My birthday is at the beginning of January and so whenever there is a big round number birthday, I’m the first among my friends to face it. I am the butt of many jokes and much banter about me getting old and grey before anyone else. On the eve of my thirtieth birthday I lay in bed feeling a sense of contentment, not at all feeling the threat of thirty that my friends had been teasing me about. I was content with a sense that my life had some structure, purpose and meaning. I felt like I was possibly now an adult and turning thirty made sense. I was about to spend my milestone birthday with my husband, daughter, extended family and friends. My life was busy and full. I was doing work that mostly I loved, creating a family with a man I loved, I had beautiful friends, a lovely home and two gorgeous dogs. How could I not be happy to turn thirty?
It was true that I had so many blessings. And it was also true that I worked more than full time hours in a part time job, with barely any time outside of work to spend with my handsome caring husband, our funny intelligent daughter and sweet snuggly dogs; let alone many of my long standing and gorgeous friends. And I certainly didn’t have time for me.
In those days you got my attention by being set on fire. I would fly from one crisis or disaster to another. Work, friends, or family: if there was a drama I was there. You could rely on me. I felt terribly guilty if I couldn’t help someone.
Your marriage is in crisis – call me, I’ll skip my daughters story time to be there for you.
You’ve lost your job – I’ll be right over, I have a report that’s due but I’ll stay up into the night and write it later.
You’re having thoughts of suicide on mother’s day – I’ll leave my family before breakfast and sit with you and your family and not see my family again until the next day.
These weren’t just events that occurred sometimes, the issue was, they happened a lot, a real lot.
I had no personal boundaries. I took it all on. I picked up your baggage and carried it with me. Thus allowing me to ignore my own baggage of which there was much! I had experienced anxiety and depression after my first child was born and had masked it so that no one would know and therefore I did not get any help. I was driven by an over-inflated state of perfectionism. Where I couldn’t be perfect I instead used smoke and mirrors to try to keep up the façade.
And when I wasn’t busy helping someone, I was busy working. I had got to a point in my career where I wanted to take more control of the sort of work I did and how I did it. Owning my own business had always been a dream and it almost accidentally evolved after the birth of my second child. I started out as a consultant and was then able to establish my own company called Blooming Minds. The major focus of my work was going into workplaces and communities and teaching people about mental health and mental illness. The goal was to decrease stigma, increase people’s ability to support each other and to get people to proactively care for their own mental health.
Starting a company from scratch was hard work. I had always worked hard for others so I pushed myself, enjoying the challenge and the achievements as my little boutique service company grew and expanded. I was presenting courses four, five, six days a week, I was then coming home and kissing my husband and kids, and taking my dinner to eat in my office while I researched course material into the night, doing accounts at two am, preparing course resources at four.
I felt needed.
I felt important.
I felt safe in the busyness.
I was exhausted and I was happy. Then one day my lovely calm husband who always smiled and accommodated whenever I told him just why I had to go and help this person right now, or finish this work right now, said very calmly to me:
‘You’re so busy looking after everyone else’s mental health, what about yours? What about our family?’
His words slapped me up the side of the head. Of course I bit back and listed for him all of the reasons why I had to be there for friends and clients, explained why I couldn’t ignore their pain. I explained why I had to work so hard, we needed the money so I had to build the business, what was I meant to do, turn down the work? So nothing changed, well not for the better anyway. And then my old psychology professor said to me one day, ‘Tasha, are you a human being or a human doing?’ Another slap. Both of these men who I admire and respect could see something running ragged in me that I couldn’t yet face in myself.
Have you ever had that experience where life gives you lessons, firstly through nudges, then a shove, then it’ll slap you right up the side of the head if you don’t listen? Well I was whacked and ended up in ICU with septicaemia and was then in hospital for two weeks. Work got cancelled, and I wasn’t there for friends, and nothing bad happened. The world kept turning; my clients waited for me to get well; friends and family coped without me; global warming continued at the same rates. I was out of action for a month and spent more time with my family than I had for a long while. And I liked spending time with them. I always had, but now I realised what I had been missing. I had missed so many story times. I had missed trips to the park, the beach and picnics. I had missed years of dating my husband – we were parents of our children, but we weren’t a couple anymore outside of relating about our children. I had missed hanging out with my friends, sharing their everyday lives.
So slowly, I made some changes.
I developed this formula that I hoped would help me live my life in a way that would serve me.
My idea was that to bloom, I needed to focus my time and positive attention in the areas of my life that were underscored by my values. Not just focussing on what seemed urgent, not focussing on everyone else, and not focussing on ‘doing’ roles and relationships. I remember reading somewhere, ‘if you’re not living your own values, then whose life are you living?’ My strongest value was about having positive connected relationships with my friends and family. So I needed to recalibrate my life to reflect this. I got more help in my business, I slowed down a bit and spent more time with my family.
It took a few more years for me to learn to not need to be so involved in everyone else’s business. I needed to learn how to love people through their pain, without trying to live it for them. It’s hard at first because as you work to maintain better boundaries, they may be used to being able to rely on you in a certain way and when that changes they may try to pull you back into the old patterns. But I’ve found it makes for more authentic and respectful relationships when I get out of other people’s business and focus on my own. At the same time I’ve been working on taking responsibility for my own life and not allowing myself to feel like life happens fully to me or from me, but instead that it happens with me.
Another core value for me is respect and compassion for self and others. And yet I’ve needed to learn how to treat myself with the same respect and compassion as I treat others. I’ve learnt to not judge myself as harshly for not meeting some ideal standards, either based on societal expectations or my own internal bar. I’ve learnt that as much as I have focussed in the last decade on building my mental health, I have still not given myself permission to focus on improving my physical health. I’ve not allowed myself to prioritise really taking care of me, holistically. So this is what I am now working on.
Recently lying in bed, the night before I turned forty, again I felt a sense of peacefulness about the looming milestone. I’ve developed a business that I love, where I genuinely love the work that I do and feel that it is aligned with my values; I work with a team I adore, and I have great friendships and support a number of charities that are important to me. And significantly, I have a beautiful relationship with my fabulous family of five (we’ve now had a third baby). And laying there I was also able to acknowledge that as much as I’ve learnt and experienced in my thirties, there is more I want to learn, more that I hope to grow into. And I am ok with that.
So what did I learn in my thirties?
I learnt to be curious rather than judge.
I learnt to trust my instincts.
I learnt to relax.
I learnt to fail.
I learnt to apologise.
I learnt to set boundaries.
I learnt to love and care for others without taking responsibility for them.
I learnt how to engage in friendships which are reciprocal, fun and supportive.
I learnt to be gracious with myself.
I learnt how to love and keep the love alive in a long term relationship (my husband and I have been together 19 years and I’ve learnt to be a grown up in love).
I learnt how to tango with stress rather than soak it up.
I learnt how to look at situations from different perspectives.
I’m learning how to be kind to myself.
I have learnt that while I am still distressed by poverty and prejudice, by war and the torture we humans sometimes inflict on each other, I have learnt how to still live my life while acknowledging these issues, and creating positive impact where I can.
I learnt to like myself for where I am now, to accept what has happened and who I have been to get here and to still allow myself the hope for where I wish to be in the future.
In my twenties I learnt how to do. How to set goals and apply myself to achieving them.
In my thirties I learnt how to be.
In my forties I hope I learn how to truly honour me.
I used to look at others around me and think they’d done a course in advanced adult-ology and wonder why I hadn’t been invited! Now I realise we’re all just doing the best that we can for right now; we’re confidently doing the things we know how, and what we don’t know, we make up. And there’s lots I don’t know. And I’m ok with that.
Written by Tasha Broomhall
Tasha lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her gorgeous talented husband and her three delicious children. She is the Director of Blooming Minds WA Pty Ltd and delivers courses and keynote presentations to reduce stigma about mental. Tasha’s work encourages people to take responsibility for their own mental health and wellbeing and to be proactive in supporting the mental health of those around them. She is the author of books and journals:
- BLOOM! Mental health and wellbeing
- BLOOM! At work, a mental health guide for leaders
- A year to bloom, 52 week guided mental health journal
- Live consciously and bloom, self-reflection journal
All of which are available to purchase from http://bloomingminds.com.au/products/
You can register for her quarterly mental health and wellbeing magazine here: http://bloomingminds.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=30607ee641f723d30c64650ea&id=2123541260
Watch Tasha’s TEDx talk here: