Monday, 28 January 2013

Disidentifying From Depression

It saddens me when I read profiles on Twitter and biographies on other social media outlets, where people state, almost proudly, that they are depressives or have other mental health issues.

As I did for more than two decades, until a few years ago, many people seem to wear depression as a badge or flash it, on introduction, like a journalist would their ‘Press Card’, as if saying: “This is who I am.”

As much as I feel it’s important – vital, in fact – to communicate and discuss our feelings in regard to these disorders of the mind, I think it’s counter-productive to identify with depression as if it’s a central part of who we are. It’s not.

The more we attach ourselves to the idea (i.e. the dysfunctional thought) that we are in some way ‘faulty’, the more we galvanise that notion, within. It becomes a form of self-discrimination, perpetuating the ego’s perceived control over us, and the more we feed our ego, the tougher it is to break the cycle of critical over-thinking, which is the source of emotional anxiety and pain.

Acknowledgement and acceptance of any depressive episode is imperative in taking the first steps to overcome it, but no more than a person who has cancer would call themselves a cancer, those who experience depressive states do not have to identify themselves as depressives.

I doubt there is one person who has experienced or is experiencing depression that doesn’t have a whole host of other, positive qualities that far outshine that perceived negative.

I walked for too long in the shadow of my ego, much to the detriment of my early life, but I don’t – now – consider myself a depressive, a recovered depressive, a depression survivor or anything else along those lines.

I’m a human being. There are good days and not so good days, but the adoption of a positive frame of mind and the rejection of the egoic compulsion to think I’m imperfect means there are no more terrible days.

I hope some people find this post useful.

A great site to discuss depression, read inspiring stories and find real help, rather than sympathy and the perpetuation of misery, is Ruby Wax’s ‘Black Dog Tribe’:

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Weight of the World

“My head’s full of the screams of all the dead and dying children in all the world’s war zones and in Americas colleges and schools.”

One of the people I follow on Twitter sent me this message earlier in the week.

I replied:

“No, it's not. Your mind is making all that noise and it's helping nobody - not the kids and certainly not you.”

At first glance, my response may seem unsympathetic and, perhaps, flippant, but there’s a wisdom behind those words which I received through experience. I can relate to this person’s fears and ‘dark imaginings’ (as Max Ehrmann calls them, in Desiderata) because they used to be my fears, too.

I used to worry about everything I could find to worry about. I’d actively hunt down subject matter that would help me wallow in that fear, such as watching footage of the Asian Tsunami or the World Trade Centre atrocity. I’d consider what it must have been like to be on the beach and see that tremendous wave coming, or to feel the floor beneath my feet give way in those towers, visualising myself utterly powerless to prevent my imminent doom and demise.

Did my grim empathy do anyone any good? Did it force time to rewind and allow me to save lives? Did it comfort the survivors or the families of the dead?

No, all it did was help exacerbate the depressive, negative swirl of thought in my mind, further deepening the darkness of my perception of life.

This process of thought was no use at all, to anyone. Quite the opposite: it caused mental torment within myself and that negative energy would have spread to the people around me, either through my communication with them, or because of my general sullen demeanour.

Adopting the pain of others in such global events – when you were not directly or even indirectly touched by those events, except to read about it or watch the video footage on the news - is, at best, futile, but it can also be very damaging to a person’s mental wellbeing…

Taking on these burdens are an example of how the ego schemes to keep us unhappy, and while this dysfunction of the egoic mind remains unchecked, it will always seek new attachments to fear and pain.

Your life could be, to all intents and purposes, perfect, but without the ability to discern the quality and value of your thoughts, your ego will find fault in anything it can and lure you back into a false perception of imperfection.

When you can’t get to sleep at night, or your days are consumed by macabre thoughts about such events, and you haven’t actually experienced those events first hand, then you are imagining it and your own mind is hurting you.

It is a false, selective and imaginary pain – and why would you want to imagine such horrors and play them in your head, when you weren’t involved?

The massacre of young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in December of last year, was something that every good-hearted person in the world would find abhorrent, and the outpouring of sympathy and sadness was – of course – a natural reaction to such a terrible event.

But what about the multitudes of children killed in the conflict in Syria, or those starving to death in Sub-Saharan Africa? What about the baby girls murdered or abandoned in India, because they were born the ‘wrong’ sex? What about the kids the world over who live and work on rat-and-disease-infested waste dumps to find scraps of metal they can sell, for a pittance, to recyclers? What about those who live both here and abroad who live in misery, under the constant threat of mental, physical and/or sexual abuse from the people they should most be able to trust?

If you consider them all and take their pain as your own, before too long you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders.

And here’s the truth: that weight is not yours to bear, so let it go.

Relinquishing that pain does not mean that you don’t care. In fact, it puts you in a stronger position to do something that may actually be of use.

Leave the true, close-up grief to the survivors of these tragedies and give them your strength when they need it, or leave them alone, if they express that wish. (How many TV trucks turn up at school massacres and doorstep the families of the victims, when those families have asked for privacy?)

If you’re worried about the world, the most positive thing you can do, today, is to clear up your inner-environment – i.e. yourself – and make it a calmer and more peaceful place to live.

Once you’ve mastered that, you’ll radiate positive energy to those around you. Be kind to those you love (and even to those you don’t), make them smile when you have the chance and do what you can to help, when they need it (which isn’t necessarily when you think they need it).

To focus solely on the perceived negatives of this beautiful and vibrant planet is like viewing in a mirror the incredible machine that you are in command of - the human body; one of the most complex and brilliant organisms in the known Universe - and deeming it unworthy and imperfect because your mind judges the nose to be the wrong shape.

“With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

Friday, 25 January 2013

If Money Was No Object...

A guest blog by @AlyHazelwood

If money was no object, what would you do with your one short life? This question has been bouncing around in my head for a couple of years now. I feel that 2013 is the year to finally address it with focus, clarity and vigour.

I’ve had several job changes throughout my career history. I started out in I.T sales, moved to I.T Recruitment, then Financial Services, eventually ending up running the European operation of an American soft drinks company. In between these soul-numbing, desk-bound jobs, I spent several years travelling around the world, having the kind of life-affirming, deeply connective, free experiences that are the ones you really remember with fondness in your twilight years.

Finally, at the age of 29 and with the encouragement of my wonderful female boss, I decided it was time to think about my future. I knew that it couldn’t possibly play out behind a desk; it just wasn’t ‘me’. Having been passionately interested in all things artistic and mercurial, I longed for a creative outlet. I researched careers in TV, Journalism and the Music Industry and, with a mortgage to pay, found myself daunted by the prospect of embarking on a lengthy study schedule, or a low paid internship the likes of which are so common in the competitive creative industries. 

I settled on a course in Make Up Artistry, figuring that it was a career I could slowly build around 2 part-time jobs that kept the roof over my head. Since childhood I’d shown flair for painting, colour and composition, and as a rather lonely only-child, I learned to love the state of immersion and flow that accompanied my artistic endeavours. So I quit my job, and went back to school just as I turned 30.

A combination of good luck, natural ability, being in the right place at the right time, and application of the business skills I’d gained during my years in a corporate environment, resulted in my career as a make up artist taking off with rocket speed. Not for me the usual route of years of unpaid assisting. Instead upon graduation, I was catapulted into working with huge international music acts at MTV and within a year was signed to a top London agency, having left behind the part-time jobs and bar work.

It was an interesting time in my life; I relished the freedom of being my own boss, the international travel, celebrity clients, great money, and the creative outlet I’d been longing for. I felt blessed and thankful. But I also felt the familiar sadness that comes from not quite fitting in. I quickly discovered that the fashion industry wasn’t ‘me’ either. And I couldn’t shake off the disquiet I felt about contributing to the global media’s warped portrayal of female ‘perfection’.

10 years on and the tide is turning once again. At times, I feel I’ve lived a hundred lives already. However, the last 2 years have seen a concentrated period of change and self-inquiry borne out of years of suffering, insecurity, depression and dysfunctional relationships.

The final proverbial straw was the end of a relationship that meant the world to me. It wasn’t a good relationship, but I loved him deeply nonetheless. After it’s inevitable, scorching breakdown, and the subsequent destruction of every mechanism I had formed to cope with life thus far, I awoke one cold morning when there were no more tears left to cry to the realisation that something had to change. I had been broken open and I had to stay open.

For me, this has taken the form of meditation, yoga, mindfulness training, volunteering and spiritual enquiry. Everything I learn brings me to a state of realisation that I know nothing and this requires me to be profoundly gentle with myself. I have been helped (and sometimes gently nudged) along this road-of-no-return by incredible, light-filled people such as Jamie Catto, Simon Paul Sutton, Neil Hill, Elizabeth Garvey and of course, our very own Lesism.

Sometimes I buck and writhe against the challenges that come with increased awareness, and have been known to whine “can’t I just go back to sleep?’ But in reality, I could never - would never - choose to do or experience things differently, for I may never have arrived at this calmer, happier place. Depression and his thuggish friend self-loathing no longer take up residence in the shuttered rooms of my consciousness. Instead, they pass through quietly as I tip my hat in acknowledgment.

Perhaps it’s simply one of the inevitable symptoms of getting older, but I have found myself repeatedly questioning ‘What use can I be to our beleaguered little planet?’ rather than “Why don’t I fit in?” Furthermore, upon the recent sorrowful, but not unexpected discovery that I’m unable to conceive, ‘What will be my legacy?’  

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Here Teddy Roosevelt made a most salient point. Of course, being a make up artist is fun, it often doesn’t feel like work at all, and can at times be creatively rewarding, but is this really the most passionate, world-changing work I am capable of? And I don’t mean world changing in an egoic, look-at-me-aren’t-I-great sort of way, nor in a Nobel Peace Prize winning way. I mean, what can I do, however large or small, to make a positive, lasting difference to people’s lives? What can I give of myself?

It’s a tough question. It gives rise to feelings of doubt about my ability to affect any kind of positive change in the world; after all, who do I think I am? Gandhi? It also triggers me into deeply held feelings of fear, fear of loss, of money, status, my home, and at its core, loss of the self. This last one is a tricky customer. With awareness I can shine the light of truth onto this preposterous notion, for there is no ‘self’ to ‘lose’, just a constructed and conditioned set of ideas I have about my ‘self’. However this devious character often operates under the radar of awareness, subtly spreading its icy tentacles of egoic fear up my spine until I feel paralysed, immobile…

Despite the annoying, insistent voice of my demon inner critic, this month I’m embarking on the first of a series of courses in Non-Violent Communication, a process created by the inspirational Marshall B Rosenberg to bring about harmony, empathy and connection between humans. There is not a single person in the world that does not have a relationship of some kind to another person, and I’d bet my money on the fact that at times, we all suffer imbalance, disturbance and disconnection from the souls we nudge up against.

I passionately believe in the benefits that Non Violent Communication can have on the individual, i.e. me, and that subsequently, bringing it to a wider audience can be a vehicle for long-lasting, positive change in the world. So I’m making baby steps towards being the change I want to see in the world. I also passionately believe in petitioning the universe for the things I want, and what I want right now is an opportunity to change the conditions of my life and career so that I can be of service. Perhaps someone reading this article will be the most qualified person imaginable to help bring about this change. If that’s you, please holler. I come armed with bags of enthusiasm, drive and pluck.

I have no idea what lies ahead for me, or whether I’ll make a ‘success’ for want of a better word, of this new phase of my life. But I can’t spend a lifetime wondering ‘what if?’. Would you join me on a path of self-actualisation if you could? If not, what would you do, if money were no object?

If you are interested in the work of Marshal B Rosenberg you can watch one of his talks on YouTube here.

And further useful links for those wishing to change their lives:

Twitter: @AlyHazlewood

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Lose to Win

A guest blog by @CornellThomas

Every game I have ever played ended up with a winner and a loser. I never played soccer when I was little so I never experienced what a "tie" was like. Either I was walking off the court smiling with my head high, or I was walking off upset and disappointed. In sports you learn at an early age the difference between the two.

You are taught winning is everything. After you "win" a game you get to go out for ice cream, mom and dad are a lot happier, and even your coach kind of forgot the three plays you screwed up in the fourth quarter. In contrast after you "lose" there is no ice cream, mom and dad are giving you a detailed breakdown of your teams’ performance, and your coach somehow has channelled the power of time travel and can recall each and every one of your mistakes, including the one while you were on the bench.

No one celebrates a loss. In the coaching world you hear phrases like, "there’s no such thing as moral victories". Which basically means ok so you only lost by four points to a really good team but you lost, still no ice cream. I think what a lot of people (including myself sometimes) tend to forget is there’s a bigger lesson in losing than in winning. Now that’s not to say you should lose every game just to gain more knowledge, but you shouldn’t look at failures like you're a failure.

When I was seventeen my mom decided to reluctantly take me to my driver’s test. We're talking a little ways back so bear with me on the car reference. Our family had a Chevy Lumina van. It looked exactly like one of those bullets that try to kill you in Super Mario Brothers but about 13 feet long. We didn’t have another vehicle I could use so I did my test with the soccer mom special. As soon as my tester opened the door he said, "Son I couldn’t past this test with this van, I'm going to have to fail you before we even start". He wasn’t kidding either, he took out my sheet and wrote FAILED, in big red letters across the top of it.

My instructor then put his seatbelt on and told me to go through the course. I was perplexed by what was going on. I already FAILED why the heck am I doing the test still? As we went through the test I realized how impossible it would of been to pass it, but during it he showed me every little thing they looked for when determining if a student is a competent driver or not. After we went through the course I was amazed how much I learned in that ten-minute span.

Even if I did have a normal sized car, it would have been a tough test to pass. Back then you could only fail one thing; today I think you can text while you do the course and still pass. When I came back a month later I had a different instructor but aced the test.

Everyone loves the underdog because it gives us hope that we can fight past our own failures. Rocky, Rudy, Ralph Macchio (ok the last one was a reach; I was going with the letter R theme, but in fairness his last name in the movie Karate Kid did have one) - they all failed before they succeeded.

The next time you lose don’t look at what you lost; look at what you can gain from that loss.

Twitter: @CornellThomas

2013: A New Hope

As 2012 came to a close and the New Year dawned, so, too, for many people, came a new hope.

2012 – particularly, the 21st December - was touted, for decades previous, as a time of either cataclysm or catalyst to a new era of peace and cooperation, depending on who you listened to or which authors you read.

In truth, nothing of any great spiritual significance occurred on the 21st. There was no ‘cosmic moment’; no Galactic alignment; no balancing of the ‘divine feminine’… no rapture… no earthquakes… no collision with Planet X/Nibiru.

It was, to all intents and purposes, just another day.

Those who placed great significance on that day may tell you otherwise; particularly if they sold a lot of books and seminar seats in the run-up, imparting secrets of how people could attune themselves to receive the angel’s blessings, or whatever other spiritual gifts they were touting…

There are ‘spiritual teachers’ who remain at least outwardly convinced (and, I suspect, have fooled even themselves into believing) that there was a ‘cosmic moment’ and a new, spiritual energy has entered humanity.

One prominent angelologist insists that 31% of humanity have transcended to the fifth dimension, as well as 57% of animals – no doubt, including some particularly friendly wasps.

She also infers that the outbreaks of ‘flu and norovirus is directly related to the ‘purification process’ of this new energy. Of course, the truth is that these sicknesses appear every single winter.

Although it may have seemed as though these people were offering a chance of salvation to their loyal fans, what they were actually doing was exploiting their fears.

As many as one in ten people were afraid of the eventualities that the 21st December, 2012, could bring about. That fear didn’t just fall out of thin air and into their minds; it was, like most irrational terrors, taught… or bought.

Now, it’s 2013 and we should all resolve to reject further ‘prophecies’, however well-intentioned they may appear on the surface. We need to put an end to collective superstition and start living without fear.

That’s not to say that we can’t make transformational changes to improve the world, but we can begin or reaffirm that process today – right now – by adopting a more positive and cooperative mind-set. We don’t have to wait for some mystical set day in the future for conditions to become right.

It is right, now.

Make 2013 your greatest year, then 2014 even better… and so on…

“No fate but what we make.” – Sarah Connor, ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’