Tag Archives: depression

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. 

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

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

Cutting Out Caffeine: One Week to Less Anxiety

It’s been a weird week.

I cut out caffeine.

Why did I do it? Well, I’m an addict you see. An addict, hooked on one of the last remaining socially acceptable chemicals.

I was so bad that I used to get coffee every morning before work, from fancy coffee places. My coffee was sweet, but my bank account was bitter! I was drinking 3-4 cups while I was at work. I was relying on it for focus, for energy and just to keep me moving.

And I was suffering from a whole range of anxiety related problems. Palpitations, chest tightness, muscle tightness, somatic paint, the list goes on and on.

Now, if you’ve been following my blog, I’ve been trying to tackle my mental health difficulties in a whole host of different ways. I’ve been eating vegan, meditating a lot, trying to follow my bliss, and lately, embarking on acupuncture treatments and chiropractic manipulations. I’m really making a concerted effort to become healthy again.

Caffeine is my substance. It’s my vice. I’m naturally a bit slow, a little bit spacey, like an astronaut on the moon, but this jet fuel helps me stay in tow with a fast moving world.

But at what cost?

Health problems? Anxiety? Over stimulation?

I wanted to see what it would be like to take it all away, just for a week and see how it felt. I’ve spent so many years buzzing about like a hyperactive bumblebee that I had forgotten what it feels like to not have that dynamo drink powering me up as I go.

So what happened?

Well, at first, as you can imagine with any kind of caffeine withdrawal, I felt a bit off for a few days. Headaches, lethargy etc. You know, the usual stuff.

But then, I really began to acclimatise and I noticed a couple of things.

I was eating more.

Something about caffeine suppressed my appetite enough that it was extremely noticeable when I took it away. I was eating more food and also food which was less good for me. So, in theory, that’s 1 for coffee and 0 for me.

I was spaced out all the time.

I was in a bubble. I felt like Kanye in Katy Perry’s E.T. video. And the strangest thing was that this never really wore off. I am naturally away with the fairies. I shouldn’t be so surprised, but I was surprised. I hadn’t felt like that in an age. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it put some things into perspective for me.

I work in an office. I don’t absolutely love my job, but I get by. But without caffeine, and me in my natural state, floating around like a bubble princess, I really began to realise how poorly suited I am for this kind of work. So many distractions, so many noises. So much shifting gears between activities and getting sidetracked. For me, bubble boy, this was a nightmare. I felt like I was the light silver ball in 3D Pinball, waiting for anything to space bar me into the stratosphere. Remember that game on Windows 98? What a time to be alive.

The most unpleasant side effect was anhedonia. If you don’t know what this is, it’s a total lack of interest in doing anything, even things you used to love or enjoy. It kind of fed into my realisation that my work was so unsuitable for my type of brain wiring. I was so tired with my job, tired with the same old cycle of Monday to Friday. Stopping the stimulant made this much more apparent. It was kind of amazing the extent to which I had been relying on coffee to hold my depression at bay.

In hindsight, I’m really trying not to beat myself up over this vice. My body craved it because my brain just isn’t making enough good-feeling chemicals on its own. It’s not my fault. That was a really liberating realisation to come out of the process. I have dependencies because I’m just trying to cope with a biological imbalance made worse by the demands of a modern 9-5 administrative job, not suited to my brain.

It also made me realise how much I needed quiet and solitude. I like to read, but it’s impossible for me to do it in noisy places. I need a quiet and calm atmosphere to do that. I could manage slightly better with coffee, but without, it’s just really good to know that I should be managing my environment so that I can be more productive. Maybe in the future, freelancing will be best for someone like me, where I’m in control of my space and can make the most of quiet time.

On the flip side though, my anxiety was down massively. I didn’t realise how much it was having an effect on me throughout the day. To feel genuinely calm and relaxed was a blessing. Tranquillity I had not been able to access for many years. And in a way, since my anxiety cleared up, I was able to think more clearly about everything. To really stew over my thoughts, rather than bouncing between them and losing track. It’s been really positive to slow down the pace and sit with ideas for just a bit longer.

All in all, it’s been a mixed bag. Some things have become better and other worse. I got rid of a lot of anxiety, but I also became more spacey and depressed. But that state of mind allowed me to ruminate on what it is that I’m doing wrong in my life. How my job isn’t good for my type of mind. How I should find something I love to do, at a pace that suits me. How I’m trying to be someone I am not in a society where the norms don’t benefit me.

And I guess you’re wondering whether I’ll stay away from the stuff going forward. Well, as with most things in life, balance is key. I’m going to drink less of it, absolutely. I don’t want the reverberating, painful anxiety. But for the time being, I need to be able to focus a little in a job I am not suited for. Maybe a coffee in the morning and a cup of tea in the afternoon? No more caffeine after 4pm so I can sleep well? I think that sounds like balance to me.

J

The Flashforward: Psychic Projection Of Our Shadow Selves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do I fear illness?

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an exercise you can try at home:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J

 

Depression in the Eyes

A quick google search for ‘depressed eyes’ returns, to my amazement, eyes filled with anguish. Blubbering eyes, welling up with pain and steeped in comically exaggerated grimaces.

I find this perplexing.

Sure, depression for me has involved episodes of this pained expression, but for the most part, it’s something altogether worse. Something far more alarming, sinister and uncanny.

It’s the deadness. The total lack of spirit. The unending, unfathomable pit in the pupil, which reaches into the abyss.

For me, depression in the eyes is captured by a total lack of light. Like unspeakable black opals of drowning depth.

It’s one of the best ways I can tell if someone is drowning in anhedonia, the symptom of a total loss of enjoyment in life. You don’t have to ask someone, you can see it there, in their eyes.

I think having persistent depression is part of the reason I look into people’s eyes when I speak to them. They give away so much on the face. I have always become fixated by them as a well of emotional information. A font of pain, joy and intent.

The photo you see at the beginning of this post is my face a few years ago. My depression has been persistent and in some ways, it is worse than it was at the time I took this picture, but I am also working much harder to tackle it than I was back then.

I notice the emptiness, the exhausting droop that has always been characteristic of my sloping lashes. I notice the unfocused, drowning brown iris and the tired pucker of my lower lash line.

I suppose I wanted to make a point in this post, that depression as characterised by the internet or the media is so much more dramatic, superficial and comical than it is in reality. It fails to observe the sinister absence of presence, the artificialness of gaze, the ‘nobodies home’ glaze that really depicts the illness.

I think this is what frustrates me about perceptions of depression as an illness, as if it is personified by the ugly mask of tragedy, comedies miserable brother, when in fact, its depiction appears far closer to comedy than true misery.

How can we win more support for depression, more seriousness and thoughtfulness, when we are bombarded by ludicrous, sensationalised and dramatic visual depictions of it?

The fact that images of blubbering and anguish pervade the search terms suggests we have a long way to go before people begin to really understand what depression entails and how those who cope with it chronically have experienced it.

Depression is sometimes sadness and crying, I’ll admit that, but it goes so much deeper than that. It’s an affinity with death that the living who have not felt it’s dark grasp, will struggle to ever understand. For how can we understand death, unless we no longer feel alive?

J

5 Signs Your Life has Become Overwhelming and How to Begin Restoring Balance

You wake up, having not slept restfully for a week now. Your thoughts are dim and dreadful. They simmer at first, then a slow-boil turns to froth and foam and flying spit in your mind’s pot.

How will I get everything done today? There is nobody to help me. What is happening? How do I stop it? The world is out to get me. I am struggling. What can I do?

Splish, splash, schloop, go the thoughts inside your head as you watch from above. There is no saving this soup now, spoiled for good. Let it all burn.

Many can relate to that boiling pressure underneath the surface. It can lead to outbursts, uncharacterful behaviour and alienation, both for the person experiencing the feeling of being overwhelmed, and for the people close to them. Here are five signs that you’re not coping well, and some suggestions to fix it.

1. You’re Acting ‘Out of Character’

We are all creatures of particular habits. Some of us are quite reserved and don’t go out very much, others are very much the opposite, seeking social events everywhere they can and many opportunities to be the centre of attention. When you notice your typical behaviours are reversing and flying to the polar opposite of your ‘normal’, you know there’s something up. As in the examples above, someone who is quiet and calm, with a smaller social circle, might decide to get drunk every night and meet strangers. This can sometimes be hard to spot from the perspective of the person who is feeling overwhelmed, but family and friends should make every effort to monitor this behaviour and offer support where possible.

2. You Don’t Care Anymore

Generally, you’re empathetic, kind, a listener and someone who is compassionate to the needs of those around you. Lately though, you’ve been feeling kind of ‘meh’. You see people in strife and it’s just not twanging on that cardio banjo in there. You know you should be feeling something, but you’re struggling to get that emotion to translate. No, you’re not a sociopath, you’re just going through a rough patch and sometimes this can make you appear distant, callous or unfeeling. It’s the people who care the most who tend to lose this ability most drastically under pressure.

3. You’re Getting Irritated by the Smallest Things

Did your housemate eat your last banana? Did someone take your usual seat on the bus? Are you about to burn to ash over the news that petrol prices are going up? Do these questions make you feel like wielding a sledgehammer of destruction, like a malevolent Thor, brimming with spite and rage? Thinking about how proportionate our responses are to the perceived inconvenience, of course, at a time when we have calmed down, can sometimes give us the opportunity to reflect on how overwhelmed we feel.

4. Australian Animal Syndrome

Like the black widow, who hides in people’s toilets to bite their buttocks, and the koalas climbing from the bush below, we begin to do one of two things, bury ourselves, or attempt to escape out of our situation. Are you hiding from your problems, getting poisonous when people enter your personal space? Or, are you fleeing up into the canopies? Hiding or running can be a surefire way of knowing you’re overwhelmed and in need of intervention.

5. Your Opinion Of People Begins to Change

People you have held dear for years can begin to become ugly in your mind’s eye. You begin to create gargoyles where angels once stood, and by the end, you are surrounded by warped caricatures of the people you once loved. This is a very disturbing and unsettling mechanism related to being in a state of overwhelm, that can begin to unravel your sense of identity, purpose and happiness. If the people you cared about are no longer friends, loneliness can set in and begin to eat away at your joy.

So, now you have a few ideas about what being overwhelmed looks like, here are some important interventions to think about, so that we don’t continue feeling this way.

Be Honest

Speak to the people around you that you feel you can trust. Tell them that you do not feel that you can cope and ask for any guidance, support or assistance they can give you. If they cannot, try not to take this personally, it may be that they have a lot on their plate too. Try to approach people who you feel will be compassionate and understanding to your plight, as some people can make their problems seem more important, which will only make you feel worse.

Seek Support Networks

At school, work or university, make sure to access any available resources. For work, it might be some time off sick, or booking a few days holiday. At school, seeing the school counsellor or speaking to a teacher you trust might help you on the path to improvement. At university, try to utilise the university counselling services and student support networks. If you’re not sure, bring it up with your personal tutor. Speak to a GP about how you are feeling and see if they can refer you for assistance. And, seek the local charity networks to see if they can help you with additional funded support.

Meditate

Meditation can be a great way to relax and calm down, but it is also an excellent tool to make breakthroughs with seemingly insurmountable life problems. One of the best techniques I find with this, is to visualise a pool, dropping in a question at the height of relaxation and inner calm, without the expectation that it will return an answer. You are trying to submerge the question into your subconscious, so that it can naturally provide you with an answer in a more intuitive way. I find the headspace app is really incredibly useful for this, so go ahead and try it out.

Are You Looking After Your Health?

One thing I begin to notice immediately when I am overwhelmed, is how it so often correlates with slipping into old dietary habits which are not good for my sense of wellbeing. If you are lucky enough to know what kind of diet works for you, then make sure to reflect on this when you feel overwhelmed. Am I cutting some corners? Can I try and cook a proper meal this week instead of dropping into a convenience store for a cheap ready meal. Often our bodies just need that little bit of extra support so that we can deal with what life throws at us.

Give it Time – Like, A ‘You’ll Still Be Here When The Sun Explodes’ Amount of Time

So, now you’ve heard me whittle on about this, that and the other, and it’s either helped you, or left you more enraged than you began (absolutely not the intention, but a hypothetically plausible outcome). Start asking yourself some questions, without demanding desperate answers. Try to give yourself time and the love and support from those around you, even if you feel that they do not always understand. Look after your body and meditate without expectation, as if answers can come between now and the squashification of the universe, which scientists are referring to as ‘the big crunch’.

I wish you happiness, fulfilment and the ability to overcome anything that life throws at you.

J

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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