Every time I add one of these blog posts I feel I've come to some crazy conclusion as to how the world , and more importantly myself in the world, works on a level I haven't understood before. And this is another example of that. The last 2+ years, even before Covid kicked in, has been a painful experience for a bunch of reasons I don't need to go into. But the results of that has been a downward slide into survival mode which, I've just realised, has had a huge impact on how I perceive the world around me, or perhaps lack of perception. I honestly feel like I've gotten to a point I can look at myself as much as anything and see 'potential', rather than just getting by on a day to day basis. Or hour to hour on some of the worse days. And it has taken ages to get to this point. Imagine knowing what you had to do exactly, but still not being able to do it. There are so many self help books, therapy etc. that is designed to help you get out of a negative space, but understanding it and 'doing' it are very different things. And this time I even understood that element, but it still didn't help.
Everyone gets affected by things in different ways, but the common thread here is where those things take you. In my case it was a lot of pain : mental, physical, and emotional...I'm sure there are others but to be honest I don't know what they could be. When it comes down to it, our entire universe is based on the self and perception of self in it. And over the course of maybe a year my state of mind went to possibly the best it had ever been in my life by a significant margin, to a new low equal to, but different enough, to other lows. I've dealt with depression several times previously and for various reasons, and have a good grasp of how that affects me and how to get out (over time). This time however, dissociation played a part...which was a whole new thing I hadn't really experienced before. I think many people go through similar shifts. Most of it comes down to withdrawing from the things that hurt you in whatever way that allows you to survive. What you withdraw from and how it changes you, the results are different according to a long list of factors. parenting, education, state of mind, support network, the list goes on. But in a way they are all the same, we hit a survival mode that has limits on perception to the immediate, and anything beyond that simply ceases to exist until that threat is removed. And the other factor is time, if it's a short threat, then this state can be short lived and can move on with life. But if it's a long time, a new normal, then it's a very different ball game. Not only do you have to fix the problem, you have to keep that problem fixed for a significant amount of time, and that is not always easy depending on the source of pain or frustration.
Over the last year or two, I've had access to information that has helped. 'How to do the work' by Dr. Nicole LePera and Atomic Habits by James Clear were two books that really resonated with me. The 'Struthless' Youtube account also helped a lot as well. I think I've mentioned them before, but they are worth repeating for sure. It sounded great to hear and there was a way to get out of it all. However, in that state seems to affect how we understand those words and how much we can bring them to pass on our own. I can understand things easily enough, but I can't do anything with that information until the entirety of self is ready to take it on. And a lot of that comes down to our subconscious state, and our 'comfort zone'...which in all truth is not so comfortable in the survival state.
I think one of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with pain, regardless of the source, is that you can't understand the suggestions and wisdom objectively. The language and support is always through that pain, and the state of mind that has placed you there. This applies even more so when our new homeostasis (or our self regulating processes that try to keep us 'stable') has been warped into a negative state. And that affects your ability to act on any of it. In our best state, we have access to everything. Nothing can keep us down, the world is our oyster and all that. But when you are down, when you have withdrawn from the pain in order to stabilise whatever you can, then even the act of getting out of bed is just too much to bear. Your support network, friends, family, therapy, etc. will always start with something like just getting out of bed for the day and you have accomplished something, be happy with that! But in that state, in that darkness, out of bed is the furthest thing from your mind. We feel terrible in that bed, the guilt, the fear, the <insert any other negative emotion that resides within>, but leaving that bed is even worse. If that state lasts for weeks or even months, rather than days, then we also forget what it is like to be out of that state and that adds a whole layer on top of that. Our new homeostasis runs the show. And our ability to 'survive' is twisted along with it.
So an overview of my journey, was that I was removing myself as much as possible to a 'safe' space from a bunch of inputs I won't go into. My 'safe space' had limited resources as I was protecting myself from these things, I removed myself physically as I had more pain than my usual chronic pain, I removed myself from emotion as I had a lot of emotional pain, and things weren't making as much sense to me so I think I withdrew 'mentally' as well...and over time other things came up basically keeping me there. So as much as I was subconsciously protecting myself, the fact that it basically stayed that way meant my 'new' reality was very much based on removal of self. I think the idea that new habits form in a two month period seems to resonate, as my experiences continued into 6 months or more, with other things getting in the way...I couldn't recalibrate, and therefore my new state was locked. Eventually I had removed myself so much that I started seeing myself (well my physical self and the world around me) as an an alien thing. Looking at my hands and not being able to connect with them as my own. I literally felt that 'my' space was a solid 5-10cm space in my brain (towards the back to be precise), and everything outside of that was a way to be hurt. Little did I know that not hurting would hurt so much.
There were things that did help though. Understanding the things that hurt me helped understand why I had the reaction I did. This allowed me to at least get a grasp of why I was where I was. That took time to figure out, and then time to process, and then time to get over them...but the issue was I had other things come up that affected me. So everything was going a lot slower than it could have. But as noted in a previous post, uh, life...finds a way.
The last two years have been hard for everybody, some more than others for sure. We were all affected by it though. The pandemic threw everything out of whack, and we honestly have a new normal on a cultural level, let alone how each person has learned to adapt to that. Depending on everyone's state of mind over that period some people want to go back to the way things were, some people want things to be completely different and everything in between... that is a post for another day. But what it comes down to is everything is different now, regardless of what you want it to be. I had a small list of things on top of that, personal, professional, relationships etc...pretty much most bases were covered. And they just. Kept. Happening. And it wasn't until about a month ago that the last thing on that constant list sorted itself out and I could actually recalibrate and see the light at the end of the tunnel. Which is the main point of this whole post to be honest.
If your world is on the rocks, you can't recalibrate yourself nearly as well. And the list of your world is quite a long list of things that take priority (unless you are exceptional at working through things regardless of your state of reality). So lets look at some of the things that came up in my two years that I thought I had control over, but did not.
- Physical condition (epilepsy can be a real pain in the butt sometimes)
- Relationships (depending on how you work, others' perception of you can be everything)
- Self esteem (kind of important to have it turns out!)
- Societal (pandemic level shift on this one)
- Direction (or lack thereof, for a long list of reasons)
- Work load (too much can affect your ability to process information)
These are the main points off the top of my head, and each of these, at the time, I figured I was on top of to some degree, when I really, really, wasn't. It is easy to look back and realise my error thinking everything was under control and I could fix it, only to find that 60%+ was out of my control and affecting me greatly. I was asking the wrong questions, I was doing the wrong things, I was slowly but surely reducing myself to a state of survival on all levels as I was subconsciously deciding that was the only way I could keep going. And as much as I knew, during all these things, what I could do to get out of it, I simply couldn't.
I appreciate that a lot of this is vague as I am not giving reasons for any of these, but the honest answer is it doesn't matter. Each aspect of your life affects you differently to me. And therefore it is up to you to find what is causing the result to happen, and even that differs from person to person. If you are not your ideal self right now, what is stopping you from reaching that state? What things are happening that limit your ability to figure that out?
A point I am trying to make here is, realising where you are, realising where you want to be, and what steps can help get you there. The main point that I'm making here though is that your current state, if it is in a more negative state, has certain filters in front of you that limit your ability to act on what you, yourself, might know. So how do we get through that?
The simple answer is remove all the things you can that might be keeping your subconscious in the survival state. This will override your ability to 'think' things through objectively. The filters limit you, removing the filters as best you can will allow you to start acting on what actually is the problem, not the perceived issues...but the truth is the filters are as much a part of the problem as the things that caused them.
You won't be able to do 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week when you can't even do one pushup a day. You won't be able to cook a proper meal if 2 minute noodles is a hard stretch. Making your bed in the morning is even too much to ask someone who can't get out of bed. And aiming to do any of the former will basically make things worse, rather than better. You'll feel bad for not doing what you set out to do, therefore making it even harder to do tomorrow, reducing the scope of your ability even more.
We always seem to aim higher than we should when we are in a negative state. Take it down a notch (or ten) and enjoy the success of doing a little, rather than feeling the pain of not succeeding at all. You need to create the perception of the activity to the same level as the 'positive state' in the image above, for ALL states. This way things actually get done, and you can move forward.
If you can't get out of bed, then be OK with that. There are days where that is the best you have. So do that. Embrace the days where you can, and prepare for the next step.
Next step is get out of bed, then make it. That's all you need to do. Continue on your day as best you can. Lay on made bed. Sit and stare at the walls for the rest of the day. You have succeeded in the To Do List of the day. Now of course other factors are in play. Do you have to go to work. Do you have to pay the bills. Do you have to eat. There is, of course, the minimum requirements of the day to continue said existence, but everything else is up to you and what you can bring yourself to do. On that though, make sure the things that you have set as 'compulsory' are in fact compulsory. It's kind of surprising how much we have created the things around us as hard facts.
Continue said To Do List until you feel the urge to push it further. If you can't find that point in time, then maybe you need to look at the other things in your life that are limiting your ability to do that. Are you getting enough (healthy) food, are you sleeping enough, are your working too much, are your relationships (friends or otherwise) affecting your ability to look after your own needs...there is a long list of fundamentals of things that require you're attention, some of them are compulsory for sure, some of them feel compulsory, but are not, some of them are conditioned into us from society or parenting that may not actually be as important as we expect...sometimes, and this happened to me, things need to play out until you simply get the ability to start looking at your own needs more than the things around you. In my case I was trying to fix things I couldn't (I felt I was responsible for fixing a relationship by myself, and very few relationships are like this), I was trying to figure out life direction when I didn't have the basics down (if I ever moved somewhere else it would still be me when I got there), and I was working too much (finding a new schedule that allowed enough time for 'me' made a huge difference). I did not know these at the time. And wasn't until recently that this became clear...I guess I'm just trying to tell you that sometimes what you think is real is not. And that maybe you (or future version of I) can be more perceptive of those things in the moment. I will say that this is nearly impossible though, and wish you the best of luck with it! :)
This process takes time. Set your goals, divide them by 10 (or whatever method you have that adjusts your tasks effectively), and then do that until you can add something to that list...then divide that again. The more things you succeed at and for a set period of time, the easier it is to take the next step, but make sure to do the division for longer than you think is smart. It is very easy to start aiming to high, too soon, and losing that progress. And in some cases returning you to that lower state of mind, and this time it's worse cos you tried and failed. But that's a positive (easy to say in my positive state, hard to take on board if you are in a negative state) as you now know that you can try. You did succeed, even if it was just for a week, or even a day. You are better prepared for the next round.
You should always feel the need for more, and by doing that little bit less, the next day will be easier. And in some cases, you are actually wanting that higher level, desiring success. But keep your tasks low, and use that desire to keep on the tasks you have set. Do them well. Do them comfortably. Step up when it's normal.
Eventually, hopefully, you well get to that white space in the chart above, and then things can be adjusted as needed. But that journey from the darkest depths of your mind take time, and effort, and is never easy. I can pretty much guarantee I will be put back in the depths. But maybe I will have more resources next time to get out of them sooner, or perhaps take the steps to reduce the fall.
So in summary :
- Figure out your current state as 'realistically' as possible (externally and internally)
- Figure out where you want to be, this could just be 'happier', or 'less stressed'
- Figure out what aspects of life are making this difficult to reach (external)
- Figure out what aspects of life are making this difficult to reach (internal)
- Figure out which ones you can actually affect
- Figure out which things (external and internal) are the most important to do/fix/remove/add, and/or the most accessible. If you are in a dark place, keep this real simple, stupidly simple. So simple that even you could do it easily. And if that sounds impossible, then go even simpler. There is always something to do to move forward, even if it is just staying still and not going backward.
- Do stupid simple thing until it feels normal.
- Add to your To Do list accordingly until you feel as if your mental state is in a new place to figure these things out...start again :)
I honestly don't know why I'm writing all this. I think in all honestly it is a summary/conclusion of the last year or so that has been really hard for me, looking at it from 'outside' the darkness. I've only been here a month or so. It's not even my new normal yet...but I do feel the difference in my ability to perceive the reality around me and more importantly the things I could do in the future. I can still remember not wanting to get out of bed, but in all honesty the difference is a little surreal. I know what it was like to look at my hands and wonder what they were doing there, but can see my hands typing this as if they were indeed my own. I remember the feeling of watching myself get drunk at karaoke one night and observe me stumbling around in a sober state of mind. This observation sent me backward as I wasn't comfortable drinking for a good while. I'm only now starting to connect with people around me again, but still remember how it was when I couldn't at all. So I'm writing all this in the transition. The white space in the chart above (possibly a little red or a little green depending on the day actually) and knowing that when I was down, nothing was an option. My life has changed significantly in the last 6 months, but the main part of that was just my ability to perceive it. I may go into some of the things I learned in that time, I may just go into a new journey ahead of me which is finding my new self as I don't feel the 'old' self is available to me anymore. I'm not sure. What I do know however, is that I am actually able to take on that journey now. I am pretty excited to see where I can go, but I can also say that my bed will be made each day before I try. And that was a journey in itself.