I started writing an article about where I was at in my journey thus far, but I think what would be far more valuable right now, especially considering its World Mental Health Day, would be to talk about the dark days of personal growth. Those days, weeks, months when you feel like no matter how much effort you put in, you feel as though you are slipping further and further back into your old ways. Sometimes it all feels too much like there is nowhere, and no one to turn to. It’s funny how quickly my mind jumps at the chance to decide that this is the way now.
“All emotions, even those that are suppressed and unexpressed, have physical effects. Unexpressed emotions tend to stay in the body like small ticking time bombs—they are illnesses in incubation.” – Marilyn Van M. Derbur
Recently I have been staring that dark cave of self depreciating thoughts in the face. Made more challenging by the strict lockdown we are currently under restricting that much needed human connection, especially hugs. It helps knowing that these dark thoughts will always be there but that I have the tools which I can use as a spotlight to shine through the darkness even if just to create some breathing space. Enough to let a little light in.
“What fire does not destroy, it hardens” – Oscar Wilde
For me, the tools I’ve been using the most recently are journaling, breath-work, reaching out to friends, grounding, cold water swims and fun.
I don’t think I’ve ever included the term “fun” as part of my tool kit before, but it’s been hugely beneficial as of late. For me, fun can look like practising (and failing) to do handstands in the park, going for a run with some uplifting music, an impromptu bedroom dance party, jumping into the ocean, anything that puts a little bit of a smile on my face or gives a small sense of accomplishment. Something a little childlike is great too. That’s why I love handstands, it’s hard to be serious when you’re so focused on not slamming your face into the ground, whilst metaphorically turning your world “upside down”. It also means I can get my feet and hands on the earth, get a little grubby and connect more deeply to nature, grounding my energy.
It’s spring here at the moment, and I’ve taken up flower pressing. I know, it hardly screams masculine man, but maybe that’s the point. There is something quite therapeutic and creative about going for a walk and compiling little snippets of nature’s beauty. It takes me back to my childhood and being in the garden with my family.
“Have fun, even if it’s not the same kind of fun everyone else is having.” – C.S. Lewis
Another thing that I think is worth mentioning, especially as of late, is that sometimes people lash out at us and we feel like we must have done something wrong. Especially when we are already struggling ourselves. I would often beat myself up about it. “You do all this inner work, but you’re still a bad person”, that sort of stuff. It’s been an important lesson to realise that, in actual fact, that person probably just has a lot going on and you just happened to get in the way. I’m learning to navigate what is actually mine to sit with, and what I just got in the way of.
“I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny, but we can have lots of good fun that is funny.” – Dr. Seuss
I know the frustration in having a daily practice, having done so much work, and hitting a point where you are feeling like back at square one again. I think if we look at things rationally, we can see how far we have come. Even to be able to observe the intricacies of our own mind is a huge step in the right direction. A useful reframe is to look five years in the past, where were you? where are you now?, and where would you like to be in 5 years time? Have you moved closer in those last 5 years to your future goal? You most likely have, be proud of that.
Right now I’m feeling infinitely better and I know that I owe it to reaching out to friends with unfiltered vulnerability, forcing myself into the ocean even (especially) when I don’t want to, and embodying the childlike nature of joy.
“Life is a great big canvas; throw all the paint you can on it.” – Danny Kaye
A song that helped me, maybe it will soothe you too.