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Since a very young age, I’ve always had quite an active imagination. I’ve also, always had a very anxious imagination. Two things which go together about as well as cheap red wine and important life choices as you can imagine.
Picture playing a game of ‘The Floor is Lava’ with your school friends, but having a very real sense of slipping from the two-seater settee to a molten-rocky doom. That was me. I was the kid motionless on a cushion, breathing into an incredibly convincing, imaginary paper bag.
What I could never have imagined though at that age, was the power and effect those two character traits could have on me in later life.
Before I had the chance to put my imaginary paper bag away and save it for later, my creative mind had landed me an incredible opportunity at one of the UK's biggest advertising agencies. Thanks, active imagination! Turns out people do need a brain that can effectively sell a tub of garden paint with just a talking frog, a couple of rainbows, and a very low budget. A story I'll save for another time.
Unfortunately though, it wasn't all rainbows and sparkles. As a young creative in an old-school, ad-land company, it was a real test of character. Especially when you were desperately trying to think of ideas that meant keeping the job, while somebody sang, "I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts" relentlessly from the desk behind. I wish I was joking.
In an effort not to miss out on any of the action, my anxious imagination craved as much attention as my creative mind. Which at the time, was being stretched to its limits. So, I began to worry that my ideas would dry up. That my active imagination just wouldn't deliver. And I'd be left in a situation with absolutely nothing.
It became relentless. My nervousness spilled out into every aspect of my life. Driving. Supermarket shopping. I couldn't even sit and read a book. Something had to change.
Now I know what you're used to here. This is the part where I talk about how I discovered mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. And sure I gave them a try. Maybe not the yoga though. All the balancing reminds me of some very traumatic games of ‘The Floor is Lava’ as you already know. They helped in their own way. But I felt I was missing something more. Until one day I sat bolt upright and realised what I needed. Bear Grylls.
At the time, it didn't really make much sense to me. And as I typed in the last few digits of my credit card for the express delivery of Bear Grylls books, guides, and DVDs, I did wonder if I'd lost my mind completely. But looking back now, I get it.
I’d convinced myself that I could lose everything. My ideas. My job. My security. So much so that I was teaching myself how to survive with absolutely nothing. Teaching myself how to build a shelter. How to forage. How to navigate. And there was just something about learning how to start a fire with just a tampon and a stone that made me feel so much safer.
It’s extreme. I know. But deep down, I knew if I had this kind of knowledge, what’s the worst that could happen? If I could live with no food in a big fancy fridge, no roof over my head, no idea where I was, then what was there to actually worry about? Nothing.
Anxiety, panic disorders, depression. They’re different for everyone. And what works for one might not work for everyone else. But along with some pretty intense survival skills, I also learnt not to be afraid of my anxious mind and its extreme way of thinking. Because in this case, it ended up correcting itself. So, if meditation or mindfulness aren't quite cutting it for you, there could be another way.
Hopefully, if this article has taught you anything though, it's who to call in a survival situation. Probably still Bear Grylls. But if you do need to sell some garden paint with a low budget. That one’s definitely me.