blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

When you feel you can’t go on

10 steps to let your body carry your mind

seascape_HypnoArt
HypnoArt via pixabay

What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t always make you stronger.

Sometimes God or the universe sends you more than you can bear, piling one pain atop another. It doesn’t kill you, but you want it to end. Your spirit bends, quivers, threatens to shatter under an immense load of bad thoughts, feelings, or events. The room is locked from the outside, and you can’t even find a door because the light flickers and fades. It’s dark and frightening.

Your strength is gone. What to do now?

This mind, with all its anguish and desire for oblivion, is housed in a body that only knows one thing. Even when broken, at the extremes of pain and suffering, the body strives to go on.

No matter how many people surround you, depression is a lonely, solitary place filled with funhouse mirrors. Your world is twisted and distorted, pain reflected back from every direction.

The body can help.

While the mind searches for solutions, focus on your body for a while. Often we neglect it, for various reasons. We lack motivation, we are at war with a body that does not work or look how we want it to. We’re preoccupied with fighting whatever battle is consuming our lives. Acknowledge that and set it aside. This is not the time to address those issues.

First we must survive, body and mind together. And it is strange but true; the mind comes to rest in a body that is usefully occupied.

First things first

  1. Get clean; shower, wash hair, brush teeth. Make your bed. These will give you a sense of achievement, early in the day.
  2. Fresh clothes, something soft against the skin, according to the temperature. Socks if it is cold.
  3. Drink water. Cold, hot with lemon, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, whatever appeals. Then, drink more water through the day.
  4. Eat something. Toast, cereal, fruit, yogurt, noodles, whatever is available and easy.
  5. Put on some music to distract you from the internal thoughts that constantly whisper negative things. Turn up the volume if it helps.
  6. Some, or maybe all of your environment is out of control, mirroring your internal state. Pick a room where you spend a lot of time. Start in one corner, and begin clearing up. Wash dirty dishes, put on laundry, fill bags with trash and take them out.
  7. When feelings arise about the process, note them and keep going. Remember this is practical, not emotional.
  8. If someone has offered their support and you feel able, ask them to keep you company and/or help you. Sometimes we don’t need someone to hold our hand, as much as we need someone to tidy the kitchen we can’t face any more.
  9. Go outside. Breathe fresh air, turn your face to the sun, stand barefoot on the grass and connect. If weather or other issues prevent this, open a window for a few minutes. Bodies need oxygen and sunlight.
  10. If you are able, a simple repetitive task will further occupy your body. Cleaning windows, ironing, digging a garden, painting a fence, mopping floors, pulling weeds, walking. Sing along with your music. Count your steps, left, right, left.
  11. You will be distracted by the pain. Tell yourself you will come back to it later, and concentrate on the task at hand. (You know it will still be there.) Mindfulness is not emptying your mind of thoughts, that’s impossible. It is about noting the thoughts, letting them go, and returning to the one point of focus. Counting breaths or steps, reciting prayers or mantras, all help to occupy the body and still the mind.
  12. Helping others can be very therapeutic. But we cannot give what we don’t have. Put on your own oxygen mask first.
  13. Remember we are all different, and YMMV. Try different things and see what works for you. Return to it when life gets tough, before things spiral too far downwards. Sometimes we sink deeper, and it takes more effort to climb out of the hole. Get to know your early warning signs, and act on them.
  14. Ideal outcome: your body is comforted and nourished; your environment improved; your sense of control enhanced; your mind rested. A break from pain frees up mental energy that can now be used to address the underlying issues, with professional help if needed.

I hope you find something here that helps you feel better. But if you don’t, if you really feel you can’t go on and ceasing to exist seems like the only way out, please stop and reach out. Help is available here (in many countries) and there is always another solution.

The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.
Juliette Lewis

Sometimes, just surviving another day is the victory. Let your body carry your mind until it feels better.

(first published in Invisible Illness on Medium, 18th June 2017)

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

Sharpening my pencils

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“When the sea is rough, mend your sails”

Everything I’ve Ever Done That Worked, Lesley Garner

Last time, I talked about dropping the oars and letting my boat drift. Taking the maritime metaphor further, the quote above came to mind. It’s been years since I first read it, but remembering the phrase led me to search out a book long forgotten in my bedside cupboard. It is full of insights, the kind of book to dip in and out of, different stories for different times.

Life can feel like a long and exhausting campaign.

Each battle is succeeded by yet another clash, a siege, an ambush. The right tools are essential, the right skills indispensable. (A large, well equipped army would help too.) But there must also be periods of rest, whether chosen or enforced.

We neglect our greatest asset at our peril. Running a car without fuel and service is sure to end in disaster, yet we regularly do the same with our own selves; whipping up a frenzy of activity with adrenaline and caffeine, neglecting downtime. We are addicted to busyness, and never stop to consider whether it is the right kind of busy.

Stephen Covey, in his defining book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talked about sharpening the saw. He advocates a balanced programme of self renewal, in the areas of body, mind, heart, and soul. He reminds us that this seventh habit supports all the others.

So, just as the marksman cleans his rifle, and the gardener oils her pruning knife, I will take this time to hone my technique. I will re-read old books and remember the comfort they can bring. The to-be-read pile beckons, with both fiction to enjoy and craft books to study. It is certainly time to step away from the screen and go outside, walk, maybe dig a little in the garden. Meditation might help me still the chatter, the anxiety about the future and regrets about the past.

I don’t know how long this will last. Not forever, because everything is temporary. But I can turn adversity into an opportunity to repair and regain my strength.

And the moment there is a fair wind, I will be equipped and ready to set sail once more.