It’s been about 4 years since I last posted on this blog. The reasons for its long neglect weren’t really anything to do with laziness or arriving at the bottom of the idea barrel. My life changed quite significantly in 2020 and with that monumental shift, came the realisation that I didn’t really know anything, and what I thought I did know, I really didn’t have a clue.

With that, came the obvious consequence of stopping writing until I had some sort of foothold again.

Back in 2020, I was seemingly nicely established in my interest in philosophy and mindset. I was a keen reader of the philosophy of Stoicism, I would binge on “how to be better at X” books and podcasts, and there was some degree of pride in my knowledge about how the mind worked and how people worked.

If you loop back to older posts on this blog at the very beginning of 2020, you’ll see topics such as discipline, self-control, fulfilling potential and the sort. These were my domains of interest and if you had asked me truthfully, what I thought were my domains of strength. My focus was making this “self” or “me” better and better and better.

In around February/March of 2020, just before the pandemic had even hit, I had the opportunity to go on a date with a girl I am now lucky enough to call my fiancĂ©. I’d know her since high school and we’d always had a special connection. So on the surface, all good, right?

It was around this point that I also started getting anxiety and panic attacks for the first time in my life. I’d always dismissed them as something “just in the heads” of those who got them, something they should be able to shake off if they actually had some perspective or some other condescending reasoning along those lines.

Yet here I was, just as “weak” as they were and unable to do anything about it. I can only describe these anxiety attacks as being caught in the middle of an intense storm, physically wanting to either crawl up into a ball on the floor or be physically sick. And a mental storm where the sound of thoughts are turned up from a 5 volume to a 9 volume and images with negative connotations and scenarios don’t stop flickering in front of you.

I managed to get through the first date but as soon as I left, more thoughts would come “what if this happens again?”, “what if these attacks screw everything up?”, “what if they happen in this situation or this situation?” and ultimately “What is wrong with me?”. The complete unfamiliarity and the uncontrollability of the attacks complete threw me, after all, I was supposed to be this strong mindset, philosophy guy. The “what if” thoughts that accompanied scenarios in the future created a horrible spiral.

A second date came and went and I managed to hold myself together, but the physical and mental anxiety didn’t go away. It actually started to spread to other areas of my life. The internal thoughts that were more or less on a loop at a volume of 5 or so previously in my life suddenly began to be a 9 more or less all of the time. Going for a walk. Playing family games in the garden. I seemingly couldn’t focus on or enjoy anything anymore. I was being bombarded with loud thoughts about complete and utter nonsense or fear-based scenarios that were scrambling for my attention that I needed to “plan for” or “work through”, and were always more important than what I was doing. It was incessant, it was loud and fighting it was futile and making it worse.

It got to a stage a few weeks into lockdown when I just couldn’t take it anymore. I broke down in tears in my own home, on a lovely sunny day surrounded by the most loving family in the world. Everything was fine on the outside, but I was a complete mess on the inside. There wasn’t even any external stimulus prompting the inner turmoil anymore, it was just completely self-perpetuating almost 24/7. The worst part being I didn’t have a clue how to fix it, or where it had even come from. I had never experienced anything like this before and when you are entangled in such a dark place, you think you are the only person in the world to have ever experienced what you are going through, which makes speaking about it even more difficult.

I couldn’t shut off my incessant, fearful thoughts, I couldn’t enjoy the things that I used to enjoy, I would feel physically sick with dread for most of the day, without anything specific to stimulate it. I tried reading the old philosophy books I used to take value from but the words just felt hollow and meaningless. Without doubt, it was the lowest point in my life. I just didn’t know how to move forward or live “normally” again – I assumed this was me forever now.

I look back at these few weeks and months as the turning point in my life.

A few things had been made absolutely clear to me:

  • Philosophy and mindset is useful to a certain point, but is no help when it comes to physical expressions of anxiety, fear and any other very strong emotion. Trying to rationalise them away or into something better actually makes them worse. I realised that what I had read about for years was actually a lot more limited than I thought. It was a decent foundation, but I had no idea how to deal with physical expressions of strong emotions. That was something that was never discussed.
  • It was the first time in my life where I was so clearly not my thoughts and so clearly not in control of my thoughts. I had heard and read about this being the case but gave the common “yeah yeah got it” response before immediately going back to a line of thinking centred around “me” and its accompanying story, plans and so on. In other words, no, I didn’t really understand that. I was experiencing my mind actively and openly sabotaging everything I was doing, contrary to everything I wanted. It was quite a frightening experience, almost having an openly “worst enemy” in my head saying this is going to happen, and what if this happens, and you are so screwed if this happens.

If my mind was on my side sometimes but against me at other times, then what is the mind exactly? It can’t be me or actually have much to do with me if it flip-flops between helping and hindering all of the time. And if it’s not me, if it’s sometimes a friend but more often a foe, then what is it? Who is it talking to or about? And ultimately, who am I then?

Many people across the world find themselves forced to look deeper and to ask the bigger questions through the catalyst of suffering. They have no choice but to look deeper or to question everything they have seemingly believed or understood to be true in order to understand their suffering and to be relieved of it.

I was no different. And I still see psychological suffering as a wake up call from reality that I am holding false beliefs, narratives, or concepts that are causing the suffering in daily living. Without these, there is no psychological suffering. I just needed to find out what they were…

Read Part 2

Read Part 3