Fear Or Love?

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. Did you know? I didn’t realise until last night. Let’s pretend this post was up yesterday, shall we?!

At its most primitive, most simplistic, mental health can be one of two states: fear or love. The two don’t tend to dwell harmoniously, one will push the other one out. Usually fear wins that battle. Love is an adult response, fear a childish one, and most of us are still little kids on the inside (whether we acknowledge it or not). Fear lingers on long after the reason for our fear has passed, it burrows deep into our psyche and takes control. From this position of power it takes over our decision making – we will find ourselves driven to certain courses of action with no clear idea why, or frozen in time, unable to make a move one way or another, again with no clear understanding of what is holding us back. Fear isolates, it makes us uneasy with other people, distrustful, suspicious. At its extreme, fear can inspire extreme behaviour that seems inexplicable to an outsider. Hatred, prejudice, anger and violence are almost always expressions of deep debilitating fear.

As long as fear has you in its grip, it leaves no place for love. Love is based on trust, which is a no-go area for fear. Fear makes you retreat inside yourself, it doesn’t permit reaching out and connecting with people. It closes your eyes to the beauty around you. It is like the eternal winter in Narnia, freezing out everything that is good and warm and beautiful and light.

But like any playground bully, fear is all bluster and show. In a face off, it is actually no match for love. Love is our very essence of being, and when we allow it to fight in our behalf, it is more than capable of dethroning fear. Love is immensely powerful, as are the other qualities it brings with it: hope, faith, peace, generosity, contentment, forgiveness. It gently turns your attention from inside to outside, it illuminates your surroundings and makes you see things, situations, people, from a new perspective. And it rubs off on others. Whatever the question, love is the answer.

So how do you get from one state – fear – to the other – love? I’m still working on that. I think to begin with, being aware of the power of them both, and being honest about which is running your life. Then, making a conscious decision that you want to push fear out and welcome love in. Looking for opportunities to show love to others, to be generous, compassionate, forgiving, trusting. Being gentle with yourself about why you feel fear, but firm about not allowing it to govern you any more. Having faith that opening up to life and love is the path to happiness and peace, instead of allowing fear to close you down and fool you into thinking that you will be protected that way. When you do feel the unreasonable tug of fear, taking a breath, and asking yourself why. Why am I afraid? What am I afraid of (usually not the immediate thing that has triggered the fear, usually something far deeper and more primitive, fear of failure, rejection, abandonment, vulnerability)? Has giving into this fear benefited me in the past? Is there any way that I can shine love into this situation, and give it a chance to drive the fear out?

Thomas Carlyle said, “A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge”.  What question will it answer for you today?

In A Nutshell

Life is very very simple. I know, it doesn’t feel that way most of the time, but it is. We try to complicate it, and we do a good job, but in the end, it’s very simple.

Love, and be loved.

That’s all it is. That what it boils down to.

Never mind money, the acquisition of goods. Forget fame, power, notoriety, recognition. Don’t worry about your looks, beauty, whether you look your age. Intellect, wit, creativity, talent, you can do without. Stop looking for pedestals, for kudos, for prestige.

Love, and be loved.

That’s all there is. All there is that truly matters. If you love someone, something, it is enough. If someone loves you, it is enough. Make choices that lead you to love, that allow it to take first place in your life. Don’t sacrifice love for anything else, it’s a choice you will always regret making. To love and to be loved, is the ultimate goal. It’s what everything else boils down to, when you strip away the frills and the illusions. You want to be beautiful, why?  To be loved. You want fame, why? To be loved. Skip the middle man, go straight to the point, realise that all goals eventually lead to the same destination, and you’ll get there a whole lot quicker if you head straight towards it instead of meandering and wandering around and around in search of something else. Put your energy into what is worthwhile, showing love, and receiving it. Family love, friendship love, romantic love, community love, spiritual love.  

Beautifully simple, isn’t it? Everything else falls away, in the face of such clear simplicity. So much suffering, so much fear, so much pain, so much regret, could be saved if we learn this life lesson sooner rather than later.

Love, and be loved. It doesn’t get any better than that. 

Love & Other Matters

Humans (and animals) have a protective instinct when it comes to pain or threatened pain – we curl up into a ball, go fetal, try to protect ourselves from it. This works on an emotional level too. When hurt, repeatedly, we learn to curl up tight, protect ourselves, close down, close in. This is a strong instinct, but it’s not one that works in our favour, in the long run.

When being hurt or threatened physically, it’s easy to identify the source of the pain. You will duck, or fling your arms over your head, if something falls off a shelf and hurtles towards your head, but you wouldn’t react the same in a rain storm. But emotionally, once you start closing down and drawing in, it becomes a habit, and one that you won’t even necessarily know that you are locked into. When your heart closes its doors, for reasons of protection, it doesn’t open them easily again. Even when you want it to.

So, how do you go about the process of opening up your heart again? You need to find a cache of courage to start with. And determination. But where do you go from there? No, really, I want to know. If your learned response to fear and hurt and loss is to go into lock down, how do you make the shift towards meeting all life’s uncertainties and pains and joys with an open, vulnerable, loving heart? 

Nothing But Bluebirds From Now On

Well, my friends, you have been with me every step of the way over the last rocky 6 months, through the downs and the even downers, through the angst and heartache and panic and pain, through the hope and despair. I’m really grateful for your presence, for how much you all care about me, for the many many emails and comments and messages and cards and gifts. There were times when I felt sure that I was straining everyone’s patience and compassion to the limits, especially since this relapse dragged on for soooo long. But you stuck with me, and didn’t give up hope, even when I did.

THANK YOU. 

I honestly didnt believe that I would get well this time, and the longer things dragged on, the less hope I had. But gradually in the last month I have got better & better, until now I feel as good as new again. Better, actually, because I no longer have that nagging fear of relapse. Partly because I know I can survive a relapse, and partly because I think I’ve learned much more from this last one, and know exactly what needs to change to stay well.

I feel happy pretty much all the time now, and calm and relaxed. I can cope again. My memory has recovered. My concentration is almost back to normal. My body has recovered too, and I’m sleeping properly. When I’m with people, I feel part of things, instead of feeling like there’s a thick glass wall between me and them.

Every day feels like a miracle, and I’m making the most of it. This is my third breakdown, and it was far far worse than I could have ever imagined. I didnt think anyone could come back from those depths, but I have. For a long time I thought that even if I did recover, I would be very fragile, damaged beyond repair. But I’m not.

However bad things get, don’t give up hope. Sometimes it takes longer than you expect, but you will recover eventually. And be happier & stronger than ever before. We are remarkable creatures, our bodies are designed to adjust back to wellness wherever possible. And thankfully, we live in an age when many kinds of antidepressant medication are available, so that it should be possible to find the right one for you, given enough time and patience.

Now the work of maintaining recovery continues. I have never managed to sustain more than 6 months of wellness in a row, up to now. But looking back, I can see a very clear pattern of triggers that preceded each relapse, and those triggers ARE in my control to change. I do get affected by the dark winter months, it’s true, but I can ride that out along with everyone else. It’s the internal triggers that eventually drag me down, until I am so stressed and burned out that my brain chemistry gives up the fight. These are the things that I have to work hard to change. Life is a work in progress, and I don’t expect to be able to stave off relapse permanently, not with my track record, but I am aiming to have longer periods of wellness, and shorter, less frequent, less intense periods of depression.

So I’m putting together a little personal manifesto, to help me stay well, and I thought you’d like to share it with me. Maybe it will give you some ideas for writing your own.

I PROMISE TO…….

Be honest and open and true and authentic. No insincerity, no faking it, no public persona, no fear of showing my flaws.

Always do the best I can – and recognise that.

Remember that everyone else is doing the best they can too, so be compassionate, and see the best in others.

See the beauty in life, in myself, in others. 

Remember what is important in life, and let the rest go. Live each day to the full, love and be loved, laugh, be present for each moment.

Let the negativity of others slide off me, as much as possible.     

Always see the big picture, instead of getting caught up in the little details.

Celebrate the ordinary, try not to take even little pleasures for granted.

You Can’t Go Back (but should you want to?)

Most of us spend half our time wishing we could go back to a happier time in our lives, or wanting a second chance at something. This is very human, especially in times of distress, but is it helpful? Absolutely not. It’s completely futile, focuses your attention and energy in the wrong direction, and leads to frustration and even more unhappiness, Not to mention missing out on the here and now.

This pull is especially strong when you are battling mental health issues. You look back longingly on the time when you were well and free, and all your energy and desire is on ‘getting back to normal’. It’s taken me 3 breakdowns to realise what a huge mistake this is. As soon as we recover, we rush back into living life the same way we did before, thinking that this is where safety and normality is. But what you forget, or don’t realise, is that the old reality is part of the reason you fell sick in the first place. Yes, clinical depression and other serious mental illnesses are very much biochemical, but your personality and the way you handle life factors in there as well. This is why therapy, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, etc, are encouraged alongside medication. Changing your brain chemistry is almost never enough to prevent relapses. You have to change the way you handle life, the way you see yourself, the way you interact with others.

This is incredibly hard, because we don’t like to have our thought patterns challenged or altered – we developed them in the first place in order to give some structure and security and order to a potentially scary, chaotic world. Change can be terrifying. And not just for you personally – those around you may find it unsettling, irritating, or upsetting, when you change,and may resist it in a way that can bring conflict.

Nevertheless, if you want to build a more secure, settled, happy life, the only way is by challenging your current perceptions and attitudes, and figuring out which ones need to change. And then having the courage and determination to make the changes.

This is something that only you can figure out (and you may need professional help in doing so), but asking yourself whether any of these attitudes sound familiar might be a start:

  • I have to be successful in whatever I undertake. If I’m not the best, I’m a failure.
  • I must be approved of by everyone at all times. If not, that means there’s something wrong with me.
  • My value as a person depends on what others think of me.
  • If my partner (or parent, or child) doesn’t love me, I’m worthless and unlovable.
  • I should be the perfect friend / parent / student / spouse / employee.
  • I should never feel upset, tired, or sick; I should always be happy, calm, efficient, productive.
  • It is best to give up my own interests in order to please other people.
  • If I am to be a worthwhile person, I must be truly outstanding in at least one major respect.
  • It is shameful for a person to display his weaknesses.