Turning points and first world problems – navigating decision angst

I used to be a total boss at decision making. Time to take a new job/project? Need to choose some wallpaper? Keep/chuck the man? Medium or hot piri piri sauce? Boom. Easy. I could nail that interview, storm into B & Q and own my interior design intuition, know my heart or stare down a Nando’s menu at the drop of a hat. I’m impulsive and reliant on my gut – and while perhaps not an exact science in decision making, it’s never failed me. Until now.

Back in the day even really big decisions would only require some brief rumination and mulling, or perhaps a purposeful walk in the rain with pensive face – at the most I’d take a couple of nights to sleep on a problem. But a few weeks ago I met my Big Life Decisions maker. Forget being at a crossroads, I was staring down spaghetti junction with potential for seismic changes looming across all aspects of life – work, home and romance. I found myself trying to solve the impossible riddle that is the modern day phenomenon of the First World Problem. That of trying to attack far too many options with the attention span of a gnat and an overriding sense of panic at the prospect of making a bad choice.

The possibilities were endless, and completely flooring me. I was paralysed by indecision at every turn. My stress levels soared and the longer I wrestled with each choice, the higher my adrenaline output climbed.

We live in an era of limitless options yet making decisions is one of the most taxing things you can do. Even ruler of the free world (no, not the orange one) Barack Obama recognised this and stuffed his wardrobe with identikit suit outfits to remove the element of choice in his morning routine. Being a wise, practical and non-dorito-coloured fella he recognised that his day was going to involve enough brain crunching, world changing decisions already – figuring out what to wear didn’t need to add to this. One suit to rule them all.

So rather than waiting for a lightning bolt epiphany to smite me like Zeus on a mountain top I thought best to follow B-Dog’s example and just make some quickfire choices. Nothing I was grappling with was going to alter the course of history in any significant way and while so bogged down in all the ‘what next’ I was in real danger of completely missing the here and now. I.e. my actual life, which, is actually pretty great. I needed to stop and smell the roses/kebab vans so I just tried to trust my insides as much as I could and made some small decisions and changes.

I’m still not certain about my current path, and my life certainly has an element of bobbing along with the tide right now – but I think that’s OK. Sometimes it’s fine to go with the ebb and flow, as long as you’re paying attention to the waves around you and exercising a bit of gratitude for how damn beautiful they are.

I certainly don’t feel alone in my sea of perpetual indecision. Every day I see friends, family, colleagues and passing snails completely fail at making the smallest choices – because we’re all overwhelmed. Our little WhatsApp, Netflix and 24/7-switched-on little brains are utterly fried and I don’t have the answer for curing the ills of our hyperactive modern society just yet. Slowing down, switching off and practicing a bit more stillness is definitely a start.

However, mindfulness and digital detoxes aside, the main thing we could all be a bit more aware of is that whichever paths we choose to walk in this multifaceted 21st century world, everything will be fine. Nobody will die if you buy the wrong type of quinoa and suns won’t implode if you decide not to go for that promotion then Steve from marketing goes and gets it. Despite all our first world strife, I think we’re all OK.

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Just friends

‘So you’re really going to be just friends?’ my colleague asked, innocently cementing my hatred for an expression we casually use time and time again to talk about the art of going platonic.

If you had the misfortune to read my last post you’ll know I recently extricated myself from a rather confusing romantic encounter. We both accepted the onward trajectory wasn’t going to be relationship-ville. To me, in the past, this has always meant a parting of ways. No sexy time equals no time at all. If we bumped into each other in the street of course we’d stop and chat or at least acknowledge each other’s earthly existence, but the hang-outs, phone calls and texts stopped and there’d definitely be a Facebook break-up.

Except this time my ex-lover really, genuinely wanted to stay mates – and presented such a good case for keeping the friendship afloat I just couldn’t find a reason not to. Meaningful, stimulating conversation? Check. Guaranteed laughter and fun when together? Check. Mutual respect and support for one another? All present and correct. And, if I’m honest, having someone so intent on spending time with me purely driven by the belief I’m a pretty cool lady to be around, just feels nice.

I know what you’re thinking, oh cynical reader. And no, I can assure you I’m now about as attractive to this man as a venerial disease. He’s not still trying to get into my pants – and I’ve genuinely lost interest in going anywhere near his.

We even managed a very sensible dating post-mortem discussion in the pub without anyone getting thrown in the river – immensely impressive considering said pub’s proximity to the Thames. This was adulting at it’s finest. Practically dissolving in a puddle of smugness I relayed my newfound maturity to several of my nearest and dearest who were intrigued, supportive and offered varied insight into the idea of being ‘just friends’ with someone you’ve been romantically involved with. There it was, repeatedly, this expression I’ve come to detest.

‘Just’ friends – a word pairing I abhor because, actually, friendship is important. In fact I think it’s probably more important than romantic relationships – I’d be nowhere without the platonic connections in my life. To date I haven’t ever managed to stay friends with someone I’ve been involved with, but I’ve never actually tried particularly hard. And perhaps I should have.

Whether this time will be any different remains to be seen and I’m still not sure whether the brevity of our flirtation will help or hinder things. Is it easier to make friendship stick when the romantic foundation is weak, or harder because those relationship building blocks we so lack leave us with less to cling onto? Yes it was only a fling so it’s a smaller transition from lovers to buddies, but we really haven’t been in each others lives for very long. This, coupled with a few lingering feelings of confusion and resentment over the way things ended (on my part), might make the passage less than smooth.

However I’m a woman in her 30’s with increasingly fewer opportunities to connect and spend quality time with like-minded people who aren’t swamped with other life commitments and responsibilities. In these days of drifting friendships and spending far too much time in playgrounds with my mates who now have young offspring, I’m determined to at least try to sew the tattered threads of our romantic liaison into something new. Here’s hoping I’m up to the task.

 

When romance goes awry – rewriting the story

Oh amor, amor, amor. The heat, the passion, the adoration and sheer wonder of it all. Except when it’s unreciprocated.

I’ve been dating someone for a little while, someone who initially I wasn’t quite sure about, as well as feeling generally reticent about whether I wanted anything beyond a fling anyway. But we hung out around once a week nonetheless – there were dinners out, drinks thrown back, interesting conversations and romps between the sheets. Then a couple of weeks ago after he cooked me dinner and we spent the night cuddling in front of a film, something terrible happened. I caught feelings. Suddenly this man that I’d felt reasonably blase about, despite really enjoying his company, was all I could think about. I wanted more.

However, it turns out, he doesn’t. The point at which my uncertainty blossomed into a quiet kind of admiration was the juncture at which his initial attraction dwindled, fizzled and died. There’s not enough chemistry here for a relationship, he said. I really enjoy spending time with you, find you fascinating and would love to stay friends, he said.

Ouch.

I’ve come a really, really long way since the dark valleys of depression, but this. This was hard to stomach. Having worked so hard to strip bare the negative thinking my illness hardwired into my brain, it was astonishing how quickly I slipped back into telling myself the same story again – you’re not good enough.

So what does anyone who’s walked the black dog and knows it’s sneaky, nefarious ways do? They re-write the narrative. The tale I’m telling myself isn’t the only version of this romance. There has to be an incredibly delicate conflation of timing, life circumstances, desires and alchemy for a relationship to work and this obviously just wasn’t right. So each time my misfiring neurons try to convince me my failed amor is my fault – that my own inadequacies couldn’t somehow forge the emotional connection we needed – I’ll gently guide them back to a more rational path.

I’m in pain and I feel foolish. But it won’t last forever and I’ll stay open to meeting someone else, make myself vulnerable and risk getting hurt again if I have to. Because I’m human and it’s what we do.

 

On Loss and Limits – an Ode to my One True Love

Once upon a time, running was my one true love. As a child I was the muppet happily volunteering for the 1500 metres on sports day and genuinely looking forward to the annual school cross country race while my classmates feigned illness, set off the fire alarm or prayed for an earthquake. In later years I regularly pounded the pavements for fun and ran a marathon by the time I was 24. I could rely on my feet to get me wherever I wanted to go, at a reasonable pace, and it felt great. Then illness and chronic fatigue struck and the love affair took a long hiatus – my health took a nosedive and my trainers gathered dust. Five or so years passed before I was to try and lace them up again.

I thought I would never run again. When my body broke down fragments of my mind splintered away too and any confidence I once had in my physical abilities drifted away into the abyss. My days of chugging through the countryside listening to dodgy 80’s music became a distant memory – it’s tough to picture yourself flying round the park when you’re struggling to just get to the end of your bed. But, incredibly, over the last couple of years, slowly and tentatively, my legs have come back to me.

It started with the occasional five minute run round the block as much-needed respite from the day-to-day treadmill of strife (my boss, terrible choices in men, running out of loo roll, COUNCIL TAX), then five minutes became ten, ten became twenty and soon I could comfortably run 5k. Having been completely unable to coax my body into moving further than a few hundred metres for several years, this was huge and genuinely life changing. I couldn’t quite believe the things my body was allowing me to do – this body that I’d come to loathe and mistrust, having let me down for such a long time. It felt like I was the captain of my own ship again and I could do anything.

However as well as being elating, exhilarating and joyful, the experience of getting back to running has also brought crushing disappointment.

Disaster struck. Carried away on the winds of exercise success, I overdid it and nearly broke myself in the process. This feels great! I’m invincible! I’m going to run a HALF MARATHON! I got as far as five miles. Too much. Body and mind completely broke down, I felt terrible and had to stop completely as old fatigue and burn-out symptoms reared their head. I rested, ate my body mass in crisps and houmous to recoup the calories my body was motoring though, and felt like a complete tit. I felt so stupid for even thinking I MIGHT be capable of anything the old, pre-sickness me could do – and that I’d gone backwards. My body was laughing at me again – I was no longer captain, more misguided stow-away – unearthed and about to be cast out to sea.

Because, as it turns out, I’m not invincible. We all have these things called limitations – especially those of us navigating complicated recovery journeys. They’re mind-bendingly frustrating and tough to accept – but very real and exist for good reason. I was in complete denial over a difficult and uncomfortable truth – that I’m not where I thought I was, and may never be. This body probably won’t ever run a half marathon again.

But there’s a lot of freedom to be found in accepting your limitations. For me, part of my recovery journey has been about letting go and slowing down. Over the last few years I’ve learned a lot about being present. Mindfulness, staying in the moment, practicing consciousness – whatever you want to call it, I’ve practically nailed a PHD in stillness. Because when life gets tough sometimes you just have to sit tight and face the demons.

Not being able to gallop through the fields for miles, in the rain, while the fresh smell of deer shit fills your nostrils may not seem like the worst thing to have to live with – and yet, somehow, I was crushed. For me it was a huge loss and I mourned hard.

I picked myself up and very slowly found my way back to doing what my body feels like it was born for – moving. But in a different way. No more gruelling runs. I stick to activities that don’t deplete my limited energy levels – like yoga and swimming – and I take much longer breaks between workouts. I walk more. These days more often than not my lunch break includes a 30 minute stroll, which takes me away from the work environment, re-boots my brain, fills my lungs with fresh air and generally improves my day. My new normal really isn’t so bad.

When I do choose to run now, I don’t go far – nor do I look like much of a pro. Others steam along in branded lycra; I’m a slow, lumbering melange of neon, mismatched layers and a bobble hat. It’s Flashdance meets Father Ted.

There are no 10ks or half marathon events in my 2019 calendar anymore. I’m not setting myself any particular exercise targets at all in fact – other than to do something active (and fun) twice a week, if I feel up to it. I’ve come a long way these last few years but some things are still out of reach, and, more importantly just not right for me. I have limits, my present looks very different to my past, and that’s OK.

Feminism and Mental Health – One for the Ladybros

‘So you’re hanging out with a bunch of butch lesbians tonight then?’ – today’s words of wisdom from my brother. My rock, my Person To Turn To In A Crisis, a genuinely awesome and caring family man – and also my lasting reminder of why feminism is needed today more than ever.

I have joined a feminist book club. And it’s great. We gather in a cobwebbed, dimly lit corner of one of my local pubs and excitedly chatter all things feminist literature over various booze-brimming glasses and usually a bucket of chips. Last month we were even lucky enough to convince a male of the species to join us for the first time – after a full year of monthly meet-ups. It’s exhilarating to be back in the presence of intelligent, engaged and passionate women – but the skewed vagina-to-phallus ratio at the group is reminding me of one of the most common misconceptions about feminism. That it’s all about women.

Sexism has a hugely detrimental impact on mental health – for women and men. Feminism isn’t just about levelling the playing field for women (although this is of course a big part of it) – it’s about standing up to the demonisation of feminine qualities. This applies to men too. Why should men feel any trepidation around getting involved with feminism, or that they don’t have a part to play in the conversation? Society still looks down on sensitivity in men – gentleness, kindness and good old fashioned TLC are still thought of as female mainstays – you just have to look at the gender balance in professions like social work, counselling or childcare. Ever laughed at someone for ‘crying like a girl?’ I wouldn’t blame you, these sexist tropes are so ingrained within modern society they just roll off the tongue without a moment’s thought to the gendered structures they’re maintaining.

Female activism, suffrage and the renaissance of feminism in recent years has brought amazing progress. Whenever I get leered at by a white van man, overlooked in favour of a male colleague or reminded of the ever-present gender pay gap in my country, I remind myself that it could be worse. I could be Victorian and living in a time where my womb was blamed for every moment of mental strife I ever endured (see ‘hysteria’ – the genuine belief that the womb wandered around the body wreaking chaos and destruction on a lady’s nervous system). But as I look around my little circle of enthusiastic readers I yearn for some male counterparts to balance the books (SORRY).

It’s safe to say that present day ladybros have it pretty good compared to the dark ages of witch burning and house-wife drudgery. However ridiculous preconceptions about femininity still colour every aspect of modern living. It’s obvious why feminism still has a rightful place in society, undergoing a burgeoning renaissance in recent years – but if feminism’s really going to help women, we need it to help men too. And that can’t happen unless they’re part of the conversation, whether that’s in the boardroom, the House of Commons, Donald Trump’s yacht or the back room of my local pub. Until the dudes of Berkshire can feel completely comfortable about turning up to a feminist book club, as far as I’m concerned, there’s still much work to be done.

The Poo Taboo – Forget Auld Lang Syne, We Need to Talk About Toileting

Ah Yuletide. A time for chomping your way through mountains of leftover turkey, consuming your body mass in mince pies and washing it all down with a gallon of prosecco. Delicious rich foods: huzzah! Boozey cakes and ALL the biscuits: woo! Stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea and acid reflux: yay! No, wait…

This New Year’s Eve most people’s minds are solely on fireworks, parties and who they’re smooching at midnight. Not me. I want to talk about shit.

One morning last year I had a bowel movement so spectacular I wanted to frame it. The size, shape, consistency, colour…my God it was perfect. A textbook, exhibition-worthy poop. Why was I so excited? Because I had suffered from severe IBS for months and my inability to consistently and fully empty my bowels was severely lowering my quality of life. Those who fulfil the NHS-recommended one-to-three bowel evacuations each day without giving it so much as a second thought will never know how truly blessed and lucky they are. I thought about poo constantly. I literally dreamed about shit. Previous life goals had included climbing Everest, penning an erotic novel, mastering the nose flute or adopting an ardvaark. Now I was just shooting for ‘normal digestion’.

Forty-eight hours prior to this magnificent dump I’d had my first ever colonic hydrotherapy treatment, delivered by a lovely Indian lady who, when I questioned her on how she had got into this line of work, shrugged and didn’t really have a clear answer. Because in India colonics and enemas are part and parcel of everyday life. She grew up learning that her digestive system was the centre for everything. Got a headache? Clear your bowels. Back pain? Cleanse the poop chute. Acne? You can probably see where this is going…

One of the central tenets of Ayrevuda – the ancient healing system present in India for over 5,000 years – is that a healthy gut is key for longevity, vitality and mental well-being. Western medicine is starting to recognise the significance of digestive health in the treatment of chronic illness and mood disorders, but there’s a long way to go. Happy pills and talking therapy are still very much the mainstays of modern mental health treatment, despite mounting evidence linking gut dysfunction with ailments like anxiety and depression.

Talking is great. I’m a big fan of verbal discourse. If depression, anxiety or chronic fatigue are rooted in bottled up feelings and repressed trauma then of course they’re not going anywhere until the tsunami of confusing and difficult thoughts confounding your grey matter are confronted. Therapy can be insightful and life changing. But what if the primary cause for your strife lies within your gut microbiome? Studies suggest that an imbalance in gut bacteria could be playing an active role in inducing psychiatric disorders – try chatting your way out of that problem.

In this country we don’t talk about our digestion openly. Did you know there’s actually a World Toilet Day? Me neither (November 19 if you’re interested). Pay a visit to the doctor with tummy troubles and you’re likely to simply leave with a prescription. Or well-meaning advice that it’s ‘all in your head’ which, actually, might not be far from the truth as around 90% of the feel-good chemical serotonin is made in the digestive tract. There’s just no denying the brain-gut connection.

So how about this new year instead of signing up for gym memberships that won’t get used, buying vegetable juicers that will lie dormant in the back of a cupboard or writing ANY kind of list, we simply resolve to talk toileting more. Let’s bring bowel movements out into the open (not literally, y’all have a porcelain throne for a reason) and get a dump dialogue going.

The gut often gets referred to as our second brain. I think it’s probably my first – sorting out my digestive health has been nothing short of a magic bullet for improving fatigue and mood difficulties. These days I’m certain that a truly holistic approach to good health and mental wellbeing is impossible without considering gut function, and if I have just one hope for 2018 it’s for society at large to stop being prudish about poop and get on board with talking about their rear ends more.

Yep, shit’s getting real – let’s  break the poo taboo.

Hooked on Happy Pills

‘Well I’m happy for you to stay on them…’ My GP peered thoughtfully at me over the rim of his glasses. ‘I’m also perfectly fine with you coming off them. I’ll set our review for a year’s time shall I?’

And thus passed the annual antidepressant prescription review, like so many of its predecessors, proving about as useful as a chocolate teapot – and that although it’s so very easy to start taking happy pills, getting off them is another story.

Happy pills. antidepressants, SSRI’s – whatever you call them – used to be the preserve of those teetering on the edge of psychosis. These days everyone’s on them. There’s no doubting that some people in the throes of serious clinical depression really need support from medication – and drugs like paroxetine, citalopram and zoloft provide a chemical lifeline to those nosediving into a serotonin-deprived abyss. However there seems to be a worrying trend towards over-prescription. Medication being handed out like smarties for the mildest cases of the blues – and patients consigning themselves to years of pill popping.

The NHS prescribed record numbers of antidepressants in the UK last year and a recent study by women’s campaign group Platform 51 found that nearly half of those using antidepressants have taken them for at least five years, while a quarter have used them for ten years or more. The statistics are frightening, but actually being part of these numbers scares me even more. I’m eight years and counting.

I have been on and off antidepressants three times now. Having never been able to tolerate more than the lowest possible dose of my particular brand of synaptic rocket fuel, I still have absolutely no idea if they help me at all. Literally none. However the emphatic explaining away of my anxiety, depression and fatigue symptoms with ‘serotonin deficiency’ has consistently led me back to a GP-endorsed SSRI prescription.

I do know that the first two weeks of cranium electrics, nausea, sandpaper mouth and night sweats feel like a grenade has been dropped into my soul. And that once these side effects have tapered off it’s impossible to benchmark what effect the antidepressants are really having. I’m just thankful to have survived. I’m told the ‘therapeutic benefits’ of my medication can be expected to kick in after six weeks or so – but at this point I’ve usually been working so hard at getting better through exercise, meditation, healthy diet and general avoidance of stress that any number of things could be bringing me back to wellness. Drugs have always been just one aspect of a very holistic treatment plan for me and I’ve never been sure of the part they’ve really played in my wider recovery story.

My uncertainty has always sat in stark contrast to the certainty with which medical professionals have recommended drug therapy to me. All roads lead back to chemical imbalance, it seems. That knowing nod in the GP room when it’s discovered that depression reared it’s ugly head again a year after ditching my medication, the inferred conclusion that being drug free was the chip in the metaphorical mental health windscreen that led to a whole world of shattered glass. Serotonin, you see. And my counter-argument that we’re all still utterly clueless around whether or not the pills actually help me? ‘Well they really can’t hurt…’

Except for some people it seems they can. Hurt, that is. Particularly for those on high dosage antidepressants, withdrawal can be vicious. Dizzy spells, migraines, aches and pains, insomnia. If you’ve watched Leo Di Caprio sweating and whimpering his way through heroine withdrawal in The Basketball Diaries think of SSRI comedown as a vanilla version. Pretty, it is not. Six months easily turns into six years on these pills when kicking the habit is this hard. Then there’s psychological dependency. Even if you’re not chemically hooked, mustering up the confidence to throw out the blister-pack-shaped safety net is terrifying.

At this stage I have no idea what to do and neither, it seems, does my doctor. It’s definitely the easier option to keep mindlessly slipping a small blue pill under my tongue after breakfast everyday. But time’s marching on and with it the ever decreasing likelihood of a chemically unaltered future. Do I really want to remain a slave to lab-manufactured serotonin? Can I put up with the tedium and inconvenience of monthly trips to the pharmacy coupled with the expense of prescription charges? It’s a sensitive subject – a decision worthy of careful, contemplative thought with due consideration for what support might be needed further down the road – and it’s going to take more than ‘come back and see me in a year’ to get there.

Shades of Kefalonia and the Reality of Recovery

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A restless butterfly whirls about the pine trees; flashes of yellow and white amidst fir-clad branches. Perched atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the Ionian Sea I hear the distant murmur of surf tickling the sandy shores below. My eyes blink closed and, for the first time in what must be years, I feel completely at peace. Everything is OK.

At the apex of my sickness if someone had announced that in three years time I would happily hop on a flight to Kefalonia, by myself, to spend a week at a Greek yoga retreat with a throng of total strangers, they’d have got a smack in the nose. I would have felt a likelier candidate for space travel – that I was being taunted with a delicious, but unrealistic, dream.

But I made it. Several hundred miles on from a bleary-eyed and anxious morning at Gatwick Airport I’d boarded a plane solo for the first time in years, thrown off the shackles of bad health and opened myself up to a whole seven days of new experiences, growth and, well, just good old fashioned…fun. Nestled in the idyllic paradise of Vigla Village I started to realise what recovery looks like. I allowed myself to languish in the acceptance that illness doesn’t rule my life anymore.

But I got cocky. I came home feeling invincible. I stopped bothering to do any of the things that keep me on the straight and narrow – my healthy diet degenerated, I drank more, rested less. And guess what – I wasn’t, in fact, bullet proof. A few hiccoughs at work, a disastrous romantic encounter and one house move later found me feeling less than fighting fit. Fatigue crept in. A dark cloud swept over my head. I felt awful. Not to mention incredibly foolish for daring to entertain the prospect of a new, symptom-free reality.

I pulled through. A month on as I sit tapping away at this blog, I’m feeling much better having focused on eating well, getting the right balance of rest and exercise and just giving myself time to digest various recent life events. Nourishing myself – body and mind. And simultaneously feeling pretty damn sheepish – at how naive I had been to think that chronic illness can simply vanish into the night.

My health is something I have to manage. It’s not perfect and sometimes I live alongside some pretty unpleasant ailments, aches, pains and difficulties. It’s a constant work in progress and I felt ridiculous for allowing arrogance to shake my commitment to staying well.

But despite this realisation I know that I’m in a good place now and that I’m lucky to inhabit the life that I have. Many live with much, much worse. Joy finds me on a far more regular basis than gloom these days – and that will do just fine for me.

The Meaning of Life and Post Depression Musings

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When I had clinical depression my daily life was dominated by a pervasive feeling of pointlessness. It was all-consuming, terrifying and nearly destroyed me, but I coped because I saw it simply as a symptom of an illness which I expected to completely disappear when I got better. Except it hasn’t.

While these days not every waking moment is punctuated with the feeling that we’re all just pointlessly spinning into the abyss, neither do I wake brimming with a deep sense of purpose each day, or, to be honest, any understanding of the point of my earthly existence. Was I naive to assume that once the mists of mental illness cleared my path through life would become clear and abundant with meaning?

Deciding whether or not there’s any point in going to the cinema/bowling/leaving the house at all doesn’t catapault me into an existential crisis anymore, and I can’t express how happy I am to no longer have that devil clinging to my back – but I guess I’m a little disappointed that my brave new depression-free world isn’t as simple as I’d hoped. It turns out you actually have to work at creating meaning within your life, it doesn’t just gently drop into your lap like a whisp of dandelion fluff on a summer’s day.

I’m not religious but I’ve always envied the way faith provides comforting, iron-cast answers to the big questions – proffering meaning and purpose in the face of the worst kinds of abject cruelty and indiscriminate destruction existing in our world. One of my good friends from University is a devout Christian and she has mental grit and inner strength to rival a she-bear. But, alas, the God thing’s just never held water with me – so I have to place my faith elsewhere.

One thing I am getting to grips with pretty successfully in these halcyon days of better health is an ability to shake off any anxiety arising from these thoughts about why we’re all here and what on earth we’re doing. These moments of philosophical meandering rarely reach any sensible conclusion, and that’s alright. My life is pretty great in the present – and as long as I’m appreciating it in the here and now, moment to moment, it doesn’t really matter too much what it’s all about.

Is the way to avoid terminal angst over the meaning of life just to accept that there isn’t one – we’re all just floating in the void, and it’s time to get OK with that? Perhaps. Or maybe the key lies in just not caring too much either way. Now the black dog isn’t constantly snapping at my heels I can usually get through the day without some sort of hysterical crisis over what the point of my daily activities are, and maybe that’s enough for me.

Image credit: http://www.snapollie.com

Post Election Blues – the Revolution Will Not be Retweeted

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Almost a month ago now here in fair Blighty queues were formed, poll papers shuffled and boxes dutifully crossed. The general election 2015 ran its course and the Conservative party came to power once again. The people had spoken.

Well, some of them anyway.

Sixty-six per cent of the voting-aged UK general public cast votes on May 7 – and only 36.9 per cent of these people voted for the Tories, thus making their majority win slimmer than Posh Spice on Atkins. Ukip, the Green Party, and the Liberal Democrats all won 12 per cent, 8 per cent and 4 per cent of votes respectively – but none ended up with much more than 1 per cent of the seats. The Conservatives still managed to claim over half of the seats, and sole occupancy of Downing Street.

It was electile dysfunction at it’s finest.

Unsurprisingly, the left-wing masses are unsettled – the UK has seen widespread protest against the Conservative win, and a renewed cry to change the voting system and bring in proportional representation. Many are numb with shock and fear in the face of five more years of public service cuts.

I have to wonder, though, if the deluge of negativity and pessimism from lefties nationwide these last few weeks has been particularly helpful?

Suddenly my Facebook feed is crammed with political experts. The plethora of opinions on why the Tories are wrong/evil/misguided is vast and extraordinarily detailed. My friends have put a lot of time into their diatribes against the state – and, frankly, the constant stream of negativity and complaining is starting to get on my nerves. I’m worried too – the prospect of leaving the EU, losing the Human Rights Act and an even bigger gulf in the rich-poor divide saddens and terrifies me. But I’m painfully aware that whinging about it isn’t going to make a shred of difference. The cuts are coming.

I love an angry blog and a protest march as much as the next person, but we need to ask ourselves – is it really enough? (* types away at blog and tries to ignore glaring irony *) Some of the shoutiest of my friends and family are, absurdly, the ones who seem to be the least involved in any kind of social outreach, community engagement or charitable pursuit. What use is armchair activism if it isn’t followed up with, you know, activity? Social media is a fantastic mechanism for sparking debate and sharing opinions but at some point you have to actually leave the house, and take action outside of cyberspace.

So let’s see this month’s election results as a call to arms, not license to whine. Charities and social enterprises plug the holes that public services don’t have the resources to fill – and we need to be out there helping them through volunteering, fundraising and campaigning, instead of sitting behind our computer screens reposting articles about how the Tories boil cats for fun.

Engaging with the outside world through volunteering is actually proven to help alleviate depression and stress – so how about offsetting those post election blues with a few hours work at your local children’s centre?

I won’t pretend the future doesn’t look bleak for the disadvantaged and vulnerable of Britain. Throughout my struggles with chronic illness and depression I’ve always had the most incredible back up from my wonderful network of family and close friends. I doubt I would have made it even half this far without their support. So when I think about the many mentally ill or physically impaired human beings that I share this little island with, who don’t necessarily benefit from a close-knit community of loved ones, I’m at a loss as to how they’re going to get the help they need as government welfare makes a hasty retreat.

So instead of instagramming pictures of Boris Johnson’s face photoshopped onto a llama, let’s try to salvage something positive from the rubble that is British politics today – and do what we can to make the little spaces we occupy in the world better, fairer and more inclusive for everyone around us. David Cameron’s so-called Big Society has to start somewhere – let’s make it our own doorsteps.