Small Steps to Happiness – Light at The End of The Tunnel

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By Mark Haworth

I Never Thought I’d Ever Be Happy.

For over 20 years of my life I’ve had long periods of depression and anxiety. It was about 18 months ago that I had my last debilitating episode; and it’s only now, looking back to that period that I realise just how much I’ve changed. It felt like it was the end for me during that time. I couldn’t see a way out of the tunnel of despair that I was in.

During times of distress and despair, everything can seem just a big pile of mess. With these feelings of distress and despair come a whole load of emotions – fear, frustration, anger, confusion, agitation, loneliness, and acute sadness. Add to that external pressures such as family, relationships, finances and day to day life, and you can end up with a whole jumbled up mess where you can’t see the wood for the trees. You hate yourself for ending up in this situation. You can’t find any answers because you don’t know the questions – everything just seems to be covered in an impenetrable, dense fog. It needs to be un-picked but you don’t know where to start.

A Series of Steps, Rather Than One Big Leap.

Looking back at my particularly dark episode those 18 months ago, I realise now that I didn’t have stable foundations on which to build and live my life. I’d look at past experiences as failings. I used to see every experience as a finite period of time that was either good or bad – black or white. It was this pattern of negative thinking that I had to break in order to fulfil my ambitions. A good friend of mine helped me to realise that in order to get to where I wanted to go, I had to take a series of steps, rather than one big leap.

Taking one big leap, pretty much into the unknown, invariably led me to take on too much, and left me feeling like a failure (a feeling that had repeated itself throughout my life). Doing one little thing, however small it may seem, can help to start to break this cycle of despair, or this cycle of repeating patterns.

I’d repeated a lot of patterns over many years. Patterns that were unhealthy and ultimately led to me spiralling out of control. I’ve changed and made steps towards being who I want to be. I don’t see those times as finite good or bad periods as often, but part of the journey to where I am now. Yes, they were dark times, but they were also times with a glimmer of hope, a chance for the human spirit to live on and shine through.

I’d always looked for happiness, as people do, and assumed that it was a black and white feeling – happy or sad. I’d looked for that finite sign of happiness – drinking alcohol, spending money on things I didn’t really need, etc. But I now know that happiness isn’t like that. It’s about finding the belief in yourself first – knowing that you’re OK from within.

During my dark days and nights, I couldn’t see anything – it was like a black tunnel encompassing every part of me. During those times I didn’t have the energy to carry on. I’d been there many times before, and therein lies the true brutality of depression – for me each episode seems much worse than the last and more energy sapping.Plus, you are more aware of it. That awareness can become a positive though, as it can make you more able to use the tools that are available to you. There’s an energy in all of us, that we are probably not aware of, certainly during times of despair, but believe me it’s there. Energy that we can use, at first to survive, and then to change our patterns, to enable us to live the life we want.

There may be other dark nights in the future – who knows, but I’m just happy living in the now. I’m certainly not the finished article and I’m on a journey (as we all are in this life). There’ll be things that throw me off track, sideways steps and slips backwards, but I’ll deal with them, as I now know that we each have powerful tools within us that we can use. I can honestly say that today I am happy, and that’s amazing.

I started writing this piece in a hotel room in Dubai and finished writing it in Italy, where I now call home. I’m just back from a 3 month trip to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji that was amazing. A journey that 18 months ago I could have only dreamt of. I’ve also met the most amazing woman along the way who already means so much to me. If someone had said to me those 18 months ago that I would be here, I would have told them that they were the one that was mad – not me! It’s been a long journey to get to be able to do amazing things like this, but just by taking small steps at first (laying the foundations and making small changes to my behaviour and my way of thinking, along with support from close friends – old and new), I’ve made the steps towards happiness.

Reading has helped me immensely and there are several books in particular, which I have found to be extremely influential. Rachel Kelly’s Black Rainbow was a massive turning point on my road to recovery, as was How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell; and more recently Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals by Thomas Moore.

I started writing in 2014 and what started as a cathartic and healing exercise has transformed into part of my life. I’ve created the website www.1fortheroad.uk as a medium for these writings, and I hope in the future to begin to see some of my work published elsewhere as well.

I have also found viewing art to be beneficial and the inspiration for this piece in part stems from a solo exhibition titled ‘Repeating Patterns’ by Cindy Ferguson that I saw in Australia (visit www.rusticsimplicityblog.wordpress.com). It is a photographic exhibition featuring images of patterns in the natural and built environments of Australia, Canada, UK and Italy. The show has a companion booklet exploring old patterns, and how the way we view the world can change the experiences we have in our lives.

There will be times when the light at the end of the tunnel seems a million miles away, seemingly too out of reach. However, with a few small steps and using our strengths from within it can be reached. We can all find happiness.

© Mark Haworth 2016