‘Do The Work’ – On Finding What Works, and Working Through Mental Illness

Sometimes I pretend that the steady stream of cars and buses on the busy, non-stop main road that runs right outside the house I’m currently living in is actually the sound of the ocean.
If I close my eyes and imagine hard enough, distance myself fully from the missing factors – salty air, a sea breeze, sand in nooks and crannies you don’t even know exist until there’s sand in them – it’s actually quite easy.

Caught between the need to create and the compulsion to propagate, sometimes these thoughts and other wild-but-tame ideas don’t go very much further than this. Imagining I’m actually in a tropical ‘paradise’ and not sitting mid-hurricane (or so they’re calling it) on a dreary day in Dublin might seem fairly fruitless, and yet to me it means that the course of inner exploration and healing work I’ve been on for the past 2 years or so now seems to be directly on course to succeed.
Depending on what ‘succeeding’ means to you.
To me, all it means is that at the moment, I’m balanced enough to allow my creativity to be put to good use instead of eating me up with incessant anxious thoughts or worries about things that happened yesterday or that might not happen tomorrow. It just means I’m pointed in the right direction for the next few hours.
And that is all I ever can hope to maintain.
(I also say ‘paradise’ in inverted commas here as I’m a firm believer that ‘paradise’ does not exist in one physical place, rather being a state of mind consisting of the right balance of factors, both internal and external, that at any given moment combine to give us an intense sensation of ease and wellbeing. But more on that later.)

What is ‘The Work”?

‘The work’, as I’ve put it here, is not merely a form of required duties, household help or course of up-skilling that most of us have come to associate with the word today.
The work can mean a variety of things to different people, and it takes a while to figure out what that is for you.
For me, ‘the work’ was the process by which I eased my anxiety for the first time. The work was that which helped me understand my own mind, helped me figure out exactly what makes me tick, why I am the way I am, why I’ve done the things I’ve done, felt the way I’ve felt and proceeded on the course I’ve taken in my 25 years up until now. The work is something which still helps me do this. Whether or not some of those decisions were good or not, the work, mywork, has just helped me understand it all. It helped me become conscious of my actions. I won’t list exactly what ‘my work’ involved, because it’s not just any one thing, and it’s not easy work either. It’s the tough stuff, it’s dealing with whatever life throws us, circumstantial or otherwise, and becoming accountable for it instead of ignoring it or hoping it will go away.
It’s a combination of things, which when engaged with over time and through the ups and downs of everyday life and work and relationships helps us to figure out how to implement them on any given day.

Simply put, I became aware of my needs, I became honest with myself about what was and wasn’t working, and then dedicated myself to slowly but surely adhering to what works as much and as frequently as I can.

Disclaimer:
Before going any further I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone I may have encountered during the course of this ‘work’ – anyone I may have misled, confused, hurt, hindered, irritated or in any way just bothered by being the way I am and neglecting social norms or expectations with this intense need to figure shit out or do things the way I needed to in whatever way it presented itself at that time. It wasn’t you. Really. It still isn’t.

It’s one of the most selfish things I’ve ever done and yet I uphold firmly that taking time for myself, not just one time that I was feeling particularly bad, but over and over again choosing to put my health first and to investigate the feelings I was having is the only way I’m still sitting here today to write this.
The terror and fluctuating levels of distress surrounding mealtimes, the general consistent low moods or occasional soaring heights of elation and 2am dance moves surpassed by none were all extremes that I was so used to inhabiting that any alternative middle ground seemed like an unattainable – for want of a better word – ‘paradise’.
For anyone who has any experience dealing with or trying to help someone with any mental illness, you’ll know that the intensity and details of these highs, lows, and panics in between can vary from person to person, and so it can be difficult to pinpoint what will or will not help in each instance.

Doing the Work

The work required to haul oneself out of said lows, down from these intense highs of bliss and misfitting euphoria, all at completely irrational things is not the kind of work you do once, and then it’s done. Oh no.
This work is something you must do Every. Single. Day. 

When I started thinking of it more in terms of an actual responsibility, rather than a chore or something to be rewarded for, only then did I started noticing results.
I was responsible for my own mind, my own body, where it went and what it did and what it ate, who it interacted with, and how. On no one else’s shoulders was it if I did or said something I’d regret, ate something that didn’t agree with me or damaged myself in any way.
The work I was doing was keeping this all in check, staying hyper-aware of everything, editing and refining and re-routing whenever something felt off or when I noticed the sly familiar onset of bad thoughts and sneaky triggers that used to go unnoticed. It was so particular that I almost went to the extreme of over-doing the work, which I guess is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just in my nature – the blessing being that I realised and pulled myself up on this when it happened.

Results???

Because the results were not spectacular – they weren’t jump-in-the-air, high-five oh-my-god-look-at-me kind of results – I didn’t initially pay much heed. Because I was used to this immediate and intense end-result, the balance I was feeling honestly felt…boring.
Gradually I began to notice however that the middle ground, this place of feeling ‘actually kind of alright’ instead of ‘omfg I’m fucking DELIRAH’ or ‘I want to disappear’ kind of shite, was so much more sustainable. Not only that, but noticing that when I was in this state, everything seemed to just fall into place and work so much easier – work, friends, family, creative stuff, fun – whatever it was, everything responded positively to this balanced frame of mind, instead of the irrational, eccentric and anxious me that nobody really knew what to do with except hug and pour tea for and promise everything would be fine.

Try. Fail. Edit. Fine-Tune. Repeat.

Editing and fine-tuning your life, mind and environment to fit whatever works for you is the only advice I have to anyone currently attempting to overcome any kind of mental illness or maintain positive mental health in the face of life’s challenges.
Thinking of yourself independently of anyone else – taking advice and help, definitely – but not assuming it as fact or convincing yourself of its truth until you’ve proven it works for your unique set of circumstances.
Know yourself. Figure out what you like, what makes you feel GOOD, what makes you THRIVE.
Take a day, take a week, take a month. Try things, fail spectacularly. Try something else, maybe don’t fail so badly. Keep trying until something clicks – and I promise you, if you’re self-aware enough to know and follow up on something big needing to change – something will.
This process, these trial and error and ups and downs and pushing through pain and confusion and trusting that something positive is at the end of it all – this is the work.

This is what it means to be trying, to be living, to be constantly editing and refining our lives and thoughts like we redirect unpredictable and mischievous kids away from dangerous river banks or running out on the road.
It’s a constant, unwavering necessity that we must remain on top of even at the best of times, and it all boils down to self-awareness and knowing yourself, recognising triggers or runaway thoughts when they start to play mental movies or imagine unlikely scenarios or pretend that the cars you’re hearing are actually waves on a beach a thousand miles away…you get what I’m trying to say.
Pull yourself up on it.

Self-Awareness

My particular combination of ‘work’ (even a glance at this blog might give you an inkling as to some of what it involved for me *cough* yoga *cough* writing *cough*) will more than likely not suit anyone else exactly. Just as someone else’s course of action wouldn’t have worked for me. I just followed the positive stuff, whatever that was, wherever I could, and did it as much and as often as it felt right to.  I still do. Staying aware, staying alert, re-routing whenever signs of the ‘fuzzy head stuff’ (as I like to call it) surface and just knowing that all it takes is a little bit of concentration, time and awareness ’til the next move or feeling becomes clear.

Creating my own sense of rational ‘paradise’ in every day is how I see the balancing out of this tendency of mine to overthink, to worry, and to believe the negatives. Maintaining balance and using it as a foundation to move forwards and continue building on what I’ve already worked for is how I see myself now, and I just wanted to share a little bit about what worked for me to help anyone struggling to see past what might seem like a mountainous road of ‘work’ ahead – baby steps.
Start by just turning inwards. Forget about the external stuff – other people, expectations, comparisons and past events – even this is part of the work. Everything is part of it. Everything is important, and don’t ignore or belittle any aspect of what you have to bring to the table because I promise you – the world needs it. The world needs all the self-awareness and positivity it can get right now, and that boils down to each individual playing their part right, using their unique talents and passions and more importantly, believing in them.
Focus inward, focus on you, and the rest has a funny way of falling into place.

Do the work. It’s worth it.

batur

Mind Over Masters ..

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I graduated with a Masters’ degree yesterday. Congratulatory well-wishes, hugs and handshakes aside, even before the ceremony and in the days preceding it I really had been (and still am) feeling a lot of love coming from all angles around me.

A love for life; a love for choosing life and friends and family and to be happy and healthy; a love for enjoyment and appreciation of the good things that I have, instead of buying into and believing warped and twisted thoughts and behaviours that constantly present themselves as options in my head. For so long I was used to just letting the negative win and succumbing to the same old rotation of self-hatred and deprecating thoughts – it was easy to fall into the rut of familiarity and stay there. Once I decided to focus my attention on reversing through the negativity, instead of flailing around blindly within it because it was ‘comfortable’ (and to be honest I just didn’t have the energy to fight it), I began to see that we really and truly are the sum of all our actions and thoughts over time. This attention had formerly been sucked up by the happiness-draining effort it took to uselessly attempt to control my surroundings.

A friend of mine once described it as a drip of water being fed to a plant. One drip of poison is not going to kill it, but a steady, continued flow of poisonous feed and negative thought accompanying it will inevitably have longterm effects, and more than likely kill it. Similarly, one drop of clean water is not going to have an immediate positive effect. It takes the same sort of steady and consistent stream of care and good, natural nourishment before the plant can start to stand up tall again by itself.

Our bodies and minds are these plants. If we continually tell ourselves something, over and over again repeatedly believing something we have declared to be true – we become it. ‘You Are What You Eat’ has never rung so true as it does in this sense. A repeated diet of the same foods results in the same as repeated thoughts – we literally, physically become what we eat. We become what we believe. I’ve finally been practicing the positives and believing the good stuff long enough now for me to really start to see and feel the benefits of self-care, and baffle myself as to why I never made it a priority before. I’ve finally made the transition from being able to recognise the thoughts and behaviours for the damaging ghosts that they are, to being able to ward them off by myself, to use their power and strength against themselves and channel that energy into bettering myself. We are always going to be presented with the negative option. It’s how we get around it and harness the time that would have been spent worrying and fretting over it’s potential enormity to turn it on it’s head and ask how exactly can we look at it in a more positive way that’s important.

In graduating from the initial stages of recognising the negatives for what they are, to actually becoming capable of avoiding them completely and living a life without the constant self-doubt, racing thoughts and worry, there is a liberation and sense of achievement bigger than even receiving my MA yesterday could have captured. It’s a constant work in progress, but I know once I remain aware and consistently vigilant against the potential spoilers of thoughts that seem to just pop to the forefront of my consciousness every now and again, for once I know, and this is a big deal for me to say, because this time I really and truly believe it; this time,

I know for sure that everything is actually going to be okay.

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A Windowseat of One’s Own – Progression

-A Windowseat of One’s Own

‘Progression’

On being asked to write a piece about ‘my journey’ for a friends’ project on mental health and eating disorders, the first thing I considered was how ultimately contrasting everyone’s experiences with them are, and how impossible it is to compare any two individuals’ struggles or attempts at understanding them, be it one’s own illness or that of a loved one.

In a way, I like to think of it in terms of travelling; a literal journey from one destination and state of being to a new one; an unknown – because that’s what it feels like. In striving for recovery, we must not look back, or attempt to return to any previous state of being, even if there was once a time when we were relatively content with ourselves and situation. Going back to that state is not, and will never be an option. You can implement things to bring about similar circumstances, but ultimately the world and you as a human being will have revolved and evolved again and again since that time, and you will be attempting to experience the same thing again as a different person. The only option is to move forward, continuosly, consistently, and steadily. This is why I feel travel is a good metaphor with which to explore the possibilities of recovery; because when you finally, finally, after months and years of stifled emotions, opinions, and tragically, creativity, finally find yourself in a comfortable position of balance and control and acceptance, the possibilities really are mindblowing, and even the most familiar of locations present themselves to you in a new light and as new destinations to explore. You suddenly see the world for the oversized high school that it is of people constantly striving to be the best, not out of greed or selfishness, but out of pure necessity to survive and progress. Survival is progression. And so we must move with it.

The significance of continuos progression in relation to mental health disorders is key to unlocking an ability to maintain a balance and contentment within oneself. I believe that any such illness or disorder is something that can only be maintained within us all, and kept at bay – the same way we consistently must nourish our bodies physically to ensure their continued function. The only difference with this as an example is that we have been taught to recognise feelings of hunger and thirst for what they are, because the elements required to stifle their urgency and need are not readily available within our bodies. We must seek them elsewhere, be it the fridge, the shop, the ground outside. We depend and rely physically on our world to survive, and in doing so often forget that it is necessary to be able to stand on our own two feet within it before we seek sustenance from it; being aware, or sitting within our bodies ourselves, alone at a windowseat being transported to some obscure (or perfectly familiar) location. We become dependent on other things and substances to validate ourselves, to give us a sense of purpose. Why can’t we depend on ourselves? Where is the individuality and independence we have so often heard of and sought throughout history? Why must we continually be let down by our own mistakes in relying on things outside of our own control to help us excel, when really the power lies within us all to make changes and differences in our own lives?

This is why I believe that to truly achieve any kind of balance or recovery from a mental health difficulty, the person must individually choose to do so, or at the very least choose to try. To try to help themselves, and to find some sort of balance or regularity in their lives for themselves, independent of any outside influences or opinions. In choosing to try, I was overwhelmed with a need to travel, and to see the world; to experience things and people and cultures and climates that I have not before; to truly feel and to have the strength to carry myself from place to place, even if it had to start off with small journeys; going down the road to get the bus to work, or a coffee.

‘Windowseat’

There are few things I enjoy more than travelling alone on a moderately empty trian, bus, or plane and having a windowseat to myself. Being aware of my own existence, and content in the fact that I am moving forward. There is a stillness, a serenity in watching the world outside pass by from the safety and comfort of a moving vehicle, having one’s current situation and journey ahead calmly assessed, not necessarily perfectly planned, but merely sitting in contemplative content as you are transported across a landmass. The movement and transportation of my body finally matching the speed and intensity of my thoughts, I can somehow find a balanced middleground of symbiosis as the crazy internal flickering comes parallel to physical movement and tras-country roaming. I feel calm in movement. Cheesy and all as it sounds, I feel like in being physically transported places that I am getting closer in touch with my ‘authentic self’, a goal or state of being promoted by many recovery and treatment programs, yet rarely truly explained, as it differs for everyone.

In sitting at what is only briefly ‘my own’ windowseat, I am combining that which is certain and steadfast, i.e, my own existence, with something that is passive, fleeting, and only in my presence for a brief period of time as it provides me with a means to get where I wish to go. I am so grounded in movement; within my own body, it’s almost ironic that people often insist that staying in a solitary position for a period of time is the only way to achieve contentment.

I like watching the world go by and wondering what people are up to. Not in a nosy way, but purely in a curious open-minded and fascinated silence as I consider that each person, family, couple, each lonely-looking soul and energy-filled youth have their own story; their own destination; their own goals. The chance that they should choose this particular route to walk or drive on this particular day, bringing them into direct contact with me and my eyeline, all happened by complete chance. No one forced that young mother to stop for coffee in the place across the road with the tasty-looking scones and attractive European barista guy instead of the one next-door to it. There are cars driving by and though they each adhere to the same small roadspace, the same strict rules of thumb when it comes to right of way, indication, parallel parking and speeding up or slowing down, they are all on their own individual mission or task or journey for this particular day, and inside each car resides a specific environment or dynamic individual to that vehicle, and something which cannot be traded in for any other mileage or agenda than their own.

Everybody’s journey is different, and for those of us who struggle to plan out details and specific requirements until they are right on top of us in heat of the last minute, sometimes it can seem less of a ‘journey’ than a hike; a trail into the unknown. Most, like my own, are ongoing journeys; unmapped, unchartered territory – because no one has been exactly where I have been before, and no one is going exactly where I am going. The factors which influence and have influenced my life can never be matched by anothers’, just as I cannot and should not even begin to try to decipher the reasons and factors behind someone else’s actions. We are each such individual souls roaming around aimlessly and searching for something to give us meaning and reason to be doing so. At least when we find some sort of healthy output for this restless energy, be it in art, music, business, cooking, public speaking, helping others, to name but a few; at least then both we ourselves and those around us feel a sort of positivity and validity in our lives. In expending our energies on things that are adding to the world we live in and to the lives of others, we can feel a sense that our existence and purpose is valid.

But what happens when those energies and thoughts and practices get caught up in practices and habits that are considered ‘bad’ or ‘negative’? Anything that doesn’t serve us either mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually can be considered as such. Why then is it so easy to do it? To let ourselves and all potential energies and possibilities get scooped up by the bad? The restrictive and excessive, damaging emotions and actions almost feel SAFE in their extremity, so elusive and small is the middleground and stable area of ‘balance’ we all are aware of and strive to attain. In the behaviours and seemingly obsessive tendencies there is often a sense of security that is lacked in some other area of our lives. Often it takes time, honesty, and a lot of self-realisation to help us truly understand our authentic selves and needs and to acknowledge what this might be. Our sense of autonomy can get completely lost in this life of excess- always too much or too little, and subsequent preoccupation with this – a testament to the bulimic society we live in that promotes treats and sugar-coated tasty breakfast flakes immediately followed by ‘7 weight-loss tips to get rid of that muffin top’. It’s no wonder so many of us get confused.

In admitting this confuses us, it is so easy to let that fact take over, and instead of working through the confusion, pushing past that which makes us unsure of ourselves, our purpose, and journey – we just stay there, and develop an unhealthy and twisted sense of comfort and reliance on this confusion to get by. We are in part aware of the impracticality and damaging aspect of it, yet the fear of facing this full on for what it is is too great to even consider trying to defeat. So we remain as we are. Struggling. Aware. Ignoring it. Aware. Distraught. Aware. Confused. We all know deep down what is good and what is bad for us. What makes us feel good versus what doesn’t. it’s all very black and white when put like that, but it’s the truth. It’s in our responses to outside influences and subsequent mental processing of them where the problems arise. In adapting to our circumstances, we are enabling ourselves to progress further, instead of becoming stuck in habits that do not serve us.

‘Adapting’

Changing clothes and coats and outer layers regularly only becomes a problem when you start leaving important things in pockets. In changing myself to suit other people or please a general majority or crowd, I was placing yet another layer atop my already stifled self. For the core to shine through, to really be seen, for ‘shine’ is what any honest truth really will do when given the opportunity, we must become comfortable with that which lies beneath the layers.

The human body amazes me in that it will do every single thing necessary and within its’ power to fix and help itself. If there is one thing my ‘journey’ up until now has shown me, it is that. The human body is a masterpiece of engineering, with cells reforming and repairing themselves through even the harshest of treatment; enzymes and vitamins and minerals working alongside one another to carry out tasks and ensure everything is functioning to the best of its’ ability – all without even a thought or instruction from us. I am hugely grateful for this fact, yet it also baffles me that given the the case with the physical body, that it doesn’t come as second nature or automatic for us to adapt similarly and to help ourselves mentally, should an issue arise. If it were a thing that we were physically programmed to help our own mentality improve when we felt it struggling, the world would be a very different place. Often our bodies do things to help us survive without us even realising the fact, which makes it difficult to acknowledge and appreciate it at all. Because we don’t need to acknowledge it, we end up taking it for granted, and not realising the need to acknowledge and take similar action against mental problems when they arise.

In learning to recognise our own individual symptoms, triggers and warning signs, we are ultimately taking responsibility for ourselves and the space we occupy upon this earth – because no one else will. No one else can occupy this windowseat while I sit here. They might do in an hour or so when the train arrives, is cleaned out, and prepared for a return journey, but by that time I will be long gone; probably sitting in another seat of a connecting bus or train or plane, destined for another stop on my timeline.

‘Perspective’

In recognising that the world is as fleeting, inconsistant and unpredictable as we as humans are ourselves, we may somehow be able to greet it as a very large entity on which we have just somehow found ourselves walking. The endless predictions and prophesizing that the earth will someday end, that the sun will burn out and cease to support life as we know it is a strangly humbling and comforting thought if we consider ourselves in relation to it. We have been given the privelege of existing within this short space of time when the sun and earth have come in to some sort of symbiosis with one another, resulting in a mass expansion of new life, experiences, places, people, and diversity. Our timeline of a mere 80-85 years in such a place is surely something to be celebrated, to embrace, and to fully appreciate by experiencing as much as we possibly can during our time here. It’s almost as if we are currently in some sort of prolonged eclipse of the earth and sun, which has resulted in a burst of life and uncontrolled expansion and exploration of new elements interacting with those they have not yet met with before, constantly moving forward, growing, evolving; progressing. In transporting myself to as many places as I can in order to experience more and more of these elements, my journey is continuing on in the only way in which I see fit to do it. In order for me to successfully carry this out, both my body and my mind must be sufficiently nourished and strong enough to handle the unkowns the world may have in store – the tests, the things my soul has not yet encountered. In coming to terms with my own existance as I sit here on the train and type, I am simultaneously being transported onwards, in a direct and physical manifestation of that which is constantly happening around us and within our lives.

What I observe outside the window has no doubt been observed before by others who have knowingly come this way too, our paths having taken a similar route, yet both each individually carrying on our own journeys, our own goals and needs and lives moving forwards. Yet none of what I am seeing has been seen in quite the same light before, with the same experiences, emotions, mental, spiritual and physical conditions at similar levels and in combination. For the past few hours, this windowseat and view has been my own, but soon, it will cease to mean anything to me, and move on to be experienced by the next lonesome and contemplative traveller. My journey has brought me through bumpy times, uncertain and sometimes downright terrifying thoughts and behaviours, usually punctuated by contrasting moments of contentment and balance. In knowing these positive moments do occur, and are possible to obtain provided I remain aware of myself and surroundings, I know the hike ahead is a lot more managable than I ever thought it would be. It’s a constant work in progress, and in not knowing exactly what’s on the horizion, one inevitably is left open to both the good and bad aspects of what lies ahead. But I am now more equipped than ever, stronger, more aware, and ready to see everything this planet has to offer me as I embrace the good luck and fortune I have in experiencing the paralling of both of our brief existences.

Enjoy, don’t Endure.

“I want to create a life I don’t need to take a vacation from” I don’t know who is originally quoted as having coined this phrase, and it’s been reused and rephrased so many times across the recycled and plagarised side of the internet that it’s almost vintage at this stage – yet in essence, it’s message remains the same. There are many things that many of us could say, and many an hour to be spent talking in circles about the need to enjoy life. Many things that many people would relate to, derive solace from, and ultimately aim to engage with in their day-to-day life. A ‘vacation’, or holiday, in it’s more European form, is defined as a ‘specific trip or journey, usually for the purpose of recreation or tourism’. This being said, it is only within the last two centuries that ‘vacation’ time has become a common form of recreation, the luxury of which was previously reserved only for the very wealthy artisocracy. The concept of taking a vacation has only crept into our own society in direct correlation to the expansion of the business class high-flying and bustling lifestyle. I automatically think of HBO’s Mad Men when I say this, Don Draper jetting off to L.A. every few episodes and spending every other segment half-cut drinking ‘old fashioned’s’ in his office . The development of the need for ‘vacation’ calls into question the very benefits of this so-called upper class lifestyle, a 6-figure paycheck often being pumped back into the system through crushing medical bills later on as the life of excess finally catches up on the protagonists and leads them to ruin. Mad Men obsession aside, it remains that in the way we live today, we can still observe work and responsibilities too often taking precedence over fun and self-realisation, downtime and enjoyment too often being interlinked exclusively with one another. They are something on which everybody thrives, when given the chance – who in their right mind is going to choose to spend the day in the office over a day being carefree and having the ability to be spontaneous? Yet is it necessary for them to be so closely related? Is it possible to enjoy the things we don’t necessarily have much choice in, those things we speak of and so often complain about having to ‘endure’? Not only work-related commutes and draining meetings, but also rites of passage such as family gatherings, school reunions, disappointing meal-choices, or movies that we don’t particularly want to see yet find ourselves in the cinema before, purely to satisfy the majority of the group? We enjoy our weekends. We enjoy the sunshine. We enjoy certain foods, and our own little respites and hobbies. We enjoy that long sought-after glass of wine and takeaway after a long weeks’ endurance. The two always seem to come together. It’s almost as if they co-exist side-by-side in some sort of twisted symbiosis that leaves us numb to the misery of endurance while it’s actually happening, in the knowledge that some little tiny piece of enjoyment is on the way. Ok, sure, enjoy your downtime, but is there some written rule of thumb or hidden guideline that says you can’t or shouldn’t enjoy your worktime too? In my working life I have too often wished days away and switched to auto-pilot in an attempt to persist through hours without thinking about the lack of fulfillment and authenticity of my actions for myself. In doing so, not only was I merely existing, zombie-like and emotionless, but I was failing to enjoy and appreciate the moment as it happened, numbing my creative and constructive urges by the necessity of tasks that no matter how hard I tried to make them, simply did not stimulate me enough. It’s upsetting that in today’s society people are forced to settle in jobs and positions that stunt the expansion of their minds and talents, purely in order to put food on the table. I am in no way trying to condemn those of us who work the 9-5, and who have done for years- hell, I wouldn’t be here today if my own parents hadn’t done the same. But for the sake of our mental health and wellbeing, for the sake of those few minutes’ respite of a tea or coffee break, there is a lot to be said for shifting our mindset from mere ‘endurance’ to passive ‘enjoyment’. You don’t have to be having the time of your life to ‘enjoy’ something. The essence of mindfulness is the acceptance of things as they are at any given moment, and so why waste any mindful second being preoccupied with the dread of enduring the rest of the day, instead of just aiming to make the best of what you are presented with in that moment? It may not be a particularly enjoyable or fruitful task, but I think I speak for most of us when I say that how we perceive and respond to things generally has a massive affect on our mood and overall wellbeing. Why put yourself through the misery if it’s not necessary? A simple shift in your mindset could mean the difference between a day spent flatlining on any sort of emotional activity, or a day spent relatively content with your lot, in the knowledge that you are where you are in that moment, and cannot immediately do anything to alter it. Even the word ‘endure’ evokes a sense of dread, a withdrawn and lethargic effort of will that in it’s naming becomes a negative experience . And negative experiences are things we seek to avoid, aren’t they? I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I am ultimately the only person with the ability to drag myself and my own mind out of the gutter, and I have grudgingly begun to make myself enjoy things that before I would have merely endured, and found a kind of twisted solace in complaining about. It’s not to say I don’t appreciate the caring friends and family who have been there from the beginning, and who remain there to this day, stable and cautious in their presence. Yet there is a relief and independence that comes with being able to get rid of the stabilizers after years of enduring the embarassment of their necessity, and finally enjoying the sense of freewheeling adventure and potential that comes from being able to balance on my own. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them, and it’s not to say I’ll never fall over or wobble again, but for now, my pink flowery bike with the white wicker basket is being tested for the first time, and successfully has made it’s way out of the front gate. The cherry blossoms falling down along the road don’t hinder my sight or pose any danger – rather they celebrate, falling confetti-like as endurance and frustration have finally paved the way and been substituted for enjoyment, taking a chance and balancing alone for once, as I ride off in search of the next adventure. Just enjoying the scenery as I go.

I Am a Candle – The Myth of ‘Recovery’

I Am a Candle

  • A Check-in With Maintenance About an Earlier Issue

The Myth of ‘Recovery’ .

I feel like the flame of a candle, sitting in a still room, no percievable draft or wind present to cause the incessant flickering of my soul from one thought to another. My light is here – it’s burning, alive, ready and able to keep shining a light for those around me – to help them see – yet I cannot seem to sit still. My centre is continually bending and reaching high, only to dip low again into the comforting depths of the wax beneath me that is necessary for my sustenance, yet also the reason behind my instability. The deep is scary, and too hot. Slipping down there for good would be the easiest thing to let myself do.

But no!

I must continue to burn. I must continue reaching up.

There is no breeze. No movement. So why do I flicker? Why do I dance around, frantically searching to catch on to another flammable substance, to breath the same as another and validate this confusion; to give myself a feeling of purpose?

I am a candle, and I bathe in the warm sea of my catalyst that’s always there in my times of light, yet which hardens me to an impenetrable force of solitude in moments of darkness.

I dance, seemingly carefree to all on the outside who breeze past. But it is only those who stay long enough to see my attempts to return to stillness that see this ludicrous dance for what it really is. It’s the uncertain, stopping-starting, trial-and-error kind of tiptoeing you do around a new place as you find your feet and attempt to balance upon them. Whatever this new place is, it serves as the foundation for all I must build on, from the bottom up. Yet if this wax is constantly burning, changing, shrinking away and bending to my heat – there is nothing solid ever in place for very long on which to build. It’s a constant struggle to acclimatize, to grow, to adapt. To allow the flame burn bright and high again after reaching so low a point that it almost extinguished itself.
The music to which the flame is dancing has ceased, and while we define ‘dancing’ as ‘the movement of feet to music’, it would suggest that as music and movement are in direct correlation to one another in this instance, and there is no music present, that what I am doing could not even be defined as dancing. It’s a flailing around desperately, trying to gain some sort of balance, stability, and peace, all the while worrying that the flickering light in my brain will never settle and I’ll eventually collapse and give in to the inviting hibernation of the dark pools below, forsaking the potential of the heights I have previously achieved.

This is why I believe that ‘recovery’ is not an accurate term or goal for someone who struggles with mental health issues to strive for. ‘Recovery’ suggests a solution. It suggests an unrealistic fix, a few days off work that will magically help the mind settle in a comfortable place, ready to burn and continue again where it left off before. An assumption that this will happen even though the circumstances have not been changed, and it is likely the confusion will start again once placed back in a similar situation.

In reality, being ‘in recovery’ from a mental illness is a conscious decision which must be made Every. Single. Day. A decision to not give in to the negative cycle of thoughts and retreat into the warmth of the deep pools of comfort that are of our own design and destruction. A decision to keep burning, to flicker around desperately from one thing to another until we learn to stand up straight by ourselves, fulfilling our purpose and lighting up a path not only for our own benefit, but for others to learn from too.

It’s as if people expect a bout of depression, a panic attack, a mental breakdown, or disordered eating patterns and thoughts to be passing phases, like a cold or flu that’s difficult to shake. Whilst it is encouraging to note the similarities between physical and mental illnesses in that they render a person incapable of going about day-to-day life in a similar way to others, I’m a firm believer that a mental health issue is something that, once identified, can merely be maintained and controlled – never entirely subdued. There will always be that fear, that awareness of the instability that once took hold, and a dark fear that the symptoms and suffering has merely been stifled for a time – the dance of the flame stilled by an unusual period of calm.

Because the flame can only react to that which surrounds it – a passing breeze, a draft, a stream of heat blowing in from somewhere that was not expected – as happens in life.
“Recovering’ from the draft does not mean the dance is going to cease completely. The burn marks will still exist. The wax will have sunk ever-deeper.
‘Recovering’ means realising that it’s ok to be that unstable spark of light, and beginning to accept that sometimes the beauty of the light itself is that it is constantly in motion, in a neverending and unpredictable dance.

This dance is of our own design. We swim in our own warm pools of comfort, dangerous in their depths, and always a potential place for us to drown should we push the boundaries too far.
However their depth and destructive nature makes the light above all the more desirable, and we reach for that, striving to maintain a solid balance between the two when a match does strike to signal a fire.

‘Recovery’ is not a state of being where you can look back and give a cheer that the bad guy has been vanquished, the dark cloud cleared and the path ahead looking bright and easy.

‘Recovery’ is the awareness that your candle is lighting in the corner of the room, and an awareness of the dangers posed by the open flame should it get knocked over or mishandled.

‘Recovery’ is the acceptance of this need for awareness, and regular, intermittent glances to make sure the flame is still emitting a healthy glow, unthreatening and balanced in it’s dance.

‘Recovery’ is remembering and being aware of the need to blow out your candle before you get into bed.

‘’Recovery” is an ongoing process, and some days are easier than others. I’m not going to promise I won’t knock my candle over tomorrow, because I can’t know that this won’t happen. All I can do is my best to ensure that I keep an eye on it right now as I sit here, and remain aware of it’s existence.

To Tea, or not to Tea…

Dad is waiting for the kettle to boil. Like waiting for the explosion to go off in the split second after a bomb’s been released. Waiting for a train. Waiting for a pregnant aunt to go into labour as you peer innocently up over the huge swollen mass of her belly at her half-hidden face, and wile away your new cousins’ final hours of incubation playing Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega.
All of these things have a definite (or at least, expected) outcome. Deviations may occur, of course, but ultimately they will resolve themselves in a relatively predictable way. The kettle will boil. The bomb will explode (providing it has been correctly assembled). The realtime screens at the station say the train will arrive in four minutes. The baby in my aunts’ belly (now a 6-foot, nineteen-year-old rugby player) will eventually decide that enough is enough, and try to get out.

The most terrifying thing about mental illness is that there is no certainty – no physical, concrete feeling, test or proof that something isn’t right; no way to determine if what I’m going through is a genuine illness or disorder, or just a broad term used to describe something that people generally have difficulty in pinning down using a few words.
I feel like I’m standing waiting for the kettle to boil, fully aware that it is in fact, empty, and that waiting with such fruitless prospects and hoping in vain for a cup of tea will amount to about as much as ringing the doorbell of a house you know has just been vacated. No answer. No response. No emotion…blank.  What is it that I’m expecting to happen? Will these feelings ever be validated or nullified..?..are they even feelings at all? All the while I’m still waiting for something to happen, something to signify and put an end to the confusion.
Because depression is more than just feeling down for days on end. If that were the case I wouldn’t be as relatively functional and sociable as I appear.
I go out, I meet people in bars, I go to work Monday to Friday and I sleep in far too late on Saturday. I have plans to travel, I buy far too many clothes, and I don’t have any long-term goals past making it to the end of my 6-month contract in work in one piece. In many respects I am an average twenty-two year old, just out of college and struggling to find meaning and a way in a world where it seems every occupation and path is already clogged up with lines of other graduates and talented youths, all clawing their way desperately to payday and the prospect of a week or so of living in luxury and being able to buy those boots in Topshop we’ve been looking at since last month. But then the process starts all over again, and all of a sudden I can’t help but get down and slip back into bleak thoughts and dark spirals of wishing I didn’t have to get out of bed and contemplating absolutely every single other possible outcome of the day should I give in to the crippling apathy again and just stay there.
It got so bad one day last week that I was lying in bed, comfortable enough physically and not particularly exhausted – yet I was bursting to go to the toilet. I couldn’t even motivate myself to get into a vertical position to walk the 4 to 5 steps or so into the bathroom to relieve myself. I couldn’t see the point. Because there was none. Nobody was going to know or care if I lay there in my own filth; it wouldn’t make a difference to anyone elses’ day. Nothing else was going to stop because of it. In the end I got up and went, but the mental effort required to do so was only achievable because I’ve become somewhat accustomed to the ebb and flow of my own emotions, and learned how to recognise their irrational tendencies. At the time, however, nobody else would have understood if they’d asked me to explain why I’d remained in such discomfort for so long. I didn’t even understand. I just didn’t care.

Because even in that small and basic human need to relieve myself – I am alone. We are alone. We are all so isolated and terrifyingly alone in this world and in our heads that we have allowed ourselves to assume a facade of being ‘one’ and connected with one another by forming and adhereing to social constructs and boundaries. We need something to make us feel connected to the bodies around us; we need affirmation on a daily, hourly basis that the way we are living our lives is ‘correct’, ‘proper’, or ‘expected’ – because nobody has the balls or the recklessness to admit that none of us have a fucking clue what we’re doing or where we’re going. Navigating our way around this world using tools set in place for navigation by people who searched and searched and still found nothing…where exactly is it that we’re going? What am I hoping to achieve in life? Is there any requirement that says I must achieve anything?

For me, depression is a magnified sense of this isolation – it’s a simple lack of care or emotion, let alone any kind of hope or agenda. It’s hopeless and empty search for some kind of purpose and meaning, combined with a heightened sense of apathy and lack of will to complete any kind of day to day tasks that allow most people to keep beating onwards; a distraction from thoughts that don’t scream so loud.

These thoughts and questions melt my brain, blocking out any kind of rationality and making me want to stay in bed forever in a cocoon of physical comfort so as to ease the turmoil that continues in between my ears.
Their extremity is counteracted by an alternating surge of energy and drive for life that takes over at other times, a happiness and contentment that seems so perfect and blissful in that moment that the existence of any other emotion seems ridiculous – or does the high only exist because of the low? Are they relative to one another, the worst seeming so bad purely because of the bliss of the best? Is it even worth thinking these questions and wondering these things when I seem to have no control or sway over them whatsoever?

I’m not going to lie  – I still don’t understand it. And I’m not sure I ever will. But sometimes writing about it like this kind of teases some sort of clarity out of the jumbled up mush of my head.

In an effort to make this article seem less morbid, here’s an image of how it feels when I manage to stifle the thoughts briefly….and the kettle actually boils ….
Also on payday!!!

Coffee agus Ceol

Finishing off my coffee this morning, I’m surprisingly at peace with my body and soul right now. My aura? My…existence. Right at this moment…is ok. For now. Sometimes this feeling is the closest I know I’ll ever get to contentment. It’s brief, it won’t last longer than a few minutes I know, but at least I can recognise it when it finally shows it’s face. It’s nice to know and realise sometimes that it is possible to occupy your own space in the world without wishing you didn’t have to, even if it’s only brief. These moments help me know that’s it’s real.

The man who works downstairs has also come in early, but instead of using this time to needlessly surf the web like me, he is practicing the french horn. I didn’t realise until now, but the sound reminds me of being young, and being part of orchestras, surrounded by sound, surrounded by people being in touch with part of them that they wouldn’t rightly be able to describe or put a finger on, but that they know is there. I miss playing the flute and being part of something like that. The perfect balance between structure and lack of structure – structure in the fact that the written music is there to be followed, note for note, line for line, each part fitting in perfectly with each other in harmony and dissonance – yet lack of structure in that for any individual player, that music is and will always be merely a guideline to what will actually be played. For every interpretation of a piece will be different. Placing sixty to a hundred or so musicians together in one place is inevitably going to produce something new, no matter how loyal you remain to the music, or how technically talented the musicians.
In my search for some sort of structure to my life recently it has  proved damn near impossible to find a balance, especially when it comes to food, drink, and exercise – some of the most important things in life to keep balanced. In the past I have been to all extremes – being unable to stop and also being hugely restrictive, neither of which are beneficial, and both of which leave me miserable and confused, with racing thoughts and panicked assumptions and misinterpretations of myself and the way I look. This morning for the first time in quite a while, I felt momentarily at peace with myself, and it felt good. It felt ok. Not amazing, not out-of-this-world euphoric, not a moment of bliss that I will forever remember for it’s perfection… but content. Because the extreme of euphoria is not necessarily a good thing, and striving to reach it is only inevitably going to require a counterbalance of misery to even things out a bit. I think I’ve finally gotten to the stage in life where I am able to do without the euphoria, the out-of-body momentary happiness, if it also means I don’t have to experience the misery.

Like the orchestra tuning up for a performance – the mess, unorganised chaos and untuned notes tooting out here and there and everywhere while everybody plays their favourite warm-up piece or scale or line, clashing fantastically in a hall which echoes each note back to all the members a hundred times over, finally coming to a standstill, and starting up a well-rehearsed piece. It will never be the same as it was the last time, maybe even not as intended by the composer because of the non-existent nature of originality, but if paced, and trod carefully, and practiced, something new and beautiful will be created and let out into the world for each musician and audience member to experience.

Maintenance

 

Maintenance
Here’s the thing about mental illness. You can try your hardest. You can get up early and exercise and drink lots of water and eat healthy and eat lots. You can do yoga and meditate. You can write and draw and run and sing and knit and paint. You can do your absolute best to have a good day, and still sometimes you don’t. Some days are just bad. And that’s ok.
The constant effort and awareness that’s necessary to maintain positivity and maintain a sense of happiness sometimes gets overwhelming. It’s not possible to be on top of all things, at all times. But it’s how you react to that bad day and lapse in attention that defines how it either resolves itself, or else spirals further. Knowing yourself is more than just knowing how to do your job, or who your friends are, or where the best place to go for cheap cocktails on a Wednesday is. It’s about knowing how your mind and body react to things and kinds of people around you, and trying your utmost to deal with these reactions accordingly. I know enough about myself by now to recognize that I often get caught up in the heat of the moment and react rashly to statements or people or things happening around me, and immediately regret it. By taking a small mental step backwards and knowing my inclination to do this, I can at the very least rectify what I’ve done or said immediately, if not before it actually happens. Because it’s not going to go away or disappear just like that. It’s something that’s always going to be there in certain people as a natural reaction to the world around them. Those who don’t experience it might find it hard to understand it, I don’t know – I’m just recounting my own experience and methods.
A bad day is a bad day, and however hard it may be to reign in the spiraling thoughts of how pointless continuing on would be, in the end both your body and the world around you are going to keep going, regardless of the reluctance of your mind. If you fall and break a bone, your body’s natural reaction is to grow and fix itself to repair around that break. The only real difference is that your physical cells don’t have that niggling little negative voice saying that there’s no point, it’s too difficult, let’s just leave it broken.
Mental health IS a conscious and constant effort, and it’s easy to back down and be lazy about maintaining a good attitude towards it. Even now as I write this I’m wondering what’s the point of it, but to be honest sometimes it’s nice to just think about it and get your head around what exactly we’re dealing with when we think about mentality and illness of the mind.
Because every day, even for those of us fortunate enough to have a somewhat stable routine, be it work, college, or otherwise – every day is different, and throws up new challenges in our faces that we have to learn how to deal with. For some people dealing with a mental issue for the first time, it may be hard to recognize it for what it is, because as so many people are so quick to point out – we all do have shit days. But it’s when those shit days become the norm, become something that you can’t even distinguish as being bad anymore that you have a problem.

As you get older and begin to understand your own mind and body and the way they work, it becomes easier to recognize when things aren’t exactly as they should be, and when some mindful TLC is required. Once you’ve pulled yourself through a particularly bad episode or day once, there’s a certain knowledge and resigned acceptance to the truth that everything will, in actual fact, be ok. You’ve done it once – there’s no reason why you can’t do it again. But it’s that first time and one seemingly unsurpassable struggle that will test you the most, even if it’s only because you don’t know exactly what you’re dealing with and have never had to think about having an issue with your mental health. Even if it may not seem like it, there are plenty of options out there and friends who are willing to talk if you just reach out to them and do it. Let them help you, by helping yourself first.
There’s a lot more that can be said and thought about mental health, and we are by no means making any major breakthroughs as of yet in terms of treatment or prevention. A conscious effort made to be aware of yourself and your mind is truly the only way to ensure you can maintain a kind of mental immune system – to just LIVE it, and be it, and be up front and accepting of what’s happening around you at the present time. Just be you.

Know Yourself

Too Much.
This is a bit of a poem thing that I wrote based around the importance of knowing yourself, knowing your limits, and knowing when too much is too much.

 

 

It’s only when I stop and think
Of how it was;
Unassuming messages, and replies drenched in emotion,
Yet tastefully reserved;
The yearning still nudges its relentless head
Against the inside of my chest,
My mother telling her daughter in the shop when she showed her a toy;
“Oh yes, that’s nice. Now let’s go”.
The colourful and brilliant potential remaining in my head
For days after, maybe weeks.
Refusing meals that were made out of love,
This now grown yet stubborn body turned on the nourishment.
Nothing else would do.
Thinking back to before nothing was important
– because nothing is what it was,
Everything was unsure.
The huge footfalls of an elephant passing by
Are enough to frighten anyone into a corner
– but they can’t help being heavy.
Reserving their peace for the wild, the unpredictable,
They are content.
While I was living under a thatched roof,
Just waiting for the sparks to set it alight,
Yet poised and ready to pounce should they dare take any form.
Because dirty dishes pile up around the sink;
Like corpses after a particularly bloody battle;
And things can get lost in the haze of a busy weekend,
In a mess of unwashed clothes on the floor of a hotel room.
But unspoiled food can be reheated, and we’re lucky the plate didn’t smash completely.
How are they to know what too much is?
They can’t.
We know even now that wild horses can be reigned in, and raging seas, though at times enough to drown you;

Can be personally navigated gently back to shore.