Old symptoms coming back? Don’t panic.

“Why am I feeling things that I haven’t felt in months and in some cases over a year?”

I finished therapy in July 2015, moved to University in September of that year, endured some struggles with my panic and anxiety but come the end of my time as a student in July 2018 I felt like I had my illness pretty under-control bar the occasional blip. Recently, however, I’ve been finding myself asking that question more and more. I’ve had more sleepless nights in the last month than I have this previous year and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me feel uncomfortable (and tired, very tired). Every time I feel my old symptoms rushing back- the intense adrenaline rushes across my chest, heart palpitations, shaking- I feel this sense of dread that at times has become overwhelming. It’s as if you’re being dragged back into darker days and most worryingly, there isn’t a great deal you can do about it. That’s what my mind tells me when I’m probably at my most vulnerable and when I’m most susceptible to believing these pernicious thoughts. There’s nothing really new to these developments so to speak and that makes me wonder why they’ve been so pervasive. This elusive element gives every moment of panic some extra intensity because you really feel like there’s nothing you can do; therapy helped you overcome them once but now it’s as if old tactics don’t hold the same sway they once did. A key part of my therapy was to establish two theories: Theory A and Theory B. Theory A suggested that there was in-fact something wrong with my heart and these symptoms represent a wider health condition. Theory B on the other hand countered by suggesting that these symptoms are in-fact not dangerous at all. They’re not symptoms of a health condition but rather symptoms of a panic attack or feelings of panic. I’ve used this framework consistently and over time I’ve noticed that those intense moments of panic have calmed down.

These old tactics haven’t lost their power, rather I’ve become complacent in making them powerful for my life as it currently is. This last month has taught me that alongside the slumps you experience in recovery there’s also the chance that you yourself will adjust to easier times and get complacent. I can recall the worst parts of my illness; at those points I was convinced I was dead, my life was meaningless and in a moment spent staring at the ceiling I was gone having done nothing good for the world. Now that I believe I’m in with a chance of seeing grey hairs on my head I’ve neglected some of the practices that helped me to achieve a calmer state of mind. Not only this, I neglected practices that sat nicely alongside the things I’d learned in therapy to help me to “ride the wave” of panic, so to speak.

I have a love/hate relationship with my own process of recovery and I think that a lot of that comes down to the way I understand my own recovery. I started to imagine it as a set of routinised practices that I had to follow strictly if I were to beat my illness. Sure, healthy routines are a key part of recovery but what if you force your entire life into becoming habitual? The thing with tying yourself to routines all the time is that when you inevitably get frustrated with them and stop doing them you’re left in a void where no activity feels valuable because you assigned all that value away. Suddenly the things you once felt were crucial to you feel meaningless, and that is a weird thing to feel. So what do you do? Well, you’re not panicking any more and you’re not deriving so much enjoyment from some habits anymore so why not just leave them. You don’t cut them out per-se because you’ve not made that conscious choice but they do lose their important place in your mind.

Recovery is painful but I never expected it to be a pain the arse, too. I thought that if I did things one way that I would be okay. The ingredient that I forgot was honest self-reflection. Let’s be honest, when we’re doing pretty well it’s easy to ignore what it is we might be doing wrong, isn’t it? The truth is that during the good times you might be dancing all over the foundations you’ve built. When you do eventually fall down, what do you have to build yourself back up? Recovery isn’t a simple process, there isn’t one set plan and there definitely isn’t a clear victory point. By choosing to not reflect on how I’ve been doing, I didn’t realise that things I’d once relied-on weren’t working as they should with my life being in the place that it is right now. Not just that, I didn’t want to confront the strange decline in my once-prevalent habits because I was scared of what that might reveal about me. What I’ve learned is that recovery demands you to be attentive to the current of your own thoughts and overall mental health. It demands close care of yourself, so as to not lose track of yourself when times are good. This isn’t to say that when we’re recovering from a mental illness we can’t enjoy the times when our illnesses are less present, rather that we must remember to pay close attention to ourselves and learn from what is working and what isn’t working. This has been my first major experience with really falling off-track and whilst it’s been a painful and confusing process, it has no doubt presented me with opportunities to learn more about myself and to grow from them.


What we can learn from introverts

Something I hear a lot is “you’re very happy/outgoing/energetic”… you catch my drift. A lot of people have probably thought of me as quite extroverted as a result of how I can present myself in social situations, but the truth is I’m actually an introvert. I despise small talk, I usually last around an hour at social gatherings before the social battery runs dry etc. I crave solitude. To quote the wonderful Susan Cain, to whom I owe a great debt for helping me to come to terms with certain facts about myself, “solitude can be like the air we breathe”.

Now, the way I am in conversations isn’t an act most of the time. Sometimes nerves do compel me to seem more excitable than I actually am, but for the most part I do derive a lot of enjoyment from a good conversation and my gregariousness is genuine. However I also need my alone time, and I need a lot of it to recharge my batteries. As a matter of fact, I’m at my best in most respects when I’m alone. I like to work alone in amongst the low hum of conversations going on around me. I like to go to the gym alone where I can get lost in my music and find my “zone”. I like to just be alone because it gives me space to get lost in my head, and that’s something I love doing. I can’t speak for all introverts, but for me I am usually at my best in environments that aren’t exuming stimuli from all directions.

Enough about me, let’s get more to the point. Susan Cain believes we live in a very extroverted society and I’m inclined to agree. I don’t really think there’s much room for debate here. In our education system we’re becoming increasingly focused on group activites with the idea being that better ideas come about through collaborative thinking. I’ve had many conversations with fellow students who don’t necessarily dislike their peers but rather just believe that they work best alone and I think we need to pay attention to these concerns. I’m reading that workplaces are placing more focus on candidates being lively and outgoing for roles that don’t require you to be a bubbly persona 24/7. An emergent belief now is that the best ideas come from collaborative projects, or what Susan Cain calls the “big groupthink”. What I’m trying to say here is that the idea of leading an extroverted life is being increasingly pushed onto people from an early age when actually there’s a lot we can learn from introverts and the kind of lives they tend to lead.

Introverts are more likely to be reflective, to stand on the periphery of social interactions and weigh-up what’s going on before joining-in. Introverts are more likely to think before they speak, and as leaders they tend to focus more on delegation rather than leading the way themselves. Most importantly, introverts are very good at quietening things down and lowering the stress of their immediate environments. I realise I’m generalising here and of course not all introverts will be like this and not all extroverts will be brash in the way I’ve described above, but there’s enough research to suggest we can speak in some general terms about how introverts and extroverts are. What I take from introverts is that there’s a lot of value in solitude and in quietning yourself down and allowing yourself to ease away from the constant stimuli that society throws our way these days. Taking some time to read that book you’ve been meaning to read, to have a long bath, to even remove yourself from an immediate social situation so you can just take a minute to breathe can really be helpful. My alone time not only helps me work at my best but helps me to re-focus, remind myself of my goals, think about how I’ve behaved lately and if anything I’ve been doing is off, and allows me to simply be in the moment sometimes. On the other side of things, being solitary shouldn’t be discouraged. In the average classroom there will be a fairly even mix of introverts and extroverts and it isn’t conducive to a healthy education to force introverted kids into groupwork where they’re likely to be pushed-out by the louder, more extroverted kids in the group. In our workplaces, we shouldn’t focus so heavily on group-based sessions when there’s workers present who are far more adept at producing excellent ideas when they’re tucked away in the intellectually-fertile confines of their own work-spaces. Introverts can teach us that nuance is a great thing. Schools can be better geared-up to maximise engagement from both introverts and extroverts, and workplaces can be structured in such a way where each worker is allocated their ideal working environment. Of course much of this is highly-demanding and I’m well-aware of this. The key thing to think about here is that people work and operate best at different levels of stimuation, and we’d be wise to unlock the potential of our introverts. Just look at the creator of the Macintosh, the intellectual Father of Natural Selection, and the Mother of the African-American civil rights movement.

 

-Nick

Getting back into the swing of things

It’s been a fair while since my last post. My last term at University was hectic to say the least. Once exams had ended it was onto the celebrations and I guess you could say that writing just fell to the back of the line and it’s been there for the last couple of months. Anyway I’ve decided to get back into the habit of writing. I saw a little philosophy bite not long ago that said once you write something down that’s the beginning of you facing or coming to terms with whatever it is that you have written down. That’s the power of writing- you hammer out your thoughts and feelings onto paper or a blog or whatever and there it is right in front of you, you’re literally facing it. By not writing I’ve not properly laid-out the problems that currently confront me, so here we go.

Coming back home to Oldham has been really weird and quite emotional. To begin with I had to leave everything I’d come to love in York: my housemates, my friends, the pubs, the gym, and the takeaways. I had a lot of creature comforts in York that I really took for granted and now that they’re not there anymore it’s like I’ve been stripped of my map and kicked out into the unfamiliar again. I miss the life I had in York, but over time I’ll come to terms with the pain of turning away from the life I’d built for myself there. The most pressing problem that confronts me right now is having the motivation to do something. I imagine quite a few students feel the same way- you come home and once you’ve settled back-in you realise there’s things to do bar eat the contents of the fridge and catch up on trash tv. I’ve found myself knowing in my head there’s things to do, ranging from little things like sorting out my gp back home all the way upto *sigh* finding a job. I haven’t exactly done nothing, like I’ve had some exciting progress on the job front, but I’ve struggled to amass the motivation to do much else. I guess this is down to my days being the exact same: wake up, shower, eat, go to the gym, come home, play video games, watch tv, sleep. There are two issues here: I struggle to even find the motivation to go to the gym most days, and with doing the same stuff every day it’s made me quite lethargic and demotivated.

I think this comes down to the sudden change of pace and environment. At Uni there was always something to be done, somewhere to be and something to think about… usually a deadline. Now that I’m at home there aren’t any important set deadlines, so it’s easy to just fall back and get used to not doing much at all. At the same time, there are conversations at Uni that I just can’t have at home. There’s a whole lifestyle that in many ways has suddenly just vanished. I think that the change of lifestyle has had some impact on my pretty poor levels of motivation at home.

However there is light at the end of this tunnel! The last few days have been quite successful because I’ve established more of a routine. I’ve started to get back into the swing of things, one might say. (roll credits) I’m starting to listen to myself when I say something should be done today and ideally at this or that time. I think University has instilled in me this need to do things. So something I will say to any students struggling to get anything done at home: just do one job you know you’ve been meaning to do. Just do the one. If you can, do another and see where you go from there. The main thing i’d say is just getting one thing done with your day and then going from there. Summer can be a big old boring block of time for students, but there are ways to use that regimented programming that’s been hardwired into your brain by the incessant call of deadlines.

 

-Nick

Recovery

Recovery. When someone says: “I am recovering from X”, there’s a whole lot included in that. Let’s say you’re recovering from the Flu. Recovery can be whatever it means to each person: staying in bed, or trying to stay active once the worst passes; eating healthily, or resorting to guilty pleasures because you can get away with it when you’re ill. This could be across one week, two weeks, maybe longer if you’re pretty unlucky. Recovery is as long or short as it needs to be. The point is, you’re going from A to B, with A being some kind of bad place and B being a state where you don’t have what led you to A. Recovery is a pretty tricky thing, and I’m here to chat about recovery from mental illness for a bit.

I’ve never actually said that I’m in recovery to anyone before, but that’s what I’m doing. To say I’m “recovering from a panic disorder” means a lot more than seeking-out therapy, from practicing self-help techniques like meditation, and stuff like that. I’ve never actually told anyone I’m recovering from a mental illness, because since I’ve had it I’ve never seen myself without it. I kind of just accepted that certain aspects of my mental illness would be a constant, because I actually thought they maybe there would be something holistic about “having a relationship with my mental illness” or something. It’s only now that I’m starting to think differently. Now I’m starting to think, well, if I’m in-recovery, doesn’t that mean I should be working towards not having a mental illness at all, or perhaps more realistically, shouldn’t I be working towards controlling it so that it doesn’t affect my life in sizeable ways?  That’s pretty significant in some ways, because panic and anxiety shape a lot of the ways that I do things now, and they’ve both had impacts on my relationships with my friends and family.

This has all made me come to realise that recovery is a lot more complicated than I first thought. Getting from A to B an uphill climb, with a lot of falls, scrapes, and breakthroughs along the way. It’s not just a case of winning one battle. I’ve long accepted that my disorder is a part of me, so in that sense I’ve been winning for a long time. On the other hand, my strong inclination to panic informs a lot of my behaviours, because I’m still trying to avoid what is likely to trigger panic. My anxiety, more pervasively, still hangs over me, and tries to bend me towards it’s addictive thoughts. It constantly tries to set me up to fail, whispering in my ear that the worst possible outcome is going to happen, and it’s all my fault. Accepting that that is a reality doesn’t sound much like recovery, does it?

Recovery is a complicated thing, because the point at which you can say you’ve recovered from a mental illness changes all the time. You might overcome a significant challenge, but then your life can take a change, and put you in the direction of a new challenge. To me, recovery is a bloody long adventure. It’s not a nice one, filled with long walks and aesthetically-pleasing views. It’s being up all-night being 100% convinced something new is wrong in your body, and it will kill you. It’s taking someone very important to you, turning absolutely nothing into a cataclysmic problem, and losing them. It’s constantly re-shaping your identity, so that one day you want to suit yourself, and another day you want to suit other people. One day, you want to be a lone-wolf. Other days, you’re loving and you crave intimacy. These don’t always come at the same time. Sometimes you feel like you’ve cracked-it; you’ve had a week with no bad nights and that must mean something, right? This time, you’re evaluating your relationships realistically and seeing your past mistakes. For every victory you enjoy, though, there’s always a defeat potentially lurking around the corner. It’s hard to say whether recovery from mental illness is really possible. I know people who have done, and people who haven’t. For some of those that haven’t, their illness has become a part of who they are, and the way they engage with their illness has helped shape them into the beautiful people they are. I don’t know if I ever will recover, but so-far it’s been a hell of a journey. I want to have riddance of my mental illness, but maybe I should be prepared for it to never really disappear. At this time, I have to say I really don’t know any of the answers to the questions I’m asking. All I know now is that recovery is a lot more complicated than just moving from A to B.

-Nick

The value of letting-go

I deliberately made the title of this one a bit vague, because by letting-go, I mean it in a couple of different ways.

Life is constantly moving at 100mph. You’re up, you’re working, you’re socialising, you’re working again, you’re eating, you’re on social media, you’re doing your hobby, you sleep. For a lot of us, this is just how it is and it’s manageable. Some people like it, and others thrive on it and can’t handle slowing-down. One thing that worries me though, is going to sleep at 22 and waking up at 45, having not enjoyed the ups and embraced and learned from the downs. Life moves so very quickly when you’re busy all the time, especially when you’re always busy in your head. That’s partly what I mean when I say letting-go. It’s okay to vacate the world, sit in the clouds for a bit and enjoy a birds-eye view on your own life for a little while. It’s okay to sit and listen to some music, or do literally nothing at all and just enjoy the quiet. Letting-go of all your responsibilities and your stresses gives you that valuable time in your own head where you listen to the current of your thoughts. Not to take a negative twist, but sometimes it can be quite valuable for tuning-into more unhealthy, maybe even ominous thoughts. It can equally be a time for you to enjoy being with yourself, and to hear your mind speak. Some people I know have told me they aren’t comfortable being alone, because they can’t handle being in their own company. A key part of being healthy in my view is to be able to enjoy your own company. I think that’s one of the main cornerstones of loving and appreciating yourself, is having the ability to have a relationship with yourself.

Anyone who knows me well-enough knows my phone goes on ‘do not disturb’ at half-past nine every night (and now the rest of you know), and the general rule is I either reply very slowly or I don’t at all. This has worked to varying degrees over time, but in my head the time after half-past nine is my time. Again, I’ve used my time for good things and I’ve used it for not so good things, but the key thing is that that time is allocated to be my own, and I can slow it down as much as I want, like I am now. Whilst typing this out, I’m having a conversation with myself, and already my daily anxieties have gone away.

People can do this differently. Some people’s ‘me time’ might not be quiet at all, but it works for them. The key thing is that it’s okay to let go of your commitments, your responsibilities, and your stresses. It’s like carrying heavy shopping bags- it’s okay to put them down for a bit whilst you gather your strength again. You can, with time and patience, learn to put all these stresses down for a bit.

 

 

The next bit is for people who panic a lot.

I panic a lot. My formal diagnosis was a bit weird. I was diagnosed with panic disorder, but I had elements of someone with an anxiety disorder. Anyway, panic disorder does this great thing where it creates the initial feeling of panic for no reason at all; or maybe there is a reason deep-down, but it’s not necessarily pressing you at that time. Panic comes, the physical symptoms come, the panic intensifies, the symptoms intensify: bosh, you’re having a panic attack. You’re in what we call a ‘vicious cycle’. The key is kind-of identifying that initial feeling of panic, and rather than fighting it, you try and see it as something that will just pass, like a cloud. I love my sky analogies.

Anyone can have a panic attack. Having a panic/anxiety disorder of some sort doesn’t grant you entry to a special panic club where we all sit in complete catatonic silence staring at the ceiling. Anyone can have a panic attack, and anyone can just panic. I bet you can recall a time where you’ve panicked. Unfortunately, some of you will be able to recall a time where you had a panic attack; I just hope it wasn’t recently. Panic can come out of nowhere: a deadline you’ve got could start freaking you out, or you could be worrying about something you said 4 months ago to your partner, it could be anything.

I spoiled it a bit earlier, but if you feel panic coming-on, or you’re actually having a panic attack, brought on by anything whatsoever, please remember this: IT WILL PASS. I promise you you aren’t going insane, I promise you you aren’t going to die, and I promise you that the strange feelings you’re having at this very moment aren’t a symptom of some underlying condition. Panic does strange bloody things to your body, and none of it is harmful. You can read all this in different wording on the NHS website for panic attacks. What I want to tell you is that if you do feel panic, remember it will pass; let it go. Just like any thought, panic can come and go.

I just wanted to write this because I’ve been having some difficulty letting-go lately. Sometimes things get a bit overwhelming, and although you don’t see it at the time, you come to realise that what you need sometimes is to drop everything for a bit and go back to basics.

-Nick

 

Working within your means

We all go through hard times. It feels unfair when you’re subjected to some kind of suffering; it’s easy to lament your circumstances, and to try to reject your hardship with all your strength. Sometimes, though, you have to shift things around a bit.

At the moment I’m pretty anxious. I have to juggle my degree, my job, boxing, the gym, and of-course, myself. Sometimes, handling all the stress does start to feel overwhelming, but I take a lot of pride in how much stuff I do. When I reflect, it makes me feel pretty powerful knowing that I’m doing all these things despite having a mental illness that could easily spiral if I didn’t constantly chop away at its roots. I like to draw a lot of pride from those reminders of how well I’m doing, but that means I’m less likely to juggle things around when I do eventually start to feel the strain of it all. The strain, and the stress it creates, starts to feed into my anxious thoughts, and gives them new strength that starts to eat away at me. My thoughts about my heart have started to come back with new force recently, and it kept me up late last night with deep worry and anxiety. I’m writing this now as a reminder to myself that sometimes you have to juggle things around a bit; slow down in some areas, whilst making-sure that I’m still going forward, both in a productive way and in my own mental health.

The problem with seeing being busy as a strategy to battle anxious thoughts is that you tend to forget to actually listen to the current of your thoughts. So, you know, when your strategy starts to wear you down, you should probably listen to your mind asking you to please calm your shit. I just find it immensely-difficult to stop, because I have all these ideas about where I want to go, and what kind of person I want to be. I don’t want to tone-down training, because I want to work towards a better physique and I want to carry-on fighting. I can’t stop working, because I need the money, and whilst I haven’t exactly been a model student this year, I do still see my degree as a full-time committment. The point is, there’s only so much time in each day, and as much as it pains me, I’m not superhuman. I can’t do all these things whilst having solid mental health, and I have to accept that that’s okay. What I want of myself, that can come in good time. What’s causing me so much anxiety at the moment is that I’m wanting to study like a Historian, train like AJ, and… well I’m okay with doing the bare minimum at work (sorry about that). I think the best way to summarise it is I tend to burn the candle at both ends, because I want to be proud of myself, but in my mind I can only be proud of myself when I’m going 100% in everything. When I don’t do that, I get stressed, I get moody, I doubt myself, and before I know it I’ve lost my calm headspace and I’m getting sucked-up into a battle with myself that I’ve pretty-much already set up to be a loss, because I just can’t work like a pack-mule all the time. I need that down-time so I can have the good mental health to maintain a good work-rate. My capacity to work just might not be at the level of AJ, and it’s a tough thing to accept, but I’m going to have-to!

Pay attention to how much you’re actually doing. Some people can work more than others, but even they have a limit. There comes a point where you need a break, both phsyically and mentally. You can’t always be thinking about how hard you’re going to work, because by doing so you’re setting yourself up for a loss. It’s much much better (and of course tricky) to work towards figuring out what your best working capacity is, and set small, realistic goals going towards what it is you want overall. As tricky as it is, we all have constraints on how much we can do, and to be at your best you have to know your limits.

-Nick

Ways to look after your mental health at university

  1. Go at your own paceIn this age of social media, we’re interconnected like never before. Individuality has flourished on the internet, and everyone can have an audience. We see great variety in the ways that people live their lives, and how they express this on social media. As great as this can be for individuals, it does also open up some problems. It’s easy to see an active user who likes to show themselves at their prime at all times. Their pictures could be carefully manufactured to remove imperfections, and their updates could show the success of their active working pattern. It’s easy to see these things and immediately feel like you’re doing something wrong. You respond by asking questions of yourself as if this person has the key to unlocking a happy, balanced and productive life for all. This is something you need to avoid in-general, but what I will say for your time at University is that if you peg your own standards to those of other people, you’re not focussing on honing those traits intrinsic to you. Social media is just one example. Another one is the people you actually have around you. One of the most terrifying things to hear when you ask someone how they’re getting-on with an essay or with seminar reading is “Oh yeah, I’m almost done, I just need to make my final edits.” Again, your immediate reaction is to reassess your own work-rate, but this does nothing but cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. Something really important to take from University is an understanding of what makes you work at your best level. Looking to other people’s working routines, whilst it can be useful for finding inspiration, becomes a problem when you try to to mould yourself to it. Everyone works differently, and one of the best things to leave University with is a concrete knowledge of what makes you work best. Not just for your success in your field, but for your mental health- working to your own rythym is an important skill, and it should be a major focus for your time at University.
  2. Make your wellbeing your first prioritySo, you’ve come to University, and your main goal is to get that degree. What you don’t know is that over the next three or four years it’s incredibly likely that the importance of that goal will fluctuate- it will probably become a remote possibility at some points; at others it might feel like a complete drag, and sometimes it could inspire bursts of energy and motivation. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a lot more to University than the degree. Foremostly, it’ll probably be your first experience of living alone. Moving away from home, for me at-least, was terrifying, and I’d say I’m quite an autonomous person. Alongside your degree, you’ll have to learn how to live without the constant safety net your parents produce. You’ll have to learn how to shop for yourself, how to cook for yourself, how to manage bills and finances. The hardest part of all of that though, is learning how to cope with the feeling of knowing that you’ve flown from the nest. Coming home after your first term at University is a strange feeling, and for me it was deeply uncomfortable because it just felt so different, and it lost some of its special comfort it gave previously.

    To add to this pretty gruelling list, you’re going to have to take manage your own life if you’re going to get a degree. This means organising meetings, organising group sessions, meeting academic staff, organising when you’re going to do your work etc. The list goes on and on. There’s far far more to a degree than you initially think, and over time the trials and tribulations of living away from home, leading your own autonomous life with people you hardly know will exert a lot of pressure on you. So yeah, the main goal is to get a degree, but at the same time, you will have a lot on your plate. So, be kind to yourself. You are going through a major change in your life, and it’s not going to be easy all the time. Take time to focus on yourself, to assess where you’re at in your head, and how you’re coping with all these changes going-on around you. Always make sure that the things you do at University are for you. There’s that much going on all the time that it’s easy to get lost in it all, to just get on with it and forget about yourself, but eventually you’ll realise that something has gone wrong somewhere. To avoid this, I say make yourself your main priority at University. As changes whirl around in this chaotic bubble, always make sure to take time to slow everything down, and almost take a birds-eye view on what’s going-on in your mind. Take breaks as and when you need them, and do not be afraid to say no to your friends. True friends will understand that they get to enjoy you because you follow your own rhythym and that is what makes you you. So, another very important thing to bear in-mind is to make yourself your own priority. Do this, and the degree will slot-in alongside.

  3. Exercise
    Exercise, it’s everywhere! Half of your Facebook friends now have ‘PT’ at the end of their name, and almost everyone is walking around in gym gear. The pressure on people to be at the gym, striving to look like the chiseled model on the cover of Men’s Health, or the petite yet well-endowed Instagram model, is so high at the moment. So I think in some ways, exercise has become tainted. To go to the gym means you’re just following the trend, and such. There’s been such a strong backlash to the emergent culture of exercise, that it’s hard to locate some happy middle ground.

    Amidst all this hype around exercise, if you strip it all down barebones, exercise can still exert a therapeutic effect on you when you find the right kind of exercise for you. I’m a believer that there’s a form of exercise that suits everyone, be it running, lifting weights, playing hockey, whatever! This feeds into what I’ve just said about making yourself your own priority, because exercising can induce a meditative-like state, it can be immensely fun, it can relieve pent-up stress, and it can do a great job of bringing like-minded people together and allowing them to enjoy each other’s company. The point is, exercise is a versatile thing and it can be made to work to your advantage. You don’t have to run around in the latest gym leggings, or worry about how big your arms are. I think there’s something truly powerful about exercising, and it unlocks feelings that sitting-down just can’t quite achieve. Sometimes it could just bring some much-needed variety after a long day at the library. At the end of it all, though, exercising has a lot of uses. It doesn’t have to be about following the latest fads.

  4. Build healthy habits
    This is very much the mixing-together of everything I’ve already said. I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay-tuned to your own inner voice. For me the most important thing you can do is listen to this voice, and conduct yourself according to how you want to. When you combine all the things I’ve spoken about, you get into healthy habits. They’re healthy because they come from your genuine desires to help yourself. You may learn this at a point when you’ve gotten into friend groups that orientate around things that just aren’t your jam. It takes time to realise what your own inner voice is saying, and even longer to begin to act on it. But when it does become known to you, don’t be afraid to say no to people, or to let people go who don’t encourage you to live by the life you’ve decided to set-out for yourself. You should never be ashamed of living your life according to how you want to. To do so at University is a sign of great strength, because there’s a lot of forces pulling you in different directions and it’s easy to succumb to it all. You might begin to lose contact with people as you begin to do the things you really want to do, but that’s fine. When it’s all said and done and you’re on your deathbed, will they even be a memory? So put all these things together, and focus on what is best for you.
  5. Try to think that you are exactly where you need to be
    This is probably one of the hardest things to do, for anybody let alone a student. Many of us have plans for our lives, and most of us have expectations of ourselves, and these are constantly-changing as our lives go on. In our heads, there’s always worry of what you’ll be in the future, or what kind of a person you’ll be, or what kind of a person you currently are and if this person is good or desirable or whatever. We’re filled with self-doubt all the time, because we’re made to think always of where we are right now, and the end-goal; never the process in-between. There’s always deadlines to be met, obligations to be fulfilled, and the scale of it all is so huge that you’ll often just let it all get to you, and you’ll worry how on Earth you’re ever going to overcome it all and be the person you envisage in your head. When am I going to reach my end-point and really be my best self? When will I figure it all out? When will life get easier? Our heads are one constant rush at University and throughout life in-general, that we cannot possibly fathom to ask ourselves “Am I exactly where I need to be right now?”

    Face it, your deadlines are a long way away. Your Mum and Dad still don’t actually have a clue what’s going on in this myriad of bollocks we call life, and you are constrained by the person that you are now. It takes time to alter the chemistry of your mind, and to change the way you see and process things. Rather than worry about finding the answers to impossible questions about yourself, why not ask if you are actually exactly where you need to be? Maybe it’s okay to not have all the answers right now. It could be absolutely fine that you still don’t know who you are, what your tastes are, what kind of person you want to be. It’s also absolutely fine that your work isn’t done yet. I hate to repeat a cliche, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will you. You don’t have all the answers, you probably never will, and that’s absolutely fine. I am being serious as well when I say your parents still don’t have a clue what’s going on. I think the trick to mastering adulthood is making your children believe you know all the answers.

  6. Accept your flaws

    “You’re not perfect, sport, and let me save you the suspense: this girl you’ve met, she’s not perfect either. But the question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other.”- Sean McGuire

    You’d think I’m being the bearer of bad news to flat-out tell you you’re a flawed person, but I’m not. Flaws and imperfections, to once again quote from the wonderful film Good Will Hunting: they’re the good stuff. Blemishes, awkward laughs, flatulence, strange habits, the whole works. You’re a package deal, and you deserve to be loved entirely. But firstly, you have to learn to accept your flaws, and even embrace them. Your flaws are just as natural to you as your strengths, so why brush them under the carpet and pretend they aren’t there? I think what I’m trying to say is that honesty with yourself is quite an important thing. Be it acknowledging that you do not in-fact know how to win at the game of life, or be it bringing your imperfections into the light. Being honest with yourself about yourself is the first and most important step in beginning to accept yourself. It’s a hard thing to do when you have all these moulds you want yourself to fit into, but the truth is you might be incompatible with some of the ways you wish you were. I wish I were better at socialising, but I know my mental illness can make me go from happy and raring to go to absolute rock-bottom. I was ashamed for cancelling on people for so long, but why should I be ashamed about something I have no control over? That’s that process of being honest with yourself about yourself. See yourself as you are right now, and please be a bit kinder to yourself.

    I just want to finish by saying that this advice is written to help me just as much as it is to help you. I don’t embody most of this all of the time, and I’ve written these down partly as a reminder to myself of what I’m hoping to take from the very limited time I have left at University now. Right now I’m trying to be more honest with myself, and understand that the confusion I have about my life is fine, and there’s nothing I can really do about it. I’m not a wise sage who dispenses advice he actually lives-by, i’m an imperfect 3rd year student who makes a lot of mistakes and forgets to follow his own advice all the time, but that’s okay. You might finish reading this and think wow, what a waste of time, this doesn’t help me at all. That’s *sobbing* also fine. I just hope what I’ve written here gets you thinking about what’s right for you. At the end of the day, stay true to yourself, be kind to yourself, and embrace whatever happens along the way.

    Nick.

Working through a tough time.

Tonight, I’ve been telling myself I’m at the end of a tough period. The last two weeks have been pretty difficult for me. Working two jobs has really thrown my life up in the air; the usual time slots that the parts of my life occupy have been taken up by work. For a person with anxiety this can be a big deal. Your journey is often spent on the safest part of the road, never deviating away for fear of how you’ll respond to the sudden change of a new path. The anxious mind can struggle a lot with change.

With the last two weeks being so busy, I lost a lot of control over myself. My usual habits went out of the window because they didn’t have their allocated time slot in my day. That, and a lack of sleep. I need a lot of sleep. I’d fall asleep eventually after a late shift, but then wake up quite early with a hideous thirst. I still can’t explain why that happened, but it left me feeling really drained. I had no motivation to cook healthy food, or go to the gym, or even really pay attention to the motions of my own mind. So for two weeks I just existed. I went to work, came home, drank, and then tried to sleep. Eventually I cracked one night and had a panic attack over the whole way i’d been feeling. Two weeks with no control over myself, no direction, no motivation to do anything.

It can feel like bad periods like this will go on forever. Until today it did feel like it would go on forever. How the fuck will I dig myself out of this hole, when I still have to go to work, keep a house tidy, and maintain relationships with people who don’t know what’s wrong? Getting myself back on track felt like a mammoth task. Thing is, i’m not back on track yet, but I feel differently about getting there now. The problems of the past two weeks, they’re not impossible to surmount. Through the lens of anxiety, you look at problems and see an indomitable enemy. However, what afflicts you now doesn’t have to last forever. Pain comes in a moment, but our decision to hold on to it makes it last longer than it should. The moments that led me to that panic attack: poor decisions, lapses in self-control, lack of sleep, they’re all momentary. In the long run they can be completely insignificant, but only if you see them for what they are. Take some time to breathe, and think clearly. You’ll find that the lens is removed, and in that moment of clarity you see that the route back to the straight and narrow isn’t as complicated as it first looked.

And that brings me to where I am now, telling myself I’m at the end of a long two weeks. I’m at the end of a negative cycle, about to break out of a bad habit. When I do, i’ll learn more about myself- that I need to pay more attention to the motions of my mind, that disruption isn’t a bad thing, but rather the way you respond to it can throw you completely off-course, and also to talk to someone. I spoke to my Dad and a couple of trusted friends only when I was at the point of breaking-down. These last two weeks shouldn’t have impacted me the way that they did do, but there’s no shame in admitting that. I have lessons to put into practice, and I will.

Nick C.

Lamplit thoughts: The roll-credit moment.

If any of you are fans of CinemaSins you’ll enjoy that carefully-selected title to give some jazz to my first post.

Lamplit thoughts is the name of my page, because i’m currently sat here in my lamplit room typing this out. I expect to write the majority of my posts in the comfort of my lamplight because i’m usually doing stuff during the day, and in my downtime in the evening I like to reflect- not just on the day but on stuff in-general. I’m one of those who when they lie down they start instantly making up scenarios and then when one strikes a chord you think about what led you there in the first place. Before you know it you’re thinking ‘shit, I’ve just planned the rest of my life out with someone I’ve spoken to for one week.’ Well, it’ll be much better for me to think stuff through and then talk it out on here rather than taking racing thoughts to bed with me. I think that’s the way I’ve set this page up. I hope it feels like you’re actually sat with me whilst you’re reading this. On my page I’ve adopted a dimmed layout with a picture of my desk under the lamplight at its header. I want a visit to my page to feel like you’re sat with me, and we’re talking about how the day has been, or life in-general, or a film you quite like, or anything like that. I want the page to have a laid-back feel to it. It’s inspired by my room, which has that relaxed feel to it. My room is where I feel safe and able to really relax, so it seems fitting to me now to start a blog where i’m talking at you all at my most comfortable. As someone with anxiety I find it very difficult to be relaxed around people, even some of those who i’m quite close to. In conversations I devote a lot of my mental energy to deciphering whether or not i’m being my normal self. By the end of it i’m tired and I need time alone, and usually i’d play video games, or more recently i’ll go to the gym or go for a run- yay health. Now, I want to start addressing that, because I love people and I shouldn’t tire so easily. That tiredness comes from the anxiousness I feel as soon as someone talks to me. I assess every way the conversation could go, and I try to filter out all the possibilities that could make the conversation, and my relationship with that person, go awry.

I’m going to begin to address that problem with this blog. This blog is my way to learn how to speak to people without worrying about how i’m going to come across. Looking at how any keyboard warrior behaves tells you that when you’re not faced with a real person in front of you who can respond to your face to the things you say with how they feel about what you say, it’s a lot easier to be your real self. That’s my starting-point, I guess. I express myself in my most relaxed environment, and I remember who that is, and then in real-life scenarios I have to challenge myself to be that guy.

So yeah, that’s quite short and sweet, but there’s the origin story as best as I can explain it right now. Onwards from here!