The importance of taking advantage of the Window of Opportunity

Window of opportunity: A favourable opportunity for doing something that must be seized immediately (Oxford Dictionary)

Window

 

I always laugh whenever I watch X-Factor and see some poor bugger saying through sobs “this is my last chance to make it. I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t get through”. What drama, I think. But there may just be a sliver of truth in what the poor sod is saying.

See in life, we all have windows of opportunity. Moments where taking action will or could produce an incredible, life-changing result. Moments that change us as people externally and/or internally. Missing that window may mean we end up taking the long way home, it may mean that our journey home is more painful, less pleasant or it may simply mean at its most brutal that we never reach home which for the person who gets the NO on X-Factor means singing may not be the thing which pays their bills. Fame and fortune eludes them for all time. There are no guarantees even if you do grab that opportunity but there is power in grabbing it even in the midst of an uncertain outcome. Making the most of an opportunity means your life remains full of possibilities.

Who calls this window of opportunity into being?

Nature: A wine maker has a window of opportunity in which to pick his grapes from the vineyard if he is to make the perfect bottle of wine. There is a window of opporunity in which to make the sweetest tasting fried plantain. Fry it too early and it will be like eating a yam substitute, fry it too late and it will be little more than an oil-soaked pile of mush.

Age: I was fortunate enough to have learnt Yoruba at an early age. I cannot imagine how hard I would have found it if I’d had to learn Yoruba as an adult. For me, it’s language, for you it might be something else. Most world class athletes begin training from a young age. That’s just the reality. Physical prowess is at its greatest in youth/early adulthod for the most part. There are always some such as marathon runners, golfers, darts players (is this a sport?) who defy this general rule and for whom the window of opportunity is open for a greater length of time.

Location: you might have a chance at IVF because you live in a certain part of the UK and so you take advantage of this before the opportunity ceases or before you are forced to relocate for some reason. I had a chance to get more support in my recovery process by moving out of London. I had a chance to master French because I was able to live in France for a while.

An individual: may present you with a window of opportunity simply by dint of their presence or support. I have a chance to recover now because I have a person at home who provides me with practical and emotional support but I am aware that I may only have months left of this support. It is incumbent on me to use this support now because there may not be a greater chance for me to recover than there is here and now. I am extremely grateful for this person and perhaps part of my act of gratitude towards them ought to be in seizing the day.

Physiology: just as a woman has a window of opportunity in which she can conceive, so she has a window of opportunity in which to deliver naturally. This window remains closed until a woman’s cervix is fully dilated. And even once at 10cm, if the baby does not come within a set time period, a woman is more likely to need a Caesarean section.

For me at the moment, recovery feels somewhat like giving birth. Like whilst in it, it is absolutely horrendous. 8 weeks plus into my first attempts at eating without compensation, I am still struggling with severely swollen feet some days, joints which are in constant states of pain, a stomach which is so distended that sometimes I can only compare it to carrying a football around with me day in day out, a digestive system which neither knows whether it is coming or going and a weight which I have not reached in decades. This might be bearable if I was not also experiencing bouts of depression and the reality of dealing with the loss of the person who was my everything.

The past few days have been full of tears and the thoughts of going back to who I used to be come thick and fast. I try to hold on to the ledge, I try not to let the current pull me in the direction of certain misery.

I still have my hands wrapped around the recovery tinted window of opportunity even though sometimes I feel as though I am losing my grip. On Sunday, I could feel the tears swelling and swirling. I knew I had a window of opportunity, to get out of the house and make the day count and spend some time with my wonderful godson and great friend. I seized it. I enjoyed my time out even though I knew it would only be a brief respite from the ocean of tears which would spill over once I got back home. Today, I knew I had a window of opportunity, in which to take a shower (do the minimum) because on some days, that becomes a task. I’m glad that I’m seized that opportunity. Maybe seizing one opportunity after another is what leads to eventual and total recovery or success or good health or wealth or whatever opportunity presents itself to you or me today.

I’ll end this post with the following words (borrowed but dearly treasured):

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace

 

 

 

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Patience not panic is the key to overcoming life’s difficulties.

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In life, no matter the difficulty, trial or tribulation, many roads are open to us. We can act without thought, run away from having to make a decision or flee mentally with unhealthy coping strategies (alcohol, drugs, reckless abandon in spending, overeating, undereating, throwing up, overexercise and a whole host of other things which only you know about).

My current trial is dealing with the physical reality of recovery (imminent post) as well as the depression which seems to rear its head every so often in my life. And while in the past, I would have resorted to one or more of the ‘unhealthy coping strategies’ mentioned above, I am now inclined to just sit and let it be. I don’t need to ride it out with a distraction or fight it. I just let it be, like a petulant child in the middle of an almighty tantrum.

One thing which I disagree(d) with in eating disorder institutions is this drive and push to get people to DISTRACT, DISTRACT, DISTRACT. You’ll be given a long list of things to do after having eaten (play a game, do some knitting, ‘stand’ on your head (ridiculous, I know), phone a friend as if this were a came of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire etc). Whilst these tools have their benefits, what you find upon leaving such settings is that distraction is a temporary solution which brings you back to the same place of agony.

The main tool which is helping me deal with the reality of recovery is to exercise Patience not Panic. This came to mind this week because I realised how much eating disorders are actually a manifestation of the internal panic or sometimes a response to the panic going on in our heads. For me, it was an eating disorder but for others, it is alcoholism, sex, burying oneself in social media or online activities. These are all manifestations of something internal – panic, anxiety/worry, frustration, dissatisfaction etc.

The only cure for all these emotions is PATIENCE. Patience doesn’t make the problem go away and exercising patience is not procrastination. Patience gives you the mental space and time to confront the problem, to come up with solutions. Patience prevents you from acting rashly or irrationally. Patience is devoid of all the chaos of panic. Patience and panic are like brothers from the same mother but you wouldn’t believe it from looking at them. Patience is the confidence that all things will and do pass. It’s the faith that emotions pass, that situations change, that solutions can be found, that joy whether fleeting or enduring can return.

In past days, I would have distracted myself from depression but these days, today, I accept its presence, I acknowledge it but I also exercise patience because I know that it will pass, like all things that have come and that will come.

Clouds are a well-worn analogy for depression. But sometimes, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. I like nothing better than to lie flat on my back on dewy grass on a warm day and watch and smile as the wind slowly moves each new cloud on. And so it is with the difficulties of life. Sometimes, a brisk wind will blow it away so quickly that you barely get a chance to decide whether the cloud resembled a tyrannosaurus rex or a diplodocus. At other times, you will look up and wonder whether that cloud has even moved an inch. It remains in the sky for so long that eventually, you fall asleep watching it. Upon waking, you will find yourself under a clear blue sky and wonder how long you were asleep for and wonder how in the world that stubborn cloud disappeared out of sight. The answer, Patience.

The art of talking to oneself: sanity born out of ‘insanity’.

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Approximately four months ago, I started talking to myself. It started early on this year when I was alone in my flat. At first it was only intermittent but now it’s daily. I enjoy talking to myself. In fact I encourage everyone to talk to themselves in the same way that I have been talking to myself. Before I go any further, let me explain a few things.

In my previous life as a College teacher, I worked with an assortment of eclectic students. Among them were some with serious and enduring mental health issues. Others had no official diagnosis but clearly carried with them minds as fragile as glass.

One common trait in both groups of students was a tendency (at times) to talk to themselves. Sometimes this was done in plain view and at other times I would catch a glimpse of them doing this when I was out and about. I always thought talking to oneself was a sign of encroaching or fully formed insanity but I no longer believe this to be the case.

There are in my opinion distinct types of ‘self-talk’. These are just some of them:

  1. an individual is talking to someone who is not visible to the naked eye (those struggling with schizophrenia, psychosis or even grief may sometimes fall into this category). I include the latter because people sometimes talk to people who are no longer alive. Whereas the latter group may find self-talk comforting, for those struggling with schizophrenia or psychosis this may be a sign of their deteriorating health.
  2. talking to oneself negatively. We all have instances of self-deprecation, self-criticism etc. Some do this aloud whilst others keep it to themselves. It’s not always a bad thing in my opinion. I sometimes berate myself for doing something silly. If it leads to a positive action, then I am all for a verbal slap in the face at times.
  3. talking to yourself in order to encourage yourself. I’ve seen sports stars like Serena Williams do this when on the brink of defeat. I’ve seen it serve her well and I’ve seen it sometimes not lead to victory. (Please note, this is not the same as what ‘the Donald’ does when he is feeding his ego).

It’s a combination of the first and third type of self-talk that I started engaging in earlier this year. At the start of the year, I started ‘talking to the ‘eating disorder’ as though it were a person. I started saying “I will recover, I am recovered, I will see the end of you, I will see the back of you” as though I were assured of victory. On the most awful day I kept on repeating these words and soon it acquired a realness to it, as though victory were a seed planted on fertile ground on the inside of me. Although I was still months away from visible progress, I stuck with this talk. Why? Because a decade of negative self-talk had done absolutely nothing but land me in hot pepper (ata rodo rather than horseradish type heat).

Recently, I started to practice positive self-talk. This was not about doing the ten steps to victory tips that I had read in some self-help book. This was something natural, intrinsic, which was born out of my realisation that anxiousness played a huge role in my current state and led to disordered behaviours. I started saying to myself “it’s okay Funmi, it’ll be okay, you’re doing well Funmi”. I said this to myself when I felt the talons of anxiety perched upon my shoulders, digging itself in, I said it when I was having a good moment or a good day when I was coming to some level of acceptance about the changes creeping all over my body. This is the kind of self-talk that I have come to love most and embrace.

For all the stick Americans get about their loudness, brashness, extreme self-confidence, the one thing I will say is that they really know how to cheer their teams on. I mean really cheer. Like back-flipping all over the field, fist-pumping, coca-cola all over my top cos I am so excited kind of cheering. And that is exactly what I am starting to become – my own greatest cheerleader. 

If we are ever to overcome the difficulties in life, make progress towards goals, pick ourselves back up with grazed knees and keep running, then we need to learn this art of cheerleading, this art of talking to ourselves. It will serve us well when we most need help.

Children are the best teachers when it comes to falling and failing.

What many adults do when they fail or fall.

Holy Self-flagellation, Ashura in Afghanistan

Adults beat themselves up like some religious zealots do when they practise self-flagellation.

What most babies do when they fall or fail.

baby-fall

Babies pick themselves back up.


One thing we have in common as human beings, whether reader or writer, is that…….

We all fail. Failure can feel like falling from a great height as sometimes happens in some of our recurring dreams.

Last week , I set myself a goal of spending time away on my own and nourishing myself consistently and sufficiently. I failed to do this on a couple of occasions but for the most part, I made progress. The morning after, I found myself overwhelmed and in tears so I dialled my equivalent of 999 or 911 or whatever your emergency team is (you fill in the ___ blanks). I spoke to one of my greatest encouragers and cheerleaders, my beloved younger brother.

He encouraged me by pointing out that the events of the previous night was just one in an ocean-full of successful attempts at nourishing myself. That morning, my beloved brother listened to me and searched for my words in the dense forest of tears and snot. He helped me make sense of the previous night. He told me that what mattered most were the spectacles through which I viewed the previous night. What mattered most was my perspective. His words stayed with me for the most part but I realised recently how much ‘one failure’ has dented my confidence and sense of self-belief. So this post is for all those who fail. Which means everyone.

And everyone means people with eating disorders, people without eating disorders, people with addictions and those who prefer to call what they do mere vices. Everyone includes those from Africa, Latin America, Europe and other continents. And even though I am not an animal lover, everyone also includes animals. I imagine they fail too sometimes. If you doubt my words, check out Planet Earth and David Attenborough. Everyone also includes adults and children alike.

We can learn so much from kids. When they fall, they tend to pop back up like unstoppable forces of energy. They don’t sit in their poo-soaked nappies, crying and lamenting their many failures in life like the time they failed to latch onto mother’s nipple or the time their sippy cup missed their mouth and the damn thing ended up all over the floor. They don’t linger, thankfully, on the time they missed their potty and the poo poo ended up all over the floor. No, they think to themselves ” Now, there in the distance, lies a pretty, shiny object which will be all mine if only I can make it over there. So here I go.” Unfortunately, we adults oftentimes tend to do things slightly differently. We are not as well-versed in dealing with failure.

Not everyone knows how to deal with failure.

Not everyone knows how to use their failures to their advantage.

Tips on how to react to failure.

  • Use it as a learning opportunity rather than a opportunity for self-flagellation. Why beat yourself up when the world out there will give you a pretty rough beating? It’s best to be your biggest cheerleader rather than you biggest critic.
  • Think about how you would react if a friend or loved one ‘failed’. Treat yourself and your failures in the same way that you would treat a loved one if they failed at something.
  • Focus on your many successes rather than your failure(s).
  • Talk through your failure with your biggest encourager and see what they have to say about it.
  • Do not, I repeat, DO NOT HAVE A PITY PARTY with yourself. Why? Because it’s like being at a party with only one invitee – You. It’d be pretty boring wouldn’t you say? A pity party is not just about saying ‘Why me?’, it’s also about making the mistake of dwelling on one failure rather than your many former successes.
  • Say to yourself: ‘Failing does not make me failure.’ Cliche, I know. Sue me. Each day I’m alive gives me a new opportunity to be successful and to learn from my failings. Use your failures to your advantage.
  • Consider the many people who have failed at something before you. The list is endless: Serena Williams, Mo Farah, Colonel Sanders, JK Rowling….. These people are now successful because they still BELIEVE(D) in spite of their ‘failures’ and they persevered in spite of their ‘failings’.
  • Finally, ask yourself the following questions:
    • What were the circumstances leading up to this ‘failure’?
    • What were my thoughts?
    • What emotions did I have?
    • What would I do if faced with a similar situation?

Learn from your failures. Don’t dwell on your failures. I say this to you as much as I say it to me.