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What I learned from a month of self-reflection, therapy and self-improvement

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What I learned from a month of self-reflection, therapy and self-improvement

Not Dead

One month ago I was in a bad place. That’s an understatement. One month ago I was crashing hard. My partner of 2 years left me, my family had several health issues and I found out I have depression (something I was told I have a year ago but due to a random set of events my old doctor decided I wasn’t, and let me get on with my life unsupported for over a year).

I wasn’t doing too well, but that’s a really positive thing.

You don’t learn anything from being comfortable. My dad is currently building his “dream house” and recently asked me what I want in my room in it. I said I don’t want a room in your house. If he makes me my ideal room, I’ll never move out again. I told him exactly what I wanted and asked him to build the complete opposite of that.

In comedy you learn more from your bad gigs than your good ones. Dying on stage is one of the most painful things I do and yet, I wouldn’t be a competent performer without it.

Feeling vulnerable is awful because it’s uncertain, but it leads to the best places.

I’m a big fan of Morgan Spurlock. His film Super Size Me and the subsequent TV show “30 days” always provides me with a lot of motivation in times of trouble. If he can change himself and change his views or at least challenge them in the space of a month, why can’t we?

To get myself back on track I had to change myself. I had to grow. I continue to grow. On solid recommendations I –

  • Started writing stuff down to get my feelings out on paper and into the world.
  • Meditated twice a day to learn how to clam my head.
  • Started focusing on myself and what I want in life.
  • Started to talk to a psychotherapist daily.
  • Went on walks / exorcised daily.
  • Ate badly, then better.

Here’s 10 things I have learned from the last month of talking to a psychotherapist every single day –

1) Assumptions are the worst thing in the world.

I (used to) do this all the time. I would fill in the blanks on what other people were thinking and also imagine the worst-case situation. A very wise psychotherapist told me that your mind always goes to the negative when you imagine stuff. It’s natural. It’s human nature.

Thinking about what other people are thinking takes me out of the now and into my simulation of their thoughts. It wastes my time and causes me anxiety. If you struggle with the same thing, my new coping mechanism is to ask myself if the thing I am thinking of is based on a fact or an assumption (it can only be one or the other). If it’s a fact, it’s fine to think about. If there’s even the slightest hint of an assumption I stop myself and go do something creative (like blogging). This has saved my ass more times than I care to admit in the last month. As a result I’ve got more done and only thought about the things I can actually control or understand.

Additionally, never give anyone else room to assume anything where possible. Just be specific and to the point. There’s no need to add to other people’s anxiety or potential stress. Just say what you need / want and let the universe take it from there.

2) Feelings are a really good (and scary) thing

Saying “man up” is such a dumb move and I’ve started to cut out anyone in my life who says it. First of all it implies that I’m not being a man and secondly it is a damaging thing as it makes you feel like you can’t express yourself. I would go into a rant about the way society has deemed certain emotions as “feminine” here but I don’t have the time and it deserves it’s own blog.

When I asked on Facebook for support with explaining my depression to my parents I got a lot of men private messaging me and women writing publicly. I thought it was really sad and frustrating the number of men who felt like they couldn’t post publicly and when I asked them why the reasons were always societally constructed, their assumptions or ego driven. My experience is if you ask for help with a problem, most decent people are willing to give you a hand if they’re in a good place to offer it. Ask for help. Do not suffer in silence.

I’ve learned to accept my feelings, regardless of what they are or if anyone else would feel the same in a similar situation. That’s them, and I am me. If I feel happy, sad, angry, frustrated, ambivalent etc, that’s my emotion, and I own it as such.

Feelings are there for a reason. Let them hit you like a truck. Don’t hide from them with drink, drugs or distractions.

3) Your emotions and your body are much more heavily linked than you will ever consciously know.

I have a bad back. Have done for years. I can’t actually remember when I didn’t have a bad back. Recently I started physio to get this fixed. My physio asked me “is there anything which makes the pain worse?” I said “I think stress. But I can’t work out if it’s just I’m more agitated when stressed so notice it or if it is actually worse.” He told me that when we are stressed a chemical is released into the blood that makes muscles tense: the fight-or-flight response. This makes my back more uncomfortable. This is just one example of a plethora of examples I have noticed or had pointed out to me by medical professionals of how my mind and my body are linked in ways I can’t even conceive. Go with your gut, and trust your instincts. They’ll somehow lead the way, even if you don’t really know where they’re taking you.

Meditation and mindfulness has really help me here. I feel calmer than I have ever been. Additionally listening harder to people when they talk and straight talking has help with this as well.

4) Being selfish (in moderation) is good.

Taking time for myself is good. I’m a people pleaser ultimately. I do a lot of things to help a lot of people (often at my own detriment) and I can often find myself caring more and more about someone else than myself. 

Every single day this month I’ve purchased myself a small treat. This could be a bar of chocolate or something bigger, but I’ve said to myself that I deserve something. I’ve had to say no and turn down some opportunities that I would ordinarily have taken. I just wasn’t in a good headspace for them, and although I could have easily taken part in a podcast interview or whatever it was, but I decided not to because I had stuff on my to-do list I needed to get done. Look after you.

5) An argument is rarely about the thing you’re arguing about.

Within my family fighting is almost part of the nightly routine. Shouting is a habit that was formed in my early childhood – although I never really warmed to it as a way of solving a problem. Since moving back to my parents house completely and living here day in and day out for the first time in a while I’ve noticed that the fights we have, are rarely about the subject matter they’re shouting about. In fact, it’s apparent that most fights or disagreements aren’t really about the subject matter rather something deeper. This could be a communication issue or one of the people involved feeling disrespected. But the fight was never about who forgot to put socks in the washing basket or who forgot to buy the milk.

There’s a Buddhist idea that you should always “untie your knots” with someone as early as possible, or else the knot between you will become tighter and eventually unsolvable. I will never consciously let anyone I care about have a knot with me for longer than is necessary. It’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to them and it will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth for the other person.

6) What the mind doesn’t understand it either fears or worships.

When I read this quote my mind was blown.

I took a minute and thought about it.

I took another minute and scanned my head for fears and questioned why I feared them. It was a total lack of understanding. We crave certainty as people and I enjoy stability (however that’s presented).

Our minds look for faces in clouds and in slices of toast. When we don’t understand something see try and rationalise it (or I do). And part of that is assuming things (see point 1). Your mind cannot understand everything, but it can accept them.

7) Fear is often an illusion and comes from a place of vulnerability

I feared who I was for most of this year. I’m not proud of this, but because of how many chances have been happening in my life I stood still and let everything around me continue to circulate into a whirlpool of madness that I couldn’t control. There was no emergency stop button for my life. I lost who I was.

I knew on a base level I am a 28-year-old man who has goals and aspirations but inside I felt tired, I felt not worthy of anything good that came my way, I felt like my happiness was external to me and if I applied for a job / gig and didn’t get it, I didn’t have my inner happiness to fall back on.

Daily I write now. I have been “meaning” to do this for a while. I write down everything in the morning and last thing at night. I get all those thoughts, feelings, unsung emotions and everything in between onto paper. I can read it back. I do it for a length of time every single night non-stop. Just typing and typing and then I go back and read over it. The wording is always interesting. How I view things and situations really comes out. Often how I view myself came out in the early pages.

My head believed I was an imposter. A fraud. Someone who wasn’t good enough. As a child I had bed with a gap under it for storage. I remember I used to think monsters lived under there for one reason or another until one day my dad and I cleared it out and set up a scalextrics set which allowed the cars to go under it. The black dog in my mind as an adult is not so easily removed from view.

To deal with this, I had to question these negative views and see if there was any truth in them. I remembered a method I used to use to help motivate myself which was comparing myself to myself a year ago rather than people who are doing better than me. They’re on their path, I am on mine. It’s about the road, not the destination.

Taking a moment to be grateful for any good that comes your way really helps reaffirm life as a wonderful gift. It’s not always easy, I get that. Believe me. But there’s always something to be grateful for.

8) Do not overwhelm yourself

It’s easy in a digital age to get information and opinions. I can google the symptoms for anything and get thousands of responses. That’s going to make me freeze and panic. I’m not going to know which way to turn or who is right and wrong. This often led me to assume things and pick the response which suited my own thoughts and agenda… defeating the reason I was googling / asking people in the first place. 

I’ve found that I can often try to ask too many people for advice and get conflicting answers. This is not a good way to live. Sometimes I’ll be asking people to just validate my choice, which is also self-defeating. It leaves me feeling like I’m not responsible for my own choices. I don’t like that.

To solve this, I now pick a maximum of three people who I think will have the best opinions on the subject I am thinking about. This usually means I get an outcome (2 people go one way, one goes the other etc). If I still feel unsure, I can ask a maximum of 2 more people. After that, I ban myself from asking anyone else. It’s my life, and I should go with my gut, but I sometimes like to ask people. So if I ask you, I will tend to now say “you’re one of 3 people I am asking, so take your time with a response, but here’s my problem”. 

9) The thing you least want to admit to people is the thing you should be most open to telling them.

“You’ll Worry Less About What People Think of You When You Realize How Seldom They Do” – David Foster Wallace

This blog for example is full of stuff I feel I should keep to myself. Stuff that at first glance seems big. Seems to be honest and almost shameful. My perspective on it is that it’s just a thing in my life. Perspective is everything, and if we have the ego to think we are that important in the first place our minds will blow up our secrets to a ridiculous degree making us feel shame or worse, regret about it.

For a lot of this year I struggled to work out who I am. This is largely because I was frozen in place but also because my head was in a bad place, but also, I let the judgements of people come into play. Not consciously, but in hindsight I totally did. I know myself and what I want so much better than ever before.

10) Broken people can get better if they really want to.

Oh and if you’re wondering about the image at the top of the post… here’s the song it’s from.

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Simon Caine is a comedian, author, podcaster, writer and social media manager. He's the host of the Ask The Industry Podcast (iTunes link) , writer of jokes for Twitter and teller of gags on the London comedy scene. He's also the person writing this and it is taking all his willpower not to make a "Simon Says" joke.
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