Spend too long looking down at your phone?
You’d be surprised what you’re missing.
There’s so much more to see.
-A Windowseat of One’s Own
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Let’s face it: we all know the things that are good for us.
In some deep-rooted corner of our stomach or diaphragm, or wherever you feel your instinctive urges, we know that staying up that extra hour binge-watching Netflix is going to result in googly eyes until lunchtime tomorrow.
But still we do it, because it’s easy to give in to the urges and not think about the future in those terms—wanting to prolong the feeling of contentment as long as possible, and at whatever cost.
But balance is something that only you can find for yourself. Health service and medical advice aside, you are ultimately the only one who can know your own body and mind, feel your own emotions, hear your own thoughts, and heed what works and doesn’t for yourself.
Listening to your body’s needs and being able to heed them accordingly are two very separate things, however, and too often we let things slip purely out of laziness or for simplicity’s sake.
Sometimes it takes a subhuman strength of will to haul my mind out of the gutter of magical, idealistic thinking, and into the simple reality of what is. Because reality is simple. Here and now, right here, right now, with no thoughts preoccupied with the future or with the past, I have a sense of peace and serenity that stems only from my situation in this present moment, and only this present moment.
There are certain things and environmental factors which I’ve noticed help me to achieve this sense of self and make it more accessible in times of distress.
So, in order to further promote this balance and help myself return here when it becomes necessary again (because even the most balanced person stumbles every now and then), I’ve compiled a list of things that help me personally to maintain balance in the midst of mental, emotional, or environmental chaos.
1. Rise early. You may not catch any worms, but you’ll certainly get a headstart to the day and a chance to spend some time with yourself and thoughts in order to properly be able to figure them out before the day begins.
2. Eat well. (An oldie, but a goodie.)
3. Drink water—this speaks for itself.
4. Get enough sleep.
5. Listen to your body.
6. Wear sunscreen.
7. Spend time with yourself.
8. Spend time in nature.
10. Read books while travelling.
11. Read books in bed.
12. Just read books.
13. Travel often. Movement is key to living—“If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.”
14. Lock your door and dance around (bonus points if it’s in the dark).
15. Sit in a bar or restaurant alone, and enjoy your own company.
16. Drink coffee.
17. Write things down.
18. Write yourself well.
19. Stretch daily.
20. Yoga poses soothe. You know this.
21. Exercise to feel your heart beat in your chest—to feel and stay alive.
22. Indulge in chocolate.
23. Make playlists of songs that make you feel.
24. Do things that make your eyes light up when you talk about them.
25. Spend time with people with whom you can laugh and feel alive, yet who will also remain steadfast and supportive in times of need.
26. Feel your emotions. They’re there for a reason.
27. Take care of your body. You are the only one with the power to do so.
28. Wear what you’re comfortable in. Nobody (yourself included) needs or wants to see you pull up your tights again.
29. Cleanse and moisturize daily—physical freshness can help to have & fall back on in the case of an unexpected mental shift during the day.
30. Give your full attention to someone if they’re taking the time to speak to you—even if you’ve no idea or opinion on what they’re saying.
31. Wherever you are, be all there. Mindfulness and being present in the moment is one of the most straightforward ways to be at ease with yourself and situation, yet ironically is generally the last thought to occur to us in times of stress.
‘The Hills of Donegal’
‘Hill’ being my mother’s maiden name, this phrase has often proven the source of some quality punnage and cheap jokes in my family, any relatives hailing from that side automatically being granted free entry into the category so often sung about towards the end of a drunken night out in Coppers.
I came to visit some of the Hills of Donegal recently for an extended long weekend, in order to escape the haste and mind-melting suffocation of the suburbs of Dublin, and hopefully find some sort of respite. What I found here I still can’t quite put my finger on, but I just know it has been good for my soul.
Home to fairy forts, ancient standing stones, a world war 2 crash site, isolated, pristine beaches and a round tower said to date back to the time of Niall of the Nine-Hostages, the area surrounding Dunree and Buncrana where my godfather lives is truly a treat to explore. Given my haste to leave the capitol, I foolishly packed an assortment of ill-suited clothing for my undefined stay, and so on my arrival I was forced to borrow a warm fleece, and buy the cheapest set of leggings I could find in the local Sainsbury’s just over the Derry border to wear under my thin Summer-dress and tights.
Once I was properly kitted out, (for though the weather was actually fine, a cool breeze cuts through most types of clothing at any time of the year around here), we headed off down the beach for a glimpse of the sunset, after one of the first days this year when the sun has been properly visible for over a couple of minutes at a time. The battery on my phone had died after a painstaking 4-hour bus journey (NEVER travel with Bus Éireann), so you’ll just have to take my word for it without pictures – but it was beautiful.
The cottage itself is exactly what you’d expect for such a rural area – a large, cosy living area with both a turf fire and a huge range that when lit provides heating for the rest of the house too, and a slanting garden home to various plant pits, a huge greenhouse, and an impressive ‘bonfire area’ as they call it, used for parties and gatherings of local musicians and other vagabonds during the summer months. The road down to the right outside the gate leads down to a beach so large and isolated that it makes the Salthill prom appear like a kindergarden’s rockpool. This (even though it’s only April) has been the hottest day of the year so far – where are all the people??
Apparantly, this is one of the Northern-most beaches in the area, and so by the time sun-soakers reach the turn to come down here, they have already passed numerous opportune locations to spend the day roaming the sands and taking ‘shellfies’ with the local marine-life, leaving local inhabitants of Dunree free to bask in the isolated beauty of their beach without having to worry about careless carts of unsupervised children and other littering tourists – it really is a special place.
When the tide is low, there are caves and rockpools to be explored that lead around the coastline to the right of the beach, continuing on jutting in and out dangerously, yet they consistently draw my gaze as I wander up and down the sands, dodging jetstreams in futile attempts to keep my pathetic Penney’s tennis shoes dry. This is what I needed. This is where I should be right now.
Whatever your understanding of or the scientific explanation behind the sensation of ‘Déja Vú’, my aunt’s continued referral to it as ‘a sign that you are in the place you are meant to be’ comes back to me even now, and I can’t deny that there is a solace and truth in her words that ring true for me when in Dunree. I experienced Déja Vú an unusual number of times this weekend, and given that I’d only ever visited here once before as a gangly, awkward teenager who complained about every last step that had to be taken outside in the rain (even if it meant a breathtaking view at the end of the road), I found it increasingly strange and began to believe her words more and more each time it occurred. I am comfortable here. I am at peace. I am not entirely warm, but nor am I cold.
I’ve experienced a glimpse of the balance, calmness, and joy there is to be gotten out of life, if you just stop to recognise it. Because I must leave soon and return to normal life at home (if you can call it normal), I know that it won’t last. But then, I am also aware that nothing lasts. Nothing stays the same, and while I enjoy the peace and collectiveness there is to be found in this place, my sense of self and purpose being more pronounced than they have been in ages, I know I must return. I must go back, and face the inevitable shift into another reality that I may or may not be comortable with. I’ll have to wait and see.
I Am a Candle
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.
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.
How To…. Put fresh duvet covers on your bed.
“I won’t tell them that people are starving in China or anything like that because it wouldn’t change the fact that they were upset. And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have”.
Everybody has something. Níl saoi gan locht.
Acceptance happens when you can finally look in the mirror and say “Yes, this is me. And I’m ok with that”.
There are certain things you can only understand and appreciate after being within inches of rock bottom. There are certain moments when you realise you are actually happy again, and that very fact makes you happy. Saying the words; “I’m okay”, and actually knowing you mean it. It is nearly worth all the hard times put together and shoved in front of you like an ignorant pedestrian walking out in front of your car when there’s clearly no green man in sight.
All of a sudden you become aware that the fog has lifted somewhat, that there actually was a fog, a kind of blank apathy that literally nothing could penetrate – but that things are clear again. Like opening the curtains and seeing a pure blue sky for the first time in months, and you know it means that Summer is coming, and whether or not you usually enjoy Summer doesn’t come into context because you know that it can be whatever you make it.
It’s not a matter of choosing to be happy, because that’s just not possible. You can choose to implement things into your life that you know will affect you positively. You can choose to remove things from your life that you know affect you negatively. It all sounds very black and white when it’s put like that. But it’s more technicoloured than that. It’s a palette of colours and moods and emotions and contributing factors that combine to establish your dominant mood over a period of time. And everyone’s are different. There’s not a single person on this earth that can have possibly experienced the same as you. It’s about recognizing and knowing yourself. Mindfulness. Knowing your own mind and emotions and how they work. Knowing your own body. Being able to control what influences it. It’s a work in progress. Nothing is finished yet.
But here’s to being happy again.
There are so many things I want to do.
I want to read. Books from long ago. Books from last week. Books that mean things and books that don’t.
I want to travel everywhere and SEE as much as I can while I am young and my body is able.
I want to write songs and stories and translate what’s inside my head into something solid or audible and beautiful.
I want to take care of my body and ensure that it will last long enough to do everything I want it to do, and take me where I want to go.
I want to experience life in places I haven’t yet been able to. There is so much more to the world outside of Dublin. I have been on top of mountains in the Alps, and seen the sunrise from an island in Lake Victoria. There is so much more.
I want to love and be loved, but do so without losing myself in the process.
I want to strengthen this new-found courage, this sense of self that has begun to appear, and use it to help others who are disappearing.
I want to work and live for ME, instead of for somebody else.
I want to let myself take opportunities that are presented to me, and give myself a chance to make something out of them, even if it seems at first that I won’t.
I want to be able to do the difficult lifting poses in yoga.
I want to learn to speak French and Italian.
I want to sleep.