Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Seasoned, Affected and Disorderly

I woke up this morning to the sound of a strong late-autumn wind rifling through the trees in my back garden, and rattling against my window. My first thought was 'That'll take down the last of the remaining leaves then,' and usually I would have felt sad, but not this year.

I diagnosed myself with SAD a few years ago. Seasonal Affect Disorder (or in other words, The Winter Blues) is a form of depression that only kicks in during the winter months. People with SAD tend to be absolutely fine during the warmer months of the year, and depressed during the colder months. It's thought to be related to the lack of light in winter.

The trouble is, as soon as I "realised" this was what it was, I began dreading winter. If I had SAD, it would mean I was always miserable during the winter months, and there was very little I could do about it. So I'd get to September, when the air felt cooler and the leaves started changing colour... and I'd have in my head this chaotic combination of complete denial of the end of summer, wearing flip flops until my toes froze; and a deep throbbing panic that once summer was over, my happiness would end too.

Autumn became nothing more that a slippery slope to winter. Winter became a dark hole.

So how is it that this year, when Autumn kicked in and the leaves started turning from green to orange...I felt nothing but excitement and pleasure from the change?

There is only one thing I can put it down to, and that is the incomprehensible magic of a shift of focus from negative to positive. The sad thing is, I can't really explain how it happened! If I could, I feel like I could make it all better, fix everyone who feels sad themselves! I would have my hands on the key to happiness! But unfortunately it doesn't work that way. It's been a long, meandering process, and a completely personal one, and this is how it must be for everyone who goes through it.

Still, if there's one thing I can say it's this: if you are sad you must embrace change. You must want it: REALLY want it deep down inside you. I know this because it is the only thing that worked for me. I got sad. I got more sad. I fell into a lake of sad and I couldn't find the shore. Then, just as I thought there was no way out of it and I would sink forever, I hit the bottom of the lake. It sounds a little crazy, but the bottom is a good place because yes, it may feel like the absolute worst you could feel, but at least you have something to push against, if you get my meaning.

But this is the conclusion I came to... if you can call it a conclusion... this morning as I was listening to the wind stealing the last little symbols of summer from the spidery branches of the winter-bare trees: if you can find a way to embrace change, then you can find a way to enjoy it. When I was sad, I just wanted to desperately cling on to anything that made me feel happy, because I was so afraid of the emptiness around it. So I clung onto summer and dreaded the moment when it changed. But now that I feel happy, now that I am enjoying the changes in my life and looking forward to the unknown good times that are yet to come; autumn and winter are suddenly just new steps on the journey.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Does Time Heal?

After love ends, we say lots of things to make it feel better.

We talk about time and how it heals. We say we will, we are getting over it.

I was contemplating this morning, as I was waking up, what you can say to someone when they are struggling to forget a love that's not in their lives any more. There must be a way (without lying) to numb the pain, to help them to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel rather than how long the tunnel is...

I had a funny little vision of my last partner, standing at the end of a long corridor, looking at me. He was so far away, he looked very small. We waved at each other and smiled, and then he turned and walked through a door and was gone.

I still feel sometimes that I could follow him through the door. There, on the other side, would be our relationship, just as I want it to be: all that parts I miss, all still there like nothing had happenned. I could walk through and I'd be back in it again.

But I don't do it.

Because that door opens up to a dream of the relationship, not the reality of it. So instead I have to watch him walk through it alone, and then I have to turn away and come back to my own life.

It's not so hard to do. My real life is more important, fun, exciting... real than my daydreams.

And that's how it is, to begin with. Love is lost, and life continues no matter what is going on inside your head. You just have to get on with it. But later on, what if you're still being haunted by the ghosts... what if it feels like you will never find a way to escape them? What can you do then to make it feel better?

For my part, this is what I think: right now, at this moment in time (this is not to say that somewhere down the line I won't change my point of view entirely- none of my opinions are fixed, I am always open to debate and ready to be proven wrong!)...

Time doesn't heal, time just covers everything with dust. I don't think that once you've truly loved someone, it will ever just stop. I have become very aware that good things in your past are not made bad by bad things. In other words- if you have very good, very beautiful, very happy memories of life with a person, nothing can ever take those memories away. Even if, on other occasions, they treated you like absolute shit. Even if the rest of the time you were miserable. Those bad times don't have an effect on the good times, they are two separate things. You can use the bad times as a (perfectly reasonable) justification for not trying to re-live the good times. But you can't use them to paint over or blot out the good memories.

So you just have to find the strength inside you to keep that door to the good memories closed, and wait for the dust of time to become so thick, you hardly notice what's underneath it. But don't hovver there with your foot wedged in the door, because that's just torture. Turn your back on it and go look for new things to do, new people to have fun with and be excited by. The more good memories you can find to put into your head, the deeper the old ones will be buried under the dust.

I'd be interested to hear others opinions on this one so please comment if you feel inspired!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Maurice the Self Pity Monster

Me and Maurice go back a long old way. I never really got on with him, truth be told, but he always seemed to turn up on my doorstep when I wasn't expecting him, usually bedraggled-looking and in need of a hug, and so I would let him in. It was getting rid of him that was the hard part.

Maurice isn't a real person, just to make that clear. Maurice is the Self Pity Monster. We all have a Maurice. He's the part of us who, when things don't turn out as we'd like, pushes his bottom lip out and folds his arms, tears welling in his huge puppy-dog eyes. He asks 'why ME?' and compares himself to all those people who aren't suffering right now, demanding to know why he always gets the bum deal.

He's so easy to listen to, so hard to ignore. It's his vulnerability that is so inticing. Maurice needs love and care. How can anybody say no to that?

But this is his trick, you see, and he will always want more. More love, more care, more attention... no amount is ever enough. There will always be another wound to kiss better, another insult that needs smoothing, another hurt that needs nursing. Maurice is utterly draining.

There are many forms of self pity, and this is, I believe, where it is easy to catch ourselves out. I speak entirely from personal experience here. I have spent a long time now observing my own behaviour and am perfectly content in admitting I have let Maurice take control for a hefty chunk of my life. Funnily enough, it is only now that I am happier in many ways that I can look back and see how often Maurice was there in the driving seat. It's not like I identified him and tried to get rid of him, I just changed my actions in many small ways before even realising he was there, and that allowed me to see him more clearly.

Self pity, in its most obvious form, is when we relinquish responsibility of a bad situation. As soon as it becomes someone else's fault, it is easy to feel hurt by it (no matter what it is.) We wish it wasn't us it was happening to, we feel like this sort of thing goes on all the time, we want someone to make us feel better. In this sense, self pity is an attention-seeking form of behaviour, even if we hide ourselves away when we feel it. Deep down we just want to be cared for when we feel self pity.

But it all becomes more complicated when we start to analyse our own self pity. Nobody wants to be thought of as self pitying. We all know a self pitying person is a drain. In trying to fix the problem, we may very well say "RIGHT I'm going to take responisibility for this- it's NOT someone else's fault, it is my own," but often in doing this, we are only internalising the self pity rather than nulifying it.

To use myself as an example:
I was a shy child. I clearly remember sitting on the school bus imagining I was invisible. There was a big bubble around me and nobody could see inside it, it was as if I wasn't even there. I would say to myself "Why am I the wierd one? What on earth is wrong with me? How come all the other kids get to have friends, how come they get to laugh and have fun while I'm sitting here invisible? I hate my life so much. Oh, why can't someone just come and change it for me?"

But then I would feel guilty for being so self pitying about the situation, and my internal monologue would change to "I hate myself so much for being like this. I should just be talking and joking like everybody else is. I'm so wierd, I'm just abnormal. Nobody is ever going to like me if I'm like this, unless I can change I am going to be miserable forever."

It felt as if I was taking control by changing my viewpoint in this way. I didn't have to feel guilty because I wasn't trying to blame anyone but myself for my own problems. But what I didn't see was that Maurice was still the one behind the feelings! If I spoke to anyone about it, I would speak with the second voice, feeling that it was OK to talk about how much I hated myself for these problems. What I didn't realise at the time is that I was still asking for the same response- the same care, the same love, the same attention. I was still using behaviour that was draining to other people... and to myself for that matter!

We really have to be careful where Maurice is concerned.

So what do we do about these issues? If we can't ask for care and attention, and we can't blame ourselves and take responsibility... what can we do?

I'd say, for one, try acceptance. Yes, I was a shy child. Yes, I did sit alone on the bus while other kids were laughing and joking. But if I'm honest with myself, it was never as big a problem as I felt it was at the time. There were days when I was too tired to care, or too happy to really notice. On those days I just sat and watched the world go by, or listened in on their conversations, thinking about what these kids were like, working them out without them even realising I was doing it.

You may not have got the job you wanted so badly. You may be a stone heavier than you'd like. You may have met the man of your dreams only to discover you're not the woman of his. You may be sitting at the roadside because your car has broken down, or be in bed with the flu on the day of that gig you'd been dying to see, or be too broke to buy that beautiful coat you just found in Urban Outfitters...

Don't even let Maurice in!
It's really sad that you didn't get the job, be sad about it and then get back on the jobhunt- other jobs are out there, maybe even a better one.
Don't hate yourself your whole life for not being the shape or size you'd like. Is anyone you care about telling you don't look perfect? Chances are, probably not.
He wants someone else. There is nothing you can do to change it. Let him go. It hurts but before long it won't any more and the quicker you accept it, the quicker it will stop.
Your car will be fixed, it will be over soon.
The band will play again.
Maybe you can ask for the coat for Christmas...

It's not easy and I know as well as anyone, sometimes Maurice is just too damn pursuasive...

But this doesn't mean isolating yourself or trying to hide the fact that you're upset and hurt by things when they go wrong. If you are genuinely upset, then your friends and family- the people who care about you- will want to help you out, they will want to get you out of whatever situation you're in. The trick, as far as I can tell, is to try to accept the situation first. Then you can think about what you would like to do about it. Your friends and family will find it infinately more easy to help you if you have identified what it really is that's upsetting you, than if you simply ask them for attention.

I read a fantastic quote today by someone called Eckhart Tolle, which I will finish with:
"Accept, then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.”

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Road Ahead

I fell in love at seventeen. THUMP. There I went, headfirst.

And suddenly it felt as if I was ready for everything: we'd move in together, we'd get married, we'd have kids eventually. I felt so adult.

It wasn't until the relationship ended four years later, it occurred to me that I'd got it wrong: love doesn't make you an adult, it's loosing love that does that.

When a relationship ends, especially a long term one, something is torn out of your life and it leaves a hole. It's bloody painful and it is only YOU who can deal with it. There is no painkiller you can take for this hurt. There is no plaster that can cover this kind of wound. And you can never really know how long it will take to heal.

But believe me: it WILL heal.

So here is a blog for anyone who needs just a little hand on their shoulder, just a few words that might help you to have belief that, however shitty it feels, you will stand happily on your own two feet again.

This is:


Stage One: It Happens

So it's come to this. All those amazing times you had together; that uncanny link where you always seemed to know exactly what the other was thinking; those nights where you'd just hang out, hardly speaking but feeling so comfortable in each other's company that you didn't need words: those are all gone now. Maybe it'd been going wrong for a long time, maybe they treated you like dirt one too many times, or maybe it was sudden and unexpected. No matter what the details are of the actual break-up, there will be just one day, just one moment, when it ends for good, and you will know it in your heart.

My advice here would be: KNOW it. Even if it hurts like knives... especially if it hurts like knives, then you know it's real.

See, I believe most people are too afraid of their own emotions. We seem to think that in order to be strong people we have to overcome them, push them away and soldier on. We can't admit that we're torn apart by something because that would be weak. I say NO. There's a reason we feel torn apart by it... it's because we ARE torn apart by it. In allowing yourself to feel that way, you're accepting that it really is happenning. You're never going to get over it if you won't fully accept that it's happened. But you also have to be honest with yourself about the pain, and don't wallow in it. If you find yourself turning it inwards and hating yourself, try and remind yourself that what you're going through right now is really really REALLY tough. Give yourself a break. Have a really good cry, or an angry outburst (break some plates or something) and then pick yourself back up again.

But in my experience, I can honestly say that stage one is never as bad as you think it's going to be. I might have to exclude those situations where the break up is sudden and unexpected. (I once mentioned to a boyfriend, late at night, that he seemed unhappy in the relationship and he reacted by agreeing and breaking up with me right there and then, when we had been living together for a couple of years. that was BAD because I hadn't seen it coming... but then within a few days he'd changed his mind...) But on the whole, a relationship will end after a period of unhappiness, and it is likely that amongst the hurt and anger and grief, there will be a certain element of relief: at least you know for sure now. No more wondering, no more waiting. You may even feel a sense of confidence and purpose. You can stop running around in circles trying to make it work when it wasn't. You can start again afresh, look out for YOURSELF for once.

You will want to get your point across to your partner but be careful: emotions will run high right now, and a heartfelt conversation can easily be blown off course or out of proportion. It's frustrating when all you want is for the other person to see your point of view, but just hang on for a short while and accept that you WILL be able to do this, you just have to wait for a few days, maybe even a few weeks. Get some space between the two of you and try to concentrate on things that make you happy. If you need to vent, write a letter. You don't have to give it to them so write whatever you feel you need to say. Then by the time you DO speak to them, you will have a much clearer and calmer head. And if they keep pushing you to talk to them, just (as calmly as possible) explain that you will, but you just need a little bit of space to get your thoughts straight.

And most importantly of all: if there is a third party involved, try not to spend too much time focussing on what the two of them might be up to now you're out of the picture. Trust me, I've been there more than once and I can say with confidence that whatever they ARE up to, it's probably not what you've got in your head. Look at it this way: they were with you because they cared about you and that isn't something you can just turn off or replace with someone else; they will be missing you too and that's going to have an effect on their relationship with this new person. And if it doesn't, if they really have just cast you aside like that, then you are so much better off without them I can't even describe it- let this new person have them, let them be the one that's treated like dirt, you're lucky to be rid of it!

Stage Two: The Floaty Bit

Stage two is the odd bit where nothing seems quite real. You might get butterflies, feel excited or anxious, you might even get a weird sensation that it's not quite your own life you're living. Just don't get freaked out by it, it's totally normal. You feel like this because your life has just taken a sharp turn in a different direction and it's all a bit new, even if the territory looks familiar. You're still going through the same motions as usual: the same job, the same house, the same basic daily routine... but it suddenly seems different somehow.

You're going to find yourself thinking about the relationship, breakup, and ex-partner a LOT, probably going over your memories of them, feeling sad whenever you think of the good times you had, feeling overwhelming anger whenever you think of the crap they put you through during your relationship. I don't think it's a bad thing, as long as it's not getting in the way of you getting on with your life as wholeheartedly as you can. There's nothing you can do to stop memories re-surfacing, so don't get angry with yourself about it. On the otherhand, again, don't wallow in memories. Just accept them and then let them fade.

Stage Three: Reality Kicks In

I'm sorry about stage three. Stage three is really crappy.

It usually seem so start when the ex-partner comes back into your life for a brief moment. For me, in the past, it has taken the form of fleeting meetings: seeing them in the street, or being home when they come round to get the last of their stuff.

Seeing them again is inevitable, and it is painful. I'm sorry but there is nothing I can say to make it less painful. I have written the words 'exquisite pain' in a diary, and reading them back, it seems to describe the feeling quite precisely. This pain cuts into the most vulnerable parts of you and there's nothing you can do to stop it. Love is the only thing that can make you feel THIS bad.

But you must go through it so you can come out the other side. At least I can say that stage three doesn't last forever. It will vary for different people, and for different relationships, so it's impossible to say how long it will last. The deepest cuts are only fleeting, and tend to be brought on by memories re-surfacing. During my most painful break-up, I had moments of this 'exquisite pain' first thing in the morning, when I would wake up thinking about my ex-boyfriend. They'd fade by the time I was out of bed, and would only return if I was feeling particularly tired, or if something set me off (a memory or another trigger), and this went on for around six months. During other break ups, I have only had this feeling for a day or two, sometimes not at all.

I can offer a couple of suggestions that might help to soothe the exposed nerves, but I think the most important thing is to find your own way through it. Everyone has different ways of coping with pain. I have found that when you are feeling at your lowest, it can be hard to distract yourself from it. You probably won't feel very sociable, but spending chilled out time with just one or two close friends who understand how upset you are will help. If you need to be on your own, then be on your own, but don't sit in a dark room crying and rocking back and forth for hours on end. Don't crawl into a bottle of vodka and hide there for a week... I love to draw and make collages, so that's what I have done in the past- I have made pieces of art that illustrate my feelings. It was a great way to engage with my feelings whilst also distracting me from them. Sleeping was also good. Never say no to a good nap!

Stage Four: The Bruise

This stage really does feel like a bruise. I have even found myself wearing bruise-colours while I have been in this stage: all blues and greys and dark purples. This is the lingering dullness that comes once the sharp pain has faded.

See, you'll get used to feeling bad about the break up. I know it doesn't sound particularly encouraging, but believe me, when you've been feeling the kind of pain you felt in stage three, ANYTHING is better! And the best thing about stage four is that you know you're healing. You're going to start feeling so much better during stage four.

But you also need to be wary during this stage, because it is the time when you can be caught out by several things...

First there's the rebound relationship. These may or may not work for you, but if you do find yourself spending time with someone new when you're still recovering from your break-up, just be careful you don't end up hurting someone's feelings because it might just be your own that get caught, and speaking yet again from personal experience, it REALLY doesn't help! Be aware that you're probably missing your ex-partner, missing the company and the intimacy. It feels great to have that gap filled, but it's very easy to jump straight for the next person who is willing to fill it without looking to see if they're really the right person for the job! My best advice is to have patience and make sure you're OK in yourself rather than looking for someone to fix the problem!

You also need to be careful dealing with the ex-partner during this stage. When you start to feel better, you may well feel like you're ready to see them again, to get things straightened out between you. If you're going to do this, you really need to be 100% sure that you are not going to be tempted to fall for them again, or that they're not going to hit you with a guilt trip that will leave you feeling like a villan. This will only lead to a return to the dreaded stage three, or even worse, you might just find yourself sparking things up with them again, leading you back into a never-ending loop. Saying that, I have also found that meeting somewhere on common ground, such as a local park, to talk things through and calmly listen to each other's points of views can sort out the inevitable misunderstandings that often get left open after a break up. So as long as you know you can walk away from them with your head held high, then go for it.

Stage Five: The Feelings Fade

Aaaaaah, stage five.

This, for me, pretty much always comes five months after a break up. I think it's good to have a rough idea of how long the whole process will take, so I will say that if you're in the middle of a break up, have faith, in five months time you will feel like yourself again. Five months isn't so long at the end of the day. It may even take less that five months... how good is that?!

And now, though you will still miss your ex-partner, and still feel sad about the break up, it won't really have an effect on your life. You won't think about them as soon as you wake up. You won't feel so sad when you visit places you used to go with them. You will look forward to meeting new people and sparking up new relationships. You will understand and accept that it needed to end and that you are better off now that it is over.

When you have loved someone, they find a place somewhere in your head and they plant themselves there. I often notice how life can feel like a museum of your ex-partner after they are gone from your life. Everywhere you go, you will see, hear, smell and feel things that remind you of them. This never really goes away. I am philosophical about this. It makes me glad to know that the special things you go through with a person you love never really go away. It's like that photograph album I mentioned in a previous blog: each memory is a snapshot of a time, place and feeling, and the ones that really mean something to you can be revisted. It is the stumbling block during the early stages of a break up, but later when the edges have worn a little, it becomes a link to good memories, and a reminder that you don't just get one chance at love.

As a wise philosopher once said.
Just keep swimming.