Grief is the price we pay for love

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Sometimes it is something so tiny that sparks a memory that almost crushes me. A photo, a song, a TV clip, an innocent comment.

Yes, the anniversaries and birthdays are hard and poignant.  Each year they get a littler easier, and harder at the same time. Easier as I’m prepared for the emotions I feel.  Harder as I realise how long we’ve been without you, how many more memories we lost out on making.

But it’s the tiny moments, the middle of random day ones, the moments that take me unaware. They grip my chest. They are the moments that make me choke. They are the moments that reduce me to tears. Grief that feels as fresh as it was in those early days.

Those moments when I’m watching TV and it transports me back to childhood, both of us climbing rocks with Dad on a beach in Mallorca, we were fearless, sun tanned limbs, adventuring, amazed at everything the world was showing us and discovering it together. Whole days spent in the pool until we had earache. Eating the fruit from sangria, collecting paper umbrellas and postcards. Dancing to Agadoo.

Those moments when I hear that song on the radio that we made Mum listen too, all in hysterics as we tried to pin her down and she tickled us until we couldn’t breathe with laughter. The ski sunday theme tune, when we used to run around the house like nutters with tea towels on our heads. The photo that pops up of the time you came to visit me at uni and we drank all night, and danced to garage and ate kebabs. You tried to hit on my friends!

While I was still an immature student, you had already seen war. You were wise beyond your years and my protective little brother.

Those moments keep coming, yet they’ve started to recur. I guess there are no new memories to top up the pot. Life gets further from the life with you in it. And that in itself sends shivers. As time goes on, it’s sometimes memories of memories. I worry I will forget you. The sound of your voice already feels distant. I can’t conjure you up in my mind as easily. And that almost feels like I’m losing you again.

What yoga means to me now

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Last night, I put Orson to bed and then left the house for the evening for the first time since he was born. What did I chose to do with my evening? I went to yoga. He hadn’t settled that well, which was unusual going by the last few weeks, so I left the house feeling a little apprehensive. I drove to the studio and struggled to find somewhere to park, so only just arrived in time. It was packed and I had to squeeze my mat into a spot right at the front by the teacher. With everyone already settled on their mats I was clumsy, dropped my water bottle, struggled to unroll my mat. By this point, I was feeling stressed, anxious and wondering why the hell I had decided to venture out on a cold, wet, rainy January evening to take my first ‘proper’ yoga class in 9 months.

And then it started. I closed my eyes. I took a deep breath, and then another.

We moved slowly.  At times I forgot there was any one else in the room.

The teacher, guided us through the most wonderful class. She was measured, patient, grounding. I eased out my limbs, bits of me feeling so different since I’ve become a mother. Yet, so much feeling familiar.

The thing is, I haven’t stopped doing yoga. I just do it differently now. The month before I became pregnant I undertook a ‘Warrior Challenge’ in which I went to a yoga class every day for a month. I’d been a member of my studio for the past year going to a few classes a week. I was reading yoga books in my spare time. I’d undertaken a meditation course and was meditating every morning. I was perfecting arm balances, strengthening my transitions and embracing the eight limbs of yoga. I was attending retreats and workshops. Yoga had started to become my life.

And then, I fell pregnant. I went to pregnancy yoga classes a couple of times a week. I embraced the changes to my body, connected to my baby growing inside me, strengthened myself for childbirth. It opened me up to mindful hypnobirthing, natural birth, my strength as a woman. I did more reading, I attended yoga birthing workshops, and I was more in love with yoga than ever before.

Before Orson arrived, I had planned to keep my own personal practice going by attending a few classes a week at the weekends and in the evenings. But that’s just not how it worked out for me. I had a gorgeous baby that I was breastfeeding on demand, who would only sleep if I held him in my arms. He needed me. The intense early weeks and months of motherhood don’t allow space for much, let alone a yoga class. As the months have gone on, I’ve felt further and further removed from what I thought was the most important aspect of my yoga practice.

So, getting back on my mat at a yoga class last night, was amazing. But, it also made me realise that it’s not the most important part of my yoga practice anymore. I don’t at the moment have time for lots of classes. I can’t make retreats and workshops. My yoga books have mostly stayed on the shelf. I am however practicing yoga every day. I’m practicing in how I chose to live my life. I’m more mindful than ever before. The moments that I have to roll out my mat at home feel even more precious. I go to mum and baby yoga and I may spend 80% of the class looking at my little boy but it’s such a special shared experience. And you know what, that hour that I had in class last night, I relished. I was present the entire time. And I finally listen to my body. Really listen. It has changed so much that it needs respect. I need to get to know it all over again. I make it a priority to take a step back and deeply breathe. My yoga practice now is a gift, not a right.

So, in so many ways, yoga is life to me even more now. It’s every moment of every day.

Focus and flow

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This is something that has taken me a while to come to terms with. I’m someone that always has a massive to do list that I’m striving to achieve. I have priorities for the day, i.e. more than one, which definitely defeats the object. Most of the time nowadays I’m lucky if even one thing gets done. Add to that all my long term goals, and things I think I ‘should’ do, the list is ridiculous. Even when I’m feeling good it makes my mind busy, so I struggle to switch off. On my bad days, it leaves me feeling like a failure, stressed and anxious.

I’ve talked in the past about my ‘faddy’ nature. Pretty much as soon as I’ve started something new, I’m on to the next thing. I struggle to be content with continuing with things long term, day after day, even when I love them. I’m ten steps ahead, rather than finding my flow for a while.

The last couple of days I’ve been having a bit of an internal battle about my blog. It’s been a few months now and all of a sudden, my reach has just shot up. I’m really pleased that more and more people are reading it. I’m getting emails and messages on a daily basis about how much people are enjoying my writing, that it has struck a chord or that they can relate. Others telling me that I’ve inspired them to get outside or open up about their mental health battles. I feel incredibly grateful, BUT, rather than being motivated, I’ve just started worrying about what I’m writing and where it’s going, what platforms I’m using to promote it. I feel pressure to write more, schedule posts, learn from other bloggers, give advice and try to build a following. It started off as a way to get things off my chest and I promised myself that I would just write from the heart. Now I’ve got a whole load of words going around in my head and no idea where to turn and where to focus. At the start I felt I had nothing to lose, but now I’m second guessing everything, procrastinating and stalling.

So when I came across this quote, I really felt it was the right time. It is a great reminder that I can do anything I put my mind to – I firmly believe that and it has proved to be true in the past. But I can’t do everything. I can’t maintain the perfect standards I want in every area of my life. I can find time to do things that are important to me, but it’s always a choice that has to be made with that time. Now more than ever I need to make sure the things that I’m doing are making me happy (truly happy), aligning with my values, feeding my mind, body and soul.

Writing is so important to me. When I lose myself in words, when I get them out of my head and on to paper, I feel better. When I read my writing back it’s a permanent reminder to myself about the lessons learned, the traps I fall into, how far I’ve come. I’ve still got to write for myself. I need to write when the inspiration strikes, when I have something I want to say. So tonight, I’m taking a step back. I’m reminding myself of the things and people that are important to me, and I’m making a commitment to myself to honour these, focus and flow. That’s what I’m using my time for.

 

 

 

The reality behind the pose

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This photo was taken a few months before I found out I was pregnant. I’m not going to lie, at the time, I thought I looked hot. I had newly bleached hair (that I’d wanted for years), a new tight black dress and expensive makeup. I was on the way out to party at a friends wedding reception. When I made the photo my profile picture I got tons of likes and comments and that was what I thought I wanted.

But the reality was totally different. Now I look back at this photo and I can see in my eyes that I’m not truly happy. I was still in counselling, getting better but still needing it. I was struggling with low self esteem, bleaching my hair as a front. Craving attention and hating it at the same time. When this photo was taken on route to the wedding reception I’d already polished off a whole bottle of prosecco to ease my social anxiety and by the end of the night I was a mess, predictably. I’ve always been a messy drunk. At my best, sick, at my worst, aggressive, at my absolute worst, a cheat.

The thing is, I had a great life, an amazingly supportive and loving husband who’s my best friend and soul mate, family that are there for me no matter what, fabulous friends. I had a rewarding job, health and hobbies. But I was obsessed with what people thought. There were so many things that I wanted to change about my appearance. I exercised and counted calories but never got to where I wanted to be. I felt self-conscious unless I was made up, like in this photo. Then I just wanted attention to make me feel validated.

Now, I’m a bit of a mum cliché. Saggy bits, grey hairs, aching back. I haven’t made my appearance a priority. My wardrobe (which is mainly nursing tops and leggings) is in serious need of an overhaul. So this week I embarked on getting fit again. But, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I might never fit in my cute dresses again. My body has housed and nurtured a little baby, then delivered him to the world. It’s nourished him exclusively for 6 months and continues to do so. My body is amazing. This time, I’m not getting fit to be able to wear a slinky dress again, I can do that anyway, I’m proud of my body! No, I’m getting fit so that I’m the best and healthiest version of myself. So that I’m the example that I want to be to my son. I want to be strong, confident and healthy. Motherhood has changed me like nothing else has. So although I may never look like this again, I know that now, I’m the best and happiest version of me.

 

The passage of time

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I always find the new year a tricky time. It seems to come around so suddenly, another year over so quickly. My anxiety is heightened thinking about how fast time is flying, the things that haven’t yet been achieved, how life just seems to have sped up now I’m in my thirties. This year I’ve also had a tinge of panic about how close I am to returning to work, worrying about whether I’ve made the most of our time off together.

So much is changing with my little boy right now. He’s clapping, he wrinkles his nose when he laughs, he dances in his high chair to the radio, he pulls off his socks, he pinches peas with his fingers and examines them, he looks at everything so intently with such a wise old stare. He has a super determined face when he tries to reach for something, and his little hands have a funny way of opening and closing, like a stroke and a tap at the same time, when he’s exploring something new. His eyes light up when he’s happy, which is pretty much all the time.

So much is changing that I want to capture every single moment. Time is going so fast there is an aching in my chest. A tightness that says I want to stop time and live in this moment forever.

I try to write it all down. I try to take lots of photos. But it’s just not enough.

So, this quote seemed incredibly apt. Time is going to fly and there is nothing I can do about it. All the more reason to live in the moment, slow down, drink it all in, savour. That’s the best way for these precious memories to stick.

 

 

 

We do have a choice

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It’s been a crazy few days with last minute Christmas preparations and social activities, plus some family troubles. I’ve been stressing like normal, trying to get everything done and make sure everything is perfect as we host our first Christmas. Expectations and pressure that I place on myself. Worrying about the problems that have been surfacing, doubting myself and feeling a little jaded. Because we’ve been so busy, self-care has slipped to the bottom of the to do list, and I realised this morning that it’s been three days since we got out for a proper walk, or since I just sat with my breath.

So in the middle of all the drama, chores and activities still left, we’ve been out for some fresh air today and I’ve just given myself 5 minutes to breathe and be mindful.

Now, stepping back from all the craziness, I’m reflecting over the year and realise just how lucky I am to be in this place right now. We started the year hugely excited (and scared shitless) about welcoming a new little one into the family. David was unemployed having been made redundant just before Christmas and we weren’t sure what the future held. I entered into motherhood, just as David was facing his biggest challenges as an existing father. I became a mum, at exactly the time I nearly lost mine. To describe this year as an emotional rollercoaster is an understatement. It’s a bit of a cliche but it doesn’t matter about all the presents, all the food, whether the house is a state. We’ve got family around us and after this year, it’s a miracle that’s the case.

My mind was wandering to the word ‘choice’. I’m mindful of how much I’m letting life happen to me at the moment, and how I’m in danger of coasting through what I think are obligations and living a life of others. Not being true to myself.
We can’t chose the things that happen to us but we can chose how we act or react, what we prioritise, the things we tell ourself in our thoughts every day, whether to be grateful. My mum has had an awful time in terms of her health this year. And she’s been dealt some pretty tough times in her life full stop, but she’s bouncing back and getting stuck into life again. Others I know are going through really horrible times and I can give up on them because of things they’ve said and done, or I can chose to support them no matter what.

So there are new beginnings just around the corner. I’m setting my intentions now to prioritise self-care above everything else next year. To me, that means being grateful, meditating and getting outside. This is what makes me the mum, wife, step-mum, daughter and friend I want to be, in this one life that I have. Gone are the days of setting big challenges and goals. This is all I need to prioritise.

And so, with choice in mind, I’m logging off of social media and blogging for the next week. It happens to also be my birthday in the middle of Christmas and New Year, so I’m going to enjoy much needed family time, and time for lots of self-care too. Relax, regroup and replenish.

For those who are struggling right now, life might not be great, you may have suffered huge loss or be not feeling quite right even with huge abundance. Remember – this will pass. Hold on tight, don’t give up and be kind to yourself.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone, see you on the other side!!

If you are struggling right now

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So, I realise that to many it will seem like I have a pretty good life. And I do. I’m happy.

But there was a time in my life where I couldn’t leave the house for weeks. I couldn’t go to work, I couldn’t shower, I could barely get out of bed, and I basically lived on a diet of pasta with cheese and copious amounts of biscuits, if I ate at all. There was a bit of depression in there, a whole heap of anxiety and serious bereavement issues. Low confidence, anger and jealousy. Lots of worry. Stress and overwhelm.  Moments where my addictions took over. I’ve had this happen during the festive period when everyone seems so happy, and I have just felt empty and lost or like my head is going to explode.

I lied a lot during this time. Lying to those close to me about how I was really feeling. Lying to my employer about what was going on. Lying to myself, thinking I could just snap myself out of it.

I had a few spells like this. And I had a few attempts to get myself out of the fog. I wouldn’t say the attempts failed, as each time they got me closer to a better place. But I was after a fix. One thing I could do to change. The secret to happiness.

I didn’t know what to do. Mental health didn’t have the exposure it has now. Even 6 years ago people didn’t really talk about it. I tried counselling a few times but couldn’t stick with it. I had tried to be positive, to exercise and relax, but I couldn’t shake it.

So, I pretty much bought every self-help book that I could. I was constantly researching how to be happy. I tried every therapy, I read blogs, I read articles, I followed inspirational people on social media. I was continuously starting the ‘one’ thing that was going to make me feel good and then quitting and continuing the search.

Most of my posts I’ve been writing recently are about what I find useful now. You may be able to relate if you’re just having a bit of a crappy day, or if you are just after a bit of motivation, or if you’ve ever been in a similar place.

That’s all good… but what if you are really struggling today? What if you’ve been really struggling for days, weeks, months, even years? An inspirational quote probably isn’t going to help you find happiness (not lasting happiness anyway)

Well I’ve been there, and I’ve pretty much tried everything out there.

So what clicked?

Well, there were two things that changed my life. I’m not exaggerating. Out of all of the books, blogs, tools and techniques I tried, these two things changed my life. Everything else I’ve achieved, the place I’ve got to now, being able to make peace with my past and even become a mum, has all been because of these two things,

And luckily, they are super simple.

Number 1

Every day, without fail, write down three things that you are grateful for. There are all sorts of fancy journals out there that will help you do it (and I’m sure they are great), but in reality all you need is a diary, or even just a plain notepad, or the notes app on your phone. Every day, wake up and make sure you write them down. Some people can naturally live their lives appreciating the small things and showing gratitude, and that is great. Stick with it. But I need to remind myself to do this every day. Commit to this practice daily and you’ll be amazed with the results.

Number 2

Be mindful. Live in the moment. Mindfulness helps you accept right now, noticing thoughts and feelings without becoming a slave to them.  The route to true happiness. I realise this is a daunting concept and a bit abstract. I started with 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation using an app called Headspace. I downloaded the app which gives you 10 free sessions. It’s simple and quick to use (there are loads of other similar apps out there too). At first it’s hard to sit with yourself for 10 minutes, hey it’s hard to even fit in 10 minutes sometimes, but after just a couple of days you will start to feel lighter, you will notice a shift. And it will lead to great things.

And that’s it. After years and years of failure and struggle, those two simple daily steps enabled me to complete much needed bereavement counselling, undertake cognitive behavioural therapy, and have underpinned all the other things that help me now – like getting outside, running, yoga, minimalism. None of these things would have been possible without those two important steps.

The other thing that’s important to note, is that you actually have to do them! I know that sounds like common sense but I spent ages reading about things that would help me, being motivated and inspired, feeling better and then not actually doing them. I know that sounds ridiculous but somehow I felt that because I’d bought into the concept, I didn’t actually need to do the work. I would plan the things I needed to do to be happy, and then stop there, because it would have already lifted my mood. Sounds crazy right, but it’s true!

So, you might think that I’m just in love with positive motivational quotes – and I am – but they are nothing without these daily practices.

I still do them now, and when I don’t, it’s not long before I notice the fog start to creep back in.

If you are struggling right now, I urge you to give them a try.  I know that you feel like you are in a deep hole that you can’t get out of but they don’t cost anything and you don’t need to leave your house to start. Start today, start right now. Don’t wait for motivation to strike. You have nothing to lose.

I’d love to hear from you if you do.