A Journey Of Disconnection

In Your Brain Illustration for Ade Blog

This article reflects on growing up in a mildly pervasive Christian culture, with an indication of how even moderate influences dictate how we think. It tries to then explain an account of moving away from this engrained dogma.

I guess there are many people who have some concept of a Supreme Being, overseer, creator or ‘other-worldly’ force that shapes our lives, whether people are affiliated to one of the many organised religions or simply see themselves as religious without going to a church or other house or place of worship. I somewhat unwittingly subscribed to a very loose set of religious beliefs. A set of beliefs that permeated into my subconscious as I grew, the local culture providing the social framework that I operated within, dictating my social limits and setting forth a mind set that shaped my world view. I just happen to have been born into a Christian culture.

This ‘religious’ world view will often be called upon in assessing a course of action in a social situation or a moral decision, whether that’s in the course of raising a child, interactions with friends, deciding on helping or leaving a person to suffer, to judge right from wrong, provide concepts of good and evil as well as an array of challenges that everyone has to navigate throughout their lives. That is not to say that religion provided all the answers to situations. Basic humanity and humanist qualities are always a major factor, but the religious filter in which all things were considered was a major one. The level at which we draw on a religion or religious belief to assist us along a path varies greatly of course, from the subtle, gentle rumblings of ‘there is something more’ to the more extremist view, each scale of doctrinal faith providing another filter in which to assess and make decisions.

As I mentioned, I considered myself to be around the ‘very loose’ or possibly ‘moderate’ end of the religious spectrum. I attended Sunday school and the usual Christian ceremonies including baptism and marriage and swore an oath to God and the Queen in the Boy Scouts and attended various parades. The church was the epicentre of the community, respectable people attended and circled around the church and its activities. The mild religious world view manifests itself as a set of responses to certain situations based on those childhood and early adulthood experiences. It is a deep, subconscious filter creating habitual thought processes. If there is a death in the family then you would console yourself with the thought that it is part of a larger plan by an all knowing being or that you will be reunited after your own death or be consoled that they are still by your side as a presence, helping you the rest of the way. There are other moments I would pray for a loved one if they were ill, to do well in an exam, to show appreciation for something good that has happened or to help draw me out of a long patch of depression. This religious reasoning served me well enough and most things in my life could be attributed to a greater force. When my closest friend died at 15 years old in a car accident I consoled myself with the thought that it was his time and I would meet him again one day.

There then came a time when understanding and reasoning without religion were sought to provide comfort, albeit unconsciously in the beginning. A moment, or series of moments, when religion was just not enough or did not provide any comfort. This is an incredibly powerful switch where reason is called upon to help me through a difficult time rather than the default religious comfort of my youth. I began to address difficulties through understanding, applying the mind using parameters that embrace reason, and it worked. The joy is incredibly intense as there was a shift in my outlook on life from one of a passenger to an active participant leading in the healing and shaping of my own mind. A click of resonance that can physically reverberate through your body and a technique that can be applied to all life’s experience. A seed of reasoning that demands facts and understanding to grow and is critical of everything in the search of truth that is often very elusive, from the spoon fed news to the intricate workings of our own mind, from the seemingly unfair nature of the monetary system in which we live to the slow depletion of the planet as we extract resources. The shift in my psychological outlook from one of religious passenger to fact focussed driver was at first a subtle shift but one that eventually grows and finally turns its attention to the religion embedded within me from those early days of my Christian culture.

The reason inspired de-construction of a closely held personal belief is hard and the dissection of one that includes religion can be incredibly painful, even for the mild-mannered moderate like myself. It takes courage to pick apart your own beliefs, even if it means you will be in pain during and after doing it, especially in the moments where your religious beliefs act as a crutch through difficult times. To think that the person close to you will not be going to heaven and you will not see them again. This newly discovered ultimate finality of death is difficult to swallow and forms just one of the ideals propped up by faith. The attention falling on my own beliefs was an inevitable consequence of a broader dissatisfaction with my understanding of my own mind and the world in which I live and a desire to see things more clearly. The start of the replacement of those religious comforts with something purer and simpler had started.

In the midst of the dissection of my beliefs I also realised that religion was not applied to every minute of every day so there were already large gaps where I would not consciously dip into its assistance, realising more and more that it is possible to live large parts of my daily life already without turning to religion. There were already large gaps in the day where I may operate away from the conscious thoughts of a God, only applying religious meanings in the quieter, lonelier moments to help console and sooth. There may be moments when I was spending time dealing with the bills, thinking my way through a bad day at work with a colleague, chatting to a therapist or laughing at a comedy show on BBC radio 4. It is only occasional moments that I would apply the religious significance to things, although quite often I would realise that I’ve solved and worked my way through some problems using reason and understanding alone. I realised again that I have a new set of skills and the dawning that I can use these same learnt skills in the future.

The religious ideals and understandings from my early years ultimately required believing in something that cannot be proven by facts and science and becoming comfortable with this in the face of a new reasoning outlook. The more you rely on empirical evidence, the more it becomes difficult to reconcile your religious differences. The workings of your own mind are difficult enough to comprehend and figure out; the emotions, anxieties, loves and passions without a mix of unnecessary cloudiness and a belief system that was becoming less useful in actually helping.

So ultimately, painful as it was, I slowly shed my religious beliefs and replaced them with a fresh new view of the world, one of intricate beauty, awe, amazement and of just one life that teeters on the edge of chance and impending death. The reason it was so painful was because this mythical, Godly companion had been there my whole life in times of need, but now leaving me truly alone, scared and isolated. But, this was gradually replaced by a feeling of urgency. An urgency that I am alone, life is fragile and every minute is a moment to be enjoyed and appreciated, every conversation with a friend to be relished and every person I hug to be done as my last. The view that I will not meet my loved ones again is a painful thought and to not turn to this for comfort in times of need is very hard, but think about it; the moment you are with them now could be the last, the moments you spend with friends on this earth are the only times you will see them before you’re the wrong side of the grass. If you hold onto that urgency then it places so much emphasis on the moment and dispenses with the illusion of immortality. Religion is often proposed as an antidote for the human condition of loneliness but I can no longer suspend reason to attain it. My disconnection from God was a hard but an incredibly valuable realisation for me and one I needed.

This inevitably leads onto the question of the space that is left when religion is removed and what we do to fill it. How can the wonders of life be reconciled with science and reason when they seem so woefully inadequate to encapsulate the whole human experience? What can reason say of love, awe, wonder, deep felt connections with people and family and of course, the unexplained. This is where we can develop our own view of the world and, importantly, being comfortable with just not knowing. There is no shame in the not knowing and it does not need a ‘God’ to explain things that there is currently no evidence for. As a starting point for life beyond science and reason, its worth accepting that some of the things science unveils is intensely inspiring and our recent history has been peppered with an incredible new understanding of the world never before experienced by humans. This contains a great amount of groundwork for rebuilding a personal ‘spirituality’ without religion. The next step is really up to us.


Religion affects and permeates every element of society. In this blog, I examine how I disconnected from religious beliefs and pose the question of what is left when it has gone. This blog first appeared on the No Side Effects Website.

A Hidden Conversation

Death Star and X Wings

This blog tries to illustrate the battle between negative subconscious thoughts and the reasoning, rational conscious ones that can defeat them. 

In the quiet and still of the evening, when conversations and distractions subside and the patter of rain drops can be heard above all else, just before retiring to sleep, are the times I feel most vulnerable, most aware of the world as distinct from me and the times I wonder just who am I?

It is these moments a conversation ignites, stirring the mind, drawing attention and keeping me infuriatingly awake! It is a conversation that goes on all the time, day after day, but only now I notice it because of the absence of external stimulus and clutter.

This conversation is in my mind. It is between thoughts that randomly appear from my subconscious over which I have no control, and those that I generate through conscious thought, ones over which I have some element of control.  The question of whether I have the ability to create and control a thought or whether I am subject to an endless stream of uncontrolled thoughts is related to the question of free-will. I refer to an understanding of free-will that suggests that all thoughts appear from your subconscious, from somewhere beyond the tangible spotlight of internal consciousness. If thoughts that appear un-announced, uncontrolled and preceding conscious thought implies that our will is actually not free and subject to hidden workings.

So, in the quietness a thought will pop into my head. Where does this thought come from? I would ask you the same question. Where do any of our thoughts appear from? As I lie in late evening semi-slumber, a thought will be created ‘I did not do that speech very well at work’ or ‘I am really not liked very much’ or ‘I am ugly’. I did not ask or try to create these thoughts, they just appear.

If we had free will, would I ever have bad thoughts? The fact that we have bad or negative thoughts is surely testament to the fact that we do not create them. Why would I purposely place bad and negative thoughts in my head? What does it serve me in terms of my well-being? This is a fundamental component of understanding for me and for understanding depression and anxiety because once I recognise that these thoughts appear in my conscience mind against my will, then I can seize trying to stop them. In fact, it’s important to accept that they will appear and concern myself with the things I can control.

These unwanted thoughts will appear then, building a narrative of yourself, pretending it is the true you, the depressive you and there is nothing you can do to stop them. But, you don’t have to believe them. It is not that these thoughts are true in themselves, it is my belief that they are true. So, when a thought pops up in my head unwillingly from my subconscious and says ‘I am a failure’, it is only a statement. It is my conscious mind that turns this into ‘I believe I’m a failure’ that it starts to take its negative effect. The goal then is not to stop these negative thoughts but to stop believing them. They are falsehoods collected from past experiences and uninvited. They throw their collective weight into the narrative of who I am, an incorrect narrative.

There are times when I can recognise the distinction between automatic unwanted negative thoughts and conscious thoughts. As the negative thought appears it is tied up with all sorts of associated emotions so it is not easy to battle against but it is becoming more and more possible, with practice and understanding. As they appear I can send a conscious arsenal of reason, understanding, testing the truth of a particular thought against the reality. I feel that being aware of this interplay between automatic and conscious thoughts is a big step to overcoming depression.

So who am I? I guess I’m still working that out but what I am not are all the automatically generated negativities that disturb my peace and quiet and keeps me up at night.


 

A Social Anxiety Will Do Nicely

Isolation Ade

A blog touching on and recounting some of the feelings and thoughts associated with a social anxiety.

The weight of your body is pulled around your waking day by muscles that try to carry its  weight. Those muscles will be used to their burden, delivering you about your daily comings and goings with relative ease and automation. It could be that one day you realise that you have been carrying around an unfair weight your whole life, unknown until this moment. A weight exerted by the mind that cripples, isolates, dominates and tears at your every joy. A black mental filter that twists words, cast shadows on every event, pulls you away from those you love and shoves harshly at those you care about and who care about you. A mind that torments itself in the silence and relishes in pain and suffering because this is the normal practice.

This heavy burden of long term anxiety was saturated deep inside through your childhood, given to you by the culture in which you live and through unknown instruction from family, friends, school, news and the mediocre of the day to day. Your mind has had many years of practice reinforcing just how bad, useless and worthless you are by repeating this mantra over and over again until it is normal. In the minds desire to see just how correct its view of the world is, it will extract any little morsel of supporting evidence it can from wherever it can get it. The smile of a girl is turned to a smirk, the complement on your physical appearance is a secret joke, the offer of a cake is a hint at how fat you are, the praise by your boss is a subterfuge for redundancy and the trust of a friend is just a manipulation ready for exploiting you. An endless tiredness claws at you earlier and earlier each evening, this exhaustion draws you away from friends and solitary quietness and rest becomes a persistent necessity.

It becomes difficult to spend time with anyone and fear joins the normal run of things, fear of failure, rejection, insult, death and loss of loved ones. The fear sometimes manifests itself when multiple people are present in a room, in a bar or in a restaurant, the knotting ripples tighten your abdomen, picking up the baton and running with the dysfunctional messages from the brain, broken and false messages that the body does not question. A repetitive cycle of learned responses, homed and trained over a lifetime.

The consumption of this fear instigates a clinging to your homely sanctuary, wherever that may be: a home, a shed, a toilet or a corner of a woodland. A place to shut off, to re-coupe and prepare for the inevitable social interactions that litter the day and bring persistent anxiety when they fall upon you.

A friend or partner you have known for years will become impatient with your inexplicable intolerance of friends or family and the reluctance to venture outside into the dangerous, critical, brash world beyond. When part way though a group interaction you’ll constantly question your role:

Do I deserve to be here?

What do they think of me?

How will I be remembered?

In the quiet of the evening, you’ll constantly ruminate, question and concern yourself with the social events of the day and how these interactions contribute to other peoples perceptions of you and whether or not you have rectified with the outside world the intended story about yourself.

This persistent burden limits your every waking moment, saturating and draining the joy out of each day. The weight of those extra bags on your shoulders are part of you and learning to live with them, rather than removing them is the most realistic option.

It is actually useful to understand that depression and anxiety is the subconscious’ way of letting you know that something is not right and your thinking is faulty. It is difficult to see when trying to gather up your feet from the thick mud that depression is a positive thing. The recognition of your predicament is actually the baseline from which you start fighting your way out.

It will take courage to firstly except your inherited condition, then to the face the world with it. Social interaction is such a large part of your life that when it becomes a displeasure to instigate this wondrous activity, the fear and anxiety is compounded and hardens within.

So how can an individual move away from this heavy burden of long term anxiety? This is where you will need courage and a new way of looking at the world. The key component is slow, careful reasoning, dissection of your outlook and the way you think of yourself.


 

Standard Issue?

This poem was inspired by a Nan. A humorous, deeply loving Nan with lovely stories, an always welcoming smile and a constant supply of sweets. The modern age provides a plethora of solutions for an ageing lady.


Do I look a wally

With this tartan shopping trolley?

No, it looks alright.

It’s a bit grannyish

Yeah but it gets you out

To get the food you talk about.

 

What’s that for?

It’s a claw

To pick things up off the floor

When your back

Won’t bend, but crack

Stops you lying there, flat

 

I’m not wearing that

What the heck!

Bit of chord ’round me neck.

It’s for your glasses,

why this pair has lasted

Longer than the other eight.

 

Well that’s just silly

A single, two footed slipper.

Yeah, you’re probably right about that.


 

Yes, Just One Little Rabbit

Polly the Rabbit

This blog recounts the passing of a pet rabbit and the intense bond that can be created between a moderate human being and a regular old rabbit.

A rabbit. A small animal among millions of similar rabbits.

A rabbit that is our rabbit. She is not one of the many contortions seen on a drive through the countryside, laying limp on the tarmac. Nor is she one of the millions serving humans and cats as food, boxed up and processed. This particular rabbit is exalted by the two of us above all others by the simple virtue of rescuing her from the fate of millions and investing time in the burden of care during her remaining lifetime.

The day has come and passed for our exalted rabbit, for which we have named Polly. Her final night was spent in quiet comfort lying by my wife in our bed (yes, that is indeed what has come about) as Polly slips from our lives, a few shallow breaths remaining. It is Polly’s end and there she goes, quiet, peaceful and imperceptibly, she slips away.

How much pain is felt for this small animal among millions? I will admit that we have been guilty of anthropomorphism, bestowing human qualities and characteristics, but I can say with absolute clarity that the enormous sense of grief the passing of Polly created is equal to the passing of relatives I have known. This is not meant to downplay the death’s of others close to me, as if I need to justify that, but rather reiterate how entwined our lives with Polly had become and would happily mark her high if grief was to be compared on some morbid scale.

As we cast our minds back over the four and half years since Polly’s rescue from abandonment to the wilds of Greenham Common, the memory selects and amplifies the key events in our lives and places Polly next to those moments in some capacity. There were times I would lay mentally exhausted and burdened and she would lick my arm. The simple joy of seeing her laying in the sunshine of the patio doors as I look up from tapping on my laptop. The therapeutic comfort for my wife in times of stress was, well, utterly and completely responsible for helping her through. I can only hope we gave Polly a good life, whatever comprehension a good life would conjure within a rabbits mind. We have however consoled ourselves with the satisfaction that we were responsible for providing a long and joyous life for her.

The intense surges of grief grip the throat, stomach and muscles as they ebb and flow, teetering on the cusp of control. I cannot discern any distinction between Polly’s passing and that of my dearest Nan. How has this come about? It is simply time with another species with emotions, needs, affections and compassion. We needed so much from Polly it could have been an utterly selfish act for our own well being.

The grief for a rabbit sounds trivial but is testament to the attachments humans can build with another species, especially one so entwined in daily life. As this strong emotional attachment ends in the absolute finality of death, it unlocks the reminders of our fragile and brief existence and trivialises much of the things we do everyday. I am reminded of those we’ve already lost as I think of Mathew, Tony, Nan, Gordon, Betty, Larry, Sandy, Smokey, Brian, Sue, Pat and Auntie Flo.

It is also a reminder of the saying ‘Where there is life there is hope, where there is hope there is life’. It appears to me that it is fairly rare nowadays to by intimately close to someone or something during their last few days, instead we are removed from the pain by shear suddenness, distance or lack of time. I mean, seeing every minute as the body slows down, shuts down, and gets to a point that we realise that the hope of continued life passes and is replaced by acceptance and the hope that they will go soon without pain and in peace.

Polly has gone and it is painful but the days will become easier I am sure, with the rawness of Polly’s memory becoming softer so we can look back on her life as part of ours with affection. If there is anything the fragility, shortness and unpredictable nature of life can show us is that each moment deserves our maximum attention. There is today’s life to enjoy.

A rabbit. A small animal among millions of similar rabbits. We named her Polly.


Polly died on Tuesday 30th September 2014 after four and a half years of life with us.