It’s shocking, but it’s not. I found it refreshing to see that the BBC has posted that the primary reason for days off work is due to a mental health concern. One in three sick notes written by a doctor is for depression, anxiety, stress, or whatever other internal crisis many of us are dealing with. Yet it’s still taboo to talk about it, let alone even think of calling in with one of these ‘invisible’ ailments when you need time off work. Things have got to change.

I was sat at my desk yesterday chatting to two of my closest coworkers about said statistic. One of them asked, ‘OK, so do you think it’s because mental health issues are increasing or that we’re simply becoming more aware of our mental health?’ It was a great question, but I only pondered it for a mere moment before feeling an overwhelming sensation that my belief was with the former. We are designing our society in a way that hinders – not helps – us mentally.

We’re becoming more urbanised, This means cramming more people into concrete jungles and, ironically, not placing emphasis on the importance of community. We all work too much for too little satisfaction. We return to our homes too tired to do the things that we genuinely want to do. Then we wake up the next day and do it all over again. We complain we have no time for all the things we’d like to do. But we’re constantly distracted by our smartphones.

When we create the image that those doing overtime in their corporate jobs are ‘heroes’ and something to aspire to, we’ve got a problem. In my opinion, someone who isn’t able to be strong enough to draw a line, close the books and turn off the PC for the day isn’t an inspiration. They aren’t a role model to look up to.

If there’s a collective thinking that taking time off or learning to call it a day when it strikes 5pm (or whenever your work hours finish) means you’ll fall behind, there’s momentum created in a negative direction. It’s a sure-fire way to a downward spiral of much unhappiness. You feel unfulfilled from not making the time to do those things that truly satisfy you. There’s the stress of feeling like you simply can’t keep up. And no matter how much you try to suppress the anxiety that is seeping out of your pores, it will catch up with you in the end.

Over the years, I’ve seen co-workers give themselves all kinds of skin conditions, auto-immune diseases and panic attacks from working themselves to the bone. And for what? If you’re too sick to do the things you want to do, you’re living (albeit barely) to work. And if your job does not fulfill you, what then?

This is what we’ve got to start realising; we are only human. And we operate best when we are at equilibrium. Some hard work will always be required. If it’s in a field you’re passionate about, even better. But there is always some give and take. You can’t apply an excess of pressure in one part of your life and expect not to suffer in another. Balance.

The topic I always return to is that of social media. I find it so useful to connect with inspirational people. I find it useful as an extension of my voice in living a more ethical and conscious lifestyle. But it also serves as a great distraction and sometimes, demon. Through social media platforms, our lives are able to become much larger; reach much wider and the result is constant reminders of all the things that we don’t have and aren’t doing. It can be a really quick way to undo any gratitude practices, looking at a synthetic life created by someone else and believing it to be real and much better than your own.

I’ve decided to take a break for the month of September. This post will link to some of my platforms where you might be reading this from, but be sure to leave me a comment at the bottom of this post rather than on Facebook or Twitter if you want to discuss anything as I won’t be checking those.

For the entire year of 2017 I’ve been and am continuing to do a different ‘wellness’ challenge each month. As a blogger, social media is part of the deal. It’s an incredible way to connect to people with similar values and also influence others to make small changes for the better. But I couldn’t not do this. I’m genuinely really excited to see what I notice/learn by the end of the month.

My mental health is always on knife-edge. I have a depressive streak, suffer from SAD and have to combat suicidal thoughts from time to time. This is partly genetic, partly situational, partly from PTSD. For the entire year of 2016 I was at crisis-point and yet 95% of people in my life would never have guessed and didn’t know a thing. This is because it’s so much more difficult to talk about mental health and it makes people uncomfortable.

In the corporate, politically-correct, ‘must have a brave face’ society of the UK at present, there is no time for negativity. It’s simply, ‘well, love, pick yourself up and get on with it.’ I stick two fingers up to that, quite frankly, and say actually, what if we all prioritised our happiness? Don’t you think things might be a bit better and we wouldn’t have quite an armpit of a nation and political system?

Employers don’t have productive workforces because their employees simply can’t cope. Their stress is not always work-related, but we’re a nation of people plagued with ill mental health. Too much urban living, not enough time outside and in communities was always bound to fail. What will it take for things to change I wonder?

Photo via Unsplash

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Chris Cornell

Depression does not discriminate based on gender or race or occupation or how much money is in the bank. Depression is not restricted to the homeless, the poor, the gay, the divorced, or any other label that is frequently bestowed upon us by society in a derogatory fashion. It can strike any of us at any time. And when it does, it knocks us for six. It’s just as paralysing as any broken limb or virus, only its worse. Why is it worse? Because no one sees it but you. No one feels the pain you’re going through, but you. And society won’t cut you slack even for a minute. Doesn’t that tell you that we’re doing things wrong? Doesn’t that tell you that we need to fight for change?

Chris Cornell’s recent and heart-breaking suicide was one of many that sweep our globe every year. It was a death of desperation. In his final moments, we will never know if he was sick of the pressing numbness or the crushing pain, but my guess is that he was in limbo between the two. He was a voice of reason and understanding to millions, but entirely alone all at the same time, when it mattered most.

I may not be famous, but I know a thing or two about living my days seeing no way out other than through death’s door. I suffered with depression for almost 3 years and it was crippling. But like anyone that made it out the other side, I feel a responsibility at my core to fight for an ecosystem – a society – that helps those who can’t yet help themselves.

If you’ve never been depressed, you are incredibly lucky and I hope from the bottom of my heart that you never have to experience it. But it will also make my job more difficult as I try to explain to you what it feels like. The best way I can describe it is that depression is a bit like lying in the fetal position under the surface of a murky swamp. You are paralysed and can see through the turbid water that there’s some sort of party happening over at the end of the jetty on the water’s edge. It looks like people are having fun, although you can’t see very clearly with the layer of scum above your head. You can’t move. You can’t feel what the party-people are feeling. You’re simply stuck beneath the surface trying every moment to find a way to breathe so you don’t drown. You’re simultaneously hoping that you do drown. You toy with the idea that you do. If the dark depths of the swamp can envelope you, they can put you out of your misery once and for all.

You see, depression is this combination of so desperately wanting happiness, whilst having not the faintest idea of how to get it. But it’s worse; there’s not an ounce of drive or determination within your bones to try to figure out how to get it. You are essentially trapped and stagnant and suffering in the hopelessness of it all. And the worst thing about it? Living in a society that gives no time or help to anyone in the pond. God forbid we even utter the D word for the fear of causing any kind of uncomfortable reaction in others. God forbid.

Depression

Cornell hanged himself hours after playing a show to fans and this is what shocked us most. How could we not have seen it coming? Only, this is the problem. Depression causes dissociation. Deep pain hurts us. And our need to survive means that we do what we can to cope with that pain. Talking about it is the difficult thing to do. So instead, we compartmentalise it. We let the pain become buried somewhere so deep within us that the outside world doesn’t even know it’s there. We keep doing life; we go to work, we run errands, we pay bills, but flashes – or ‘triggers’ – take us back to that pain. And they become more and more frequent and jolting until we can’t cope with them anymore. When desperation strikes and we feel that powerless, it’s too overwhelming and impossible to see any way of things working out for the better. It’s much easier to put an end to it all.

So the truth is that no one could see this coming, except him. And maybe not even him. Perhaps that last show caused tipping point. We’ll never know. And the fact that there are whisperings of his decision as being selfish infuriates me. Being in a state of depression is one of ultimate self-loathing. We don’t see any worth in ourselves, any point of us continuing to do life. We feel desperately isolated and alone and suicide is a way of putting the pain to bed for good.

I am thankful that my body, the universe, or whatever else pushed me to seek therapy as a form of coping with depression. My belief is that being listened to  – even if the therapist doesn’t offer practical solutions – is the best cure for depression. We are in this current society where everyone is the CEO of their own lives. Everyone wants to feel important and put themselves first and in truth it’s a lonely collective. Loneliness is a plague that has infiltrated every corner of the planet. Our lives revolve around relationships and we seem to have forgotten this somewhere along the way. Without connection and genuine, loving, relationships, there is no point in life. That’s the absolute truth. You can have all the riches of the world, but without someone to share it with, they’re worthless. So why aren’t we listening to and supporting each other?

Obviously I can’t speak for the world, but I can speak for England. We have created this disgusting, unconscious society that has its priorities totally out of whack. And the United States was the same when I lived there and it’s only getting worse. What the fuck are we doing? We are intelligent, incredibly creative, wonderful creatures that have enormous, complicated brains. If their health isn’t up to scratch, everything else suffers negative consequences in a direct chain reaction. We’re telling our children that their priority is to get good grades, rather than to be kind to one other. We’re telling our graduates that their priority is to get a well-paid job, not to use their skills to improve society. And we keep letting the wrong kinds of people run our country, feed us lies and make decisions that mean our certain failure.

We are the people of this planet and we’re unhappy and suffering in silence. If we don’t prioritise our wellbeing, there is absolutely no point in spending time or resources on any other embellishment. If our people can’t function, can’t communicate or trust in one another or be free to flourish and express themselves, what good are we? When I was depressed, I ate, work and slept. I was a robot, though one much less efficient than an artificial alternative would have been. The magnificent thing about being human is that we can feel and we appreciate beauty and we create. Those of us who are struggling with our mental health cannot do those things. The pain is just too much. So it’s really quite simple: fight for a society where putting our health first is prioritised. Privatising our health care system is going to do the exact opposite of that. And that is what a Conservative government believes in. If you vote Conservative, you are voting to give aid to those that don’t need help and disregarding the millions that do. Think about it.

Vote

I know you feel small and unimportant, but the truth is that you are a human being and citizen of this country just like anyone else who has a fancier title or bigger house or more notes in their wallet. You count just as much as they do. And your talents should be harnessed, because you are full of them in ways that no one else will ever have. I can’t tell you who to vote for, but I can encourage you to fight for our mental health. We need empathy and compassion now, more than ever. I’ll be voting for Jeremy Corbyn because his belief is to give a voice and distribute resources to those who need it most. If we support all our people, we can create a healthier society. With a healthier society comes a happier society. And with a happier society comes more beauty and creativity and love.

If you haven’t registered to vote already, it takes less than 5 minutes and can be done here. You’ve only got until May 22nd, so do it now. Don’t wait.

If you’re feeling like shit and want someone to talk to, reach out to someone you trust right now and tell them how you feel. If you feel like you don’t have anyone and feel desperate, call the Samaritans now. There are kind, loving souls who want to help you get better. Long term, I highly recommend psychotherapy. It changed my life and it can change yours too. Facing your demons is the hardest thing you can ever do, but it makes space for healing and happiness.

I also have a piece going up on Peaceful Dumpling on Monday 22nd all about perspective on depression and some different ways of thinking about things that helped me immensely in my journey. Take a look over on there on Monday, or have a look on my Facebook or Twitter where I’ll post it when it’s live.

Chris Cornell, you beauty, I am one of millions that is heart-broken to see you go. I’m sorry you felt like you had no way out. We all wish we could have been there to love you and give you kind words of strength when you needed them most. But I hope that out of your death comes a rise in support to those also suffering in silence. May we start looking after our people and help them when they need it, rather than turn them away. May we stop treating depression like it’s ‘just a bad day’ and start taking it seriously. And may you spend the rest of your days full of peace and joy with all the other greats that we’ve lost that were symptoms of a sick society.

Photo via Telegraph , Unsplash and Sphynx

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Say no to stress

There are two common questions that comes up in the interview rooms of the corporate world:

  1. “Can you please tell us how you deal with high pressure situations?”
  2. “How do you deal with stress?”

The employer is essentially wanting to know that you won’t freak out at the busiest of times. They’ll often want your answer supported by an example so you can prove to them that you’ve got this down. They want to know that you’re reliable. They want to know that you’ll put them first. Job comes before wellbeing in this establishment.

Now, it depends entirely on the job you’re going for and how much wiggle room there is between selling your soul and being able to be honest with them. But essentially, being able to handle lots of stress is not only a lie – no human is capable of it for extended periods of time – but it’s about time that we start changing the opinion that being able to work in stressful conditions is a good thing. The creative community understands this. The corporate world does not. In the corporate world, workers are akin to robots. They are expected to dress in a stiff, uncomfortable manner, behave themselves, suppress too heightened an emotion of any persuasion and scrap the work/life balance thing.

But because the world is run by corporations, this ideology seeps through society. Look around and you’ll find that we’re all just so damn busy, aren’t we? Can you honestly tell me you haven’t had at least one encounter with somebody in the past week where they haven’t spewed, “I’ve been so busy!” at least once? I sure can’t. It comes up on the daily. Busy is good, if you’re working passionately and with enthusiasm. But that’s never how it comes across, is it? It’s more of a cover-up for, “I’m exhauted!” The two aren’t synonymous. Productive is good. Overworked is bad. For the latter, stress results.

Stress does revolting things to us. From physical symptoms like hair loss and acne to mental effects like insomnia and depression, stress is the result of having too much to do in too little time, or from the emotional strain of having to endure things that you simply don’t want to do. Stress comes from feeling like you have to parent your two children yourself because your partner cannot be bothered to help. Stress comes from working a job with a boss who is incapable of understanding your needs.  Stress comes when you place yourself in situations that you do not want to be in.

But there’s something else to add into the mix here. We’re all too busy and we’re all too stressed, but there’s still this element of pride that comes up in those describing their lives in this way. I know! Harvard released findings from a study that showed ‘Humblebragging’ is the new thing. Yes, humblebragging. Go figure. So what that means is that when you talk about how busy you are, you are secretly wanting others to know how sought-after you are. Something in demand is considered desirable. Just like diamonds. So, apparently the trend now shows us that humblebragging is considered the thing that ‘successful’ people are doing! I just don’t even know what to do with this one.

stress

If you’ve felt stressed yourself (which I feel like 99% of people reading this will admit to), or if you’ve witnessed a loved one or colleague enduring stress, you know that simply no good can come from it. Zilch. The goal must not be to simply get on with it when we’re feeling stressed. No, the goal must be to tailor our lives in a way that is stress-reducing. SAY NO! Say no to being given too much work. Say no to social events that drain you. Say no to cleaning up after your housemates because they just can’t be bothered to do it themselves.

There are two ways to reduce stress:

  1. Plan ahead. It’s no secret that upping your organisation will help immensely in more ways than one. It comes up all the time in my personal journey of trying to live a low-waste lifestyle. If I plan ahead and take things with me, I don’t put myself in situations where I get stressed by being left with no options. Schedule, pack, plan. Explore those areas of your life where you can make things easier for the future you.
  2. Say no. Don’t feel obligated to do things that you don’t want to do. Life is way too short for that. Do what makes you happy and you’ll have no reason to feel stressed.

So, the next time you have an interview and are asked one of the aforementioned questions, tell them that you don’t believe stress is good for you and you choose not to get yourself in those situations in the first place. See their surprise. And then actually go and do that.

Got any stress-busters you’d like to share? Do please let me know!

Photo via Sphynx and Unsplash

 

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I was lucky enough to spend this past weekend at the London Wellbeing Festival. My thoughts on last year’s event can be found here. This was an important weekend for me, because while yes, I was looking forward to the actual workshops and pottering around the stalls, this marked a year since I had a total breakdown. I was curious how I would feel being in the Olympia Centre once more, but with an entirely different head on my shoulders this time. Would it trigger me, or offer relief?

2016 was one of the most difficult years of my life thus far (apart from 2006 which was also terrible…what is it about the ‘6’?!) and whilst I took a lot away from last year’s event, I truly did just float around totally disengaged. Eventually I made it back to Bristol and things just got worse. And worse. And worse.

But eventually, after months of therapy – and honestly I think a miracle – I woke up just fine one sunny morning earlier this year. Fine. Without a fluctuating numbness or anxiety, I woke up feeling normal. For over a year I’d woken up every single day with this kind of thick fog. This dullness. Nothing was inspiring, warm, or light. Everything was hard work and I could not see a point to any of it. But I told myself that eventually, somehow, it would get better. And it did.

I can’t tell you if it was the therapy, cutting caffeine out, or the result of a prayer that someone made for me in a time of desperation. But life works in mysterious ways and for whatever reason, I managed to get out of my funk.

London Wellbeing

Returning to the Wellbeing Festival in 2017 was an important milestone for me. Last year, I was acutely aware of what felt like crowds of mentally-unstable, self-help junkies. I felt overwhelmed by all these desperate people wanting help from whatever workshop they were attending. I felt claustrophobic and small. But interestingly, this year I didn’t see any of that. Instead, I saw like-minded, warm, kind, self-aware individuals there for connection, self-growth and improvement. The word projection comes to mind as I realise that what I was seeing both years was a direct reflection of my mental state at the time. When you feel cold, all you can see is frost. When you feel warm and complete, you see the good.

I spent my time at the festival realising that I’m really not introverted; I’ve just been spending my time with all the wrong people. And that’s a very powerful realisation to come to. My final workshop of the day with the incredible Sarah Rozenthuler proved just that. It was a workshop titled, ‘Living Your Heart’s Desire’ and used some key principles and partner work to help gain perspective on the difference between your inherited purpose, believed purpose and soul purpose. It was eye-opening and inspiring and the beautiful connections between strangers was something I’ll forever cherish deeply. We were a group of women of all ages and backgrounds who all understood the fire in each other’s bellies and the calling for a creative life. It didn’t matter that we’d only just met. We were all on the same wavelength and it’s in those situations that magic happens.

At times like these, I am reminded of my favourite quote by C.S. Lewis: “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but looking back everything is different?” A milestone such as an annual festival or event can be that solid, external indicator of how well you’re doing and how far you’ve come. If you need that extra push to remind yourself of your progress, use it.

London, for all its madness, did not strike me as a hostile place this year. I instead chose to see the colours on the walls and the dynamic melting pot of people and realised that this time round it made me feel alive.

 

 

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perspective

I’m back! After the better part of a month away from Sphynx, I’ve returned with some much needed perspective.

My last post – looking at it retrospectively now – was a haunting way to leave the blog. I had essentially reached a point in the centre of a vacuum and simply needed to get myself out.

The problems all stemmed from trying to navigate cyberspace and feeling that I was using social media in a way that didn’t feel good. That term actually began to spark a low concentration of vomit, gurgling just below the surface. That’s how sick I was of talking about it. But that’s only because I resisted it. Something about it made me visualise an army that I was trying to fend off all by myself. Something about it felt oh so invasive and destructive and warrented my tactics of protection.

All I needed was a break. It’s been a break to gain perspective, as I say. It’s been a time to go about life in the way that feels best to me – most natural to me.

A most unfortunate side effect of using social media – at least to me – is the pressure placed on oneself to be the very best at whatever it is one is trying to achieve. It’s the constant comparisons we draw and the subsequent feeling of lack. At the touch of a button we can see into the lives (albeit the strategically captured lives) of people all around the world, seemingly living the dream in a way that we may not feel we are. This of course sparks feelings of sadness, moments of questioning self-worth and worst of all, a total lack of appreciation for what’s right in front of us. For me, it took looking at real life – not that behind a screen – to bask in the feeling of good fortune.

Make your life small again and your focus is then limited. You’re not seeing millions of peoples’ lives, all around the globe. You’re only seeing your own and the lives of the people you know in your physical existence. It’s a bit like choice: if it’s chocolate or vanilla, chances are you’ll make an instant decision. If there are 100 flavours to choose from, you’ll spend minutes agonising over which to select. Less background noise can make us focus on what’s real and what our choices are in the here and now. Overwhelming possibility doesn’t always feel good as it can emphasise how far away we are from what we might want. If we don’t have that dangled in front of us, our focus is brought back to reality.

Perspective. It’s so important to pause and get it back again. However you need to do it, make sure you make that move. It’s for your own success.


Photo via Unsplash

 

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