Solitude breeds creativity, it is when you can hear yourself think and those thoughts lead to creating and contributing a form of joy in your life. Loneliness, on the other hand, is the fear part of the brain. The 2,000,000 year old brain that is saying that we need social interaction and that we cannot cope. It is fearful. We must acknowledge these feelings and yet find a way out of loneliness and look at how we can contribute to the world. This is where you will find solitude, the positive side-kick of loneliness. Where loneliness is part of our ego screaming at us that we are lonely and feeling sorry for oneself, solitude is appreciating the quiet-time, looking at what you can do and taking control of who you want to be.
I spoke with someone recently online who was very lonely and having bad feelings regarding this Covid-19 crisis. While he found it difficult to process these emotions I encouraged him to look at what CAN be done. What can he do. He seemed hard on himself saying that he was an introvert and not calling people or doing anything about it. I told him to recognise that loneliness isn't forever, it is not the eternal state of being and to have hope. Not to convince yourself to be positive as that's different but to look at it in terms of optimism. There is a huge difference between being optimistic and being positive. Being optimistic is a case of looking at the existing circumstances as not being great, however, acknowledging that it will be over soon. Being positive is convincing yourself that 'all is fine' even when it isn't and squashing your emotions - we are all guilty of doing this at times. This is also to do with emotional immaturity and sticking your head in the ground. I can say that once you process the emotions of pain suffered while feeling lonely, it is time to focus on contribution of what can be done and to get out of yourself and look at the world as our community. I am sure we all have something to offer.
Look at what can be done, what are your skills, what can you help someone else achieve, be, feel, do? It is also looking at what we are absorbing around us, is our environment making us feel bad about ourselves? Are we consuming too much information that is talking about the death rates or are we around people that are overly critical and we have absorbed their criticisms. It can happen easily that you feel confident and then you find yourself in a toxic environment and slowly it creeps into your being. It starts off with a comment here or there, maybe someone being sarcastic or having a laugh and then accumulates as if it's a snowball rolling down the mountain. It brings with it all the snow on the mountain. The mountain stands firm but a layer has been peeled from its face.
You will figure out if you are in a bad environment if the people around you do the things in the image I have shown above. They may be run by fear which is natural in these times of Covid-19 and while we can't prevent ourselves from interacting with some people especially during this crisis, it is time to look at how we speak to ourselves when around these people. Perhaps it is our self-esteem that has been impacted - self-esteem being the distance between who we are and who we want to be and they are insulting something attached to our identity. This will, of course, lower our self-esteem if we feel bad or stupid every time we do something. It is mathematical, we are losing our sense of self by the erosion of these words on our boundaries. We need to listen to ourselves more and build our own optimism so that it rebounds off our walls. It is another one of life's lessons teaching us some resilience.
Another thing that I have found useful in the past is to also figure out what brings you joy, what makes you feel alive? I find sports always gave me the energy and positive feelings. I never regret a workout when I feel good after it. I love it. I love dancing, I love watching comedy, I love seeing other people laugh. It's contagious, we can uplift each other. I have found during this time that I look at other new things and applications including games, TikTok and other sources that have comedy in them too. Comedy is one of the key tenants to relief tension. It eases the atmosphere.
There is an Irish proverb that says that in the shelter of each other, the people live - Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine. (I took that from Simon Coveney's speech on Global Citizen) and he also stated that we are reminded of the interdependence that we have upon each other. It means that we are one, we are all connected and everything in the universe only exists because it has a relationship to everything else. We are all interconnected, we are all sharing this Global pandemic crisis together as we grief the loss of some of our loved ones and see others suffer though the pain in overcoming this virus. Without relationships as Conway's game of life states, we would die of isolation.
As we are living in each other's shelter, we are social creatures even as introverts who are drained from human interaction, we still need human interaction but to a limited degree. We might get overwhelmed by noise and oftentimes startled by noise or loud extroverted people. Our boundaries might be pushed by extraverts and we might be made uncomfortable. We might be seen as reserved in certain circumstances but may have trained ourselves to overcome some of these qualities by forming habits that are extraverted. This is normal, however, we need to get real about how we feel so we can heal our feelings of self-doubt and in terms of loneliness perhaps abandonment. These are emotions that can be addressed as you settle into yourself and learn to enjoy your own company.
It is simple to think of loneliness and solitude as two separate things, one can be seen as negative and the other positive. Loneliness may come from the form of the self that is the child who wants to be taken care of and looked after. It is important to comfort that voice. Comfort it as if you were comforting yourself at 7 years old. Tell yourself that it'll be fine, it's only temporary and things will be back to normal soon. Have empathy for yourself the same as if you have empathy for another person - see video below.
Solitude on the other hand is positive, it is the time to create, contribute, excel at being alone, emotionally regulate yourself and find meaning in things that you are doing by yourself and for others. Solitude can be the feeling of being grateful for a walk in the forest and a run alone. It can be a form of activity or it can also mean sitting alone in silence and relaxing - simply enjoying the peace and quiet.
So, yes we may feel lonely sometimes but know this - it is temporary. While this crisis is unusual, it has given some of us a time to reflect on what is important to us, what we can do to help others and how we can contribute. The altruistic nature of humanity is starting to shine and it is truly heartwarming to see and feel. Regardless of the thoughts of some political leaders I am proud to see the head of government in Ireland renew his medical licence and contribute to some time working in hospitals as a medical doctor again. I am proud to see the people gather around and come closer.
The connectedness of everyone has been strengthened in a global fight against one common enemy that does not discriminate in terms of race, age, gender or nationality. I am proud of the human race as a whole and the generosity that it shows when contributing and adapting to different things that can be done. I am grateful for all who are working hard on the front lines during this crisis as I speak to people online and try to uplift them, teach others a new skill and do what I can from home, all we can do is do our small part to help humanity. Some have learnt how to cook, others have learnt a new skill while others have felt the kindness reverberate through clapping at our emergency workers around the world, it is important to remember - while you may be experiencing some loneliness right now, it can turn to solitude, enjoyment of life and the loneliness will not last forever.
Like waves in the ocean, these feelings will go so stay optimistic that the future will be better as I know it will. Connect with others and learn empathy, as Bréné Brown puts it, what makes something better is connection. See what you can do to connect with others because you don't know what they are going through, it could be a case that they have experienced something truly painful so smile at a stranger, give the rest of your change to the person working behind the shop counter and tell them thank you and that it's for chocolate for them later. Once you adapt to solitude you will feel the best feelings of joy, happiness and feeling ALIVE. Do all the things that bring you joy, do something that you love once a day and these feelings will start to trickle into your being. It may start with synthetic happiness until it turns into true authentic happiness. It grows like seeds, they need to be watered daily.
Do things that feel good and perhaps not for you but for someone else. Do something that brings another person joy, find a way to contribute, get outside of your head and your being and send a text to someone letting them know that you are thinking of them, say hi to people passing you by in the forest going for a run. People are coming together and connections are stronger, people are warmer and you can tell by going to the shop that people have found other ways to connect so find ways of connecting to yourself in terms of joy and enjoying solitude and also to others in terms of contribution. Connect with each other in our humanity as we are all in this together and as John Donne puts it 'no man is an island'. Look at what is good in your life right now and write them down, YOU ARE ALIVE and (first heal the wound of abandonment - see above) and then be thankful for your health, it is time to use it and uplift others when they are suffering from this pandemic. Have the compassion and understanding for others and perhaps a smile or something for another can impact their whole being. List the things that made time stop and you were in flow and do that everyday. Enjoy life, enjoy the creativity that solitude brings and enjoy the peace and quiet that it affords to all of us. You can make confidence permanent by doing the things you decide to do. You can be quiet and not shy but this is for another post as they are also two different things. This time in our lives is not a productivity test - read a book, go for a walk, get outside, get outside of yourself and contribute, find ways to bring joy into your life and loneliness will turn into solitude.
Image source: https://sellshareshow.weebly.com/inspirations/successful-people-v-unsuccessful-people-which-one-are-you
I am thankful that this part of my life is finished and I can do plenty of sports again having completed my first triathlon last year, learning how to swim was a tremendous undertaking and having the right team made it so enjoyable. I am so appreciative of the women that I met setting up that 10 friends triathlon team. They have been a central part of my life in Germany and I am delighted that we could train together at the weekends as well as now currently using zoom during this Corona crisis. We have swam, ran, hiked, and had plenty of great conversations together. I am so lucky that I got to do that last year especially as this year's turn of events changed the possibility of training even though we were looking forward to possibly entering a new race. So here are the main things that I learnt from the heart surgeries and the clarity that was achieved as a result of my life being turned upside down in a flash.
It can happen easily that we can lose our good mindset or attitude towards life in toxic environments or think that we have lost it and give up our own power but this is within us, within our own minds and our own control. It is something that needs to be flexed like any muscle and a reminder to us all that WE choose our thoughts, WE choose our own perceptions and WE can overcome the challenges that lie before us with great fortitude and resilience for what is to come is something that is a life and life knows no bounds in terms of good or bad, only experience as we ride the waves of the ebbs and flow. We can train our minds to be flexible and adaptable like the greatest of all species that survive and I know that I survived many challenges while experiencing this time in my life. It is not only that we survive but we can thrive with the right attitude and embrace all challenges with the excitement that comes with every breath we take, every step we can walk and every kilometre that we can run and know that 'WE ARE ALIVE' and what a great privilege it is to know that and experiencing that. Embrace life for all that it is - we only have one and I LOVE MINE, I love being me, I love reading, swimming, climbing, mountains, I love the sea and smell of freshly cut grass, I love learning new things and meeting new people (when they are nice!), I love dancing, exploring and going on new adventures. I want to contribute and promote learning computers for women. I love smiling at strangers thinking that when they smile back that maybe that was the only smile they saw that day. I love watching comedy and laughing at least once a day. I love sausage dogs in particular, they are SO CUTE and melt my heart and watching videos of them running towards a camera because that is exceptionally cute and make my heart sing. I love my family. My Dad is wise and loves poetry like 'If' by Rudyard Kipling and insightful poems that would have you thinking for years. I love my sisters and home life, I love it all and would I change any of it for the world - NO. I AM ALIVE. Learn to listen to your whisper and energy flows where your attention goes. Focus on what you CAN do. You are here to experience life, how you handle it is that the journey is FUN.
The title might seem dramatic to a few, however, in my case, yes, it was cause for some upheaval in my life. It shook me to my core. The essence of my being was challenged and I got the fright of my life. It has shaped me for who I am now. I can only say this after the events that ensued and as a result of such things happening. The consequences led me to go after other things in life and realise that we are alone when we come into the world and we are alone when we leave it. It is a hard pill to swallow for some and some might even view it as sad but if you are not comfortable being alone with yourself then you need to do some serious emotional maturity training - see video below on emotional maturity.
I am currently living in Germany reflecting back over the previous few years as the life that took me on such adventures started long before the heart operations and even before the PhD - see post "done is better than perfect - lessons I learnt from my PhD" and "Moving to Germany" and also "NUI Galway". I had always had it in me to leave home. I knew I wanted to see the world and explore new places. Since I was a little girl a friend of my sisters called Gráinne had gone to Galway and had influenced my decision to go there as I chose what places to go to University. Once I left Limerick that was it. I would be gone for more than half of my lifetime having travelled and lived in France for a summer, Luxembourg for a year, other parts of Ireland for the rest and now Germany since 2017.
What started as a six month stay in Germany for work ended up in me staying for what looks like the long term. I came here in July 2017 after an opportunity came knocking at work and… other reasons - see post below. It was all by chance and I took it. I decided it would only be for the six months and so I could go and see and come back after that but I am still here and it’s now 2020. Anyway, getting back to the topic. Not long after I arrived in Germany I went to Serbia, climbed a few mountains and eventually by the end of September ran the Berlin marathon.
The race day was freezing and we had to keep warm during the warm up. I met an Irish woman who was with her daughter and had been living here since the 70s. She loved it and fell in love with a German man only to settle down here and embrace German life and living. She was at this stage I would say in her 60s or 70s running a race with her daughter who was certainly in her 30s. We chatted for a bit and I found out she was from Mayo. I was wearing an Ireland jersey to start the race before swapping it for my finisher’s t-shirt once I crossed the finish line.
The race was tough and I ran up beside a guy wearing a singlet from the Garda Society where An Garda Síochána have a singlet representing the crest of the guards - see link
https://www.garda.ie/en/About-Us/Garda-Societies/ As Guards in Ireland you can usually talk to them like ask for directions, take photos on nights out with them, they’re fairly friendly, if you are ever lost, find your nearest guard and ask them to help you. This was usually the case at home so I ran up beside him with a pain in my chest that felt like a cramp. He was really lovely, told me he was a detective working in Dublin and that I should probably stop running if I’ve a pain. I said I would stop and walk and he kept running. It might sound odd but at the 40km mark of a 42.2km race, you do not think straight and all you are focused on is finishing. It’s a little similar on how I approach a lot of my goals in life - pain--> ignore, goal --> continue.
I remember so vividly looking for some people around the race but for some reason it was terribly cold and miserable out that there were not so many supporters let alone race marshals to call upon. I stopped. I walked for an entire kilometre and the pain subsided. It was really as if I had a cramp, as if someone had put their hand into my chest and squeezed my heart tightly but kept it squeezed. That squeeze then stopped and it was more of a relief than anything else. I felt dizzy and yet wanted to finish. It was painful but when you run marathons and this was my fifth one, you train your mind to ignore pain. You focus on the joy of being able to do a marathon rather than on the pain experienced towards the end. It was insufferable though and a cramp in my heart, that's all I could describe it as - like a cramp but IN my actual heart. My entire body at this point was frozen with the cold wet weather and I couldn't feel my body really except for my heart. I was, for all intensive purposes, numbed out.
Once the pain had subsided I knew I had to either finish or find a race marshal. I slowly jogged the rest of the race until I got under the Brandenburg gate. I could see the finish line. I got a cramp in my right buttocks that was as if someone had stuck a needle in my backside and all the cold wet weather had gotten the better of me and my muscles were starting to seize up. They were starting to contract as the body couldn’t take the dehydration experienced from running the 42.195 km race. I was the 195m away from the finish line and my right back side could not straighten out. The supporters were cheering. A medic came over to see if I was alright as I had to hold onto the railings on the left just a little after the Brandenburg gate. All I had to do was get to the finish line. I started getting emotional as the feelings of determination and relief both washed over me simultaneously as I was thinking that if I could just get to the finish line then it will be finished and I will be relieved that it’s over.
I hopped on one leg while holding my right leg up in such pain that was excruciating. I had never experienced such pain and it felt like I was watching someone take my body and stick a needle into my buttocks. I had visions of voodoo dolls and a smaller version of myself while someone stuck a large knitting needle into my backside. I finished the race and had to do the usual thing in races - collect the medal that I got engraved along with the finisher’s t-shirt. It was going to be my best race and I was aiming for a good time so I wanted a momento for the occasion and so I had ordered it in advance. I finished it in 4 hours 11 minutes and it would be my final marathon. I was well and truly exhausted - see finishing photo below.
We celebrated that evening with the Blackrock Athletic club (see photo below) as we had joined as a team and gotten into the race by lottery entry the year before. I didn’t know Sean or Patricia that well and once I had the idea that I wanted to do the race I emailed the coach - also called Patricia - to ask any club members if they wanted to join. I was thinking that the chances are weighted for those who join as a club representative rather than an individual member and I was right. We got in while the others that joined as individuals were not picked. We were lucky to have had such an event.
A week later I had to go back to Ireland for a wedding that following Friday. A friend of mine was getting married on the west coast. I landed in Dublin and worked from there the rest of the week. I couldn’t shake off the exhaustion. I can only describe it as pure exhaustion. I decided the following day to book into the doctor for a quick check before work as I could not shake it and I decided to tell her about the ordeal. She did a quick ECG on me there and then and told me something was a little off about it but that she would examine the results of a blood test when it comes back. About an hour later she rang me and told me that she felt as though I looked awful and something else was the matter. She thought it best that I go to get the heart checked as soon as possible. She has previously given me an examination for it the previous April for the Paris Marathon and I was a little stressed at the time so we wrote off the high heart rate as something that would go away once the stress had subsided.
The wedding was the following day and I was getting a lift down with a friend of mine. The doctor insisted that I go to a cardiologist friend of hers in Blackrock clinic before the drive down and had personally made the appointment for the earliest that she could so I went in for the 7am appointment and saw the cardiologist. He had said that he was ‘the plumber’ of the heart but that I needed an ‘electrician’. He was going to ask me to monitor my heart over the next few weeks but to take it easy and to come back again in October.
So October came and I flew back to Ireland again for halloween and I was back to visit the doctor. I gave him the results from my heart monitor that I had been using and he said, yes, yes I think you’ll need an operation. Your heart is ‘unusual’. Let me tell you this - if you ever hear a doctor say that anything is ‘unusual’ that is not a good thing. You want to be a regular, run of the mill, wham bam thank you mam it’s all over straight away thing - not an irregular, we don’t know and have to explore things!
I told him I’d book an appointment with 'the electrician' cardiologist (Dr.Lyne) in December when I was home again and that I wasn’t allowed to do any exercise - maybe light exercise but nothing like I was doing previously. I did run daily and do planks after every run along with strength exercises and stretches. It was part of my being. I had done Army boot camp with the Irish Army in Dublin and I LOVED IT. I highly recommend it if you’re in Dublin, it’s a lot of fun training outside with a mix of Army and accomplished sports persons https://bootcampireland.com/ That was part of who I was since I was a kid. I was always running, I would run home with my Granddad and hide in doorways along the way and jump out to scare him. I had been the person in school with the medals in running for 800m races and I had gone to the North Athletic Munster running trials along with doing team sports like Hockey and all sorts. In college I picked up Karate and was a PR office of the Karate club and this Berlin marathon was my 5th marathon. I was part of the Blackrock Athletic club and even in Darmstadt when I moved I joined training sessions with the Darmstadt triathlon team thinking that I'd eventually do a triathlon if I could ever learn to swim properly (thankfully that came last year but that's the story below!).
I went in for the appointment on Thursday afternoon having left work a little early in order to make it and sat to hear that he wanted to do the operation. I was expecting this. I thought about it and said well okay I can come back in January or February. He said that my heart was going at 182-210 beats per minute while resting all day long and at some point it will rest and the heart will give up. It is not sustainable, your heart will become exhausted. It’s a muscle, it will eventually need some rest.
It was December 7th 2017 and I got a fright. I was by myself as usual after flying back from Germany to come home for the Christmas party with the Dublin office the following day. The doctor said no, I think it’s important to do this as soon as possible and we can schedule you in for tomorrow. So with that I thought about it for about a second and was like, okay let’s just get it over and done with. How long will it be? He didn’t know as he described it as trying to take a photo of a speeding car while looking from the sidelines. It looked like the heart was beating so fast - at this stage it was roughly 210 beats per minute but also beating not only fast but also irregularly. It skipped beats and I’d feel terrible as my entire body felt like it was vibrating when it was beating so fast and I could hear it in my ears.
I walked out of the room knowing that the following day I would be sedated and the heart would be repaired. I rang my family and yes I was scared. The doctor had described it as an emergency surgery as he didn’t want to even let me leave the hospital to get my things and check in as it was beating so irregularly as well as fast. I was in Dublin and my family were all in Limerick. I was convincing myself that it was fine but I really yearned for someone to be with me and go into this with me. I had never felt such emotion and a need of support.
I rang someone who I thought was going to be there for me and he wasn’t. He said ‘oh I’ll come after work’ as if I was inviting him to dinner in Milano's restaurant and that I was getting there before him! I was crushed! I went into practical mode straight after that call and rang for a taxi. The taxi driver picked me up, I rang the airbnb and checked out and finally rang my insurance company to check I was covered. I was sitting in the reception of the most expensive hospital in Dublin waiting to hear if the cost of the surgery would be covered and it was and then I checked myself in.
I was by myself as normal but this time I felt bewildered and lost. I was used to being alone, I lived alone, I studied alone, I ran alone, I did most things alone but for some reason in this bewilderedness I wanted support. I had thought that some people would be here before the surgery at least. I mean I had all these horrible thoughts running through my mind. I was allergic to so many drugs (the list was long) including penicillin and had terrible reactions that lasted in a wisdom tooth operation recovery lasting three weeks instead of the usual recovery time with swollen mouths and injections to reduce swelling and trips to the emergency room as my face shrivelled up to make it seem as I thought I had NO lips. I was getting sick hourly with it and eventually after 12 hours of that had to go into the emergency room.
So of course after that experience I had awful thoughts that regarded any drugs going into my body and any reactions that I might have to them. I was freaked out although I wasn't freaking out. It was a stillness and focus that I needed to get everything ready. So this time being back in hospital working with the unknown and being uncertain about what was coming, I was overwhelmed and anxious and yet I still kicked into practical mode. I had all my belongings for the stay in the hospital as I had already brought them with me for the few days in Ireland. I was ready. I was comfortable with my overwhelm as I embraced it as something that needed to be done.
The surgery was surreal, I was awake for it and it was like an outer body experience. It took four hours and I was reassured that it would all be fine. They poked and prodded and I could smell the burning from the surgery as they tried to find the parts that needed to be burnt. I could feel everything, it wasn’t painful but I could feel the surgeon stick lines into both groins. One was for a camera and the other was for the instrument to burn the heart. I could see the six screens to my left and as the anaesthetist gave me the sedative he talked about his trip to Mont Blanc and we spoke about climbing. He couldn’t give me too much as I had to stay away. The heart would slow down too much while asleep. We spoke at the start and then again towards the end to try and keep me from falling asleep. I had the surgery and once that was over I remember the surgeon being disappointed as he didn’t fix it. The heart was beating too quickly to catch the issues. He said it was like trying to catch a speeding car and also looking for a needle in a haystack at the same time.
I was finished and brought back to the room. I remember the wave of clarity that washed over me as the people that were there were the right people and I am so glad that they came. I am so thankful for the people who came to visit me in the hospital. I guess I was still shocked afterwards. I stayed optimistic that it would be fine but deep down I was overwhelmed. I don't think the people know how much it meant to me when they came to visit. They truly made my days knowing that they were on the way there. I usually was so used to being alone that I would even say to people 'ah sher I'll be out in a few days it's grand don't bother going to the trouble of visiting' but in actual fact I cherished the visits and what people brought with them too. I am usually easy-going and independent to say the least but in this case I was grateful for the support and even when the days in hospital were fine and I fell into the hospital routine chatting to the nurses, looking out the window to the waves crashing and I enjoyed the peace that had befallen me during this time. I am forever grateful to the people that visited and were there during what I can think of as a the lesson of all lessons in my life.
I learnt a lot in that time and I learnt a lot from that entire experience. The clarity that washed over me after surgery was one of connectedness and serenity that I had never experienced - perhaps it was the drugs or a realisation that it’s fine, all works out, I came through and I can breathe a sigh of relief. I then had to remain patient while waiting for the next surgery which was six months afterwards as the heart had to heal but that’s another story involving sitting in a waiting room with patients that were all over 70 and the realisation that as I was a young and what seemed to be once fit person had to overcome. I was yet again alone going to the appointment and let me tell you - I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We can support ourselves, we can comfort ourselves and the lessons that I have learnt were far greater than I could have imagined. That’ll be for another blog post. In a twist of fate I am thankful that I had that.
Even though it may seem like a minor surgery to some however it flipped my life of sport upside down, my coping mechanism for most of my life was sport and exercise of some sort. I was athletic in school and I've done various sports along the way. It has changed my life but for the better and I am so grateful for the birthday card I received from my colleagues as I spent it in hospital and to the staff of Blackrock clinic as well as Dr. Lyne for operating on me twice in a number of months. I received flowers from friends that I was so surprised to receive. I don't think anyone had sent me flowers before that. It was so thoughtful and considerate. If I forget anything it's because it was a few years ago now but I know that I was grateful to every single person that showed up for me during that time.
I had the best of care in the top hospital in Ireland and I had the best support from the right people. I had visitors and even those who couldn't make it were there afterwards. I was well and truly exhausted after the marathon and you can see me in my Ireland jersey after suffering, it's a slight smile of relief that it was over. I also had Christmas at home and I made sure to wear a skirt as the doctor had said that he might have to do a 'more intrusive' operation the next time and warned me that it might entail cutting me open instead of going through the groin. David took me out of the house for the first time and brought me into town. Seriously lucky to have such great friends, he drove down from Galway and all to visit. That Christmas I was so happy to be alive and the decisions that were made as a result of that were the best decisions I have ever made. It has given me the peace and clarity needed to shed away all the things that did not serve me good in my life. Not being able to walk up the stairs without being breathless after being able to run 42.195km previously was a bit of a shock to the system. I am glad to say that that is all over now and I can look back at the lessons and decisions made with pride as they make up who I am as a person.
The connection between your body and mind is not that complex although we make it seem that way. We want to attack something a 1,000 years ago and we primed our bodies in order to attack. We were afraid and we would cower down and protect ourselves in our caves. We were happy and we'd smile, our chemicals would be released as a result. It was pretty straightforward. Our body sends the signals to our brain and thus biofeedback allows us to take action.
In these times we are more intellectual and sit in an office where we don't have the luxury of spending time with ourselves in solitude in order to hear our own thoughts and figure out what the contrast is, what makes us uncomfortable, what was unacceptable and what was fine? These are things that happen by accident - you are intellectually stimulated and focused on your goal so your attention goes to only the thing that matters the most and the rest take a lower priority. You may even squash something that happened down to seem like nothing even when it is uncomfortable in order to accomplish a goal. This can happen easily. We are all guilty of striving to accomplish a goal and focusing only on that goal while the world can fall down around us.
We are now in a world where as Charlie Chaplin says 'we think too much and feel too little'. It is starting to lead us astray as we decipher other people's words and not pay attention to how we feel about them. It doesn't really matter how they feel about us but it's how we feel about them. That is where true freedom lies. It is the freedom of regardless of how they feel about us, we know how we feel about them. In saying that we are always going to be in situations where we need to calm our minds in order to accomplish a task. We get nervous and the more nervous we get the more we know that something really matters to us. We can learn to calm these nerves and balance our thoughts of what matters to us at the same time.
Amy Cuddy delivered a talk a few years ago regarding what is well know in scientific circles as biofeedback. You can train your mind based on your bodies movement. Everyone knows that when you don't feel like going for a run but go anyway you will never regret it. The run has released the endorphins into the body and sets off signals of enjoyment. The connection between the chemicals in your brain and body is intensified by the movement of the body. Cuddy states how much body language and power poses can improve your confidence going into something like an interview. (I've linked some videos below.)
It is also proven that when we are feeling down that we can uplift our own spirits with our body. Although it is not recommended to undermine our own emotions and perhaps you need to feel deeply any emotion especially painful ones so you can heal first. Once you know that you can sit with yourself in your own discomfort, you have reached what is known as one of the traits of emotional maturity. Spending time on your own without distraction and thinking about your experience even when they are uncomfortable. It is sitting with yourself and allowing yourself to feel everything no matter how messy that is. Having the wherewithal to remain introspective as well as seeing perspectives outside of yourself can show some of your own growth.
We also need to acknowledge the coping mechanisms adopted from our caretakers. It is something that we have learned since we were young in seeing how they coped with things be it in terms of aggression, stonewalling or having one person in a relationship 'win' in an argument over the other. These are all things that as an adult we need to address and recognise our own 'insanities' as they are referred to in some books. These are the things that when an event triggers them that they are automatic and without knowing it, you have repeated some of these behaviours. It is a case of recognising these and adapting your own behaviour. Being able to take a step back and listen to yourself over the voices that guided you into adulthood is one of the ways we form our own paths in life. It is also a case of remaining and maintaining a growth mindset - as mentioned in the previous post - and also paying attention to your own faults and insecurities. Looking at how we interact with the world around us can be uncomfortable at times and sometimes a challenge, however, the lessons that life presents us will keep appearing until we have them learnt. We will keep repeating the same behavioural faults until we gain such introspection.
Some of these lessons are overcoming things like nervousness when in a different place. It is a simple technique that can reduce the chemicals in our 2,000,000 year old brains. It is reducing these in order to realise what is happening at the present moment in time and that we are safe. These strategies can be useful when working in the modern world or simply meeting someone for the first time. These can include adopting a power pose or smiling. Both of which involve movement of the body to open up the heart and send signals to the brain to tell it that we are safe, we are fine and we are ready for what is to come. Adopting these in the short term in specific times often brings us great biofeedback when needed, however, it is also a case of adopting these in the best of times so that we can remember and draw on them when we need them. It can encourage and support us through the inevitable storms in life.
Of course, we can tell ourselves to smile when we are nervous or stand up and put our shoulders back. Do we really remember in times of stress when Cortisol is flooding the brain and shrinking the hippocampus while enlarging the amygdala? Will our brains cope in such a stressful task and remember what's important? Probably not! While we can consciously use these when approaching isolated events and tasks like job interviews as we prepare for them and know ahead of time, what about the events that happen on a day-to-day basis that are unexpected? What about the times that we react unconsciously and fall into old patterns that come from our learned behaviours from our caretakers?
It is then a case of practice makes perfect, we need to stand shoulders back, relax our jaws as a clenched jaw - usually someone grinding their teeth suffers from anxiety and our body tells us that we are anxious even when we don't listen to it. Our bodies hold the tension in our muscles and is screaming at us to either 1) get out of a stressful environment as it will clench all muscles and restrict blood flow in order to run from danger and send more blood to vital organs to survive or 2) make us extremely tired and sick in order to let us know that it needed a break. Both of which is our biofeedback telling us to pay attention and when we don't pay attention to our bodies then our body tells us by our posture, for example, our jaws are clenched, our sleeping habits are disrupted or our stomach is upset.
What can we do with this biofeedback? We can address our pain and seek to find the lessons that our body is trying to tell us. We can understand what makes us uncomfortable and what makes our heart sing. What can we do each day to ease our troubles and find the things that we enjoy, we can do one thing that brings us joy daily and the contrast between discomfort and joy will grow wider until we are comfortable with our own discomfort. It may not completely go away but we can learn to live with it and send other biofeedback signals back to it knowing that that discomfort will also pass - we can smile and release oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. We can even look at puppies and imagine one cuddling you as these also send signals to your brain as if it is happening. The brain can't tell what is real and what is fake but the chemicals released will allow for that good feeling that you deserve to have each and every single day.
We can also remind ourselves that we are safe. We do this by looking in the mirror and daily saying 'I am safe'. It tells your brain to relax, you will start to notice that in a couple of days that your body starts to also relax and you know that if you are in an unsafe environment that you will protect yourself more. Of course telling yourself that you are safe when you are not is another story but that is for another blog post. For now I will say knowing two things along with using biofeedback can improve confidence, reduce anxiety and allow you to grow as a person and they are knowing that 1) this too shall pass - pain is temporary and you may need to sit with that discomfort until you figure out what your body is trying to communicate to you and 2) everything requires growth and growth can be evidenced through pain and this is why we call it growing pains. Of course it is also adopting a growth mindset but that's in another blog post - https://www.alisonmcnamara.com/my-blog/done-is-better-than-perfect and https://www.alisonmcnamara.com/my-blog/technology-mypassion
Sleeping is also an issue with anxiety and of course it is also not always easy, it is challenging and it opens the world to an entirely new level of understanding that can only be described as enthralling. I have been grinding my teeth since I was a child. My teeth are jagged and I have worn a mouth guard in the past but that is history. I no longer use it. I remind myself going to bed each night to relax my jaw, relax my face by first clenching my entire body tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter and taking deep breaths and before I get to the next breath I now fall asleep and if I wake up in the middle of the night (when I remember) I do the same and it works almost every single time. It is a trick known to send biofeedback to sleep better. Of course this takes effort but once a habit is formed and we are creatures of habits then we can sleep better. I also write three things that I am grateful for that happened that day. Oftentimes I listen to a guided bedtime meditation as well as this relaxing music helps with noise and allows me to think that I am in a Spa :-D
As for stomach issues, I've also had those since I was a child but again, not anymore. I get them every so often when my stomach is in a knot about something or I am anticipating an exam - those of which I have done quite an extensive amount. I was in the education system for a long time and continue learning - it's part of who I am and I love it so I needed to find ways to relax my mind going into examinations. The ways I found to cope also involve body movement and breathing. It's a method called the 5-4-3-2-1 method that is well known in psychology circles as a way to ground yourself. Pick out 5 things that you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Once you run through this the brain acknowledges that you are present, it takes a breath and stops the 'monkey mind' hopping to the future.
They say depression is your bodies way of telling you that you need 'deep-rest' and you are caught up in the past while anxiety is linked to the future and focusing on possible outcomes that will disrupt your present. Both need your mind to pay attention for you are not living your truth. Both of which in buddhist terms are known as the monkey mind - not living in the present but focusing on the past or the future. There are simple strategies to over come certain forms of anxiety by telling yourself that you are excited. I learnt this a few years ago skydiving. Your body releases the same hormones but actually telling yourself that you are happily excited instead of nervous can make a difference in how you view and perceive the world right now including doing an examination or accomplishing a task. These are only a few tips and tricks I have learnt from reading during the PhD and adapting coping mechanisms through various situations that I have been in.
For me I need silence in order to hear myself think and that is also important, we need to listen to ourselves in order to find our own way. We need the solitude for productivity and sparking some creativity and we already know that we need a relaxed brain so that it can be an innovative brain. When it all comes down to it, life is a joy, and as my Dad says quite often 'life is what you make it'. Forge meaning in the suffering you have encountered for it is your journey, your story and it makes up you for who you are as a person - I recommend watching some of the videos below - without the bad, there is no good. We experience both the good and the bad to make up our story and biofeedback is the intelligent part of us communicating with us that something is going incredibly well or something is tragically wrong.
We can tell ourselves that we are safe, we can comfort ourselves in times of anxiety and excitement and we can and are in charge of the thoughts as we observe them coming and going like waves on the ocean. Biofeedback is something that when paid attention to, can impact our entire worlds and improve our lives immensely by stepping in and letting us know that the body needs attention. It is also a case choosing to move the body and adventures so your body can give you back those endorphins and get the 'runner's high' that we all love and enjoy. As Alastair explains in his video below - choosing 'micro-adventures' if you can't go to the South Pole then enjoy smaller adventures and enjoy these for all that they are. The biofeedback will thank you for the adventures that will ensue and as Dad says 'life IS what you make it'!
*It is important to note that I am referring to biofeedback as the natural form of mind-body self-regulation and not the EEG tests performed in studies that measure what happens, although these are interesting, I am speaking about ways that biofeedback can be used in order to overcome sleeping issues, stomach issues or events like going to an interview or taking an examination.
Image source: https://alastairhumphreys.com/life-love/
In the media:
I've had plenty of time to reflect these last few weeks on the past couple of years and the whirlwind that has ensued. I remember focusing on my mindset during the PhD and really looking at how I was going to handle the overwhelm as well as handle the workload that was coming down the pipeline. I can now look back and really look at the journey I went on. It wasn't always easy, it was challenging, in fact a daily challenge but I was excited about that challenge. I was invigorated, inspired and I embraced it whole-heartedly. I adopted what is known as a growth mindset and ran with it for the PhD. I loved it. It gave such freedom and I watched documentaries and inspiring talks daily to keep myself focused. I read books like Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset along with many others. I watched a documentary on Ruth Gruber - the youngest person to ever receive a PhD and her phrase 'done is better than perfect' in the documentary 'Ahead of time' she mentioned that as the best advice for anyone wanting to pursue a PhD. She was absolutely correct in that.
I also meditated daily and I know what you are thinking now - it's all fluff but if you think of it like a brain break then it really was. I also had a great quiet morning every morning. I made a lovely breakfast and watched the view of the ocean. I cycled into the PhD room daily so I got exercise. I arrived into the PhD room which was always empty at the early hour I arrived and settled into my desk for the day looking up at the inspiring quotes and posters on my desk to remind me that I could do it. These were both supportive and uplifting and I watched at least one inspirational video daily to start my day before getting started on both learning C# and coding a 3D gesture-based game that I was completely new ground for me. Of course there were days that I was frustrated spending hours getting something to work. I did design-based research using agile software processes which were focused on user-centred design with a turnaround time of two weeks. It was challenging being a one-person team. It was really a case of taking a step back and thinking - I don't have it YET and that's where the growth mindset comes to the fore. YET is the keyword there. It can almost cultivate a patience with yourself because you haven't gotten it YET, which is a key quality in accomplishing almost anything. Everything is done in stages, everything is done little by little, task by task, goal by goal in order to achieve what you have set out to do.
I was in a PhD room full of inspiring people wanting to pursue their goals in various doctorates including topics like the Mexican Narcocorrido as well as other heart-wrenching topics like finding strategies that help survivors of sexual assault and of course, those in the hard sciences too like pure mathematics. It was an eclectic mix of everyone and we'd go to the lunch room which was part of the PhD room daily and have discussions regarding human rights with people studying doctorates in law as well as Irish history or even English literature. It was a mix of people that I will forever be glad that I met.
This experience challenged my primitive way of thinking. By primitive I mean, I didn't put an emphasis in the language I was using and the meaning associated with particular words that would change the way someone viewed a particular topic. This also filtered its way into the PhD during the 'write up phase' as well. Each and every word of that book was selected carefully so it could be read with clarity and understanding and anyone could pick it up to understand what the study accomplished. This, of course, entailed letting go of 100s or pages of other work that I could have added but in order for the conciseness and clarity to be achieved I had to let go. It would have been a two volume edition of the PhD but I was limited to a word count of 100,000 and that meant cutting out and letting go of a lot of work over the years.
Letting go was also where mindset played an important role and I am not saying that I maintained the same mindset 100% of the time - I didn't but I know that I did my best. I am human after all. Having this mindset allowed me to let go and I did focus on developing this mental muscle and look at also maintaining it. I realised one thing that I did not adopt this last year and that was my mental agility. I had stopped my practice in 2018 and it is a practice. Just like any other muscle, it's a case of exercising this muscle to strengthen it and in times of true hardship being able to use it and focus on its resilience. Look at the mind as a transient thing and getting perspective in terms of life happening in waves. It is so easy for our minds to think that something will never end.
When we are in a cycle of something happening outside of our control we can get caught up in thinking that it will never end. We want the pain and suffering to stop. This can happen easily when something happens and you fall into what I like to call 'child mode' when you want comfort and safety but the world isn't providing that for you. You need to find comfort and safety yourself. If you want peace, then practice being peaceful. If you want joy, be joyous. It is that simple. Of course the mind can play tricks on us and it can be difficult to overcome a chemical from our primitive 1,000,000 year old brain telling us that we are in danger. It is the neuroscience that will kick in but we are also in control of certain things that enable other chemicals - we can encourage the biofeedback to send other chemicals to counteract the stress hormone cortisol firing.
These chemicals can be overwhelming and it is a case of finding what is right to comfort and support yourself and also calm the toxins in your brain. You can control them by relaxing your brain. A relaxed brain is a more creative brain. Your brain will be inspired, think better, create more and enjoy life more. Everyone wants that (I think!). During the PhD to maintain this, I watched films that were inspiring like 'The Great Dictator' that I believe is the best speech about humanity that anyone has given in the 20th century and is still true to this day. I've linked a video below. I had Charlie Chaplin quotes hung up on my desk to remind myself that I can love myself with his 80th birthday speech 'as I began to love myself'.
These books focused on cultivating a mindset that would give you strategies for protecting your boundaries by focusing on your thought processes and becoming aware of them. This was, of course, through meditation and simply focusing on the present moment. I had been interested and practicing this for years. I have been to courses regarding this and looked at the benefits that others have attained from doing various forms be it, going for a run or exercising - as long as you are focused on the present moment I would call that a meditative experience. Going for a run can be invigorating and make you feel alive - sport can be analogous to life in that you need to exercise the muscles for them to get stronger, every muscle must experience pain to grow. Everyone goes through growing pains - that's why they are called growing - pains.
Also perhaps cultivating a mindset of looking at life as a series of tests that life shows you and they will keep appearing until you have learnt that lesson. Finding the lesson in the chaos and figuring out what can be learnt from this. What is this interaction with this person trying to teach me? Why am I uncomfortable about this interaction and then having the ability to still your mind and reflect on this can lead to a clarity and objectivity that can allow you to detach from outcomes and enjoy the process. Allowing for this detachment and keeping in mind the phrase 'I won't remember this when I am 80' is always good, although bearing mind that you can also undermine your feelings and situation by repeating this phrase - it is more to do with holding yourself in a place of compassion towards the human experience and understanding that it is all too fleeting. Time will inevitably, as everyone says, fly by without you knowing. It is cherishing the good and realising the lessons from the bad and looking at the entire thing with beauty. The detachment from the outcome can be freeing and also bring a plethora of benefits. You will find that you will work harder as you focus on the task at hand more, you may even enjoy life more as you appreciate where you are right now enjoying the process along the way. You might even start dancing with life when you adopt the process-based mindset and let go of the outcome. Life is a process with only one destination that we are all headed to so you might as well enjoy it along the way!
Life is exciting, nerve-wrecking, thrilling, enthralling, relaxing, stupefyingly beautiful and looking at your body as an instrument that will help guide you along this wild-ride can also cultivate a mindset of compassion towards what the body can do. It can walk - a privilege denied to many, it can breathe without help - a privilege, as we know now especially, is to be cherished at the best of times and the worst of times, it can sustain injury after injury and recover. What an amazing thing the human body can do and recover from incredible injuries only with some rest and recuperation. It will even tell you when it needs rest and recuperation. It will be exhausted and when you find yourself needing to sleep after work then maybe work is draining your energy and it is time to find a place that invigorates you to work there.
You can get excited about new challenges OR it is a case of adapting to the existing environment and finding your attitude towards it. Reinvigorating yourself by supporting yourself and seeing that YOU can choose your perception towards it. It is having the strength and courage to be vulnerable and face your weaknesses and say... look, I have them, they make up me, that's fine, this is me! I am improving them by learning how I interact with the world around me. It is focusing on what can be done and focusing on the main thing that started this blog post which is 'done is better than perfect' in order to keep motivated and keep going.
As Charlie Chaplin says in his speech below 'You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful'. Life has taught me a lesson since 2018, I stopped exercising my mental muscle - I know now that this was the lesson life was reminding me and teaching me to embrace it all. It's a great adventure after all and a reminder of the brief time we have on this wonderful place called home. Everything is part of our story and we can write our own story by choosing our own direction. Life is also not that serious and a laugh a day is a necessity to get through any bad situation. Frankl stated in 'man's search for meaning' - see post below - https://www.alisonmcnamara.com/my-blog/comparison-thief and also related - https://www.alisonmcnamara.com/my-blog/comedy-and-computer-games-as-a-way-of-coping - that laughter can be a lifeline to survival and when things can challenging - we can use these examples as a way to laugh at the absurdity of life - “Humour, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”
One more thing, if you find yourself procrastinating - it's because you feel bad doing what you are going to do so you develop strategies of distraction or avoidance towards doing these things. Once you figure out that then you can readjust your feelings to point them in the right direction. What thoughts are you having that is making you procrastinate? Can you do things like go for a cycle/run/swim/walk and then do 5 minutes and tell yourself that you'll only open the book and see what CAN be done. This is a simple strategy for feeling good and then associating those feelings with the thing that you are procrastinating doing. It's a psychological tip I learnt through the PhD - some of these I obviously forget from time to time but I try and practice as often as I can.
Always important to laugh at least once a day - here are some of my favourites.
Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential - Dr. Carol Dweck
Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life - Dr. John. B. Arden
The Happiness Advantage - Dr. Shawn Achor
Flow - Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The seven habits of highly effective people - Stephen Covey
The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance-What Women Should Know - Claire Shipman and Katty Kay
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance - Angela Duckworth
Some funnier related reads:
How to Be Human: The Manual - Ruby Wax
The Women in Tech conference is happening this year in June and it will be a virtual conference given the circumstances. I am delighted to speak and also engage with inspiring women in the area of technology. I'll be in the Java room engaging with fellow Java enthusiasts during this virtual conference in June this year.
Please join the women tech conference at the link below. It's a great opportunity to meet like-minded individuals who are starting out their career or those who have established their careers in the tech industry. Please see the link below to sign up for the virtual conference online. See you there!
If you forget me
I want you to know one thing
You know how this is
If I look at the crystal moon
At the red branch of the slow autumn at my window
If I touch near the fire the impalpable ash Or the wrinkled body of the log
Everything carries me to you
As if everything that exists - aromas, light, metals
Were little boats that sail toward those isles of yours that wait for me
If little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you
Little by little
If suddenly you forget me
Do not look for me
For I shall already have forgotten you
If you think it long and mad the wind of banners that passes through my life
And you decide to leave me at the shore of the heart where I have roots
That on that day, at that hour, I shall lift my arms
And my roots will set off to seek another land
But, if each day, each hour, you feel that you are destined for me
With implacable sweetness
If each day a flower climbs up to your lips to seek me
Ahh my love, ahh my own, in me all that fire is repeated
In me nothing is extinguished or forgotten
My love feeds on your love, beloved
And as long as you live, it will be in your arms without leaving mine
I guess I will talk about this a lot more. I appreciate my life so so much and I am never going to take it for granted. Supporting yourself means everything. It means picking yourself up when you have been kicked down. We are all human and make mistakes, we fall into toxic patterns easily, we get infected with a poor mindset by staying in a negative environment but we have the control. We must notice when this happens.
When was the last time you looked at the stars and saw how beautiful they are. When was the last time you took a deep breath in and looked at the wonders of the sky. Being in nature brings me a stillness like no other - of course it is natural that when your mind is not there then you are not really in nature, you have carried your vibrations and thoughts with you from the traumas. That is natural. That is fine. You can have those times. You are allowed to have that time.
You can appreciate your time and life when the time allows it. The bad times are temporary, like all things. It is important to reflect and have time to yourself to allow your thoughts to calm. It is also important for someone to have solitude to collect thoughts especially if in a negative environment. This is another lesson I have learnt and I thought I knew already and tried to do this by going for walks but a colleague would accompany me and I didn't get the space I needed for my brain to breathe. Solitude allows for creativity. It allows your brain to breathe. I was reading all the books and had read books about this but hadn't put the things I learnt into the practice needed. Instead I focused on the positive but didn't allow my brain to let the negative thoughts be there. You are not your thoughts! You are the observer or your thoughts! When you sit for a while or walk in solitude negative thoughts will pop up, do not push them away - they will get louder - observe them, allow them to appear and they will go like waves on the ocean. By pushing them away you are drawing your attention to them and draining your energy. Some of the books helped me to focus on the positive but it also undermined my own experience by thinking that 'it could be a lot worse' and that is a toxic way to be and also your feelings are your feelings and your experience is your experience.
A few year's ago I read Man's search for meaning by Viktor Frankl, the book details life in a concentration camp and how people have incredible resilience and fortitude in circumstances that we can only imagine. It is even difficult to envisage what it was like and the utter despair experienced by those who were in the camps. The grief having lost their loved ones and yet seeing the same people walking through the camps offering pieces of bread to others and being compassionate. I read about these experiences in awe and I also thought to myself - wow, people go through so much worse, my experience is nothing in comparison. Again, comparing feelings and undermining my experience in order to suppress the bad thoughts that I was experiencing in the workplace! My mindset was skewed and toxic as a result. Yes, focus on the positive, but do not undermine your feelings or your own experience. Comparison is the thief of joy and it truly is especially when comparing traumas. Allow yourself to feel without figuring out the 'why'.
I am all too familiar with the concept known as 'the leaky STEM pipeline' from my PhD and also from my own experience at school. I have seen girls drop off bit by bit away from the technology side of things into other areas and I know, I have also been tempted myself - see post on technology and teaching technology - my passion below. I have been in school and the girls had a low uptake of subjects like Physics. I have even gone into visit an all girl's school where they didn't even offer Physics as a subject. It is mandatory for all to take a science subject and they would take Biology, few would take Chemistry and not a lot would take Physics. I even took Biology over Physics and I knew that I was taking computers in college! My first year I had to get revision books of Physics as I hadn't looked at it for two years previously so I could catch up quickly. I did thankfully but they covered a two year course in six weeks to get everyone at the same level and out of 88 students taking that course 11 passed the first time.
The course was renowned as one of the 'sorting the men from the boys' to make sure they knew what they were signing up to in Information Technology with the highest failure rate on campus. It was tough, it was challenging but I still enjoyed it. It wasn't the same as going to school with girls. It was a culture shock and the competitiveness was rife. I am so grateful I lived with girls to keep me encouraged and my head straight as I would have internalised a lot of their insults otherwise and I was having too much fun. I even did my final year project in Linux so that I could be in a different room for some peace and quiet from our fourth year computer laboratory and I was delighted. :-D So... in essence, I agree 100% with the video below and I have lived it... every part of her descriptions of what happens!
If we are socialised to be brave instead of socialised to be perfect - men and women approach problems differently. This video below validated almost every single part of me trying to explain to the men that I have a different way to problem-solve. The girls fear of not getting it right. This is simple - this is, in essence, the growth versus fixed mindset. I have seen with my own eyes some of the things that have happened at University while studying. She gives an example of approaching a lecturer stating that there is something wrong with my code and a female approaches and says - there is something wrong with me. I have seen this, I have lived this and I have been there! I believe environment matters and girls tend to be socialised to internalise that something is wrong with them as opposed to objectifying the issue - which is difficult to do if all you hear all day is that you need to read a book or start again you don't know what you're doing - these comments were again on the Facebook groups answers to people asking questions as new members of the Java Programmers group.
PERFECTION OR BUST! We have learned perseverance and we need to socialise the girls to be brave and be comfortable with imperfection.
This gif below pretty much sums it up! I'm the one on the right incase you confused me for the one on the left! :-D
I love working from home, in fact, in my previous job I requested working from home privileges be two days a week and the one before that I thought we could work from home that's why I accepted it. Neither case was true! I, myself, prefer working from home especially during these times. You have no interruptions, it's very peaceful, I can concentrate, there's no noise - the list goes on and before you ask, no, I don't miss human contact. I have plenty of zoom meetings and other meetings for that. I keep myself busy and enjoy doing a lot of sport so this also gives me the freedom to get out when I want to mostly during the morning before I start work. I used to run in the mornings while marathon training and still enjoy the early morning rises. It's great to quiet the mind and keep focused throughout the day. I also enjoy walks in the afternoon after I eat lunch and go into nature. This nature is where my heart is free. I feel free to create. I am surrounded by the wilds of the birds singing and dancing in the air as I look up to the blue skies that surround me. It's away from noise and traffic. There are real forests, a real escape. A wave of calm washes over me as I enjoy walking through the forests here in Germany. It's serene and I am serene. So to conclude, yes, I love working from home. Stay healthy and stay home everyone!
I am excited to get started on the new Udemy course and also look at the intermediate series for my YouTube channel - learn computers with Ali - which will take off from multidimensional arrays and look at more examples as well as using the ellipsis (...) in a method's parameter list to indicate that the method receives a variable number of arguments of that particular type.
I have finished the series of YouTube beginner's programming playlist now which finished up at multidimensional arrays. I also posted up the Udemy course --- Free Udemy course: https://www.udemy.com/course/learn-beginners-java/
It is limited to two hours of content. The next Udemy course will be announced when it is available and it will have a lot more content, programming exercises and self-review quizzes.
Finding my passion has been relatively easy, I have loved computers and teaching from a young age. I was a computer mentor in school and at lunch time had the key to the computer room to allow other students in under my supervision. I also engaged in workshops where I showed the class what to do in these classes. One of the computer classes in school allowed us to play games and one of the games was a typing game where you'd type a sentence and the car would drive. The errors that appear on screen would appear as flies on your windscreen and you could make the car go faster, the faster you typed. So I learned how to type properly as I knew that would come in handy. It was free and in school so why not. I also had plenty of experience with other consoles at home but this stands out as the point at which I did a project on my cousin who was working for a games company as a 'Senior Test Automation Engineer' and thinking, WOW, what an amazing job. That is like a dream job, working in computers sounds amazing. In school we had to do a careers project to see what we would apply for after school and what Universities and Colleges we would go to. It was about finding out what our goals, dreams and interests were. I did the school careers project on him and all the while was encouraged by both School and home to pursue my interests. Things came naturally when setting up computers, pulling them apart, installing a new chip in an old Dell remanufactured machine that my sister had brought home.
I didn't stray too far and continued into studying Information Technology after school as a degree but I was left with this sense of wonder at how I was going to cope within this environment. The fourth year of the course was really challenging and I went through a lot in terms of the final year project. I had been studying away from the guys in my class as they were all into the 'one up man-ship' - see post below regarding masculine toxicity. The competitive, dominant and oftentimes, offensive nature of Information Technology often led me to have a low self-confidence. I worked hard. I knew what I was doing. I remember coming back after the Summer one year and I was chosen to be a mentor to the 1st years of the course. The University were going to pay us and we were going to give them classes in different topics. I choose to cover the Fundamentals of Electronic Engineering and came up with pretty unconventional ways of explaining AND, OR and different logic gates by telling a story of two people going to the shop (I always like real-life examples)!
Naturally I loved this as I had a whiteboard and blackboard at home when I was growing up and I tended to lean towards explaining things to others easily. It was logical. I loved it. It made sense! I finished up in the degree having mentored for a few years and started work in Luxembourg where I was left with a terrible taste in my mouth. It wasn't easy. My first month my boss was fired and so our department was now under one of the directors. I remember sitting at lunch and him explaining to me that the reason why he divorced his first wife was because she spent too much time with their new born child. I was stunned but okay, this was a different culture. It was pretty jarring to hear though.
I worked in a software security company as a tester and at the time we took it in turns to output the software onto devices for clients. It was my turn this one particular week and so I asked Franc where the sleeves were, he said check with marketing so I went to the marketing department and they said to check with HR and the chase went on until finally HR saw me walking around the office looking for the sleeves and said that is enough. Myself and HR marched back to his desk and demanded the sleeves and he opened his desk drawer to hand me them. I remember thinking - this environment is not for me. There was plenty of other things that happened but that was the one that really stood out as the entire company had seen me wandering around looking for these sleeves. I felt somewhat humiliated and I think maybe that was the plan when I look back on other things that were done. I didn't last long there. I wanted to move somewhere else and as I wanted to get into programming and never felt good enough I decided to go back and do a masters.
I started into a Masters programme and there was a taught first year with programming classes. I loved it. I got top of my class and started teaching computers in the evenings to older people part-time. It then came to the following year and we needed to do the thesis and work in a company full-time. I got a job in Dublin. It was time to move to 'the big smoke'. I had moved to Luxembourg to avoid this but as it was my Masters I had to go in the end. I remember thinking, I'll only stay for the six months that is necessary to fulfil the programme guidelines and then move back to Galway.
I enjoyed working there and loved the projects I was working on. We won the digital awards for our work on Project Maths resources and I learnt a lot while I was there. I was always thinking about whether I could get back into more programming though as it moved into using authoring tools to develop these as well as flash but little programming in the end. My title had changed three times my first day too so it was no surprise that the job was not what I signed up for in the end. I applied to do a PhD and developed my own proposal in the technology that I loved. I focused on gesture-based technology and had the privilege of getting a full scholarship based on this in 2012.
I moved back to Galway and lived happily for a few years working in the PhD room where I made and met some of the most interesting people who challenged my beliefs every lunchtime. They were so encouraging, focused and driven people. It was inspiring and motivating at the same time. We were all doing PhDs and all focused on finishing as soon as we could. Supervisor meetings, department meetings, side work as a lecturer, planning conferences, attending conferences, writing journal articles, developing pilot projects, developing focus groups and the next stages of the project, picking up work supervising students - I loved it. I loved all of it. I loved the fact that I could go into the PhD room at 8 or 9am, sit quietly working on my project until lunch and then continue until dinner before cycling home to cook a nice hearty meal.
Towards the end of the PhD it was back to Dublin and getting back into industry. I worked in a technology company and for the first time I found myself in a company where I thought - wow - this place is great. I love the people working here. They all want to be here and are all nerds like me. The technology company in Dublin was for a while and I also kept on teaching on the side as a lecturer in Pulse College teaching C# programming in Unity to develop games. It was a lot of fun but I couldn't manage to keep both and had to give up the Saturday 11-5 lectures. It was too much. I wanted to put in more time and I usually had games to teach the students game programming too but every evening I ended up doing something.The technology company in Dublin took over and it was full-time. I spent a lot of time at work and it was enjoyable most of the time. We had game nights, poker evenings and beer o'clock every Friday. It was great and I am still in touch with the people I worked with to this day. It was a 'work hard, play hard' mentality and I loved it. We were a team and we really were like 'team work makes the dream work'.
To clarify, I have worked with inspiring men who have also forged my outlook in life. I want a respectful environment and workplace. Somewhere that respects both genders equally. No one is shouting at the other or disrespecting them and I have worked in those places too. I have worked with men who want their daughters to also get into technology and want it to be a better environment for them too. All equal, all treated with respect, all kind to one another - that is possible, I have worked in those companies as well so don't get me wrong when I am painting the highlights of my career so far. I am advocating for a better environment for everyone. Freedom for both genders in terms of expression and respect in the workplace.
I have since been very successful in other companies with a better environment and enjoy working from home quite often and this allows me to code without the nonsense of these males thundering on their chests like the primitive apes that they are. It is like being in a real life Jungle, it is how I see them when they are thumping your chest after solving a problem - an ape in the Jungle - a primitive being who has not evolved and a repressed male who cannot be vulnerable even when true strength and courage is in vulnerability and having the integrity while having the convictions to follow through. Being angry doesn't solve anything. It's a case of learning and remembering the lessons, forgetting the rest and focusing on overcoming the obstacles. It is a case of creating and becoming a creator in your own life and what you want to focus on.
It is a case of finding the right environment, creating the best version of yourself and focusing on your own goals, thanking them for making you realise what you don't want and finding where everyone is working as a team, the level of cooperation is high and you work together to achieve a common goal. This is what I had initially and unfortunately we all stumble across the 'primitives'. Once you find an environment that is willing to work with you then you will thrive. It is a case of being open and free to do your work to the best level that you can. It is also a case of gaining perspective when it comes to working in an environment that isn't working for you and that means engaging with programming groups online - helping others - seeing where you can contribute.
I am now an active member of a number of Java programming groups where people ask many questions online and I have had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of lovely people in technology. I love technology. I love the people. I love teaching and I love what I am passionate about. This is not to be confused with preaching. You can do whatever feels right for you but for me that is a case of thriving in an environment that works best for me so I can shine. It means working with people that I can call 'my Uruguayan brother' (referring to my previous colleague) or 'best boss ever' (referring to my previous boss) frequently and stay in touch after work. It is having the freedom to take on other projects and look at working on other things as well as work and wanting to work at home. It is getting the time and space necessary to complete the job that you are passionate about and contribute to communities around the world. It is about producing and creating your best code and learning from others. It is engaging with others and being able to communicate and lift each other up when you find yourself taking longer to solve a problem than normal. It is about being in an encouraging environment that inspires you to thrive. It is having constructive feedback of where you can improve without unhelpful feedback or confusion. It is about knowing where you stand.
The contrast is there and I will strive to be in a good environment where I can thrive as I continue working in technology. Move on with your life - create what you want, take responsibility and put the past behind you. Some people are not nice and it is taking back the power and moving on. Forget about them and create the best life and success you can imagine! You can create your best life yet. Take back your power! Thank them for showing them exactly what you don't like and giving you the strength that it gave you. I love technology and I love teaching technology, they are my passion and they are what make my heart sing.
In the news:
Rising above a Toxic Workplace - Gary Chapman, Dr. Paul White, Harold Myra.
Women in Tech - Tarah Wheeler, Esther Dyson
Mindset - changing the way you think to fulfil your potential - Dr. Carol Dweck
The power of positive thinking - Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
Comebacks at work - Kathleen Kelley Reardon, Christopher T. Noblet
Emotional Intelligence - Prof. Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.
Dodging energy vampires - An empath's guide to evading relationships that drain you and restoring your health and power - Dr. Christine Northrup
The Universe has your back - Gabrielle Bernstein
The Ultimate Happiness Prescription - Deepak Chopra, M.D.
You can heal your life - Louise Hay
The gift of forgiveness - Katherine Schwarzenegger
How to be human - Ruby Wax
The Highly Sensitive Person - Elaine N. Aaron
Burnout - the secret to solving the stress cycle - Emily Nagoski, Amelia Nagoski
Grit - Angela Duckworth
Braving the Wilderness - the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone - Dr. Brené Brown
The Happiness Advantage - How a positive brain fuels success in work and life - Dr. Shawn Achor
I have listed some videos of the summaries of some books that I have read that I have found useful and one that summaries lessons learnt from 134 books. Brain chemistry plays an active role - so take care of your brain chemistry - eat healthy, exercise, take vitamin D.
I highly recommend reading the Growth Mindset - it is related to business and is lesson 3 in the video below. This is where companies like IBM have grown and reduced their toxic culture of competitiveness and status and incorporated a culture of cooperation and teamwork.
Yesterday I decided to post the #challengeAccepted challenge on Facebook. It's a photo challenge where you take a photo of yourself and share with up to 50 beautiful women across Facebook to pass on the challenge during these Corona filled times! I decided I was going to add some of the men in my life, after all, why not share with only one gender? I mean, I am in a lot of Java Programming groups on Facebook and I have helped a lot of men with their programming problems. Some have engaged in what is known as masculine toxicity. It's the toxic culture where there is a competitive nature. The inevitable 'one up man-ship' and competitive nature can be destructive. It is not helpful in the slightest especially to those learning Java. For example, yesterday I know a complete beginner posted up an error that we have ALL experienced as programmers and the rhetoric went like this - go back to beginner's, read another book etc etc.
The destructive nature of male toxicity will prevent people from learning and engaging in groups - at all! Some of the comments under mine were quite harsh and pointed out that he should go back and read a book. While this might be true, it is not solving the problem at hand and we all encourage programmers to 'learn by doing' so telling them to go back and read a book isn't only unhelpful, it is invalidating and discouraging for those that are starting out. Remember this was his first post in this group and he had stated that.
Perhaps something was being unearthed in me yesterday when I realised that some of the posts that I engaged in in the Women in Tech groups were also excluding the voice of men and some of the Java programming specific groups didn't have any women! It was as if at times there was a breeding ground for separation. A toxic separation where we do not hear the other gender's perspective. We only see them separating themselves from each other in order to solve problems. While this can be productive when looking at and encountering gender-specific issues such as the pay gap, it is also a case of finding the balance and inclusivity among genders. Why does one group get to have fun programming or engaging in social activities for fun and not the other? It made me think!
I was here doing all this Java programming, dancing, singing and engaging in some social activities online during lockdown while my male colleagues were missing out. I shared the challenge with them and some stepped up to the challenge and I have to say kudos to them for accepting it and running with it. I could not be more proud of knowing these men that will engage in things for fun and let go of the stigma that is attached to their male toxic environments. What started out as a bit of fun allowed us to be more inclusive.
Boundaries - the definition of boundaries is to see what is okay and not okay. Being able to say yes to what makes you comfortable and no to what makes you not comfortable. I fall for people saying 'we are only concerned about you' when someone says they are concerned and I tell what's the matter. All of a sudden the news has circulated and I am now in a position where I have to defend my boundaries and it drains more energy. The person who I told in the first place had passed on the information to another and the other person had questioned me in front of more people. It is really uncomfortable. My vulnerability is now exposed and it can be humiliating depending on the personal details being circulated.
What was once my private business and something that I was telling someone in private is no more and the trust is broken. Can I forgive the person? Yes, sure, it was my responsibility not to tell them in the first place but I gave in and did tell them! I don't know why, perhaps it's a way in which they kept on and on and on asking questions until I finally gave in or maybe it's the sense of connection that I felt at the time was strong enough. It was this sense of connection that we all crave. I have learnt from this and I know that it's important to practice boundaries to have healthy relationships. It is rooted in love and goodness for yourself and for them.
Boundaries come under the realm of respect, not just for others but for yourself. It is taking into consideration what makes you feel uncomfortable and what is fine to talk about. When someone breaches your boundaries, it makes you uneasy, uncomfortable and sometimes it's a case of reacting in a compassionate way towards yourself and saying - right, I need to reestablish these again and not let that happen again. I have been fooled in the past with trusting my past colleagues when it came to boundaries and under the same realm of 'we are concerned' which is actually a way of getting information from you and spreading it into the drama filled workplace. This breaks trust, breaks walls and breaks relationships.
Lowering your boundaries when you are sick or exhausted is normal. You are vulnerable in these times. You are going through a time where your strength is under pressure and walls are down. People can unfortunately give into the feeling of someone else caring and allowing them to look after you. We all do it, we all go into this 'child mode' - it's natural. We want the connection to another human and meet them in a way that is empathic and authentic. Empathy without boundaries is not empathy so it is important to protect them.
Be compassionate that your boundaries may fall when you are sick and they need to be protected even more then. Perhaps notice when this happens and become more aware when you are triggered. It all leads to healthier relationships and understanding and for those that do not respect your boundaries - were they ever really your friends to begin with if you can't trust them? We are all allowed to make mistakes, especially when we have so readily sought the guidance from others. We are always improving.
For me improving looks like this, it's accepting myself as I am, being grateful to be alive, knowing that I confident in my own skin, I am a beautiful person, I approve of myself, I love myself and I am a work in progress. I focus on becoming aware of my own thoughts, feelings and limits aka boundaries. What is uncomfortable, recognise why and what beliefs pop up. It's recognising these and having the courage to sit with them and still do things that bring up uncomfortable thoughts. It is not accepting things that are wrong for me and protecting my own boundaries. We cannot have a healthy relationship without practicing boundaries.
Recognise that there are people that will always want something from you. They want your time, energy, money, control, reaction - anything. I used to think that I wouldn’t stoop to someone else’s level and not treat them with respect. It is now a case of me seeing respect for what it is and when someone else isn’t willing to give me the respect I deserve, I owe them nothing. That might seem harsh but if you think of life as a computer game and they are sending in bazooka full ammunition and you don't take out your defence mechanisms to fight then they will send in all they have and more until it has worn you down. With boundaries it is not your responsibility to accept the fault that someone has overstepped them, it is your responsibility to protect yours if they have been overstepped. In computer game terms, your health bar would deplete rapidly after boundaries are encroached, to keep it maintained you need to arm up, say no and defend or withdraw when necessary. It is acceptable to revoke access to you when they have overstepped your boundaries. It is a privilege to be in someone else's story and life. Who you share your story with in person is an honour. No one is automatically entitled to it, you get to decide that and that is part of the beauty of boundaries. You have the decision power of who you allow into your life and you decide who gets to engage with you in conversation, go on hiking trips, camping, who you live with, run with, go cycling with - do any activities at all. Over the last while I can describe different types of boundaries as the list below:
Be compassionate towards yourself and remember that fear blocks love. When you do not love yourself then you cannot protect yourself. Boundaries are an act of self-love. Negativity then flourishes where love has been excluded and we may find ourselves in what Dr. Brené Brown calls a shame spiral. Boundaries are necessary for healthy, loving, connected relationships. They are the foundation of deep and meaningful relationships and genuine connection and trust. If you envision life as a computer game, your health line would drop a lot without them. You could continue to fight but eventually your self-identity would die in the game. It is the same thing in real life with that analogy.
For me practicing self-care and boundaries is figuring out what's important to me and how I do that is up to me. It's reading, listening and watching informative and inspiring research. It's also a case of trying different strategies, not only reading about them. One strategy that has come from research is the practicing of gratitude or recognising a shame spiral. We are need meaning - like tokenising in programming. Once we name what we are experiencing which could be a hard emotion like a shame spiral, it loosens its grip, it gives us power over them. I practice gratitude every morning by writing a few things that I am grateful for and it has also been proven in the research from Dr. Brenè Brown and Dr. Shawn Achor that it can make our lives more joyful - who would not want more joy in their live?! Of course, I try these things, I love trying new things. I also love a good podcast and I have already learnt so much from Dr. Brené Brown and she's doing a podcast. I have just subscribed. I would also highly recommend her Ted talk 'the power of vulnerability' , the Netflix show 'call to courage' and also her books braving the wilderness and lots more. This is the link to her website so you might like listening to her podcast on a run or walk. https://brenebrown.com/podcast/introducing-unlocking-us/ Finally, it is also revoking access to those who do not respect me for in essence, boundaries are about respect and when you respect yourself then you realise how peaceful your life is without giving access to people who do not respect your being, awareness or love of life.
You also start to laugh at the audacity of people across the world telling you what to do, when to do it and how to do it. I have laughed for an entire afternoon after some random guy told me to change my YouTube content and followed shortly by can we work together?! People sometimes like to push boundaries for fun, also remember this. It can be something that they have grown up with in the dynamics of their family and think it's funny. In that case, if it makes you uncomfortable, stay away from them and laugh. Whatever makes you uncomfortable is your compass for your boundaries. When it's off course, bring it back on course. We all make mistakes too so be compassionate with yourself if and when you let boundaries fall and allow someone in that you shouldn't have. It's a case of course correction like when flying an airplane from Ireland to the US and the pilot notices that it's gone off course, re-align yourself like the pilot in the airplane. It's that simple, we learn, we evolve and we grow.
I am so happy that I can bring you a free Java for beginners course. It is now up on Udemy and the content has to be less than two hours for it to qualify to be free.
I also posted up the free Udemy course: https://www.udemy.com/course/learn-beginners-java/ It is limited to two hours of content. The next Udemy premium course will be announced when it is available and it will have a lot more content, programming exercises and self-review quizzes.
I am so grateful that I get to have this opportunity to develop courses. I am excited to add in the next course that has more content, quizzes and programming exercises. So far since it went live I already have 123 people enrolled in the course and have 13 lectures online. It's light on quizzes and there aren't any programming exercises - you follow along the videos yourself and it's self-guided. The next course will be a little different. There will be quizzes and programming exercises to accompany the lectures, however, it needs to be premium (free courses are limited to 2 hours) as the content covers a lot and the videos are more than two hours of content. Also see the new video I posted today in the beginner's course on YouTube. With Udemy you will get a full experience of course exercises, real-life examples and coding to do. In YouTube it shows the videos that I have recorded so far to explain different concepts and we are almost coming to the end of the beginner's course on YouTube. I have had so much fun creating these and I hope you have fun watching them too. Enjoy programming and thanks for watching!
I worked in a bar when I was 18 in Limerick city and my first night working I got ice thrown down my t-shirt by the manager for fun and apparently it was a tradition to all new people joining. I thought the place was wild and it was. I was used to working in the Body Shop during the day as a summer job and decided I needed some extra cash before going to college. I did what another girl in the shop did and that was sign up to work nights in the bar and club in town. It was a culture shock - bear in mind only a few years earlier I had gotten sick meeting boys for the first time and also shied away approaching customers until I was shown what to do and I didn't even speak until I was three - yes - that shy! It was a massive change, there was loud music, the pub was packed to the brim with a live band playing and lots and lots of drunk people.
I started as a glass collector and, for those not from Ireland, we do not have a pfand for the glasses. You just put them down anywhere and people go around and collect them. I would stack them up above shoulder length and bring as many as I could at a time. Sometimes managing two or three stacks of pint glasses a couple of feet high. After a few nights of this I progressed onto table service which was asking people for their drinks orders at the table and bringing them to them. I was really good at this as I am not the tallest and I could weave in and out of the crowds fairly easily.
I then moved onto selling shots, working behind the bar, cloakroom and club behind the bar too. It was ideal for the summer and I worked really hard. The boss would come and run their finger along the counter of the bar to make sure there was nothing and we would scorch our hands on the boiling hot water to ensure that all the alcohol was wiped away and the counter surface was sufficiently cleaned. It was hard work and our bodies were definitely put to the limits. I worked usually until 4 or so, sometimes later and would run home (don't tell Mom!). We lived outside the city limits and it was quiet enough at that time in the morning that no one was around as all the pubs were closed about an hour earlier. It was the clean up of the toilets, bar and everything that took time to leave. We'd also (sometimes) have a staff drink at the end of the night to relax. I always wondered why I never made tips and apparently once I was told I was 'too happy' by one of the customers who used to call in regularly. I would, of course, dance to the music behind the bar and serve drinks as quickly as possible and without any waste which I was and still am very proud of that!
The summer went by fast and I was going to start college. I had been introduced to a new way of life. I loved it. I loved the music, bar people and I had fun partying sober while working all summer - or at least that's what it felt like. Limerick is small so the same people came into the bar regularly and we saw them again throughout the evening in the club upstairs. It was fun and good hard work to keep me honest for the summer before college started! I was really thankful that I could ask my coworker to come to my debs (the end of year school dance in September) because I had been tragically unsuccessful asking others and he obliged thankfully. It's another story but he's a lovely person and I was also lucky to meet him a while back and recreate our debs photo!
I came back that following Christmas to take back up my job to work Christmas (not Christmas day obviously as everywhere is closed!) and the new year. I had enjoyed working there because my first day it was like a christening into the place with the ice down my t-shirt and the lovely managers we had. They were hard but they were lovely. They reasoned with us. Long story short, they weren't there when I came back and I was upset. In fact, none of the staff remained and it was under new management again. I continued working hard and dancing behind the bar, not collecting my tips but enjoying myself, happy out dancing and pouring pints.
The following summer again the staff changed and again it was under new management. I was shocked. How could they go through so many people in such a short time. It was the largest bar outside of Dublin so there must have been at least 15 working in the bar and more upstairs in the club. I didn't ask questions and kept doing what I was told. I worked hard, didn't complain and enjoyed working there. I made friends again and every time (over the next few years) that the staff changed, I made new friends. I stayed there for a few years while in college and even to this day I still know the upper management.
When I was working in the Body Shop we had a manager that also was a bad boss. She managed to get everyone, even the people working there for 15 years or so, to quit including myself. It was a really lovely job but it was something that we all had to do. Eventually though and usually it is too late - upper management notices and once they do they get rid of the rotten apple. It usually takes several people to leave a position before that happens though as that's the only way that sends messages to upper management when something is wrong. It's unfortunate but I have seen it across several sectors now and in offices, retail and bars. I have had enough experience at this point to conclude that that is my perspective as I have several more examples.
The key now is if you find yourself under a bad boss to get out and not let that impact you. It is really hard to do and when you don't have a choice or feels like you don't have a choice because of money or bills to pay for example, then it is harder and you can convince yourself to stay longer. The real issue is that it is insidious and you can't tell when the damage is happening when it is happening. We are all fighters and want to stay in jobs that we love but at the end of the day, the facts are the facts and a high staff turnover is, unfortunately, a sign of a bad boss so get out while you can!
Burnout is common and from only speaking with my friends they seem to have all landed in a toxic relationship/workplace/situation. Burning out can tremor feelings of anxiety and also land you in a situation where your self-esteem has taken several blows by the environment that you are in. You may find yourself overwhelmed and unable to cope in the uncertainty of the time. Perhaps even your sense of identity has been questioned. All in all I know that it is a temporary time and that what goes down must come back up. You need to view this time as a time that will pass and also that once you have felt overwhelmed, it is time to get strategies in place that help you to manage these and never let it happen again.
Feeling overwhelmed during certain situations can happen quite often. For me, I live alone and going into a loud environment like going home can be overwhelming. All of a sudden I am thrust into the realm of busy-ness and have to deal with people wanting my attention constantly. This, I am not used to and it can be overwhelming. I enjoy quiet mornings and when I go home it seems really loud and jarring to the psyche. Having yourself become overwhelmed versus burnout is another thing - see post on burnout below. It is a continuous feeling of being overwhelmed, a continuous stress and a continuous questioning of how you are handling things in the best possible way for you. Your identity can come into question as the strategies of the past may not work in this current scenario and you are too exhausted to figure out the why or how to move forward with new ones.
You may resort to avoidance and avoidance is a strategy in its own right - we've all been there, the phone rings and we look at the number, it's not from someone you know so you decide to ignore it. It rings and rings and your mind goes through who it could be until it stops. We hope an email comes through explaining that it was so and so on the phone or that a voicemail has been left. The discomfort experienced with phone calls is not something I enjoy or like. I was never one for phone calls. In fact, I would say that phone calls make me anxious and nervous. I prefer messages/emails or even video calls are better than phone calls when my voice goes dry and I've to bring the energy to the call when I am nervous on the other end.
I am aware of this and have sought to overcome it time and time again. I even had a job as a call-centre representative for a summer once. I was actually really good at it and enjoyed it, once I got used to cold calling people! What was once uncomfortable then became something I just did without thinking. I had to do, I was there to do and it became normalised. I didn't get stressed. I just did it. My body went into the motion of doing it and performed the task at hand. We all learn to overcome these things eventually!
When you experience burnout feelings of insecurity and questioning of your identity becomes the norm and this can impact on your relationships too. You normalise these feelings and your day to day tasks can increase your insecurities to a realm where you cannot cope very well. It's into the abyss of feeling inadequate. You start to question the level of respect given in certain relationships including the ones closest to you and are on high-alert for these. Some of which might be that you want the support and someone there for you but they are off doing their own things. You may even fall into being dependent while you are experiencing this sickness. This is, of course, normal. You want the people closest to you to look after you.
Being physically sick you can see the illness, it is there to view, it is visible and physically present but when you are burnout, you are emotionally drained, perhaps also physically ill and your immune system is not functioning as your body goes to fight/flight/freeze mode. A small cold may take longer to recover, you may fall into victim mode and the person closest to you may choose to be around other people. You feel upset and tell them that you cannot deal with the disrespect shown - this may be interpreted as jealousy.
Jealousy can result in having low confidence. Jealousy is toxic and a lot of people that are jealous are unhappy with their lives and look at another person doing something that they want to do but do not have the courage to do it. A healthy way to look at this is to get yourself up and do what you want to do. Perhaps approach the girl and tell them how much you admire and look up to them. That is a healthy position to be in and a healthy thing to do. We need to lift each other up. There are times of course when some behaviour is not to be tolerated and sometimes people think girls are jealous when they might have been disrespected by another girl - then this is a case of not jealousy but disrespect and burnout.
If there was some behaviour that is not to be tolerated then, of course, address it. Why wouldn't we? We are human, most people do not do things to hurt others. Most people are good human beings that want to be safe and secure - unfortunately with burnout, everything is under threat and the feelings of safety are also not secure so you will be on high alert. This is also normal as your body is experiencing fight/flight/freeze mode.
In these times you will need support - to support yourself and tell yourself that you are overwhelmed and to comfort yourself alone. I want freedom and that includes for a partner. I think these feelings of burnout can be interpreted as jealousy so it is whether or not your partner sees that and knows that you value freedom is another thing. Being upfront about things is both yours and your partner's responsibility as secrecy also breeds jealousy and what can be interpreted an unhealthy perspective from one side - this is for another post! I value being straightforward with people and once that is done then everything will fall into place.
For me, I value freedom, I value other's freedom, I want other's to be happy and to feel free, light and able to do what they want, when they want. It is something that I want for myself and it is that not feeling that goes with burnout as you feel trapped and smothered by feelings of inadequacy. Being emotionally drained you need to get back on track and taking a walk or going for a run might be pushing yourself too much depending on your physical state. You may need to sit with yourself in solitude (without distractions - I know when you are in pain it is easy to pick up your phone to look at as it's easier than facing sitting with yourself) to work through your emotions until they are under wraps and balanced again. You may need time alone to let everything out and allow yourself to accept the situation that you are in. Don't breed toxic positivity - by telling yourself to only focus on the good we cannot appreciate why it is good and what happened for it to become that way.
WITHOUT THE BAD TIMES, THERE ARE NO GOOD TIMES
You need to sit with the bad and allow the emotions to be purged - for me that is journalling and letting them out. I also love celebrating things and redirecting my energy where it is needed most. Celebrating the small wins can be part of purging the burnout. I love celebrating things - it's the small things that need to be celebrated that amount to the big things. Sometimes we feel empty and stuck and don't know what to do. I think that's a natural cycle. People go through periods of stress and push themselves and we could learn from nature. We need time to reenergise. We all need to have the balance. We have taken a few steps forward then we need to stop and accept it. Take it in and relax. You can drive ahead with things and once the level of emotion has peaked in terms of performance then it is time to rest.
Like flowers giving all their energy to blossom in the summer and then rest in winter. It might be time to take a leaf out of nature and take the time to go through your own cycles. Do other things and do not push yourself. The most common way we give up our power is by thinking we don't have any. So be compassionate and kind to yourself - let yourself blossom for the flower that you are. :-D Feeling free is the best feeling in the world, it should be cherished and when you can overcome the burnout, you will cherish it even more. Without the bad times, there are no good times! You will appreciate the freedom more once you have had the feelings of being trapped from burnout. A free mind is a dangerous thing and most people will not know what to do with you so protect it and laugh about it. Enjoy living your free life, with your free mind and your free choices. The picture below was taken in Galway in 2013 - running, adventures and hiking makes me feel free - do the things that make you feel free and you'll notice more when you aren't free - but only when your body allows it, if it doesn't, then prioritise rest! When there's no petrol in the tank, there is NO PETROL IN THE TANK!
If you are in a relationship that means taking on a mature freedom. Embracing commitment as a freedom in a way that enables both people to flourish, be themselves and step into their own power. Being free, feeling free and most of all protecting that freedom as a human so we can thrive in all environments is one of the most important things about live and feeling alive. Do fun stuff and get out of your comfort zone. You have only one life and life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. Go for it! Make the stuff happens that you want to happen. You'll thank yourself afterwards for building the life you want and for the freedom you have accomplished. Start the blog, do the adventure, learn the language, run the marathon - build the life for you.
BY ORIAH MOUNTAIN DREAMER
It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.
It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, 'Yes.'
It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
Fear and anger are the two emotions that can hinder ourselves from progression, not only that but they have the power to overwhelm and destroy relationships with ourselves and with others. Having fear can prohibit us from reaching our goals and stepping into the part of our lives that is full of adventure and ambition. Anger can lead us down the path of 'why me' and adapt into aggression when nothing can be done about something. Both are neutral emotions designed to help us in different scenarios and both can be overcome through time and effort to make progress.
Fear is completely normal when we step outside of our comfort zone. The questions in our head about will we be accepted, rejected or are we good enough stands out to keep our fear at high levels. Fear can also be a reaction to our environment and the intense nature of disruptive environments around us. Fear can be part of our animal instincts that tell us to stop doing what we are doing as we are in danger. Fear can also be something to be overcome to achieve our goals.
Our goals are things that we might want to achieve or it could be something that we want to do that scares us. We set the goals and want to achieve them. We want to get that degree, run that race, get that job, remain in that job despite circumstances, learn that language, learn to cook, go zip-lining, jump out of an airplane, climb a mountain, learn to dance, sing on stage. These are the goals that can stretch our limits and to achieve our goals we must overcome our fear of failure. Our fear of failure is so powerful that if we envision failing then we are more likely to fail than succeed. Our brain can interpret that as something we want as opposed to don't want as our attention is focused on 'not' failing as opposed to succeeding.
Our emotions fill with anxiety at the prospect of failing and we think of our worst case scenarios in order to cope with the impending doom. Unfortunately this can lead us to failure faster as our brains fill with the stress hormone and we become more forgetful, unfocused and on high alert. We force ourselves not to concentrate and our conditions are not ideal as we go through the 'what if I fail' scenarios over and over again. Yes, it is pragmatic to thing about what happens if we fail, however, bringing our attention to that will increase our stress hormones. Ideally, we need to concentrate on succeeding and include the feeling it would be like to succeed in our goals - getting that mark and feeling elated that you passed that examination, got that degree, ran that race, learnt that language and sang on stage etc.
Doubt and fear both tell us that something needs our attention and we need to focus on these in order to get out of that 'dangerous' situation. It is our body's way of telling us to take care of ourselves, our stress hormones are raging and our blood starts only circulating to specific organs in order to run away from that stressful situation. If experienced for a long period of time our body starts to get sick as the blood flow is restricted. What happens when you cannot run away from the stressful situation? What happens when you are boxed in, locked in and kept in a stressful situation that is disruptive over long periods of time?
Anger starts to creep in once fear and doubt are present for an extended period of time. Anger and aggression is our way of trying to fight back. If you picture an animal locked in a cage, all they want to do is get out and initially they start railing against the cage with anger until they give up. When we, as humans, feel trapped and in a stressful situation, our brains send out the signals with stress hormones, our hearts start to race, our blood only goes to vital organs and our entire bodies are screaming at us to get out of that situation as quickly as possible either by fighting/running or freezing.
Anger and aggression is the next step that happens once the helplessness of the scenario is absorbed. In a similar way that animals get sad and a range of emotions sweep through them as they are locked into a cage from once running wild and free. Anger then has the power to become explosive if provoked and injustice prevails in our lives. Anger is encountered at a higher level when a hostile provocation occurs and defence needs to be engaged. Anger is normal. Anger is a healthy emotion and not good or bad, however, in these situations it can fall into the bad territory as the mix of injustice can trap us in our minds and we are then akin to the animals in the cage unable to break free.
The only way through anger is to lead. Leadership takes courage and something happens that might 'wake' us up to enact this stance. Perhaps the anger was useful to push us to act and give us the strength to pull ourselves out of a situation that is both stressful and harmful over a long period of time. The issue is trying to stay awake once we have woken up and we can tend to fall back to sleep when we are overworked, burned out, overwhelmed and do not have the support we need. We may not have engaged in a community and wanted to isolate in order to cope - which is also animalistic - imagine being wounded and going back into a cave to recover, it is similar to this. We need to reenergise and recuperate after our stress hormones have raged in our bodies for a long period of time.
Not engaging with the community and trying to do it all on our own can be detrimental and increase our levels of stress more as we figure out our own realities. It is seeing these situations happen but not having the perspective to wake up to the reality and see how others have coped with it. We all need to recuperate and reenergise, however, isolation is our way of protecting ourselves and while that is useful initially, it is more important to engage in a community where you get the support and inspiration to 'power through' these times of stress.
Everyone has their own power and figuring out what is unique to you that you can bring to the table is part of finding that power. What can you contribute? Things are greater than you and looking at this as the perspective and that you are not alone can help motivate things. When you do things alone and feel alone in a stressful environment you can fall into that helpless and hopeless realm of victimhood. We are always so much more likely to fall into the 'I am not right for the job'. The challenge is to stay awake, look for people that are inspirational, build a community that supports you and figure out how to manage the fear and anger associated with that stressful situation in order to get the courage to leave it. Find people that stay 'stop, you are good enough'.
We get empowered when we understand other people have had similar situations, however, we must decipher what is best for us. It is all well and good having this community and getting the support. It is much more important to find our own voice and make our own decisions as to what matters to us, what are our priorities, what can we contribute, what can we learn from other people's stories and how can we progress in our own situation that will allow us to have the freedom in our minds going forward. We need to tell ourselves that we are safe in order to dissipate the fear, purge the anger in order to become serene and become self-compassionate in order to heal. Ultimately, we need to ask - what is best for us based on what we have learnt from our own situation, about ourselves and from others around us?
I love a good comedy. I love observational comedy the most and people like Dylan Moran, Des Bishop and Dara O'Briain make it seem really easy but at the same time are really clever in the way they put together their material. I watch comedy when I am down and as a way of coping and seeing the silver lining in things all the time. I love the IT crowd and Father Ted and also some dark humour like Black Books - all of which are written by the same author - Graham Linehan.
These are a way that I usually laugh once a day and they do say laughter is the best medicine. I do know babies laugh far more than adults but they haven't lived through or carry with them the sense of cynicism that we adopt throughout life. They are free to laugh at the most minor and subtle things and giggle at whatever they please. My Father - who is 90 - maintains that we should see everything as if it was for the first time to keep it fresh and have a sense of wonder and astonishment with the world and I think he is right. I do carry a sense of curiosity with me and amazement of most things that are new.
In college I had the privilege of participating in laughter yoga. It was an experiment that was open to all PhD students. I went to the laughter yoga with an open mind and participated in the brain study. It was, in fact, hilarious. We were in a room and she gave us exercises to do and we had to fill out forms etc. I won't go into detail but we laughed and before I went back to the PhD room I was lighter. The world had lifted off my shoulders and I saw the study a little differently. Criticism is good for improving and trusting your supervisor is also key in order to develop your study and I believe this laughter throughout the day helped.
I do have a tendency to seek out funny videos when I am going through something traumatic. I tend to bury my head and focus on the funny videos and while the world might be crashing down around me I will laugh at the absurdity that the comedian is explaining and transpose that to real life. In some ways this can be a bad thing as people misunderstand my comedic nature for not taking things seriously but, in fact, it is my way of coping. While I can't address the pain that I am enduring at the time I laugh about something that is not real in order to cope with the overwhelm of my emotions. Privately this has allowed me to manage well in times of stress, however, when someone sees this and questions it, it can dismantle the fabric of my being and I am lost without my coping mechanism. I have now built other strategies and do not need to rely on this as much, however, it was a key strategy for me for coping and we all need good strategies.
When I was younger my other strategy was playing computer games, I would sit for hours distracting myself from whatever was around me and focus solely on playing a game. It could be TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) or old games that my sisters had available like Terminator 2 on the Commodore 64. I have a penchant for classic computer games since! The time can pass by like minutes and I am in what is known as 'flow' - a concept widely written in academia by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The description of which entails the warping of time, where a person is fully immersed in their experience and energised afterwards. It is a case that the person is fully engaged and while, for me, it is a coping strategy and the world around me might be falling apart, I am 'distracted' by the engagement of the computer game.
We know now that there is an immersive element to computer games and studies have been completed on this - see my PhD for references! Computer games can improve concentration and allow for users to fully engage with their experience. For me, computer games can act as a way of coping. They can fully distract and fully engage me in something else at the same time. At the moment, we are facing a time of crisis where we are all at home and seeking ways of coping in this troubling time and while I have distracted myself with other activities like reading, making videos for my YouTube channel - Learn Computers with Ali - I find myself missing the one element that I went to quite often before I did research in computer games and that is gaming.
'Steam' is offering more free games and while during the week I am busy with work, it is the free time that I have at the weekend that I can fully engage and fall into a different world, a world free from the horrible news of deaths from the virus sweeping across the world. I used to be too busy for computer games holding down usually several jobs, studying, teaching, supervising students and training for marathons and now I find myself innovating and looking at my time as a way that I can spend being kind to myself and enjoying the 'flow' state that computer games present. The 'Houseparty' app allows people to share their experience for mobile games and 'TeamSpeak' allows sharing on a computer so it doesn't necessarily need to be a solitary activity. You can engage with computer games as a team activity.
So I will leave you with this, I will go watch some comedy to cope and play some computer games and I will leave judgement at the door while I distract myself for a few hours from the world around me. I will enjoy every minute of it and fully immerse myself in an 'out of this world' experience and laugh about the absurdity of some real-life mundane situations. While these might seem inappropriate in some instances, I am all too aware of the reality of the situation and its seriousness. However, in these times we also need to look after our own mental health so we can come back energised and that is what 'flow' does. It re-energises a person so they are ready for more - as long as they meet the 'flow' state requirements though and start off small - something not too challenging and yet enjoyable.
Mihaly Csikszentmihályi (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row. ISBN 978-0-06-016253-5.
See PhD for list of references or contact me for a list regarding flow state and computer games.
Marriage is a tricky subject. The institution of marriage in modern times has been filled with the hope that couples stay with each other through thick and thin, better or worse and in all eventualities. There are, of course, exceptions. The law in Ireland allows couples to separate due to mental illness and not only separate but completely erase or annul what has happened. So is it really for better or worse? Not in this instance it seems! It's only for better and if one of you gets mentally ill then an entire 20 year marriage can be erased - children or no children!
In Brehon laws in Ireland, couples had more rights than the institution of marriage allows for today in its modern Catholic form. Brehon laws stated that each couple re-new their vows to each other yearly and this was afforded to both men and women. It was the right to choose to stay together as a partnership. The trappings of modern day marriage does not allow for this. While we yearn for social contact and have soulmates, marriage and its institution feels like trappings of a modern institution that doesn't allow for the freedom of choice or to choose to be with that person each and every single day. Perhaps we all go through some days or years that are challenging and perhaps one gets ill and a marriage ensures that the partner says with you through this battle but wouldn't it be better if they choose to stay with them rather than be obliged to stay due to a piece of paper binding them to do so?
In today's institution you can go to what is known as modern day Las Vegas in Europe and get married within minutes in Denmark. The ceremony is small and it is done within a legally binding contract. The contract is done there but it cannot be undone there. You are tied to each other but cannot untie once the contract is signed. It is legally binding and that is that.
I quite like the idea of a small and intimate ceremony without the pressures of throwing a gigantic party that happens to be the case in Ireland with guests usually in or around 200. The celebrations are usually three days and the pressure to 'keep going' is there (first the night before, then the day of and usually all night and continuing to the morning followed by entertainment that afternoon). I do love going to a wedding - don't get me wrong - but for me the pressure of expectations and engaging in what might be the most expensive party you will throw in your life can cause some anxiety that I don't particularly want in my life.
Perhaps Brehon laws had it right, they reviewed their partnerships on a yearly basis and decided to be with each other each and every year. However, was it the case that someone fell got ill and they'd leave. Was marriage invented as a way to prevent this from happening? Is it that people are immature and need more empathy and understanding that people can, in fact, separate quite often?
People are complex characters and relationships are challenging as you navigate the ways of the world around you as a partnership. External influences guide thinking and persuade another to do something that the other may not like. The likelihood that the other partner is also going to do something that the other doesn't like is high - however, are we lacking in empathy then or are we? Is marriage set up to protect empathy and understanding? I know I would prefer if someone choose to be with me as a partner each and everyday rather than be trapped by the institution of marriage, however, is it a case that we need to cultivate empathy more when it comes to mental illness as this is an exception in the rules of marriage?
We all do things people do not like, we fall into the trappings of a toxic environment and in some cases become the toxic person. This envelopes us. This can happen to use like an infection. A healthy apple is put beside a rotten apple and the entire basket is then rotten within days. The infiltration of mindsets from different environments can be toxic. Are we to remain in a marriage with someone who's mindset can waver at its environment and be disappointed that they didn't choose you because they are influenced by someone else? The more we explore the world the more external impacts we might engage in, simply put, our external environment has more to do with impacting our relationships than we give it credit. Whether we choose to see this or not is another story.
It seems it is impossible to have fun together when one of you is depressed or stressed. Is is then that the stressful nature of a situation removes our right to choose to be with that person? Is it that we need to cultivate more empathy in this instance to ensure that there is an understanding on a deep level that the other person might be going through something that is painful? Can grief be handled in a marriage?
I know someone who was married and the person became verbally and mentally abusive the week after they were married and their partner then ignored the person for the rest of their marriage. Does contempt and abuse constitute a mental illness? Is it possible to have empathy for someone who is abusive? After reading the act of forgiveness - see post below - perhaps forgiveness is a way of understanding but also saying no, you cannot do this to me again. You have the right to choose who to be with - whether they treat you well or not and the institution of marriage, oftentimes, ties us to this person for a long time and if abusive you may need to get a restraining order against them.
At the end I would prefer someone to choose to be with me each and everyday, to explore and go on adventures together, to travel together, to go hiking and enjoy each other's company, to be kind to each other, be patient and have fun together. I would prefer someone else's right to choose to support me in times that are challenging, to challenge me when I am swallowed up by some toxic or victim mindset (as we are all guilty of falling into at times when our ego is battered and our self-esteem is low) and tell me to 'cop on now, you're worth more than that', to stand up to me and tell me that I am worthy when I am feeling unworthy and to push me to engage with my dreams and desires more than any other.
Again, perhaps love and the way we treat each other has more to do with the poem I posed in the post 'soulmates' than it does marriage. Marriage is the commitment to each other to last 'until death do us part' and have an adventure together as separate entities - separate lives but meeting in the middle every so often - having the space to blossom and enjoy every aspect of life. Whether the constitution of marriage itself needs to be addressed or not is another thing - I prefer the Brehon law's way of working. A good sit down once a year to make each other chat about what can be improved and the decision to be with each other for another year is a great idea. Perhaps its a case of managing both and allowing the person a freedom of choice to be with you or not - marriage or not. Then the next question is the right of the child without marriage... that is another blog post for another time! Perhaps the Claddagh ring is right in saying that it is a a case of love, friendship and loyalty.
Some interesting reads:
If anyone has been lucky enough to meet their soulmate then they will know exactly the feeling that happens when you do. I met someone who loved similar interests to me, he enjoyed climbing, running, computers, programming, hiking and quietness. He came from 'the country' that in Irish terms would be described as a large town as he had neighbours and if you come from 'the country' at home it tends to be a house isolated from neighbours. I thought that was a funny difference here.
He looked into my eyes and it was as if my body and soul had lifted off the ground and the level of intensity was magnificent. I was elated. I kept smiling and when we kissed it was as if I felt my entire body lift up into the air and dance with his. It was as if the world had melted away around us and it was just us. It sounds really cliché, however, if you have felt this then you know what I mean!
The eyes are the window to the soul and they really are. I felt like he had left fingerprints on my soul and it was his forever more. It's as if my body melted into the background. He left his unique imprint on mine and mine on his. Only identifiable by the electric intensity of looking deep into each other's souls and understanding each other on a level that can only be described as out of his world.
Most people will never meet their soulmates, they will find someone in the same group, go to similar things and maybe go out a few times and stay together. They will not have this experience and I am incredibly lucky to have had such an experience in my lifetime. Soulmates can have a level of intensity of feelings like no other. They were drawn to each other like magnets. Intrigued by each other and interested in learning more. Wanting similar things and exploring the same passions. Wanting to cuddle each other and kiss all the time as if the connection was only meant for a short while and you appreciate every touch. Wanting to do things for each other and appreciating every essence of their being - cherish every moment. These experiences will shape you, the level of understanding between two souls is magical. You make a team that works well together. Encouraging the best for each other and pushing each other to overcome each other's fears to live your best lives separately as separate beings but together as a partnership. Two separate souls, two separate entities choosing to be together each and everyday to live this crazy, wild adventure that is life - together. It can only be described as magic. The sparks of joy that fill your heart makes both of your hearts intertwine, making your hearts sing the same songs to each other.
George Ezra said it best in the song Paradise "If it feels like paradise running through your bloody veins, You know it's love heading your way"
I am reading a book at the moment by Katherine Schwarzenegger about the Act of Forgiveness. It is a collection of short-stories from different people who have been through some trauma and experienced the need to forgive at some point in their lives. I have learnt a lot from this book and perhaps it is a timing issue to let go of the past and forgive yourself and others in order to live a more fulfilling life.
Some of the stories detailed kidnapping, car accidents, infidelity within a marriage, rapes and all kinds of trauma that people have endured. There is a common thread throughout and that is the fact that people are incredibly resilient and they look at the silver-lining (some are in fact incredibly grateful for the chain of events that happened as a result of the trauma). For instance, with the kidnapping (who had also raped her) it was a case of being relieved that she didn't know the kidnappers as most people knew their kidnappers so she could cut ties and move on. Forgiving them was a source of personal relief and something that she wanted to do for herself. She didn't need to contact her kidnappers again or relive the experience. She didn't just take it upon herself to forgive like someone does in a school yard when someone does something wrong the other person is supposed to say sorry immediately even if they don't mean it. That is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is deeply personal and it doesn't necessarily involve the other person! She choose to forgive and in some ways in some of the stories they always looked at the perpetrators as people who knew not what they did!
Looking at some of the stories it also was a case of finding some hope within everything and looking at what I can distill down to empathy versus ego. Ego you hold onto the hurt - they hurt me, how could I forgive them, they did me wrong, they hurt me! This is somewhat self-righteous as if you and all humans cannot make mistakes. This doesn't see the other person's perspective - only your own. This is one-sided and holding onto the hurt makes the person carry it for a long time and build resentment and even bitterness towards the situation and person. The person who carries this will face the same lesson over and over and continue to face similar situations in different forms until they close their own wound. Empathy, on the other hand, is looking from the other person's perspective. It allows yourself to express compassion for the other person and let go of the judgement. We all make mistakes - whether you can see that empathetically or not is another story. This does not involve sympathy but rather empathy. You are not looking from a high point down on the person but actually feeling how the other person may have felt and putting yourself in their shoes.
You can get a momentarily high from feeling sympathetic for people but that doesn't bring the resolve. It is still self-righteous and putting you on a different level to the other person. If you detach the act from the person as much as you can then look at the hurt and pain separately then it is looking at the situation itself and not the person as a whole. We can have a tendency of bundling up the pain and hurt and attaching to the specific person without isolating it from the person to see that they are, in fact, human. They might have been going through an incredibly challenging time in their lives, they may have been emotionally flooded etc. This does not excuse their behaviour but let's you slip into their shoes to see them from their perspective perhaps.
I am not saying that giving the gift of forgiveness is an easy thing or am I saying that forgiving someone is a way for them to do it again when it is not. Forgiveness is a source of strength to be free from the source of bitterness and resentment and live your life without the wound. It is a case of trying to sew up your own wounds. That means that you have learnt the lessons from the hurt and pain and you will not let that happen again. It is also taking responsibility for your own part of carrying the hurt and pain.
The chapter entitled "Deborah Copaken: Confronting the beast" wrote about the story of her rapist. She was raped by a man before her graduation. The man was incredibly drunk (that is not an excuse) and even left her his number afterwards. She was traumatised and carried this around with her for 30 years. She emailed him the time that Brett Kavanaugh was facing trial (this appeared on television screens and something triggered her more than thirty years after the ordeal to contact her rapist) and he rang her apologising. He thought it was mutual but it wasn't. She had a sense of forgiveness wash over her and came to this conclusion.
"your life is either about forgiveness or it's not. You're either a person who decides to accept others, warts and all, or you're a person who has difficulties maintaining friendships".
I don't know whether I could have the strength and courage to do what she did and forgive someone who has done her such wrong! It is instilled in me since a child the very essence of right and wrong - however - this again shows that I am measuring other people from my yard stick! This does not mean that other people have this sense - again - we are human and while this doesn't give him an excuse for his behaviour, did he actually know what he did was wrong or not, does that matter when it comes to forgiveness? The forgiveness is not for them but for us so the other person, ultimately, doesn't come into the equation.
She is right regarding what she said above but forgiveness also involves forgiving yourself too. Forgiving yourself for the situation and not being hard on yourself for being at the wrong place at the wrong time or lashing out at people when you were not yourself. Abuse can come back around if the pain isn't felt and forgiveness isn't afforded. You need to watch 'I am a killer' on Netflix to realise this simple fact!
Forgiveness is difficult. It is incredibly challenging but like Deborah said, you can either be a person to accept humans warts and all or not. That doesn't mean you invite the other person to do the same thing again - no! This also doesn't mean seeking an apology from the other person - this is only for you in order to sew the wound up that you are carrying and let go of the past without letting go of the lessons that have built your character from such an ordeal.
People are resilient. People are also people and at the end we are all animals. We have instincts and as a result, this can often trigger survival mode, you can lash out or be cornered, or trapped too. Forgiveness is a source of freedom. You can free yourself. You can feel free, you can uplift others and live life without the sense of doom associated with the hurt and pain. You can see humans for what humans are, warts and all! You can be free to be you!
This is not a prescription that we must forgive - it is deeply personal and we are all different. It is up to you and a decision that you make whether to forgive or not. For me I want to be free of the clutches of bitterness and hurt so I choose to forgive. I want a fulfilling life full of adventure and the times that I have held onto the hurt, it has only shown to hurt me too and my life. It is also about timing and some may need to go through the hurt to get to the forgiveness.
Going through the hurt to get to forgiveness also means that in the messiness of being human, we can go through months of pain and hurt before we get out of being the victim and feeling hurt. It is akin to a physical would. If we think back to our cave ancestors going to a cave to sit by a fire and heal if they have been struck down, this happens too. You can do this. You are entitled to handle this in whatever way you want to in order to get through it and some choose to not forgive at all and carry it for the rest of their lives and that is their choice. It all takes time and time does not, in fact, heal all wounds! Working on yourself and your thoughts about these things brings you ease and forgiveness is one of the things that requires work each and everyday.
This morning I woke up inspired to write about the story that I heard so often as a child. We would play tricks on each other and call out someone to come when there wasn't anything wrong just for fun. The boy who cried wolf is a similar tale. The boy lived in a village and would tell the farmers that their sheep were in danger. The farmers would go off into the mountains and herd their sheep back to safety. All the while the boy would laugh at how stupid the farmers were to go after he told them. One day the boy actually did see a wolf but this time none of the farmers went because they thought he was joking. He had told them too often about this danger and eventually the boy stopped believing them.
We are now in another pandemic except it is like the boy who cried wolf. A lot of people who lived through the swine flu pandemic didn't take this time too seriously. We are now faced with real danger as the countries shut down to protect the people at risk and hospitals are overrun with large numbers of people facing real issues breathing and some are facing organ failure. Unfortunately for some it seems they are still not taking this issue seriously and it is something to be taken seriously especially when you hear of so many in their thousands dying in Italy and hundreds dying on a daily basis only from Italy alone!
We are now faced with staying at home, social distancing and the world has changed all because of a pneumonia that started with one person initially. The numbers are staggering and unfortunately the virus is more persistent on surfaces than any other. The alcohol rub-downs won't do it, it's a case of washing hands thoroughly and not touching your face or if possible wearing gloves and staying away from other people. It is a time to try to find some balance in our newly constructed world and all of a sudden we find ourselves checking in on people that we hadn't spoken to in a while to ensure that they are healthy and safe. We are in a way more connected and people are making more of an effort for online-chats than ever before as we sit down with groups of people on conference call software to find out the situation in their country and encourage each other that it will all be fine.
If Anne Frank can last as long as she did in a tiny area then we are fine. It is a different time, we can still go to the shops, enjoy the sunshine, talk to people, move freely (somewhat) by going to the shop and or pharmacy or even a walk. Although we can't do a lot together, we can check on each other, reach out to each other and encourage each other during this troubling time. We can listen to each other and hear each other's concerns and worries and we can also laugh at the absurdity of the entire thing. We can laugh at the memes going around the Internet. We can try to ensure we laugh at least once a day - laughter is the best medicine and it can help a lot of people cope while experiencing loneliness and we can also reach out to the elderly and people at risk if they need help. We can be there for each other like we weren't before. Now is our chance to build real communities and uplift each other.