How To Stay Sane In A World Of Heartbreak

Craig Mccann Mcmillan

Two years ago this month, I wrote an article about the current occupant of the White House and the future world of post-traumatic stress that he was wilfully and deliberately creating for migrant families through a policy of enforced familial separation.

I didn’t name him in that article and I have no intention of dignifying him by doing so now.

Recently, that individual has threatened to do what no American leader has done in nearly 30 years and deploy troops to tackle the violent protests that have erupted in the wake George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis last week.

It hardly seems coincidental that when George Bush Senior sent the army into Los Angeles in 1992, it was also to quell rioting that followed the death of another black man – Rodney King – in police custody.

For those who have missed the context of George Floyd’s killing, he died when a police officer – who has since been charged with murder and manslaughter – knelt on his head for more than eight minutes, even though Floyd persistently said he couldn’t breathe.

Law and democracy demand that the officer, Dennis Chauvin, be presumed innocent unless proven otherwise by a jury of his peers. But the video evidence that traversed the globe even more quickly than the pandemic that currently grips us is compelling.

Right-minded people have little tolerance for brutality among those whose job it is to protect us, and none at all where that brutality is inflicted on the disadvantaged and oppressed; so there is a sense of inevitability about the insurrection that has bloomed in cities around the US on each of the last seven nights.

But it seems to me that what we are witnessing across the Atlantic is also, in small part, a reflection of the extraordinary pressure under which people all over the world are currently living.

As a global society we have been living through a period of growing and unprecedented trauma for years, one that has now triggered an explosive emotional response that was as inevitable as it has been unavoidable.

Now we are tasked with healing it; but in order to heal, trauma must first be acknowledged and addressed.

I say this constantly, and I repeat it here: there is no hiding place from trauma.

To ignore it only allows it to grow and fester like a cancer until it creates an inner wrecking ball that then manifests itself in negative behaviours in your own life that can range from an horrifically persecutory superego, to car-crash relationships with yourself or others, drug addiction or rapacious mental health issues.

No amount of positive thinking, self-affirmation or good intentions will override unhealed trauma – it must come to the surface in order to be healed.

What we are witnessing now across the world is the same volcanic effect of society’s pent-up trauma – and specifically that caused by centuries of unaddressed racism, prejudice and injustice – erupting.

The demonstrations we have seen over the past few weeks are specifically rooted in the shameful abomination of historic entitlement of white privilege at the expense of people of colour; but every person who has taken the knee or marched in protest is also making a wider statement about equality.

Trauma on an international scale, such as the current pandemic and the emotional responses it has provoked, is not uncommon. The financial crash of 2008 and 9/11 are two examples within just the last two decades.

Many people have drawn a comparison between the current lockdown and what life must have been like during the Second World War, but the truth is that the effect of lockdown on the human race globally goes far beyond the that experienced by most ordinary (by which I mean non-military) folk between 1939 and 1945.

Rationing was tough. Living under the constant fear of bombing runs by the Luftwaffe over strategic UK locations was fearsome. Not knowing if your spouse, sibling, parent or child would return from action was impossibly hard. Learning they wouldn’t was harder still. We know this from the stories passed down by the silent generation and their parents.

But this is the first time in history that the world has stopped as one. It may turn, but it barely functions. Businesses have collapsed. Thousands have died on contact with an unseen enemy. Homes have been lost. People who had teetered on the edge of poverty have been cast into its abyss. We queue for food and we are forcibly distanced from people we love.

And it has all happened in the space of just a few short weeks.

On May 8th 1945, people emerged from six years of hardship knowing the enemy they feared had been beaten and had surrendered.

Over the last ten days we have begun to realise that unlike our forefathers, we are now expected to return by degrees to a world we last saw on March 23rd and a world in which our unseen enemy has not been bested – and is unlikely to be for months or maybe years.

We’re being asked to create a new normal in a world where death potentially lies in wait in everything we touch, breathe and taste.

And for many people, that’s absolutely terrifying.

What that terror translates into is a state of emotional paralysis, decision-making inertia and a process of denial in which fear and anxiety thrive. Both characteristics are master storytellers and as a species we are hardwired towards confirmation bias, where we seek to confirm what we already believe or have been told.

That all adds up to a toxic thought chain fear, anxiety or total shutdown – traits that characterise our typical inbuilt defence mechanisims – trigger one or more of the four human trauma response modes: fight, flight, freeze or fawn.

I explain those response modes in my last article which sought to help people define their apocalypse style, but it’s a unique characteristic of the current global lockdown that it should trigger those responses in us both at its start and the point at which we begin the journey to its end.

When the lockdown was announced on March 22nd, many of us experienced one or more of those four responses.

Whether it was the indecision and inertia of freeze as we tried to make decisions in our dressing gowns at three in the afternoon, or the panic of flight as we cancelled non-essential direct debits and applied for mortgage payment holidays, each day was defined by the way in which we individually coped with an unfamiliar world.

Now we’re going through exactly the same thing as we are coaxed into ‘normality’ (note: there is absolutely nothing normal – yet – about what we’re heading into).

Some of us may be richer for our time of self-reflection; we may even have found a resilience we didn’t know we had; we may have discovered, as I did, that we owned a pair of Fuck-It pants (you’ll have to read the apocalypse blog to understand that).

But that was learning and evolution designed for a different purpose – to cope with lockdown.  

And whilst it may have been appropriate then, what do we do now when we are faced with the heartbreak of many people of colour and may feel compelled to fight not just for ourselves but also others without wrecking the world and our own lives at the same time?      

The cognitive dissonance we are experiencing right now couldn’t be more polarised: we feel an urge to protest, but we are being urged to stay at home.  

Brene Brown was quoted this week as saying that in a crisis such as this we can either pretend we have nothing to learn, or we can take the opportunity to own the truth and make a better future for ourselves and others. 

Times are changing, as they must. Normal no longer exists. Perhaps what we are now seeing is the necessary effect of dismantling what is familiar but flawed in order to rebuild a new normal that serves us all better. Because now we know that the normal we were living before wasn’t working.

But a new normality brings its own worries and forces us to deal with all the ugly truth it may bring.

We’re in that twilit land where we’ve realised we may get to discover the reality of the reassurances we told ourselves. And part of us really, really doesn’t want to do that. Part of us recognises that we’d really rather stay within the confines of comfortable prisons we’ve built for ourselves over the last eight weeks.

The protests we are seeing today are a response to an injustice that is a symbol of a much darker social cancer within society.

The fear and anxiety we have all experienced over the last two months and now face anew in a shifted form as we prepare for life post-lockdown is gasoline on that already burning fire.

It’s important that we look after ourselves in this very traumatising time, not because we are selfish, but because we are no use to anyone if we are not able to stay relatively sane in the eye of a growing storm. 

But it’s equally vital that we don’t minimise or ignore the pain of others; by acknowledging it, offering support and being prepared to listen and understand we can all work to heal each other.

If you haven’t experienced racism personally, it’s impossible to understand what it is like to be a victim of racism. And no one should expect you to. But what you can share is empathy, because that is a gift within all of us.   

Accessing the inner strength and stability that allows us to live through this and work out the right way to contribute has never been more vital. It’s found in the window of tolerance.

The window of tolerance is not about tolerating the intolerable, either in your own life or in the world at large; it is simply about being able to access a pocket of stability and rationality that safeguards your own mental health.

It’s about creating time and space breathe and to feel, to rationalise and to simply be.

Staying in your window of tolerance gives you the strength to ride out this crisis whilst also doing the right thing by you and by others. It’s a potential gateway to positive action. And in the end, isn’t positive action where healing lies?

Photo of my incredible friend Sara M Noel and her beautiful little boy Luca – photo credit Craig Mccann Mcmillan

Why You’ll Never Have All Your Ducks In A Row

ducks in a row

There is very little in this old world that’s truly finite. In most things thetre is scope and opportunity to prevaricate, delay and procrastinate, always with the one-size-fits-all excuse that you need to get your ducks in a row.

Here’s the truth: they never will be.

Even the most industrious and committed among us can find a reason not to start, just as the future always holds a better – and usually mythical – time to begin what you instinctively want to put off.

You’ll buy the dress or the suit or the bathing costume – but you’ll do it when you’ve lost a stone or you’ve toned up with the gym membership you bought on January 2nd but have never used.

You’ll pay off those debts, but there’s a good chance you’ll be getting some extra work in a couple of months, so there’s no point in starting to pay them down until then (even though they’re costing you more money than you can afford).

Continue reading…

The Truth Behind The Triple Smackdown

The Truth Behind The Triple Smackdown

Here’s the truth about life. Sometimes it turns up wearing camouflage gear and a balaclava, armed to the teeth and hell-bent on hurting you.

Or at least, that’s what it feels like.

We all experience this at least once in our lives. And if it only happens once, then consider yourself fortunate, because it happens to most of us more than once.

This is the moment where everything seems to be going well and apart from the minor day-to-day issues everyone’s dealing with all the time, there’s not much to distract you from the rather pleasant job of enjoying life.

And then, suddenly, everything seems to go to hell in a hand cart in a very short time.

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We Need To Sculpt A Better Education System

Computer Lesson At School

Ask anyone with even the most limited appreciation of the arts to name ten of the most famous sculptures in history and the chances are that Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker would probably be having a fist fight with Michaelangelo’s David to be at the top of the list.

Rodin’s work, created in the late Nineteenth Century and first cast at the turn of the Twentieth, now resides at the Musee Rodin in Paris.

I mention this not because I have any specific interest in the work of Heroic Avant-Garde sculptors (don’t worry, I Googled that), but because I have a question.

In the process of creating a masterpiece, which element contributes most to the finished work? The clay or other medium (get me with my art words)? Or the artist who sculpts it?

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Sexbots – The Ultimate Emotional Anorexia?

Futuristic Selection Of Female Cyborgs Aroud Picky Man

Before you plunge into this, I need you to set aside your prejudice and your judgement and your preconceptions and find a place of honesty, because what I’m about to write requires thought to override instinct.

A recent one-off documentary on Channel 4 called The Sex Robots Are Coming chronicled the arrival of an artificially intelligent, fully mobile, communicating doll designed to have sex with a human.

If you missed it, it was, in many ways, compulsively fascinating. And in others, it was deeply disturbing and more than a little creepy, for reasons that I suspect may not be entirely obvious to everybody.

On one level, this latest development can be passed off as a piece of technological whimsy that serves as an astonishing testament to the progress of man’s innovation. And, I suppose, there’s merit in acknowledging these robots purely on that basis.

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Why Is No-One Talking About The ‘Why’?

Why Is No-One Talking About The 'Why'?

We’ve probably all been in a situation at least once where we’ve been caught up in a debate with someone who has a point of view which is the polar opposite of our own.

Often these conversations revolve around subjects which might be contentious or controversial or simply evoke tension. During the exchange, it’s likely that you’ve spent a fair amount of time laying out a logical, well-considered argument with examples to illustrate the message you’re trying to convey.

And when it comes to the other person’s time to respond, they simply regurgitate their own opinion – which, of course, barely offers a nod of recognition to your carefully manicured opinions. 

And in your head you’re screaming: BUT YOU’RE MISSING THE WHOLE POINT!!

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The (Vital) Difference Between Hope & Fantasy

The (Vital) Difference Between Hope & Fantasy

For two words with such distinctly different definitions, the tendency for hope and fantasy to be confused for each other is remarkable. They are, of course, linked – but mistaking one for the other can have toxic outcomes.

We can’t live without hope. That’s why, as the old saw says, it dies last. And given the uncertain and turbulent times in which we currently live, that’s nothing if not reassuring: there are worse ways to live than in the enduring belief that things will ultimately get better.

Fantasy – the imagining of impossible or improbable things – also has its place. As the 19th Century Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin observed, by striving to do the impossible man has always achieved what is possible. Without fantasy to fuel the hopes and dreams of humankind, it’s entirely possible we would still be drawing on the walls of caves.

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Hypnotherapy In Later Life

Hypnotherapy In Later Life

There’s a tendency to look at older people and envy them the simplicity of their lives. Unless there are obvious signs of failing physical, mental or financial health, it’s easy to see people in their twilight years as a generation that’s found contentment.

As the rest of us hurtle pell-mell through the frenetic hub of an eat-sleep-work-repeat existence, it’s easy to look on with some degree of jealousy at how the pace of life has slowed for those of a certain vintage.

In our eyes, they have acquired the greatest wealth of all: time. And at the same time, we envy the fact they are unburdened by work or financial worries. It’s easy to tell ourselves that those beyond working age are care-free and happy.

But in many cases, it’s fallacy.

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The Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection

The Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection

Life, it seems, has become an endless pursuit of perfection. The perfect partner, the perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect face. 

Except, of course, it’s never enough. No matter what we achieve, we keep redefining what we mean by perfection. Yet I’d argue that when we define perfection, we’re instead allowing ourselves to be defined by how we want to be seen by others.

This is certainly true of celebrities. The rock stars, film icons and sporting heroes who occupy the unrelenting attention of the world’s media live in a strange and terrifying alternate reality in which they are presented with an image of themselves and experience the suffocating pressure of trying to live up to it.

A life of celebrity can be almost Orwellian, where the definition of self can become so blurred that the person in the spotlight in turn becomes convinced that the image they see on the news, in the papers and on film is actually who they are or should become.

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Why Meeting Yourself With Love Is So Important

Why Meeting Yourself With Love Is So Important

Nourishing your heart involves making a practice of loving every aspect of yourself. This is about embracing all of your inner world too. This includes those parts of you that are responsible for some of your greatest challenges. Many people have parts of themselves that are closed down to love, push away opportunity and sabotage their best attempts to make positive changes in their lives. It can be tempting to attack these parts of your mind, making them wrong and blaming them for everything that is difficult in your life.  Unfortunately that only makes matters worse. If you do have parts of yourself that seem set against you, they are working on some level to serve you. They always are. Yes, those parts may be serving you in wholly destructive ways, underpinning any number of terribly limiting behaviours and beliefs but those parts will be doing that with your best interests at heart. Somewhere in the middle of their motivation is a desire to keep you safe.

Changing behaviour only works in a real and lasting way if we can get every aspect of ourselves into alignment. It is about negotiating with yourself so that every part of you comes into agreement. Then it no longer involves any will power. Will power is when one part of you wants one thing and another wants something else and you go to war against an aspect of yourself.  True transformation comes from realising on a deep level what truly serves you. This is not a chore, a duty or a loss. It is a gift of love. From there, there is no more struggle or effort required. So, how do you bring those parts of you into agreement? Continue reading…

Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.