So Christmas and New Year went in a flash, as they always do. Just like clockwork, I spent most of the time in a high state of Anxiety and with pretty low mood. Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic Christmas. I got to spend time with friends, family, catch up with people I haven’t seen in ages and chill out a bit. But with the time of year comes a lot of social gatherings, and we know how well I do with those. Day after day you have to spend your days surrounded by people, not really knowing what to say or who to talk to, or what to do with yourself. Which usually results in me having a couple of drinks to cope with the social anxiety I experience. And then a couple more. And so on until I’m losing control of myself, my dignity, volume, inhibitions, language and interpersonal social etiquette. Usually by the time I realise I’m getting a bit much it’s way too late, and I’m snowballed to a point I can’t control. Now I’m not usually that much of a dick anymore (I tried to leave that kind of behaviour behind me years ago, when I gave up a number of poisonous little habits – that’s a story for another day…), and it’s rare these days that I resort to the rude, obnoxious, insulting and horrific behaviour I used to have years ago. But even without that there’s still the guilt, anxiety, fear and toxic thoughts that come after an evening drinking. It’s a bit like a merry go round: you have a social situation coming up, you feel anxious, you drink to calm yourself, relax and enjoy the situation but continue drinking, you let your guard down and your behaviour becomes more spontaneous and sometimes a little intense, boundaries get crossed and you wake up the next day hating yourself for the slightest thing you did or said that you can’t really remember in full cause you’re hanging like fuck, you vow never to do it again, and the next social situation you go round again. It’s a fucker like that. Especially in a family like mine. Let’s just say we like a drink. Or 10. And we like a gettogether. Which usually means drinking. So at Christmas everything goes turbo, drinking, socialising, anxiety, self hatred. And cause the holidays start the week before Christmas Day and by the time that comes around I’ve usually been on the piss for a week straight already the big day is usually started with a tumble down the helter skelter of despair and the rest of the day trying to climb out of it, usually drinking to get on a level I can handle.
Now this post is not a self intervention “my name’s Nick and I’m and alcoholic” tearfest that it seems at the moment. I have a healthy (ish) relationship with booze. I know it doesn’t do me much good in my head so I try to limit my drinking to 2 days a week, usually a Friday and Saturday. And with Hockey on a Saturday I try to keep a lid on it Friday night, joining the family at our local for a few and then not many more at home. Saturdays I let go a bit and if I want to have a few more I do, and one heavy night a week I can just about handle, although hangovers are bad news for me at the best of times. Sunday is certainly not “Funday” in my word if I’ve had a few on Saturday.
So we’ve entered the New Year on the back of a heavy festive period. New Years Eve was the icing on the cake it seems, and I woke up the morning after in a world of pain. Hungover, ill, anxiety, regret, fear, all the good feels. Everyone is familiar with the post night out hangover fear and guilt that can cripple you and make you swear off drinking again. And when I was still feeling it in the evening, I presumed this was just another day in hangover paradise. I went to bed at 8pm, prepared to rejoin the outside world the next day. But that didn’t exactly happen…
I woke up to the mother of all headcolds. Turns out I’d finally caught “the bug” that’s been going around. It’s not surprising, spending 2 weeks boozing, eating indulgent food and working in a gym environment are all a fantastic set up to write you off for a few days. So I struggled into work, armed with a shit load of Lemsip, ready to attack 2018 with a vengeance. But something didn’t feel right. I had a hollow feeling that was more than just being ill. I felt disconnected more than I usually do after a hangover weekend. Couldn’t get back into work. Felt out of place more than usual. Whatever I did to try and kickstart it didn’t feel like it was working. I couldn’t hold a conversation with my clients. I struggled to get excited about work, hockey, training, anything really. January Blues gets everyone but this was weird. I felt like I was losing my grip on what fleeting resemblance of reality I have. Then the spiral started getting crazy. I’d find myself sat in my treatment room at work unable to move, think, speak for hours on end because I’m terrified that the world is gonna explode on top of me in a shitstorm. I’d be driving to work or hockey or football and suddenly realise I’ve had tears running down my face for the past 10 minutes, and haven’t realised cause I’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole. I’d be sat around my family and friends unable to speak, fighting the inward battle with my thoughts of not being good enough, being a burden on everyone and actually draining the positive energy out of a situation that I’m in. I know that’s not true but that little fucker inside my head likes to poison me with it from time to time.
Now this little unhealthy combination of behaviours was doing me no favours, and by now I’m getting pretty good at dragging myself back to reality when this happens. I can’t stop it from happening, but by using mindfulness, yoga, coherent breathing and putting my thoughts on trial (#CBT lifehacks), I can deal with it mostly. So I had to look at what was causing this, and deal with it before it became really damaging and I find myself drinking too much again.
Lets look at what’s happened recently that could be causing this. First thing, Christmas is a fucking hectic time and you’re being pulled in a million different directions. Anyone who knows me well knows how intense my nearest and dearest can be. They’re awesome and I love them, but fuck me I need a breather once in a while. So the festive period is gonna have had a little impact on you. So take a step back, and just concentrate on you for a bit. Then we look at work. Targets go up in January and steadily for every month after that. And I’m looking at my diary for the next few weeks and except for the odd regular in there I’m seeing tumbleweeds dancing across my treatment room. So I start panicking and have an anxiety attack. The most serious one for weeks. But in the midst of me curled up in a ball on my chair shaking like a shitting dog I realise – this is whats fucking with you at the moment Nick. No one put’s more pressure on you than you, and work is fucking filled with self pressure. So what do I do to get people in? I can’t pluck them out of thin air so what. I’ve never been a skilled seller or marketer so this shit don’t exactly come naturally to me. But I do what you need to do in a crisis. Write Shit Down. So I get my whiteboard (ooh look at me, I’ve got a Whiteboard, I must be really special) and start writing any new business idea that comes into my head. Flow charts, mind,maps, even an action plan comes out for the next 6 months. I put everything I’ve got in a list and send it to my bosses, cause as we know it isn’t weak to ask for help. The next day they come back with feedback, and on the whole they were well happy with everything. A few days later my diary is starting to fill up, clients are happy and money’s going in the till. And wouldn’t you know it, I’m starting to chill out a bit. Starting to feel like life is in my hands a bit and not just out of reach. Still struggling some days but on the whole I’m feeling ok. And ok in a genuinely good way, not a “I’m fine, leave me alone” kinda way.
The whole experience reminded me of something a close friend told me not so long ago. “Just This”. Sounds simple but whenever I start something or look at my life the snowball effect starts and I can’t control my racing thoughts. Using a “just this” attitude (just this day, just this client, just this game, just this meal, just this conversation etc) lets me be more in the moment and at peace with things, and I can actually enjoy what I’m doing. It’s not always that easy, it takes practice and I don’t always believe it but it does work when you give it a chance.
So after working through a couple of weeks where the world was collapsing around me, I now have some clarity on things. Not a fan of new year resolutions (I mean they’re great if they work for you but I prefer to look a bit bigger picture) but just reassessing my goals and priorities for the next few weeks and months. So we’re gonna look at doing the following:
Weekly yoga and coherent breathing practice – I’m gonna try daily but I’m not gonna put that pressure on. If we try for 3 times a week it’s more realistic for me.
Drinking in balance – Allow myself to enjoy a few beers on a Friday and Saturday but limit the times I drink and have a weekly allowance to stick to. Reduce not remove.
Sleep – I’ve been getting into the habit of binging Netflix before bed and that does me no favours! Time to get back to pre bed rituals of braindumping (or journaling) for 30 minutes and then reading for 30 minutes.
Diet – Starting to understand the links between my IBS and stress levels. So instead of half heartedly staying away from Dairy and reducing Gluten and still having issues, lets take things a little more seriously. Gonna give probiotics a go as well.
“Just This” Focus – There’s gonna be a lot going on this year with work, friends, family, hockey, football and training. And there’s a couple of exciting projects I’ve got in the pipeline that could go turbo this year. I know that looking at them like spinning plates doesn’t work and fucks me up at times. So I’m gonna take a “Just This” attitude to everything. Plan out my weeks and months so I know what is coming and just deal with what is in front of me.
And focus on being the best version of myself I can be, not only for me but the people in my corner. We all got a headfuck of a messy one in 2017, and we don’t want to go back to that, the fallout was too much last time. I know it’s not going to be perfect, but I’m not looking for it to be.
Progress not perfection, acknowledgment of success and acceptance of failure.
Here’s to 2018.