Summertime Sadness

Here in England the seasons are changing around us. Winter was been longer than usual this year with snow coming in March and cold, rainy weather lingering well into April. Everyone around me was begrudging winter its long stay in the spotlight, wishing for spring to grow into itself and stake its claim to the months it was rightfully owed. However, I love winter. Colder weather makes me feel safe and comfortable, from the layers of clothes I can pull on each morning to the moments when I can sit at my window writing and watch as the rain drums down on the cars outside.

Summer is fast approaching now though. The grass and the trees are a luscious green colour and the sun casts our garden in golden light from early in the morning until late at night. People start conversations with their eyes aglow as they revel in describing the glorious warm weather. They say that seeing the sun in the morning brings a smile to their face and they start the day off happy knowing that it will be warm and light. However, for me I always struggle during the summer months.

Warm weather makes me feel instantly uncomfortable. I am so reluctant to give-up my baggy jogging bottoms and thick jumpers so, in the initial weeks of summer, I sweat day in and day out whilst clinging onto my layered clothing with my hoodie pulled tight against the rest of the world. An irrational fear grips me whenever I reach to pull-on a pair of shorts let alone a skirt. I obsess about how everyone else is going to see me in my ‘summer clothes’; what will people think, will they murmur something under their breath about me to their friends next to them? The next moment though, I struggle with the guilt of having these incredibly self-obsessed thoughts; what right do I have to be worrying about showing my legs when there are so many more serious things to worry about in the world? But the self-doubt lingers all the same and I begin to enter a vicious cycle of negative thoughts concerning my appearance. Before long I will be longing that I could stay in my room all summer, curled-up in a ball and not allowing anyone to see me (not that I’m melodramatic or anything…)

In addition, my temperament is still reminiscent of that you would expect from an ill-tempered toddler! Whenever I try to do anything in the sun, I quickly begin feeling all hot and bothered, making me irritable and a general menace to be around. At the first sign of sweat forming on my body, every part of me screams that I must retreat and run into a cold shower at once. Generally in the summer I lose my appetite as well, no food is appealing to me and if I so much as think about consuming a hot meal I can feel myself starting to gag. This also has a knock-on effect when it comes to how much water I consume because I start to drink significantly less if I am not eating at regular mealtimes. Therefore, I get dehydrated and have frequent headaches, making me more irritable and quick to snap at people than before! Honestly, I become a bit of a monster in the summer time.

Anyway, this long and rambly post was just meant to be a quick update to say that I am still adjusting to the weather and I am still in the phase of being a moody idiot at the moment, so bear with me on the content-front, more posts will be coming soon. Also I am so embarrassed to be publishing this post. Honestly, reading this back I realise that I sound like a petulant child, moaning and complaining about such ridiculous and petty things. I’m trying to get better, I promise…

“One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.” – Jeanette Walls

10 Motivational Quotes

  1. ‘The older you get, the more fragile you understand life to be. I think that’s good motivation for getting out of bed joyfully each day.’ – Julia Roberts
  2. ‘Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.’ – Simone De Beauvoir
  3. ‘The secret of getting ahead is getting started.’ – Mark Twain
  4. If you can dream it, you can do it.’ – Walt Disney
  5. ‘I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.’ – Florence Nightingale
  6. ‘There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.’ – Nelson Mandela
  7. Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.’ – W Clement Stone
  8. ‘Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new centre of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.’ – Oprah Winfrey
  9. ‘Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  10. ‘If you ever think of giving up, remember why you held on for so long.’ – Hayley Williams (of Paramore)

Intuition…

I am an over-thinker. I worry obsessively about upcoming events weeks in advance and I agonise over my inability to control every situation I am in. My social anxiety tells me that any number of wild possibilities could happen if I leave the house or that seemingly innocuous activities could bring me into danger. Everyday my brain whirs with a string of imagined scenarios, all created with the hope that I will keep myself nestled in bed where I will be safe rather than risk pushing my boundaries and challenging myself.

However, recently I have come to realisation; that we all have intuition for a reason. That gut feeling which appears when you are presented with a crossroads in life is not something to be disregarded. Rather than always let your brain take over and over-analyse situations until you end-up missing out on endless opportunities, listen to your natural instincts. Our intuition is an innate feature of being human and can tell us when we are actually in danger or whether we should take an opportunity or not. Best of all, it does not wait around or dither about decisions, it is a natural physical reaction which happens in the moment and can help guide us if we are in two-minds over a decision or situation.

In many ways, humans have come so far away from listening to our guts and trusting in our natural instincts that the norm is now to live on the ultra-cautious side to save ourselves from any potential difficulties in the future. But what if, by doing this, we are actually just stopping ourselves from actually experiencing anything fulfilling or different? After all, if we always live in our bubble, surely we will become claustrophobic and regret all of our missed opportunities and chances? Often we disregard our intuition to save ourselves from any potential embarrassment or failure but this blocks us off from the experiences which will enhance our personal growth and allow us to feel more confident in trusting ourselves.

Our intuition is not something to be viewed with wary scepticism or suspicion. It is a natural part of us that should be embraced rather than curbed by fear or over-caution.

“Belief consists in accepting the affirmations of the soul; unbelief, in denying them.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

RECOVERY

QUESTION: is the idea of ‘recovery’ helpful?

I have mixed feelings about recovery. Whether it is a help or a hindrance when so many people present it as an ideal which feels distant and unattainable to people who are in the midst of any type of illness. Sometimes when people reference recovery or being recovered, it just makes me feel more lost and hopeless than I was before. However, other times it can inspire me and give me the courage to keep moving forward with the comfort that others have weathered similar storms.

What is probably most frustrating to me about the idea of recovery is that it is so vague by virtue that it is subjective and hard to pin down in what it means to each of us individually. There is no specific route or journey that will lead you straight to recovery, the same steps and challenges do not work for anyone. Recovery does not look the same for everyone either, leaving me in the strange position of never being entirely certain of what I am aiming or working towards, meaning that my motivation begins to dwindle behind my uncertain mind.

Whenever counsellors or therapists have mentioned recovery to me I have felt myself recoil into my seat. Even the word seems so intimidating and far off in the distance. Also, I find the use of the term frustrating because who has the right or the knowledge to determine exactly what recovery is, what it looks like and what the time period for recovery should be? However much I want there to be a finish line I also do not know who I am without mental illness because I have let my mental health define me for so long. How do I separate myself from the characteristics of my illnesses and how will I know when this process is complete and I have recovered?

This post is a mess of rhetorical questions and abstract thoughts but what I have learnt from it is that I need to narrow down the specifics of what I am striving towards and what progress I will be satisfied with so that I could call myself recovered. Abstract and vague goals only lead to more frustration and motivation leaving me like a deflated balloon.

“I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.” – ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ by John Green

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.

 

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.

MY RELATIONSHIP WITH FITNESS AND EXERCISE

Recently, I have made a conscious effort to change my perspective on what role fitness and exercise should play in my life and what mental approach I should take to maintaining my health.

In the past, I have completely avoided doing any exercise. At school, I found it endlessly embarrassing to run around and play sports in front of the other kids, many of whom would take advantage of any opportunity they had to poke fun at me and chip away at my fragile confidence. Also, I had little to no self-discipline at the time and if a sport did not come naturally to me, I would quickly give-up and actively try not to participate by hanging around the back of the court or hiding behind the more proficient kids.

However, recently an epiphany and it hit me that I am 18 and yet I get out of breath going up a flight of stairs. It’s a sad situation which makes me ashamed of my current state and eats away even further at my self-confidence. So, a couple of weeks ago, I made the decision to make myself proud for once and take control of my health-related situation. For years people have told me that exercising could have a positive impact on my mental health, from reducing my anxiety to instilling me with more energy. So, I have taken-up yoga.

For me, yoga is the perfect form of exercise. I can set realistic goals for myself, attend small classes locally and, if I feel too anxious to leave the house on a certain day, then I can practice by myself at home. I’m not pressurising myself to stick to a cardio-heavy exercise routine which I would find intimidating and disheartening because of my present bodily state. Instead, through yoga I am reconditioning my body, strengthening myself and using it as an outlet through which I can feel calm and peaceful.

I am building towards feeling more confident in my body by taking control over what form it takes and strengthening my body rather than focusing on my weight or comparing myself to others who thrive in the gym and can run easily around the streets. In the past, I have shrunk from people who spoke a lot about fitness or exercise because of my personal shame but I would honestly plead with anyone who is struggling with either their fitness or confidence to take-up a manageable routine which takes them on a gradual conditioning journey rather than pushing themselves to their natural limits.

SCARS ON MY BRAIN…

Who am I?
The mirage I see in the mirror
Or the crayon drawing of an oversized child?
A twisted, morbid, relic
The mask of chaotic innocence.

Should I be ashamed, afraid,
Confused, depressed or scared?
Love is not written on my arms,
Assurance is not absorbed in my veins
And my heart doesn’t pump,
Not like I remember it used to.