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.

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The Too Busy to Sleep Phase

I’m sure somewhere there is some wisdom on not sleeping that goes along the lines of, “if you can’t sleep, get up and do something until you’re tired”. This is exactly what I do when I can’t sleep, which doesn’t happen all that often for me.

I am a good sleeper. I always have been. When I go to the higher side of life however, sleep becomes a waste of time. I get up eager to do something, anything other than sleep. At this time, forcing myself to rest despite not being able to sleep is probably the best advice – but the best advice is not always the advice we want to follow. Additionally, it is easy to rationalise the get up and go logic in a world that glorifies the go, go, go of using every day to the max.

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During hypomania getting up instead of resting is essentially a big gust of oxygen on a burning ember at just the right angle and pressure to light a bonfire. Not that I realise at the time whilst I spend the whole night doing a million activities: reading, which feels like I’m breathing oxygen specifically for my amazing mind; playing on my games console which feels like the biggest adrenaline rush I could get whilst staying in as I fight my way through every first person shooter I own; writing, wherein my creative genius just slithers effortlessly out of the end of the pen; smoking because I’m in party mode and the music, the music feels electrifying to my body as I dance and sing ecstatically at 5am.

I should be drunk but I’m not as the activities get progressively more active and progressively more exciting until it’s 6am. I’ve not slept and it feels too late to sort it out because we’re at the start of a new day. Every dawn is a new day not to be tarnished by the last right? – yeah, I probably only follow that 100% when I’m hypomanic too.

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I don’t necessarily realise at the time. I write it off to not being that sleepy, to it being ‘just one night’. This happens a lot with hypomania. I only realise and know in hindsight. In hindsight it is blazingly obvious. At the time I am blinded to it, wrapped up in it and the world is viewed through rose-tinted spectacles wherein there is no way feeling this good could be “bad”.

Sleeping 3-5 hours a night is glorious when there is such an urgent pressure in your belly to do, do, do. It is bloody fabulous in fact because it means you really can maximise and squeeze the fuck out of the potential of every day, every, single, day. Whilst my wee early morning texts reap dead-end conversations as everyone else is a weak human and succumbs to their need for sleep – I however, am more than human. I’m super human.

And just like that the fire is burning. Raring to go for the next day and the next and the next of my new brilliant super human life. I do not get sleepy again. I do not return to my bed to get a few hours shuteye. This get up until you’re sleeping advice is possibly the worst advice during the sleepless nights of hypomania.

 

I Have a Big Mind, So I Can Keep Dreaming

I have a very big mind. I don’t know if you can quantify the size of a mind seeing as it is abstract. What I mean when I say I have a big mind is that it wanders. I have high ambitions for myself, and sometimes believe in them. I think I’m going to become an award-winning author, a Nobel prize receiving nutritionist (has that ever even happened?). I’m going to run marathons and go on to running ultra’s. I want to play instruments and dance like Darcey Bussell

I don’t just want to do all of this stuff. I strive to do it all. However, one obstacle keeps getting in my way. My mental health. I can be very disabling for me. Sometimes, when I am unwell, I can’t even cook or eat properly. I can’t wash. Going to the toilet feels like a chore. Understanding and depicting between reality and fantasy can be a challenge.

I think a lot. I use mindfulness to tame my thinking – and often my mind may be empty, and still I think a lot. I can switch off, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t want all of these things for myself, along with a fantastic relationship, and friends, and above all – learning to manage my mental health.

One thing I still struggle with a lot is knowing how much I can do. I often feel like I want every waking moment of my days to be achieving something – be that studying, learning, writing, reading, running, climbing, art. Perhaps I expect too much of myself. I’m not sure.

When I’m depressed though, something I always struggle with is my inability to do very much at all – and learning to reign in my ideals of how I want to live my life. Accepting the limitations placed on me by my illnesses is something I have not fully accepted. I have accepted it more than I could a few years ago: it is a process. At the same time, I don’t want to not live my life because of my illnesses. I don’t want to sell myself short. I think most people can relate to wanting to be the best version of themselves, and to wanting to live their life as the best version of themselves.

So accepting that I can only read a paragraph at a time, accepting that I can’t go out or leave the house, accepting that I can’t run 4 times a week because quite simply, I am too unwell is difficult to adapt to each time I get unwell. Unfortunately, for me, getting unwell is still a frequent part of my life and I wonder if ever I will be as well as I hope to be. I expected to be a fully functioning member of society with a brilliant job after being off work for 6 months. That was 6 years ago. Evidently, these hopes and desires didn’t quite pan out.

There are times when I wish I was someone else. There are more than numerous times when I wish I didn’t have my illnesses. In fact, I wish this most days that I’m affected negatively by them. I think that is natural, right? So here, on that point right there I need to do some more acceptance work. By that I don’t mean stop fighting and give in. By that I mean learn when to pull the reigns in and accept that for a period of time I probably can’t do everything I want to do or wish for.

The difficulty of this acceptance I think is compounded by the highs I experience. During these times, life is bloody wonderful and I’m functioning at 200%. I’m productive beyond measure, goal orientated like a world champion athlete chasing after an Olympic Gold. I’m talented. I’m brilliant. I’m capable of anything and everything I set myself to. This is called hypomania – and the part that gets me the most is the comparison.

When I am hypomanic, experiencing myself at 200% and loving it, producing grand plans and ideas of how I’m going to become successful in every sense of the word makes the contrast between this state and being so low I cannot leave my bed a more bitter pill to swallow – and in swallowing my meds, I am to an extent, forfeiting these periods of my best self.

Overall, I know it is worth it because I get severely depressed much more than I get hypomanic – yet the contrast of the, “but I’m so brilliant” during those times is a difficult price to pay for stability. Over the years I have refused medications and not taken my medication. Slowly I have learned that this is in fact the worst thing I can do because 90% I will go down, down, down. I have learned the importance of taking my meds, and the importance of self-care in terms of sleep hygiene, and keeping calm in my overall performance, because what is the use of functioning and being my best self at 200% for a few weeks once a year or so, compared to a functioning level between 60-70% for the majority of the time? It is an equation of better odds in longevity.

But I have a big mind and I despise not being capable. I despise not being independent 100% of the time. I resent the fact that I am resigned to not working full-time, perhaps ever. At times it eats me up inside that I may never reach my full best self due to my illness – and actively accepting that going to the shop for some milk and watching Netflix is as good as it’s going to get for a few weeks is a painful realisation to find yourself in when you have such a big mind.

I know that I need to tame my mind. I may not be able to be brilliant all the time, much to my disappointment – but I can be above good for most of the time when I’m well? Is that a fair price to pay for being 5% of myself, and totally disabled by my mental illness? No. I don’t think so. Is it reality though? Is that just how mental illness goes? Yes. I suppose it is. Do I want to accept that? Not at all. Do I need to accept that? Most definitely.

Many brilliant minds in the public eye are tortured by mental illness, yet they manage to be really quite remarkable. Stephen Fry. Ruby Wax. Catherine Zeta Jones. Demi Lovato. When I see how successful they are, I find myself thinking, why not me? There is an element of self belief required, but the truth is, these people are exceptions. Exceptional minds and personalities with mental illness. They do not represent the majority of people with mental illness. I think society forgets that and that help me to also forget that.

I see a lot of people where I live, and amongst the services and hospitals I’ve been to who experience severe mental illness, and for them, just living in supported accommodation or volunteering 4 hours a week is as good as it’s going to get. Yet I don’t see myself amongst that population. I don’t see myself as higher or better, but I see my mind as bigger. I don’t identify with the people in my living complex who spend all day every day staring into space smoking and drinking – I see myself in the Stephen Fry’s and the Demi Lovato’s: but I just can’t sustain my abilities at a high enough level – and that is something I suppose I need to learn to accept. That is something I need to learn to live with, without thinking I may as well kill myself at the same time. That is something I am sure many of us struggle with, mental illness or not.

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I just wish I could be my 200% for 100% of the time. I can dream. We all can. If I keep dreaming, and keep trying, it might become reality – until then, I need to reign in my expectations of myself again – and the heart wrenching reality of my illness hits me hard in the gut, in my soul, at my very core of what I consider to be my being. This is why I don’t work. This is why many people with mental illness don’t work and that’s OK – I just wish every person understood that without judgement. Maybe one day I too will work full-time, maybe I won’t.  Like I said though, I can dream right?

The Puzzle of Movement: Find Your Mind

Work On Your Mind

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It is your biggest barrier and your biggest tool to self realisation and achieving fitness goals is your mind. I’ve said it a few times and I’ll say it again, physical activity and incorporating it into your life can be just as much an emotional and mental challenge as it is physical. Sometimes, you may find yourself stopping mid activity because you think you can’t push any further.

Practice pushing your own self limitations and step a little out of your comfort zone. I challenge you, and see what happens. You may shock yourself. I have certainly shocked myself a number of times.

Find Something You Enjoy

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Don’t vow to run 4 times a week if the magic of running hasn’t struck you. I would encourage persevering for a month or two with any activity to see if it grows on  you, but if you’re really not feeling it, try something else. Try getting on your bike, or swimming a few lengths, or an exercise class – of which the variety just keeps on expanding.

Who knows what classes we’ll be attending in 5 years time like we’ve been needing it all our life. I don’t particularly like group exercise classes, so don’t really go or seek to go to them – but for others, they’re a staple to their weekly schedule. Dip your toes in many ponds before diving in completely, getting all the kit and making a plan that you won’t stick with because you’re not enjoying it.

Enjoy Yourself

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I’ll tell you a secret – you’re allowed to have a bloody good time whilst working out. You’re allowed to laugh, smile and make friends. All of which help in keeping activity as part of your routine and daily life. Have fun – some of the best times I’ve had, and the best people I have met has been via exercising, and not getting wasted in a club or pub a few times a week: conversely to popular belief.

Do It For a Reason You Believe In

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Sometimes we need a bit of external motivation. Getting up in the morning to run can be a challenge. Dragging your arse to your 6am gym class before a full work day can seem like the last thing you want to do when the alarm goes off at 5.30am, but people do it. Hundreds and thousands of people do it, and they do it regularly.

Maybe they have something that we snooze button pushers don’t have – and I think it is a purpose and belief in what they’re doing. It becomes a passion and something you couldn’t imagine not doing. Passing up a few more drinks past tipsy to get up in the morning and feel alive whilst doing sun salutations may seem a bit alien to you right now, but after a few months of reaping the benefit you may not be able to imagine starting your Monday mornings any other way.

Know Your Goals

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Know what you want from you activity, and reflect on whether you’re getting it – and how to adapt your schedule and habits until you’re getting exactly what you want out of it. When you do this, you’re more likely to stick with it because it becomes important to you, as important as eating every day and sleeping every night.

In my journey I found focusing my why and purpose of exercising beyond achieving a certain body aesthetic, or fitting into a certain clothes size. With these goals, if you achieve them it can feel a bit like “what next?” or you stop once your goal has been achieved and it’s not really become a part of your lifestyle and if you don’t achieve these set goals within a time frame, it can be very disheartening.

Instead, or as well, have a goal that is immeasurable. Are you seeing your friends through your activity? Are you de-stressing from the day and your worries? Are you trying to replace less healthy coping mechanisms? Are you training for an event to raise money for a cause you care for? Take time to notice the benefit you’re gaining. This seems to cement the “I will feel much better after a run” as a solid memory to recall during times of stress or moments of lacking motivation when running feels like that last thing you want to do – or tennis, or gymnastics, or swimming: whatever your activity of choice is.

A Today to Shape Tomorrow

Everything we do today shapes our tomorrow. I am trying to invest in creating my future for myself, and shaping it into a life I love and want to be an active part of. Creating such a life when living with the forever swinging moods of bipolar can be, ahem, challenging. Sometimes, my engagement factor is slacking, sometimes it’s an over-zealous lust for a life of irresponsible and whacky endeavours. Most of the time however, I just want to be partaking in what is important to me, to have and hold values that mean a lot to me, and to ultimately be the best person that I can be, living the best life that I can live.

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It is a sad fact that I have spent 8 out of the past 10 days hibernating from the world. Thus, I haven’t been engaging with my life as much as I would have liked to. I have to accept, this is going to happen. This is the nature of my obstacles. However, in an attempt to not be sucked into the vastness of my grumpy cat ways as of late, I have made an investment into managing, coping and creating a life I love. I bought a Daily Greatness Journal.

For this week, I am focusing on the evaluating phases and pages of the book, before embarking on my journey. This means writing a letter to my 2017 self, acknowledging my past achievements, embracing forgiveness in my current life in order to move forwards and goal setting. This all sounds dandy.

I started by writing my letter to my future self, explaining my disappointments and hang-ups of 2016 and how they have shaped my hopes, goals and dreams for the next 12 months. This was a surprisingly more difficult task than I initially imagined.



I set to work on the next page. The ultimate start of this journey titled, “Forgiveness sets you free”. Here, there is a page to forgive, let go and move on from anything I am currently holding resentment towards: be they people, things, events, circumstances. I brushed it off as a “fine, yeah sure. I can do that. I’ve done loads of forgiveness work already”…until I sat down to write it.

The page literally just stared at me as I stared at it – in some sort of resentment forgiveness duel stand off of which side holds the greater power. Both sides stood, equally dumbfounded by the other, equally unsure of how to approach the other before finally, they backed down slowly having decided that, this battle was not going to commence right here, or right now.


I am however, working through it in my mind – trying to figure out what exactly to write and how exactly I overcome and let go of such deep-rooted resentments, qualms and grudges that seep into the underworld of my consciousness tainting every aspect of my daily life.

I was prepared however, to feel potentially overwhelmed by a commitment so large and vast as improving my life on such a grand scheme when to be frank, I am engaging with very mood dependant behaviour. I am still living at the whim of life exhaustion, moods, temperament rages and adapting to change – the one of life’s constants that I consistently struggle with. So at the same time I made another investment into a Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Diary. This is a continuum of the therapy I will be ending in a month. I have been engaging with this therapy for 12 months now.

This is fine. I don’t particularly like going anyway – and will be quite glad to not have one day a week spent in the local hospital. However, having said that, for as much as I bitch and moan about DBT the fact is, that since I started I have managed to gain some form of control over many of my problematic behaviours. I have been admitted only twice this year, can count my A&E trips on one hand, have had no ambulance trips and 1 encounter withthe police. It still sounds dramatic, but this is a MASSIVE improvement on the previous years within which these incidences had become out of control. SO despite my disdain towards DBT I am inclined into thinking that some of the techniques and skills are effective in maintaining my freedom, liberty and autonomy over my life. Yay.

My yesterday shaped today. My today shapes tomorrow. Today I am going to engage with my DBT diary in order to maintain changes and try to improve my ability to manage the smaller big changes in my life – like laying the foundations if you like. In due time though, I will return to my Daily Greatness Journal in order to make the bigger changes in my life focusing on life goals, quality of life and building not only a life worth living, but a life I can fall in love with.

 

 

On Living Life With Mental Health Difficulties 

  
Sat outside smoking a rollie I got talking to another patient. I realised what I was saying I should listen to myself. You have to live your life. Mental health challenges or not, at the end of our days what is it we want to be remembering on our death beds- because the only inevitable about every life is birth and death. I want to be remembering my experiences and the things I did do rather than the things I didn’t. Despite how depressed I may be or get in the future I need to remember this. 

It’s not my time to go. I’ve tried to kill myself so many times and many times should have died, but the fact is I’m sat here writing this. I didn’t die. It wasn’t my time. In fact I’ll re-write that, it isn’t my time. I have a life to live. 

I need to get out there and do the things that have meaning to me in my life. For me, that’s writing. Poetry. I have a YouTube channel under the name of Monica Scripture. This for me is meaning. This is a purpose and maybe my calling. It may turn out in the future that it’s not but for now, in this moment and time in my life this is my calling and purpose. This is my vent. This is my voice. This is my way forward. 

I’ve just lost a relationship of 7 years to my mental health difficulties. In the past I’ve lost family, friends, university and my career. No more. This has to stop.

So what if my challenges are a sky scraper tall there is always going to be a way to the top whether it’s climbing a shit ton of stairs or climbing around the outside and improvising there’s going to be a way to the top and what the top is for me is going to be different to what the top is to you. It’s personal. For me the top may look like performing at a poetry slam whilst for you it could be getting a full time job and keeping it. 

My point is there’s a way and even if the time isn’t right now for some aspects of my life, there’s always the right time to try. So even though I’ve had to let my relationship go maybe now isn’t the right time for a relationship for me but that doesn’t mean I’m the future I won’t climb that mountain or sky scraper and never have a relationship again. It’s just that this one isn’t surviving my current mental health circumstances. I’d like to say that isn’t going to get in the way of true love but the fact is that it does and that is something I have to accept. 

Acceptance of our limitations and doing what we can with out difficulties in order to overcome our hurdles at different times in our lives. 

It’s ok. It’s going to be ok. I need to get out there and do what means something for myself. Live what I have of my life to the fullest I can achieve considering my circumstances. And that’s what we all need to do. So from having a rollie on a wall in a mood with another patient I’ve come to realise a lot of things.