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.

I’d like to thank religion and modern societal constraints and perceptions for giving me such legitimate excuses to eat copious amounts of chocolate every couple of weeks.

First there was Christmas – a time when even the strictest of health and fitness regimes take a break and allow an extra helping of stuffing and one too many glasses of wine – I’ve heard that some gyms actually close for a day or two over the holidays- imagine that?!
Chocolate at Christmas comes part and parcel (excuse the pun) with pudding and turkey nowadays, no Irish household completely prepared for the feast-day of our Lord without the blue tin (or plastic box, of recent years) of Cadbury’s Roses nestled smugly under the tree amongst brightly coloured gifts that serve as the starter course for the day of indulgence.

Fast forward through the ‘dry January’ and empty New Years’ resolutions; swearing that you ‘don’t even want’ the leftover nibbles and chocolates from the festive season (I’m still steadily working my way through a selection box and a giant Toblerone), and we’re timely faced again with the prospect of a day full of love, this time in the form of fake plastic hearts which represent ‘affection’, as people show how much they mean to one another by giving the gifts of wine and chocolate – all filed and hidden away, as the Irish do best, in a sugar-coated ‘expression’ of love.
Yep, you heard me. I love you, so here’s some chocolate. Okay great!
No need to talk about feelings – I’ll just eat my chocolate and drink my wine until I’m sufficiently tipsy to ‘accidentally let slip’ that I do in actual fact have very strong feelings for you…or for chocolate. The lines get crossed so often at this stage that I can’t honestly tell the difference anymore.

In any case, whether you’re single, taken, or bound within an unspoken and uncertain agreement of affection versus hesitation to commit, chances are you’ll find yourself faced with some chocolate this weekend. And not necessarily as a gift from another, or a surprise purchase in your mother’s weekly shopping – I mean you literally may not be able to avoid being faced with it if you have any sort of tendency to go out in public during the day. Let’s face it- shops need something to work towards and market, so it may as well be your affections.

If it’s not a garish display of cupids and hearts and flowers, it’ll be a mass-produced and over-packed shelf display of purple and yellow boxes that have eagerly preceded their season already by encroaching upon the Valentine’s Day sales. You can almost see the hanging cherubs glaring as the ‘3 for 2’ offers on all medium chocolate eggs by the smug looking bunny rabbit is already proving more popular than the cheap tinfoil balloons he’s offering.
With the exciting treat that is Pancake Tuesday always surprising us at it’s proximity – It’s next week, guys! – and peaking Nutella sales worldwide, we’re left dawdling along for six weeks or so on a half-arsed health-kick, mildly aware of the frankly painful sounding ritual of ‘Lent’ that apparantly preceeds the chocolate-feasting gluttonous glory that is Easter.

Easter needs no introduction; suffice it to say that it is the one time of year my affection, need for, and irrational tendency to indulge in chocolate of all kinds; be it hot, cold, black, white, milk, mint or tiffin, is correctly and accurately catered for by retail outlets, TV ad campaigns and supermarkets alike – irrationally, in excess, and fabulously over-supplied.

Once Easter is over I begin to be thankful I was born in May…. #ChocolateCake

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.