Reruns Suck

Here’s something I recently thought about (recently as in 20 minutes ago at 4am in the morning, whilst removing myself from the bedroom so as not to keep my poor wife awake, so she can be a functioning teaching assistant and adult tomorrow at her school).

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Reruns suck

It’s about a classic (I think) symptom of anxiety. Something that many sufferers will recognise in themselves.

I find myself replaying things I have said or talked about with others in my head. Mostly at 3 to 4am at night, when I become my own kangaroo court, going over the evidence why I’m a weirdo or bullshitter or mentally deficient because I’d waffled in a job interview and gone off on a tangent or said something dumb to a friend or uttered some micro conversational infringement that many ‘normal’ people would shrug off as just a quirk of their character but an anxiety sufferer will hold over their own head, perhaps repeatedly.

If there was a manifesto for anxious insomniacs I imagine it would start something like:

“We, the anxious people of the small hours who keep our partners from getting a full night’s sleep and who haunt our own lounges in the dim light of the moment that joins not-morning with not-night o’clock. We, the hidden wrestlers of our own perceived shortcomings. We, the tireless thinkers who are held hostage by the product of our own musings.”

There is no stone left unturned in the dodgy Cinemax replay of the last 24 hours projected inside my head, where I am forced to watch, an unwilling audience member until the show ends or the judge and jury stop their deliberations and I can stop sweating what I said or what I could of said or what I didn’t say but should of said.

But you can break the pattern.

You can have more control of your anxiety, even at 3am. There are ways to flip the switch, tell the projector to fuck off, stop the endless cross examination and go and join the sleeping again.

Here’s some methods I’ve used:
• Force yourself to count to 10 as you breathe deeply on each count. If you find yourself thinking of something else, return back to 1. Repeat until you fall asleep.
• Imagine something really boring like broccoli, or a potato. Now concentrate on that and that alone. It gets so boring you fall asleep.
• Visualise your anxiety as a twitching, amorphous thing. Say to it “I SEE YOU”(I refer to my earlier post “I see you Mara“) and just focus on it. In the end even your anxiety will get bored of being watched and fall asleep.
• Get up. Go downstairs and lie on sofa. Write or read. Then fall asleep.

Regardless of whether you try the above techniques and find they help, if you see yourself in these words above, I’m with you.

Let’s try and be a little easier on ourselves because we’re only people, fallible and complicated and all beautiful in some way. Let’s give ourselves a break sometimes.

Just know that you’re not alone.

The Great Disparity

The wealth of the rich is growing at a much faster rate than that of the poor.

But what does this mean?

It means that the wealth disparity between the haves and have nots is at an all time high.

And with the arrival of the pandemic and millions of people losing their jobs, often blue collar jobs, this disparity is going to grow even more.

When you consider that socioeconomic factors such as unemployment and poverty are correlated with a risk of mental illness, it’s truly concerning.

So what are the government doing to handle the mental health? I don’t think they are doing enough. In fact this article details a sad lack of meetings between the Health Minister and mental health organisations during the Covid crisis.

Sorry to write such an annoyed post, but this is an area I think that we as a society need to be doing better in.

And I’m going to think about all the things I can do personally to push the government to act.

Fight or Flight

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Fight or flight has been around for a while

When we were cavemen and women ages ago, our brains learnt to react to perceived threats. At least, the brains of those who survived getting mauled by things did, because they ran away.

The response is called the ‘acute stress response’ (remember that for later) or ‘fight or flight’. It’s when sympathetic nervous systems stimulate the adrenal glands triggering the release of catecholamines like adrenaline and noradrenaline.

All this leads to various physiological effects like a rise in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat and an increase in breathing rate to get more oxygen to the muscles that will help you run like shit-off-a-shovel away from a woolly mammoth or punch the crap out of a shark.

Now, back to the ‘acute stress’ bit.

If you suffer from anxiety, your body is experiencing this same fight or flight response, only over longer periods of time, to perceived threats that are buried somewhere either in your conscious or unconscious mind.

Which is like a perceived threat hanging around, stressing the hell out of you all the time. Making everything seem extra difficult to cope with.

So the next time you feel anxious and get a stomach ache, headache or feel your blood pressure rise, it should be no surprise that your anxiety’s fight or flight effect is causing your body to react.

There’s even evidence to suggest that constant fight or flight response can cause changes to the brain*.

And that is nature’s little reminder to slow down, and give yourself some self care.

* Understanding the stress response on Harvard Health site

Mondays suck, but only for 24 hours

I hate Mondays. Probably because they represent the start of a working week and the uphill struggle for anyone who is trying to get back into it.

Doesn’t matter which Monday it is, I just feel like crawling back into bed.

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Illustration by Matt Weston

But the way I get through is to have little incentives.

I write 1000 words of my book, and I can make a coffee and have a snack.

I apply for 5 jobs and I can have fun drawing a weird skull design (see above).

You have to respect, and be good to yourself, so that when you do get back out there, you have more passion, strength and purpose to give to others.

I See You, Mara

I’m not an overly spiritual person, but there is something that interested me in buddhism with the story of a demon called Mara. Mara was the demon of self-doubt and appears in the story of the prince Siddhartha Gautama, on his journey to enlightenment (and becoming the Buddha). Ultimately, Mara tests him in battle, which is as much a physical battle as it is Siddhartha’s battle for liberating and disciplining his mind. Siddhartha prevails and becomes enlightened. However even after the battle, Mara still shows up from time to time in the now-Buddha’s life. And when he does, the Buddha simply says “I see you, Mara”.

mara i see you

The Buddha has effectively recognised his enemy and as a result, that enemy loses his power.

Anxiety and depression are illnesses that any sufferer will do anything to avoid. We try to ignore them, distract ourselves from them or anaesthetise ourselves enough so we don’t feel anything. But just like the story of Mara, sometimes it is better to be consciously aware of the demons we face. And to face them, without self-judgement or blame.

This is called being ‘Mindful’. About living in the now.

And yes, it’s not that simple for many people who are facing these kinds of illnesses.

But if we can start to say “I see you” to our anxiety or depression, it does lose some of its power, because we no longer are letting it control us. We are facing up to it.

Don’t think about how far it is

One thing I love to do is go running in the local country lanes.

They say that exercise is superb for lowering stress and anxiety, so I look at running as a way of keeping myself calm.

The other day I just had one of those runs where you feel like a sack of potatoes being pushed up a hill. I was puffed and felt like my legs were deadweight.

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But then I realised that I was overthinking it. I was thinking about how far I had to go, how steep the hill was, and how hot it was.

So I changed my thinking. I thought “one step at a time, it’s cool”.

And this strikes me as a way to tackle over-worrying about the future. If you spend too much time worrying about how difficult it will be to get a new job, or how much effort it is to plan a wedding or how much home renovating you need to do, you will stress about it.

The better way to live is to not worry about how far you’ve got to go. Or the effort required.

It’s just to enjoy the run.

Wake Up to Spacey Downtempo

My sleep’s all over the place at the moment, thanks to the uncertainty of the current job market (the UK’s in a major recession thanks to Coronavirus and our political overlords) and well, anxiety.

I woke up at 5.30am this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up and threw some shorts and a t-shirt on, to go running.

I’ve been listening to some new radio/podcast shows featuring downtempo music, that help to relax me and get me in the zone as I run. Unlike the ‘Future Astronauts’ podcast I mentioned in another post, these shows are more meditative. And at the risk of sounding like a wanker, I thought they were worth a mention.

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How sci-fi themed chill out podcasts make me feel

The first is SOMA FM’s Mission Control radio station.
If you like your space stuff (personally I’m a sci fi and space fan) then this is an interesting mix of ambient music and recordings from NASA mission archives. It’s quite fascinating to hear the astronauts reporting back to their control room, over some relaxing beats.
Have a listen : https://somafm.com/missioncontrol/

The second podcast Ultima Thule is another great ambient and chill out podcast that is less concerned with what is cool, and more concerned with deep, meditative sounds and weird, mystical monologues from various poets and randoms, mixed in over ambient and chill out music.
Check it out : Ultimate Thule Podcast.

I’ve Launched a New Book!

I’ve just launched a new project on Kickstarter called “Everything is Sh*t”, a fun book that features all sorts of colourful language, and full-colour illustrations.

It’s chock full of insights about the weird, sometimes ridiculous ‘new normal’ we have been living through in lockdown during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

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If you like a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour and full colour illustrations on beautiful stock, hardback books, then please check it out at: http://kck.st/3ftovQM

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Better still, back the project and you’ll get your very own book!

Oh F*ck, I’m Facing Redundancy

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Redundant.

adjective. Meaning not or no longer needed or useful; superfluous.

It’s something many people are facing right now.

And I’m one of them.

I only just found out this week that my company is making me redundant. With redundancy comes ‘consultation’ where you fight your corner after getting scored against your peers at work. It’s a stressful, and mentally challenging thing to go through.

If you suffer anxiety, it’s worse.

Because you have to fight against the critical opinions of those on the other side of the redundancy Zoom call, and then fight the critical voices in your own head, too.

“See?” they say, “this is what you were thinking, that you’ve failed. And here’s the proof!”

I’m not going to lie – I have got really pissed off and worried over the last few days. Getting emotional at times like these is to be expected. You shouldn’t push it away.

It’s difficult to deal with, but it did force me to make a pact with myself. That I’m not going to let this take my confidence. I’m good at what I do, and I’ll fight my corner. I’ll move on, and keep checking in with myself – letting myself know that this was not my fault.

And in the end, I’ll find something better.

Our anxieties make things difficult, but they also challenge us to think our way through things. They can make us consider all options and (for me) be creative people. But they can also overwhelm us, like feedback from a speaker that just gets worse until your ears bleed.

I’ve been fighting self-critical thoughts for much of my life, but at times like these, the stakes are high… so I need to fight, to not let those thoughts win. So, I’ll be spending some quality time over the next couple of weeks sorting out the shit thoughts, from the ones that hold me up.

This is just a speed bump for me, and if you’re going through redundancy right now, it’s just a speed bump for you, too.

I promise we’ll get through, and we’ll know ourselves better because of it.

Smashing Down My Shed

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of DIY, gardening and for the want of a better description, digging and smashing stuff up.

This kind of manual work has been a great way to fend off anxiety during lockdown.
But why?
Well, firstly there are the proven good effects of doing something physical on mental health. Exercise lowers stress levels (via cortisol) and also gives your mind time to just focus on something else for a change.
but there’s also something to be said for working outdoors in the quiet and peacefulness of nature. I love the feel of the wind or the warmth of the sun, and the fresh air.
Not to mention, it’s almost carthartic too, to smash the living shit out of my old garden shed AND still receive praise from my wife for “getting stuff done”.

Smashing things apart is underrated , and it’s even a business – just look up your local rage room and you’ll see what I mean.

Lastly, there’s even a trend of “Care Farming” where people who suffer from depression or anxiety-related illnesses can work for up to months on small farms. It’s already a big thing in Europe.
It’s been reported that “people valued, among other things, being in contact with each other, and feeling a sense of achievement, fulfilment and belonging.“ which is definitely my vibe while I’m gardening or pretending to know DIY.

So, get out there, smash up a shed or plant something and start to heal your mind!