Thursday, January 22, 2009

A heapin' helpin' of self help

Wow. Today is the first day I have felt something approximating "normal" for a few weeks (possibly even months?) now. A few days of happy companionship, a good night's sleep after weeks of insomnia - yes, I finally admitted out loud to an audience that my name is Kelly and I am an insomniac - and the sun is finally breaking through the grey clouds. I don't know whether to celebrate this fact (and risk scaring it away - my moods are flighty like that) or try and trick my brain into thinking this is my normal state by acknowledging it, but not making a big deal of it.

It's such a relief to feel this way again.

I read a description of the difference between pessimists and optimists yesterday that made me stop and think:

"All of us interpret the world around us, and we tend toward seeing the world, and our life, in largely positive or negative terms. Three critical factors determine whether we take an optimistic or pessimistic view of the world: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalisation.

On permanence: Pessimists see the good things in life as being transitory, and believe that the bad things are here to stay. Optimists are the exact opposite. They see the bad things as being temporary and the good things as having more permanence."

I have always considered myself a committed pessimist, thanks in part to my Dad - the cynic's cynic - who I worshipped throughout my developmental years, like all daughters worship their fathers. However, I have come to realise that this state of mind makes me unhappy, no matter how cool I thought it was to appear world-weary and a bit sneery in high school.

The above statement really made me stop and question the way I look at my life - throughout which, I have to admit, I have always seen the happy periods as a transient respite from what I believe to be the more permanent, entrenched, core feelings of dissatisfaction and sadness. I am coming to an understanding that it is this belief that is part of the problem, possibly more so than the feelings themselves.

That simple sentence made me question my way of thinking and consider the possibility that those dark periods are the transient state in an otherwise normal, happy life. If I dig down a little deeper, I think it is because I experience those feelings so differently - happiness feels like a fleeting bubbly feeling in my chest and throat - like the fizz in champagne - whereas the sadness sits in my stomach and radiates to my extremities in miserable waves. Somehow, sadness feels more real to me. How strange.

Which brings me to:

"Personalisation: Pessimists, when things go wrong, tend to see them as a result of their own personal failings or shortcomings, but when things go well, they tend to dismiss the good fortune as “just getting lucky." However, when things go wrong for optimists, they are more likely to believe it was “just bad luck.” When things go well for optimists, they see it as a result of hard work."

This is so true of me, it's not funny. I can be optimistic about other people - I believe with every instinct in my body that people are fundamentally good - but I am terribly negative about myself, my life and my potential. For some unfathomable reason, I don't feel I deserve to be happy.

I don't know how difficult - or plausible - it is to change from a pessimist to an optimistic outlook. I seem to swing between them depending on my mood, my proximity to dark chocolate, and how much sleep I'm getting - but I am at least trying to notice when I have an automatic "negative" thought about something. Noticing is the first step. Challenging is the next. Beyond that, it's down to diligence and willpower to keep noticing and keep challenging, all the while working on propping up my fragile self-esteem.

It's hard work, this self-help business. It feels like so much of what goes on in my head is beyond my control - but it's my flippin' brain, after all! I own you, brain! Do my bidding! I can't shake the feeling that I should somehow be able to out-think my moods, outwit them - but could it be that a simple shift in perspective, if practised diligently, could be a smarter way to go about it?

Like I said, 2009 is going to be the year of self-development. Expect to be buried under an avalanche of introspective posts as I try to untangle the unholy mess that is Me.

* * * *

Things that are helping right now: Listening to the supremely gorgeous Fleet Foxes. Sharing in a friend's excitement. Watching Obama's victory speech. Reading Unweaving the Rainbow (reclaim that sense of wonder, Science!). Taking the first steps toward some volunteering opportunities. A sweet little film about two teenage odd-bods falling in love. The little school kid whose wide-eyed, open-mouthed face kept bobbing up comedically behind the stage floor last night.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

And now for the good news...

"Having a Big ol' Womanly Ass May Be Good for Your Health, Study Finds"*
(*possibly not the actual wording of the article title)

Rejoice, fellow fat-bottomed girls!

I was bemoaning that little bit of extra Christmas podge in the mirror only last night, but this morning I came across this cheering article which throws hip and buttock fat into a new, far more flattering light. It also served as a blindingly brilliant reminder of why Freddie Mercury totally rocked.

I have been waiting patiently for the chance to have a good old rant about how the media has become increasingly obsessed with youth n' beauty - to a disturbing extreme - in my lifetime. Watching programmes and films from the seventies, the first thing you notice is how frickin' normal everybody looks. Seen through the spectacles of noughties perfectionism, everybody looks strangely frumpy and poorly dressed, with bad skin - until you remember that actually, that's how most people look in the real world. Off-screen life ain't pretty, at least not without a major effort (for the vast majority of us). Before digital manipulation and botox became the norm - in Hollywood at least - adults actually looked like adults; not like the most beautiful kids at your high school.

When did we reach that point where media saturation reached critical mass and became the standard by which we judge reality? Was it the rampant one-upmanship of the eighties? The self-obsessed nineties? Or could it be the current digital era of Myspace profiles, celebrity stalking, and Photoshop?

I feel like we all need a media-detox to get a grip back on reality. Imagine a nation-wide week where there was no TV, no magazines, no posters, no ads, no internet, no images anywhere - just other people, in all their messy, crumpled, ageing, lumpy, wonderful, diverse glory.

I have been watching old episodes of Two Fat Ladies recently, an old-school English cooking programme which feels like it is from a time before women on television had to be eternally youthful goddesses - but which actually aired in the late nineties.

There is hope after all!

Here were two women who were overweight, middle-to-late aged - Jennifer was in her sixties when the show was filmed - and from incredibly posh backgrounds. They were also eccentric, comical, rebellious, defiantly un-PC and a joy to watch. Each episode featured the two of them zooming around Great Britain in their motorbike and side-car, pitching up at various picturesque locations and cooking lovely old-fashioned meals for the benefit of various groups including a Boy Scout troop in Northumberland; a Welsh Men's Choir in Llandudno; and a lacrosse team in Cornwall.

A toast to those two glorious ladies who didn't give a fig what anyone thought of them, and to all those who would rather read a good book than go on a diet; and a big fat butt slap to vacuous celebrity worship. I'm off to tuck into some seriously rich Borough Market brownie. All in the name of butt-reinforcement.

* * * *

Please note, I hope this little rant doesn't preclude me from appreciating the beauty of certain blokes on occassion - it's just that I feel judging people by their outward appearance shouldn't become our default position, and should instead have a clearly defined place within a much more diverse context. There's swooning at the latest Hollywood star; and then there's firing a 37 year old TV presenter for being too old.
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