Hindsight 2020

If there was a better name for a historical review of the year, I’ve yet to hear it! I may have to trademark it.

This post is kinda about my New Year Resolutions, except I do them a little differently.

For me, grand goals for the year don’t work very well. It’s too much pressure. Plus there’s a disconnect between the big goals and my everyday behaviour.

Instead, it’s easier for me to focus on “Just for Today” (credit: Narcotics Anonymous). Rather than setting grand goals for the year, I want to pay attention to the little things I do each day. Over time, small changes can produce powerful results, like compound interest in a savings account.

Self-awareness

My main goal for 2020 is to continue to improve myself, one step at a time, embracing a gentle model of two steps forward, one step back.

A key component will be to continue increasing my awareness – I want to notice when I’m acting out of alignment with my best self.

I’m really grateful to Sandra Walsh. It was thanks to her coaching that I realised how important self-awareness would be for my future.

Jordan Peterson explains this process beautifully:


I’m not a fan of Dr Peterson’s phrasing here though… “Stop saying things that make you weak

That phrase may work for him personally – he’s quite a tough mofo even if he sounds like Kermit the frog – but it doesn’t feel right for me.

For me, it’s better to say something like, “Speak and act in alignment with my core values: Truth, Courage, Love and Humility.

What about you? What’s the best way for you to phrase this idea when speaking to yourself?

My goals for 2020

There are a few things I’d like to do more of in 2020, and a few I’d like to do less of.

I’d like to do more of:

  • Being self-aware – monitoring my own thoughts and behaviour (as in the above video)
  • Being more present (mindful) in everyday life
  • Meditate most days
  • Exercise most days of the week
  • Set aside more time each day for reading books
  • Having a little more structure in my day so I get the most important stuff done first

I’d like to do less of:

  • Overeating, especially late at night
  • Getting caught in dopamine feedback loops (e.g. YouTube wormholes)
  • Staying up so late at night that it makes the next day much more difficult

I’d love to hear your own thoughts about 2020. What would you like to achieve for yourself? What are your thoughts on New Years Resolutions?

Merry F'kin Christmas

Are you feeling a little grumpy as we near Christmas? Or is it just me?

To be fair, it could just be me.

It’s been 6 weeks since I stopped taking my anti-depressants cold turkey (I’m sure there’s a joke about Christmas leftovers here somewhere). And I’m definitely more irritable.

Though I’d much rather be irritable than depressed.

Actually, I’ve had consistently good moods: literally 6 solid weeks of 4/5 or 5/5 days (as measured by the excellent Pixels app by Teo Vogel).

I can’t remember the last time I had 6 weeks of solid good moods. Over the last few years, it’s been rare for me to go more than 2 or 3 weeks without a few days of depression in which I struggle to get out of bed or have enough motivation to do anything at all.

I’m definitely feeling more irritable than usual, but not so much that it has a significant impact on my happiness levels or general satisfaction with life. Phew!

Many Reasons to be Grumpy

At this time of year in particular, there are plenty of reasons to be feeling grumpy.

There’s the stress of preparing for the big day – buying and wrapping presents, tidying the house (if you’re having guests over), trying to make sure you’ve got all those extra little jobs sorted out in time.

And then there’s incompetent delivery companies… yes, I’m looking at YOU, Hermes UK. You’ve managed to lose a parcel which contained a little boy’s Christmas present, despite the fact it was sent two weeks ago.

Yes, it was insured, but that’s not the point, is it. This present can’t easily be replaced. And by now it’s certainly too late.

You had ONE job, Hermes. ONE.

Managing Emotions

So yeah, there are a 1001 things to do and even more reasons I could use to justify why I’m a bit irritable and grumpy.

But that’s not how I want to feel.

And so I remind myself of a few things which help to return me to a place of calm.

I remember that there are people sleeping on the streets this Christmas, so I should consider myself lucky that I can even afford to send presents.

I remember that although it’s difficult to totally avoid all of life’s little irritations, I can choose how I respond to them.

I can choose to stew on those annoyances, obsessively ruminating on all the reasons I’m justified in feeling angry.

Trust me, I’m an expert at making mountains out of molehills. That’s a big part of why I ended up with clinical depression.

If I continue down that path, pretty soon I’ll have backed myself into a corner, filled with rage. I’ll be a dark, angry, depressed mess, just in time for Santa.

You should have seen me one year ago. I was depressed as fuck. I refused to actually run during the Christmas Day Park Run. Instead, I walked it, stubborn as Mary’s mule.

I hastily deleted the photos taken by the official race photographer. I’m surprised my miserable face hadn’t cracked his lens!

Or…

I can choose just to Let It Go (credit: Frozen). I can choose not to let those irritations get to me.

I can acknowledge the feeling of irritation in my mind. I can notice the tension in my body. And I can just… breathe it all out.

Ahhh, peace. Now that’s how I want to feel this Christmas.

And If All Else Fails…

… just get drunk and start a violent altercation with the nearest bystander.

See you in prison!

Merry Christmas, love from Rock Bollinger x

Up or Down?

Today feels like another of those pivotal moments… depending on how I handle things in the next few hours, my life could take a turn for the worse…

…Or maybe I’ll be able to use my arsenal of mental health tools’n’techniques to dodge the knockout punch which life is aiming my way.

If today was happening just a year or two ago, I’d say there would be a good chance I’d be heading into another depressive episode.

Fortunately, I have an ever-increasing belief that I (probably) have the inner strength to handle this. I hope I’m right.


So, What’s Going On?

Let’s start with the facts: Physically I don’t feel great: tired & achey. Mentally I’m not so hot either… brain fog, lingering sadness.

My old friend’s suicide is affecting me a little… but to be fair I haven’t seen her in ten years, so I’m less distressed than if she’d been my closest friend and we’d been better at keeping in touch.

12 Steps

I’ve been pulling away from Narcotics Anonymous. I’m coming up against barriers inside my own mind which are making it hard for me to feel close to people within the fellowship. I’m losing the sense of community I felt previously. I’m also intentionally avoiding my sponsor because much of what he tells me I find unhelpful. I haven’t attended a meeting in at least a week – I’m questioning its value for me personally.

On the plus side, I don’t see myself quitting Narcotics Anonymous completely. I still can very much see the value in doing the “stepwork” from the NA Step Working Guide book. It forces you to carefully consider your relationship to the 12 Steps. It helps you become a better person. And yet I’ve been procrastinating getting stuck into it for weeks. I’m at the start of Step 2, but I keep finding way more interesting things to do around the house… mostly DIY, which at least has felt productive. Yeah, I suck at routines and discipline.

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, there are lots of things I dislike about the 12 Steps. However, overall, I still feel it’s beneficial for me. So I’m going to keep going.

Anti-depressant Withdrawal

It’s a little over 3 weeks since I cold-turkeyed from Fluoxetine. This is precisely the timeframe where I might expect to feel the withdrawal effects on my moods and emotions.

I’m certainly feeling emotions more strongly now. The other day, I nearly cried while listening to some emotive music – that’s not happened to me for years.

Physical Effects

Recently, I’ve been really struggling to establish a good routine with diet, exercise and sleep. Again!

I know those 3 factors are very important for my mental health. When I consume too much sugar, don’t get enough exercise and keep staying up into the early hours of the morning, it’s an almost guaranteed recipe for worsening mental health.

Bad Dream

Last night I had a bad dream which repeated many elements of another disturbing dream I had recently.

I was in London and wanted to get home. “Home” in my dream was Hampshire, where I grew up. It’s westwards from London. But I got on the wrong train and accidentally headed North. I didn’t even realise I was on the wrong train until the train was outside London.

Once I realised, I got off at the next stop and planned how I would get back to Hampshire. It was going to take forever.

I would also need to walk through a place where I knew a lot of old acquaintances would be using drugs. It would be hard for me to resist.

This morning I’ve been trying to work out if the dream holds any significant meaning. What is it trying to tell me?

I find it alarming if my unconscious thinks that going North is/was a mistake. My wife and I moved North 9 years ago. Sure, we’ve had some difficulties, and it’s been tough for me being socially isolated (I’ve not made much effort to make new friends locally).

However, I can’t stress this enough: I have zero regrets about moving to Yorkshire. I love it here. My hometown holds a lot of painful memories for me and I have no inclination to return.

I’m 100% committed to my wife. My intention is that we’re going to be together until we die.

Moving North was very much NOT a mistake. So, what else could the dream mean?

Perhaps it simply means I’ve been heading in the wrong direction recently. Maybe I’ve been spending way too much time being obsessed with DIY when really it would be wiser to get stuck into NA meetings and stepwork.

Or perhaps the dream holds no meaning at all and I’m too eager to read something into it.

Maybe I should just “collapse the house of cards” – remove all sense of meaning and interpretation from these recent events. Maybe I need to get back to my “being mode” – experiencing life as it is, mindfully, without layering on so much meaning, which only exists inside my own head.

Taking Action

Practical steps I can start taking immediately to wrestle control of my life away from any impending depression:

  1. Remember that nothing holds any meaning unless I decide it does. That immediately reduces any emotional valency.
  2. Get busy. Do some DIY or something productive. Be mindful whilst doing this.
  3. Exercise, eat better today, get a good night’s sleep tonight.
  4. Listen to my favourite music.
  5. Be kind to myself.
  6. Reach out to my NA sponsor. I’ll chat with him at 3pm today.
  7. Get stuck in to working Step 2 this weekend.
  8. Cry if I really need to. Don’t bottle up emotion, but equally don’t wallow in it.
  9. Remind myself I’m on the right path, despite what the dream might suggest.
  10. I just felt this list should have 10 items and not 9. LOL.

The New Way I Deal with Sadness

Now I’m off my anti-depressant medication and following a 12 Steps program to recover from addiction, I’m starting to experience stronger and more frequent emotions.

Argh! Big, scary emotions! Like sadness… the dreaded precursor to depression!

Fortunately, thanks to mindfulness, I have a new way of relating to feelings of sadness which make it much easier to deal with.

My Old Thinking

“I feel sad” ->
“There must be a reason why I feel sad” ->
My clever brain tries to find the reason(s) why I’m sad ->
“Found it! I feel sad because X and Y” ->
My clever brain makes mountains out of molehills. ->
Ever deeper spirals of sadness ensue. Sometimes anger. ->
Tears and depression
. Boo hoo.

My New Thinking

“Hmmm, I’ve noticed there’s a feeling of sadness here. Interesting.” ->
“I’ll just allow the feeling of sadness to be here, without avoiding it.” ->
My clever brain gets on with something else. ->
Some time elapses. ->
“Oh, I don’t feel sad any more. Nice.”


Everything Collapses to Nothing

All maps of meaning are essentially meaningless. They hold no objective value. Their only value is what people decide inside their own minds… or that people have shared across multiple minds (i.e. culture).

All narratives, all thoughts, all feelings – they mean nothing… unless you decide they do.

When you collapse all meaning to nothing (like knocking down a house of cards), what’s left is a big black empty void. Nothing exists there, nothing has meaning, nothing has value.

Philosophically, lots of people reach this point… and get stuck. This is nihilism. And it’s fucking bleak and depressing.

If you inhabit Nihilism Land for too long, you risk becoming bitter, angry, resentful, seriously depressed… and for a very small number of people: murderous.

But there’s an interesting duality at the heart of this inner void.

Yes, on the one hand, it is the utter absence of anything meaningful.

But also, it is a great source of peace and comfort… Perhaps even the greatest source of peace.

When we are mindful, when we meditate, we are tapping in to the intrinsic peace in this great void. We become separate from our thoughts and feelings. We merely witness them from a distance, without engaging in them.

What a strange paradox! This void within the human soul can be the source of utter destruction, but also the source of ultimate peace!


Humans can’t live without meaning for long. Our minds are automatic meaning-creating machines, unless you suffer from certain types of brain damage.

So what’s the foundation of your maps of meaning? Is it religion? Spirituality? A commitment to your family?

A desire for material wealth or power?

A belief you are the centre of your universe (AKA narcissism)?

What I’ve realised is that there isn’t a right or wrong foundation for your maps of meaning. All of them can be collapsed to nothing at a moment’s notice, assuming one’s thinking is flexible enough.

Each of us is totally free to choose whatever foundation we want to build our lives on. There are consequences of course, both for ourselves and for the people around us. So the onus is on each of us to become aware of those consequences and decide if the price is worth paying or not.


Because we are conscious beings, we suffer. And to make the suffering worthwhile, we need a map of meaning which justifies the suffering.

Which map you choose to construct doesn’t really matter. In essence you’re finding positive delusions to give yourself which justify why you continue to live.

You build hope for yourself, even though part of you suspects you’re building on sand, and you acknowledge that this house of cards can be collapsed at any time.

Positive delusions are at the heart of being human.

We try to convince ourselves our lives have meaning, even though ultimately, there’s only a void. We dedicate ourselves to pursuing one or more of our core values: family; status; success; fame; wealth; relationships; religion; spirituality.

Most of us live our lives acting as though we’re never going to die. We do our best to bury our head in the sand. Any one of us could die within the next 24 hours, but we do our best to avoid thinking about that uncomfortable truth.

So we build our houses of cards, our maps of meaning, the foundations for our life… something to give us hope. Something to make the suffering worthwhile.


Is it possible to get comfortable with the void? Can we be mindful all the time (or at least the majority of the time)?

Can we collapse our maps of meaning down to almost nothing… and still survive, have peace, feel hopeful? Can we be mindful, focussing only on raw sensory input, and yet also manage to avoid nihilism?

Can we orbit around the event horizon of a black hole, without gravity sucking us in and destroying us?


Like what you see? Join my email list and get regular updates.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list for Rock's Fabulous Journey.

Zen and Smart!

I’m really grateful to Meredith Hooke over at ZenSmarts. She’s the meditation teacher who recently advised me to be wary of “I…” thoughts (thoughts which begin with “I…”)

When I get really low, I often experience the thought, “I don’t want to be here any more.”

That single thought can have a huge and fast-acting impact on my mood.

When a particular thought keeps re-occurring to you, it’s really easy to automatically accept it as true. Often, the thought feels true, so we just go along with it. And when your mood is low, it’s often even trickier to challenge any wayward thoughts.

For me, these unhelpful thoughts seem to just spring out of nowhere, over and over again, beating me down.

The more I think, “I don’t want to be here any more,” the worse my mood gets – deepening my feelings of depression and hopelessness.

I’m a total beginner at mindfulness and meditation, which is why I’m really grateful to Meredith for her advice about the “I…” thoughts. I’d been accepting those extremely depressing thoughts as true without even realising it.

Now, whenever I notice the thought, “I don’t want to be here any more,” I’m able to to just notice the thought and allow it, but without paying it any particular attention.

Just because I thought something, that doesn’t make it true! Mindfulness helps me to be indifferent to troubling thoughts.

Once I stop believing those depressing thoughts, my mood often improves spontaneously. That’s several hours (or even days) of low mood, deftly avoided.

With that simple piece of advice, Meredith has saved me a lot of suffering. Thanks so much!

If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness or meditation, why not check out Meredith’s website, ZenSmarts?

Shiny New Things

OK, let’s hold our horses here. I need to take stock.

In the last few days, it would seem I’d gotten myself into “shiny new thing” mode with respect to meditation.

Lots of us experience this “grasping” – we’re looking for something exciting to change the way we feel, as some sort of escape from everyday reality.

I was looking to meditation to change or raise my state of consciousness. It seemed new and exciting, like visiting a foreign land… or taking drugs and exploring the interior of your own mind.

Yep, “shiny new thing” mode seems to be closely related to addiction. And for that reason, as an addict, I ought to be especially wary of it.

It’s ironic that I would (accidentally) use mindfulness as the object of addiction, given that if used correctly, mindfulness has potential to reduce exactly these kinds of addictive urges.

Many of us are familiar with this kind of grasping. It’s at the core of retail therapy and materialism… we get excited about a potential new purchase (often this pre-purchase stage is the best part of the whole process).

Then we buy the shiny new thing… and it makes us happy for a short time.

But very quickly it becomes “normal”. Our happiness returns to baseline levels.

And so we begin the hunt for the next shiny new thing, be it new clothes, a car, a new job, a pay rise, a fancier place to live, a new partner… you get the idea. The cycle repeats.

I’m slightly embarassed to admit that I engaged in some retail therapy last night. A few times recently, I’ve bought videogames thinking I would love them and would definitely play them and get my money’s worth out of them. But then quite often I’d buy the game and immediately lose interest in it.

Well I’m not doing that again! I’ve clearly fallen out of love with videogames.” I’d say to myself.

But then I’d do it again before too long.


Fortunately, I’ve received some wise advice from Meredith Hooke at ZenSmarts. She’s a certified meditation instructor. I’m honoured that she’s taken the time to help me.

“For my own spiritual practice, meditation and mindfulness help me remember to keep coming back to what’s real and not touch what isn’t real – by not touching the “I” thoughts. “I” thoughts yearn for something to change. And yet it is this yearning that creates the despair. Be aware of this thought disrupting you. It’s just a thought. Nothing is wrong, except for the thought telling you something is wrong. You’ll be much more accepting of what is if you didn’t try to change it. “

“Know this is a process. Our grasping (addictive) tendencies are very strong and take time to weed out. Just remember in every moment that you come back to the stillness inside you have woken up. The more you come back to the stillness the more you will trust it. I promise you – just keep coming back- no matter how many times you follow the grasping as soon as you realize you’re doing it – let it go and come back to the stillness inside – this is where you want to be. ❤️ “

Meredith Hooke, certified meditation and mindfulness instructor

Doesn’t Meredith just beam with kindness and compassion!

Thank you so much!


Like what you see? Join my email list and get regular updates.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list for Rock's Fabulous Journey.