For the first time in three weeks I have found a small oasis of peace in my head. And I am grateful. I can sit in this chair and watch the small pink-blossomed tree under the street lights and listen – truly listen – to the quietness of the house. Albeit punctuated by the ad-hoc screech of teens.
I have begun to come through a third bout of mental health problems in three years – more specifically, repetitive disturbing intrusive thoughts (perhaps a form of OCD). These return bouts of mental unwellness have mirrored my period of time as Patient Director, and the first one at least was due to work stress.
During the last three weeks, I have found myself trying to fend off feelings of deep emptiness (as if I did not exist – an ‘unbearable lightness of being’) and of circuitous horrible and intrusive thoughts (the pain of thinking). I have wanted to both escape the silence and the noise - mostly to escape ‘myself’.
The only way through for me is always a deeper and deeper acceptance of the emptiness or the almost paralysing thoughts. In a way, my ‘illness’ seems only to be countered by acceptance of it. It is the fear of the ‘emptiness’ and fear of the ‘thoughts’ that sustains the distress.
I have got through (at the moment) by focusing on
- Acting as if (continuing to find ways to function, despite my mind and body screaming at me that it is all futile)
- Coming continually into my body through using mindfulness techniques (I have also been finding ways to relax my eyes as much as possible – the eyes have a huge part to play in anxiety)
- Being as gentle at a practical level as I can (finding the balance between rest and activity)
NB. The drugs help a bit too!
I offer the above for those that may find that three-way approach useful. It may not be. But you never know.
So now what?
So, now, as I reach the age of 56, I need to think carefully about how to look after myself. As a professional about where I can make most difference – hopefully one day in mental health and through my writing. As a father, I am thinking more of my children’s future than my own.
I have emerged into my own fragile state of calmness as the world descends into its own calamitous breakdown. I do not often pontificate about the state of humanity, but I think the current global volatility and widespread nature of disturbed and polarised thinking, point the finger at an aberrant species suffering from a collective nervous breakdown.
I believe there are strong parallels between our individual and collective mental health. And that our emotional and mental wellbeing is the singular most pressing problem of our time; that it lies behind all other causes of strife.
We need to refind our balance (which includes equalising power, not just silly rhetoric about compassion or positivity). We need to find it all levels - within ourselves, between mind and body, between our thinking and our emotions, between each other as individuals and at global systemic level.
We are – all of us – seriously off kilter. Unable to sit in a room quietly. Unable to resist addictions – whether it be stuffing ourselves with food and drugs to stave off feelings of emptiness; or grazing across social media trying to stimulate the ‘enjoyment’ buttons for fear of lapsing into a vacuum of emotion; filling ourselves with ideologies or beliefs that provide a temporary illusion of rightness and self-serving identity to fend off our own sense of nothingness.
Whatever it is, we continually try to fill ourselves with something to fight off our own real sense of who we are – fragile concoctions of swirling sensations and thought overlaying some weird and very quiet life-force.
We are fearful of just being. Just as I have been for the past three weeks. We fend off fear. And in so doing serve to create it. This is as true for the world at the moment as for us as individuals. All of us, I believe, have a duty not merely to be ‘kind’ or ‘compassionate’ or whatever the current fashionable term is, but to find balance.
This may not be the most coherent of polemics. And I may be straying too far in my reach. But as I watch the tree with pink blossom under the street light, I know the above to be ‘true’ in the core of my being.
Be gentle and look after yourself and loved ones – and even perhaps those you don’t.
© 2018 David Gilbert