I’M MOVING ON…

Recently, I had become weighed down by the routine and responsibilities of life. This sounds like the most stereotypical millennial thing to say but why should that stop me? It’s true. The transition into University life has been difficult; the constant pressing down of academia on any and all of my spare time and the looming dread of deadlines and exams have been a burden. At Uni there is a constant pressure to be many people all at the same time; the ambitious person with a five-year plan, the social butterfly, the student who juggles five extra-curriculars, the party animal and the person who can survive on four hours sleep a night and powers themselves on a constant stream of the bitterest black coffee. Why do we do this to ourselves? Honestly, I have no idea. We are so caught-up in trying to copy everyone else that we forget how to be ourselves and do what we came here to do; to develop as a person.

Cynicism seems to be the most popular currency at Uni. I know that the world can be a very dark place but constantly working to seek out and analyse those dark spaces can be exhausting. I feel like in my first term I forgot to give myself a relief from all the critical arguments and debates which I felt that I had to constantly keep pace with in my classes. My course demanded that I immerse myself completely in other people’s pain or become just generally distrustful of everyone and everything in the world. That was not sustainable or healthy.

Now I have made it my mission to remind myself to actually breathe. To not weigh myself down so heavily with the cynicism of academic theory and the pressure to be a hundred people all at once. For me, I do this by looking around me and seeing what is actually happening, taking in the moment rather than constantly burying myself in articles which are telling me that the world as we know it is coming to an end or that we are falling into our inevitable doom as a species. Instead, I am focusing on issues that I am passionate about and that I can have an actual effect on, especially the environment. Living a more sustainable and eco-friendly life makes me feel productive and like I am giving energy back into the world rather than parasitically sucking it out. I am organising things that I can look forward to and enjoy, rather than scheduling work experience placements to bulk-out my CV.

I am so privileged that I can take a breath and think about what is best for me and my health. I am not having to constantly struggle to provide a living for myself or work a 9-5 job and I should take advantage of that because who knows what my life will be like in the future and what it will demand of me? For now at least, positive choices are ones which work towards bettering my mental health rather than my grades. If that means taking a path which I was not initially planning on, then so be it…

PROGRESS ISN’T STRAIGHT FORWARD

Progress isn’t always linear. There’s not always a finish line in sight. Things that we labour at in life don’t necessarily work-out mathematically, we can’t time ourselves and set concrete targets for when to hit our next milestones. Some things just have to take as long as they take which is probably why the intangible frustrates the human brain so much.

Neither my anxiety nor my depression can be measured. I can’t draw a pencil line on the wall to set my bench mark and then keep drawing lines until I flourish to the point of blooming five feet above my initial line. Wouldn’t that be quaint? Instead the journey with mental illness often seems a lonely and meandering one in which fog fills-up my mind so frequently that I become disorientated and wonder whether I actually have a final destination to keep moving forwards to. My illnesses aren’t visible, so cannot be judged on their reduction of prominence over time. Instead, they are confusing swathes of thoughts and feelings which ebb and flow in how much they cover and suffocate my mind and body. Sometimes it feels like I take two steps forward then three steps back.

Today the pessimistic route presented itself as the easy one to take. Time has felt like sand slipping through my fingers recently and the hum of everyone moving past me, their progress whistling in my ears, only felt louder the more I pushed towards the positive route. Today and writing this blog post reminded me of the importance of having goals and a picture of where you want to be, not just in one or two year’s time, but tomorrow and the day after that. When the possibility of progress seems to be so distantly set in the faraway future, it is difficult to find the motivation to continue onwards on the right path. So, I set myself short-term goals, literally for the next day, like waking-up and telling myself that it will be a good day, getting to my seminar a couple of minutes early, smiling at whoever I sit next to in class, holding the door open for someone or managing to get myself to say even just a couple of words to whoever will be near me in my lecture hall (this is the most ambitious as my words dry-up in my mouth when I am around people). These things may seem silly and inconsequential but I need the reassurance that work can always be done on some aspect of my mental health and the route which will take me looping backwards to my darkest place isn’t the only one available to me.

BIG MAGIC

Yesterday evening I finished reading ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert and I feel lucky to have read a book that connected so profoundly with my own state of mind, my own needs and my own perspective. It reminded of a fact which I have forgotten since studying at University; that creating art can be fun. University puts so much emphasis on masterpieces and the genius of those who make it into the literary canon that I have forgotten the nuances of creative experience. This book reminded me not to put so much pressure on myself, I do not have to write pieces for the express purpose of them being profound or important, instead I can create and write for the joy of it.

Here are five of the most important lessons that I took from ‘Big Magic’:

1. Do not be fearful of your art, be playful and curious with it

I think that most people who create anything go through periods where they are too scared to pick up a pen, a paint brush or whatever their implement of choice because they are worried about the outcome. Either they are scared of people laughing at what they have created, they fear that they will feel let down by their own efforts or that they will not find any inspiration to engage with. Firstly, Gilbert reminds us that the act of just focusing on creating art in whatever form is a human victory in itself and if someone laughs at you for it then you can feel sorry for them for completely missing the point of a creative existence. Secondly, being self-critical is okay in small doses but once in a while we should give ourselves a pat on the back for just exercising our creative energies whether we created something we loved or not because at least we are teaching ourselves and bettering our creativity during the process. Thirdly, inspiration comes in many forms, sometimes it is clear and easy to decipher, at other times it seems to hide from us and we have to tease out it’s content bit by bit through being open and determined to find that next creative spark.

2. Do not take yourself too seriously, your art will suffer if your ego takes control

“How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation”

Something about this quote from the book really resonated with me. When I am going through patches where I feel that my creativity has dried-up and I am just producing inane drivel I feel so frustrated and angry at creativity, I blame it for leaving me adrift. However, there is no point on sitting around aimlessly waiting for a lightning bolt of genius to hit you and gift you the bulk of a novel on a silver platter. Equally there is no point in refusing to create in these dry patches because you believe that you have too much self-respect to create something anything less than greatness – that is your ego talking. Keep creating just for the sheer hell of it, this is your life and if you feel a calling to live your life creatively then you have to ride the rough with the smooth and keep exercising those creative energies whilst keeping the faith that the incomparable feeling of inspiration will visit you again when both you and it are ready.

3. You do not have to go through pain or misery to produce good and profound art

Creating should be fun, however this is never a point which is emphasised within the arts. Instead, I have been lectured numerous times on the individual pains which the great writers went through to write their famous works. It is almost like we are taught that creating has to be a form of purgatory, we cannot enjoy it, instead it must be torture and it has to be agony to produce whatever it is that we want to. There is a myth that any profound art must come from a place of darkness where a person has struggled against hatred of the creative process to bring their idea into reality. I know that creativity can sometimes be frustrating but why can’t it also be fun? Why can’t I be playful with my inspiration and ideas rather than have to permanently suffer because of them? 

4. The Earth will not stop spinning if your creation is not perfect

“while it’s definitely true that failure and criticism will bruise my precious ego, the fate of nations does not depend on my precious ego.”

Sometimes we can be paralysed by the fear that what we have created is not good enough and so we will do nothing with it. I have fallen into this trap many times, the notion that if I am not writing with the intention of producing a master piece or something profound and original then I shouldn’t write at all. However, if I take a step back I can see how ridiculous this is! Who the hell has the authority to decide what a masterpiece is anyway? I can create because I love to and to hell with anyone who says that the imperfections in my writing make it stupid and pointless, the imperfections they see in my writing are probably what makes it distinct and mine anyway. Plus, nothing dramatic is going to happen if I produce something which is nearer the crappy end of the scale rather than the genius end. Sure, it will be disappointing and I will be sad about it but then the world goes on and I will take what I need to from that experience and move on because no big seismic shift will occur in the world because I produced a story with blatant plot holes and grammatical errors.

5. Creativity should be cherished

“I am referring to the supernatural, the mystical, the inexplicable, the surreal, the divine, the transcendent, the otherworldly. Because the truth is, I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment – not entirely human in its origins.”

As you can see from the quote, Gilbert talks and thinks about creativity in a reverential way. She speaks about it like it is a force which is outside of our understanding, unpredictable and totally, divinely, beautiful. I believe this too. I cannot explain creativity or inspiration, its ebbs and its flows. Sometimes it shines its full grace on me and I feel completely immersed in the magical feeling of imagination, purpose and art. Other times its a little trickier to place and I have to pursue inspiration with a renewed sense of determination. Either way, creativity is a hard idea to pinpoint precisely because of its unknown nature. People who live a creative life place their trust and faith in a force which can seem like it is playing them at times; teasing them with an idea just outside of their grasp. However, the way creativity can light-up our lives and bring us out of the usual routine of things surely means that it should be cherished, respected and revered.

 

GRATITUDE…

This post is largely just going to be about me – probably quite a boring topic for others to read about! Although, I’m just writing this because I feel that it is really relevant to my mental health journey and I want to chronicle the change in my perspective over time. So, feel free to instantly click-off if you are reading this, genuinely I won’t blame you!

This week has been a pretty tough one for me; from going back to Uni, to my doctors’ appointment taking an unexpected turn to suffering the effects of my own disorganisation. In the past I would have taken this week as a complete write-off and lamented the different things which did not go as well as they could have. Doing this in the past has constantly made me feel like a failure, like there’s no hope and like there is no point in trying at life because tough things appear at every turn. However, this time I am making the conscious decision to appreciate the difficulty in life, not love it but learn to like it for everything it teaches me, the new paths it takes me on and the way it challenges me to approach things better next time. Also, the difficult parts of life do not inherently have to overshadow the positive bits, they are not superior or deserving of more attention and positivity certainly should not be cast aside so that negativity can hog the limelight. So, this week I am writing a gratitude list about the positive things that have happened this week that I am grateful for:

  • My mum packed lots of chocolate bars in my bag for my return to uni
  • My brother landed safely back from his time in Switzerland
  • I was looked after so well by my GP and nurse on Thursday who went above and beyond to help me
  • I got an unexpected invitation
  • I started an inspirational book called ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • I saw a tiny wild bunny on my way to a seminar
  • I tasted the most delicious flapjack that I have ever had (and I have had a lot of flapjacks over the years!)

These things may seem really small and random but when each of these events appeared in my life they made my heart smile a little broader and me more resolute to radiate positivity into other people’s lives so that they could feel that special feeling too, if only for a moment.

5 TIPS FOR THE SLEEP DEPRIVED…

I am one of those people who really struggle with getting enough sleep. Every night, I lay in bed for hours waiting to fall asleep, I wake-up multiple times, toss and turn and then I wake-up in the morning feeling the opposite of refreshed. As with lots of people, this problem becomes a lot worse when high levels of stress are thrown into the mix as I cannot stop my mind from buzzing during the night and jumping from problem to problem which I feel like I have to fix right there and then, even if the situation is out of my control. My University exams are quickly approaching and I approach this period with a sense of dread that I will be a walking zombie throughout it because I will only manage to grab a few hours of sleep here and there. So here are five tips which I have been given along the way during my trials and tribulations with poor sleep which I have found really help if I actively discipline myself to act upon them rather than reverting to my own bad habits…

1) Do not go to bed earlier than you usually would

This may seem counter-intuitive because your mind tells you that if you are going through a period in which you are not sleeping well then you should go to bed an hour or two early to counteract your lost sleep. However, often your body-clock will not agree. Your body gets used to the time that you usually go to bed and settle down for the night and so even if you feel that you are tired enough to go to sleep your body may well resist you. Then you might start a snowballing feeling of frustration as you toss and turn in bed for longer than necessary and get yourself annoyed rather than relaxed which is obviously what you need to drop-off during the night.

2) Read for a bit

When you get into bed, don’t instantly try to fall asleep, give your body and mind time to relax and switch-off instead. Personally, I find reading very therapeutic especially if I am reading from a physical book rather than a device like a kindle. You do not have to work your way through masses of pages or delve into a heavy-going classical literary masterpiece, this shouldn’t feel like school homework or a burden in your evening. Instead, pick a book you find genuinely interesting and hopefully you will find yourself getting so lost in the words of the book that anything weighing your mind down will disappear.

3) Jot down a list of your worries

If stress is what is restricting your sleep then roughly jot down a list of bullet points about whatever is occupying your mind. Any thoughts that occur to you, just scribble them down and do not worry about writing in flowing prose or making grammatical sense, this is purely an exercise to relieve your mind of the issues which are bouncing around inside it, demanding your immediate attention and distracting you from falling asleep. Once you have written them down make a conscious decision to leave the issues until the morning and give your brain the chance to refuel and recharge during the night so that you can tackle them the next day.

4) Do yoga or stretch of an evening

Especially if you spend your days huddled over a desk or scrunched up around your laptop screen, your body develops a lot of tension during the day which can be another thing which weighs your mind down as well as making you feel uncomfortable. So, of an evening try to do a few stretches or, if you’re into yoga, roll out your mat and get to doing a quick twenty minutes of yoga to relieve your muscles of their tightness. Whilst you are doing this, focus on your breathing so that you give your mind a break from being occupied by stressful thoughts. This is also beneficial because it will boost your sense of accomplishment of what you have managed to do during your day if you can incorporate an exercise such as stretching or yoga which are both good for your wellbeing.

5) Do not clock check

I am awful at taking my own advice on this one! When I am lying bed waiting to fall asleep, my head pops up every ten minutes or so to check the time and I mentally calculate how much sleep I am losing and how long it is until I have to get-up in the morning. It is blatantly obvious that this is unhelpful. Constantly looking around at your clock is only going to build a sense of frustration and annoyance in you, as well as anxiety about the sleep you’re missing out on. In the end, checking the clock only makes you ruminate harder on your sleep problems which has the adverse effect of making them worse.

MY HEROES!

I don’t know where I would be without my two dogs, in fact I don’t even want to think about the possibilities. Some people don’t understand the bond or the relationship which flows between pets and their owners but personally I call my dogs my babies and my best friends.

Their trust and loyalty have opened up so many new doors for me. Before they came into my life, leaving the house could be an insurmountable task for me and so I would live day by day feeling trapped in my house. However, their eagerness to go outside and their boundless enthusiasm for the tiniest details on every walk has given me a new perspective on the outside world. Whilst I still think twice about leaving the house and panic about the process, when I have my dogs with me I can see our walks through their eyes as they appreciate every flower, smell and other animal that they go past. The way their eyes light up as we pass the front door gives me that extra push to confront my worries and anxieties for them.

I’ve always struggled to make friends and communicate the way I would want to with people but even when I feel at my most low about my lack of friends, my dogs can lift my spirit. When I first see them in the morning they bound up to me, tails wagging and rub-up against my legs, telling me that their love is unconditional. Whilst I find it difficult to trust people, I know that I can completely trust my dogs. They can sense when I am anxious or feeling vulnerable or sad and they never shy away from these emotions like humans can do, instead they do their best to protect me from any harm or bring me one of their favourite toys!

They have taught me to appreciate the little things, to put others before myself, to see the  world as full of possibilities rather than threats, to not languish in a bad mood when I could be playing with them instead and to have confidence in myself.

 

I AM NOT BROKEN!

As I approach my 19th birthday, I’m beginning to realise the absurdity of the amount of labels people have and continue to pile on me. Whether people know me well on a personal level or not, once they get a glimpse of my history and the classifications of mental health problems which come along with it, they make-up their minds about me; I’m ‘damaged goods’. Either I am someone to be wary of in case they get swallowed into the dark, depressive rabbit hole I have been known to disappear down during portions of my life or I am someone they feel that they have to fix. However, what is glaringly obvious to me is that I am not broken!

I am going to be 19 soon, I have suffered and I have isolated myself from the world for vast patches of my existence but what is more important is that I have recognised my mistakes, I have had various rounds of therapy to learn about my brain (note: not to fix my brain) and I have come out the other side more determined to move on from my past and grow. Labels do not have a place in my life at this age. I am young and I am exploring the offerings of the world rather than cementing my place as one thing or another within it.

blog personal growth 2

When people view me as ‘damaged goods’, they assume that I must be ashamed of my past or that it must have had a permanent negative impact on me and my character. What I would like to tell people is that I am a better person for what I have been through, if I didn’t have to struggle with the weight of mental health issues, I would not have learnt half of the valuable life lessons that I have gathered and continue to gather along my journey. The world has various ways of teaching us things, of pushing each of us to our limits and stretching our personal growth which comes to all of us in different forms. Whatever the world throws at us, we have the power to accept it rather than let it drag us down forever more.

Millions of people across the world have been through things vastly worse than what I have and for them I can only try to give my most powerfully positive affirmations. However, my being a more positive presence in the world can only be facilitated by laughing at the idea that I am ‘damaged goods’ and appreciating all of the negativity I continue to go through for all of the gifts I know it has given me.