I read an article today that highlights the horrendous suicide rates in New Zealand. In 2016/2017 roughly 606 Kiwi’s took their own lives. This makes me really sad. Sad for those who lost all sense of hope and heartbroken for those they left behind. The media won’t talk about it, in fact, as far as I’m aware, they aren’t allowed to. This is probably a topic for a separate article, but it prompted me to write this one.
I know for many, Christmas and the holidays are a time for joy and celebration. I almost feel guilty about how excited I am for this summer. I also know that this time of year can completely crush the last remaining parts of those who are already suffering, it can increase the pressure and intensify the pain. It is the time for us lucky ones celebrating, to reach out to someone we know is struggling, and for those living in turmoil to ask for help.
Since I created To Whom It May Concern I have come to two stark realisations. The first is that on average, most of the people we know, most of the strangers we pass on the street and most of the personalities that we might respect and follow, ALL battle their own demons. No one is immune and everyone needs to understand that there should be zero stigma, zero judgment, and nothing but the utmost compassion and understanding, even if that means not understanding, but simply listening.
The second eye-opener for me in the past year has been that we really need to take strength from within. While we should be able to rely on our inner circle and professionals to support us, in the end, we must summon that courage from inside ourselves in order to survive and find an on-going peace. I’ve learned that the comfort of a friend or loved one is calming, but the realisation that you took measures, put in work and changed your mindset and life on your own, gives you a sense of achievement, that for me, in my lifetime, is unrivaled.
Five or so months ago, I decided I was sick of living with a feeling of mostly unreasoned trauma in my stomach, in my mind, and in my heart… in fact, at times I believe it touched the deepest darkest part of my soul. I decided that life really is short, unpredictable and exciting and I was missing all of it. Everything I have done this year has been for me, for my future and for my health, inside and out. I rid my life of the things and people that weighed me down and opened myself completely to the things and people that now bring me light. I have discovered a true passion for getting out of bed every day and an excitement for getting into bed each night and reflecting on another day filled with direction, love and excitement.
My goal in writing this article is not to tell you how to change your life. I believe that takes time, guidance, strength and a passion to want to change. I also believe I am not qualified to offer this advice. I really wish I was.
Instead, I would like to offer some tools and advice on surviving the festive season with your sanity intact. This is for those who aren’t excited about the holidays, who don’t want to go out and experience new things, who dread going away with friends and putting on a painfully fake positive persona.. these are the things that have changed my life, I feel I am qualified to share these because the people I just referred to, at one stage or another have been me.
Take or leave these points, but please don’t settle for the thought that you won’t enjoy the coming weeks. For most of us, a negative mindset is changeable with a little work. For those really suffering, for those in therapy and on medication, for those who feel completely lost… I hope even one of these points touches you. I feel you, I’ve been where you are and I know that sometimes reading words on a screen won’t even scratch the surface. Please refer to my earlier comment about reaching out. Give yourself a gift this Christmas and let a friend or loved one show you the compassion I know they have inside them. I wish I could offer you more and I hope you find something that is enough.
Firstly, Get out of bed!
This is the first and sometimes most difficult task. When you wake up, weary-eyed and sleepy it is easy for the mind to immediately wander. For those in some sort of internal distress, this is when you will get that moment of peace, then the kick in the stomach to remind you to be unhappy. For me, taking this step of getting up really changed the overall tone of my day. When you wake, get up, get in the shower, and get your day started, be mindful, be present and enjoy what your morning has in store for you. Along the way, take a moment to realise how different you feel, compare it to how you know you’d feel had you stayed in bed and become lost in your troublesome thoughts and rumination.
I think I mention Mindfulness in almost all my articles. It is the single most life-changing tool I have in my arsenal. I have just completed a 6-week course with Renew Your Mind and it has changed the way I look at life. (There is an in-depth article coming on this soon). For those who aren’t aware, mindfulness is the art of being present, without judgment and in a kind manner. I urge you to do some research on the topic. Here is a great resource to get you started.
Essentially you will learn that most of our negative thoughts are based on the past or the perceived future. These thoughts often consume us. Mindfulness will teach you to remain in the present, to feel grounded and to put your attention on what is in front of you. I can’t say enough about how important this now is in my life now. Please take some time this summer to learn about it.
Get outside, move and explore!
If you ask any of my friends they will tell you that I used to be somewhat of a couch potato. I was very comfortable spending sunny days laying on the floor watching movies. Now, I struggle to sit in front of the TV for even an evening on a weeknight. Get outside, find new places to explore and try new things. I used to hate the sea, I was hugely self-conscious about my body (in some ways I still am) and avoided the beach at all costs. Now, I go to the beach daily, often more than once, and get in the water as much as I can. It’s cleansing, it makes you feel gritty and salty and it’s amazing! I have found that you are far more likely to be actively mindful if you are out and about. It is all too easy to allow those negative thoughts to creep in if you sit at home and mooch. A good place to start is to google the best places to visit in your city or town or summer destination. Start working your way through the list. I have found even doing this on my own very satisfying. I take my camera everywhere with me now and am constantly excited to visit new spots and possibly capture an interesting photo.
What you put in you get out!
I have found the complete positivity that comes from looking after my body. Regular and painfully challenging training, along with a balanced and whole diet has really impacted how I feel inside and how I view myself on the outside. I know at this time of year, both these things usually go out the window. In fact, most of the festive seasons I have spent away usually involved more alcohol than food, and a sustained 5 – 10 day regimen of binge drinking and partying. What no one ever realised was the two weeks of suffering mentally I would have following these trips away. This year I have really reined in my bad habits, drinking especially. The hangovers now, just aren’t worth it, not only am I physically sick, but mentally I feel broken, why waste days and weeks feeling this way? I know I’m not alone here. I’m not going to lie, this summer will involve some over-indulgence, and I will pay for it, just like many of you, but if you plan and practice some self-control your mental health will still thrive. Keep your eating healthy and whole when you can, limit the binge drinking and partying… it is actually possible to have a couple of beers and a good time. Lot’s of my friends will be laughing at this, and I’m probably going to struggle with this one the most, but the big difference in my mindset this year, is the excitement for adventure and the absence of wanting to spend my days downing beers.
Don’t take on too much
This one is pretty simple. It’s the end of a long year, we are all burned out. Relax. Keep your commitments and expectations for the holiday season realistic. Choose wisely how you spend your time and make sure you have some days where you might do nothing except read, or write or partake in something else especially for you. Yes, your allowed to sleep all day if you like, it’s the holidays. Just don’t waste to much of the good weather behind closed curtains.
Discover a hidden passion
For me, this was more about rekindling an old passion. Recently I picked up a camera again. I earned a photography diploma many years ago and never really used it. Now, I literally drive around most nights looking for something to photograph. I watch endless content about photography and spend much time browsing my favourite artists on Instagram. In tune with this, my summer is going to be all about adventure and capturing moments with the people that mean the most to me. In fact, I have begun planning a new business around it, and many trips to further feed my love for sharing the way I see the world. Along with writing, this is how I wish to spend my time. Like me, I urge you to find something that lights your fire, gets you passionately obsessed and creates excitement to fill your days with meaning and a sense of achievement. If you start now, by the end of summer you will have gained valuable experience with your new hobby and spent much time doing something that could lead you down a path you never expected or imagined.
Christmas is the perfect time to reflect on the year that has been. The good, the bad, the successes and the failures. It’s natural to make goals for next year and beat yourself up about the ones that fell short this year. Be kind to yourself. Celebrate your many wins, and treat the losses and lessons. I challenge you to find something good in everything. One of my biggest takeaways from 2017 is that we find strength and meaning in our failures. When things go wrong, it’s for a reason and often that reason is a open door to something better. Put some goals on paper for 2018 if you must, but then put them away and take a few weeks to recharge, they will still be there next year.
I’m suddenly aware of how long this article is getting. The truth is, I could write endlessly about the lessons I have learned this year. More so, about my ideas for having a happy and wholesome holiday season. This time last year I was mourning the loss of a very meaningful relationship. I spent the better part of summer consumed by depression, anxiety and on the good days, numbness. The feeling of having to appear happy and celebrate made it all so much harder. So believe me when I say I get it. I hope my thoughts take the pressure off for some of you who may be feeling down at this time of year and give you some ideas to find the time to smile this summer.
Don’t feel the need to match your peers on the scale of festive enthusiasm. Confide in those you trust and make some simple plans to do some simple things that bring you a sense of happiness. At the least, I challenge you to open your heart to new experiences, eat well, move more, sleep longer, drink water, read a book, go on an adventure, listen carefully to the world and allow yourself the freedom to accept how you feel, but live anyway.
I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season. May you experience peace and love, happiness and food babies!
Tim is the Founder and Creative Director at Fuel Media Limited, and the passionate lifestyle writer here at To Whom It May Concern. He resides on the beautiful North Shore in Auckland, New Zealand.