A gentle reminder from a friend to practice being a better listener (and yes, it requires some work on my part).

I was in conversation with two of my closest friends yesterday, and while I usually don’t face too many pushbacks (well, talking back) in the conversations I have with people, this particular time was a bit different. My one friend started a story, which she had told me privately before, and I interjected right away, changing the topic and essentially, diverting the attention back to myself. I was in no mood to waste her time, or mine.

Our other friend who was there subsequently interjected me mid-sentence, reminding me that she actually wanted to hear the story, and that I should remember that within our friendship group it is good to ‘share the floor’ from time to time. Ouch. “We all give each other time to tell our stories and share,” she said very calmly and patiently, but naturally, this made me realise that I may be in a phase where I am diverting a lot of attention back towards myself. I immediately recalled a few recent conversations where I had changed the topic and rattled off about my own life — perhaps an after effect of the underlying (subtle) anxiety I am feeling about the changes in my career, or perhaps, I’m just going through a phase of being more self absorbed than usual. This is something I work hard to keep in check, but I’ll leave those thoughts for my therapist’s office.

What struck me the most from reflecting on this particular incident was, in fact, a realisation of what a good listener this friend who interjected me was. Out of all my marble jar friends (people who keep adding to the trust jar, according to Brene Brown) she is perhaps the one who I know the “least” about in the conventional sense. She is the one who I haven’t heard as much about her past, or perhaps, who usually is an ear to me and others, rather than being someone who is allowed to lean on her friends 50/50. I think both parties have to acknowledge when this happens, whether that is in a friendship or a relationship, gradually adjusting and working harder to steer the ship out of the rumble strip.

Upon further reflection I realised that in most of my close relationships, I have recently started to veer more into a direction of voicing an opinion loudly and in somewhat of a steamrolling fashion, rather than sitting back, and practicing the art (and skill) of active listening. I’ve also experienced this in a new relationship I have entered into, where often, I find myself interjecting during his stories, and I am trying to be more mindful of this, as, in fact, we are still getting to know each other and I like hearing more about his life and world view.

So how do you become a better listener? As I’ve mentioned, I believe that it is a practiced skill. The first step, is not interrupting someone when they are speaking. This can be hard, especially if you’re addressing a fairly stimulating topic, or one that you may feel you have some kind of expertise in. I find myself feeling like I know a little bit about everything, well… all the time. It’s not always a good look for the people around me and it is somewhat of a source of shame for me. What I’ve learned, through the teachings of other philosophers and motivational speakers, is that it’s all about becoming the learner, not the knowerYou cannot possibly believe that you know a little bit about everything, or even a lot about anything. If you approach every conversation armed with an idea that you want to learn something, rather than forcing your opinion, you’ll not only learn more, but in my experience, you also find that you will be asked your opinion a lot more as well.

By paying attention through active listening, you also pick up on the finer details of what someone is saying: essentially, you listen to understand. This implies hearing what the person is saying on the surface, and what they may actually be saying. “You need to practice listening more to others” is a direct message to me, of course, but viewed differently, I pondered whether perhaps this friend of mine wasn’t feeling heard in our friendship (or group), and that she may also be longing to have her opinion heard more, be it because of this particular aspect of her life, work or even her home life. So, the next time someone says something to you, better yet, the next time someone says something malevolent to you, take a second to consider that it could in fact be hiding some sort of a deeper issue they could be working through. I don’t think this was necessarily the case with my friend, who wasn’t malevolent in her approach, but we all face people in our days who do make it a bit harder to express their opinions with kindness and empathy.

Actively listening to someone else when they are spending time with you, and holding back on giving your opinion until they have expressed themselves is a courtesy that I like to compare to an old African proverb I read about once, which essentially says “I see you — I am here”. I want all the people in my inner circle (and even just those acquaintances who pop in and out of your life) to feel seen, and to believe that I am there with them and present in the moment. This is at the core of true connection for me, and a skill that I definitely could do with practicing a little bit more. So here’s my goal for the next few weeks: sit back, and listen to the stories of others. Take note of what they’re saying, and what they’re implying by what they’re saying. Enjoying learning from others. Remember that you are not the centre of the universe, and that we all have something to teach each other. I’ll be sure to report back on how this went in a future blog post, not because I’m trying to be fancy, but because I realise I need to be held accountable too. I’m really thankful to my friend for reminding me to be a better listener, and in essence, it has allowed us to connect on a deeper level. It also never hurts to have somebody spill some truth tea on you, especially if it is someone who you respect and value. I’m grateful for the reminder.

– Conrad was here.

 

 

 

 

How my mental health journey became a process of personal reinvention.

You are pursuing your passion. Remember this on the good and the bad days. Life is a journey. You are but a sea fish, swept along the current, sucked in and spat out in continual motion. Everything as and when it should be. Adjust and recover accordingly. You are not in control. Love yourself. Go kindly & gently.*

It’s been 200 days since I started my self care and mental health journey, and if you’ve been following my story on the blog, you’ll know just what a journey it’s been. I have thoroughly enjoyed documenting what can only be referred to as a tricky period in my life, but am also so thankful that we’re at this point, where, with sufficient reflection, I’ve realised that the breakdown happened for one very distinct reason: as part of me starting a process of personal reinvention.

A reinvention can be classified as the process where something is changed so much, it appears to be entirely new, and this is exactly how I’m feeling after six months of depression recovery. Over the festive season, I took stock of all the decisions I made in the last twelve months in fact, and realised that each one of them has led me to this very moment, where I now have the ability to revisit and change my approach, to change how I respond to untoward situations, to break the emotional shackles that have held me back for so many years, and to, frankly put, come of age as an adult. It all started when I realised how easily I “sulk” when things don’t go my way. I’m at a point where I get ashamed when my natural reaction is to sulk, which means that things are moving in the right direction.

So what does a reinvention include, according to me? I’ve reflected extensively on this, taking into account how my life has changed since I started prioritising my mental health. Here is what I’d like to focus on moving forward:

  • Moving from sporadic (inconsistent) learning to active reading and doing my best to learn something from everyone I meet.
  • Approaching my life in a more mindful way, escaping the clutches of robotic and systemic thinking in how I make decisions. This includes a 15 minute silent meditation each morning, which I am enjoying so much.
  • Getting out of the “bubble” of my local community, and expanding my network to meet more people from all walks of life and different places around the world. This has been made possible by a few interesting platforms that landed “on my desk” in the last month or so, and I’ve noticed just how much I still have to learn about other societies and cultures.
  • Being intrinsically motivated (doing personally fulfilling work) in my career, rather than being financially motivated. I’ll be sure to share a separate post on this too, as there is a lot to talk about here, but basically, I want to spend my time working on projects that are worthwhile for me. Changes are coming.
  • Accepting a modest and unstable life as a creative, rather than searching for something lucrative and “stable” (if you can even consider any kind of existence stable).
  • Living a more nomadic lifestyle, rather than being office/computer bound. This includes the ability to work from anywhere in the world, rather than being tied to a full-time position. This also includes more trips in nature and connecting with the earth, exploring its secrets and finding the best possible learning path for myself.
  • Pursuing a more authentic look: I’m growing a beard, letting my body hair grow, and would like to explore clothing that is more me: my friends have commented that I have quite a preppy aesthetic, which I’ve discovered is something that isn’t truly who I am, but rather a bi-product of the community I grew up in.
  • Classifying myself as a dreamer, rather than a careerist. This includes no longer grounding my self esteem in terms of my work, but rather in terms of my creative vision and dreams. This ties in with my impeding career change, which I’ll discuss further in another post.
  • Continuing to say no when my self care is compromised. This is a boundary I will be practicing to uphold, well, come hell or high water, this year. It has been interesting to see how my peers have reacted to me not giving the automatic yes to everything I get asked to do or go to.
  • Living day-to-day, rather than month-to-month or with extensive plans that try to control where things are going. All we have is today, all we have is this very moment.
  • Moving away from the dreams my parents had for me (in terms of family, my career, housing, marriage etc.), to my own goals, which are mainly creatively grounded and set up in a way to connect on a 1:1 basis with as many different people as possible. I don’t mean to disrespect their vision, but it was never mine to begin with, and I’d like to find my own passions independently of what anyone in my inner circle may have to say about it.
  • Diverting from this notion that we’re meant to be chasing happiness as the end goal: this year, I’m chasing a multitude of emotional experiences, and making peace with the bad along with the good. Some days you’ll have anxiety and exhaustion with a great sense of joy from the smallest of moments. It’s simply the flow of life. I’d like to make peach with that.
  • Finding solace in my introversion, and accepting that I’m just not somebody that enjoys playing the part of “extrovert” in a social setting. Let’s have a quiet cup of tea and connect 1:1 – then you truly understand who I am.
  • Living modestly and as a minimalist, rather than pursuing excess, whether that be in materialistic purchases, where I live, what I drive, or something as simple as how much I’m eating on a bad day. Everything is to be taken as a practice in moderation. Everything to be taken as an opportunity to remain realistic about what is happening out there in the real world and to adapt accordingly.

I’d like to end off this post with three additional ideas that I’m exploring as part of the reinvention process, which I thought deserved a little bit more emphasis and discussion. They are as follows:

1. Changing my definition of success.

In my twenties, I used to measure success by traditional financial standards, comparing myself to my peers, school friends as well as placing a lot of emphasis on my job title, salary, or the company I work for. Moving into 2019, and as part of my reinvention process, I’ve decided that for me, success will rather be measured in terms of how well I’m developing my competencies this year.

Before my 30th birthday, I used to focus all my efforts to correcting my “flaws” and giving so much energy towards the things I considered to be ‘wrong’ with me. You can imagine what that did to my self esteem. That has changed massively since I started my self care journey. Now, my primary focus is on pursuing the things that I already consider myself to be competent in. My writing ability, for example, is a wonderful gift that I’d like to practice and refine as it is something that gives me great joy. Since the start of my holiday, I’ve been writing about two hours a day, something that is showing no signs of slowing down, so we’re making decent progress so far. Watch this space!

2. Being more flexible with my decisions.

I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol between 17 June and the end of December last year, all as part of giving the anti-depressants the best possible chance go “do their thing”, but over the festive season I realised that I would not be able to go into 2019 with such a rigid mindset about well, anything. The alcohol example is the most practical one I can share, to emphasise how I’d like to be a bit more gentle with myself going as part of the reinvention. Nothing in life is sustainable as simply “this” or “that”, it requires flexibility and I realised I needed to let up on my rigidity to practice being kinder to myself.

I ended up having a glass of wine while on holiday. It was in a controlled environment, I managed my mental health very carefully (those who have followed the blog will know that I usually dipped emotionally two days after drinking) and quite frankly, it didn’t add or take away much, so I consider it to have been a good decision. Drinking a bottle of wine because I feel anxious? Not a vibe or an option as part of my self care journey. Having a glass of champagne with friends when I find out they’re having a baby? Yes. Having a glass of red wine on a date where I’m connecting with someone? Absolutely. It’s also alright for me to enjoy myself, I don’t have to earn the right to do so.

3. Freeing myself from emotional shackles holding me back.

There are three key emotional shackles that have held me back for a very long time, that I wanted to share here very quickly:

  1. Anxious attachment: Do yourself a favour, and research the four different psychological attachment styles. I’ve discovered that I attach anxiously in all relationships in my life, even in my work. While not easily possible to change to a secure attachment style, it is possible to change how you respond in situations when you feel your anxious attachment coming on. As they say in Eat. Pray. Love: “Think of me, send me love, and drop it”. It has been very helpful to get me to detach across a wide spectrum of dynamics in my life and I’ll be sure to write more about this soon.
  2. The rescuer mentality: I’ve always been known as a good problem solver, and I can easily talk anyone off’ an emotional ledge, thanks to my ability to really listen when someone is sharing with me. Sometimes, especially in my past, this has become something I sought out to distract myself, i.e. trying to find someone to “rescue”. My therapist made a great point on this last year. “If you try to rescue someone, you are highlighting to others that they haven’t yet been saved, and that they’re not strong enough to save themselves”. This was a powerful momentum shifting statement. While it’s gotten a lot better, and I’ve detached successfully from this kind of behaviour with my inner circle, I am mindful that it is something that can still be a problem for me moving forward.
  3. The need for external validation. We all want to feel seen or heard. Sometimes I want this a little too much, and, as with many of us it trickles into the image I project on social media. I’m breaking free from this shackle in 2019, focusing on tackling my self esteem issues via therapy and coaching, and best yet, in my writing. I am whole, for I am both the good and the bad. Brene Brown comes to mind here, who in her most recent book said “you don’t need to prove that you deserve a seat at the table”. Just sit and enjoy yourself.

Moving forward, the blog will be positioned as an avenue for me to discuss this reinvention process. Thank you so much to everyone who has been following my journey so far. I’d love for you to continue with me as we enter into a new phase.

– Conrad was here.

*My first journal entry for 2019, in a diary I was given by my friend Jana.

Taking stock of the things that make me feel worthy, and focusing less energy on the things that don’t.

And no, this isn’t about creating a list of things and people to ‘keep around’ or kick out of my life indefinitely. This is all about prioritising where my energy goes, on a day-to-day basis, to ensure my mental health prioritisation remains at the top of my priority and focus list.

Earlier this week, I watched Brene Brown & Oprah on an older episode of SuperSoul Sunday, and at one point Oprah vocalises (fairly subtly, I might add, before the segment ends), that a feeling of “inherent unworthiness” sits even within her. I mean, damn girl, you’re Oprah freakin’ Winfrey.

Rather than being like me and straight away asking “so if Oprah feels unworthy of love sometimes, should I definitely feel unworthy, as I have achieved much less than she has?” (listen boo, who the hell hasn’t!), on second thought, your approach should also be to look at this through another lens, or from another perspective. I firstly took some time to rather ponder the fact that it is incredible for someone of her stature to have the courage to be this vulnerable, essentially exposing something we all feel, but are scared to talk about, to an audience of millions. My girl Brene Brown can of course do that to you so I’m not surprised.

The change of perspective came from a decision (spontaneously inspired in the middle of the night) to put a list together of the active things, people and influences predominantly adding to a feeling of worthiness, and those adding to this notion of unworthiness. It was a daunting but worthwhile exercise, which gave me great insight into the people and things I’ve “accumulated” (so to speak) in my life so far. This in turn helped me to see just how actively my mental health and general mood gets affected by the people and energy I surround myself with.

While the specific contents of my list will remain mostly anonymous, I do feel comfortable enough to share a few learnings from the journal that struck me as very curious and interesting:

  • I have 26 people in my inner (or day-to-day) circle. That’s a lot, and I should be thankful for that, so I took a moment to express gratitude for this earlier this week. There was a time, at the peak of my depression, that I was convinced nobody cared about me and that if I died, nobody would show up to my funeral. How wrong I was and how dark down the rabbit hole your mental health can take you if it wants to.
  • Out of a list of 26, I realised I have 18 “regularly consistent” people in my inner circle (roughly 70%). These range from friends, family, my therapist, coach, colleagues and even my landlords (ex and current). I have a feeling this is why my mental health recovery has been going so well over the past four months: my support circle is growing stronger by the day, thanks not only to the work I’m putting in, but also to the people I am actively sharing my story with and asking to support me through daily vulnerability.
  • Currently, there are 8 “regularly inconsistent” people in my inner circle. That’s roughly 30%. It might not seem like a lot, but if I had a day of only interacting with those people, I would certainly be drained and my mental health would definitely be compromised. As happy as I am that it isn’t more, it is still hard to see and not to take responsibility for their current situations. I’m a fixer and a do-er, but this has also taught me that people have to take responsibility for their own lives and for my own mental health, I need to be firm. As my therapist put it: “if you have an emergency in the middle of the night, don’t call me, call the ambulance”. This is something that remains a work in progress, but I have to remind myself that I simply cannot continue to recover from depression and still try to be everything to everyone. It is what it is, I am doing my best, and that’s ok.
  • I’d like to clarify that being inconsistent is not a reflection on the people themselves, but more their current circumstances, headspace or the cards that life has dealt them at the moment. This of course does change, and will change over time (people don’t stay in the inconsistent/consistent bracket forever, as I can attest to personally), though I consider it a snapshot of sorts, to give me more clarity about where I am investing my energy, and also subsequently keeping my own mental health in check in the process. All 8 of these people remain part of my “inner circle” and naturally are a priority to me as I love them, but I am just mindful of the energy I am able to invest in them at this stage, having just moved, starting a new chapter in my 30’s, and still being fairly early in my depression recovery, if you look at things holistically. 110 days is not a long time, so I need to be smart about where I invest my energy.
  • I realised that with work, both full-time and my two part-time businesses, I wasn’t able to allocate a “regularly consistent” score, as it remains work, with it’s ups and downs and lack of guarantees. In my twenties I invested too much energy in my work, and that’s all changing now (today, for example, I have taken a day off, and just spent 90 minutes taking a bubble bath for the first time in as far as I can remember). I have set up fixed boundaries with my career, to keep reminding myself that my jobs remain “regularly inconsistent”, can change at any time, and should be prioritised based on where I have capacity to do so. That doesn’t mean I do a bad job or skimp on my clients, as I am still ambitious and get a lot of pride from doing what I do well (just like most of us). If anything, it just means being more strict about when and how I work and ensuring that my mental health is taken care of regardless of the amount of pressure I am under.
  • I did however attribute a “regularly consistent” label to three core parts of my life and wellbeing: MH (mental health), PH (physical health) & SH (spiritual health). These remain as much of a priority as the people who have a “regularly consistent” score (reminder: I should love these aspects as much as I love those people!) and I’ve created a new system to keep track of where I am at each week, which I will share in a future blog post, so watch this space.

I’d like to invite you to try a similar exercise, and having a look at how many things (there really isn’t a better word to use) and people in your life add, or take away from your feeling of worthiness and love, for whatever reason. We all go through the motions, so you don’t need to cut these things out completely, but it certainly helps being self-aware and prioritising your energy in a direction of consistency. Taking stock is the first step towards establishing some clear boundaries in your life and I can attest to the fact that the short and long-term mental health rewards from doing so are vast and quite extraordinary.

Regularly feeling unworthy of love and affection is a struggle for millions of us, and it’s even more amplified if you’re working through or suffering from depression. Always remember that you are loved, and just by waking up this morning, you are worthy of love from yourself, me, and everyone else.

— Conrad was here.