Did you ever get a lightning bolt realisation from reading something small and simple? A little innocuous sentence, but suddenly, a situation becomes clear, all at once?
It happened to me this week. Reading the latest Permaculture magazine, Simon Lacey’s article on horticultural therapy really interested me, especially the incorporation of Permaculture principles into therapeutic gardening and the cultivation of empowerment that follows. The project, Headway Cambridgeshire, runs courses for a mix of people – those who have experienced brain injury, those who have suffered with anxiety and depression, and those who are looking to gain experience in care and support. As I was reading, one quote in particular from a participant caught my eye…
“Why would I want to go back to where I was before my injury? That’s what made me ill.”
I haven’t experienced a brain injury. But the sentiment of those words resonated on a deep level. I’ve spent so long comparing my current self to my past self – where in reality, I really, really wouldn’t want to be back there. Not for a million pounds. The life I had back then quite literally made me ill. So where is the comparison coming from, and where do I go from here?
Humans compare. We’re a social species, and as such, seem to look for hierarchy in every situation we can create. When this transmutes from being a useful social skill to being a method for unhealthy comparison, that’s when we start hitting dangerous territory. Comparison fuels the growth of social media, the expansion of capitalist society, the consumption of more, more, more. (If you’re interested, here is an interesting paper on Hedonistic Consumerism).
I removed myself from my work (albeit not really voluntarily) and hid myself from my peers. I fell into a black hole where for a while where the only windows I had to the world were social media, and the past. And so, when the comparison mechanism kicked in, they were my goalposts. Not much fun.
That sentence slapped me awake. No way did I want to be the person I was a few years ago. In fact, I like myself a hell of a lot more now, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. So no, I wouldn’t want to go back. The incessant comparison machine needed a swift 180.
I’ve spent a few weeks off the dreaded Facebook and Twitter now. My blog posts are set to autopublish, but as for a real human, I’ve avoided them like the plague. I decided to keep Instagram as I quite liked the small community of people I followed. But, of course, when one form of scrolling disappeared, I replaced it with another. Instagram’s ‘find’ function became my new addiction. Having never really used it before, I was soon spending a few hours scrolling through make-up tutorials, hijacked reddit posts, and influencer-land. None of this would be the sort of content I’d consume normally. But the endless scroll was getting me. Eventually I managed to get a hold of myself, and have consigned Insta to the ‘block list’ for a while, at least. I use an app called ‘Block Site‘ which blocks websites and apps. So far, it’s been great!
I decided that I’d try and flip the comparison from seeing the past as positive, to seeing the present as positive instead. Past me was stressed, overworked, materialistic, judgemental, moulded, reactionary. Present me is calm, empathic, more open-minded, more ethically minded, compassionate, friendlier. I also don’t shake due to stress any more! That’s a set of traits I’m quite happy to embrace. So where do I go from here?
I think I’ve just spent too much time in my own head. I’ve forgotten the good things I enjoyed – music, gigs, art, clubs, being social. Hiding away from the world, a lot fell by the wayside until I had nothing left to define me any more. But a few things are flickering back to life. (Yes, that includes having nostalgic raves to euphoric trance playlists on Spotify…). I can think of a few things I enjoy, that define me, that I would like to stand for. I feel a little tentative, but a lot more clear-headed. That lightning bolt kinda shifted a lot of stagnation that had built up over the years of seeing myself as ‘ill’. (Here’s a pretty interesting NHS blog on the changing nature of the ‘sick role’, I need more time to decide what I think about it, but good reading).
Seeing the present as a positive base from which to move forward as a person is very different to what I’ve spent the last few years believing, so it’s all a bit new. This viewpoint is a nice place, though. I quite like it. I quite like me, really. And so, on I go.
Have you experienced any sort of ‘re-emergence’ of self after illness or a specific event in your life? How did it feel – did you find you’d changed?
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