The Importance of Minfulness & Nature

I am writing this in my car next to the woods I’ve just walked in. It has cleansed my soul and put me firmly back on planet earth with clarity and lifted the murkiness of recent troubles – which I am not here to bore you with.

For too long I’ve been hung up with being sat at a desk with computer or pen in hand to write. Sitting in the car tapping away on an old iPhone listening to the stream works just as well. This is the 21st century after all!

Actually when I left my house over an hour ago, I had no idea where I was going to go. Walking the dog today was a chore I did not want to do. Having been away for a week, the dog didn’t look too bothered either. I just kind of ended up here.

Over the past 24 hours, I’ve been dipping into Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever you go, there you are. I had downloaded the Headspace app but my free trial had run out and I decided to turn to the godfather of mindfulness that is JKZ. Throughout the book are references to Henry David Throreau, and his experiences living at next to Walden pond. When living surrounded by nature, Thoreau felt truly present  in each moment. Nature helped him engage with the here and now. To be present and to better understand himself. Truly the quintessence of mindfulness.

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity with Nature herself.

Henry David Thoreau, Where I lived, and what I lived for.

There is much simplicity in walking. Whatever is congesting in my mind melted away and I was able to experience similar emotions to what Thoreau might have felt, allowing the beauty, simplicity and the natural world to wash over you.

For moment, I was distracted by clovers. I spent a several minutes looking for a four leave clover that didn’t materialise and only prompted starange looks from Crumpet, the dog. I thought about how one must search in hope for luck rather than just waiting for it. I admired a small beetle just going about its business without a care in the world. It just kept on going, like we all must do.

My mind wondered off to the time the kids and I gathered holly and ferns from this wood for a Christmas wreath. The time I took a friend running through these woods who nearly threw up half way round. The time I saw an elusive deer skip across the path at dusk about a decade ago. My own personal connections ebbed and flowed interspersed with moments of focus on the natural world that surrounded me.

Today, I went to those woods feeling empty, I left feeling feeling whole. I truly had been there. I am here now and no mattered what happens, I should feels privileged to be so.

Recovery Story Part 3 Diagnosis.

Well over a decade since realising something wasn’t right and papering over the cracks, I was finally persuaded to go to the doctor.   I liked and trusted my doctor, as many of us do, in khakis and Clarke’s shoes. He had a warm smiling face, skin weathered and bronzed by being outdoors. His tinges of grey hair gave his an air of sophistication. Here was a man of experience who you could trust. He said it was depression, printed off the prescription and sent me on my way. 

Only he was wrong. It’s not his fault necessarily, maybe I hadn’t been as honest as I should have been. Maybe he didn’t ask the right questions. I don’t know but, on reflection, it seemed all too quick and easy. If it’s too good to be true, the it’s probably not true!

I spent the next five years trying different anti-depressants. Some would work for a time or acted as a placebo for a time but ultimately they were unsuccessful. It wasn’t until our kindly doctor retired that someone realised that something wasn’t right. I was 33 when I was referred for further psychiatric assessment. I was finally diagnosed with bipolar effective disorder type 2. Now, the psychiatrist printed off the prescription and sent me on my way. Again, he sat in M&S khakis in the autumn of his career. He made it sound so simple. ‘Take these and it will all be fine’. 

Throughout this time, taking therapy was never an option sir to poor funding. I was a guinea pig for a new CBT serice which was poor due to its  infancy. Exercise and lifestyle was touched – ‘try to do more exercise’. But alternatives to exercise were either deemed too rare or not important.  Indeed, when I received my diagnosis, I received no information about the condition and relied on google to find out more. Again you trust your doctors so I took the tablets and carried on as normal. 

Within two years, I was sat with the Crisis team on the verge of being admitted to hospital wanting to kill myself. 

Exam Results 20 years on – What I would say to my 16 year old self.

So twenty years ago, two seminal events happened that shaped me life. One was a trip to Africa with my father. The second was my GCSE results. As a look back into the murky hue of my memory, I can only remember one and that is the trip to Africa. The other definitely happened as I still have the certificates to prove it but there is very little memory of the actual event.

As the media becomes full of regurgitated stories of education such as exam results and general impact of ill thought out reforms, thousands of children will beginning to worry about their futures and how their lives hinge on the next few days. With the increased levels of media over the passed 20 years, the the more pressure is being put on exam results, which is bad. Exam results won’t tell an explorer what someone will be like at selling a product or how they communicate or someone levels of initiative. But, to any discerning teenager, they mean the world.

As I said, I can’t remember the day I got my results. Buried so deep in my memory that my brain has deemed in unworthy of recall. Just not that important. I can remember the trip to Africa vividly. The nerves on the plane, the wrinkled skin of elephants in the wild, the smooth, majestic voices of the choirs of waiting staff that sang to us over dinner, the taste of the Castle lager at 17p a bottle, the biblical spray off Victoria Falls and unfortunately an injury that would damage any athletic hopes a boy might have. Despite the negative, the trip made me see my father in a new light and showed me the importance of travel to truly broaden the mind and bless you with new experiences. It aroused a sense of adventure that sadly has been hidden from view for a while yet still burns ardently inside. None of my GCSEs can do that.

Now, I don’t want the rhetoric of this piece to be that exam results don’t matter because they do. The better grades you get, the more options remain open to you. The better the grades, the more opportunities you could have.

But they are not the be all and end all. There are so many other facets to you as a person and you have to celebrate these just as much, if not more as these are generally where your passion and skills lie. My trip to Africa sparked a desire to try different things and to be a bit more adventurous.

Sadly, mine hasn’t been a road to wealth and prosperity but it’s been interesting with lots of routes explored. Things will not always go to plan and often things are out of your control whether you like it or not. But it’s the spirit you have and how you approach the next challenge that will make a difference. Regardless of what grade you get, be positive. Be bold. And for heavens sake, be yourself.

Failed… again! Oh well, I’ll live.

I’ve already failed. I said when I started that I would update this blog on a weekly basis and I haven’t. Ordinarily, following my normal behavioural pattern, I would delete previous posts, delete the blog (and I have done multiple times) and stew in my failings. 

After many years of following and engraining this behaviour pattern, the cycle needs changing. As a teacher, how would it appear to the kids in my classes that I give up when something goes wrong? Or how would it appear to my own children that I just stop when the going gets tough? 

No! I am fed up of this cycle of failure and want to develop more positive habits to practice – thinking back to the Aristotle quote from a couple of weeks ago. I am what I repeatedly do. At the moment, some my repeated beahaviour is having a detrimental affect on my life and my enjoyment of it. So, today, I am going to accept that something hasn’t gone right, I might allow myself a minute to consider this and then I am going to move on. What’s been has gone. Nothing can change it now but what I can change is how I perceive it. 

Over the past year, I have learned a lot from the work of Epictetus, a Roman slave turned Stoic philosopher, and Albert Ellis, creator of Rational Behaviour Therapy and godfather of CBT. Maybe I will expand on these in future posts as they have been instrumental in my personal journey of recovery and I could share this experience and help me make more sense of it as I try to embrace the rest of my live rather than live in fear of everything going wrong. I have a lot to live for. We all do. But at times it can seem impossible to see through the fog that modern life puts in the way. 

So here it goes, another blog about mental health recovery. Everyone has a story, this is mine.