I remember my dad once telling me, ‘One day you’ll realise that none of this stuff matters.’
I can’t remember what age I was at the time but I am confident that he was right. I know this because I have no recollection of what we were talking about. Doubtless, I was making a big deal about something that clearly turned out to be insignificant. The subject matter didn’t stick with me but his words did.
These days I wish I could have all the worry time back (maybe even donate the hours to an anxiety support charity or something). Fear, worry, concern: these are all a big part of what makes us human. There’s more empathy and understanding for plagued minds than ever before, though, and the days when people say ‘just sort yourself out’ feel somewhat numbered now.
But it’s not just societal progress that is makes things easier, it’s our own development over the years. Experience teaches us about what really matters to ourselves as individuals. And that’s the point: when we only focus on what society expects of us, we’re fucked.
Society tells us to conform – it asks us to be normal. But, honestly, there’s no such thing. Sure, we can do our best to melt into the crowd and appear ordinary, but I think that’s eventually what breeds our own anxieties. It’s the not feeling ordinary enough that stops us from allowing ourselves to feel special.
Experience has given me a massive dose of perspective. At first, when grief had its hold over me, I felt more insecure than I ever had. But, gradually, as I began to come out the other side, I started to realise that some of the things that I always hated about myself were the things that other people liked. I started to try to find the positive side of the things that society labelled as ‘bad’.
For instance, I acknowledged that worrying has made me a good problem solver. I used to loathe the pressure of my job as a creative director in PR because I felt like I could never switch off until I had ‘the big idea’. Frustrated with this, I asked myself why I’d stuck with it for so long. Then I realised that it’s because my mind is ‘always-on’ (to use a really annoying marketing term) that I can do what I do. The worry that I won’t get there sparks my mind into finding the answer.
An underlying fear of the world around me and inherent lack of confidence has, ironically, driven me to take risks, too. If you’re almost constantly scared, then you may as well give things a go – the feeling is already there after all, so there’s nothing to lose.
Natural shyness has taught me to really appreciate moments of confidence. The idea of standing up in front of an audience used to cripple me. But having done it quite a few times now, I realise that this fear was misplaced. Sure, if you asked me to do something I’m rubbish at in front of a room full of people, I’d want the ground to open up and swallow me up. But if I know what I’m talking about then it’s a different matter. If I’m confident in what I’m saying, then the shyness takes care of itself.
Sad times have made me determined to make room for happiness. When I was younger I was a happiness hedonist, always looking for the next thrill. Now I realise that this constant search for kicks is what makes so many people feel so unfulfilled. There’s a natural order in opposites, which is why we sometimes need to feel sorrow in order to appreciate joy. The distance between the two is a gauge, not a disorder.
The experience of overcoming depression made me reckless, but I learned a lot about who I am when I threw caution to the wind. After crashing lows, I would often feel euphoric highs, which would make me impulsive. I would make big decisions on a whim, which would go on to affect my future. But each time this happened I learned to appreciate that they were decisions I had made wholeheartedly at that time and that they would eventually create a legacy of a life well lived.
And that’s what this blog is all about: just a man learning the art of living well one step at a time. Experiencing a life that I actually don’t want to be normal and sharing some stories along the way. A life with more issues than Vogue. And, with the way the words are flowing so far, probably several more editorial features, too.