Rituals and routines

I have two pairs of grandparents. Every afternoon, each pair drinks tea.

The first pair has been doing this ever since I was a child. After their afternoon nap, one of them fills up the kettle, and while the water is coming to a boil, the other one sets the table. But not just any table. There’s a beautiful smallish round table in their living room that is used specifically for afternoon tea and for dinner. Not for breakfast or for lunch. Breakfast and lunch take place at the kitchen table. And they don’t drink tea out of just any mugs. They have these little white cups and saucers, stored away in a living room cabinet, not in the kitchen with the other crockery. These cups and saucers cannot be used at any other time of day nor for different activities or drinks. Back in the kitchen, the one in charge of tea making swishes hot water around the tea pot to heat it up, fills a strainer with tea leaves from a little tin, and pours the boiling water on top. The tea pot gets covered with a tea cosy and placed on a tray. Biscuits, sugar bowl and milk jug get their own tray. Both trays are carried to the living room table, where my grandparents will spend the next hour or two talking and drinking tea. Everyone in our family knows that if you drop by around 3pm (although often a little later now they’re older), there’ll be a beautiful cup of tea waiting for you.

The other pair of grandparents takes a slightly different approach. They boil the kettle, get two mugs out of the kitchen cabinet where they store all their crockery, plunk a tea bag straight from the cardboard box they came in in each mug, and pour the boiling water on top. The mugs are carried to the kitchen table, a packet of biscuits makes its way onto the table, and milk gets poured into the tea, straight from the bottle. If the tea’s too hot, they’ll add some cold water from the plastic bottle on the bench top behind my grandmother’s chair.

I have two pairs of grandparents, and every afternoon, each pair drinks tea. But the way they do this couldn’t be more different.

The difference is the difference between routine and ritual.

Routines are habits. They’re the things we do every day. For instance, every morning, you might get out of bed, sleepwalk into the kitchen where you flick the radio and the kettle on, open the door to let the dog out, make your way into the bathroom to get dressed while the kettle is boiling, have the same breakfast you had yesterday, take your keys and wallet from the shelf next to the front door, and make your way into work.

Once we’ve established routines, we stop thinking about them, we simply ‘do’. Rather than being oppressive, I find them liberating. They help us to control and contain the vastness of time, of emotions, of noise and chaos in the everyday. Routines are the things we do over and over again. Until they stop working for us. We get bored, or something just feels ‘off’. We can’t seem to stick to our routines anymore, and life feels like it’s slipping away. We lose our footing. It often takes a little while before we realise our routines – or lack thereof – are the issue. And when we do, we either automatically fall into new ones, or we have to sit down and think carefully about which new routines we might implement so that we stop feeling like the balloon our childhood self let go of, drifting mid-air, the wind pulling us in all directions, and can once again feel in control of our days and lives.

Rituals are similar, but they’re not quite the same. Rituals add ceremony to certain routines. A special mug for instance, filled with tea from a tea pot covered by a beautiful tea cosy, at the same table, at the same time. Every day or once a week. With someone you love while you reminisce about the good old times or discuss how your day’s been. Alone with a book, or simply staring outside, letting your eye gaze follow the birds or make out the shapes of the leaves on the tree next to the window. A ritual is watching the same movie every year on Christmas day. It’s taking the time to wash the dishes after dinner instead of rushing the process, actively watching your hands, feeling the different touch of foam, hot water, stoneware, and metal on your skin.

Rituals are carefully curated. They bring beauty and magic to the everyday. They require thought. Rituals involve a set of steps, where each step is performed with intention, in the moment. They don’t just ‘happen’, we don’t just ‘do’.

Intention and beauty in the everyday. I think we could all use a little more of that.

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Questions about fidget spinners, making, and wellbeing

Yesterday marked the start of Sydney Craft Week, a new festival that celebrates the local craft community in Sydney, and a few weeks ago I attended a workshop called ‘Neural Knitworks’ as part of The Big Anxiety Festival,  where we knitted and crocheted neurons while a neuroscientist talked to us about the human brain. I figured this would be a good time to post something about some thoughts I’ve had about crafts this week. – And they’re exactly that, thoughts. I haven’t done any proper research, other than reading bits and pieces here and there. The perfectionist in me doesn’t want to send this post out into the world yet. But, it’s Saturday, and the deal is that I write in the morning, and publish by midday. I guess I mainly want to ask some questions about what we do and don’t do, what that might say about the culture we live in, and the effects of it on our lives and our wellbeing. (To be continued, I’m sure.)

The other day, a friend and I were talking fantasising about the future and the kind of work we’d like to do. I told her that I want to be more than a brain in front of a computer, that I want to use my hands, my senses, that I want to make things. In the past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between craft and wellbeing. I want to learn more about it, and perhaps at some point teach others what I’ve learnt. I then took off on a long rant about the importance of crafts and making.

Without wanting to sound too negative, it seems to me that we’re not makers anymore. We’re buyers and consumers. Not everyone, of course, and not in all aspects of our lives. But how many people have ever made a piece of clothing, grown their own beans, sculpted their own tea mug, sewn a hanky? How many young people know how to darn a sock or even to sew on a button, or to bake a cake? There’s just no need for us to make anymore. Everything’s available right at our fingertips. Going to the shops (or filling online shopping baskets) is much faster and easier – and, to a lot of people with busy lives, simply makes a lot more sense.

But does it make more sense? And is there really no need for making anymore? Everywhere you look, there are news stories about increasing numbers of people suffering from some mental illness or other, we all know people (including ourselves) who struggle with constant high levels of anxiety and regularly have panic attacks, people are unsatisfied with their lives – “Is this really it?”, “Is this all there is?” – and feel disconnected. It’s quite likely that the development of fields such as (pop) psychology and psychiatry, the identification and our internalisation of symptoms of some ‘popular’ mental illnesses, the mantra that we have to be happy all the time and that if we aren’t we are inherently deficient/pathological, the push to always achieve more and better, have something to do with this. But there has to be more.

On the train home, I got a message from my friend. She’d been thinking about what I said about people needing to use their hands more often, and wondered if people would still need fidget spinners if they did more crafts. Interesting!

Fidget spinners became all the rage earlier this year. Offices, schools, CEOs, uni students, none were immune to them. A quick google search tells me that fidget spinners help alleviate not only nervous energy but also anxiety. They increase attention span and focus, and cure lifelong nail biting habits. Some schools, however, have banned them. Kids were apparently having competitions amongst themselves in class or were not focussing on the teacher. Proponents argue that schools simply need to have a conversation with their students about proper use, because the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

I think both sides are missing the point. Why is it that adults and kids alike need to spin a piece of plastic (because we really do need more plastic gadgets in this world, right!) on their finger/tongue/toe nail to be able to function these days? Why are so many people engaging in this largely unproductive activity to feel better?

Could there be a link between mental wellbeing, fidget spinners, and making things? When I wrote that fidget spinning is unproductive, I wasn’t referring to productivity in the traditional, instrumental sense. Productivity is not, “I do this activity which will result in this physical object or that measurable outcome in the shortest amount of time.” Fidget spinners are instantly efficient, which is quite similar to why we’re not making: making is not the fastest way from A to B. Making is not instant. Crafts take time to master, and there’s always more to learn, they’re always in process. At the same time, ask any crocheter what happens to them as soon as they pick up their crochet, and they’ll tell you that an instant sense of calm comes over them and that they’re able to concentrate better on what is happening around them if they’re working on an easy project. But I would argue that making things is productive in a lot of other ways, too, that we can’t get from playing with a plastic piece of tornado. There’s the touching of materials or ingredients as a sensory experience, discovering our connection with our environment through the materials we use, using and developing motor and intellectual skills, fostering creativity and experimentation, learning something new and slowly but surely noticing ourselves getting better at it, the feeling of having made something and the sense of accomplishment, the sharing of ideas with others, the calming effect of repetitive acts, the being and staying with and in a project.

Perhaps, instead of ‘wake up – check phone at breakfast and on train – sit at computer at work – check phone on train and at dinner – go to gym – watch TV while checking phone – go to bed,’ we should include some making in our days. Buy a paint by numbers kit, learn to crochet, plant some seeds, bake a tray of biscuits, build a castle from toilet paper rolls, darn your socks, get a block of clay, carve a pointy end to a stick you found in the park. Touch materials, play with them, craft them into something. The end goal is not creating art or useful things, even though beauty and use are great. The doing regularly is more important, and can have lasting effects on our wellbeing. We can make things, we are makers, and we shouldn’t forget it.

Other stuff:

  • Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall. I loved everything about this novel. In my reading, it plays with the boundaries between friendship and love and whether that’s a tenable distinction, and about how to negotiate the pull of home and a yearning for adventure.
  • Some interesting thoughts on deleting Instagram.
  • This beautiful post by Kate from Foxs Lane, on a simple life and not wanting bigger things. It resonates so much with where I’m at right now.
  • I took myself to the movies last week and watched Battle of the Sexes. What a great film! It was happy and sad and hurtful and inspiring and uplifting and depressing and exciting and so much more. I was shocked that I’d never heard of these events before – I teach gender studies, so that’s not ok! I guess it’s telling of the kinds of stories and history that are told, taught, and valued…

Are you planning to do some crafts/making this weekend? Have you used a fidget spinner? Have you read any great novels or opinion pieces lately? I’d love to hear about what’s happening in your world!

Ten things about now

Another Saturday, another blog post. This week has flown by but it also feels very long when I think about everything I’ve done. No big questions or philosophising this time, just ten things, as they pop up in my mind. Little things, which is what this blog was meant for in the first place.

ONE
I still haven’t been on Facebook, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I have no interest in going back. My anxiety levels are lower, I am calmer, and it feels like I have so much more time in my days.

TWO
Now that I have so much more time I’ve been reading a lot. I read two novels in the last week and a half  – I haven’t done that since I was a child!  They weren’t high literature, just nice, easy stories: The Rejected Writers’ Book Club and Rejected Writers Take the Stage. These novels follow the adventures of a group of women who live on a small island. They love writing but suck at it and take pride in that fact, so they started a “rejected writers’ book club.” They have regular meetings to celebrate the rejection letters they get from publishers. Until the founder of the club gets a book deal… To avoid having to dismantle the book club, they leave on a  road trip to San Francisco to demand a rejection letter. The stories are unrealistic but they’re funny. It’s pretty over the top at times but in a subdued way. I’m not sure if that makes any sense? It represents a range  of women in a variety of ways – quite cleverly so, if you ask me – and provides interesting and recognisable insight in human relationships and in what makes a home. If you did want to give them a try, the first novel in the series is definitely better than the second one.

THREE
I’m considering buying a Kindle. I’ve always LOVED paper books and generally dislike reading on screens, but I’ve been using the Kindle app on my iPad with a free first month of Kindle Unlimited, and it’s been a very enjoyable experience. Stranger things have happened, I guess… If anyone has any suggestions about which Kindle I should get, I’d love to hear them.

FOUR
The other day, I was working through a particularly difficult bit of critical theory for the PhD (Butler and Foucault on critique, ethics, and subject formation, for those who know what I’m talking about) and I got really emotional about it. I pretty much teared up. Not because I was freaking out, but because the ideas were absolutely brilliant and it was just beautiful.

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FIVE
Sydney’s heating up, and I absolutely love it. Every year since I’ve moved here I’ve struggled with the transition from a winter wardrobe to summer clothes. I feel like part of me is missing when I’m not being hugged/compressed by layers and layers of clothes, so it’s usually a very slow process. This year, though, I packed up all of my winter clothes as soon as I could, and practically jumped into oversized dresses. I love the way the wind touches my legs, how the fabric moves across my skin, how my body just feels free. I realised that spending time outside makes me feel good, so I’ve been trying to sneak in little moments outside whenever I can.

SIX
Now that I’m Facebook-less, I’m making a conscious effort to connect with people. Not because I feel like I have to out of fear of becoming a recluse (which could happen!), but because I want to. I don’t want my relationships with people to consist of liking status updates and photos and memes. What I want is meaningful conversation with access to someone’s face and/or voice, to show people that I care about how they’re doing and what they’ve been up to. I want to know what makes people happy and sad, what they’re passionate about, and what helps them get up in the morning. I want connection. By all means, send me memes and photos, but talk to me as well. Connect with me. Be here. With me.

SEVEN
I think I’ve finally developed some routines that work for me. Who would’ve thought it was possible… I’m switching off my internet modem every night and don’t switch it back on until mid-morning the next day. I’ve been sleeping so well and feel refreshed in the morning. I was able to identify when getting work done gets hard, and now take myself to the uni gym for a BodyBalance class at those times every day. I stick around for a couple of hours afterwards to work from the library. Result: improved productivity, renewed excitement about and confidence in my research, and less of the aches and pains I’ve been having for the last year.

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EIGHT
I’m crocheting a blanket for a soon-to-be new addition to our family. It’s a very, very slow process, and I’m not sure I like what it looks like. I felt this way as soon as I was a couple of rows in but kept going anyway. Should I forget about the hours and hours that have gone into this already, toss it aside and start something new? Something that’s not as painfully slow and that I will love? (It’s more blue-ish in real life, and will need to be blocked once its finished so the cut-outs are more even.)

NINE
I realised I don’t know people’s birthdays! I mean, I know those of my closest friends I’ve known for ages, but there are other, newer, people I care about, and I just have no idea! I’m going to have to plan a Facebook session at some point to write them all down. Which makes me wonder, do people still use birthday calendars and address books these days? Do kids still have these friendship books they pass around to their classmates who have to answer questions like “What’s your address and your phone number?”, “What’s your favourite colour?”,  “When’s your birthday?”, “What are your hobbies?”, “What’s your favourite food?”. I think we need those for adults!

TEN
All week I’ve been stuck trying to find the right music to suit my mood. I have my favourite artists and music genres, but somehow nothing worked. Until Spotify suggested this song by Josh Ritter this morning. I hadn’t listened to his music in ages! But it’s exactly the right thing for now. It makes me want to go on long road trips through the desert, windows open, heat and wind on my face. Who’s coming with me?

Ten things. A pretty accurate snapshot of my mood and my week. Did you have a good week? Or are you just happy you made it through?

See you next week, friends!

 

How I accidentally walked away from Facebook this week

It’s Saturday morning, and I haven’t checked Facebook since Tuesday afternoon. That’s almost four days. Only four days. Four days doesn’t seem like a very long time, but it is in Facebooktime. How many of us start scrolling through a never-ending news feed first thing in the morning, last thing at night, any time we get an empty moment – while waiting in line, on the train, waiting for a friend, in the bathroom, when we’re feeling insecure and things get a little hard – or because it’s become such a habit that we’ve opened the app/website before we even realise it. We send messages on Facebook to make plans or just to catch up, get tagged and tag in memes and news articles, are invited to and find out about events. All. On. Facebook. So yes, four days is a long time in Facebookland.

I’m not entirely sure why I walked away from Facebook. It sort of just… happened? Whenever I hear about people who did, they seem to have had a clear reason and plan. They want to challenge themselves – can they do it? They have a project they desperately need to finish and Facebook is too much of a distraction. They’re going offline completely for a little while to reset. Usually people post a status update to announce their decision and to inform people of alternative contact details. Part of me thinks that’s the responsible and respectful thing to do. We spend a big part of our lives on Facebook, so if we decide to close the door on that part of our lives, it’s only fair to let people know we’re walking away so no one has to worry. I do wonder how many people would notice if we don’t check in anymore, and if perhaps informing others of our decision isn’t a little self-obsessed and narcissistic?

It also shows how many of our human interactions have been taken over by Facebook. It’s a little concerning that we have to post our other contact details on Facebook so people will be able to stay in touch with us. Shouldn’t the people that matter to us already have our contact details in the first place? And if they don’t have them, does that mean we can completely disappear from people’s lives, just like that, simply by not opening a particular website or app anymore? Does it mean that Facebook or a group of hackers can just wipe out the relationships we have with people if they decide to do so? People have a right to disappear if they want to, and Facebook itself probably won’t just be destroyed. The thing is, what does all of this say about how much power Facebook has? And, perhaps more interestingly, what does this mean for how we connect with people? Can people be replaced by others more easily? Do our relationships feel more temporary than they used to?

Back to the story of my accidental disappearance from Facebook. I didn’t have a plan. I’d thought about logging off in the past, as a challenge, mostly when I read about other people who had done it. But I never thought I’d actually do it – because it felt too scary, but also because I actually enjoy using Facebook.

If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that I’ve been having a bit of a hard time lately.  I thought I was on the way up, but I wasn’t. This week was even worse. Mood swings, high intensity feelings – both happy and sad – in quick succession. It’s all very annoying and I don’t know what to do with it/myself. I’m not looking for sympathy or concern here – we’re human beings which means we’re not made of plastic, so we’re going to feel things and what we feel will change over time. Anyway. On Tuesday morning, I got hurt by something that happened on Facebook. I’m sure it was all a huge misunderstanding, but it happened, and the stuff that happened afterwards wasn’t pretty. While I didn’t fully realise it at the time, on some level I think I knew that it hadn’t been the first time I got hurt on Facebook. That’s when somehow I stopped opening it. It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just felt some sort of aversion to it. It felt a little like learnt behaviour: Facebook equals pain, and I couldn’t get myself to log on. This is big for me – I usually have to use focus-apps that block me from accessing certain websites, and even then it’s hard. You know how if you get the stomach flu after you’ve had a particular type of food that had nothing to do with that flu and you start to associate that food with being sick? That’s a little bit what it felt like.

I didn’t leave a message saying I’d be logging off for a while because I didn’t know how long I’d be away for. I didn’ even realise I was away until I was. There was no plan or goal. Part of me thinks I should have a quick look at what’s been happening since, but somehow I’m just not interested?

Some things I’ve realised/noticed since:

  1. I realised that I didn’t have other contact details for some of the people I’d been staying in touch with via Facebook Messenger. There was one friend for whom I had an email address and a phone number from years back, but I doubted that either were still current. That’s when I realised how easy it would be for people to just disappear without either party intending for it to happen.
  2. My email to this friend didn’t bounce. I realised how nice and how much fun it was to be emailing friends! I started to think that these days we mostly use text messages of some variety or other (iMessage, WhatsApp etc.) and Facebook to stay in touch with friends, whereas email is mostly for work and annoying ads and newsletters these days. To think that not so long ago, people were worried about how emails would replace letters… Now emailing friends feels nostalgic and special!
  3. A lot of the time, I register everything (well, a lot). What I realised is that when I go on Facebook, I don’t just absentmindedly scroll through my feed. No. As I’m doing that, I’ve seen every ad in the sidebar (they change quite quickly, too), I notice people’s activity in that right hand column, who’s been online when and how many times since I’ve logged on, etc. I don’t want to notice any of this! All this information all at once makes me feel anxious.
  4. Because Facebook tells me all of these things I don’t want to know, I also know when and how often people have ignored my messages and my comments. I don’t want to know when someone’s read my messages or how long it took them to reply after they read it. On some unconscious level, often just for a split second, it makes me feel ignored and rejected. I know that’s stupid and part of me is ashamed to admit it, but it is how I feel and I’ve heard from others that they feel the same way. This is something we need to talk about. That said, I don’t always instantly reply to comments and messages either – just like everyone else I don’t always have the time or energy to engage, sometimes I forget. But the consequences remain. And it’s telling that I’ve never felt this way when it comes to emails or other social media.
  5. Not scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed has made me much less patient with other types of social media scrolling. I’ve continued to check Instagram, but while I used to love looking at all those pictures, I found that I’m just not as interested anymore as I used to and give up after just a couple of pictures.
  6. I’m checking email a lot more often! The good thing is that I get surprisingly few emails, so it’s a matter of opening the app/website, and closing it again. It’s still a compulsive need to check something, but at least I’m not wasting a lot of time on it.
  7. I’ve watched a lot less TV this week. I don’t know if the two are related at all. They might not be, but maybe there is something going on where my brain stopped needing constant stimulation by a screen?
  8. Facebook seems terrified to lose me. Since Wednesday, it’s sent me three to five emails every day to inform me that so and so has posted a picture and that so and so has posted a status update. Of course it doesn’t show me these pictures or updates. No, I’d have to click on the link and go on Facebook. Clingy and desperate much? And I thought I had issues…

So on the whole, has my accidental walking away from Facebook made a difference in my life these past four days? It’s hard to tell. The annoying feelings-stuff is still happening, but I think I feel calmer and less anxious overall. Maybe I feel this way because I’ve heard that’s what walking away from social media does to you – then again, if I feel less anxious and calmer it doesn’t matter which of these two is the real reason.

The most significant change, though, has been how I feel about other people. I I feel more secure and more at ease/peace in my relationships with people. It’s funny, because I haven’t had much (if any) contact with most of the people that I’m close to. I have no idea what some of them have been up to (no status updates or photos) and we haven’t interacted (no tagging or wall posts). For a long time I’d been convinced that Facebook was a great way to stay in touch and up-to-date with people’s lives, and to show others that you cared and were thinking about them. I realise now that it’s had the exact opposite effect on me. It makes me feel deeply insecure about my friendships. I struggle with fear of rejection at the best of times, and Facebook just really screws with that.

Will this be everyone’s experience? No. Do I think Facebook is bad? No. Do I know how long I’ll stay away? No.

Is it possible I’ll have a quick look at some point this weekend to see if I’ve missed any messages or events? Yes. Am I scared to do that? Yes.

Now, how am I going to get any of my friends to read this? I usually share my blog posts on Facebook, but I don’t really want to log on because that means I will see stuff I have no interest in seeing. I’m interested in what my friends are doing, but I’m not interested in seeing EVERYTHING – when they’ve been online last, which meme their friend of a friend of a friend tagged them in, which ad Facebook thinks is relevant to me, etc. There might be a way to connect Facebook to WordPress that doesn’t involve me actually going on Facebook, so I’ll try to figure out how to do that. I wonder if it’ll let me add some text with the link, too, that doesn’t show up here so I can give the people I know my contact details in case they need them or want to stay in touch. If it works, and you’ve found your way here and wanted to comment something on what I’ve written, please do it in the comments section under this post. I won’t be checking Facebook, but I do want to hear your thoughts.

Ahh, what a simple and uncomplicated world we live in!

Storytelling

I’m glad this week is almost over. It’s not been a good week. In fact, it’s been a pretty shitty week. I’ve been feeling needy and sad and worried, and while I can think of a few reasons why I’ve been feeling this way, they’re simply not good enough reasons. In fact, they’re not reasons at all. They’re stories.

I fell into the dangerous PhD hole that’s always looming right around the corner. Lying on the bottom of that hole looks like this. “Why am I doing this? This hurts. There is really no point in doing this research. No one, except for my two supervisors and my three examiners and perhaps a curious friend or two will read it. I’ve learnt what I wanted to learn, I’ve been stimulated intellectually, I’ve thought through a bunch of things, and so if no one’s going to read it, what’s the point in writing it all down and labouring over every single word and worrying I may have misinterpreted something and…” There’s a couple of things going on here. I’m bothered by the disconnect there is between academia and the world out there. Then there’s the loneliness of it all. Sitting in front of a computer, all day, every day, at home alone. No research participants, just books and articles. And then there’s the usual imposter syndrome. I’m not good enough, and they’ll find out sooner or later.

I’ve been worrying about how next year I might get kicked out of this country and what is basically my whole life. This is not news, and the worrying comes and goes. I’ve been thinking about ways I can fix this problem, but I keep going around in circles. It’s entirely unproductive thinking and worrying. I’m not making any decisions, and I’m not accessing the information I need.

I’ve also been struggling in some of my friendships. (Friends who are reading this, do not – and I repeat, DO NOT – take this personally. There’s a bigger point I’m making here, and I‘m the key issue here. Not you. Just keep reading.)  I’ve felt alone, forgotten, and abandoned. Can you hear the sad funeral movie soundtrack too? I was convinced that no one cared enough to bother trying to comfort me. Thought that no one was a big enough part of my life to even realise stuff was going on. I started thinking that if I tripped over something at home and hit my head or choked on some food, it’d take weeks before anyone realised something was wrong. I felt like I was a burden, and so I pulled away from some people and piled too many expectations on others. That made all of it worse, of course, because people can’t know something’s up if I don’t tell them, and the more I expect from people, the more they’re doomed to fail to meet my expectations. Even though I knew all of this, my feelings were real and big and intense. And they hurt. A lot.

All of these elements, and perhaps a few others, were connected. One influenced the other, and one sucky thing made another thing more sucky which in turn caused the first thing to be more sucky. Basically, it all sucked. And sucks. So much.

But. We’re talking about feelings here. Not ultimate truth. If there’s anything I’ve learnt in all of this poststructuralist theory that I work with on a daily basis, it’s that there is no truth. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t reality or real-ness to our worlds, but it’s more that there are truths, and that those are contextual. Truths can be different in big historical, cultural, societal ways but also on the level of the individual, and so while what I’ve been feeling and seeing is real, it’s not the ultimate truth.

All we have are the stories we tell ourselves. What happens is that I construct this story in my head about my life based on how I’m feeling. That story in turn makes me notice or not notice certain things, which makes the feelings stronger, and they ultimately end up confirming the story I told myself. It’s a vicious cycle. But I need to remind myself that it is a story. I see what I see, but I’m the one doing the seeing. I’m not an objective onlooker who simply knows for a fact what is happening.

I have people in my life who care. But these people have their own lives full of obligations and things they need to do for themselves. They are going through their own stuff, and they deal with that in their own ways. If I deal with things in different ways, that makes us a little incompatible at times, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care.

The PhD will probably feel like the most horrible, impossible, unmanageable thing until my submission date, and I don’t think I can change that part of the story. But I can add a storyline. Because of this PhD, I get to do certain things that I love but wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. Teach, for instance. I love teaching – my uni tutorials and my volunteer primary school ethics classes. I get to discuss ideas with students, stimulate and challenge their thinking, have my own thinking stimulated and challenged. It’s all happening right in that moment, on the spot thinking and doing and talking. No room to worry about anything else. The same goes for going to seminars in my field, and the discussions afterwards. So rewarding.

I could remember the multiple cry sessions I had this week, alone, on the couch, and one very quietly, at the gym during the meditation at the end of a BodyBalance class. I could focus on the phone calls and texts I sent to friends that remained unanswered. There’s the mess in my kitchen, the writing that is really hard, and the succulent that is dying. There are the people in my building who refuse to say hello or even look at me when we pass each other in the hallway. There’s the very stressful thing I have to do on Monday.

Or, I could think about how on Tuesday the weather was really hot and I went to the park to read, and how for about an hour I felt alive and happy and connected to this country in ways I never imagined possible. I could replay the moment I was on the train on the Harbour Bridge, just as the sun was setting. It was so, so beautiful. I mean, how am I even living in Sydney? This in and of itself is truly amazing! I could focus on the friend yesterday who listened and gave advice and how that meant everything. I could focus on the other friend who, on Monday, played devil’s advocate with my worries but who also listened, and then fixed my painful shoulder, and who I laughed with that night. (Well, she probably laughed more than I did, but it makes me happy to hear her laugh.) I could notice all the other plants in my house that are doing well and are growing more now that it’s spring. I could focus on my new desk chair and how having a pretty and comfy chair to work in might make work less painful. I could appreciate the stunning view when I walk onto my floor of the building I live in, but that I’ve gotten so used to I don’t notice it anymore. Instead of reading the mess (and smell, yikes!) in my kitchen as a reminder of a shit week or laziness or my failure at being a proper adult, I could acknowledge that even though it’s been a tough week, I’ve managed to find the energy to cook healthy food and take care of myself. I could remember there are people who plan to make time on Monday to be there for my stressful thing, and that there are others who have helped me prepare for it. I can focus on how amazing I feel when I’m doing a BodyBalance class and on having an instructor who is so, so incredibly good at it and passionate about it.

Now that I’ve started listing these good things, I’m finding it hard to stop. I have tears in my eyes thinking about all of them. There have been so many good, beautiful, happy things this week. But somehow, for most of the week, I chose to tell myself a different story.

Well, I don’t actually think it’s as simple as choice. I don’t believe we’re so much in control of how we feel and of our circumstances that we can just decide that, “Ok, right now I’m going to feel this feeling.” For instance, amongst other things, I’m pretty sure this week my body decided it needed a dangerous toxic cocktail of all the wrong hormones in all the wrong quantities. That must’ve influenced how I felt, and how I felt in turn influenced that cocktail.

But I do think we can choose to build in moments where we reflect on how we feel, recognise the stories, and reframe. Tell ourselves a different story. The effects of the story might not last much longer than five minutes and be replaced with the old one straight after, but at least we’ll have had five minutes where we felt that our lives are not all horrible, that people don’t hate us, and that we’re not alone. And five minutes of that, a couple of times a day, that has to make a difference.