How To Go About Getting Shit Done

It has been noticed and noted that having a routine is particularly helpful for me in terms of day to day functioning. Within that routine I have techniques that I used to get out of the house on time, to get out of the house at all and to get things done that need to be done, or I want to be done. They are methods and techniques I have quite frankly, made up, over the years. Very little of it is backed by any particular therapy I have completed, or any particular method that I know of being researched. I’ve just made it up via trial and error, and finally, I found some methods that work for me for now.

Since being away for just over a week, and having been away a few times over the summer break, I have fallen out of the routines and habits that have a sole purpose of getting shit done. My sense of routine has slipped, and this could spell the start of a downward spiral. Already I am finding myself not going out when I want to, not getting to places and getting a lot of fuck all done for a stretch of time. I am going to view this as an opportunity to re-install and maybe update my go to methods of made up-ness that get me by. 

It’s nothing major. I wouldn’t call it the begginning of an episode or anything like that. I am just currently out of sync. I just need to re-install these techniques and methods into my daily get go, switch myself off and reboot myself. The grand old ‘have you tried switching it off and on’ is basically me at the moment. 


The main initial hurdle is remembering what my techniques were. This may sound odd, but many of them were starting to become just how I do things and therefore requiring very little in terms of conscious thought. I haven’t even written most of them down, then again we all have our own ways right?

So I’m here, racking my brain for the, ‘how was I doing that before?’ answers, and the, ‘what was I doing and not doing?’. I have missed running crew due to scrolling social media right when I need to be leaving for example. It seems obvious to not do that when you need to leave the house, but it is something I need to constantly be aware of and reign in.

Hacks that involve not doing this kind of stuff are really what the following 10 ideas are about. The 10 methods listed are geared towards achieving a sense of contentment and purpose within my daily activities, and how to get myself to do stuff I want to do really, but maybe want to quit also because I’m tired, or anxious. So here goes:

  1. Don’t browse Facebook or any form of social media when I’m supposed to be doing stuff or getting ready to leave the house. Instead, browse when there really is nothing else to do: whilst travelling from a to b, or waiting for appointments, or avoiding social interactions for example.Keep social media for filler time, rather than I could and would rather be doing stuff time. Or the, I ought to be but I’m not kind of time.
  2. Leave too early for places rather than cutting it fine. You have 10 minutes for the train? Wait it out on the platform rather than from the comfort of your own home. That way, you won’t miss it and the 10 minutes waiting is still 10 minutes waiting. 
  3. Not feeling like doing your training run? Set a final time in your mind of when you will leave for your run. Plan a time and if you need to envision it slightly, do that too. Get out the house and just do it.If it really feels awful and today isn’t a running day you can cut it short. It is better to make this decision having tried rather than before any real effort has been made. That way you know you tried and haven’t given up or let yourself down without an effort.
  4. To Do lists on relatively empty days can fill them up with structure and achieve a sense of purpose from having done something. Include things you ought to do, i.e. chores, washing, dishes, and some things you want to do, i.e. reading, Playstation, Netflix. Really keep it varied between ought to’s and would like to’s.
  5. Check your Filofax in the evening, and plan the next morning if you need to. Also, keep it open and around because this is where you write everything you intended to remember, and you quickly forget when it isn’t open or to hand.It is basically my memory and planning all in one place, it’s a pretty useful tool to keep to hand.
  6. Meal planning.This makes sure you buy food you want to eat as well as making healthier choices. It also cuts the cost of food down, which is quite useful because then you have more pennies for the fun stuff, like the pub, or climbing or buying more stationary because, well… stationary.
  7. Rest when you need to rest. Push on when you need an extra kick to get on with things and learn to tell the difference between the two situations.
  8. Be mindful of your feelings so you can gauge how you are in general. Let emotions happen. Allow your feelings, the good and the bad.When you think your feelings are becoming disproportionate, take some time and space to gather yourself together again.
  9. Nap if you need to, and set an alarm to go off within 30-90 minutes depending on tiredness. Don’t exceed 90 minutes, and preferably keep it under 60 if you can. It is better to rest and refresh than to push on and crash, or risk mood instability due to tiredness.
  10. Be compassionate with yourself. It’s OK to go slowly. It’s OK to stop and rest. Be kind to yourself and others. Don’t quit. Keep on plodding, no matter how slowly, towards spending time doing the things you want to spend time doing, whether that’s studying, reading, learning music, being creative, making crafts, spending time with others.Whatever makes you feel whole and fulfilled is a worthwhile way to spend your time, even if that means watching TV or making art no one else will see. Recharge and be true to yourself.

Most of all, an overarching consideration is who are you doing it all for? Do it for yourself. Do it to feel good within yourself and about yourself. Aim to please yourself first and foremost. If you’re doing it entirely for the sake of others and it’s draining or taxing for you, or you’re not getting anything from doing that whatever it is for someone else, then stop. The most important opinion of you that matters is your own.


I realise I have veered from first person but writing to myself from myself in this way will hopefully provide me with a list of instructions to refer to as I build my stamina for doing things effectively again. Fortunately, once I am back from Berlin there are no more trips in the foreseeable future, and I’m going to keep it that way. 

 

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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.

Madness: A Bipolar Life – Book Review

Marya Hornbacher is known for her gripping memoir Wasted, about her experience with anorexia. I read this as a teenager whilst I was unwell. It was amazing; she’s an incredible writer at telling her story of and through mental illness. Although our experiences were very different, at the time I felt she captured how my mind was working in relation to food. She was the first person who’s writing I read that really resonated with me. She got it, she really got it. During this time I read a number of eating disorder related books as the obsession becomes entrenched into every aspect of your life and nothing else is of interest, programmes, channels, websites, books, journals, academic books; all of it becomes much more interesting than spending any time with anyone else or doing normal teenage things. My tutor described me as an oddball when he asked what I’d done over the summer and I told him I just read all summer and didn’t see anyone. I was 17 so I accepted his comment and took no offence because it is a slightly odd way to send your summer holiday at 17.

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Hornbacher’s Madness: A Bipolar Life, a memoir of living with bipolar spoke to me, again 10 years later. At 16 when I read Wasted I never realised our illnesses would remain in a similar vein. She spoke about her experiences from childhood to learning how to manage her bipolar illness in adult life, including a good period of reluctance to accept her illness, comply with treatment and trying to deny anything much was wrong whilst conveying very deeply how very much was wrong. How very much she felt different and how bipolar disorder although known as a mood disorder is not simply about moods alone.

By exploring the cognitive aspects of the illness: forgetfulness, memory loss, psychosis and winding up in hospital to only realise a while into the admission that she’s there at all. Again, through writing about her experiences her experience resonated deeply within me. I am quite sure I am not the only one, her account is so accurate and profoundly detailed. Our stories are very different and our illness takes different forms at times: as is the nature of any mental illness despite having similar diagnoses. Having said that, whilst reading on my kindle I found myself highlighting paragraphs and pages of “Yes. That! Exactly that!” moments.

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It made it clear to me how much I didn’t understand my illness as much as I thought I did. It also encouragingly gave me the hope that my current stay well approach plan, which has been shaped through many years of successes and failures, is going in the right direction for the lifestyle changes recommended for those living with bipolar.

The book provided me with relief of reading someone else’s story that I could relate to, comfort in knowing many of the strategies I’ve started incorporating are on the right direction of track and sorrow that we have to live through and experience this illness at all: and how much of our lives we lose to being unwell, seeking the right treatment and trying to figure out what and how to manage living some form of purposeful life with bipolar.

It’s such a multifaceted battle that when you initially get a diagnosis it seems pretty easy and straight forward. Take some meds and you’ll be fine. Sometimes because of the information about coming off meds for other illnesses you simply come off your meds when your feeling better. Learning and realising that this isn’t the case, the hard way can take years upon years and lengthen the amount of time that it takes – which is already extensive – of finding the right combination of medication.

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It’s only when it gets to a certain point of illness that you start to resign from life a little and accept your disability. It takes a long time to accept that you can’t when you previously could, that you might not be able to like you’d previously dreamed, or that you have to put so much extra effort into functioning and getting through your days and life than – what feels like – everyone around you.

Yes people manage to work full-time and live very purposeful and successful lives with bipolar. This perpetuates the illusion that it’ll be just fine within a few months of diagnosis. For some I suppose it might be. For others, which is often not posted on self-help media and information online because it sounds a bit bleak, it might not. The key is to be realistic with people about how much they need to twist and turn and bend over backwards to accommodate their illness. She’s not going anywhere and you really need to walk on eggshells and twist like a contortionist to make your life work in a way you would like whilst working with and alongside your bipolar.

The temptation and automatic reflex to self medicate in some way can make things more complicated: drugs, alcohol, sex, food are all eligible candidates for self medication that significantly complicate the journey through illness to management. Pushing home the importance of taking your meds religiously as prescribed even if you feel well or good, and to avoid the temptation of letting a hypomania early signs become a hypomania or full manic episode can be difficult. This aspect of self-care with bipolar takes a lot of self-discipline because who doesn’t want to be achieving and having fun 24/7 with boundless energy to be the perfect super human being who can achieve all and encompasses almighty greatness above everyone else around them? Who doesn’t like feeling like that? It’s an illness filled with many steep learning curves, many great troughs that follow the epic highs that quickly become more menacing than exciting.

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In my opinion it takes a number of mistakes, fuck ups and slips to learn this lesson and that although far less exciting, balance really is the goal, and balance doesn’t include highs of grandiosity, marathons of achieving from hours of energetic and directive goal achieving.  It takes learning to forgo the excitement and euphoria of the start of a manic episode in order to avoid the devastation, chaotic destruction and yet alluring manic episode. Winding up in hospital bounding around the ward is not a good place to be, even if you’re still enjoying yourself and your ability to achieve with your goal directed exertion is stripped away from you. You are in there bare, on forced rest by sedative medications and IM injections when you become the embodiment of the untamable beast that bipolar can become.

Remembering the patches of these memories – because solid memories don’t seem to form during this time – enough times will eventually teach the lesson of balance, staying out of hospital, and really taking self management seriously whilst respecting your new lesser limits as a result of your illness.

The frustration and anger are very real. The hurt that you won’t be the amazing person you were destined to be cuts deep. Knowing that you might not even be able to pass as normal with a regular full-time job when it feels like everyone else is managing just fine is upsetting. Not only will you not be magnificent, or great even, you may remain someone disabled by your condition no matter how much effort and time you put into following the prescribed lifestyle guidelines of living with bipolar.

The reality of living with bipolar disorders has the potential to be bleak. It also has the potential to be a life changing illness through which you learn a lot about the mind, yourself, and people. Bipolar can turn you into the biggest grandiose asshole and a very sympathetic friend to lean on because you ‘get it’. Bipolar can turn your life upside down and in the words of Daredevil, ‘no one can give you your life back. You have to take it back’. This entails a lot of learning, a lot of self exploration, a lot of ups and downs, naturally, and a lot of damaged relationships. It can be ok though. It can and often does get better. Hornbacher’s memoir takes you on this journey in 300 or so pages, and it’s an accomplished and succinct tale of her journey that I am sure, resonates deeply with many who live with bipolar.

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.

Meeting The Forgotten Me 

I have noticed something new about myself lately. It is something I remember noticing as a teenager during a good patch and had since forgotten about. When at 17 I sat in my sunken sponge chair opposite my therapist I shared my revelation, “I have started thinking?” She was the only constant figure during my teen years that I could rely on to make me feel secure, safe and validated, “what do you mean?””I have thoughts. I have realised I’ve started thinking, having time and having energy to think about stuff other than food, calories, weight, bingeing and purging. I think again. I can think”


It was new territory for me. I had forgotten about this and the significance of it until just the other day when I realised again, that for the first time in a long time I’ve been thinking. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking for the past decade, it means that I have been less pre-occupied with trying to function, trying to organise my self whilst navigating the disarray of my mind, my symptoms and mood swings. Dare I say it but I think my current dosage of medication may be working. I am able to get up each morning, shower, dress, eat and move without it occupying too much thought or energy. I am more able than I have been in a long time. 

No longer am I a puzzle to be solved, a life that needs immense management in order to get anything done or maintenance semblance of control. I am by no means solved, my illness by no means cured. I am just more functional than I have been. With this saved energy from just barely functioning and surviving I have time, energy and room in my mind to actually think on a broader spectrum than before. I am now capable of thinking beyond my anxieties and hinderences. I can think beyond myself and managing myself in my immediate existence. 


I have noticed a curiosity to know beyond me and solving the complex puzzle my mind presents to me. I have lists of goals, activities, questions I want to research the answers to. I am not exhausted by just breathing and existing. I have energy, concentration and an urge to know more than I do. I want to learn the ukelele more and the saxophone. I want to read through a list of books I’ve been meaning to read for years. I want to develop my german beyond my age old GCSE and I want to know about the stars and galaxies. I want to research about nutrition, science and medicine beyond the bare minimum that my degree necessitates: what are the effects of dietary supplements on epilepsy? How does the ketone diet work for epilepsy? How exactly and why do psychiatric medications affect metabolism? How exactly does diet affect mental health? Which components affect what? What are the different star constellations? How is food used as medicine? Does a higher concentration of salt in sea water make me float more? And so on. 

I wonder. The curiosity of my mind has returned and once again, for the first time since I can remember I am thinking, asking questions and have a thirst for knowledge. This is me. I feel like I am becoming more me. Not the crazy long term mental health patient me. Not the bulimic me or the anorexic me. Not the over the top me or the distant dissociated me. Not the emotionally unstable me consumed by moodiness/euphoria or that sadness that people may think of when they think of me, depending on at which stage of mood swing that we met. 

The real me. The striving for something with a purpose me. The passion to know and share what I know me. The sometimes creative and always curious me. The me of ideas to write about for hours at a time and the concentration and thought organisation to do so. This is the real me. This is the me I know, knew before, the me that very few others know. This is the me I lost and forgot to being unwell and at mercy to my symptoms and their toll on my life. 

I had lost myself so much that I no longer noticed that I wasn’t me. I have had identity disturbance whacked on my list of symptoms in assessments. Is it really any surprise? I had forgotten that it was possible to think beyond myself in this way. It seems terribly self obsessed but being tyrannized to such violent symptoms of mental illness and mood swings that you’re entirely disabled in living any form of life resembling almost normal even is absorbing. Getting up and doing shit on a daily basis can be overwhelming and for a while you know it’s not normal, it is easy to forget normal. People say there is no ‘normal’ but there definitely is ‘abnormal’. 

Feeling abnormal in every aspect of your life and being incapable as a result leads to either a loss of hope in surrendering to it, or an all absorbing fight to at least stop being quite as abnormal. I’ve made a lot of changes in my life in an attempt to get better and I still haven’t felt ‘right’ for a very long time. I started exercising and returned to studying during this attempt to fit back into society in some way. I wasn’t convinced I could find a place to slot into the world so I started to chisel and carve a way to make myself fit into the world in a space  I made for myself. I achieved a few things during this time but achieving them and managing still felt like a ridiculous amount of mental effort. 

I had even forgotten that my normal was considered abnormal until visitors on the ward I was on last month were looking around wide eyed at this environment they had never witnessed before. I remembered the first time I stepped on to the same ward – it hasn’t changed in 7 years – and realised that my normal was still abnormal, and not in a good way. I’ve been confronted about normalising my illness and experience, of downplaying it as being normal when really some of my experiences are very abnormal and stressful for others. I forget. I haven’t known anything much else for a long time. 

The difference is that I am technically not doing anything different. I havent made any drastic changes to my approach and techniques for getting through the day. The difference I am experiencing feels beyond behaviour change; I think it is the medication increase. I think for as many issues the medication can and does cause – I am willing to pay a hefty price for the ability to think, do and function better than I have done in years, if not ever. 


I am starting to re-realise who and what I am. I am getting to know myself again, the real me: the me who thinks, the me who writes and reads, the curious me. I am not sure exactly how long I’ve been gone for but I know it’s felt like an absolute age and definitely too long. I think I might be back and I like what it feels like to be me again, the real me. 

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.

stacey walking

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.

gorropusign

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.

canyon

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.

dragonfly

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.

IMG_0745

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.