The Art of Anticipation

I’ve got a golden ticket.

It’s a ticket to a magical place full of wonder. There are edible plants and astonishing creatures. There are mysteries. There is magnificence. There are strange and unpredictable events. Some of them benefit me, some leave me feeling like I’ve been blown up into a giant blueberry and sent to the juicing room to be juiced.

I began my journey to this place, filled with wonder. I licked wallpaper, ate dog biscuits, crawled into tiny spaces and was in awe at every turn. The further into this place I’ve ventured, the more cautious I have become. I don’t laugh as much. And, I don’t lick wallpaper or eat dog biscuits anymore. Partly because wallpaper tastes disgusting and I realised dog biscuits were for dogs, but the point is, I once was curious and adventurous enough to try them.

Although it bares a remarkable resemblance, my golden ticket is not to Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Had you fooled there for a second, didn’t I? In actual fact, my golden ticket is to life. And, there are no guarantees in this place. I keep thinking there are though. I keep expecting guarantees. Even when I don’t think I am, I am. And when things don’t turn out as I think they should… that’s when find I get blue (and need to be sent to that damn juicing room). Expectations are my kryptonite. See the chart I created below for a breakdown.

Expectations, Reality & Resilience

I’m not saying that it is wrong to have expectations. In fact, we need them. It is important we have high expectations around how we are to be treated, for example. Similarly, plans, goals and dreams are an essential part of being a vibrant human being.

Where things can go awry is when we get formulaic about life: If I do x, then I should and will get y for a result. I am a total sucker for this, and like Julia Stone, I blame you, Hollywood. I have had to do a lot of unlearning in this department. The pentecostal prosperity message I was accosted with as a child certainly has not helped with this either. No. But, that’s another blog post.

I like to think I am a realist, but I’m not. I’m a depleted romantic trying to clutch onto the security of certainty. Following dreams gets to be just exhausting when you encounter what feel like endless valleys. I tell myself, just stop expecting anything too much and you’ll be fine. But when I do this, I die a little bit inside. I don’t want to be fine. I want to be alive. I want to hope and dream and become.

Lately I’ve been looking for a full-time job. I’ve always landed on my feet in this area. Always managed to find interesting and satisfying work with ease. This coupled with the fact that we recently had a door slammed in our face direction-wise, meant that I would snap up a job immediately, as that was what I was owed, right? Wrong. It hasn’t happened like that. As a result, I’ve experienced some inner turbulence, which has reminded me of a tune my brother, 11 years my senior composed on the piano in response to his frustrated efforts to break into the IT sector as a graduate in his early 20s. The piece was entitled Unemployed. It was a long series of dark, disturbed, disjointed, foreboding and rather hilarious crashing notes. He is not a musician, at all, but he captured the space well. The good news is I have managed to curb the self-destructive talk and become a bit more philosophical about it all.

I asked myself, if expectations are a form of belief, of faith, then how do I manage them, so I don’t feel like a deflated balloon every time things go a different way to what I imagined?

The answer to this struck me the other week, in the middle of a coffee shop. It’s not a new thought. It was something I just needed reminding of at this specific juncture of life. It was simply this: nothing will unfold as you expect it to, but it will be ok and maybe it will be even better than ok. Roll with it.  Since having accepted this notion, I have experienced an uncanny calm spread through me, like a warming mug of hot chocolate.

So, my aim is not to quash my expectations. It’s to throw them open. It’s about trusting that some of those seemingly ‘crappy’ life experiences are potentially opening up opportunities that will take me to a whole new place. When I think about the surprise arrival of my daughter and a bunch of seemingly impossible challenges that enshrouded her arrival, which ultimately were the makings of me, I know that is the case.

Life really is a little bit like Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. You never know what you’re going to stumble into. So, here’s the deal, I am going to keep open, anticipate and wonder at strange and unimagined rooms, which I never thought I would find myself in. I’m not going to get fixated on the fact that certain doors led to rooms which were not as wonderful as I was thinking they would be. I’m going to keep moving through the factory and anticipate adventure.

Do you have any examples of how unexpected challenges yielded some gold? I’d love to hear about them.

MIO

Mind Mending: 4 Foundational Tools to Combat Depression

I’ve majorly stalled in getting this ‘series’ going. Sorry ’bout that. It is for good reason – to be outlined in my up and coming post, entitled, Crazy Life Tsunamis.

I happened to have created a juicy list of tactics to tackle depression, complete with anecdotes, but it’s been pummelled up amongst the debris of the Crazy Life Tsunami (CLT), along with a bunch of other nice plans. This has bothered me, but I have decided that this is something I can do something about, so I will.

I must admit I have felt some reservation around not wanting to just dish out a set of trite formulas for ‘fixing’ depression. Let me highlight, there is no one formula. There are a general set of human experiences that we categorise under depression – causes, symptoms and severity differ for us all. Your experience falls within a unique part of the spectrum. Similarly, the combination of tools to release you from this place are also individual.

I hope to provide my fuller list at another time, when it bobs to the surface of my hard drive or my mind.

So, if you are weathering a version of low life-ebb, I humbly offer some of my foundational mind mending strategies.

1. Acknowledgement is power

I know this is Captain Obvious, but it’s so very important to start with. I have found that the sooner I acknowledge that things are out of balance and shift my life around to accommodate some introspection and find some remedies, the better chance I have of addressing these imbalances without a major life-halt. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It actually robs you of getting in touch with your authentic self and living life to its fullest.

So if you can tick off a number of these symptoms or get a high score on this test, chances are you are not doing so well and need to take some action.

2. Surrender, Fight and The Prayer of Serenity (or Sanity)

serenity-prayer

In amongst the debris of our Crazy Life Tsunamis, I have been floating on a small but practical raft: the serenity prayer. This eloquent little prayer is so very powerful. As our own whiskey bottle has taken a little bit of a beating – I can see that there is a reason that this prayer is the creed of Alcoholics Anonymous. In our CLT situation, there are things which we need to fight for, there are things that we need to make happen and there are things that we need to surrender. It’s taken us a while to figure out which is what, but with this plea at the heart of our decisions, we have got somewhere and remained remarkably sane as a result. Thus far it has helped us avoid a depressive wipe-out.

The serenity prayer is not THE answer, but it is definitely a kind of map to getting through darker days.

Many times we get in slumps because of our expectations not matching up with our reality.  There are many ‘un-changeables’ in life and it would seem in my experience that identifying, accepting and surrendering these will set me on my way to inner peace. Recently I discovered an un-changeable and it has been excruciatingly painful. Someone very unhealthy has a lot more power over the life of my family than I would have ever chosen to give them. For the time being, I have to surrender this to this harsh reality and I am needing supernatural doses of serenity to do so. Whiskey will never fully cut it.  It is encouraging to me that even with the un-changeables, we can do something – we can become serene… What can I say, Ghandi is my hero at the moment.

Recently I was reminded of this jewel of a quote from Gregory David Roberts’, Shantaram,

“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them.”

There are many things that we can and need to change. It’s not always easy to do so, as it probably also means letting go of something, perhaps a fear or a comfort or a belief or all of the above. It means accepting change or fighting for it. That wrestle is often a part of the cognitive dissonance that comes with depression.

We can’t change the past. We can’t change the un-changables. We can accept these. We can change our focus. We can change our future.

Yes we can. (Thanks Obama)

We can’t change somebody else’s misery, their choices or their actions which may continue to make our life hard, but we can always work on our own needs and responses. If we feel miserable about stacking on weight or disappearing in our marriage or feeling purposeless or having had someone leave us, we can do something – lots of things about those things.  We can stare them in the face cold and we can grow beyond them.

For these reasons, this very simple prayer is a phenomenally awesome philosophy to hold close in combating depression.

3. The More Decisions I Make, The More I Become

Once you have decided to recognise that you are in Struggle Town and you have put yourself in a place of surrender, half the battle is won. You then need to make another decision to do something about it. Something. Anything. Everything. But, just start with one thing. It might be saying the sanity prayer. It might be talking honestly to someone you trust. It might be booking an appointment with your GP. It might be stopping and sitting by a moving body of water to think about what is really going on and what you might need. Be really proud of yourself once you have done that. Then, make another decision. Then make another. Then another, then another. Keep being proactive. Before you know it you will be moving through the paralysis, one decision at a time. Be brave. Keep gently moving forward. On that note you may need to…

4. Slow the Frack Down

The first time I found myself in a depressive slump, I was 17.5 years old. Did I even recognise what was going on? No. No I did not. I ate  my feelings, started drinking coffee, kept really super busy by putting all of my effort into achievements and cried my way all the way through every fantastic accolade of my final year at high school. During the following year, I ramped it up and kept myself extraordinarily busy with university, 4-5 different jobs, a trip to Nepal and Thailand and voluntary youth work at my local church.

Naturally, I got sick (with glandular fever) and burnt out. I kept ploughing on and soon after, I was diagnosed with clinical depression.

If you don’t know this already, burn-out leads to the dark side. If the burn-out doesn’t stop you, the depression that follows will absolutely force you to a grinding halt. I was completely stopped in my tracks for months on end. This was my first lesson in maintaining mental health: if you’re not so okay, steady your horses and be gentle with yourself. Even if you are okay, steady horses and be gentle with yourself. You are a human-being, not a human-doing. You need maintenance and servicing and tender loving care to thrive and when you don’t get this, just like your car, you will break down.

So these are my long awaited, all natural foundational tips for combating depression.

Acknowledge. Surrender. Accept. Make space to take stock. Get proactive.

Have the courage to face your dis-ease and make the changes you need.

M.I.O. x