beanbag chair

Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down

– or –

On a more serious note

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I started this blog about a year ago, largely out of kindness to my loved ones, who’d been the only outlet for my terrible humour for far too long. Inflicting myself on the general public instead, while bad for society as a whole, seemed like the best way to keep my relationships with my friends and family intact.

 

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Just some of the people liberated from my sense of humour by this blog

 

A lot’s happened since then – I went on my year abroad, spent time in Brno and Petersburg, decided to take a year out from uni, and moved to Prague to find my fortune (update: as yet, unfound).

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Jerry the cat digging my yellow top

Geography aside, it’s been a big year for my personal growth: I got a couple of tattoos, discovered beer and techno music, fell in love a bunch of times, came out as bi, and stopped wearing natural colours.

This year, whilst dramatic and at times frightening, and – especially in the last few months – not without its low moments, has been by far the best of my life. Even the rough moments have been mitigated by more long-lasting wellbeing and contentment than I can remember having.

I’ve never talked about serious stuff on this blog, partially because I wanted to try my hand at being genuinely funny and partially because I know that the readership is largely made up of people who know me personally – and that makes it weird. Lately, though, I’ve been really craving a platform for more well-rounded self-expression – I suppose that’s why I’ve not posted anything for so many months: because I really haven’t been feeling all that funny.

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I’m trying to keep moving forwards in terms of mental wellbeing, and I feel like this could be a good forum to work through some stuff. In particular, I’m spectacularly bad at remembering techniques to lift my mood, even the ones that’ve helped me before.

The title of this post, and the page where I’m going to post links to mental health/mindfulness blogs, comes from a book by the Korean monk and professor Haemin Sunim.

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The book is a compilation of Sunim’s thoughts about modern life and advice he’s given on social media, at mindfulness events, and to his university students.

It’s a lovely book, both because of the written content and the beautiful illustrations that accompany it. One of the things that stuck with me so strongly was the idea that our mindset shapes the way we see the world – that’s why, when you’re feeling rushed, the whole world seems to move and breakneck speed, but when you’re relaxed, everything is much more chill.

There were times in Sixth Form when I did genuinely feel like the world was a grim and unforgiving place. I’m sure that objectively good things must have happened to me then, but all I remember are the bad marks or dirty looks, or the day the canteen ran out of coffee.

It works the other way, too: I particularly remember a couple of times in St Petersburg when I arrived at the stop at the same time as the bus did, or got to the crossing just as the green man appeared, I thought to myself, with a warm feeling, “That’s just how my life is at the moment.” Even though I surely had as many experiences with unlucky timing as I did with perfect timing, I only really noticed when things went perfectly – I guess because everything else was going so well, it was easy to perceive of the world as a pattern designed to make me comfortable.

I’d been introduced to the concept of mindfulness before, by teachers at sixth form and counsellors/therapists, but the concept never seemed particularly powerful to me, and, honestly, I never put a lot of stock in it.

Even that idea which I found so powerful, that one’s mindset dictates the filter through which we perceive everything, would’ve seemed insensitive and reductive to me. What you’re saying, I’d have thought, is that the world seems depressing because I’m depressed.

That’s one of the frustrating things about mindfulness: it’s so simple that when you’re in crisis, it just sounds like platitudes. Once the world starts to brighten a bit, then you can take more active steps that’ll help you out.

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Maybe that’s why Sunim’s book appeals to me now – because you can’t employ mindfulness techniques when you’re at your worst, but when you’re somewhere a little better, you can be more open to them. Nowadays, even when I’m in a pretty bad place, a combination of medication and perspective helps me recognise that it’s not a permanent state. butterflu

That said, a big reason why I enjoyed this book so much is the way I got it. A couple of weeks ago, I was visited in Prague by a close friend of mine. Oll’s visit was preceded by the roughest time I’ve had for a while – I’d been feeling self-destructive in a way I hadn’t for a while. Oliver and I met in St Petersburg, when we were on our semester abroad there, and after that he’d returned to uni in St Andrews whilst I’d moved to Prague on leave from my university studies.

Knowing I was going through a tricky spell (I’m aware I use a bouquet of euphemisms to refer to depressive periods, but the real words are too scary), Ollie’d brought me, along with his infectious joie de vivre, a gift of five books individually wrapped in yellow paper.

“Unwrap them when you’re feeling good,” he said, “and then you can have them to look forward to.”

He gave me a sixth book, which was unwrapped. This one wasn’t from him, but from a friend of his, Rachel. Although Rachel and I’d never actually met face to face, nor, at that time, even texted each other, I felt like I knew her from what Oll had told me – she featured in a lot of his stories, either as a regular at his coffee shop, another person dancing at the raves he and his friends organised in St Andrews pubs, or, most often, as a good mate to have a pint with.

It turned out the feeling of knowing each other through Oliver was mutual. Rachel had gone to the bookshop with him when he went to buy my gifts, and she’d got me one too. I was honestly shocked by the gesture – even before I’d taken the book out of the bag, I was composing thank you notes and plotting ways to by her a pint.

The book she’d bought was, you guessed it, Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down. (After all that build up, it would’ve been really weird to reveal that she’d got me a Mr. Man).

Still overwhelmed by the generosity of a person who was, technically, a stranger, I opened the book where it had been marked with a sticker:

 

you are neither your feelings

Remember that you are neither your feelings nor the story your mind tells about you to make sense of them. You are the vast silence that knows of their emergence and their disappearance.

Rachel didn’t just get me the book: she marked specific passages she thought I’d find helpful. Honestly, I’m still disbelieving of how kind that is. Like – this girl has never met me, at all.

Despite Sunim’s suggestion to read his book slowly, with many pauses, I ate the whole thing in one night as Oll worked on his philosophy essay. There are parts of it, perhaps because I’m still struggling significantly with my mood, that I simply couldn’t understand; but the whole thing was written in this singular tone of calmness. I felt soothed by Sunim’s tranquil words, and Rachel’s generosity.

I know it’s a book I’m going to revisit multiple times over my life – I’ve already reread it once – and I wanted to share it, and the, frankly, remarkable story of how I got it, with you.

When life disappoints, rest a while.

 

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dreams

Interpreting Your Dreams: World Cup Edition

How are England’s chances in the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia? Most people agree that our side has as much chance of lifting the trophy as Ksenia Sobchak had of being elected president in March (#politics).

Nonetheless, as a football-loving nation, sleep experts predict that the prevalence of football-related dreams will increase tenfold in the upcoming weeks. The Society for the Interpretation of Dreams (SID) has released pamphlets providing information about the most common footie-based fantasies (England wins, England loses, the entire team forgets their kit and has to compete in vest and pants, Germany is disqualified for slaughtering Brazilian players on the pitch); yet to my dismay, some of the most interesting dreams have been left off the list.

Here’s one of my favourites.

Shin Pads

Everyone’s been there: you snuggle up in your duvet, having guzzled a tall glass of warm milk, ready to peacefully wander into the Land of Nod – but when you close your eyes, all you see are shin pads. Rows upon rows of them. Shin pads as far as the eye can see – all different colours and brands, some with that new-car smell, some reeking of overpaid leghair. Such dreams can haunt a person for weeks on end.

Luckily, there’s nothing inherently sinister about dreaming about shin pads. Shin pads symbolise protection, but protection from a threat you have exposed yourself to purposefully. Such dreams may imply you’re feeling uncertain about a risky decision you’ve just made and want to be prepared for any outcome.

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Interpreting your Dreams For a Fourth Time

When dreaming, the average human burns over four calories an hour!

Sheep

Oh dear! Dreaming of sheep is fairly common amongst the stressed or disorganised – in fact, Google searches for “I dreamt of livestock and it scared me” peak during times of elevated national stress levels, like during exam season or just before the final of Bake Off.

Luckily there’s a simple explanation for all that wooliness – and you’ll kick yourself when you hear it.

Think back to the last time you dreamt about sheep, then think further back to the moments before you fell asleep. Have you got it yet?

That’s right! Silly, distracted sausage that you are, you counted dreams instead of sheep to help yourself drop off. It’s well known that visualising sheep, perhaps grazing in a field or jumping over a hedge, is a sure-fire way to doze off, but counting dreams is an untested method, often resulting in bizarre dreams!

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Interpreting your Dreams Once More

 

Your uncle

We’ve all had it: that weird, Being John Malkovic-esque dream where you’re walking through a crowded city, and everyone has the face of your uncle. You wander the streets for a while, bemused, but your uncles seem to be getting more and more agitated and it puts you on edge.

Before long, you’re running for your life towards the (mercifully deserted) railway station, pursued by a pack of baying uncles. You try to escape by getting on an empty train, but when the ticket collector asks for your rail card, you see that he also has your uncle’s face. You jump out of the train window, the conductor’s hands grasping at your coat, and, thoroughly freaked out, you rush into an abandoned flat.

From the window, you can see thousands of replicas of your uncle wandering the streets, and you feel a sinking horror. Although you already know what you’ll see, you can’t stop yourself from going to the mirror. Looking back at you – your uncle.

Don’t worry! This is totally normal – in fact, some scientists suggest that the real weirdos are the ones who don’t have this dream.

Whilst it might be scary at the time, the real meaning behind this dream is pretty simple: your uncle is a metaphor for family obligation, and although you try to flee your responsibilities (or, “your uncles”), as all young adults do, you come to realise that you are an integral part of your family structure. At its essence, it’s a dream about belonging.

Either that or, you know, you’re repressing something.

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Interpreting your Dreams Again

Dreams connect us, so they say, to the metaphysical world. Let’s explore their meanings together.

Falling

Ever jerked awake suddenly, with the horrible feeling that you were falling? I read a really interesting article about that, but I can’t remember what it said, so I’m just going to make something up instead. I think it had to do with your body freaking out because your muscles suddenly relaxed as if you’d died, or something sciencey like that.

My explanation is much simpler: the reason you have such a vivid sensation of falling is that you actually were falling.

Think about it! When have you ever felt like that before? I’ll tell you – when you were falling. And be honest – your imagination isn’t that good. You can’t just pretend to fall and have it feel that real, so you must have been actually falling. Stands to reason.

The question remains – where were you falling from? Well, boys and girls, that’s for the scientists to explain. I just write the blogs.

 

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Interpreting your Dreams

Did you know that the average person experiences over fifty separate dream sequences in a single night? That’s not true, but it makes the study of dreams seem more relevant.

Exams

It’s a classic TV trope: the lovable but ne’er-do-well protagonist is sitting in an exam hall. He’s freaking out because he hasn’t studied, maybe he’s naked. He’s staring at his paper, clenching his pencil in his fist, sweat beading on his brow. Then something implausible happens, like his crush kisses him full on the mouth, or he looks down and he’s wearing his sister’s skirt, or his teacher turns into a bat. This is a subtle technique to let the audience know something isn’t quite right here. To hammer it home, he might say something like, “Of course, this is a dream,” in a resigned tone before he jerks awake, sweating, in his dark bedroom.

The truth is, no matter how well you did in your GCSEs, exams are a stressful time. So stressful, in fact, that fully grown adults remain traumatised by them well into their thirties, breaking into a nervous sweat at the mere sight of a revision guide.

Dreaming about such a stressful time is an indication that you are, perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, too relaxed. Your subconscious is seeking out high-stress memories to try and provoke a chemical response in your brain.

Why not try some high-octane sports, like jousting or badminton, or push yourself to engage with things outside of your comfort zone? You will subliminally reward yourself with sweet, sweet dopamine.