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.

 

 

 

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!!

There is no perfect in parenting

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When I was pregnant my good friend bought a pack of nappies and everyone at my baby shower wrote little notes to put inside. It was a lovely idea for me to read in those hazy early days of nappy changing in the middle of the night. One of them really struck a chord – ‘If you care, you can’t go too far wrong’.

I was entering into motherhood with a really relaxed frame of mind. I was hyper aware of how my anxiety might affect parenting for me. During pregnancy I was still in counselling. I’d worked through a lot of issues, such as my perfectionism and my need for control. They weren’t huge issues and I wasn’t in counselling because I had a major mental health issue that needed addressing. Rather, because after going through bereavement counselling I realised that there were improvements I wanted to make for myself. I wanted to be happier in myself than I was. I wanted to live life to the fullest.

I’ve got such high standards of parenting from my Mum and Dad. I’ve written about what good parents they are before in ‘The vulnerable side of creativity’, but around Christmas time I’m reminded even more of the things they did to make my childhood so happy. When I was little they used to put up all the Christmas decorations once my brother and I had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. We’d wake up on Christmas morning to find not only a stocking at the end of the bed, but that the whole house had been decorated by Father Christmas and his elves. It was magical. Of course we had the normal arguments and fallings out over the years but all in all, they made my childhood pretty amazing. We had plenty of time with them, always on adventures, getting outside and close to nature. As I’ve got older they’ve always been the right balance of supportive, but respecting my independence. I have a lot to live up to.

So it was such an amazing thing to work through before taking this huge journey. Counselling along with mindfulness meditation and getting outside and back to nature helped me become the best version of myself. I was entering into this new phase of my life in a really good place.

And so, I became a mum.

And reality bites. Right from the outset I struggled with breastfeeding and bought a load of books to work out how to improve. I was stubborn and preserved through pain to carry on as I knew it was best for my little boy. I felt like I’d fallen at the first hurdle. But you can’t ‘learn’ breastfeeding from books. It was tough, it needed practice, I needed to use my intuition, I needed to get to know my boy. We needed to get to know each other. We needed trust and patience and time. We needed love. I’m glad that we’ve reached 7 months and still breastfeeding, but looking back I was a bit of a martyr.

I’ve always been anxious over too much choice. In this internet age I think parenting is even more overwhelming. At the touch of a button you can get every opinion under the sun on absolutely every topic (even things you hadn’t been concerned about). You can slip into a rabbit warren of information. Breast feeding, sleeping, weaning, illnesses, milestones, routines… Every tiny little thing, every decision there is to be made, I worry whether it is the right one. Every day I go from being super relaxed and trusting my instinct, to doubting myself and wanting to make a well researched and well informed decision, armed with all the facts. In fact, this isn’t just on a daily basis, it’s sometimes hourly.

There have been times I have called my parents in tears worrying about what I’m doing wrong when the boy is just really grizzly or he won’t sleep. When he’s had a little eczema I wonder whether it is the solids, the washing powder, an allergy, just normal for his age. When he’s not sleeping I worry about whether I’ve made the wrong call feeding him to sleep, cuddling him or rocking him for all his naps.

I know this is par for the course of being a parent. You worry. About everything.

But I’ve been starting to fall back into old habits. I’ve been going a bit crazy researching everything. I’ve been reading and reading and reading some more. I end up with a ton of information, conflicting opinions, complete overwhelm and an inability to move forward. And then I cry, desperate to find the perfect solution. He’s just so perfect that I want to be the perfect parent.

A couple of days ago I think everyone had had enough of my constant worrying. David told me to get a grip and stop crying. He is incredibly patient with me when I’m really struggling with my anxiety but he also knows exactly when I’ve reached the point when I need tough love. My parents know the same. Literally an hour later my mum told me I need to stop reading so much, get rid of the books and just trust my instinct.

So, I wiped away the tears, I took a few deep breaths.

I’m putting away the parenting books. I’m giving Google a rest. I’m being more mindful of what I’m reading on social media, and the opinions I’m listening to.

Parenting is tough and wonderful in equal measure. It’s being present and shed loads of love, but there is no ‘perfect’ in parenting.

Right now, I’m remembering that quote again. If you care, you can’t go too far wrong.

And I don’t think I could care more.

Escapism

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In August, I escaped to Cornwall with my boys. For the first time in a while I unplugged completely from social media and went off grid. It was our first holiday with O and we walked on beaches, we carried him along the coast path, we lay in the sunshine and took long lunches. It was bliss, yet I was also wracked with guilt.

I’ve escaped like this once before. In the autumn of 2010 we ran away to Snowdonia. We hid out in our cottage, climbed mountains by day, and got drunk every night. I didn’t post photos of what a great time we were having because in reality, I was broken inside.

Both these times left me ridden with guilt and shame.

On these occasions, I didn’t have a digital detox to consciously take care of myself. In reality I didn’t go on social media because I was too afraid of showing people what I was doing when I should have been grieving, when I should have been supporting my family.

The day we left for Cornwall was the day my mum had her operation to remove a brain tumour. She gave us her blessing to go on our first holiday together. We knew she’d be sedated for a few days and always planned to return after the long weekend, once she was awake. As it turned out she remained sedated over the course of the next few weeks.

When we ran away to Snowdonia in 2010, my little brother had just been killed. I’d stayed with my parents while his body was repatriated from Afghanistan, through the identification, the press intrusion, the post mortem, the funeral planning. But it was 4 long weeks before his funeral could take place. I felt close to breaking point, like I would struggle to carry on.

So I escaped.

Both times, I left my parents behind to face things. It’s something I’m not proud of. They probably needed me but I was selfish. All I could consider was how I was on the verge of collapse.

Escaping, being at one with nature, simple pleasures, helped me to reconnect. Removing myself from our normal day to day world helped me to come back, fresh and alive, ready to face what I needed to face.

It was therapy for me, there is no doubt about that, yet I’ve only just been able to be honest about this.

So now, I’m working through the guilt and the shame, I must make peace. This is my first step.

 

The harder you try to hold on to something, the further it slips away

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We are on the cusp of a huge life decision and it’s filling me with excitement, eagerness and enthusiasm on one hand, then crushing fear, worry and procrastination on the other. I’ve noticed that this seems to be a pattern at the moment. I’m just stuck in the middle a little and I’m trying to cling on more than I should.

I’m craving my body back after over a year of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, yet at the same time I can’t believe how quickly my little boy is growing and I just want time to slow down.

I’m enjoying a more ‘normal’ pace of life, being mindful of the everyday mundane moments, but at the same time desperate for adventure. Reminiscing about days where I could drop everything and head to the mountains, but realising that I am also so fulfilled with my small family and the comfort of the life and home that we are creating.

My mum is back home after her long spell in hospital. On the one hand, she’s up and about, starting to get back to normal, walking, cooking, and enjoying things again. Yet, her speech is still slurred and may never recover, her short term memory is shot so she’s lost a lot of confidence and she may still need to undergo radiotherapy.

Teething, weaning, separation anxiety – every day brings new challenges with my little one. On some days it’s a battle just getting us up, fed and dressed, yet on other days he takes it all in his stride. He’s both amazed at the smallest things, yet super frustrated that he can’t do more.

In all these areas, every day is different. I feel the urge to both embrace the change and go with the flow, yet also to put the brakes on and make time stand still.

And here I am, stuck in the middle.

I find that I’m clinging. The more I’m in limbo, the more I want to try to control. But the more I try to control, the more things change. There’s a paradox right there.

At times like these, all through my life, I find getting outside so liberating. When you’re outside and at one with the elements, there is nothing you can control. You can be prepared, but you definitely can’t control. Especially when it’s wild, and you’re at the extremes, you have to let it flow. The weather, the terrain, your physical abilities and your mental state – each adventure is unique. You have to be present, rather than dwelling on the past or future.

So, now more than ever I’m understanding the place that adventure has in my life. It’s certainly harder to do now, but still so important. So my mission now is to plan where I can, take bold leaps of faith and then go with the flow and adapt where necessary. That’s all I can do.

Why mediocrity is more than ok

This morning I’ve been feeling pretty crappy. Nothing in particular has happened, just a bad night’s sleep and too much Instagram scrolling in the wee hours of the morning whilst I’m up feeding. Factor in staying at home to wait for a delivery and I’m feeling decidedly ‘meh’.

Although, it’s more than that, as I’m certainly not indifferent. It’s a feeling that has been building. I’m struggling with the transition my life has taken. I’m jealous of other people’s adventures. I’m feeling a bit trapped and the old ‘what am I doing with my life?’ questions, doubts, procrastinations are dominating my head this morning. I can’t make decisions, I can’t focus and I feel a bit frustrated. There are so many things I want to do, so many ways I want my life to be, so many decisions to make. It’s terrifying, and overwhelming and just too much. It’s also nothing new. This is the way my anxiety is. The only thing that’s new is that I recognise it now. I don’t realise straight away, it kind of has a habit of creeping up on me. But I do eventually notice the niggle and the doubts, the feeling I just can’t shake, and that’s the most important thing.

In the past I used to default to making grand plans when I felt like this – arranging big holidays, extravagant purchases, challenges, acting on impulse – but it didn’t help the feeling to go away. That’s the thing, acting out of jealousy and frustration won’t generally lead you to what truly matters. I’d generally be acting on other people’s ideals, expectations or circumstances. But, through trial and error over the last few years, I do know what I need to do to get through, I just need more of a gentle hand guiding me there. It’s not glamorous, or particularly revolutionary but I have the three things written down on my phone.

It seems basic but it starts with just getting one simple little thing done. Today I made hummus. It’s super easy to bung a load of stuff together and blitz, but my lazy arse side can’t be bothered with the mess of cleaning up the food processor. Especially when I’m struggling with the meaning of life and what the hell I’m doing with mine! But just doing this one small thing, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Not that you can call it cooking, but making something from scratch rather than buying something gives me such a sense of accomplishment (granted on a small scale). Generally it will give me momentum to get a few more things done.

Next I write down three things that I’m grateful for. When jealousy creeps up, or a sense of feeling lost in this world, it’s super easy for me to wallow. In an ideal world (and this was much easier pre-baby) I’d wake up and list three things that I’m grateful for in my journal every morning. Now it’s less of a pre-emptive strike and something I turn to when I know I need it (which is often a bit too late but I’m working on it!). Now, my life is full of abundance but my mind has a funny way of tricking me into thinking that I’m lacking. Social media has a big part to play in that (but that’s a story for another time). Once I’ve written down my gratitude list, everything feels lighter and clearer.

Finally, I get outside. I may not be able to go far today as I’m stuck waiting for this delivery, but even out into the garden is enough to clear my head. Fresh air, being closer to nature, seeing beauty in the small wonders – it never makes me feel worse. Nature is my medicine.

We spend so much time inside our own heads – that’s why the most important lesson you can learn is that it’s only YOU that can make YOU happy.   Those who have been dealt hardship upon hardship have proven that you can still find happiness, by being grateful for even the smallest of things.

Today may not be the day I climb a mountain. I may not see an Instagram-ready sunset or be full of profound, motivational wisdom. But I’ve made peace with this and I’m feeling grateful for today in all its mediocrity.

If I haven’t done anything else today, at least I’ve made hummus.

#OneHourOutside

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So, the number one thing that helps me keep a grip, when I’m losing my mind, is getting outside.

Most days I get out for a walk (on my lunch break while I’m working) or perhaps an early morning run. But our more exciting adventures are limited to the kinder summer months. I always find Nov-Feb, when the clocks have gone back and the days are super short, to be a really challenging time. I miss the daylight and can see really clearly the effect it has on my mood. I know I’m not the only one.

I was really excited then to stumble across this fantastic initiative from Splodz Blogz (OS Get Outside champion). #OneHourOutside challenges everyone to spend an hour outside each day throughout the month of November.

So, rather than fantasising about moving abroad to get me through the dark winter months, I’m going to give this a try and spend #OneHourOutside every day in November.

Granted, I’m on maternity leave, so I do have the luxury of not being confined to a working schedule, a 45 minute lunch break on an industrial estate or a 3 hour daily commute (unlike my poor husband). But I do have a small child in tow, and that is more than enough challenge in itself!

I’m also as guilty as anyone for keeping to things I know and those within my comfort zone, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to get some fresh ideas for how to make the most of time spent outside – see here for ideas from Splodz Blogz – involve the little one, and see where it takes us.

Some of the things I’ve got my eye on trying are:

  • Park run on a Saturday morning (& volunteer too)
  • Walk up a hill and take in the view
  • Make use of our fire pit and cook dinner outside
  • Followed by a TV free evening watching the stars
  • Take a flask of tea, wrap up warm and have a picnic outside
  • See if the boy will find it entertaining to watch me do a spot of gardening to tame our jungle (I may need to employ the services of grandparents to babysit for this one!)
  • Go to a buggy bootcamp
  • Collect pine cones to make into Christmas decorations
  • On a weekend, take a trip to the beach (it’s miles away but hopefully traffic will be less crazy in November)
  • Forage for mushrooms

I already know I’ll feel heaps better by the end of the month, but equally that it will be tough on those cold, dark, rainy days. Especially when little O has kept me up all night (the times when I need to get outside for nature therapy the most!)

I’ll be sharing my daily experience on Instagram, if anyone would like to join in.

Here’s to an exciting November full of outside adventures!

P.S. This photo was actually taken in November last year in Scotland!  So it’s not all rain and darkness 🙂