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).

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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

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When everything feels wrong

There are days when everything feels wrong.

Days when you feel so far away from the robust, strong, healthy, confident, dynamic go-getting person you want to be and sometimes are. Days when you wonder where your enthusiasm for life, for work, for love has gone.

Days when you despair at the fact that you can’t type without your right hand hurting and that you may have done nothing in the preceding weeks to help your situation – in fact, you may have done everything to make it worse.

Days when it dawns on you that you’re not merely 43, but that you’re 43 and a half – half a year away from being 44. Days when you realise that you might actually still want a child after all, despite months of ambivalence, an awareness of your own frailty following your injury, an understanding that you need lots of peace and space and the knowledge that you find constant noise, people and activity overwhelming. Days when you realise that the way you’re conducting your romantic life is doing nothing to move you closer to the possibility of having a child – in fact, it could be sabotaging your hopes and dreams.

Days when you feel despondent at your lack of motivation for projects you were once really excited about; when you wonder how you could have lost your way with the book that you are writing; when you question how on earth you ended up spending the bulk of your working week on assignments that just pay the bills, squeezing the things that fulfil you and make your heart sing to a tiny space at the end of the day when your energy and inspiration are running low.

Days when all you want to do is run, swim or cycle but you feel trapped by your injuries and worried that anything you do will just aggravate the problem and extend the pain; when you want to jump, dance, shout or thrash about in the sea to let out all this pent-up energy and frustration, but you feel weak and confined.

Days when you want to write a blog filled with hope, joy and excitement for life when all you can do is dictate this post through slow and steady tears. Days when you feel that familiar lump in your throat, like a rock, growing bigger and harder, signalling that something needs to come out – pain, anguish, anger, whatever it is – but that something seems so big and scary and is so hard to express.

Days when you wish you had been able to walk past the corner shop or just pick up a bottle of water and leave the chocolate coated orange peel things behind; when you wish you’d been able to leave them in your bag or pop them in the bin instead of eating them in 20 seconds flat.

Days when you feel empty but unable to do any of the activities you usually turn to to distract you from the feeling of emptiness, the sense that nothing is there, aware that ultimately nothing will work (and those chocolate orangey things really don’t do the trick).

Days when you wonder where your faith went and why God seems so far away or not around at all.

Days when you feel lost and alone.

Today is one of those days.

I wish I could run, jump, cycle or splash around in the sea. I wish I could write this blog  with my fingers on the keyboard and not dictate it. I wish I could find motivation, enthusiasm, faith, hope and joy. I wish everything was different.

Why does everything feel so wrong?

And why can’t I just leave it at that? Why can’t I just sign off in the midst of the doom and gloom? Why do I have to try and find some glimmer of hope? Why do I feel obliged to find a few positives or express some semblance of gratitude (for the sun, friends, my left hand, this dictation software)?

And why does my smile insist on forcing its way on to my face, curling my lips up instead of down, even as I brush away the tears? Why do I have to know that it will all be OK, that everything will work itself out in the end? Why can’t I just wallow for a good long while?

The answer, I guess, is because I know that you’re reading this and that it might speak to some of you and make you cry or smile; because I know that some of you have similarly challenging days when everything feels wrong; because I know that even though I sometimes feel that everyone else has got everything sorted and is getting on with their lives without all these thoughts, feelings and pain, I know for sure that I’m not alone.

And because I’ve been here before and it has passed.

So while it all feels a little self-indulgent, I’m going to press send on this post without editing it too much, correcting it or making it sound any more upbeat than it actually is.  Because while I’m not where I want to be today and everything does seem awry, I have the gift and the freedom to be real.

Yes, today is just one of those days.

Posted in Addiction, Childless, Eating disorders, Faith, Love, Recovery, Spirituality, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Getting our priorities right

Some of my most loyal readers and those that know me best have remarked that they like my blog because when they read it they can hear me speaking. I’ve always taken that as a compliment. If you’ve never heard me speaking, imagine a rather loud voice (my friends are always telling me to quieten down in restaurants) with a hint of a northern accent, which grows stronger or weaker depending on who I’m talking to. But otherwise, it’s not too different to what you’re reading right now.

But if this post sounds like I’m speaking more than usual, it’s because I am. I’m trying out some new dictation software because my wrist injury, unfortunately, hasn’t healed. In fact, it seems to have got worse.  Of course, I haven’t done much to help the situation. My attempts at resting my wrist didn’t work out too well.

It seems I’m not very good at resisting activities I love doing and I always think my body will cope fine. I can be a little reckless and impulsive and find it hard to say no to myself.  And I definitely don’t like missing out.

So last weekend, I found myself climbing down a rock face, needing to use both hands, before jumping off rocks into the sea, with no idea of how I was going to get out. As it was, I had to haul myself up out of the water, tugging on seaweed to stop me getting washed away as the waves knocked me off my feet. Not an ideal situation for someone with a wrist injury. Why couldn’t I stick to the simple and gentle option of swimming in the calm rock pool? Why couldn’t I resist the urge to go bigger and better, to go one step further, to take the more exciting route? Why is enough never enough?

I’m smiling as I write this – or rather as I speak it – because there are parts of my personality that drive me crazy but they’re the parts of my personality that make me me. I can try and temper them, but ultimately, I am who I am. I’m always going to want to jump off rocks into the sea. The day will come when I’ll be forced to sit on the sidelines but I’m not ready for it yet.

But there are or there can be consequences to the parts of my personality that resist rest and time for healing. And I may be suffering those consequences right now. Not being able to use my right wrist has brought a lot of frustration and stirred up a lot of emotion. I feel very vulnerable. And I constantly wonder or worry what would happen if it didn’t heal properly.

I was wondering that this morning as I went for a brisk stroll through my local park in the sunshine. I figured that getting my heart pumping and the blood flowing around my body might do me some good. As I walked, I realised that while not being able to write on my computer again would be a big blow, the things I would truly miss if my wrist didn’t heal had nothing to do with my work.

If I couldn’t cycle, if I couldn’t swim, if I couldn’t jump off rocks into the sea and get out again, if I couldn’t climb down a rock face to the shore, put up a tent or throw a rucksack on my back, they’re the things I would truly miss. Along with dancing, since I need my right hand to salsa, merengue or do any partner dance.

So while my work and my writing are important to me and often bring me peace, it’s good to know that my heart lies elsewhere.

Which got me thinking about other areas of my life and whether I’ve had or have my priorities out of line. I’m aware, for example, that for many years I put work and achievements before love and relationships. I’m pleased to say that is changing, though it’s hard to break the habit of a lifetime.

Of course, as an extremist, there is always the temptation to go the other way. I know I’m quite capable of dedicating the rest of my hours to swimming in the sea and cycling and fun and love and relationships. Now that doesn’t sound like a bad life, but I’m pretty sure I would feel unfulfilled if I ignored my hopes and dreams for my work.

So, once again, it comes down to that most difficult of concepts: balance. I’ll be working on that as I nurse my wrist back to full health, making sure I make time for fun but also not giving up on projects that are close to my heart.

With that, I’ll wrap up this first dictated blog post, suddenly aware that speaking into the computer – while practical right now – is very different to tapping on the keyboard and crafting sentences on the screen. I’m reminded how much I love the art of writing. So here’s hoping I can get this wrist back in action very soon.

Posted in Addiction, Creativity, Health, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Living with limitations

Weakness has never been one of my strengths.

I’ve always detested it in myself and I’ve disliked it in others. So much so that I’ve ridden roughshod over my own weaknesses, ignoring them or fighting against them in a way that has ultimately done more harm.

And I’ve often run a mile when I’ve sensed weakness in others. That’s because the traits I most despise in me are those I most dislike in others.

Neediness is a case in point. For many years, I prided myself on being independent and self-sufficient. On not needing anyone. Or on not having many needs. Sleep was for wimps. Poor health or injury were to be disdained and ignored, rather than treated or allowed to run their course with the help of rest or medical attention. And all that love and support stuff? That was for others – for those mushy, sentimental types.

There was a time – I think I’ve blogged about this before – when the Simon and Garfunkel song ‘I am a rock’ really resonated with me. I saw it as some sort of mantra, an ideal way of being (I’ve built walls. A fortress deep and mighty. That none may penetrate … And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries). But that self-image, I now know, was bravado. It hid a deep need for others, for love and support – so deep at times it felt overwhelming and so it seemed a good idea to bury it. Perhaps I learned to put on that mask at a young age because I felt my needs, if I revealed them, would likely go unmet. Pretending I didn’t have any or that they weren’t important was much easier than being met with silence or rejection.

So I associated having needs with shame, guilt and being dismissed. Having needs became a sign of weakness that was incompatible with the strong woman I wanted to be. But my neediness was like a pressure cooker – as soon as I came close to someone who was offering to meet my needs, as soon as I allowed them to surface, they’d bubble over and all pour out at once, trying to find their long-lost home, trying to get met. And of course the person on the receiving end of this torrent of needs would run for the hills.

Similarly, in the past I’ve frozen or fled when people have brought their needs to me and asked me to meet them. Since my needs weren’t being met – for rest, play, joy, security, love or whatever – there was no space for anyone else’s. What if your needs overwhelmed me? What if they suffocated me? What if I lost myself while trying to meet them? And what about my needs?

You needing me also suggested weakness – the same weakness I despised in myself. I needed you to be strong and I needed you not to need me. Make sense?

The good news is that as I’ve learned to meet my needs – for rest, play, joy, security, love or whatever – as much as I can, the pressure cooker effect has lessened and the lid isn’t so likely to fly off. Today, I recognise I have many needs and am finding healthy ways to meet them myself or to ask others for support. I can also tolerate your needs much better, because I have more space, more love and more acceptance of both of us and of what it means to be human and in relationships.

But I digress, as I so often do.

This blog wasn’t going to be about neediness so back to the original topic: physical strength, weakness and our limitations.

I’ve always been active, strong and fit. Gymnastics, trampolining, tennis, dance, netball, lacrosse, athletics, cross-country running, rowing, cycling, swimming, Taekwondo, wake boarding, hiking and a bit of women’s football – I’ve managed to do a lot of sports and activities reasonably well and I’ve always taken my physical strength and abilities for granted.

But as I type this very slowly and carefully because of a sore right wrist, I’m aware of two quite contradictory things:

1) How much I push myself when my body is complaining or asking me to stop

2) How easily I can be defeated and give up

When it comes to pushing myself, many of you will be familiar with my story. I used exercise as a form of bulimia for years, punishing myself for overeating, desperately trying to lose the weight I thought I’d gained in the previous binge.

I’ve pounded the world’s pavements – London, Oxford, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Valladolid and another small Spanish town (I was recently reminded by a friend that many years ago at a wedding in Spain I slipped out of my dress, put on some shorts and trainers and went off for a run around the town’s sleepy streets half way through the reception, while everyone else sipped wine, ate nibbles or took a nap – bizarre behaviour that was duly noted by my fellow wedding guests). Everywhere I went, work trips or holidays, I took trainers and running kit, with very few exceptions.

Now it goes without saying that I love exercise. I love the buzz it gives me and I love to sweat (or perspire). It clears my head and lifts my mood. But for years, I felt obliged to work out and there were times when I almost fainted exercising on an empty stomach and a horrible hangover or after a massive binge. Not to mention what I’ve done to my poor joints. It turns out I’m hypermobile – my joints over-extend, they pick up injury easily, are slow to heal and wear down faster than average – and running isn’t the best idea for my ankles or knees, at least not in the punishing way I used to do it.

My wrists are also weak and prone to injury, hence the current problem. I hurt my wrist moving my Vespa, exacerbated the injury learning to kite surf and finished it off on a late night bike ride in the pouring rain. I had to strap it, could barely type last week and can only do so now with great care.

In fact, I probably shouldn’t be typing this non-urgent blog at all! But that’s the point. On the one hand, it’s incredibly hard for me to stop and rest, to go slow, to take time out. What about all the stuff that isn’t getting done? The work, the book, the housework, the decluttering, and so forth? I was forced to take most of last week off work and it drove me a little nuts.

But on the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, I can be easily defeated. My thoughts head off very quickly in the direction of catastrophe. The fateful ‘What’s the point?’ question starts to surface and then it spreads, to encompass far too many areas of my life.

‘Well if I can’t type, that’s it for my writing career. I may as well just give up. And as for all the sports I love, that’s it. My active life is over. And if I can’t chop vegetables, I may as well eat rubbish all week. And if I can’t exercise and can only eat rubbish, I may as well just get fat’. And so it continues.

But then yesterday, as I walked briskly up a hill, broke into a light sweat, noticed my flushed cheeks and felt good, I realised that I don’t actually need my wrist to walk. Who’d have thought it? And I’m finally taking steps to get myself some dictation software, which will be useful even if this particular injury heals. I also tidied the flat (a little bit), bought some vegetables, did some cooking and got my healthy eating back on track. And I’m determined to get out for that walk. So all, in fact, is not lost.

It was pointed out to me yesterday that this defeatist side of me may have something to do with perfectionism, as well as being a typical characteristic of an addict. If my body can’t do everything I ask of it or perform 100 percent, then what’s the point? If I can’t chop and slice my own butternut squash like I did the previous week, then why bother eating any good food at all? And if I can’t do the work I’d scheduled in, what’s the point of tidying up, reading those articles I need to read or making those phone calls I need to make.

The same applies to other areas of my life. I remember pitching one of my first ever freelance articles straight to the New York Times. They said thank you, but it’s not quite right for us. Instead of celebrating the fact I’d actually got a response and sending the story to a few more newspapers on my list (Wall Street Journal, Washington Post perhaps), I pretty much gave up. I did try to resurrect it a while later but I’d lost my momentum.

Similarly with the book – a dozen rejections from publishers and I lose my excitement. I ignore all the J.K Rowling stories about perseverance in the face of rejection and all the opportunities self-publishing affords, preferring to put it on the back burner until somebody tells me it’s good and I get my momentum back.

Where’s my fight? That fight that got me this far. The drive that got me to university, around the world, back to London and kept me afloat. That helped me get a good amount of recovery from an eating disorder and other addictions that had plagued my life.

I wonder why I can’t apply the drive that’s done me harm – that’s pushed me through injury and illness and not allowed me to rest – to healthier projects. Why can’t I summon up the determination I used in a self-harming way in the past to keep my spirits up when I’ve hurt my wrist, or to continue writing (or dictating) my book in the face of rejection, or to go for brisk walks, or to realise I can chop the onion in my food mixer if I can’t use my hand, or to buy the software I need even if I’m worried about the expense?

Why is it so hard to push through? Why does it take me so long to take healthy steps when I could take the unhealthy ones in a flash?

Perhaps it’s a question of time – I spent the best part of three decades on the unhealthy path and have been on the recovery road just over 10 years. It’s a bit like turning around a massive ship. It’s a slow process.

But as I write this, I know I’m aware of my propensity to give up, which is a massive step in the right direction. And I have taken some positive steps – for a start, I have a fridge stocked with healthy food and a freezer full of homemade meals.

As I was pondering this blog and the questions of living with limitations and being easily defeated, I heard Radio 2’s Pause for Thought, which was particularly relevant. Father Brian D’Arcy quoted golfing great Arnold Palmer who told Tiger Woods:

“If you think you’re beaten, you are. If you think you dare not, you won’t. If you’d like to win but think you can’t, it’s almost certain that you won’t. Life’s battles don’t always go, to the stronger woman or man. Sooner or later those who win are those who think they can.”

He then quoted sports psychologist John Wooden, who advised his students: “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

On hearing that, I decided to commit to making the best of the way things turn out.

Posted in Addiction, Eating disorders, Health, Perfectionism, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment