The wonder of you

There was a time, some seven or eight years ago, when I’d sit in an office every day, staring at a computer screen, feeling like a light had gone out inside – inside of me.

Back then, I had a job many people would kill for, the kind of job that made people go, “Wow!”. In many ways, I wasn’t too far off the pinnacle of my profession, or at least I was mingling with people who were at the pinnacle of theirs. In many ways too, I’d achieved everything I’d been striving for – I’d ended up where I’d wanted to be.

But my soul had gone to sleep. It felt like it had died.

It wasn’t always like that. In the early years, I’d loved the adrenalin and excitement of it all. The instant deadlines, the foreign travel – sometimes with an edge of danger – the sense I was at the heart of something big and important. I’d loved the social side of it too, the colleagues, the camaraderie, the being part of a team. I’d felt like I belonged, like I’d made it. Oh yes, and I got pretty well paid. I bought my dresses in Hobbs in those days.

But I guess I changed. Or something changed me. I went through some tough times (I came to terms with an eating disorder and the other ways I used to self-harm and began to recover; my dad died; I got depressed) and those experiences were a big part of the shift that took place inside. But maybe I also began to grow up, to mature. My priorities were no longer what they’d been in my 20s and early 30s. I started to wonder what all the striving had been for. So I left. I left so I could find another way.

I’m still finding it – it’s taken a while – but I feel like I’m getting there.

The other day, last week, I was stood in a school auditorium delivering a workshop on eating disorders, self-esteem, perfectionism, stress and how to manage difficult emotions to a group of sixth-form pupils. And unlike those times in my “wow” job when I’d felt like my soul had gone to sleep, on this occasion I felt alive. I felt exactly where I was supposed to be. I felt in my element – it all came so naturally, no nerves. I felt like I was living my purpose, doing God’s work, combining all my skills, talents and life experience – the good and the bad – into a wonderful package that might just make a difference to somebody else’s life. It was a real privilege.

And I noticed when those students really started listening, when they stopped fidgeting and whispering. It was when I began talking about myself. About my childhood. About the sadness, the sense of grief and loss after my dad moved out, the fear, the feelings of not being good enough, of needing to hide behind some sort of mask, to excel at everything, be perfect, be something I wasn’t. And all the studying and stressing and starving and eating and then the drinking.

Aged 22, after bingeing for years

Aged 22, after bingeing for years

And then, when I showed them the picture of me at 22, overweight, hiding my body and the shame I wasn’t in touch with behind a baggy shirt and a big smile, a hush fell over the room (or at least that’s how it felt to me – maybe I’m always shocked to see that photo myself).

We went on to discuss healthy ways to cope with school and exam stress, peer pressure, social media pressure, perfectionism, grief and loss, anxieties about school and home. We explored the alternatives to self-harm. And we talked a bit about balance, about balancing our desire to achieve and get good grades with self-love, self-care and happiness.

I felt useful, purposeful, grateful that my experience could maybe help others.

But I wasn’t being paid. And, this month, as I try to see if I can make a living from work I’m passionate about rather than work that drains me and suffocates my soul, there isn’t much money coming in at all.

So how can I achieve my unique potential without sacrificing my wellbeing and earn well enough to be able to buy a Hobbs dress again and go on some beautiful holidays?

That is my challenge – and I might need your help.

I know this will change and evolve as my ideas grow and develop but for today, this is what I want to do and believe I’m meant to do:

I’d like to deliver workshops to schools, to organisations and to individuals that help people identify and fulfil their unique potential without sacrificing their wellbeing or, put another way, that help them identify and fulfil their unique potential while staying sane. And I’d like to be paid.

I would do this by combining the training I have done to become a licensed instructor in Packtypes – a self-awareness card system that helps people identify and play to their strengths – with all the tools I’ve learned over the past 12 years of addiction recovery as I have come to understand my own natural gifts and potential and found ways to support myself as I try to fulfil that potential, without losing my mind or harming my body.

To design and deliver these workshops, I’m going to need all my strengths – my communication skills, my ability to connect on a deep level with people from many walks of life and my encouraging, supporting and inspiring side – and I’m also going to need to work on my lesser strengths, which include organisation, self-discipline, self-belief and the ability to start what I finish.

And how can you help?

A word of encouragement would be amazing.

If you could suggest any schools, businesses, charities, organisations, women’s groups or individuals that might be interested in my workshops – either purely on self-awareness, strengths and talent management or on achieving while staying sane, that would be awesome.

And if you could share any of the following links with anyone who you think might be interested in meeting me to talk about what I can offer, that would be fantastic:

This blog.

How to play to your strengths

Eating disorders workshops

I hope, pretty soon, with the help of some courage and encouragement, to host my first workshop for adults, so I’ll post it on this blog and do come along if it’s for you. I figure if I can lead a prosperous life by doing something I love, I can inspire others to take whatever leap of faith they need to take, apply their strengths to something they really enjoy, earn a good living and bring their soul back to life.

My “soul dead” stage, gracefully, was relatively short lived, at least the acute phase, but I don’t want to go back there. And it saddens me to think other people are sat there too, staring at a screen or engaged in a task but without any light on inside. I’d love to be able to help others to turn things around.

I know this is what I’m meant to be doing – at least for today – and I know the more I talk and write about it, the more it will come true. So thank you – as always – for listening.

Before I go, I’ll explain why I called this blog “The Wonder of You”. I came up with that name the other day after listening to Elvis sing that song on the radio and I thought it would make a great name for a workshop (so watch this space). Yes, he’s singing to someone else, but I love the phrase, I love the idea that we’re all unique and wonderful.

If you have time, listen to this song and watch this clip. It brings tears to my eyes. I love Elvis. Listen to that voice. And look how beautiful he was. Here’s a man with an amazing talent, living his potential, touching people’s lives. But this clip was filmed seven years before he died, at 42 (a year younger than me now), after his body fell apart from prescription drug and food abuse, after he became bloated and depressed. And we’ve lost so many other extraordinary talents too, people who were showcasing their gifts but who couldn’t cope with whatever feelings were going on inside.

Many of these stories involve celebrities and their often spectacular demise, but what about those of us whose souls are degrading slowly and quietly, who are dying on the inside? Those of us who know we’re not following our dreams or putting our natural gifts to their best use, perhaps scared that if we were to try, really try, we wouldn’t be able to handle the fear and feelings that might come up.

So how can we achieve our unique potential while maintaining our wellbeing and staying sane?

If you have any thoughts, please share them. I’m excited about exploring the answer with you.

 

 

Posted in Addiction, Body Image, Creativity, Eating disorders, Perfectionism, Women, Work | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tears on the Tube

Happy New Year!

OK, so it’s Jan 26th and I’m a little behind. Where has the month gone? There was a mixture of glumness in the early days with some very predictable back-to-London, back-to-work blues, followed by some lovely trips to the seaside, plenty of cold, sunny, wintery days and a healthy dose of laughter and joy. I’ve also spent a decent amount of time on my sofa, bingeing on the entire first series of Broadchurch with the heating on and recovering from a sniffle, and while I’m not overly comfortable with sitting still for long periods of time, I’m definitely getting better at it.

Today, it’s a little grey again. I’ve worn myself out with ‘sales and marketing’ (not my favourite activities), drumming up interest in my new line of work – how to play to your strengths (please share the link!) – so I decided to post this slightly grey blog. I wrote the bare bones of this on the Tube 10 days ago and wasn’t sure whether I’d post it, but here it is.

For once, the tears aren’t mine ….

Tears on the Tube

“I have been there too, crying on the Tube. Wiping away the tears with my fist, trying my best to hide the redness in my face behind my hair, thumbing through a paper diary or the apps on my phone to try to distract myself – and you – from my watery eyes.

What is it, what’s wrong, I wonder, as I look over at you from where I’m stood in the crammed aisle. Bereavement, loss, illness, heartache, the January blues? What’s contained in that dark cloud that sits above your head? Or maybe I shouldn’t presume – perhaps they aren’t tears of sadness, maybe you’ve got something in your eye. But it looks like pain to me.

I want to come and sit next to you, reach out and say I’ve been there too, ask if I can help. I want to say don’t worry. I want to remind you that most of these people around us – those in the sharp suits, those with their mascara intact, those with their heads buried in newspapers – have felt the same way too, at some point, even if it doesn’t look like it right now, or even if they’ve never cried on the Tube. They’ve cried on their beds, in the loo, or maybe they’ve never managed to let the tears fall, but they’ve cried inside.

As I look at you and wonder what’s up, I’m reminded of the number of times I’ve cried at inopportune times or in inconvenient places. Yes, I’ve cried on the Tube, trying to keep my eyes fixed on the ground, trying not to be seen.

But I also remember the days I used to scooter into my office in parliament, riding my Vespa down Roseberry Avenue, with tears streaming from my eyes, knowing this wasn’t particularly safe, knowing I should pull up for a while, knowing I probably shouldn’t be going into work at all. When was that? Maybe around the time my Dad died. Or maybe a year later, when it hit me really hard, like a ten-tonne trunk.

Somebody stopped for me once, not so long ago, when I was crying in public. I was on Hampstead Heath, not on the Tube. Maybe it’s easier there, in the great outdoors. Not so many people to look or stare. Or maybe she was braver than me. I was sat sobbing on a log, in the autumn of last year. Lost. Hopeless. Desperate. And she stopped and offered support. We walked. Talked. Laughed a little. She made by day. And not long after that, I took some steps, made some decisions and turned everything around.

But I haven’t come over to you. I’ve taken a seat myself and by the time I glance over again, you’ve got off the Tube and there’s someone else in your place, someone with dry eyes. And maybe you’re pleased about that, maybe a kind word from a stranger would have been unwelcome, maybe you’d have felt embarassed or compelled to cry even more. But I’m still wondering about you – and I’m hoping you’ve found someone to help dry your tears.”

So why write this? I don’t know really. I guess because in that brief moment, I was struck by the universality of pain, suffering, loneliness and depression. And I was struck by the many ways we seek to hide it – successfully or otherwise – or try to push it down.

I’m also writing this because I’d like to help, if not by reaching out to you on the train that day, then perhaps simply by reminding all of us that, whatever our appearances, however much it looks like we’ve got it all sorted, most of us have been in tears on the Tube – or in some other public or private place – or will be in the future.

And most of us understand.

Yes, for once the tears aren’t mine, but if it’s me who’s crying next time, feel free to smile or say Hi. I hope I’ll do the same. And if you don’t want to talk, that’s fine.

 

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Progress, not perfection

I have a habit at this time of year – a time when many of us take stock of what’s gone before – to start fretting about all the things I haven’t achieved or accomplished in the previous 12 months. I look at all the visions I wrote and the dreams I drew for 2014 on large pieces of paper in coloured pens, and I wonder why I’m not exactly where I wanted to be as 2015 approaches.

I get an urge to start doing something about these unfulfilled dreams immediately, in the few days that remain. I start rushing and racing, pushing and striving and beating myself up inside for not meeting the goals I set for myself.

And then … I stop. I breathe. I smile. And I begin to give thanks for all the things that have happened to me or I’ve made happen this year. I start to notice my growth, the subtle changes and the more obvious ones. I begin to have compassion for myself and my process.

And then I take a closer look at that piece of A4 paper with coloured words, drawings and squiggles and, instead of dismissing it as a jumble of dashed hopes and unmet dreams, I realise that parts of it have come true, even if they’ve come true in a different way to how I envisaged them or not quite to the degree I’d hoped.

To give you an idea, some of the words and pictures on my vision page are: adventure, travel, Spain, Dorset, the English countryside, sun, cycling, swimming in the sea, writing, coaching, teaching, inspiring, a campervan, love.

Maybe I hadn’t expected ‘adventure, travel and Spain’ to come true in the form of a solo summer camping trip to Tarifa, but that trip was just what I needed at the time. I experienced peace while I travelled, and peace and travel haven’t always gone together for me. Nor had I imagined my campervan experience would involve North Wales and Christmas (I’m hiring one with my boyfriend in Conwy on Boxing Day), but as crazy as that seems to me at times, it’s also perfect (in it’s own, crazy imperfect way). And I haven’t done as much writing, coaching, teaching or inspiring as I’d have liked, but there’s been some of that. I have taught, I have encouraged and supported others, I have given talks on eating disorders and perfectionism to teenage girls – I have extended myself for the purpose of other people’s emotional and spiritual growth. And I’ve learned to love (more on that later and on the ‘boyfriend’ term, which is one you haven’t seen much around these parts).

Then there are other words on my vision page – such as ‘publish my book, be part of a community or a team, family?, children? (yes, the questionmarks are there), a pain-free, fit and supple body, an abundance of time and money’ – things that continue to be a work in progress. And that’s OK. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

It’s progress, not perfection.

There are also some things I didn’t write down on my vision page and that I didn’t expect to happen to me. A wrist injury in early summer that sent me plummeting into a murky pool of depression, a brief flirtation with anti-depressants and the rather creative way (if I do say so myself) in which I clambered out of my stuckness, restored my sanity and found happiness again (the extreme self-care, the spontaneous trips to the beach, the writers’ retreat, the body boarding in Bude and my decision to commit to a relationship – it’s all documented in this blog, which, to my credit, I have maintained).

So in this, probably my last post of 2014, I’d like to salute my progress. And I’d like to salute yours – because I’m sure you’ve progressed too in many subtle or not-so-subtle ways, even if it feels like you haven’t, even if right now you’re sat staring at a vision board of unmet hopes and dreams, or even if you still haven’t got a clue what your vision is.

Why not champion our achievements? Why not search them out intentionally instead of honing in on our disappointments? Why not give thanks for the good stuff instead of focusing on where we’ve fallen short?

So, on my ‘good stuff’ list, I have the following:

I have continued, albeit intermittently, to write my book, despite losing momentum at times. And I invested in October in a writers’ retreat as a gift to myself and as a vote of confidence in my abilities to get to the end of a project that’s so close to my heart and so important to me, but so challenging too.

I have pulled myself back from the brink of despair (as described above) by choosing to put my health and wellbeing first and by recognising that I am often the author of my own stress or melancholy and that I have choices. I can make it better for myself. Often all it takes is a dip in the sea.

I have made a decision to commit to a relationship – put two feet in and use the ‘boyfriend’ word – and to learn to love and accept rather than criticise, judge, push away or try to change, shape or mold him into somebody else, no matter how strong the urge (there’s been progress here, not perfection!). I have learned to process my emotions in healthier ways, where possible outside of the relationship, so I don’t chuck all my baggage at one person (it can be a heavy load, although it’s getting lighter).

I have learned the art of pausing and reflecting, rather than reacting. I have learned to write about my anger or explore my resentments on paper, to share my doubts, fears and feelings with my fellows, get support and let some time pass before I decide what to say or what steps to take. This, along with the previous point about the relationship (they’re closely linked), is something of a miracle. I guess I’m growing up.

I have trained in a new tool that plays to some of my strengths that are underused in my writing career and that moves me closer to my dream of coaching, encouraging, inspiring and supporting others on their journey to greater confidence, improved self-esteem and a happier life. If you’d like to find out more, take a look at my new, incredibly colourful website – How to Play to Your Strengths – which I designed myself (not bad for a self-confessed technophobe – turns out you just have to read the instructions!).

I have made choices. I have taken risks. Progress, not perfection.

Not so many years ago, I was bingeing, starving, running, judging, criticising, burning out. I am still ambitious and determined. I still want to fulfill my dreams. But I’ve learned that achievement, without peace, doesn’t work for me.

Despite all the growth and change, my perfectionism can still throw a spanner in the works. And I still have an inner saboteur who doesn’t want me to succeed and a child inside me who’s scared of being seen, despite wanting desperately to be noticed. I’d like to tame my inner saboteur and coax that scared little child, who’s afraid of judgement, of criticism, of not being good enough, out of her shell.

dorset

More of this, please (a beautiful day in Dorset)

So in 2015, I’d like more of the same – more growth, more love and loving, more fun, more sun, more swimming, more adventures, more writing, teaching, coaching, inspiring and being inspired, more joy and laughter, more time for the important stuff in life, more acceptance of my journey and of yours and more peace.

But whatever 2015 looks like, it will be good enough.

I would, though, like to commit to a few things, call them resolutions, if you like: to say No to others more often in order to say Yes to myself; to listen to my instinct and have the courage to follow it; to trust God and myself; to risk; to lighten up; and to let go.

I’ll end on a little made-up poem, which doesn’t quite rhyme (but as it is, it’s just fine):

If your end of year review, leaves you feeling rather blue,

Look at it from a different perspective, and give thanks for progress, not perfection.

Merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous and peaceful 2015.

Posted in Fun, Happiness, Leisure, Love, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Travel, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Energy flows

When I reread my last blog post – Rescue remedy – I’m struck by my energy. I can see myself striding along that muddy river bank, laughing out loud at the crazy antics of Rosie, the dog. I can feel the cold and the frothiness of the Cornish surf hitting me in the face as I jump on a breaking wave on my body board. And I can hear the crackle of the roaring log fire at the wonderful writers’ retreat.

I can sense the good energy – the positive, cheerful vibes. And I can remember how confident, creative and productive I felt at that time. I had made some wonderful choices. I was in the right place. I was exactly where I was meant to be.

And I compare that energy to how I felt this morning as I got ready to leave for my studio, under grey, oppressive, London skies. I didn’t feel depressed or tearful, thank goodness, but I didn’t feel great either. I felt a bit like the weather – dull.

OK, so I can’t spend my life on holiday or hidden away on a cosy, countryside writers’ retreat. And I don’t live under consistently blue skies. But I’m realising I can pay attention to my energy flows and try to live and work in a way that energises me, as much as possible. I can also pay attention to what drains my energy and try and do something about that.

I know I’m energised by people, although I need some solitary, quiet time now and then. I like socialising, collaborating, encouraging and supporting, as well as being encouraged and supported.

I’m energised by learning new things, particularly about myself and others, about how we tick, what motivates us and how to get what we want out of life.

I’m energised by nature, particularly trees, green fields, rivers and, of course, the sea, looking at it or swimming in it, at any time of the year.

I’m energised by challenge – be that by pushing my body outside its comfort zone (body boarding in big waves on a drizzly November day, for example, or moutain biking down a steep, rocky hill when I feel afraid) or by doing the same for my mind (confronting self-defeating patterns, committing when I don’t want to commit, making phone calls I’m scared to make or taking steps with my work that terrify me). There must be balance, though, particularly with the mental challenges. They can take it out of me so I may need to retreat to my comfort zone in between these growth spurts, to replenish my energy reserves.

I’m energised by exercise. Even my short cycle to my studio this morning (the first time I’ve cycled here in months due to my dodgy wrist – still sore but just about up to a short cycle) got the blood pumping and my body tingling in the cold.

This is what I look like when I'm energised!

This is what I look like when I’m energised!

I’m also energised by doing slightly odd, out-of-the-ordinary things, things that some would deem to be a little bit silly. Like swimming in the sea in the winter or spending a week in a campervan in North Wales between Christmas and New Year.

These things make me giggle; they make me feel alive.

I’m also energised by hearty, wholesome, home-cooked food and by knowing I’m giving my body the nourishment it needs.

Then there are the things that drain my energy:

  • Long ‘To Do’ lists involving personal admin or home maintenance.
  • Clutter (in my mind or in my home).
  • Constant questioning, ambivalence and self-doubt (‘should I or shouldn’t I’, all the ‘what ifs’ or thoughts like ‘nobody’s going to want to read this book’).
  • Doing too much (running from one thing to another, squeezing in endless activities or pushing myself to do one last thing when I know, deep down, rest is what I need). I used to think the more hours I put in and the more running around I did, the more I got done, but I’m learning that my creativity flourishes when I give myself space, time and a nurturing, energising environment.
  • Fear, anxiety and worry.
  • Work that I really don’t want to do and know I probably wouldn’t have to do if I could just commit wholeheartedly to my dreams, trust I’ll be OK and follow through on them without fear, self-doubt, worry or constant questioning.
  • Oh yes, and then there’s the not so good food – the not-so-healthy snacks or the boring, tasteless meals I cobble together when I’m short on time or energy.

Energy is important. Some things boost my energy and other things deplete it. And as I heard yesterday, on an ‘introduction to coaching’ course delivered by Colin Brett at Coaching Development, it’s important to follow the energy.

If the thought of doing something lifts my spirits, produces a smile or lights a spark – then that’s probably the right path for me. But if I find the corners of my mouth turning down, my shoulders hunching or a frown appearing on my brow, I may want to think again.

So where is my energy leading me? In which direction do I really want to go? And what can I do today or this week to preserve or boost my energy? What can I do to get a bit of sparkle back under these cold, grey skies? And how can I avoid things that deplete my energy reserves?

And, dear readers, I ask those same questions of you. Are you following the energy? Are you going with the energy flow? Or are you pushing against it?

Let’s find out what energises us … and then do more of it.

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Rescue remedy

Take one glum woman. Dip her in the cold sea a few times then plunge her into the icy waters of the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath so she can float around with the leaves and the ducks.

Encourage her – in a last ditch attempt to lift her spirits naturally and avoid the pills she doesn’t want to take – to love and nurture herself above all else.

Persuade her it’s time she faced her fears, confronted her ambivalence and committed to giving a relationship a shot.

Pack her off to the countryside to get on with writing her much talked-about book.

Walk her along a wooded river bank every morning, surrounded by cows and sheep, and sit her on a bench to soak up the peace.

Feed her home-cooked nourishing meals and delicious gluten-free snacks.

Warm her heart with great company and conversation by a roaring log fire.

Then sprinkle an afternoon of body boarding in frothy surf on top.

What do you get?

One happy woman. One happy woman who can’t believe her luck.

I would prescribe the above rescue remedy to anyone who feels sad or stuck.

The combination of regular autumn dips, walks in Nature, time out of London and making a commitment to myself (to put my health and happiness first), to a man (to give ‘us’ my best shot) and to my book (to sit down and write it) has brought me to a place where I’m no longer wondering ‘how on earth did I end up here?’ or trying to figure out why my life hasn’t gone to plan.

Instead, I’m feeling blessed and exactly where I’m meant to be.

The answer, it seems, is simple.

I just have to follow my heart, and put the chatter in my head on mute.

My heart wanted two weeks out of London. My heart wanted to try to love and be loved. My heart wanted to spend time at this wonderful Devon writers’ retreat (Retreats For You – I can’t recommend it highly enough: wonderful hosts, great food, inspiring writers, beautiful surroundings, a hot water bottle in your bed every night and a gentle, nurturing atmosphere that feeds your creativity, and your soul, and compels you to write).

My head said I had too much going on in London to take the time out, that it would be foolish to give the relationship a shot and that this retreat was a luxury I couldn’t afford and didn’t deserve, that I should save my money for something else.

My heart was right.

Go heart! (Be quiet, head).

Posted in Creativity, Happiness, Love, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Extreme self-care

A few Fridays ago, I took my first anti-depressant, just half the dose my doctor had prescribed. On the Saturday, I took the remainder of the scored pill I’d sliced in half the day before. Then on the Sunday, I popped the foil packet in my handbag and went about my day, unsure whether to take the next tablet, uncertain about continuing down the medication route. By the end of Sunday, I’d decided anti-depressants weren’t for me, at least not right now, and that I wanted to find a different way to lift my very low mood and stem the flood of tears.

I didn’t stop because of the side effects, which were mild and may have been partly psychological at that stage – a fuzzy head, a dry mouth, a sleepless night. And nor was it simply down to fear, although there was a fair amount of that (what will the side-effects be? Will the drugs affect me long-term? Will I be able to come off?).

It was more a really deep sense that for me, there’s a different path; an understanding that I know, without a shadow of a doubt, how to raise my spirits, keep myself happy and be loving to myself – it’s just I’m not very good at doing it. It was a case of, ‘I’ve got myself into this mess and I can get myself out of it.’

I completely understand the argument for anti-depressants, respect anyone who decides to take them and know they’ve helped a lot of people, including many of my friends. Some people aren’t in a place to get themselves out of it – their depression is clinical or they’ve totally run out of juice, fallen into a very dark hole and there’s no other way out.

But I’m pretty sure a lot of my problems are of my own making and come down to unkind choices I make. So I’d like to try and make different choices before taking medication. The pills may make it easier to do that, but I’m determined to give it another go myself first.

First, though, how did I end up here? My previous two blog posts (I’m a survivor and When everything feels wrong) tell the story, or at least half of it. The injured wrist, not being able to cycle, scooter, swim or run (dodgy ankle too), relationship ups and downs, worry about this age and stage of life (kids, no kids, too late, do I really want them anyway?), being glued to the news for the previous month for one of the jobs I do (seems I wasn’t the only one who got depressed by the steady onslaught of upsetting stories, as this Guardian piece explains). All that got me down.

And then there’s the bigger picture. I’ve had years of emotional ups and downs and have contemplated taking anti-depressants before (as I wrote in September 2012 in this post: Be still my beating heart). I’ve also been on a recovery path for more than a decade – from an eating disorder and other addictive behaviours – and it’s been tough at times to keep my spirits up, without resorting to the crutches I used in the past, particularly when life has thrown a curve ball (my dad’s death, work stress, health issues and so forth).

But this particular dip, I like to think and hope, is situational. And my mood is closely connected to the way I’ve handled the situation. I injured my wrist and then made it worse because I wasn’t willing to stop. I didn’t rest it or take time off work, beyond a day or afternoon here and there. I didn’t focus on getting better or put everything else to one side. I ploughed on, typing when it hurt, doing work I don’t like and not being nice to myself.

So I’ve decided to give myself a month of extreme self-care (without beating myself up for not doing it perfectly) and at the end of that month, I’ll see where I’m at.

This isn’t going to be easy. My natural instinct is to push on through, ignore the pain or discomfort and wipe away the tears when they come. But this time, I’m going to take the pain and the tears as I sign I need to do something radically different – and then I’m going to try to follow through.

So what does radical self-care look like for me? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Gentle Pilates – it’s great to get into my body and out of my head, to focus in on one particular muscle and just work on that.
  • Small chunks of work, but not too much. Stopping when my hand hurts or when my mood starts to dip. Of course, the voices come in and question my level of success. ‘You’ll never get anything done if you only work three or four hours or less. You’ll be broke. You’ll never achieve your dreams. All your gifts will go to waste.’ But, for the time being, I’m choosing to trust that if I can keep myself well and happy and if I can allow myself to work at my own pace, everything else will follow.
  • Sunshine, sand and peace

    Sunshine, sand and peace

    Lots of nature, including spontaneous trips. On Friday of last week, after a work meeting got cancelled at the last minute, I decided to take myself off to the beach. It was already quite late in the morning and my head told me not to bother, to go to Hampstead Heath instead. But I took note of how my heart skipped with delight at the thought of walking on the sand, lying in the sun and swimming in the sea so I headed down to St Pancras and took a train to Camber Sands. Of course, the all-too-logical side of my brain kept telling me it was foolish, even when I was en route. I’d had to take a train, Tube, two trains and then a taxi because I’d just missed the bus. How ridiculous. But my heart – that childlike glee I experienced in my kitchen at the thought of the trip – won out and those hours I spent lying in the sand dunes, walking on the beach and floating on my back in the sea really turned things around. I felt myself again, happy, confident, hopeful, trusting. And immensely capable of making amazing decisions.

  • More nature. Since my flirtation with the anti-depressants, I’ve swum twice in the freezing cold waters of the Kenwood Ladies Pond, which always does wonders for my soul. Again, I’ve had to push myself, just nudge myself over that hurdle in my head. ‘It’s too far, too cold, too late, my wrist will hurt, what’s the point?’ I’ve got there and I’ve gone in and my body and heart have thanked me for it.
  • Even more nature. I’m off to the sea again this weekend and will be packing my swimming stuff and hiking boots. And I’ll be having a serious think about whether it’s time, finally, to follow through on what I wrote on this blog a year ago (Ode to London) and move out of the city to live by the beach. I still love London but it’s been particularly challenging living here without being able to use my bike or scooter (because of my wrist). I’ve taken crowded buses and trains and spent too long underground. This city is big and noisy and can be overwhelming when you’re not feeling great.
  • Connection and kindness to others. Last week, I was sat sobbing on a log on Hampstead Heath after a pond swim (yes, the water helped but my low mood hijacked me again afterwards). I was still feeling the effects of the two pills, wondering if I should have carried on and trying to figure out how to get myself out of this tearful rut. Then, a stranger stopped to ask me if I was OK and hung about to listen to my woes. That connection – her kindness – turned the day around. In fact, I think it turned everything around. So how can I connect with others? How can I be kind? How can I use my experience to help others? I know this is one of the keys to staying emotionally well and leading a fulfilled and happy life.
  • Making a choice and sticking to it. Ambivalence is one of the things that affects my mood. The constant questioning and self-doubt is exhausting. The internal push-pull gets me down and drives me mad. So I’m going to commit to things for a period and give them a shot and every time I question my choices, I’m going to remind myself this is the choice I’ve made (or ask my friends or blog readers to remind me). I can review the choice at a set point in the future – until then, I’m staying put. So I’m off the medication and experimenting with extreme self-care for a month (although I imagine I won’t go back to the drugs). I’m going to try and engineer a move to the coast for six months or a year, knowing there’ll be fears and reservations but I’ll never know unless I try. And I’m going to commit to developing a relationship with someone (yes, a man) and seeing where that goes, knowing my ambivalence is deeply ingrained and always ready to trip me up, but I deserve to make a decision and give it a shot.

In the meantime, every day, I’m going to ask: what can I do today to be kind to myself? How can I love myself today? How can I lift my spirits? How can I put myself first? Today, that was a walk in the park, meditation, physio and writing this blog … so far. I know not everyone has the luxury of this choice – they have children to run around after or jobs to show up at. But I do have the choice so I’m going to make the most of it.

Taking those two pills has been a wake-up call and, in many ways, I’m thankful I tried them because every day my conviction that I want to manage without grows stronger. Yes, I may be addicted to the struggle – I’ve always preferred walking uphill to down – but I can’t change my personality or go against myself. It’s not an easy path but the alternative, to me, is much more unpleasant so I have to commit to protecting and loving myself in a way that’s radical.

Of course, it’s amusing I’d want to choose a path of extreme self-care rather than just standard, normal, run-of-the-mill self-care. I’m always happier at the extremes. It suits my personality. But it feels like it needs to be extreme because the part of me that wants to drag me down or make unkind choices is very fierce.

And I’m not the only one to realise that some of us are in a fight for our lives, or at least for our mental and emotional health. Try out Cheryl Richardson’s The Art of Extreme Self-Care if you think you need a helping hand. I was listening to the audio book on the way to this beach ….

Camber Sands in the October sunshine

Camber Sands in the October sunshine

 

Posted in Addiction, Childless, Eating disorders, Faith, Health, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Spirituality, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m a survivor

When I write a miserable blog post, like my last one (When everything feels wrong), I feel like I’ve got to write another one really quickly to tell you I’m happy again. It’s like I don’t want people to think that I’m miserable for more than a day or two – that wouldn’t be right, that’s not who I am. In fact, the other evening I gave someone my business card, which has a link to this blog, saying, “Ignore my latest blog post, I was really miserable then”, implying I wasn’t any more and that was a mere blip in a lifetime of contentment.

But the truth is the feelings haven’t passed. They’ve mellowed, softened a little since that post 10 days ago, but they’ve lingered and, every now and then, they’ve come back with force. I’ve cried a fair few times and while I’ve partied and socialised, smiled and chatted, I’ve felt the need to run home early and cocoon myself.

It’s a difficult time. Pain is depressing. Not being able to do the things I love is depressing (no cycling, no scooter riding, no running – since my ankle is sore too – and no two-armed swimming – I tried it but had to revert to floating on my back and swimming on my side). Not knowing when or if my hand/wrist problem will heal is depressing too.

I’m not sure if everyone would feel the same – I think it depends a bit on personality type. I can lose hope quite fast. It doesn’t take much to send me spiralling downwards into a dark hole. And I’m particularly sensitive to the physical stuff, to limitations around sport and exercise, as I’ve always been someone who depends on physical stuff to feel good.

But I did feel I had to write a happy post after the sad one so I began writing some of the blog below last week, but didn’t press send … the bit in the square brackets is from last week, with a bit of tidying up today …

[You know that song by Destiny’s Child? The lyrics go like this (although I’m not quite sure what all the ‘whats?’ are about):

I’m a survivor (What?)
I’m not goin’ give up (What?)
I’m not goin’ stop (What?)
I’m goin’ work harder (What?)

I’m a survivor (What?)
I’m goin’na make it (What?)
I will survive (What?)
Keep on survivin’ (What?)

Well, I thought of that song today.

Monday’s meltdown was of epic proportions. What I wrote in that post isn’t even the half of it. The tears came faster and stronger later that night, accompanied by dark thoughts of the kind I don’t have very often.

I didn’t call anyone. In fact, I switched my phone off early. I didn’t eat anything (beyond my planned meal), I just took myself to bed.

Stuck for something to read, I picked up The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. I read it in July, consumed it on an airplane and on my first day in Spain, but I knew I’d end up reading it again. And while it’s a story about kids with cancer, something about that novel lifted my spirits.

For a start, I didn’t need my right hand to read. So all is not lost, I thought, I can still enjoy the marvellous activity that is reading. Secondly, the writing, in my opinion, is so exquisite and the characters so real – making me smile, chuckle, nod my head in agreement and cry – that I couldn’t help but acknowledge that the world is filled with beautiful, uplifting things. With people with incredible gifts like John Green, with an ability to bring characters to life with a few deft brushstrokes, to approach a subject that’s so potentially devastating with such a lightness that it can’t fail to inspire. It’s art, I guess. And art has the ability to take us to another plane.

I read until my eyes – tired and heavy from so much crying earlier – would no longer stay open. And this morning, despite still feeling a little blue, something spurred me into action.

I may struggle with my emotional ups and downs but I’ve never been one to lie around moping. And I know the value of sticking to a routine that’s served me very well in the past. So I got up early when the alarm went off, read my daily readings, said a few prayers, did 20 minutes meditation, 15 minutes of Pilates while listening to the Today programme,  booked another appointment with my doctor and rang an osteopath.

I was showered, dressed, breakfasted and out the house pretty fast, which won’t seem like much of an achievement to those of you have to go to work every day but when you’re self-employed and feeling down, the temptation is to stay home and do very little. I got to my studio, switched my phone off and got on with some work (that didn’t require using my right hand very much).

Why is all this so important? Why is it worth writing down? Because those dark thoughts, when they come, are pretty scary. Those ‘What’s the point?’ questions can be terrifying. So it’s really good to know that there’s enough stuff on the other end of my internal scale to tip the balance away from the dark and towards the light. Right now, this all sounds a little melodramatic. But I’m reassured to know that even if it’s all too easy for me to spiral down, I also have a strong survival instinct that pulls me back up before I fall too far.]

Not long after drafting that post, a friend had a great idea to go to the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games – a sporting competition for wounded soldiers. I almost didn’t go. There was a little voice inside me saying, “I want to hide, I want to go home”. But I managed to shake myself out of it and go along.

So there I was, at the Olympic Park in the late evening sunshine, watching the Red Arrows fly overhead, listening to military bands, watching horses parade, hearing Prince Harry speak and cheering on all these injured servicemen and women, alongside their families and friends.

I’d spent most of the day moaning and fretting about my sore wrist and dodgy ankle and here were men and women who’d lost legs and arms. But in recorded interviews, they didn’t just talk about the amazing stuff, about how brilliant it was to be an athlete now. They also talked about spiralling downwards, about the incredibly dark early days after their injury, about how they wanted to give up. And then about how they’d made a choice to find a way not only to live with their disability but to compete and win medals. As you can imagine, it was inspiring stuff.

Then actor Idris Elba took to the stage and read the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley, which ends, “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

Yes, that’s inspiring stuff too and the evening was incredibly uplifting.

But I confess I don’t always feel like the captain of my soul, and particularly not of my thoughts, feelings and emotions, despite the fact I know intellectually I have the power to choose them. They have a life of their own sometimes and it takes all my strength to rein them in.

I’m heartened to discover, though, that there are some things in this world that have the power to bring me back instantly from the land of doom and gloom. A good book is one, as I’ve mentioned, and music is another. So I’ll end with a song that was sent to me by one of my dear blog readers that lifted my spirits today. And I’m pretty sure it’ll lift yours too. It’s Brazilian, in Portuguese. Of course, it has a special significance for me – I lived in Brazil for three years and spent plenty of time dancing to this samba beat, which has such an easy flow and which, if it could speak, might say “hey sister/brother, it’s all going to be OK, kick off your flip flops and feel that sand between your toes, then let’s take a dip in the sea, drink a caipirinha and watch the sun go down”. (Oh, if only life could be that simple … or perhaps it could be).

Play it loud and try and stop your foot from tapping, your shoulders from moving and your hips from swaying (even if you’re sitting down):

Canta, Canta, Minha Gente

Not sure you need to understand the words to get the happy gist of this beautiful song, but a rough translation would be “Sing, sing, my people, leave your sadness behind, sing out loud, that life’s going to get better.”

Enjoy x

Posted in Happiness, Health, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments