Self Reflection

Distractions

As with all of my posts, any helpful sites or information I have found through my own research I have linked on this post. The word will be highlighted in blue with a line underneath it. Attached content is not my own but well worth a read as it’s all good ideas. Please feel free to explore these sights for more information.
Hanzo
A drawing of one of my favourite Overwatch characters, Hanzo. Instagram theartofbeinghappy_drawing

I’ve always enjoyed playing video games and a few years ago I started playing a game called Overwatch. When the game first came out, I sank hours of my day into it and really enjoyed playing. However, after about year or so of playing I noticed I had started to enjoy the game less. It had become very repetitive and I decided I needed to spend some time doing some other hobbies so I could come back to playing Overwatch feeling fresh. However, when I tried to do another hobby such as drawing or reading, I found myself feeling very tired.

I remember thinking to myself that I probably just hadn’t had enough sleep, so I switched back to playing Overwatch so I had something to do until it was time for bed. The next day I woke up feeling very fresh, I had made sure I had gotten a good night’s sleep and I tried to draw again. I started to think about what I wanted to draw but I couldn’t decide; should I draw something for fun or something that would be popular if I posted it online? After about half an hour I decided to draw something that would get lots of likes online, but then came the question of what that would be.

Fast forward an hour and I had put down my drawing pad, having drawn nothing and laid down in bed feeling exhausted. I switched on my PS4, booted up Overwatch and played that for the rest of my evening. Every time I tried to do something new or different from Overwatch, I had a similar experience and ended up feeling tired or falling asleep.

For me, I found it very stressful that I couldn’t do things I used to enjoy. I thought I had lost my ability to learn and enjoy hobbies, so I had to cling onto the only thing that made me feel better; playing Overwatch. This continued for a couple of years and gradually my mood deteriorated until the point where I just felt numb. Even playing Overwatch was too much energy a lot of the time so I just watched other people play it online, periodically napping until the point where I could go bed. This was life and I couldn’t see a way out of this cycle I was in.

There was no real defining moment for me to reflect back on and say, “That was when I decided enough was enough, I am going to be happy and make changes to my life”. It was a very gradual process and a lot of being brutally honest with myself and the choices I made. I started to reflect on my own thoughts and pay attention to common ‘stories’ I would tell myself.

You’ve lost your ability to learn

You’re too far behind everyone else who already knows how to do this, there’s no point learning now

You’re not going to be able to apply this skill so you’re wasting time when you should be doing something to move toward your goals

I noticed that whenever I tried to do some drawing, read a book or watch an online tutorial I spent a lot of time thinking about all of these stories circulating in my mind, rather than focusing on the experience of drawing. I had created so many negative stories around these hobbies which really drained me whenever I thought about them.

CBT_V2
Photo by Craig Parker

Overwatch was effortless in comparison, so that’s how I chose to spend my time. It was a good distraction from all these thoughts controlling my mood and feelings as it meant I didn’t feel so low. I didn’t actually feel happy when playing Overwatch, I just felt less empty. So, how do you break out of the cycle?

I wish I could say “Do this and you’ll be cured!” but unfortunately there’s no quick fix to breaking free from the distractions that are holding you back. However, what I can say with confidence is that it is possible and you can start to bring more variety to your day. It will be difficult, and you will resort back to indulging in your distractions like I have done and sometimes still do… and that’s okay. Remember this is a journey and you will make wrong turns, however what is important is that you are trying.

But I still feel low when I try to do other things, how can I change that?

  • Decide something new you want to try, or an existing hobby you want to pick up again

I chose to try a new hobby, whittling (wood carving)

  • Take all the pressure off of what you’re doing, choose something simple to do

I chose a simple bird design that I wanted to try and replicate

  • Notice how you’re feeling – sometimes those negative stories creep in without us even being aware so try to check in with yourself regularly (set an alarm every 10/15 minutes if you need to!)

I had carved the basic shape of the bird before I noticed my thoughts turn more negative. I had begun to focus on the smaller details and really struggled to replicate them. I found myself thinking

I can do an okay job at doing something, but I’m never amazing at what I do. I just lack the ability to develop advanced skills

  • Reflect on that thought and try and break it down (please use whatever means you find most helpful – I’ve said to write down the below however you can draw it, type it, or do it in your mind. Whatever works for you). Mine is based off of a Cognitive Behavioural strategy introduced to me by a counsellor I am speaking with. You can find out more information about it here.

Story – write down your thought that is making you feel unhappy

I can do an okay job at doing something, but I’m never amazing at what I do. I just lack the ability to develop advanced skills

Feeling – write down how the thought makes you feel mentally

Sad, stressed, frustrated

Physical – write down how the thought makes you feel physically

Tired, tense

Behaviour – write down any changes to your behaviour caused by the thought

Feeling like I want to lash out at something, feeling like I want to be alone

The stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, are the ones that we form our beliefs from. They dictate who we believe we are, and what we feel we are capable of. However, so often the stories we tell aren’t empowering stories that build us up, they’re dis-empowering ones that tear us down. They tell us we’re not capable of achieving our dreams, or don’t deserve to feel happy. This next step is the hardest one as it requires us to separate ourselves from these thoughts.

  • Look at the dis-empowering story you’ve just broken down and see it for what it is. It is a hurdle on your journey, it’s something in your way to achieving your goals or finding happiness. It is not who you are. You are in control and you can decide what happens right now.

If you want to let loose and jump to your feet and shout “I am in control!” you can do. If you want to grab your pen and paper and just draw and scribble out whatever you’re feeling, you can. You have so much power and control in the moment that is happening right now. It is not easy and for some, by this point you may be feeling exhausted. You may have struggled to keep up with the steps I’ve written down, so feeling like you’ve failed but you haven’t. This takes time. Realising you have control of what happens right now feels very powerful but doesn’t mean you can necessarily harness the power and potential of the moment straight away.

What is important is that you recognise your thoughts and you recognise you are in control. It may take you weeks to be able to do your hobby again as this experience was quite negative, or months to get to a point where you don’t turn to social media or play video games to distract yourself from how you’re feeling. Likewise, if you want to try again later today then that’s okay. There is no set amount of time it should take to start feeling like you’re progressing and adding more variety into your life. If you feel like you’re not progressing forward just know, as long as you’re trying you are progressing. It may be slow, but you are moving forward… it’s just a long journey. But we’re on it together, albeit with different destinations.

Keep going, you are in control.

Depression

The ‘D’ word

Depression, where to even begin?

TreeImage by Craig Parker

It has taken me half a year to get to the point of typing this blog post. In fact, I started writing a post a couple of months ago but then lost any momentum for it. The initial thought of writing was exciting and filled me with a burst of energy and enthusiasm to write and express myself, and maybe even help some other people too. Then, the all too familiar feeling of tiredness and negative thoughts came flooding back in and I found myself crawling back into bed, pulling the duvet over me trying to recoup the energy I had just spent stressing over how to start the blog post, let alone plan future posts.

I want to start off by saying that I am by no means on the other side of it (I’m currently in the “I may have depression but don’t want to label it, also I have no reason to be depressed” phase). I’m writing this blog post, fully in the midst of it but with sight on the way out. There is so much content online with people who have beaten depression and want to help guide other people out and, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great they want to share their experiences and help. Reading about other people and what they have done has helped me a lot, but I wanted to share my experience of being in the middle of it. A completely honest account of how it feels, but also methods and ideas I’m exploring to find a way out of it.

You may be right at the start of your journey with depression, or years into it desperately trying to find “the answer” and a way out. The first thing you probably did was Google depression and look on the NHS website (or your health service equivalent!) and read through the advice given to try and help you find a way out of it.

“Exercise regularly”

Seems simple enough. The first time I read it I felt really enthusiastic about exercising, chucked on some shorts and a t-shirt to go for a run along the beach. Or rather a walk, run for 1 minute, walk for 5 minutes, run for another minute, walk for 6 minutes, run for 1.5 minutes, walk home. It was something. It was great, I felt great. Then comes the next time I plan to go for a run and suddenly it feels like the weight of the world on my shoulders, dragging me down. I suddenly feel really tired and can’t get out of bed so just go back to sleep. Very quickly, exercising regularly doesn’t seem so simple. It seems like a hugely unattainable goal I’ll never have enough commitment to meet.

“Try and find a hobby you enjoy”

This one isn’t so simple. When you feel low and low on energy, things you used to find fun now seem a lot more difficult. Sleep is easier. Watching Netflix is easier. Watching Netflix from bed with the possibility of falling asleep whenever you want? That sounds like a great low energy, mind numbing choice.

“Speak to a professional”

Speaking to a professional will no doubt be of benefit in some way, but the problem of time and cost arises. Speaking to someone professionally can be really expensive if you go private, or there can be long wait times to be able to talk to someone, and you want to talk to someone now. The thought of waiting all the time can be stressful. Likewise, the thought of talking to someone can be stressful. I’m in the process of going through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It took 6 months to be able to talk to someone (I’m a few sessions in) and she’s given me a task to do and I’m stressing about not having done it. Another thing I don’t have energy for.
All of this advice itself is good advice, however it’s really not practical as it’s often not as straight forward as it seems. So, where does the blog come in?

One thing I am good at is analysing my own thoughts and researching new things to try and find ways to progress forward from how I’m feeling. I want to share this blog with everyone as not only a way to help myself through this more challenging time in my life, but to also share ideas and thoughts about different suggestions online. It can be very daunting coming to terms with feeling low, let alone labelling how you feel with the ‘d’ word, so I’d like to try and make it a little easier for those reading my blog so others can also begin to develop themselves.

However, before we get started it’s important to note two things:

  • Be open minded

When I first started feeling quite low, I was very closed off to ideas I thought were silly or weren’t really practical. Stuff like yoga and mindfulness I disregarded before I even gave them a shot. However, upon being more open minded and seeing what they were about I found these areas really helpful.

  • Everyone is individual

There is no one fix for everyone. Something I may find helpful, you may not. We can be open minded when looking at these things but sometimes they’re just not practical or do not work for us. That’s okay consider this a journey and acknowledge that you’re going to have good days and bad days. You’re going to try ideas and then them not work for you and feel like you’ve failed, but you haven’t. You’ve simply explored a different road on your journey and found it wasn’t the way you wanted to go. You’ve learnt from the experience and you’ve progressed forward and that’s all that matters.

We’ve got this.