Where is my Christmas Spirit?

Christmas is my favorite holiday, it always has been. I look forward to the holiday season all year long. It’s always the highlight of my year. But now, I can’t seem to get into the Christmas mood. I’m doing all of the things I normally do to enjoy the holiday season except they aren’t making me as happy as they used to.

I don’t know if it’s age, where I’m at in my life or because it’s 2020 but I have been trying hard to get into the Christmas mood but can’t. I thought maybe snow would help. It snowed 2 feet (which isn’t common where I live) and it didn’t make me feel much better. I thought maybe giving gifts and baking cookies would help. It only made a little bit of a difference.

It makes me depressed that my favorite time of the year is so lack luster. I want this time of the year to be the best part of the entire thing! I am longing to feel the happiness that Christmas has brought me in the past.

Sadly this year I will be spending most of Christmas alone. My boyfriend is working and my brother is quarantining after a business trip so we have to hold off on our family get togethers. I will be spending a few hours with my mom so I guess I won’t totally be alone but it won’t be like past Christmases. I will wake up alone, eat alone and give my pets their presents alone.

This potentially shit Christmas is effecting my mood. I’ve been extra tired and cranky as well as binge eating like nobody’s business. I want to be happy during my favorite time of the year. Why can’t I be? My God I sound like Charlie Brown.

I guess there is no guaranteed happiness at any point in time even during Christmas. You can’t just turn depression on and off even though I’m sure so many of us would love to.

I want to be happy, cheery and all of the great emotions that come with Christmas. I’m just not there this year. Sure, it’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way, it’s just that I don’t want to. I can’t force happiness upon myself but I can try to do things that make me not feel like shit. So somewhere in the middle. Maybe?

I don’t know, I just want to be happy. You know?

How are you feeling about this time of year? Is it normally a sad time or a happy time for you? Leave a comment and tell me!

Why a Mental Illness is a Big Deal

I’ve been depressing for awhile now -as in, dealing with Depression. I’ve also entertained its close friend, Anxiety; plus a few hangers-on like Disassociation, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Social Phobias. I didn’t even know those existed till they walked off with some of my mental furniture.

Once I’m back to staring at the cracked ceiling of an empty apartment, I wonder why mental illness is such a BIG DEAL. Why does it always have the ability to kick my butt this badly every time?

Photo by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

Because, Mental Illness is a BIG deal.

Yesterday, I witnessed a boy who collapsed into a hysterical fit when his mother said they had to ride in the elevator. A perfectly healthy friend had to reschedule her doctor’s appointment for “a better day.” Another friend told how she could not sleep in the same room as her baby, since the baby’s normal breathing patterns kept her up all night.

Minor issues become major. Small things are big. Mole hills are mountains!

So, now what? Treats? Bed? Movie marathon? I wish. Those things cost money! We need practicality before the rest of our sanity escapes out the window, and takes the rest of the chocolate with it.

Knowing that a mental illness blows things out of proportion is empowering. How? When one of my kids starts melting down, I KNOW to back off and get him a snack. When fear and anxiety cloud my horizon, I KNOW to get outside for a walk. When my friend says she needs to talk, I KNOW to drop everything and listen.

Am I freaking out? Don’t have a mental couch to collapse on? I take a break. I breathe. I run a meditative exercise. Try it; re-focus with what works for you. Then, try the basics: sleep, food, love, happiness.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

On the flip side, stop doing the little things that make it worse: staying up, eating crap, avoiding affection, and wallowing in sadness.

Sounds easy, right? It really is. The trick is to not make it difficult. “Just go get in the shower,” I tell myself. “Just get in there and sit -you don’t even have to wash yet.” Or, “Wrap up in a blanket and hang out on the porch. You don’t have to get dressed.”

See? Believe me, I’m in the camp of making a simple thing much more complicated. I also know how BIG I feel once I get past the little, white lies of my mental illness.

 

©2020 Chel Owens

A Small but Certain Happiness

The other day I scrolling the internet (ok, I’ll be honest it was Weverse) when I came across a sentence that has stuck with me.

I’ll give some context. The author was talking about how lately he has been drinking plum juice, something his mother used to make him as a child.

He said, “I think plum juice is my small but certain happiness nowadays. If you feel bored just staying inside, maybe it’s a good idea to have a small but certain happiness.”

These words have been rolling around in my head and I really wanted to share them with you all.

During quarantine, I think my small but certain happiness has been practicing yoga nearly every morning. It has truly made a difference in the way I feel physically and gets me energized for the day. Instead of dreading leaving my bed, I am alright with it now.

Also taking the time to read a good book and write letters to my grandmother have been sources of small happiness.

My gram lives in a nursing home which has been on lock down for well over a month. She can’t leave the home or can’t have any visitors unless it’s an emergency. She is hard of hearing, like most people at 90 years old, but it’s 100 times worse when she’s on the phone. So I don’t have to shout into a phone, her and I have become penpals. I send her a letter plus an envelope and stamp so she has everything she needs to reply.

What is your small but certain happiness? If not, what is something that could be?

I hope everyone is staying healthy and is well! Please stay home when you can and when you go out please wear a mask. They are quite fashionable and you can feel like a k-pop idol so there’s a positive twist on it.

The Re-release of “The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir”

I have been working on getting back to this point. I am announcing that once again, The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir is finally available to buy once again on Amazon!

I have been working on getting back to this point. I am announcing that once again, The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir is finally available to buy once again on Amazon!

Working on getting my memoir republished all has been a humbling experience. So many hurdles came with republishing my memoir, but I learned a lot throughout the tribulations of these experiences. It is the same with being Bipolar–it is a learning experience. That is the essence of my book!

I will link to my author page below. If you purchased the first version of this book, you would notice that there is a different cover now. I wanted a fresh start with the cover design. I have put my book on Amazon in print and digital, if you want to purchase my book, please do from my author website page because there is a digital version of the old book still on Amazon. There are some old copies in print too, but those will not be under my name. I hope that the end of the week, the other digital copy from my publisher, finally takes off their edition. It takes time. Please purchase my with the cover above with the raven. I will be setting up some special offers for the re-release on Amazon!

Please purchase my memoir from my author website here!

Always Keep Fighting

James

7 Ways I Changed from Hunting the Good Stuff

I spent some time in the Arizona Army National Guard. They had started a program called Master Resiliency Training (MRT). Arizona had one of the highest suicide rates among soldiers. They sanctioned this program to help soldiers “overcome adversity.” The Psychology Department of the University of Philadelphia created the program. After a few years I had forgotten a lot of the training. One thing stuck with me though I never practiced it. It was called “Hunt the Good Stuff.” A simple exercise of writing down three good things that happened to you that day before bed. And writing why those things were important to you.

I remember a Major telling everyone about when he first heard about this exercise. He thought it was stupid. His instructor told him to try it. What did he have to lose? The training went for three days. He noticed by the second night of “Hunting the Good Stuff” he was sleeping better. This Major also had two young daughters whom he didn’t know how to connect with. One night at dinner, he asked his family to tell each other three good things that happened to them that day. His family started doing this every night. His daughters start talking about their good things before anyone else. He was able to learn about and connect with his children with this exercise.

Over the last couple years, my life has had many ups and downs. After so many things chipping away at my resolve, I grew more depressed and negative. I got so negative that someone close to me told me they didn’t want to be around me anymore. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I felt I had hit rock bottom. My job offered six free counseling sessions and I took them. I started a “Hunt the Good Stuff” journal. I still have a long way to go but I’m 1000% better than I was. That was five months ago. This one exercise has done more for me than I ever imagined. I wish I had started doing it sooner.

1. When I Look for Good Things, I Find Them

When I first started this exercise, it felt daunting. I wasn’t sure if I could find three things to write in this journal every day. I had to think for a few minutes. The more often I did this, the easier it got. I used to get angry and sad because my mind autopiloted into negative thoughts. When I sat down and thought about the good things, I always found good things. Perspective and attitude do play a role in one’s mindset. Reflecting on something good, no matter how small, every day has helped to change my way of thinking.

2. Others Noticed a Change in Me

It took several weeks before someone said anything. My sister mentioned noticing a huge change in me. A better change. My coworkers noticed too. One of them wanted to take photos for a work Instagram. I joined in and enjoyed being in the photos. I overheard someone say they had never seen me smile so much. Coworkers were happy to see me when I went to work. They were excited to work with me that day. Positive thinking has led me to enjoy the people I work with even if I don’t enjoy the job itself. 

3. I Gained More Self-Confidence

I talked with a coworker about some of the things I had been doing since I felt my life had fallen apart. I mentioned my counseling and “Hunting the Good Stuff.” I thought she would say that she noticed I was happier. But what she said surprised me. She noticed that I was more confident in myself. I never would have guessed that would be a result from positive thinking. It makes sense. Being positive had made me act sillier and have fun without the concern of what others might think. I can’t remember the last time I was like that.

4. My Attitude Changed; I’m More Positive

As expected, positive thinking has led me to see the world in a positive way. I don’t always assume the worst from people. I rationalize things differently. When someone says they forgot about plans we made because they didn’t put it in their calendar, I understand. I’ve done that too. Before I would assume, I wasn’t important to them and that’s why they forgot. Sometimes people get busy and it has nothing to do with me. I don’t make plans as often now, but I don’t get upset if things don’t go to plan.

5. I Changed How I Talk to Myself

One of the things I started along with “Hunting the Good Stuff” was a positive affirmation. The person I was close to who didn’t want me in their life anymore gave this to me. I repeat the phrases, “I like myself. I love myself. I deserve good things.” I once repeated these words over and over for about 20 minutes. This helped but writing three good things every day helped too. My internal monologue has changed. I don’t call myself stupid when I make a mistake. I don’t say negative things to myself as often. It’s still there now and then, but less frequent.

6. I Sleep Better

It doesn’t work every night. Some nights I’m still restless or only sleep a few hours. But overall my sleep has improved. I have dreams more often. Fewer nightmares. I sleep longer and deeper. I don’t always feel energized, but I don’t feel drained upon waking up anymore. I give myself a couple hours in the morning before work. I allow myself time to ease into the day. This has added to my daily productivity and attitude when going to work. Most of the time, I can go to sleep at the time I want to start sleeping.

7. I Enjoy Things Again

I used to have a general crabby disposition. Even when I used to enjoy something, I didn’t show much enthusiasm. I find myself feeling good after doing things. I go to movies alone and reflect on having a good time with myself. If I go to a party, I socialize for a bit and enjoy some food. I walk in with no expectations and walk out having had a great time. I get more reading and writing done because I enjoy doing it more. 

I’m surprised how much this one activity helped change my perspective on life. I still have hard days where I have to force myself to find good things. The last few weeks I’ve moved from at least three good things every day to four good things every day. More and more days are having five to seven good things. As of writing this, I’ve been practicing this exercise for over 150 days. That’s five months. I may never get back the people I lost when I was negative and depressed. But I will do everything I can to not make the same mistakes twice.

The good stuff is always out there. You just have to look for it. Happy hunting!

James Pack is a self-published author of poetry and fiction.  Information about his publishing credits can be found on his personal blog TheJamesPack.com.  He resides in Tucson, AZ.

Guest Blog Spot – Melisa Marzett

How to Maintain Good health in Turbulent Times

Today it does not matter where you live, in a megalopolis disturbing physically and emotionally or in a small town, stress and mental illness can reach you out everywhere. Moreover, in recent years, the number of psychiatric diseases tends to increase. And most often, it begins already in adolescence when there are a lot of stresses, and the body is unable to cope with them.

In adults, in addition to stress caused by work, family, financial problems, there are also other irritants, such as the latest newspapers, which already harms not digestion only, but also mental health. They also include a television, which feeds them with fresh corpses and fatal car accidents. This news, in its turn, causes anxiety and fear. And if you understand that you are prone to these feelings, then it is better to learn how to defend yourself from this using various methods of psychological defense.

It used to be quieter

Just a few decades ago, the information policy and media in the country were strictly controlled. This is happening today in countries with a dictatorship or a totalitarian regime, such as China or Belarus. However, with such a policy, despite all its shortcomings, ordinary people live calmer. Even if a considerable ship sank or a railway accident happened with a hundred people died, they do not write about it in the newspapers. Accordingly, information from the media infects with anxiety, but it works as an infection.

Also, crime has always been interested in making it easier for society to manipulate. And with frightened and anxious people, this is easier to do. The legend even walks among the people that if you saw that a thief is climbing into a bag, you need to behave quietly, because you can be cut with something and so on. That is, it is unsafe to defend.

News instead of horror movies

If we talk about evening news, where, as a rule, there is necessarily either murder, or armed conflict, or something else terrifying in 10 out of 9 stories, then experts say that those who watch them get the same effect as from watching a horror movie. Now it is believed that masochists are prone to seeing such videos. They take pleasure in watching how terrible everything is there, how they ate someone, and then they turn off and think: “Oh, I don’t have anything like that. Thank God!” But the alarm inside remains. At the same time, the person, of course, is comforted by the thought that he is now sitting in a calm place, for example, he has shut himself in his apartment, he does not go anywhere at night, and all that is going on outside. And the thought that you managed to secure yourself is the source of your confidence. But again, you watch disturbing news, where tragedies are shown, and you get a reinforcing vicious circle.

Negative Protection Recipes

The right word is, “don’t get infected.” In the case of mental health, the same principle applies that we use so as not to get the flu when there is an epidemic in the city. Usually, we avoid crowds and strengthen immunity. Strengthening mental immunity means developing psychological protection, for example, inventing it for yourself. Someone does not watch the news, someone does but thought up for themselves that these are all horror stories of journalists, and someone believed that each specific case shown on TV is inflated a hundred times. Someone looks at beautiful pictures, turns off the Internet 3 hours before bedtime, reads positive affirmations at night, or listens to quiet, unobtrusive music. In this case, substitution occurs when one information crowds out the other. Moreover, each has his psychological defenses developed over the years, and many use them unconsciously.

There are sprouts of sanity and madness in each of us. And we are balancing between them. The main thing is to know your weaknesses, to control the information that comes into our head, and the circle of communication because some people are mentally contagious.

About the author

Melisa Marzett is the author behind https://writing-help.org/ online essay assistance articles. She is also a contributor to many other online blogs, which reach the audience of millions of readers. With completed tertiary education and a degree in journalism, and nearly five years of experience working in this area, she was writing along and has a curious mind and adventurous nature. 

Can You Always Be Positive?

True happiness isn’t forever, it might not even be for a while. It is found in the moments we least expect it, and sometimes hidden in the times we need it most. Happiness is fleeting.

When I say that happiness doesn’t last forever, I don’t mean that in a such a cynical way. I say that happiness is fleeting because the truth is, life happens and we don’t ever get to choose when. Mistakes are made, things are lost, and bonds are broken. And with these losses, there goes our expectation of infinite happiness right down the gutter.

Many of us feel unsatisfied with our current state of life because our expectations of happiness don’t coincide with reality. Our ideas of what real success and happiness look like are corrupted by social media and the fabrications we’re exposed to every day. We are lead to believe that happiness is perfection, and we convince ourselves that once we are finally happy that it will last forever.

This faulty perception of happiness only gets worse when we begin browsing through social media. I consistently come across a sea of lifestyle posts and ‘hacks’ on platforms such as YouTube and Instagram that I can’t take seriously. These influencers tell us that if we drink more water and get some sunlight each day, then we’ll grow into the person we want to be as if we are mere plants rather than complex, unique human beings. If it were as easy as drinking water and getting sunlight, then we would achieve perfect physical and mental health. For someone who has dealt with anxiety that interferes with everyday life, I understand that there’s a lot more to overcoming the downs of life than that and I’m sure almost everyone can agree.

The thing is, of course platforms like Instagram are going to be filled with picture perfect profiles. We all want the world to see the best version of our lives- even when it isn’t truthful. I can relate with the desire to create a positive image, and I do believe that platforms such as Instagram can be beneficial in that sense. When people land on my profile I want them to see the best version of myself.

The issue I have with this is the negative effect it has on all of us to be mislead by these perfect profiles, particularly the younger generations who are so invested in social media. When we scroll through all of these images, we’re seeing people living in a dream like state. These perfectly crafted profiles make us feel as though we’re missing out on the joy that all of these people we follow are experiencing, or seem to be experiencing.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people comparing themselves to popular influencers that promote this image, or commenting along the lines of “I wish I was you!”

So there we go again, reaching for something out there, for that pure joy we see on social media.

But it’s not real.

We can convince ourselves that we can control our lives the way that we control our social media profiles, picking and choosing which moments we want to live out.  

But again, that’s not possible. If that was the case, then we’d all be manic.

In real life we live out the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the sunshine and the rain. We don’t get to slap a sunset filter over it and say that we had a perfect day. Sometimes things just don’t go the way we want it to, and that’s okay. That’s life. And the sooner we begin embracing the unexpected rather than running away from it, the closer we are to real happiness.

I came across this quote while watching Euphoria the other day that perfectly sums up my point.

“I had a therapist once who said that these states will wax and wane.

Which gave my mother relief, because it meant that in the bad times, there would be good times.

But it also gave her anxiety because it meant that in the good times, there would be bad times.”

Although simple, this episode does an excellent job of explaining how clinical depression works for most individuals. Not only does this episode accurately portray how it feels to live with depression and anxiety, but it holds true to the nature of life for all of us.

It can be somewhat frightening to realize that we don’t always know when the next low point will be for us. But if everything always went the way we want it too, we simply wouldn’t be alive. Think of it as the ups and downs on a heart monitor. If you see a straight line, there’s no pulse. If you see it consistently going up, well, that’s not exactly healthy either.

So at this point you might be asking yourself, what’s the point? 

Why am I writing this? As I began to write this post I didn’t know exactly what direction I was headed, I just wanted to remain honest above anything else. Even though I try to keep my writing on the positive side, it’s not always so easy. If I only covered the positive topics then I would be missing out on exploring so many other subjects surrounding mental health that other people can relate to.

So back to the question I set out to answer, it’s a little complicated. While I don’t believe there is a way to always be positive, I do feel that it’s important to always hold on to the hope that things will get better.

If I could give anyone advice on how to be a more positive person, it’s to accept that you don’t always know what tomorrow will bring, but hold on to the hope that the hard times will pass and you will find yourself living out those happy moments again. Don’t let that fill you with fear, let it fill you with excitement.

Instead of viewing happiness as perfection, instead of trying to keep it forever, view it as moments. It’s true that happiness is fleeting; like every other emotion it comes and goes. Happiness is found in moments that turn into memories we can cherish.

So stop chasing perfection and start chasing those moments. It’s that rush you feel when you catch the perfect wave, or that moment when you break through the surface of the water after taking a daring leap. It’s the sense of pride you have when you can finally feel your diploma in your hands and the warmth that radiates from those who supported you along the way. It’s in those moments when you find yourself laughing until your chest aches, or that joy you feel when you reconnect with a friend for the first time in what felt like forever.

Even on your absolute worst days, happiness is there, in that smile that illuminates someone’s face when you do something kind. Happiness is everywhere, even in the bad, if you would just open your mind to it. 

It’s like catching a firefly in your hands, even in the darkest nights. There will be times where the nights feel dark and you think the light has ran out, but it is still there, waiting to land in the palms of your hands again. And those moments, like fireflies, will come back to you when you least expect it.

Into Me I See (Pt. 1)

I couldn’t possibly be more unhappy than I am right now.

I’m strapped into a long, metal tube with about one hundred strangers approximately 10,000 meters above sea level, flying back to my hometown in rural Australia. In the next row, three shtick heads are hooting, hollering and rough-housing like it’s a Friday night at the local pub. To top it all off, I’ve carried so much extra emotional baggage onto this flight that I’m surprised I made it past check-in.

Last night, I did something awful to someone I really care about. Something
I deeply regret. And now I’m doomed to spend the next three hours in my
elongated, flying prison reflecting on my selfish actions. I suppose it’s a
relatively light punishment, considering the crime.

My thought cycle of self-hatred is interrupted by one of the obnoxious
morons in the row ahead of me. He shouts to the flight attendant like she’s a waitress and demands that she brings another round of ‘CC and dry’ to him and his pals. The benevolent bringer of beverages makes her way down the aisle in a manner that is polite, yet stern.

“Sir, please refrain from raising your voice on the plane.” Her smile is
also polite, yet stern.

“Also, that’s your third drink in the last 20 minutes.” Smile, smile. “You
have to wait a little while before we bring you another alcoholic beverage.”
Smiley-smile-smile.

The annoying drunks go back to being drunk and annoying. I glance at the
flight attendant and our eyes meet. She smiles again, warmly this time. For a nanosecond I don’t hate myself.

She takes a step towards me, and leans in. Why do all flight attendants
smell like a flower shop in the middle of a small country town? I love that
smell.

“Can I get you something to drink?” How nice. Girls never offer to get me a
drink.

“No, thanks.” My smile is polite, yet troubled. There is no room for ‘CC and
dry’ when I’m already full of guilt and shame. She nods in acknowledgement and sashays away to serve the next loud idiot or heart broken, sulking loser.

Next to me, an attractive young couple are giggling away like a couple of
kids on the back of a school bus. I turn my head slightly, so that I can see
what all the fuss is about. It seems like one of them has managed to stuff
their jacket pockets with sushi, and the sheer genius and hilarity of their
secret snack idea has them both in hysterics. I’d laugh too, if I didn’t hate
them so much. It’s so unbearably adorable that not even blasting Burn The
Priest
through my headphones is enough to blot out the cuteness. It
reminds me of the things me and Freya used to do together, and how they made me feel.

My thoughts inevitably turn back to last night, at Freya’s place. When I
arrived there, I just wanted to talk. But I’d worked my mind up into such a
frenzy, and I was so scared of losing myself in her that I behaved like any
scared animal would – I attacked. I told her that I didn’t want to see her
anymore, because she was needy. I told her that she was slowly smothering me, stripping away the life I had built up since moving to Melbourne six months ago. I told her I don’t want to be her emotional punching bag. Then, I stormed out.

I got exactly what I wanted. She’s gone now, and I have my life back. I’m
free.

So free, and so alone.

Part of me wants to take it all back, to say I’m sorry, and set things
right. But is that because I miss her, or how she made me feel?
Is it just the guilt and shame that makes me want to apologise, or is it
something else? Would I even deserve a second chance, after saying all of those terrible things?

Fuck, this is going to be a long flight.

I decide to fire up an audio book called ‘Silently Seduced: When Parents
Make Their Children Partners’
by Kenneth M. Adams. The book explores how some parents, driven by insecurity and loneliness, use their children as
surrogate partners. It describes the impact this can have on their children’s
emotional development and ability to form healthy, romantic relationships in adulthood.

Yes, perfect. This will take my mind off things.

The book goes on to explain that if one person in a monogamous relationship is emotionally unavailable, the other person will look elsewhere to satisfy their unfulfilled needs. They might start spending more time at work, hoping to find satisfaction by building their career. They may turn to drugs and alcohol, chasing new experiences and cheap thrills. Or they might try to fill the void by maxing out their credit cards with some good old-fashioned retail therapy.

In some cases, however, they will use their children as crutches to keep
their hearts from collapsing.

Sadly, it makes a lot of sense. We’ve all heard stories of parents that seek
validation through their child by forcing them to become what they personally never could. But sometimes, the parents push in another direction. They force a child to become a shoulder to cry on, or an ear for their frustrations. The child becomes the voice of reason when the parent is unstable, and is the one to pick them up when they inevitably break down.

It certainly not the loveless environment that most people think of when
discussing childhood trauma. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s too much
love. The wrong kind of love. And for a child, it’s the only love they know.

It’s hard for a child to neglect the emotional needs of a wounded parent.
They brought you into this world, after all. They raised you, and protected
you. You owe them everything. But after a while, this surrogacy begins to drain you. Love becomes a burden, like a warm blanket on a hot summer day. It’s an overpriced cocktail of guilt, shame and resentment. You learn that to love, is to suffocate.

Each passing chapter of the book peels back a new layer of my childhood.
Each new concept is another piece of the puzzle. Slowly, I’m starting to see
why being close to people scares me so fucking much. Why I become detached, even spiteful, towards those that have shown me nothing but compassion and understanding.

As the cute couple beside me chows down on their jacket sushi, I’m having a
full-blown existential crisis. I pause the audio book, and take a moment to
collect my thoughts. From this crisis, comes a moment of clarity – my return
home has presented me with a rare opportunity. An opportunity to know myself better, and get to the bottom of my mummy issues. An opportunity to see into me.

For the first time today, the guilt begins to subside. As the plane begins
it’s decent, I feel a sense of resolve forming within me. It may be too late to
fix things with Freya, but it’s not too late to change my behaviour and stop
being a shitty human being.

Once we hit the tarmac, I grab my bag from the overhead locker and follow
the Canadian Club clowns as they stumble down the aisle, bouncing off the backs of seats like they’re stuck in a really long, narrow pinball machine.

I step off the plane and take my first real breath in three hours.
Hopefully, my stint in the slammer did me some good. I’ve done my time, and now I’m back on the outside. I’m a free man.

“JAY! JAAAYYYYY!”

Or, maybe not.

It’s the voice of my mother. Suddenly, the space around me begins to
tighten. She wasn’t supposed to be here.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Sometimes, life gives you lemons. At other times, it throws them at you. Really, really hard. Especially if you’re not looking.

In one moment, you might think you’ve got everything under control:

  • Job = secure
  • Bills = paid
  • Clothes = washed
  • Social life = uhhh…work in progress
  • Prescription = filled

And in the next moment…pure chaos. Cheers, life.

Whether as the result of some external event (eg. an untimely incident or unexpected circumstance) or internal influence (eg. a chemical imbalance in the brain or a traumatic memory), chaos hides around every corner waiting for the chance to strike, threatening dysfunction and disorder.

I believe that in small doses, chaos can bring a healthy amount of excitement and unpredictability to our lives. A life without chaos is a life without challenge; there is a yin to every yang, as they say. But to someone suffering from a mental illness, chaos poses a substantial threat. If we’re already struggling to keep our heads above water in day to day life, chaos can easily overwhelm us.

Depression is a constant battle, and when we’re treading water it’s easy to spend too much time staring into the abyss below and wondering what would happen if we stopped paddling. We get so caught up in the chaos and fear that we lose sight of the bigger picture and start behaving irrationally. Life throws us lemons, so we pick those suckers up and squirt the juices into our eyeballs. Not exactly the best move.

Sometimes, we need to be better than our emotions. Every now and then, it’s important to look up from the abyss and make sure you’re still headed toward dry land.

Let me tell you about a time life threw me a nice, big, juicy lemon.

A few years ago, I was exploring my home state in Australia, driving through the ranges of north Queensland. On this day I’d driven to the peak of the Eungella ranges and spent the morning trekking through the rain forest, conquering the mountainous trails and generally being in awe of the breathtaking views of the valley below. My companion on this journey was a maroon-red ’02 Toyota Corolla hatchback, that I had affectionately named Colin. We had been through much together in our three-year long relationship, and yet nothing had prepared us for the tribulations we were about to face.

After hiking my last hike for the day, I returned to my four-wheeled friend to find that he was almost completely out of fuel. Shit. I wish I could say this wasn’t a common occurrence, but I haven’t met any genies lately.

I was about 70 kilometres from the nearest gas station, and even further from the nearest town. But I had complete faith in Colin, and he had faith in me. I’m sure that if I coasted my way back down the mountain, I’d conserve enough fuel to make it back to the bowser.

So, down the range I went, gliding gracefully along the winding road in my little red go-go machine. I felt every bump, crack and dip beneath the rubber as we rode the waves of asphalt to the foot of the mountain. Every tweak of the steering wheel, every touch of the accelerator and every pump of the brakes was made with intent. It felt good. I was in complete control.

Or so I thought.

In the distance, a sign was fast approaching. “Eungella Dam, turn left in 500m”.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, dear reader. I freakin’ love dams. Some might call it “an unhealthy obsession”, but I would call it “don’t judge me, asshole.”

I grew up a stone’s throw away from a dam, and they’ve always fascinated me. They’re a true testament to the ingenuity of mankind; monolithic structures with the capability of harnessing one of nature’s most unstoppable forces – lots and lots of water. Eungella was so far away from home, and I didn’t know if I’d ever get the opportunity to see this dam again. How could I pass up the chance at one last incredible view?

I pulled my steering wheel to the left, and barrelled toward my new destination. Surely, this would only be a slight detour.

I started bashing through the bush, leaving a large cloud of dust in my wake. The dirt pricked my eyes but I kept them peeled, scanning every bend in the road for a turnoff or parking area. Minutes passed, and as I strayed further and further from the beaten track, I could feel every meter travelled accumulating in the pit of my stomach. Deep down, I knew that I’d made a terrible decision.

“Surely, the lookout is just around the corner. You’ve committed to this, it’s too late to turn back now.” I’d taken a calculated risk, but I was never good at math. The lemon was in my hand, and I was starting to squeeze.

Colin’s petrol gauge was well below empty. I’m convinced that he was completely out of fuel at this point and was running only on the fumes of my sheer stupidity. My red solider, loyal and true, was on his last legs.

I was so focused on seeing this damn dam, that I didn’t notice the next turn was quite a bit sharper than the rest. I brought my foot down on the brake like an anvil, and the car began to slide. Perhaps in an act of protest after being pushed to the brink of exhaustion, Colin threw his back wheels off the road the same way and infant throws his rattle across the room during a tantrum. I went careening into a two-meter deep ditch and came to a humiliating halt.

Great. Now I’m really stuffed. It was going to take some real gusto to get up this slope, most likely wasting the last of my precious petrol in the process.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes, emotions make us dumb. Really dumb.

I was so distracted by the fear of potentially being stranded in the middle of nowhere that I wasn’t thinking straight. Chaos had taken the wheel, and I was being pulled along by a four-cylinder engine of emotion straight into a ditch on the side of the road. I was acting completely irrationally. I’d lost control. I’d chosen to stare into the abyss below when I should be been searching for the safety of the shore.

But no more. It was time to look up.

Let’s turn this ship around.

I put the pedal to the metal, and in a Dukes of Hazzard inspired moment of pure triumph Colin and I aimed for the sky and fired. Without the weight of my emotions holding me down, for a moment, I knew what it was like to fly. I was finally acting level-headed, and the Corolla was back on level ground.

By some miracle, I managed to reach the petrol station. I was on cloud nine, and approached the lady at the register like I’d just won the lottery.

“That’ll be $45.67.”

“Here, just take my whole wallet.”

I think we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve decided to squeeze lemon juice into our eyes.

When this happens, often the biggest challenge is having the self-awareness to take a step back and access your current situation, put aside your predispositions and decide what is truly best for your wellbeing. You’ll use any excuse in the book to avoid the answers that are often right in front of your face. You’ll allow yourself to be distracted, and put your wants before your needs. This is destined to lead you down the path of chaos, and one day you might find yourself stuck in the middle of the bush in rural Australia.

You need to know that it’s never too late to grab the steering wheel and turn yourself around. There are many factors that influence our decisions in this modern world, but ultimately, it’s your responsibility to know what is best for you and make the right choices.

If you only follow your heart’s compass, it’ll lead you astray. But, if you play it smart, you’ll find that the little diversions take on a whole new lustre as you start to appreciate life’s various side paths and gravel roads. You’ll be free to pursue your passions comfortably, whether it be writing, mountain trekking, or visiting dams. Know that when your priorities are in order, you’ll have more mental fuel to go the distance in life and enjoy a richer human experience.

So remember to keep your chin up, and keep swimming.

Comfortably Glum

When you’re living with depression, sometimes the scariest moments are the ones where everything seems to be going smoothly.

Recently, there was a brief but wonderful period of time where everything appeared to be going my way. I was kicking goals in every aspect of my life; I’d started exercising again, I was eating healthier, I was meditating regularly and at work I felt a sense of productiveness and fulfillment. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t dread the thought of getting out of bed in the morning. Finally, I’d reached the level of stability and sustained happiness that I’d been striving for.

‘This is it.’ I thought. ‘This is life!’

But alas, it was not meant to be. For you see, depression can be a real bitch.

As quickly as feelings of joy and satisfaction had poured into my life, a storm of self-depreciating thoughts was brewing that threatened to wash it all away.

‘You’re a fraud.’

‘You’re a failure.’

‘You don’t deserve this.’

Without warning or remorse, the happiness I had found was ripped away from me. I was on top of the world, and now these negative thoughts had brought me tumbling down to the bottom of the heap. I was lower than low. I was nothing.

Things were back to normal.

Now, I know I’m not the only one to have experienced this. It’s happened to the best of us – your life is seemingly on the up-and-up and for one sweet, delicious moment you get a taste of what it’s like to not be sad all of the time. But, that depressive brain of yours doesn’t skip a beat and soon it’s back up to its old tricks of convincing you that eating an entire tub of chocolate ice cream while listening to Bright Eyes on repeat is a good way to spend a Friday evening.

When we fly too close to the sun, our urge to come crashing back down to Earth and into the familiar realm of angst and self-loathing only grows stronger. Like a fully-charged electromagnet, the further we pull away the more desperately our depression seeks to snap us back into the position of being huddled in a corner underneath exactly twelve woolen blankets. We have 200,000 years of human evolution on our side, and yet we decide that soppy music and artificial flavoring is the best way to deal with our emotions. Why the hell would anyone be inclined to behave this way? What purpose does it serve?

Well… I have a theory.

There is one thing that humans crave more than pleasure, and that is comfortability. Our brains are built to resist change. If you’re reading this blog, then I’d be willing to bet that you’ve spent your entire life struggling to deal with some strain of mental illness. Depression is a dreadful and destructive force, but in a sick and twisted way, it also feels like home. For me personally, the more depressed I am, the closer I feel to my true self. I understand what it means to be happy, but sadness is still my bread and butter, baby.

When something threatens to take my precious sorrow away, my mind immediately hits the panic button – “RED ALERT! RED ALERT! WE HAVE POSITIVE THOUGHTS APPROACHING ON ALL FRONTS! HOLD YOUR POSITIONS!” What ensues is a fierce battle within my own subconscious – a battle of emotions. And because sadness has the home advantage, my depression will always emerge victorious.

Put simply, I’m not good at feeling good. My mood will always strive to reach an equilibrium and return to its default depressive state. This behavior stems from the deeply-rooted belief that I do not deserve to be happy, a sentiment that most of us share – but that is a topic for another time.

Today, there is only one thing I want to you to take away from this post. The next time you see the dark clouds of depression looming on the horizon, ask yourself this:

‘Is this feeling due to external factors, or is this just a reaction to being pushed outside of my comfort zone and into a place of happiness and well-being?’

If you feel like shit and you’re not sure why, you should accept the possibility that this is a mental block your mind has created to prevent you from experiencing positive emotions. You should treat happiness like a skill that needs to be practiced and honed. When you’re learning a new skill, in the beginning there’s a painful period where you will try, and you will fail. Then you’ll try and fail some more. And just when you think you’re getting the hang of it – guess what – you’ll fail again. But what’s important is that you keep trying, because with each attempt you’ll bring your default mood closer to the threshold of happiness. Even in your darkest moments, you need to keep fighting.

The battle of emotions is more than a matter of life and death. It’s the fight for a life worth living. It’s a fight for everything.

And I know you can win.