Category Archives: Mental Health

Are You Walking or Talking? – The Pitfalls of Nature Walks in Modern Times

I am very lucky to have a small group of friends who appreciate nature. They enjoy it, take it in, listen to it, look at it, say very little, and are comfortable with long pauses to admire the outdoors. Now, I am no expert, but I imagine not everyone is so patient with the countryside. Some walking partners really only want an excuse to exercise, talk, a lot, or take pictures for their new Instagram account. Please do not misconstrue me, I am not saying that, in order to appreciate nature, you should not do these things at all, walking around like some hermetical sage wizard who has transcended the responsibilities of trivial human affairs, but many people do too much else when they’re out walking.

When you’re taking pictures, talking too much, or focusing on the steps, you’re not getting the benefits of the countryside that really make you feel alive. By this I mean, the sound of dead twigs under foot, the soft rustling of low bushes, batted gently by swirling gusts, and the pale-gold sunshine warming your cheeks after the cold wind whips them rosy red. In these winter months, you relish the scarcity of bird song, and the sounds of streams, their notes richer, deeper, and more viscous in the icy temperatures. You see animals and plants that are different dependent on the seasons, and you see skies that vary greatly and elicit as many emotions as there are colours in them.

When you can tune into this, you’re communing with nature and it speak to us, in whispers at first. With other people, sometimes loud, well-meaning though I am sure, the chances of you being able to hear it, to see it and appreciate it fully reduce.

I propose that, even if you’ve never tried it before, or you think it odd, that to go out into nature alone is worth doing. If you’ve never done it before, consider it a challenge from me to you. Take a public footpath, or venture further out to a landmark with your car. Just go by yourself. Or, if you really can’t face it, take someone with you that you know you can be comfortably silent with for stretches of time. This is important. The more that you listen to nature in the quiet, the louder it speaks. I believe this can be very healing if you suffer from any mental health issues or physical illnesses. I often find myself feeling much better following a walk, more optimistic, focussed and alive. I credit this with taking in the landscape, which feeds my vitality, while talking too much or using technology, drains it.

Nature walking is a very special activity. Many of us enjoy it with others, which is no bad thing. Just remember, the sounds, sights and sensations of the outdoors are quiet, require patience and attention, and are worth a more thoughtful, tacit and pensive approach. Nature heals, if you listen. Sadly, the social responsibilities and technological commodities of the modern era can wildly distract us and decrease our ability to enjoy and benefit from nature. So, are you walking or are you talking? Choose your friends and smart tech wisely.

Follow me on Heathen (top right by my face) for more mental health tips. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to look out for in these difficult times. Walking outdoors can be a very rewarding experience if you are able to tune into the landscape thoughtfully. Even if you have never tried this before, I encourage you to take a walk by yourself. See what you discover with nothing but the trees and wind for company. I wish you happiness and health in the New Year.

You’re Killing Yourself – Meditate on Your Inner Critic

It’s taken me a long time to notice that voice. Always picking faults and putting me down. That’s not me, but it’s a powerful echo from childhood that, until recently I could not even name. This voice, so hard to detect at first, has made me doubt myself, hate myself, and talk down to myself. It’s made me skip out on opportunities that could have created joy and personal growth, and it’s constantly, and tersely, requesting that I hide myself away.

It’s been a long time coming for that voice inside that’s trying to kill my creativity and snuff out my opportunities to grow. I realised what was happening when I started to pay closer attention to my body and my thoughts. This, with the help of meditation, encouraged me to understand and engage with the thoughts that drove me to self-sabotage. By distancing myself from the thoughts that came and went, causing depression and anxiety as I held onto them and let them drag me down, I was able to lift myself up. When you pay attention to the thoughts and their negative hold, you can better disengage from them. Once you do this, you can start to work the other way, catching yourself in the process of critical self-talk, distancing and changing the thought pattern.

Instead of ‘I’m a failure’, I now see that I have a thought which thinks: ‘you are failing’, but it is neither true, nor me, only a thought. Once I can get to this point, putting the breaks on things, I can then reverse engineer the thought and latch onto a positive iteration. ‘I am not a failure. I am doing my best under difficult circumstances with little support. This is hard, and anyone would struggle to be successful under these conditions.’ Also, what is failure? Making mistakes might be a failure in the short-term, but you have an entire life to live and mistakes are part of the process of learning. You can’t really be a mistake. We humans are ever-changing and ever-developing. What I am today, I may not be tomorrow. So can anyone be a failure? I’m not sure it’s even possible, so long as you believe that failure is a state preceding success, rather than something which cannot change.

What about ‘You are ugly’? So what? There are plenty of successful AND ugly people in the world. Besides which, what I may deem ugly, others may deem beautiful, as attraction varies widely. Love is about more than what you look like. In fact, I could go so far as to say what you look like matters very little. What about how well you care for your partner? What about how interesting you are? Are you funny? That goes some way, believe me! Do you read a lot? Have you got a good mind? There are so many facets of human beauty outside of what your body looks like. And let’s face it, without some serious and dangerous surgery, you’re stuck with what you’ve got, so look after it and let it be!

If you can put the breaks on your thoughts and look at them from a distance, as meditation teaches you to do, you’re no longer so close that the thought and you are one. I am not a failure because I do not belong to this thought. I am not ugly, because a thought about how I may look ugly, is not one I wish to choose to attach myself to. In the famous words of the French philosopher Renes Descartes: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Meditation gives you the ability to pick which associations you wish to give the power of ‘I’ to, and which you do not. This is a supremely powerful gift, and one I hope that anyone can use.

Here’s a task for you to do. Meditate once a week or try to do this when you are stressed or feeling bad about yourself. Do this for 10 minutes using a guided meditation like the headspace app (my favourite). I would recommend trying the skill of ‘noting’ which is about acknowledging a thought, noting it, and giving it no further fuel to turn into a problem. Then, once you’ve figured out what negative thoughts are shouting the loudest, write three of them down on paper. Once you have these, take one at a time, firstly writing about how the thought came from your mind, but does not belong to you, the ‘I’ part of yourself. Then, think about a few ways that this thought doesn’t matter or is not important to your values. Ultimately, we are striving to learn, develop and find love, joy and happiness. If the thought doesn’t give you these things, let it be and don’t associate with it. Doing this a few times over the space of weeks and months can allow you to stop your inner critic from killing your positive inner voice.

We’re all fighting a battle with a silent killer, the critic, a manifestation of thoughts about you which do not, in reality, belong to you. They are the external voices of many of the harsh experiences in your life. Meditation can help you freeze these thoughts from the critic, become more aware of them, and then, reverse engineer more positive thoughts which you can choose to claim as your own. You are not at the mercy of your inner critic, but you do need to out it and make it visible, otherwise it will continue to kill your true, authentic self until you do.

Follow me on Heathen (top right by my face) for more mental health tips. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to look out for in these difficult times. Meditation opens up to the critic and gives us tools to manage this voice. You deserve that dialogue, so you can be happier, healthier and more fulfilled in your life. Good health to you.

The SAD Survival Kit – 7 Ways to Feel Better Instantly

You’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or maybe you’re just having a bad day. Whatever is happening for you, you’re in a slump and you don’t know how to get out of it. This list is about reminders. When we’re in a low place, we need to be reminded of the steps we can take immediately to pull ourselves out and get back to normality. When you’re down, you’re not thinking properly, so it takes prompts or friends to help us back up. In a way, this article is meant as a friend. A list which can pull you up and get you back on your feet. We’re not always surrounded by company, more so than ever during a global pandemic, so we need to adapt. Here are 7 things you can do to look after yourself on your own and get back on your feet.

Keep warm

Photo by Ergyn Meshekran on Unsplash

Temperature can be a game changer for mood and in these cold winter months, we can forget to keep warm. If you can afford to put the boiler on, turn the temperature up until you’re comfortable. 19-21 degrees celsius (approx 66-70 farenheit) is optimal. If you can’t afford that, a hot water bottle under the covers can give you a much needed boost and also something to hold onto for comfort. Set a timer for heating to come on before you usually wake up for a couple of hours in the morning, and in the evening. Keep doors and windows shut. At night, tuck your curtains behind radiators to avoid heat loss and close them.

Drink something hot

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Following on from keeping warm, a nice hot drink can really lift the spirits. You could have herbal teas, black tea or coffee. If you feel like you need something more, have a hot chocolate. Remember, self care is about determining what works for you and what you enjoy the most.

Go for a walk

Photo by Dan Burton on Unsplash

During the cold months, walking is not something you might typically like to do, but it is so effective at fighting low mood. If you’re particularly susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, where mood plummets in winter, you’re likely not getting enough sunshine, and therefore vitamin D. Your body can only make vitamin D through the skin and its interactions with sunlight. During periods of lower daylight, a 20 – 30 minute walk in the light hours can really make a difference. The cardiovascular exercise of walking is also a great mood booster.

Meditate

Photo by Stephanie Greene on Unsplash

I’m a firm believer in the power of meditation and I frequently sing the praises of the Headspace app. As someone who ruminates, experiences low mood and high levels of anxiety, this app and 10-20 minutes of meditation a day, has saved me more times than I can count. Meditation teaches you to acknowledge your thoughts as just that, thoughts, with no power over you. You pay attention to them and let them pass. You don’t need to follow or latch onto a thought, but it’s very tempting at times to do this. The technique allows us a few degrees of separation from our thoughts so that we don’t have to give them control over us.

Write a journal

Photo by BENCE BOROS on Unsplash

Can you spend a few minutes thinking about what you did today or yesterday? Even if you don’t want to reflect on the past, you could write about the thoughts that you are having. Putting thoughts down on paper is an excellent way of transferring them. You’re offloading data which frees your mind up to think about other things. This is a similar unburdening as you experience through meditation, but writing can work better for some, so it’s worth a go. It’s also great to have a routine at the end of the day to spend 15 minutes writing about your day. This can give some structure if you’re feeling lost.

Tidy your space

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This is a tricky one. I know more than most that sometimes you just don’t have the energy or inclination to tidy up, but if you can do it, a clean space makes all the difference to your wellbeing. Sometimes we let things get so on top of us and become so used to it as the status quo, that we can’t remember what it felt like to have a tidy place. If you can do it, it’s worth it.

Invest in a hobby

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

If you like drawing, find a small spot where you can do this whenever you want. Do you like to read? Make a comfy place for yourself and read. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, do more of it, even if you don’t feel like it. I guarantee that you will feel better afterwards. A small word of advice though, if your hobby is creative and you tend to be critical, it can help to be mindful that you may not love what you create and that’s ok! Just put it aside and come back later. Perhaps it will look better tomorrow. Whatever it is that you feel about what you make, try not to give it too much power. You’re in a low place and that will cloud your judgement. You did it, and that’s all that counts.

This list is by no means revolutionary. These are things that many people may do from time to time, but when you’re in a bad place, it helps to have quick, simple prompts that can call you to action. You now remember that you can help yourself by:

  1. Keeping warm
  2. Grabbing a hot drink
  3. Going for a walk
  4. Meditating for 10-20 minutes
  5. Writing in your journal at the end of the day for 15 minutes
  6. Tidying your space
  7. Setting up a space to do more of the hobbies you love

This is a simple, but effective way to lift your mood instantly and I hope that the simple layout of advice can get you to feel empowered when you’re feeling down. We need to look out for each other, even when we can’t be together.

Follow me on Heathen (top right hand corner) for more mental health tips. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to look out for in these3 difficult times. Self care is extremely important and something we need to do for ourselves. I hope you feel better soon!

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. 

100 Followers!

So here we are, 100 followers!

Thank you so much for joining with me on the road to better health.

I started this blog as a way to reconnect with nature and our health. This is something I strongly believe in and want to bring to everyone who’ll listen!

The thing is, health is often taken for granted, or not made a priority in our busy lives, and that is wrong.

We have never needed to prioritise our health more than we do now, as we are bombarded by stressful lifestyles, shorter time windows for eating, and food that is killing us, all while saying it’s curing us.

So, anyway, this is a brief thank you from me.

I know it’s early days yet and 100 doesn’t seem a lot, but I am so so SO grateful for the support of every single one of you.

This is as much a journey for me, as it is for you.

I think we can learn a lot together, raise each other up and grow into healthier people. I am so passionate about health and wellbeing, reclaiming your energy and autonomy from all the chronic pain and fatigue that can set in from poor diet, and generally living a happier life. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than share what I find with you beautiful people through this medium.

Here’s to unbridled self-improvement and personal success to all of us!

Keep learning, keep healthy and keep happy.

Julian

Students, You Should Get More Dietary Support At University

After living as a student for the typical three years in the UK, I KNOW for a fact that only the most minor fraction of students eat a healthy balanced diet.

Throw in copious amounts of alcohol, poor sleep, too much coffee (though coffee should not be seen as the enemy of digestive health) and stressful deadlines/ social engagements, and you have a recipe for DISASTER.

All of these factors have been shown to impact digestive health massively, and universities do absolutely nothing to support this process.

Many of you savvy readers may have heard of the gut-brain axis, how the state of your gut reflects the state of your mind. Depression is more and more seen as an issue of systemic inflammation in the body, which naturally impacts the brain (we should never think of the brain and the body as separate entities, they are very much reliant on, and influenced by, each other).

Students are the highest risk factor group in society for mental health issues, ranging from depression and anxiety most commonly, all the way to schizophrenia and bipolar less often.

In my mind, it doesn’t take a genius to pull the chords of connection together.

Students, having some of the most unhealthy lifestyles of any group in society, are suffering a mental health crisis because universities do not do enough to support their digestive health.

What blows my mind, having known that these places claim to be the epicentres of enlightenment, the pinnacles of intelligent discovery, is that there is still no self-reflective awareness of the impact of this stressful student lifestyle on student mental and physical health.

This is a tragedy which has lasting ramifications.

Though I am a firm believer in the power of the gut to heal itself under the right conditions, I also know that this is a process that can take YEARS. People can be set back whole periods of their life just because they are not being properly supported by their institution.

What is more, not everyone’s digestive health is equal. Some people make it through unscathed, others are brought to their knees. Those who already experienced mental illness before university, those who have neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism, and those with autoimmune disorders need even more care during this stressful time. I don’t think it’s fair that those who start out with poor digestive health should end up paying for that more than those who are resilient.

We need to be acknowledging this crisis and should be providing health workshops for university students. Showing them the tips and tricks which can bring health back into their lives, but won’t burn a hole in their wallet (we know you’re on a tight budget). Exams need to be arranged to avoid unreasonable stresses and allow good sleep. Controversially perhaps, I think freshers week is a disaster. Alcohol promotion gone wild. Stop pushing alcohol on young people who’s gut flora are more sensitive (studies are beginning to demonstrate that gut flora becomes more stable as you age, but may still be easily influenced in young people). Instead, foster a community where people can talk and play games together, even eat or cook a healthy meal together. This emphasis on booze is a catastrophe for students and irresponsible of learned institutions.

I spent three years at university and on reflection, I let the stress of this lifestyle damage my mental and physical health massively. Looking back on it, there was very little support and I had a sensitive constitution to begin with. I really suffered. My health deteriorated to such a point that by third year I had to move back in with my parents and drive to university for lectures and seminars. I was a wreck.

Students, don’t blame yourselves for your depression, anxiety or struggles with university. This is a very unnatural environment which puts multi-pronged stressors on your body. You are going to feel the impact of that, especially if you have a sensitive constitution. Instead, empower yourself and others to heal the damage, by learning which foods you can and cannot tolerate, and affording yourself the rest and relaxation needed for recovery.

I know I felt very alone in that environment and I could sense something wasn’t quite right, but it’s hard to put your finger on it when you’re in it.

I’m rooting for you and I hope this post makes you feel a bit more normal in a really strange place.

Please also like, comment and subscribe to heathen.life in the right top hand corner for more healthful information.

Keep well and learn to nourish your body.

J

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]

 

5 Ways To Find What You Love

We spend so much of our time trying to figure out what we don’t like, in an attempt to work out what we do.

This is a surefire way to make progress over time, but what if I were to tell you, that, with a little bit of self-awareness and reflection, you can move towards the things that make you blossom more quickly than you could ever realise?

We can all move towards a happier, more fulfilling life by pursuing the hobbies and interests that bring us peace and joy. Here are 5 things you can do today to begin to divine your passions:

1. Meditate on Your Appreciation 

This means sitting down, breathing, focusing on the breath and asking yourself, in the second person, ‘what do you appreciate in your life?’. You do not enter into this expecting an answer, but just asking the question of your subconscious and letting the answers come to the surface over time. They may not come straight away, they may not come for weeks, even months, but asking guides our psyche towards what we naturally know to be fulfilling. It’s like using divining rods to find a natural spring. Ask the guiding questions in a meditative state, and eventually your mind will guide you to the source.

2. Accept and Embrace Change 

We are organisms that naturally tend towards stability. It stops us from becoming stressed and feeling out of control, but change will come whether we resist it or not, and no matter how we feel about change now, it will be necessary for us to embrace it if we want to pursue our happiness and peace in life, especially if we are not feeling much joy in our present situation. Again, meditation is a wonderful ally. Asking questions when we are in a calm state like ‘What good can change bring for you?’, or even just noticing the fluctuations in feelings, thoughts and sounds around us and internally, can give us a better understanding of change and how it can either benefit us, or, at the very least, become a familiar friend, rather than a strange enemy.

3. Pay Attention to the World Around You

If we suffer from depression or anxiety, we can spend a huge amount of our time inside our own heads. When we spend so much time trying to sort and excavate our inner demons, we can very quickly lose sight of the world around us and the many sensory joys it has to offer. Some of these joys, when observed thoughtfully, reveal hobbies, skills and activities that we would enjoy. You may, for instance, walk through the park and notice the trees and plants, or, it may be the birds that draw your attention. Ask yourself, ‘How can I bring more of this into my life?’. This may mean visiting wildlife parks on the weekend, taking up gardening, or finding a workplace which lets you do more with nature. You may even decide that you need a walk to work in order to be happier, so start searching for jobs that you can do within biking or walking distance. It can make all the difference!

4. Journal It 

After meditating, sometimes it can be a good idea to write down all the things we either enjoyed in the day or appreciate in the present. It never has to be categorised or rule based. You want to let anything bubble up to the surface and write it down, no matter how giant or insignificant that thought may seem. Over time, you may begin to pick out themes that can guide you to happier and more fulfilling pursuits, but don’t lay heavy expectations on yourself from the get go. This is a process that takes time and will work best without pressured or forced thinking, which often disrupts our natural flow of ideas and thoughts.

5. Change Your Relationship With Time and Expectations 

Many of us feel pressured to be in a certain place in our lives relative to others. We may expect to be married by a certain age, or to have travelled all over the world, or to have climbed to a certain height professionally. Remember that every life is set with different obstacles, some bigger and harder to break through, often coming at different times for different people. Life is not linear and predictable, so we cannot place expectations of linear progression on ourselves. Beginning to accept that we are where we are, and we are doing our best is the best method towards keeping our mind open and limber to new opportunities and our own peace and happiness. Imagine that you have all the time in the world to approach your goals, thus giving your mind the space and potential to accept new ideas, approaches and activities that can bring happiness into our lives.

So, that’s five things that you can do to begin to hone in on your bliss. We want to create awareness, space and receptivity to possibility in the mind. This is a slow process, but very rewarding and will ultimately help you approach your happiness more quickly than elimination does.

It can be difficult to meditate without guidance, so I want to show you a tool that I use. Headspace is an app that can be downloaded for Iphone and some other platforms, which provides a huge number of meditation courses which are short or long, and can be done anywhere. To get the full package, there is a fee, but it is small and I find the value of the app far outweighs the cost. I am in no way paid to endorse this product, I just think it’s a great app and want to share it with everyone.

Happy bliss hunting!

Please follow this blog for future posts searching for greater well-being and happiness,

J

Childhood Obesity is Not a Child’s Fault

I was always big on food.

Since my earliest memory, I coveted chocolate and found comfort in sweet fruits and sugary snacks.

And loving food isn’t exactly the problem that causes obesity, but it was a problem for me.

By the age of ten, I was significantly overweight. By my late teens, I was on the cusp of obesity.

I had experienced an extreme and persistent emotional storm up until my 20s, where I began to settle a little and figure out where I was and how to fix it. I would describe my childhood as memories wrapped in fine web. They are not clear to me, but, like the spider who spins the silk, some insidious creeping evil lingers on thin, webbed sheets. Emotional abuse? Maybe? I am not sure. Memories a mind wraps in cotton wool, like the webbing that wraps a spider’s lunch, suggests some mind gore not easily tended to or mended.

I think, my point it this…

That, before I could even process that I was eating poorly, under the trust of parents, my body was wrecked before I had a chance to realise what had happened.

The legacy of that damage has caused mental and physical health problems that have severely impacted my life in many areas.

I have some degree of hatred for my body, so internalised these days that I actively avoid bringing this up with anyone. It’s just normal for me to feel disappointed in the way that I look.

I often have feelings that link my self-worth to my shape. It’s so hard not to do this when you absorb so much of the language and feel of the culture that you live inside. A language which is very much hostile to your existence.

And, when I think about it, is that just and fair to the children who suffer with being overweight and obese?

I hated my body as soon as I realised society hated it too. I have carried that burden since I came into my prime. The years of my life which were supposed to be so enriched with vitality, excitement and purpose, have been wracked with anxiety, spiritual desiccation and self-flagellation.

So many years of my life stolen to misery for something I had almost no control over. I was a child. I had no idea the ramifications for social status, happiness, longevity and vitality, but still I have felt ostracised and vilified.

It is not fair to assume all fat people have only themselves to blame. Childhood obesity is a problem that arises outside of that individual’s control and insidiously chews at their happiness and well-being before a chance is given to process it and address it.

I have struggled with my weight all of my life and am still lighter than I was at my heaviest. I try my best to exercise and work on my health, but much of the damage is already done and it was done before I even knew.

Not all fat people come to be fat through gluttony.

Some just existed, often within houses of emotional volatility and neglect, and then they woke up to adulthood. They were fatter than they should have been, but didn’t know why.

With love and well wishes to all bodies,

J

5 Things I’ve Learned Being Fat

1. Finding love should be easier when you don’t meet societal standards of beauty, but societies standards make you feel that you aren’t worthy of love.

2. Negative comments about weight perpetuate weight gain. I no longer accept malicious comments and will challenge them or turn them into positive affirmations internally.

3. My time is for creative, meaningful experiences and not absurdly weighted towards attaining punishing weight loss goals.

4. Diets always fail and eventually lead to binges. Change habits in small ways to make a global impact.

5. Challenging negative self talk. I deserve better than to project social expectations which have never served me onto myself in a bad way.

I used to be fairly thin, but I was just as unhappy and so much more of my time was spent on dissatisfying activities that stopped me from developing spiritually.

I am beginning to experience a great deal of pain just getting about normally and I need to make room for exercise, but not at the expense of my happiness and progress in life.

I’m glad I’m not conventionally attractive because at least people see me for my personality and not what I look like. That’s a far better starting point for long term happiness than beauty.

I’m not going to sit here and say ‘fat is beautiful, or healthy, or happy’, but I will say, fat teaches you to accept yourself and to challenge your limitations, to become a person people can look to for other reasons than my flesh suit.

Fat is often seen as weakness, but fat can be powerful. A desire to overcome expectation, to become happier in spite of what you look like or who you ought to be. We learn acceptance and forgiveness, both towards society and towards ourselves, so profoundly affected by it before we even have a chance to fight back.

Fat is forgiveness, acceptance and power.

J