How many times have you had a cheeky ‘Google’ search asking how you can change a part of you, or your life, to feel happy? Whether that’s scrolling on your phone during a lunch break on a speedy trek for the answer, on a bus journey, or waiting in a queue… the internet makes it so accessible at such lightning speed to receive advice without even having to find or ask real, solid human. Being in bed unable to sleep is a common time when people are most likely to reflect on how content or fulfilled they feel in themselves. Maybe it’s then that you ‘Google’ your internal problem – “how do I become more confident?”, “how to feel less anxious”, “the best night-time routine for a good sleep”.
I am a devil for all of the situations above. In fact I can’t name a place I haven’t had an impulsive ‘Google’ search for reassurance about something. Apart from the cinema; only because there’s no bloody signal. Whilst it’s great that there’s a worldwide library at our fingertips, is it always helpful to our anxieties? Some might argue that hunting for validation instantaneously and being bombarded with lots of information from the internet, could be quite harmful and overwhelming when you feel alone in your head about something. As an impulsive behaviour in itself, I feel being able to ask something wherever, whenever on your phone can be dangerous for mental health.
That could be a whole other article/blog post completely, but what my point was going to start out in this one… was that quite often we read things that sound so ideal, but equally unachievable. It all sounds logical, like neat, straight flowerbeds in the Queen’s garden – but it’s as though confident, happy people live literally on another planet that you don’t have the door-code for. I’d say 80% of my teenage-adult life, has felt this way. Like how do you achieve the Queen’s garden, when you don’t know where the spades are kept, weeds are the only green bit in the garden and there’s mountains of mud?
Until Tuesday, this week.
So I was at the ‘NAViGO’ annual event (our local mental health services), sat pretty central in the stalls at the theatre, and one of the guest speakers was a guy called Barry. I’d never seen him before amongst the staff, so I had no idea what to expect. He was a replacement for celebrity Ollie Ollerton, so I think a lot of people pre-judged this would be quite a dull talk in comparison.
Well I don’t half feel guilty for that now, because it was fantastic. He’d taken the gamble a few years ago to leave his job and go sailing on his boat with his partner – with whom he comically demonstrated some lovers’ tiffs they had about the practical jobs on board. He took the risk, gave up his job security and took a path with his life that didn’t conform with the norm. Summarising his experience with three tips he learnt for a happier life and better mental health… the weirdest feeling came over me. I felt aglow, like there was finally some electricity running through my veins, showing me that the dots inside me were joining up. This was a first time in a long time, I actually could relate. Because I was doing this stuff. And it was now feeling a little less difficult to do it, and more of an everyday mantra.
- “Do something every day that scares you. Just a bit.”
- “Accept that things will go wrong. And think about the best thing you can say to yourself in that moment.”
- “And always notice and appreciate the dolphins.”
The first one for me, has been the biggest boost of confidence over the long-term. Shit yeah, it’s scary doing anything that you feel vulnerable and out of control in approaching. But what’s scarier for me, as I remind myself most days now, is the regret I’d feel about living life in a safe, regimented box later in life. About not investigating my curiosity, and my potential as a person.
I was sat there, watching Barry during very much an earthquake day of personal fears for me. In fact, for the first time in 2 years at least I’d say, I was sat in a t-shirt, and a long skirt and not in a jumper! Not only that, but I was sat with some fantastic girls I’ve connected with over the past few weeks after having to really bloody push myself to go to volunteering as it meant chatting to people, and feeling very insecure about myself. And disbelieving I could ever really make new friends. All the excuses about going to volunteering started flooding in from the start – “tell them you’re ill – you’ll barely make any difference if you go in anyway”, “tell them you just can’t cope, they’ll understand”… but each time I recognised that fearful voice, I knew I had to do it. And each time it got just that little bit easier to push back and I left feeling good.
Flash forward to being sat in that auditorium with those lovely girls – it’s been a pleasure getting to know them already. I’d always believed I coped better alone, fiercely independent. But maybe that’s not now solely the case.
As well as the outfit win, I’d just spent 4 hours or-so talking to more people than I ever have during that space of time. As my therapist said, it was like ‘flooding’ – an exposure technique for anxiety. I couldn’t escape, as I was committed – or perhaps I could have still escaped, and left, but my heart and my soul were with the mental health project and aspirations that I had attended for in the first place, so I did feel I had no choice because they were more important. I did have 5 minutes or so where I had to put myself on pause and stand away to take it all in, but then instead of the temptation to withdraw when those self-doubts kicked in, I knew it was time to get stuck back in.
It’s crazy how one opportunity opens up many more. There’s a ripple effect. Just by taking that step to volunteer, helping out with some mental health projects, I’ve been asked to do other things. Talking to people does this, and as much as I am safer in my own head with only myself to rely on sometimes, it really is valuable to connect.
To top off this very bizarre peak of the year, mentally, for me… I, as well as one of the new friends I’ve made, along with two other interesting people, have been elected as Community Representatives, which means lots of new responsibility – but more-so a chance to reach out further in doing things and making changes if we want to. We found out at the end of last week but had to keep it private until the AGM event on Tuesday. When our names were read out I felt like someone had just released a cage of butterflies in my stomach – proud, shocked, excited, scared… so many things. That I’d even put myself forward to do it was baffling enough…
As I’m writing this I’m starting to become aware, now, of sounding like I’m being a bragging Beatrice, but I really don’t mean that to be the case. Through DBT (dialectal-behavioural therapy), as part of emotion regulation, we’re encouraged to let ourselves feel the good stuff, be present in it and not squash it down. Usually I do that out of guilt – or I expect something to go wrong, or I don’t trust it. But this time I welcomed in the happiness, a word that I’ve refused to use for a while, as it’s seemed far-fetched from how I truly felt. But this WAS happiness.
For Barry’s second point – I’ve kind of been a sucker at thinking that if I have everything carefully planned out – my meal-plan, my day, times of doing everything etc. etc. then nothing can go wrong. But that’s really not life. The thing is we don’t always trust ourselves to be able to cope when things don’t go to plan. So we try everything possible to ensure it doesn’t happen… then when it does happen, we feel devastated and lost. How I think now, is to expect things to go wobbly, off schedule because the world doesn’t run like clock-work. And we are not robots. The hardest area of my life I could apply this to, is food. My eating disorder history/still slightly lingering behaviours in terms of rigidity… so I’m still a work-in-progress here although hugely in my head improving… but the other areas of my life seem to be bending a little more like a cheesestring, instead of a wooden plank. Maybe that’s down to my problem-solving skills improving, as a result of facing my fears and gaining confidence from this… which then leads me to feeling more capable about handling new situations.
Ooooh, I’ve just thought of a very recent example of something going ‘wrong’, but it ending up going better than it would have to begin with! So I was trying to book tickets to see this chat with an author in London, but by the time I got round to it, they were all sold out. Naturally, I’d give in. But then I thought about emailing the bookshop, sending a drawing I’d done of this particular author, and asking if there was any way I could still buy a ticket? Turns out he was very kind, complimentary of my work and sent me a free ticket plus one! And to me, for future situations, I’ll be able to look back on this experience and realise that not being able to follow a straight-forward plan doesn’t mean things are going to end badly.
As for the dolphins mentioned by Barry… these were the moments, for him and his partner, that made the arguments, the tough weather and the hard work sailing – all worth it. Appreciating them, means not letting the enjoyable feelings and moments pass too quickly so you can move on to the next thing to worry or be anxious about.
I’m not perfect at that last one, but I’ve definitely felt an improvement. The dolphins can be as simple as a cup of coffee, alone time with a book, a sunny day when your washing is on the line… or they can be the bigger things such as finding out I became a Community Representative for the mental health services that have journeyed with me for the past 8 years… being proposed to (not me any time soon, ha)… falling in love… passing an exam… book a holiday. Whatever your version of the most beautiful dolphin is.
Either way – enjoy them. Sometimes they’re scattered over your week like salt and pepper seasoning, but you can’t always notice them. But the more you notice the little things that make you *not even necessarily ‘happy’ (it can be a very expectant word), but* peaceful… content… the better you’ll feel living in your own skin.