Putting the ‘Resolve’ in Resolution

Why Do We Make New Year’s Resolutions?

Social convention plays a big part. A typical small talk topic leading up to December 31st is ‘Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions?’ 

At this point, many of us grasp at the first thing that pops into our heads that we find least desirable about ourselves and lead with that. Otherwise it’s an activity we think will be impressive if we express interest in perusing it, or, in desperation, we just vaguely mutter something about diet and exercise. 

Thus, the initial issue with New Year’s Resolutions is that they are non-committal, often vague and generic statements thrown about in the name of festive convention. We are not motivated or inspired, the intention is not there to make them thus there is no ambition to keep them and so they are unfulfilled before even being acknowledged. 

Why Does New Year Appeal for Sudden Goal Setting? 

It’s tidy. The first day of a new year sounds like it should be highly motivational, a neat new start, sweeping out the old and starting fresh.

Perhaps this Spring Cleaning tradition would work if the New Year still began in March, when the days are growing longer and the weather is improving, more of us would be able to maintain their enthusiasm and eat healthier and exercise more. 

But the middle of winter is when the majority of us are seeking for comfort from food and warm blankets. 

What Results in Repeatedly Making Resolutions We Never Keep? 

Most of us are self-aware enough to know that we have faults, accompanied by a desire to ‘fix’ them. 

This means one of two things: either we are trying to go cold turkey on undesirable aspects of our personality (my impatience for instance) and get tripped up by being disappointed in ourselves when we are not perfect and make mistakes like losing our temper over parking tickets or someone drinking out of our special mug at work; or we are trying to undertake projects that we simply do not have the time, year after year, to complete. 

Perhaps the first step with the latter would be to improve our ability at budgeting our time and learning to prioritise, and for the former, we need to learn self-love, not to never change, but to respect ourselves and trust our ability to improve overtime. 

Change is never instantaneous and to act like it is (something that is intensified at New Year) is to set ourselves up for disappointment. We should instead appreciate that change is slow, show ourselves the patience and encouragement we would give others when we experience momentary lapses to bad habits. That way, these slips would be short-lived set backs, not obstacles that holt our progress. 

Effective Change is Born of Positivity not Negativity

The core issue is our expectations; our desire to be our best selves, coming up against our idea of perfection and falling short. 

Too often we are focusing on altering rather than enhancing characteristics.  

One of my friends included among their resolutions (it was a long list) to ‘be kind’. This is, of course, coming from a kind person. People are kind, most of us just struggle to be kind to all people all of the time.

I guess we could look at the issue of this ‘be kind’ resolution as being a blanket statement – goals should have some form of measurement (otherwise you will always fall short because your moving your own finish line) and a way to hold yourself accountable, or else it is too easy to continue to perpetually put it off. 

There are also those resolutions that are driven by external rather than internal influences, mostly regarding appearance. Exercise, diet and fitness resolutions are so frequently the result of drawing comparisons, feeling judged and pressuring ourselves from perceived social expectations, rather than from our own desire to be healthier, fitter or live a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Whilst there is much to be encouraged in pursuing a healthier lifestyle, with balanced diet and regular activity, too often these resolutions stem from places of negativity which manifests as defeatist thought spirals. 

A Time for Reflection Not Resolution 

Instead, New Year should be a time of reflection, a relaxed evaluation of the year gone by, a chance to feel proud at what was accomplished and acknowledge anything that we would have liked to have done differently. (Do not dwell on the latter, acknowledgement is not the same as regret unless you give it more than the passing glance it generally requires).

Reflection is a slow methodical evaluation that enables recognition, instils self respect through acknowledgement, resulting either in acceptance and self love, or the establishment of a considered trajectory for positive change. 

So make this January a time of reflection, and your only resolution to be one of self-care, of acknowledging not regretting and of letting go of the past year to fully embrace your potential in the new one. 

Advertisements

Mental Health Hangover

For once I took my own advice! I took some time to rest following the emotional outpouring of my latest posts.

Beyond taking time to absorb the catharsis and recover from the anxiety and emotion of sharing something so personal online, the post had achieved what I hoped, a line drawn under that period of my life.

Of course, I haven’t forgotten, but I am no longer haunted by the events of those two years. I now feel able to purely look forward and embrace the new experiences that motherhood will bring. That was why I wrote that post in the first place, so I could welcome my baby without the experience being tainted by the negativity and, frankly, toxicity of that dark period.

Mental Health Hangover

However, I do have one last hangover from my mental illness. I just can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s just one enduring element that I haven’t yet resolved. Recently though, I have been working on addressing my obsessive behaviour before baby arrives, as it was getting particularly extreme with nesting habits and to me represents the final phase of recovery.

As ever, by starting to write about it, I have been able to unpack this particular episode, and no surprise it’s rooted in the events of three years ago.

I have had obsessive episodes since starting school, but this one in particular is derived from an overwhelming notion of contamination. Now that I have actively thought about how my anxiety is manifesting (in obsessive cleaning rituals), the connection between my behaviour and the past seems obvious. Survivors of abuse, assault and rape, frequently refer to feeling dirty, a natural consequence of the violating trauma experienced.

Obsessive Behaviour

In the back of my mind I know that the object of my obsessive focus it is not dirty, that placing something on a surface does not immediately contaminate everything else in contact with that surface, for instance, chairs that are positioned on the floor, as chairs usually are, however, my brain doesn’t get satisfaction from cleaning the floor, the chairs must be scrubbed too along with any other floors I might have encountered whilst gathering cleaning products, and sometimes, the products themselves. At this point, as you can imagine, the cycle of percieved ‘contamination’ is agrresive and interfering with daily life. It also affects marital harmony, for as patient and understanding as Samuel is, by the umpteenth cleaning cycle, even he is beginning to get frustrated. I mean, I am frustrated too, it would be wonderful to be able to pick something up and put it down somewhere else without concern for what had previously been situated there. It’s one of the reasons we still have unpacked boxes from moving a year ago – it just takes so long for me to perform this cleaning ritual on each item.

This is why it is a hangover, I don’t view my house in the same terms as the items I’m moving into it. For instance, the dog goes out for a walk, plays in the garden, lays on the floor, the sofa, on her dog bed, and I simply mop the floor and wash her blanket. If she has found something especially delicious and nasty (she is very fond of a dead seagull) then she is bathed and paws washed off. Thus, the dog, the house and the humans in it, get muddy, dusty, dirty and are cleaned in the usual, typical and healthy way. No environment is completely sterile and not expected to be. This is the normal practice of hygiene, it’s dirty and it gets cleaned as part of generic housework.

However, because my recovery only really began following the move, whilst our current house holds no bad memories or associations, the flat we rented was full of my toxic baggage. Whilst, it was filled with the happiness of newly-weds, it was also where I gradually shed the negativity of the previous year and finally finished my degree. Therefore, whilst the house we now inhabit is regarded by my compulsion as clean, the things being moved in from the flat, are not. They are contaminated by the past and therefore the ritualised cleaning has developed, not so much for the items themselves, but for my mental recovery.

Yet this is not a healthy recovery, it is merely replacing one kind of mental illness with another. Having identified (to myself) the source of and outlining the nature of my obsessive behaviour I hope to review the steps I am taking to address it.

 

14th February

This date is like Marmite: people either ‘love it or hate it’. It’s the day were everyone is focused on relationships. My husband and I are approaching our second wedding anniversary, but we hadn’t even met this time two years ago.

Our Story
My husband and I met whilst I was investigating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He was a life-long member, a returned missionary, and I had just started meeting with the missionaries. The timeline is simple.

February
Most people laugh when I tell them the story of how I met the missionaries. All converts get asked their story and mine is not particularly exceptional. They laugh because I remember the exact time. It was 11:50 A.M. on the 4th February 2016. My friend and I were about to deliver graded presentations and had two hours to practice (we were both suffering from undiagnosed depression at this time and had finished them the night before).

An Elder asked me for directions to Sainsbury’s outside the university library. Obviously, he didn’t actually want directions, he wanted to talk about Jesus. I am terrible at disengaging from any form of conversation. It doesn’t matter if it is a sales person, a Mormon missionary or a charity worker, once they have stopped me and started their spiel, I can’t escape. I was desperate to get rid of him because I was preventing my friend from practicing her presentation and I really didn’t want her grade to be affected because I couldn’t disentangle myself from a pavement conversation. To end the conversation I gave him my number. In fact, I corrected him when he wrote it down wrong. This was because I felt sorry for him. His companion (I didn’t know anything about Mormons at this point and didn’t realise missionaries travel in pairs) was standing at a distance and I thought he was alone on a cold day in February. I also imagined (again wrongly) that most people had not been very pleasant about being stopped and asked to chat about Jesus Christ. It turns out this is not an unreasonable assumption, one of my husband’s companions was chased by a man with a meat cleaver! Anyway, in February I started meeting with the missionaries and investigating the Mormon church.

March
I finally attended a Sunday service at the local LDS church. The missionaries told me that they wanted to show me a church film at our next meeting and someone of the same sex as the Elders would need to be present. This was because we would be meeting at the church building rather than in a public place, like a café or the local park. It’s the same principle as adults who work with children not being with a child alone and it’s the same when two Sisters meet with a male investigator. It’s not a lack of trust it is just for security because unfortunately in the past there has been inexcusable behaviour from both missionaries and investigators. The reason that it is a member of the church of the same sex as the missionaries is because it otherwise appears a bit like the worst double-date imaginable. However, there is something that perhaps needs to go on record and be considered.

This was the second time I was going to be meeting with the missionaries at the church and the first time had been dreadful. It was, in my opinion, worse that the worst double-date that I can imagine. I was not in a good place at this time. I had been in an awful, manipulative relationship and a whole host of other instances of sexual harassment and assault had followed. Then I turned up at the church (I hadn’t been to a service yet) and was met by three men. The two missionaries I had met before, the third man I knew was going to be there but I had never met him. They decided to start by giving me a tour of the building but for some reason hadn’t turned any of the lights on… I was in a gloomy building with three men I had met twice or not at all. The man they’d brought along to help teach was silent almost the entire time. When they showed me the font I stood as far away as possible because I honestly wasn’t sure what they were going to do next. I had gone through five months of traumatic experiences involving men and this was not a positive encounter for me. But then along came Samuel.

April
This was the month that I got baptised, on the 21st April 2016. I already had a belief in God when the missionaries stopped me in February. What I had never had was the spiritual connection that I had heard people talk about, when people say that they were in conversation with God. I did find that with the LDS church which is why I became a member. As I mentioned in a previous post my conversion was not complete at this time, but I was convinced that this was where I was supposed to be, perhaps because I had found someone I wanted to be there with.

I didn’t join the church for Samuel, but there is a possibility that I wouldn’t have joined if I hadn’t met him. When I was in my baptismal interview, I was asked whether I believed that the gospel had been restored to earth. I responded that I wasn’t sure. In short, I wasn’t convinced. I knew that I was finally in a good place and that I was beginning to feel spiritually good once more (I hadn’t been to a church since I left home for university and I had begun to feel disconnected with my faith which truly saddened me). The Elder conducting the interview was very concerned by this, the interview that usually took around fifteen minutes took about two hours for me. It’s safe to say that despite popular belief I didn’t join a cult. The Elder asked me what would happen if I decided that the Book of Mormon was not true (if it were a cult they wouldn’t have been willing to have members who didn’t believe core parts of the doctrine) and I told him it wouldn’t matter. Now we are at the part where most people get confused. How can you be part of the Mormon church and have doubts about the book the church is named after?

For me the answer is really simple. The lifestyle that comes with being a Mormon: going to church on Sunday; not working, shopping or going out to dinner or the cinema on a Sunday; not drinking alcohol, tea or coffee; not smoking or taking drugs, was going to be my lifestyle now. Samuel and I were engaged to be married.

It was not the whirlwind romance that you might be expecting. I really don’t know how this man did it. He met me at the lowest point in my life (between his proposal and our wedding day I had almost dropped out of university, was given the opportunity to postpone my dissertation and final exams for a year and had seriously considered suicide). I had almost completely lost my sense of humour and believed that there was no part of me that was worth loving. Samuel and one of his brothers lived together at this time and I was living in their living room because if I was left alone there was a significant chance that I would cause myself harm. For me, that he could fall in love with me and give me constant care when I was almost incapacitated by my own mind makes him very special. I should also mention that we had discussed and agreed that we would get married even if I never joined the church.

What prompted me to say ‘Yes!’ when he proposed three weeks after we met, was the conversation we had when we decided to risk entering into a relationship. I say risk solely from my perspective. I had been through a lot in a very short amount of time and had not had a positive relationship in over three years. The last proper relationship I had been in before the disaster of 2015 ended with a broken engagement. Before you panic, I had known this man a lot longer and we had been in a steady relationship for a lot longer as well. But it all ended in tears. The man I walked out on in 2015 had cried too, hysterically (but I’m not sure about that as he raped me a few minutes later). Anyway… the point was that I was worried that I was going to take the heart of the lovely man I’d just met and metaphorically jump up and down on it until it was pulp. That was how I saw myself – a relationship wrecker and heart destroyer, unworthy of love.

What changed everything was his quiet acceptance of how I was feeling. That he was willing to give me space and time to heal. He still does. This was a huge contrast to what I had experienced over the past few months. A friend had asked me out and started sending hurtful text messages when I politely declined. A fellow student and I had dated briefly, but I decided it wasn’t a good idea two months before our dissertations were due and we broke up a few days after going out. This student then proceeded to message and call me. One night I was at the house of one of the youth from the church with a lot of other investigators and new converts watching Disney movies and he called me seven times in a row. This was about a week after Samuel and I first met. With all that was going on I guess I needed to offload to somebody and he was kind and close enough to listen. When we were sitting in my flat a week later, talking about whether or not we should risk dating, he told me that he’d wanted to ask me out earlier, but when I had told him everything that was going on he didn’t because he could see that I didn’t need anyone else telling me that they liked me; that I just needed a friend.

That’s what we are. Best friends. We both collect rocks, are academic geeks who love their respective subjects and Star Trek. Samuel is good at maths and I’m the one who reads and writes all day. We have the same attitudes, hopes and dreams. He is the only man I have ever met who put my needs before his own desires. That’s why I married him three months after we met. We don’t suggest others rush out and do the same, but it worked for us. We eloped to Gretna Green and since that day I have started to get better. It has taken a really, really, really long time but with the support and love of a very patient man, I know that my tomorrows will continue to get brighter.

 

 

Dreaming of the Temple: Part 1

I thought about starting a blog for a very long time. I had lots of thoughts buzzing about in my head and I wanted to write them down. But I already have lots of notebooks full of scribbles and ‘notes to self’ and I either never look at them again or I look back and can never quite remember the whole idea behind the quick bullet point. A blog seemed more meaningful. It also seemed more mindful. Rather than a diary that for me at least would be a continual out-pouring of emotion, without reflection or any consideration as to what happened, why and the outcome; blogposts are usually things you edit, an act which, by its very nature, is reflective. You pour out all the things you feel and ideas you have on a topic and then stop, maybe even walk away for a time, look over what you have written and delete the elements that are too personal, sometimes too painful, to post on the internet. A finished post is essentially composed of the highlights, is a synopsis, of the thought process inspired by a particular thought, event or feeling.

I guess, on some level, this blog is to provide myself with closure. Everyone has difficult times in their lives and the last two years were immense for me. I was assaulted, raped, harassed, diagnosed with anxiety and then depression. I contemplated suicide. Then I got married to a man who I am confident will help ensure that I never go back to the same depths of darkness as I did in April 2016. I used to be a mental health listening support volunteer at university and have always been very passionate about mental health, but now I am much more conscious of my own mental wellbeing. As I mentioned in the post Reflection, I had heard that blogging was a useful tool for those exploring their mental health. I mentioned that I could feel an early benefit of blogging because it made me reflect. Because it got everything out. It doesn’t matter that the final post doesn’t contain everything. That what feel like the most powerful, painful, perhaps even traumatic aspects were typed and deleted. The important thing was that they were written. That they were typed out and effectively looked straight in the eye. They don’t have any control anymore.

Blogging is very cathartic. And I also feel that I am telling my story. We all have a story, whether it is about mental health or mistreatment, or anything else, we all have things happen to us, things that are different and that we react to differently. No two stories are the same, which is all the more reason why they should all be told. So we can all strengthen and empathise with each other. So no one feels alone with what or how they are feeling. That no one feels embarrassed, or isolated or singled-out. That we all know a story from which we can draw hope.

I hope on Monday to be able to find a designated quiet time to finish addressing the darkest part of my story. For my benefit if no one else’s.