So I have made it through another year. I am not sure if I should feel happy about that or not? Is existing an achievement? My therapist tells me that I expect too much from life. Not everyone can be exceptional and do great things - otherwise exceptional would just become ordinary. She says the same is true for life - wanting to feel my most energetic, happiest and most confident all the time is simply not realistic. Which leaves being ordinary. Feeling ordinary. I am just one of 7.5bn people trying to make sense of a largely ordinary life.....
Perhaps more worrying is that even if something extraordinary happens I am not sure it feels that extraordinary. Being in a relationship for 16 months, in the context of my life, is extraordinary. I have never managed more than 10 months before. Even more unusual is that I actually like being with my girlfriend. I managed to go for a whole week away on holiday with her and the relationship survived it. We got on well. First time that's happened in my life!
Last year getting overemotional about golf with a massive issue - it was like all the negative feeling about myself and my life came out in my golf game in bursts of extreme anger, and it was getting worse not better. I ended up working with a sports psychologist (yes, it had got that serious) with a simple aim - to enjoy golf more however I played (if not for myself, then for the sake of those that had to put up with my golfing moods). I think big progress was made - I enjoyed golf more, and in the course of that probably played better. Managed to score under 80 for the first time in 27 years - that was huge - not from a skill perspective, but holding it together mentally.
So I could reflect on the year and say it has been extraordinary. But to give myself credit for that seems as hard as ever. And yes, the fact that I have managed these things has been due to a lot of personal growth work - relationship courses, personal development courses, therapy twice a week for many years. So it isn't like I can say it is just luck - mostly it has been graft, and hard graft at that. So I should be sitting here reflecting on a year where I have set new personal bests, and years of work have paid off. So why the hell don't I feel good???
In my own journey I have experienced depression, and learnt a lot about it. I find it is very hard for people that have never experienced mental health issues to even understand it. My girlfriend got pissed off recently that I simply did not look at a holiday we had been on more positively - "why can't you see the good in this outweighed the bad". I explained that my view of the world is like having dark sunglasses on all the time, so that it never feels that bright. To my therapist I likened it to a record that is always playing - as the line goes in the song Windmills of Your Mind, "never ending or beginning like an ever spinning reel". I said the record of depression never goes away - it is always there in the background, but sometimes other things drown out the sound of the record because they are louder.
I think I am getting more conscious of things that drown out the record, and see it in other people more and more. Even a crisis can be better than reflecting on where we are in our lives and what it feels like (to that end, many people, often unconsciously, are good at making sure there is always a crisis or big distraction to focus their mind). I don't like space, and I am not sure growing older has made me be able to cope with it any better. I can make a plan in advance and carry it out no problem. Waking up on a day with no plan feels overwhelming as I have to answer the question "what do I feel like today". Most days I can't work out what I feel like doing - even in a life circumstance that has a wide range of options open to me.
Being in relationship has probably been good for me. People say to me I look happier - even a couple of people at work have said that. In some ways relationship does form a nice distraction from thinking about myself. However, in others it has made it harder as the constant struggle to find a partner has gone. So when things are settled in relationship, it's like - what now? I remember feeling this when I achieved a big goal in my life in relation to sport about a decade ago. The problem with goals is that once you achieve them you need to think of another goal to fill that void. It has been very palpable to me this year that now I am not looking for a girlfriend and still don't feel full of the joys of life, what the hell will make me happy??? I am out of ideas!
As my life goes on I feel that goals to fill the void get harder. What's the point, as the feel good feeling from achieving a goal doesn't last that long, and then I have to think of something else to achieve in the knowledge that when I get there it may not feel worth the effort. I guess that is why they say you have to enjoy the journey, which of course applies equally if you set goals, or just drift along seeing what life brings. For people like me, enjoying the journey is not easy, perhaps because my natural inclination is to beat myself up over what I haven't done as opposed to congratulate myself for what has gone well.
The Buddhist doctrine certainly advocates cultivating gratitude. However, simply reflecting each day on what I am grateful for doesn't really make me feel grateful and happy about it - it is like I am just not wired to be positive about stuff. I really wish I was, and maybe it is something I need to work on, as some people do say you can re-wire neural pathways.
And maybe it is just about acceptance. In a lot of the personal growth work I have done the concept of acceptance has come up. To me acceptance is about being OK with who I am - which is not easy when I hate myself a lot of the time. Actually, if I am focussed in my life, challenged and stable in relationship, I probably don't have time to hate myself as much as I used to. Give me too much time on my own and it is a different story.
I have given up hope that I will ever not suffer from depression, and it never seems that long before I entertain another thought over how nice it would be to not be alive, or thinking I just can't see myself living another X years on this planet - like if it is bad now, it certainly won't be any easier as I get older and my health declines. If my mood disorder can't be cured, it becomes about managing it. Trying to be OK with the crashes of mood which still happen. Trying to have some perspective that even when I am there at the bottom, things will shift again. Try to make the lows less low and less frequent - which they probably are now - and realise that for me, that is huge progress.
So life carries on. I am not sure what my goals are this year. Maybe "intentions" is a more gentle word. Mental health disorders have no discrimination - they can happen to the most successful people in the world who have everything, just as easily as the people who are suffering from severe health issues or who live in a place where life is very tough. I think my aspiration for 2018 is one many people suffering from mood disorders would share - to be able to enjoy life just a little bit more.