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New Life’s Resolution

May 27, 2015

So it’s been a while since I wrote anything that wasn’t about sport or media. Something a bit more personal. That is largely due to the fact that (while I will never be finished growing as a person) I have come through the hardest period of my life and am settled and happy. There’s not too much to talk about when everything is working out so well; and not a lot of time to do so when I am busy with so many of the things I missed out on while I was ill.

Now, while my physical condition is always fragile and potentially on the brink of disaster (touch wood); my mental state has never been stronger. So at 23 years of age I am about to attend my first music festival, so I thought I’d write about why.

As you possibly know; during 2009 I started getting really ill. Into 2010 and I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis which is a lifelong condition with no cure. By 2011 I had dropped out of University and was entering a lengthy period of being housebound. By the time 2012 came around I had split up with my girlfriend and was crippled by a routine of daily anxiety, a mind boggling steroid dose and a never ending disease. We had started to realise as a family that the physical and psychological aspects of this disease were intrinsically linked and that while I was doing everything to improve physically (I event started smoking for its reputed effect of Colitis) I needed to do the same thing mentally. I had an anti anxiety prescription, I was determined to gradually test my boundaries, and even had a course of hypnotherapy. By the end of all this the extent of my progress was sitting on the public bench opposite my house for several minutes until panic got the better of me.

But, for the fact that I have written extensively about this period of my life, I will spare you my eloquence for the salient fact that these limitations had become… somewhat tiresome.

Drastic action was necessary. We were all so desperate that any kind of reservations for the next step were secondary. We might have been aware to some degree that what was to happen next might simply break my brain; but if it ain’t fixed, don’t leave it.

If you’re afraid heights, what do you do? If you’re afraid of spiders, what do you do? If you’re afraid of stepping outside your front door… you fly to Malaysia.

I have very little memory of travelling to the airport. Except that my eyes took a long while to adjust to having to look at things further away than the walls in my house. The panic was strangely subdued, as if my mental demons were so taken aback at this brazen show of defiance it took them some time to gather their considerable forces. During activities like queuing, for example, they were back in their comfort zone of tearing mine to shreds. I took twice the Valium dose necessary for a general anaesthetic, as well as a large number of beta-blockers. I’m sort of surprised my heart didn’t just stop; but my body was producing enough adrenaline for me to be in tears of fear by the time I boarded the plane. But at 37,000ft I had little choice. I had to cling on to the spider at the edge of my cliff, and wouldn’t be properly letting go for two weeks. By the time I got home I may not have been fun to be around, I may not have been happy, but I was alive. And I was able. It amused and frustrated me that shopping and driving were still at all intimidating, but I had a point of reference in my head to look back upon and draw inspiration from. 2012 was an incredibly tough year. There were a plethora of reasons to feel depressed and angry, but at least I was conscious to start experiencing life again. The process was stunted by circumstance and medication, but at some point I realised I had to stop being a passenger any more. Whether my clinical condition had improved or not, I don’t really know, but my acceptance of it had. And really, that was all I needed. That and a plan.

It had been a couple of months since Malaysia, so what was next? I got a job. 2 hours. Twice a week. It was terrifying and exhausting, but it was consistent, and it was normal. I started having places to go and people to see again; and it was not acceptable for me to continue to allow myself to be bullied by my own brain. Being social again was more frightening that would make sense to explain, but it was normal and it was necessary. I needed to get a qualification in the bank, having no real career prospects. All of these normal things felt like huge milestones in 2012, and if there’s one thing that I learned that year, it’s that life is a skill that needs to be practised.

I was aware after each step of the holistic benefit to my self. I was noticing taking two steps forward and one step back. I was pleased with where I had gotten to, but I was hungry for more. I wanted to take two steps forward and one step further, and I learnt something about myself as well. I am a creature of habit. I had developed a powerful desire to accept defeat; born from the unpleasantness of pushing through daily panic attacks, and dreading the next day where the same futile battle would take place. Habitual living is part of what makes me me. It had once made me a determined, and well rounded individual, but it had also cost me close to two years of my life.

The solution to this issue was very simple. I had never taken a New Year’s Resolution before; but this sort of task needed reason, and structure if it was going to work for me long term. I set myself the task of doing one thing every month that scares me.

I don’t know if that sounds like nothing, or too much, stupid, or genius, fun, or pointless. But I knew at the time that I needed it, and I know now that I have loved it.

Some of things have been extremely simple. The sort of thing that might sound like cheating if you weren’t in my brain, but I can tell you that accepting tickets to the Heineken Cup Final in a different city with one night’s notice is far beyond what I thought I’d ever be able to achieve when I was sat staring at my house, hyperventilating on a bench. Some things were inevitable, long term investments in myself. Like starting Uni again, and joining a rugby team. Some of them were (and I hate to say it) YOLO experiences that I would never had said yes to without this resolution. A somewhat spur of the moment trip abroad for a single night and nowhere to stay is something I wouldn’t have considered even before I got ill. A planned, but terrifying nonetheless, journey to Rhodes to for a holiday romance. Open mic nights; which have always racked my nerves.  Entering a powerlifting competition that required strict training and dieting (the polar opposite of comfort with Colitis). I have been fortunate enough to have had opportunities for several public speaking events which are always deceptively nerve racking; but now are something I can enjoy. And now, my first music festival.

I have mentioned this goal setting strategy briefly on my blog before; and largely in the context it is here: to manage my Colitis and medication induced anxiety. But it has become so much more than that. Having had the two best years of my life after unquestionably the two worst, I found that the things that scared me stopped being quite such a big deal. You know what’s ironic? Doing them has become a habit. I now automatically accept opportunities that would have been easier or less stressful to ignore. The doubt I used to feel so intensely barely registers any more. It’s nice to look back on some of the experiences I’ve been afforded or created in 2015 and know that it was a given that I would take the challenge head on and not only thrive but enjoy.

I mentioned earlier that I am never done growing and that is because I won’t allow myself to settle. I no longer accept comfort over opportunity, and this is the essence of making yourself a more rounded person. Don’t get me wrong; I still know the value of comfort, and the essential role it also plays in managing my disease at times. But I treat it as what it should be: a luxury.

For over a year now I have been largely burning the candle at both ends; trying to cram in two years of missed exploits into this one. I know that soon that will have to stop; but once a month to find some way to inspire and motivate yourself isn’t too much to ask, right? I might have started this as a way to make my life normal again; but I am continuing it to help make my life extraordinary.

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