#14 Binge

The word binge will conjure different images for different people. Some will immediately think of a Netflix series they watched in next to no time, others may think of food, for others the word will be more about alcohol and partying.

However we think of binging (sic), it now seems to be a part of modern culture. It can take up time, make us happy or unhappy and is often a substitute for real life experiences, but all of us will binge on something at some point in our lives.

The way we consume things has changed. Netflix, social media, apps and other technological advances now put what we want within touching distance. Don’t fancy cooking? Simple, just order from deliveroo. Looking for some companionship and/or sex? Tinder and other apps can help with that. So much of what we want in life is now readily available at the click of a button.

The topic of this blog may be uncomfortable to some and without meaning to come across as an edgy writer for ‘Vice’, that’s too bad. It is important to recognise that we can’t eat or fuck our feelings away. Whilst there is nothing wrong with over indulging from time to time, binging can’t become a habit without having a detrimental effect on both mental and physical health.

When we look at the news and current affairs, the way we interact with and get our news is entirely different from 10 years ago. Twitter for instance allows you become part of an evolving news story. There are ‘hot takes’ from tribal factions on both sides of the argument and often that becomes as important, if not more than the original story. Columnists and talk show hosts become the pantomime villain or saviour supreme depending on which side of the argument you are on. Almost everyone has an opinion and more often that not, they will feel emboldened to share these views for likes, comments and debate.

A lot of this is due to social media. Some will have grown accustomed to hearing people talk about a social media detox, this is due to their binging on the very platforms that claim to bring us together. The reality is often quite different.

As we approach a date many in England will have been keenly waiting for the word binge comes into focus again..

The pub, that great British institution that is held so dear to so many patrons up and down the country. It has influenced culture, been the hub of the community and the venue for violence and heated debate for centuries. With apologies to our American cousins, July 4th has historically not been a date of celebration in England. For plenty there will be a party atmosphere a week this Saturday. Binge drinking has been a problem here for a long time and with the NHS and police force both having been stretched in recent times, it may well be they are called upon again. Binge culture, it would seem, is here to stay.

 

 

#13 Grief

Grief comes to us in a number of ways. For many the past few months will have felt unbearable. The change in lifestyle, the things we may have taken for granted, the ability to hug loved ones or do the things that help take our minds of the stresses and strains of daily life. All of this will have felt like grief to some people.

Others will have experienced the pain of losing those closest to them through Covid 19 or other causes and will have had their experiences with grief changed and altered in a way they could not have expected. Dealing with loss is never easy but in these times of great uncertainty the process will have been exasperated and many will have had to come to terms with the death of those they love so dearly in an entirely different way.

I have had personal experiences with grief from a relatively young age, the loss of dear friends and the heartache of failed relationships all build new layers in all of us as we grow as people. Everyone will have different coping mechanisms and all of us will unfortunately have to deal with grief at some point in our lives.

There have been some very public displays of grief over the past week or so that have brought inequality and injustice to the forefront of our attention. People for generations have lost their lives due to the colour of their skin, their sexuality or their political beliefs and the mass outrage to all of this can be seen in the news and on various social media platforms.

I would encourage every single person who reads this and beyond to take stock of what is important in your lives. Educate yourself so that you do not add to anyone’s grief and grieving process. No one should have to wonder why their life mattered less that anyone else’s and as we continue our day to day lives it should not be forgotten that we participate in political, economic and social systems that actively make the sheer act of living more difficult for huge groups of people on a daily basis.

As I write this post I am coming to terms with some of my own pain but am able to gain some perspective due to current affairs and what is happening in the world. As a society we must do more to understand those who lead different lives to our own. We must be prepared to change our opinions and behaviours when presented with evidence and information that conflicts with our own world views.

It is important to stay grateful for what we have got and try not to get caught up in what we are missing in our lives. Each and every person has the opportunity to make the lives of others better through simply checking our own behaviour and making sure we know how our actions will effect others.

Reach out to people you think need to be heard, try not to judge actions without using empathy. Do not be bound by a misguided sense of moral superiority, especially without knowing the circumstances of any given situation. Try always to act with kindness and compassion.

This post was a long time in coming, I have written several drafts in the past month on various subjects but none seemed as important as this. Now more than ever it is a time for humble education. Listen to the voices of Black Lives Matter, pay attention to the Pride movement and as always be kind.

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire The Sunday Times Bestseller P.D.F
Recommended reading Akala – Natives

 

#12 Weather

The weather. Something us Brits are obsessed with. Something we talk about on an almost daily basis. It can have a profound effect on our mood, our daily plans, our work and what we do with our lives.

I have just returned from a brisk walk. I needed some fresh air after a morning of doing little more than checking emails and passing my time watching Netflix. The weather has turned today. It’s a wet and grey day as it so often is in this country. We have been blessed with weeks of sunshine as winter turned into spring. At a time of worry because of corona virus, the sun has provided many of us with a much needed lift.

As I lay in bed early this morning listening to the rain I felt a sense of familiarity and comfort. There is a certain peace to listening to the rainfall, especially when it is so quiet first thing in the morning. While this weather may not be great for getting outside or sitting in the garden as many of us grown accustomed to, sometimes it’s great for concentrating, relaxing with a book or just watching the world go by.

Like a lot of people I would have to say my favourite weather is the sunshine but it doesn’t always have to be hot. There’s a lot to be said for cold, frosty morning walk. The cold air is bracing and hits your lungs and helps wake your whole body up. There is a certain quality to sitting in front of an open fire and listening to the wind and rain outside too.

Each season has it’s own quality. Spring brings new life into the green areas that have been dark for so long. The birdsong, which is so much more audible with less traffic on the roads, reminds us the winter is over and longer days are on their way. The autumn brings us an incredible array of colours and I am lucky enough to live somewhere where watching the leaves change colour is a breathtaking sight to behold. The summer brings a sense of freedom and fun. There are often holidays or plans made for this time of year so that people have something to look forward to. BBQs, beer gardens and outdoor activities. Then there is the winter and while I have no problem with winter itself the last one was a wash out. It wasn’t particularly cold but it rained for what seemed like an eternity. There is always Christmas to look forward to though with family and friends. When we get a true winter and we see frost and snowfall that brings about its own beauty.

Musicians have made whole works about the weather for hundreds of years. From Vivaldi to Oasis the weather has inspired symphonies and lyrics for generations and will continue to do so for as long as we walk the earth. In the past 48 hours, nearly every person I have spoken to has mentioned the weather. Maybe it is because we have no control over it or maybe it is because of the cause and effect nature it has but it’s a subject we love to cover more than almost any other.

#11 Social media

I have touched on this subject in previous posts but given that we are living in such extraordinary times it feels like as good a time as any to write about social media. Especially as we are all likely to be consuming more of it right now.

Managing social media is a fine balance. Often we live so much of our lives through these channels we forget to look up and enjoy what is in front of us and the people around us. Whilst it’s absolutely fine to celebrate our victories, support each other and share things that make us laugh and learn, it is important we don’t get sucked into living our lives through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.

I have seen whole relationships ruined by social media. A lack of trust, sometimes misplaced, sometimes justified, built up all through algorithms and people’s inability to resist temptation. Companies profit from making our lives easier and this culture has lead to an impatient behaviour in our day to day lives. We want something, we order it on Amazon Prime and get it delivered the next day. We see something or someone we like the look of and we can message them instantly.

For every photo that gets all the likes and comments that release those little drops of dopamine into our brains, there are often hundreds that have been deleted. Instead of embracing our flaws and imperfections we often try and live a perfect virtual life that really isn’t who we are or where we are going. This culture of instant gratification is unhealthy.

Social media has become so intrinsic in our behaviour that it encourages gossip and relies on us giving up much of our privacy. I constantly hear people say things like ‘did you see what x put on Facebook?’. No longer do we have the luxury of being able to fail without judgement.

Social media has such a toxic side to it that it can be linked to serious mental health issues and even suicide. There are several high profile celebrity cases of this which shows that we have a lot to learn about the way we use the platforms. There is also some responsibility to placed at the feet of those running the sites and apps. People should be able to use social media without fear of being attacked by strangers or even people they know hiding behind fake or anonymous profiles.

I am not free from sin in any of this. I have used social media as an escape from real life and been sucked into a cycle of getting my hits from likes, comments and shares. When we look at Facebook for instance people often have hundreds if not thousands of ‘friends’. If the chips were down and you really needed to rely on people, how many from your friends list could you really count on? How many were added after a drunken night out? And how many were just an ego boost after you changed your profile picture?

I ask all that without any judgement, I just think it’s something we should all consider. Especially when we are likely to have increased activity on our phones, tablets and laptops. When we are feeling lonely or upset it can be easy to replace real relationships with getting likes and comments even though this deep down we know this isn’t really a healthy way to treat ourselves.

That being said there are plenty of people using social media in good, fun and creative ways and it would be remiss of me not to point out that I use several social media sites to share these blog posts. As I said at the beginning of this it’s all about striking the right balance.

#10 Sleep

Unfortunately I have never been very good at sleeping. An overactive mind can lead to me thinking about a whole host of things in the small hours of the night, some of which are truly ridiculous. Be it work worries, personal problems that I’ve built up to be much bigger than they are or old memories that still haunt me, there are times when sleep is really difficult to come by.

There are a few ways to try and combat this. Personally I need a dark and quiet environment to sleep in but I know that won’t work for everyone. I try and switch off from electronic devices at least half and hour before I plan to sleep and I find that reading before bed helps me to drop off a little quicker. Sometimes the book is too good to put down so be wary of getting too stuck in or you’ll find yourself saying ‘just one more chapter’ to yourself and this defeats the object.

In times like these it can be very easy to destroy your regular sleep pattern but it’s important to try and maintain some normality. Monday to Friday my alarm is still set at the regular times I would be getting up for work and I still try and make myself get up at a reasonable time on the weekend, even if I don’t really want to!

Last night was really tough. I had my sleep disrupted several times throughout the night and didn’t get anywhere near enough. I must confess I am pretty hopeless at functioning without enough sleep. It effects my performance in every day tasks and can make me pretty irritable and unpleasant to be around.

During the past few weeks I have noticed my dreams getting more vivid and at times they are really strange. I can only put this down to the lock down and all of the circumstances that surround this. Either way I’m pretty sure a shrink would have a field day with my subconscious at the moment!

I have been battling with a subject matter to write about of late. There are plenty I’d like to go into more detail about but I feel my current head space wouldn’t allow me to do justice to anything I want to write about in depth and a lot of that is down to how poorly I have been sleeping.

There are some really good podcasts out there on the subject and I would encourage anyone who is feeling like their sleep is currently out of balance to do some research and get stuck into one. Worst case scenario the podcast is really boring and it might just put you to sleep!

Another factor for poor sleep is diet. If you are eating the wrong things at the wrong times your body is going to struggle to shut down at night so be sure to keep an eye on this. I know all to well that it’s easy to get stuck in a routine of bad eating habits at the moment especially when you’re struggling for things to do. I have told myself countless times over the past week or so ‘you’re not hungry, you’re bored’. It’s also easy to forget to take on enough fluids. No I’m not encouraging anyone to get drunk here, remember to get enough water on board so your body can function throughout the day. This will help get you to sleep at night.

As always I hope everyone reading this is coping okay with the lock down and if anyone needs to reach out to talk I am happy to be a sympathetic ear.. Just don’t message or call in the middle of the night!

#9 Music

Music is a powerful tool. It can lift your spirits, remind you of better times and help you through difficult periods. Often just by singing (Apologies to those who have to hear it) I can make myself feel something other than pain in times of discomfort.

It also helps elevate experiences. You can often remember great memories and what the soundtrack was to that point in your life. Listening to certain songs can bring those times flooding back and that can be a comfort especially during periods of unrest.

I often think of gigs I’ve been to and the incredible highs felt when belting out the lyrics to favourite songs back at those on stage. I can only imagine how incredible it must feel to those artists to have thousands of people singing the words to the work they have worked so hard to create back to them.

There are albums that have a very special personal meaning to me, songs that lift my mood and others that just help pass the time. The music we listen to is often so meaningful to us that we forget that it will have a whole different perspective attached to it for everyone that hears it.

Growing up listening to the radio and my parents music either at home or in the car always makes me think back to specific times in my childhood. Trips away to the beach or travelling to meet members of our extended family. Certain songs make us think of people we know and love and others remind us of ourselves.

Growing up a child of the 90s I feel blessed to have lived through the Brit Pop era. I can always recall a time where Blur and Oasis released songs at the same time and the press and media made a huge thing of who would make it to number one in the charts. Back then the charts really meant something. There was no Spotify to call upon and as a kid I’d often record the top 40 on a cassette (I know some of you might not even remember them).

Like many my musical taste is varied and covers a huge spectrum. There’s the music that makes me want to dance, the music I only listen to alone and music that can’t help but lift your spirits. I am a sucker for older music. It’s not that I don’t enjoy more modern music I just don’t feel the same affiliation to it that I do with the stuff from the past 30 years in particular.

I spent this morning belting out some Oasis. Put the volume up loud to drown out my own voice, hit play and sung until my lungs hurt. Singing is like therapy to me and I enjoy the release it gives to me even if it does hurt the ears of everyone around me!

When this lock down is over I am going to look at trying to get to some more gigs and enjoying the freedom music can give to me.  I hope everyone is dealing with this situation in their own way. If you need a pick me up, put your earphones in or blast it out through the speakers. Either way play some music and let some light into your life.

#8 Staying on track

In these very uncertain times it is easy to focus on what you are missing rather than taking the time to focus on yourself. We will all be missing people, activities and normality but it is important to remember that there is plenty to be positive about and be grateful for.

Our mobile phones are a great distraction and help us to connect with others and track our activities and progress but they can also distance us from what’s truly important in life. I have been guilty of this especially over the past couple of weeks. Be it calorie counting, tracking exercise or losing yourself in social media our phones can be both a help and a hindrance. What’s important is that you do what you set out to achieve, not keeping track of it all on a small box. I’m not going to beat myself up for spending more time on my phone than usual, let’s face it there is only so much to keep us occupied right now. I am however making sure I give myself a break from my phone by switching it off for a couple of hours a day to focus on daily tasks and some time for myself.

In the past week I have enjoyed getting outside and trying to take in the fresh air where possible as well making myself physically tired with jobs that I would normally put off or not have the opportunity to do. There is something about a hard day’s work that feels very different to being tired from doing very little.

Social media can be great for lifting spirits, especially when everyone is feeling a little isolated or vulnerable. There are plenty of people out there using this enforced down time to get creative and produce videos and memes to keep us entertained. Try not to get too caught up in what others are doing though as we’re all struggling with similar issues right now and boredom can lead to overthinking and negative thoughts.

Don’t get too upset if you have days where you’re motivation is low or you’re not eating as well as you’d like. We are all going to feel like that from time to time. What’s important is that we remain grateful for who and what we’ve got and make the most of the times where we do feel able to do something of worth.

I have really struggled for the inspiration to write over the past week. There are times where I could write for hours and others where nothing comes to me. So be it. It’s not the end of the world if people don’t hear from me for a while and the world will keep turning if we have a day watching Netflix or reading a book.

I have a busy day planned for tomorrow and feel appreciative of that. Come the end of the day I’ll be tired and will have something to show for my work. When this is all over I will make a conscious effort to remind myself of the people and activities I am truly grateful for so as to keep myself from getting drawn into a cycle of monotony and ill feeling.

Having tried to be as productive as possible this morning I am now looking forward to keeping myself entertained with Netflix this afternoon. If anyone has any suggestions of activities to get us through this then please feel free to drop them in the comments.

Stay safe everyone and more importantly stay positive. Nothing is forever!

#7 Bucket list

I am extremely grateful and can count myself very lucky to have already seen a lot of the world and done lots of the things I wanted to do on my bucket list. This post is dedicated to anyone needing some positive thinking right now.

I’ve explained in previous posts my love of sport and travel and I have had the opportunity to mix the two. I’ve watched England play sport all over the world and can look back on some incredible memories with some fantastic people.

Below is a list of some of the things I still want to do and places I’d love to see:

The aurora borealis. I have always wanted to see this great wonder of the world. Experience one of natures incredible displays of beauty and magic. I can think of very little that would be more spectacular to take in and see up close and personal.

simpsons meme

Visit Scandinavia. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of Europe and plenty of the world. One part of this tiny planet I am determined to see though is Scandinavia. I purposely haven’t said Denmark or Sweden etc because I want to see as much of the region as possible. I’m fascinated by the culture and history. There is also a lot of incredible seasonal food there and some of the worlds top chefs are making the most of the produce where they live.

Learn another language. I’d love to be able to do more than order a beer and some food when I’m abroad. When I visit any new country I try to make the effort to learn the basics. I am embarrassed at how bad the UK is in terms of languages. I have some Italian friends and hope that one day I can converse with them properly in their mother tongue. I have just got off the phone with a good friend who has challenged me to learn a new sentence every day while we are on lock down. Here’s hoping I can get to the end of this unhappy time with a positive under my belt!

Watch The Open. Over the past few years I have become a bit of a golf perv. The sport has captured my imagination and is now a big part of my life. I always admired the professionals but having played the game for a while now I can appreciate it in a whole different way. Golf is hard. No two ways about it. Ask anyone who plays it no matter their skill level and they will tell you the same thing. I’d love to visit one of the old courses in Scotland in particular and take in one of golf’s biggest competitions, The Open.

Play golf in Scotland. On a very similar note to the last entry I would love to play golf in Scotland. The birth place of the sport and the purest way to play it. A windy links course on the beautiful Scottish coastline is something I’d love to experience.

Read more books. As a young man I used to read a lot, mainly fiction, but as I got older I found my attention was held better by autobiographies. I get a real kick out of people’s inspirational stories, the funny and happy times they’ve had as well their battles through adversity. We can learn a lot from others experiences and use those lessons in our day to day lives.

There’s a lot more I could add to this post but I will save it for another post on another day. Feel free to drop your ideas and dreams in the comments. Stay safe everyone, soon we will all be able to start dream hunting again!

 

 

#6 Anxiety

Firstly apologies for the lack of posts lately. I really haven’t been in the right head space to write anything of value but it’s time to quit the one man pity party and get back to work.

I have always been a pretty laid back character. Infuriatingly so for people close to me at times. I have been described as being ‘horizontal’ for my relatively care free attitude in the past. Up until 18 months ago I didn’t really understand the concept of anxiety, everyone gets anxious from time to time or at least that’s what I told myself.

In more recent times I have had to learn to deal with my anxieties. A couple of days ago I was having a lot of negative thoughts and no matter how hard I tried to shake them I was unable to do much to improve my mood or get rid of that terrible knot in my stomach. I had to talk myself down from a panic attack at least 5 times and there are times in the past where this would not have been possible. I am glad that I have developed some coping mechanisms and I will share them here in the hope that they might come in useful for anyone reading. Especially in a time of such uncertainty.

Firstly remember you are not your thoughts. Try and take a step back from what you are thinking and apply the same advice you might give to a friend or loved one should they be telling you they were struggling with similar things. Be patient with yourself, allow time for worry but try and draw a line under it.

Breathe. Do nothing else for as long as feels okay for you but please breathe. Concentrate on deep breaths in and long exhales. It helps to slow the heart rate and clear your mind. Don’t judge yourself on how successful or not your concentration is while doing this. At times it will be easy and others your mind will wonder. No matter, just by concentrating on your breathing for a short time you will help give yourself a base to work from.

Challenge these thoughts. Ask yourself if there is any serious evidence that the negative thoughts you are having have any real truth to them. Often we make small and minor issues much bigger in our head than they truly are.

Make a list of things you know to be true about yourself, things you know you are good at, things that you have achieved and things that you appreciate about yourself. I have recently started to give my negative monologue a nick name. When challenging these thoughts internally I refer to them in the third person. It might sound strange but this helps.

Tell yourself positive affirmations out loud. Do so in the present tense where you can and make them as accurate as possible: ‘I am doing ‘x’ well’.

This next bit will be hard for a lot of people. Talk to someone, make it someone you trust and who you know will be sympathetic. Hearing someone else’s perspective and taking their message on board can help you to realise where your negative thoughts are taking you and how illogical they can be.

Tell yourself that it is okay to feel this way. It doesn’t make you any less of a person and at some point in life everyone will go through a period like this. Our anxieties do not define us. We are so much more than our thoughts and we are all capable of living full and great lives.

Sending a truck load of love to anyone who needs it. Stay safe and look after yourselves. If anyone reading this needs to reach out please do.

#5 Masculinity

There are some very clear and defined social boundaries that have been set for and by men in society about what it means to be a man. Men are often told what behaviours they should display and which they should avoid from a very early age.

Some of this is helpful but much of it isn’t. ‘Men don’t cry’ is something that has always troubled me. This predefined blocking of emotion has led to some truly awful behaviour and while I am not trying to excuse this, I do think we have a bigger responsibility to society in terms of how we raise our kids.

I have never liked being labelled. My pastimes and interests are complex and I am just as happy reading as I am watching boxing or being out with my friends. I have cried at ‘Marley and Me’ and screamed at the top of my lungs watching sporting events (apologies to those who are still recovering from damaged ear drums). Being a man will mean something different to everyone but we should all appreciate our differences rather than fearing them.

The suicide rates among men in the UK are truly astronomical. This can’t be a coincidence. Men are not more predisposed to taking their own lives at birth than women, so why is it they do so at such an alarming rate? Why aren’t we challenging what it means to be a man in terms of socialisation?

Domestic violence rates, sexism, sexual assault and rape figures all point to there being something deeply wrong with the way society expects men to behave. If that is to change then we must do more to recognise that there is a massive body of evidence to suggest we are not doing enough to point men in the right direction.

In social media we see memes, videos etc that attempt to emasculate men for behaving in a certain way and reward men for more toxic behaviour. I am not saying we shouldn’t enjoy some lighthearted, tongue in cheek humour but think about the messages you send, the damage you may cause and hurt you inflict before you act.

Our male role models can’t just be those that are strong and athletic, although those who are have a responsibility to behave in a way that is empowering to everybody. Tyson Fury for instance has bravely spoken about his troubles with mental health and donated huge amounts of money to charities that support people with those issues. We must recognise that it is okay for men to be artistic, creative, okay not to be overly competitive, okay to have a different sexual orientation and stop using language that prohibits them from feeling this is the case.

We all have a responsibility to each other. Every single one of us can be more mindful of the pressures we put on ourselves and each other. I am a firm believer that if we stop putting people in boxes then we will start to address some of the larger societal issues we face such as sexism and racism.

In a previous post I spoke about how men need to more willing to take on responsibility. Men should cook, clean, play an active role in children’s lives and do all the things that were traditionally left to our grandmothers. The world is a very different place to the one our grandparents lived in. Treat your partners with the respect you would give your mother or sister. Treat them how you would expect others to.

Speaking of mums it is Mother’s Day here in the UK as I write this and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who take on that role in one way and another. Without the love and care you give on a daily basis the world would be a much darker place. I hope you have all spent the day, as best you can, surrounded by the love and care you deserve on all days but especially this one.