I’ve been itching to get a new post out on the blog but family and work commitments have kept me very busy for the last week.
Sometimes I have nothing much to say, other times there is lots going on and lots to write but not enough time. It doesn’t really matter either way.
I’m thinking about whether to ditch the Strandlines domain in favour of my name. Strandlines doesn’t really mean anything as such. I’m not sure. I think I’ve got another 18 months or thereabouts to run on it so no hurry.
Have been meaning to post books read here. I keep forgetting.
I listened to Ian McEwan’s Lessons just recently. Bit of a marathon. I don’t think I’d have got through it if I read it. Not that it’s a difficult read, just a lot of it. The broad sweep of one man’s life. Quite effective but it felt a bit like McEwen was trying to fit every event of historical note into it. A lot of humanity.
Looking back at my use of Obsidian over the last 6 weeks or so, I am surprised, in a good way, at just how much I’ve been using it. I have had a lot of thoughts regarding my current pet subject and have been able to note them down very easily and promptly by using Obsidian.
I will often go through a period of intense research and thinking around a topic that currently has my attention, and this is just such one instance. I can’t sustain the process indefinitely so it will inevitably run out of steam at some point. When that does finally happen, it’s reassuring to know I will have something to show for it.
In the past I’ve often been frustrated not to have collected all those ideas for going through later. On this occasion, and I say it cautiously as there have been many false starts, I may have landed on a system that will quickly become my go to thought bucket. I just hope the novelty of using a it won’t wear off, as has happened frequently in the past. Dare I say it, because Obsidian is easy to use out of the box and so lacks the novelty to the same degree that some systems have that I’ve tried, maybe that won’t be an issue.
I’m not sure how many years ago it was that I first watched Beasts of the Southern Wild, but it lodged itself in my mind as an all time favourite.
Watched it again over the weekend and it is gratifying to find that it remains as mesmerising as ever.
Live Like A Stoic is set out as 52 weekly exercises. I think it safe to say that I will be stretching it out over a longer period. My time is such that I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to do an exercise every day. Perhaps more importantly, I can’t process information and think things through on that basis. I need to reflect and ponder. I think I will find that a 2 week cycle will suit me better.
As I recently mentioned I’ve been delving back into Stoicism and philosophy in general. Largely around the theory side of things, the stuff that would come under Stoic physics. Maybe more of that another day.
A couple of times in the last few days I’ve been reminded that Stoicism isn’t just about the theory – it’s meant to be practised. Which made me think I probably would do well to shift the theory/practice balance.
Having had that unexpected hike in anxiety the other day I also got to thinking about the tools I learnt about when I had therapy. And how I’ve not really been using those lately. Much. At all.
While I found the techniques learned in CBT useful, the intensity of the process was too much. It’s very focused, and needs to be, but I found it overwhelming. I need longer to assimilate and process information (one factor which points to me probably being in the HSP camp). As a result I struggled to maintain any kind of ongoing effort.
I’m not entirely sure why, but having become interested in Stoicism by way of learning about it’s relationship to CBT, it’s broader scope as a philosophy for life appealed. Perhaps it was being able to incorporate it into my thinking in a more general way rather than focusing my efforts on very specific and exclusively difficult scenarios. I do think it’s had an impact as I find I can handle some anxiety inducing situations better than in the past. I also wonder if the neuroplasticity that my meds should be creating have helped the process of getting better.
What all this brings me around to is that I think a more structured habit will help me refresh my memory of the CBT techniques I learned and implement them day to day alongside Stoicism. As it happened, I heard an interview with Greg Lopez the other day, talking about Live Like a Stoic, which he co-authored with Massimo Pigliucci. Structured as 52 weekly exercises, I think it might be just the thing to help me on my way.
Went to the Corinium Museum in Cirencester yesterday. Have been meaning to go for some years but learning they had an exhibition of some of the skeletons from the Driffield Terrace burial site in York that are thought to be most likely those of gladiators spurred us to finally make the trip.
I find it a powerful thing to be in the company of the remains of people from 2000 years ago. The studies that have been made reveal a brutal existence, from tooth abscesses and malnutrition to the teeth marks of a large carnivore.
Most of them were young when they died, one between just 16 and 19 years, so really still a boy. With my own son not much younger I found it affecting to wonder what were the few years they did have like and what happened that they ended up as gladiators.
Taking the dog out each morning around dawn means I am getting to hear the gradual shift from general bird twitterings into what will eventually be the full dawn chorus. I don’t know when that division occurs (at no specific point I imagine), but whereas a month ago there were just the robins actually singing, for the past week at least, a song thrush has been in full song and blackbirds have started up too.
Today I had the highest level of anxiety about stopping at a filling station I’ve experienced in a long time. It’s a scenario that I deal with on a regular basis in the course of my work, and one that has been the source of vastly disproportionate amounts of anxiety in the past. But then ‘disproportionate’ is part and parcel with an anxiety disorder.
I’m not sure why today my anxiety levels were so high. It happens like that though, and I can neither predict nor explain it. It was at a far lower degree than I used to experience but still noticeably up.
Anxiety is complex and unpicking all the reasons why a given scenario is anxiety inducing would take me all day. To try and explain it briefly, it’s about being observed, often from multiple directions, it requires a level of performance, it requires recalling information which can prove surprisingly elusive when your brain is taken up with processing anxiety, it’s looking for the exit, the need to escape, and it’s about the negative voice in your head telling you what a loser you are because you can’t even do the simplest of things without this whole thing going off in your head.
A couple of times recently I have heard the phrase ‘feel the fear and still do the thing’ or words to that effect. An idea that I wholeheartedly go along with. In theory.
In practice, it’s something which I can sort of go along with, but feels so counter-intuitive. For me, that fear is often the worst aspect of anxiety. Which sounds obvious given that is what anxiety is, essentially. I dread the physical symptoms of anxiety. And the internal process of fear. Because at the end of the day anxiety is just that – internal. All those external factors I described above are not really the problem, given they are just a product of my imagination fueled by my amygdala going into overdrive. It’s what goes on inside, and when it’s at it’s worst it is truly awful. And you have to carry that around with you – the knowledge that you can’t rely on yourself to function ‘normally’.
Thankfully, my anxiety is dialled down a long way compared to how it used to be. By and large. I think the meds improve my mood which frees up my mind to see the world more positively, and subsequently reduces my overall level of anxiety.
I’m not sure that what I’ve written makes much sense, but I wanted to capture the multi-threaded mess that anxiety is. I think today reminded me of how many layers there are to it. And how much of it is about the stories we tell ourselves.
Listening to Richard McLean Smith on the Unexplained podcast, I encountered for the first time the Gutenberg Parenthesis .
I was fascinated by the idea that the way information is disseminated in the internet age means we are returning to something akin to the pre-printing press world of oral tradition and the fluidity that came with it.
I really pissed myself off today. I responded to someone in a way that I didn’t want to and as a consequence it resulted in further ways to be annoyed with myself. It was a minor thing, really minor, but when anxiety and low self-esteem accumulate years of dictating how I respond to some situations, it’s really difficult to catch myself before I do the thing I don’t want to do.
I was listening to an interview with Stoic philosopher Piotr Stankiewicz earlier this week talking about narratives, the stories we tell ourselves. It got me thinking about, or perhaps a better way of putting it is observing, the stories I tell myself. Realising how instantaneously the negative inner voice responds to events. It’s straight in there, even over the very minor things, chipping away. Colin Walker talks about ‘negative feedback loops, plummeting into downward spirals.’ I can relate to this. If the stories I tell myself get the better of me I can find the hours, days and sometimes weeks get eaten up by a barrage of what I can only describe as psychological self-harm.
The thought of trying to rewrite those habits is daunting. And yet spotting them is part of the battle. I’ve certainly found with other aspects of mental illness that having an awareness of what’s happening goes a long way to reducing the effect of them. That moment of ‘Aha, I know you and what you do’ helps to mitigate their potency.
I did spot them today. Yes, my response to the situation pissed me off, but I was also able to recognise a little of what was going on. And it was probably listening to that interview that reminded me about those pesky narratives.