Thursday, 30 June 2011

What were you born to do?

Ok, so it's my album artwork. Cheap plug, I know, but it
felt appropriate too!

Today I thought I’d write about discovering what you were ‘born to do’, because more and more I feel like I’ve found the thing for me and I wanted to celebrate that, and encourage you lot to find your ‘thing’!

Recently I’ve been struck by a big brick…(no, hang on, that’s not right…) I’ve been struck by how powerful words can be, particularly when written down. So many times people get worked up, positively and negatively, about something they’ve read – be it a news story or a best-selling novel, or even just a Facebook status/Tweet. I keep being fascinated by the level of impact words can have, and I am increasingly desperate to be a part of it.

I am quite deliberate (ok, very deliberate) about the words I choose to write down, usually making sure what I say is actually what I want to say. I try to consider what other people might think of what I’m writing, and perhaps change the wording if I feel it could be misconstrued. Some might call it OCD.

But, in spite of my considerable effort, people still sometimes misunderstand me, or maybe project their own thoughts and feelings onto my statements. It used to annoy me, but now I just find it, well, interesting. I think the right word for this is semantics – the study of meaning in relation to words, phrases etc. And I love it!

As well as these things, I have a bit of a penchant for making things up (not in a lying type of way, more in a fantastical sense), and wondering ‘what if’. Some might call it day-dreaming, but it translates in my mind to writing stories. I’m forever coming up with ideas for characters or plotlines (many of which are fairly ridiculous and not appropriate for mass-consumption!)…my problem is actually seeing them through to completion. But all careers have drawbacks and, as my good friend reminded me the other day, writing is a discipline, thus it requires practice and effort. There are times when it’s still ‘work’.

For me, though, it is so rewarding and well worth the effort.

So, here I am: 30 years old, and I finally know what I want to do – and more than that: in a sense, it’s what I need to do, in order to be ‘me’.

To link it a little with the purpose of this blog, perhaps in discovering and doing what I was ‘born to do’, I can find more relief from Depression as I find pleasure, satisfaction and worth in my ‘work’.

What about you?

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Being honest today...

Looking for sunshine on a dark day...

Some days you’re just too tired to be positive.

Various thoughts going round my head today, and very few of them helpful.

When I started this blog, I said I might document some of the struggles as well as the things that help me, and so this is what you get today…

I guess my question is: what do you do on the days when you just can’t find the gumption to think/do the things that might help?

(And, just to rule out one obvious solution, even vegging out with chocolate and a movie (or some other, less girlie, option) wouldn’t help tonight, since one of the things getting me down is my lack of productivity tonight…)

Answers in comments (or, if you really must, on a postcard) please…

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Ghost-busting and fire-fighting: dealing with the past.

Sometimes the past creeps up on us, taking us by surprise with something we maybe thought we’d forgotten about. It could be a painful memory, or a relationship we thought we were ‘over’ but discover we’re not really.

It could knock us down for a while, if we let it.

The past can also shape our future, as we react to things differently because of previous experience. We see it all the time – for example, if a child touches something hot once, they’re unlikely to do it again! (Not that I’m advocating allowing a kid to play with fire!)

This kind of thing happens to me sometimes – I get so hurt by something that the temptation is to close myself off, stop taking risks, play life safe so as to prevent further hurt and upset.

But, there are ways to ‘play with fire’ that can be amazing – enjoyable for everyone and, with the right training, perfectly safe. I’ve seen many fantastic fireworks’ displays, for example!

And so, I want to get, and apply, the right training so I can take ‘risks’, in love, in life, in creating my future, without having to fear periods of full-on brokenness and unbearable negative emotion as I have in the past.

I’m not there yet, and some things jump out of the proverbial cupboard to haunt me, taking all my reserves and ‘training’ so far for me to remain on a relatively level emotion plain. Such a thing happened just in the last couple of days, prompting this blog post.

But the good news is that I am, at least, 
ok. I got up in the morning, focussed on some of the many positive things going on in my life, made progress on a couple of my projects and, whilst I still feel a little 'shaky'  suddenly life seems less scary, the future more hopeful.

Here’s one of my favourite songs (although, technically he doesn’t ‘sing’ the lyrics) about this subject from Money Can’t Buy Music , a project by the frontman of one of my favourite bands, Ballboy:

 Don’t let ghosts of the past ruin the rest of life. After all, ghosts are already dead and, if we survived them when they were ‘alive’, surely we can deal with their pale reflection in our minds…

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Express yourself! How much are we defined by what we do?

I once thought the contents of this table
pretty much defined me!

One thing I’ve noticed about meeting people for the first time is how reliant we are on careers.

Nearly every time I’ve been introduced to someone, I’ve been asked, ‘What do you do for a living?’ And it’s a question I dread, because what I do as my job actually says very little about who I am.

In fact, if people find out what I do, it actually gives quite the wrong impression about who I am! It’s counter-productive, both in them getting to know me, and in me expressing myself, and can lead to me having to do a lot of recovery work to repaint myself in their eyes.

Which is why I dread it.

This might not be true for a lot of people; some people probably have careers that they chose a long time ago and worked hard to do – maybe you’re a doctor, or a teacher, or a solicitor. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to be a musician, writer or painter. But it still doesn’t necessarily define you. Perhaps there’s a reason why you chose a particular career, or maybe you’re considering a career change and would rather people knew that about you.

This is a subject one of my favourite authors picked up on in a blog post last year. Don Miller wrote about ways of getting to know someone, and he said it’s about finding out their story – where have they come from? How did they get here? What are their ambitions? Of course, these are big questions and not necessarily suited to small-talk scenarios, but I do think there’s scope for improving on the ‘what do you do’ opener.

For example, I try and find out what someone likes doing. Once you’ve found out what their job is (partly because everyone expects that question!), ask them if they enjoy it. If not, then you can find out what they’d rather be doing: their answers might open up a whole load of other conversation topics and, before you know it, you’ve really started to get to know them. Or, it might be that they are in fact passionate about their job, in which case they can tell you about it and you know you’re getting an insight into their soul and who they are.

People like talking about themselves, so let them – they’ll like you for it!

Unless you're not really interested, in which case, do everyone a favour, and just walk away...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Head or heart? Which rules you?

Often people make decisions based largely on either their feelings – their ‘heart’ – or on logical thought – their ‘head’.

I think both approaches have pros and cons and I’ve started to look for ways of applying the best bits from each on a daily basis, with varying degrees of success.

I am someone who is naturally ruled by my ‘heart’. How I feel about an event, object, person, or activity dictates what action I will take towards it and, my mood often controls my reactions to other people or their actions.

Someone who is governed more by their ‘head’ might look more rationally at a situation, considering probabilities and possibilities, looking at the facts and then choosing an appropriate course.

I’ve always felt that being feelings-oriented enabled me to be more spontaneous or, perhaps, passionate. It means that I spend more time doing things I enjoy or being with people I love, because I want the good feelings associated with them. I also ‘run away’ from the negative feelings of boring tasks or those which might not have much short-term appeal.

Alas, it has led to me making some bad decisions, which no doubt have effected things like relationships, finances and health, and it has meant I’ve experienced prolonged periods of depression as negative feelings have been allowed to govern.

It’s not all bad though, and I’ve enjoyed some fantastic ‘highs’ when I’ve chased after something exciting or done something purely because it’s fun. I would hate to lose that!

I’m no expert, but if you’re a ‘head’-case (no offence intended), then perhaps listening more closely to your feelings might give you some great insights into yourself and lead to some good times. (Not that thought-led people don’t know how to have fun, I’m sure!)

As for me, and people like me, I’ve started to realise (about time!) that sometimes we have to do something less enjoyable in the short-term (like my coursework, waiting for me on the table…) in order to secure enjoyment in the long-term. Perhaps it’s merely a product of getting older and feeling (there’s that word again) that life might be passing me by…

But finally, I think the greatest gain in adapting a slightly more rational approach is that I can take a step back from negative emotions, examine them, see whether they’re justified in the light of true facts, and then re-assess my actions or thoughts, enabling me to feel a whole lot better or enjoy things I might otherwise have not.

I’m hoping this will help me avoid overly-long bouts of being depressed in the future, just as soon as I’ve put all my toys back in my pram…

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Getting older: life through a pair of bifocals.

Don’t laugh, but one thing I’ve struggled with this year is turning 30 and I’ve been thinking about getting older in general.

If you’re older than me, bear with me, because I think this sort of feeling could apply to any age; we all have to deal with this and each new year presents different challenges and opportunities.

It has been four months since my birthday, and much of that has been a period of adjustment. I felt as though I’d only just gotten used to being 20-something, only really started enjoying it towards the end of the decade, and then someone stole it away from me and hit me with the big 3-0. I felt like I was no longer a ‘young man’, merely ‘a man’ – an adult. Was I now expected to be responsible? To behave in a grown-up way?

I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.

In my world, when you struggle with something, you write a song about it. And that I did, putting into words some of my feelings for the first time and trying to convince myself of some of the positives. Positives such as having more experience, more wisdom, and a better understanding of myself. But it didn’t really cut the mustard; I still felt pretty uneasy about the new decade.

But then one day it hit me: if I felt that I was an ‘adult’, what did that mean? I guess as a young man, part of me believed I hadn’t earned the right to be taken seriously, that my thoughts and opinions weren’t worth listening to – or at least, I thought that other people might have seen it that way.

As I considered the negative of ‘being an adult’, I suddenly saw it from the other side: I’m an adult. I am grown-up. I have a place in the world; my words/actions/beliefs are valid and I have as much right as anyone else to have them, and express them if I choose to. In some way, I’ve paid my dues, and I feel I’ve lived long enough to have the right to be heard. And, I believe I have some things worth hearing.

It’s a shame it took me a whole decade of a lack of self-confidence to realise it. I don’t believe one should have to be 30, before they have these rights.

And that’s it really. If you feel unhappy about getting older, try looking at it from a different angle. It could be that some problem you’ve had in your younger years no longer applies – and that’s something to celebrate.

Maybe a negative feeling is actually a positive one; we just need the right lens.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

What gets you down? (Why do we feel the way we do? – Part 2)

What really gets you down? As in, honestly. And how trustworthy are our emotions?

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find that I blame the wrong things for making me feel low.  I can be unwilling to admit, even to myself sometimes, the true cause of my mood.

For example, yesterday I was doing some writing when I got home from work, and started struggling with it and feeling pretty grumpy.

I know that I always feel that way if I haven’t eaten for a while – low blood sugar or something – but I don’t like to accept that it’s that simple.  Often, I ignore it and end up making a big deal about some other ‘problem’, maybe focussing on not being talented enough, or not having a wide enough audience – things which aren’t really the problem at all.  And, actually, aren’t that true either.

Fortunately, yesterday I realised what was truly wrong, saved my work and went to Tesco to buy something for dinner.

Then there are occasions when other people ask what’s wrong, and I know the answer but I’m afraid to tell them.  It could be something innocuous enough – maybe there’s a girl I like, or I’m missing someone, but I worry what the questioner’s reaction will be, that they might think I’m being silly or belittle my feelings in someway, so I tell them a different problem, perhaps that I’m tired or getting a cold.

I guess we all do that, and I suppose it depends a lot on the depth of the relationship or conversation at the time.  But I wonder if it might be better simply to let the real problem out into the open, at least if the person is a friend.  A problem shared is a problem halved, so they say.

The main thing, I think, is that emotions always have a cause.  They come from somewhere.  If we can get underneath an emotion, either through our own understanding or perhaps by a friend’s helpful guidance, and find out what events, actions and/or thoughts led to it, we can then begin to work out if that emotion is based on a true representation of the situation.

Am I really a dreadful writer?  I might feel like it because I haven’t got a writing contract, but neither have I tried that hard for one yet.  There are few hard facts that back up the feeling.

By contrast, there are many facts to suggest I might actually be good: I did well in my writing diploma; other writers are impressed by my work; my last boss always thought I was talented.  Clearly my negative assessment was inaccurate and so now I feel a lot better about my ability.

Whilst this example might not apply to many of you, I believe that the practice works in many situations.  Is my boss mad at me?  Or could he/she be tired, or dealing with his/her own issues?

Does that girl/guy really hate me?  Or could she/he just be busy…?  What’s more likely?  What facts are there to back up our emotional claims?

But yeah, you’re right, they're almost definitely mad at me, and she undoubtedly hates me… ;)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Why do we feel the way we do?

Some days can feel like a
very long, dark tunnel...

There are so many different factors that make us feel a particular way, on a particular day.

Sometimes it can be hard to know exactly why we’re feeling down (or happy, for that matter) and without knowing ‘why’, it’s difficult to find a solution (or to remain happy, as the case may be).

We are such complicated, biological, psychological and emotional beings, and each of these aspects plays its part in how we ‘are’.

Did we sleep enough lately?  Tiredness can make us feel low before we even start! Did we eat/drink a load of crap (not literally!) during the last few days?  I’m not a biologist, or neuroscientist, but the saying goes ‘you are what you eat’.  I may not know much, but I understand that certain foods/ingredients/vitamins cause reactions that release certain chemicals into our bodies and brains.  Some of these can make us feel happier or sadder, so our diet has a significant effect on how we feel.

Is there something worrying us?  Are we dissatisfied with, or thinking negatively about something, maybe to do with ourselves or our work?  Thoughts lead to feelings and actions, which lead to thoughts, which lead to feelings etc etc.  This is the basis of much of the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy I undertook, and it really works – if we can break the cycle of negativity, we can begin to improve our mood on a day-to-day basis.

Or perhaps someone has hurt us, maybe with something they said, or even didn’t say.  Maybe an act of our kindness was rejected, or we’ve been treated harshly in a way we didn’t deserve.  Emotions can be strong without any help from other factors. I’ve mentioned before how relationships are a major trigger of Depression in me, and rarely do emotions run as high as in love.

And so our moods take hold, one way or another, and it can take some serious digging to discover the root(s).

This is a big subject, so I’m going to finish here for today.  In my next post, I’ll look at some examples in action but, for now, I just wanted to show how complicated ‘mood’ really is.  Even after the next entry, or even the one after that, I doubt I’ll be close to fully understanding it.

But we can try, eh?!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Being creative

My tools of creation!
I believe that everyone is creative, it just manifests itself in different ways for different people.

I spent most of my life believing I wasn’t a creative person: I can’t draw, and therefore assumed I wasn’t ‘artistic’, which in turn led me to believe I’m not creative.  I now know, of course, that’s not true; it’s been said that I’m one of the most creative people some of my friends know!

There are a million ways to be creative, and I think it’s an important part of discovering and being who we are - finding out what we are able to enjoy creating.

Maybe you’re a gardener, creating beautiful settings for yourself and others to relax in, or planting and nurturing vegetables to enjoy as food.  Perhaps you’re making a home, cleaning it, tidying it, decorating it, all to create a space for your family and friends to live in and enjoy.  Or you could be designing websites, or modelling cars, or doing a spot of creative accounting.  (Ok, maybe we shouldn’t include the last one!)

For me, it’s writing: fiction and non-fiction, like this blog, songs and poems.  But I also enjoy creating my website (when I get round to it!), and playing around with making publicity items, or getting things to look good on screen, or in print, or to sound good on a recording.  I enjoy these things, and sometimes time just disappears as I ‘work’ on them.

I talked in my last post about 'creating' being something that makes us human, that makes us feel alive and, if I’m right, then I think it’s important to find what it is that we can create.  Find those things that you do and time just disappears, things that you feel you could do forever and never tire of.  And then do them as often as you can.  

You’ll feel a lot happier, I guarantee it.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

What makes you feel alive?

Me, being 'me'.

What are the things that make you happy?  More than that, what are the things that make you feel alive, glad to be human?

I’ve mentioned Jo Swinney before, and her blog this week initially inspired this post.  Then, I was reading something about doing the things you’re passionate about, those things that set your soul on fire, and so I thought I’d combine the two.  After all, the things that make us feel truly alive and that life is worth living must surely make us happy too, right?  So here is a list of just ten things, in no particular order:

1)  Playing music to a live audience.  I’m not sure what it is about this; maybe it’s the combination of entertaining others, them liking my songs and performance, coupled with that adrenalin rush from the fear of being on stage.  It’s great.

2)  Creating something – a piece of writing, or a song, or a recording, just something that I am proud of and can say, "I did that".  I often imagine it must be a little like how it must feel to be a parent…more on that later!

3)  Talking with those friends and family members who are simply ‘kindred spirits’.  You know who you are; you peeps make my world a better place.

4)  Achieving things.  They don’t have to be big things, but I always feel so much happier if I look back on a day and think, “Wow, I did all I that?!  In one evening/day?!”  It helps me feel like I’m more in control of my life and that I’m not just treading water.  Which brings me to the next one…

5)  Making progress.  I have many projects on the go at any one time – my mind is like that, easily distracted and flitting around from one idea to another.  So, I take pleasure from actually getting somewhere with at least one of them!  But it’s not just about that: I also like to know that I’m getting somewhere towards achieving my life’s goals, or towards my chosen career, or a desired relationship.  I don’t think anything makes me sadder these days than feeling like I’m stuck in a rut…

6)  Coffee and a good book.  Many times I’ve come out of a coffee shop feeling like a new person after just an hour inside.  It’s not rocket science.

7)  Making a connection with someone.  Similar to number three and my ‘kindred spirits’, this one is about finding someone who thinks like me – someone who actually agrees with me on a given subject.  It might not surprise you that it doesn’t happen often!  But when it does, I find it massively affirming.  The world suddenly feels a whole lot less lonely.  It doesn’t really matter what we connect over, recently some of my most exciting conversations have been about Dr Who!  Which either says something depressing about me as a person, or something complimentary about that show!

8)  Being there for someone in need.  I love doing this.  Partly because it makes me feel useful and it’s great to know I helped, but mainly I think I like this so much because it’s fantastic to feel wanted, even needed sometimes.  The fact that they chose me, trusted me with their problem really makes me feel…loved I guess

9)  And so, number nine is: feeling loved.  I guess we all have this, but it makes my top ten because it can be a somewhat elusive feeling.  When it comes though, and I really believe that someone loves me – on whatever level – I feel gleeful (can I get away with using that word?!).

10)  Sharing times with friends.  You know, those days/nights you’ll look back on and say, “Hey dude, do you remember that?  That was awesome!”  Or the moments you’ll laugh about in months to come, “That was ridiculous!!”  Making memories, that’s what this is about.  Which of course works on two levels – you get the enjoyment of the time itself, and then you get the pleasure, maybe even years later, of remembering the moment…

With the exception of number six (I didn’t want you all thinking I’m too deep…!), I think my list can be summed up by two things: creating and connecting.

My guess is that these desires are things we all have in common: the desire to connect with another human being, and the desire to create something other – other than ourselves, apart from our own existence.

Perhaps this is why people talk about the joy of parenting so much.  For this could be just about the only way of fulfilling both criteria completely: connecting with another person, enough to have a baby with them, and creating another human being, entirely separate, autonomous, new.  And not only that, you then get to have a relationship with them as well, as their parent.

Who knows whether I’ll ever get to find out if I’m right…but until then, I’ve got my stories, my songs, my blog posts…

I'd be interested to know what's on your lists, if you feel like sharing...