mental health

instagram vs reality

A page from my journal.

A page from my journal.

I like to give off the impression that I’m pretty together. That I’ve got my shit worked out or at least I have enough self-awareness to know what I need to work on. That I behave consciously. That I know what makes me happy and what doesn’t, and do my best to have as much as possible of the former in my life and the bare-arsed minimum of the latter.

And yet. And yet. I still care way too much about what things look like rather than what they feel like. I still care way too much about what people think. I still feel the sting of rejection and being misunderstood to my marrow. I still try far too hard to control other people’s impressions and experience of me. Ever since I arrived home, so many Phils have been competing to take the steering wheel off the only one I trust with this vehicle - wise, street-smart, calm Phil. All these other Phils I thought were satisfied now, their insecurities and baggage dealt with long ago. But no. No.

These past couple of years, my ego has been dying a slow, painful death. As it has lay dying, it has tried to show me, over and over again, that some (well, maybe around 90 per cent) of the things that I think matter really, really don’t. And that attempting to be part of the in crowd is a complete and utter waste of my time because I don’t belong there and I never have.

This afternoon, case in point. I had just made myself a mug of chai. I was still wearing my rather cool Kemi Telford skirt and cosy Witchery sweater from this morning’s client meeting. I thought I’d take a break from my work and enjoy a cup of tea. But then I thought “you’ve got such a nice outfit on, and this is such a pretty mug, and the light is nice, why don’t you take one of those ‘hands round the mug from above’ shots for Instagram?”

As I manipulated myself into place, I swear I could laughter from somewhere.

I read somewhere that the way all the influencers take these shots is by holding the phone in their mouths.

So there I was, outside, freezing, barefoot, with a blistering hot mug in my hands (turns out the handle is there for a reason!) and a phone in my mouth.

I could barely hold the mug, and I ended up with some kind of sore on my mouth, trying to keep the phone steady so I wouldn’t drop it and have it shatter on the concrete. The only photos I succeeded in taking were of inside my own mouth.

The phrase WTF? seemed designed for that very moment.

But all of a sudden, I saw myself.

And all I knew was I didn’t want to be this person.

And now, writing this, I feel released from something.

Every time I get drawn back into that world, of followers and likes and making everything look like a magazine and having an editorial calendar for your own bloody life, I will remember this moment.

There is so much I want to do with my life and none of it, none, involves burning my hands and hurting my mouth for a picture that won’t even legally belong to me any more once I upload it to that devilish platform.

But I also know I can’t be the only person out there who, on a day when they’re feeling a bit left out or vulnerable, sees everyone else’s shiny grids and perfectly-taken photos and feels a bit wistful….and then really, really lonely, like the uncool kid at school (which I was, so it’s a familiar feeling to me) looking at a world which, for some reason, you just aren’t part of. And every time you try to be a part of it, you end up falling flat on your face.

If you feel like that too, hi! I see you. Isn’t it hard pretending not to care when actually, deep down, you do care, even if it’s just a little bit? Isn’t it hard feeling the pull to fit in, because it’s so damn seductive?

But as Brene Brown has said, fitting in is not the same as belonging.

And I don’t want to fit in. Not really.

I try my best to be a bright, shiny, only-showing-my-good-side to the world woman, but actually….I’m pretty messy. Inside and out. My hair never behaves. My nails always break. My lipstick always ends up on my teeth. Whenever I wear white, I spill something on it. Every. Damn. Time. First world problems keep me awake at night. Some days I feel like everything is coming together and feel aligned with my purpose and calling, and other days I feel like I’ve accidentally burned all the bridges I’m trying to build.

I think being back home has reminded me of the pain of all those dark, lost years of my early adulthood, where I pretended that everything was fine and I had it all together but nothing could have been further from the truth. And sometimes I fall back into that trap. It’s hard to be real and honest and vulnerable when you’ve been hurt, both online and off. It’s hard to be yourself around people who don’t always appreciate or acknowledge how much you’ve changed, and therefore don’t always respond in the way you need or hope. But that’s another part of this revelation - I can only be me. I can only control my own actions. I can only be true to myself. I can be brave and put myself out there and know that I don’t need other people to behave or react in a certain way for me to feel safe or understood or seen or whatever. It’s hard, but it’s so freeing. The armour of perfection is too heavy.

So, no more phones in the mouth. It’s not for me. Only one-handed mug shots on my Instagram feed from now on. If at all. No more filters. Imperfection all the way. I’m going to do my best not to be afraid to show it.

PS: It took me sleeping on it to get the courage to hit publish on this post - but if life has taught me one lesson repeatedly, it’s the posts I’m most afraid to hit publish on that are probably the ones that need to be released. So here you are. Thank you for reading and listening to me :)

what I've learned from meditating for 250 days in a row

"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid." - Fredrich Buechner
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Apart from brushing my teeth, drinking coffee and telling Tom I love him, I don't think I've ever done anything every day for such a sustained period of time.

But on Saturday, Insight Timer* told me I had just meditated for 250 days in a row.

How does that feel, you might ask?

It's hard to explain, but I guess a rambling blog post is a good place to try. I don't know if I feel calmer - and calm was definitely something I wanted to feel more of this time last year, when my old friend anxiety had moved back in. After 250 consecutive days of meditation, if anything I think I feel my emotions more.

But perhaps the difference is knowing I *can* sit with them, and they will pass. I no longer feel afraid of anger, sadness or loneliness. All things I used to avoid feeling if I possibly could.

I don't feel at one with the Universe. There have been no giant revelations or moments of enlightenment. But there has been a clearing, of sorts. I do feel like I know my mind better. 

I have become more conscious of things in my life - and within myself - that I'd like (and need) to change. 

When you force yourself to get still at least once a day, you slowly learn how to switch your mind off, even if it's only for a few seconds at a time.

Those moments - those fleeting, precious seconds when I am actually not thinking and am just there, all breath, in my body and all I can hear are cars on the street, or the rattle and creak of the floorboards, or the wind or birds outside, or the oven warming up, or my neighbour leaving for the day, and my mind is empty and quiet, and I can feel the quietness of it - are bliss.

I meditate for an average of 10 minutes at a time. Occasionally I do 20 minutes, like I did this morning. I'd like to build up to more. That feeling - where everything drops away and I witness my mind emptying and getting still - has only ever lasted for a few seconds, so far. I've never been able to maintain it for very long but those few seconds are always worth it. They make me think "ah, this is the point of it all."

Meditation has helped me find ways to relax, to check in, to be in the present throughout the day, not just when I've got the app timer running. When you force yourself to stop and just be where you are right now, you start to realise how much of our mind's energy is spent fretting over the past and the future. 

Stress has not vanished from my life because I've been meditating every day. If anything, I'm more aware of how stress feels in my body. But when that happens, I employ a breathing technique which clears the mind and helps me relax. 

Meditation has helped me to be (slightly) more patient with and forgiving of myself, which I hope will translate into my interactions with others. 

It's become a wonderful way to start the day. I meditate before I do anything - no checking my phone first, and ideally immediately afterward I write in my journal or do Morning Pages (but that doesn't always happen). Once I've meditated, I go into the kitchen and find Tom has made a coffee for me (and unloaded the dishwasher!) and sit there, taking in the taste of the coffee, feeling reset for the day, my senses heightened.

Meditation has helped me feel more peaceful and content in my heart. Every time I hear the closing bell, I feel reassured that I'm a good person doing my best, trying to be kind, improve and move forward.

And that's worth making time for each day.

So what if instead of fearing the power of dark thoughts, we used our minds’ power to create safe havens within ourselves to explore them. Maybe literally envisioning cocoons inside our hearts where we can sit before cozy fires, hot drinks in hand, and ask of our fear and laziness and depression and shame and lust and rage and whatever other thing we might otherwise try to ignore: What is it you’d like to say to me? What indispensable nourishment do you have for the Life of trust I want to live? – Kristen Noelle (via Leonie Wise)

 

* Insight Timer is a free app and is the one I use based on recommendations from friends and well-wishers. I absolutely love it and am not being paid to mention it in any way! I just wanted to share because it has genuinely improved my life.