Say a Little Prayer For YOU

I’m not a religious person. If I were to label myself anything I’d say maybe I’m an agnostic. I don’t know what I believe.

However recently I heard someone frame prayer in an interesting, non secular way, which I really liked.

To them, prayer was simply a means of expressing gratitude to something beyond ourselves.

Honouring the universe for our existence; a miracle in so many ways.

There’s been innumerable studies that show expressing gratitude to be of huge benefit to mental health and well being.

Some people even keep gratitude journals, where they write down the things they’re grateful for.

Though I can let my mind and my thoughts frazzle me and get me down at times, my life has been filled with so many moments of overwhelming joy and content. Moments I have immeasurable gratitude for.

I can’t help but feel like there has to be something, some force or energy greater than I, that allows me to feel so wonderfully in those times.

So recently, particularly in moments where I feel such great joy, content or excitement I’ve started saying little prayers here and there.

I don’t address them to any particular deity or being, I just sit in silence and offer thanks to the universe for the incredible moments and life I have.

Advertisements

A Story About Stories

I’ve always been drawn to writing as it’s a creative way to tell stories.

Over the past few months I’ve done a lot of reading and research into story-telling, both from an historical perspective and as a means of making sense of the world around us.

We articulate life in narrative form. Telling ourselves stories via our thoughts, to give context to feelings and events as they unfold around us.

You are tired and you tell yourself that is because you woke up earlier than usual that morning, or walked a great distance that day.

Someone at work gossips about you being lazy and you tell yourself they are lying, or exaggerating that aspect of your personality, searching your memory for examples that demonstrate the opposite.

I’ve always loved telling stories. Probably because I often question the reality of the stories I tell myself, aware that my malignant mind can often distort things. I find comfort in having others interpret the often messy truths of who I am and how I see the world around me.

This is something I am working on changing.

I sadly feel like this reliance on others to affirm our stories as acceptable interpretations of life, is rife amongst young people. Fuelled by a new world, in which story telling is such a huge part of day to day life, (especially on social media). It’s a world in which we are bombarded with so many conflicting ideas and pieces of (mis)information, we are then faced with trying to work into the narratives we tell ourselves to make sense of the world.

What I mean by this is that we live in a world where anyone can publish an opinion online and call it information. If that person is influential enough or makes enough noise, their opinion can make its way into the collective consciousness as truth.

Often these opinion based truths find their way into popular culture. The narratives of the movies, television shows and books we consume impose the ideologies of their writers, specifically crafted to exemplify classic reflections of right and wrong, good and evil.

Though consciously we know that these works are fictitious, when we are repeatedly exposed to these moral absolutes we can’t help but start to use them as a measure of our own natures.

With the rapid growth of heavily edited and dramatized “reality” television shows, the lines between the real and idealised world are blurred even further.

I recently had a friend try out of a well-known reality television show in Australia. He made it through several rounds of the casting process, each time he asked if they had made a decision they replied with words to the effect of “we are still trying to put together the story we want.” This goes to show that these shows are far from reflections of reality. They are stories, filled with all the elements of a classical narrative such as heroes and villains, good triumphing over evil and, of course, love.

Using real people in supposed real life situations to act out the same narratives we see in works of fiction further strengthens the notion that these opinion based ideologies of the collective are moral absolutes.

When these opinions conflict with our own thoughts and feelings, yet appear to be aligned with the thoughts and feelings of everyone around us, we begin to question ourselves and our beliefs.

No one likes internal moral conflicts and our minds will go to any length to resolve them.

A simple way to do that is through story telling.

We can articulate an event or instance in which we adhered to a social norm, which contradicts our own beliefs and feelings, but affirms our status as a functioning member of society. Yay us!

Or, we can tell a story in which we acted in accordance with our conflicting beliefs, accompanied by a sound justification and hope that is accepted, thus restoring moral equilibrium. We are all different and your situation is obviously unique. Individualism is still in vogue after all.

The strong minded may simply tell themselves that story in the form of thought.

Perhaps some people might confide in a close friend or family member, who’s opinion they trust.

Or, thanks to social media, you can pitch these stories to the world and see what they have to say, assuming that more opinions are better and if more people agree or disagree they must be right.

This is a dangerous way to make sense of the world around you.

Social media is the wild west of human behaviour. We still don’t quite know how to function safely and smartly as part of this incredibly large, constantly connected online world.

We especially don’t know how to consume the information presented to us on there. Our minds are plagued by cognitive biases, which have been neurally wired as we evolved, to help us to survive and make sense of the real, tangible world around us.

Online these biases run rampant, assessing every piece of information presented with filters of comparison and judgement desperately trying to preserve our already fragile identities.

The dangers of searching for truth in a false world should seem pretty straight forward. Yet the allure of thousands of strangers telling us we are ok is tough to resist.

The opposite is true as well, when the fear of mass judgement causes people to hide their stories and bottle up their thoughts and feelings, terrified of the way the world may judge them.

The rapid dissemination of opinion is changing the way we tell, consume and use stories to construct our identities and figure out how to function in our modern world.

But seeing the world as a collection of stories has the power to reframe the way we share and consume information. The stories we tell ourselves, or others, are just that, stories.

Spirals and the Self

I took some time to myself this afternoon to pen some recent thoughts.

I absolutely love alone time and feel I need it to relax, recharge, regain perspective and focus!

It’s time I can spend reflecting and gathering my thoughts, which I often write down as a means of exploring them deeper.

Often these musings remain scattered, rough, raw brain dumps for my own (sporadic) perusing. However I’m slowly becoming more comfortable sharing them, hoping maybe they resonate and/or help continue to spark conversations about our various quirks and qualms.

I’m an extroverted introvert. I can find it uncomfortable and feel quite awkward in groups, especially with people I don’t know well.

My safety net / way of coping with this is often to be loud, talk lots and be as upbeat and outgoing as possible.

It’s funny, I actually really like getting to know people, hearing their stories and sharing a giggle. But I get in my own head and feel like I’m struggling and end up just being “on” which gets draining.

What’s worse is my anxious brain watches on, aware and annoyed that I’m carrying on just to fill the silence, or because I’m uncomfortable and then turns that back on me. Taunting me, telling me I just made myself look like an idiot, which makes me feel more awkward and uncomfortable 🙃😂.

Now, I’m sure some of you may think “get over it, why stress so much about something so trivial, there’s worse things going on in the world.”

And that’s ok, you’re not wrong, there is. Much worse.. I know that but such is the devilish dance of an anxious brain. It’s power to override perspective in the heat of the moment.

It’s been interesting more talking openly about my experiences with anxiety. A stranger messaged me the other day telling me I should be more grateful for what I have and remind myself of that when I feel anxious. (They weren’t trying to be rude and were genuinely trying to offer some friendly advice and we actually ended up having a great chat about mental health).

Logically, rationally, I understand how privileged I am and am extremely grateful for everything I have. The people in my life, the experiences I get to live out, the food on my table and in my belly, especially potato chips. A body that can do what it does, the fact that the only movie I have downloaded on my lap top to watch in our lodge with no reception is The Greatest Showman, which is a fucking wonderful movie… and so much more.

Frustratingly, all that understanding often elicits feelings of deep shame, embarrassment and, you guessed it, more anxiety.

Anxiety about my anxiety.

Clinical anxiety doesn’t care much for logic or rationale when it rears it’s ugly head.

Knowing all the wonderful things I have but feeling how I feel often sends me into these depressive shame spirals, as if my anxious thoughts are character flaws, indicative of me being a shit, ungrateful, broken human.

It’s these spirals of shame and frustration are often what lead to destructive behaviours.

I’ve been doing a lot of work the past few weeks with a new psychologist (who is fantastic). Working on recognising when I’m doing something purely to try and distract or cope with anxious thoughts (especially in social situations) and trying to become more aware of the nature of the thoughts that I’m trying to run away from, (are they real or imagined? Where is the evidence either way? Can that evidence challenge those thoughts?).

This awareness creates distance between me and some of the darker, ickier thoughts, feelings and behaviours, allowing me to accept that they are not “me” and they are only real if I allow them to affect my view of myself or the world.

This in turn has started to help me separate my sense of self from the person I perceive myself as when my anxious brain takes over.

A person I don’t like and who I’ve tried to run away from for many years and in many way.

It’s far from perfect, but it “is” and that’s enough.

I’m working on choosing who I want to be, starting inside my own head. I am grateful, I love my life, I am lucky and loving and loved and so many wonderful things and my anxious thoughts are nothing but stories. Stories I’ve told myself for 20+ years and which won’t just magically stop being told.

But stories that slowly, with patience and commitment I can begin to start retelling and controlling how they effects my sense of self and perspective.

I am so happy with the self work I’ve been able to do the past few weeks. So thankful for the support of my beautiful partner Jem (through what’s also been a chaotic period for her with her own personal stuff) and my family and friends. It is equally for my own state of mind and in hopes that, by taming the wilder thoughts in my head, I can be a better partner, son, friend and human being.

This is the essence of personal development.

Hi. My Name is Khan.

Real talk.

(Please note, parts of this post are kind of heavy and may contain triggers for some people. If you’re not doing great, give Lifeline a call on 13 11 14, reach out to a friend or book in to see your GP, get a mental health plan and start seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist. Get help. Life’s pretty fucking incredible and worth the discomfort of confronting your demons to make the most of this little adventure we get in existence)

Hi, my name is Khan and this is the story of a boy and his brain.

For as long as I can remember I haven’t felt completely comfortable in my own head. The constant whirring of worried thoughts. Anxiety; every possible worst case scenario playing on loop, analysing everything and everyone around me. The extremes with which I feel many emotions, often at completely inappropriate times. The awkwardness I find with many basic human functions; conversation, being quiet, stillness, making eye contact, just being a person. The never ending voice in my head, picking myself apart, telling me I‘m bad, I can’t, no body likes me and I’m not good enough.

The noise. Constant noise, humming, whirring and often screaming.

A noise inside me, I’ve tried (ineffectively) to deal with by creating as much noise outside in the world around me.

Over the years I’ve tried to deal with these thoughts and feelings in a variety of ways. Destructive behaviours; binge drinking, sex, an eating disorder, obsessing over various self-help methods, relying on external validation to tell me I’m ok, social media, temporary distractions, people pleasing and various other forms of trying to drown out the noise. There have also been some positive coping strategies I’ve developed, such as fitness (which has been such an incredible, real and empowering part of who I am), study and learning and writing and other creative outlets. But of course, it’s the former list that’s brought me here.

Though I genuinely can’t remember a time where I didn’t have the above thoughts and feelings rolling around in the old noggin, it wasn’t until 2015, 4 years ago, that I first considered I may have an actual mental health problem.

In early 2015 things got dark. I (ashamedly) wrote a series of notes addressed to the people I cared about, attempting to justify why, if I were to end my own life it would be for the best and in fact their lives and the world would be better for it.
I don’t think I was genuinely considering suicide, nor was I planning on giving the notes to anyone. I think in that moment it was just cathartic exploring the possibility of finally silencing the noise in my head, by ceasing to exist all together. Someone found the notes in my phone and told my best mate, who told my ex and they told my parents.
They all freaked out. I freaked out that I‘d freaked them out and it was decided that I would go and get some help.

The world is fucking incredible, the people in my life are fucking incredible. The simple joys of the first sip of coffee on a cold morning, or a cold beer on a hot summer’s afternoon. Curling up on the couch with Jem and watching a movie. Laughing to the point of tears, carrying on with my mates. Deep, loud and passionate conversations with my family. The feeling of stillness and complete connection to the present moment I get when I’m competing. The ocean. Mountains. When my mate Seany shows us “the look” he used to give women to seduce them. Life is full of simple, incredible moments. Here, now, I look at the times I’ve considered leaving all those things a possibility, with such contempt.

But it’s all a part of my story and that story did and does go on, so let’s get back to 2015. It was time for my first attempt at “getting help”. Searching around online, Dr Google told me that I may be exhibiting some signs of bipolar, so I found a GP who cleverly labeled himself as a “mental health specialist”. I told him my thoughts on bipolar and he promptly confirmed this (mis)diagnosis, prescribed me anti-psychotic and mood stabilising medication and sent me off to get therapy.
Note: a GP should NOT be diagnosing you with mental health disorders, especially ones as serious as bipolar. I learnt this lesson the hard way.

For about 6 months I tried to take the meds but they weren’t doing anything noticeable and the side effects were horrid. I took them sporadically and when I asked the doctor to change them, he said I just needed to take them more consistently and if they still didn’t work, I could up the dosage.
The psychologist he referred me to was a nice enough bloke but the sessions seemed a bit sterile. We didn’t really click. It was awkward (I am awkward) and I was busy and wasn’t making much money. The sessions became stressful and I used that as an excuse to stop. Besides I was “killing it” 🙄 as I’d been crowned the fittest man in the Pacific (the week I was diagnosed with bipolar) and was off to my second CrossFit Games. Everything was awesome. Or so I tried to convince myself (and the rest of the world).

Fast forward two years of trying to self-help (cough* a huge part of why I went back to uni to do a psychology degree) and distract myself by constantly doing anything and EVERYTHING to try and drown out all the noise. My mental state deteriorated again and my new partner (Jem) urged me to get help once more.
This time I went to a psychiatrist, who was great but charged $400 a session, so that was never going to last. In my first session however, he quickly informed me that I was definitely not bipolar and instead suffered from extremely bad anxiety (no surprises there), episodic depression and likely ADHD (however this would need to be, and was, confirmed by a different psychiatrist) along with a bunch of emotional and self esteem issues.
I lasted two sessions with this fella and was given a new type of medication to try (Sertraline). I couldn’t get an immediate appointment with the ADHD specialist and then took off overseas and so once again I let life take priority over continuing to try and work out my shit.
Being on the road and keeping myself overly busy, I only took the medication sporadically again, so fuck knows if it did anything to actually help. I did notice some side effects again though, which were annoying and reason again to justify stopping.

Fast forward another two years of the same shit, to a few weeks ago in a hotel room in Barcelona. Painfully hungover (as I’m sure so many of these journeys towards recovery begin), anxious, depressed and acutely self aware.
More noise, more frustration at not finding an answer amidst the chaos (or at the bottom of a bottle).
More erratic and destructive attempts at trying to deal with the whirring in my head.
I had reached breaking point.
I had broken in some ways.
But in that moment of brokenness, I found an odd sense of clarity. I booked a flight home (two weeks earlier than planned) and began the process of getting help.

I went and saw a doctor who put me on a “mental health plan” and found a new psychologist who I’ve seen a few times and has been incredible, so much so, I dead set look forward to our sessions all week!
I also finally went to a psychiatric hospital for an ADHD assessment, which turned out a resounding “yep, we’ve finally fucking figured this out” result, which, despite being delivered by a frustratingly calm, yet cranky doctor, was news worthy of leaping out of my seat to hug him… That didn’t actually happen, but I fist bumped him on the way out, it was a mental hospital after all and I wanted to try and fit in.

Finally having a conclusive ADHD diagnosis opened me up to a whole new world of treatment options, as a ADHD is a neurological disorder, rather than psychiatric or behavioural as much of the noise in my head had been assumed to be in the past. Obviously I would (and will) still need psychiatric treatment for the sever anxiety, self esteem and emotional affective issues that accompany my ADHD, but having a new range of treatment options available has been an incredible relief. Relief that’s taken 4 years of “getting help” to come to… so keep that in mind ye who enter the wild world of recovery; it can take time AND commitment.
I’m also beginning the process of stepping back from things which are adding more stress and chaos to my already crowded mental bandwidth and feel genuinely happy with the direction things are headed.
It’s early days and this isn’t the first time I’ve “gotten help” but there’s lots of things that feel very different, including the openness with which I’m sharing this story. I guess it’s more real now and that’s how I want to live my life moving forward.

During all of this I also deactivated my Instagram account.
It’s crazy, I knew I wasted so much time on social media and it was definitely something I’d misused. Firstly as a means of trying to escape from the real world and secondly to convince myself (and others) that everything was ok. I didn’t realise just how good it would feel being away from it.
However, Instagram is part of my job, so I knew it would only be a brief departure. But In that time, I was able to create a plan (with some help) for how I could engage with the platform on my return, in a healthier, happier, more authentic way.

I believe social media can have a huge impact on our mental health. It’s a world of smoke and mirrors, highlight reels, judgement, comparison, escape and distraction.
Online, mental health is almost in-vogue at the moment, but I feel like their are few people with a platform truly opening up about exactly what they’re going through and how they’re dealing with it, especially when it comes to blokes. This can make the journey towards recovery seem pretty lonely and the “would-be-recoverer” feel like even more of a weirdo than they probably already do. I want to break away from the highlight reels and start contributing to the change I believe this space needs, especially when it comes to understanding the true nature of mental health.
Full disclosure: I’m terrified of what people will think reading or hearing about this. As a bloke, there is also a hell of a lot of shame and embarrassment in any weakness this shows and at the incompetence I feel for letting things get to this point without being able to help myself. However, there is also a sense of freedom and empowerment in this openness and if I’m to be judged for my story then I have to accept that as a part of this journey. At the end of the day I am so lucky to have so many incredible people around me supporting me through this and that’s what truly counts.

Anyways, it’s been one hell of an effort to try and sum up 29 years of being a complete fruit-cake into one post, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty more stories to share on here moving forward.
Writing has always been a powerful tool for me to explore some of my darker thoughts and feelings, as well as celebrate the good times and things I love.
I’m not sure when I’ll post again or how often, but I’ll endeavour to try and share as much of this new journey as I can through this blog.

PLEASE NOTE
Whilst I think it’s awesome that when I’ve talked about mental health stuff in the past I’ve received some beautiful messages from people opening up about their own struggles, I kindly ask that, rather than contact me you reach out to a friend or family member. I’m not qualified, capable or in a place to be able to help anyone, other than by sharing my own story. I won’t be responding to DMs etc. I’m very sorry and thanks for understanding.
But please if this does hit close to home, do something about it. Book in to see your GP, tell them what’s going on and let them help you create a mental health plan (in Aus that is 10 subsidised psychologist appointments if you are current Medicare member). Be ready to shop around for the right psych. Find a recovery support group, or start one yourself. If you open up, you’ll be surprised how many people are going through the same shit you are.

There are no quick fixes, no magic moments of instant recovery. It’s a journey, but all journeys need to start somewhere.
You can’t change your life in an instant, but you can change its direction…

With much love.
KP

Mindset: Success and Content

Most of the literature I’ve come across on “mindset” is written with success or how-to-get-something in mind.

We’re told from a young age that we should always be striving to achieve things. That success is the measure of a man, or woman and being driven for success is the ultimate badge of honour.

As an athlete, a business person, a student and in many of my pursuits in life, having the right mindset has played a key role in any successes I’ve had in those pursuits and is a skill I’ve dedicated so much time to learning about and developing.

However it is my firm belief that the pursuit of “success” should only be one part of a developing a strong, happy mindset.

So much of my life I’ve been preoccupied by “what’s next”. What achievement or success could I chase down when I was done with my current goals.

One of the most profound breakthroughs I had mentally was learning to deal with failure, rather than achieving success. After many instances of intense (and at times dangerous) self loathing when I would feel like I had failed I found myself in a dark vortex. Measurable successes were my only source of internal validation and therefore any form of perceived failure would cause me huge mental and emotional anguish. It took many years of learning and practicing, mindfulness and self love to learn to be content with the person in the present rather than constantly striving to be something more.

It was a difficult but incredibly rewarding process.

Being centred and at peace in the present moment is just as important as knowing how to push yourself towards a goal.

Social media is a constant barrage of the highlights of those around us and amidst all the #goals and #blessed lives it can be easy to find ourselves swept up in the desire to try and strive to emulate these idyllic lives we see around us.

However in doing this we lose touch with ourselves the way we are, a dangerous disconnect in a world where our own identities are so fluid they can easily slip right through our fingers, leaving us confused and isolated within our own minds.

Practicing mindfulness and taking time to appreciate the things you have, the person you are and the world around you are as fundamental to mindset “development” (the irony of calling it that in this post isn’t lost on me) as is practicing the pursuit of success.