High School Reunion

On Saturday night, I experienced another adulthood rite of passage, attending my 10 year high school reunion.

Perhaps I'm an anomaly in that my memories of high school are overwhelmingly positive. (Granted, my opinion of the school itself has changed somewhat in the years since.) I had great friends, I did well academically, and I enthusiastically embraced the school's extra-curricular program - if only to get myself out of a few days of school. When I left, Girton Grammar was still quite a small independent school - even with students from all across Regional Victoria, our graduating year 12 class had only 80 students. We were quite close, and despite tight friendship groups within the year level there was almost no-one in I felt I couldn't have a conversation with. As tends to happen in country schools, weekend parties were attended by almost everyone in the year, as well as the year levels above and below, and everyone at the school knew everyone else.

In the ten years since I finished VCE, I've maintained close friendships with a handful of people from school. About half of our graduating class started their tertiary career at The University of Melbourne, so it was almost impossible to walk through the campus without running into someone from home - and from time to time I found this uncomfortable and unwelcome.

Since then though, many of the relationships I formed at school are not as strong as they once were. And how could they be? You make new friends, you get slack, you lose touch... Your plans change, and sometimes moving away from the people you knew helps to get you to where you think you want to go. Thanks to whispers heard second- and third-hand through intersecting social circles, Facebook, and family connections, I had a vague inkling that most of us were still alive, still growing, and still seeing others from our year level.

With this in mind, I was surprised to realise that even ten years later, having not seen quite a few Old Girtonians since graduation, the shared experience of high school is such a strong bond. 

Existing alongside these people at this critical point of our lives, when our fledgling adult identities were just beginning to emerge, creates a strange feeling of familiarity - an intangible sense of knowing - even among those I'd always counted as acquaintances rather than friends. Having seen each other almost daily for a six year period accounts for many a shared memory, and reliving some of these memories brought on a sense of belonging I've rarely experienced in the ten years since.

This feeling was quite unexpected, because when I've visited Bendigo in the years since school, I've felt surprisingly little attachment to the place I called home for most of my childhood. I realise now that my attachment isn't to the places, but the people.

Against my instincts, but at the insistence of my best high school friend, I brought along my husband for the night and I felt like he was getting a crash-course in the formation of Lara. It was almost a relief to have him meet and speak to people who knew me long before he did, like things have become clear to him all of a sudden. And perhaps I make a little more sense... (Although I doubt it.)

Since Saturday night, inevitably, the nostalgia has settled in. I still feel disappointed in myself that I didn't maintain close friendships with the people who knew me best, before I even knew myself. But at the same time, I know those friendships will always be there, because the great thing about high school is that you can never forget it, no matter how much you might like to. 

What Burn Out Feels Like

I wrote in a post late last year that I learned in 2012 that burn out is a real thing. (Read it here.)

Not so long ago, I learned that it has a name too. Hypoadrenia. Also known as Adrenal Fatigue, or sometimes Adrenal Exhaustion. And I learned this the hard way, as my doctor was talking about me when she started throwing big words around.

And what, pray tell, does all that mean then? Well, it means that I finally have a reason for the delightful array of symptoms I've been experiencing over the last 6 or so years. Things like:

  • continued fatigue or exhaustion,
  • muscle weakness,
  • sleep disturbance,
  • decreased ability to handle stress, 
  • hypertension,
  • hypoglycaemia,  
  • unusual food cravings,
  • weight gain and inability to lose weight, 
  • oestrogen/progesterone imbalance,
  • chronic anaemia,
  • gut irritation causing digestive issues and food allergies.
  • trouble sleeping,
  • trouble getting out of bed,
  • depression and/or anxiety. 

If only it stopped there. I'm only just getting my head around the magnitude of the flow on effects, all of which have their own charming symptoms. One or two of these issues would be challenging enough, and I'm dealing with a whole list. The sum of it is that I've felt pretty ordinary, all the time, for a long time, but up until this point I couldn't quite put my finger on what was going on. I've seen no less than 7 professionals to try and solve the raft of issues I've been dealing with over a period of 6 years. I've been incorrectly diagnosed with depression and anxiety and medicated, taken more bad tasting pills that one person should, been told there's nothing wrong with me, and spent a lot of money.

And believe me, I thought it was all in my head.  It took some digging to find a progressive doctor who could look at the whole picture and work holistically to get to the bottom of it all. My experiences over the last 6 years made me determined to find someone who would be prepared to treat the problem - not just prescribe a pill to fix the symptoms - and wasn't that a challenge! 

So how does this all happen? What causes your adrenal system to go into meltdown?

The short answer is, stress. And as someone who was once described in her teens as "so laid back she's almost comatose" - thanks mum - it is almost unimaginable for me that I'd eventually end up really struggling with chronic stress.

In my case, apparently, things were set in motion in my early twenties when I was faced with a personal trauma that demanded a level of emotional maturity that I was simply unequipped to handle. And instead of dealing with the trauma then and there, I busied myself with finishing uni, getting (several) jobs, starting a Masters (or two), buying houses, starting businesses... You know, life in your twenties.

Unfortunately for me, it looks like the unresolved stress of the original trauma meant my tolerance for new stress was already greatly reduced. This, combined with too-big ambitions and expectations (my own) and an uninformed willingness to subscribe to "the cult of busy" led to chronically elevated stress hormone levels (cortisol), which gradually corroded my body's ability to regulate adrenal and other hormones and started greatly affecting my ability to function, let alone thrive. When my adrenal system could no longer deal with the pressure it started to give way, disrupting my body's whole eco-system in the process.

Prognosis is good though. My body will eventually get back to functioning normally, but recovering from Hypoadrenia takes a long time - beyond two years for chronic cases. I'm still having tests to gauge the severity of my case. There's no quick fix - treatment is pretty much a slow process of really focusing on healthy living - all that stuff they tell us to do, but we mostly ignore. Changing my diet to level out blood sugar, getting lots of sleep, more yoga and meditation rather than high intensity/high stress exercise, much more time in nature... So far so good. But the biggest challenge is eliminating stressors that may be adding to the problem.  

It seems GPs rarely look at stress as a contributor to illness, in spite of widespread evidence that it is starting to have some major impacts. We know lifestyle issues are increasingly contributing to huge levels of chronic illness, but for the most part stress has been ignored while poor diets and sedentary lifestyles are copping most of the blame. 

Despite this, I'd venture a guess that the majority of my high-achieving friends are experiencing some (if not ALL) of the symptoms of prolonged elevated stress levels. According to my doctor, the long term effects used to be called a nervous breakdown - hardly a medical diagnosis, but surely something we want to avoid!

I guess what I'm interested in is how did we get ourselves into this mess in the first place? Why, if stress can have such dramatic effects on our bodies, do we subject ourselves to it? No doubt I'll deal with that in many posts to come. 

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from anyone dealing with similar issues, any cynics, or anyone who'd like to give their opinion really. I just ask that you play nice.

Here come the comments... 

Maiden

My very clever friend Sandi Sieger was tweeting recently about the kinds of comments she gets about the fact that she changed her name when she got married. I totally respect her opinion and her decision, but I thought perhaps I could write a piece explaining why I didn't change mine.

My husband was disappointed to know that I wasn't going to change my name. According to him I'm "smiting" his family. I think (I hope) this is only said in jest. I'm sure if he had a serious issue and just simply couldn't understand my reasons, this would be a whole different piece and it might titled something like "Why I didn't get married".

I should start by saying that for whatever reason I quite like the tradition of taking your partners name. I think it shows solidarity of some kind. I don't know that I agree with it always being the man's name because I think that's a symptom of an outdated and unfair system, although I don't know how keen I am on someone taking my surname either...

Anywho..

Firstly, I like my name. Seeing as I quite like my name I thought it would be nice to hold onto it.

Secondly, I'm one of three girls, and my husband is one of four boys, there are plenty of them around and I have no doubt there will continue to be. I'd like to stick up for the McPhersons (although they're hardly a dying breed) by holding onto a name that is on its way out in my family!

Thirdly, potential confusion with sisters-in-law could be a problem. So far there is already a Laura Goonan. Oddly enough the other Goonan ladies are an Emma Goonan and an Amy - aka Ems and Ames. Tricky. I'll be intrigued to what happens when the final Goonan Wedding  takes place...

Penultimately, as silly as it sounds, there is a brand and a reputation attached to my name. People know me as Lara McPherson. And the mechanics of changing @laramcpherson and laramcpherson.com and all the other place my name lives in its original format to something else wore my brain out.

Finally and fundamentally, I find the idea of a maiden name problematic. Its not like I've been just existing in beta for 27 years, waiting for some man to come along so that I could scrap my temporary surname (the name of my father) and take up the surname of the man who would determine my identity for the remainder of my life. I've already existed as a fully fledged real life person for a long time, and I don't like the idea of abandoning that part of my identity as if it never existed. The idea of everyone I've known up to this point now knowing me as something different forever more seems odd to me.

Ok, over to you ladies and gents. To change, or not to change? Why or why not?

Wedded

In October last year I married a wonderful man named Marcus surrounded by 70 of our nearest and dearest. We were married in Victoria's High Country, just down the road from where Marcus family have lived and farmed for five generations. I wasn't convinced I should share these here, but the setting was sublime and the photos by Caz Whitehead and video by Kealey Nutt from Eleven & Twelve are too good not to share.

Streamlining

Towards the end of last year, I wrote about focus.

Until now though, I've been unable to really cull from my burgeoning "project list" like I should. I've been unwilling to sever the strong emotional connections I've developed to some of the enterprises I'd been incubating, some of them for quite some time now.

After a very well timed conversation with my dear friend Kate, I'm going to try and do it properly. Streamline, that is.

It means being quite ruthless with what I spend my time on. I know that what I'm really interested in is Systems. The big stuff. I want to understand how the big stuff impacts on the smaller stuff, the personal stuff. So I've decided I'm going to focus on this in a real way.

This might look like a slight change in direction. It means some of the projects I'd been planning to spend time on this year will have to be put on the bench for a while. I think this is for the best though - probably for the eventual success of these projects and certainly for my effectiveness and mental health!

Already, I feel like this is a great load off my chest. I feel much more free to dive into the areas I'm truly interested in pursuing. In depth.

This might mean my areas of interest could appear to have shifted. It could be temporary, or permanent. But I need to have a real go at these things and figure out where I stand.

I hope you'll still call by occasionally and visit.

A Few Things I Learned in 2012

I wrote this a little while ago, but I was worried I sounded jaded and cynical. But after reading this I’ve decided I should publish it anyway.

2012 has been interesting for me. Challenging in many ways, but also enlightening. Hopefully I’ve grown - personally and professionally.

I’ve learned a few harsh lessons. Which are:

If you work for the love of it, and you lose the love, you’re not left with much.
Some of you may also know this as don’t work for free. I worked on some emotionally challenging projects this year. At times, I felt used, exhausted, resentful and unvalued. What I learned is that I will never work for love again, unless it is on my own projects.

Everyone is in it for themselves.
And most likely they don’t give a shit about you, your bank balance, your feelings or your reputation. They want what they want and if you can’t provide it, they’ll toss you and find someone who can. Unless you’re creating value, you’re not valuable.

Kudos doesn’t pay your bills.
Though I’ve benefitted from some lovely pats on the back this year, you can’t pay your bills with kind words and it is another thing entirely to convert positive sentiment to cold hard cash. Clue: You need to DO SOMETHING.

Fragmented focus leads to burn out / Burn out is a real thing.
Fear of missing out and chronic control freak tendencies have left me feeling utterly worn out this year. And while I may not yet have figured out exactly what it is I’m good at, I’ve found things I love doing, and others that I don’t so it hasn’t been for nothing.

I can’t do everything, but I can do something.
I am limited. There are some things (many, in fact) that I am just not good at. Attempting to solve all the world’s problems on my own is sure to lead to insanity. However, doing what I can to the best of my ability is sure to lead to satisfaction, both personally and professionally.

And the best bits:

I’m very lucky to be married to such an incredible man.
Don’t know what he sees in me, but I’m sure glad he sees something.

Delayed gratification is the definition of maturity.
For all her whining, Carrie Bradshaw was right about one thing. And also, doing things for the benefit of others will bring you more happiness and satisfaction than being self involved ever can.

A little bit of perspective changes everything.
Learn to think of yourself from outside your little patch of the world. Then see if you like what you see.

Support comes from where you least expect it.
At periods this year when I’ve really needed support, I have found it from the most unexpected of avenues. As I now know, its when you’re going through a challenging time that you find out who your real friends are. They’re the ones you should hold on to.

I’d rather be farming.
The absolute simplicity of growing your own food, and sitting outside all of the bullshit, is the one biggest thing I’m looking forward to - the light at the end of the tunnel. And I can’t wait.

Bucket List

Keeping my eyes on the horizon. Here are a list of things I want to do/see. Soon.

Physical challenges
A marathon
Tough Mudder
Colour Run
Bikram 30 day Challenge
Bikram Teacher Training
Triathlon


Travel
El Camino de Santiago
India Trip
North Africa Trip -morocco, tunisia, algeria
Le Grand Tour through Europe
South and Central America - machu picchu, incan and mayan ruins
Central Australian Communities
Northern Lights
Scandinavia
Egypt


Personal
Write a book
Live overseas again, but properly, as an expat
Make my own cider
Do my PhD
10 day Vipassana
Live on our farm
Be an international aid volunteer
Own a piano

I’m sure I’ll think of more. But here’s a start.

 

Juggling/Struggling

Anyone who has been plugged into conversations happening online and offline in the last couple of weeks will know that things seem to be shifting somewhat of late.Many people I admire and respect a great deal, people I consider to be doing amazing things for the greater good, have confessed that the challenge has become overwhelming. This honesty and vulnerability has prompted a range of reactions from people in similar situations, and those who aren't.

I wrote about my own experiences here and here. But I'm feeling today that perhaps I wasn't honest enough with where I'm at. I've decided I need to be really clear on how I'm feeling. And I'm certainly not intending to glorify this or say that my process is any better or worse than anyone else's. I'm simply talking aloud here and trying to figure things out for myself, and I'm hoping to benefit from the insights of others who are going through or who have been through something similar. If you're sick of hearing me talk about myself, my process and my life, I don't blame you. But if you don't have anything constructive to contribute I'd respectfully ask that you quietly move on and avoid making this harder for me than it already is. I don't want to paint too dire or too self-adulatory a picture here. I'm just trying to figure some things out.

The truth is - I'm completely overwhelmed. It has hit me like a sledge hammer this week. I am burnt out. I am so exhausted from juggling competing priorities for too long. A lovely friend wrote something about me recently and said the following: "If Lara McPherson somehow acquired more than ten fingers and thumbs, there is no doubt she would be cramming them into multiple creative pies at the same time." I hope it was intended as a compliment, but the truth is I cannot keep so many fingers in so many pies.

I think I've finally figured out what has happened and how I have arrived at this point.

1. I'm an intelligent person. I have always done well academically, despite minimal effort. I'm interested in everything. I love learning, either in a traditional educational setting, or in a self driven way. I have always loved reading. Anything. I listen to podcasts - on history, social theory, business, literature, science, food, environment, wellness, travel, whatever I can get my hands on - all the time. At the gym, at work, and when I'm falling asleep. I want to know everything about everything. Or at least something about everything.

2. I'm a creative. I am constantly coming up with new projects to pursue. I thrive on inspiration but I struggle to work without it. I'm also easily bored, bad at finishing what I start. One of my greatest assets (and liabilities) is creating connections and seeing opportunities. I think perhaps this is a virtue of the fact that my interests spread across so many areas and industries. More than anything I love thinking strategically about the way things can be improved.

3. I am unsatisfied with the way things are done. I see injustices, imbalances and impracticalities with the way the world works and I instinctively feel it is my job to change things. In particular, my concerns centre on the way we consume, the way the media works, how little people think for themselves and take on the accepted wisdom, our education system and the current economic paradigm. These are BIG areas to try and tackle, on your own or with a whole heap of people. But I'm only just figuring out that I might not be able to change everything I want to.

4. I have a chronic fear of missing out and I'm prone to choice anxiety. If I have an idea, I hate the idea of hanging it off to someone else to see it realised. Perhaps that means I'm selfish. But also, the idea of missing out on a chance to learn something, to meet people, to find a new opportunity does not sit well with me. At all. So what I tend to do instead is try and do everything. But the reality is you can only juggle so many things at once. And fewer still if you want to do any of them well.

5. I also have a chronic need to please people. I'm not quite sure where this comes from - I'd say it probably has to do with my relationship with my Dad - but it feels really important to me that people like me. This means I'm likely to promise the world to people, even if I can not actually deliver it. The idea of being "too generous" seems ridiculous to me, but I'm getting my head around the fact that I am - and often. Mostly, I give my time too freely and it comes back to haunt me.

6. I'm irrationally optimistic. And for the most part I think this is a good way to be. Though as my previous point might illustrate, it actually doesn't really occur to me very often that things might not work out for the best. I always think the best of people, it doesn't occur to me that everyone isn't in it for the right reasons. I've been incredibly fortunate in my life, and I suppose I have no reason not to think this. But reality dictates that everything isn't right all the time.

7. I'm an organiser. I love people. I love bringing my favourite people together. I also like things how I like them. So rather than jumping on board someone else's idea, I'm always more inclined to organise something of my own - this applies to things like my businesses, my netball team, my running group, and a million other examples. I think it goes back to me wanting to please people. Maybe it is just that I want the pat on the back that comes with it?

8. Money doesn't drive me. My parents have always been comfortable financially, and it never occurred to me that I might not be. The idea of getting a job I don't enjoy to pay the bills feels exactly opposed to my values. In fact I've done it, and I hated it. I don't know that I could bring myself to do it again. My attitude to money means I'm good at spending and bad at saving, because I assume more will always come along - irrational optimism as fiscal policy.

9. I am always on. Because I do what I love, delineation between my work and personal life is non-existant. I'm extremely bad at compartmentalising my life. This means my work and personal relationships collide, my work and personal finances collide, my digital presence serves both work and personal functions. This makes it incredibly hard to step away from work when I need to to focus on my personal life.

10. I like round numbers. Or more specifically, numbers divisible by 5. This is actually a real thing about me. I also like lists.

The culmination of all of these factors looks something like this:

I am involved in a long list of projects, but I feel like I'm doing nothing well. I spend so much time in my head thinking about how to manage competing priorities that I am mentally exhausted. I love starting new projects, but usually I burn out or run out of inspiration before I can see any of them through to completion. I feel like I'm working my bum off, but I'm not actually illustrating my true capacity which is incredibly frustrating. I feel like I've been plugging away for a while now, but that I have almost nothing to show for it and I'm not getting to where I think I want to go. I don't have a good grasp of what my real skills are, because I'm so used to trying to do everything. I love setting goals (with the best of intentions) but I lack the perseverance and persistance to see them realised. I am passionate about many things, but I forget that I cannot be everything to everyone.

What the above list and this outline of my current situation tell me is that I need to do a complete reassessment of how I've been operating.

I'm not 100% clear on how to approach this, but I think I have a few ideas on how to get started. Here's another list.

1. Cull - aka focus. I need to get extremely selective about what I'm involved in professionally. This probably means there will be several people reading this who I may have to have difficult conversations with in the next couple of weeks. I hope that they recognise that this is probably a good thing for them, and it definitely is for me.

2. Become good at something - I think I have an inkling as to what this might be, but now is the time to specialise in it. Absorb myself completely in one thing. Just writing that now feels like such a relief.

3. Be clear about my value - I have been far too inclined to do work for free or for contra. But this is not the path to financial sustainability and it certainly won't pay for my much needed holiday. I need to get into the habit of clarifying the terms of any work arrangement I enter into before I take it on.

4. Take time to reflect and appreciate - I tend to get too caught up in the doing to spend time thinking about what I'm doing or why I'm doing it. Just starting to write things down in the last few weeks has been amazing. Sorry if you're sick of reading about it, but having it here is helping me too much for me to stop it.

5. Focus on my physical and mental health - my mind and body have taken a beating in the last few years. Stress and anxiety have wreaked havoc on my hormones, which has impacted on my weight, fitness, self esteem, mood, emotional stability, and even my sleep. (I never thought I would say that.) For too long now, I have ignored the signs of physical and mental exhaustion and managed to get by on caffeine and carbohydrates. But my body cannot handle this anymore so I need to make my health a priority to ensure I'm reaching my full potential.

 

Well, that's a start. I would love to hear from any of you who have words of wisdom to share. I know there is a wealth of knowledge in the community and I'm choosing now to make the most of it if it is available.

Today is the first day of spring and it is a beautiful day in Melbourne. Life is good and I feel extremely fortunate to have so many inspiring, supportive people around me.

2011>2012

2011 was an interesting one. Equal parts challenging (and sometimes frustrating) as inspiring and fulfilling. I had some amazing experiences, and loved seeing my friends and family go from strength to strength in their own ventures.At the end of the year and the beginning of the next one, I think it is important to reflect on what I’ve achieved in the past 12 months, however large or small, and acknowledge how far I’ve come.

So in 2011 I’m celebrating:

Becoming engaged to the love of my life! Selling my first apartment. Losing 10 kgs. Buying Curracloe Holdings - a small farm with my fiance. Selling my car and buying my bike - I wish I’d done it years ago! Holding my first discussion event on sustainability in fashion at LMFF. Curating a 3 day seminar series at Fashion Exposed with the help of the TFIA. Forming and amicably dissolving a business partnership and learning plenty. Completing CSL and RMIT SEEDs fellowships. My first successful Melbourne Tweed Ride event. Getting to the bottom of my food allergies.

Like many others, at this time of year I also set my sights on the things I’m striving for in 2012. I do have a tendency to aim high, but I find even goals that seem to be out of reach give me something to aspire to and help focus my attention. For me, the most important part of goal setting is just as likely to be the process as the end point.

That said, in 2012 my goals are to:

Get married. Lose another 10 kgs. Formally launch Sustainable Fashion Australia in earnest. Run a marathon.

I’m also planning to:

Take on my new role as host of The Clothing Exchange in Melbourne. Grow the Melbourne Tweed Ride community. Renew my focus on Wardrobe Wonderland. Dedicate more time to thinking and writing. Launch some other projects I’ve been incubating for a while - news to come. Work out how to balance my work and study. Learn to keep my own accounts! Take on the first of several employees. Stop eating wheat. Write Thank You cards. Take classes in sewing, permaculture, guitar, photography and spanish.

So there you have it! Some ambitious - and not so ambitious - goals for 2012. I know I’m not the only one who feels there is some serious change on the horizon. Here’s hoping its a good one!

What are you planning for 2012?