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 wonder in every day

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Who knew you could have so much fun wiping down the table after dinner? Orson thinks it is a fantastic game and can’t stop giggling as the cloth moves towards him and away again. That amazing baby giggle that can cheer up even the darkest day.

He is interested in everything. Open, curious, no expectations. He’s at the age where he can knock down a tower of building blocks a million times because the next time might be different.

He has given me a reason to notice the little things again.

– The way the dappled light falls beneath the trees
– The feeling of snow flurries on our face
– The intracacies of a zip
– The feeling of squishing raspberries between fingers
– The way the Christmas lights sparkle
– The joy to be had holding onto both feet and rolling around
– The comfort and contentment of a warm cuddle
– Pouring water
– The washing machine going around
– Everything about the cat -the way she moves, the way she feels, the way she sounds – he is fascinated

Everything he passes, he wants to reach out and touch.

There is no judgement, no control, no expectation. He is not dwelling on yesterday or worried about tomorrow. Purely living in the moment. He doesn’t know anything else.

There is a sparkle in his eyes because everything is magical.

So, just a little reminder to live like a child and see the wonder in every day.

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.

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.

 

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.