In Honour Of A Boy I Never Knew

I found out today what you did.

I never knew you yet you lived so close.

Just four floors above and yet you might as well have been on the other side of the world.

We must have passed many times – side by side in the elevator – and yet I never noticed.

Did I smile?

Did I show you kindness?

Or did my preoccupations blind me from seeing you?

I’m sorry if you thought the world didn’t care. If the world didn’t pay attention.

I shed a tear for you today.

I never knew you, but I’ll never forget you. I’ll never forget how you must have suffered.

I want you to know your life was not in vain.

In your honour, I will be better.

In your honour, I will strive to keep my eyes and my heart open.

To really see the people I pass by. To see the people I don’t know but are every bit a part of this shared world.

In your honour, I will be kinder.

In your honour, I will strive to be the best version of myself.

In your honour, I will love my life to fullest extent possible.

In your honour, the boy I never knew.

May you rest now in peace.


Those who have never experienced the darkest corners of their mind, will never be able to comprehend why someone would contemplate suicide. 

I myself can’t, but from experience I believe I can, at least, appreciate how it might lead there. 

To those who might label them as selfish – who are quick to judge – I would ask you to think for a second and consider this. 

If a man were burning alive and you handed him a loaded gun, would you judge him for shooting himself?

Living with a depression that drives people to take their own lives is something very few of us will ever be able to fully comprehend.

What I can say with some degree of certainty, however, is judgement won’t help those in the battle to save their own lives.  

They need our love, compassion and understanding. 

They need our help.

Be kind and if you think someone might be suffering, reach out. 

Something as seemingly simple as asking for help, is anything but easy when you’re drowning. 

You never know just how powerful a lifeline you might be offering.

To those who are suffering, who don’t know how to ask, who can’t seem to find the strength, please know there are people waiting to embrace you when you do.

There are people who still love you and know you have what it takes to come back from the brink. 

If you can find the courage, I’ve left a list of links below where you can seek help.


HELPLINES, SUICIDE HOTLINES, AND CRISIS-LINES FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Local Websites And Emergency Contact Numbers

https://www.befrienders.org

https://www.samaritans.org

https://www.who.int/mental_health/en/

https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/international/global-mental-health

How A Fixed Mindset Led To Years Of Depression And How A Growth Mindset Set Me Free.

“A few modern philosophers assert that individual intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protect & react against this brutal pessimism… With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgement and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.”ALFRED BINET (early 1900s)

I’d lived with a fixed mindset for years.

It was a mindset driven by a deep seated belief of not being good enough. Not being smart enough.

Simply not being enough.

I told myself all sorts of lies based off this. Lies that sounded so strongly I became crippled with depression and anxiety.

My mind tortured my heart until it shut off completely.

I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place now.

I’m more productive than I’ve ever been. I’m calmer, more confident. My thinking is clearer. I trust in my heart again.

I’m beginning to wake up to who I truly am.

One of the reasons, I believe, is an understanding that nothing is fixed. Nothing is permanent.

Through true insight gained from asking for help, I’ve been able to gradually change the harmful narrative I’d spent over a decade strengthening.

I didn’t realise it then, not in these terms at least, but one of the major reasons I managed to overcome depression was because I started to cultivate a growth mindset.


For those who’ve never heard the termonolgy before, Maria Popova from her blog post: Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives explains it well:

A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.

A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behaviour, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.[1]

Much of our understanding on the idea stems from the work of Stanford psychologist Carol S. Dweck as outlined in her brilliant book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Through her research Dweck demonstrates just how limiting a fixed mindset can be in stalling motivation and progress, especially following failure or when facing challenges. Conversely she demonstrates that those with a growth mindset see failure not as a confirmation of being unable or unintelligent, but as something from which they can learn and improve.

At the crux of her argument is the idea that those with a growth mindset understand just how valuable effort is over any sort of innate talent.

They understand effort = intelligence, and so fall in love with the process of improvement. On the other hand those with a fixed mindset are so worried about what failure might say about them, they come to dread doing what they have to in order to succeed. In extreme cases they avoid doing all together so as to avoid the pain of failure.

“This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

When I began to think back over my own life in these terms, I began to see how damaging a fixed mindset had been throughout my life.

Failure to me was confirmation I was one.

I hated doing certain work from a young age. Languages, in particular, were difficult for me. I was led to believe, by many teachers nonetheless, I wasn’t good at English and/or Languages.

The result?

I didn’t bother putting any effort into those subjects. I remember thinking what’s the point. I’m not any good so might as well concentrate on what I am.

The trouble is it worked in reversed too!

I was regularly told how good I was at math – that it was something I should pursue because it will open many doors. This was drilled home to me.

The result?

I completely lost interest in a subject I once loved. I still managed to scrape an A during my GCSE’s, but much to my father’s disappointment, I decided not to pursue it as an A level. I didn’t want people to find out, that if I put in the effort and failed, I might not be that good after all.

My parents, who I know believed were doing the right thing, didn’t realise how harmful praising my natural abilities were. It turns out that praising a child’s natural ability, or telling them how clever they are, is extremely damaging because it fixes a child’s mindset.

As Dweck notes,

“The ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it, too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent… In contrast, when students were praised for effort, 90 percent of them wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from.”

I’ll tell you a story of another teacher who never made mention of my abilities in English. She had me moved into her English class for the top peers in our age group (even though I belonged in the bottom). She made sure I sat at the front and paid keen attention (she was somewhat terrifying which helped). Despite not putting much effort into my coursework during those years, because of her, because of what I learnt through the effort I was forced to put in, I achieved B’s in both English Language and Literature.

You might think so what?

Well given my coursework material, which counted for a large percentage of the final grade, averaged between a C and a D, I must have aced the final examinations. I would also point out, before I joined her class, I was far, far behind the rest of the pack. On top of which I was going through some very difficult times in my life (I’ll get to that shortly). To this day they’re my proudest grades from secondary school.

Forgetting the grade, however, what she proved was far more important, even if it didn’t fully register till years later. She proved that if I chose to apply myself I was more than capable. She helped plant the seed for developing a growth mindset that would bear fruit many years later.


Image Source: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/

Prolonged bullying can instil a fixed mindset. Especially if others stand by and do nothing… Victims say that when they’re tortured and demeaned and none comes to their defence, they start to believe they deserve it. They start to judge themselves and to think they’re inferior.

I would love to say from this point everything got better. That I understood and moved forward with a newfound belief and started to grow.

But it didn’t.

I didn’t.

It got worse. Much worse.

My problems stemmed from many variables, but bullying played the biggest role. Those years of secondary school were brutal for me. I was bullied every day at school for years.

This was compounded by the fact my parents couldn’t see what was happening. I was at boarding school halfway across the world. They didn’t know.

They couldn’t.

The trauma of being bullied repeatedly hardwired my response to withdraw from everyone and everything. I shut down as a way to repress the overwhelming emotions I didn’t know how to process. It was depression in the making.

Ultimately this was a major problem because it prevented me for doing what I needed the most.

Ask for help.

What followed makes perfect sense to me now.

When my first love of two years broke up with me during University, I fell apart. I had no confidence I was capable of being on my own. No belief I was lovable, or that I’d be capable of finding it again.

Similarly, when I messed up a landing so badly during my early Junior First Officer training as a pilot (that the Captain had to take over and go around), it felt like my whole world had fallen apart. I put on a brave face but when I got home I broke down. The feelings of inadequacy came flooding up. It was too much for me.

(For those who don’t know in aviation, a go-around is an aborted landing of an aircraft that is on final approach.)

Carrying on afterwards, whenever I faced failure of some kind, was extremely, extremely difficult. Difficulties would often trigger a bout of depression that could last for weeks if not months at a time.

What my fixed mindset always wanted was to give up. To retreat into my shell. To shut down rather than fail and confirm what years of bullying had led me to believe.

It took everything I had to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To understand these were just lessons on the road of life which all of us go through.

Still, something in my heart kept my head above water.

The small voices of a growth mindset, planted there by various people including my parents, my high-school English teacher and my wife, to name a few, who all understood I really was capable, were enough in the end to pull me through. To all of them I am, and always will be, extremely grateful.

Yet it was all much harder than it needed to be. The major problem wasn’t my fixed mindset, but that the depression and paralysing anxiety it caused, prevented me from reaching out for help. I knew I needed it but for years I simply couldn’t find the strength.

It wasn’t until after my son was born, when I came home from work one day consumed by a regular bout of depression. As I sat with him and looked into his eyes, I realised I didn’t want to be around him.

I didn’t want to father him.

The familiar feeling of wanting to runaway and hide, to withdraw into my shell, to shirk all my responsibilities – including that as a father – broke me. The remorse and guilt was too much to bear. I left the room and the tears fell.

I let the sadness consume me.

I cried and cried. I cried until nothing was left but a strange peace. Something inside me changed. Something that said this time I couldn’t let depression win. I won’t. I didn’t think about what to do next. I simply picked up the phone.

I reached out.

I asked for help.


“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives”

I rate it as both the most courageous and important decision I’ve ever made. Since then the changes have far exceeded what I thought possible.

Am I out of the woods yet?

No, not a chance.

But I can honestly say after I sought help, after over a decade of suffering from what was eventually diagnosed as long-term depression, I’ve not had an episode since.

I still struggle with anxiety and other emotions that surface, especially in the face of adversity. However the difference is they don’t consume me like they used to.

I’m acutely aware of where those emotions and the false narrative are coming from. This has helped me to gradually let them go.

I also realised through the flooding of my subconscious with positive thinking and reading (the same way bullying can flood your subconscious with negative thinking), you can change the narrative in your head. You can literally grow out of a fixed mindset. You can literally grow out of depression!

Of course I don’t want to underplay how difficult this all was or, indeed, still is. To this day being bullied remains one of the most difficult topics for me to talk about personally, let alone publicly, but I now understand the need to do so.

In not facing your demons, you only give them strength. You only strengthen your fixed mindset. By not asking for help you only make it harder to do later on.

Ultimately if there was just one message I could convey to those struggling with depression – to those who suffer from an all consuming self-doubt – it would be to ask for help.

To somehow find the courage within you and reach out.

I know how hard it is.

Trust me!

But please remember, asking for help is simply asking someone else to help you grow. We all need help from one another – from the day we’re born till the day we die. The last thing it shows is that you’ve failed or that you’re incapable.

It shows the exact opposite.

It shows that despite everything you’re still willing to show up. It shows you’re not willing to let past demons fix in you any false belief. It shows that you understand that within you is another voice. Another mindset that knows you have so much more to give. A mindset we all have.

It is only you who can set it free.

It starts by asking for help.


SOURCES:

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives by Maria Popova


Dear readers, thank you so much for listening to what I have to say! In the interest of growth, I’d love to hear any comments, suggestions, questions or criticisms you may have in the comments sections below. Thanks again. Yours, AP2.

Now is the time – What will you do with yours?

Now is the time.

Now is the time to pause and slow down. To revaluate your priorities. To consider what is working and what hasn’t been. 

Now is time to practise gratitude for everything you have, such a roof over your head, access to food and clean running water, for living in a remarkable age technologically speaking, that helps keep us entertained, informed and, crucially, connected to all those we love despite our physical isolation. If nothing else to be grateful for life itself, despite all its hardships and heartache.

Now is the time to practise compassion for each other and ourselves. To be kind. To send that energy inwards and from there, outwards to the wider universe of which we are all part. 

Now is the time to heal. To use our shared pain as a gateway to shared compassion. 

Now is the time to contemplate time. Time is an illusion isn’t it? A trap that makes us think we have to keep on-top of things. To always do things. To strive for some perfect version of ourselves. A compete fantasy. Look at our reality now. Completely turned on its head. No time but to sit. Nothing to do but look inward, if we dare.

I strongly encourage you to do so. Sit with those emotions. Let them surface. The fear, the anxiety, the depression. Accept them as they are. Allow them into your heart. If you do you might learn something that will fundamentally change you. Something that no amount of striving, or trying to get, will ever be able to take away from you. Genuine peace. Peace with yourself and with the world as it is, at this moment.

Now is the time to practise acceptance. Learning to accept – to be at peace with yourself, gives you the clarity of mind to know how you should act – from the heart. Acceptance isn’t resignation. Acceptance is life’s biggest lesson.

Now is the time to practise awareness. To observe quietly. Meditation isn’t an act of doing nothing. It’s an act of curiosity. It’s a profoundly beautiful act of self compassion. Of being aware. Awakened. It is perhaps the most underrated act one can undertake. The act of being. Of dropping our attachment to our thinking minds. Of letting go. 

Now is the time to create. It’s often from constraint that creativity springs. Some of histories greatest minds understood and achieved true freedom in isolation. Others created some of their best work. Nelson Mandela and William Shakespeare readily spring to mind.

Now is the time to play. Now is the time to laugh. Now is the time to grieve. Now is the time to feel. To drop your guard. Now is the time to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be courageous. 

Now is the time to look those who you love in the eye and tell them so. Death is never far away. Death is life. Death is a continuation. Part of the journey. That journey continues. It continues in your children and your grandchildren. In all the people you have touched. In all things. Death is beautiful. Death is necessary. It gives way.

Now is the time to meet your shadows in the darkness and understand they were made from light.

Now, is the time. The time to be. If you do, you might just realise that what you‘ve been looking for, has been with you the entire time. 

Now, is always the time.

The only question to ask is,

What will you do with yours?

Am I Doing This Because Of Fear Or Love? – A Question For Motivation And Guidance

It was late the other night, before my wife and I went to bed, as we were sharing our thoughts and feelings about the day to one another, that she began by telling me about her sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the amount of things she sets herself to do – of always feeling pushed to do things – of feeling the need to do things – thats she sometimes feels driven by an underlying sense of ‘not good enough’. 

I paused to take in what she was saying, before climbing into bed next to her. 

She’s certainly not alone, I thought. I knew those feelings well. I suspect those feelings are probably shared by the vast majority of young professionals driven by certain expectations of society, of their parents, of their conditioning to be the best version of themselves.

As I responded, in one of my rare moments of clarity, I remembered a question that I wrote down from a podcast I heard a few weeks ago. It’s something I’ve asked myself repeatedly since, as a way to guide my actions , especially when I’ve felt a strong resistance to them – like my perceived need to keep up with my own work. 

The question was this:

“Am I making this decision because of love or fear?” – Dr Vivek Murthy

I felt it was such an insightful way of asking yourself why or why not you should do something – whatever that may be – as you go about your day. The more I contemplated it over the following weeks, the more I realised how powerful it was as a guiding force in keeping the values I hold close to my heart, clear in my mind. After all, I believe all our feelings and actions are driven, on a basis level, by one of these two underlying emotions. This question is a great way of bringing to light, exactly which one of these two emotions is driving your actions at any particular moment.

Is this decision because of fear or love?

As I climbed into bed I asked my wife what her motives are for doing (she’s a yoga teacher FYI) what she’s been doing? Is it because she believes strongly in the cause, to help others, or does she feel pushed to perform, to be better because of some perceived need to prove something to others or, indeed, herself? Is it from, on some level, a feeling of inadequacy, of not being good enough as she is right now?

I went on to explain something that dawned on me about why my own motivation towards work had stalled so many times in the past. 

I never felt good enough. I was scared what others thought. I was scared that I would underperform and not be seen as good enough in the eyes of my coworkers. I was so scared of ‘being found out’ for who I thought I was. Of confirming a long help belief – a false one – that I wasn’t good enough. The same has been true of my writing.

Thinking back it’s no wonder my motivation died. It’s no wonder when I sat down to do the work I needed that it was such an enormous struggle. It felt like walking through quick sand as I ploughed ahead while fighting the stress, anxiety and sometimes, full blown depression, that had consumed my heart. 

If only someone had shouted, “you are good enough you fool – you know this – you’re just doing it for the wrong reasons.”

Alas, I know that wouldn’t have helped. True insight and understanding has to come from within and that takes time. It has taken years to grow in my heart. It still is.


LOVE AS MOTIVATION FOR WORK & LIFE


The last three months – since the world of aviation has been brought to its knees because of the coronavirus pandemic – have given me, like countless others, plenty of time to reflect.

With regards to work I have come to realise that framing my motivations, to be clear that they are coming from a genuine place of love, is what I need to do. Whipping myself into shape doesn’t work in the longer term. It’s too hard.

As I explained to my wife, when I sit down to prepare for work, for a flight or simulator check, whatever it may be, the question I have started asking is, am I preparing from a place of fear or love? And, if I am feeling fearful, what is it that I’m really afraid of? Why am I doing what I am? If it’s because I feel the need to prove something, then I know I’m coming from the wrong place in my heart.

Of course preparing so you don’t fuck up in such a way that the flight ends in catastrophe is one way to think about things. Ultimately that’s our goal – Safety absolutely, rightly, comes first. However there’s a big difference between preparing or working from a place of all consuming fear, versus love. Even if you still feel fearful, if you’re coming from a place of genuine love, that will give you strength to carry on. To stare down the eyes of the beast. 

I relayed some of those loving motives, as they applied to me in my work, to my wife.

To honour and protect my fellow crew members who I owe it to, to perform at my best, as I know they are. To do my best for every single passenger we transport – to make sure they arrive at their destinations –  that they make it home safely to their loved ones. To remember I am providing for my own family through this job – that gives us everything we need to live a happy, healthy and secure life. To remember I love myself – self preservation because I want to be alive – so I can be around for my family and friends. So my wife has a husband to love her. So my son has a father to lead him.

There’s something else at this moment in time too. 

Although there isn’t a huge amount of flying to go around at the moment – I realised the small amount there is, is an opportunity to be part of something, to help in a way most others around the world can’t. To help bring the few people who need to travel for very urgent reasons. To help bring critical supplies, medical or otherwise, to areas of the world who desperately need it. To help the world keep turning to some degree at a time when it has all but ground to a halt!  It’s a gift to be able to do something more than simply stay at home during this pandemic. I know millions of others would give a lot for the opportunity to do the same. It’s something to be extremely grateful for.

While these might seem like obvious motivations, I can tell you they are easily lost, or have been for me at least, in a profession so heavily driven by perfectionism – to prove your competency, and that you know everything there is to know. The pressure to prove yourself isn’t part of the the job I relish. 

Yet, when I allowed myself to think in these terms, I found myself itching to get back into the righthand seat for the first time in a long time. To be a larger part of this fight against the coronavirus pandemic – even if that means I only get to fly a single sector. I want to help in any way I can. Through my wiring and my profession. 

I now realise just how important it is to remind myself of my real motives when I feel anxious, especially when plagued by self-doubt, to help refocus the mind and bring me back to the present.

Am I doing this because of love or fear?

As I relayed these thoughts to my wife that night, it was interesting to hear that for the charity classes she had been organising, from which she earned not a penny, she had felt none of this resistance. She believed in the cause strongly, for a number of reasons including bringing people together from their homes at this difficult time globally. So they too could do something more than just sit at home – to contribute to charities in need, while showing love to themselves. A beautiful act of self-compassion extending outwards.

It’s obvious isn’t it? She had been acting from a place of love and the motivation for doing so was effortless.


FEAR AS A GATEWAY TO COMPASSION


Fear is part of what all of us should be feeling at the moment. It’s a good thing. If fear didn’t play its part – we’d have become extinct a long time ago. Self preservation is paramount to keeping all of us safe. However if thats the only reason, if all your thinking about is the I, it’ll wear you thin quickly. Fear on this level isn’t designed to keep you running for months or years at a time. It certainly won’t be what sustains you during this pandemic. It can’t. 

To find motivation for long term action, for maintaining integrity, for anything, you have to consider love.  

Why are you doing it? 

For the elderly and the sick, the most vulnerable in society, your loved ones and your friends, your grandparents and your parents, your brother and your sisters, your children and your grandchildren…  

Why are you doing it? 

Is it because of love or fear?

I want to stress that listening to and acknowledging your fear is important. It’s telling us something. ie there’s a snake over there – I better walk the other way. Or, there’s a deadly and highly infectious disease, maybe I should stay indoors for a while.

However our fears are often based on clinging and attachment – a fear of losing something – whether that’s something you have, control of a situation, other people’s behaviour, how society and governments should function, etc. 

Fear is telling us something about reality we wish were different. It’s telling us to act and to make it so! However, what’s often lost on people is what exactly needs to change. I can tell you, far more often than not, it isn’t reality that needs to change. Reality is perfectly fine as it is, because it can’t be any other way. It’s your expectations of reality. If you’re feeling angry that’s coming from you. It’s your emotion to deal with and take responsibility for. The same applies to anxiety and depression. Emotions I know well. They are my responsibility to deal with. Whether that means I need to take time to meditate or seek therapy – I need to work out why. I need to understand before I can change. Before I can accept what I cannot change.

Ultimately fear is asking for us to change something or accept something.

With regards to situations we have little or no control over, acceptance is key. You will never find peace in the moment, if you don’t accept it as it is. If it happens to be a situation like the coronavirus pandemic, as much as we might wish it to be different, if we cannot act, if we cannot change it, we must learn to accept it. That means to accept your fear of the situation. This isn’t easy of course. But I do believe, by acknowledging your fear, understanding it as a shared feeling that millions of others are also experiencing, you are actually coming from a place of love and compassion. It is this, that will lead to acceptance.

Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance, said it beautifully: 

When we understand our pain as an intrinsic gateway to compassion, we begin to awaken from the imprisoning story of a suffering self. In the moments when we tenderly hold our anger, for instance, we cut through our identity as an angry self. The anger no longer feels like a personal flaw or an oppressive burden. We begin to see its universal nature—it’s not our anger, it is not our pain. Everyone lives with anger, with fear, with grief.”

She goes on, “Understanding that the pain in our life is an expression of universal suffering opens us to the fullness of Radical Acceptance. Rather than being a problem, our depression, fear and anger are “entrusted to us,” and can be dedicated to our awakening. When we carry our pain with the kindness of acceptance instead of the bitterness of resistance, our hearts become an edgeless sea of compassion.”

Even in the grip of fear, pain or depression, we can act from love. In fact it’s possible fear can stir in us far greater compassion and love, than we otherwise knew we had.

Here’s a definition of courage for you.

Courage is acting from a place of love, doing what you know to be right, not in the absence of fear, but because of it. 

Let me ask you a question. If you see a child, let’s say its your child, step out onto the road into oncoming traffic and you take the courageous decision to run out to save his or her life. Was that decision to save your child’s life based on love or fear? Have a long think about it. Most will answer without thinking. Love. But was it? Consider the crucial part fear had to play in this scenario. Fear of losing something you love. Fear of your child getting badly hurt or worse. I believe it was fear that sprung you into action. Don’t forget that fear can come from a place of love too. Fear when really acknowledged and listened to, can be a powerful gateway to compassion. When you understand the love behind your fear, you will know how you should act. 

Back to the present – our only true reality – and the situation of the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re feeling fearful for yourself or your loved ones, if acting out of fear, fear that seems too much to bear, sit with it and be kind. Don’t resist it – you’ll only give it strength. Instead, remind yourself of the love behind that fear. Remember the loving reasons behind what you’re doing. Remember what we all are. It’s such a beautiful thing. It really is. To be part of something bigger than ourselves. To see the world unite behind a common cause like it has. It gives me so much hope for the future. Don’t forget the love. It’s the love that will sustain you. It’s love that will sustain us all. So I ask you, and I ask myself, again and again,

“Am I doing this because of love or fear?” 


SOURCES:

A Pilot’s Guide to Self-Managing Back Pain – Sitting, Standing, Swimming

“It’s not the job of sports medicine professionals to look after your tissues and joints, whether you hydrate or whether you actively work toward improving and maintaining healthy positions and range of movement throughout the day. It’s up to you. Spend 10 minutes minimum per day. No days off. No excuses.”

– Dr. Kelly Starrett, READY TO RUN

In my attempts to nurse my back to full strength, I have spent a great deal of time researching how to manage my pain, while also looking at the best home remedies/exercises to help fix my injury and prevent similar ones from happening again in the future.

As a result I have decided to compile my research into this comprehensive guide regarding all the things I’ve found useful for managing my back pain day to day, including some important what-not-to-dos!

This post will explore my best tips with regards to sitting, standing and swimming. Follow on posts will explore other exercises, lifestyle tips, how to sleep and the use of drugs/other treatments.

It goes without saying I’m not a medical professional in any way, shape or form, so please, please, don’t take what I’m saying as gospel. I’m simply relaying what has helped me in managing my pain. 

Back pain is a complex issue that I believe requires a complex approach from a number of different angles. Trial and error is necessary in figuring out what works best for you and your condition. 

Hopefully this guide will help you as well in some way, shape or form. As always seek advice from a professional (added advice – seek more than one opinion) and do your own research.

I’ve left links to a number of articles throughout that I found useful/helped support my own findings. I should add I am in no way affiliated with any of the organisations mentioned or products that I recommend. 

SITTING IS BAD

I like to think of sitting like drinking – something to be done in strict moderation! Of course I realise that’s not possible for all who have normal 9 to 5s (or non normal random pilot like jobs as the case may be), but you get my drift. A little bit of sitting ain’t a bad thing, but too much most certainly is. I’m guessing for the vast majority of us, we could all do with finding ways to sit (drink?) less.

While at home I like to CREATE A LYING DESK by laying a yoga mat on the living room floor (or hotel room if on a layover), instead of slouching on the couch should I decide to Netflix binge or work on my laptop. This way I can keep myself mobile, taking a break to perform stretches or core exercises while watching TV!

IF YOU HAVE TO SIT for long periods of time at work, or during a long haul flight for example, STAND UP AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE (at least 10 mins for every hour). It always surprises me that more people don’t get up to have a walk and stretch in flight. Even a couple of minutes can make a big difference. A little and often is best.

Should you find yourself wedged in a middle row seat or unable to move for some other reason during your commute, CONSIDER DOING SOME IN-THE-SEAT STRETCHING (granted not all will be suitable in an aeroplane seat 💺). See examples below.

HOW TO SIT PROPERLY

Correct posture while sitting is very important – not just for managing back pain, but preventing further problems in the long run. My basic rule of thumb is three fold.

1. SIT UP STRAIGHT – head and torso stacked – with your head facing forward (imagine your ears in line with your shoulders in line with your hips)

2. FEET FLAT ON THE FLOOR or foot rest with knees at the same height or slightly lower than the hips (avoid crossing legs or ankles).

3. BACK FULLY SUPPORTED against the chair including your lower back.

Most chairs are, sadly, poorly designed in this respect, which is why I always TRAVEL WITH A LUMBAR SUPPORT PILLOW. I use a Travel Pal Auto-Inflating Mini Lumbar Pillow. You can, of course, improvise with any pillow you find or by rolling up a towel or piece of clothing to place at the curve of your back.

See the picture below for a good idea of what correct sitting posture looks like. 

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321863.php

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-sit-correctly/


WALKING IS GOOD

Walk yes, run no. You want to avoid impact from below for obvious reasons (especially if you have a dodgy back like mine).

Going up and down steps or hills has, on occasion, caused my pain to flair up, however, LONG GENTLE WALKS ON FLAT TERRAIN HAS PROVEN TO BE VERY HELPFUL.

A few notes.

DON’T WEAR HEELS. You’d think this might just apply to the ladies, but you’d be wrong. Heels are the devil with regards to back health. Even a small incline (ie the kind of elevation most shoes provide) ain’t great in the long run.

Your best solution is to WALK BARE FOOT WHENEVER POSSIBLE, otherwise finding shoes that have little to no difference in sole thickness from heel to toe (aka WEAR FLATS). I can highly recommend VIVO BAREFOOT for gym/outdoor wear.

Toss your flip flops in the bin 🗑 – they are also the devil for your back!

HOW TO STAND PROPERLY

Posture while standing or walking is also very important.

My best tips from the top down!

1. Hold your head up high and LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD.

2.. PUFF YOUR CHEST OUT by squeezing your shoulder blades together slightly.

3. LET YOUR ARMS RELAX NATURALLY either side. Your ears, shoulders, hips and ankles should be aligned (have a look at other people walking while staring down at their phones – their ears are not even close to being in line with their shoulders and hips).

4. SQUEEZE YOUR BUT AND TIGHTEN YOUR ABS SLIGHTLY. If you look at yourself side-on in the mirror, if you have a little pot belly like me, it should look like its gone or significantly reduced (all the more motivation). The same with your but – it shouldn’t stick out like a horse’s arse (so much).

5. Keep practicing and practicing UNtill it Is automatic. I found the below article on anterior pelvic tilt (a common condition caused by sitting too much) and tips to correct it enormously helpful. 

https://acatoday.org/content/posture-power-how-to-correct-your-body-alignment

https://www.swolept.com/posts/fixing-anterior-pelvic-tilt-posture-tricks-to-make-your-butt-and-gut-smaller#.XkT4lSWlaEd


SWIMMING IS AWESOME

Following my recent back injury last month SWIMMING has proved to be an awesome LOW IMPACT WAY TO MODIFY. Not only did it help enormously with my back pain, it meant I could keep exercising to a level I was happy with. It also proved to do wonders for my cardiovascular system.

After months of regular exercise my resting heartbeat had settled in the very respectable low fifties. Following a few weeks of replacing that with swimming, however, my resting heart rate dropped into the mid to high forties for the first time in a long, long while!

A few things to note.

Although I found swimming massively beneficial on the whole, when I went at it too hard it did occasionally aggravate my pain. As always LET PAIN BE YOUR GUIDE. IF IT HURTS, BACK OFF!

Depending on the nature of your condition, THE TYPE OF SWIMMING STROKE YOU USE CAN MATTER GREATLY.  FRONT AND BACK STROKE WORKED WELL for me but BUTTERFLY AND BREASTSTROKE DID NOT.

Should all types prove painful, consider doing some gentle movements instead. Simply DAMPING THE AFFECTS OF GRAVITY BY GETTING IN THE POOL CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE. I found the following article useful.

https://www.spine-health.com/blog/3-essential-tips-swimming-back-pain