Anxiety, Depression and Shame

I was Googling JK Rowling the other day – I can’t fully remember why, but most likely it was either to look at her sassy Twitter responses or to see if I could find an interview where she finally admitted Hogwarts is actually real #stillhopingformyHogwartsletter – but anyway, I actually came across what she had to say about her experience with depression, in particular, one interview she gave in 2008 to Adeel Amini for a student newspaper in Edinburgh (I truly cannot find the original article online anywhere, or I would link it) where she said: “The funny thing is, I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never… I think I’m abnormally shameless on that account because what’s to be ashamed of?… I went through a really rough time and I’m quite proud of the fact that I got out of that.”

Upon reading this I had a total “huh” moment. You know, where you sort of stop what you’re doing, “huh” and sit back in your chair with a puzzled expression – this most commonly occurs after checking bank balances, but it can happen other times too. I realised that it had literally never occurred to me that it was possible for ME to not feel ashamed of suffering from anxiety and depression. I know I’ve written a lot, and in my life I’ve spoken out a lot, on breaking the stigma around mental health issues and about the importance of realising that anxiety and depression are illnesses and not choices, BUT, what I realised after reading the JK Rowling interview was that I think on some level a lot of what I’ve written has actually been about trying to convince myself that I have nothing to be ashamed of, despite the overwhelming feelings of shame I actually have surrounding my own illness.

Regarding other people suffering from depression or anxiety, I can honestly say that not a single part of me believes they should be ashamed of this – but my own health? Yeah, there’s a lot of shame there. The time I had a very bad panic attack whilst on holiday with my best friend and had to come home? Shame. Leaving my job because I was too ill to function in the work place? Shame. Every time I’ve missed an event, every time I’ve cried at the wrong time, every phone call I couldn’t answer and every friendship I’ve been unable to maintain? Shame.

I think part of the problem, particularly when you’ve been fighting anxiety and depression for a long time, is that you start to lose track of what’s illness and what’s personality flaws. What “can’t” I do and what “won’t” I do. Did I not reply to that text because I couldn’t face holding a conversation, or did I not reply because I’m lazy? Did I not eat today because I couldn’t cope with the idea of putting something in my body, or because I was subconsciously punishing myself? It can be really hard to pick a way through and find the answers, to know when to chastise yourself, and when to be kind to yourself. Undoubtedly part of my problem is that, by nature, I don’t like the idea that I’ve “misbehaved” and so if I’ve missed a call or skipped an event, rather than take time to listen to my body and my mind as to what’s going on, I just chastise myself every time. Just to be sure.

Also, I think the feeling of shame is quite deep-rooted in me: as a child, my anxiety interfered with my ability to go to, or to stay at school on an often daily basis. My parents, understandably, felt my attendance in school was important and so that was my goal in a day, to go to, and to last the day in school. Needless to say, on the days where I didn’t manage to do this: I essentially failed. Now of course, sometimes this is the case with panic attacks, that we try our best and we’re wiped out nevertheless, but the important thing is to not beat ourselves up and to keep trying, right? Well I did, I did keep trying – through school, college, University and adulthood, I have tried and sometimes it’s worked, and sometimes it hasn’t. But despite all of this, and all the theoretical awareness I have of “not beating myself up”, when I think back to my school days and having those panic attacks, all I feel is shame. If I try really hard to put myself back there, I can feel the fear and the worry, but mostly it’s just shame. It’s the look in my parents’ eyes when they pick me up from school, it’s the crying in my room knowing that I’ve let people down, and it’s the teasing from the kids in the playground the next day. I’ve definitely been conditioned by the world around me, and conditioned myself to feel ashamed of my mental health issues.

But they say that acknowledging a problem is the first step in solving it, and while there was a part of me that was ashamed to write this post today (oh look, there’s shame again – I actually only spotted that choice in wording when I read this post back) because I suppose I feel like a bit of a hypocrite: encouraging other people to be kind to themselves while I’m over here mentally attacking myself for having the audacity to have to modify my life because of an illness, I still felt this was important to write. I’ve become so used to having an almost defiant knee-jerk response of, “it’s an illness not a choice” when questioned about my mental illness – I’ve become so used to practically shouting that outwards – that I think at some point I forgot that the dialogue I have with myself is actually more important than the words I use with other people. It’s all fine and well holding my head high in public and knowing how I want mental illness to come to be understood in the world, but it’s all a bit meaningless if behind closed doors I’m hanging my head in shame and hoping nobody notices.

Life is a journey and we are all constantly changing and growing, so my discovering these deep-seated feelings of shame is a good thing, ultimately. Now that I’m aware this is happening, I can tune in to my mental dialogue and start gently, but firmly making some changes in there. While it is painful to go back and relive memories of the childhood shame, being able to bring them to conscious levels and work on the feelings of embarrassment and guilt that come up, is a huge step in the forward direction.

Anxiety and depression are illnesses, not choices and please don’t let anyone – especially yourself – make you feel otherwise.

The Difference Between Dead Time and Down Time

Growing up, I feel like I always had a lot of ideas; always had a bunch of projects I was working on, and a list of things I wanted to learn about. I wanted to illustrate books and I wanted to be bilingual, I wanted to travel and to write and to help people plan Walt Disney World vacations (I mean, I know that last one reads sort of specific, but it’s the truth so…). In short, I never saw myself as a lounging around watching VHS/DVD/Netflix (delete as appropriate for specific life era) sort of a person. But unfortunately, that’s what I’ve become.


Living with anxiety and depression has meant that there have been a lot of times when I’m not at my strongest; when my energy reserves have been low, my mood has been all over the place and my creativity has been entirely absent. The real problem with this is that I am REALLY bad at identifying and correctly managing these issues. Historically, I’ve pretended they’re not happening and forced myself onwards regardless; bullying myself for being weak or for failing at things, I believed that willpower alone should be enough to override the depression. I believed that getting blog posts or videos up was my priority and if I was missing my upload deadlines the solution was to skip other things; things like eating, bathing and relaxation time, in order to not lose face or to feel like my dreams were slipping through my fingers. Needless to say, this did not work out so well for me, and over the years I experienced some very big crashes which pretty much resulted in Kenny making me fish fingers and waffles twice a day for a week, while I sat in the same pair of pyjamas and watch Deadly Women on repeat on Netflix and cried into my teddy bear, wondering what Candice DeLong would have to say about me. I know it sounds like I’m joking, but honestly, I’ve experienced some really bad times.

I stopped believing anyone would ever read the blog, so why write it?

Over the last year or so though, things swung too far the other way. I think I gave up. I stopped believing anyone would ever read the blog, so why write it? I couldn’t consistently upload to YouTube so why keep disappointing people? The language I was learning wouldn’t stick in my head, the diet plans were abandoned when I had a ‘dark day’, I pushed and pushed at the few friends I had to try and get them to leave before I ruined things… what was the point in anything. I would only fail and exhaust and embarrass myself in the process.

The more I felt I was struggling the more I tried to slow down, so the more time I blocked out for myself. I needed an hour in the morning and three at night just to veg out and watch things online, to feel placated enough to somehow function throughout the rest of the day. Then when this didn’t work, I blocked out more time. Cancelled date night, stopped cooking, stopped reading, stopped painting my toenails – there wasn’t enough time for any of that. I didn’t have enough time. No matter how many hours I sat and did nothing, I could never relax.

Meanwhile, my Bookmarks folder and my YouTube watch later playlist were overflowing. I had a notebook bulging with thumbnail sketches and planned blog posts. I would jot down jokes, or prompts or things I thought might help people – if only I would one day be strong enough to do something about it. Then, one day, as I rolled over onto the third season of Suits, and realised I’d hated at least the previous 1.5 seasons of this show I began to wonder what I was doing with my life.

I had so many ideas and so many things that I wanted to do and to give back, I really believed that I could help other people with mental health issues, but I just felt so powerless to do, well, anything about it. Nevertheless daring to hope a solution was out there, I started looking into time management and productivity methods. I downloaded approximately 73,000 apps to help me, I tried bullet journalling, we bought a white board, but nothing really helped because I was so stuck in this feeling of needing safe time, quiet time.

I tried bullet journalling, we bought a white board, but nothing really helped because I was so stuck in this feeling of needing safe time, quiet time.

Then in my reading I came across the Tony Robbins concept of N.E.T – which stands for No Extra Time – and I’m not going to lie, on the surface this sounded like a scary thing for me. I felt like I could barely function, limping through mandatory tasks like food shopping, and now, I was supposed to do multiple things at once? Seriously? But yes, indeed this is what N.E.T is about. Basically, it’s the idea that we have all this time we have to sink into things such as cleaning the bathroom, jogging or commuting, but, while these tasks engage our bodies and in some ways leave us “stuck”, they don’t actually control our thoughts. Now I, like a lot of the population, used to use situations like this to zone out, or watch something trashy, to “relax”, I thought, my anxiety meant I needed to relax – but what else could I do with this time?

What if the half hour I spend washing dishes can also be the time I learn Spanish? What if I use my bath time in the morning to check-in with myself and visualise the day ahead? What if instead of watching Suits while I eat my breakfast I read or I learn something new through a site like Skillshare – I mean, sure, I’ll miss being #LittUp in the mornings, but you know, sacrifices need to be made I guess.

I’m here today not just to say that N.E.T really works well – because I think, probably, that’s been established already – but to talk about exactly what it’s taught me, and the amazing gift it’s given me. I started by making a list of what I wanted to do with my life, in specifics (as in not just “get fit”, but “run a half marathon in 2018”), and then made a list of things that I know to be true about myself and my needs, (as in, that I am a morning person who starts the day fired up and slowly drains throughout the day) and I set about working out ways that I could match up taking care of my needs with getting what I wanted.

I don’t want to too much into the specifics of the routine I made here as this post is already crazy long, but I do want to talk about the results. I worried that I would feel overwhelmed by giving myself more to do in a day; that I would feel rushed or pressured but actually it’s been the opposite. For example, if I am out a jog and I’m really low energy and I’m walking more than I’m jogging, I don’t find myself focusing on the negativity there because I’m also learning about life in Glasgow in the 1800’s, so even if I don’t run much, I’ve still come back into the house a ‘richer’ person. I could give a dozen examples like this, all of which would be true and, for me, a huge deal, but as I said, I think the benefits of using the N.E.T. method are well established, so let me just finish by talking about the biggest lesson I’ve learned of all.

I had previously thought that all the time I had spent lounging about in front of Netflix was relaxation time, time that I needed to recharge my batteries, but I can see now that I was wrong, it was dead time. I wasn’t learning, or growing or achieving anything, but I also couldn’t relax properly because I was so wracked with guilt about wasting my life away. It’s hard to relax when you have a list of goals you’re getting no closer to, and a pile of dishes in the sink you’ve not washed in days. I kidded myself that the time was good for me, I was listening to my body and showing that I was in control of looking after myself instead of pushing on to silly levels, but I can see now that it was the anxiety talking. After all, anxiety doesn’t want us to become successful, or to take risks or try new things, anxiety wants to keep us where we’re safe and in control – i.e on the couch with a cup of tea in hand. And I let my anxiety convince me that this was for the best.

After all, anxiety doesn’t want us to become successful, or to take risks or try new things, anxiety wants to keep us where we’re safe and in control…

Now, although yes, I am tackling much more in a day, I find that by structuring things well and pursuing things I’m genuinely very passionate about, I feel fulfilled rather than overwhelmed and by achieving so much earlier in the day, by the time evening comes around I’m ready for some ACTUAL downtime. Time where there is no guilt or pressure, where the dishes are done and I can take a little time to be proud of myself for the day before getting cosy under a blanket with a good book, or actually watching a whole film from start to finish.

Learning about the N.E.T method, as well as becoming aware of how I work and what I want as an individual, has meant that I am able to structure my days and make the most of my “good times”, so that when the times come that I’m sad, or I’m tired I have the ability to switch off and give myself some proper down time, rather than staring into space like some sort of zombie, shutting out the real world and my own thoughts. There is a huge difference between down time and dead time, and I am so glad that I’m finally able to tell the difference between the two and give myself the actual relaxation that I deserve.

Sneaky, Sneaky FOMO

I had heard of FOMO (or “fear of missing out”) a lot over the years as various bloggers on my feed lamented not going to Ibiza for the first Summer in 5 years, or not going to the music festival that EVERYONE was going to. I saw colleagues totally burn themselves out drinking many nights in a row because they couldn’t bare the thought of not being at the party, just in case – but honestly, FOMO was never a big part of my life.

As I think I’ve talked about a bunch on here, I was never part of the in-crowd as a kid – like it or not, that was something that just wasn’t an option for me – so growing up I missed all the parties, all the scandalous happenings, the drunken outings and the ‘squad’ holidays. As time passed, I never did go out to da club and I never did get something pierced.  I never got sunburned, never had a crazy fling, never kept up with the chart music, the TV shows or the celebrities.

Part of this, I think, was falling in with an older crowd at college – as in, they were in their 40s – and then also being in relationships with older men – all people who had done all the typical “young” stuff and had moved on – so I think I just sort of moved on too. That and the fact that as time passed, I felt I had sort of missed the boat on a lot of it: getting drunk at 18 for the first time and making a fool of yourself may be excusable and pretty normalised, but I felt it would just be a bit awkward at 25 or whatever.

So yeah, I kind of marched to the rhythmn of my own drum, I guess: I had my interests, my music taste, my Netflix list, and I didn’t really care if they were “cool”. In a lot of ways, I suppose I didn’t know what I was missing out on. Colleagues at work would initially spark conversations with me about current goings on, but after a few rounds of; “no, really, I don’t own a TV”, and “Yeah, I’ve never been on a night out”, or even, “what’s One Direction?”, and people soon gave up on me and moved on to chat about the weather – now that I can do, have you seen the rain lately? Occasionally my sister would look at me like I had three heads as we listened to music together, but other than that, basically everyone knew I was on my own path.

Now though, having started this new barista job, I am surrounded by lovely young folks who are so nice to me, and don’t seem to be giving up on me easily either. We’ve had lots of chats about what the nightlubs in Glasgow are called, what Grindr is, what the bands I listened to when I was 14 are doing now (hint: it’s not good), and why Love Island is such a thing (I still don’t get it). But, despite how nice everyone is, as time passed, I started to feel really out of it, I felt “uncool” and like I was really missing out on a lot. I started to want to keep up with the things they kept up with, I vowed to participate on the next night out and I would grimace at myself when I was just so out of the loop with EVERYTHING.

Eventually, thankfully, I had a couple of realisations – brought about by a guy at work talking about “dabbing” and the awkwardness of us just staring at each other for about 10 seconds after we realised I had no idea what that was. The first realisation was that I am older. I am 26, my fiance is 35, so of course my life does not look the same as my 20 year old colleagues’. They’re out partying and eating instant noodles (I mean, probably not at the same time, although as I’ve covered, I actually have no idea what goes on at parties), and Kenny and I spent yesterday at Dobbies choosing out compost (honestly. not. even. joking). Our idea of snuggling up to watch something does not involve the dramas of random singletons on an island (‘cos I think that’s what Love Island is… right?), we’re currently rewatching David Attenborough’s The Private Life of Plants, and you know what? We love it. While age certainly shouldn’t be something used as a rule – as in I don’t think every 26 year old is too old to hit the clubs, I just know I am – life does move through natural chapters, and I am not in the same chapter as my workmates are.

That sort of leads me onto my second realisation about why I was all of a sudden drowning in the FOMO. More than the fact I felt out of touch, and like I was missing out on things now I think it was the realisation that I am truly past the point of a lot of things happening in my life. I am an adult. I am a pet-parent. I’m getting married. I think working with all these young people who are so free made me freak out a little about the fact I’ll never be like that again. I will never be able to just “crash on someone’s couch”, I have a cat who would spend the night sharpening her claws for when I did come home. I will never use a dating app, heck, I will never have another first date. I’ll never have a holiday romance, an awkward morning after or a love affair with Aragorn (although that might be mostly because he’s ficticious). I’ll never know who’s on TV, I’ll never keep up with the Kardashians. I can’t go back and have a massive 21st birthday party, I can’t get a drunk tattoo and regret it when I’m older, I can’t… well, I can’t be 20 again.

It has to be said that I have a history with struggling to accept things like this: that my life has passed some sort of threshold I can’t go back from. I spent much of my 11th birthday in tears becuase my Hogwarts owl never arrived (I sat up half the night with my window open, waiting for it), and on the eve of my 16th birthday I had quite the freak out about my CHILDHOOD BEING OVER, prompting my mum to rush out and buy me several My Little Ponies. So, yeah, I think this is another example like this: something I just need to build a bridge and get over. Because let’s face it, I have a lot to be grateful for; I shouldn’t be sitting around feeling jelly (that’s something young people say) of my fellow baristas.

I have my wonderful fiance who is just honestly like the other half of me, I have my beautiful fur-baby who I love more than I would ever have thought possible. We own our awesome flat, I’m lucky enough to be studying again and at 26 I can finally use a can opener with at least some competence. With so much to be thankful for, it’s time to let go of some things too – and to accept I’m the outsider at work, and that’s actually okay.  So here’s to propogating aubergine seeds, shopping for a new matress, listening to Bach and still not having a fucking clue what dabbing is.

The Cabinet.

When Kenny and I moved into our flat we didn’t have a lot of money and so we were incredibly lucky that the previous owner left us all his furniture (actually, he just packed a suitcase and moved out so he also left cupboards full of food, his slippers by the bed and 72,000 containers of shoe polish, but that’s a story for another day…). Anyway, yes, we were very, very fortunate not to need to worry about buying furniture or appliances for the flat at all initially, however, as grateful as I am, there were two big downsides to this. 1) I got kinda lazy about the furniture. I really didn’t like a lot of it, but hey, I mean, it was there. Even when I did have decent money coming in, I kind of didn’t bother to even look on GumTree or anything for something I liked more (we live on a third floor flat, so moving furniture in and out is not the most fun thing ever), so I was never really happy with how the place looked. When people came round I often felt uncomfortable. 2) You know how they say that fish grow as big as their pond/tank allows them to? Well, I did that with my posessions. If there were 8 drawers to fill, I just kept shopping and filled them. Whereas if we had initially had zero furniture, and everything was in bags on the floor, I think I’d have been much more aware of what I owned.

Over the 2 years we’ve been here, we’ve been able to swap out almost everything in the living room and kitchen area (except the sofa, which is filthy underneath the 20 blankets covering it, but I swear it is the COMFIEST sofa of all time…), but until very recently there was still one hold-out from the original storage-set. The Cabinet. It was actually one of a pair, which, for most of the two years we’ve been here were JAMMED full of stuff – to the point where I couldn’t close the drawers a lot of the time. Then, when my KonMari-ing hit full swing last Autumn, we finally got rid of one. FINALLY. The other one was still an absolute mess though, in fact, I think I somehow smooshed contents from the first cabinet into The Cabinet, just so I could actually get rid of one. It was just this huge, unworkable mass of stuff that for whatever reason, I just could not break down. I mean, I think I knew, even then that most of it was ‘junk’ (as in, dead weight, things that didn’t add any value to my life, not actually broken things) but I just couldn’t see how I could possibly reduce it. Eventually, after a lot (and I do mean, a lot) of discussion, Kenny and I decided to pick up a set of the tall Malm drawers from IKEA to replace the cabinet – a lot shorter and neater, and more in line with the other furniture in the room, but still a lot of storage. We picked a day to go and get them and on the day I just shrugged off the plans. Time, and time again.  Day after day.

I don’t even know why the whole thing bothered me so much. Given the size of the room, it certainly wouldn’t have looked ‘too much’ to have the Malm drawers there, and let’s face it, if we ever didn’t need them, we could shift them on GumTree or Free Cycle, really quickly. But it bugged me. I would just stand and stare at that cabinet. Then open a drawer. Then close the drawer.

Over the Christmas period I managed to pick up some retail work, which saw me doing a lot of hours and I swear, literally every day I would come home and stand at the doorway and just glare at that stupid Cabinet, filled with all my stupid stuff. Knowing I had no time to deal with it, suddenly lit a fire under me to face up to it at the first possible opportunity. So January 1st rolled around, the tree came down, my contract ended and I had time to finally take care of the thing – finally.

Going through this Cabinet is the only time I’ve really been angry or frustrated with myself during the whole decluttering process. Usually, even if I feel inner turmoil or I’m just not thinking rationally, I’ll just kind of let it go that day and go back to it when I’m in a better zone. But not this Cabinet. Inside it was my ‘memories’ drawer, my art supplies, my documets (which actually, if you consider the fact I’m a collage artist who works in quite a frenzied manner, perhaps storing necessary documents right next to scrap paper for collage was a really bad idea…), just paper, paper, paper. Piles of it lying about the floor, stacks and flurries and the cat making a nest with some. I was so angry; angry at myself for keeping SO MUCH PAPER, angry at the fact I’d moved almost all of it into this flat with me two years ago, angry that I didn’t practice my art much any more, angry at finding that document I thought I’d lost… for some reason, this Cabinet just took me to a bad place.

So this was the only time I broke the ‘hold each item and see if it sparks joy’ criteria. I just couldn’t. Not with this Cabinet. Not with this paper. I separated the documents, because I had to, and then with all the art paper I just grabbed chunks and bagged them to donate. I filled bags and bags. I kept barely anything at all actually; sitting deliberating between shades of salmon paper just seemed so ludicrous all of a sudden. Honestly, I still have no idea what I all got rid of – which I think says something in itself. All that paper, all those pens that over my years as an art student I researched and shopped for, cared for, used, shared and loved. I sat there looking at it all, and realising that I couldn’t even tell you specifically what a lot of it was for (I mean, I still know what a pen does, but I couldn’t tell you why I liked a certain brand or which ink was the blackest), and it made me really sad. I didn’t just study art at university, I freaking lived it for years. I made art every day, almost subconsciously, as naturally as breathing and now, it would be about as natural as that scene where Bambi takes to the ice. I do still draw, sometimes, sort of, but the person I was years ago at uni was in that Cabinet and in a lot of ways I was saying goodbye to her. I don’t understand what changed and why I broke away so much from my art, and I think I just sort of froze everything in time, hoping that someday I’d figure it out, and maybe I will, maybe one day it’ll all come flooding back, but for now, it hurts too much to look at it all everyday and wonder why I lost what I did. So it’s almost all gone.

The Cabinet, the empty shell that it was in the end, is gone too, and nothing was bought to replace it. I moved over drawers I already had, and we got a lamp (because our ceiling light is as atmospheric as grocery store lighting) and now that corner feels like me, like part of my home. I have claimed that space and banished The Cabinet. But it still makes me a little sad. Yes, it feels like me now, yes I no longer spend time glaring at that corner of the room, but I guess it raises other questions too, about who ‘me’ is. About why I don’t practice my art much, about the feeling of disconnect – of trying to understand if I’m meant to say goodbye to that part of myself, or dig her out from under all the makeup and candles. Art student me would have hated this room. But I am not art student me. I’m mid-twenties me, I’m enagaged to be married me, I’m anxious and minimalist and Glaswegian me. Or am I? How do I know? How can I tell? Who the fuck am I?

So the Cabinet is gone, taking it’s prescence; it’s weight and shadow with it. Out of sight, out of mind I guess. I hoped emptying it out would close the chapter and let me move on – that making a firm decision would have earned me some closure. But it hasn’t. The Cabinet is gone but the doubt remains. I don’t regret physically letting go of… well, whatever it was that went, but I do wonder where the path is taking me now. To loop back around to my art with fresh eyes, and someday end up with another cabinet of paper, or to continue to move further away from one of the keystones of my identity.

Stupid Cabinet.

 

 

 

Learning How my Hobbies fit in with my Minimalism

I realise I’ve always had a lot of ‘hobbies’, even before I was at an age to know them by that name. For Christmas, when I was two years old, I asked Santa for ‘scissors, paper and glue’ and from that Christmas morning onwards I have had an arts and crafts box (with plastic scissors at that age, I must add). It started as a small set from the North Pole and has ebbed and flowed in size over my years as an imaginative kid, a productive art student and even now as an ‘adult’ my arts and crafts drawers are still with me. And this is just one example of my hobbies. Over the years there have been many – from learning French, a recently rejoined pursuit, to skateboarding, which was boy-with-the-dreamy-hair motivated and was, mercifully, a short lived undertaking. But my point is that I have always had my day-to-day stuff that I could sort and declutter like anyone else, but then I would have whole drawers of ‘untouchable’ items because they were my art supplies. Or my makeup collection. Or 10,000 notebooks I had acquired for writing in. And while the specifics have changed over the years, I realise that I still have a lot of ‘hobby’ stuff that I just won’t even consider taking apart.

So how does it fit in with the life I want to live? Paint stained tables and drawers bulging with scrap paper are a far cry from the minimalist images popping up on my Pinterest feed – but how do I feel about it?

The first thing I did when I started thinking about my hobbies going forward, is gave some thought to the Miss Minimalist quote; “declutter your fantasy self”. For a long time after I was out of my teens, I held on to so many relics from my less-than-wild adolescance – Nirvana t-shirts, Hello-Kitty-dressed-as-satan backpacks and some seriously chunky black eyeliner pencils. I held on, not because my teen years were great (they really weren’t), but I think it was more to do with the idea that our teen years are when we make a lot of decisions about college and life and all those big scary sorts of things, as well as have first loves and do a lot of learning about ourselves, and frankly, I think I had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that time was past, and not being able to shake off the feeling that I wanted to go back for a do-over. Holding onto all those clothes and accessories really didn’t make me feel good though. I felt very confused each time I went to get dressed: it sounds dramatic, but honestly, being confronted with those garments in the morning would just have me being hit with waves of nostalgia, regret and panic about where I was now in my life. It was like trying to have multiple identities which, as well as causing some bizarre ‘fusion’ ensembles to appear, also put a lot of pressure on me in an area of my life that really isn’t worth stressing over.

Almost as soon as I started decluttering, I spotted this behaviour pattern, I realised that I was holding onto my past, and in seeing it clearly, I felt ready to finally say goodbye to that chapter of my life – have a little cry – and begin to move on. But for some reason, the same epiphany didn’t occur with my hobbies – like I said, the drawers and boxes that stored those items were always sort of invisible to me. They were given a pass through decluttering, because they were ‘specialist’ items. Well, no more. I slowly started to become aware that there were drawers I wasn’t opening, boxes I couldn’t recall the contents of, and in peeking inside, came to realise that they were all full of ‘hobby’ items. With each hobby I remembered I felt a pang of guilt that I was neglecting all these items, I felt shame that I was failing at keeping up with something that I really did want to do, and I felt pressure – how the heck was I going to fit this in? Eventually, a little voice in my head piped up to answer that last question, saying: what if I just don’t?

I love the idea of living a rich and full life, and so I see myself wearing a lot of (metaphorical) hats. I see myself being a polygot because I love studying languages, I see myself being someone who cooks a proper, elaborate dinner each night because I’m interested in nutrition (and because I freaking love to eat), I see myself by an easel, hiking in the hills, filming makeup tutorials, jogging, swimming and visitng the cinema weekly. I see myself doing a lot of things, I just can’t see when I would be doing them.

I think this is a key example of it not being a conscious pressure I place on myself – I don’t literally wake up each morning and give myself a hard time for not going out to photograph local wildlife and then combine it with a 10 mile jog home, but still, subconsciously I’m aware of all these boxes and drawers filled with all these ‘goals’ and ‘targets’ I’m failing to meet. On some level, I am still carrying all this around with me. I am still trying to remember the cheat codes to Mega-Bomberman, and retain the ability to speak conversationally in several languages, to ensure we get our 5-a-day in an innovative and exciting manner, and to pan an eyeshadow palette. It’s a lot of things to remember, really, given that a good chunk of my brain is already given over to remembering the lyrics of every ABBA song (‘cos those come hard-wired, right?).

So how did I go from having about 35,672 hobbies I never did, to picking out a couple that I wanted to continue with right now in my life?

1. Asked some really tough questions – what could I stop?

This line of thinking took me to some really dark places – dealing with the idea that I might never do something, led me to a lot of thoughts about my own mortality – you know, we only have so much time, we can’t do it ALL – I might very possibly die without ever completing Tomb Raider II for the Playstation One, or managing to master night-time photography. And you know what? In the end I realised that it didn’t really matter. While painting is fun and I’d love to be able to make beautiful desserts for my fiance I know that when the time comes and I’m on my deathbed I really won’t care if I ever did beat my sister’s score in the Wii ski-jump (not least because I know I never will). I know this is a really morbid way to think about things, but going to this extreme really made me realise what things were important to me – that added value to my life experience, and helped me grow as a person and express myself – and to be able to tell them apart from the things that while fun to experience now and again, were more weight and pressure than was worth stringing along.

2. What could I hit pause on?

After outright discarding a lot of my hobby items – buh-bye scrapbooking supplies – I was left with still a lot of things that I really did feel connected to, but that weren’t things I reached for everyday. For example, I had a lot of books on learning various languages, and a lot of books and tools related to learning calligraphy and hand lettering. I knew that while I was passionate about pursuing these interests, pursuing them wasn’t going to happen tomorrow or even next week and I wanted to find a way to keep them alive, but free myself from the constant physical reminder of them. I spent a lot of time online researching these subjects and for languages I found many great YouTube channels as well as the language learning website DuoLingo and I realised that actually, this combined with being able to store dictionaries on my Kindle meant that I could actually release ALL of my physical books to go to loving homes, but still be able to hit ‘resume’ on this hobby any time I like. As far as the physical ‘tools’ for hand lettering, or even my huge stash of printmaking supplies, I really looked at what I would ‘need’ to have on hand to get started again – what couldn’t I work without in the beginning? Everything else, I let go, knowing that if or when the time comes and I want to really get involved with these hobbies again, I will find a way to regain items as I need them. I trust that will work out.

3. Could items be loved more by someone else?

Then, when it came to the hobbies that I knew I was going to physically going to keep the items for- like the majority of my art supplies – I went through and tried to feel the joy, and workout if I’d actually prefer to let some things go rather than keeping them sitting in a drawer because ‘it made sense to’. In the end I got a big pile of coloured paper and pastels and various other bits and pieces ready to send off to the youngest budding artist in the family. On paper (no pun intended), it made sense to keep it ALL – paper is a non perishable and it would be a nightmare to try and find all those specific shades, weights and textures again – but in truth, I felt more joy at the thought of gifting them to someone else, practicalities be darned. For me, it was about finding the right balance between having still kept a ‘full set’ of supplies for my ongoing interests, but also that I wasn’t just holding on to so many things that I might actually never get round to using them.

Of course, deciding which objects to physically keep is only half the battle really. As with all of minimalism, it’s more about mindset than anything else, and I had to really have a big shift in my thoughts with my hobbies going forward. Right now, I want my biggest focus, or ‘hobby’ to be about being happy. About pursuing bliss and calm and fulfillment, and maybe once I’m feeling some more of that I’ll look to add in a couple more hobbies again, but for now, I’m liking the peace and quiet and the pressure-free space my home has become.

Anxiety vs. Minimalism – Can I KonMari My Way to Happiness?

 

Like millions of others, I recently caught the organising bug after reading Marie Kondo’s ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ – or should I say I eventually caught the bug as the book had in fact sat on my shelf for many months, not being very contagious at all really.

Like so many have done before me, I spent a week ripping my house apart, visiting the local charity shop to donate entire car loads (more times than I’d care to admit, frankly), showing my socks some love and having some really terrifying moments of wondering just how the heck I ever got to be someone who owned a huge box full of high heels. I moved to Glasgow two years ago. I moved with all these shoes. I have worn none of them since being here. What? How? Why?

The end result was, to be honest, mind blowing. As in, inviting family members round to see it (and then showing them inside every cupboard and drawer, smugly,) levels of impressive. Me, little ol’ ‘keep it just in case’ me had finally turned a corner, seen the light and I’d add some more cliches in here, but oops, I’ve decluttered those too. I was happy, actually happy sitting on my couch doing nothing, just breathing.

That last statement perhaps could use some context.

You see, I came to pick up the book one day when I’d been signed off work with anxiety and depression – I was, in other words, not in a good place. Not at all really. I wasn’t coping anymore; with my job, with relationships, with my home, or even really with myself, and reading this book and cleaning up was the first time I had wanted to do anything, or for that matter felt like I could do anything in, well… a long time. For the first time in forever (sorry) I had a purpose, I had something to work towards, I felt proud of myself – I was taking control, I was facing up to things, I was throwing out nail polish, damn it. My life was pretty much in tatters around me but I was taking those baby steps, I was achieving something.

So there I was, on my couch, breathing. My fiance was so proud of me (after he finished emptying all the discarded items from the flat ASAP, in case I changed my mind, of course), my mum pretty much thought I was a pod person, even the cat seemed more relaxed, although, admittedly, that’s hard to measure. I should have had nothing else to do but give myself some pats on the back and soak up the calm vibrations (and the dust, we had really kicked up a lot of dust). But I couldn’t, and I didn’t. Everyone else saw the job as done, but frankly all I had were more questions.

Sure, I can now safely say that each one of my sweaters brings me joy, great, but cumulatively, am I happy being someone who owns 15 sweaters? Why do I own 15 sweaters? I can, after all only wear one at a time. Do I enjoy walking into my closet and choosing between all the pieces of clothing that I love, or would my life actually be easier with fewer knitwear-based decisions to make? I could go on, but I imagine you can extrapolate the sweater situation in your mind by yourself. Ultimately, I was asking some big questions; why did I buy all these things in the first place? What is this void, this wanting I am trying to fill? If I don’t want this, what do I want?

Sure, I can now safely say that each one of my sweaters brings me joy, great, but cumulatively, am I happy being someone who owns 15 sweaters? 

So I wanted to try and find other people who had felt this way. Other people who had become disillusioned with their very lifestyle and the core paradigms they had formed to guide them through adulthood. I learned that, shockingingly enough, my feelings were not unique to me – so many people had felt like this that the new lifestyles they had created for themselves even had a name: minimalism. So, I tried to take a peek at what living a minimalist lifestyle means. Unfortunately, like a lot of topics on the internet, there isn’t a shallow end where you can dip your toes in and look around, nope, it’s very much like falling down the proverbial rabbit hole into a swirling void of anti-consumerism, terror tales of fast fashion and stories of people finding inner peace after removing all their electical appliances. I read blog post after blog post, from people who can fit all their worldly posessions into a carry-on bag *hyperventilates into a paper bag*, and people sporting the most chic, loft style apartments, with drawers that had one t-shirt in them. But I couldn’t see where I would fit into this, I couldn’t see any of me in these lifestyles.

I want to live like me… just with less. I’m not suddenly going to become a back-packer and frankly, I do like all of my fluffy pyjamas. All the pyjamas. I spent hours, days in fact reading everyone’s definitions of minimalism – ‘lighter living’, ‘less is more’, ‘freedom from white noise’. I studied every aspect as an individual concept – capsule wardrobes, minimalist cooking, the environmental impact, the financial impact – as well as reading numerous accounts of how minimalism had changed peoples’ lives completely. And then, like a toddler who can’t open the bubbles, I got frustrated and threw them at my sister, or, err, wait this metaphor didn’t really work out… This was just something else I was failing at. What a shock. Something else I’m not cut out for, another thing I don’t understand – this is another phase my family will crack jokes about at Christmas dinner, another desperate and misguided attempt on my part to cope with long-term mental health issues. What a fool I’ve been, I’m no minimalist.

I want to live like me… just with less. I’m not suddenly going to become a back-packer and frankly, I do like all of my fluffy pyjamas. 

So I tried to shrug it off and go back to shopping for eyeshadow. I loaded up baskets, I browsed all across the web, I went to the checkout page and I just sat there; why? Why am I doing this? Why am I suddenly not doing this? I realised that whatever seed has been planted in my mind; it isn’t suddenly going away. I eventually stopped pouting, and began reading minimalist blogs again. Slowly I began to understand. I’ve been reading all these accounts from people who’ve been living as minimalists for years; who’ve had time to define what it means for them, how it fits into their lives. I’m looking at a finished product and putting myself on the spot to get there, now, when in reality, this is going to be a journey. Moving to minimalism, whatever that ends up meaning for me, looks like this terrifying leap – I cannot currently see anyway in which I can further reduce my possessions and re-wire my consumerist brain. But that’s okay. All I know right now is that I don’t want to keep living this way; nesting among my things, a la Smaug, and hiding from the bigger, psychological issues (because, maybe if Smaug had learned to KonMari, things wouldn’t have gone as far as they did). All I know is something doesn’t feel right anymore and minimalism is the direction I can feel myself being pulled. It’s in my nature, with my anxiety, to hate uncertainty and to want to feel in control at all times, and this, well this is like being swept off into the unknown. But something inside me is telling me to let go of the tree branch I am clinging to (*has nightmarish The Lion King memories*) and allow myself to drift along and see where I end up… hopefully not under a stampede of wildebeest. Or sweaters.