Category Archives: Mental Health

How University Ruined My Relationship with Writing and How I Got It Back

Story time, handsome people.

I graduated with a History degree in the summer last year.

Three years. Three, gruelling, tedious, stressful years.

History is a great subject. I love it dearly. But, sadly, what I don’t love is the University system, forcing a sunshine child like myself to hide amongst the yellowing, withered tomes of a dusty library. I can feel my skin stretching into parchment just thinking about it. Moisturise me, I’m starting to look like Cassandra.

I just wanted to dance and sing and bask in the sunshine, the nature, moss, trees and birds. It was agony to be inside, a recluse tasked with reading volumes of books at such a pace that any and all would gasp for a breath.

Truth be told, I struggle with reading. The educational psych said something about my processing speed. I’m a bit slow you see, and reading is often exhausting and challenging, especially when I have to read anything that I don’t initially have an interest in.

I was constantly reprimanded by my department for going off topic, for flagrantly ignoring the essay question, but honestly? I didn’t care. If I couldn’t do just that at least sometimes, I would have turned to dust (melodrama who?).

My Universities motto was: ‘In Limine Sapientiae’. It means ‘On the threshold of wisdom’. Well, it should have been ‘On the threshold of boredom and beyond‘. Reading was such a chore, an enforced chore. The worst kind of chore.

To add to all the laborious library prison time I was subjected to, I had fallen out with writing altogether.

Writing became, how can I describe? An extremely stressful, unpleasant and limiting exercise, all the things I have since realised it is not. Because support was poor, I was left to fend for myself, trying to gauge the right kind of style, direction and tempo for my essays. My anxiety levels were extremely high. It manifested in obsession with re-drafting minute word choices. With cutting and editing chunks of text. With a chronic sense of dissatisfaction in everything I produced. Writing was wound and bound with my ever increasing levels of depression and anxiety. They were inseparable.

My dissertation was, let me find a metaphor, like stabbing myself repeatedly and hoping to divine, from my own gore, the direction to take. I was suffering with the worst depression I have ever experienced for the entirety of my final year. Bringing pen to paper, even sitting down in this restless, unfocused and painful state was almost impossible. I submitted two weeks after the deadline. My final extension was not even enough to force me to work until the final five days. Something switched. The fear, sufficiently gripping, pushed me into a frenzy. I didn’t see anyone for five days except to leave my room for a bit of food. I was up the entire final night. I handed in my submission, exhausted, miserable and utterly finished with education.

The whole experience of writing at university had so upset me that I didn’t even go to my own graduation. These three years had been tiring and lonely, I had all but withdrawn from daily life. I was, at the same time, furious. How could the education system fail me so extensively? Support was minimal and I had even experienced cruel and callous departmental sanctions for my truancy (actually depression, dissolution and social anxiety). I would have burned that paper certificate, had I not worked so hard against these odds to complete the course.

Still, I struggled to reconcile the practice of writing, the stress of university and the cold overseers in the department, with the idea that I had succeeded. To this day, I still struggle to look at that certificate with anything other than contempt.

After this time, I began to work full time, not in a job I wanted to do, but in something with a routine that paid reasonably well. I started to heal a bit from the experience. I started to go to counselling, started to eat better, started to meditate more, started to be more comfortable around other people. My only real experience with writing had been as a student and within the frame of an essay. I had also written a few articles at university and some personal blog posts on this site during the time, however I had not reached a point where I believed that writing could help do anything other than prove a point. I had not reached the point I am at now, where I believe that writing is better used to heal and to teach.

I think a shift in perspective and being outside the bubble of the institution taught me to re-frame writing. To use it for myself as a way to learn about who I am and what I can do in this life.

I have to add that I do have University to thank for the discipline and development of my relationship with language. If I had not entered into it in this way, I do not know whether I would have gained so many tools to command it. I can communicate what I mean, but I am no longer confined by the restraints of a sluggish system which does not cater to someone like me. It is looking optimistic from here, as I continue to search for what inspires me. Christian Mihai’s blog, The Art of Writing, talks about pursuing your values in your writing and using it to help people. I hope that my experiences and reflections will help myself and others find and keep their passion in writing.

In time, I do not know what shape this blog will take, but hopefully, with a new found passion and enjoyment, a direction and purpose, it can only take even more beautiful forms.

Find your bliss and use writing as your map,

J

The Commercialisation of Veganism

As I said in my last vegan related post, veganism has had such a warped presence in the media lately. It’s become a sign of political deviancy (definitely not always a bad thing), it’s become a trend or social statement amongst certain subcultures, but probably the most disturbing aspect of it’s image, and what has the most potential to destroy its benefits, are its aggressive commercialisation.

I believe the commercialisation of veganism is a slippery slope that takes the diet away from its root values.

Sure, it’s great that we have so many options now a days. For instance, we can get alternative milk products nearly anywhere – great for someone like me who has eliminated dairy. I can make sure I have something other than water to add to my porridge, and it means I don’t have to drink my hot drinks black all the time (though I don’t mind black coffee at all). There are so many types of tofu and other alternative meat products, and they’re getting cheaper. Even the dreaded vegan cheese is improving and I am seriously impressed with some of these options, no doubt attained through well meaning and dedicated research. All wonderful stuff.

However, I am falling into the convenience trap. I can go to any local store these days and pick up a vegan sandwich. It’s probably still healthier than the meat filled alternative, but the list of additives and preservatives in these meal deal sandwiches is, or can be, astonishing.

I am primarily a vegan for my health and secondarily for the planet and its animals. When I eat these easy-to-grab meals, I’m making a sacrifice in this aspect. These chemicals are not good for our bodies, and I now have to fend off the ever growing number of unhealthy vegan options available. This is fine if you’re not in it for the health reasons, but for me, it’s a shame to see more and more of this ‘technically vegan but not very nutritious’ commercial food being brought into our near view and within arm’s reach.

Macdonalds, the kings of convenience food, even launched a vegan meal just the other day. Again, it’s technically vegan, but it’s also deep fried. Is the market now going to become saturated with unhealthy vegan foods at the expense of one of its core tenets, health? As with most things that become popular, they tend to lose their roots, their original purpose and human benefits.

So, how do we combat this change? Campaigning is one thing, but we aren’t all into that, and many of us are using veganism as a way to recover from mental and physical illness.  We don’t have the time or energy yet to face the political and business side of commercialisation.

On the ground level, the individual only has two choices. To join groups where knowledge of healthy, free from additives foods can be found. We deserve to gain information from our like-minded peers on places that do nutritious vegan food that can still be enjoyed without cooking from scratch. Convenience doesn’t actually have to cut corners on health, but often it does and we must scan our local towns and cities intently to find those hidden gems, restaurants, diners and sandwich stores, that make the effort to produce good, nutritious food.

The other branch of focus is pretty straight forward and we attempt to do it all the time. We must try to organise our time so that we can cook healthy vegan food that we know will give us energy and help us recover from our ailments. We need to try hard to bring our enjoyment of cooking and preparation to life and to find ways to make food at home which is nutritious, simple and easy. It can be done, and like anything worth doing in life, persistence and practice makes it possible.

Well-being for the planet and the individual should remain the core focus of veganism going forward, and we can achieve this by drawing on our collective knowledge through local groups and working on our relationship with cooking and food preparation. Remember why eating vegan is important to you, perhaps even meditate and reflect on it a bit every day, so that you can focus on your goals and prepare yourself for daily success.

Good eating, cooking and learning friends,

J

How Meditation Can Help You Become a Better Writer

Many here will be into the art of writing.

Chances are, you clicked through to this article because you are interested in writing better content, in becoming a better communicator. And if you’re passionate and open minded, you clicked through because you can see how practising other skills can benefit your writing as well.

I am, technically speaking, a good written communicator. I have a big vocabulary, I have a knack for constructing sentences and I’m an excellent speller. Great, right?

Well, actually, no, not really.

You see, being a good writer is not about being able to spell or use fancy words or even primly perseverate your grammatical constructs (oh the artistic license).

It’s really about direction, meaning and flow.

Direction, the ability to pursue a destination tenaciously, often a thought or an idea we wish to explore. Meaning, being the ability to convey something that resonates with people. Something people are longing to understand, either about the world itself or about themselves. Flow, especially relevant to the practice of meditation, is the ability to allow your spirit to pour out onto paper without your mind putting a word in and interrupting you.

Direction is so relevant to meditation. When we meditate, we are often asked to enter our meditations with a thought or question which we are to ask of our subconscious and observe any thoughts or ideas it returns. We approach meditation with a controlled and intended trajectory. We want to know something and are ready to ask the questions we need to in order to listen to our subconscious for answers. Writing is the same. We write on a topic or an idea and as we begin on our path, our writing reveals knowledge we did not know we had to give. Our pen is a powerful exit point for the subconscious in much the same way that meditation is. Stretching our minds through meditation can allow us to claim even more direction in our writing than we may have already trained ourselves to create.

Meaning is why so many people enter meditation in the first place and often why we turn to writing too. We want to understand why we are here, who we are meant to be, why the world is the way that it is, and what we can do to make it better. Our search for meaning, the gargantuan existential questions we seek to address in meditation, will also help us tap into the meaning in our writing. When we meditate, we are constantly asking, ‘what can I discover? what can I learn about myself?’ and when we apply that to our writing, we can start to really dig into the stuff that makes writing so powerful, the meaning behind the words.

Finally, and arguably one of the things I have noticed has most greatly impacted my ability to write well, flow. Flow is the ability to focus on the task at hand and to acknowledge, but quietly and calmly relieve ourselves of interruptive thoughts. Being a naturally anxious person, I had a tendency to over analyse everything I wrote. I would scrutinise so intensely the authorial choices I had made, that often I would gridlock myself onto an island of misery. I began to hate writing because I was a perfectionist. I wanted everything, down to the last synonym, to be perfect. As with anything where we expect too much, it had the opposite effect, making me miserable in the process.

Meditation has allowed me to acknowledge my reservations about my writing. To acknowledge, but also to let them rest in the lay-bys of my mind as I drive to my destination. I now focus on what I am trying to say and not how I am trying to say it. I let my sense of direction, purpose and flow guide me as I write, where before I struggled to map my direction, find the meaning or write without my own thoughts interrupting, and even sabotaging me. I am a better writer because meditation has allowed me to let go of the finer details for the pursuit of the bigger picture. It is liberating and transformative, and I strongly recommend anyone who has the time and loves to write, take ten minutes out of their day to try it.

I hope you find direction, purpose and flow in your writing and may these principles allow you to achieve the joy in writing that I have.

J

 

Veganism Helped Treat My Depression

Veganism has garnered a reputation as something for radical political youths, hippies and edgy people with colourful hair (which I love, don’t get me wrong). But what is the merit and practicality inherent in a diet that has often been labelled the bad banana in the bunch?

I reached a critical point in my life only months ago. I was suffering with chronic back pain from a slipped disk, mood swings, something I imagine close to hypomania, joint pain in my knees and asthmatic symptoms like severe tightness in the chest. When I was energetic and ‘up’, a lot of these symptoms went away. Every couple of weeks, I would be sure to plunge into ever greater depths of dark depression, which no longer remained contained in my mind, spreading now deep into my bones and my heart and my lungs. My plummeting abyssal thoughts began to twist my body as well as my mind.

I reached a breaking point. I could not bear to go lower. To live in endless cycles of physical and emotional pain, followed by the barest respite of a fickle and uncanny happiness, like there were threads sewn into my lips, pulled up in a wild grin by an evil puppeteer, destined to cut them away and lead me back into doom with a shadowy, hollow cackle.

I started to move towards fixing myself. I did research. I read books and articles. What I discovered was that there appeared to be several links between food allergies (I was food intolerant to dairy as a child and this issue may still persist), chronic pain and mental health. One diet promised to eliminate or drastically reduce the impact of all three.

To the average individual, going vegan may seem drastic. Sadly, I have been to some very dark places in my head. I would eat or drink anything, a laughing periwinkle, ground unicorn patties, the algae on a whale’s back. Anything, to reduce the pain and suffering I was experiencing. When your depression starts to make you feel paper thin, until you start to feel the cracking of your soul, parched, barren and dry, I cannot express the lengths you would go to to avoid that feeling again. It is indescribable.

For me, this was an easy choice.

I feel better.

I am by no means happy every day. That would be impossible. I still have many bad days, but the bad days aren’t as bad anymore. I have more energy. I do not spend so many of my evenings in pain.

I am writing again! I work full time and I STILL spend some of my evening writing and looking after myself. This is an incredible milestone for me. I never expected to feel well enough ever again to write three blog posts in a week. Yet, here I am!

Part of this change will surely be down to my resolution to look after myself, to tackle my fears and insecurities, to grow as a person and to never take life for granted, yet part of that transformation is absolutely about radically overhauling what I choose to put into my body.

My last few blog posts have also been about the impact of meditation and meditation has so far proved extremely helpful in the fight against mental illness. I am tackling this problem from as many different angle as I can. I will not settle and give into my pain and suffering. I will use it to transform myself.

So, there we have it. Veganism is part of my commitment to look after myself. It’s not political, though I am happy to be choosing a more sustainable and animal friendly lifestyle in the process. It’s not to be trendy. I don’t and have never run in trendy social circles. I’m doing this because my research has led me here and I refuse to give into pain and stop fighting for my happiness in this life. Veganism is a commitment to my individual well-being and that is where my stance on the diet ends.

Nevertheless, I do believe that many people could improve their depressive symptoms by trying a vegan diet. It’s naturally low-inflammatory food staples do help to reduce allergic stress responses in the body which absolutely can adversely effect mental health. I won’t stress this too much as I am not a doctor and my research is purely personal, but I do want to share my story so that others may find some respite from their pain in depression.

We are all different. What is helping for me is not necessarily for you, but unless we research and persevere, how will we know what is?

I wish you happiness and good health, and a diet that helps you maintain the best possible head space.

Greenly,

J

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Reflecting and Mood States

Some of us are naturally more introspective than others.

We can spend a great deal of time inside our own heads. This can be both an opportunity to explore ourselves and, at times, our undoing.

Part of my journey with meditation has been about reflecting when you should, but not always, when you can. What I mean is, we can sometimes choose periods of time where our mind is unsettled or turbulent to focus on what we are doing on this planet, why we are here and how we will proceed. This is almost always disastrous.

I personally struggle with many aspect of anxiety and depression chronically and only through meditating, have I begun to realise when I am in a state of mind that self-reflection can help me achieve or ascertain some wisdom about myself. Often meditating, breathing, being present with your surrounding can soothe depression and quell anxiety. Even just ten minutes a day can be enough to bring an ever-spiralling mind back from the brink.

So what can meditation teach us about our state of mind?

The answer is, everything!

It teaches us to sit with our feelings and understand them better. It teaches us when to engage with the feelings. To choose when to allow a feeling to manifest a thought, and when a series of thoughts may better be subdued and our focus returned to our calm and quiet bodies. It is this ability to tune in and out of feelings, thoughts and sensations, which effectively teaches us to better manage our emotions. When we can do this, our reflection can work to our advantage to produce something. An idea, a piece of wisdom, a sense of fulfilment or purpose. Whatever it is, it is best reached by training our focus to settle where it needs to be, so that we are not taken away by our thoughts and feelings.

So meditation teaches us that we are in control of how we feel. Like changing gears on a bicycle, we choose which pace to go with. We can choose our hills and shift gears to meet them. Meditation is the gear shift and breaks that can teach you to control your emotional brain.

As previously stated, turbulent reflection can often lead to catastrophising thoughts. Negative reflection can lead to rumination. When we learn to sense where our head is, we can choose when it is productive to enter into reflection. And often, as we have discussed, positive reflection can come from short meditations as we synchronise our brains and bodies through deep breathing and attuning our senses to our surroundings. Meditation can both bring us out of negative or agitated head spaces and allow us to learn how to switch gears better between emotional states. Reflection that gives wisdom can only come from introspection in a positive or neutral state, so the more we practice meditating, the more often we can make reflection a positive task that allows us to learn and grow.

Taking time to sit with our feelings is ultimately wonderful for our sense of inner emotional rest and for learning how to shift states in a more controlled way, allowing us to get the most out of the time we spend reflecting.

Happy meditating, I wish you the focus and control to make the most of your reflections.

J

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Falling Asleep During Meditation

Most of us will remember a time when we meditated in an evening and started to drift off.

Meditation takes a concerted amount of mental energy and focus and falling asleep during the process can be an extremely frustrating issue for some people. In my last post, we talked about implementing meditation into a busy schedule. This post is about the dreaded drowsiness that follows your jam-packed life and how you can tackle its impact on your focus training!

Here are five ways to make sure you don’t let falling asleep ruin meditation for you.

1. Forgive Yourself – We’re human, we fall asleep when we become relaxed and this is only natural. Award yourself the positive thought that you had a nap and this is good for your body. If you were tired enough to fall asleep, you needed a break anyway. Part of the process of learning to meditate is allowing your body the space and time to understand itself. To feel the tiredness and listen to it. We are trying to give our bodies what they need. Falling asleep can be a form of listening and that is positive.

 

2. Meditate in the mornings – This one is easier said than done, believe me, I know! But waking up, having your morning coffee and taking just ten minutes to concentrate and focus, can set you up for a productive and meaningful day. Meditating before the day begins is a good way to focus the mind on the tasks ahead. Think of it like the time it takes to delicately string a bow before the marksmen shoots.

 

3. Make your sessions shorter – For some people, twenty minutes is just too long when they first start meditating regularly. Starting out with just ten minutes and working up to longer periods is the best way to make sure you don’t become tired and put off by the process.

 

4. Sit up and maintain good posture – Some people lie down to meditate and this may work in some cases, but when you come up against sleep, being so comfortable can be unhelpful. Remember, this activity is about maintaining that connection with your whole body. When your body is not engaged in some form of movement, it can switch off and we can find it difficult to connect with the sensations as well as we might when we are using it to stabilise our upright selves.

 

5. Limit the number of sessions – As has already been explained, meditation is taxing on the mind. When we first start out, meditating every day can be daunting. Like any new exercise, physical or mental, it is best to stagger the progression of time you do it. As your endurance increases, we may eventually work up to meditating every day, but for those just starting out, you might choose to meditate three days a week or only on the weekends at first. Don’t make meditation a daunting experience. It is supposed to be useful, not a chore.

So there you have it! Five easy to implement ways to reduce sleepiness and sleep associated self-chastisement during your meditations. Enjoy learning about your body and mind, but do not pressure yourself into more than you are comfortable with. Meditation is not a regime, it is a tool, and we can enjoy it on our own terms.

Happy focus, warmth and joy to you all.

J

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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

 

Meditation in a Busy World

It’s been a while since I last blogged about anything on my blog.

I have to admit, my passion for writing had all but dwindled to nothing in recent months, as I battled ever declining levels of physical and mental health. This isn’t the first time I have experienced problems with my mental health, and I am very open about it because I believe that talking about pain, heals. If you’re new to my blog, take a look at some of the background articles which explain why I’m writing.

My joy, my light, was going out.

I always imagine that there are two ways to go when you hit rock bottom. You can either give up and let the darkness take you, or you can make some drastic changes.

I couldn’t bear the next few decades in this state, so I have committed to many things, including radical diet changes. I am now essentially vegan, with the occasional lapse in having a bit of fish or meat at a special meal. I’m working on exercising, really slowly and carefully. I have quite flexible joints, especially in my legs, and so I have to be really careful about how much exercise I do in case I injure myself. The final thing I have committed to, and the topic of this post, is practising meditation, both at home and in the busy world where we spend so much of our time these days.

Keeping these pillars of well being at the top of my priority will be hard, as they are for anyone with a busy, full time job. However, they are necessary, as anyone who has struggled with their mental health knows, the alternative is much worse. I have been to some really dark places because I have not taken the time to look after myself, and it is amazing how much I am beginning to enjoy things lately because I have taken time for self-care. Neglecting our needs and accepting this as the status quo is the road to ill health and misery. With that in mind, I want to talk, briefly, about some of the ways we can employ meditation in our daily lives, when we are at work, or learning or practically anywhere.

Let me give you a recent example that can illustrate the calming benefits of meditation which can, without doubt, become a part of your busy schedule.

Yesterday, I had booked into the hairdressers for a cut and finish. For someone like me, a hair cut can be an uncomfortable experience. Often bustling, busy, loud, raucous places, filled with glaring lights and extroverts, my withdrawn and quiet presence can often curl up, further shrinking from its sizzling energy.

However, I’ve been following some meditation techniques on Headspace, an app for your phone which teaches meditation with a soothing voice and easy to follow instructions.

One of the most powerful things I picked up, were the techniques of listening to the sounds, smells and sensations of nearby space. The sound of your breathing, the rising and falling sensation of your chest. The soft pressure of the cushion by your side, or the mattress, if you decide to lie down.

It helps ground you in space. It makes you focus on now, as opposed to the fear of the future or lamenting the past. To centre yourself is to experience absolute calm. I really recommend trying a little of this out if you suffer from anxiety or depression. It can really help to bring you back to baseline if you are starting to spiral.

And this is something you can do absolutely anywhere.

Going back to my story about the hairdressers. For anyone with social anxiety and a largely reserved personality, these can be daunting places. However, I found myself naturally starting to use the techniques I had learned through meditation, to turn an experience which could be anxiety provoking, into a pleasant and calming 30- 40 minutes.

I found myself breathing steadily and deeply, staring loosely into the mirror in front of me. I started to sense the sounds and sensations around me. The gentle snipping sounds that scissors make by the ear, as my hair dresser carefully shapes and styles my unruly curls. The brief, warmth of body heat as the hair dresser brushes close by, adjusting their position to get at my tangled ends. The sound of foot steps on the hard floor, hurriedly clopping past and the ambient drone of hair dryers near and far.

I slowly began to fade away and lose myself in all the sounds and sensations. I was no longer on the defence against some perceived threat, very much imagined. It is like becoming a piece of furniture in a scene, totally blending in with an orchestra of noise, becoming silent and calm and completely malleable. The sense of you versus the world falls away, as if you were a piece of wallpaper, newly pasted on a busy background. You can become paper thin. Not literally, but in the way that you identify with what, or who you are, against what, or who, anything that isn’t you, is. It’s the active practice of dissolving the ego, a very important task for those who tend to spend too much time in their own heads.

You can really practice this anywhere, especially trying to work with this method in instances where you feel that anxiety may cause you problems. This can be busy places, or during stressful events in life, or perhaps even something like an interview waiting room, where the suspense of waiting to present yourself, can often times seem unbearable.

So there you have it, a little story from me about how observing and attuning our attention to the world around you can turn potentially unpleasant experiences into an opportunity for relaxation and a sense of ‘being’ with your environment, rather than against it. It just takes a little meditation and concentration, but we are all capable of reaping the benefits of calm and quietude, in the turbulence and chaos of modern life.

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Facebook – The New Opiate for the Masses That’s Making You Sick.

A week ago I announced I’d be leaving Facebook for a month to see how things changed in my life. This was after I did some research on how Facebook algorithms transform the way you behave online. Jaron Lanier’s ‘Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now’ inspired me to take the plunge. In his book, Lanier outlines that algorithms used on these platforms are constantly analysing your online behaviours, processing this information, and adapting your feed of information to maximise your engagement. Constantly evolving, these data-grabbing parasites find new ways to seize your attention and keep you locked in. It really works! And it’s especially effective against those of us who are compromised by our real life experiences. Let me illustrate by sharing a little of my own journey with the platform.

My Experience with Internet Addiction

Nearing a year prior to my decision to leave, Facebook had taken over my life. I was so invested in the platform that I spent most of my day getting attention, good and bad alike, as a mini kick to supplement my pathetic natural dopamine reserves. Thank you, brain, you’re so good to me. During this time, several significant life events had happened to me that knocked me off my feet. I had slipped a disk in the second year  of my degree which was causing a huge amount of pain and numbness in my legs. All the while I was working part time, hiding the fact from my boss and managing dicey personal relationships. I was cutting more and more real people out of my life as I slowly disconnected from reality. I had panic attacks, dissociation, health anxiety, and serious depression. I wanted to die, but I was also terrified of the idea of death. An unpleasant oscillation of negative emotions gripped me every day. As my real life started to implode inwards, my activities became deeply withdrawn and passive. I started to construct an alternative online persona, a confident, happy, egotistical version of myself that said whatever was on his mind. In short, a charming asshole. The feeling of having lost my voice in the real world translated to a booming, but meaningless online presence. I was clinging to control in the only corner of my life that I believed I had any left.

Little did I know at that time, Facebook, my little haven of safety, fantasy and control, was actually taking advantage of my vulnerability to keep me trapped in a cycle of depression, gasping for a breath of attention, but starved of real human connection. And these algorithms are designed to keep a person’s attention at the expense of the vulnerable. They learn the best ways to keep you online, and those most susceptible to addiction suffer the worst. How can we allow a platform that seems so innocuous and practically useful to systematically prey on the most compromised individuals in society? It’s simple, people just don’t know yet, and they really need to wake up from the stupor. Facebook has the chloroformed cloth to our face, and we’ve been under for long enough for us to forget who kidnapped us.

Would You Let an Organisation Build a Palace of Opiates in the Midst of Deprivation?

Do you know why a heroin addict takes heroin, even at the expense of his health, both physical and mental? He’s not lazy or a cockroach, he’s escaping his reality, and people who experience internet addiction on platforms like Facebook are doing the same. Groups and pages like ‘BPD meme Queen’ (BPD stands for Borderline Personality Disorder, a serious personality disorder that requires real world intervention) with over 120k likes, actively invites mental illness onto the platform, trapping more and more vulnerable people in the molasses of hollow experience.  Glorifying mental illness in the shape of memes and signposting it on Facebook is not healthy, yet it’s absolutely allowed on the platform.  I ask you, would you allow an organisation to hand out free opiates to vulnerable, struggling people who need help figuring out their reality? Would you let a giant corporation build a gleaming white tower in the centre of the most deprived area of a city, offering out free syringes for the people’s unbridled attention? I don’t think so. Yet we happily turn on our computers and let algorithms fuck with us all day long. Algorithms which become exponentially more effective, the more unwell we are.

The reality is this, you don’t need Facebook to stay in touch with people. Sure, it might be easier to use social media, it has all of your information in one place and it’s keeping it warm for you, but you do have a phone, you have messenger services, you can still send a text and ring people, even write letters (yes, we should do more of that especially). If we don’t put pressure on the networks to change, we’ll continue to experience all of these issues going forward. Facebook is making ill people worse over time, and in the best case, keeping people chronically not better.

Mark Zuckerberg – Building a Disease Free World on the Bodies of the Addicted

Mark Zuckerberg previously announced that, along with his partner Priscilla Chan, he would be donating 99% of Facebook’s shares to eradicate all human disease, founding the Chan Zuckerberg initiative in 2015. A lofty goal, but more importantly, one at odds with the very product used to fund this research. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder. It’s partly genetic, partly environmental, but according to the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a human disease. Many will argue that there are more serious and debilitating disorders, but that’s another debate and beyond this article. In its own right, addiction is a serious, debilitating brain disease that is being actively abused by Facebook’s algorithms, monitoring user behaviour, analysing the most visceral impulses of addiction, and using them against its users.

Addiction disconnects. Not only does Facebook help us unplug from reality, it does it under the guise of connecting the world. Why is this a problem? Facebook is funding its research against human disease with a technology that makes a serious human disease worse in the population. The very system that sells itself as making the world more social, more connected, is actually doing the opposite. Now, there are smarter people than me working at Facebook, of that I’m sure. Moreover, these people understand the technologies inside and out. So, given that the odds of Facebook engineers knowing everything I do and more, and yet not even advertising to the public better methods of networking, methods that are less manipulative and damaging to vulnerable people and the social fabric of society at large, what is the gig? Why isn’t this big news? Why isn’t this issue even on the radar at all? One can only imagine they have their very good, very legitimate reasons.

I’m sure.

Students! You are Prime Targets for Manipulation!

At this point many of you are probably wondering ‘what has this got to do with me? I’m not addicted. I’m just a student.’. And it’s a perfectly acceptable question to ask, but here’s the thing: As a student, you’re extremely vulnerable to Facebook’s manipulation. Students deal with higher levels of mental illness, depression and social anxiety, those being some of the most debilitating aspects for our social group. More than this, students are trying desperately to form social connections, especially when they first start out at university. Facebook and other social media platforms thrive on the insecurity of students trying to make their way on the social scene. We’re also chronically bored. Bored people find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time on these platforms because there’s nothing better to do. Procrastination, too, adds to student stress and burnout. Perhaps if we weren’t constantly having our essence sucked by horny virtual-dementor-algorithms, we’d have time to get some of our work done (I’m sure the least popular argument on this list). All of these factors make students prime targets for algorithms which want to keep you trapped in Zuckerberg’s Wonderland for as long as possible.

I’m not saying go cold turkey like I did but think very carefully about how you use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Communication, after all, is a two-way street. When we look out of the window, the things on the other side look back. The real question when using social media is who’s using who?

This article is also available at Slain Media.

5 Takeaways from Kanye’s Visit to the Whitehouse

The internet roared in response to Kanye’s dinner with Trump yesterday. If you were on Twitter at the time, it felt as if the two meeting had the impact of comets colliding in space, or the shuddering vibrations of the Earth’s tectonic plates. Surprising really, considering the placid, amicable discussion the two had together, never really feeling heated, never having the essence of catastrophe that so many highlighted online.

This was a frank discussion about beliefs, values and political standpoints between two happy, consenting adults. Sure, Kanye runs away with himself at times, probably more to do with nerves and excitement at the opportunity to speak to someone he admires more intimately. Even so, though his speech is sometimes rapid and disorganised, there’s a degree of truth in some of the things he says, and a great deal of hypocrisy from the liberal media in response to his genuine comments.

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Tucker sees some wisdom in Kanye’s enthusiastic discussion.

So, let’s look at the 5 main takeaways from the #kanyetrump dinner:

1. Swearing is not the worst thing that’s happened in the Oval office.

So, let’s be real about this, a little swearing is probably the least awful thing that’s happened in the White House. As Ben Shapiro was quick to point out in a twitter response to Jim Acosta who himself tweeted ‘Kanye just said ‘motherf***er’ in the Oval Office. Per WH pool.’, Shapiro responds: ‘And Clinton had Oral Sex in there. So if we’re going to talk about degrading the location…’. And he’s got a point. A few expletives aimed at no one in particular are, by histories standards, nothing to write home about.

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Ben Shapiro reminds people, a couple of swears is not the worst thing to happen in the Oval Office.

2. Kanye is looking for a role model, something we are sorely lacking.

Kanye launched into a discussion about the MAGA hat he wore, and how it made him feel during the campaign for Donald Trump’s presidency. With bright eyes, he exclaims ‘it made me feel like superman!’ and comments that while Hilary’s campaign ‘I’m with Her’ was fine, it didn’t make him feel the same way that Trump’s campaign did. ‘As a guy that didn’t get to see my dad all the time’, Kanye explains, Trump’s campaign made him feel ‘like a guy that could play catch with his son.’. And he’s right. People are screaming for good role models, arguably men more so than any other demographic. Many rallied on this point to show their support.

3. Using someone’s mental health as a way to shut them up is not Democratic.

It’s stunning that a day after #WorldMentalHealthDay happened and with the hashtag still trending on Twitter, CNN news anchors and other left-wing media outlets immediately attacked Kanye on grounds of insanity. A white female news anchor launched into an attack on the soundness of Kanye’s mind, stating ‘I think you had there a man who’s clearly not OK and a president who’s willing to exploit that’, further dragging Trump into the firing line to make him out as some monster manipulator of the mentally ill. She then goes onto describe the dinner as a ‘circus’, having just a sentence ago voiced outrage at the lack of address of mental health issues and race relations between Kanye and Trump. Make up your mind CNN. Are you advocates for mental health or are you part of the problem?

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Just a day after #MentalHealthAwarenessDay, CNN discredits Kanye by claiming he’s ‘clearly not OK’ and describes the dinner as a ‘circus’.

4. White anchors speaking on behalf of black people seems a little racist, doesn’t it?

Many were quick to point out that a large proportion of reports in the liberal media were from white anchors speaking for black people and using racial outrage as a weapon to discredit both Kanye and Trump. Others were quick to point out that even where there were black speakers on the topic of Kanye and Trump, black people were only allowed a viewpoint if it was strictly in line with the interests of the Democratic party.

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A twitter user points out the hypocrisy of white anchors discussing the opinions of Kanye, a black man.

 

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Can you even have a right-wing view and be black? CNN says ‘no’.

5. Using someone’s dead mother as a smear doesn’t seem all that professional.

Don Lemon, speaking for CNN, later commented that ‘Kanye’s mother is rolling over in her grave’ at the opinions and views of her son. That’s a bitter Lemon indeed. Is this a game of limbo? How low can you go CNN?

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Don Lemon’s comments about Kanye’s dead mother used as smear against political opinion.