‘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.

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Grey Matter

Grey Matter

For what it’s worth,
I can’t think of anything more vibrant,
More techni-coloured, spirit-soaring, smile-inducing and bright, than
Freeing yourself from the box-room cosy complex
That nothing you do will ever amount to anything.

Because it’s the easiest thing in the world
To do nothing.
It’s the easiest thing in the world
To let the greyness win.
Surrendering. Submitting.
Settling for a semi-faded filter,
When all your life your soul chose bold.

Deserving something, should not be a question.
Looking to others for an answer, losing ourselves to find
A pre-determined one?
No.
You have the answer already.
The greyness comes along to fool you.
Fight it. Go and do the thing
You have convinced yourself nobody will notice.
Because you’re right –
Nobody will notice.
The mental struggle it takes –
To put on socks.
The wide-eyed forehead-creasing terror
Of answering the phone
“HELLO? YES THIS IS HER.”

…and gradually, you smile.
Connection. Communication.
That’s what kills the greyness.
The belief that despite your reservations
And pale skin
And ginger hair
And natural disposition to think it doesn’t matter anyway
 – The colours do suit you after all.

On Finding Calm in the Chaos – How Yoga Can Help in Managing Anxiety

 

A sweeping, dangerously powerful wind.
Big waves in the sea so strong they steal the sunglasses from your head.
Very loud, thumping music.
Crowded Saturday-streets, and flashing lights everywhere as night falls and you suddenly find yourself alone in your head; alone with your thoughts.

 Quick! Run! The bar! The fridge! The gym! ANYWHERE to escape spending time with this egotistical and self-centered, ugly body I’ve found myself inhabiting.

 Hold it right there. Breathe.
Look around.
Sure, it’s chaotic. The outside; everyone rushing to be here or there, meet so and so for dinner or drinks to discuss where they went for dinner and drinks with him or her or what’s the latest on THAT guy and how’s your mother doing and what about those politicians, eh? Sorry I have to dash I’m not too drunk I just can’t be around all these people and all the thoughts in my head at the same time because I end up spinning around before we even start to dance and then I look in the mirror and remember what I should have worn instead and also have to do tomorrow and where the hell is my purse and what is that guy staring at my hair must be a mess and dear GOD please just get me out of here.

So leave.
It’s ok to leave. It’s ok to stay. It’s ok to think these things, and feel that way.

I’ve been on both sides of this situation – I’ve been the one to leave and run away from my problems, finding other ways to forget about and ignore them, and, more recently, I’ve been the one to stay and push through. To remain where I am, and work through the unbalancing extremes of thoughts and emotions that send my head reeling and wobbling on a regular basis.

In yoga, what do you do if a pose makes you wobble?

You do your best to straighten the hell back up, is what you do. You push down through your feet, and certify your stance; your position; your space in the world.
Because it is yours.
It’s about the only thing we don’t have to pay for in this world – our bodies. It’s an involuntary, but rent-free location, that we somehow have to figure out how to stand up straight in, and learn to navigate through whatever environment we find ourselves.
It’s not an easy task. Don’t listen to anyone who pretends it is, or who pretends they’ve never struggled. Because every single person does.

 The asanas in yoga are merely a physical manifestation of our mental state – I know if I’ve had a particularly off-day or feel unusually anxious about something, my yoga practice is weaker than normal and I tend to wobble and lean and shake quite a bit more than usual. Because I have succumbed to the external chaos. I have assimilated it into my body, a place that has been created and cultivated for singular, simpler, and more straightforward thoughts, with no consideration for the external chaos that may or may not happen on any given day. I’ve let it in.

When we consider how many things in life are uncontrollable by our own bodies and minds – the weather, the financial state of the country, the popularity of a bar or restaurant or public place from which we suddenly want to hide, to list but a few, it’s remarkable how blurred the lines can become when we start thinking we have influence over more than just ourselves.

In taking control of our own inner situation, we are taking responsibility for the little space we inhabit on earth. Sure, we may not have asked for it, but we are here now regardless, and may as well make the most of it.

 My yoga mat has travelled with me, and shown me that it doesn’t matter where I find myself; chaotic, over-populated, noise-polluted city, or tranquil, isolated and balmy beach miles from anywhere – I am always, always within myself, and returning there is the only way to truly find this ‘peace of mind’ or satisfaction we so often seek in all the wrong places. Yoga serves as a reminder of this. A healthy, lighthearted little poke in the back that injects a sense of calmness into even the most uncontrollable and chaotic situations.

 Things don’t have to be so complicated.
Breathe. Just breathe. And Be. Even just that is more than anybody has ever asked of you.

“Who Let The Birds Out?”

 

 

The most concrete memory I have from when I was smaller than the kitchen counter for some reason occurred to me again today, and I was struck with a realization so profound that I’m still reeling from it.

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Once upon a time, there were 5 or 6 yellow, fluffy, and sweetly-singing ‘birdies’ twittering about cheerfully in a cage on a wall. It was a time before tweeting became a silent and isolated online method of gaining false praise and fans, and the noise alone could lighten your heart and brighten your day – until of course you realized that the notes were caged and these birdies may as well have been empty- tweeting without an attention-grabbing hashtag or tag symbol to be seen. They were voiceless.

The cage was quite small (even to me as a 2-3 year old). It hung on a wall that divided the old ‘side garden’ from the ‘main garden’, or our permitted ‘playing’ area, and functioned as a distraction from the forbidden ‘side-gate’ and escape to the main road outside (in a perfectly safe suburban housing estate).

One day, I vividly remember staring up at the birds. I was still FAR shorter than where it hung fastened to the wall, having only just passed the point of needing to be lifted up to poke pudgy fingers between the bars in futile attempts to hold the poor creatures.

This particular day, that was all I wanted. I clearly remember the innocence with which I stared longingly at my ‘pets’. The poor caged creatures; evolved to fly, yet held back by metal bars. I was too young to comprehend this injustice of course, but my intent was simple and clear – to hold one in my hands, and see if the fluffy yellow down was as soft and comforting as it appeared.

Like my friends could pet their dogs. Unlike most kids were allowed to do – I simply couldn’t hold, touch, or interact with my ‘pet’ whatsoever.

So I reached up.

I’d watched my Dad replace their food and water enough times to understand how to open the door.

POOF. A whoosh of air, tweets and feathers about my outstretched arm, and suddenly I was running inside.

‘WHO LET THE BIRDS OUT?”

I had quickly pushed the door of the cage closed and made myself scarce. I knew I’d done wrong. But I somehow didn’t feel guilty about it.

When the empty cage was noticed, I denied knowing anything about the curious disappearance. But as sure as any bird will fly when given the chance, my 3-year-old wobbly chin dimpled, whimpered, and gave me away as I feared for my ice-cream after dinner. I like to think it was to do with an ingrained honesty and incapacity to lie within me, but the truth was as childishly greedy as this, and all I was thinking about was the restriction of my dessert.

I cried like a baby…because that’s what I was.

I cried not out of guilt, nor at the loss of my pets. I cried because I had attracted trouble. I had attracted anger, frustration, and inadvertently made myself the target and origin of the negativity.

When I think about this on a deeper level, and in terms of what little life experience I have now to date, I find it incredible, and extremely telling:

 

My earliest memory is of releasing caged birds.

 

Quite literally, letting nature into its natural habitat, and releasing innocent creatures to a life they were born for, instead of caged in a garden, a house…it really does say a lot about me, and about my successes and failures to date.

I never properly believed in the influences of childhood events, environments, and seemingly unimportant occurrences in the past on issues and problems experienced today, yet when I consider this memory and the events which followed in context to today, and how the me of today would deal with them as opposed to how I dealt with them then, I can fully believe that we are the products of our environment. Mannerisms, practices, and personalities to which we are exposed as children become part of us far more easily than those we may attempt to adapt later on in life. Because they are our first experiences, our first time to encounter life events in a certain way….we come to believe that the way they are dealt with then is the ONLY way to deal with them. Anger breeds anger. Anxiety breeds anxiety. Paranoia breeds paranoid and obsessive thought patterns, damaging only when you realize just how much they have influenced you up until now. How much time I have wasted worrying about things that didn’t really matter; anxious to improve, to always be the best, to come out on top, because even though ‘we’ll love you whatever the result’, there was always a larger bowl of ice-cream for whoever came out on top.

How to …Escape Emotional Dependency

 

How to… Escape Emotional Dependency…

Jack-Kerouac

 

“We are not creatures of circumstance; we are creators of circumstance.”
-Benjamin Disraeli

 

Cultivating the right environment for your own growth and development as a human being, as a creative individual, as a cog in the system of whatever functional or dysfunctional structure you’re fitting into, whether willingly or not, is absolutely vital if you’re going to make any kind of progression towards a happier life.

Emotional dependency is a trap so easily fallen into and so commonly mistaken for security and self-confidence. If I’m depending on someone to support me emotionally, I am feeding off energy supplies they have cultivated themselves, whether consciously or not, for their own benefit. Using their positivity and wellness as a means to support failing efforts at establishing my own. It’s a sign there is some sort of imbalance within my own life that I have chosen to either block entirely, thus rendering me in need of reassurance, or else I have allowed it to engulf me completely, creating the need and habit for another ear or shoulder to help carry its weight. This kind of dependency and relationship can actually appear to be functional for a time, until it becomes evident that the weight of whatever underlying issue exists is not the ‘dependents’’ own burden to bear, and they withdraw from it reluctantly in order to prevent further draining of their own precious strength.

They can want to help and offer a shoulder to cry on only a certain amount of times before it simply becomes unfair to expect anything more of them – after all, have they too not got their own problems? Aren’t we all suffering?

Using others as scaffolding on which to support problems you yourself have failed to cultivate a resilience to is humiliating. It’s humiliating, and inconvenient for all involved. It’s difficult enough to admit defeat and take the help in the first place, without becoming dependent on it to keep going.
Crops failed this year. No inner strength remains to feed off of. You’ll have to borrow a neighbours’ corn.
Sorry.

For this reason, it is so important to learn to cultivate your own happiness. To figure out what works best for your unique organism of cells. The things that really make your eyes light up at the very thought or mention of them, catching fire and lifting you up when you actually put them into practice. The things that make life bearable for you; that can help you pass an afternoon of endless rain in a negative environment relatively contently.

Once you’ve reached this stage, the rest is simple: do them. As much, as intensly, and as often as you can. Work towards building something new, instead of retreating into the shell of what used to be; because let’s be honest, ‘what used to be’, wasn’t working either, so progressing forwards is really our only option here.

Once you’ve planted these roots, you can begin to feed off your own strength, your own individual cultivation, instead of digesting elements of an environment around you that don’t quite lend themselves to the elevation of your mood and happiness.

Metaphorical as it sounds, be sure to have some of this strength put aside for times of need. In the event of a storm, for example – the fat on the side, the blubber for insulation – every element of our world can be used in comparison to describe what’s inside us. The only difference with mental health is that you can’t see or visualise it. You need to figure it out for yourself, and that’s why taking time our from your regular schedule to do so is a perfectly acceptable form of ‘therapy’. Talking will only get you so far. As soon as you leave the doctor’s office, the old reliable neighbour whose crops seem to flourish year in, year out without fail; you’re left to try again alone.

Cultivation takes time, but each step successfully taken to further it onwards comes to be a comforting reassurance that you are getting there. It’s still nice to have a cup of tea now and again, to talk over plans, progress, reassuring those who have helped in the past that you’re on the right path, without allowing an emotional dependency to catch again like a swarm of locusts to the only food around they are aware of. That would be the easy option. Making your own is not only more rewarding, but soul-strengthening in every sense of the words.

As soon as the sun shines in again, that first sign of warmth and comfort, you’ll see it – the other side. The side where everything isn’t dark and stagnant and hopeless. Growth, progression, new life and strength is being cultivated even as you watch it; even as you sit and read these words your cells are fixing themselves and strengthening a core that has finally come to terms with the fact that it has the ability to stand up by itself. To nourish itself. To cultivate growth, to change, to age, and to progress. To depend on none but your own field of crops, your own emotional and physical strength rooted deeply into the ground beneath your feet, wherever they may find themselves today.

Art, Language, and Yoga as Forms of Personal Expression

 

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They say that art calms the mind, and soothes the senses.

As someone who is regularly plagued by bouts of extreme and intense anxiety, coupled with irrational responses to everyday occurrences, I have truly found solace in writing; in expressing my thoughts and worries elsewhere before they get the opportunity to take over my life.

Writing especially I have found to benefit me extremely in this sense, yet also other art forms too – singing, practicing yoga, translating, doodling, creating anything…aside from the obvious enjoyment and productivity associated with these acts themselves, it’s comforting to realise that regular practice and engagement with them have massive health benefits too.

The calmness and ease I feel after writing or praciticing yoga for a short time, or expressing myself in some other way is what I imagine most people (and by most, I mean people who aren’t prone to anxiety or extremes of thought patterns) feel on a ‘good day’. A ‘good day’ being a day where they awake feeling relatively content with their lives; their job; the balance on their latest bank statement; an upcoming night out or short holiday planned to keep them ploughing on through the next workday. A good day is all I want. A mediocre day without stressing over what to eat for breakfast, how I should break up the day ahead, whether or not I’ve had a response from the latest job application I’ve submitted…

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When I was travelling I had many, many of these ‘good days’. So many in fact, that I’ve come to associate the very act of travelling with these feelings of contentment, understanding, and acceptance of the world around me. When I’m travelling, it’s not only MY world I’m accepting – the things and people I see on a day-to-day basis – it’s the ENTIRE world. It’s a level of acceptance and bliss it’s difficult to recall now as I sit alone in my parents’ house, the grey clouds of an Irish ‘Springtime’ taunting the pale skin that has only just begun to lose the thick spatter of freckles Asia provided as a thoughtful departing gift to remember her by.

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Language and Writing

People are quick to comment on SouthEast Asians’ calmness and politeness of character, something I have experienced first-hand and now seek to put into practice myself. Even the various languages and alphabets as they are written- the delegation of equal importance and respect to each line, component, and meaning of each letter in each and every word they speak and write is absolutely fascinating, and humbling in comparison to the almost careless way we seem to throw our words and thoughts around a lot of the time.

In taking the time to sit and write them out, we are treating our own minds with respect, our own thoughts, however frivolous they may be, are being given the time of day they deserve and not hushed away in the back of a wardrobe or the ‘junk drawer’. This can be achieved no matter what language we are writing in.

Yoga For Self-Awareness

 Sitting with a new language and attempting to fully understand new structures, words, functions, and patterns is similar to sitting with our own bodies and listening to our needs. We slowly become more and more in tune with them; understanding the unique functions, strengths, cycles, abilities and limitations, the positive and negative reactions to outside stimuli, the huge spectrum of potential and possibility for this ever-evolving life-form that we’ve been given to power through a ‘lifetime’ here.

I don’t pretend to claim a clear understanding of all things body and mind and language-related and the vague sort of tenacious connection that I am now more certain than ever is in existence between us all – I’m merely enjoying the process of exploring it. I’m not expecting to ever understand it all, because that would defeat the purpose of the journey and of the creative exploration of what we’ve been given to work with. I can only hope to maintain an enjoyment of this journey, to sit with it, associating words and symbols and ideologies with different concepts and ways of life and language; with physical movement and accepting my body through yoga being a medium through which this change can work – a way for me to continue exploring it.

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Let’s Be Honest…

Let’s Be Honest….

 I would love nothing more than to recount remarkable tales for you. To tell of great deeds and funny stories, incredible experiences I’ve had and interesting things I’ve witnessed. I relish in being of interest to people – seeming knowledgable of certain topics when they arise in conversation. I have so many ideas and plans and potential project ideas and life desires that when I get excited about them I could talk for hours on end until you’d be sick of seeing my eyes light up about all the possibilities under the stars.
‘Get real’, you’d probably say.

My blog I use as an outlet to put some of these more outlandish ideas into shape, to actually sit with them momentarily and coax them into some sort of comprehensible versions of the raving notions and ideas they really are. Even with this, I feel I rarely fully capture the essence of what I think or feel, because the passions are so fleeting and frequent and eccentric that it’s difficult to latch onto them when they pass by. Although I would love nothing more than to be a source of wisdom, advice, and comfort to anyone in need, the fact of the matter, of MY matter, and the only matter I will ever truly know, remains that I am only one human.

Only one human, who can only undertake and process one moment, one feeling, one experience at a time. Even at this, I have astonished myself with some of the friendships and connections I have managed to make in moments when these feelings and experiences have become jumbled and panicked in my mind. Those I care about and surround myself with all come from different backgrounds; we have shared experiences, emotions, good times and bad times together. I have shared struggles, lent on shoulders that were there when I was confused and couldn’t handle things by myself, and gulped down cups of tea made out of pity, out of love, out of concern by people who have shown me genuine care and affection. The one consistent thing I have found about the human race and people’s opinions towards mental health and hard times and ‘shit we’re going through’ is that in general; everyone gets it.

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Being open and honest about my own difficulties has helped me connect on deeper levels with people, and form bonds of confidence and trust stronger than your average friendship or aquaintence. Discussing things nobody really wants to discuss. Discussing things with people that they themselves feel uncomfortable about sometimes has a weird way of drawing you closer together. When you are your true self more and more, you delve into the true essence of what it means to be you – you may never find the answers, but hey, it’s fascinating (and sometimes scary!) to look. When you get the opportunity to be this self with people and different walks of life, you really realise the universality of our condition; our struggles, and of our mindsets, wants, needs, and tendencies as human beings.
Age is but a number. Nationality, religion, height, weight, shape, size – these are all just contributing factors which make up the way people have been shaped and categorized in an effort to glean some sort of understanding and make sense of the mass of people and identities who now walk upon the earth.

None of us really know why we’re here. In accepting that fact instead of continuing to struggle to ascertain myself as something different or special or to discover something new; in accepting myself and my body and condition for what I am; an unknown mass of cells making up one seven-billionth of the worlds’ population; there is a sense of freedom that I never thought could have been achievable by doing what I did and being open about struggles when they were occuring.
Because the truth is that we are all struggling. Each little tiny ant to roam the 7 continents we call home is struggling. It is how we choose to process and consider this struggle that makes the difference.

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Today I woke up, unemployed, in my parents’ home, with no particular plan or goals for myself to achieve for the day. Instead of asking myself ‘What the hell am I doing with myself?’ I chose to sit up and say “What CAN I do with myself?”
The answers to this second question were endless. They ARE endless.
I didn’t glean any monetary income from today, but I sure as hell didn’t waste it.
The sun was shining. I sent a few emails. Applied for a few jobs. Did a bit of my TEFL course online. Went to a yoga class. Made dinner. Now I’m writing this. I had every intention of creating and writing something informative, witty, groundbreaking, even, but instead I’ve accepted that the flow simply wasn’t there today. It simply wasn’t ready; the right mental stream and balance wasn’t open.

In spending so long stuck in an unbalanced, panicked and chaotic mental state, I now feel the effects of actual order and balance hyper-sensitively, and as such I am more proactive in everything I do.
I don’t mean to make it sound like the low I hit a few months ago was beneficial to me, because it was honestly the most confused, upset, and terrified I’ve ever been in my whole life. But I’m a firm believer that hitting rock bottom sometimes is necessary to be able to build your way all the way back up to where you were, and go even higher.

Like J. K. Rowling once said; “Rock bottom became the firm foundation on which I built the rest of my life”.

And she wrote Harry Potter. Enough said.

We all go through shit. We all feel like shit at times. It’s whether or not we let those feelings win, and decide not to try anymore that defines who we are. Each day is a choice. Each hour is a choice. Each step, each outfit, each meal, how we choose to spend each evening is a choice we can all make.
Do yourself a favour, and be honest with yourself. What is it you want to do? What is it that you love?
Take the time to listen to yourself – your ‘authentic’ self, for want of a less-cheesy expression, and be the contribution to this world that you would look at and say ‘I wish I did that’.
Be a radiator instead of a drain. Radiate that which you want and rave about seeing and doing, instead of just taking it all in and swallowing it up.

Let’s be honest with ourselves for once. When it comes down to it, even opening up and letting others in is only a method of dealing with ourselves – a way to help us process what’s going on in our own minds. In the end it’s up to us individually to be honest with our own needs, wants, and be that little bit selfish when it comes to putting ourselves first. Because let’s be honest; we’re all we’ve got!

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On Functioning Through Chaos…

One thing I have learned from working in a chaotic, ever-changing and active environment is that one can never ever expect to depend on someone else in order to achieve a goal. If there is something you wish to get done, I have found the best bet to be self-sufficiency, being pro-active, and taking steps myself to ensure it gets done – otherwise it won’t happen the way I intend it to.
I may sound slightly stubborn and rigid with this kind of assertion, but I truly believe that to achieve any kind of happiness for ourselves, we must do so independent of any other’s opinions or interference – it’s finding a nice and acceptable way to do this and go about implementing change for personal reasons that proves difficult sometimes.

A few months ago I took some time to listen to myself. I quit gigging, I took some time off work, and I sat at home for a few days writing, reading, and listening to my needs, my own self, and nourishing my mind and body with things that it was really crying out for. What I found was that I had more creativity, ideas, and potential to give and create and live independently than even I had ever considered possible. The waves and flow of creative energy had always been there, buried deeply somewhere among the canopy of self-doubt, over-analysation, and damaging, poisonous thoughts which had led me to destructive and disordered eating behaviours and thought patterns. It had been stifled by things I previously had in place in my life that did nothing to help them – things I had come to depend on, and thought at the time for all intensive purposes should have been positive outlets, but that had really resulted in my self and sense of individuality being suffocated.
The confusion this created was so comforting in it’s extremity that I stayed there, stuck, yet to anyone assessing my situation from outside my own body, it would have often appeared I was in a good place. This false belief was strengthened by the seemingly successful ventures I embarked on, all the while eating myself up inside at the lack of artistic space I was being allowed (and allowing myself) to express myself and true way of being. In taking time to reassess my beliefs, my needs, and my own self as an individual human being as opposed to existing as a part of or for another person or group of people, I was honestly shaken to realise the power I have over my own life.

Even now just thinking about it empowers me. I have been given this body to live in, to mould and to shape as I see fit over a period of time. I can take it where I like, dress it in whatever clothes are available to me at a given time, and imprint upon it any image or word I feel has made a lasting impact. What I choose to do with my life is actually feasible if I believe in it enough to persist and continue thrusting energy toward it. It’s the choosing part that I struggle with. But I am literally a blank canvas. Every day, every moment, is a blank canvas that we can start building upon, or tearing apart with certain behaviours if we believe it strongly enough to repeat it consistently over any length of time.

I’ve come to see that life is a continuos progression from one moment to the next, each one irrelevant to the one which has gone before it, save when we choose to link them together.

It upset me to realise how much time I’d wasted worrying about what people thought, how I looked, how people would react to things that hadn’t happened yet or that had already come to pass…It was so pointless. The lack of control I’d had really showed itself for what it was when I finally took control, and decided to do something about it.
Realising this really showed me that although people may seem to be heading in the right direction on the outside, often even lying to themselves about being happy, there really is nothing more important than to finding what serves you, only you, and allowing yourself to take it. A chaotic and fast-paced working environment is occasionally the last place you’d expect to find such grounding thought, yet there is something extremely calming and humbling in taking a step back from the madness around and into the one small space of earth within one’s own physical body that remains within our control. Because in the end that’s all we’ll ever really have.

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.

Just in Case – A Thought on Progress…

The unpredictable and erratic Irish sunshine is shining in on me this evening through a window graffitied with stubborn raindrops from earlier on. The world both inside and outside of my room seems calm, as although the weather doesn’t suggest it, it almost feels as if things might be coming to some kind of even keel as the escaped hubcap of my life spirals slower and slower to a managable pace where it finally nears stillness – still dangerously exposed and raw in the centre of the road, yet standing there strongly, and balancing alone.
The sun and rain go on around it, contrasting elements living in direct relation to one another, which have recently been spending an increasing amount of time together. It leaves me wondering are they growing apart, or growing closer together? It seems we can’t have one anymore without being half-prepared for the other, many shops in town boasting attractive stalls of both umbrellas and sunglasses side by side in displays of diversity that would leave Aldi and Lidl speechless.
But co-exist they do, and ginger hair and pale skin aside, one without the other wouldn’t be a comfortable climate to live in either. In considering my emotions and progression over the last number of weeks, I’ve come to a similar conclusion and final acceptance (after years of awareness) that the bad does not necessarily always have to be bad, and must exist in order for the good to be as rewarding as it is. Basic and elementary as this realisation may seem to some, it has only been through putting the extremes and contrasts into practice, subjecting myself to their power and destructive abilities and consciously suffering the consequences of them that I have once and for all come to accept them for what they are, and finally, finally, slowly and reluctantly come to learn from it.
I’m ready to let go now of what I know does not serve me. The length of time between acknowledging this and being ready to do so was far, far longer than even I could even have anticipated, the struggle in between proving more confusing and unpredictable than a badly-kicked rugby ball. Yet my body and my mind have suffered enough, and letting go seems easier now that I can see myself and true potential for what it is.

I don’t know what the next month holds in store for me, or where my next pay cheque is coming from. I don’t know where it is I would be now if this low had not happened or been allowed manifest it’s gripping, grumbling emptiness within me. I can’t possibly know any of this, nor change how I was before. All I can do now is keep moving forward, building on the mistakes that were made and shunning the negative tendencies that will forever remain etched as a reminder of the strength of my own human will to do whatever it is I set myself out to do. Just because I’m not certain of what I’m setting out to do yet does not mean I won’t do it well, because now, instead of worrying and jumping to conclusions I cannot possibly predict or know the outcome of, I’m progressing forwards, in the comforting knowledge that I have been able to deal with and adapt to changes I didn’t expect or plan before, and I’ve made it this far to tell the tale. The tools I’ve gained from getting here will remain with me as long as I just remain aware, and maintain a certain balance in myself which only I can maintain.
I do not, and cannot know whether a rain jacket or a bottle of Factor 50 will be necessary when I leave the house tomorrow. But I know that both are packed away safely and neatly accessible in my bag – just in case.