House Elves

(Giving yourself a break)

I’ve been wanting to write about psychology for a while now. However, despite having quite a few years of formal education in it, I was unsure where to begin.

My love of psychology is still strong, despite having left the formal study and practice of it behind a couple of years ago. I love to chat about it with people who are as interested as I am in the beauty and mystery of the human mind. I find comfort and growth in doing so. Lucky for me, I have some brilliant friends who I can sit with for hours, reeling off idea after idea, debating, hypothesising and marvelling at what we do and don't know.

Because of this, I want to finally begin writing about psychology. A friend of mine shared his opinion that writing about this is probably best left to experts. I tried to tell him I think that people should write about whatever they want. He argued that whatever he could write about psychology has probably already been written about a thousand times. I told him that I’m going to be writer number 1001, and I’m going to write something great that nobody has written before.

Recently, I have been feeling quite down and unenthusiastic about life. It’s definitely not the first time that’s happened. I find feelings like that always seem to spring from an ever-lengthening downward spiral of negative thought patterns. Along the journey, my enthusiasm and optimism begin to shut down, I withdraw into myself and begin to do the bare minimum to get by. I begin to feel like a burden to people around me, I never want to bother anyone with my feelings, and nothing seems worth doing.

I have a terrible habit of being consumed by negative thoughts, and letting them dictate how I live my life. It definitely feels easier to do that, to be puppeteered by an unknown but powerful force, than to take your rock-climbing tools, and scale yourself to the top of the dark empty pit you’re in. Maybe this is due in part to laziness, to entitlement or to an inability to see how good taking control of your life can be. It could be none of those things. Who knows? That’s one of the many mysteries of being human that we may never find out.

Anyway, while I am prone to be a puppet in the story of my own life, I am also vividly interested in ways people are able to overcome this unhappy and rather pitiful theatre. Some days, I am able to gather enthusiasm to explore more ways to be happy and in control. One way I’ve been doing this recently is by reading.

Books, writers, libraries, research and anything else to do with writing have been things I have respected for a long time, as long as I can remember. Even so, reading has not always come naturally to me. Over my childhood, I read a few books here and there, but I never read consistently. Throughout my teens I read even less and my 20s didn’t get off to a very rich literary start either. Only in the past month have I picked up and dusted off my Kindle, which I’ve completely ignored for about three years, and begun to read again. And this time I am loving it. I actually look forward to coming home and reading. And, now that I am doing it, I really really wish I’d begun earlier. Everyone should read books. Not only one type, either. Fact and fiction both contain their own unique magic. Inspired by Jeremy Keith, I have decided to read a good balance of both factual books and novels.

So, I am supposed to be writing about psychology - in this case, how to be more in control of your life. I want to talk about one of my favourite things that I’ve discovered from a month of reading books. All authors have their own unique style - this is great! Being exposed to different perspectives and personalities is brilliant. Nearly all writers make use of metaphors to make their writing come alive and to give their readers an alternate angle to look at life from. This is invaluable for those of us that tend to wallow in our own negative and gloomy perspectives, gradually believing more and more that this is how things are meant to be and there’s no point in changing them.

Perspectives other than our own bring a breath of fresh air. They open doors and allow light to flood in. They wrap us in a warm, comforting blanket by letting us know other people go through similar struggles. There is a tonne of writing out there that exists because the author suffered through something. Suffering tends to give you a strong desire to prevent others experiencing similar pain. Writing books is a great way to tell your story of suffering to a wide audience. The book I am reading right now is called ‘Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear’ by Elizabeth Gilbert. Her writing is beautiful and funny and whimsical and amazing. It’s also really down-to-earth. I imagine she is a really fun and interesting person to know. Anyway, amongst many lovely perspectives she shares, is one of my new favourites. One that I’m sure I’ll never forget. While talking about creativity, she says:

“…the Greeks and Romans both believed the idea of an external daemon of creativity - a sort of house elf, if you will, who lived within the walls of your home and who sometimes aided you in your labors. The Romans had a specific term for that helpful house elf. They called it your genius - your guardian deity, the conduit of your inspiration. Which is to say, the Romans didn’t believe that an exceptionally gifted person was a genius; they believed that an exceptionally gifted person had a genius.”

Perhaps this passage doesn’t make too much sense when read out of context of the rest of the book, but I wanted to share it because it’s something that made me feel good. It made me feel like it’s okay to not always be producing amazing work, to give myself a break and to not always put myself down (i.e. plummet down a negative spiral) when I feel less motivated and inspired than I did the week before. This small history lesson reminded me that humans aren’t perfect, and that people should never feel under pressure to perform all the time - unless they want to feel terrible about themselves. Sometimes my creative house elf goes off to do its own thing. It’s still there, and it’s still loyal. It simply sometimes needs its own space and time to relax and unwind. And so do I. I think you and your genius can be a good team, always supporting and building each other up, and reminding each other that its okay to take a break once in a while.

I imagine my house elf is a bit like Dobby from Harry Potter. A kind creature who always has something nice to say, and helps keep me positive. I think we all need a positive house elf in our life. What do you think?

Dobby the house elf from Harry Potter