From fantasy to reality

I’ve been living in a fantasy world.

A world in which this blog or my half-written book gets discovered, I get offered a big-bucks publishing deal and someone else writes the book for me or holds my hand every step of the way. A world in which I don’t actually have to sit down and do the work. I don’t have to finish what I start. I don’t have to choose between the words I keep and the ones I throw away or decide whether to swap chapter one for chapter three.

A world in which I don’t grow old or get aches and pains, and when I do get injured or pick up muscle strains, they get better on their own, in a very short space of time. I don’t have to do the stretching or the strengthening or follow the advice of doctors or physios.

A world in which I can sit for hours at a computer without getting back ache and in which I don’t need to do regular Pilates exercises to improve my posture, ease my back pain and prevent my body from seizing up. A world in which I can type for hours too, without my wrists hurting or without me having to do the exercises my physio has given me.

In reality, I know I have to do the promotional work, so do come along!

A world in which money, work and clients come to me in abundance, without me having to search for them or knock on their doors; where people come to my workshop without me having to advertise or promote it (this Saturday 25th in London N4 at 2 pm – see the flyer to the right). Where companies, organisations and networks find out about the self-awareness, strengths and team-building workshops I’m doing without me telling them and schools hear about my self-esteem talks without me ringing up. A world in which they find me. They discover me. They ask me in. (The irony is I can work my socks off for someone else, but when it comes to working for myself, promoting myself, it’s a different kettle of fish).

A world in which banks allow me to draw down several hundred thousand pounds against the market value of my one-bedroom London flat, despite the fact my mortgage is more than seven times my net income, following a rather drastic drop in earnings since I began working for myself, and despite the fact I’ve only been repaying the interest, not the capital, on my home for the last seven years.

A world in which I draw down those funds, get a second mortgage too, despite my present circumstances, and buy a beautiful home by the beach.

A life by the sea

A life by the sea

A world in which I don’t have to pay off my mortgage or have a pension because my flat is worth plenty of money, so I can just spend the money I earn.

A world in which I can have all the things I want – a home by the sea, a beach hut, a campervan, lovely clothes and holidays – without earning the money first.

A world in which I can live at the coast and have access to my London flat, without needing to rent it out to subsidise my move; without needing to choose, to risk or let something go.

A world in which all aspects of work are enjoyable and I don’t have to do the dull admin that goes with being self-employed or the money-earning work that isn’t exactly my heart’s desire.

A world in which relationships are like permanent sunny holidays, without any rough patches, compromises or hard work; without the need to negotiate boundaries, speak difficult truths or make tough choices. Where I get absolutely everything I want in one beautiful, rugged package.

A world in which it’s common for women to have children naturally at the age of 43, 44, 45 or 46, without the need for syringes, hormones or a younger woman’s eggs. A world in which pregnancy is blissful, labour is pain-free, motherhood is a dream without any nightmares and any children I miraculously manage to have in my mid-40s are cherubs who never have tantrums or tell me they hate me. (As I write this, in the quiet room in the cafe in my local park, two mums I know stroll past the window pushing prams and watching their toddlers toddle along in the sunshine … and I feel a pang. I’m writing. I’m working. They’re mothering. What is it I want? Do I not know yet?)

A world in which things take much less time than I expect and there are far more than 24 hours in the day; where journeys that take 45 mins only take 30 mins and in which nothing unforeseen ever happens en route to make me late. A world in which contingency planning isn’t necessary, because everything goes to plan.

So I wrote at the beginning that I’ve been living in a fantasy world. Past tense. I’m emerging from it and I have been for years. It’s been a gradual and painful process of growing up and understanding how the real world works, intermingled with a few sharp growth spurts, some head-out-of-the-sand moments that have catapulted me into reality and brought me back to earth with a bump.

It’s been a process of understanding I can’t have everything I want, that reality doesn’t work like that. Of learning I sometimes have to make difficult, painful choices and compromises that involve letting go of the thing I didn’t choose. Of understanding miracles don’t always happen, that I will feel physical and emotional pain, that my body will only heal if I do my bit to help and that hard work and commitment are vital if I want to complete anything.

A process of coming to know that I have to take responsibility for my finances, advertise my workshops and write to prospective clients and that my book will only get written if I sit down every day to write it. Of grasping the fact that mortgages need to be paid off and unexpected stuff happens so it’s best to do some contingency planning.

A process of becoming aware that natural conception and childbirth are uncommon in your 40s, that motherhood is maddening and tiresome at times, that all toddlers have tantrums and meltdowns and most teenagers go through a period of disliking their parents intensely. A process of understanding that relationships aren’t long sunny holidays – they require commitment, compromise and conversations that will frighten me to death.

I’m sad I lived in fantasy for so long but I don’t blame myself and nor does it surprise me. I missed out on some vital life lessons along the way and I know it has something to do with developing addictive, compulsive behaviours from a very young age. I didn’t mature in the way I was supposed to, so I’m having to mature now.

Maybe I created a fantasy land as a way of escaping a reality I didn’t like and of running away from painful feelings I didn’t know how to cope with. Perhaps I was conditioned to think in this way, to think something or somebody would come along to fix me, save me, rescue me or discover me; to think someone or something would mend my financial affairs, write my book for me, take me away from “all this”, transport me to a different, happier land.

Yes, that’s the crux of it. I grew up believing that happiness was over there – over there where you are, in that big house by the sea with its nice cars and speed boats, in that family with the mum and dad and two kids, in that job you do or that publishing deal you’ve got. I grew up believing in a fantasy – an unattainable fantasy of a perfect man, job, home and family life. I saw them everywhere and sometimes I still do – those “perfect” lives, husbands, kids, careers, bodies and so forth.

But today I understand the problem with this fantasy thinking is I don’t appreciate what I have, I don’t appreciate the happiness I’ve got.

So for today, I acknowledge that happiness isn’t over there. It’s in here, inside me. And I commit to giving thanks for that and for all the good stuff that’s going on.

At the same time, I let go of the idea of some magical big fix and I commit to doing the work (I’ve just dowloaded Steven Pressfield’s book Do the Work – but I’ll read it quickly and make sure I actually do the work!). I commit to taking responsibility, to choosing, deciding and finishing what I start (it appears losing interest in projects and moving on to the next big idea is typical of creative people). I commit to saving money, paying the mortgage, getting places on time and living in reality.

I do this in the knowledge that while it’s important to be grounded in reality, I can aspire to some really great things and that miracles of sorts do happen. Perhaps not in the way I expect them to, but they do happen. I, for one, have changed in miraculous ways.

I also commit to working wholeheartedly when I’m at work, resting wholeheartedly when it’s time to rest, and playing wholeheartedly when it’s time for fun.

And I commit to promoting my upcoming free workshop. So at the risk of repeating myself, do take a look at the flyer and do come along – Saturday April 25th, 2-4:30, St Mark’s Church, N4 3LD. It would be lovely to see you there.

Posted in Addiction, Childless, Creativity, Recovery, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Boys can cry too

It’s been ages. So long, in fact, that I’ve had a birthday since I last posted and haven’t even blogged about it. I’m now 44 – and wondering how long I can keep blogging under the name, ‘From Forty With Love’. Clearly I didn’t think this one through! But then I reckon the title could also mean ‘from forty upwards’, so perhaps I can keep going until I’m 50.

Of course, now I’m here, I want to tell you all about my 44th, on March 13th. How I spent it with my boyfriend, eating the gluten-free, Nigella Lawson recipe cake he baked me and skinny dipping in the ice cold sea off the Dorset coast. Yes really, I went in, in nothing but my bobble hat. I even put my shoulders under. Crazy lady. I also want to share that I received some wonderful gifts – including the beautiful and entirely appropriate book Wild Swim (my friends know me well) – and sang silly karaoke songs until far too late at night in a dodgy pub by Waterloo. But all that’ll have to wait, if I come back to it at all. Instead, here’s one I prepared earlier, to quote Blue Peter.

I started writing this blog weeks ago. It was pretty much done but I didn’t post for some reason, then I got sidetracked, then I forgot about it, then I wondered if it was worth posting at all. But there’s a reason I’m moved to write about the topics I do, so I’m just going to roll with it. I’ve returned to the original, tidied it up and expanded on it. I hope to be back soon with some musings on turning 44 … or whatever else happens to be on my heart the next time I write.

***

It was lunchtime and I was sitting in the pretty square near my studio in the elegantly named De Beauvoir town, a suburb of East London for my faraway readers. I was being optimistic – it was mid-February but the sun was out so I decided it was warm enough to eat outside. This is the same optimism that has me carrying a bikini around in my bag for most of the summer, and sometimes the spring and autumn too, just in case there’s a chance to nip to the Ladies Pond for a dip. On the day in question, it wasn’t as warm as it looked through my studio windows, but lunching outside was still doable for hardy, northern, swim-in-the-sea-in-March folk like me.

The park was crawling with children, running in circles, on the climbing frame, playing football – it was half-term – so it wasn’t quite the peaceful lunch break I’d imagined, but there was plenty to keep me entertained.

I was particularly interested in a small group of children who were playing nearby, so close in fact that I expected their football to knock the Tupperware out of my hand. When I arrived, this group – about five of them – had just launched into a running race but the smallest child, a boy of around five or six, had been left behind. In seconds, he was in floods of tears, standing there with his head down, trying to get some words out through the gulps and sobs. From what I could gather, he was crying because the others had run off and he couldn’t keep up. Maybe he felt humiliated, maybe he felt angry – he just wanted to run fast like the bigger kids.

A woman rushed up to console him – in her teens by the looks of it, an older sister or cousin perhaps. He couldn’t expect to run like the older children, they had much longer legs, she said, steering him to a bench so he could sit and shed his remaining tears. Pretty soon, the kids who’d run ahead of him completed their circular route and arrived back at the bench.

“Why are you crying?” said an older girl in a taunting voice, leaning into his tear-stained face with her hands on her hips. “Boys don’t cry,” said the girl, who was around nine or ten, I’d say, with long slim legs – good for running.

I looked up when I heard those words and frowned. Really? Really, I thought. Boys are still being told this? Small boys are still being told it’s not OK to cry, it’s not manly to be upset? After all we’ve learned, after all we’ve come to understand about the dangers of keeping our feelings bottled up inside, about depression, about anger that comes out sideways, in the form of a thump or kick, or turns inwards, in the form of addiction and self-harm. And after all we know about male suicide rates. Shouldn’t we be sending out different signals to boys by now?

Of course, the girl was only young herself and must have picked up the ‘boys don’t cry’ message from somewhere, from the grown-ups in her life, perhaps. And while it’s not ideal for young boys, or girls, to cry over losing a running race, feelings are feelings and they’re going to come out one way or another. That boy clearly felt hurt. And I reckon he needed help expressing that hurt. Instead, he was shamed for it.

Those words, ‘boys don’t cry’, have been stuck in my head ever since.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a boy or a man. Perhaps you guys don’t need to cry as often as I do. Maybe you don’t need a support network of half a dozen close friends you can call up at any time of the day or night in tears. But maybe some of you do. Or you do at certain times in your lives. There are some feelings that are just too big to be kept inside – the death of a parent, perhaps, the end of a relationship or losing your job, your marriage or your kids. Or those times when all the unspoken feelings and frustrations that have been bottled up for years start to bubble to the surface, when the lid really needs to come off the pressure cooker to avoid an explosion.

As someone who found many unhealthy, self-harming ways to cope with painful feelings and unsaid things for years, I worry that many men out there are hurting themselves by keeping their emotions inside. I know we’re different – men are from Mars and women from Venus and all that. I know we process things differently. But we can’t be that different. Isn’t it more that we’ve been conditioned to cope in different ways?

I confess there was a time some years ago when I found it hard to see the men close to me cry, particularly the man I was in a relationship with. I needed him to be strong, perhaps because I felt weak on the inside, even if I pretended otherwise.

His tears unsettled and unnerved me. They provoked strong feelings in me. I’m sad to say I felt almost repelled. This was my stuff – nothing to do with the man in question. It was a combination of a few things: the fact I hated the weak, vulnerable side of me so I couldn’t bear to see it reflected in someone close to me, someone I was attracted to; and that sense I had at the time that my man had to be strong for me, for the both of us.

These days, I feel differently about men’s tears. I’ve done a lot of personal development so I now accept my weaker, vulnerable side and am more able to accept that side of someone I love. And I don’t need a man to be strong for the both of us anymore. I’m stronger and I’ve developed my support network so there’s always someone I can call – and generally there’s someone I can call before my boyfriend. This is good because my upset isn’t always entirely rational, or it’s associated with deep pain from my past and has little to do with my present. I can work through this much easier with my girlfriends, many of whom are on the same journey, or with my therapist. The man in my life doesn’t need to hear all the emotional ups and downs. I can share them around!

But the bottom line is I do need to share – and maybe there are men who need to share their feelings too and don’t feel they’re able to or don’t know where to turn.

In fact, I know there are men who need and want to share their feelings because I’ve heard them speak. I heard a men’s panel at the Women of the World festival a few weeks back and a similar panel at WOW last year. And I heard a panel on Crash and Burn – what happens when your life hits a wall – at the Being A Man festival in 2014 (see the Telegraph’s write up here). Being a Man is back this year, 27-29 November, 2015, by the way.

Last year’s men’s panel at WOW was particularly moving. Many of the panellists shared how they felt they had to keep it together, primarily for the women in their lives. They felt an expectation to be strong, not to fall apart, that weakness wasn’t allowed. Fortunately, these men could talk openly about that expectation and they were also part of a men’s group – they met regularly to share their feelings and offer mutual support.

I’ve heard men share in other forums too that they’ve felt scared to be vulnerable with their wives or girlfriends. But the same men have also shared that these women have truly fallen for them in that very moment when they’ve been most vulnerable, when they’ve expressed their true feelings, when they’ve cried. I can relate to this. These days, I’m moved by a man’s tears.

But I know I need to continue to work on myself so I can be comfortable with my own weaknesses and therefore be accepting of his vulnerabilities too. And I can continue to develop my support networks so I have plenty of people to talk to when I’m feeling blue. If I can do this, I can avoid burdening the man in my life with the pressure of having to be strong all the time and I can avoid burdening him with all my troubles.

I can also send a message to all the men I know that I’m not only ready and willing to hear their vulnerabilities, but I’d be delighted and honoured if they’d share their true selves with me.

This level of openness, I hope, is possible in all our intimate relationships but what about at work? I think we particularly need authenticity in the workplace – it’s where many of us keep our true feelings inside and put on a front. I recently filled in a form for some work with a university and decided to omit any mention of my eating disorder or experience of ‘mental health issues’. I didn’t want the hassle of explaining myself. And I was wary I’d run into some form of prejudice. Then, a few days later, I changed my mind. I sent off a new form that told the truth. How could I write about authenticity and vulnerability or try to encourage others to share their stories and then hide it from my potential employers? I feel much more comfortable being true to myself. But I know this is tricky territory. (And I wonder, after all that’s been written about the GermanWings crash, how many people will want to write ‘depression’ on a disclosure form at work).

I feel strongly that men and women need to talk about their feelings and be authentic at home and at work. And given women tend to be better at this than men, we need to give the guys plenty of encouragement. After all, it could save lives.

A few days after hearing that little girl say ‘boys don’t cry’ in the park, I heard a moving programme on Radio 4 about men and suicide. Unfortunately, I can’t find it online to link to so I’ll have to summarise from memory. The host was speaking to a man who a while back had been stood on top of a building, preparing to jump off. He’d lost his marriage, his job and was sleeping on his son’s sofa. He’d lost his self-respect, he felt ashamed and he couldn’t see a way back. He had called the Samaritans a few weeks before but hadn’t said anything when they answered the phone. But as he stood at the edge of the building, he scrolled through his recent calls, to remind himself of the names of friends and family he’d be leaving behind. The Samaritans number caught his eye. He called it, got through to his local branch and they convinced him to come down and head to their offices for a cup of tea. He talked through his troubles. Maybe he cried. And he survived.

So boys, teenagers, men – please talk to us and please do cry. We can take your tears. We can more than take your tears. We love your tears. Don’t keep it all bottled up inside. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.

Posted in Addiction, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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 , , , , , , | 5 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