The other day my therapist asked me, “Do you know what shame is?”
Well of course I do, I thought, have I not read every one of Brene Brown's books? Have I not watched her TED talks and interviews on Oprah? “Yes” I answered, a little smugly “I've read Brene Brown”.
“OK” she replied, “What do you think the definition of shame is?”
I scrambled, my legally trained mind trying to fish out a perfect definition to source - “Ummmm” I stalled,“I’m not quite sure I can give a simple definition...it’s too complex.”
“Hmmm” she looked thoughtful, “let's come back to that then. What about how shame feels?”
My stomach drops… so we're going there are we?
OK - deep breath -
My eyes are downcast as there is a pressure on my forehead that won’t let me look up. I can feel a huge lump taking up the whole of my chest. I can’t swallow. I am paralysed. I find it difficult to speak. It’s all too much. The air suddenly feels dark and heavy. Anger starts to bubble to the surface…. Underneath the anger I feel… I can’t face anyone, and I can’t let anyone see me. I’m disgusting. I'm worthless. I’m nothing. I want to sink into the floor.
Here I am sitting in my therapist's office - I am 35 years old and I categorically understand that I am worthy, loved and courageous. And yet, when something happens to trigger shame this is where I am brought to.
And I'm not talking here about guilt - no, guilt is different.
The ever-wise Brene Brown states ‘I believe there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful - it's holding something we've done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.’
In contrast ‘I define pain as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging - something we've experienced, done or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I don't think shame is helpful or productive… I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous’.
And ‘shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence and judgement’.
From these words, come three simple steps to dealing with shame:
#1 Self Awareness - the first key step to dealing with shame, and really any aspect of ourselves that we feel is not serving us is awareness. We need to recognise our own shame in order to bring it to the forefront. Without this awareness, shame lurks within our dark depths - a master manipulator under the surface of our experience.
#2 Sharing - I know that shame cannot survive when it is shared with someone who responds with love and empathy. As Brene says ‘empathy is the antidote to shame’. But we must choose our confidants wisely- as we need only share with those who we know will hold us with compassion and treat us with respect. The last thing we want is to be shamed about our shame.
#3 Self Compassion – holding space for self-compassion enables us to accept our whole selves, and see the humanity in our experiences. Whatever we feel shame about is an indication that we are human, that we have deep emotions and react to our circumstances. This then assists us to let go of the intensity of the feeling, as we realise we are not alone.
One of my lifestyle dreams in my mid 20’s (when I was working 60 - 80 hour weeks in my law firm) was to have more freedom. Over the years, my goal steadily shifted from becoming a successful lawyer, to having more flexibility and balance in my career.
It's no surprise that when I finally made the (difficult yet essential) decision to leave my career in law, I took refuge in a position in Local Government - a place where I enjoyed a flex day once a fortnight, was able to take the pressure off in terms of my ambition and gained the time and space to contemplate what my next move would be. It was a period of transition, and like all transitions in life - there came a time when I had to leave the comfort, the perks and the easier hours - to stretch myself once again - throwing myself (well, sensibly applying myself - I was a lawyer after all) into the career path my soul wanted.
Don’t get me wrong, my transitional government role was not without it’s own challenges. I had to get used to having a lot more ‘down time’ and learn how to be with myself without needing career achievement to bolster me. I had to let go of the huge ego boost I had built up for myself as a lawyer and take steps to detach my ‘real self’ from my ‘career self.’ I had to find my own self worth without the title of ‘lawyer’ and let go of some long held ideas about who I was. There were times when I was bored, periods when I didn’t feel like I was stretching myself and living up to my potential and times when I felt confused and without clear direction.
But I did learn and grow a lot, so much so, that I cultivated openness, discovered my soul career, married and created a life much richer and not just focused on work. It was here I was led to Life Coaching and began the journey of accreditation. It was also in this role that my son was born, and I was able to take generous paid maternity leave.
I also picked up some great tips about how to be grateful for the work we may find ourselves in - even if it is not our ideal fit, our dream job or career. I discovered the most powerful step we can take is to shift our perspective on what we have in our lives, and instead of looking for what is missing, incomplete or wrong - we can focus on the positive aspects and opportunities available to us in the moment. Because life really is one big transition period!
We can apply this philosophy to almost any aspect of our lives - but as we are dealing with the topic of career at the moment, let’s focus on our work lives:
My little family love getting away -
and simple holidays on the South Coast at a cabin owned by my hubby's family are both a pleasure and a necessity for us.
Limited mobile reception at the cabin, makes switching off a great deal easier. We are forced to connect in with ourselves, with each other and the bush surrounding us, which is a balm for the soul.
There are so many beautiful, wild and secluded beaches as well as dog friendly enclaves that allow us to paddle under the warm sun as our cavoodle takes on her greyhound persona and tears around the sand, occasionally splashing us with sea-water in her gleeful freedom.
A little bush track takes us from the cabin to Pretty Beach nestled in the National Park, and once we arrive and kick off our thongs to start to walk along the soft sand, our stress starts to ebb out from our bare feet. I encourage my son to call out to the ocean – “aaaahhhhhhh” and I can feel the tension seeping out of our bodies, engulfed by the massive, frothy waves.
We collect rocks along the shoreline as an Eagle soars overhead. The rock pools reveal starfish and bright red sea anemones - I can never pronounce this word so I let hubby explain what the creatures are to my son.
But our time away can also be a little confronting. Having space to be quiet can conjure feelings that may have been overlooked, which without distractions demand attention. I have been in busy juggle mode for such a long time, that even the daily pockets of self-time I carve out are seemingly not enough to address all of the transformations occurring.
I can feel some familiar emotions arise as we make our way to the mystical singing rocks. My stomach feels heavy, and throat constricted. 'It's ok,' I tell myself, 'let it out' and as we reach the edge any emerging tears are swallowed up by the power of the air whipping off the swell as the rocks sing their song.
We spend a lot of time in our homes - even if it’s just to sleep, our homes play an important role in our feelings of being grounded, safe and comfortable. When we have a home we can relax in, our ability to recharge and recalibrate is enhanced.
Have you ever stayed somewhere that felt heavy, dense or uncomfortable? Can you recall walking into a room after someone has had an argument and felt the tension in the air? Is there a place you can visualise that seemed somehow hostile, dark and uninviting - even if the space was big?
This is negative energy, and such energy can collect in our homes - often without us realising it – impacting on the way we feel, behave and think.
When my husband and I got married some six years ago we held our wedding at a historic home in the Southern Highlands. The grounds were beautiful, and our ceremony was in the garden with our reception following in the dining room and ballroom. Most of our guests stayed overnight in separate guest rooms. At this time, I had not opened up my awareness as much as I have today - but I could still tell that something wasn’t quite right when it was time to go to bed. Sometime during the night I was woken by a deep sensation of dread - and when I opened my eyes I saw a dark figure hovering over my bed with its mouth wide open right next to my face. At first I froze, and then I screamed so loudly my new husband jumped 5 metres into the air, before reaching over to find out what was wrong. I kept screaming until eventually the shape vanished - but I was really shaken. So was my husband.
I have had similar experiences in old cottages where I have stayed - hearing menacing footsteps pacing in the middle of the night, feeling the sick, heavy dense energy of fear in the shower block of an old gaol I visited in Adelaide, unwittingly tuning into the deep childhood sadness of a friend when I meditated in their old bedroom, sensing the stagnant energy underneath piles of papers and files in a workplace, picking up on angry vibes when I have entered a room after someone has had an argument and feeling an intensity at the front of my forehead, like a fog and feeling the need to squint my eyes if I’m in a room and people are attempting to manipulate me or others.
The great news is, we can work towards clearing our homes and other spaces we frequent of any residual heaviness, sadness or negativity and cultivate a space full of light, clear and joyful energy.
Seven Steps to Clear Your Space
There are many ways to clear your space, but here is a simple guide to get you started.
Equipment - Before you start you will need:
You may also feel called to light candles, burn essential oil, place high vibe crystals such as selenite in a key central spot next to a bowl of water, play soothing music or use a feather to spread the smudging smoke. Anything that feels nurturing and comforting to you.
WARNING - Please remember - if you feel any sense of dread, unease or heaviness during any part of this process, immediately visualise yourself enveloped in a clear, loving and protective energy and stop the clearing. There is no need to panic, but I would advise you to stop what you are doing and reach out to the professionals. This is unlikely to happen if you are clearing your own home - so don’t be fearful, keep your vibes high and your intentions loving.
Clearing Process -
Step One - Prepare your space - Open windows, set out objects, light candles, oils and play music before you start the process. Have your smudging tools at hand.
Step Two - Check in with how the space is feeling - My favourite way of checking in with a space is to start from the outside and ask the space how it would feel if I walked in. You will feel, sense, hear or see the answer. It is also a great idea to ask the nature spirits surrounding the space and also any trees, plants, animals as well as mother earth for help to heal and maintain the space. This knowledge can help you later to set your intention for the clearing.
Step Three - Ask the space if it’s OK if you clear it - If the space is your home, it is likely you will get a positive response - but if there is a big, negative reaction, feeling of dread or discomfort please do not proceed with the space clearing and seek out help from the professionals.
Step Four - Set an intention - Set a clear and loving intention for how you want the space to feel - you can visualise this or speak it out loud. For example - I want this space to feel calm, clear and filled with love. I want my home to have a loving, prosperous and relaxed energy.
Step Five - Visualise a protective bubble - Visualise high vibe clear energy from the heavens entering in at the crown of your head, then see it engulf you in a protective bubble. You may wish to call upon your spirit guides, ancestors or angels to help you with the process.
Step Six - Smudging - Enter the space and light the sage or palo santo and walk around the edges of each room allowing the smoke to blow where it needs to. You can walk in a clock-wise or anti-clockwise direction, listen to your intuition. Keep the windows open so the smoke (and the negative vibes) can waft out of each room.
Step Seven - Bring the light - When you have finished smudging each room, thank your space (and your guides) and imagine a huge ball of light energy radiating out from your heart centre and filling every corner of your space, spilling out into the street.
Clearing your space regularly will help to keep it fresh and the energy uplifted which will have an impact on all areas of your life.
Fear is energy. It is attracted to itself. When we are in a cycle of fear, we attract more of it.
At several points in my life I have felt fear so deeply, at the time I had no idea how to pull myself out. I was literally trapped in a whirlpool of energy that was so momentous it influenced almost every thought about me and my world.
I still don’t know exactly how, but one day, in the evening - I made a clear, firm decision that I couldn’t keep living in the way I had.
It was this spark that inspired me to stretch my vulnerability threshold, get really honest about the horrible self-talk happening in my mind - and I asked for help.
So began the first slow climb out of burn-out and depression. It took all of my strength and courage to open myself up to ask for help - because I had to admit I needed someone else, and I had to expose the horrible thoughts.
When we are in the midst of fear, even if it is not so big and dramatic, we need simple and gentle ways to pull ourselves out. Having a clear plan brings back a little hope and optimism, which is the starting place for shifting fear. We need a solid, uncomplicated action to pull us out of the heavy momentum we have lived in, sometimes for months.
What helped me?
Exercise - fear is energy, we need to move it out and connect with our body.
Sleep + Meditation - when fear gains momentum we need to shift it.
Focusing - what we focus our attention on, manifests.
Getting help - fear energy likes us to feel as if we are small, alone and beyond help - this is not true.
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I need to start by saying there are so many ways I manage my anxiety, depression and tendency towards burnout. There is never a ‘one size fits all’ approach - and I have learnt to be patient, flexible and adaptable to what I need at any particular time. This has taken practice and a commitment to discovering all parts of me - the light and shadow aspects.
Over the years, I have realised how much strength is required to see a therapist and work through confronting aspects about life. I have been in and out of therapy for almost eight years - and my personal growth and self awareness has been exponential. My empathy and capacity to understand humanity has increased tenfold. I am strong, resilient and emotionally intelligent.
Self-care has become integral in my life. I have many activities, resources and avenues that I use to look after myself and I have developed this knowledge over time. I have picked up tools, tips and techniques from multiple sources and experimented with ideas until I found the methods that work best for me and the particular point in life I find myself.
Spiritual practice has also become a huge and amazing part of my perspective. Meditating, yoga, chakra cleansing, energy healing, channelling, connecting with nature and mother earth, sacred women’s circles, deepening my intuition, seeking knowledge and understanding of spirit through podcasts, books, lectures, workshops and teachers.
But there is another way I manage my anxiety and depression on a day to day basis - I take anti-depressants.
Is this a big deal? Does it need an announcement?
For me - the answer is yes and no.
The concept of taking anti-depressants troubled me for a long time. I was so resistant to the idea and so against it, that even at my worst - I would not even contemplate taking tablets. It felt like defeat, like I was giving up and not working hard enough to make myself better. I wasn’t good enough as I couldn’t heal myself - I was a perfectionist about fixing myself - like I was a project that could reach particular milestones if I worked hard enough. Like I could get better if I could just uncover one more issue, if I could just understand why I reacted negatively to one additional situation, if I could heal myself just that little bit more.
There are many sectors in the online spiritual community that echoed my fears and made it difficult for me to accept the need for western medicine in dealing with anxiety and depression. I found that there is an undercurrent of shame, and also a feeling that you are ‘not really that spiritual’ if everything is not organic, based on energy or nature. Of course, these were all projections of my own feelings about the ‘weakness’ of taking tablets to ease my suffering.
In a similar way, I started to attract some spiritual friends and mentors, as well as holistic health advocates who advised me of the dangers of taking anti-depressants and how it would influence my energy field, my health, my spiritual growth and my perceptions. The thought of taking tablets caused me a mountain of shame and resistance. To even consider taking tablets felt inauthentic and inadequate.
I took all of these ‘warnings’ and opinions on board and I rejected tablets in favour of upping my self care routine. I wholeheartedly embraced daily meditation, yoga and bush walking. I gave up coffee, did a 6 week liver cleanse, continued eating a low fructose diet and took a daily probiotic. I saw a psychologist, had massages and acupuncture regularly. I journaled, listened to podcasts about health and wellness and scheduled alone time to rest and recharge. I had energy healings, set boundaries, read, spent time with loved ones, focused on positive aspects and was open and connected with friends. I prioritised self-care, planned events and activities that I enjoy, took regular breaks to connect back to myself and with nature as well pursuing a career that I love.
I could not see anything else that I could do to ease symptoms that were becoming increasingly more debilitating.
The truth is - while all of these practices are beneficial, deeply helpful, and healing - it was only when I started taking tablets, that I felt consistently better. The tablets were a last resort that when combined with consistent self-care and spiritual practices have brought me back to myself.
I have not given up any of my self-care pursuits. I do not see my anti-depressants as the ‘fixer’ and I will not be on them forever. I know that tablets are not for everyone - and I truly respect each person’s views about what is best for them. I do believe there is some truth to the detrimental aspects of taking anti-depressants - and that this needs to be weighed carefully with the benefits.
But for whatever reason, I need to take anti-depressant tablets now. And it doesn't come without its drawbacks. I need to take a tablet every day, and they have contributed to weight gain which I'm having trouble shifting.
However, combined with my self-care practices, anti-depressants help me to live a life that is full and rich and mostly happy. And for now I am calm, centred and at peace.
It does take strength to admit you need help.
It takes courage to see a psychologist, counsellor or other therapist to confront your past and work through your fears.
It takes commitment, focus and openness to truly examine your present and explore what you want for your future.
For a spiritually minded person - it also takes resilience, strong inner knowing and self-assurance to take anti-depressants.
The most important thing, I believe, is to look deep within and make a decision about what is best for us as individuals, to stay open and flexible when circumstances shift in order to make new decisions when they are needed, and to commit to living with grace, authenticity and kindness.
Having experienced the effects of anxiety, depression and burn out I have a lot of empathy for people who struggle to maintain their day to day lives while living with these confusing, unpredictable conditions.
And because the Universe puts us in touch with people who have similar energies to our own, my friends and clients tend to demonstrate an all too familiar resistance to acknowledging their anxiety, depression or burn out and would rather keep working hard and pushing through in an effort to ignore it, in the hopes it may just go away.
I totally get it, as I still have days when I want to distance myself from “it”.
It’s irrational, counterproductive and unhelpful - but if I dwell on the fact I have anxiety and depression it makes me feel less than. Less of a success. Less strong. Less capable. Less balanced. Less, less, less.
In fact, these are the types of questions I asked myself before I decided to write about my experiences with anxiety, depression and burn out. The thought of ‘putting it out there’ felt risky, dangerous and made me feel vulnerable and tense. I tried to put myself in your shoes, as the reader, and work out whether my fears were real.
Even after years of introspection, therapy, journaling, meditation, research and spiritual work I don’t completely understand the full impact of anxiety, depression and burn out on my life. It still likes to surprise me and keep me guessing.
Are labels good or bad? I don’t know. In some ways it is fantastic to have an explanation for feeling a particular way and being able to get help - but in other ways labels can be limiting and constrictive.
Anxiety and depression are tricky as there are no shared universal experiences of the symptoms, and both can be insidious and manipulative. Burn out could be characterised as exhaustion, low iron, lack of sleep, being too busy – and go undiagnosed.
At the end of the day, my current conclusion is that anxiety, depression and my tendency towards burn out are just aspects of me - just like my green eyes, capacity to love, size 7 feet, love of nature and my deep desire for meaningful conversations.
Neither good nor bad, with gifts and challenges on either side of the coin - it is what it is. I will keep on focusing on the positive aspects and doing my imperfect, perfectly perfect best to live my most fulfilling life.
“You don’t know why you’re exhausted? You’re fighting a war inside your head every single day. If that’s not exhausting I don’t know what is.”
I have anxiety and depression. Oh, and I have also suffered burn out, a few times.
It has taken me a long time to rid myself of the shame of having anxiety and depression. Shame is counterproductive, especially when you use it to hold yourself hostage to an issue that can wreak havoc with your life. I still carry a little around with me, I haven’t fully embraced this aspect of myself - I still see it as a shadow part.
I have always been proud of my strength, focus and determination. I was the person who willed myself into a legal career - through sheer hard work and determination. When something felt difficult or too hard, I pushed through it and steamrolled myself to success.
I’ve probably always had depression, with anxiety lurking underneath and I was on the road to burn out ever since I was 8 years old - when I made the decision that my self-worth was tied inextricably to career success, academic achievement, awards, accolades and gold stars.
Being diagnosed almost six years ago was a relief in some ways, and a burden in others.
Depression and anxiety feels different for everyone who suffers from it. As I have a tendency towards burn out as well, I can experience big mood swings - so that one moment I’m “me” - capable, organised, attentive, happy - and a few hours or days later I can feel so low that I am teary, exhausted and need to let go of all responsibility.
My anxiety is not severe, but it has caused me to have two huge panic attacks which saw me go to emergency. It also makes me want to plan, structure and ‘control’ most aspects of my life. And it doesn’t like ‘bad’ feelings - when a ‘negative’ feeling comes over me, I want to get rid of it as fast as possible, as I’m scared that the feeling will hang around.
Many highly intelligent people who have high expectations of themselves suffer from anxiety and depression. Maybe being super perceptive of the world around you, and personalising all of the social and cultural rules, conditions and barometers of success becomes overwhelming.
Perhaps the nagging feeling that you do have the skills and abilities to create a big, impressive, magnificent life is just too tempting to ignore and then the inevitable realisation that you are a human being after all, with highs and lows, deep feelings and contradictions, successes and losses - does not fit into the ideal you have set up.
Maybe it's a combination of many things - genetics, early experiences, chemical make-up, self-perceptions, sensitivity, personality etc.
Whatever the factors – anxiety and depression are part of my life, and it is one of my challenges to learn to accept these aspects of myself and look for the positive things they bring to my experience such as growth, compassion. empathy and being the catalyst for self reflection and deeper understanding..
The more I can accept who I am, learn about how anxiety and depression affects me even today, and be open about my experience, the easier it becomes. And this is still a work in progress…..
“you will be transformed when you make peace with your shadow”
- Debbie Ford
Expectations are tricky. Especially when you have high standards, especially when you're really hard on yourself and have perfectionist tendencies.
If you can recall my last blog about my journey to self acceptance (if not, you can read it here) you will remember I started introducing changes to help optimise my physical health.
However, my overall intention was this: “... my ultimate aim is to learn to love myself exactly as I am right now - and then from this place of self acceptance, take steps towards creating the body, health and vitality I really desire”
Looking back, it was this deeply felt intention that led me into my own journey into the darkness once again.
I call ‘darkness’ the energy you hold in your body which relates to the changes you are seeking to make (whether consciously or subconsciously) and can arise as pain, fear, resistance, stuckness, depression, anxiety, negativity, sadness, overwhelment, self-criticism, grief, anger, rage, hopelessness - or any other ‘dark’ emotion you are harbouring.
The universe is consistent, and It's so easy for me to see this when I'm working with others. A person will set out to deal with an issue that is holding them back, and at some point in the journey it is time for the ‘darkness’ to emerge so it can be purged and transformed. Sometimes it is a short and relatively painless aspect of the transformation and at other times it can take on a life of its own.
Because that is what happens when you start to change a part of your life, particularly one that brings up resistance - your inner self takes the opportunity to alter things at a deep level, and darkness and light are intertwined. We need to experience and accept the darker parts of ourselves to fully appreciate our light. When we seek to alter our ‘surface’, there is a depth that is aching to be transformed. We are all trying to become whole, after all.
When you are going through a period of darkness it can be really tough, especially because you don't always know when it is time to come out the other side. It can feel like you never will. But from lots of experience, I can assure you that the darkness does end. And it is such a relief. It is the beginning of the next phase in your growth, time for the ‘next level’ you to emerge.
For me, the intention to focus on ‘body’ issues stirred up a lot of old, unacknowledged emotions, energy and patterning I didn't even realise I was still carrying. It has allowed me to look at my own darkness through fresh eyes and to both broaden and deepen my journey into self-acceptance.
What is a Modern Mystic?
Anyone interested in developing their intuition and tapping into their power.
When I first heard about School of the Modern Mystic (SoMM) I was really intrigued. It sounded structured, practical and magical all at once - speaking to my inner lawyer and to my creative, spiritual side!
However, it took me over 12 months to actually sign up for the course. Maybe deep down I knew it would change my life - and I needed to be ready for that. I am so glad I took the plunge!
What does the course entail?
The 8 month course is online and is a mix of slides, audios and also meditations. The course content is practical and easy to understand. There is also a Facebook group for support.
I learnt all about the chakra system and how consciously focusing on my chakras could create big shifts in my life. And learning the principles of manifestation was amazing - I'm a big believer in the law of attraction, and the course is a great introduction to this. Mindfulness and the importance of a daily spiritual practice are also big lessons from the course.
And the weekly White Light healing sessions and two weekend retreats are divine!
How did SoMM change me?
In so many ways, inside and out!
I still look back and can't quite believe how many shifts SoMM created in my life.
The interesting thing about personal transformation is that when you're going through it, quite frankly - it can feel like absolute crap - but when you've reached the next level of awareness and have integrated the lessons learned - the ‘new you’ emerges and it can be difficult to remember who you used to be. The paradox of self-transformation…
It's hard to describe a personal transformation journey. Sometimes the shifts seem so small they almost go unnoticed, and sometimes, they're so significant they knock the breath out of you.
SoMM changed me in so many ways, some ways I am probably still discovering, but one of the big life changes was gaining the courage to leave my safe and stable job to pursue my soul path of helping people to discover their inner power and self-belief through holistic coaching and the creation of a daily spiritual practice which has helped me to open up my intuition and connection with the subtle realms profoundly.
It's a course that helped me to uncover, work through and heal many deep emotions and old patterns of operating that no longer served me. It opened me up to a deeper level of consciousness and broke through layers of stubborn resistance that I didn't even realise I was still carrying.
SoMM is practical and profound - a course for anyone who is ready to take the next step in understanding themselves at an emotional, energetic, body and soul level.
Amanda is a (reformed) lawyer turned holistic life coach, self-care advocate, workshop facilitator, writer, speaker, avid reader, nature lover, chai tea drinker and mother to a curious, active toddler. A spirit seeker who loves connecting with others on journeys of self-discovery, Amanda believes we can all find our own version of success and live an empowered life.