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.

 

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.

 

 

 

The social media balancing act

754F8AB3-56B0-4ECD-83C0-56F289F51A7E.jpegSo it’s the 1 December today – count down to Christmas. How do I know that? Well it’s all over Instagram of course. I certainly forgot to open our advent calendars until I saw my feed.

David called me out on Bonfire night for being on my phone at the fireworks. He said I was like one of those people who go to gigs and watch it through their I-pad. Not cool!

So it’s been on my mind the last couple of weeks. I’ll be honest, I have become more and more pre-occupied with taking a photo for Instagram, or jotting down notes for my blog. Scrolling through feeds while I’m feeding the boy (which is a lot – even during the night) and talking constantly to David about things I’ve seen on Facebook or Pinterest.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with social media (maybe most of us do?). One of the happiest times of my life was when I had a 3 month break. To be able to do that I had to suspend my accounts and delete the apps from my phone, otherwise I just kept checking on auto-pilot. It was complete cold turkey.

The break was not only refreshing, it was life-altering.

I already thought I knew how much time I wasted mindlessly scrolling through feeds. Without social media apps, I went onto my phone and there was suddenly nothing to do, so I had time for other things (i.e. life!). I could read books without getting distracted, watch entire movies without interruption, exercise without excuses. I woke up in the morning at the weekends and instead of going on my phone and getting side-tracked by other people’s plans and lives – I could live my own.

It gave me time to really get to know myself without the intrusion of what other people were doing. I have a tendency to be a bit of a chameleon and adapt to what I see. Social media had a way of making me more materialistic. In my darkest times in life I have been immensely jealous and going online has been anything but motivating. I saw people living lives that I wish I had, but I had no way of getting out of the black hole I was in. When I left social media and faced up to myself, with time to do so, it revealed my true desires, rather than getting carried away with the things that everyone else was doing. The break also gave me time to form my own opinions.  Instead of reading what other people thought and adopting that stance, I had a chance to decide for myself. I spent my time on the people that matter and the interests I love, using my time for books, and cooking, and music. Life slowed down. Without the constant bombardment of things, opinions, information. My head found space. I found myself.

When I made the decision to come back to social media, it wasn’t one I made lightly, but it was one that I entered into equipped with new tools. During my time off I had embraced minimalism and decluttering, and took this through to social media. I stopped following accounts I no longer found useful, inspiring or fun. I de-friended people that I wouldn’t call or meet up with. So gone were the reams of highlights from all the acquaintances I had picked up over the years – friends of ex-boyfriends, the colleagues from jobs long in the past. I was no longer living a past life online. It sounds harsh but I just had to clear the way.

What I did get were all the good bits. Seeing my friends’ babies reach milestones, family travelling the world, knowing when people close to me were going through things. I felt more connected than I had in a while.

And now… at the moment it all still feels super positive. I’m building a (tiny) following on Instagram and feel part of an inspiring online community. I’m following people that share my core interests and beliefs – living positively through mental health issues, getting outside, being kind and being grateful for all that life has to offer (whether that’s undertaking big challenges, or just enjoying their Friday night glass of wine). Becoming a mother can be isolating in so many ways, and social media has been a way of connecting. I go on Instagram and always see something I need to see, just as I need it. A reminder to be present, that I’ll feel much better getting outside into nature, something funny to lift me out of a bad mood or a reminder that I’m doing ok at this mum job. There is advice, help and support. It may not be as worthy as a real life community but at the moment it feels pretty good.

But – I don’t want to be that person on my phone when I’m having dinner with my loved ones, or taking in the scenery via my iphone camera.

I need to watch as the time I spend on social media creeps up. I need to check the emotions I feel. I need to be sure that it is still serving the purpose I need it to. I need to be mindful.

I guess at the end of the day, as with everything, it’s all about balance.

 

*Disclaimer* The irony of writing this and sharing on Instagram is not lost on me – just maybe put your phone away once you’ve read it!

 

The vulnerable side of creativity

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Today I decided to share my blog on Facebook. It was a scary step. But I wasn’t too sure why it was so scary seen as it has already been out in the public domain for a few months on Instagram. And a public account at that – for all the world to see (well those who are interested anyway!)

I’ve been dwelling on it today and I know why. It’s partly because of the level of intimacy that this involves. Instagram is a step removed. Yes, you can show the world every little aspect of your life, but you can also shape it and edit it to be who you want to be. Facebook however is mainly just made up of my close friends and family. It’s where I’m the me that everyone knows, the old me, the me that I am around my closest loved ones. I am the person people expect me to be. And I’m not sure that this blog is what people are expecting.

Also (and probably more importantly) I needed to make sure that my parents were ok with it first. It’s a very personal, open and honest account. There are things in there that I haven’t shared with them.

We don’t really talk too much about emotions. We always ask that the other is ok, but we don’t really have those deep conversations. Events over the last few years have made us talk more, but we still don’t tend to dwell or delve. It’s as though we know when we are in pain, or suffering, we just don’t need to articulate it. I wasn’t sure how they would react to me ‘airing my dirty linen in public’. So I had to run it past my mum and dad first.

The thing is, despite the fact that we don’t talk that much about deep feelings; they have always been there for me 100%. They’ve listened to me cry, and they’ve caught me when I’ve fallen. They know I’m headstrong and independent, so they support me without question. Then when I fall to pieces, when I’m vulnerable and overwhelmed they pick me up again. They understand. It just always goes without being said.

So, I mentioned my blog off-hand, and didn’t make a big thing about it. They didn’t seem hugely interested, probably because I’m quite a ‘faddy’ person and this was probably just another one of those things. A few weeks later I sent them the link to have a read. When I saw them a few days later I didn’t bring it up, but my mum said at some point that she’s had a read and that she didn’t know where I got my writing ability from. I asked her if she thought it was good, and she said yes. That was all I needed to hear.

She then said that I shouldn’t worry about any negative comments I get online. She’s so intuitive that she’s already picked up on what will get to me. What is hiding in the back of my mind, the thing that might make me give up. She would never tell me not to do something, even if she thinks I shouldn’t, but she’ll be there for me when the times get tough.

So, I’ve finally shared it amongst more intimate circles. I’m still finding my feet with my writing. I’m still exploring. Any form of creativity leaves you open. On one hand I want to be brave, and ‘fake it til I make it’. I won prizes when I was younger for my writing and one of the pieces I wrote when I was around 15 made my teacher cry when I read it out. Then on the other hand I don’t want to be a show off. I’m unsure. I’ve been hiding my writing away in journals for the last 10 years. It’s easier that way. Some pieces I publish aren’t perfect, but I’ll never get anywhere if I wait until they are. Such is the creative process. There is never a definitive end point.

 

Right now, I’m vulnerable. I’m genuinely humble but I’m eager. I want to craft, I want to graft. I want to learn, improve, find my place and learn some more. I want to take all the opportunities I can. I want to enjoy the process, but also try new things and be fearless. Most of all I want to stay true to my real self.

 

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.