I love the sheer power of nature. Even in the most serene of settings, nature never fails to have a profound impact on me. To be honest, several hours before I wrote this post I felt awful. I felt that the only solution would be:
glass bottle of Merlot
- Ferrero Rocher and Lindt chocolate
- a blanket fort.
But then I stepped outside and felt the warmth of the sun. A few hours later I realised that I had indeed needed three things to transform my mood. I had just thought of the wrong list. What really worked in the end was:
- a cup of green tea
- Autumn sunshine
- my hammock
This just reinforced my thoughts about nature that I’d had during a road trip… A few months ago whilst travelling through South Africa I had the opportunity to stay in many little towns along the way. There was one area, just outside one of these towns, that I found to be particularly magical. We stayed in a
cottage luxurious unit in the middle of an ancient milkwood forest. We were surrounded by unspoilt fynbos as far as the eye could see. And where there wasn’t fynbos there were mesmerizing views of the sea and an incredibly beautiful bay. I felt truly immersed in nature. (No snide comments about the luxury accommodation, please.) In an incredibly short space of time we were able to completely relax and unwind. I really felt as though I was able to re-balance my body, mind and soul. It enabled me to be mindful, with remarkable results. Words simply cannot describe how my sense of wellbeing was completely transformed in this idyllic place. Whenever I enjoy spending time outdoors, I always have the same thought: we should do this more often. There really is a tangible healing power in nature. There’s some irony here too, because we wouldn’t need the curative powers of nature if our modern lifestyles didn’t take us away from nature in the first place. So we need nature to be a healing balm for the modern lifestyle, because this lifestyle prevents us from spending sufficient time in nature in the first place. Time for a change, methinks. What have been your healing and relaxing experiences in nature?
I sat in my seat, completely entranced by what was unfolding before me. I was completely absorbed in the present moment: the past ceased to exist and the future was irrelevant. Not a single word was uttered, but the raw human emotions were unmistakable. There is an empathetic understanding that connects us all as people, irrespective of language or any other label. It was this understanding of what it is to be human that translated the story for me. This, and the sheer beauty of it all.
Beauty is not just seen. True beauty is something that we feel. Something that captures the heart and the imagination. Something that transcends our everyday experiences. Something that touches the core of your being, your soul.
There is something magical about creativity, be it dance, music, or visual art, that allows for a purity of human expression. Before technological advancements, these art forms existed to not only entertain us, but to enrich our experiences, and fulfill the human need for something more in life. To immerse ourselves in emotion, to lose ourselves in beauty, to rely on our humanity for understanding.
And that was what I felt in the audience at the ballet that evening. Yes, the story of Carmen is emotive in its own right, but it also provides a platform for beauty. Beauty in terms of dance, music, and the expression of raw human emotions. The combination of the orchestra, choreography and talented dancers was a powerful mix. I was not alone in my experience of the dynamics of the performance. The emotion in the audience was palpable throughout, and let out in the extended standing ovation at the end.
It is a relief to find, in this technology-mad world, a space where the beauty of human expression and creativity can live on and touch our souls. Because what is life without creativity and true beauty?
Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the meaning of loneliness. And I’m not talking about the dictionary definition. I’m talking about how it’s defined in the context of our lives.
I can be alone, and not feel lonely. In fact, I think that you need to be able to be happy in your own company. You need to be comfortable with yourself, with your thoughts, and be able to define yourself without reference to others.
But being content like this has its drawbacks.
It can mean that you develop a tendency to isolate yourself, without even being aware of it. And this is dangerous. People are social beings. You need to establish and maintain social ties. Importantly in this day and age, you need to have face-to-face time with people, and not simply rely on social media and the like to give you the impression that you are being social when you’re really not.
Time can fly by and before you’ve realised it, months have passed since you saw certain friends and relatives. These days everyone seems to constantly be talking about being busy and feeling stressed. Before you know it, the work week has ended and you haven’t made a concerted effort to make plans to see people – because you’re busy and stressed. And that may be true. But that’s all the more reason to spend time with those in your social circles.
The meaning of loneliness and the necessity of balance
And so I come back to the timeless theme of balance. Even though you might not really be feeling lonely, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to spend more time with others. Which brings into question the true meaning of loneliness. Being comfortable in your own company is good, and it allows time for important things like reflection, but it needs to be balanced so that you don’t fall into the trap of isolation. Social media has its place, but it can give us the false impression that we are leading social lives, when in fact all it is doing is obscuring the actual physical isolation. In short, I don’t think that you need to feel lonely to have the need to combat loneliness in your life.
Despite a sense of overwhelming optimism at the start of 2015, so far this year has not gone as planned. I’m not surprised that life doesn’t always go as planned. I’m not surprised that life has its ups and downs. What does surprise me, however, is realising that I’m not terribly bothered by this. Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m making progress in overcoming depression. That would be quite ironic, given how this year has gone.
So far, I have not managed to do what I know I should be doing on a regular basis. So far, I have not done the following:
- follow a health eating plan
- exercise regularly
- practise mindfulness
- pursue hobbies
- engage in creative activities
That list is a pretty basic outline of what you need to do if you are intent on overcoming depression. But life is just not that straightforward. I have a long-held belief that one of the most debilitating effects of depression is that it fosters an inclination to do exactly what you should not be doing. It takes every ounce of willpower, and then some, to vaguely muster up the energy and determination to make a salad, go to gym, etc. It feels like every cell in your being is screaming for you to climb back under the covers – with a slab of chocolate.
So how do you climb out of bed and find your way to gym?
Overcoming depression is not a war: a war has an end.
Dealing with a chronic physical illness is an ongoing battle. Fortunately, the fight does get easier and a little less intense every time you launch an attack. And just how do you launch a successful attack?
- Make the decision. I believe that you need to firmly and consciously make a decision to fight this illness. You need to focus your energy on doing whatever it is you need to go to rediscover your true self.
- Get support. You need someone in your life who understands what you’re going through and can give you the type and degree of motivation you need to get going.
- Be flexible. Sometimes a routine can help to get you going, but too much rigidity can induce anxiety that will see you under the covers again.
- Don’t wait for Monday. As soon as you make that decision, start immediately. Don’t procrastinate even more.
If I make it sound easy, I don’t mean to. I was tired just walking up the stairs at gym to get to the treadmill. After fifteen minutes I had a headache and a blister from my running shoes. I made the decision to pull up my socks – literally – and keep going. There have been some lapses… A fondness for baking is not a great hobby if you’re trying to follow healthy diet, and yet I found myself in the kitchen baking some of my favourite goodies. But the point it, I’ve made a start and I’m trying. More importantly, I’m not beating myself up about the fact that I haven’t been doing what I ought to.
It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve finally learnt to simply accept that life happens. Overcoming depression means accepting that this illness has its highs and lows, and knowing that all that you can do is your best. And that’s what I’m going to do: try my best to look after my physical, emotional and mental well-being.
“At…times of numb tragedy the mind remembers the smallest kindness and clings to it amid the confusion and despair of events.” – Anne Perry
The things that we need to practice on a daily basis to be mindful are the same things that we need to do in times of emotional difficulty. Therefore, it’s important to practice mindfulness daily until it becomes a habit and thus our automatic response to emotionally trying times. It is in the daily practices and habits of our lives that we develop constructive coping mechanisms that will see us through challenges and trying circumstances.
However, this is so much easier said than done. Our coping methods have been ingrained in us since early childhood and it can be challenging in the extreme to override these powerful habitual responses. It is particularly difficult when trying to cope with something that places a strain on our emotions – it is as these times that our habits of old have a strong pull and newer approaches tend to fall by the wayside.
Learning and practising mindfulness, like everything else, is a process and requires patience. You will probably have to learn the same difficult lesson several times before you have really gained a habitual mindful response in times of difficulty. But the journey and the attempts are worth it. Although it may seem nebulous at first, mindfulness is incredibly powerful.
Explosive anger, debilitating desperation, uncontrolled hysteria… Dr Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde. It’s an interesting paradox that when our emotions are heightened we often experience a side to our character that is contrary to our usual nature.
Feeling an emotion to such an extreme degree is distressing in and of itself. But it’s at this point, when you’re pushed to the edge, pushed to your personal limit of emotional tolerance, when you will behave in a way that completely contradicts your natural character. It has potentially devastating consequences for you and those around you. It leaves you feeling accountable, and yet unable to explain, excuse or justify your actions, your words, your outbursts.
It can be sobering, to say the least, when you recover your Dr Jekyll personality and are left facing the hard cold truth that is the evil Mr Hyde. And that’s when you wish he would do just that – hide.
It’s a recognised paradox that exists within human nature, and potentially resides in all of us. And the only way to avoid it is to not test our limits of what we can endure – emotionally and mentally.