Curl up in the carcass of your sanity in order to survive the storm.
You’ll emerge, covered in blood, yet warm, and more importantly, alive.
You can tell I watched The Revenant recently, huh? In the first week of March I felt myself crashing. After a super mega driven start to the year in a new job with lots of new projects, hopes and ambitions, everything just suddenly hit me at once. Any ailment I had worsened. migraines returned, my stomach was in knots and I realised I had been behaving perpetually, just keeping going without allowing myself any time to stop, think and reflect, because there were bigger fish to fry. In reality, it was my mind that was fried, and my body was broken. And that goddamn song by My Chemical Romance kept coming into my mind as I internally screamed: I'm not okay!
I wrote the following on Friday 5th March, and having debated whether or not to share it, I think in some ways it's a responsible move to anyone else who's felt or is feeling totally done. I think we tend to think people who are seen to be getting shit done are invincible, infallible, or that they don't ever slow down. This is simply untrue, and this myth will propel us all into the centre of a black hole of sheer exhaustion, if we let it.
As I sit in front of my macbook to write I always feel a little bit like Carrie Bradshaw, but I’m not sure in what scenario Carrie would be squeezed onto the 18:12 train from Birmingham New Street to Taunton. She probably also wouldn’t have missed the 17:12 either, or if she did, I imagine Mr Big would have come to her rescue. There was no-one in particular to rescue me at the given time, except for a coconut milk chai latte from Starbucks.
This week has been an unprecedented challenge, and due to a combination of factors I have felt completely emotionally and physically ill-equipped to survive the week and all the little challenges it has presented. By Thursday I found myself stepping onto the bus, unable to find the carefully counted change in one of my many overstuffed pockets - having already lost my trusty bus pass somewhere along the way a few days previous - and I quickly yet reluctantly folded with defeat, stepped back off the bus with shame, walked back home and wept.
There’s lots of terminology surrounding such moments. Anxiety is one I rarely like to use, in the same way as describing sadness as being depressed, because those terms are linked to real conditions that people suffer with in a particular way, and I don’t think they are to be used lightly or as an exaggeration in particular contexts. The feelings I speak of manifest as a feeling of being over-somethinged. Overwhelmed, overexcited, overloaded. Things just become too much for our system to handle. If we don’t eat or sleep enough, for example, our body and mind simply haven’t been given the tools they need to make sense of, rationalise, execute and adapt to different scenarios, and emotions such as fear and doubt are allowed to run freely across the plains of our minds uncurbed.
I think it’s important to be honest about this, at least at this present moment, because I have a feeling that when we feel this way there isn’t really a space to discuss it that doesn’t feel a bit like we’re moaning, or for fear of appearing weak, unstable or like we’re just unable to cope. I wonder if it's a residual thing, like somewhere in the recesses of our mind we worry that if we have a cry in tesco we'll be shipped off to Bedlam in a straightjacket. Whatever is going on, this stuff is important, for ourselves and the people around us. Here’s what I’ve observed this week, that may or may not be useful in opening up a discussion around the importance of feeling okay.
Use rampant stress as fuel for solutions. So, the bus fail was a point of extreme stress for me, where a few months' worth of worry about family, health and work leaked out in a single moment. The breaking point. The way I see it, the more we can acknowledge that we are feeling something like stress, the more we are learning about how and why we get to that point, which could lead to solutions for how to prevent it in future.
Not all stress is negative. When I was a teenager I used to blackout at gigs, and the doctor put it down to panic attacks; prompted by euphoria rather than anxiety. A big realisation for me is that feeling overexcited and overstimulated can apply the same amount of pressure to our system as being extremely worried, and that both can, thus, leave us completely exhausted. I persistently find myself blown away by the limitless possibilities to explore and feel in a constant state of idea generation, fuelled by the range of people I meet and projects I get involved with. It’s like a creative party in my brain 24/7 and I can’t keep up with all the dancing. Whilst this is a positive emotion and a powerful driver, it’s one that needs to be balanced in the same way as any overwhelming negative feelings. We can do this by creating calm neutrality, rather than switching to another extreme.
Music saves. I've personally found that listening to music is incredible as almost a nutrient to feeling better; an escape tunnel or emergency slide away from the chaos the mind can get itself into. I associate the relief of getting home with putting on some tunes, doing some drawing and letting my brain step into its own peaceful little world, safe from the challenges of the day. This is also infinitely useful when on the bus or walking home, as I find it acts as a little pod of good feeling, and almost a kind of company, when we are stuck in between where we are and where we want to be. (I mean this in a geographical sense, but I guess it works on a psychological level too.)
Opening up about your weaknesses can lead to important conversations and kinship. I’ve been honest with quite a few people about how I’m feeling at the moment, and it has led to some important discussions about similar things they are experiencing themselves, rather than acting as a blockage or as a self-orientated indulgence. I’m really lucky to have the support to feel comfortable to do this, but in any network I think that things are much more likely to become a problem if they are not communicated, rather than if they are.
Be more selfish. I’m sure I’ve given this advice before, yet massively struggle to take it myself. It’s easy to worry more about how other people will feel about you than how you are feeling within yourself. I pack my weeks with social activities because I can’t stand the thought of friends thinking I’m too busy for them, and I struggle to say no to proposed plans because these relationships matter to me. But, the reality is, it’s important to think about how you are feeling too, and what you need, preferably before the point at which you actually get ill or your body simply gives up. When things start getting on top of you, look after yourself. Deeply care for yourself and do whatever you need to do to feel okay. I am learning that anyone who cares about you will understand.