Discovering Mindfulness - The Journey Continues - Part Two
I have never been the kind of person to “relax”. Sure, I can lie back on the couch and get on with something different than work but I am always doing something to keep my mind busy. Even when I get home from my working day I will begin to read, play a game or continue working on whatever I was working on, and while this is not necessarily a bad quality (as I am normally very punctual with my work, deadlines and meetings) it makes me think about how efficient my personal time is for unwinding.
This inability to switch off is something hundreds and hundreds of people suffer from and it carries with it a list of negative effects which snowball into other parts of your life without you noticing it is happening.
This “Overthinking” is a critical ingredient of anxiousness, depression and stress. Without taking the time to properly cool down from your day, your thoughts may begin to pile up. All of those deadlines (which are probably months away), arguments (even regular working disagreements), daily interactions (ever felt like made an idiot of yourself and can’t stop thinking about it even though it was probably fine? Me too) begin to build so rapidly that it simply becomes overwhelming. At this key point of being overwhelmed is when we become number 1 targets for problems such as insomnia and depression.
On the 16th of September 2017 I began my second year of studies and at the time I was extremely excited to back into the routine of writing music and music score study. After having gone through a bitter personal breakup I was looking forward to being back with my classmates and moving into a new apartment with exciting, strange new people. For the first month or so my expectations had been met and surpassed. I had jumped into work and was creating and finishing new material weekly. That feeling of confidence was fuelling my work ethic, and pushing me to take on more responsibility.
Before long the fire that had ignited my first number of months was beginning to fade. Cracks had began to appear in my process and I was falling behind on a number of projects.
Unfortunately this is just a part of being self employed and cannot be avoided, but, how you deal with it will make the difference. When the work load was beginning to take over, I threw my general mindfulness practices out of the window in an effort to create more time for myself to focus on work.
This included but was not limited to; Not cooking healthy meals for myself at breakfast, lunch and dinner times. Instead I would grab a sandwich on the go or in extreme cases, I would just have coffee and no meal. I stopped daily exercise such as running, walking or going to the gym, I even stopped going concerts, public events or places of leisure such as the cinema.
When I think It about it now I realise how wrong I was to tackle my work loads like this. Not only was I severely low on energy, sometimes going 2 nights on an hour of sleep, but I was also dangerously anti-social due to avoiding people and social gatherings and was beginning to feel the effects of loneliness and depression.
Many of the people I speak to think mindfulness is just about meditation. But this is not true. Mindfulness is being aware of yourself, how you feel and what you are doing. Mindfulness is eating properly, and getting enough exercise. It is making sure you go out into the world and experience some culture with your friends or on you own. But, because all of this had happened so gradually over a number of months I had not made myself aware that there was a problem before it was too late.
I hit the bottom of the barrel when I was unable to to get myself out of bed to get into college to work. I felt useless and afraid (which of course piled on to what to what was already happening). It was at this low point that I realised just what was happening and the state that I had let myself get into.
As I said previously, every self employed individual falls behind on their work at one point or anther, it is just part of the experience, but what matters is how you recover from your low moments. For me, it began by this realisation. I was ill and there was no two ways about it. I had messed up and thrown standard health practices aside. Maybe the worst part of this experience is I still couldn’t relax. Here I was stuck in bed all day everyday doing nothing and still I was stressed. I was still anxious and itchy that work was continuing to get ahead of me.
Everything together was just digging my grave ever deeper and there seemed to be nothing I could do. But there is always something you can do and it will always start from you. No one can help you be you, and no one can save your mental health like you can. After some frantic “googling” I decided on an approach.
I began by making my bed. I know that sounds a little bit anti-climactic as I was sure from all of the Hollywood films that I would have an epiphany, maybe even a man-makeover and everything would be a-ok but life, unfortunately, is not so giving.
So I began, as I say, with making the bed.
This is a great way to start any day. Before you have gone to work, before you have had a healthy breakfast, before you have even left your bedroom, you have completed at least one task with your day (and believe me, when you depressed, such a minor task seems unachievable).
Day 2 was making the bed and taking a refreshing morning shower, followed by something decent for breakfast. Maybe some eggs or toast, I’m not keen on the morning yogurt trend. Little by little I was rebuilding the practices I had put in place when I first discovered mindfulness and even though I had not yet made it into do a full days work I was getting up, feeling fresh and and eating healthily.
Eventually, I was able to pick up tasks that had previously slipped away from me and I began rebuilding my studies and personal work. This time around it was not some magical moment during a piece of music or some stern words from the people around me. It was the will of a person who did not want to be stuck.
It is a short lesson for anyone who feels like there is nothing they can do or who feel like they can do nothing. It is all up to you, no one is going to cure you except you. Unless you take it on yourself to put into practice daily mindfulness, even something which may seem small and insignificant then you will continue to feel the same. However, if you are willing to make the small changes (like getting up and making your bed) in you daily routine you can begin to rebuild your life.
One morning I was walking to university (I prefer to walk not only because its a good chance to be with your thoughts, but because its cheap). My walking route was scenic, a beautiful park and miniature forest which open up into vast fields lined with football post and a beautiful river running through its centre. The weather was gorgeously sunny with a light warm breeze just reminding me that sun lotion would have been a great idea.
It wasn’t until this moment, maybe 2 months after my little breakdown, that I was able to sit down in the grass and not meditate, but breath. Just taking a couple of minutes (or in my case 30 minutes) to breath and have look around.
Think about your breathing and try to relax your mind. I have never been much good at relaxing but every now and again I’ll have a moment where I won’t need a book or games.
I will just sit on the grass and think about everything I have done up to this point. The obstacles I faced to get to where I am today and maybe even the people I have met along the way, wether its painful or not to remember some of them, they remind me that my feet are on the ground and that there are too many exciting opportunities, incredible sights and amazing people out there to be lying in bed feeling hopeless.
Published in MinfulDevMag issue #4 – Back to Issue TOC