Mt Biondello

For the second Sunday in a row, I am standing on top of a mountain. This time, however, I am completely alone – no daughter beside me, and no other people out adventuring.

Although this is only a hill compared to Mt Ngungun, of Weekend Callenge #3 fame, it was, in many ways, much more challenging for me. For a start, I took it on all by myself. Also, although the walking track is much smoother than that of Mt Ngungun and there aren’t any stairs, some parts were a much steeper incline, making my body work a little harder for the reward of a rest at the top.

The week between the two climbs has also been challenging – the possibility of having to leave the only place I have ever felt truly at home, insecurity at work, the destruction of trust, the loss of love, high anxiety levels, a panic attack, and almost 24 hours of non-stop crying – it’s been a heck of a week!

Sitting here alone, on top of this hill that is known as a mountain, I have plenty of time and space to contemplate things. I am, however, distracted by the beauty of the sights and sounds around me, and by the deep sense of peace rising within.

Most of the things causing me stress and anxiety at the moment are beyond my control, I know that, and I know I need to be patient and have faith everything will be as it is meant to. Unfortunately, waiting is not, and never has been, one of my strong points. Waiting, uncertainty, ‘limboland’, whatever you want to call it, is one of the surest triggers for my anxiety, and even after all this time I have not yet found an effective way to cope with that state of being.

Getting out of the house, and continuing to challenge myself to live every moment like it’s my last is definitely a far better use of my anxious energy, however, than sitting at home, drowning in my mind.

Feel free to share any anxiety triumphs, challenges, or experiences in the comments below – how do you refuse to hand over control to your anxiety?

Weekend Challenge #4

On Anzac Day, I went fishing for the first time in 18 months, and the first time in, I don’t know how long, on my own. When I was telling a friend about it and explained how I felt during the experience, they set me the challenge to get back out and do it again this weekend.

So, today I went fishing!

Ironically enough, today’s fishing adventure was a far greater learning experience about my anxiety than last Tuesday, when my biggest hurdle was just getting out the door with fishing rod in hand.

Today I had difficulty finding a fishing spot that did not already have other people there, so my first internal battle was to make myself get out of the car and go fishing anyway, regardless of other people being nearby.

I managed to do this, feeling very grateful there was enough space between us that when I put my earphones in and music on, I could pretend I was on my own. Two pieces of bait later, however, and a car load of six people arrived. 

My heart started to race. My muscles tensed. I started to shake. My breathing was rapid. I wanted to literally run.

But I didn’t, I stayed.

I didn’t enjoy myself anywhere near as much as when I went fishing last week, but at least I persevered after I desperately wanted to escape.

Weekend Challenge #3

What better way is there to push yourself out of your comfort zone in terms of physical exercise, fear of heights, anxiety around people, and do something you’ve never done before, than climbing a mountain?

Admittedly, the mountain I ended up climbing was not the one I had originally intended, and, as with Weekend Challenge #2, I wasn’t alone, but what an experience it was!

Thankfully, this Challenge was completed early in the morning, when my energy levels were high and not already depleted by the outside world. I went into it with a positive attitude, and no doubts about my ability to complete it. A little anxiety did kick in when we arrived at the parking area and found it packed with cars, but I was looking forward to making it to the top so much, my fears didn’t inhibit me in any way.

My daughter had climbed this mountain before, and told me about her previous experiences as we began the walk. Our pace was steady – more than a snail’s pace, but not full speed either. I was expecting to find the physical exertion difficult, but was pleasantly surprised to find shortness of breath my biggest problem, although vertigo did kick in a little as we neared the peak, but I think that had more to do with my fear of heights than anything else.

This fear went into overdrive on the last few metres of the climb, where there is no path, just large boulders that you have to scramble over. I knew I could get up, but I also knew trying to get back down would terrify me. But, up I went, and the view and sense of accomplishment definitely outweighed the fear of tumbling over the cliff face!

On both the ascent and descent, there was a constant stream of people. Smiles and hellos were all about, although for me it was much easier to make eye contact, smile, and say hello to people on the way down – perhaps because of the high of having made it to the top. While it is natural for some people to say hello to strangers as they walk past, many didn’t, so from about halfway going back down, I set myself a mini challenge to engage with as many people as possible. My daughter and I were laughing so much by the time we reached the bottom because she was amazed at how many people walked past her without saying anything, but said hello to me a few steps behind her, even one person who was engrossed in his phone, and was headphones and sunglasses said hi as he went past me! My theory is, people are more likely to say hello if you make eye contact and smile – a theory I’m not sure my daughter agrees with.

Weekend Challenge #2

My second challenge for the weekend was to get out of the house and do something I wouldn’t normally do, such as visit an art gallery, museum, or ‘something’.

A spontaneous decision at lunchtime on Saturday to visit my daughter left me thinking I wasn’t going to meet this challenge. Although a six hour drive technically meets the criteria of ‘getting out of the house’, sitting in a car by myself, singing at the top of my lungs, does not constitute something I wouldn’t normally do. The drive did give me plenty of thinking time though.

I could have incorporated this Challenge with Weekend Challenge #3, but that would have been cheating. This had to be something that would push me out of my comfort zone in relation to going to a public place, somewhere with people, and something I would normally feel anxious about.

The opportunity presented itself on Sunday, and although I still feel I cheated a little because my daughter was with me, my anxiety levels were high, and I had to consciously push myself past my fear and do ‘it’.

‘It’ turned out to be going to one of the largest markets I have ever seen! I was already desperate for withdrawal from the world, and on the way back to the safety of my daughter’s home after completing Weekend Challenge #3, when we found the markets by chance. 

There were cars and people everywhere! It would have been so easy to just drive on by, but I’m glad I made the decision to stop and walk through the gates. I’m also glad however, that I wasn’t alone.

The rows of stalls seemed to go on for ever. Each of the walkways were crowded with people. My senses were overstimulated by the sights, sounds, smells, and bright sunlight. It was difficult to maintain a smile, make eye contact with people, and be interested in the products the stallholders offered. A stall selling birds – budgies, cockatiels, parrots, love birds, etc – was the highlight, and provided a brief respite from the awareness of people.

Overall, I think I might have only achieved partial points for this Challenge – I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t fully in the moment because I was constantly thinking of escape, and I only made it through about a third of the market before beating a hasty retreat to the car. I did, however, manage to overcome the desire to keep driving, and making a reasonable attempt at enjoying the experience.

Weekend Challenge #1

For as long as I can remember I have had a fear of being in public places on my own, particularly if there is a crowd. These days, I cope with familiar places fairly well, such as the local shops, the park where I walk, and the beach. Any where I haven’t been causes me anxiety, unless I have someone I know with me.

My anxiety is related to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the symptoms of which tend to cycle through better times and bad times. While there has been a general improvement of my symptoms over the last two years, the last six months has seen my anxiety levels steadily increase, and a return of flashbacks and nightmares in the last few weeks.

My natural reaction has been to withdraw, as much as possible, and stay well within my comfort zone. Awareness of my withdrawal has been highlighted by the recent anniversary of making a conscious decision to face my fears and push myself to extend my life beyond my comfort zone to ensure that I live and make the most of every moment, instead of just existing.

I am very lucky and blessed to have some amazing friends, who are aware of my recent ‘bad’ habits, and have set some challenges for me to help overcome my fears, and ensure I remain committed to living life to the fullest.

So, here I am, completing Weekend Challenge #1 – take myself to the drag racing.

I’m a speedway girl. I was brought up regularly attending speedway meetings – my father raced saloon cars when I was very young, my uncle raced go-karts, my brother raced junior solos, and I did a stint as a swinger on sidecars – so essentially, speedway is in my blood. But I have never been to the drags.

It is slightly ironic going to the drags is my first Weekend Challenge, because it was making a conscious decision to face my speedway demons twelve months ago that started a year-long journey of staring my anxiety and fear in the eye, and choosing to live life anyway.

And here I am, alone, in the middle of a crowd, in a place I’ve never been, having a total blast!