I’ll ever write. Things are going to get deep. Before I begin, I need you all to know that what I’m about to share with you is not easy to talk about. It’s not easy to share. It’s hard to write this. But I want to share this with you because I want to be more open & honest, & I feel that there needs to be an increased awareness of sorts around mental health. So here goes.

For most of my life, I’ve lived relatively happily. I have had minimal stress, & I live out each day fairly smoothly & without issue. I have found happiness in many things; friends, family, music, writing, my dog, acting, & some fantastic people. But sometimes happiness doesn’t stick around. Sometimes it disappears, & you aren’t sure when it’s going to come back, if it’s going to come back. Let me give a bit of background first.

I have always been a shy person. For as long as I can remember, that has been one of my resounding qualities. It’s been a part of me my whole life. I have never really found it easy to approach people & talk to them. I get nervous, I try to find a way out, & I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s something I sometimes wish I didn’t have. Being shy makes things so much more difficult than they need to be. Many a time I have found myself wishing I was more brave, more courageous, more confident. But I lack that. I lack confidence. I lack courage. And that makes my life a lot harder. I find myself in situations where I struggle to get by. Which takes us to the anxiety.

I didn’t really experience much anxiety until 2012. Yes, that’s right, the year the then impending apocalypse was upon us. But never mind that. In early 2012, a few weeks before I began high school, I was out at a friend’s party, & whilst there, I began feeling off. I just didn’t feel right. I felt slightly sick, & I found it difficult to eat. I barely ate anything at the party, & I think the only thing I ate that night was a salad when I got home. That was likely the first time anxiety struck me. After that night, I didn’t experience that again for a number of weeks. I started Year 7, & everything was going relatively well. I was able to make new friends. I was a tad nervous about starting high school, but it was nothing major. However, a few weeks in, I began feeling sick again. I’m not entirely certain of what brought it on, but anxiety was upon me. There were many days when I woke up & did not feel like going to school. There were days when I threw up. I missed many days of school in those weeks because of the effects that anxiety had on me. I almost didn’t make it to the Year 7 camp. I remember that morning I was in pretty bad shape before I left to go to school. That camp was likely three of the worst days of my life. Whilst I was alright at camp, I still felt some anxiety, & it didn’t help that we all got food poisoning on the second night. I couldn’t wait to get back home. When I arrived back home that Friday, I remember breaking down. I was not in a good way at all. It almost got to the point where I had to go talk to a professional. But we didn’t get there. I remember I did end up having a conversation with my Year Adviser at school, & I think after that I woke up to myself, & I was able to kick the anxiety & take back control of my life & my body. I’m not sure how I did it really, but I think by the end of the term, I was ok again. I was living again. And I thought I had seen the last of my anxiety. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Throughout the years after that, I lived relatively well & peacefully. There were a few occasions where I did feel nervous, & a few times when I was feeling a bit anxious about things, such as times when I was going to go out with friends, or to parties, etc.. But they weren’t too bad. Apart from those minor attacks, I was perfectly fine. But I think what I was doing was suppressing things. I was suppressing emotions, feelings & a lot of other things, so that I could maintain a strong mentality. I think I knew I had to protect my mental health, & be strong. And so that is just what I did, for around seven years. I kept building up barriers around my mind, my mentality, all of it. And I kept suppressing things. I was able to maintain the suppression. I just needed to keep a strong mind. And above all of it, I thought I was going to be fine. I thought I could never be broken. I just didn’t realise that I would be.

Last year I decided to take a gap year. I needed a break from the education system. I needed to figure myself out, I needed time to write. I thought I would write at least one novel. I thought I would be able to write many a monologue & short story & play. I thought it would be a productive year. But then I began to lose sight. I put my novels on the backburner. I stopped writing for my blog. I stopped writing in general. And, looking at it realistically, my gap year ended up being a failure. In addition to that, I became conflicted. I had been telling people I was going to become a novelist, & people had told me that the market was volatile, that people don’t really read books anymore. And I took those comments to heart, & convinced myself I would never be a successful author. And I gave up on my dream. I tried to change my degree from creative writing to journalism. That failed.

What you need to know about me before I continue is that I care a lot about what other people think & say of me. It’s one of my biggest weaknesses. With every big decision I make, I take into consideration what other people, in particular my family & friends, will think of me. I don’t want them to see me as a failure. I don’t want to disappoint them. I don’t want to let them down.

Earlier this year, things occurred in my life. And they broke me. The last couple of months have been the hardest of my life. I’ve experienced things that I never want to experience again, & that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. My anxiety returned. And it came back worse than before. Whilst I haven’t been physically sick, I have felt really off many days. I’ve broken down many times. It’s even affecting me now just writing this. I’ve even found it difficult just to leave the house. It’s a challenge for me to even just get to work now. To be brutally honest, I really don’t like the way I’m living. I don’t like the person I’ve become, the person my anxiety turns me into. It’s hard to admit that. It’s genuinely one of the toughest things to live with. For me, I feel like I’ve lost control, & I’m fighting to get it back. I have times when I just feel so out of it, so off, almost sick. My mental health hasn’t been great. It’s been dreadful really. Thankfully, I was able to talk about things with a few of my family & friends. They know who they are. But it got to the point where I knew I needed to get help. And so I went to see a counsellor. He gave me some advice & tips/strategies, & I left feeling like things could get better now. But they didn’t. I had some really rough days. And so I went back. I talked with him again. And I will be maintaining regular contact with him.

Many of you wouldn’t have known it from looking at me or speaking with me that I wasn’t doing well. That’s because whenever I’m out in the open, I hide it. I try to suppress it for short period of time. Or if it is affecting me, I try to control it somewhat so that it doesn’t show. And I’ve been doing this for over two months now. But I think that’s making things worse in some sense. It hasn’t helped. So I made the decision to stop. Because to be honest, I’m sick of hiding now. I have to be honest, I was somewhat apprehensive to put this all out there, to put it out in the open. And whilst I know that many who read this will be very caring & all, I’d rather not discuss it openly just yet. It’s a lot for me to even share my story here. However, I need to do things on my own terms. I need to have control over my life & my journey. I need to forge my own path, & whilst currently I am not doing as much as I’d like to be doing, I will get there in time.

At the moment I’m taking things day by day, one step at a time. As you might already know, I’ve withdrawn from my University course at UTS, & I am enrolling in a Bachelor of Communications course offered by Griffith University through Open Universities Australia. The course will be completed over three years online. And I have also recently re-entered Special Religious Education (SRE) work as a helper in Catholic Scripture through my church, helping with a Year 5 class at my former primary school. I will be looking to get out more, to maybe participate in some volunteer work, get some work experience at either a radio station or publishing company or even both, & eventually get a second job. But it’s going to take time for me to get there. I’m still working to get things under control within my own mind & body, & in all honesty, I cannot really contemplate doing a lot of these things until I get it under control. It is a battle, & it’s not easy, but I’m not going to give up, I’m not going to stop fighting.

Anxiety affects so many people. It often goes unnoticed by others. It’s only noticed by the individual of whom it affects. They feel it, they experience it. It can manifest in a variety of ways, & can have different levels of intensity. And it can be hard to cope with. It can be even more difficult to talk about. Sometimes we think we can fight it alone, that we can deal with it on our own. We think we’re strong enough, we think we can handle it. And sometimes we can. But sometimes we can’t. We don’t have the strength to go it alone. We aren’t as strong as we thought we were. We didn’t realise it was ever going to be so hard. We come to a point where we can no longer suffer in silence. And that’s ok. That doesn’t make us any weaker. In fact, it takes a certain strength to admit that we can’t do it alone, that we need someone to help us along the way. So in some sense, we are still strong, just in a different way.

Whilst anxiety can take its toll, both mentally & physically, it can also be something that helps us to understand ourselves better. It can shine a light on our true selves, it can help us to see who we truly are. And after being at an all time low, you can come to appreciate the smallest things that create joy & happiness. It could be as simple as seeing someone’s face light up with joy when they see your loyal pet dog. For me, having an adorable pup has made my life better, and has brought me the slightest shred of happiness in my darkest times. Ellie has truly been my best friend through all of this, & I honestly don’t know how I would have been without her. She is truly a blessing.

Through all the hard times, I’ve also had my faith to guide me. There have been times in the last couple of months that I have questioned my faith. I’m not afraid to admit that, although it isn’t something I find easy to admit to. There were times when it seemed I was just losing everything, like I was just taking blow after blow. There were times when I felt like the universe was against me. There were times when I just started asking God one question over and over; ‘Why?’ I kept asking for guidance, for help, for the strength to get through this. And I felt like I wasn’t being heard. However, I’ve now come to see that God has provided me with help, with support. I’ve come to see that He had been listening. I still often wonder why certain things have occurred in my life. I guess I’m yet to discover the answer to that question. But I am glad I have my faith in my life. And I guess there are times when we are in a dark place, or when we endure something, & it makes us question a lot of things. I still ask myself questions, I still think about things often. But I’m happy to have my faith to help me along in my life.

I know that ultimately, my life is not going to be an easy one. And I know that I’ve still got things to sort out. I’ve still got to get things under control. However, in order to do that, I realise that I need to be more open. This is a step in that direction. And hopefully it will help me to get this out & get things back under control. I haven’t felt so strong mentally lately. It’s been a couple of months since I’ve been there. But I’m hoping I can get back there soon. I know it will take time, & it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get back to that point. But I want to get back there. This time however, it’s going to be different. This time I’m not going to hide. This time I’m going to be more true to myself. I guess in some sense I’ve been living a bit of a lie. But I’m going to change that. I’m no longer going to hide behind a façade. I’m going to be my true self. And I’m going to take back control of my own mind & body. Anxiety may take the reins throughout my life, but I’m not going to let it stay that way. I’m going to take them back. And I’m going to live my life.

I want to finish by saying this. I know anxiety is never easy to deal with. My experience over the last couple of months in particular has really challenged me, & it’s really stripped me down to my core. If anyone is ever going through something & they need someone to talk to, I’m always more than happy to be that person. I’m always happy to chat. I know it can be difficult to get through on your own. And I know from personal experience that it can be a challenge in itself to talk to someone about it. But it can make a world of difference if you get it off your chest, if you talk to someone about it. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide how they deal with it, but sometimes talking to someone can make things that little bit easier. While it can feel like anxiety is beating us at times, like it is winning, like it’s taking over us, it’s important to fight back, to regain some degree of control. And while sometimes it seems like it will be impossible to feel good again, to feel happy again, it will come. I hope that by sharing my own experience, my own journey, others that might be going through similar times in their own lives will be able to feel like it’s worth fighting, & those that might be suffering in silence may feel that they can talk to someone about what they’re going through. It’s never an easy journey, but sometimes it can make us who we are, & it can help us to become even stronger than we were before.

Take care everyone, & look after yourselves.

J