Sometimes I pretend that the steady stream of cars and buses on the busy, non-stop main road that runs right outside the house I’m currently living in is actually the sound of the ocean.
If I close my eyes and imagine hard enough, distance myself fully from the missing factors – salty air, a sea breeze, sand in nooks and crannies you don’t even know exist until there’s sand in them – it’s actually quite easy.
Caught between the need to create and the compulsion to propagate, sometimes these thoughts and other wild-but-tame ideas don’t go very much further than this. Imagining I’m actually in a tropical ‘paradise’ and not sitting mid-hurricane (or so they’re calling it) on a dreary day in Dublin might seem fairly fruitless, and yet to me it means that the course of inner exploration and healing work I’ve been on for the past 2 years or so now seems to be directly on course to succeed.
Depending on what ‘succeeding’ means to you.
To me, all it means is that at the moment, I’m balanced enough to allow my creativity to be put to good use instead of eating me up with incessant anxious thoughts or worries about things that happened yesterday or that might not happen tomorrow. It just means I’m pointed in the right direction for the next few hours.
And that is all I ever can hope to maintain.
(I also say ‘paradise’ in inverted commas here as I’m a firm believer that ‘paradise’ does not exist in one physical place, rather being a state of mind consisting of the right balance of factors, both internal and external, that at any given moment combine to give us an intense sensation of ease and wellbeing. But more on that later.)
What is ‘The Work”?
‘The work’, as I’ve put it here, is not merely a form of required duties, household help or course of up-skilling that most of us have come to associate with the word today.
The work can mean a variety of things to different people, and it takes a while to figure out what that is for you.
For me, ‘the work’ was the process by which I eased my anxiety for the first time. The work was that which helped me understand my own mind, helped me figure out exactly what makes me tick, why I am the way I am, why I’ve done the things I’ve done, felt the way I’ve felt and proceeded on the course I’ve taken in my 25 years up until now. The work is something which still helps me do this. Whether or not some of those decisions were good or not, the work, my ‘work‘, has just helped me understand it all. It helped me become conscious of my actions. I won’t list exactly what ‘my work’ involved, because it’s not just any one thing, and it’s not easy work either. It’s the tough stuff, it’s dealing with whatever life throws us, circumstantial or otherwise, and becoming accountable for it instead of ignoring it or hoping it will go away.
It’s a combination of things, which when engaged with over time and through the ups and downs of everyday life and work and relationships helps us to figure out how to implement them on any given day.
Simply put, I became aware of my needs, I became honest with myself about what was and wasn’t working, and then dedicated myself to slowly but surely adhering to what works as much and as frequently as I can.
Before going any further I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone I may have encountered during the course of this ‘work’ – anyone I may have misled, confused, hurt, hindered, irritated or in any way just bothered by being the way I am and neglecting social norms or expectations with this intense need to figure shit out or do things the way I needed to in whatever way it presented itself at that time. It wasn’t you. Really. It still isn’t.
It’s one of the most selfish things I’ve ever done and yet I uphold firmly that taking time for myself, not just one time that I was feeling particularly bad, but over and over again choosing to put my health first and to investigate the feelings I was having is the only way I’m still sitting here today to write this.
The terror and fluctuating levels of distress surrounding mealtimes, the general consistent low moods or occasional soaring heights of elation and 2am dance moves surpassed by none were all extremes that I was so used to inhabiting that any alternative middle ground seemed like an unattainable – for want of a better word – ‘paradise’.
For anyone who has any experience dealing with or trying to help someone with any mental illness, you’ll know that the intensity and details of these highs, lows, and panics in between can vary from person to person, and so it can be difficult to pinpoint what will or will not help in each instance.
Doing the Work
The work required to haul oneself out of said lows, down from these intense highs of bliss and misfitting euphoria, all at completely irrational things is not the kind of work you do once, and then it’s done. Oh no.
This work is something you must do Every. Single. Day.
When I started thinking of it more in terms of an actual responsibility, rather than a chore or something to be rewarded for, only then did I started noticing results.
I was responsible for my own mind, my own body, where it went and what it did and what it ate, who it interacted with, and how. On no one else’s shoulders was it if I did or said something I’d regret, ate something that didn’t agree with me or damaged myself in any way.
The work I was doing was keeping this all in check, staying hyper-aware of everything, editing and refining and re-routing whenever something felt off or when I noticed the sly familiar onset of bad thoughts and sneaky triggers that used to go unnoticed. It was so particular that I almost went to the extreme of over-doing the work, which I guess is not necessarily a bad thing – the blessing being that I realised and pulled myself up on this when it happened.
Because the results were not spectacular – they weren’t jump-in-the-air, high-five oh-my-god-look-at-me kind of results – I didn’t initially pay much heed. Because I was used to this immediate and intense end-result, the balance I was feeling honestly felt…boring.
Gradually I began to notice however that the middle ground, this place of feeling ‘actually kind of alright’ instead of ‘omfg I’m fucking DELIRAH’ or ‘I want to disappear’ kind of shite, was so much more sustainable. Not only that, but noticing that when I was in this state, everything seemed to just fall into place and work so much easier – work, friends, family, creative stuff, fun – whatever it was, everything responded positively to this balanced frame of mind, instead of the irrational, eccentric and anxious me that nobody really knew what to do with except hug and pour tea for and promise everything would be fine.
Try. Fail. Edit. Fine-Tune. Repeat.
Editing and fine-tuning your life, mind and environment to fit whatever works for you is the only advice I have to anyone currently attempting to overcome any kind of mental illness or maintain positive mental health in the face of life’s challenges.
Thinking of yourself independently of anyone else – taking advice, definitely – but not assuming it as fact or convincing yourself of its truth until you’ve proven it works for your unique set of circumstances.
Know yourself. Figure out what you like, what makes you feel GOOD, what makes you THRIVE.
Take a day, take a week, take a month. Try things, fail spectacularly. Try something else, maybe don’t fail so badly. Keep trying until something clicks – and I promise you, if you’re self-aware enough to know and follow up on something big needing to change – something will.
This process, these trial and error and ups and downs and pushing through pain and confusion and trusting that something positive is at the end of it all – this is the work.
This is what it means to be trying, to be living, to be constantly editing and refining our lives and thoughts like we redirect unpredictable and mischievous kids away from dangerous river banks or running out on the road.
It’s a constant, unwavering necessity that we must remain on top of even at the best of times, and it all boils down to self-awareness and knowing yourself, recognising triggers or runaway thoughts when they start to play mental movies or imagine unlikely scenarios or pretend that the cars you’re hearing are actually waves on a beach a thousand miles away…you get what I’m trying to say.
Pull yourself up on it.
My particular combination of ‘work’ (even a glance at this blog might give you an inkling as to some of what it involved for me *cough*
yoga *cough* writing *cough*) will more than likely not suit anyone else exactly. Just as someone else’s course of action wouldn’t have worked for me. I just followed the positive stuff, whatever that was, wherever I could, and did it as much and as often as it felt right to. I still do. Staying aware, staying alert, re-routing whenever signs of the ‘fuzzy head stuff’ (as I like to call it) surface and just knowing that all it takes is a little bit of concentration, time and awareness ’til the next move or feeling becomes clear.
Creating my own sense of rational ‘paradise’ in every day is how I see the balancing out of this tendency of mine to overthink, to worry, and to believe the negatives. Maintaining balance and using it as a foundation to move forwards and continue building on what I’ve already worked for is how I see myself now, and I just wanted to share a little bit about what worked for me to help anyone struggling to see past what might seem like a mountainous road of ‘work’ ahead – baby steps.
Start by just turning inwards. Forget about the external stuff – other people, expectations, comparisons and past events – even this is part of the work. Everything is part of it. Everything is important, and don’t ignore or belittle any aspect of what you have to bring to the table because I promise you – the world needs it. The world needs all the self-awareness and positivity it can get right now, and that boils down to each individual playing their part right, using their unique talents and passions and more importantly, believing in them.
Focus inward, focus on you, and the rest has a funny way of falling into place.
Do the work. It’s worth it.