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.

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.