Sucked in a Vaccum of Loneliness

I had been feeling a bit ‘meh’ these past few weeks as if I were being sucked in a vacuum of loneliness. Though surrounded by a loving family, a job and friends that kept me busy, I was losing my grip on reality. My world was sinking bit-by-bit. As the days went, it became difficult to get my butt into gear and I lost interest in anything that previously engaged me.

I did not pay any attention to my wellbeing until one morning I woke up with the feeling that I could not be bothered to get out of bed. On the first day I permitted myself a couple extra hours of lie-in, but when hours turned into days, I understood something was not right. Hard as I tried to stay in the present, my mind became overwhelmed by too many thoughts and doubts and I was sucked in the black hole.

Despite all that, I wanted to stay connected with family and friends and relied on social media as a form of communication. Barely out of bed, I got into the habit of checking Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages. I continued with videos on Youtube and TikTok. However, it got too much, because soon enough, I came to despise receiving calls and emails. I believe I was experiencing burnout.

Sometimes the worst place you can be is in your own head.

I am one of the sensitive people who gets affected by weather conditions, although never been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). On and off I seem to experience a sort of depression. My ideal temperature is around 18-20 degrees Celsius. Anything higher gives me a rash and sun stroke. Anything below 10 degrees, feels like the artic.

In winter months, I always know when it will snow. My knees start to ache, and I feel a permanent chill in my back. Whenever I mention it, my kids roll their eyes. They think it is old wives’ tales, though science has proven that changes in the atmospheric pressure can affect the fluid in our bones. In cold weather, when the fluid decreases, our bones grind against each other and the pressure leads to pain.

We all know sunshine improves our moods and wellbeing. Nevertheless, when we get four seasons in a day or week, the weather can play a trick on our mental health. On Easter day, with a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, the weather was glorious. While every English man and his dog were bathing in the midday sun, I was the unsociable one who hid within the safety of my home. I preferred venturing out at dawn or dusk. Could one of my ancestors originate from Transylvania?

The next day however, on Easter Monday, the temperature dropped by 10 degrees. A cold front from the Arctic spread across the UK making it feel more like below freezing. In the following days, we would see snow, rain, and wind. Then we were back to high 20s temperatures. With all these fluctuations, my mental state did not know which tune to dance to. I am certain my moodiness, irritability, and tiredness affected those close to me even though they never retaliated.

“It’s okay not to be okay as long as you’re not giving up.”- Karen Salmansohn

I appreciated I would not achieve anything productive if I let myself feel like that. My priority was to get out of that procrastination vacuum. If I did not do something about it, I would continue to suffer in silence and hurt my loved ones in the process. I took it upon myself to find a way to keep distracted and inspired. I set a goal as to what I could achieve. I made a small list while visualizing what I needed to do, at the same time accepting that not all had to be done on the same day. Baby steps.

But by putting my intention on paper, I had taken all those overwhelming thoughts out of my head. Hence, I felt less pressure. I then turned to the only therapy I felt happy with. Dance. I created a new vacuum but this time, full of happiness. Although not a great dancer but when I blared some hip music and gyrated around my kitchen, all fears disappeared. Plus, I did not need any equipment to feed my Fitbit and increase my serotonin level. All in all, it was a win-win.

We can’t always choose the music life plays for us, but we can choose how we dance it.

I Miss You…

It has been a while since you left. I still feel lost.

Have you ever felt that familiar feeling of missing someone you were close to? Or maybe you lost a cherished item, insignificant to others but irreplaceable to you. The void, deep inside, the churning of the stomach . . .

It is normal to be attached to someone so much that we miss them the second they are out of our sight. Our brain gets used to what we see, sending a deep feeling of longing to the heart. It is okay too if we get attached to an animal, a plant, or a material thing. It is okay to miss the touch, the sight, and the sound. The happiness that they bring us makes us feel alive, but the moment they are gone, we feel empty and lonely.

I am familiar to the feeling of loss. Whether it is because of someone dear passing away, or moving to a new country, I have felt different levels of pain. But missing someone I do not know or something that did not belong to me, took me by surprise. How could I get attached to something that I was not physically close to?

“Nothing makes a room feel emptier than wanting someone in it.” – Calla Quinn

Two years ago, I moved to a cul-de-sac, in a quiet, safe part of the suburbs. Nothing out of the ordinary from this insular enclosure – a row of red brick houses, unfenced front garden, set away from the main traffic. But out of the dull setting, something caught my eye. A white Cabriolet stood out among all the black and greys.

It took my breath away. In an instant, I fell in love. I had no idea whom the soft top convertible belonged to. I was attracted by with its red leather seats and sparkling bonnet. I fantasised about taking it for a spin – cruising along open country roads. It became my timekeeper. The purring of its 2.0 TFSI engine woke me in the morning and the unusual headlights shining bright reminded me it was time for dinner.

“I am crying over the loss of something I never had. How ridiculous. Mourning something that never was – my dashed hopes, my dashed dreams, and my soured expectations.” – E. L. James

Then one day the spot was empty. At first, I thought the owner was away on business, but several days later, still no car.  Over the days I caught myself standing by the window waiting for its return. I became disoriented – no longer grounded. Weekdays blended into weekends. Gradually I discovered that the empty space was causing an emotional gaping hole in my soul – an outcome that baffled me. I had lost something that I relied on; something that did not belong to me.

I realised that the loss had triggered some real issues. I had repressed emotions that I kept buried. I went through the process of mourning. I knew it would take time, as everyone has their own timeline to process grief and loss. But still, it felt silly to grieve for a car that was not even mine. In time I would heal.

“When I close my eyes, I miss you. When I open my eyes, I miss you.”

As I lean against my window in complete darkness, my eyes are automatically drawn to the familiar spot. Where once the object of my love stood out, now an unremarkable 5-seater grey minivan is parked in its place. Lockdown will soon be over and normal life will resume. But I know, in my heart, it will never be the same.

I miss you my little Cabriolet.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Most Perfect of Them All

Brene Brown suggests that ‘perfectionism’ is not the same thing as striving to be your best.

‘Perfectionism’ is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It is a shield. It is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it is the thing that is really preventing us from flight.

A few years ago, I believed I was a perfectionist. I needed to appear perfect as I believed that I mattered only when I achieved great things. For me it was a positive trait rather than a flaw. Though I worked harder to achieve my personal best, I was never satisfied with the result. I kept telling myself I was not good enough. Insecurity gripped me as I feared disapproval from others.

What makes us aim to be perfect?

It is not clear what causes someone to become a perfectionist. Studies have found that high levels of perfectionism relate to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, deliberate self-harming and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is a behaviour that we learn from our own inadequacy or when we copy someone close to us.

Our idea of perfectionism is based on our past actions. It is a combination of what we learned, imagined, and experienced in the past. It can be exhausting when we are trying to avoid repeat failures, but hopeful when we learn from our success. Depending on the outcome, our persona changes. We can become hypersensitive and defensive.

“When perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking” – Brene Brown

It took me years before I let go of the pressure. I no longer feel guilty when I leave my belongings scattered around the bedroom or dump piles of books on the table. I do not feel embarrassed when my family tells me I am a hoarder. Nor do I feel ashamed to say that I am not good at something which I am not particularly keen on.

And yet, when I am making art, I get frustrated and anxious when it does not turn out as I envisioned in my head. Even though others see a brilliant creation, I am critical of my own work. With advertising and social media, I am constantly reminded of all the things that I fall short. Self-doubt creeps in and I take a nose-dive into the pit of self-pity; I am not good enough.

“Have no fear of perfection- you’ll never reach it” – Salvador Dali

Perfection is not a quest to become the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough, that we should try harder. Perfectionism is unachievable. It is a function of the mind that can instigate defeat or success. It all depends on how we use it. Our goal is to reframe our mindset, shift our focus on living only in the present.

Therefore, we should not strive for perfection and we should not concern ourselves with what others think. The desire to achieve perfection can be a detriment to our health. It can cause us to lose our self-confidence and the ability to perform. Everyone has their own values and standards. Let us not second guess ourselves by trying to emulate others. We might end up becoming our worst enemy.

I am okay with not being perfect, because that is perfect to me.

Letter to My Younger Self

Yesterday I came out of a 14-day isolation period. Not that I had contracted Covid-19, but I was in close contact with someone who had this killer disease. At first, I was worried about being seriously ill but after two negative tests results, I was more bothered about my lack of freedom.

The only point of contact with the outside world was through my phone. Dependent on online shops and social media, I moved into survival mode. This wave of panic was getting out of hand. One knock on the door and the delivery man was already leaping out of sight. Beware of the invisible COVID sign, I was now the untouchable. Sigh!

“Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once.” – Paulo Coelho

This daunting time was not going to disappear overnight. I needed to do something, take back control of my life and avoid depression. I was sure life would be different if I had a plan. I recalled memories of happier times. This time last year I was preparing for my trip to Rome, and the year before that to Mother Russia.

Unfortunately, I have an annoying habit of leaving something behind during my holiday – not intentionally of course. I accidentally left my house keys at the hotel reception in Rome. I only noticed when I got back home in the middle of the night and could not get in.

I was upset of course but a few days later after getting a new set of keys, I was able to laugh at my stupidity. I even shrugged the whole incident off when the hotel failed to return my keys. A key can easily be replaced. No big deal. Life goes on.

Had it happened ten years earlier, my mental state would have been affected. My life would have been ruined. I am older and more experienced. I can deal with disasters and have learned to control my emotions instead of letting them control me.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.” – Deepak Chopra

How I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self not to worry when faced with decisions and choices. How I would tell ‘mini me’ that there would be no success without failure and not to beat myself up when I made mistakes. I would tell my younger self that life is a journey full of adventures, hop on and enjoy the ride.

I wished I had known everything I know now when I was 18 – the age of independence yet so fragile and naïve. How I wish I had followed my passion and not let someone else dictate my future. Not to settle for second best but strive to become the best. How I wish Cupid did not use my heartstrings to make chord for his lyre. Being single is not a curse.

“Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit” – Man proposes but God disposes

The future is not set in concrete. It is okay to change path when we find ourselves on the wrong one. Covid-19 has brought the whole world to its knees. Plans and hopes have gone up in smoke – dreams shattered, replaced by a fear of dying. Social gathering is frowned upon. We now live in our own bubble to the point of being unsociable.

A little advice from my older, wiser self

So, my dear younger self, I encourage you to throw caution to the wind. Be more courageous and take risks. What would be the point of sacrificing yourself when the future is uncertain? Do not feel rejected and insecure because of peer pressure. You cannot be what everybody wants you to be. Instead, learn to love and respect yourself. Life is a wonderful game. You just need to know how to play it.

In Honour of World Mental Health Day

Did you know that mental illness is connected to physical illness? Depression is a brain disorder that leads to emotional suffering. It can lead to a lot of physical problems that affect everything from your heart to your immune system. Changes in how your brain function can have a big effect on your body.

You will surely agree with me that life can be stressful. Sometimes you may feel so stressed that you cannot work out what to do as your brain is overanalysing. You might feel constantly tired and achy.  Your appetite for food and sex might decrease. You might have insomnia, or you might sleep too much. Whatever it is, I am sure you will want some explanations but will not find easy answers.

“Our life is shaped by our mind for we become what we think.” – Buddha

It is not easy to fit in with the crowd and we all want to feel accepted. I have known those who would do anything, from cracking silly jokes to saying ‘yes’ to every person. And when they fail to integrate, they feel unloved and misunderstood. They lose their identity and become depressed. They turn in on themselves and become a recluse.

Depression alters your brain structure. Your whole life is turned upside down. You experience fear and loneliness. You feel unmotivated. You become increasingly bad-tempered, snap at people and then feel guilty afterwards. You might bear someone a grudge for a long time even though you do not know the reason why you did it in the first place.

“Even though I walk through the dark valley of death because you are with me, I fear no harm. Your rod and your staff give me courage.”- Psalm 23:4

There is no fairy godmother with a magic wand to fix your life when you are going through your darkest moments. Some people, when they are suffering, sometimes draw closer to God and others walk away for good. Whether you are alone or surrounded by people, you have the choice to follow your own path. If you feel unsure, you can try to correct it with another choice and make it right. But it is up to you to take hold of your life and take charge of it.

You might say that it is not easy to do when you feel your world is crumbling. You will need help and support to change your attitude and create a more regular routine. Do not compare yourself to others, especially on social media. They only share the good things that happen to them. Reach out to those you trust and express your feelings. You might be surprised to find that you are not the only one who is feeling down. One phone call, one text message might make someone else feel less isolated.

“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” –  The YogaMad

Learn the art of self-care and self-love and stay positive. Fill your time with things that you enjoy so you feel less lonely. Dance or exercise to music, moving your body to the point of losing yourself. It will lift your mood and take your mind off things. If you want something more calming, try meditation. Join an online community or support group. Just keep busy.

Take advantage of free online courses. Learn something new that you have always wanted to do. Join a choir or an art class and discover your hidden talents. Travel the world virtually and explore. Go on a tour of foreign cities and discover new languages and food. No matter what you choose, you are the driver of your own destiny.

Nothing lasts forever

Everything has a time limit – good and bad things.  No matter how bad something is in your life right now, it will not last for ever. You must accept there will be things at which you are not successful, but you will learn to become stronger with each failure. Buddha said, ‘Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.’ So, if things do not work out today, sleep on it and try again tomorrow!