Book Review: Sane by Emma Young

Emma Young embarked on a well being journey for her book Sane. She explored what we can do to be less stressed and more mentally strong, whatever that means. Throughout the book many different stances are proposed as to what it means to be mentally strong. Throughout her journey, Young interviews ex-military personnel, professors of various disciplines in medicine, psychiatry and psychology as well as yogi’s, friends, and anyone who may have an inkling to the answer of how to achieve elusive holy grail of a clear mind, patience of a saint and an even temper in the most outraging of situations.

In the introductory chapter, Young outlines very clearly that she doesn’t suffer from any diagnosed mental illness, and that this journey has been embarked upon by someone more worn down by every day stresses, rather than someone facing a mental health condition. The list is very long about what Young is not, and what she is: an every day woman, mother and wife trying to feel less frayed, less snappy, less stressed and  more able to juggle all of life’s challenges more efficiently is a powerful place from which to start. From the offset Young is very relatable, and her daily difficulties very common amongst the average British household.

Many of the tools explored are also used and advised to those with mental illness too, although in less of a magical cure sort of fashion and more in a helpful maintenance or coping tool. The areas covered and explored throughout the book include: mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, sleep, stoicism, spirituality and faith, mental toughness methods addressing self-talk, and mindset in the face of adversity, using your senses and essentially, how to utilise each skill.

Many of these areas have been researched on healthy individuals as well as individuals with mental illness, so reading the book was a bit of an information digging sort of read on my behalf. There seemed to be some areas in here that I hadn’t addressed or come across in my journey to constantly  get better from my mental illness difficulties. Stoicism for example, is a stance I hadn’t heard of. To be copletely honest I wasn’t even sure what was meant by stoicism. I thought it was a blast to the past of the keep calm and carry on mantra, which in an essence it is, but it is slightly different.

One method that I thought I could really take home for myself was dosage exposure to the outside of my comfort zone. In doing so,, it is explained, that you learnt to adapt and therefore wind up expanding your comfort zone and tools for dealing with challenges that may arise. Thinking back to the progress I’ve made in the last 5-6 years and looking over what made me get a bit better than I was before, a key feature is the consistent and gradual pushing of the edges of my comfort zone.

Initially this occurred with eating whilst recovering from my ED, then with dealing with everything the ED numbed me to, then going out and interacting with people then, well, the list just goes on. On particular area of interest that is highly relatable is learning how to manage your relationship with food and diet.

Although there was no clinical eating disorder in Young, however, a constant and chaotic relationship with food and yo-yo dieting was hinted at throughout the book as a constant factor of anguish in Young’s life. It is very true when Young suggests that with practice, utilising techniques in order to avoid sugary treats and all the temptations we are bombarded with to gorge our faces on unhealthy foods in every direction does get easier with time. From my experience as well, at first dietary changes are very difficult, because you are breaking a habit that occurs multiple times on a daily basis but with practice and repetitive behaviour of new habits, it does get easier- Young reports a similar experience.

I think this is true for any habit you are trying to develop, change or stop. However, with eating the ease of change can be seen quicker because it is a habit with which we must engage with multiple times a day. This makes it both harder and easier in different ways.

There are many valuable insights revealed throughout Young’s journey on her quest to be less frazzled, less stressed and more able to deal with life head on, whilst being switched on and if possible, attain some level of zen in the process. At the end of the book Young summarises the areas of exploration in a rank of importance measured by perceived positive effect.

I won’t spoil the last chapter, but I found it a very valuable read for pointing out and suggesting new areas to think about in regards to building psychological strength and resistance within myself. My one criticism would be the amount of side tracked waffle of unnecessary information throughout the book. I found that quite irritating throughout the book because it generally disrupted the flow of information throughout the book. However, for the quality of the content over that of style, I would reccomend this is a worthwhile read if you fancy exploring developing your mental strength.

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Forgetting Monday Mentality to Make Behaviour Change Today

I first encountered what I call the Monday Mentality when I was engaging in dieting behaviour. I would design a diet plan that would always start on a Monday. If I designed the plan on a Thursday for example that gave me until Monday to eat, indulge and gorge on everything I wouldn’t be allowed from Monday onwards.  During the Bulimia days this would equate to days upon days of bingeing and purging. Monday would come, and this was a new start. Every Monday was a new me like the 1st of January, except Monday just kept on coming around every single week. This is 52 chances a year to start a new diet, exercise regime, habit, project, study, checking off the errands on that list as long as your arm and as old as your eldest son.

There is a fresh feeling about Monday. We start a new study week or work week or just a new week in general. Everything starts up again and it feels like a perpetual chance of new starts and the beginnings of new habits and lives. I used to delude myself into thinking that from next Monday everything would change. I would stop bingeing and finally exist on a minute amount of calories. I would finally lose weight. I finally stop purging.

The Monday Mentality creep into every avenue where we start goal setting. It usually trumps the ‘why not start today?’ and the ‘There no time like the present’ thinking because it is more enticing to continue with shitty habits for a few more days in favour of trading them in tomorrow, always tomorrow and of course, for every single day that we exist in this universe, no matter what happens, there will always be a tomorrow until our final day. Thank you universe. There is a great gift in tomorrow.

Today is shit? You’ve had a crap day from start to finish, have a sleep and there is always tomorrow where you get to start over on making a good day. Wait a few more days and give yourself time to sulk it out and start again on, you guessed it, Monday. There’s always a Monday just on the horizon. Even on a Tuesday or Wednesday there is always a Monday on the horizon so it is easy to get stuck in the Monday Mentality of, I’ll start on Monday.

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I got caught up in this thinking pattern during my first year studies at university earlier this year. I had a depressive episode which meant that most days were going not according to plan off the mark every week for a number of weeks. I would push myself really hard to change my behaviour and get to university on Monday. Tuesday would come and more often than not during my first year I wouldn’t make it. This for a good few weeks wrote off the rest of the week until the following Monday when I would get a ‘fresh start’ to try to improve my attendance, get off the ‘fitness to study’ radar, and ultimately get my shit together. Whilst working with the welfare officer at university she said, ‘why wait until Monday?’. I didn’t really have an answer other than, it felt more like a goal to start changing.

The truth is, goals never get met whilst engaging with the Monday mentality. Thursday is as good a day as any Monday to start. Together we decided that starting now would be a good idea and if today didn’t work, I can always sleep and there’s a brand new day to start now on in the morning. This meant that every morning I gave it a good go in terms of getting to places, leaving the house, showering, and managing to catch up and complete some study.  This means that even if I wasn’t making massive gains each day, or I wasn’t achieving loads all of a sudden overnight I had started to practice the Now Mentality, which ultimately leads to smaller achievement that build up to create great differences and, fingers crossed it all works out, eventually building mastery over myself, and my illness.

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This isn’t to say that I cured my depressive episode this way. That took a medication change and some more tweaks further down the line. What it did mean however, was that every morning was a chance to improve. Every morning was a chance to seize the day the best I could for that day. So each day I would make a plan that felt achievable and not overwhelming. It would include something like, shower, mindfulness, dishes, study. Sometimes I would only manage to eat, and have a shower and that was fine. The key difference was that Tuesday or Wednesday wasn’t pissing me off and I wasn’t then vowing to stay in bed until next Monday before I tried again. This method over time built a bit of resilience and a fresh view of each day being as good as any Monday to try. That’s all I was asking of myself, to try. That’s all anyone can ask of themselves, but if you decide to wait until next week each week before initiating change then every time you wait a few days to indulge in the habits you’re trying to break you are entrenching those habits deeper. If you are trying each day to change a habit, even if you slip up and indulge in the habit in question, you are trying again as soon as it’s done to change it again. That way you are entrenching the habit less, and enforcing the habit change more frequently, which is more likely to lead to a successful habit or behaviour change.

It seems like common sense. It really does feel obvious however, the temptation to be comfortable, which bad habits often are if they’re our usual way of functioning then the amount of self-discipline to say no to yourself and within yourself when no one is around to motivate or encourage you otherwise is great. Self discipline I think though is another habit that can become the new norm in this way. Being accountable to others can help but it isn’t healthy to rely on others to change your own behaviour. No one can change your behaviour or habits but yourself.

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This area gets more murky when mental illness is involved, but it rings just as true for mental illness. Although often a health professional is required to guide behaviour change in this instance. I’m not saying someone with OCD can change their rituals alone in this way, or that someone can stop engaging in eating disorder behaviours like this alone. Not at all. For small habits though, the trying every day brings a clean slate and a new opportunity to do better than before, every 24 hours. This can be quite helpful and can help with making the most of each day even during depression because some days you won’t be able to get out of bed, but on the days when you can you will likely achieve more on the good days which could help with the progression of the episode. It may buffer the loss of self-esteem during an episode as well when coupled with self compassion.

So scrap Mondays. Monday just means the world starts a new week. Next Monday will be no different to last Monday if you vow to make huge changes overnight on Monday. It won’t happen. We slip and we slide when breaking old habits and forming new ones. Accepting this and living in the present will likely mean in 20 Mondays time, you will be able to look back and see more successful changes because you’ve had 140 new starts, and 140 clean slates rather than 20.

Each Monday holds no more value in its 24 hours than any other day of the week. How about we stop putting Monday 1st on the podium above all the other days? Each day is a new day. There’s no time like the present. Every new morning is a new day, and the opportunity for a new start.

Moving On From A Haunted Past of Home and The Inner Caverns of Self Hatred

As a child I moved a lot. Sometimes once a year, sometimes within 6 months of settling we were moving again. We didn’t stay in the same area either. We lived all over the south half of the country. When it came to going to high school my parents decided it was time to try to stay in one place. For the duration of those eight years I didn’t live in the same house the whole time: that would be a ridiculous expectation to have from my parents. I did however stay in the same town at least. I also managed to stay at the same high school from year 7 to 13. Unfortunately it turned out that the only school I stayed at happened to be the one I hated the most. It was perhaps the most damaging school I’ve ever been to in terms of self belief, self-esteem and building yourself during your teenage years. I don’t think the role of high school is to destroy you from the inwards out, but it seems to have that impact on many teenagers.

I remember walking up the hill from the bus park and one of my friends stated, ‘these are supposed to be the best years of our lives’ as if some wisdom of hindsight and insight had been bestowed upon her from the future. I hoped she was wrong when she said it. I know she was wrong 10 years later. School was not any of the best years of my life. Not at all. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Never.

When I was in high school I started to develop my first signs and symptoms of mental illness. This quickly turned into a long battle with bulimia, and consequently eating disorders and all the shenanigans that erupted at 21. I didn’t feel supported at school. I wasn’t supported at home, although my parents did somehow get me referred to CAMHs via my GP and this is where the one constant figure of hope and support came into my life. I would see her at the outpatients department of the hospital, which I would walk to most weeks. I was very much left on my own in this journey with CAMHs but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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During those years, mainly 2005-2009 I would haunt around the city streets and parks on my own. I spent a lot of time on my own, struggling to maintain friends and my illness in any form of harmony, such as mental illness goes. I would eat in strange places and vomit in even stranger places. The country lanes where I lived for the most part of time in my home town were haunted with my running and cycling endeavours in a constant bid to lose weight, disappear, punish myself and repeat after me, ‘nothing is more important than losing weight. Nothing is more important than losing weight’.

If I cast my mind back to this period of time it is shrouded in a mass of thick black smog. I couldn’t see my way clearly at all back then. I struggle to see through it without the inner of my emotive self construing into tangles of excruciating pain. Yes, this place is technically my home town because I spent the most time growing up here but it was never home. Where we lived was never home. I felt outcasted, strange and extremely alone in my own dark world of writing in coffee shops, puking in public toilets, hedges and woodland, and trying to muddle through school at the same time.

I did have some good times, mainly whilst drunk. Often these weren’t even good times though because drinking on an empty stomach is a bad idea any time, but drinking on a stomach that hasn’t seen any form of solid food for 3 or 5 days is just a recipe for an involuntary puking disaster. Surprisingly I remember many of these moments well, puking in the gutter outside my friend’s house, collapsing in a field as the vodka spins took over and I could move, curling up in a hay bail in a barn completely disconnected from the music or people around me. Even my year 13 prom ended with me being traipsed home from throwing up in the hotels toilets for an amount of time that no one has any idea of. No one knows how long I had been in there puking and passed out.

Making connections with people was very difficult for me. It always has been. I put this down to moving house a lot and my impending shyness that creeps into each corner of my life. There was nothing healthy about these years. There was nothing positive to come from my life other than it could only get better once I moved away. It did for a while and even during my times of being very unwell in London I wouldn’t say they were as dark as my time growing up. I lived 4 of my 8 years waiting to leave. This hope is the only thing that kept me going and things did get better in my final year. I went to art school and had one of the best years of my life. Finally there was a crowd that accepted my quirkiness and invited me out anyway. Finally I had friends who I could actually relate to and I was old enough to drink my way through all of my problems without needing to sneak around, climb over fences into clubs and get creative in my ways of obtaining alcohol. Looking back, it really is remarkable that I survived those years as in tact as I did. To this day, I don’t know how I did it.

When I left home to move to London for university it very much felt like a second chance at life. It felt like a clean slate to move away from my demons, move away from the turmoil of my home life as a teenager and make my own way. It didn’t go quite to plan but here I found a home. Since I moved to London 8 years ago I have lived here for as long as I’ve lived anywhere and I’ve been to my home town 3 times. The last time was this year. Before that I went home for one christmas in which I was reminded very much how much it didn’t feel like home to be home, and how much it never really had felt like home. I went back a few years later, then left it a few more years before going back again.

The town felt haunted to me. Seeing my old school as I went by on the train sent a great discomfort through my body. Seeing the old hospital I used to walk to each week, sometimes multiple times a week, swamped me with all the emotion tied up in that experience at once. Seeing the old streets upon which I would wonder alone and drunk in a bid to escape my reality filled me with sadness at how alone I really felt at home. The first time I went home I realised how much I actually hated it. I cried and although I didn’t plan to not return for so long it felt necessary.

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The next time I went home it was slightly lesser of a haunting experience but still it felt strange. It was odd and nostalgic in the most unpleasant way in which nostalgia can stir up old feelings and experiences to churn them over into a curdled mass of sour substance within your stomach. This time I went home, it was a last-minute decision. I was hypomanic and struggling with it. It had become uncomfortable for me and I spoke to my Dad. He said he’d pick me up that night and drive me down.

He has moved house a few times since I left home. He has finally settled in one home which oddly feels more like a home than any of the buildings he has occupied previously. With is having been so long since I left and started to build my own life in London, London is my home. London is the place I’ve been more able to be myself, received more intense help for my mental health problems and met people who are ‘my people’. Sometimes they come and they go but being able to come clean about my mental health illness and still be accepted as a friend to people is something I never experienced growing up. My illnesses being met with compassion and support in my education settings since I’ve started studying up here is something else that has been new. Finally, an education institution with support services and compassion and the belief that you can succeed rather than being surprised when you don’t fail is a place I can learn the thrive.

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My experience of life in London has been very different to the one I knew before. It hasn’t always been easy or good by any stretch of well wishing, it has however taught me a lot and encouraged me to grow. I haven’t been suppressed, I haven’t been dismissed in the way I was at school or home growing up, I have been encouraged out of my dark cavern of self-hatred that I had grown to call my comfort zone. I left home more comfortable hating myself and actively acting on it. I am now in a place where that cavern is becoming a place of the past – and because I’ve managed to move forwards in my life, because i’ve made and had so many new experiences that i chose, because i made a home for myself with what I had even when that meant a back shed with slugs, mice and leaky rooftops it was home. It was the first home i had really experienced. All of this nurturing i have experienced from myself, my partner and friends through these years has shuffled me along to a place where I can go back to my home town when I’m unwell and find it a helpful respite from the chaotic surroundings I create for myself when I am unwell.

Life in London hasn’t been perfect but it has eventually gotten better than where I came from. This allows me to go home and appreciate the nature and beauty of the countryside with fresh untainted eyes. It allows for me to go home and sit in a pub with an old school friend and enjoy their company, fully present rather than drinking until I can barely stand any more.

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I have grown since then. I continue to grow and within that growth there is a strength to face those past memories in a less tangled, less curdling to sourness light. I can be. I can enjoy the place for what it is, a nice seaside town, then I can come home refreshed rather than stressed about my history with the place, and finally, my home town doesn’t haunt me, taunt me or internally destroy me ever so slightly more with each day that I spend there. I am also able to remember the good times from that period of my life.

Let’s Be Super Heroes For The Night: A Night of Improv

Last night I did something completely new. I am trying to keep pushing my boundaries whilst I feel well. Yes, I can quite confidently say I am kicking anxiety in the teeth one tooth at a time. She’s going to need a lot of dental repair by the time I’m done. I went to an improv class. A few months ago I would have never gone to anything like an improv class. I mean, people, was reason enough to not go.

I still have a slight aversion to people, but as a species they are starting to grow on me. They’ll never match up to cats though. For starters, we have only two legs, our ears aren’t lovely and soft and when we purr it’s just creepy. I was slightly anxious about going. When I voiced this to my friend who I had told about the class she just said, ‘well you better get going then, bye’. It helped. She was right and because I didn’t bail I reaped great rewards in the form of a brilliant evening being silly with a group of people I had never met before. The space provided a really great and safe space to explore our inner creativity and just have fun.

There were no rules. There was no pushing anyone to do anything they didn’t want to. We were free to opt out of an exercise if we wanted and just having that option made it much easier to participate. I would definitely recommend trying improv if you’re anxious but feel that maybe there’s a small part of you that’s completely bonkers in a sane way that you don’t get to express in your normal daily life.

One of the first exercises made me uncomfortable and allow the discomfort to ride on through and pass as we went around the room naming what we saw to familiarise our surroundings. Then just to mix things up we named things what they weren’t, “that’s not a chair, that’s a smoking pipe’ and ‘they’re not people, they’re mushrooms’. I mean, in my normal surroundings of being in a mental health supported accommodation I could never get away with this and play it off as play in a sane state of mind. It did feel a bit mad in a good way and if we did this outside in the public space we would probably be viewed as completely bonkers – so being able to let that side of yourself free, being able to explore your playfulness and creativity in a safe space where odd behaviour was the order of the evening was a great relief.

For someone who spends a lot of time trying to be as normal as possible and having to take time to tame my behaviour at times it was like setting myself free. I was a bird being set free to just fly. By the end of the evening I was definitely flying.

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I don’t know much about the world of improv, or the benefits of participating. Having said that I definitely felt the freedom of allowing myself to participate and actively pushing myself to do so. I don’t think it would have worked so well or felt so great had I not – and this too is a new concept.

When you live with any form of illness or condition that stops you from participating in the life we see around us it can become marginalizing by all the things that you can’t, and therefore don’t do. In this space everyone was able, no matter what they did. We all participated and by doing so, there was a lot of fun to be had.

These particular nights are running for another two weeks through August until the 18th. A donation of £5 is requested for room hire costs with all excesses going towards the Basic Needs mental health charity. Here’s the link. 

If you’re about in London and you fancy an evening of being silly with no boundaries or need for alcohol then definitely come along. If you really want a drink on a Friday night however, it is in a pub so you can grab one if you want. All you really need if yourself, you sense of humour and to allow yourself to be care free and embrace that side of yourself.

Rules To Live By In Numbers 

I am on holiday. Some people they may ask, ‘from what?’; I don’t work but I do study, part-time. I have been off from university for 2 months now, surely that counts as a holiday? I’m going to say no, not really. Firstly, I spent  ~a month of that time being unwell with the dysphoric hurricane of hypomania. I went in hospital and had my meds increased. I have since spent time trying to find my feet.

Although I’m not having a holiday from working, I am having a holiday, but what from?  I am having a holiday from being surrounded by mental illness. I live in a specialist supported accommodation which means there is no escaping mental illness at home because someone is always unwell, everyone is on meds and we talk about it amongst ourselves. There are no awkward questions about mental health because we all live there for a similar category of reasons. Also you’re constantly having to answer questions and attend assessments for how well, or not you are doing. Whilst here I have to keep taking my meds twice a day, and I need to use DBT skills to keep my emotional expressions proportional, and I have to take care in the heat because of my meds – there is no holiday from yourself after all – I am kind of taking a holiday from mental illness.

I am taking a holiday from appointments, seeing my social worker, psychiatrist and support workers. Whilst they provide me with a lot of support and access to specialist mental health care, it’s nice to not be talking about symptoms, side effects and how am I really so much of the time. I am taking a holiday away from the bubble I live my life in at home. I am exposing myself to new and unfamiliar territory. At the same time I’m staring anxiety in the face as I gain confidence with new experiences.


I’m taking a holiday from living well within the borderlands of self-imposed restrictions. I am taking a holiday from documenting habit trackers and mood charts. I could stop forever at any time but they are an important tool for my overall well-being, awareness and insight. Taking a week out to just be, live and experience is quite the luxury and a welcome break. This can only be done when I am relatively well and stable: which I am at the moment. This is as much of a break from myself I think it is possible to fathom.

Finally, I am taking a holiday from numbers. Numbers have played a significant role in my life for over a decade: calories in and out, body weight, body fat %, muscle mass, weighing food portions and the numerical data from my FitBit that I try to make perfect: steps, calories burned, hours slept, minutes of restlessness and wakefulness during sleep, heart rate, minutes of activity and exercise. My FitBit data doesn’t just quantify my existence, it quantifies the goals of my existence: calorie goals, BMI goals, body fat % goals, sleep hygiene goals, number of days active goals, heart rate goals, step goals – literally any way of quantifying my life via a watch that you could possibly want for under £200, it does. If I had blood sugar and blood pressure monitors, I would record that too. I shit not, I have previously looked into buying them – all in an effort to feel in control and achieve a way to be perfect.

 

I realise now that I treat myself more like a machine, rejecting how anything feels in order to try to obtain numerical perfection. It’s a great watch and that is what I bought it for but it can be tiring and distracting from the bigger picture. It seems this focus on numbers has become a replacement for my eating disorder behaviour. It is healthier and less destructive but that doesn’t mean it is healthy and not destructive. More numbers can be obtained to quantify my existence further with a premium subscription to FitBit. I have so far managed to resist.

When I left for the airport I saw my analogue watch, ticking away in it’s box from having been rooting for something else in the same drawer. I spontaneously, (get me being spontaneous) decided to switch it up. My analogue watch, get this, doesn’t even have any numbers on it. Not a single one. I need to have access to the time, I don’t like not knowing and can become disoriented with myself without a watch. I don’t think this is mental health related, I’ve been like this since I first got a watch and learned the time as a nipper. With this analogue watch I don’t know the time to the exact minute – which is why I haven’t worn it for the last 3 years it’s been sat in it’s box for. How could I possibly tell the time without knowing the exact minute of the hour? In answer, based on this week, just fine. Vaguely knowing the time of day and hour it turns out is enough.

My holiday from numbers includes not stressing about getting enough steps, enough sleep and enough activity to hit goals that equate to perfection. I have been able to let go a little this week. In my world, this small freedom equivelates letting my hair down, wild child I know.  On the way back from the hiking day to the Gorropu Canyon I wondered how many steps I had done that day, as if I needed to know the number as it would validate my experience and tiredness. Then I answered myself in my mind, it doesn’t matter; that day wasn’t about steps or minutes of activity. The day was about the experience, the memories and the nature I saw in numerous various forms. The number of steps wasn’t important to the experience in any way – and I recited this in a forced way in my mind, as if repeating fake it til you make it to myself.  The amount of calories burned was not important. The amount of time spent at fat burn, resting and cardio heart rates was not important. What was important was that my heart is strong enough to adapt to demand and by doing so allowing me to have days such as that one hiking through the mountains.

I feel quite liberated since cutting back on the permanent numbers game I’ve ben playing. I do find numbers calming, it is a form of coping mechanism for me which crops up more, naturally, during times of stress. Having said that, I feel like I do not need so many numbers in my life. They have evolved from a calming coping mechanism that allures a sense of control, to a controlling cage that traps me in trying to achieve the perfect set of figures across all platforms of my life: diet, weight, sleeping habits, heart rate, blood pressure…the lists goes on. Sounds familiar huh?

It is in this way that I have been giving numbers too much power over my life, letting them govern how I feel I ought to live my life and what I think is the right amount of everything. It initially manifested in an eating disorder, morphed into another eating disorder and now this. I’m a walking project of equations and sums. My experience is invalid without numbers in my opinion. I also know this to not be true.

 

I have had a desire to be clockwork and machine like for a long time, again, this was initially achieved by having an eating disorder. More recently it has been achieved by wearing my FitBit. The purpose is to not feel and to function impeccably. I want to do and power through life and for the whole while that my digits remain imperfect i have work to do. It hasn’t always been a helpful approach and has held me back in many ways in addition to always having work to do because I am human. I am an animal not a computer. Ironically, for want of a lack of feeling and human nature, this makes me upset sometimes. Most of us are familiar with not being what we want to be: a marathon runner, a CEO, rich, living in paradise but I have turned one impossible goal for another: being weightless for being numerically perfect in other ways. By doing so I have been choosing numbers over intuition and listening to my body or mind for what it really is.

Using numbers to control and restrict my life is not healthy. I don’t feel like I can preach balance when I am living my life so purposefully out of balance. Balance is not achieving perfection in any way be it weight, hours slept or heart rate. Perfection is not possible and life needn’t be constantly quantified in order to be living well – I am human. I am not a machine of equally spaced cogs designed to work like clockwork. Balance is less balance in the numbers of life and more adapting to the essence of change found in living. Evidently I have some way to go.

Realising What It Is To Feel Truly Alive

Today I was thankful to myself for having picked up and persisted with exercising regularly. Why? I was thankful for being relatively fit and to my body for allowing me a beautiful experience hiking to and through the Gorropu Canyon in Sardinia. I had the strength and stamina to hike and ramble over rocky and hilly terrain. If there is any gift the body can give you it is being capable, not of achieving but capable of experiencing.

In life the final destination is death. We all get there one way or another some day. Death doesn’t seem to be the highlight of living, the highlight of living is found in the journey and the experience of living. We all go about this in different ways, no way more right or wrong than another. Each way is entirely valid – and the way me meander the choices that cross our paths is one defining factor of our existence.

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Lets be more specific and less grandiose with this idea: today my previous choices to be healthy, mentally and physically have allowed my journey to include this trip to Sardinia, and today my trekking to the Gorrpu Canyon. As an able-bodied person I know all too well the feeling of being less able due to my mental illnesses. I know the feeling of can’t for the small tasks, the disappointment of  ‘I can’t go, I’m unwell’ for the planned events and, ‘I have mental illness’ for the explanations of all the things I can’t do but ought to be; working, driving and not self harming.

This inability in so many areas of  my life fuel great levels of gratitude for everything I can do. Furthermore when past choices have made me more able than I would have previously been also exemplifies my gratitude for the very basics of human life; the feeling of being alive, very alive, not too alive because that can become illness too, but very alive all the same.

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Another wonder of being alive is mindfulness practice. Generally mindfulness practice opens yourself up for space, observation and tuning into your body and mind. Mindfulness isn’t just for sitting silently and practising. Being mindful of moments in time and space opens up for really experiencing what is around you. Tuning in to how the mind feels gains understanding of what makes us feel good, or otherwise.

The little things make up our experience. Trekking in the Canyon of Gorropu was not a little thing but an accumulation of many little things to tune in with in one day make the Gorropu Canyon a big thing. The rock formations, the river, the wildlife and drinking water fresh from the spring. The stunning heights and great vastness of what nature created in this unforgiving climate and environment created by mother nature.

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My body again, thank you nature, was able to climb, scramble and hike in the heat of a 34 degrees celsius humid day. This was not due to nature alone though, my own input into myself contributed too. Earlier this year I chose to be more active. Years ago I originally made the choice. Getting to today has been a journey of multiple successes and failures. It has been a learning curve at times. I am not at my final destination, yet knowing what makes me feel alive, knowing what ignites a fire in my soul and knowing what really makes me happy about living can help form the decisions I make today and tomorrow for my future.

It turns out that exercising and nature are two of the most impacting aspects of life that make me feel alive. Even when it is hard and not so enjoyable the challenge is part of it that works for me. Feeling alive encompasses both positive and negative experiences. I don’t think this is a wildly new revelation but more a forgotten basic foundation for experience. Since the beginning of time people have led active lives and a lot of people like nature. We have only become so sedentary in the last century or so. To me it makes sense that we need activity and exercise to feel alive.

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Being alive is exactly that: your heart beating as you reach the peak of a climb, the profuse sweating that pours from your face, the motion of moving our muscle and the burn of lactic acid that means your muscles are working. The swell of your fingers as your blood vessels dilate in order for you to continue being and feeling alive whilst you enjoy the challenge and observe your surroundings.

Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes our body won’t allow you to do what you desire and that doesn’t mean you give up and resign, it means you do it more. You practise, you keep moving in order to fulfil your desires to do what you want to do, to experience what you want to and to ultimately feel fully alive in a way that lights you up and keeps you yearning with a passion for life itself.

Today I walked to and through the Gorropu Canyon. I saw nature in many forms from rock formations to dragonflies tinkling in the wind. I felt the coolness of the river water as I tipped it over my head with my hat whilst my heart beat pulsated through my entire body. I must have sweated litres, and I experienced the burn of the sun – the engine of all life forms – whilst hiking through the mountain followed by the relief of shade. I saw a cruel beauty at the canyon in an unforgiving climate and terrain that also has the ability to destroy you as much as it does amaze you.

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I am grateful for today, for being well enough and strong enough for today to have happened. I am now lusting after another trip for climbing and more hiking. I have had a snippet taste of this island and I want more. I want more experiences from the island that I can’t do now, rock climbing and harder hike for example. I also want more from myself, more strength, more experiences, more from the core of life. I want to experience life in a way that makes me feel alive and leaves me wanting more that money can’t buy. Today a spark became a flame and I want it to be a bonfire.

The All-or-Nothing Conundrum

The other day I scrolled through Twitter and stumbled upon a poll that went something like this:

‘I feel anxious, do I…?’
a) take a diazepam and risk napping and messing up my sleep tonight
b) drink a coffee
c) other.

In my response I opt for other. I suggest mindfulness. They don’t ‘do’ mindfulness. I suggest the Headspace app, they tell me their opinion of mindfulness is summed up in one word: bollocks. Fair enough. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Then I realise something in myself. I am recommending mindfulness because I know the benefits, I’ve felt them. I recommend it as a useful tool for everyone to take a few minutes out of the day to just notice. I say this as if I couldn’t imagine a day without it. I say this as I realise I haven’t practised in over a week. Why haven’t I practised in over a week?

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I haven’t practised because I started to get unwell. I started to feel hectic and out of control. I started to sway from my stay well plan after a while of not being well. This is definitely the time when embracing and holding onto mindfulness would be really beneficial and I’m not. I wonder about why this could be and realise I am indulging in another patterns of ‘all or nothing’.

All or nothing thinking featured during my eating disorders, friendships, studying, relationships, working life, attending uni and now in my stay well plans. I’m getting well? I’m full force ahead: day plans for routine, exercising, goals, writing, eating healthily and of course, mindfulness. I try to stick it out for a while each time I get unwell. As my stay well plans slip and slide on the suds of soapy thoughts slipping in and out of my mind as I lose my routine without noticing until presented with the gift of hindsight I stop. I just stop.

I don’t eat well. I stop work outs on my plan. I skip mindfulness and daily structure plans. Before I know it, all structure is gone and I am at mercy to any whim the weather may take. I am flitting about in wing it mode in regards to filling my time. No longer is not having time in my schedule for helpful things to take an extra benzo or drink a bottle of wine to forget it all the motion of the moment. I have all the time. I have all the unstructured time to get wasted because I can’t handle myself. Self discipline is gone. The will to even engage with my stay well plan ebbs into a low tide further and further from shore.

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I have successfully gone from maintain all of my plan to none of it in days. I realise as i re-offend mindfulness on a pedestal to someone else sailing a ship with anxiety at the helm. I recommend this as I am no different. I know some of what helps me. I know some of what doesn’t. What I haven’t learned yet is fully how to keep going with just something, I haven’t learned mastery. I think moderation is a skill. I am learning. We are all always learning – this is something I realise I need to put more focus and thought into still. Just how I do that I don’t yet know.