Tag Archives: personal

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.

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

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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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.

Write a letter, start a revolution.

Dear reader,

I was talking with a friend I met through a poetry group on Facebook the other day. I was deciding to leave the platform and, as always, he had a novel suggestion. I had asked for his details because I wanted to stay in touch with people off the platform. If you look at my previous post Facebook, what have you done to us?, I decided to leave Facebook for various reasons, ethical, behavioural and psychological. His idea was this: ‘Let’s write a letter to each other’.

I thought to myself how peculiar that was and was meditating on the idea a bit. Why have we stopped writing letters? Well, the clear answer is that the internet does it faster. Sure, the internet has revolutionised communication but is that a good thing?

We used to take time to think and reflect on all the amazing things that happen to us in the weeks and months. Carefully, we’d curate a picture of our lives that showed all the most meaningful experiences we’d had lately in the two-fold process of consolidating and processing it for ourselves, and sharing with others.

I thought about what it would be like to receive a letter that was not about doctors appointments or bills, written in an individual font, addressed to me, the person, not me, the body, number or consumer. I came to the conclusion that writing letters to close ones is probably the most counter cultural, revolutionary thing young people can do in an age saturated by technology, and so coked up on its own sophistication, it’s losing any meaning or value it might once have had.

So here’s my challenge to you. Write three letters this month. Really think about your life and what has happened. Share it with those you care about but don’t see often enough. Tell me in the comments below that you posted it and that you’re taking up this counter revolution against technology. Heck, if you want, post a selfie with your letters! It’s nice to get feedback that we’re making changes! We need to slow down and think at the speed of a letter.

Share this article with friends and family. We’re re-writing the future, one hand-written letter at a time.

Yours sincerely,

Julian

Contact us if you have ideas or would like to share your thoughts on society.

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.