Thursday, 28 June 2012

Facing the demons...again...

Doing the right thing...

It’s been a difficult time for me recently, which has today ended with me off work with stress/depression.  Yep, the positive, optimistic author of this blog has succumbed once again to those demons that will seemingly just not lie down and die.

The one difference this time is it's definitely stress-induced.  Which is new.

Some may ask why I am writing about this in such a public forum.  It’s a fair question, and the answer is that I’ve always tried to be honest on these pages – I said at the start I would write about the struggles as well as the victories.

And, also, there is one positive insight to offer. 

At about 2am this morning, having awoken from another fitful sleep, I realised that, no matter how hard it was for me to ring my GP and to take time away from my employment, it was the right thing to do.  I didn’t want to do it, because it ‘lets people down’ at work, because it perhaps means I’m not as reliable an employee as I’d like to be, and it means I’m officially ‘not well’ and so have to try and figure out what in hell is going to make me better this time.

But I knew I couldn’t go on like I was.

So, at 8am this morning, I picked up my phone, almost against my will, and rang to make an appointment. 

Naturally, this being the British NHS, I couldn’t get an appointment until Monday.  (‘Is it an emergency?’ I was asked.  I would like to know what the definition of an emergency is.  If it were an ‘emergency’, would I not be attending my local A&E?)

This meant I then had to do another ‘right’ thing: go to work, and speak to my boss.  I really didn’t want to do this.  But it had to be done, again, if I was ever going to make any progress from this place I’m in.  She was understanding and supportive; I guess that’s one of the perks of working for an organisation with extensive experience of helping vulnerable people, including many with mental health issues.  And together we came up with a way forward in the medium term, and an agreement that, in the short term, I needed to be at home.

So here I am.

Doing the right thing is not always easy.  Sometimes we might want to bury our head in the sand, keep on running, hide away from the problems we are facing, perhaps even distract ourselves with other skirmishes, rather than fight the true problem.  And maybe I’ve done that for a while.  But, in the long run, it’s not going to benefit anyone – least of all ourselves – to keep doing that.

Far better to stop, turn around if necessary, and face the real battle.  In this case, for me, it’s the battle within...

Which is possibly the hardest one of all.

Yes, it's Switchfoot again...'The War Inside'

Sunday, 24 June 2012

What to do when things don't go to plan...

One foot in front of the other
(And a good excuse to show off my
awesome shoes again... ;) )

Things don’t always go to plan in life, that much we all probably know.  Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things just don’t work out how we hoped or expected. 

In other words, ‘Shit happens.’

I’m a big fan of something I heard Tim Minchin, the comedian, say once.  He was talking about the times things go wrong in life, when stuff happens we don’t want.  He said the temptation is to always ask why: ‘Why me?  What have I done to deserve this?  Why has this happened?’

But he said: ‘When bad stuff happens, the right question is never “why?”.  The right question is almost always, “What now?”’

It’s a phrase that stuck with me and I find myself asking the question often: what now?  What am I going to do now this has happened? 

Sometimes I don’t have any answers, at least not immediately, and I scrabble around feeling a little lost, to say the least.  But as I think about it, I usually come up with some possibilities, some way of moving forward.  They might not be complete ideas, they might not solve the problem immediately, but it’s about beginning to plot a new course, a new way through the quagmire this life can sometimes feel like.

It’s about finding a way to take the next step.  You can’t finish a race, a marathon, without putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ve not quoted this song for a while, but it struck me again yesterday.  Unfortunately the band has removed their video from YouTube (Why?!!  Or should I say: ‘Okay, what now??’) but Flight Brigade’s song A Girl Who Loves Her Smoke and Wine has the lyric: ‘Even though it’s a long, long way from Hollywood, at least it’s a start, it’s a start.  And you can end up places you never thought you could, if you make a start, so just make a start.’

(Found it here. If you’ve not heard it, it’s well worth at least one listen...)

When life gets you down and things don’t go to plan, and you can’t see a way to get to where you want to be, maybe the answer lies in just making a start.  Plan one step, take that step, and then you can think about the next one. 

In doing so, you may yet end up places you never thought you could.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Love Does.

I’ve raved about this book for a while now, and I finished it this week.  Love Does, by Bob Goff (2012, Thomas Nelson), is incredible.  It’s filled with stories of how Bob has spent his life loving people – and I mean really loving them. 

There are few tales of hearts, flowers, or poetry, but many of him taking off on flights to Uganda to help free imprisoned children.  Or of him letting people into his life in whatever way they need.  Or of refusing to give up on a dream because he knows it’s what he would love to do.

Even the one chapter on the pursuit of his now-wife is a tale of unrelenting hope, of choosing to keep on loving ‘Sweet Maria’, in spite of her apparent disinterest.  He tells the story of being ‘trigger-locked (on her) while she treated me with a polite distance’. 

In the end though, he says: ‘Fortunately, Maria understood that for some of us – most of us – the language of love is laced with whimsy.  It sometimes borders on the irrational.  Like I’ve been saying, though, love is a do thing.  It’s an energy that has to be dissipated.’  ((I would say love almost always borders on the irrational, but there you go.)

Bob is a Christian and writes as such, including many references to how he believes his faith impacts on his chosen path.  But it’s not a cringe-inducing faith, or even a faith particularly recognisable as being the same as is often seen in ‘the Church’.  So please don’t be put off by it!

Why am I telling you about this book?  Because as I’ve read it, it kept resonating with me, with who I am trying to be.  I, too, believe that ‘love does’ – love is above all else a verb, and the only way to show it is to do something with it. 

That can mean being there at 3am for someone when everyone’s had enough.  Or it can mean taking the hit when they need to rant at ... someone.  Or it can mean ignoring how much something is hurting, because the person needs you to be strong for them.

It can even mean turning up and doing a job we really don’t feel like doing today, because it will benefit someone else in need.

Most of this is pretty contrary to popular opinion.  Many people counsel to ‘look after yourself’, to make sure we’re not going to get hurt.  And whilst that might seem like wisdom, it isn’t the way of love as I understand it.

Love puts the other person first, regardless of cost.  And sometimes the cost is high but, even so, I believe love goes right ahead and does it anyway.

Love Does is available from Amazon here.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Life is not something that happens in the future, life is what we’re doing right now.

An old boss/current friend of mine once asked me what I wanted to do with my life.  I replied: ‘What do you mean?  This is it; this is my life.  I’m doing it, now.’

It seems to me we can often think of our lives as something we’ll do another day.  Maybe it’s about a career we’ll pursue or a relationship we yearn for.  We might be waiting till we can get married, or have kids, or move away from home, or get that dream job – whatever.  I know I’ve had times when I’ve been guilty of treading water, waiting for some day when I can ‘be what I want to be’.

But that’s a waste of where we are now.  There’s so much life out there for us, so much to see, so much to do, so many people to meet.  What if the thing you’re waiting for never happens?  Would you miss out on everything else while you wait for it, maybe forever?

I gave a friend some advice a long time ago – she was single and not happy about it.  We talked about it often and I came up with the idea we should live as though we’ll never get married – don’t put life on hold till we can do things with someone special, because that someone might never appear. 

Live your life, do the things you wish you could do.  Don’t be held back by things you don’t have.  And if there is someone in your life who you want to do them with, then be sure to invite them along for the ride.  Or if it’s that thing you know you’ve always wanted to do with your life, then grasp it with both hands, do it with all your heart and never give it up.

(More Switchfoot, I'm afraid!)

'This is your life.  Are you who you want to be?' - Switchfoot.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The memories we make are our greatest treasure.

I’ve been listening to one album pretty much exclusively the last few days.  (Those of you who know me will know there’s a lot of time for this: tram journeys, hours spent in my house, even odd hours marshalling charity events.) 

When I was thinking about this blogpost, one song in particular stood out:

‘I close my eyes and go back in time, I can see you smiling, you’re so alive.’ – Switchfoot.

I’ve written before about losing things, and missing them (The Value of a Moment and, Taking Risks.) – relationships, connections to places, the ‘good old days’.  This happens to me a lot, and it’s something I worry about: what if I lose the things I’m attached to now?  How will I cope? 

This kind of thinking could even stop me/us doing something, stepping out, starting ... anything.  What if it goes wrong?  What if s/he breaks up with me?  What if I end up hurt or disappointed?  We can start to think it’s not worth the risk.

But what kind of life would that be?  One where we don’t do anything, don’t try anything, don’t make any connections or ties because we might lose them?  A life spent entirely without ever having any of the things we ‘might lose’: how would that make us happy?

Recently, I’ve been making a lot of memories I know will stay with me forever.  Should things change and I lose things I’m really attached to then, sure, I’ll be devastated.  But I’ll always have the memories, the knowledge I was part of something amazing. 

I can keep those memories on a shelf in my mind, take them down, examine them, remember them, and smile, thinking: Wow! ... I was there!   I’ll certainly be extremely sad not to still ‘be there’ but a) it’s not certain I won’t be, and b) I’m glad I’m here now. 

Truthfully, I do get terrified about losing things/people I love because I’m not sure how I would cope.  But, just as there are no guarantees something will last, there are no guarantees it won’t.  ‘Every minute of the future isn’t written...’ as Jason Mraz puts it (Everything is Sound, 2012).  Don’t we want to find out?

The connections and memories we make are our greatest treasure.  Find some, make some, enjoy them.  May they last forever...

Friday, 8 June 2012

Want to be known for being 'awesome'...?

Sometimes the best 'superheroes'
are hiding...

A lot of the time we want credit for the things we do.  We want people to recognise the good we’ve done, and to reward us in some way.

In the book I keep referring to lately, Love Does (Thomas Nelson, 2012), Bob Goff  talks about being secretly incredible, or ‘being awesome.’  No song and dance, no ‘look at me and what I’ve done’ fanfare, just doing stuff for people or being there for them simply because you can, because you wanted to, because they needed you to.

I don’t believe in Karma as such, but my niece forwarded a text message to me earlier this week that said: ‘Karma saw your sadness and said: “hard times are over”.’  I thought it was a sweet sentiment and it actually made me feel better.  Not because I believed the Universe was about to redress some cosmic balance of fairness in my life, but because I believed I had been doing the right things and so, perhaps eventually, I’d see the benefit of that.

And, even if I don’t, at least I can be satisfied with what I’d done.

I want to be known for being an ‘awesome’ guy, of course I do.  But I’d much rather people just saw it in me as part of my nature, rather than because I showed off about it. 

In my experience, people do notice show-offs, and often give them rewards and affection.  But people who don’t show-off, who just get on with doing the good they can, get noticed too.  Maybe not as quickly, or as obviously, but when it happens it will probably be by people who are looking for something deeper, something closer, something more ... meaningful.  And I reckon that’s worth far more.

So keep being awesome, even if it seems no-one is watching.  I actually think that’s a pre-requisite of genuine ‘awesomeness’ anyway...

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Taking risks.


I read this recently about a father and his 10 year old son on a trip to ride motorbikes across the desert:

When we got to the desert, we headed for the sand dunes.  These dunes were different from the ten-footers I rolled down at the beach as a kid.  These were seven hundred feet tall.  Once you start up these monsters in a motorcycle, you need to get to the top without stopping.  If you hesitate or try to pause halfway, the result is that you, with the motorcycle on top of you, cartwheel all the way down to the bottom.  It’s a pass/fail course because there’s no in between.
                After topping several huge sand dunes with Adam and then losing track of him for a moment, I heard his motor racing just over the next dune.  I made my way over to where the noise was coming from and it was apparent in an instant that Adam was planning to jump from the top of one sand dune to the top of another.  I was yelling ”No!” across a canyon of sand, and it felt like a movie-style slow motion sequence kicked in as Adam raced through the gears and hit the peak of the dune doing more than 60 miles per hour.  Almost immediately, Adam and his machine separated.  It was quite a sight, really.  He had the look of both Superman and a gut-shot pheasant at the same time.  Adam landed 120 feet later surrounded by the scrap metal remains of what he was riding.  His first words when I rushed over to him were “That was awesome.”  And you know what?  It was.  Even though things didn’t go as planned and Adam crashed and burned, there was a huge sense of accomplishment for him in that. (Bob Goff, ‘Love Does’, published by Thomas Nelson, 2012.)

People tell me I’m a bit of a risk-taker.  I don’t really do physical risks, like sky-diving or bungee-jumping (although I would quite like to!), but I suppose I have been known to take emotional risks pursuing love or a connection or ... something.  (Moi?  Really???  Never...!)

With my heart on my sleeve, I hit the top of a dune like a kid at 60 miles per hour launching into the unknown.

Inevitably, I occasionally end up face down in the sand with a wreckage around me.  And it hurts.

But, in the end, sometimes through the tears, I’ll look you in the eye and say with absolute conviction: ‘That was awesome.’  And you know what?  It was.  Hell, I got to fly!

Don’t be afraid of falling, you’ll miss out on the spectacular.

And when you do fall, get up, collect the bike, go back to the foot of that dune, and start revving the engine...

Let’s go again.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Being real and being a 'hero'.

Today, let’s start with a song:

I love that song; it’s filled with meaning and honesty.  The music betrays the lyrics, beautifully highlighting the lie of Regina’s words because, the truth is, we all need ‘saving’, I guess.  We spend our time faking it, pretending we have it all together, acting like we don’t need anyone or anything, but I don’t believe that’s true of anyone.

A friend of mine said recently: ‘That’s all any of us are doing really: trying to go as long as possible without getting “found out”.’  I.e. if people saw who we were really, even for just five minutes, they might never want to know us again.

I don’t really believe that’s true either, even though I allow myself to live by it all too often.

I think when we do allow someone in to see the real ‘us’, in those moments of connection I mentioned in my last post, rather than finding rejection or ridicule, we can discover we’re not the only ones.  

Everyone has their ‘demons’, their doubts, their self-deprecation: that internal dialogue unendingly telling us we’re not good enough, no-one will love us, we have nothing to offer.  (The other week I said it’d be really cool if we could get celebrity voices to ‘do’ our internal dialogues – sort of like those apps for Sat Nav systems.  I quite like the idea of John Cleese doing mine.)

It’s hard, really hard.  And in letting someone in, we make ourselves vulnerable, and that can hurt sometimes.  But the rewards can be greater; sometimes we can find a ‘hero’, or even be one for someone else.

And who doesn’t want that?