Category Archives: Uncategorized

Growing A Cactus To Tend To My Heart

I’m growing a cactus to tend to my heart.

It’s prickly and stickly and squat and cute, a bit like me.

We’re going to grow together, with water and sunshine and songs about the sky.

My cactus and I.

They say plants are healing and I believe it.

I’ve seen it!

Nothing more peaceful than a prickly green thing.

I’ll watch it and care from a distance, maybe I’ll even sing.

My sharp arcadia.

My green mañana.

My dewy paradise.

It’s a hot summer ahead, and we’ll do just fine.

 

 

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

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 Office

Brrrring brrrring! Brrrring brrrring!

This person is filled with hot air.

He bristles and bustles and chokes down the wire.

He’s mad at something, but I struggle to care.

It’s just paint, it’s not worth this ire.

That person talks about what this person did.

They tell the whole office, as if lifting a filthy, secret lid.

‘They spoke to Sally like she was a kid’

The office is shocked and exquisitely livid.

Another found out they had heart disease.

They had just four more years to retire with ease.

She says to me, ‘I’ve a feeling I won’t make it’

She says to me, ‘I worked hard for this, but I might not make it’

She says to me, ‘I worked to spend my time with my husband, but now I might not get it’

I say, ‘You’ll make it, you’ll get it, I’m sure’

I think to myself, ‘I don’t know if she’ll make it. I don’t know if she’ll get it’

I think to myself,

‘That’s sad.

That’s harsh.

That’s mad.’

And I bottle it up and don’t say a word, as the world keeps on revolving, dark and absurd.

I won’t take it, but I’ll take it, because I need to work, to earn a living.

So I can live, and die without meaning.

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.

University – A Psychopathic Institution?

Psychopaths come in many flavours, all of them dangerous, but there’s a common thread that strings them together. Psychopaths create personas to hide behind, they might be the pleasant co-worker who asks you what you did at the weekend, or the cheery neighbour who always says ‘Hi’ with a smile as you’re leaving the house. Psychopaths have no empathy, they don’t feel anything for others, and they work hard to keep it a secret until it’s too late. Psychopaths are punishing, they act with cool rage and crushing retribution, delivered with full force, no remorse, and no warning. Psychopaths are dangerous because you can never tell where you really stand with them, until it’s too late.

Universities, too, are a little bit psychopathic, and here’s why:

Before getting to University, I was sold a face that didn’t match the interior. The open day was a bright and happy affair, bloated with opportunities, glowing reports, shiny presentations, and cheerful students. The reality was nothing like it. Fresher’s week, a thoroughly bizarre experience, left me swept under by feelings of isolation, sadness, and confusion, in the wake of excess intoxication, no sleep, false friendships, and having to deal with the behaviour of students even less well adjusted than myself.

Seminars were awkward, uncomfortable silences, intermitted by an equally uncomfortable lecturer’s cajoling – to no effect. You could sense nobody wanted to be there. Exams came, I’d never felt so wrong. Existing, just, on caffeine, sugar, the promise of a restful summer with no essays or exams, and pure-bliss freedom. The relief came and went in an instant. I sat on my chair at 10 am, after being up for nearly two straight days and laughed. Hysterically. The summer lacked its promise. Where was the rest? Gone with the thought I’d not make it to year two. How did I know I would, when I wrote my 24/48 hour exams not feeling at all like myself? I didn’t trust Mr Hyde, the maniacal, caffeinated creature, to do me justice.

So that was year one. Sunshine and daisies? Hardly.

The flowers only grew on the grave of my stable sense of self, the sun revealed the camber of the newly disturbed earth beneath. And the face of the establishment fell. I knew that University was filled with hollow promises and veneered smiles. It came for the person I was and smashed it to pieces. A sledgehammer of insanity, it walloped me.

Am I the only one to take a bludgeoning? I don’t think so.

And what did it offer me as recompense? There’s the open door team. You can see them a couple of times a term, if you’re lucky. There’s your supervisor, untrained and helpless to help. There’s the groggy, sluggish system, which punishes poor attendance, but prances prissily around the issue of mental health support. I don’t even know where I stand with it. Who makes up the rules and more so, where are they?

So, for me, university feels like something pretending to be what it’s not. It left me to fend for myself psychologically and emotionally, and in confusion, caused by the dissonance between perception and reality. It didn’t care that I wasn’t coping. If it did, there would be the necessary infrastructure to support students in crisis, but the reality is, it doesn’t exist. The rapid pace, lack of support, and brutal examination periods has left me, and many other students battered. I didn’t realise until it was too late, and I’m part of a bigger problem. It’s happening to students everywhere.

UPP student survey for the Guardian found that 87% of first year students struggled with some variation of mental health issue. Of this figure, almost half (44%), reported feeling lonely or isolated. We are facing an epidemic of psychological illness at universities across the country. Universities are not doing enough to support mental health issues, and we need real change here. With an institution that hides behind a cheerful, sun-beam persona, obliquely avoiding the issue of mental health, and smashing students to bits psychologically, university is a lot like an anti-social monolith, and it must work with students to learn how to feel again.