Category Archives: Fear

Dietsolation – How What We Eat Can Divide Us

There’s a lot of fear that comes with food.

Fear that we eat too much. Fear that eat eat too little. Fear that we are hurting our health. Fear that we cannot have a normal relationship with food. Fear that our diet makes us different from other people.

These are all fears I experience sometimes.

Now let me hit you with a few oughts that feed the fear.

I ought to eat more healthily.

I ought to be healthier.

I ought to enjoy food.

It’s really heartbreaking when you see other people around you, succeeding, even treating food as a triviality, as something that merely goes in the mouth and keeps the body ticking.

There is pain in seeing the way others get on with food. How they can take it for granted, enjoy it for the taste alone, even maintain a healthy lifestyle without obsessing over it.

Food can be painful for us. Eating can be control. It’s often an enmeshing of a host of meticulous, exhausting titrations and layers, like creating the finest chef’s cuisine, with none of the feeling of satisfaction for making it.

I don’t like my relationship with food. Eating too much is guilt, misery and chastisement. When I eat for the pleasure and release of emotional pain, I am only reminded of how tied up food is with my sense of self, my ego and my emotional baggage.

The wold is out of control.

You have no control.

You cannot even choose what you put in your mouth.

Only babies need help putting the right food in their mouths. Like a baby, you are not fit to have control over your life.

That drifting hopelessness is all too familiar for many of us. Depression is like staring into oblivion, tied to a thread, tied to a stick, that’s being held by someone you don’t trust, who’s lackadaisically relying on a pilot they don’t know, to keep you steady. There’s no feeling quite like it. You’re an astronaut, not quite cut loose into the depths, but in severe danger of it.

That’s why some of us (including me) like to diet. It gives us some fleeting control back. No longer are we thinking ‘I have no choice but to trust in the environment, in chaos’, but rather, ‘I get to choose. I am in charge here.’. No longer are you facing the depths of open space with nothing but a needle thread and your hooligan-disaster-buddy his unreliable, probably unlicensed, cowboy-space-pilot to save you. You’re driving the ship, you’ve booted out the space monkeys of dubious origins, and you’re driving somewhere, with a steering wheel (or whatever it is they use in space).

Dieting can give us that control, for a moment at least.

The problem is, once you get out in your space boat, how long before you get lonely? How long before you run out of juice? How long before you give up on your destination?

Usually, it’s not that long, give or take your god-given resolve and tenacity.

What is worse is how taking back control through dieting can actually reinforce the sense of loneliness and otherness in your life, further driving you to sadness.

I’ve spent no end of time dieting, and the truth is, it can make you feel very lonely.

Often, your reasons are the first thing which creates the schism.

‘I’m dieting for my health.’

‘But you don’t look ill, what are you going to eat?’

‘I am going to try and eat more wholefoods and cut out junk.’

‘Oh, uh, ok, I couldn’t live without my takeaways!’

You couldn’t live without the takeaways? I might be reading too much into it, but does that mean you think I want to die? And if you do think that, well you can’t think much of me. We all know that suicide (sadly) is a taboo. People who are suicidal are some of the worst treated and most poorly regarded in society. Why? Because people don’t enjoy dealing with emotions. They want a hassle-free, easy life.

Half the time, just saying you want to eat healthier separates you because people think you’re trying to become better than them. It couldn’t be further from the truth. If I could eat badly all the time and not have that start to impact my health or, sometimes, my sense of control, then I would, believe me. I just don’t see it that way.

And if / when you fail your diet and revert to your old ways, the schism inverts itself. You, who were on the pedestal, become just another failed dieter who cannot live up to their snobby health standards. Everyone in the office gets their smack of delicious schadenfreude. Oh, the taste of watching others fail is ambrosia to these people, like a melted ice cream, dropped by a sad child at the zoo. Again, never my intention, but certainly somewhat the attitude I have noticed from some colleagues or friends.

If the sense of isolation due to ‘snobby lifestyle choices’ wasn’t enough, dieting makes it almost impossible to enjoy social commitments centred around food. You’re going to your parents for Christmas dinner, you’re a vegan (you can scream in horror if you like) now. Your mum, who cooks delicious food, is definitely not a vegan, and as powerful as her food is to your olfactory schnozz, more powerful yet, are her opinions about ‘fad diets’.

At once you’re met with an interrogation, defiance and a lack of acceptance. In order to appease your family, you let go of your control or alienate yourself. The same is true for situations with friends. Want to meet up for a chat? Cafe, restaurant, pub? Your choice! You have options! Except, you don’t really have options… Most of the places people talk are also the places they eat. Society is defined by the community of food and eating. If you’re dieting, you can’t eat like others. You’re committing the social equivalent of sepukku (please do not look that up if you’re about to eat – actually, just don’t at any point if you can avoid it).

If all the endemic social and cultural obstacles were not enough to make you despair, think about this final, and potentially, most devastating schism, the otherness of your own attitude to something which you can neither give up, nor enjoy fully as other people seem to. You might be something close to an addict, but unlike an alcoholic, who may give up his vodka in his recovery, you cannot decide to give up eating. You are perpetually trapped into a cycle of emotional entrenchment with food, which you must repeatedly experience for the rest of your life.

Every time you eat, you are creating a divide between what you perceive food to be, and what food actually is. You are not like other people, who eat and enjoy food, but who do not have any emotional side effects every time they chow down on a delicious flaky pastry.

It’s just you. You’re the one who doesn’t get the enjoyment, but somehow obsesses over it more than the average person. What greater divide exists, than between a food addict’s perception of food, and the reality of its function? For the pensive among you, the power of the mind to separate us from reality can be one of the most potent causes of sadness in existence. Our mind’s relationship with food is no less devastating and chasmic in nature.

Dieting has so many benefits, but it’s also riddled with traps. Traps of social and cultural courtesy and expectation, but also traps in perception and judgement, both about the world around us, and about ourselves. Dietsolation is a real problem for many, especially those who have found food a source, equal parts despair and obsession. When division is rife in just about every segment of social life, from politics, to technology, to the repercussions of pandemics and protests, does food have to be another way for us to exclude one another?

No, I hope not, but it will take an understanding as to why some people diet in order to get there. When we learn to be less judgemental about dieting, when we appreciate what a diet entails at face value, we allow the distance to fall, and create opportunities for innovation in social life. Could we get a coffee to go, then take a walk in nature? Can we be supportive when friends or colleagues get on a health kick? Can we perhaps even listen to them when they feel down about their relationship with food? Understanding is the road to intimacy without food, and I want to be a part of that understanding. It’s why I’m writing this article to you now. 

Closeness shouldn’t only come from food, and for some, that requirement is vital to their health and happiness. 

Hypochondriasis

The other day I was talking to my mother about one of my closest friends who I had recently fallen out with.

A few weeks back, I had been suffering from a prolonged period of suffocation. I later found out that this was asthma, but it could as well have been exacerbated by anxiety. As anyone who has suffered from severe anxiety will know, it’s that crushing band around the chest, a weight on your lungs, not getting the full range from a breath.

This night I was suffering particularly badly and was struggling to breath so much that I messaged my friend (at the time we lived in the same house together). I told her that I couldn’t breathe properly and that I didn’t know what to do. And her response was ‘It’ll be fine’ and then she went to bed.

It struck me as an odd reaction and hurt my feelings. A bit of a betrayal if anything. I was terrified and I thought I was going to pass out. One of my closest friends couldn’t even raise an eyebrow about it. I would have liked to think, put in the reverse situation, I would have come down the steep stairs to the lower levels, passing the dusty kitchen and shadowy pot plants on twisted shelves, and comforted her. In fact, I have done in the past.

My mother is not one to provide comfort, so she immediately replied: ‘It’s like the boy who cried wolf, she probably knows what you are like and reacted like that as if it’s not a big deal.’

‘But I would have come to comfort her, if she were struggling’, I replied.

As usual, she brushed off a response that she didn’t want to hear or could not make sense of. She has an enraging habit of only hearing what she likes at the expense of the whole picture. She cannot be said to be motherly sort of mother, so her responses do not come from that soft-centred feminine place. They are entirely pragmatic.

But, it did make a twisted sort of sense. My friend has known me for a long time. I have been a hypochondriac for a long time too. I can understand how ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ factors into how people interact with me.

But, I can tell you this for a fact. Being a hypochondriac is a misery beyond all miseries. I BELIEVE I am ill. I don’t just think it. I am perpetually disturbed by thoughts about how illnesses that I cannot really confirm I have are slowly sapping my essence and dragging me closer to the cliff of death, to be tipped.

Hypochondria is a neurotic expression of the psyche’s search for many things. A prevailing sense that there is something wrong with the individual, manifesting not in a search in the subconscious, but in an obsession with the body and disease. It is also a manifestation of a need for attention and love which was not well fostered as a child. As I mentioned earlier, my mother is not much of one to give motherly feelings, even less so when I was a child. Hypochondria is a manifestation of a need for attention, for treatment, for care. On top of this, is the feverish attempts made to escape the authoritarian gaze of the care giver, be that a doctor or parent. We cannot bear the eye of those we wish to look upon us. It is a perfect storm of misery, often made worse, not better, by a simple doctor’s visit.

So, I beg you, when you deal with a hypochondriac, please, deal with them as if you imagined that they were suffering from a threefold need to be cared for, to seek their inner failings and to escape the gaze of the carer. This is distressing to say the least, but not something which comes across on the surface when dealing with a hypochondriac.

I cannot lie, I still feel justified in viewing betrayal in my friend’s actions, and unswayed by the discussion I had with my mother. I am a hypochondriac, but my suffering is real, and I am searching, perhaps often in the wrong place, for a way out. I want to be better, but like the boy who cried wolf, the more often I call out for help, the less compassion I receive.

All the while, the hypochondria churns and boils, and my mind is on fire with terrifying thoughts of death, disease and helplessness.

If you give us nothing else, give us love.

J

[Let us know in the comments if you suffer with health anxiety and how your relationships have been affected]

 

Colour Me In Trust – Sensitive Data and Colour Psychology

We all know that a great deal of marketing strategy goes into making an app, more so those apps that go onto become successful and lasting presences in our daily lives.

But what if I told you that part of what makes an app successful is the colour it conveys to us in its design?

What does it say about an app that subliminally attempts to infiltrate the user’s subconscious defences with colour? Should we trust the apps that have utilised these psychological attacks?

Facebook, Twitter, Google Authenticator, the Iphone email app. What do they have in common other than their pervasive and integrated use in society?

They are all blue…

apps in blue

A harmless coincidence, I am sure many are thinking, but when we apply colour psychology, we begin to see that blue means something to the human psyche.

Blue conveys a number of qualities. It is calming and serene, indicating stability, order and reliability. These qualities are foremost indicative of a central core quality that is constancy, which in turn coaxes trust from the observer.

We naturally trust what is dependable and unchanging. This is hardwired into our DNA. Change presents danger, constancy, safety. Our primitive and precursory nervous systems submit to fear above all else, and changes in our perception of it are strong impulses, even now as we use our more developed prefrontal cortex to modulate our feelings and primal instincts.

colour me blue

What else is trust? It does not only relate to our monkey brain response to fear stimuli, but also to the quality of sedation which is linked to calmness and tranquillity. Sedation is the quality of calmness induced usually by drug use. A major class or type of drug, the sedative artificially induces sleep, quiet or calm in the patient. Blue is a natural visual sedative because of the qualities which it carries with the subconscious.

So, your blue apps are constantly signalling, often unbeknownst to you, that they are ‘trustworthy’, that you should be calm and sedated while using them.

Some of you may be thinking, ‘this sounds like a good idea – I would like to be calmer when I use apps!’ And on the surface, it is not a bad idea to encourage trust in users, but we must look at this within the wider subtext of the apps in question.

Almost always, these are apps that deal with sensitive information, personal information, data which, if in the wrong hands, can wreak personal and social havoc.

How many political scandals have involved email interceptions or coincidental ‘misplacement’ of important records and vital evidences? How many times do we need to see Facebook implicated in public data mining incidents like the Analytica scandal?

Almost none of the apps that claim the colour of trust as their own, can be trusted to secure personal information which protects the public. In some cases, these apps are actively deceiving us into selling our information for some universal need, be it connection to one another, or communication in all variety of personal and professional lanes.

With that in mind, one does wonder: ‘What does an app that has no interest in public trust need to convey subliminal trust to its users?’ It is one thing to claim you are trustworthy overtly, but to claim it in such an insidious way strikes of ill-intent from the start.

Take care to consider the colour of the apps that you use. They are telling you something without saying it to you in a way you may consciously understand. Such covert methods must be considered in the light of suspicion.

Blue blinkers hood our eyes. Actions speak louder than words. It is what you do and say, not the colour you convey, which earns honest respect. It is time our social media giants started being trustworthy, rather than dressing up in its colours. We deserve honesty, not trickery, and that your apps are blue, while your social profiles are picked clean by your providers, like carrion for crows, we are no closer to honesty and racing towards deceit.

In nature, dangerous things signal their danger in the colour they display. Yellow is poisonous and red signals danger. The primordial flush of fear we feel is written into our DNA.

Blue is not always order and trust, but sometimes deception and sedation.

The banner must meet the carrier in action, or it is a lie.

Watch for the banner your apps carry. Turncloaks and mercenaries carry many flags, almost always for pride, power or gold.

J

Life, I am grateful.

Earlier, I had ripped through a vortex of pandemic news after drinking three coffees today, my hard limit. I was anxious. So, as I often do when I am highly strung, I meditated.

I meditated for a very long time.

I came to appreciate things that I have not verbalised and perhaps forgotten, but I wish to express them now.

I am so grateful to be alive. To breathe and to enjoy all the sensory experiences life has to offer. I am grateful for my friends, for the laughter and silliness we share every day. I am grateful for my freedom. Not in the sense that I am free to come and go as I please (a circumstantial freedom and one greatly tested in these times), but in that I have my room, with all my things that I love and keep. I am grateful for my job which keeps me fed and clothed and tempers a routine. I am grateful that I can observe change and accept it, rather than fight it.

Who knows how long we have on this planet, but I intend to make everything of the little time each of us spend here, a twinkle in time and space such as we each are.

I am grateful that I am pursuing what I love and working on becoming who I always knew I was, but lacked the confidence and conviction to fully appreciate (apathy, it seems, is quite a childish state). Every day, my confidence in my abilities, my values and my direction in life grow exponentially.

Set backs come, and some will be monumentous, seemingly peak-less, but they are not so. Peak-less mountains break to peak on the patter of persistent feet. One step at a time. Minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, we reach for new heights within ourselves.

So, you see, I am here. I am breathing. I am filled with wonder at my existence. I am unfurling as time intended, as expected, as anticipated. And, I accept this, and, watch eagerly as I and life unfold together.

You may not understand how I feel and I do not expect you to, but I had something to say and so I have said it.

I hope you are all safe, but most importantly, I hope you are living authentically and truthfully, and growing into yourselves every second and at every opportunity.

Life is short, but we can be so tall.

The Flashforward: Psychic Projection Of Our Shadow Selves

You might be wondering what I mean when I say ‘flashforward’ so let me explain.

You know a flashback? That characteristic, often dramatic plot device, especially prevalent in crime films or thrillers. That device that takes a character back in time to a scene the audience didn’t know about, that now illuminates some feature of the character’s present predicament.

Not just a feature of films, but a very real, often tangible feeling we get as a memory from long ago comes flying into the present.

Triggers. A cat walking across the road. The smells from a bakery on a busy high street. The sounds of a bicycle bell, careering past.

And suddenly, we are back. Transported to a place we had not been to in forever, and a time we had long forgotten.

And sometimes flashbacks are trying to tell us something. They may indicate a desperate need for resolution. They may highlight a spiritual conflict that exists in the present. They may guide us to answers that solve our present predicaments.

But what then of flashforwards? Less thought of, but equally as important to reflect on.

Often the domain of anxiety and existential fear, the flashforward can paint an image of our future selves to us, which, unless we pay attention to, we may in fact inevitably become.

When I fear that I may become old and ill and alone, that I may die with nobody by my side, that is my soul warning me of a future I must work to re-write.

So I may project an image of decrepit isolation into my future, but that is merely a stencil of all of my unresolved fears, pushed forward through time and space.

This is the outline of my pain, the sharp curvature of my shadow-self which aims to rule my present and claim my future.

And like most things that are born out of fear, they have no more power and solidity than we choose to give them. Instead, as I have suggested, we should use this outline to understand our fears better, to address them before we meet that shape in the future and sink into it predictably.

Why do I fear illness?

Because it is painful? Because it is disabling? Because of the lack of control it threatens?

Is pain to be feared if it is inevitable? Is a loss of function really a loss of purpose and agency? Is giving up control always something to be feared?

Thinking about the shape of our flashforwards can guide us to happier futures. This silhouette shows us the edges of ourselves that hem us in in the present and constrain us. Through exploring our projected fears, we learn how to prevent them from becoming our future. We can change our relationship to them and so reshape our reality.

So, though often less mentioned, flashforwards are as important to becoming who we were meant to be, as the flashbacks that define who we are in the present.

It’s a psychic resonance with the future that is a gift, though often it feels terrible. Those of us who are sensitive and thoughtful tend to experience temporal shifts the most and we must embrace it if we are to become the best versions of ourselves. I imagine, like the oracles of old, this is a latent power in many of the more emotionally sensitive and it should not be feared, but nurtured and utilised for good.

Here’s an exercise you can try at home:

Cut out a paper man, just a basic template, a head, two arms and legs.

Write all of your fears around the edges of his/her body, the biggest ones, the ones that really hold you back in the present.

Then, in the middle, write all the ways you can begin to address these fears. You may want an A3 sheet so you have lots of space.

Sometimes, just getting your fears down on paper and creating a physical shape with them, can give you the perspective you need to begin to tackle them.

Or you can journal about them, writing down your most potent anxieties, especially the ones that enter your imagination and project a version of yourself in the future which you desperately wish to avoid.

It’s proven that writing down your fears actually decreases their hold over you. As if the transference from pen to paper offloads some of the burden on your mind. Think of Dumbledore in Harry Potter. Constantly he visits the pensieve to empty his memories into it using his wand. You are doing the same thing when you write down your anxieties.

When you begin to perceive flashforwards as nothing more than the shadow of who you are right now, you can begin to push at the edges and open up your future to brighter possibilities.

J

 

I Have Many Fears, but All Pale to This One

I am a naturally pensive person.

I spend a lot of time ruminating on things.

They can be hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares.

I don’t know why I do it.

To live in the moment, to experience life as it comes, to be, rather than to be thinking about being. You might call this being a zombie, or a drone, or some such kind of non-sentient thing. Something devoid of its humanity. Devoid of its sharpness and its soul.

A fool? The one who does, but never thinks?

I’m starting to change my mind. Maybe I’m the fool.

We live once and die once. We get one life, one slip in time, one moment in infinity to just be who we are. And what does the clever man do? He sits and thinks and never does. While we regard the fool as the one who does without thinking.

What backwardness in the face of living this view is!

Their is some kind of unspoken wisdom, some prescient truth in doers that speaks to the meaning of life. It speaks to the joy of being in the moment, of not wasting time, of being present and connecting with people.

I am so tired of thinking and not doing. And the more I think, the less I do. And the less I do, the more I think about how much I ought to have done, and how much time I might have to do it with the limited beats, predetermined in my heart.

I have only one fear that means anything when the whole of life’s purpose is condensed into a single point and all trivia falls away. I have fear that I did not love enough and was not loved enough by others. I have fear that time will limit my ability to address it. I have fear that my overthinking life will tie me so in knots, that I never address my need for love and my need to give love.

I am 27 now. Life is moving so fast and I have never met someone who I could reveal my heart to and peer in at another’s lit up for me.

I fear that I am empty.

I fear that if someone peaked into my chest, they would find only dust and darkness. That I am incapable of being seen as someone, a person filled with kindness and purpose and love for others. I want to be that person, but I am so terrified that I am empty.

I cannot open up, for I fear what is inside.

So there you have it. Any fear I have in this life comes from this singular fear. That I am empty and will not love, like a dead thing, still breathing and thinking.

I am not scared of death. I am not scared of people. I am not scared of anything, truly, except being seen.

With agony,

J