What do you expect?

I never knew what caused anxiety. I had experienced discomfort many times, yet I was unconscious of the effects. In my life, I had never wanted anything desperately enough to trigger the sort of reaction that I had seen in others and not understood. What you would probably describe as a mental breakdown. It was around 18 months ago that I decided that I wanted to stay in Australia. I had already done two working holidays and a student visa. This had taken time, effort and a lot of money. The company I worked for wanted to sponsor me, but because I was not qualified and I did not have enough experience on paper. It was looking like this was not going to be an option. On a student visa you are only allowed to work 20 hours per week and on this wage, it was barely possible to live. I never had any money and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. It felt like the ice had begun to crack beneath me, it got worse and worse until eventually I was left floating on a tiny block in the middle of the Antarctic ocean. Nowhere felt comfortable anymore. I sat on my porch for 3 months staring into thin air, I was kept company by a couple of magpies. Kevin and Keith. Kevin was always kicking off.

I was very irritable during this time. When my housemates were home every little thing that they did would annoy me. I could be triggered by the most pathetic thing. Our house was hollow and sound would travel through every wall. I had been asking my housemate the be quiet in the morning for weeks if not months, but he seemed to get louder and louder. There was one loud crash. I shouted “Shut the F**k up!” at the top of my lungs. I rolled over and tried to get back to sleep. Two minutes later it happened again. I stormed up threw opened my door and pushed him against the wall as hard as I could. He had his earphones in listening to drum and bass at full volume so he hadn’t heard me tell him to be shut up. Our housemates came out of their rooms to find us squaring up to each other at 5am. Looking back now it is funny, but I am lucky that I still have friends because I was a pain in the arse.

What was the shift? What caused me to change from a carefree, friendly, outgoing individual, to someone who could barely function, not wanting to get out of bed and not wanting to socialise. When people tried to offer me help I pushed it away. Being optimistic I sat there in pain knowing that it had its purpose and tried to take the lessons from it. I got a lot of advice during that time. The most memorable being ‘get some more work’. Being poor was a large part of my unhappiness but it would by no means have solved the problem. I had a very limited amount of time left on my visa and almost no money. I was sick of moving around and craved something stable.

I found out that one of my friends was leaving Australia after 6 years, also wanting to get his residency, but it hadn’t worked out for him. I went to see him and I found out that he was going to New Zealand. I decided at the end of the 3 days visiting him that I was going to come to New Zealand as well. In that moment there was a weight taken off my shoulders. Almost all of my unhappiness had been caused by my expectations and desires. If I had wanted to stay badly enough there would have been a way, but it would have either have been dishonest or taken a very long time, both of which would have caused more anxiety. The only way out of the situation was through it and I don’t know if it would have worked any other way. A valuable lesson.

Auckland by night

As soon as I landed in New Zealand, it felt like a fresh start again. I felt a sense of freedom again. I knew that I wasn’t in the clear. I still wanted to travel the world so I had to figure out another way. It was the beginning of a new chapter. It was the moment that life became serious. I decided that if I wanted to live the life of my dreams I would have to be earning a living from a laptop so that I could travel around the world not having to worry about getting permanent visas. I realised that I would never be able to do what I wanted if I am dependant on finding a new job every time I go somewhere. This marked the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. Life had to get serious if I was to achieve my goals. I began to select my company wisely and engineer my surroundings patiently. It was and still is so hard not to revert back down the old neural pathways. My brain is hardwired to previous presets. My mind still attracts bad things and temptation but as time is going by these presets are slowly changing. My taste is changing. I still crave the old tastes daily but the new ones taste so good and I can’t have both.

Presets in the brain are physical pathways. Each time you experience pleasure or pain it connects neurons that guide expectations of how you will experience future pleasure or pain. Our brain receives more information than we can process, so it creates an expectation of what it might receive and matches it to sensory input that it actually receives. This teaches us how to move through the world easier. If there is a match between our expectation and reality we receive a hit of dopamine. If it does not match then we receive a hit or cortisol. Cortisol will encourage us to take a closer look and may help to keep us safe from false expectation, but it is also the root of anxiety.

When we have this conflict naturally the electricity wants to flow down the old neural pathway effortlessly. If we resist we can force it to create a new path. It is difficult to make electricity to flow down a neutral path – Here lies an uncomfortable feeling. The superhighways in your brain are made up from repeated experience and early experience. The early experiences are the most important because anything you do with these pathways feels natural and easy. The pathways that you make as a child are called myelinated pathways. After puberty, it takes a lot of repetition or a huge surge of emotion to create a new one. We are all viewing the world through an old lens. There is no wonder old habits feel right even when our instincts are telling us they are wrong. There is no wonder that we can’t replace anxiety provoking habits with healthier ones. Have you ever met someone who seems to have the worst luck or seems to get themselves into painful situations over and over?

It is not just the painful experiences that can be deceiving. Pleasure is just as deceitful. You walk into a pub and put a pound into a gambling machine. It spits out £200. Your brain releases a huge hit of dopamine. The dopamine paves a new neural pathway. Now every time you go into that pub you put £30 into that machine and 9 times out of 10 you leave with nothing. Now we have anxiety because our unrealistic expectation of winning £200 is not met. Doubled by the fact that you have no money.

The only weapon we really have is repetition. Studies say that you have to repeat a new behaviour for 45 days before it comes your new normal. This may vary from person to person. Even doing something uncomfortable once is not easy. Crazy to think that all you are doing is attempting to push electricity along a new path with a bit of resistance. It feels bad now but the feeling, once you have created a new healthy pathway is unparalleled. The myelinated pathways that you created as a child are built of completely random experiences. If you have no bad habits then you must have had an incredibly lucky childhood.

For us with bad habits we must create new pathways through repetition, based on sophisticated analysis, using the wisdom that you accumulate through being an absolute moron and making every mistake along the way.

What you expect?

Thank you for making it this far. If you enjoyed reading this or anything resonated with you please like and share. I would love to read about your own experiences and thoughts in the comments.

Strength and love

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