A quick thank you before we begin
I wanted to start this blog out by expressing my gratitude towards each and every one of you that read my previous blog and a special shout out to those who sent my incredible heart felt messages. I've saved screenshots of all of them and at low points, have gone back and read through them all as a reminder to how beautiful the world can be.
All of you are the reason I am where I am today and you are the reason why I will make it my life's work to pay it forward and help as many people as I can.
Being by yourself vs loneliness
It's tough to know what to write after you tell the world your biggest secret. I proclaimed my previous blog to be the most important thing I will ever write and I believe whole heartedly that is the truth.
But the train must keep choo-chooing along and there's always new lessons to learn when it comes to our mental health. With every slip up, there's a chance to get better next time and I wanted to use this blog as an opportunity to share one my continued biggest failures when it comes to my well-being and that occurs when I am by myself.
There's a distinction I need to make here before we continue and that is between being by yourself and loneliness. The main contrast I want you to take away from the two is that you can very easily feel lonely in a crowd of people yet feel at peace when you are alone. Loneliness is a state of mind linked to wanting human contact but not getting it. Being by yourself can be a choice which if used correctly can pay dividends for your well-being.
I've spoken about loneliness before and it's links with depression. If you're at all interested in learning more, please check out that blog. For the purposes of this blog however, I will be focusing only on being by yourself, how I all too often have failed at it and how to learn from my mistakes.
I'm warning you now, I'm going to go off on a little rant about myself (it is my blog after-all), before I get to the nuggets of wisdom. So if you're only interested in finding those nuggets, click here for that sweet sweet knowledge. If for some reason you like reading my ramblings, then let's have some fun together!
Sorry Dave, you failed. Try again next time.
You're probably (and rightfully) asking yourself the question, how can you fail at being by yourself? First off, how dare you suggest that I can't fail at something. I failed at killing myself, there's nothing I can't fail at. Too dark? Probably, but I'm leaving it in.
Secondly (and significantly more to the point), I think it's far too easy to fail in small ways but failing in large ways is a special skill that only a select few really excel at. And you best believe that yours truly is quite the master of it.
I so desperately hope that we don't show our true colours when we are by ourselves because otherwise the image I have of myself would probably get shattered into a million pieces. Maybe that would be a good thing, maybe this image is a yet another barrier I need to break down if I'm ever going to make genuine progress with my mental health. Another thought for another blog I suppose.
Let's get back to the task at hand...
I'd like to consider myself to be a driven human being who can accomplish a great deal. My work through UnopenedMale I hope is a testament of that. But when I'm alone, that all seems to change. When I am my only company, I tend not to act in my own best interests.
Here's a list of some of the things I like to dabble in:
Staying up until the silly hours of the night
Eating until my stomach begins to bloat out like a 7 month pregnancy
Staring at my phone or laptop until even my glasses can't keep my vision straight
Pondering each and every one of my past failures
Pondering each and every one of my present failures
Pondering each and every one of my future failures
Making lists of all the things I need to do and then ignoring them
Telling myself all the things I hate about myself with excruciating detail
And that's just on a Wednesday night in April. Imagine the damage I do to myself when I have a weekend or god forbid a week on my own! The funny thing is that it takes an awful lot of effort to self-sabotage this much. If I used zero effort towards anything when I am alone, I'd be absolutely fine.
Where's the fun in that though?
It takes a certain kind of mentality to actively invest this much energy into things that are detrimental to your health and well-being. It's a mentality of self-hatred.
You want to know what's so messed up? As I started thinking about self-hatred, I tried to justify it as a positive trait. I told myself that it's because of this that I've been able to progress the way I have in life. If I didn't hate myself, then I wouldn't try and improve and would probably have stagnated in my life.
I mean.... Okay...
Really though I'm just writing my own press release and changing the narrative to fit this weird agenda of needing to justify my piss poor actions. It's a toxic trait and I wish it to burn in the deepest depths of hell along with flip-flops, mushrooms and Babybel. Come at me if you think these things aren't total dog shite and I'll debate you into next week.
To put it simply, I've hated myself for the longest time and when you hate yourself you tend not to care what happens to you. A part of me still feels that way. It's not a side of of myself that I like but it's in there. Seems almost poetic in a way that I don't like the part of me that doesn't like me.
Also, when you've got an amazing girlfriend and an incredible group of friends however, you can't act upon this self-hatred because they want what's best for you and will do their best to stop you doing that. Selfish wankers wanting what's best for me. Why can't they let me destroy myself in peace?
If I wanted to take it another step further, I never planned on being alive this long and therefore didn't feel the need to work towards long or even short-term goals but I didn't think I would be around long enough to see the fruits of my labour. These days however, I want to be alive until as long as my mind and body can physically hold out for.
So why am I still self-destructing when I am alone?
Maybe I still hate myself? Maybe it's a habit I've formed? Maybe I'm addicted to things that give me quick and easy gratification that aren't actually good for me? Maybe I feel a need to give myself a hurdle to overcome? Maybe I create an environment of failure so that I've got an excuse for when I don't achieve my goals?
It's taken some serious mental gymnastics to attempt to pinpoint what is the root cause because I think to some degree all of those things are true. Writing this has been a reminder that I should probably speak to a professional. Let's quickly add that one to the to-do list.
I read an amazing quote from America writer Edith Wharton, who thought the cure to misery was to "decorate one's inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone". Right now I'm ashamed of my inner house which is why I hate spending time in there alone.
It's time to get Grand Designs in because I seriously need to renovated my inner home to something I'm proud of.
Didn't you say that being by yourself could be good for you?
Thank you aptly placed heading for nudging me to move swiftly on to the heart of the post. For those of you that skipped to this point, I think you made a smart choice. I just dumped my purse out onto the table and it's going to take a while to pack that all back in.
But yes! I did say that being by yourself can be good for you, so let's explore why.
The first reason that should have hopefully come to all of your minds is obvious, it's a key opportunity to give the mind and body a rest. The world we live in is designed in a way to take all your resources. Whether that be Netflix and it's pesky auto-play feature to drain you time or the Amazon algorithm which reaches into your pocket by knowing exactly what you want before you even think it. Everything we have in this world is finite and your energy can be sucked away all too quickly if you don't top it up from time to time.
Being alone is the perfect opportunity to cut out all those distractions and interruptions. I think we've all wished we'd spent less time staring mindless at our phone or the tv. I know I have that thought far too often. (Damn you TikTok for being too damn funny). Once we've removed some of those hurdles, this time is perfect for self-reflection and gain perspective on what really matters to you and how to best spend what limited time you have.
Doesn't this all sound wonderfully calm? That's because it is! Taking this time has been scientifically proven to reduce stress. I'll be real with you here, I haven't actually checked to see if there have been any studies to prove this, but I'd be damned if you could prove the opposite. Except if you look at my past experiences of course. But I should not be your metric for whether this actually works or not. It does, I'm just bad at it.
How to spot the signs
Knowing when to dedicate time to yourself is a tough one, especially when life feels like it's hitting you from all sides and you don't have a second to breath. Most people only take time to themselves when they've pushed themselves to their absolute limits or quite possibly further than that and had a breakdown.
The key to having a healthy relationship with yourself is understanding your limits and setting your boundaries appropriately so that you don't over extend yourself. There will be times where you will have to prioritise your well-being over things that you might genuinely much prefer to do. Even the thought of rejecting a chance to see my mates for a few pints because I need some time to recharge my batteries is giving me massive FOMO and I'm only just thinking about it!
It's not easy. But it's necessary.
Every person is going to have different signs that they might need to have some alone time.
If you can feel yourself getting irritated or short-tempered over things that usually wouldn't bother you? That's a sign.
If you're losing interest or having trouble concentrating on the things you enjoy? That's a sign.
If you're getting anxious about spending time with people or at the amount of plans are currently filling up your calendar? Guess what? That's a sign.
Your signs may greatly differ from my signs which will differ from your parents signs which will differ from your colleagues signs. That's perfectly okay. Your signs are perfectly normal and they are there for a reason.
Let me share something with you that still low key embarrasses me but I still do. When I'm out with large groups of people, I can sometimes feel myself getting overwhelmed and my body is telling me that I need to get away from the situation. So what I usually do is go to the toilets, find a cubicle and chill out for a few minutes by myself until I feel ready to go back out and socialise again.
The point is, my body is giving me a sign that I need some time by myself and being the (occasionally) healthy person that I am, I took that sign and did something with it. What use are the signs if we're going to ignore them? If you were driving somewhere new, you wouldn't ignore the signposts telling you which direction you would go, so you shouldn't do that with well-being.
We've all got different definitions of what normal is to us at any give point in time. When you start to deviate from that normal, it's time to spend some time yourself to recharge and get back the best version of you.
But Dave, how do I effectively spend time by myself?
The most important thing to remember here is that it should actually be time by yourself. If you're sat in bed aimlessly browsing social media then you might physically be by yourself, but mentally you're deep in the inter-webs.
Granted, there may be times when you just feel like having an evening of doing nothing or something mindless to unwind and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But just know that in those moments, you aren't truly by yourself and you might seriously benefit from using that time more effectively. It's important to use that time in ways that are beneficial to your mental health.
Here are some tips I've learnt about properly spending time to yourself:
Get off your phone and social media - Cutting out distractions is key when focusing on yourself and remember that your focus of this time should be on your own thoughts and well-being not what other people are up to.
Plan out your time - Spending time alone can be uncomfortable and even make you anxious, but having a plan for what you'll do during that time should help elevate that feeling. Personally, meditation and writing are my favourite forms of spending healthy time by myself. For you it might be having a bath or going for a nice walk or listening to some chilled out music with your eyes closed. Different things work for different people so find out what works for you and then use your time to do just that.
Schedule time for yourself, but be flexible - If you can feel that you need some time alone, put it in your calendar or let those around you know that you need this time and to not bother you. This isn't always easy when you live with people or have responsibilities that might pop up out the blue so even if you have to cut that time short, make sure you carve out some time at a later date.
Pay it forward - The people closest in our lives will need time for themselves as much as we do. Make sure that you are being considerate to their needs as well as your own and when they need that time, respect their boundaries as I hope they respect yours and allow them that opportunity to find peace.
At the end of the day, we don't want this time to feel like an errand or something that we feel we have to do. As soon as it becomes that, ours brains will begin to reject it and we'll never get into a good routine with it. The whole point of this is to build a healthy relationship with your own needs.
I've developed a bad relationship with myself and I'm fully aware of that. Because of that, this may feel like work for the foreseeable future. In time though, I will build that empathy and caring for myself so that the time I spend alone can be a treat rather than a chore.
I look forward to the day where I look forward to being in my own company. I will become a friend to myself and I hope you do too.
Until we speak again, keep hanging in there.