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 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.

Songs of My Journey: 2012, The Sewing Days

Being unemployed was difficult for me. I’d always studied, and if I wasn’t studying I’d always worked. I was dismissed from my summer job in 2011, and I had tried to work. I’d found a job, but broke down each time I had to travel until the Dr’s unanimously advised, “don’t work. Not just yet”. I needed something to do. I needed a focus, because for me, life without a focus slowly loses meaning until I reach the point of “why stay alive?”

I could sew. I’d completed two years of a fashion textiles degree. So I began making clothing, and shirts, and a coat for myself. I was going to start an Etsy business, because that way I could work and be my own boss- so being unwell and having a crisis here and there wouldn’t affect my employment. I was living in la-la land, but at the time this served the purpose of providing an illusion of purpose to my life, my living, my breathing, my consuming the earths resources by having the cheek to stay alive in this state. So I would sew, and I would sew, and I would make patterns and practice new sewing skills. Looking back it’s probably a good job no-one bought any of my shirts because they’re more likely equivalent to a size 0 than the size 8-10 I marketed them as.

The the new Yann Tiersen album captured my imagination at this time, and I fell in love. There was something eery and magical about the Skyline album, which matched where I was in my life at the time.

Small Things Make A Life Worth Living

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When despair has consumed every molecule of hope that ever burned alight within you, when your entire energy sources have been drained and sucked absolutely of life, and when really, all you want is to throw yourself on the floor and spontaneously combust, dissipate or be engulfed by the world then keeping going can seem like the most hideous of tasks. It is at this point that even breathing is a chore. Sometimes you might cry upon waking up because, oh fucking hell, you’re still alive and breathing. That respite of 14 hours oversleeping wasn’t enough and you have to endure wakefulness for at least 6-8 hours is a moment where, quite literally, the whole world feels like it is crashing down on you, heavy, and hard.

Sometimes you’re numb, you’re switched off and the closest thing to “the living dead” that is humanely possible: a walking zombie, a corpse with circulation. For some, this is hard to bear and many feel like they may as well die because there is no quality of life in being half-dead: for me however, this is preferable and a manageable existence. Your eyes are empty, your face expressionless and anything that does pierce through the protective bubble of numbness is always a subdued experience, happiness included.

Then there are the times when the bubble is not so efficient at holding the world on a barge pole, held out at arms length, emotionally speaking. It is at these times that the world is an overwhelming invention of cruelty, an entire atmosphere of pure evil and potentially a sadist plot within which we are simulated by bigger forces. These are the times within which the, “If all you do today is just keep breathing, then you are still strong for making it through” mentality is a lifesaver.

When the mind is plagued with suicidal ideation and pervasive intrusions of images about death, suicide and homicide the notion of, “building a life worth living” can seem an impossible feat. Especially as, everything and anything you ever wanted from life has been another failed attempt at an achievement upon which you pinned so many values of hope, happiness and personal prosperity. For myself though, I did play a major role in setting myself up for failure. To a certain extent I was ‘doing it to myself’.

I wanted a fantastic career as a journalist in an impossible industry. I wanted to earn a good wage in an industry notorious for abusing internships for free labour. I needed to be not only good, but amongst the best: internationally recognised and respected. I needed to be the next Alexandra Shulman, the next Christa D’Souza, or at the very least, a Features Editor for an internationally respected publication in addition to an author of a successful book in academia and fiction as well. I needed to be amongst the best in my class, and amongst the best within my contacts. I needed the perfect relationships with the perfect children, in the perfect house. I had been told I could be anything I wanted to be. For me, being the literalist that I am took this whole-heartedly. I didn’t mind working hard to get there. I didn’t mind waiting tables to pay the bills, as long as I was on my way there. I would do anything, just to get myself there.

Then I got ill. Not only that, but even if I hadn’t become unwell, my expectations were somewhat unrealistic. I didn’t want fame, I needed my own personal success – and in doing so, ironically I failed, miserably.

The disappointment I can tell you hurt more than learning the true extent to my parents’ behaviours of deceit, lying and manipulation: and that hurt. The realisation that I would never be special for what I do made me question the point of living. You see, it sounds socially vain but this was everything. My career had been everything that had kept me alive and fighting through my teen years. The desperation to take control of my own life entirely had been the motivation to “keep breathing” through the heaves of vomit, the tears of exasperation and the loneliest hours of isolation and social inadequacies. It was in this false world and plans that I set myself up to fail – and the reality of what life is stole everything from me, including the will to live.

I had never had strong “family values” coming from a family with distant and weak bonds. I had seldom experienced friends who made life worth living in the long run. I had never had the security and happiness within myself that my home was a comfort and place within which existing was an enjoyable existence. I lacked all mindfulness, all insight into the present moment of living and true enjoyment in life in anything other than using my abilities to prove everyone who doubted me wrong and relish in the, fuck yeah I made it smugness. I am aware that this is no life. This was not a life worth living, yet when my already life not worth living was snatched away from my by the harsh realities of the world, I really and quite definitely had nothing to live for.

Throw in a dose of depression, an emotionally labile temperament and some very challenging mental illness’ to tackle – I had nothing left. Eventually though, I realised that building a life worth living wasn’t a shit hot job, being someone I’m not or being spectacular. Instead, when I was dragged to rock bottom kicking and screaming I had to find something more worth living for, something small, minute even. The tiniest things that keep people going, perhaps they could keep me going too.

It hit me when I was reading a book. I was half way through it. I really enjoyed the story for as emotionally involved as an emotionally cut off person can get. I wanted, no, I needed to know what happened in the end. Who was the real criminal in this crime thriller? Who had duped me? How was this romance going to end, happily ever after? How did they get there? What was the journey like? Not only did I need to finish my book, but also I have a list of 10 more I need to read before I die. I NEED to read them because I know they will bring me the enjoyment of literature, stories, and peeking into the lives of other’s in order to explore worlds I will never experience. It was then that I realised, reading could be something to live for. Reading could become a vital part of my “life worth living”. What about playing music? Learning something? The goals and enjoyment of learning new song son my saxophone became something I needed to stay alive for. What about running 10k? Yes, that is another thing I need to do. How about all those stupid moments with my significant other where we are running around the house being silly and laughing our heads off? That is part of my life worth living. What about that community project I became a part of? Helping people became another thing to live for, another part of my life worth living.

Do you see a difference? All of these fulfilments are profoundly personal. No one else sees, hears or necessarily knows about the books I’ve read, the songs I’ve learned or the dinner I helped to cook in the community project. Life remains complicated. That pit of despair still looms around me, a swirling whirlpool ready to suck me under and bash me amongst the waves of upheaval, morbidity and hopelessness. It still happens, but since my shift in focus it has been slightly easier to avoid any close calls with death. I am not living for anyone else. No-one else’s expectations of me are of as much importance as my own expectations of myself, which have been brought down to the ground.

So even though I may not be internationally magnificent, in the career I dreamt of as a 16 year old desperate to escape to a fantasy future worth living, or heading the features of any international publications I am, in my own way, carving a life worth living especially for me. That is what it means to build a life worth living for me in my journey: it was about focusing on the most miniature details of appreciation, satisfaction and personal successes. Even if for weeks on end, I “just breath”: when I can concentrate on my book again I will already be living a life worth living within that act alone. The possibility that one day I may lose my battle remains, however, the important point of focus is that as a result of the small things becoming the big things, I am more resilient than I once was – and that is a few gigantic steps towards winning. There is also the possibility that I will one day be an absolute winner as well.

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