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

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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.

Man’s Quest For Freedom – Is It All In Vain

I spend a hell of a lot of time inside my head trying make sense of a several concepts with which I battle.

One such concept is the idea of freedom, or specifically, how much freedom and control do I have over my own life.

Freedom took pole position in my psyche after a rowsing speech on the matter from out tour guide in the Sahara. Freedom is so etched into Berber culture it is symbolized through the Yaz on their flag.

I loved hearing the passion with which our guide spoke about his people’s love for freedom and how they fought and protested to keep it so many times.

The desire to actualise ourselves through our freedom seems universally sacred, which fascinates me.

The concept of freedom is something I’ve wrestled with for most of my adult life.

Though my life may look like a great, free spirited adventure, I find myself constantly frustrated by a lingering feeling that I’m not, nor have I ever truly had freedom and I devote a great deal of my time pondering why.

The dictionary defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants.”

Part of the solution I’ve reached as to why I constantly wrestle with feelings of oppression, is that these three rights (action, speech and thought) are both linked and hierarchical and without one the other two are impossible.

The lowest level of freedom, I believe, is freedom of speech but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. We all have the ability to speak freely should we choose, however speech does little to change the world around you without action and so I think it’s contribution to actual freedom is minimal.

Even without the freedom to voice it, we can still have the freedom of an opinion, we just can’t share that opinion with anyone else, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It also doesn’t mean we can’t act on those opinions, depending on our care for the consequences.

Which leads us to the second level of freedom, action.

Freedom of action exists, however it is limited by laws, social norms and socially determined morals and ethics. This means complete freedom of action can only exist if we choose to ignore the consequences should our actions go against what is deemed “right” within the social groups we live and associate with.

One could also argue that freedom of action is also limited by our basic human needs for survival. For instance we must eat for energy to perform various actions, so our freedom of action is limited by our need to eat to fuel those actions and go on surviving. Furthermore, human beings are social creatures by design. In ancient times being part of a group meant a better chance of survival, so belonging is a survival need and as such not adhering to the standards of the social groups with which we seek to belong may (or should) cause us distress as it is jeopardizing one of our most primal survival needs.

You could also argue that these pressures to act in a certain way for the sake of survival don’t actually inhibit us from performing the actions we want, they may just deter us and thus we must still have freedom of action. However if we act in such a way that may cause us harm (physically, psychologically or socially) then we are technically increasing our chances of dying, which (all theories of the afterlife aside) is the ultimate form of oppression as when we die, so too does any freedom we ever had – which is an incredible oxymoron. Why would we use freedom of action if it may rob us of our ongoing freedom across all facets of life? Is one particular type of momentary freedom worth that kind of sacrifice? (I actually don’t know I’m just riffing).

Moronic as deathly actions may seem, their potential consequences still don’t mean we can’t act freely, even to the potential detriment of our survival, so freedom of action can still be argued as being achievable, regardless of it’s consequences.

Given there are valid arguments for both sides regarding freedom of action it seems that there must be a higher level of functioning which influences the free nature of such actions.

Which brings us to the third and final right of freedom.

Free thought.

I believe freedom of thought is impossible and I believe it is this understanding that causes me (and probably many others) so much internal distress.

Yes, we can think anything at any time and for any duration of time, we have that freedom.

But do we

But without complete control of our thoughts how much freedom do they really have.

Perhaps spending much of my life dealing with an assortment of mental ailments and devoting a great deal of time and energy to strengthening my self-awareness so I can hone in on when my thoughts are real and rational or obtrusive and irrational, products of the quirks in my mind, has given me an appreciation of the volume and power unwanted and uncontrolled thoughts can have in our daily lives.

We may have the freedom of thought, but we do not necessarily have freedom to think.

Obviously you could argue that we can conjure up any thought we want consciously when prompted. Say for example if I said think of a bear you can immediately picture a bear.

But how truly bear-like is your thought and how much control do you have over your thought bear. Where are you drawing your thought bear from? A memory? If so your thought truly your own is it a product of visual stimulus you had no control over seeing and thus selected to be projected into our conscious by a means beyond our control.

Without the memory of “bear” we cannot think of “bear” so our thought is controlled in part by memory, over which we have some control, but not complete.

Also what does that mean for unconscious thoughts? Can we control our desires and urges that exist simmering below the surface of our conscious mind?

A married man who sees a woman that isn’t his wife he is attracted to can control his actions and choose not to try and sleep with her.

However how much control does he have over his attraction to her?

He cant, he has a billion events that have shaped his idea of beauty and as such when he sees someone that fits those criteria he will automatically think they are attractive.

So how free does that make our minds?

I honestly don’t know how to answer that question. Obviously we can influence the way we think and advances in neuroscience show us that we can even physiologically alter our brain and thus change our capacity to think.

But does that give us the freedom to control our thoughts, even if we can influence the bandwidth on which they can come and go? Our minds work like a billion song iPod on shuffle, you can choose which songs may appear when you listen to it, but have no control over which songs come on. Sure you can potentially delete a few songs or add some more, maybe even narrow the songs down into playlists (like schemas we create to respond to certain events in our minds) making it more likely you will hear the one you want to when you hit play. However an algorithm far too complicated to control at will ultimately dictate when and what we hear.

Therefore I posit freedom of thought cannot exist and as such neither can freedom of action or speech below it.

If we have no complete control of ALL our thoughts are not therefore free to think on command, then we also can’t act or speak on command. We may only act and speak as prompted by our thoughts, which may be selected freely, but may also occur by means of something beyond our control.

So what the fuck does that mean for those who fight so passionately for freedom if TRUE freedom (as per it’s definition) doesn’t exist.

Perhaps another linguistic concept with a more concrete physical attainability is a better pursuit?

The amount of control we have to exercise our full spectrum of acceptable actions, speech and thought seems worthy of fighting for.

But that opens an entire new can of worms in what is an acceptable amount of control to have in life to be happy.

Which is another reason I think I struggle so much with feelings of oppression. I’ve never felt in complete control of my thoughts and being aware of that lack of control has meant I constantly feel oppressed by my mind and given the hierarchy outlined above, oppressed in general.

I have no idea how to un-know this awareness of the impossibility of complete control of our lives, so does that mean life just becomes an exercise in acceptance?

In our quest for self actualization and an identity as a functionin

I guess so?

But I honestly don’t think I know…

Fuck I’m weird