Jessica McKinlay: ‘Spirals’

Contemplation is key, the key. The same key that opens the lock to hidden doors, doors labelled ‘self-hatred,’ ‘pride,’ ‘anxiety,’ ‘loneliness’ and the mighty pitfall labelled ‘depression’.  Most people fall for the trick when they allow doubt to appear. Doubt can show itself in many different ways. It will present itself as a thick smog which covers all of your thoughts and opinions. A smog that never seems to dull, instead it grows thicker as each little issue appears within your life at any one stage. The tiniest inconvenience becomes a grotesque cloud, further adding to the smog. This I would say is the most dangerous case of doubt. When the smog becomes the scariest however is when it evolves into self-doubt. Doubt could be telling yourself that you do not think a certain action or activity is a particularly good idea. Yet, self-doubt is when that doubt over actions and/or activities turns itself around and begins to circulate you as a person. The doubt you once had about what that action could do for you turns into what you could do to that action.

There comes a time in everyone’s life, where we wonder how our pathway is going to look. We envision what life will look like and just how we will spend our time living. The issue is, how do we spend this time? We spend it worrying, stressing, and praying that it will work itself out. It is a struggle for anyone no matter who they are, whatever age they may be and their own social circumstances.  It takes us to a place where we hope to never find ourselves: our own minds. Life would be bliss if we were given a path, the resources we need and a straight idea of how we will live. But that’s not the case. Life wouldn’t be life without the everlasting, ever-growing smog. Some perhaps don’t comprehend how exactly it feels to live within a constant flurry of smog, but many, many people do. Throughout this journey we embark into many different situations which aren’t appreciated but the truth behind those is, they make us who we are. It tests our character, builds our personality and the finished outcome may be nothing like our original thoughts of how exactly each path would look.  Let’s discover what we truly feel to be existing within us and let’s at least attempt to understand it. Life remains your very own spiral. Let’s explore it now.

Emotions are difficult to comprehend, no one can put their finger on exactly how they feel at any point. No one ever just feels one emotion at one time. But, anyone with the heavy smog present feels it riddling throughout their brain at every moment of every day. Nothing dulls it, at times you may feel happy with something or someone but the smog is present. In life we seek outlets to allow ourselves to feel empowered or just in control. However, it appears that these things may not bring us what we expect them to. Yet, is it that perhaps we expect too much of ourselves as people? Well there is no answer apart from, yes. We continue to ride the wave of life as we are programmed to do so, we go to a specific school, and we continue education at University or college and then what? We work, we work for the rest of our working lives. We continue to add to the machine of the working world, providing to the economy whilst shattering our own minds. To survive we need to work, to work we need to be liked enough at interviews or have the correct qualifications to achieve what we want to achieve. So, we add pressure, and some may feel the pressure is unnecessary and ignore it, but it is indeed vibrant with colour as it circulates your whole being.  This pressure can only best be described as a festival of colours, within your mind. It is indeed a sight to behold and at times is useful for us. However, when it isn’t useful, it multiplies and attaches itself to the pre-existing smog. Slowly but surely your spiral is growing in length and curving in a way you never thought it could, the danger is powerful but eventually you’ll learn to trust it because it’s yours.

The pressure we feel is provided by experiences we face and the way certain actions are portrayed to us. Throughout school we are given tips and tricks for interviews for work and university, however with this comes the almighty ‘just be yourself’. Although this may feel like good advice at the time but our brains immediately jump to the instant anxiety of the social communication between yourself and any professional you talk to. This begins to play within your mind, you question if ‘yourself’ will be enough and how exactly it will help you. As you feel overwhelmed the self-doubt smog appears alongside the colourful streaks of pressure. Before you know it, you have persuaded yourself that it isn’t a good idea, that you won’t be valued and liked, you will fail.  As you calculate whether to show up you worry about other issues, finding problems around everything. Tiny little problems cropping up every now and then which were concealed by the messy smog now appear clearly and all at once. It’s thrown at you; in fact it’s hurled at you and there’s nothing left to do but panic. What once began as an interview to help you, became an interview that would destroy your own perception of yourself.

 It’s known amongst mainly the whole population that good grades will always provide a boost in wherever you feel your path leading you. To become anyone we want to be we have to work hard, this is a fair statement, although at which point did someone decide that as part of the curriculum this made sense for all pupils? Every single person is different, some adore school and excel within their academic studies, others excel in practical classes and some don’t enjoy any of it. So, at which point was it an adequate decision that grades are the foundation for your entire adult life? We get told we can be anything we want to be but then are given the contradicting news of, but only if you achieve high enough grades. This applies a thick layer of pressure, illuminous in colour, thickens the smog and deepens our thoughts. We wonder and stress and panic about the outcome of the ever-dreaded exams, and then face the worry of the results day which arrives months after. What kind of support would help this? Sometimes it’s none. There is always the struggle in opening up, which is what most people are expected to do. Talking? Talking aids the battle but doesn’t always win it. but how is that? The smog is an angry hurricane at times, talking dulls it yes perhaps, but sometimes it feels incurable, like a cyclone raging on and on and on throughout your mind.

The next step for many after secondary school is further education. The jump from school to university is a bumpy road. It allows for emotions to be released that have never been experienced before. For myself it felt I was hidden within a maze waiting for the passion to hit me, but that passion never arrived. It felt like I was wandering around a poorly lit street unaware where I would end up and for many that’s the way it can feel. You are tiny and hopeless, stuck in the one dull place and every path leads you to a dead end. It seems like there is no escape, as you force your way throughout the maze, hidden within your spiral which is entangled with your smog. At this point there is no option but to suffice and continue your search for light at the end of your maze. It can feel like you are crawling your way through a course you are studying with no realisation of where you may end up but you continue to do it, and why? Because you do not know what else you would be doing. The reason you continue your journey through what feels like the never-ending maze persists to be the reason you feel like you are never moving onto the next chapter of your life. Throughout our lives as children and growing into teens we are told to focus on the future, and work towards a life we want as adults. We are expected to know what career we want to work in and know what life we want for ourselves but when the time comes to choose, that decision can sometimes feel rushed. Almost like we are forcing it upon ourselves. Or the opposite, you have been accepted after all of the hard work but upon arrival it’s not at all what it seemed. This, this is a harrowing part of our lives. We live through the present instead of living for the future. There’s now a unique cocktail made within your mind a mixture of feeling lost, lonely and most of all insecure. Unsure of what we want from life, unsure of how we want to spend our time and unsure of how we are possibly going to fix the scrapheaps our minds have become.

The thought of exploring our own spirals is terrifying. It can be too much to comprehend, but sometimes the incomprehensible is enough to push us to understand. We look for reasons not to take time for ourselves, on our own, left alone with our swirling smog. However, society is becoming far more accepting of how important our mental health can be. There’s the struggle of controlling the smog, which is more difficult through lack of communication. The secret is to communicate with yourself. It’s difficult to try and allow someone else within your own mind when you can’t let yourself in. Your mind can be a scary place. Terrifying even. The issue is, whenever we try to talk about our problems whoever we are explaining it to is experiencing the exact same fogginess, just in a different way. What many do not realise is, problems have many different faces. They are not the same, yet they are. The literal problem is different, but the feelings surrounding them are similar. It’s like a Rubik’s cube. The problems are all within the same cube but are shown by many different colours. We could be experiencing the exact same emotion but our minds process it differently, allowing it to be masked by a different colour, your problem appears green and mine red. This should not prevent us from sharing our problems, all that’s different is our outlooks. Our smog works mischievously in an attempt make it seem like no one will understand it. However, once we understand ourselves it is so much easier to appreciate others.  Once this is recognised by whoever you try sharing with, the easier it becomes for it to be comprehended by all. The last thing many of us want or need with our time spent amongst the heavy smog is someone to make us feel like we are not valid. Through many experiences, this is how many professionals can make you feel. It is hard to sit with a stranger and explain every last detail of the goings on within your mind. Is it that this smog can make us feel like strangers? Or is it that at times we feel like our spiral has split into different pathways? Just as we begin travelling down one we feel like a completely different human. And then evolve again as we travel down another and so on. It gets to the point where these different people on our different paths merge into one, to create us. However sometimes we wake up and don’t understand what we feel or who we feel like being, this is a confusing temperament to be in. Yet, it’s faced almost every day. Some days we wake up and feel like the person we were months ago, and then other days that person is miles away and we have developed into someone completely new. When do we become our own character, fully developed, and smog free? The answer to that I feel is worlds away.

We are open to the feeling of insecurity, best described as a wall filled with padlocks, all locked and all extremely heavy. As another insecurity arises another padlock is placed upon to the wall adding extra lbs of weight in our minds. It takes time for each insecurity to be conquered and accepted to remove the extra weight of a now unlocked padlock. We are living in the generation of smartphones and fabulous technology, most of which is used daily. However, this also means being involved within a generation that lives their whole life through these. We are programmed to hate ourselves. It’s a controversial thought but it makes sense. The doors hidden beneath the smog remain locked until a trigger key is presented to us and it’s then opened. We hide our feelings like most people but without even our own recollection the smog grows in power each time a door is opened. ‘Self-hatred’ is a tricky subject to disguise, it lives within every person yet for some unfair reason it presents more plainly for certain people. We try to understand body positivity that we see on our screens however like most situations the bad always outweighs the good. It’s a pessimistic approach but unfortunately so true. We follow, friend and add these influencers, many do it just to see their posts as they enjoy their personalities but for some it is done to feed the angry, ravenous smog. Eventually it can lead to eating disorders or worse. We tend to view people struggling with eating disorders as ‘sufferers’, which in some cases is partially correct. However, for many they don’t want to be viewed as victims they want to be known as normal people, they don’t want labelled victims for something out with their own control. Stability and strength are needed to overcome the angry smog. The first step is not defining ourselves by the number we see on scales or upon measuring tapes. These numbers can be represented best as tiny little stones being thrown against the glass that covers and protects the precious smog. As each little stone is thrown into the glass, it’s chipped. It’s chipped away until it eventually cracks and once it’s cracked it shatters. The shattering of the glass is the climax. The smog is released, and it feels like a loss control of what we always thought we had control of. Recovery for those who have been suffering from a smog takeover is a struggle, as your spiral slowly unravels to reveal a tangled heap that can feel unbearable to exist with. Those who find themselves getting back on their feet after a dysmorphic episode are not afraid of getting better, they are afraid of falling back. They fear the fear. Scared of their own bodies and what their minds do to them. The main problem with influencers is, many of them have too much influence over us. They shouldn’t have the power to allow us to hurt ourselves all in the name of beauty or what we view as beautiful. We objectify ourselves and others around us, we live in a world where judging people has become the norm, so much so we continue to do it to ourselves, as we nit-pick at our bodies, our looks and our clothes. We always look to better ourselves, but until we fully understand the smog and its reason for being there we will struggle to clear it, until then we continue to blow it away bit by bit, hoping we will feel better within ourselves as we do so.

This piece should be read as a journey, a journey throughout the mind of someone who feels a heavy smog constantly existing within their head. It’s written to clarify, to explain, and to allow you to feel these emotions and have no shame or uneasiness towards it. It should be noted all of this has come from my own personal experiences as well as others around me, and many, many people feel this way. In the hopes to shine a light upon the smog we feel inside, a true portrayal of how we view ourselves within our darkest times, contemplating our lives and how we want to spend them. It is not written to clear anyone’s smog but to aid with the coping mechanism of controlling it. We weren’t born to feel this way, it’s just how life occasionally works itself out. We allow the smog to form, we pave way for our doors to be created and we give them permission to be unlocked. Everyone has a spiral of their own, there’s just times when it becomes a little tangled and support can then be provided to help untangle the mess. At times the smog is almost invisible, but we know it’s there, it remains and will always remain a part of who you are.  However, you are in control and always have been in control, despite it sometimes feeling like you are not. In the end all it takes is procrastination, understanding and contemplation, contemplation is key, the key.

Jessica McKinlay

Jessica is a 19-year-old student at the University of Glasgow with no previous publications.

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