Letter for the new year

Dear all,

Let me start this post, and this new year, by apologising for not writing anything in December. I have been rather busy, thoughtful and confused. Today, I shall honour my original quest to share reflections starting from my own experience and to record my progress in this year in which I have ‘taken time off’ to look after myself.

I started this adventure by testing out a life of routine: work, family, yoga, therapy, reading, writing, no travelling, no household and financial responsibilities, not much going out. In fact, not much of anything that could hinder the quiet balance of my (I now realise) overly-structured daily pattern. In doing so, I succeeded in not losing myself in the depths of deep depression or mania.

However, three months into this new lifestyle, I started getting irritable. Familiar faces started to annoy me terribly and my disgust in humanity increased: the old woman who shooed the dog, the people who wouldn’t let me pass on the zebra crossing, the people walking about aimlessly in shopping centres, getting in my way and stamping on my feet, the people who complained about bombings in Paris, and did nothing in their lives to make the world a better place, those who moaned about a corrupt government and were masters of fiscal evasion. Badly dressed people, people speaking loudly, people saying stupid things, people frowning… everything was painful to my eyes and ears.

And then I started getting anxious: why was I so irritable? I needed to control myself, not seem strange at work or at home. They’d start to think I was manic! My hands started shaking and my insides bubbling, when I was alone with myself I didn’t feel very well. Towards the end of November a woman sped through a red light and very nearly crashed into me and my friend. A series of ‘what if’s’ instilled themselves into my mind. What if my friend hadn’t been so quick on the brakes? What if we’d been a couple of inches further down the road? What if my friend had died and I’d been left with the guilt of having asked her to drive my car cause I was tired?

And finally the fear crept in: I spent ages in my car, how many times had I evaded death? I started seeing ambulances on the road, every day for a week. Cars speeding in the rain, water on my wind shield. I started flashing images of myself dead and bloody, a road kill. My hand clutched the steering wheel and my ears pounded. Nightmares started haunting my sleep: I killed my loved ones cause I didn’t drive carefully, I lost complete control, became insane.

What was happening?

The structured balance which had worked so well in keeping the craziness out was somehow giving in. I wasn’t, of course, spiralling out of control or losing touch with reality: my anxiety seemed to be limited to car journeys and I could control my irritation. Most importantly I was aware that something was going wrong. I talked to my therapist about it, who suggested it may have to do with the fact that I had been ‘living the life of a cloistered nun’, as she put it.

That woke me up. I realised all at once, that the routine I had mistaken for balance, was far from it. I had gone from being all over the place, full of ups, downs, interests, enthusiasms and responsibilities, to a life deprived of anything that could trigger an emotional response of sorts. I wasn’t learning how to deal, and live, with bipolar disorder: I was avoiding it. Of course I felt balanced: my mum made me coffee in the morning, I had no responsibilities other than work and I avoided nights out, alcohol, drugs, people, situations were I could spend money, PEOPLE. I wasn’t crazy and spiralling out of control, but I also wasn’t ME.

Maria Popova, author at brainpickings.org writes: ‘the structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalises us. A full life calls for both — too much control, and we become mummified; too little excitement and pleasurable discombobulation, and we become numb. After all, to be overly discombobulated is to be dead inside — to doom oneself to a life devoid of the glorious and ennobling messiness of the human experience.’

So I decided to test myself: I brought a plane ticket to visit old friends and started going out more often. I spent time with people, old friends and new ones, had a few drinks, listened to some great music and had a good time. But most of all I felt like myself again. And sure, I may still be a bit overenthusiastic when doing things (stuff like being overly affectionate towards everyone or spending 38 quid on scientific magazines while waiting for my train, oops) but I’m not bat-shit crazy and I feel real again.

And this is what I need to learn how to be, one step at a time. I realise now that what I have to do, what I need to do, is a lot harder than I had anticipated. Avoidance is boring but fairly easy, self-control and patience are a whole different matter.

So here’s to a year in which my top priority is learning to live with myself: a year of patience but not avoidance, of adventure and spontaneity, but not recklessness and carelessness. Here’s to savouring the things and people that make me happy, and not skimming past them in a frenzy for more.

Keep an eye out in the coming week for a more technical account of self-control and willpower and what it really means to implement them in real life.

Happy New Year to all,

Alisha:-)

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Choke.

I can smell the lethargy in the air as the rain comes down.
Who told you you could write all over my skin?

Territorial disputes.

Casually manhandling death and the rain
don’t stop, the rain           don’t stop.
Biting breasts under neon colours.
Stuffing your face and drowning in the barrel-
Drowning in the rain of your pain.

Contempt for conformity. Body builders of human agony.
The vivid dreams stopped months ago.
Flashes of blood running down my neck.

This winding road is damned and this skin is too tight.
Grinning mouths with men hanging at the corners.
Unsteady flooring and gums aching.

I’m heady from the drinks, the want and the sweat.
This tube smells of metal, blood and piss.
There’s a nightmare pulsing in between my legs.
Laughing hyenas pull at my clothes.           I give in.

Vaccinate me for control.

Chapped lips in the cold. Stomach acid scratches at my soul.
Flashing streetlights, cars, dancing on my window.
Magnetic network of obligations and purpose.

Buzzing in the world and screeching in my ears.
Monotone high pitched frequencies and I’m going mad, I’m going       mad.

The itch, the itch the pulse           in the eye,

the everlasting night, the bite,

the blood.

I’m a mess of filaments,

my nerves are barbwire.

Your fingers feel like bombs.

Psychosis, migraines, want.           A hollowed out gut.

Out of body,

overlooking this city.

You stand next to me, naked and shivering.
My cigarette shakes at the lips.

It falls and I          let          myself                               fall.

OUTRAGEOUS! The Psychology behind morality, mass indignation and self righteousness.

This is a post about the way people react to the ‘bad things’ going on in the world. Or rather, the way people react to the ‘bad things’ they learn about from the news, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or their classmate/workmate, which are by no means exhaustive of the bad things going on in the world.

The illustrations in this post are by Pawel Kuczynski, a brilliant Polish satirical artist and illustrator which you can check out here.

1385815_603773366353858_1504917352_n.900x600I would like to direct your attention to how morality causes mass indignation, and how in turn this leads to self-righteous behaviour. I shall keep this very brief and technical, so as not to contribute to the various rants and political positions being upheld at this very moment about events happening in the world.

Let us begin with the question of MORALITY. Collins dictionary defines it as ‘conformity, or degree of conformity, to conventional standards of moral conduct’. Pretty accurate, although I do quite prefer Nietzsche’s description of it as the ‘herd-instinct in the individual’. What you need to understand is that morality does not rest on absolute truths of what is right and wrong in universal terms. It rests rather, upon conventional and agreed sets of rules and guidelines, which vary significantly amongst different groups.

So if morality is not an objective truth, but rather a human/social construction, you may ask why exactly it is that we need it. I suggest it is comparable to the ‘social contract’ advocated by luminaries such as Rousseau, Hobbes, Locke and Rawls. We need morality, to get along with other people, because we are all different and self-interested, and the world would be absolute chaos if we didn’t have it. In some ways, morality is a partial sacrifice of the self, for the benefit of the community: we agree to give up a part of our independence of thought and action, in other to live harmoniously with other people. The reasons behind this, behind why man is a social animal and why we need other people, is a subject I’m not going to go into right now.

What you do need to understand is that for whatever reason, we do make this sacrifice and that this ‘giving up a part of oneself’ to the community, is not an easy sacrifice to make. Just think about all those fuzzy moral questions that continue to raise serious debates: homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, contraception, animal ethics, torture, slavery, war… the list could go on a while. My point is: morality is a sacrifice, and a big one at that.

And yet some people break this contract, undermining the effort you put into keeping this world order going. Hence comes the INDIGNATION: the feeling of shock and anger which you have when you think that something is unjust or unfair. I work so hard to keep up something, and then you wankers just come and blow shit up and ruin it. Not cool. What did I even work for?

And here we come to the point in which we decide to share our indignation with all the other animals in our group. After all, these moral law-breakers have ruined the outcome of my efforts, so I need to find some other way to benefit from my work. This leaves me with my final point, which is SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS, which Mr. Collins again describes as ‘having or showing an exaggerated awareness of one’s own virtuousness or rights’. Some of the synonyms listed are: sanctimonious, smug, superior, complacent, hypocritical, goody-goody (informal) and holier-than-thou. This pretty much means that someone exhibiting self-righteous behaviour is not just saying ‘look at me I’m great’, they are saying ‘look at me, I am better that these other people and I want you all to know’.

So what does this have to do, you may ask me, with my desire to share my indignation with others? The answer to this question resides in the reasons as to why you share such information and/or to the barely existent reflections you make upon the consequences of this rather simple act.foto8discorsosporco.900x600
So I ask all of you: when you post an indignant post, or share a picture to express your solidarity with victims of an event, what exactly, are you trying to achieve? I’m pretty sure the standard response to this question is that you want to ‘raise awareness on an issue’. But if that is the case, I ask you again, is there not perhaps a better way you could be doing such a thing? Is expressing your indignation really worth your time and energy? The effect of adding your post to the millions of other online shares is really minimal compared to the useful things you could be doing with you time. If you are so interested in a particular cause, why is it that the only moments in your life in which you contribute to it, are those in which the information hits you right in the face? And why have you chosen to take a stance in this cause, and ignored the millions of other ‘outrageous’ things that go on in the world?

I’ll answer the question for you. You are not writing to implement change, you are doing it because it makes you feel good. Because it puts a safe distance between you and these outrageous moral law breakers. Your message is not going to implement change and you know it: it is the same as many other thousands of messages, and their counter-messages, with the sole purpose of increasing public indignation and making the topic a hot potato all over the world, perhaps because it is someone’s interest that it be so.

ces-oeuvres-poignantes-qui-remettent-tout-en-question-444915.900x600This leads to another argument: are we a group or are we, as Nietzsche classed us ‘a herd’? Since I am not here to take a political stance, but rather to attempt to give a technical explanation behind mass behaviour, I shall leave you to reflect upon this question yourself. Let us just leave it at the notion that a herd implies the presence of a shepard, and perhaps of his sheep dogs. And that if that were the case, Foucault’s insights on how learning and information are the best form of power in governing masses, are pretty insightful in understanding how morality and indignation can be easily used to direct and influence the masses.

But regardless of political positions, or who’s ‘side’ you are on, and who decide to point your finger at, what you are doing, yet again, is blaming Hitler for Nazism and WWII. Do yourself a favour and read ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: on the Banality of Evil’ in which Hannah Arendt attends and reflects upon the trial of nazi architect and executioner Adolf Eichmann.

header_ARENDT-final-42-49717588

Arendt described how the officer, far from being a vehement anti-Semite, was a rather innocuous and banal individual. He followed his orders without thinking or asking questions or considering the effects of his actions. The pain of his victims was not apparent to him, nor was his active role in their suffering. It was not hatred that caused him to act as he did, but rather the lack of self-awareness and judgement. The book received much criticism and Arendt was accused by many of justifying the criminal, which in truth was far from what she was doing. She was simply pointing out that if it weren’t for the millions of people, who just went on with their lives and performed their duties without asking questions, Nazism would have probably remained a crazy man’s romanticised idea of a ‘perfect’ society.

It is easy to find a scape goat and point your finger towards authority, much less so to accept the responsibility of being an accomplice in a faulty world order, who only laments things gone wrong when they hit you in the face, whereas the rest of your time your only concern is to get on with your daily life and routine.

My suggestion to you is stop thinking about and lamenting what people should be doing, start looking at what they actually are doing, why they are doing it and why you know about it, and then decide how to react to it. Stop making yourself feel better for not doing anything, by pointing at and comparing yourself publicly to greater evils. And understand that you do not have power over other people, unless you have power over yourself and you development. Spend your time on thinking about your own character and actions, before shooting down those of others. Only then will you be able to come up with ideas and ways to ‘change the world’ and if it is your desire to do so, to help others.

 

A GUIDE TO HIBERNATION: How to Prepare for the Winter Blues.

So it’s getting to that time of year where the days are grey and drawled out and moods swing low. When lethargy preposterously shoves our will power out of the way and takes over our lives. You feel less energetic, motivated and less engaged in your life. Wether you suffer from a mood disorder, or just find the winter season unbearably dull and demotivating, there are are a series of things you should be doing NOW, to make the next few months bearable.

As anyone who has had anything to do with the mental health system probably knows, there is quite a long list of things you can do to help you mood stay on the up side, without pharmaceutical assistance. These are only some of the ‘natural remedies’ suggested by websites such as web MD and Psych Today:

(1) Get into a routine, (2) eat healthy, (3) stay fit, (4) get enough sleep, (5) take on responsibilities, (6) challenge negative thoughts and (7) try to have fun.

What I would like to point out is that, although this list is indeed full of virtuous and healthy actions, it is also INCREDIBLY UNREALISTIC. As someone who has personally found it impossible to decipher words on a book (if I could even see anything other than a blank or fuzzy page) and to establish a link between mind in body during my downer periods, I know very well how straightforward and banal tasks can at times become unbearable and impossible.

I always get extremely annoyed when someone blames me for being forgetful or un-concentrated. They make it seem like I purposely forget or lose things, or like I don’t actively care that I’m broke and I just lost the seventh expensive technological gadget in a year. Seriously, it’s not like I intentionally fling Iphone’s out the window. How do you expect me to remember to remember? It defies the whole point of the term ‘forget’. Forgetting something, especially when your brain is so full of distracting thoughts, is not something you can help. What you can help, however, is taking precautions for those days in which your mind and your memory just don’t want to cooperate.

What I would like to propose in this post, is really a rather simple and primitive approach to the winter season. I suggest that, just as animals store food for hibernation during the summer and autumnal period, now that you are still motivated, is when you you should be preparing for the dull, painful months to come.

So here is my alternative (and in my opinion somewhat more realistic) list of natural precautions for the winter blues:

1. Get someone to exercise with you. You know very well that if you plan to do it yourself, it ain’t gonna happen. Fill them in on the fact that you’re probably going to find some excuse: tell them to literally show up at your place in sports gear and ready to go. It is possible that the guilt of letting them down might get you to face te unbearable feat of getting your ass off the couch.

2. Make an emergency happy file. Find artwork that is known to get you in a good mood. Music, a movie or whatever floats your boat. Store it in a file titled emergency on your laptop, where it’s easily accessible when you’re feeling blue.

3. Buy yourself a locker. If you find yourself constantly distracted by binge sessions of tv series or movies that distract you from your duties, lock them away. When you pull out your laptop, note it down! Again, the guilt of the action, as well as seeing the list of your slips in black in white, is a pretty good avoidance device. If you can, and have someone close to you who can keep an eye on you, hand them the keys.

4. Get a blocked savings account. I know how important it may feel in a manic moment to buy 50 books on your newfound interest in gardening, and how stupid the act is in hindsight, when you’re full of unread material and two grand into your savings account, with bills and rents to pay.

5. Try out phototherapy. Vitamine D (the ‘sunshine vitamin’) is a steroid hormone precursor. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to many conditions, depression being one of them. However, due to unfavourable geographical conditions or just plain demotivation, getting your daily intake of sunshine is not always a feasible option. Invest in a light box: a specially designed light, which contains 10,000 lux. Regular lighting is usually between 320 to 500 lux, whereas a light box is closer to the level of indirect sunlight during the day (10,000 to 25,000 lux). Keep in in your room, near your bed, and switch it on for 20-30 minutes in the morning.

Also, check out  this journal article on why Vitamin D supplements are not the same as natural sunlight.

6. Do the whole ‘healthy food’ thing. Sure, eating a lot of fruit and vegetables is not going to magically cure your depression, and I’m no advocate for complex diets or a vegan lifestyle. However, a balanced diet does have a significant impact on health and if anything it makes you feel like you’re doing something, without requiring too much of an effort. So say hello to omega3 fishy fats, lemon and ginger tea, wholegrain cereal, nuts and blueberries.

If you’re looking for healthy ideas, check out this ginger and turmeric honey bomb recipe. Just have a spoonful a day, on its own or in your tea. Ginger is a root that has antibiotic effects and is helpful for pretty much every bodily function: digestion, detoxification, inflammation, circulation, joint and muscular pain, etc. Turmeric is a crazy strong antioxidant used in traditional indian medicine and it has strong cleansing, digestive and anti-inflammatory effects, especially on the liver. It is considered to be more effective when paired with black pepper, which helps activate its functions.

7. Get your friends in the loop and inform people. Socialising is rough when you’re feeling down and apathetic, so make sure you get someone you trust to check up on you and give you a little nudge every now and again. If you think your condition can affect your work performance and your social life, you also need to let people know, to avoid miscomprehension’s and at times, just coming off as a miserable dick.

8. Get yourself a fancy daily planner. (or one of those fancy planning app things), and write everything down. Plan, plan and plan now. Prepare your job activities and do anything you can do in advance while you’re still functional enough to do it. If you’re feeling over active and hypomanic, even better: direct your excessive energies somewhere useful.

9. Try out yoga and meditation. I cannot stress enough how important I think training your brain is in looking after your mental health. I don’t think there is a perfect philosophy or religion you must follow in order to combat you internal hardships. I do however believe that meditation helps further a contact with your emotional self and assists you towards a more balanced outlook of the world around you. It’s benefits are incommensurably useful when struggling with mood swings and persistent mind rumination.

I used to not been able to sit still and meditate for five minutes without an increasingly panicked sense of anxiety. I am however, gradually getting better and have found meditating beneficial not only for my anxiety, but for enhancing brain function, memory, concentration, empathy and perception of the world around me. It is a practice of patience and dedication to oneself, which is fundamental on a path towards healing and self-awareness.


These are just a bunch of suggestions, that have proven to work quite well for me. You may or may not find them useful, but my main and final point is:

TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS. The amount of times I have heard the sentence ‘you don’t know what it’s like…’ is ridiculous. Well you know what? It’s true. Others don’t know what it’s like to be you and feel the way you do. You are the person who, if not entirely, knows yourself the most. Which is why you are your best flippin’ hope. I you don’t want to help yourself, nobody else can.

You are the top person who is in control of your life, and thus your happiness is your main responsibility, not anyone else’s. Stop wallowing in self pity and thinking of yourself as a lost case, or a useless waste of space. Just because you suffer from a mental condition does not mean you are stupid, un-resourceful or incapable of strategic planning. You may be helpless when you’re down, but if you act now, you can avoid being hopeless.

Think of all the things you tend to do when you’re manic or depressed and take as many precautions as you can, RIGHT NOW. Make a list, and think of solutions. These points will not only be useful, they will be fundamental to your happiness. Nothing in life comes without effort, and those things we work the hardest for should be the things we care about the most. You should be your top priority, because if you’re unhappy with yourself, nothing else you do and achieve is going to make you feel any better. And similarly, you’re always going to be miserable and un-inspiring to those around you.

Post # 6 Maybe I Should Just be Your Friend

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. I must have misinterpreted something, it’s too confusing to be true. Maybe I’m just an antisocial idiot, with a fancy for big words: an arrogant existentialist with a chip on my shoulder. I love myself, wretched, damned and attractive, love how big and important this unbearableness feels. What if simplicity isn’t too dumb for me? I love myself too much, I hold myself too high – am I unbearable, insufferable and vile?

I’ll just let my devious thoughts all go to hell, I’ll talk to you. Goodness knows, we might even be friends! Rejoice together, appreciate all things, the small and the big ones. Give labels and names to everything we know. For certain. Nothing will be heavy anymore. I won’t feel nauseous at the words slipping off my tongue, at the people slipping into me.

No more thumping in my ears, no more hating. Things will all be yes or no. We can talk about anything and everything, set up a firm set of morals and make them true. We can be righteous, kind and strong – certainty will prevail all! Maybe I won’t even feel …

… that scratching feel inside my gut,
saying that it makes no sense at all!

Post # 3 On Patience – The Arrogant Pilot

‘I used to think I was clever, those days and weeks when the world rolled under me.’


Patience. I used to think of it as something an honest and creative person can hardly commit to. There are so, so, so many things to do and see and eat and learn, that there literally is not enough time to even think them all, let alone plan them. If you’ve never experienced the watery mouth of a pre-meal Christmas morning, the anxious quivers before an impossible exam, or the eager anticipation before a holiday, date, album release, season, election day, new movie sequel, or silly soap opera new season, you’re either boring, bored or alien. In the first of these cases, I suggest you stop right here – I hardly would expect you to make any sense of this gibberish distortion and you’re probably too down to earth to even try. As for the other two: I don’t flatter myself enough to believe I can wake you from your torpor, or give you an accurate perspective of how complex and weird it is to be so very human. I suggest you humour me in my thoughts.

If, on the other hand, you are human and curious, I believe I can safely say that you must be, to some extent, impatient. If you really fancy something, you’d quite rather have it (or have it happen) now, rather the in a couple of decades. Sure, you might qualm your desires with anecdotes such as ‘it’s worth the wait’ or ‘good things take time’, but let’s be fair to ourselves: if they could put their hands on their object of desire then and there, I sincerely doubt any semi-sane individual would respond with ‘maybe later’.


‘You could be an excellent pilot, but if you don’t take any flight lessons to keep up with your potential, all you’re gonna see is the big ass tree at the end of the runway, before you smash your nose right into it.’


I used to think I was clever, those days and weeks when the world rolled under me. When I was so full of ideas and thoughts and plans that I could do anything and be anything. When my heart raced constantly at the prospect of encountering a new interest, a new person, a new place. When my thoughts were speed of light fast and no-one could keep up. I could learn French, watch three movies, listen to the entirety of Beethoven’s Symphonies, serve drinks in my college bar, go for a walk, climb a tree, eat three meals, go to lectures, talk to people, have a late night chat with someone till the wee hours of the morning and feel the despair of how twenty four hours are such a tiny amount of time to call a day and that sleep is the stupidest human weakness in the world. I could do so, so many things, work and live at a pace that could keep up with a taking off Jumbo, and I was obviously impatient to do them all.

The problem was, I never took off. It was as if I’d stolen someones worn out Champ and tried to keep up with that Boeing 747. You could be an excellent pilot, but if you don’t take any flight lessons to keep up with your potential, all you’re gonna see is the big ass tree at the end of the runway, before you smash your nose right into it. If you don’t train your actions to keep up with your thoughts, you crash. And I’ve crashed. Many a times I crashed, and hard, before I realised that maybe I ought to try something else before getting on the plane again, before I broke my neck and it became to late. Before I was stuck on crutches, or lithium, for the rest of my life.


‘Those thoughts that others couldn’t keep up with? Well, it turns out I couldn’t keep up with them myself.’


I remember what it feels like, that moment of elation when the wheels just barely leave the floor. When beauty fills your hearth with its joyful melody and you feel infinite, like a supernova that’s about to burst into a million shards of light and happiness, and you’re so afraid to lose it all. Sometimes it even last for a few blissful moments or weeks. And then it’s gone. Gone without explosions or spectacular combustion. And you are numb, empty and plain, and you don’t know what happened or how it happened. You’re just there, victim of a crash, incapable of looking after yourself. And it takes time to heal, just like it takes the arrogant pilot time to fix his broken leg and smashed up plane.

Those thoughts that others couldn’t keep up with? Well, it turns out I couldn’t keep up with them myself. They were so fast and confusing that they’d meddled with my brain, with my ability to reason and learn. They were so constant, annoying and invasive that they consumed me and my time, and never left me alone to feel. In all these years, I never once stopped to listen to myself and feel. How can anyone expect to survive a breathtaking sunset from a beach in Ilha Grande, without having learned how to understand and listen to ones emotions? I’m not saying I was a completely emotionless and dead. You can appreciate the aesthetics of a piece of art and even be fascinated by it, without it actually speaking to you. That is precisely how I see my life before I became aware. I lived aesthetically and over enthusiastically, jumping from one idea and affection to the next, and never allowing myself to stop and absorb the intensity of it all.