Article I wrote for Grey Matters on relationships and BPD
This summer, at the conclusion of the World Cup, BBC pundit Alan Hansen called time on his twenty year media career. Many will remember him for a comment he made about not being able to win things with kids and all that. But my abiding memory of his was his constant harshness on defenders. He would often point out the errors made when players, rather than making a choice to deal with a situation, took the comfort of sitting back, choosing safety, and being punished by conceding a goal. His view on defending has become one of my mantras for life. But sometimes we fall short of our expectations.
I believe that making decisions, making real decisions is the single most difficult thing in life. Most people drift through their existence not having to make anything close to what I would describe as a decision. We go to school because we have to, we follow the path expected of us from there, whether it is university or work, our paths are often laid out in front of us. This is not always a bad thing. But it does create a state of mind where comfort is the expected state of living and tough decisions are a deep internal conflict. Times when we have to chose what is hard over what is easy. What is right over what is comfortable. These are times when we make real decisions. For a broken mind, this state of flux can be very overwhelming.
I will say with certainty that the last year/eighteen months of my life has been filled with indecision. In my last piece I mentioned how suffering with a mental illness is not a choice. Dealing with one very much is a choice. Well, I did not make that choice. It is a miracle I graduated because my attendance was often below 50% and I am sure my university had grounds to kick me out. I did not hand in many mandatory pieces of work. I often went through 24hours spells of not leaving my bed. No exaggeration. But worst of all, I ignored the choice to get treatment. Speaking about what is wrong with me, making hospital appointments, owning up to the fact that I needed help, finding people who understand. All those things are decisions. Tough, scary but necessary decisions. Ones I didn’t make and ones I paid for. Indecision is final. But it is not fatal.
I am sure for some of you, this blog is merely an insight to the workings of a broken mind. For others it may hit closer to home. But there is one universal point I want anyone viewing these words to take from this. It takes one decision to change a life. Whether that is deciding to chase your dreams and abandon the comfort of a 9-5. Whether that is to leave an unhappy relationship. Or make your unhappy relationship a happy one by treating your partner better. Whether that is giving him or her another chance. Whether that is deciding to be sick of feeling like life lacks direction. Or whether that is deciding that the way you view life, the way you view yourself is not right. Comfort is too comfortable. Comfort makes us become too accustomed to unhealthy situations and states of living. We are almost geared to accept things as they are, for that is just the way it is. To that I say this.
Here you read the words of a man who has looked into the abyss and thought it was normal. It was just my life. Many of you told me you thought I was brave for being so open in my last post. I simply thought, hey, I’m just a guy talking about his life. Things that were normal to me. When we don’t decide to make positive change our lives become something we should not expect them to be. So over the last week, I have decided to decide against indecision. No, I am not better. But the things I have been able to confront and address have actually surprised me! And you can do the same! Decide against the unacceptable comfort. Decide that doing it alone won’t work anymore. Decide that you deserve to be more than comfortable. Decide you deserve to be happy. Decide that you know it will be hard. Decide you know it is the right thing to do nonetheless. Decide that it takes one day, one decision to turn around a life. Decide to make today that day, to make today truly
a GREAT day
Around about this time last year I posted a rather lengthy status on the book of faces about dreams. It was nothing too serious, simply me musing out loud. Apparently said thoughts were best left to myself, as someone I know and rather respect called me an idiot on my own post. I quickly deleted said post, not wishing to be ridiculed anymore. I also went into nearly six weeks of dark dark depression. Forced solitude, heavy drinking, razor blades, the whole shebang. I know that the person who commented on my status has no memory of that event whatsoever, nor should he in all honesty. I don’t blame him for what happened to me. But why was I so affected by something so inconspicuous? To me, the answer is very simple; I took his words and turned them into my reality. And what we believe to be true often is more important than what really is.
I am a man who values his intellect. And in truth, I have good reason to do so. I have always performed exceptionally academically. I was a gifted and talented student at school. For as long as I have had the ability to recall events and emotions from my past, being a person blessed with above average intelligence has been a big part of my reality. Three days ago, I received my degree classification. I got a 2.2, and since then I have been sinking into a new reality, one where I am a lower second class intellectual. As I type this, I have not told the vast majority of my closest friends what degree I have achieved. Despite near elation from both my parents (well, my dad got as close to non-Liverpool FC related elation as he can) I have failed to take anything other than sorrow and shame from my failure to achieve what is the average grade for my course. I have sunk into a new reality. But this is something that I have to fight. Because it is the reality I am currently choosing to see. And yes, we can and do choose what our realities are.
Living with a mental health condition is not a choice. How we live with our conditions is a choice. Trying to change perspective is a big part of that choice. And there is real power in the choices we make. Me typing this blog is a choice, and so is you reading it. So is me choosing not to value the fact that despite very unfavourable odds I completed a degree at one of the tops schools in my course. I am looking beyond the strength of character I displayed to get to this point and focusing on my perception of myself as primarily an intellectual. I know that a big part of my condition is affecting how I view getting a degree classification I am not overly happy with. But there is another reality that I have to see. There is another reality we all have to see. We can often have very little power over how our conditions affect us. But the power we do have must be used to seek the positive. Whether that is congratulating ourselves for trying, even when we fail. Or acknowledging that despite being given an opportunity to give up, we have not. Happiness, true happiness, in my opinion, will not come from hoping for things that may or may not ever happen. It comes from seeking and taking joy in what has and is happening.
Many people I know very well will only find out about my 2.2 by reading this post. And truth be told, that is a thought that fills me with dread, fear and shame. But that is only because I am choosing to live in that reality. I have gotten a below average degree from my course at my uni. It also took me four years instead of three to do so. That is a fact. I also got a degree from an internationally recognised institution, in what were, for at least 60% of the time, hellish circumstances. This post may come across as a glorified rant but it is not. It is an example of the fact that the man behind these incredibly well articulated words (though not so much in this post) struggles too, It is an example of the fact that there is another way to view the times we perceive life to be going against our plans. It is sign that happiness, even a state of being content (contentness sadly is not a word) is not something that exists outside of ourselves or our experiences. Let us change our point of view. Not to lie to ourselves, but so that you and I can have
a good day
When I was a child, I was fascinated by stars. I mean, absolutely spell bound. Often I would stare out of my out of my window as a young boy and gaze into the sky. I had no idea about constellations, actually, I doubt I even knew what a constellation was! But I would always find myself gazing in awe. As time went on, I lost this fascination. One reason was no doubt moving to London, where roughly 99.99% of stars in the sky turn out to be the Virgin Atlantic flight to Miami or the Qantas jet making its way to Melbourne via Abu Dhabi. And slowly, the stars became less important to me. The joy they brought me as a child mattered no more. Life went on. Recently, I have fallen back in love with the stars. Last month I was able to point out the Big Dipper! At 22, I managed to identify my first constellation. And a thought descended upon me.
I am by no means old. Turning 23 but being surrounded by 18 and 19 year olds at university can make me feel that way from time to time! But truth is, I am still young. However, I am old enough for some things. Along with sex, driving (still learning) drinking (level:EXPERT) smoking, voting and clubbing, I am also old enough to forget the things I have done which made me happy. I am old enough convince myself that only certain measures of success count, and everything else is frivolous nonsense. I am old enough to think about all the things I feel I have failed at. All the things I should have done by now. I am old enough to be drowned out by the light of the world. Drowned out by the light of my thoughts. Through my journey discovering the workings of my own mind, I have discovered that I am by no means alone in being able to disregard my own achievements and abilities. I can deny myself pleasure for belief that I don’t deserve to feel positive in any way. And as I said, I am not alone in doing this. This, I have found, is one of the most difficult cycles to break. But I believe, if only for a day, this cycle can be broken, by simply turning it all off!
What do I mean? I mean turning off the belief that everything you do has to ‘matter’. That everything has to fit into some kind of grand plan. That the things that bring you enjoyment are not important. That is all wrong for one HUGE reason; NOTHING is more important than your own happiness. Over time, we all lose focus on the simple idea that our happiness is something that is of paramount importance in our lives. And coping with poor mental health makes that struggle much worse. But it is not impossible. Goals in life are important. They can give us drive, give us perspective, to some extent they can give us purpose. The lights of the world can allow us to see where we want to go in life. But they will not allow us to be what we need to be, and that is happy. For simple joys simply disappear, seemingly becoming irrelevant when placed with all the other pressures of life. But they are not. The stars I once loved so much will not feed me and pay to keep the heaters on in the winter. My poetry will not pay for the rest of my driving lessons. Going to see my beloved Arsenal won’t help me pass my degree (often it will directly hinder it, but that, my friends, is a whole different story!) I, like you, need the distractions of life to put life into a day to day context. But we all need to turn that off, for losing sight of the things that bring you the purest happiness is no price to pay.
I will leave this post with the work of Thierry Cohen. He took photos of cities around the world and showed what they would look like with all artificial lights turned off.
Turn off the lights of your world. For a moment, allow yourself to feel lost in the joys that speak to your heart and soul. Be free to place focus on the seemingly unimportant. Turn off the lights so you can see the beauty, so you can feel the importance of being happy. Turn off the lights so you can have…
a good day
Firstly, it’s good to be back, I know I left this baby of mine alone for far too long. Here’s hoping I will be a neglectful blogger NO MORE! Now that’s out of the way, let us begin.
Yet again, I credit the wonderful invention that is YouTube for providing the inspiration for this post. In particular, a huge debt of gratitude, not just for this post but for many hours of entertainment over the past six months, goes out to Hank and John Green. Now, if you don’t know who the Vlogbrothers are, if you have not been blessed by the awesomeness of Nerdfighteria, the bed of knowledge that is Crash Course and if you have no idea what DFTBA stands for, I suggest you go and educate yourself. Then, and only then, will you be fit to read this here post. I’m super serious. Have you gone and joined the light? GOOD!
So, as you can clearly tell, I have a great deal of admiration and indeed affection for the Green boys, as I trust you now do too. But I’m not here to talk about them…well, I kinda am…ANYWAY! I want to share something one of them said, something so simple yet deeply powerful.
Now successful as writers, entrepreneurs and of course YouTubers, both Green brothers were bullied as children, and both are very open about their experiences. I myself have been picked on in my younger days, and though I wouldn’t say I got it the worst, I can say I definitely know what it feels like to face a daily tormentor. One who seems unrelenting in their desire to break a small piece of you, chipping away until all that is left is an unrecognisable ruin of what once was. For me, those feelings are brought on from within, not without. But many of the emotions brought on by bullying are similar to those experienced by those suffering from mental health issues. And I think many of the solutions, or rather, surviving mechanisms needed to cope with bullying are similar to those needed to cope with a broken mind. In perhaps his most personal and resonant video, John Green speaks about his experience being bullied in school. And he tells a story of a time he performed at Carnegie Hall, a legendary venue across the pond. During audio check, one of the musicians he was on the bill with declared on the microphone ‘this is a message to my 16 year old self’. The cry was one of self affirmation and of survival. A call to a person who once suffered seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and yet made it through to see a happier day. This idea of surviving for a better day is somewhat problematic, well, at least it always has been to me. So I want to share my take on the whole thing.
Being told it will get better or hearing the dreaded ‘this too shall pass’ has always been the worse case scenario for condescending B.S.anyone can feed me. Because who the hell wants tomorrow to be better! After years and years of pain tomorrow just seems like another day to do it all again. So I say, forget about tomorrow! I do not know what, if anything, I will accomplish tomorrow, next week, next month. The fact that it is currently 05:56am indicates nothing but unnecessary tiredness rolling my way for the coming dawn! I can draw up the most elaborate plans for the next weeks, plans that take into account my potential, near inevitable mood swings, but as a the old saying goes, man proposes, God disposes. I am not saying throw your plans for the future out of the window, not even close. What I am putting forward is this. Think of the future, as today. Not in some motivational speaker go get em kind of way. Think of it factually. Today is your future compared to you yesterday, you last week, last month, last year. Think of today as a future, a future in which you survived. Because you did survive. The fact that you are reading this right now is all the evidence you need for that (I did hear you can make your blog available in the afterlife, but that’s premium package stuff and I ain’t got the funds for that). I refuse to believe that anyone who reads this cannot point out to a moment in the past where, in at least one way, they did not feel worse than they do today. And even if you are reading this feeling rock bottom, you are surviving it. And solemn as it is to think about, it is a sad fact that not everyone does survive from that. So I say, do not wait for some great success to come your way to send a message of victory to yourself. Today is your victory. It may not be the greatest victory of your life, but everything won in life is won in small victories. For those of a football persuasion, today may feel like more like a scrappy 1-0 at home than beating Bayern Munich 5-0, but who cares. You won. Tell yourself from last year that you may not feel as good as you want. The demons may still haunt more than you’d like, you may still cry more than you care to ever share, you may not feel as confident as you think you should, but you are here and you won. Yes, it is just another day to get through, as was yesterday, as will be tomorrow. But get through you can. And if what ever you’re going through will be over, the only way over is through.
So to myself since I last posted. To the boy who spent far too many a night looking down into an empty bottle or glass of wine, beer and any spirit to hand. To the night when a broken rope was the only thing that kept me from disappearing into the eternal abyss. To the days and days spent in bed, not eating, not bathing, not doing anything more than the increasingly less frequent toilet visit. To the boy sitting in lecturers offices ready to throw away my degree. To the past five months, this is my message, from me to me. You survived. And that is enough to make today
a good day
Over the summer I have become somewhat addicted to pop science channels on Youtube. Vsauce, Minute Physics, Space Rip, stuff like that. This new past time formed a nice little escape for me, after all, there is nothing like hearing about exploding stars and colliding galaxies billions of lightyears away to make you forget about your problems here on little old Earth. But there was one video which had a lingering affect on me, and ultimately brought me to type the very words you read right…NOW! The video, posted by AsapSCIENCE, was titled ‘Why Do We Cry’. The answer was…*drumroll*…we do not know. All I got was a bunch of theories, and there is one I want to share with you all.
So, apparently, we developed the ability to cry in order to signal emotional distress to others. When we cry, we impair our vision in an obvious display of our own vulnerability. We cannot see and thus one of our main tools for spotting danger is disabled. And the theory states that crying allowed our earliest ancestors to come to the aide of each other, forming bonds when one member of the tribe was in need. Now, this is pretty basic, and probably not totally sound science. But I don’t care about that. What I do care about is the possibilities that lie in our vulnerability.
It is no secret that far too many people suffering from low moods and mental health conditions try and be too strong for too long. In my own case, I have seen the ideal as being totally stoic, in a world where everyone has the ability to solve their own problems and more importantly, I have the ability to solve my own problems. What seems like a formula for an orderly and functioning self and society is actually nothing more than a path to emotional self destruction. As humans, we form strong bonds through empathy. We may never know why we cry, smile, laugh or even sigh, but we all know what it feels like to do all of those things. Our friends and loved ones may neverfully understand the peaks and troughs of Manic Depression (Bi-Polar) or the constant struggle of body image, physical health and obsession which is Anorexia. Our loved ones may and sometimes will struggle to understand crushing fear of judgement and claustrophobic strangulation of Social Anxiety, nor will they understand the desperation and twisted mix of shame and satisfaction of a razor blade on skin. But what they WILL understand is that the tears rolling down our checks are the streams from a river of troubles. And our loved ones will feel COMPELLED to build a bridge over whatever gap separates us, as we would do for them. And this is not just about crying; ANY emotional expression has this power.
Exposing our vulnerable side may not seem like the basis of a positive mental state, and I know this because I have thought that way many times. But this is JUST NOT TRUE. Because nothing connects us more than our deepest shared emotions. And even when it seems that nobody around us understands what we are going through, there is always, ALWAYS something we can connect on. And nothing is more BEAUTIFUL than building a bond with another human being. So whether you have to cry, tell a story or just explain a difficult period, do not be scarred of your vulnerability. Allow others to bond, to see your pain and build bridges. Allows others to allow you to have…
a good day
A month ago my sister and I went to New York. It was a fun little holiday, though it involved A LOT of walking. A pedometer on my phone showed that we averaged about eleven miles a day. ANYWAY Whilst … Continue reading