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I was diagnosed as Bipolar when I was 23.
It took me another four or five years to get to a stage where I was not only comfortable talking about it, but where I was also taking positive steps towards managing my emotions. (It was clearly a few more years yet, to have that as my opening gambit on a LinkedIn blog). It’s easy to be told something like that, and then use it as an excuse for any and all of my erratic behaviour; it felt like a golden ticket at some points! But there comes a time where you have to take ownership of your situation, or it’ll own you!
Disclaimer: I’m not a psychiatrist, I have zero qualifications, I didn’t go to uni, didn’t study for A levels (and my GCSE grades weren’t far from the spelling of it). What I have had is decades of experience with mental health issues; I’ve taken the drugs, I’ve been to the meetings and I’ve seen the experts. I’ve witnessed the devastation of suicide by a close friend and both sides of my family have experience of it. I’ve talked at length to many many people with similar thoughts; and what I’ve finally realised after all this time is: I can’t fix anything for anyone. All I can offer is what has worked for me after five years of intensive and extensive personal development / self care and attention.
I’m very proud of how far I’ve come recent years. However, there’s always more to do. One of my ongoing focuses is balance (I don’t think you need to be bipolar to have that problem); trying to catch that sweet spot between over training and rest days, working late and play time, boozy nights and recuperation. Balance to me is the holy grail.
One of those most powerful things I’ve discovered in mental health is the table analogy. I could talk for hours about depression (and regularly do) but this is one of the things that months later, people always come back and say that made a difference. Part of its beauty is its simplicity, I like things that are simple (no A levels after all…).
How many Table Legs do you have?
Imagine a table with one leg slap bang in its centre, keeping it standing.
Now imagine that table leg represents the only thing you currently do towards your mental health; for this example, let’s say mediation. So you meditate for ten minutes every morning and that sets you up nicely for the day. Great! You get into a bit of a routine and manage five or six times a week.
Then, after a couple of late night work drinks, a hungover weekend, and some family commitments, before you know it, it’s been a month…
Table. Comes. Crashing. Down.
This can be applied to anything you focus too much attention on. Having a hobby you’re obsessed with, but then you get injured. Pouring your life and soul into a relationship, then you break up with them. Ever been totally thrown for six, over something that other people seem to handle with ease?
You need more table legs!
If you can build a scenario where you have twenty different table legs, you start creating the sort of foundation that means no matter what comes out of the blue, you can still rely on that structure you’ve built, to keep your life in balance. When one thing suddenly falls away, the other corners of your life come to the rescue.
Here’s an example of some of my table legs:
“I can’t meditate, my minds too busy and I can never clear my thoughts”.
If that’s what you’re thinking, then great, because you’re not supposed to clear your thoughts. You are the one who watches!
When I first started meditating, five or so years ago, the first benefit I noticed, was that it slowed me down. My old life was: alarm at 06:30, shower, brush teeth, get dressed, and sprint out the door by 07:00. I don’t even know what I was running for, I’d be an hour early to work!?!?! Giving myself just that extra ten minutes, was a huge mental shift and one that stopped me feeling so rushed and angsty on my commute.
After that came the gold. Meditation became imperative in my ability to notice a negative thought. A negative thought doesn’t make anyone take their own life. It’s a negative thought unchecked. It’s one that’s allowed to grow and grow until three days later you’re lying on the bedroom floor with the lights off, waiting for the world to stop spinning.
When you’re practised at following your breath, letting thoughts come and go, observing what’s going on, and crucially, noticing when you’re mind has wandered… eventually you can become your own ‘thought guardian’. You can notice a negative thought and take action to replace it with something more positive, or better still re-frame it into something empowering.
If you’ve never tried it before, I’d recommend Headspace, as that’s what really paved the way for me. There’s plenty more apps out there now (which is amazing), but none I’ve had experience with, so I’ll refrain from mentioning others.
2) Reading positive books (and / or audio books)
Reading things that reinforce a positive outlook on life and help me stay present, has a huge impact on my thought processes and overall well-being.
Here’s five examples of books that feed into that mindset
The Power of Now (by Eckhart Tolle)
This is one of the most well-known books bestowing the virtues of living in the present. There are some insightful excerpts about reducing the ‘anxiety gap’ – which is the anxiety created between the present moment and a dreaded up-coming event (some of which, that may or may not even happen). If you have any sort of experience with anxiety, this book offers great insights as to why that could be and how to work through it.
The Untethered Soul (by Michael A. Singer)
One of two books i’d actually refer to as ‘life changing’ (the other is not listed). I put this second in my list, but I think it goes deeper than the Power of Now. As such, I feel it would be best to have some understanding of the subject first, so reading after the above will certainly compliment it.
It deals with subjects like your inner dialogue, universal consciousness, staying present and the gift of death.
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (by Robin Sharma)
This book is about a high achiever, working himself into an early grave. After a heart attack he leaves everything behind and turns his life’s purpose into one of growth, contribution and elevated consciousness. Although it’s ‘fiction’ it’s laid out almost like a blue print for improved self awareness. The story isn’t quite ‘the Alchemist’, but in terms of practical steps that can improve your life, it’s as important a piece of work.
Saying you don’t have time to improve your thoughts and your life, is like saying you don’t have time to stop for gas because you’re too busy driving. Eventually it catches up with you.
The Alchemist (by paulo coelho)
An incredibly powerful fiction book about a boy following his dreams in the face of adversity. It’s beautifully written and has a lesson in every paragraph.
Solve for happy (by Mo Gawdat)
If you’re worried about the ‘woo-woo’ / spiritual nature of some of the above, then this is a great place to start. Written by engineer and former Chief Business Officer for Google [X], Mo Gawdat breaks happiness down to a predictable equation.
The books focuses on: staying present (there’s a common theme here….), grief and re-framing profound loss. Incredibly powerful stuff. Particularly if you’ve lost anyone close to you, this book really has an inspirational message.
3) A passion for Fitness
Having dedication to sports that rely heavily on your mentality – such as fights sports, long distance running, circuit training, hiking etc – gives a real purpose to your training. In particular for me, doing Jiu Jitsu (and MMA), I’ve found so many life lessons, that can be applied back in the real world. The destruction of ego, living in the present, focusing on the journey not the destination, they are all ingredients key to development in the sport. I’ve also found some of my closest friends, who not only have a similar passion, but also share similar life values surrounding health, well being, and self development.
If you ever wondered why people jump out of planes, fall off skateboards, or get punched repeatedly in the head; there’s a common thread to all these ‘extreme sports’ – you have to be present.
I readily admit I’m not doing enough of this, but it’s certainly something that’s become more prevalent for me recently. Flexibility and suppleness is of course key to avoiding injuries and living a life without constant aches and pains.
The mindset here is so interesting, because it’s not about winning (you what?), or even struggling with all your might to touch your toes. I for one have to focus more on staying present in a position and letting my breathing do the work for me. Similar to Jiu-Jitsu, it takes consistency, focus and the humility to know, you don’t have to be the best in the room; just try and be a tiny bit better than you were yesterday. Life mantra!
5) Your morning routine
Anyone I consider super successful (which for me is a balance of health, wealth, relationships and mindset), when I’ve heard them in conversation, they all have a couple of things in common. They all practice gratitude and they all have a morning routine; quite often marrying the two.
An example of this could be as follows:
Wake up at 05:45
Shower etc until 06:00
Stretch until 06:15
Mediation until 06:30
Gratitude list until 06:35
Breakfast until 06:50
Head to work 07:00
(don’t worry about getting dressed apparently)
Of course there’s so many variables, on mornings you go to the gym you might incorporate the stretch into that. But having a fixed routine, means you don’t fall back into that habit of bolting out the door as soon as you’re alarm goes off.
As for the “Gratitude” element, this is a really simple exercise. Try and think of five things you are grateful for. Feel free to set the bar low on mornings you’re struggling. I’m grateful I’m breathing? I’m grateful it’s not my turn to take the bins out. I’m grateful I have a job to go to.
The key here is to focus on the things you have (empowering) not the things you don’t have (victim). If you really search, there’s so many things you can be grateful for. Tune into that feeling, it’s a great way to start the day.
I could elaborate on all these points, but without making this blog the longest in history, here’s some other table legs in bullet point form:
Being mindful of the amount of news you take in (broadcasting negativity 98% of the time)
-A loving relationship
-A satisfying sex life (oh my god? Did he just say the S word in public???)
-Which brings me on to authenticity. Know yourself, then Be yourself! (Always!)
-Having an outlet for creativity
-Contribution – give back , pay it forward, SPEAK UP!
-Monitoring your alcohol levels (this is a BIG one)
-Lay off the cocaine (Drugs are like a negative thought, they have a way of escalating undercover of darkness)
-Choose the salad (Eat healthy)
-So that’s around 14 ideas. 14 table legs, that means if you get forget to meditate (or your morning routine got interrupted by the kids), you still have a whole world of things that can keep your life together.
Now this may seem like a lot of work, and that’s because.. it is! It’s really not a hobby, it’s a whole identity shift; it becomes part of who you are!
I have to constantly be present in order to safe guard my body and my mind. That may not be the case for you and if not, that’s amazing! But if you’ve ever had to deal with decades of self doubt / apathy / self harm (conscious not to keep machine-gunning trigger words out here), you’ll know that a little bit of work every day, is nothing in comparison to the alternative.
Once again, i’m not saying this is going to fix you. I’m not saying you should drop what you’re doing and join a yoga club. What i’m saying is implementing all the above over the last five years has totally changed my life. My stability is no longer built on a foundation of quicksand. Something all the prescription drugs I was fed for year after year, never did for me (another blog, another time). My doctor says: I’m in the driving seat of of my illness. I just say I’m present!
So… One more time: How many table legs do you have?
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