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

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

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

What is ‘The Work”?

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

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

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

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

Doing the Work

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

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

Results???

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

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

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

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

Self-Awareness

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

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

Do the work. It’s worth it.

batur

Accessing Your Own Inner ‘Network’ – Self- Communication and the Benefits of Listening to Your Own Desires To Achieve Success

  Accessing Your Own Inner ‘Network

I’ve recently put very promising steps into place in order for me to successfully be able to work on my own terms, doing the things I not only excel at, but feel most passionately about. I’m not quite there yet, but the seeds have been planted (and deposits paid!) which will hopefully blossom into something extremely fulfilling and enjoyable – and after all, isn’t that the most we can hope to achieve from our ‘work’? I place ‘work’ in inverted commas here as I’m a firm believer in the whole ‘do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’, cliché. I’ll explain why shortly.

‘Success’ is another relative term. To achieve ‘success’, you first have to establish what your own understanding or expectation of ‘success’ is. In doing so, you may realise that you’re setting unfair expectations and deadlines for yourself without even realising it (warning sign number one!), and as such creating a mis-communication between your real passion and the human vessel through which it is trying to be expressed- that’s you, body!

Humans thrive on communication – on our daily interactions with one another. Before the days when ‘networking’ meant socialising merely for potential business or financial progression, we interacted on a more natural, humane basis, and really enjoyed having company and experiencing connection for the simple knowledge and reassurance it gave us that we weren’t alone in the world.
I despise the term ‘networking’, yet I understand why in today’s world it has unfortunately become a necessity. Even online – our interactions are now preceded with a weighty amount of agenda, pre-considered opinions and over-thought out potential scenarios – and that’s just by hitting ‘add friend’. Given the rapid-expansion of online social networks and their use and benefit for business growth, it is understandable that the trends and ‘most useful’ or most dependable means of communication are now continuously changing. Last year the most popular messaging app was Viber. Now it’s Whatsapp. Next year it will be something else, and I can’t remember the last time I sent an actual text message!

While keeping in touch with those on the outside and far away has become easier and more accessible than ever before, we unfortunately seem to have lost the altogether more important and pressing ability to get in contact with ourselves. It is so easy to get swept away in the wishes and passions of others, purely because it seems like the right thing to do or the most ‘socially acceptable’ course of action.
Whenever I find myself getting confused about my own actions or wishes, my current endeavours or simply my own reasoning for doing things, I can’t help but look at myself (as ‘Linked In’ conveniently provides as an option *rolls eyes*) through the eyes of my fellow social media users.

Would I add myself as a friend? Why? What could I possibly hope to gain from it?

Writing ‘About Me’ sections and ‘Bios’ defining myself in 150 characters or less has really forced me to sit back and reconsider my entire position in this world, and more often than not has left me anxious and concerned about my qualifications (or lack thereof) to work in the chosen fields I am placing myself within. Anyone can define themselves as a ‘writer’, a ‘musician’, an ‘accountant’, a ‘digital marketing strategist’, …the list goes on. I’ve written bios and personal statements for friends defining the areas they have chosen to dabble in, achievements they are proud of, and hopes for the future. While I’ll admit to feeling a sense of satisfaction on successfully condensing my life’s achievements and current existence into two or three carefully constructed lines of words, I’ve also questioned the very action of defining myself in such a way. It seems so limiting, so final. I’ve also worried about things I’ve posted online, purely for their permanency and irreversible presence.

The reality of it is that in today’s business and networking world, people are embarking on career changes and dipping their toes in the appealing paddling pools of new jobs and ventures becoming available like I change my mind about what socks to wear on a daily basis. The difference between those who succeed and appear content about their choice of lifestyle and those who choose to stay stuck in a rut they don’t enjoy, is that they don’t worry too much about it. They just go with it. They try it. If it works – brilliant. If it doesn’t – at least they tried. The next step might be more straightforward. If not that one, then maybe the next, and so forth….
I’ve lost count of the amount of times my parents have expressed concern or confusion over the fact that I don’t currently have a 9-5 job, and moreso the reality that a little part of me vomits a bit in my mouth whenever the thought of it surfaces. It’s simply not a bracket I see myself fitting anymore, the stifling prospect of any contract longer than a year enough to make me run a mile in the opposite direction, (or at least book a flight!).

In choosing to have a little faith in myself and my own talents, capabilities and potential instead of denying myself the possibility of happiness and creative fulfillment I have come to associate with most reliable and contracted incomes, the reality that is my life right now, has already taken a turn for the better. Even before I’ve achieved anything in the rough blueprint I’ve laid out for myself. I’m not saying this will be the case for everyone, but for me, it’s an unfortunate (or fortunate, whatever way you look at it!) truth.
I’ve muddled my way through several jobs and possibilities, considered certain routes and potential roads to take, all with the wrong outlook. Where before I looked externally to what people would think if I did this or what it would look like if I did that as a means of judging whether or not to proceed, I have now learnt to communicate with my own desires, and with the way my thoughts and talents work. I now have the tools to connect to my own inner network, and a better knowledge of the frequency it functions best at. Self-communication and understanding is the key to this.

There’s no guarantee I’ll succeed, but then again, there’s no guarantee that I’ll fail either. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll tweak it until it does. Like a recipe you can’t quite get right – it might not end up exactly as you had expected in the first place, but if it still tastes great and nourishes you in all the right ways, then what’s not to love?

Destination: The Office

My Travel-Blog
Date: 21/09/15
Destination: Work
Time: 7.55am

 It’s cold this morning, though I probably won’t need this jumper by lunchtime. I turn left instead of right coming out of the house to take the opposite route towards the bustop; my feeble efforts to introduce some excitement and variety into the day – is that a new car outside number 79?
My old reliable 8am bus buddies have already begun to gather in the pre-acknowledged and respected morning silence; one by one, some nodding in recognition as I approach, others choosing the familiar awkward drop-of-the-gaze towards the ground – generally also my favoured approach at this hour of the morning, so no offence is taken.
Mrs. Purple Jacket noticably deflates as her talkative aquaintance Miss Multicoloured-Nails comes to settle chirpily by her side, greeting her with a ‘cold morning!!’ and a glance to the right to ‘see if it’s coming yet’.
It’s not.
Bleary-eyed and shivering slightly I check my phone for the second time in as many minutes, a blank glance the first time having failed to inform me of the time -just that the screen was very bright.
By the time the bus pulls up we’ve assumed our usual formation – tall lady with the furry coat who gets off in Ballsbridge stepping ahead of the guy that I recognise from primary school yet haven’t spoken to since that night in the pub down the road where I christened him my ‘bus mate’, and all the while me praying that my Leapcard doesn’t beep for longer than expected – the inconvenience it would cause to have to count out change amongst my orderly co-commuters would be shameful!
Stumbling my way to my usual seat at the back between Candy-Crush-playing –redheaded-guy and fair-haired-nurse-at-The-Hermitage-Clinic I try to focus my attention on the fact that the book I have in my bag to read is actually starting to get very interesting. I try to convince myself of the significance of this and mentally prepare myself to engage in the strength necessary to disappear into it’s pages for the next 45 minutes of my life.
As the morning brightens outside the windows, the mood inside the bus becomes gloomier with every full stop of commuters sighing away more and more of the precious oxygen and contributing to the increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere.

I can’t believe it’s only Tuesday’, and ‘I’m going to be sooooo late’ are common phrases in morning-commute land that allow successful communication with other travellers, but that I’ve learned to avoid on account of them being incessantly negative and pointless in their expression, especially in a situation such as aboard the 8am bus. These are uttered amongst passengers quite regularly with varying levels of boredom and energy, though in general the mood and tone is low.
As we turn on to the quays and the sun’s feeble effort to shine through the fogged windows reaches it’s peak, I put my book away in favour of the people-spotting opportunities the slow crawl of traffic before 9am presents to Dublin Bus passengers. The ground outside along the pathway seems to hold some sort of magical attention-keeping aspect to it, the sheer intensity of the walkers’ gazes fixed downwards as they hurry to their destinations seeming to cement hands in pockets and keep headphones blaring to block out the grumbling and bleeping of a city waking up.
As I disembark with a glum ‘thank-you’, echoing my previous self every day for the last month or so, I turn and jaywalk across to the other side of the road, a rush of adrenaline pulsing through me as I just about make it to the curb before the traffic surges forwards again. This spurs me on with one final burst of energy to take the too-wide steps of the Ha’penny Bridge one at a time, where I usually take them with two.

How exciting. Here’s to another exciting workday in Dublin.

Socks in the City

Tourists look up. They stare around in wonder awe and try to take in all the nooks and crannies of the cities they do not live in. They see things that inhabitants of the city itself overlook in their day-to-day lives, things they consider irrelevant, unnoteable, non-important. Imagine working in an office down the road from the Colosseum. A very large and ancient example, but an example nonetheless.

One huge thing I have noticed from working a 9-5 job in the city is that every morning, in the bleary-eyed dawn rush over the same bridge and cobbled streets that lead up to my office, is that I never, ever, make the walk whilst looking up. My head is always down, bent in defence-mode as I battle through the crowds of suits and asics runners with tights in the daily struggle that is the 9am rush. One morning recently, whilst still feeling the effects of a few too many midweek cocktails, I noticed a man opening a window on one of the upper floors of the row of shops and cafés in Templebar. A simple, quick movement, meaningless to anyone catching the change out of the corner of their eye, yet it was enough to pull my gaze skyward, and I began noticing things about the buildings I pass every day that I hadn’t noticed before. Maybe I’m getting a bit Patrick Kavanagh-esque in these musings, noticing beauty in the mundane and all that, but it was interesting to cast fresh eyes on old surroundings, and it opened my mind and brightened up an otherwise uncomfortable and hungover commute.
I then turned my attention to the tourists around Dublin, with their maps and backpacks, stopping to take pictures of postboxes and shop windows and doors that I walk past daily without batting an eyelid at. Even in the depths of Winter, they find the beautiful and noteable things, making sure to snap an image so as to remember it clearly, whereas we barely notice them at all.
This is what there is to gain from travel. The constant exposure to new and exciting things – new and beautiful things, that we haven’t grown accustomed to and probably never will. It seems to me that in continuing to expose ourselves to new experiences, places, people and cultures, that life could be just…fresh. All the time. It would be filled with the feeling of new socks on your toes. But in your mind. Imagine!!
In all the times I have filled the role of a tourist in a place I haven’t been before, it’s the excitement and the newness of not knowing what’s literally around the next corner that keeps my attention and energizes me. It’s that fleeting moment of panic you feel when you think you’ve taken a wrong turn, and have managed to get completely lost in a city far away from home, only to retrace your steps and discover a new and more scenic route back to your hostel that makes my heart beat, and gives me a feeling of purpose and being alive. Here’s to more moments like this in 2015!