Moving Forward

I have just deleted the idea of writing a review of the progress of this blog so far. What a terrible idea! I suppose we’re allowed the occasional bad idea – Teresa May is a prime example!

I am at bit of a crossroads with the blog at the moment. so far, it has been been of a purposeless vessel, which has been the point. I have shared how I have felt, written some half-hearted ideas about staying well, but now I think I am ready for a slight change in direction.

Last week, I took part on Stoic Week as organised by Modern Stoicism. A former lecturer of mine, Chris Gill, has been influential in the recent resurrection of ancient philosophies as a way of staying mentally well. I must admit, at the time (aged 18) it hardly seemed relevant. University in the year 2000 was a very hedonistic experience. That said, it has really made me think, which I suppose was the point.

I have always felt that thinking more philosophically about things would help me to lead a more fulfilled and purposeful life. However, as it stands, I haven’t actually fully embraced it. or, more to the point, I have read extensively about lots of different ideas but haven’t actually lived by any one mantra for a period of time. Reading about and actually doing are very different. After all, you wouldn’t call yourself a marathon runner because you read a book about it –  would you?

So in a round about sort of way, I feel that I would like to use this space as a way of recording how living a certain way effects my life and how it might help others in achieving a more fulfilling life.

That said, I don’t believe that Stoicism is the right starting point for me. I am someone who struggles to enjoy oneself. I quite often do things because I feel I should, not because I want to. I might do things because that is what a person my age should do, because it will improve how others see me, or to impress others. I have wasted huge chunks of my life making the wrong choices – choices that have brought more pain that pleasure into my life.

As I begin a new chapter of my life, I want to revisit the work of a philosopher that gets a little overlooked next to the Stoics. A teacher who looks more at the self rather than the community. A thinker whose ideas have become somewhat bastardised in modern definition and interpretation. I feel that Epicureanism is a better place to start in the hope of finding a bit more enjoyment out of life.

What to do when you’ve gone off track.

Over the past few days, as the dust is beginning to settle on the havoc that has ensued over the past months, I have begun questioning what the heck am I doing. I have begun thinking about lots of different aspects of my life including career, interests and, even more generally, where I buy my shopping. Now this is dangerous, as there would be a risk to through everything up in the air and start again only to get in one big mess in the not so distant future.

One thing I have done is sign up for the Stoic Week 2017. This is a week long, guided delve into Stoicism and how it can help in modern day life. I am a huge believer in how ancient wisdom can applied to anyone’s lives.

In fact, many principles have been pinched and re branded into what we now call cognitive behavioural therapy. But the wisdom is in the words and experiences of those who has gone before us. How can we use what they have learnt to make our lives better. Men such as Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus have jotted down many key pieces of advice, but simple reading them is perhaps not enough to bring about longstanding change.

I’ve signed up because I am rubbish at putting things into practice. I need dedicated time to reflect on these lessons and think constructively how to put them into practice and identify the changes that I want to bring about.

I have a good life, but I don’t believe it. Why is that? That simple view of myself and my life is not down to my circumstances but how I view them and the skewed principles that have morphed my self identity.

The idea of potential change is daunting, but also tremendously exciting as there is hope – there is always hope – that I might actually be who I’ve always wanted to be.

The foundations of tomorrow are built on the ashes of yesterday. 

I have thinking a lot about how things change. We live in a constant flux of change, nearly fluid. In many way, I am starting to think that making plans for the future is futile. 

My life has turned out nothing like how I planned as a young adult but ruing this is unhealthy and potentially damaging. Afterall, what’s done is done. No amount of thinking about it can change it. 

That said it is possible to change how you see things. Or change ideas of what you think is important. Recently my career and relationship have crumbled, practically down to the floor. 

Whilst I am devastated and temporarily paralysed by the impact of these collosal events, I begin think think forwards. I can’t change what’s happened, but I can alter my direction moving forward and I have hope of numerous possibilities.

I read in the newspaper about a story of the first national cricket stadium in Rwanda. It gave me a great sense of hope whilst putting personal problems into perspective. A British father and son had gone to Rwanda after the horrific massacres of the 90s to help those affected by the devastation. They did this through the medium of cricket. 

One thing struck me and that was that they were finding remains of the victims whilst they were playing.   Life in Rwanda will never be the same but there is still hope for their future.

The whole article is a testiment to how sport and people can help. What has been created looks beautiful and I can’t wait to hear about Rwandan cricket in tbe future. 

I’m not sure where I’ll be. I am getting used to the constant change and I’ll keep repeating the mantra: 

The foundations of today are built on the ashes of yesterday.

What I learnt whilst running – if you keep going, you will get there.

Yesterday morning I couldn’t run 7.5 miles. To be fair I had never tried until yesterday. Even when heading out, I didn’t think I could do it and was thinking of ways to either end the run early or not go at all. 

But I did try. I convinced myself to try. I knew I could run six miles over a similar route – I was just adding another hill. Just over a year ago I could only run two miles and now I have a year’s worth of practice under my feet which gave confidence to at least try. 

It took about and hour and a half – because of five hill climbs – but I did it! It got a little tough at the end but I slowed down a bit and kept plodding along. Now I am someone who can run that distance. I felt so proud and couldn’t wait to share what I achieved with other people. They all think I’m mad. Then again, I am – diagnosis and everything! 

The routine of running teaches me to keep going. That things will get tough but that’s ok because you’ll keep getting better and better. I can do it my way. I can do it on my own. Running alone can be strangely empowering; the mental fortitude is stronger than if I went to a club and be pushed along by others. 

Sometimes I feel that we have been brought up with a sense of entitlement and expectation. Growing up we are made to feel that we can do anything and that we are important. Only when we realise that we can’t and we’re not, life becomes bit of a diapointment. Nothing comes instantly, it will come much slower than we had hoped. It’s fine to have a goal on place but adjust the timescale. You will get there – just keep on going.

Sleep to stay well

Feel like you’ve had enough and can’t go on? As soon as you start feeling stressed, anxious or low, it’s usually a sign that your brain is getting tired. Not necessarily sleepy but exhausted. If you have been running for too long, your body will ache as a sign that it needs to stop, so when you feel like you’ve had enough, your brain is telling you to stop.

Giving your brain a break is vital for its survival; Like any other muscle it needs time to rest to regenerate and grow. Sleep is the most important way for the brain to do this. Whilst you sleep, it can rest, repair and grow. If you suffer with a mental health condition, sleep is vital. If your chemical levels are slightly different to other people’s, then your brain will have to work harder to function the same as everyone elses. I am always amazed how tired I am after a day’s work but then I’ve had to battle bipolar on top of my daily duties – and it’s bloody hard to do that some days. To combat this, I need to prioritise rest and sleep more than others I know.

Getting enough sleep helps improve how we feel and how well our brain can function, therefore our mood improves. It’s as important as medication and exercise in staying well. Here are some strategies that help me sleep that may help you:

1 – Exercise

Moving your body will help you feel tired but think carefully about when  you do it. Exercising vigorously immediately before sleep – with perhaps the exception of sex – doesn’t help as your body needs time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Try exercising during the day, preferably in the morning, to feel more tired when you’re ready for bed.

2 – Shut Down

You need to give your body and brain time to unwind and get ready for sleep. Try setting aside at least an hour before you want to go to sleep to relax and unwind. Watch mindless telly (there’s plenty to choose from), read a book, listen to the radio – whatever it is, it will help you to take focus away from your day-to-day thinking about work, life etc, and help your brain to unwind.

3 – Mindfulness

When you finally hit the sack and rest your head on the pillow, if your the type of person that has everything flashing through you mind at 100mph, now if is the perfect time to practice mindfulness. Concentrate on your breath, let the thoughts come and let them go with the out breath. I’m very lucky living in the country as I can focus on what I can hear, whether that is church bells, a distant train or the occasional owl. Trying identify the different noises will help distract your mind from preoccupations – much like counting sheep. That said if you can hear screaming and gunshots, call the police and start looking on rightmove!!

4 – Turn the phone off

I am the worst culprit for the this. If the world of information is at your fingertips, you will be prone to use it. So many of us use it as an alarm clock as well so feel tied to it when we go to bed. I’ve started using the alarm on my watch and turning my phone off so I am not tempted for late night searching.