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.

 

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.

5 WAYS TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR SPRING

Here in the UK we are experiencing the initial couple of weeks of Spring after the snow which covered us in March. So, here are five ways to make the most of this lovely season…

1) Keep a look-out for beautiful spring flowers
Spring flowers are my favourite of any season. The vibrant colours of daffodils, tulips and crocuses light up my day and give me a renewed sense of appreciation for my surroundings. I feel that Spring is when nature looks at its most hopeful, as new growth starts to flourish and what looked barren a few weeks ago suddenly looks bountiful and promising. So, as you are going about your days, try to keep an eye open for the variety of colours and shapes which Spring flowers offer and hopefully the sight of them will offer a bit more colour and light to your day!

2) Eat your breakfast outside
This one may sound odd but if you have a patio, garden or balcony eating in the glow of the sunshine can be a heartening start to your day and give you a brief time for reflection and appreciation before the bustle of daily life kicks-off. This may be especially appealing if you work in an office where you feel restricted from fresh air and the sun 

blog for spring 2during the bulk of the day.

3) Take advantage of the day being lighter for longer and go for a walk after work or school
During the winter it may seem like there are not enough hours in the day to do everything you want to and make the most of your time. However, the Spring offers a great opportunity to maximise your daily activity, adding to your sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Also, if you’re not great in the heat (like me), Springtime is perfect because the temperature remains at a happy medium.

4) Visit a farmer’s market
The inspiration of Spring and the returning blue skies and sunshine makes me more motivated to cook which feels especially good when you work with fresh produce from a farmer’s market. Getting your food this way can make you want to try making new meals when you see all of the offerings in front of you rather than buying your usual from the grocery store. Buying direct from farmers also has the added bonus of supporting farmers rather than when you buy food from supermarkets which does not offer farms as much profit.

5) Make plans for your summer
Spring gives us a renewed sense of anticipation for the summer as we remember the feeling of the sun on our skin and the gratification of more sunlight hours, so this is the perfect time to get started on your preparations for summer. This way you can look forward to all the activities you have planned in the near future and remind yourself of these whenever you are feeling low or demotivated.