The art of managing our energy levels

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It’s been a humbling experience to see how little energy I’ve had recently. Basic tasks which I would usually do without thinking have taken a large amount of effort.

Sometimes this is about my mind – logistical tasks like doing washing or cooking food can get overwhelming the more I complicate it in my head. I’m probably as indecisive as I’ve ever been – when I don’t know what I want to eat I can change my mind several times within a few minutes. Even deciding on a Youtube video to put on in the background seems like a difficult endeavour.

The answer is often to get out of the head and do more physical activity. That has helped, though unfortunately I’m still finding it very tiring to do things physically too. Even actions like going to the supermarket can be really tiring. It was quite sobering to see how attending one Toastmasters evening for a few hours left me completely wiped out. This feels very different to a few months ago where I would do a full day of work followed by things on most evenings of the week without issue.

I’ve needed to learn to be very discerning with how I spend my energy. Whereas before I could seemingly conjure life force out of thing air, in my current period of fatigue it’s been pretty tricky.

The positive about this is that by being more energy-conscious, I’m seeing how much I would previously use inefficiently. Retreating into my shell has been good to see where I’m putting in energy in places (pursuits, hobbies, people) that don’t really yield a whole lot of positive results.

It also means that I need to be a lot more intentional about what I choose to do, as well as giving myself more leeway for shortcuts than I would have given myself in the past. In social settings, I’ve allowed myself escape routes (i.e. leaving early), for dinner, I’ve often shifted to meal replacement shakes when too overwhelmed with cooking. I’ve also kept my days relatively free with room for flexibility in case I simply do not have the energy to do things.

When we’re in the constant rush of life, we can get into a habit of expending a lot of wasted energy. This slow-down period for me has shown how much that’s been the case.

Connecting with our intuition on feeling safe

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I never thought of myself as a particularly anxious person. Mainly because the idea of anxiety was something very visible and pronounced. It turns out that I just have become very good at managing my anxiety, rather than it not existing.

But in recent weeks I’ve been noticing how much unattended anxiety I’ve actually had. I don’t think this is something I’ve always had, but it’s certainly built up in the last few months. These haven’t been particularly noticeable (both to other people and myself) because my way of demonstrating anxiety is far less visible. Rather than having a visible panic attack, I tend to retreat inwards and disassociate from my body.

The challenge with examining areas such as anxiety and mental health is that it is very hard to compare and contrast. For a long time, I believed that the amount of thoughts I would have flurrying on in my head. Turns out, it’s probably not – whether it’s to do with me potentially having ADHD, or perhaps my therapist thinking I’m a high potential individual (or both).

It seems fairly obvious now when I examine it, but when we never stop to question things that we just accept as normal, we can miss some crucial information about ourselves.

One of the benefits of actually listening to the anxiety rather than trying to manage it is that I’ve become a lot more cognisant of my intuition around social interactions. Honestly, I can get bored with small talk and chit chat very quickly. This makes group conversations often quite tedious for me in social settings, particularly when people are first getting to know one another, and conversations are surface level. In the past I learnt to be disciplined to follow these sorts of conversations because I thought that was what I was meant to do. I thought everyone had trained themselves to do this as a matter of social etiquette.

What I’m realising now is that I have the option of not engaging too much if I don’t want to. My current mantra is that if something quite basic like a conversation is feeling like a lot of effort than I probably shouldn’t do it. It might feel a little rude sometimes, but I’m better being honest with myself than doing something I don’t enjoy.

It also helps that the spaces I frequent these days are generally very respectful of people shifting in and out at their own pace. In fact, I’ve become a lot more aware of how safe I feel within different spaces more generally. I think I got so good at melding myself to a situation that I somewhat lost my intuitive sense of where I could really let me guard down. It made me feel like a chameleon because of how much I would shift depending on the situation. I sometimes have questioned myself around what my true personality really is because of this.

Being more aware helps with my energy management. There are lots of places where I have been putting in lots of energy when it wasn’t really worth it. People might be a bit more closed, or have very different interests to connect upon. This meant that I felt like I was putting lots of effort in for not a whole lot of reward, much to my frustration.

So right now, my goal is to focus my time and energy on spaces where I feel like it comes naturally. In this way, I’m also more discerning of where to go and who to spend time with too. It feels so different when people tell me they have really enjoyed my company when I feel like I haven’t really tried all that much, as opposed to in previous instances where I probably tried too hard and then felt unappreciated.

So here is an invitation for you to look at what spaces you spend your time in, and how much you feel at ease within them. Whether you’re spending too much time in scary places or actually only spend time in comfortable ones, it may be time for a rebalance.

On the search for a quietened mind

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My recent weeks have been plagued with fatigue. It got to the point where popping out to the supermarket a few minutes down the road would leave me struggling, and I found myself frequently needing naps during the day.

I’m in the midst of understanding what being neurodivergent means in practice. It’s a lot to navigate – there’s certainly many things that make a lot more sense now, but I’m also cautious to jump to conclusions too quickly.

I went to my doctor this week who recommended I tried antidepressants. In an ideal world, I would have had a bit more time than a short consultation to think about it. In the end I decided to give them a try. I’m fortunate that I’m well passed the point of ‘pride’ against such things. Yet I was still worried how effective they would be with a neurodivergent condition.

The experience has been mixed, but I’m glad I agreed to try them. The downsides have been feeling more intense bouts of anxiety, as well as some headaches (including quite an intense one I have right now). Although I still have an appetite, the idea of feeling the texture of food puts me off from wanting to eat.

On the plus side, I’ve refound energy. It’s broken the cycle of feeling too tired to exercise, meaning I don’t engage my body and end up overthinking even further. My brain feels so much clearer and it’s the first time outside of specific meditative retreats where I don’t feel like I have a flurry of constant thoughts from the moment I wake up.

This experience of calmer thinking did make me wonder whether this was what it was like to be neurotypical. As part of going down further the self-diagnosis rabbit hole, I think I have ADHD (Inattentive Type). Much of my life has followed a curious mix of spacing out and impulsiveness, and the cycle of boredom-induced overthink describes my situation I’m currently facing very well. It also explains when I was younger where I would not fully understand what was going on during classes, usually because I would space out. Meanwhile on the more impulsive side, I can have quite sudden intense desires to socialise or do a new activity, which can come a little out of nowhere.

The reality of adult diagnosis for ADHD/Autism, particularly of the less visible kind, is that you are unlikely to ever figure out about them unless you hypothesise them for yourself, and then go to get it confirmed. I’m now seeing if I can find a good place to get tests done, though I also know I’ll have to pay for these myself since the public route to them could take years.

Internet resources and social media has been impressively helpful in any case. One of the best ways to discern experiences around antidepressants and ADHD/Autism has been to literally read Reddit threads. Meanwhile, on Instagram I’ve already found really interesting information around neurodivergency and nutrition. I now realise how much I’ve struggled with what is known as ‘executive dysfunction’ when it comes to choosing what to eat. If you want an example of executive dysfunction, imagine when your computer freezes and does not respond. That’s basically what happens to my brain.

I used to find the experience of going into a supermarket so overwhelming that I would give up and go home, only to agonise around what takeaway to order. I would be embarrassed by how often my housemates would hear I ordered that I would meet the delivery driver at the front door and generally eat in my own room. This would be a near-daily routine I would go through for about a year.

Quick and easy meals are paramount to me. And this goes beyond the norm of a working professional – I’m talking about potentially having the same meal regularly most days for weeks. Actually getting myself to cook has taken me years of trial and error to find some sort of consistency. I also now have meal shakes as another option for an easier ‘get out of jail’ card too.

It’s also been apparent how much my mental thinking has been affecting my fitness goals. Whilst I knew in theory that the separation of mind and body was artificial, I never saw how linked the two were until now. The fact that I could feel so exhausted from taking a short walk, but within two days do exercise classes and go for an hour long work simply because I took one tiny pill was honestly shocking. And the main difference was that my mind had calmed – the cycle of overthink drains both mind and body.

I’m hoping over the next week that some of the more negative symptoms of the pills subside, though I am also meant to increase my dosage by then too. Either way, it’ll take six weeks to properly assess how well these work or not.

Learning about Neurodiversity and Autism as an Adult

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This week is Neurodiversity Celebration week.

When I reflect on it, it was the heightened amount of messaging on social media that made me start researching around my own neurodivergency. This has culminated in me believing I’m Autistic.

So if you wanted an example of why these diversity weeks can be important, here’s a living, breathing example for you.

I had several people who have met me in the last month or two tell me that they already knew that I was neurodivergent in some way. I think the signs have become more obvious the further I’ve gone in living in a more authentic way.

In fact, I’ve found myself subconsciously gravitate towards people with ADHD/ASD, particularly over the last year. Whilst before I thought this was a coincidence, or simply my openness towards different people, it turns out this was me gravitating towards similar people. It’s only recently that I’ve connected the dots for myself.

I am self-diagnosed. I appreciate that in an age of 30 second Tik Tok videos and google, this can set off alarm bells to the (non-neurodivergent) friends around me. Yet self-diagnosis is actually rather common, particularly in in the Autism community. There’s also a difference between watching a short video and doing extensive research and online tests too. This isn’t any old condition either, the signs are quite specific with stigma attached. So the best way to sum it up is what many say in the Autism community – if you think you have it you probably do.

Many people do not get a diagnosis due to the price and difficulty of access – it would take me a few years before I could get an appointment through the public health system in Belgium. There is also a lot of failures within the system through misdiagnosis. Many people are told they are too successful to have a disability, because the traditional view is that people with Autism or another condition would be incapable to live life properly.

Women, ethnic minorities and genderqueer people do not fit the stereotypical mould of someone who has Autism (i.e – cold, analytical, very smart) which is more typically for a straight white Autistic man.

As a side note, Thursday was also the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and it is an important point that racism isn’t just in the form of visible racist slurs, but also the failure of our systems to treat people correctly. For me, this has meant a failure to properly diagnose my condition as a child.

That said, even if I was diagnosed, the treatment can cause more problems than actually help. The recommended treatment for Autism in kids is Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) using similar techniques to conversion therapy for LGBT+ people. The idea is that kids are coerced to behave ‘normally’ – they are punished for not displaying enough eye contact, or not being polite enough. A therapist may snap their fingers or even leave the room as a punishment. It is even still legal for a therapist to use an electroshock device to punish an Autistic kid. This can have a long lasting effect – in a study, 46% of Autistic adults who went through ABA therapy reported having PTSD as a result of the experience.

It makes me glad that I was not diagnosed as a child, as I think I would have been misunderstood and mistreated 15-20 years ago. Many Autistic people go through numerous healthcare providers with all sorts of diagnoses that can do more harm than good. Even certain therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which are generally seen in a more positive light have less impact for Autistic people.

CBT looks to tackle irrational fears – such as being left out or sensing danger in a social situation. The issue is that for Autistic people this fear is less likely to be irrational: I’ve spent my life having difficulty making friends. This has been the case even when I make the effort outside of my comfort zone. I’ve learnt that this is not an irrational fear, but instead a lived experience that people find it harder to relate to me – they often perceive me as intimidating due to the way I speak in an analytical fashion.

I’ve also been wondering about this question around how to ‘brand’ neurodivergence. Some people talk about flipping it from a disability and calling it a superpower. There is some merit to this – I’m now understanding that my pattern recognition and cognitive ability are a lot stronger than most people.

Yet disability is actually a useful label, at least for me. It’s not to say that there is anything wrong with me, instead it is highlighting that I am a neuro-atypical person living in a world not designed for me. This means I’ve suffered countless instances of not being understood or being properly treated throughout my life.

And you know what? Seeing myself as disabled has been very freeing. I’ve found the expectations and pressure to succeed melt away a lot in the last few weeks. I’m understanding my own limitations as a human being – I do not need to be everything to everyone and I’m allowed to take care of my own needs.

Most importantly, I don’t need to try so hard. I’ve been living a mantra where anything is possible if you try hard enough. Whilst that may still be true, I’m learning that some things are not worth the cost. A scary thing about Adult neurodivergency diagnoses is that they demonstrate how much people hide themselves to conform to the system.

For my whole life I’ve learnt to mask my own preferences and traits because I thought that was what I was meant to do. And I’ve done it for so long that I thought that these were my actual preferences. In reality, I’ve just hidden my truer nature to create a more palatable version of myself. Whilst this has gotten me this far in life, it’s not the recipe for long lasting happiness.

If this article has got you thinking about yourself, feel free to drop me a line. I cannot profess to be an expert on neurodiversity, yet there are some signs I’ve learnt to pick up on. At the very least, I can point you to some materials which might help you.

Learning to let the mask slip

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I’ve regularly had conversations where I’ve noticed I was different.

It’s been hard to put words to this, and whenever I’ve talked about being different to other people they have always tried to reassure me – we are all different in some way, right?

I never thought of myself as demonstrating signs of autism. My understanding was that autism were for those with very exaggerated traits. Even when I saw some resonance with certain common behaviours, I thought of autistic people as showing little regard to emotion, whereas I knew myself as highly emotional and sensitive.

Yet I read an article which highlighted that many traits of autism vary a lot – non-stereotypical autism shows up as being highly empathetic and sensitive, as well as being existential or spiritual beings. These signs of non-stereotypical behaviours are more common for women, ethnic minority and queer/gender non-confirming folk too.

So am I Autistic? Most probably.

The signs fit closely, and several online tests showed a high probability. One even came out that I had a 86% chance of being neuroatypique/autistic. This week, I went on to read a book on Autism. I did find that a lot of what was written in the book resonated deeply with me, including particular stories of Autistic people who described many things, including having difficulty making friends and finding certain social etiquette like small talk rather pointless.

The funny thing is that even my response in of itself is quite an obvious indicator of autism. I only started down this rabbit hole this on Sunday, after which I took multiple tests and I ended up reading a whole 300 page book within three days. This morning I read another few chapters of another book on it too. This is what could be described as a hyper fixation, a sign of Autism. Whilst I thought this was normal, it turns out most people don’t have an insatiable desire to consume information like I do.

Whilst self-diagnosis has some obvious potential dangers, in this space it is pretty important. Most people who get diagnosed with Autism or related disabilities only learn of them through contact with other people with such disabilities.

For those feeling like I may be jumping the gun here, there is a difference between watching a 60 second Tik Tok video compared to doing proper research including talking to people with the condition, researching articles, following forum threads and reading a whole book too.

Autistic people also talk about how if you think you are Autistic, you probably are. This is especially important to note considering how hard and potentially expensive getting an official diagnosis generally is. There are loads of people who are evidently neurodivergent but will never get tested because of lack of access.

There’s a lot for me to process with this new-found information, which is incredibly tiring mentally. Suddenly all the moments in my life have a new lens – my brain is reviewing thousands of moments. There were many times I found it difficult to understand what was expected of me. There were other times where I felt excluded or how challenging it was to make friends (no matter how hard I tried).

Yet my overriding feeling is one of relief. Whether it be autism or something related, it explains a whole lot. The way I process information is very different to most people. The difficulty of connecting with people isn’t just in my head, and I’m now building the vocabulary to both understand and explain it.

The reason I had no obvious idea of being Autistic was that I’ve become extremely proficient at masking my differences. Many adults have simply learnt to mask their behaviours to fit into the rigid, neurotypical world we live in. There are also many people like me who had no idea, and thought that whatever they were doing was just how everyone lived.

My whole career is riddled with instances of me downplaying my own intelligence so that I don’t intimidate or frighten the people around me. In my social life, I’ve deeply studied and practiced social cues to get better at socialising as a response to finding it difficult to connect with people.

I am relieved to understand why my methods aren’t really bringing me the reuslts I want. No matter how hard I try, I’m not going to find success by hiding my weird quirks. Even with all my practice on socialising, there is still an undercurrent of inauthenticity if it is just to hide my true nature. Meanwhile, diminishing my own intelligence only leaves me feeling frustrated and undervalued.

I’m still in the midst of digesting a lot of new information, so it will be a tiring journey to really understand what it means. Nonetheless, I feel a lot more grateful for understanding more about myself.

Living life in our own fantasy world

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This week I’ve been spending a lot of time in the world of fantasy. I’ve been binge watching Japanese anime, mixed up with RPG video games. I had forgotten the beauty of getting engrossed in a whole different, fantastical dimension.

Getting into series’ and playing games has been something I’ve found pretty tough in the last few years, especially so in the last month or two. This is in stark contrast of when I was a teenager, where I would get through so many fantasy novels. I remember staying up reading one night for so long that it actually was daylight outside (and I realised I better go sleep!)

But as an adult, the world of ‘fiction’ lost its appeal. In fact, I think I’ve ended up becoming quite condescending and judgemental about it. Whilst this sense of escapism might be nice when you don’t have responsibilities, what about as an adult with a job? I didn’t really understand the point of it all, because it didn’t materially help me in any way.

So the information I now consume has shifted towards things that are more ‘serious’. Real world news, politics. Non-fiction and self-development books. Important, hard hitting stuff, rather than namby pamby worlds filled with goblins and elves.

This week was the point that I realised that somewhere along the way I had lost my joy for fantasy. In fact, anything not based in reality felt like wasted effort – I’ve stopped watching films or even TV series. I had subconsciously built a suspicion of all these things as not being a valuable use of time.

Sometimes the remedy to a challenge is to plunge yourself into the deep end. And there’s no better deep end of getting into fantasy than watching some Japanese anime. Yet perhaps it’s also what I needed – watching a reality-TV show, whilst sometimes enjoyable, would be like taking a weak dose of medicine. I can now see with the benefit of hindsight that those have not been satiating my intense curiosity and desire to dream.

It’s been really interesting to observe the psychological effect too – watching a positive story unfold has left me feeling the most hopeful I’ve been in probably months. My sense of my own abilities and belief in myself also increased too. When we see people succeeding – whether real or not – our emotions also follow with them.

What I’ve learnt in the last few years of personal development is that to some extents, we are all living our own fantasy. There may be things that exist that are real, but the way we interpret them colours our experience of the whole world. But we often get caught up in the worries and concerns, so we inadvertendly paint our lives as dark and difficult, rather than bright and beautiful.

I feel that there is a way in which we can live our lives where everything is our own fantastical creation. We can choose the beauty and vivid colours, even if they may not necessarily be there ‘in reality’.

When I had this thought, I wondered whether I was going delusional. Am I convincing myself to be happy in spite of the hard, cold realities of the world? Was this a genius, inspired vision of how to be positive or the moment before the mental breakdown?

Well maybe I am being delusional. But I also have come to the conclusion that I would rather live a happy, somewhat delusional life than a miserable, hyper realist one. So why not indulge myself in dreaming and wonder?

Besides, I also know that I’m far more effective when I’m happy. I’m more positive, pleasant to be around and far more likely to take action. The magic is seeing that I can be a dreamer but also not be in denial of the realities either. I think true madness is losing touch with reality, but a happy delusion is seeing the positives even when things are difficult.

When we can see life as a choice of how we choose to see it, it opens up so many possibilities. Critically, it opens up our abilities to see it in a positive light, even when there may be many factual reasons not to.

If we’re all living in our own fantasy worlds, why not make yours more happy and colourful?

Searching for where we belong in the world

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This weekend, I went to a small group discussion with marginalised people from racialised backgrounds.

It’s really interesting being in these open spaces, delving on complex and emotive topics. I was fascinated by how someone was trying to explain the challenge of finding a group for people like them.

This only becomes more complex when you add in further intersections – for example someone coming from different nationalities, along with a certain ethnic background, also being neurodiverse and identifying as LGBT+ (which was indeed the case for someone in my group). When you are getting this niche, realistically it’s unlikely you will ever meet someone who is like you from a characteristic perspective, even if you tried.

This brought up a conversation more broadly about a sense of belonging. This got me thinking about my own personal experience. It’s something I’ve struggled a lot with.

On the one hand, I recognise that the more I see myself as an outsider the more I create myself to be that – I will act aloof with people, and distance myself. This only makes me seem more of an outsider, both to other people and myself.

On the other hand, I recognise the importance of seeing what is in front of me – there are real differences in my background and the way I live my life which can bring a sense of difference with the people around me.

The interesting part is how I, or anyone else might respond to this. One school of thought is to find refuge by looking for our own groups – where we can truly feel ourselves because we find people similar to us. After all – wouldn’t it be easy to just find a collective where we feel welcome and don’t have to explain ourselves?

Whilst I like this idea in theory, my practical experience is that this doesn’t work as well as it might sound. When I’ve gone into groups which I could call ‘my own’ – whether race or something else – my experience has been mixed.

Sometimes, it is indeed to have someone to connect with. But when the main topic of conversation is a connection due to race, disability, LGBT+ etc. it can become hard to go beyond a fairly superficial conversation. I found myself in conversation with people that actually I had nothing really else in common with, without any real reason to actually speak with them.

Sometimes, we can forget that connecting with people goes beyond a single characteristic – it’s about creating a mutual bond. A common interest or background can help, but it’s not necessarily all that important. We meet people by circumstance, but we keep in touch with them through a sense of care and connection.

Spaces with people we think we’d connect with can actually be far less inclusive than they sound. I’ve been to social events with people from a similar marginalised group. I thought I would find it easy to connect with them, instead I actually found the whole experience actually quite draining.

The sad reality is that many marginalised spaces can have a lot of hurt and pain, meaning people are not actually all that emotionally available to connect. I found myself being around people who were pretty negative, and by the end of the event I actually was looking forward to being away from them.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to discern people based upon their energy and feel. It’s a much more intuitive thing than we can sometimes explain, particularly when we look at it from a purely logical perspective. That’s not to say that it’s not helpful to go into spaces where we’re likely to meet people we have things in common with. But it is also to say that basing connection on a single factor can be ineffective.

So where do we find this sense of ‘belonging’?

Like many philosophical answers, I find myself returning to the same answer: starting from within.

Belonging starts from us feeling like we belong ourselves. If we feel like we belong, we no longer have this need to find a space where we explicitly ‘belong’. Conversely, it is the sense that we do not belong which creates this need to find belonging. And so we go searching for it from an external source.

The first step is to believe that we belong in the world for ourselves. Yet I also admit that I find this an extremely tough thing to do, and many reasons that we can be made to not feel that way. I also admit that I’m really struggling with this at the moment.

Yet I also don’t think that makes this any less true, no matter what life throws at us.

It might be difficult, but I think we can choose to see that we are enough, that we belong, and that we are content.

Doing so can completely change the way we experience life. But it starts from within.

Curbing the need for social media dopamine hits

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Yesterday, I used my phone so much that my thumb started hurting. Not that it stopped me, I simply switched hands so I could continue tapping away.

But if it’s getting to the point that holding a phone is starting to hurt, that’s probably a as obvious a warning sign as any.

This prompted me to do a quick stocktake of the way I’m using my phone. In particular, I looked at all the ways I’m connected. The numbers aren’t particularly pretty. I’m on four different social media apps which I check throughout the day. If I’m honest, I’m scared to know the actual number of times I open each app, because I’m sure it’s probably over 20-30 times in a day.

On top of that, there are at least five additional apps (e.g. WhatsApp / Telegram, but also Discord and Slack + other apps with in-built messaging). Through these I receive message notifications as well. This is without including checking my emails, and before actually considering that I also have work emails and MS Teams notifications as well. How many methods do I need to be notified about something?

Whilst for most people, the feeling of overwhelm would have hit by now – for me I have learnt an efficient system to keep on top of my messages, essentially by replying quickly so that I respond to people in good time. This has certainly helped my workflow with emails, and I’ve simply taken the principle to my messaging as well. And whilst this has been effective, it has also made me a message responding machine with an insatiable appetite for more stimulation.

Connecting with people can be very fun, and I’ve been doing it more so than ever. But I’ve been finding that this thirst only gets stronger the more I consume. So when I stop getting messages, my body gives me a feeling of anxiety. This is the definition of an addiction.

Like any addiction, the constant need for a new hit can be incredibly hard to resist. I did a short experiment of turning my phone off to see how I would feel – turns out not great: it really put into perspective how many times I reach for my phone without really thinking about it.

This is having a wider impact on my life. I feel more tired in my body, most likely because I’m not resting as well as I could have. My brain is far less clear and more reactionary than it otherwise would be. It’s hard to have peaceful thoughts in this state.

I’ve also been finding it extremely challenging to not get bored recently. I feel the physical pain of anxiety when I do not have a replacement for the stimulation I get. This means that even doing genuinely fun things like playing on my Playstation can feel boring because the dopamine hits aren’t as intense as receiving messages from someone.

So like many people in the modern age, it’s a moment to reevaluate my connection usage. I think it’s also about being honest with myself that going cold turkey – i.e. a complete disconnect – will probably be too intense for me at the beginning, especially if there’s not another thing to stimulate me in its place.

Small habits can really make a difference, and I can even tell the difference between connecting to the internet on my laptop compared to my phone. Whilst using my laptop has a certain level of intentionality, my phone is so easy to use, that it is almost dangerously so. I can simply pick it up whenever I want, and do so without thinking. Considering I use it for so many different functions too, it can mean that the behaviour for checking on notifications and social media can become automatic even when I wasn’t meaning to.

This is despite me generally keeping my phone on silent & reduced notifications – I have no idea how anyone can live with actual regular messaging alerts. It’s the first thing I turned off when I got a new phone!

Social media is probably the most apt example of modern day self-discipline training. Whilst I respect certain people for steering clear of it all together, I think there are many benefits that I enjoy in my life with it. Yet it is also addictive, so it is important to keep it in check.

Properly managing connection can leave you feeling better, and for many people I know it would actually mean that they are more responsive too. Many people check their messages when they are too tired to actually respond, which actually leads to more disconnection.

So if you’re reading this, I invite you to take this as a prompt to examine your own social media and messaging uses.

There’s nothing revolutionary in what I’m saying. You know it. I know it. But it’s probably time to have a look at it nonetheless.

Overcoming the guilt of standing up for yourself

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been speaking quite a lot around the subject of raising issues to the people around me.

I actually had something in my personal life – I felt uncomfortable with something around a social gathering. But I also felt very uncomfortable around causing a fuss for other people.

In the end I raised the issue. Despite finding a solution, I ended up feeling guilty and a feeling that I was too delicate and difficult. Even though it was important for me to speak up for myself, I still feel extremely awkward for having done so.

The truth is that it’s never really comfortable to raise an issue. At best, it is instinctive, and so happens without needing to overthink it. Whilst blowing up based upon emotions is not helpful, If this is done in an emotionally controlled way, it can be a good way to get things off the chest without letting them ruminate. It’s why giving space for issues to be raised as they come up can save a lot of time and stress for all involved.

Otherwise, the whole experience can be laborious. We can get so caught up in the question of whether we are making too much of a fuss about things. I’ve seen it time and time again where people have minimised their own feelings because they fear coming across as too difficult, loud or unreasonable. This is often followed by finding justifications for why they should maybe instead just accept the situation. The brain can end up going in overdrive finding a whole plethora of extenuating circumstances as to why we may be overreacting.

Through this process, we learn to invalidate our own feelings. We end up convincing ourselves that the issue is that not that big of a deal. We end up losing touch with how we really feel about things, and end up instead following others opinion of what we should think and feel. This can erode our connection with ourselves and our moral compass, which will likely have negative effects across all aspects of our life.

The complex part of raising an issue is that we cannot control how other people are going to react to it. Chances are that if you are with someone who you feel would be receptive, this whole subject is far less of a challenge (it’s why making ourselves open to challenge is so important). But the real difficulty comes when we are speaking with someone that we do not expect to take it particularly well. There are certainly ways that we can raise issues in a constructive, non-confrontational way. Yet I’ve also seen people ruminate so much on this that the fear only increases as to ‘find the right time’, meaning that they end up putting off doing what they need to say.

The next step is the importance of staying the course. This has been a real challenge for me – I often feel guilty for causing a fuss, and I’ve even deleted messages I sent to people because I felt they were maybe too strong, toned them down and apologised before they even heard what I wanted to say. The problem with this is that it is self-defeating. I undermined my own message and ended up being the bad guy for having the issue in the first place. I set the narrative as me overreacting, when in reality I was just reacting.

I’ve found that when we want to take a stand, it is important to do so with a level of conviction. If we wilt at the first sign of anyone pushing back, the whole exercise ends up being even more painful. We compromise out of social pressure or anxiety. At the same time, people will subconsciously learn to never take your concerns seriously.

People are not usually used to having someone taking such strong stands either. I’ve been described as stubborn for sticking to my guns in the past. This is a challenging one, because an accusation of being stubborn can poke us to compromise because we want to demonstrate that we are not. This is where self-belief really comes in; I’ve learnt to acknowledge myself and my openness to see this is not the case, meaning I don’t need to respond to the accusation.

It’s important to remember that there is a clear difference between being stubborn because you refuse to be wrong compared to having conviction where you have considered all the information and are still sticking the course.

If you’ve been reading my article over the last few weeks you’ve probably seen me talk about having a clearer connection to our feelings. This article follows a similar theme. I believe that many of the moral woes come from an avoidance of raising our voice when we need to. By learning to ignore our feelings, we learn to ignore our conscience.

I think the world would be a better place if people raised issues more often. It would mean we sort them, rather than sweeping them under the carpet.

So if you’re considering how to deal with a situation where you raise an issue, my suggestion would be this: be guided by the emotional feelings that you have, but do not let them control you. If you face a choice of whether to raise something serious, make sure you have the conviction to follow it through, rather than backtracking at the first sign of push back. And be willing to accept that you may not get what you want, as ultimately the decision may not be in your control.

Standing up for yourself may be very uncomfortable, but your conscience will thank you for it. And the world will probably be better off for it too.

Navigating the moral dilemma of buying new things

Photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash

I finally bought a new phone. This was after five years since purchasing the last one.

I previously had a decent android which worked well. The battery started to fail me, but I got that replaced last year. When I did that, It actually felt like a new phone.

But by late last year it started to fail. Some internal overheating error meant it stopped charging at all. I basically had a phone that I could only use if it was plugged in. The ‘mobile’ part of mobile phone was lost.

I ended up borrowing my mum’s old phone to keep me going. It was a phone that was a few years old. It was living in an old drawer anyway.

The issue once again was the battery. Even when I started using it, it would die when it got to about 30 percent battery, sometimes very rapidly and without warning. I had one moment where I was following google maps to a friends house, only for it to dramatically die without warning. I got lucky and managed to find their front door by some old visual memory.

This only got worse, the battery had degraded so badly it would die almost instantaneously. The last time I used it on Monday, it hit 97% and died. I now own two phones that only work when plugged in.

So this week was time I finally upgraded. Yet, I had a moral quandary here. After all, the constant purchasing of new phones is one of the most obvious examples of needless materialistic waste. New phones rarely have much better features anyway.

I could have bought a second hand phone, or something more socially conscious like a Fairphone. It probably would have fit a nice, conscientious looking mould. But honestly, I didn’t want to. I am one of the heaviest users of a mobile phone that I know, and I much preferred getting a new, higher spec one which will last me a long time.

I know many people who find this question challenging, particularly who work or care deeply around environmental issues. I felt a tinge of guilt for wanting something flashy and new, especially when I literally work on circular economy policy. Yet I also knew that I would use it and it was what I really wanted. I think it would have been worse to not purchase it out of self guilt.

So how do we square this conflict of views?

Well, firstly, I think it’s okay to want things. Wanting and using is part of our natural behaviours as humans. I don’t see much value in chastising ourselves for this.

That said, I believe that it is important that we appreciate the items we consume. It may sound somewhat weird to say it, but one of my most prized possessions is my TV. I love the quality of it, and the graphics when playing games on my Playstation brings me a real sense of joy.

I find this sort of consumerism different to items that we buy but then do not use. If I am genuinely appreciating the materials, I think it is worth it.

Moreover, I’ve seen so many people working in the environmental space get into an existential angst around basic consumption that it makes them miserable. Whilst its great to be conscientious, we must not forget that life is to be enjoyed. If we are going to have some marked impact on the environment through the fact that we exist, we might as well make our existence a joyous and fulfilled one.

On my quest for a new phone, one thing that I did not expect was how underwhelmed I felt when it actually came. It was so quick to setup and transfer my data that I barely had time to notice it happening.

I reflect that with tech upgrades being so easy now, some of the magic and delayed gratification has gone away. If I were to buy a new laptop, I could probably have it setup within hours. The tech is so good that it could sync up all my applications and settings pretty much instantly. This feels very far away to the magic of when I bought my first laptop, where I had to set everything up, along with seeing what wallpaper I wanted to put on.

I think we would benefit from appreciating our purchases more fully. A key element of this is having that delayed gratification, as well as focused appreciation in what we have bought.

Whilst I do not want to turn back the clock on the heightened level of convenience we now have in the world, there is a space for us to build our own rituals to genuinely enjoy the new creations in our hands.

If we took a moment to genuinely consider how much effort went into making the things we own, I think we would live our lives in a far higher state of gratitude.