-A Windowseat of One’s Own
On being asked to write a piece about ‘my journey’ for a friends’ project on mental health and eating disorders, the first thing I considered was how ultimately contrasting everyone’s experiences with them are, and how impossible it is to compare any two individuals’ struggles or attempts at understanding them, be it one’s own illness or that of a loved one.
In a way, I like to think of it in terms of travelling; a literal journey from one destination and state of being to a new one; an unknown – because that’s what it feels like. In striving for recovery, we must not look back, or attempt to return to any previous state of being, even if there was once a time when we were relatively content with ourselves and situation. Going back to that state is not, and will never be an option. You can implement things to bring about similar circumstances, but ultimately the world and you as a human being will have revolved and evolved again and again since that time, and you will be attempting to experience the same thing again as a different person. The only option is to move forward, continuosly, consistently, and steadily. This is why I feel travel is a good metaphor with which to explore the possibilities of recovery; because when you finally, finally, after months and years of stifled emotions, opinions, and tragically, creativity, finally find yourself in a comfortable position of balance and control and acceptance, the possibilities really are mindblowing, and even the most familiar of locations present themselves to you in a new light and as new destinations to explore. You suddenly see the world for the oversized high school that it is of people constantly striving to be the best, not out of greed or selfishness, but out of pure necessity to survive and progress. Survival is progression. And so we must move with it.
The significance of continuos progression in relation to mental health disorders is key to unlocking an ability to maintain a balance and contentment within oneself. I believe that any such illness or disorder is something that can only be maintained within us all, and kept at bay – the same way we consistently must nourish our bodies physically to ensure their continued function. The only difference with this as an example is that we have been taught to recognise feelings of hunger and thirst for what they are, because the elements required to stifle their urgency and need are not readily available within our bodies. We must seek them elsewhere, be it the fridge, the shop, the ground outside. We depend and rely physically on our world to survive, and in doing so often forget that it is necessary to be able to stand on our own two feet within it before we seek sustenance from it; being aware, or sitting within our bodies ourselves, alone at a windowseat being transported to some obscure (or perfectly familiar) location. We become dependent on other things and substances to validate ourselves, to give us a sense of purpose. Why can’t we depend on ourselves? Where is the individuality and independence we have so often heard of and sought throughout history? Why must we continually be let down by our own mistakes in relying on things outside of our own control to help us excel, when really the power lies within us all to make changes and differences in our own lives?
This is why I believe that to truly achieve any kind of balance or recovery from a mental health difficulty, the person must individually choose to do so, or at the very least choose to try. To try to help themselves, and to find some sort of balance or regularity in their lives for themselves, independent of any outside influences or opinions. In choosing to try, I was overwhelmed with a need to travel, and to see the world; to experience things and people and cultures and climates that I have not before; to truly feel and to have the strength to carry myself from place to place, even if it had to start off with small journeys; going down the road to get the bus to work, or a coffee.
There are few things I enjoy more than travelling alone on a moderately empty trian, bus, or plane and having a windowseat to myself. Being aware of my own existence, and content in the fact that I am moving forward. There is a stillness, a serenity in watching the world outside pass by from the safety and comfort of a moving vehicle, having one’s current situation and journey ahead calmly assessed, not necessarily perfectly planned, but merely sitting in contemplative content as you are transported across a landmass. The movement and transportation of my body finally matching the speed and intensity of my thoughts, I can somehow find a balanced middleground of symbiosis as the crazy internal flickering comes parallel to physical movement and tras-country roaming. I feel calm in movement. Cheesy and all as it sounds, I feel like in being physically transported places that I am getting closer in touch with my ‘authentic self’, a goal or state of being promoted by many recovery and treatment programs, yet rarely truly explained, as it differs for everyone.
In sitting at what is only briefly ‘my own’ windowseat, I am combining that which is certain and steadfast, i.e, my own existence, with something that is passive, fleeting, and only in my presence for a brief period of time as it provides me with a means to get where I wish to go. I am so grounded in movement; within my own body, it’s almost ironic that people often insist that staying in a solitary position for a period of time is the only way to achieve contentment.
I like watching the world go by and wondering what people are up to. Not in a nosy way, but purely in a curious open-minded and fascinated silence as I consider that each person, family, couple, each lonely-looking soul and energy-filled youth have their own story; their own destination; their own goals. The chance that they should choose this particular route to walk or drive on this particular day, bringing them into direct contact with me and my eyeline, all happened by complete chance. No one forced that young mother to stop for coffee in the place across the road with the tasty-looking scones and attractive European barista guy instead of the one next-door to it. There are cars driving by and though they each adhere to the same small roadspace, the same strict rules of thumb when it comes to right of way, indication, parallel parking and speeding up or slowing down, they are all on their own individual mission or task or journey for this particular day, and inside each car resides a specific environment or dynamic individual to that vehicle, and something which cannot be traded in for any other mileage or agenda than their own.
Everybody’s journey is different, and for those of us who struggle to plan out details and specific requirements until they are right on top of us in heat of the last minute, sometimes it can seem less of a ‘journey’ than a hike; a trail into the unknown. Most, like my own, are ongoing journeys; unmapped, unchartered territory – because no one has been exactly where I have been before, and no one is going exactly where I am going. The factors which influence and have influenced my life can never be matched by anothers’, just as I cannot and should not even begin to try to decipher the reasons and factors behind someone else’s actions. We are each such individual souls roaming around aimlessly and searching for something to give us meaning and reason to be doing so. At least when we find some sort of healthy output for this restless energy, be it in art, music, business, cooking, public speaking, helping others, to name but a few; at least then both we ourselves and those around us feel a sort of positivity and validity in our lives. In expending our energies on things that are adding to the world we live in and to the lives of others, we can feel a sense that our existence and purpose is valid.
But what happens when those energies and thoughts and practices get caught up in practices and habits that are considered ‘bad’ or ‘negative’? Anything that doesn’t serve us either mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually can be considered as such. Why then is it so easy to do it? To let ourselves and all potential energies and possibilities get scooped up by the bad? The restrictive and excessive, damaging emotions and actions almost feel SAFE in their extremity, so elusive and small is the middleground and stable area of ‘balance’ we all are aware of and strive to attain. In the behaviours and seemingly obsessive tendencies there is often a sense of security that is lacked in some other area of our lives. Often it takes time, honesty, and a lot of self-realisation to help us truly understand our authentic selves and needs and to acknowledge what this might be. Our sense of autonomy can get completely lost in this life of excess- always too much or too little, and subsequent preoccupation with this – a testament to the bulimic society we live in that promotes treats and sugar-coated tasty breakfast flakes immediately followed by ‘7 weight-loss tips to get rid of that muffin top’. It’s no wonder so many of us get confused.
In admitting this confuses us, it is so easy to let that fact take over, and instead of working through the confusion, pushing past that which makes us unsure of ourselves, our purpose, and journey – we just stay there, and develop an unhealthy and twisted sense of comfort and reliance on this confusion to get by. We are in part aware of the impracticality and damaging aspect of it, yet the fear of facing this full on for what it is is too great to even consider trying to defeat. So we remain as we are. Struggling. Aware. Ignoring it. Aware. Distraught. Aware. Confused. We all know deep down what is good and what is bad for us. What makes us feel good versus what doesn’t. it’s all very black and white when put like that, but it’s the truth. It’s in our responses to outside influences and subsequent mental processing of them where the problems arise. In adapting to our circumstances, we are enabling ourselves to progress further, instead of becoming stuck in habits that do not serve us.
Changing clothes and coats and outer layers regularly only becomes a problem when you start leaving important things in pockets. In changing myself to suit other people or please a general majority or crowd, I was placing yet another layer atop my already stifled self. For the core to shine through, to really be seen, for ‘shine’ is what any honest truth really will do when given the opportunity, we must become comfortable with that which lies beneath the layers.
The human body amazes me in that it will do every single thing necessary and within its’ power to fix and help itself. If there is one thing my ‘journey’ up until now has shown me, it is that. The human body is a masterpiece of engineering, with cells reforming and repairing themselves through even the harshest of treatment; enzymes and vitamins and minerals working alongside one another to carry out tasks and ensure everything is functioning to the best of its’ ability – all without even a thought or instruction from us. I am hugely grateful for this fact, yet it also baffles me that given the the case with the physical body, that it doesn’t come as second nature or automatic for us to adapt similarly and to help ourselves mentally, should an issue arise. If it were a thing that we were physically programmed to help our own mentality improve when we felt it struggling, the world would be a very different place. Often our bodies do things to help us survive without us even realising the fact, which makes it difficult to acknowledge and appreciate it at all. Because we don’t need to acknowledge it, we end up taking it for granted, and not realising the need to acknowledge and take similar action against mental problems when they arise.
In learning to recognise our own individual symptoms, triggers and warning signs, we are ultimately taking responsibility for ourselves and the space we occupy upon this earth – because no one else will. No one else can occupy this windowseat while I sit here. They might do in an hour or so when the train arrives, is cleaned out, and prepared for a return journey, but by that time I will be long gone; probably sitting in another seat of a connecting bus or train or plane, destined for another stop on my timeline.
In recognising that the world is as fleeting, inconsistant and unpredictable as we as humans are ourselves, we may somehow be able to greet it as a very large entity on which we have just somehow found ourselves walking. The endless predictions and prophesizing that the earth will someday end, that the sun will burn out and cease to support life as we know it is a strangly humbling and comforting thought if we consider ourselves in relation to it. We have been given the privelege of existing within this short space of time when the sun and earth have come in to some sort of symbiosis with one another, resulting in a mass expansion of new life, experiences, places, people, and diversity. Our timeline of a mere 80-85 years in such a place is surely something to be celebrated, to embrace, and to fully appreciate by experiencing as much as we possibly can during our time here. It’s almost as if we are currently in some sort of prolonged eclipse of the earth and sun, which has resulted in a burst of life and uncontrolled expansion and exploration of new elements interacting with those they have not yet met with before, constantly moving forward, growing, evolving; progressing. In transporting myself to as many places as I can in order to experience more and more of these elements, my journey is continuing on in the only way in which I see fit to do it. In order for me to successfully carry this out, both my body and my mind must be sufficiently nourished and strong enough to handle the unkowns the world may have in store – the tests, the things my soul has not yet encountered. In coming to terms with my own existance as I sit here on the train and type, I am simultaneously being transported onwards, in a direct and physical manifestation of that which is constantly happening around us and within our lives.
What I observe outside the window has no doubt been observed before by others who have knowingly come this way too, our paths having taken a similar route, yet both each individually carrying on our own journeys, our own goals and needs and lives moving forwards. Yet none of what I am seeing has been seen in quite the same light before, with the same experiences, emotions, mental, spiritual and physical conditions at similar levels and in combination. For the past few hours, this windowseat and view has been my own, but soon, it will cease to mean anything to me, and move on to be experienced by the next lonesome and contemplative traveller. My journey has brought me through bumpy times, uncertain and sometimes downright terrifying thoughts and behaviours, usually punctuated by contrasting moments of contentment and balance. In knowing these positive moments do occur, and are possible to obtain provided I remain aware of myself and surroundings, I know the hike ahead is a lot more managable than I ever thought it would be. It’s a constant work in progress, and in not knowing exactly what’s on the horizion, one inevitably is left open to both the good and bad aspects of what lies ahead. But I am now more equipped than ever, stronger, more aware, and ready to see everything this planet has to offer me as I embrace the good luck and fortune I have in experiencing the paralling of both of our brief existences.