Make Better Decisions / by Simeon Smith

(I started writing this post about not eating meat, but it turned into something else)

A year ago I was struggling in a deep valley of depression and generalised anxiety disorder. This was the 4th major episode I’d experienced, over an 8 year period, and it was by far the darkest. I could hardly leave my bed. Emotions evaporated.

The previous 8 years had a been a journey in search of the golden bullet. The one thing that would kill my depression and would get me well again. I tried so many things, found they didn’t quite cut it for me, and dropped them again. Some would work for a while, others were fruitless.

I can’t remember exactly what it was that got me to change my way of thinking, but around a year ago I started to see my mental health journey as one of marginal gains. The search for the one golden bullet ended and I started trying instead to find dozens of tiny things I could change that would improve my mental health.

The term mindfulness gets thrown around a lot, and I guess it’s a good enough term for what I call “Getting good at life”. The dozens of tiny things could only be implemented by making hundreds of GOOD decisions every day. Being mindful of every choice facing me. Getting good at life.

Here’s a list of a few of the things I’ve changed, but each of these changes takes good decisions again and again and again, day after day after day.

1.       Diet. I gave up meat. There are so many reasons to not eat meat, and so few to do so. Vegetarianism and Veganism are negative actions – you stop doing something that was harming yourself and the environment (as opposed to a positive action, where you start doing something beneficial). I find this kind of rule hard to follow, but found a much better way for me to work out my diet. Instead of looking at what I should cut out, I try to make decisions based around the best possible thing for me to eat. I ask myself why I’m eating (sustenance, an emotional pick up, boredom) and what would be the best decision I could make to satisfy that need (sustenance = fruit, emotional pick-up = coffee, boredom = change what I’m doing!). At first I found this exhausting, and I still make a lot of terrible decisions with my diet having been brought up in a family with a terrible relationship with food, but have managed to totally cut out meat and aspartame, and have drastically reduced my dairy intake.

2.       Exercise. I had no idea how unfit I was. I grew up in a house where a 20 minute walk (usually to a café) was exercise. I was forced to leave the house at least once a day for half an hour, but rarely used that time for exercise. I was home-schooled so didn’t even have to do PE. I joined a gym a few years back, and for a while tried to do cardio before work a couple of times a week, but that meant I had to actually get up, go to the gym, get changed, and it took a lot of time. Then my friend David posted online that he had just finished his first 5k with a “Couch to 5k” app. I didn’t even know he was running at all, and (thinking very little of David’s physique) thought if he could do it, so could I. Since then I’ve run 2 or 3 times a week, and using apps you can make sure you’re progressing, not just plodding along. My only advice, other than just do it, is to get a decent pair of running shoes. I have collapsed arches and had always told myself that’s why I couldn’t run. A good pair of kicks made it apparent that it was nothing to do with my feet, and instead was because I was so unfit.

3.       Interaction. We’re a social species, we need to communicate. But it’s just about quantity of communication, it’s also about quality. I want the quality of my interaction with humans to be the best possible. I want to talk about important things, not the banal. For this reason, Facebook was no longer an option for me, I found it a dreadful way for me to communicate. I also stopped listening to the news on the way to work. I found music spoke more to me than politicians biting back at journalists over narrow-minded policies. I also went to therapy. Talking to someone whose job it is to listen and who uses evidence-based therapies to guide the conversations is truly life-changing. I found that it also made me more honest, with myself and with others.

4.       Creativity. Creativity got me through this last episode of depression. Around 11pm some nights, the black clouds would clear. I wrote an EP mainly between the hours of 11 and 1am, and my decision making was key. Is this the best possible note, sound, groove? The same mindfulness and marginal gains insight gave birth to “All Is Undone”.

5.       Pills. Sometimes, when you’re ill, you need medicine. Just the same as taking antibiotics for an infection, I take anti-d’s. Sometimes there’s shame attached to taking medicine for mental health, but for me, after years of struggling, this is clearly the best decision I could make for me, my family, my work and my art.

I still sometimes make dreadful decisions, but then again, sometimes I make great ones.

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