Regarding why I don’t write…
Maybe it’s my lack of an audience? But there’s no guarantee a waiting crowd would make me more inclined to perform. It could just bring on the nerves. In this vacant room l can dance and twirl freely — expressing myself without worry, shedding all that weighs me down. Isn’t that what art is really about? What one feels as opposed to what everyone else sees?
“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” – Pablo Picasso
Blogging has its particular benefits. I can travel backwards in time! Be it right before accepting an overseas volunteering position (Tonga), or that halfway point between states (Sydney and Brisbane) where I debated turning the car around and retreating from the challenge that lay ahead of me.
While it’s normal to look back and cringe at one’s opinions, beliefs and choices (especially of outfits), revisiting the past has its purpose. It shows us just how far we’ve come. Whether it’s through physical journals, an online blog or using your phone’s notepad app while you sit on the toilet, I highly recommend having a self-reflection practice which allows you to place your flags as your travel life’s long winding road.
Speaking of which, I just placed number 31. And while the view is a bit lacking — I’m missing many traditional metrics of “success” (house, a long-term relationship, kids) — I know I’ve had quite an eventful year. There are many battles and victories that go unseen. Not everything gets a Facebook status. But I do dream of a world where “got my first house” and “processed trauma” receive an equal amount of emojis.
My accomplishments include: seeing my book on the shelves of my local bookstore, speaking about my mental health experiences in high schools, improving my physical health, going on a solo-holiday and making new connections, getting a promotion at work and being offered a permanent position. And definitely falling into the “unseen victory” category: getting a better handle on my diagnosis with ADD and bipolar 2.
I’m still working things out treatment wise — I’m trialling different medication and coping strategies. But I’ve done a lot of work in terms of my self-narrative. The story we tell ourselves about ourselves is the foundation of which our entires lives are built… And it’s reflected in the choices we make — from the food we eat to the bullshit drama we put up with and the opportunities we don’t apply ourselves to.
Like many people with ADD, I saw myself as flawed, lazy, scattered and just “too out there”. A stray piece from the backdrop of normal society. Now I just see myself as different. I recognise I have faults, but they’re natural limitations and not a point of constant criticism.
In the same way most people can sprint, but it requires certain muscle fibres to be a “sprinter”; we need to distinguish between what we can do, and what we can do well. Limitations can work as signposts, should we be willing to take the blow to our confidence and acknowledge them.
“Each of us arrives here with a nature, which means both limits and potentials. We can learn as much about our nature by running into our limits as by experiencing our potentials” – Parker J Palmer
My goal is to work with my strengths and align “who I am” with “what I do”. So far, this looks like changing career to something along the lines of psychology, teaching or counselling. Going back to study seems risky, but the truth is that there are no safe paths or guarantees in life. Also, the path I have been on (the status quo) hasn’t exactly been working out for me…
“You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” – Jim Carrey
I’ve considered making the change before. I distinctly remember a moment while celebrating my 23rd birthday at the Great Barrier Reef. I was overlooking the ocean when I came to the realisation that “it’s too late because I’m too old.” Definitely a look back and shake my head moment.
At 31 I’ve got a better idea of what “old” means. I can see my physical appearance changing and my energy levels are not the same. I’m still young, but I’m definitely on the downhill from here.
My intial reaction was to try to slow my decent. Modern culture has an unhealthy and unrealistic obsession with youth. I’ve already purchased a few skin-care products, but I am reminding myself to embrace this change of seasons. When I spoke to a friend about this recently, he described ageing as natures way of gesturing us to go within — to recognise the core unchanging truths about who we are and what we want. When I think about it, I’ve definitely felt more liberated as I’ve gotten older.
“I’ve long thought of old age as a time when all that’s left is to tell the truth — trying to remember to tell it in love. It’s liberating to be at a point where I no longer need to posture or pretend because I no longer feel a need to prove anything to anyone.” – Parker J Palmer
This conversation might be too much too soon. But even when I wrote Living in Cream at 26, I was discussing death. Emphasis on “discussing”. It’s a whole another ball game to actually brush up against death and feel a cold shiver down your spine. As a good friend of mine reflected on in his book which he published this year (including a touching tribute to me), it’s quite life changing:
“It could all be over in a single moment and time is running out. It shouldn’t take nearly dying to come into contact with the fundamental longing that your soul is searching for.” – Matthew James Moores
I’m definitely not chasing my own near death experience, and neither should you. Rather, let’s strive for the feeling of being alive. Technically we’re alive every day that we’re not dead. But there’s a certain state where we really feel it. There’s another gear we can kick our lives into. And its unlocked through passion and being in pursuit of something we deem meaningful — of what stirs our soul.
Through the work of Jordan Peterson, I’ve learned about the positive feedback mechanisms we engage when we find genuine meaning and enjoyment in what we’re doing. They aren’t necessarily tied to attainment of the goal either; rather just being in pursuit of it — on the hunt, you could say. One example he gives is of a football player with a broken finger. In normal circumstances one would be inhibited by the pain. But in the heat of the match, one can find it within themselves to kick into that higher gear and push through the pain.
Speaking of pain…
This year has brought upon a complete change in my understanding of it — particularly emotional pain. The catalyst being the Johaan Hari’s book, Lost Connections – The Hidden Causes of Anxiety and Depression.
“What if depression is, in fact, a form of grief — for our own lives not being as they should?” – Johann Hari
In Lost Connections, Johann explores the wide-spread treatment of anxiety and depression as the result of having a chemical imbalance. From my own experience in the mental health sector, I’ve seen cases where this has and hasn’t been the case. Sometimes the solution is medication, sometimes it’s cognitive — requiring a change of mentality and circumstances — and sometimes it’s both.
The further I got into Lost Connections, I realised my depression — while initially caused by circumstance — has continued as the result of repression. Of not being authentic — of own life not being as it should.
At just three words, like Nike’s slogan, “as it should” is definitely a case of easier said than done. It takes time to arrive at our truest selves. And we often spend it walking down the wrong roads — usually under the well-meaning guidance of those around us. Or because of societal pressure and some dream we were sold.
At 21 I wanted a high-flying corporate marketing career, a place in Brisbane, to eventually settle down with the person I was dating, and to compete in bodybuilding. Now, a decade later, I work in the non-profit sector in a different state, have very different tastes in women, and no longer see my physical appearance as a measure of my worth or consider bodybuilding a serious hobby.
As I cringe I also show myself some compassion. This was all a learning experience and part of my journey. I’m also grateful I’ve arrived at this point now as opposed to later. There are many people out there who are still unsure of who they are or are forcefully keeping their true selves repressed. Despite what’s presented on their social media accounts, they probably miserable and constantly keeping themselves self-medicated or distracted.
Johaan says that our pain has a message and in 2018 I heard it. In 2019, I aim to act on it — purusing what suits my strengths, what I find genuinely meaningful, and what makes me feel most alive. The climb is not going to be easy, but the view will be worth it.
I hope you join me.
How was your 2018? Leave a comment below.