Learning

Finding a balance in life

River_1

It can be difficult to know what to do some days; sometimes you feel like there is so much to get done and not enough hours in the day, at other times you have nothing to do and filling the void of nothingness in your day can be daunting. This blog post is going to look at what you can do to find a better balance in your days and feel more content with how you’ve spent your time.

PACE Yourself

Play time is an important element to factor into your day; doing something that gives you a sense of enjoyment. Whether you enjoy going out with friends and family (albeit virtually at the moment with current Covid-19 lock down measures) or reading a good book, it is important to have time in your day that is just for you. You don’t need to necessarily be achieving anything or have an aim to what you’re doing, you are there to enjoy the experience.

For people like me who are very goal orientated and struggle to relax, knowing what to do to relax can be a challenge in itself. Something I have found helpful is to, at the end of every day, write down 3 things you did that you enjoyed that day and rate them on a scale of 1-10. My observations are below:

I worked past 5pm because I was enjoying my work

Scale: 7/10

I contributed work towards my blog

Scale: 8/10

I watched an episode of a documentary about Michael Jordan and  found it inspirational

Scale: 9/10

 

From this, you can begin to look at what you enjoy doing the most and start to plan time into each day for these activities. You won’t always be able to fit them in each day, but it’s important you try to keep as much balance as possible.

For me, I really enjoyed writing. However, I did not enjoy stressing about what to write about. So, I made a conscious effort to not set myself any goals for writing a blog post. I told myself that I may not even publish the post, that it was just for me to write and reflect on how I was feeling. When you take your focus away from all your goals and things you need to do and just focus on the experience of doing what you enjoy, it’s a moment of complete bliss.

Achievement is the next thing we’re going to look at. For many people, whether you’re goal orientated or not, it is important to feel like you have achieved something. From my personal experience, I need to constantly be achieving something every day to feel like I’m progressing forward. If I don’t, I feel very low and demotivated. However, people often make similar mistakes when trying to find what gives them a sense of achievement:

  • They look online at suggestions other people make, such as doing the washing up or tidying the house but those suggestions aren’t personal to them
  • They set unachievable goals for the day and feel demotivated when they cannot meet them

Similar to understanding what makes you happy, it’s also important to understand what is important to achieve for you personally. You may have a big end goal of earning lots of money by 30/working your way up to your dream job/going from being a complete slob to keeping the house perfectly tidy and that’s okay. However, you need to identify smaller, more achievable tasks you can complete to get closer to your goal. I began to write down 3 things each day that I did that helped with my sense of achievement that were personal to me, as small as they were.

I did the washing up and brought some washing up from downstairs

Scale: 8/10

I ate in line with my diet

Scale: 8/10

I wrote part of this blog post in HTML instead of using the normal viewer

Scale: 9/10

 

It may not seem like you’re achieving much, but slowly you are performing behaviours that are moving you closer toward your goals. Something as simple as keeping the kitchen tidy has done me a world of good with feeling less stressed. Slowly but surely, I am becoming less of a slob. Try to plan small amounts of time in your day to complete these activities.

Care for yourself. It is so easy to become flustered and lose track of your routine. Weekends/time off work can be particularly challenging as there is not a set routine you need to follow. You may choose to sleep in, but then become overwhelmed with guilt for not making use of the morning. You may treat yourself to a bar of chocolate but feel like you’ve failed at eating healthy for that day. You may go out for a walk but cut it short because you feel tired and feel like you’ve let yourself down.

Let yourself off the hook for those times; often they are indicators that you do not have enough balance in your life. It is okay to not meet every goal in your day; you can get back on track by focusing on your next one or reassessing and considering if you need a bit more ‘me’ or ‘achieve’ time. Beating yourself up about missing targets is that negative voice in your head trying to hold you back, but that isn’t you. Be kind to yourself.

Energy to achieve your goals or to engage with things you enjoy can sometimes be challenging. There will be days where you don’t feel like doing anything or feeling positive, however by keeping to your plan and doing it your mood will improve.

I had an awful day a few weeks back, where I had decided “Today is a write off” and that I didn’t have any energy to write a blog post. I began to lay down and close my eyes to escape from my reality but pushed myself to go outside and sit in the sun. Initially, I felt rubbish and couldn’t see how sitting outside was going to help my mood. However, I put on an audio book (something I enjoyed listening to) and laid there listening to it. After a few minutes, I felt the tension in my shoulders go as I just enjoyed the experience of relaxing.

Half an hour later, I sat up after having listened to enough of my book and pulled out my laptop and began writing my blog post. I actually wrote my best blog post to date and ended the day feeling so positive and like I’d overcome a big hurdle. I would never have managed it if I’d let myself accept that nothing was going to be accomplished that day.

It’s important in life to find a good balance that works for you between caring for yourself and achieving your goals. If you swing too far one way you may feel stressed and anxious all the time, or too far the other you may feel low and depressed. Reflect on each day as it comes and build a plan that works for you, one you know you will make you feel happy and will bring a sense of achievement to your days. Pace yourself, you can do this.

This blog post is based off of a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy PACE plan I’ve been trying to implement, you can find a link to it here.
Self Reflection

Failure and Depression

Fear
“The darkness is coming. It yearns for life, hungers for it – like a pack of wolves on a hunt. But she’s not stopping. Not this time.” – Hellblade, Senua’s Sacrifice. The drawing is of an anime I love, Ajin.

Do you ever have those moments where you find out some new information, a missing piece in the puzzle of how you’re going to conquer your depression and you feel so motivated and in control?

An idea someone shares with you, a book you read, song lyrics, a blog you read online…

You think to yourself “Yes, this is me. That idea has filled in a gap for me, something that I didn’t know about myself previously that now I understand. Now I know this I can finally make a change and get myself out of this.”

So, you chuck on your sports clothes and go out for that run. Or you grab a pen and paper and start to write that book or draw that picture you’ve wanted to do so long now. You feel great but you hit your first hurdle, this is harder than you anticipated. You begin to notice a weight pressing down on your shoulder, as if a hand lay rested of it; you shrug it off. You push through it as you are in control and you know you can achieve your goal.

A thought crosses your mind “See, it’s just the same as before. You’re still struggling. You haven’t found the answer; you’re never going to make it out of this… it’s too hard.”.

You struggle to refocus on what you’re doing, working toward the better you, but the weight becomes overwhelming. You’re no longer carrying just a hand on your shoulder, but a full body collapsed over you. Every step you take on your run, every word you go to write, every line you go to draw has the extra weight pushing through it. You feel exhausted and give up, you’ve failed… again. Things will never change.

I’ve had my fair share of experience with the feelings of failure and like you’re stuck; never able to take steps forward, only back. Every time I tried something new or tried to push myself to follow through on a goal I so desperately wanted to achieve, I would fail. It would hit me hard and I would feel like I was sinking further and further away from where I wanted to be.

Negative thoughts started to seep in and take control. It had been so long since I was able to achieve something worthwhile that I felt like being a failure was who I had become. I felt like I had lost who I used to be, someone who was highly motivated and could achieve anything I put my mind to. Instead, I found myself in a hole I kept trying to jump out of. However, every time I tried to jump and didn’t make it the weight of my fall just deepened the hole. I felt like I was doomed to repeat the process for the rest of my life; this is who I was now as much as I tried to fight the idea of it.

However, one day I started watching a reality show on TV: SAS Who Dares Wins. I remember watching Ant Middleton talk about his struggles but how you just have to push through them. I quickly Googled his name and noticed he had a book out (now two books out) and several interviews where he speaks about failure.

The big things that stop us in life stop us from achieving is failure and fear. The fear, woom! Okay, we won’t even go there, challenge it because like you said, once you get past that and you feel like you’ve got that sense of achievement. Even if it’s a small sense, even if you fail but you learn something about yourself. You’re going to grow therefore you re-attack, you re-expose. And then you’re going to learn something that’s what life is about is this small progression in the right direction in life. You want to be doing that till the day you die because that’s what your purpose in life.

Ant Middleton , Paracelsus Recovery interview

I had never really considered failure this way, as a necessary part of life to learn from and grow as a person. Failure always had such negative associations with it. I never used to tell people I was going for a job interview as if I didn’t get it I didn’t want to be seen as a failure; I didn’t want my shame to be compounded by people telling me “Sorry you didn’t get it, I’m sure you’ll get the next one!”.

I would choose easy things to draw as I didn’t want to highlight areas in my skillset that are weak. If I tried to do a more challenging drawing and failed, I would feel horrible and retreat back to my comfort zone so no one could see the limitations of my skill. Or I wouldn’t draw at all. I would switch on my PS4 and play a game, something I knew I was good at. I choose the easy option.

A lot of people who shy away or they have the easy option and they choose the easy option and therefore, you will not build resilience if you do that. The easy option is something in life that is presented to us on a plate where if you decide to step off that path to challenge yourself that’s where you build up resilience and ultimately you expose who you are, you expose your emotions and you learn to deal with them, that’s what resilience is, it doesn’t have to be climbing Mount Everest, being in a special boat service, being in a special forces, being in the military. It is about taking on the challenges that will challenge you and test you.

Ant Middleton , Paracelsus Recovery interview

Historically I never reflected on what I could learn from my failures. I would fail at something and attribute that to myself; I was a failure. However, by doing that I never took the time to reflect on what I did well and what I could improve on. I would take one step forward toward my goal, but then two steps back as I would feel like I was back to square one and it would put me off trying again.

However, Ant Middleton describes failure as a journey. You take one step forward and you may fail, but now you’ve been there and got that experience. You may not have done it right the first time, but the next time you go for it you will be able to draw from your previous experience. If you’ve taken the time to reflect on what you’ve done well, but more importantly on what you can improve on you can learn from that. You’ve been down this road; you know the way and you recognise the wrong turn you made last time. This time you can avoid it and you may end up taking another wrong turn, but then the next time you try you’ll know to avoid that road too. However, if you don’t reflect on your negative experiences, all that experience is lost.

When you take the negatives in your life and use them to build a narrative of who you are, often self-hatred comes soon after. You become trapped in your own narrative and punish yourself for your failures and shortcomings. The easy option becomes your natural response to every situation. When you start to feel uncomfortable or feel people may see you for the failure you are you retreat further into your safe zone, but with that comes unhappiness. You become a prisoner to your own fear and failure so those dreams you have become just that, dreams. That comparison to where you are now and where you want to be only build on your unhappiness. You become stuck.

Stuck is where I found myself for many years, however at some point I decided enough is enough and began to put myself in uncomfortable situations, it was awful. I would fail and feel humiliated and retreat back into my comfort zone. However, I would then push myself again… and again… and again. Until I got to the point where if I recognised myself backing away from a situation as I was scared of failing, I would make myself do it.

From doing this and learning from my negative experiences, I have grown massively as a person. I used to be scared of picking up the phone and making a call, now I won’t think twice about doing it. I may feel anxious about doing it, but I will do it. I would never have become a trainer where I had to talk in front of a group of people (first couple of times doing it were horrible). I wouldn’t have started up this blog, I would be paralysed by my fear of failure and what people might think.

More recently I’ve learnt that this mindset can also be applied to smaller, everyday things. Such as making the decision to attempt a drawing instead of watching some TV. Or going to the gym and trying out the weights section instead of shying away and not achieving what I wanted to in the gym.

When you put yourself out there and try to better yourself or your quality of life, you will hit roadblocks and feel like you’ll never make it to where you want to be. Hitting that block is nothing to be ashamed of. This is a journey and it is the first time you’ve been down this route; no one expects you to know what you’re doing or where you’re going. I can’t promise some people won’t form their own judgements that do not help you; however, I can promise you that they do not matter. All that matters is that you do not forget those failures and you keep trying. Everyone fails, but not everyone learns to use those failures to their advantage. Be open and honest with yourself about your failures, you can do this.

Garden
It took about 50 different photos to finally get one I was happy with. I nearly gave up after the first round of photos I took as I felt like I just wasn’t skilled enough to capture what I wanted. However, I kept trying and got a pretty nice snap out of it in the end. From the rotting and dying plant, grows a pretty flower.

 

 

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.