Things That Make You Happy

It is finally the end of Term 2, and the end of a long Semester 1. With everything that has happened, I am glad to finally have a break. Working for 23 weeks, without a proper rest, has had me drained and emotionally, physically, mentally and in some ways spiritually tired.

This level of exhaustion made me realize that things need to change and I need to be more proactive in managing my emotions and energy.

Halfway through Term 2, at my lowest, I made a list of hobbies and activities I wanted to do but held myself back from. Things that made me happy but I pushed aside because of reluctance.

I had a look at the excuses, and realized that the only one holding me back was myself. The only one who held the keys to my happiness was myself.

Upon that realization, I gave myself permission and I made a promise to myself – to do more that makes me happy.

Starting with these holidays, there are three areas I am going to focus on:

  1. Fix my DSLR camera and discover what type of photography I like and take more photos.
  2. Be more physically active.
  3. Do more hikes/walks around Perth as well as being in nature more.

Here’s to the things that make you happy. I’ll keep you updated on how my three focus areas are going.

Dear … exam stress

Dear Sophia,⁠

Five years ago, you posted this image to social media, trying to send some positive hopeful energy out, because frankly, you were somewhat of a mess. Exam pressure did that to you. Two and a half hours later, you walked out and the heavy burden was lifted because, as you put it, “it went better than I thought”. ⁠

Repeat after me: I will pass this finance exam. I will pass this exam. I will pass this exam.

This week social media reminded you of this snapshot of a moment captured in the black-and-white photo you chose to accompany the post and it got me thinking of my students and exams they may have to do next term. What would I say to them about the pressures of exams?⁠

When I was 16, 17, what advice would have I wanted to have heard before going into exams? Those were the questions I asked myself as I sat down this morning with my cup of coffee. Reflecting on this, these are the advice I would give my younger self, but also to my students next term.

  1. Exam pressure can be scary, but remember this: we can’t do more than the best shot and effort we put into preparing for this exam. Don’t strive for perfection.
  2. Don’t let exams take over your life. You need balance; prioritize your study but make sure you carve out time to socialize as well as spend time having fun with your interests and hobbies.
  3. Clarity comes when the mind is still, not when it is busy. So take time to switch off, relax and calm the thousands of thoughts that must be racing through your mind.
  4. Spend at least 30 minutes of your day moving. Whether that be through walking, running, yoga, dancing or working out.
  5. Remember that everyone learns differently, so how you study will be different to others. Find the study regime that works for you, and create a structure.

Exam time is a stressful time and this is one of the reasons why resilience is so crucial for a balanced mental health during this time. Though whilst this letter is addressed to myself, I hope that it is helpful for anyone who needs reassurance as they enter exam times.

Breathe.

Couple of reflections in this time of uncertainty, where we have seen humanity shine in times of adversity (spontaneous balcony concerts in Spain and Italy) but also the ugliness of humanity come to light (um, hello panic buying of toilet paper).

It is a juggle and a half to keep teaching the curriculum and emotionally manage classes of students who are unsettled, because the world is unsettled.

Managing my own emotions, whilst trying to be calm and positive for students, has led to exhaustion. My emotional and mental wellbeing wobbled for a bit, but it has stabilized and is now steady … just.

What has really helped me these past two weeks has been taking a break on social media platforms, filtering what type of information I intake, making time for myself and yoga. I’ve managed to binge watch several seasons of Heartland, get up-to-date with Doc Marten and had several individual dance parties in the kitchen. Plus, afternoon naps with the kittens curled up next to me didn’t hurt.

Pause, catch your breath and recharge.

This has helped me get a balance, and be able to attack the large pile of marking that I’ve bookmarked for this weekend. It has also helped me assess a few things.

In this season of uncertainty, let us share more of the loving-kindness that we are capable of. Don’t let fear isolate us unnecessarily. Because I am an educator, my natural inclination is to share resources to help others. So, below are some tips for those who are feeling overwhelmed:

  • Do one action each day that generates happiness for you and for others. If you are stuck for ideas, look at Action for Happiness’ “Coping Calendar“. There are 30 actions you can implement to help you cope in times of uncertainty.
  • Switch off social media for a short period of time. We can all be easily overwhelmed with the thousands upon thousands of posts about Covid-19, so it’s okay to take a break and detox for a bit.
  • Listen to music that helps calm you. I’ve been playing Spotify’s “Musical Therapy” playlist a lot recently. Even though I get a few grumbles, I have noticed how it calms them and helps them focus.
  • Rest up. This is often easier said than done, but try and get 8 hours of sleep, hydrate and make sure you are eating regularly.

Let me know what you do to help you stay calm in moments of uncertainty.

Limbo

For months, I have been thinking about Liebe + Letters. Blog posts have been forming in mind, only to evaporate when I try to put words onto paper.

It’s been hard to write, or more accurately, finish blog posts ready to publish. There are some many unfinished drafts that I don’t even know if they will ever see the light of day.

I’ve thought about the type of posts I write and whether or not I should change the format. Whether I should write less about reflections about life lessons and more about the minutiae of my life.

A lot has happened since my last update. Finished at my old school, relocated back to Perth and moved houses, started at a new school, became mama to two little kittens and (re)learning how to manage full-time teaching.

It’s left this blog to be in limbo, and frankly, I hate being in limbo. I like certainty, structure and routines. Knowing where I am going, and what my plan for the day is. So not having a plan and being in limbo when it comes to my writing is … daunting. In many ways, it’s uncomfortable for me.

I know they say that being out of your comfort zone is where most of the learning and growth occurs. Yet in this murky zone of uncertainty, it is hard to be reassured by that saying.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to keep writing and get all of these ideas that are floating in my brain and out into the world to see where they go. I just want to know where some guiding markers are for this project.

There isn’t a concrete ending to this post – I have no idea where to go from here and maybe that is it. Maybe the whole key learning points in this is the organic nature of writing.

All I know is that you put one foot in front of the other, just focus on the here and now and see where that journey leads you.

A Decade in Review

Standing at Cosy’s Beach, feeling the wind whip around my face and letting the fresh sea air soak into my bones, I stood reflecting on where I have been, where I am going and where I could go.

Despite all it’s messiness and challenges thrown at me (from what felt like left, right and centre), 2019 has been a year where I have grown from out of my shell and into a more confident being. This has not happened overnight, but rather as a result of the lessons I have learnt over my formative years that are my 20s.

My 20s (and simultaneously the decade) started with the freedom to explore what I thought I wanted to do career wise, which was a blend of NGO activism and media PR. The volunteering and the work I did cemented my belief of the change young people are capable of and learning that if you want to achieve something, you need to put effort into it.

Mid-decade was the start of the end of my naivety. Taking steps out of my previously sheltered life, I clashed with the complexities of reality where consequently, I had to learn harsh lessons. In response, I learnt to trust my instincts and that if my gut is telling me something is wrong, then something is most definitely wrong.

As I started to scrape myself back off the ground, I started to find my feet, found my confidence again and soared. Throughout the past few years, the end of the decade, the path (that seemed foggy and unclear to younger me) started to become clearer. My decisions, my experiences started to all slot together to show my calling – teaching. Despite some bumps in the road, I finally found my passion.

Looking towards the next decade, there is still a part of me that wishes that the chaos (that was present this year) will settle down over the next decade, but the wiser me knows that this is wishful thinking. I know that I am stronger and more capable of smoothing the chaos that is life into a somewhat smoother ride than I have been able to previously.

The past 10 years were eventful, but I grew and learnt new things. Here’s to another 10 years, where I hope to work towards my dreams and goals and continue to grow to be the best person I can be.

Love,
Sophia
x

Few thoughts at the start of the end of the school year.

It’s the last week of school, and I’m exhausted. Like exhausted-to-the-bone exhausted and I’m not doing well emotionally.

My emotions have been out of whack and my demons have come out to taunt me because I’ve simply not have had the energy to deal with them healthily.

Constant negative thoughts – am I doing the right thing? Am I interesting to talk to or am I only good at talking logistics and planning things? Am I fun to be around or just a bore? – are swirling around my head.

Note, I am okay. This is just a downswing in my mental health. I am sharing this because a) context is important and b) I’ve had some realizations about full-time teaching.

If you have teacher friends, tell them that they are valued. This time of the year is taxing – emotionally, mentally and physically. If they are first years out, they are going to be exhausted. Invite them round for dinner, and some quiet boardgames. Let them know they are valued and important.

If you are a teacher, please, please make sure you schedule some self-care and self-love. Our patience and energy levels may be running out so it’s all the more reason to look after oneself. Make sure that in this season of busyness, you look after yourself.

Because that’s what I’m doing sitting at the beach, in the sun soaking up the sea breeze. In the midst of the crazy, end of year wrap up, I’m setting boundaries and looking after myself. It’s the first step to combatting these insecure, negative thoughts and a step towards a positive mental health this crazy season.

Love,

Sophia

Xx

Dear … anxiety

Anxiety takes form in different ways. Whether it’s your perfectionism influencing your need to be in control of everything in your immediate vicinity (whilst internally you’re panicking), painful spikes of disassociation as you’re frozen but your brain is racing, or not knowing your flight response was triggered until you’re in a safe environment emotionally breaking down.

It’s being tense and shallow breathing and the rapid calculations of the quickest way out. It’s the constant twirling of the rings on the hand. The jittering of the leg.

Quite often, this anxiety struggle is below the tip of the iceberg that is our public persona. If you know the tells, you’ll probably see the anxiety peek through, but otherwise for the most time, it’s hidden. Because making it obvious to others attract attention and when you’re anxious, that’s the last thing you want.

That’s why it’s not as simple as “you shouldnt worry so much” or “oh, just come out – it isnt that hard”.

So be gentle and kind with others, for everyone is fighting a battle you may not know of.

Yours,

Sophia

xx

A letter about … self-worth

Recently I’ve been having conversations with friends around mental health, and I’m about to embark on a small series of lessons looking at advertisements and society expectations of beauty. I’m hoping to get a discussion going about mental health and self-worth in these lessons.

One thing I’ve noticed in my conversations is the amount of times we “compare” our worth to someone and we get caught up on not feeling worthy. And yes, I’m guilty of it. I compare myself to another teacher and I’m getting annoyed that my active teaching time isn’t at that standard. Or that my worksheets weren’t engaging enough. Or that my classroom is too noisy. Or this, or that, on and on my comparison goes.

I was sharing my concerns with my mentor recently, when he just turns to me and goes “how long have you been teaching? A year? See, exactly. You’re doing really well.”

And he’s right. I’ve only just starting on this teaching career; I’m bound to make mistakes and then grow from the lessons I learnt from then. It’s good to observe other teachers, pick up pointers but it’s not healthy to compare myself with them and get stuck on it and let it become the basis of my self-worth.

So, this is for everyone who needs a reminder – you are important.

Yours,

Sophia

X

A letter … about being rushed.

When  I was scrolling through Instagram stories, I spotted this image and it hit a chord. It hit a chord because it summed up how I feel when I’m feeling like I’ve been rushed (by life, or people, or a conversation). It also highlighted a recent lesson I’ve learnt and I thought I’d share it with you.

Source: @notesfromyourtherapist (Instagram)

It’s been quiet here on Liebe + Letters because I’ve had a sudden increase of my workload (almost two-fold) and have been a duck straddling water to keep above the water. This high pressure to get things done at a last minute has made me feel like I’ve been stuck in the eye of a tornado with deadlines, emails, tasks whirling around me at a far faster speed than myself. Cue a faster heartbeat, increase in adrenaline and stress levels.

I found it harder to fall asleep – my brain wouldn’t switch off. I need to come up with behavioural strategies to deal with this scenario. How do I make kids more engaged in this task? What do I need to do tomorrow? Set a reminder to contact a parent. On and on these thoughts went and in the end I became more exhausted. My mental health slipped and not surprisingly, I became sick.

After a few days of feeling directionless, it was a realisation I had whilst conversing with a friend that snapped me out of feeling rushed. I realised that I was being rushed, and it was to my own detriment. My brain was still processing all the extra changes and responsibilities, and I had not given myself time to slow down and properly process it.

In the middle of the vortex of being rushed, it’s easy to feel unnoticed, misunderstood and isolated. It is a lonely feeling seeing the world blur around you and it can get frustrating.

What helped me stop feeling rushed and more confident about my abilities was to call it out and acknowledge that being panicked would not help the situation. My mantra became “I am okay – there is enough time for what I need to do. Take a breath and have a look at the bigger picture.”

Taking a step back helped calmed things down and highlight areas I was overthinking. Calling it out helped stop the looping patterns that causes me to overthink. By the end, I could deal with my workload in a better way that wasn’t to my detriment.

Rushed is meant to be a temporary state, and I need to acknowledge that more. I’m working on steps on listening to my body more, listening to my anxiety less and slowing down to appreciate what I have. That’s my lesson that I learnt this week, and I’m hoping that it’s helped you too.

Yours,

Sophia

xx

Dearest little sister,

Watching you grow I’ve come to realise some things: a) it is interesting to have little sisters, b) some things never change and c) where the beep did time fly?

Watching you grow, learn to manage and overcome some big obstacles has made me proud as punch and ridiculously grateful to have a little sister like the one that I have.

It’s generally the older siblings to teach the younger ones, and whilst this is the case most times, I have also found that the younger ones can teach the older siblings a thing or two.

Growing up as an only child for half my childhood, one got used to “one-person” games, as well as learning to entertain oneself when bored.

For the other half of my childhood, I learnt when to share and when not to, that younger siblings can often be your best friend (irregardless of age gap), and how to establish a (loving) hierarchy of sibling authority. I also learnt to set up boundaries, and that younger siblings (when bored) can be really annoying when you’re trying to study for exams so you learn quickly methods to annoy one another without getting into trouble.

Yet I also learnt to view life through an energetic, opinionated point of view and through this lens, it taught how to relate theoretical awesome knowledge to young people.

Despite all the arguments, the tricks played on each other, I’m grateful for the friendship and close relationship with my sister. The discussions about Pokémon (what move is good, what Pokémon should I get, what name should I give it), the banter about life and the 10 minute laughing fits are some of the things I cherish most.

Time flies by quickly, siblings shoot up in growth spurts and once when they were shorter than you, they now tower over you (or are at eye level). Treasure the time spent with them because time goes quickly and life is short.

So, to my sister that looks like me but whose personality is so similar yet so different, I love you.

Yours,

Sophia

xx

May Discoveries

It’s been cold here where I’m living, and it’s been reminding me of my time living in Germany. Memories of crisp, blue skies but by the end of a 30 minute walk, your ears were burning, fingers frozen and a nose frozen solid that you would fear it snapping and falling off at any point.

It’s the time of the season where the wool socks are coming out, the hoodies are being dusted off and blankets are at the height of their popularity. It’s hopping in the car about to drive to work and discovering a thin layer of frost had made it’s home on my windshield. So on goes the heating at full blast for a few minutes, pull out the ice scraper to scrape away the ice.

So with the colder weather setting in, I’ve been discovering new things. I’ve jotted them below, because I wanted to share them with you. So join me on this month’s discovery?


Lake Seppings (Tjuirtgellong)

This 2.7km fresh water lake is known to be an excellent bird watching spot in the Great Southern area of Western Australia. The local Indigenous people, the Manang Noongar, call this are Tjuirtgellong (which means “The Place of the Long-Necked Turtle”).

I discovered this the other day when I needed to go for a walk and get out of the house after a rough week at work. On a beautiful day, it is a pleasant place to do a complete walk around (which took me about 45 minutes).

Bletchley Circle: San Francisco

I first discovered Bletchley Circle last year, and I was attracted to the strong female characters, the use of decrypting codes and determination. The title references the codebreakers trained at Bletchley Park, and who were instrumental in the WWII war efforts in the UK – and yes, there is tension between how accurate historical fiction should be – but the show has been an interesting perspective on

Bletchley Circle: San Francisco has been a spin off that has paid tribute to the original – it retains that determined, spirited, strong characters determined to solve mysteries and right injustices – but it has it’s own flavour which is makes it more than just a spin-off.

Kate Miller-Heidke’s “Zero Gravity”, Eurovision 2019

Eurovision – a week long of camp, glitter, over-the-top, political infused songs as countries compete to win a music competition – is something I quietly enjoy. Australia has had a long history of loving Eurovision, and in the past 3 years managed to be qualified to take part.

Eurovision has had a long history of political messages within their songs; not surprising as it started post-WW2 as a soft-political move to encourage unity within a fractured Europe. As someone who has been (a little bit) interested in politics, Eurovision is a fascinating machine for me. Even if you are not interested in the political side of Eurovision, and would rather watch it for the music (and that’s okay), there’s no hiding the fact that Eurovision can bring a bit of hope and unity through music.

This year’s entry – for Australia – is Kate Miller-Heidke, who has had classical Opera training, released several pop albums and was recently one of the creative force’s behind “Muriel’s Wedding; The Wedding”. Miller-Heidke wrote her entry around her experience of post-natal depression and the feeling of “weightlessness” following the birth of son, Ernie. You can see Kate Miller-Heidke’s performance of “Zero Gravity” in this year’s Eurovision Grand Final below.

“Story of My Life: How Narrative Creates Personality” by Julie Beck, The Atlantic.

I’ve been teaching my English students about narrative devices and themes. As such, the role of narrative has been in the back of my mind. As a writer, I tell stories and narratives are an important part of telling stories with a beginning, middle and end. Yet can we apply narrative to life stories when life doesn’t play in the three-act narrative structure we are all familiar with?

This month’s reading discovery was Julie Beck’s article in The Atlantic, on how narrative creates personality as well as the process of story construction. It’s a fascinating read, I’ll leave you with a snippet from the article:

So narrative seems like an incongruous framing method for life’s chaos, until you remember where stories came from in the first place. Ultimately, the only material we’ve ever had to make stories out of is our own imagination, and life itself.

Storytelling, then—fictional or nonfictional, realistic or embellished with dragons—is a way of making sense of the world around us.

Julie Beck, Story of My Life: How Narrative Creates Personality, published in The Atlantic, August 10, 2015.

What have you discovered this month? Let me know in the comments below.

Yours,

Sophia
xx

Reflections: Two Months into Teaching

Tomorrow will mark 35 days of my first (almost full time) teaching gig. To say it has been great is … well, it fails to really describe what it’s like.

I never understood exhaustion until I became a teacher. As a teacher, you’re constantly ‘switched on’; physically, mentally and emotionally. You’re fielding 1001 questions, whilst making sure kids don’t get hurt. Whilst providing extra support or challenges to those who need it. Oh, and problem solving all along the way. I’ve been so exhausted, my feet are dragging and my bones feel like concrete – but the minute I step into the classroom, that all disappears.

Being a teacher, especially a graduate teacher, it’s taught me not to take support networks for granted. Loved ones who rock up with food in their hands to a gathering or a catch up. Friends who just sit and listen to a barrage of nonsensical words of an issue (or two or three) that’s been worrying me. Partners who make you a cup of tea in the mornings. It’s the little things that make you feel not alone as you’re drowning in paperwork, lesson plans and marking.

Working with teenagers who are great one day and grumpy the next has taught me about the diversity and fluidity that are human beings. It’s taught me that rigidity and structure are great support, but it’s nothing without flexibility. It’s no use dragging kids (metaphorically) to get work done if we don’t care for them as well. I was sitting in a workshop and one of the key learnings i took was “allowing different pathways”. Sure we need a structure of a plan to achieve shared outcomes. Yet we all learn differently, and we all walk a different journey. Why not let there be different paths to achieve a shared outcome?

Self-bloody-care. I harp on about this but nothing reinforces the importance of self-care until a rough day in a crazy week as a teacher. You can’t look after and teach people if you’re not looking after yourself. As a friend put it, (paraphrasing here) “you won’t be on your A game if you’re tired from working late and not looking after yourself.”

One thing I’ve noticed is how the more I have to manage behavior, the less I can focus on teaching, and the more my confidence takes a hit and my anxiety/doubts starts to kick in. Am i actually doing the right thing? Are the kids actually learning? Am I liked? Yet like my friend and fellow teacher, Katie said: “We just need to be sure of ourselves. We do know what we are doing and we do it well!”

So, out of all this here’s the one thing I want to take away: Believe in yourself, have faith in your capabilities. You’re stronger, wiser than you know and it’s not being popular amoungst the kids but being there in the classroom everyday with the kids and guiding them.

I can do this.

Yours,

Sophia
xx