A Pause to Gain Perspective

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

 

Save

Save

7 Ways to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

October is right around the corner, and with it comes darker evenings and the calling for coats and scarves.

I get excited about all this initially. The weather turns and the leaves take on that familiar crispiness. The windows are steamed up in the morning. The trees in the park delight the eyes with their array of gold and red shades. There is the anticipation of all the holidays coming up in the season. Autumn.

But for someone like myself who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), there is a flipside to all the gorgeousness of fall. It tends to crop up in November when there’s been a week of constant rain. It then settles in for the long haul, not removing itself until Spring.

So what to do about it all? How does on conquer SAD? This is a list for myself, primarily, as I prepare for the winter ahead, but I also hope this can help you. Perhaps you’re a SAD sufferer looking for tips. Perhaps you don’t even know what SAD is, but are wondering why you feel so miserable every winter. I’m here to talk you through it.

The NHS describes SAD as a depression brought about by the change in seasons. It is caused predominantly by a decrease in daylight and subsequent increase in melatonin production (the hormone that makes you feel sleepy). As with any depression, the effects can vary enormously from one person to the next. The most common symptoms include low mood, loss of interest in hobbies and a social life, cravings for carb-heavy foods and general feeling of lethargy.

I blame the severity of my SAD on the fact that I grew up in hot places.  Perhaps that’s the case. Perhaps it’s because mental illness runs in the family. I’m not really sure that it matters. How I deal with it is what makes all the difference.

How to Deal

  1. Realise that it’s an actual thing. It’s actually really relieving to give your brain a reason for why it’s feeling so low. Reassure yourself that it’s because you’ve got less daylight and your circadian rhythms are a little off. Don’t feel guilty for feeling the way you do.
  2. Get as much time outside as you can. I know, it’s cold and probably raining, but force yourself outside as much as possible. If you have a 9-5 office job that means you leave the house in the dark and return in the dark, take a lunch break outside if you can. Even if it’s overcast, being out in natural daylight will help tremendously. And on your days off, be out in nature and force yourself to notice what’s around you and beautiful in it’s own wintery way.
  3. Eat a balanced diet. I know the temptation to binge on junk food is there when you’re feeling low, but this will only ever make you feel worse. Get loads of fresh veggies in your body and keep your sugar intake low.
  4. Try a SAD lamp! I’m a huge fan of these, having owned one myself. The idea is that you turn it on as you’re getting up and ready in the morning to simulate rising with the sun (even if it’s painfully dark outside). Your seratonin production (the hormone that makes you feel awake) is boosted and you are on track to feeling more energised.
  5. Keep busy. I know, it’s the hardest thing to find motivation when you are feeling low, but keeping dates in your diary for doing the activities that you enjoy and seeing your friends and family will always warm your mood. Force yourself out the first few times and it’ll get easier.
  6. Have things to look forward to. This is the most important one for me. If I don’t have anything exciting on the horizon, my mood plummets like there really is no tomorrow. Having a trip planned will see you through the winter. I’m generally pretty miserable in November and January-February, so this year I’ve got a trip away planned in November and likewise will soon be booking one in for February. Having something to look forward to can push you through those darkest days and remind you that there is something exciting to live for.
  7. Know that without the really short days and endless overcast skies, we would not have such long summer nights. With yin, there is yang and so balance must be maintained.

 

Save

Trapped: What to do when you feel there’s no way out

 

It’s 06:45 as I’m writing this. I’m sat next next to my window. I can just about make out the rustling leaves on the tree across the driveway. I mention this because only a few weeks ago, I would have been sat here at the same time with daylight outside. The equinox is here and Autumn is now upon us. This means that winter is coming.

As a Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferer, this should surely spark dread in my core, but actually after the couple of years that I’ve had, I find this change welcoming now. It’s a gentle reminder that change is always upon is. It’s constant. Life on earth is one mass of constantly changing energies. They ebb and flow and transform. This is extremely comforting to someone like me, who’s greatest inner demon is the tendency to feel trapped in a pool of stagnant water. A pool with no way out.

I’ve mentioned it before, but these past couple years have been monotonous on the life line. I suppose if I were to break them down and analyse them week by week, I’d be able to pick out the enjoyable experiences that I should have been having. The holidays, the festivals, the get-togethers with friends… But actually, I look back and see stillness. And it’s as if I’m looking at a life happening underwater from the surface of a pond.

Everything changed in the spring of this year for me. It’s as though I ripped my way out of the sticky chrysalis that was my brain and awoke one morning a changed person. Things suddenly started to seem interesting again. Hope was restored.

Call it depression, as in retrospect I guess that’s what it was. But to me, I see it as a mistake I made, having let my anxious brain run riot – thinking it knew best of course – and completely overruling my body. All it could focus on – the theme it made of it’s life – was that there was no way out.

It’s a strange feeling and one that thankfully not everyone has to experience all the time, if at all: feeling trapped by your life, even though you’re not placed under physical constraint. This is because, a person placed in an isolated room – unable to escape and see or do anything else – can allocate a reason to their feelings. And reasoning is everything: it’s how we cope. A person who technically has free will in her life tends to struggle to find a reason to explain her mental claustrophobia. She instead suffers the onslaught of guilt for not simply just being happy with the way things are.

Now, I believe there is a reason behind every situation where a person feels this way. It could be debt, it could be past trauma with memory triggers left, right and centre, or it could be a hellish relationship. You may be ignorant to the source, of course, but there’s always a reason that you’re suffering in the way that you are. It comes down to unresolved problems.

But whatever the issue, a strange thing starts to happen when you make the choice to let your brain overrule: it gets addicted to the suffering. It doesn’t actually want you to rectify any problems. It further affirms your negative belief and thought patterns, continuously propelling you in the direction of pain. When what you feel is uncertainty, the brain will find something to give you relief. It’s certainty of pain that it’s offering, but we seem to view that as a better option that no certainty at all.

What changed for me was two things:

  1. I started making decisions that I thought a person who was being kind to themselves might make.
  2. I repeatedly told myself that my brain does not control me. It is a tool that I can use to help me do life.

The result? It’s been an upwards climb ever since. Remarkably, I’d say I’ve had less bad days than I can count on one hand; all because of the decision to be nice to myself and to remember that my brain isn’t allowed to always call the shots. It doesn’t always know best.

Think about the way that your brain makes decisions. It uses knowledge it has accumulated from past experience to come to a logical conclusion about what to do when faced with a similar situation. But let’s say that a past experience was somehow misconstrued or tainted or didn’t work out how you want it to. What then? Does that mean that you should never do that thing again? No. And that’s why you can’t always make decisions based on what is logical. You should always ask yourself how it feels.

I got into the pattern of expressing certain opinions about people or things simply because it’s what I did. It was a habit. One day a few months ago I found myself coming out with a statement and noticed a sensation in my stomach that said, ‘hey Kat, you know you don’t actually believe that, right?’ I suddenly realised that I was allowing my brain to put words to my mouth before I’d even had a chance to digest the arising thought and question if I really believed it or not. That’s no good way to be, spieling what isn’t even your truth.

Alongside these opinions, I found that I had trained myself to believe that life was all planned out. I had convinced myself that my life consisted of x,y, and z and that was simply it. I’d never be able to have the a,b and c that I longed for. That’s no good way to be either.

The feeling I’m describing is that of being trapped. And when things started to feel better based on the two action steps I listed above, I asked myself what I could do to make myself feel less trapped. I suddenly started to bring options onto the radar that I hadn’t even thought possible before. This was all because I began to ask what somebody who cared about themselves would fight for. I re-shuffled my work week around to free up time to do things that were meaningful to me – activities that fed my soul what it needed: more time outside spent giving something back to the community. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

So if you feel like there’s no way out. If you start to feel like life no longer holds that magical essence of possibility for you. If you begin to lose hope, you need to train your mind to think differently. Start asking what someone who cares about themselves might do. Where might they go from here? Then, start taking action based on what answers arise. You’ll be amazed how things pan out.

Photo via Unsplash

 

Save

Save

The Queen of the Stagnant

Swamp

May was a profoundly different month for me than any I have in recent recollection. The contrast between the start and the end was electric, dynamic and literally life-changing.

I have been in a bizarre, in-between head space for at least a year or two. It was this no man’s land, drifting somewhere overcast and bleak, where no news was welcome, no decision or progression working and where hopelessness bloomed with a fiery kind of rage.

It’s a revolting place to be, where you see nothing but darkness both within and around you and strengthen the gloom by basking in the guilt of feeling as though that perspective is simply not okay. There is no quicker way to sink into the jagged claws of misery than to feel as though things aren’t how they should be.

There are plenty of people just like me in the world; a vast, multitude, you could say. You might even be one reading this. You have a decent quality of life, from an external perspective looking in; you have a job that pays the bills, a roof over your head, maybe a car and enough money to afford a holiday every now and then, a loving partner, some caring friends and a supportive family; all the things that compose a ‘desirable’ life. But still you feel utterly hopeless. You drift through the days making meaningless small talk, joining in with your colleagues complaining about whatever the theme of the day is and living for the weekend.

The start of May was rock bottom for me. I had just attended one of Teal Swan’s Synchronicity workshops in London and experienced the utter collapse that she warned is usually imminent after attending one of her events. And boy, did it hit me.

In the week that followed, I had lost hope completely. Having the massive realisation that I was a walking, talking, ghostly shell of myself was an uncomfortable reality to face. I wasn’t sure of anything in my life, who I was or where I was going, what I cared about and what the point of it all was. Anxiety enveloped me and I was utterly consumed by a desperate longing for it all just to end. I thought about the world at large and felt so distraught by the chaos spinning around me in a rapid vortex that I became overwhelmed in feeling like the fight was done and I had been beaten.

I sat on the floor of my apartment and wept, powerless to my own emotion. I felt disappointment in myself for letting it get to this. I felt embarrassment at being a grown adult wanting to curl in a ball like a child and have the comfort of somebody else to look after my most basic emotional needs. It’s not nice for someone as ferociously independent as me to admit to myself that I couldn’t cope alone.

I reached out to one of the friends I hold dearest; a gal whom I knew I could depend on in my darkest hour and she suggested I pick up Teal Swan’s book Shadows Before Dawn, a practical ‘tool-kit’ as she calls it for finding self-love through the darkest of times. The book explains that essentially the only difference in this life between people who are happy and who are unhappy is that those who are happy are those who pursue what feels good. It seems like a no-brainer that if faced with a choice, a person will choose what feels like the more pleasant option, but it’s a shocking reality that so many of us are ingrained with self-loathing and self-deprecation, living the life we feel we ought to be living to please our parents, our peers or some shadow aspect of ourselves that perpetuates the pain, rather than that which we actually want.

Reach

Three realisations were manifested during the neural typhoon that occurred in May and they have completely changed my life. These are:

  1. My brain is a tool that I can use. It does not control me and negative thought patterns are habits that can be broken. I am. That is simply it. And I can choose to use my brain as a tool for progression and expansion when I want to do so, but it is not all that I am.
  2. When faced with a decision, I have two options. The first is that I can do what feels bad and the second is I can do what feels better and thus what somebody who cares about and loves themself would choose. One is in the direction of happiness and I can make smart choices when faced with a decision, no matter how big or small.
  3. Everything that is happening is happening because it has to. The word ‘should’ has become a dirty word to me. It is the word of resistance and instead I have chosen to indulge in the acceptance of all that is and realise that there is something to be learned through it all, even when my dreams do not yet feel tangible. Our higher self is at work constantly, driving us forth in the direction of what we want. Even though the immediate circumstances of our lives may not fit the bill, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be happening; they are part of a bigger picture.

One of my favourite quotes is that from C.S. Lewis;

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different”

This quote rings true for me in more ways than one as I sit here at the start of summer and type the tale of the journey I have been on. It’s not soap opera worthy, it’s not some shocking tale of abuse and tragedy, but I am an example of the everyday person facing inner struggle and turmoil. Nothing major in my external circumstances has changed since the start of May, but I feel as though I’m only now actually seeing the embellishments of my life as they are meant to be seen, with glimmers as they hit the light of the sun. If you feel like a victim to your life, you will inevitably perpetuate the circumstances of your life that make you feel like a victim. This vicious circle will destroy you if you don’t realise that you have a choice to do things differently.

There was a time I would have been too shy and embarrassed to ever put something like this out to the public, but that just goes to validate C.S. Lewis’s quote once more. Fuck judgement and fuck shyness. This is the kind of stuff that we should be talking about and if you’re reading this on your fall down what feels like a bottomless hole, know that things can be different. If you take one thing away from this, let it be the following: next time you have to make a decision, choose what feels in your belly like the better option, the more joyful option. The rest will soon be history.

Dawn

 

 

Photos: Steve via Flickr, An Goban Saor via Flickr and Wasif Yaqeen via Flickr

 

An Empathetic Divide

the seasons

She put a ‘the’ before depression as though ‘depression’ could be substituted with ‘plague’. Filthy tones crept quietly from her lips as she tried with her greatest might to whisper when uttering the phrase. It was as though she feared those whom overheard would catch a drop of the illness, or worse yet misinterpret that it was actually she who was under that cloud.

‘The Depression’: a foul, mythical state ridden with down-trodden dismay and disapproval. She made it sound like it was something to be prodded with a barge pole rather than understood, rather than interacted with. Like a rotting carcass by the roadside, left only for the vultures to toy with, meaningless and not even worth the full breath of the word.

‘Cultivate your empathy’ is a phrase that Kate Tempest tells me to live by, each time I see her. But what is one to do if so far detached from connecting to honest emotion that all hope of immersing oneself in empathy is rendered impossible? It’s painfully obvious but hidden in plain sight: if we don’t understand our own emotions, how can we even being to understand another’s?

So I looked upon this woman who spoke of depression with such disdain and questioned why it was that she had created such distance between herself and this condition. I wondered where her compassion was and why she uttered the word ‘depression’ with an essence of taboo. What had created such hostility?

I don’t know her story and at this point really all I can do is speculate why she was of the opinion she appeared to be, but I was glad at the time that I tried to understand her, at least. She reacted towards depression in a way that I never would, but I was proud to do my best at being empathetic in that moment by trying to put myself in her shoes.

This is my cultivation, as it were. Just because we don’t understand something, does not mean that we need to run and hide from it, or worse feel that because we don’t yet know about it, surely it is not worth learning about. This is completely egotistical. We would do far better to learn from those familiar with the topics we know little about than scurry away and stick our heads in the sand. There is much growth and mental expansion to be had by learning from one another and it is what is going to save us from ourselves in the end.

As a scientist by trade, it can be considered the foundation of scientific practice, in that you don’t take no for an answer. It is so frowned upon in the scientific community to put your hands up to the sky and admit defeat, admit that you as a human do not know the vast workings of the universe. There must always be another theory, another hypothesis to drive forward an investigation.

The scientists I admire most are those who know when to respect the practice of learning unto itself: there is always more to follow; a plethora of facts we don’t know. Admitting defeat is really the start of further education into a problem you want to solve. Admitting defeat opens you up to the absorption of information that can shed greater light.

We are cultivating destruction at present, by embracing hostility and isolation. It’s an ‘us and them’ rather than ‘we are one’ scenario. However, if we all tried to understand why we feel the way we do about things; we’re en route to learning how to do the same for others and therefore practice empathy. Remove ego and assumptions from the equation and there is open space for new lessons to come in.

Pinterest