Category Archives: Uncategorized

Look Up!

When you’re walking in the street.

The sky is so big, yet we never look at it when we’re going about our business.

Why is that?

Do we forget it’s there?

That just behind the curtain of our lives, there is a another curtain which opens up into the vastness of space and time.

Life is a game sometimes. It’s so easy to get into the tunnel vision of everything that is going on. You have to eat breakfast, go to school/ work, meet deadlines, see friends and family, go to meetings, health appointments, gym, and so on.

But, what is waiting up there? Out in the vastness of life revolving on the grand scale, we still exist, yet we cannot quite grapple with it. It’s too difficult to say ‘I am walking in the city, but I am also a sigh, a breath, a magical heart beat propelling the universe into existence’. It sounds absurd, I know, but what feels right?

Are you just a piece of flesh, caught up and bound in a mesh of materials and small significances? A rare aberration of nature’s creativity with heat, water, and minerals? Or are you life itself, exploding, bright, passionate, constantly in flux and without limitation? So rare is that we exist at all, even in our own revolving solar system.

You know that you are alive. Can you imagine what that means? How precious to know that you really do exist and can experience the entirety of Earth in all its magics and splendour. You just popped up into being, and now you’re living! Can you believe it?

Hard to come to terms with, especially now that life is so insular and wrapped up in itself. The many ways we can forget what part we play are growing. So many distractions.

But did you ever just stop, a minute.

Did you ever just… look up?

Swirling clouds, bright blue skies, birds, gliding overhead, the subtle tones of sunset and sunrise, colours in combination that are enough to steal your breath away. What peace and serenity there is in that vast space. And we are living here. We are part of that huge power that moves all of life. And we are not just making it happen, we are watching it happen and we can move with it too.

Next time you feel lost. Next time you are cruising on autopilot, or down in dumps, or stressed beyond all belief because the small things are piling up around you. Just look up. There, you see? We’re just floating, here on Earth, watching the open sky as it changes and brightens.

Better, right?

Follow Heathen.life for more.

Acceptance in the Age of Terror

We don’t know the limits of life’s horror.

There are so many evils that we will never know. We are not in a world where we could be sent to concentration camps because our opinions do not align with the government’s (though, outside of the west, this can still happen), we are free to express our dissent in protest, online and in press, though some would argue that the scope of this freedom is being slowly eroded by various means, and we have jobs and some level of welfare (again variable) to protect us from the very real and very easy to fall into trap or homelessness.

So, with that, what is our oppressor in this modern world? What is left to fear and to fight in the west?

Fabricated terror.

What do I mean by this?

I mean that we live in a world which is saturated by lies. We are drowning in advertisement, we are suffocating in media, both online and in print, and we are asphyxiated by the increasing avenues of society to perceive us as ‘other’.

Advertisement is everywhere. It tells us constantly ‘you need this, you wouldn’t be as happy without this thing that you can buy.’, but it’s all lies. In fact, having worked adjacently to the marketing team in the company that I work for, I can tell you, they make a living from creative lying. This is disappointing, that the only forms of creativity in which we can find a living easily, should be the ones in which we must instantly discard our integrity. Exaggerated claims about the longevity or performance of products is the first outrage, though it is rife and quite commonplace in this area of work. Then, what about the fact that the marketing department, who have all the money and power, who tell us what we can and cannot do, will wilfully expect us to lie to customers about the claims a product can make, or even to avoid the truth that sometimes there are limitations and that these limitations on a product’s ability should be respected. I find that customers appreciate that honesty more than any unbridled claims about how much a product can do for the value of its cost. And then, as if to take it to the limits of incredulity, they would withhold product faults or issues from us, the front line staff who must fix the problems, for fear that we are untrustworthy. There is no greater hypocrisy, no greater insult to the genuine staff that I work with.

Every cell of the body of marketing companies is without integrity, from the creativity, to the authority, to the obfuscation of truth, which hampers our ability to help customers. There is no integrity in advertising before you even reach the advert at hand.

And then let us look at the products themselves.

What do they look like? Smiling white toothed models holding products tenderly and proudly, like new-born babies. Except where is paternal love? Cold, dead eyes stare back through LED screens at bus stops and on billboards. There is no love here, only spiders, sharks, and vultures behind white porcelain veneers. And what of those things that they would sell to you? A mortgage? With expressive coolness, they say we can lift you up when you need to make that big life decision, yet, do we even know where the term comes from? ‘Mortgage’ means ‘death loan’. It was used to describe a sum of money you would pay until you were dead. Rather grimmer in reality than as posed to us in advertising. And what happens when you cannot pay your mortgage? Ultimately, they will repossess your home. What does ‘repossess’ mean? It meant to ‘start again’ or more viscerally, it could mean an ‘undoing’. A creative term for obliteration and recycling of home, of life as it was. And still, we cannot see how, underneath the language of advertising, there is so much violence and misery. Smiling mortgage providers extend a hand, all the while, they have leashes around the necks of mortals who will wear them until death, and whose homes can be yanked from beneath them when life takes a turn for the worse.

I am reminded perhaps of the buddhist teaching that grasping for material things, like products etc are a fast track to misery and emptiness. And we cannot breathe in our society for the grasping! Everywhere you look, some talon, miserable, wan, clammy, dead, extends and swipes, hoping to land its sharp sinus in your mind-flesh. We are fatigued because we step into waking life under siege from all angles, but not the kind which forces the body to move and take evasion from, but attacks on the mind, bamboozling us in every waking moment of every day. We are indeed living in a nightmare and there are evils waiting for us always. What must our subconscious landscape look like at this point? Deep, scoured craters, trenches, scarred, muddy battlefields, and desolate to boot.

This is the first terror, and it is a terror which plays on the subconscious as soon as we wake, ravaging our inner mind, so sensitive that it is, we do significant damage without even knowing it.

Then what of the media? Is there ever a good word to say about the world? It makes it no less true of course that bad things happen every day, but we know this, we implicitly understand that life can be filled with tragedy and it will touch all of us human beings at various points in our lives.

So what is this constant reminding? Yes, it has its purposes. We must not forget the past, for if we do, we can bring it about again through forgetting, but that is what history is for, which should be taught and passed down by communities and schools and parents and relatives. The media does not play an active part in the dissemination of history, but rather in current events. So we are bombarded with the worst miseries of modern times from across the globe. And it is worse because now there are not just newspapers and radios, there are also computers, smart phones, televisions etc which can send information to us more quickly than at any other time in human history. How can we deal with so much misery, so readily and quickly available. The mind again lays itself out to be flayed and stuffed, like foie gras ducks, we are stuffed until we are sick to death. It is true that our impulses and attention are quick to gravitate towards negativity, in the fact that our base brains are powerful, primal and quick. But it is our humanity which lives in the outer most parts, the prefrontal cortex and higher brain which control our ability to be empathic and good, and to form strong, meaningful relationships with other human beings.

The media highjack of our base impulses is the second terror.

Then what of our avatars in this world, where information flows to quickly and spreads vastly under the right conditions?

Social media, where we put our lives online to show others who we are is dangerous. No version of ourselves which appears through the internet is fair and representative. We want to be successful and revered in the eyes of our peers, so we often lie about how we feel. Curiously though, I have started to see a new phenomena, the rise of the ‘down to earth’ media star. They burp, fart, talk about real shit and their vulnerability with the world. And this too is an insult to our humanity. There is a paradoxical lack of integrity in the very act of putting all of yourself onto the internet. A camera always makes us behave differently because a camera is not a person, it is an inanimate object which captures our likeness. We can only communicate by way of in person exchange. Energy flows between life, not the cold dead barrier of camera lens or social media profile. Something is lost in translation. The soul, perhaps, the integrity perhaps also, but we are so desperate for love that we will take this half-filtered shadow and accept our fate.

And then we say something online that can be taken out of context. And the likes of twitter can be the catalyst to the utter destruction or exaltation of anyone or anything in about an hour. ‘Tweeting’ is a form of mass hysteria which is more revolting than anything I could every imagine. And now we all know that what we say online can be taken by little birds, cut, edited and morphed into something grotesque with the power to abjectly destroy your life, no matter if it is true or not. Once it happens, whether you are later cleared or not, there is no way to reclaim your integrity. People have stopped being interested once the the hysteria has passed. They now only retain the perception which made them excited, which in almost all cases is shy of the truth, or abjectly false. We are living in post-truth. It matters not if something is real, only that it could be real.

Hear say has always existed, but the extent to which this can then become global truth is alarming.

This is the third terror of modern life.

And so we can see how life is plagued by sinister and pale oppressive forces which barrage the psyche at every waking moment. Once, long ago in the medieval period, we believed in demons, spirits and angels, the wrathful vengeance of God and other divine entities. Are we any better now? I could make an argument that we are actually worse.

We know our enemy, we know where it stems from, but still, we let it suck us dry.

Advertisement, news, and social media, the new demons and wrathful Gods of the modern age.

How to tackle this new threat is a whole new article, but I will leave you with this rather commonly quoted passage from Chinese General Sun Tzu:

“Know thy enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle.”

Sun Tzu

Acceptance, knowing who we are and what the enemy is, will be salves and healing potions in this phase of monsters and mythical terrors.

Follow @heathen.life for the next instalment.

Meditation For Gut Health

Meditation has great benefits for mental health.

This is no secret at this point.

I invest at least some of my time every now and then into meditation to calm my mind, but as many who have meditated for a while may understand, the mind and the body are connected. What brings calm in the head also brings stillness to the legs, the arms, the chest, and… the gut!

Many of you are probably thinking at this point ‘how am I supposed to know when my gut is calm?’. It’s a good question and it’s tricky to answer.

The best way to tell is to go by what normal has become for you. Many people who end up researching the gut and digestion have ended up here as a result of a myriad of physical manifestations of poor digestion.

The most common of these include: cramping, bloating, heart burn and diarrhoea, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. IBS, which is often caused by emotional or psychological stress as well as poor intestinal health can encompass many of these same symptoms and can be very embarrassing for someone if they experience anxiety doing simple tasks like shopping or even just leaving the house for short periods. Further along the scale, we have full blown auto-immune diseases like MS, Lupus, Arthritis and Fibromyalgia (not technically an auto-immune disease but often just as debilitating).

Wherever you are on the scale, it’s really important to track your own sensations, flare ups and typical symptoms. Once you know what the good, bad and ugly looks like for you on a typical day, then you’re ready to know how certain treatments and techniques might help with improving your gut!

So, back to meditation.

Say I had indigestion, or I bloated often after eating, or maybe I noticed that visiting the toilet was unexpectedly more unpleasant, either suffering with constipation or diarrhoea, then I know where my baseline is (if your baseline is this, I feel for you, I really do).

One thing to try (along with as many little changes as you can make to improve your diet), is meditation, either before or after you sit down for dinner. This may be most beneficial before a large meal where your gut will be under more stress than usual.

Meditating can contribute to more relaxed digestion. When you are stressed or anxious, busy, or distracted, your gut cannot work as efficiently on the food that it receives. This is all new research. Again, I have GUT to thank for this idea.

Remember, when your mind is relaxed and calm, so is your body and your gut!

So, 10 minutes on Headspace before dinner could really significantly contribute to better digestion and nutrient absorption. And surely, all of us here, trying our best to recover from poor digestive health, might want to try anything to ensure our bodies are primed for nutrients.

Some people may find it easier to do this after eating. I can understand it being harder to concentrate when you can smell food in the other room, just on the verge of cooked, or when your mind is racing with which recipe you want to cook for dinner. So do what works for you. This is a process after all, and you need to give yourself the room to find the best method for your needs.

Give it a try!

Track your digestion over the coming weeks. Has it improved? Have the symptoms unique to you subsided, diminished or gone away altogether? If it works, maybe you can keep doing it every so often and especially at meals where you know the offerings are more plentiful than usual! Anything that aids digestion and works should be considered on the road to recovery, no matter how seemingly unrelated it is on the surface.

The gut, the brain and the heart are all connected very closely. Anything that affects one or two of these systems certainly affects the other, though the relationship may not be apparent at first. These are the three branches of the human body which grow first in the womb. We should pay very close attention to that connectedness from conception as it has very important meaning in how we address our health issues as we continue learning about our bodies.

Good focus and good digestive health!

J

Hypochondriasis

The other day I was talking to my mother about one of my closest friends who I had recently fallen out with.

A few weeks back, I had been suffering from a prolonged period of suffocation. I later found out that this was asthma, but it could as well have been exacerbated by anxiety. As anyone who has suffered from severe anxiety will know, it’s that crushing band around the chest, a weight on your lungs, not getting the full range from a breath.

This night I was suffering particularly badly and was struggling to breath so much that I messaged my friend (at the time we lived in the same house together). I told her that I couldn’t breathe properly and that I didn’t know what to do. And her response was ‘It’ll be fine’ and then she went to bed.

It struck me as an odd reaction and hurt my feelings. A bit of a betrayal if anything. I was terrified and I thought I was going to pass out. One of my closest friends couldn’t even raise an eyebrow about it. I would have liked to think, put in the reverse situation, I would have come down the steep stairs to the lower levels, passing the dusty kitchen and shadowy pot plants on twisted shelves, and comforted her. In fact, I have done in the past.

My mother is not one to provide comfort, so she immediately replied: ‘It’s like the boy who cried wolf, she probably knows what you are like and reacted like that as if it’s not a big deal.’

‘But I would have come to comfort her, if she were struggling’, I replied.

As usual, she brushed off a response that she didn’t want to hear or could not make sense of. She has an enraging habit of only hearing what she likes at the expense of the whole picture. She cannot be said to be motherly sort of mother, so her responses do not come from that soft-centred feminine place. They are entirely pragmatic.

But, it did make a twisted sort of sense. My friend has known me for a long time. I have been a hypochondriac for a long time too. I can understand how ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ factors into how people interact with me.

But, I can tell you this for a fact. Being a hypochondriac is a misery beyond all miseries. I BELIEVE I am ill. I don’t just think it. I am perpetually disturbed by thoughts about how illnesses that I cannot really confirm I have are slowly sapping my essence and dragging me closer to the cliff of death, to be tipped.

Hypochondria is a neurotic expression of the psyche’s search for many things. A prevailing sense that there is something wrong with the individual, manifesting not in a search in the subconscious, but in an obsession with the body and disease. It is also a manifestation of a need for attention and love which was not well fostered as a child. As I mentioned earlier, my mother is not much of one to give motherly feelings, even less so when I was a child. Hypochondria is a manifestation of a need for attention, for treatment, for care. On top of this, is the feverish attempts made to escape the authoritarian gaze of the care giver, be that a doctor or parent. We cannot bear the eye of those we wish to look upon us. It is a perfect storm of misery, often made worse, not better, by a simple doctor’s visit.

So, I beg you, when you deal with a hypochondriac, please, deal with them as if you imagined that they were suffering from a threefold need to be cared for, to seek their inner failings and to escape the gaze of the carer. This is distressing to say the least, but not something which comes across on the surface when dealing with a hypochondriac.

I cannot lie, I still feel justified in viewing betrayal in my friend’s actions, and unswayed by the discussion I had with my mother. I am a hypochondriac, but my suffering is real, and I am searching, perhaps often in the wrong place, for a way out. I want to be better, but like the boy who cried wolf, the more often I call out for help, the less compassion I receive.

All the while, the hypochondria churns and boils, and my mind is on fire with terrifying thoughts of death, disease and helplessness.

If you give us nothing else, give us love.

J

[Let us know in the comments if you suffer with health anxiety and how your relationships have been affected]

 

Growing A Cactus To Tend To My Heart

I’m growing a cactus to tend to my heart.

It’s prickly and stickly and squat and cute, a bit like me.

We’re going to grow together, with water and sunshine and songs about the sky.

My cactus and I.

They say plants are healing and I believe it.

I’ve seen it!

Nothing more peaceful than a prickly green thing.

I’ll watch it and care from a distance, maybe I’ll even sing.

My sharp arcadia.

My green mañana.

My dewy paradise.

It’s a hot summer ahead, and we’ll do just fine.

 

 

5 Ways To Find What You Love

We spend so much of our time trying to figure out what we don’t like, in an attempt to work out what we do.

This is a surefire way to make progress over time, but what if I were to tell you, that, with a little bit of self-awareness and reflection, you can move towards the things that make you blossom more quickly than you could ever realise?

We can all move towards a happier, more fulfilling life by pursuing the hobbies and interests that bring us peace and joy. Here are 5 things you can do today to begin to divine your passions:

1. Meditate on Your Appreciation 

This means sitting down, breathing, focusing on the breath and asking yourself, in the second person, ‘what do you appreciate in your life?’. You do not enter into this expecting an answer, but just asking the question of your subconscious and letting the answers come to the surface over time. They may not come straight away, they may not come for weeks, even months, but asking guides our psyche towards what we naturally know to be fulfilling. It’s like using divining rods to find a natural spring. Ask the guiding questions in a meditative state, and eventually your mind will guide you to the source.

2. Accept and Embrace Change 

We are organisms that naturally tend towards stability. It stops us from becoming stressed and feeling out of control, but change will come whether we resist it or not, and no matter how we feel about change now, it will be necessary for us to embrace it if we want to pursue our happiness and peace in life, especially if we are not feeling much joy in our present situation. Again, meditation is a wonderful ally. Asking questions when we are in a calm state like ‘What good can change bring for you?’, or even just noticing the fluctuations in feelings, thoughts and sounds around us and internally, can give us a better understanding of change and how it can either benefit us, or, at the very least, become a familiar friend, rather than a strange enemy.

3. Pay Attention to the World Around You

If we suffer from depression or anxiety, we can spend a huge amount of our time inside our own heads. When we spend so much time trying to sort and excavate our inner demons, we can very quickly lose sight of the world around us and the many sensory joys it has to offer. Some of these joys, when observed thoughtfully, reveal hobbies, skills and activities that we would enjoy. You may, for instance, walk through the park and notice the trees and plants, or, it may be the birds that draw your attention. Ask yourself, ‘How can I bring more of this into my life?’. This may mean visiting wildlife parks on the weekend, taking up gardening, or finding a workplace which lets you do more with nature. You may even decide that you need a walk to work in order to be happier, so start searching for jobs that you can do within biking or walking distance. It can make all the difference!

4. Journal It 

After meditating, sometimes it can be a good idea to write down all the things we either enjoyed in the day or appreciate in the present. It never has to be categorised or rule based. You want to let anything bubble up to the surface and write it down, no matter how giant or insignificant that thought may seem. Over time, you may begin to pick out themes that can guide you to happier and more fulfilling pursuits, but don’t lay heavy expectations on yourself from the get go. This is a process that takes time and will work best without pressured or forced thinking, which often disrupts our natural flow of ideas and thoughts.

5. Change Your Relationship With Time and Expectations 

Many of us feel pressured to be in a certain place in our lives relative to others. We may expect to be married by a certain age, or to have travelled all over the world, or to have climbed to a certain height professionally. Remember that every life is set with different obstacles, some bigger and harder to break through, often coming at different times for different people. Life is not linear and predictable, so we cannot place expectations of linear progression on ourselves. Beginning to accept that we are where we are, and we are doing our best is the best method towards keeping our mind open and limber to new opportunities and our own peace and happiness. Imagine that you have all the time in the world to approach your goals, thus giving your mind the space and potential to accept new ideas, approaches and activities that can bring happiness into our lives.

So, that’s five things that you can do to begin to hone in on your bliss. We want to create awareness, space and receptivity to possibility in the mind. This is a slow process, but very rewarding and will ultimately help you approach your happiness more quickly than elimination does.

It can be difficult to meditate without guidance, so I want to show you a tool that I use. Headspace is an app that can be downloaded for Iphone and some other platforms, which provides a huge number of meditation courses which are short or long, and can be done anywhere. To get the full package, there is a fee, but it is small and I find the value of the app far outweighs the cost. I am in no way paid to endorse this product, I just think it’s a great app and want to share it with everyone.

Happy bliss hunting!

Please follow this blog for future posts searching for greater well-being and happiness,

J

Childhood Obesity is Not a Child’s Fault

I was always big on food.

Since my earliest memory, I coveted chocolate and found comfort in sweet fruits and sugary snacks.

And loving food isn’t exactly the problem that causes obesity, but it was a problem for me.

By the age of ten, I was significantly overweight. By my late teens, I was on the cusp of obesity.

I had experienced an extreme and persistent emotional storm up until my 20s, where I began to settle a little and figure out where I was and how to fix it. I would describe my childhood as memories wrapped in fine web. They are not clear to me, but, like the spider who spins the silk, some insidious creeping evil lingers on thin, webbed sheets. Emotional abuse? Maybe? I am not sure. Memories a mind wraps in cotton wool, like the webbing that wraps a spider’s lunch, suggests some mind gore not easily tended to or mended.

I think, my point it this…

That, before I could even process that I was eating poorly, under the trust of parents, my body was wrecked before I had a chance to realise what had happened.

The legacy of that damage has caused mental and physical health problems that have severely impacted my life in many areas.

I have some degree of hatred for my body, so internalised these days that I actively avoid bringing this up with anyone. It’s just normal for me to feel disappointed in the way that I look.

I often have feelings that link my self-worth to my shape. It’s so hard not to do this when you absorb so much of the language and feel of the culture that you live inside. A language which is very much hostile to your existence.

And, when I think about it, is that just and fair to the children who suffer with being overweight and obese?

I hated my body as soon as I realised society hated it too. I have carried that burden since I came into my prime. The years of my life which were supposed to be so enriched with vitality, excitement and purpose, have been wracked with anxiety, spiritual desiccation and self-flagellation.

So many years of my life stolen to misery for something I had almost no control over. I was a child. I had no idea the ramifications for social status, happiness, longevity and vitality, but still I have felt ostracised and vilified.

It is not fair to assume all fat people have only themselves to blame. Childhood obesity is a problem that arises outside of that individual’s control and insidiously chews at their happiness and well-being before a chance is given to process it and address it.

I have struggled with my weight all of my life and am still lighter than I was at my heaviest. I try my best to exercise and work on my health, but much of the damage is already done and it was done before I even knew.

Not all fat people come to be fat through gluttony.

Some just existed, often within houses of emotional volatility and neglect, and then they woke up to adulthood. They were fatter than they should have been, but didn’t know why.

With love and well wishes to all bodies,

J

Life, I am grateful.

Earlier, I had ripped through a vortex of pandemic news after drinking three coffees today, my hard limit. I was anxious. So, as I often do when I am highly strung, I meditated.

I meditated for a very long time.

I came to appreciate things that I have not verbalised and perhaps forgotten, but I wish to express them now.

I am so grateful to be alive. To breathe and to enjoy all the sensory experiences life has to offer. I am grateful for my friends, for the laughter and silliness we share every day. I am grateful for my freedom. Not in the sense that I am free to come and go as I please (a circumstantial freedom and one greatly tested in these times), but in that I have my room, with all my things that I love and keep. I am grateful for my job which keeps me fed and clothed and tempers a routine. I am grateful that I can observe change and accept it, rather than fight it.

Who knows how long we have on this planet, but I intend to make everything of the little time each of us spend here, a twinkle in time and space such as we each are.

I am grateful that I am pursuing what I love and working on becoming who I always knew I was, but lacked the confidence and conviction to fully appreciate (apathy, it seems, is quite a childish state). Every day, my confidence in my abilities, my values and my direction in life grow exponentially.

Set backs come, and some will be monumentous, seemingly peak-less, but they are not so. Peak-less mountains break to peak on the patter of persistent feet. One step at a time. Minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, we reach for new heights within ourselves.

So, you see, I am here. I am breathing. I am filled with wonder at my existence. I am unfurling as time intended, as expected, as anticipated. And, I accept this, and, watch eagerly as I and life unfold together.

You may not understand how I feel and I do not expect you to, but I had something to say and so I have said it.

I hope you are all safe, but most importantly, I hope you are living authentically and truthfully, and growing into yourselves every second and at every opportunity.

Life is short, but we can be so tall.

Facebook – The New Opiate for the Masses That’s Making You Sick.

A week ago I announced I’d be leaving Facebook for a month to see how things changed in my life. This was after I did some research on how Facebook algorithms transform the way you behave online. Jaron Lanier’s ‘Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now’ inspired me to take the plunge. In his book, Lanier outlines that algorithms used on these platforms are constantly analysing your online behaviours, processing this information, and adapting your feed of information to maximise your engagement. Constantly evolving, these data-grabbing parasites find new ways to seize your attention and keep you locked in. It really works! And it’s especially effective against those of us who are compromised by our real life experiences. Let me illustrate by sharing a little of my own journey with the platform.

My Experience with Internet Addiction

Nearing a year prior to my decision to leave, Facebook had taken over my life. I was so invested in the platform that I spent most of my day getting attention, good and bad alike, as a mini kick to supplement my pathetic natural dopamine reserves. Thank you, brain, you’re so good to me. During this time, several significant life events had happened to me that knocked me off my feet. I had slipped a disk in the second year  of my degree which was causing a huge amount of pain and numbness in my legs. All the while I was working part time, hiding the fact from my boss and managing dicey personal relationships. I was cutting more and more real people out of my life as I slowly disconnected from reality. I had panic attacks, dissociation, health anxiety, and serious depression. I wanted to die, but I was also terrified of the idea of death. An unpleasant oscillation of negative emotions gripped me every day. As my real life started to implode inwards, my activities became deeply withdrawn and passive. I started to construct an alternative online persona, a confident, happy, egotistical version of myself that said whatever was on his mind. In short, a charming asshole. The feeling of having lost my voice in the real world translated to a booming, but meaningless online presence. I was clinging to control in the only corner of my life that I believed I had any left.

Little did I know at that time, Facebook, my little haven of safety, fantasy and control, was actually taking advantage of my vulnerability to keep me trapped in a cycle of depression, gasping for a breath of attention, but starved of real human connection. And these algorithms are designed to keep a person’s attention at the expense of the vulnerable. They learn the best ways to keep you online, and those most susceptible to addiction suffer the worst. How can we allow a platform that seems so innocuous and practically useful to systematically prey on the most compromised individuals in society? It’s simple, people just don’t know yet, and they really need to wake up from the stupor. Facebook has the chloroformed cloth to our face, and we’ve been under for long enough for us to forget who kidnapped us.

Would You Let an Organisation Build a Palace of Opiates in the Midst of Deprivation?

Do you know why a heroin addict takes heroin, even at the expense of his health, both physical and mental? He’s not lazy or a cockroach, he’s escaping his reality, and people who experience internet addiction on platforms like Facebook are doing the same. Groups and pages like ‘BPD meme Queen’ (BPD stands for Borderline Personality Disorder, a serious personality disorder that requires real world intervention) with over 120k likes, actively invites mental illness onto the platform, trapping more and more vulnerable people in the molasses of hollow experience.  Glorifying mental illness in the shape of memes and signposting it on Facebook is not healthy, yet it’s absolutely allowed on the platform.  I ask you, would you allow an organisation to hand out free opiates to vulnerable, struggling people who need help figuring out their reality? Would you let a giant corporation build a gleaming white tower in the centre of the most deprived area of a city, offering out free syringes for the people’s unbridled attention? I don’t think so. Yet we happily turn on our computers and let algorithms fuck with us all day long. Algorithms which become exponentially more effective, the more unwell we are.

The reality is this, you don’t need Facebook to stay in touch with people. Sure, it might be easier to use social media, it has all of your information in one place and it’s keeping it warm for you, but you do have a phone, you have messenger services, you can still send a text and ring people, even write letters (yes, we should do more of that especially). If we don’t put pressure on the networks to change, we’ll continue to experience all of these issues going forward. Facebook is making ill people worse over time, and in the best case, keeping people chronically not better.

Mark Zuckerberg – Building a Disease Free World on the Bodies of the Addicted

Mark Zuckerberg previously announced that, along with his partner Priscilla Chan, he would be donating 99% of Facebook’s shares to eradicate all human disease, founding the Chan Zuckerberg initiative in 2015. A lofty goal, but more importantly, one at odds with the very product used to fund this research. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder. It’s partly genetic, partly environmental, but according to the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a human disease. Many will argue that there are more serious and debilitating disorders, but that’s another debate and beyond this article. In its own right, addiction is a serious, debilitating brain disease that is being actively abused by Facebook’s algorithms, monitoring user behaviour, analysing the most visceral impulses of addiction, and using them against its users.

Addiction disconnects. Not only does Facebook help us unplug from reality, it does it under the guise of connecting the world. Why is this a problem? Facebook is funding its research against human disease with a technology that makes a serious human disease worse in the population. The very system that sells itself as making the world more social, more connected, is actually doing the opposite. Now, there are smarter people than me working at Facebook, of that I’m sure. Moreover, these people understand the technologies inside and out. So, given that the odds of Facebook engineers knowing everything I do and more, and yet not even advertising to the public better methods of networking, methods that are less manipulative and damaging to vulnerable people and the social fabric of society at large, what is the gig? Why isn’t this big news? Why isn’t this issue even on the radar at all? One can only imagine they have their very good, very legitimate reasons.

I’m sure.

Students! You are Prime Targets for Manipulation!

At this point many of you are probably wondering ‘what has this got to do with me? I’m not addicted. I’m just a student.’. And it’s a perfectly acceptable question to ask, but here’s the thing: As a student, you’re extremely vulnerable to Facebook’s manipulation. Students deal with higher levels of mental illness, depression and social anxiety, those being some of the most debilitating aspects for our social group. More than this, students are trying desperately to form social connections, especially when they first start out at university. Facebook and other social media platforms thrive on the insecurity of students trying to make their way on the social scene. We’re also chronically bored. Bored people find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time on these platforms because there’s nothing better to do. Procrastination, too, adds to student stress and burnout. Perhaps if we weren’t constantly having our essence sucked by horny virtual-dementor-algorithms, we’d have time to get some of our work done (I’m sure the least popular argument on this list). All of these factors make students prime targets for algorithms which want to keep you trapped in Zuckerberg’s Wonderland for as long as possible.

I’m not saying go cold turkey like I did but think very carefully about how you use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Communication, after all, is a two-way street. When we look out of the window, the things on the other side look back. The real question when using social media is who’s using who?

This article is also available at Slain Media.