Until Something Sticks

It’s weird how sometimes anxiety can be your worst enemy. Or at least my worst enemy. In relationships I’ve learned that if a relationship doesn’t work out, there will likely be someone else out there that I’ll meet later on. If not, I’m more than happy being on my own. There’s little to no anxiety in that area of worrying about rejection.
In other avenues of my life, that definitely is not the same.

I’m here now until something sticks. Just got to ride along with it like a wave. At the end of the day, anxiety won’t beat me.


2021, starting the year strong

It’s six weeks into the new year and it’s been pretty eventful so far (despite a national lockdown). I’ve managed to break my ankle, catch covid, lock myself out of the flat (on crutches) and also had the water supply temporarily cut off without warning. But all in all, I feel pretty good.

I think in some ways, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have felt so all encompassing in their isolation and how much they affect you, that more trivial or common mishaps in some ways breaks that doom and gloom feeling. Shit still happens. Life still happens, it’s just a little subdued right now.

Crazy to think we’re fast approaching one full year since I started working from home. Trying to remember how it felt back at that time, it felt like such a bizarre occurrence. There was such disbelief from friends, loved ones and also myself that it would last any longer than 4-6 months tops. And how we’ve all learnt since.

We’ve taken a lot from 2020 in terms of teachings, although definitely more of the tough love vein. My hope for 2021 is that we end this year having been able to implement those learnings and grow positively.

End of 2020: Thank fuck

At the end of a year, it’s natural to do some reflecting on the year past. Particularly what with time off work for the holidays, it’s natural to start thinking with more time on your hands. Having just watched Death to 2020, it just really hammered in what a bizarre year it’s been. With the Hong Kong security law, Brexit, the Beirut explosion, a new intensity of wildfires due to climate change, the trash TV show that’s been American politics, ending with a big finale of the election all drawn out to the overture of covid and all its complexities… It’s hard not to have felt fatigued from reading the news this year. Opening a news site became associated with an ominous feeling of dread “what new development awaits us now?”. And that’s all stuff on the global news cycle that I have no control over. In fact the main mental health implication is how those breaking news stories bled over and impacted personal life. Not just mine, but everybody across the globe. It’s hard to imagine another development positive or negative that has simultaneously affected everyone globally.

Personally I’m doing well which I recognise and am very grateful for. My partner and I are both working for companies that have not only survived but had very good years despite covid so our jobs are stable. In fact, my job has been incredibly stressful and busy since August which brought on its own issues. I work in an industry which has historically been vulnerable to budget cuts so my company has been cautious in spend (i.e. hiring people), and being in a world situation where job losses was at an all time high it meant you had to just suck it up and pull in the intense and long hours in order to meet client demands. Which has sucked. My mental and physical health has suffered for it. It’s scary to think that I am still considered one of the lucky ones and I do still think that.

Mental health wise, being in London has been incredibly tricky. It’s so easy to feel stuck, London has always had its own centre of gravity that made it difficult to leave, but now public transport was made to be something to fear, it meant you couldn’t travel 45 mins to get to the other side of the city to do that thing you wanted to like go to a restaurant or a climbing wall. With restrictions changing on a weekly sometimes daily basis like the menu of a bougie hipster cafe or restaurant, just flip flopping between being stuck indoors and being able to go out and see friends, it’s been really hard to adjust and get through it. You’re having to adjust every two seconds with very little consistency. The loss of control and ability to actualise what I want to do is the thing I struggle with the most. It will be interesting to see what the mental health implications of this will be. You don’t have to have had covid to be affected by the pandemic.

With vaccines being approved one by one, and distribution starting, I know the start of 2021 won’t look much different from the end of 2020 – I don’t think we’re under any illusions there. But I do fervently hope along with the whole world that we can reach a point where this becomes manageable. Covid isn’t going away miraculously, no matter what outgoing idiotic world leaders say so. It may mutate out of existence (which is random and small in chance), but likelihood is that it will continue to exist and infect people so if we can get to a point where there are protocols to manage it like smallpox, we might be able to get back to some semblance of life before. Where we were able to go about our lives without having to worry about an invisible enemy.

That Knot In Your Stomach

Anxiety is a funny thing. For me, I didn’t manage to put a name to that erratic feeling that made me mess up and fail on so many important occasions until my mid twenties going into my late twenties. People talk about it, and you hear about it. It just made me think about people who were of a  nervous disposition. It’s hard to recognise that clenching of your stomach and the tightness of the chest you unknowingly feel is the same thing.

Recognising it for the first time wasn’t a formal process, the first time I recognised it as such, there definitely was a feeling that I was making it a bigger deal than it is – a running comment on the British culture I’ve been brought up with. Now that I’ve accepted what it is, it’s been helpful and freeing to realise all those job interviews I messed up at at the last hurdle, or the time I broke down in my grade 8 piano exam, or my three failed driving exams at 17 were all products of a deep anxiety that had not been managed and not because I was weak, or stupid, hopelessly flawed or a failure. It’s allowed me to do less beating myself up and put that energy into increasing self awareness and trying to manage the real cause of the issue.

It’s taken me a while to be able to catch my anxiety rising. The way I can best describe it is that I catch myself feeling erratic, like my lung capacity has diminished and I can’t breathe like I normally do. This usually causes my brain to panic and in the past has been the zone where my mistakes occur and I feel out of control. Once I recognise that feeling, that allows me to push my self awareness through my body and look for the tension I’m holding in my stomach and chest – the energy pushes my body forward and like it gathers on my forehead and chest. The main way I find I can combat it is to sit up and back (because usually I’m slightly hunched over) and take a long and deep breath in and then out. Repeat a couple of times if necessary but the breaths need to hit the bottom of my stomach expanding it down and releasing the tension that it held before. And that allows some calm to wash over me and neutralise the frenzy.

I now do not view that it is weak to have anxiety. It is just something that I know I have and that I have to conquer, every single time I put myself in a stressful position. That can be in work, in job interviews, whilst climbing, whilst out and about, whilst shopping. It is a part of me, but it doesn’t have to control me. And for being equipped with the self awareness and the tools to help combat it in the moment, it makes me feel more capable. I have learnt to conquer an obstacle within me and I will continue to conquer it each time.

Breathe and Let Go

Expectation is such a double edge sword. On one hand, it helps give the motivation and confidence to fully commit to things because you expect to be able to do it. On the other hand, it does create this discord within oneself when you fail to meet your expectations. It’s so easy to fall into that rabbit hole of berating yourself and falling deeper into the vicious circle.

We all would do well to remind ourselves from time to time that we are not invincible and we are not limitless. To be able to listen to oneself and to take a more overview perspective to be able to see the upwards trend in progression is so important. Yes we should set goals and work with expectations but we are the only person we will ever get to be in this life. If you are keep knocking yourself down from not meeting expectations, to what purpose does that serve?

Hell and Back

The title of this post is taken from a song by Tonight Alive. It goes some way to articulate how I feel about things.

There is no easy way to quite say this, but for a good several weeks I went as low as I’ve ever been. It hurt to live. There didn’t seem any point in continuing or carrying on to the next day. There were several times where I contemplated a plan on how to bring about my own end – I have relative confidence that I could exact something that was efficient. There was something in taking the notion seriously that was somewhat comforting. Almost like, now that there was a possibility of making it all stop it helped soothe the agitation within me. There was a solution, if trying to find a reason to live didn’t work out.
On the surface whilst this is all happening, I was still getting up every morning, seeing friends, climbing, doing things. You would never know. It’s hard to explain to a level that I’m satisfied with how it felt. It wasn’t feeling low (although that went in hand with it), it felt like there was a thick fog that seeped into every pore which was so void of anything that it drained any positivity or hope that I had unknowingly hidden away. I was convinced that if I could answer the question of what drives me, what my point is in life I could stave off this feeling. But I couldn’t answer it.

I still have no direction, it still hurts to live and I still go out and see friends and climb and do things. I don’t think anything has changed per se. But as I was on a flight last week on my way back from Slovenia (a frantic attempt to give myself some headspace), we had very heavy turbulence. I couldn’t have cared less if the plane went down, as far as I’m concerned it should do the job for me quite effortlessly. In fact, it was amusing to look round and see people clutch their seats in fear as the plane buckled like a bull in a rodeo. What really got to me was, as I imagined my demise, a voice which popped into my head and said “And that would be it. Life would have beaten you.” The word “beaten”. And my first thought which was almost as visceral as my need to breathe was how I hated the idea of that. Some part of me still lies defiant and actually since then, the fog has dissipated a little. I still feel very much empty, trying to muster any deep feelings is futile and feels a bit like pushing on a car accelerator pedal when you’ve run out of petrol. But the defiance feels solid and real. The fire is smouldering dimly but it hasn’t gone out.

I am not the person I was five months ago before this shit-show happened. I feel like a completely different person, but after some grieving I am slowly accepting that.

“I went to hell and back just to be where I am today”

TV Has Come A Long Way

In particular Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman have hit the particular notes that I’ve been feeling (in different ways) in the past few months.

Rick and Morty strikes a chord with the sci-fi adventure nerd but still hits all the dark humour buttons. In terms of quotes, I think Bojack Horseman wins in its abundance of one-liners that packs a punch that will knock you over, but Rick and Morty definitely hits it home with its use of Rick’s character arc throughout the seasons.

In terms of quotables though, Bojack Horseman definitely shines.

gummo GIF

Me, myself and I

This period in my life has, no doubt, been the most difficult that I’ve ever had to go through. I’ve always thought that I was fairly resilient and the thoughts and feelings that I’ve had during this period has shown me that it has nothing to do with strength or resilience. Dark periods will always exist for everybody. Sometimes, life just throws you that way. But one crucial thing that I have learnt is that no-one can cure you or save you from how you feel; which is not to say things won’t get better but most of the heavy lifting has to come from within yourself.

The following has really helped me:

– I’m in therapy, albeit temporary it’s helped me develop some interesting skills in terms of reflecting on asking why I feel the way I do about things and then confronting the cause of the negative feeling.

– Travelling. I’m lucky enough to be able to afford short trips away when I feel like things are getting a bit overwhelming. Being able to see foreign landscapes and cultures does help put things into a more objective perspective. But generally I find being outdoors and in the countryside helps, no matter if it’s abroad or not.

– Exercise. This is the key one for me. I am a very keen climber and go anywhere between 2-4 times a week and have done for the last nearly four years. In terms of the physical benefits, there are loads. Mentally though, the things that help me are the same reasons why I specifically love climbing:
– I can gauge my progress. The indoor routes and most outdoor routes you
come across will be graded in terms of difficulty. And even if you don’t benchmark your performance against that, there will always be moves or climbs that you can’t do but keep working at until you get it. That satisfaction is so encouraging and translates outside of climbing.
– It makes me switch off. Or rather, it forces me to not think about whatever worries I had on my mind. I have to focus on the route in front of me and be present in order to a) do the climb and b) do it safely so that I don’t injure myself.
– It’s an individual sport. To quote Nietzsche “But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself”. For most people, physically they should be climbing way harder than they actually do. For me, I definitely recognise that the main obstacle holding me back is my own head. To climb and to keep succeeding is to help overcome this.
I don’t imagine climbing is for everybody. But exercise is. Our bodies are built for movement and actually doing what it was meant to does help things go a long way I think.

– Friends. They have really been my rock throughout all this. Some more than others, some not at all. You can never blame someone for how they will react because some people just don’t know how to be around or be what you need. This obviously sucks when they are someone you are really close to or rely on like your other half but in that case you just have to come to terms with the fact you can deal with the situation better without them – they are something you can deal with in future.
The more I relied on my friends, the more I realised I wanted to rely on myself and then to have their support is extra on top of it all because support from other people isn’t a given (I think a lot of us take this for granted). I am always going to be there for the people I love as much as I can, but it’s in not expecting it back in the same form or even at all that it stops you from having the situation exacerbated or feeling like you’re drowning because you have you to stop that. 

But the above are all things that have helped the main thing which is processing what happened and dealing with why I feel how I feel. There are and always will be days that are darker than others – no one is exempt from this. But it’s in recognising that I am not helpless, even on the very darkest days (and there were some very very dark days of which I shan’t repeat my thoughts), I made myself get out of bed eventually and go for a quick walk to the park. Tricks that helped me get through to days where I can process, question and conquer the dark feelings.
In truth, I feel so much more detached and numb than I did before all this and I don’t actually know if I will ever go back to feeling more like I did before. But at least I learnt, I have me. I will always have me. As long as I have faith in myself.

The Point of It All

I have always been a firm believer that people give their own lives meaning. For some that’s money, some dedicate their lives to causes and others turn to religion. But there is always something there that guides them, distracts them from the inevitable end that happens to all of us whilst they try to prove to themselves that their existence isn’t meaningless. Unfortunately, there’s not really another way to word this belief to make it sounds less depressing – I personally find it almost liberating to see the construct of motivation for what it is. But it also does mean that when you go through tough times, you do start to question why any of it matters and if there is any point to any of it.

Living the life that I led up until a few months ago, I was a young professional in a good job with good career prospects working and living in central London. I had decent 9-6 hours and a strong passion for an exercise/past-time outside of work. I assumed the identity of someone who was within the system, a fully functional member of society bobbing along with the current. I was quite suddenly ejected from that life and even though I still have my group of friends and passion for my activity, I lost that identity of being a young London professional. It’s given me a lot of time to think about whether that is really what I want.

Since I left my old job, I’ve really struggled with mental health. Loneliness has never been something I cope well with and suddenly I found out how much I relied being around people for 36-40 hours a week at work. I find myself numb a lot of the time and apathetic. What a horrible place to be. And then it leaves you wondering. What is the point of any of it. All these rules and expectations you and the rest of society impose on yourself, is any of it worth it?

The Elephant that Left the Room

One thing they don’t tell you about when your mental health suffers is the constant presence of it in your life. It permeates everything you do. Oozes from every pore.
It’s true, time heals but only some of the more superficial wounds. Even now after a few months, I can go about my life, go on holiday, laugh with friends and still feel an inch away from that vast chasm of darkness that threatens to swallow me. It feels so easy to just break and a very thin veil of strength holds me from actually doing so.
The presence of it irks me. I want to be fine. I want to stop talking about this, thinking about this, fearing this, hating this, trying to move on from this. And being the person that I naturally am (typical Type A personality, highly-organised, high anxieties, erratic energy), I, of course, start projecting on other people that they’re expecting me to be over it by now. I have no actual way of knowing what they think, only know that I expect this from myself. And it all adds to self-loathing when I realise, I’m not over it. I’m still very much hurt by it and it needs to be confronted that there’s a high possibility I will always feel the effects of this. The only hope that I cling tightly to and that keeps me going is that the effects could turn out to be positive, and I have the power to make it so.