Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Month: June 2018

The Fifteenth TWIG Post (or why it’s not all about me)

Waking up on a sunny Sunday morning, I was excited to get up enjoy my day outside. As I opened the patio doors I felt uplifted; eagerly anticipating a long, leisurely (read:lazy) afternoon in the garden.

Since eliminating the perma-shadow of mental ill-health, I’ve learnt to love the Summer months; its warm weather and long evenings. No longer feeling “allergic” to the bright light, and having found a sunscreen routine that works for a peely-wally lass like me (see my gratitude below for details), it’s quite the minor miracle!

It may sound like I’m high on the hot weather (and perhaps I am – focus, Heather), but I want to set the scene for my story.

What I learnt this weekend around how to hold onto a positive state of mind when someone you love isn’t feeling the same way.

When first C told me that on this same glorious day he was instead feeling out of sorts, my heart sank. The idea that the one person with whom I wanted to spend my precious free-time in the sunshine didn’t share my positive perspective was a real disappointment, to say the least. Immediately I felt worried –  not only for him, but also shamefully for myself – as I assumed the worst:  that if C’s having a “bad day” it inevitably means so will I.

Lesson #1: Other people will not necessarily want my help in exactly the same way I’d like them to support me.

Orangerose_260618I’m the personification of “misery loves company”. When I feel bad, I find  sharing my thoughts and feelings helps lift my mood. Talking is how I uncover the nuances of my emotions and work out how to make things better. I seek reassurance from those I love and trust, whether that’s physical affection or comforting words.

However this is not the case for C. My polar opposite, he prefers to be left alone; to be given space and quiet time by himself. When his mind goes to dark places he hates too much fuss and attention, so my assaulting him with a “stream-of-consciousness”-style barrage of questions definitely didn’t help matters. My misguided attempt to encourage C to open up to me was entirely the wrong thing to do. Well-meaning, but nonetheless a daft move on my part.

I’d forgotten how much this behaviour bothered me when others would ask  why I felt bad. Rather than helping me find answers – which I believe to be the intention of the questioner – instead I found myself feeling even more hopeless, confronted over and again with the truth of not having a solid reason for my mental ill-health.

Lesson #2: It’s not about me.

This bears repeating more than once, it’s so important: It’s not about me. 

RoseVintage_Jun18Used to being “the one with the issues” I’ve become rather selfish, I suppose. Or perhaps not selfish – I’m being rather harsh on myself –  but definitely self-centred at times. Whether in the depths of depression or experiencing gut-wrenching anxiety, my perspective becomes blinkered and I see the world as revolving around me.

When in this pessimistic mindset, I also take other people’s moods personally. I automatically assume I’ve somehow contributed to their feeling upset or unhappy. This faulty thinking then affects how I behave, whether that’s acting defensively, or desperately trying to “fix” things which are invariably outside my control. I’m responding out of fear, rather than from a place of love, which almost never works out well.

Worse still, misdirecting my focus onto myself actually increases my negative self-perception. When someone I love shares with me that they feels sad, worried, or low in mood, I find myself feeling helpless. I continue to want to make things better for them, despite knowing we’re only ever able to directly influence our own emotions.

In what seems an entirely irrational fashion, I also frequently feel guilty for not sharing the same emotional headspace with whomever is currently down-hearted. My impulse is to emotionally sink, bringing me alongside C in his “meh” mindset (that’s my interpretation of it, in any case).  The moment I feel the metaphorical grey clouds gathering, I’m drawn to the idea of hiding away; avoiding the light and isolating myself from the wider world. Needless to say, this is not a healthy habit.

Reflecting on where this response comes from, I conclude that it’s a throwback from my childhood. Like me, my Mum struggled to maintain her mental fitness. At times, I remember her feeling far away from me; emotionally, my Mum was sometimes frustratingly out of reach. Searching for a solution to this disconnection, my immature mind settled on putting myself into the same emotional head space as Mum. This, I theorised (although not literally – even I wasn’t that deep at such a young age!) would allow me not only to be with her, but also feel close to her. I unconsciously reasoned that she’d love me more for being like her. Unfortunately, however, sensitive, young minds like mine are not equipped to handle the emotional fall-out of depression and anxiety.

This conclusion – twisted as it may be – makes sense, at least to me. It goes some way to explain why I’ve found responding to other people’s emotional pain so challenging, and alleviates an element of embarrassment at getting things so utterly wrong at times. Hence this weekend when I noticed these familiar feelings creep over me, I tried not to judge myself and rather work out how I could act differently to break this cycle.

Which brings me on nicely to…

Lesson #3: Taking other people’s moods personally is not only unhelpful, but is also entirely my problem

Daisies_260618I understand that we don’t live in silos, and my behaviour impacts others. However in real terms, I’ve limited influence over another individual’s mental state. We’re only ever part of someone else’s infinitely more intricate emotional picture. Given the complexity of our minds, it’s probably rather arrogant to assume such emotional power over another.

Somewhat embarrassing as this realisation may be, I see it as ultimately positive. If my reaction to someone else is within my control, then I can work on becoming better at managing my response. Whilst I cannot control your emotions, I can control my own if I so choose.

Wondering who to turn to for advice, I took inspiration from the gorgeous Gala. A bad-ass blogger with a penchant for the colour pink, Gala Darling has become one of my go-to girls whose endless passion for positivity and empowering women never fails to lift me up.

In her Wonderland series of YouTube videos, Gala explains how we’re each responsible for our own state of mind and how Law of Attraction sees it as our duty to ensure we remain within the “vortex”; an optimal mental state in which our vibrational energies align with the Universe. This may sound totally bonkers (and it sort of is…) but I find it helpful in interpreting how I can make positive changes.

So what did I do?

Well, I consciously focused my thoughts on gratitude, and channelled my energies into doing what would maximise my own happiness. Another selfish act on the surface, but this time I had good reason to put myself first. By working hard to stay in my “vortex” – my mental happy place – I was able to set the vibrational tone for my day. I stopped the negativity in its tracks and took back my emotional control. Choosing to stop, breathe, and refocus on my mindset ultimately had a positive impact on C, too. I’m thankful to have selected a different path; in so doing, it feels like I took a mental step forward.

Aside from relaying this rather long-winded but valuable life lesson, I’m also appreciative for the following over the past seven days.

 

This Week I’m Grateful for:

Blue_260618*Finding a sunscreen routine that works for me. Being an “honourary ginger”, with ridiculously pale skin and (albeit fake) red hair, I’m not typically a fan of overly sunny climes. I burn easily and have to slather on Factor 50 and spend my days “shadow dodging”; meaning I slink from one shady spot to another. At times I must look like an old-school cartoon bad guy. Thankfully, I’ve found my skin saviour in the form of Ambre Solaire Clear Protect (SPF 50) for body, and Avène Very High Protection Suncream (SPF50+) for my face, over the top of my normal moisturiser. Best of all, I only having to apply it in the morning and it generally lasts the whole day.

*Choosing to go home and garden last Friday, instead of sweating it out in the gym. Anticipating a gorgeous, sunny evening ahead, I locked my gym kit in my work drawer and instead got the bus home to garden. It was gorgeous, and I’m proud to have created a neat and tidy crazy-paving pathway by myself. This is an achievement given what I call my disordered eating “mental hangover”; those skew-ball, judgy thoughts that unfortunately linger long after my worries over weight have dissipated. Previously, I’d have forced myself to stick to my fitness plans regardless of how I felt but I’m learning to trust in my own best intentions and make decisions based on happiness and my mental health, rather than on what the scale tells me.

*Time with my gorgeous nephew, G, this weekend. He’s not quite one but is already a massive character! He’s a real giggler and we both had tons of fun playing “catch” with party balloons. G’s Dad told us how that morning G had finally befriended their cat by sharing food. Not only did baby G share his ham with a rather smug feline, but he also helped himself to the (wet!) cat food!

*My talented sister, A, who not only planned, organised, and hosted her other-half’s birthday successfully this weekend, but also managed a ridiculously busy work schedule, dyed her hair pre-work to maximise her time, and still managed to make this awesome gin bar as a present for her man. A true “wonder woman”, I honestly don’t know how she does it! She’s inspirational in terms of sheer hustle!

*Deciding to buy my own domain name. I’m now the proud owner of projectheathered.com and get a real buzz out of typing it into Google and seeing my words appear.

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D: Least cat-like cat ever

*My cats, who are finally growing up! K progressed in to achieve Official Kitty Killer status, gifting us her first bird. Unfortunately, it was a baby blue tit; one of whom I suspect is the adorable blue tit family that breakfasts at next door’s bird feeders.

As someone who loves all animals. I’m most definitely not happy about her killing anything per say, however I can’t help but feel proud of her for having learnt to do the very things a cat is born to do. Both her and little brother D are  – shall we say “challenged” – when it comes to being truly cat-like. For example, D rolls over to let me kiss his belly, whereas “Beyon-K”, as she’s now known, demands private cuddles from C of a morning.

Witnessing their evolution from baby fluffs to fully-grown feline, I’m finding that even those behaviours which make us humans feel super sad (like bopping a bird) is a source of uncomfortable pride for me, their Human Mama.

*Rescuing a giant frog from K, who was seemingly on a roll after bringing home a bird. I never knew frogs squeaked quite as loudly as this little fella, who luckily scared K and made his way back to the safety of next door’s pond with the help of my tupperware salad box**. It’s years since I’ve seen this much wildlife up close, so it’s a real joy to be able to have such a lively garden.

**Please note, I washed the box afterwards. I wasn’t about to eat my lunch from it. Yuck-o.

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K: Making of a murderer

*Our first Summer in our garden. Magnum ice creams on the lawn with C in our garden. It’s our first Summer in the new house and it’s set to be a scorcher. It’s exciting to be able to sit our private piece of the outdoors and hang out with nothing more disturbing than the sound of birds, bees, and occasionally a miow when it gets to dinner-time.

*Inspiration coming from unexpected places. Having a dramatic reaction upon witnessing the media fall-out after Love Island’s Adam and Rosie broke up, I’m mid-way through working on a heart-felt, passionate post that I’m equal parts anxipus and excited about publishing. I’m working to complete this sometime this week and look forward to the ensuing conversation.

The Fourteenth TWIG Post (or why it’s important to trust that I matter)

Saturday started early. Really freaking early. Like, four-am early.

After being rudely disturbed by the girl cat sneaking in for an undercover cuddle, I struggled to go back to sleep. I tried listening to an audio book (Ruby Wax’s “How to be Human: The Manual” to be exact) but nearly two hours later, I was no closer to nodding off. Becoming increasingly irritable and frustrated, just before six I decided to get up.

IMG_3046Generally-speaking, I quite like getting up early. I’m grateful for any bonus time to indulge in trash telly, so I settled in with my morning brew to binge-watch back-episodes of “Love Island“. Having already made plans for lunch at my friend D’s house, I hoped it’d wake me up and I’d feel brighter. Still, it doesn’t take much to elicit my “flight or fight” response, and so feeling “tired-but-wired” proved the perfect catalyst to trigger my anxiety.

With butterflies in my stomach, I began to doubt the wisdom of accepting D’s kind invitation. “You know, I might cancel my plans,” I said, tentatively testing my thoughts out on C. “I’m way too tired today, and I’m pretty sure she’ll have something better to do than see me…” Though technically talking to C, I was really telling myself a familiar tale; that my presence in other people’s lives doesn’t matter.

Rationally, of course I know this story isn’t true; it’s symptomatic of social anxiety. Believing that deep down I’m unimportant and insignificant, I sometimes cancel plans with people – even when I’m genuinely looking forward to them- in a misguided attempt to protect myself from potential pain.

However in saving myself, I’m sometimes unintentionally hurting other people’s feelings and so my actions are futile in the long-run. Frustratingly, even the temporary relief I experience by cancelling is soon replaced with guilt and regret. What’s more, looking back, I can now see how this faulty way of thinking has contributed to my losing friendships which had really mattered to me. It’s just not worth it.

Back to my story.

IMG_2862I waited for C to react to my provocation, but none was forthcoming. He’s got this incredibly irritating, “sixth-sense” ability to selectively ignore me when he senses it’s my anxiety talking. He doesn’t do overly-emotional, and when I’m on edge, I’m about as far from rational as one can get! Taking a more direct approach, I admitted my nervousness. “I’m shy,” I whined. “I don’t think I want to go…” Ever my rational half, C quite reasonably pointed out that when I was at my friend’s house I’d likely have a great time and would forget all about my worries.

Pointing out my angsty mindset, C planted the seeds of self-doubt so I decided to test out my hypothesis that I didn’t matter by texting my friend to confirm our plans. Almost instantly she replied to say she’d also been up early. She’d been running errands and was currently baking especially for my visit. This kind gesture truly touched me; making me feel special, my worries dissipated as D utterly disproved my theory. I matter enough to bake cake, and so, making my decision for me, of course I would go for lunch!

 

As predicted I did had a lovely afternoon. Immediately welcomed into my friend’s home by her children, they confidently showed me around and made me laugh. They were tons of fun and it was great to catch up with D away from the office. What’s more, she’d remembered my love of spiced cakes and made a delicious gingerbread and cream-cheese loaf. We had two slices each (it would have been rude not to, right?!) If I wasn’t already convinced that I’d made the right decision in acting in spite of my anxiety, this certainly confirmed it!

I share this example because this weekend typifies how anxiety occasionally shows up in my life. However instead of allowing it to take over and dictate my days, I’m taking this opportunity to reinforce my commitment to choose love over fear. Practising making this choice which still feels new to me is not always easy. It requires trusting that I matter; that my presence will always be valued by the people who love me, no matter what.

Rather than questioning my inherent worthiness of love from those who invite me into their lives, hearts, and homes, instead I’ve learnt to question my internal story. Turns out, this can’t be relied upon to be entirely truthful. Placing my trust in love – that of others and myself – is what proves my fears prove to be unfounded. For this life-lesson lesson, I’m truly thankful.

Having already proselytized on my appreciation for cake and good company, I’ve got plenty of other reasons to feel blessed that I’m excited to share!

This week I’m grateful for:

  • My MacBook. I love it! So much so that I instinctively slapped the hand of the person who tried to touch its shiny screen! In all seriousness, being able to write with this much ease is life-changing! It’s a joy to sit here, working on my blog and connecting with readers via Facebook. I honestly adore how this beautiful writing tool (which is really what this is) makes me feel: Creative and inspired, I’m eager to pursue my passion projects. Investing in my MacBook shows I’m taking myself and my ambitions seriously. Subsequently, I’m finding myself taking my work more seriously, too. I’m embracing the feeling of professionalism by lovely new computer gives me, which I think I’d previously have played down. It’s exciting!

 

  • Being brave and speaking out about mental health. Last Saturday I launched what I’ve called #SpeakUpSaturday on my Facebook page. Standing up and publically stating my personal politics is something to which I’ve given a lot of thought, so it was with a mixture of anxiety and excitement that pressed publish on my first #SpeakUpSaturday post this weekend.  If I’m totally honest, I’m still a little concerned about whether this might have a potentially negative impact upon my future career prospects. Our world is one in which mental health isn’t accorded the same level of respect and seriousness as physical illnesses, and so standing up and admitting to being the “one in four” who’ll experience mental ill-health this year isn’t easy.  Nevertheless, it feels right to use my voice to tell my story; it’s a personal risk I’m consciously taking because I believe that it’s only by being brave enough to go first that change will happen. Speaking my truth around mental health is how I aim to help reduce stigma. By opening up the conversation I hope to inspire confidence in others to speak with me. I feel genuinely proud of myself for acting in alignment with my values, and grateful that we live in a country where this openness is possible, as uncomfortable as it may still be.

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  • Having the encouragement and support of people whom I admire. As I’ve said many times on Facebook over the past few weeks, I’ve been blown away by the positive messages I’ve received since stepping forward to share more of my writing – and myself – with the world. I expected to find this challenging and rather nerve-wrecking, but it’s actually been a pleasure. A community of beautiful people – my friends, family, and people I’m yet to befriend but whose interests and passions align with my own –  have rallied round in support of me and my work. I’m particularly grateful to have the editor of Psychologies, Suzy Walker (Greaves), reading my blog. It’s boosted my confidence no end to have such talented professionals paying even a modicum of attention to my writing. Having Suzy “like” my page in particular really touched my my heart. I value her opinion as the editor of my favourite magazine, so having her on-side cheering for me is a huge ego-boost!

 

  • Finding a business role model in Gary Vaynerchuk. I’ve immersed myself in Gary’s online world this past week or so, having intially discovered his YouTube channel and subsequently subscribing to his podcast. In the past week I devoured his latest audio book, “Crushing It!“, in just a few days. I’m grateful for this as he’s inspired me to go all-in on social media, and I’m finding that by taking his advice I’m finding and connecting with my tribe. I love Gary V’s passionate delivery style and relentless high energy and drive, but unsurprisingly C can’t stand him! Totally turned off by his swearing, C finds his brash presentations obnoxious and gets cross when I play his content out loud. Luckily, I’ve got headphones and so I’ve invested another Audible credit in his previous book,”The Thank You Economy“, and I’m currently half-way through reading the paperback version of “Crush It!“. I seriously cannot get enough of the dude. He’s super-smart, straight-talking and generally awesome IMO. Check him out and let me know what you think.

 

  • Speaking of awesome speakers (like what I did there?!), I’m thankful for having the opportunity to use my skills in presenting at our work conference this week. I’m so comfortable with standing in front of a group and ad-libbing now, it can feel rather surreal to be so relaxed about something which terrifies others. Generally prone to anxiety, it’s a blessed relief to have a skill about which I feel truly capable and confident. It feels flattering and exciting to be encouraged to use my speaking skills more frequently in my daily work.

 

  •  Getting into ITV’s latest series off their Summer romance-themed, reality TV show; Love Island. If you’re not in the U.K., then the best way I can describe this is it’s as if my ten-year-old self’s Barbie Dream House has been brought to life! The people in it are unreal; quite literally in the case of most contestants, but also in terms of their interactions with each other, which have all the realism and authenticity of their plastic counterparts. Catching up on the nightly goings-ons of these gorgeous people is my current guilty pleasure. Despite his distaste for all things trash telly, even C admits it’s not so bad, being more modern, light-hearted, and (dare I say) hopeful than previous reality “show du jour” Big Brother. You never know – I might make a junk TV convert of him yet!

 

  • An excess of cake, right when I needed it (AKA on period week). Not only did I enjoy D’s baking, but another colleague brought in aptly-named Devil’s Food Cake, and this week has thus far been punctuated by baked goods as we’ve entertained conference guests. Quite literally taking the biscuit today, I scoffed two warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies and came home with a bag-full of tray bakes.

 

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  • My boy cat, D, developing his hunting skills. Whilst I don’t want them to actually catch anything (other than the odd fly), it’s so rewarding to watch my cats become better at… well… being cats. Copying his sister, D’s learnt to climb trees as a means of getting a closer look at the birds feeding next door. What’s more, it kept him out of the way when a young fox (the first I’ve seen myself in our garden) made an appearance on Saturday morning.

 

  • My girl cat, C, finding her voice . As D is learning to become more “cat-like”, our girl cat, K, seems to becoming more communicative with us, her humans. She seems to have found her voice, often shouting to get what she wants – most often, the patio doors opening so she can come into the house way she prefers. K has also become decidedly more affectionate (hence her unreasonable demands for under-the-duvet kitty cuddles described earlier).

 

  • Bearing witness to the Bird Breakfast Buffet. Opening the curtains in the morning, there’s often a queue at next door’s bird feeders. Regulars include a lone robin, a rather rotund wood pigeon, rainbow-hued finches, Mr and Mrs Blackbird, and a family of blue tits. Occasionally the whole business is disturbed by an acrobatic grey squirrel, hanging upside down and stealing their supplies.

 

  • My Himalayan blue poppy settling in and blooming. Since being planted just over a week ago now, several of its flowers have blossomed. I’m so glad Heidi (as I’ve named her) has made herself at home. Easily the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen, I’m hopeful we can grow more next year, perhaps in other pastel shades too.

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  • Experiencing freedom around food. This week I took another step closer to feeling confident in eating intuitively. At various work events I shared meals and snacks with colleagues, rather than taking my own food. A seemingly small thing for most, this is actually a massive deal to me. Despite being in recovery for many years now, disordered eating – or more to the point, disordered thinking – still sometimes casts its shadow.  Specifically, I find it hard to differentiate between what’s healthy and unhealthy behaviour. Having held myself to a rigid diet and fitness regime these past few years, I admit it’s had emotional consequences. For example, not fully enjoying impromptu decisions to eat out, impulsively logging every morsel of food or stroll in the park on my tracker, or even avoiding tasting samples at a farmers’ fair as all calories count. Unsurprisingly by “relaxing” my rules for eating and exercising, I’ve gained a few pounds. My abs are no longer on show and my body isn’t as firm as I’d like. This feels somewhat scary, but nowhere near as terrifying as I expected. I’m grateful to have risked relaxing my rules. Ironically, it’s only since letting go a little have I started to dare to trust my body’s hunger signals.
  • Clothes that make me feel like myself. I wore my new Fat Face blue-striped sundress with my leather jacket and battered  Converse to our work away day last Friday. I’d normally avoid wearing anything that might draw attention for fear of people looking and judging me (I know, I know – daft but true). However wearing something that felt so effortlessly “me” was so comfortable, I didn’t care. I got nothing but lovely compliments from colleagues, which is unsurprising as they’re all kind-hearted people. Best of all, I felt good in my skin which is something which I never take for granted.
  • Discovering a hidden passion for gardening. I’ve spoken about this before in these TWIG posts, yet it takes me by surprise whenever I find myself wanting to be out working in my garden. Not what you’d call an “outdoorsy type” – which my Dad likes to point out on the phone when I mention my new hobby – I’m even enjoying scraping moss from the crazy-paving  in the rain. Before moving it hadn’t dawned on me how much our outdoor space would mean to me. My newfound love of landscaping brings me to another level of happiness, and a gives me a renewed appreciation for the nature on my doorstep.
  • IMG_2849Actually enjoying going on a walk.  Again, not one for wandering without purpose, I surprised myself by genuinely having fun whilst taking a walk with C along the Rivelin Valley Nature Trail. Sometimes the prospect of walking “for fun” can trigger my anxiety, as getting even slightly out of breath can reminds me of having a panic attack.  Forgetting that I’m now fit, healthy, and more than capable of a short stroll, I can turn myself off even trying to enjoy this kind of exercise. Going off the beaten track on Sunday, we found ourselves battling through lush green undergrowth, our shoes getting sucked into the boggy mud. We’d watched “Romancing the Stone” the night before and I felt like Kathleen Turner’s character, Joan, thrashing her way through the jungle! I even managed to find myself a Gandalf-style staff which I used to battle my way back to civilisation. Despite coming home with a couple of itchy nettle sting, I had tons of fun and so did C, who actually said he liked going for a walk with me – a true first for which we can be thankful!

The RMC Week 4 Post (or why it matters to care for and be myself )

Read the introductory post to my Role Model Challenge (RMC) if you’re new to the blog. If you’ve not yet caught up (where have you been?!) you can also read my findings from Week 1 , Week 2, and Week 3.

For the fourth and final time I’d like to introduce this week’s role models:

My #RMCSquad4!IMG_2890

I select my role models by reading the next chapter of Tim Ferriss’ “Tribe of Mentors” book and then I consciously choose a second mentor from YouTube. Thus far I’ve used only videos from Evan Carmichael’s channel, which feature life and business advice taken from the world’s top thought leaders.

However in this last week I broke this habit, venturing into other video content to fulfil my desire to study my heroes. This proved to be a bit more time-consuming in the short-term because it wasn’t specifically designed for my purpose. It takes thought and effort to translate footage into practical, actionable advice. However it was worth it to model those people whose work has most impacted upon me personally.

Reviewing my findings across the week identified three main strategies for success:

  1. Be yourself
  2. Be brave
  3. Prioritize self-care

Let’s now take these one at a time and explore them in detail.

Fundamental Finding #1: Be yourself

Most mentors this week believe wholeheartedly that being yourself is key to success in work and in life. Given the strong individuals who comprise my #RMCWeek4 squad, this is somewhat unsurprising. However what I didn’t anticipate was how honest they would be about the practical challenges of fully being themselves.

“Showing who you really are – being vulnerable – requires a willingness to be open, both in and with the rest of the world.”

Heather (<—That’s me! My first quote!)

Though technically impossible to be anyone else, it requires courage and confidence to consistently be yourself. It can be genuinely scary to live your truth. Directed to the core of who you are, criticism and negative comments from others can hurt all the more.

Thankfully I had many amazing examples of how to be myself among this week’s thought leaders. For me, Lionel Schriver stood out as someone who truly who embodies the principle of staying true to yourself. Both in her work as an author and in her personal life she stands by her conviction that “we can be whoever we want to be.” At just fifteen she made a huge decision to change her name to Lionel. Not wanting to be confined by gender, this was an extraordinarily brave move at a time when gender fluidity wasn’t common parlance, much less understood.

I’m starting to genuinely value being myself  for the confidence and self-respect this engenders. Lionel showed that it’s possible to gain respect for being unapologetically yourself, even if others dislike or disagree with you personally. Many find Lionel’s awkwardness and unwillingness to submit to convention unsettling, yet for me it’s these very qualities which I most admire. As a childless woman writing on motherhood and the degree to which parents are responsible for their children’s actions in “We need to talk about Kevin”, she faced a barrage of personal and professional criticism. Yet never once did she contemplate changing her book to appease others, instead pursuing agents and publishers who would understand her work.

Similarly, Michelle Obama strongly believes in being authentic, which she explains as follows:

“…as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values, and follow my own moral compass, then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”  

Michelle Obama

In this sense, both Lionel and Michelle imply that there’s a freedom to be gained from being yourself. Whilst I agree with this in principle, I recognise the difficulty of putting this into practice. “Hip Hop Preacher” Eric Thomas explains how exactly to apply this advice, recognising that being authentically yourself requires first knowing who you are and what you believe. Eric says that knowing who we are comes from understanding our values; namely those rules to which we hold ourselves accountable and which subsequently set the direction of our lives. Clarifying my own values and belief systems has been a huge part of my personal development practise this year. It’s not easy to put into words what essentially makes you who you are, but in so doing I’ve found I’m able to act in alignment with what matters most to me. Investing my time and energies into writing this post is a perfect example of how I’m learning to be true to myself and my dreams.

IMG_2985Personally I find the real challenge is in being consistently authentic. I’m fine with being myself until I’m in a situation where I feel uncomfortable or anxious; when it goes against my natural instincts to choose vulnerability. For example, I’m often scared of either saying or doing the “wrong” thing when networking. I easily slip into protection mode, avoiding conversation and instead retreating inside my own head. Not only is this embarrassing but it’s incredibly frustrating when I know that the “real” me is someone who genuinely loves to make connections.

I turned to this week’s role models for guidance on overcoming the fear and being yourself and wasn’t disappointed. I took heart from Emma Watson who implores us to love ourselves not in spite of – but because of – our flaws. This requires being honest with ourselves; acknowledging even those parts we’d rather deny. Emma believes that accepting our inherent human imperfections empowers us to be kind and compassionate towards each other. Easier said than done, it’s a beautiful principle that takes a lot of practise. I suspect I’ll be working on this particular flaw for some time.

I liked Mel Robbins’ practical suggestion that we stop using the “F-bomb” (the word “fine”) to describe how we feel, instead being honest and speaking our truth. She believes this then gives us the choice to act differently and be whoever we want. Since I stopped using “fine, thanks!” in response to any inquiry as to my well-being, the world didn’t fall apart. I did however feel considerably better for not pretending to feel something if it’s not what I actually felt.

However it’s not only what we think and do that affects our willingness to show up. Other people have a huge influence on whether we decide to be fully ourselves. Richa Chadha recommends carefully critiquing advice before acting on it. She says that even those closest to us can “…set invisible limits on how much you can achieve in you life and pass those limitations on to you inadvertently.”

This is something I relate to, having historically taken on my parents’ anxieties as if they were my own. By not following my heart and pursuing my dreams, I’ll never know whether I’ve potentially missed out on life-changing opportunities. Having heard Richa’s eloquent description of the effect others can have on our decisions, I plan to question my perceptions and their origins more closely in future. This week’s female thought leaders in particular inspire me to be myself. Following Michelle’s advice I plan to “stay true to the most real, most authentic and most sincere parts of [my]self.”

Fundamental Finding #2: Be brave

Success requires we act bravely; willing to face fear and take action to move in the direction of our dreams. I noticed there are three main ways in which my #RMCSquad4 advise we act courageously.

Brave act #1: Daring to face our fears

Role models Emma and Michelle challenge us to do what scares us in order to grow. Despite their different professional and personal backgrounds, they both agree that having the courage to face one’s fears can positively impact the world. Both of these extremely accomplished women exemplify this behaviour.  In her early twenties, Emma made an impassioned speech about gender equality before the leaders of the United Nations. Conversely, whilst used to the political spotlight, Michelle had to face a barrage of criticism and personal comments directed at her family when they moved into the White House. In particular, I admire that both their replies have taken on a calm, dignified manner in response to fear.

There’s a contradiction in facing our fears, in that it requires learning to trust ourselves, and yet also requires us to take action despite our feelings. It’s not easy to have the courage to bet on ourselves; to follow our hearts and trust our gut instincts in the wya Mel describes. At the same time she says pursuing our dreams can sometimes only be achieved by “…by forcing ourselves to take small steps in the direction we want to.”

Our challenge is to combine our need to push beyond our perceived limits and have faith in our own judgments. I believe this is what leads us to achieve more than we believe ourselves capable. Looking to the talented artists and entrepreneurs in my #RMCSquad4, creativity is clearly the reward for facing fear. This makes sense because creativity necessitates bravery in order to push boundaries and explore new ideas. As Lionel puts it “I instinctively want to enter perilous territory. That’s when it gets interesting.”

Brave act #2: Standing up for our beliefs

IMG_2983Richa warns that the courage to stand by your convictions often comes at a cost. She says that “… no matter where you are, you have to pay a price for voicing your concerns.” Being brave by making ourselves vulnerable to others is inherently risky. It’s human nature to judge others and so Richa recommends we “be provokable”, meaning be ready to defend yourself

A more extreme example of this kind of courage, Lionel prioritises her artistic integrity above all else. She stood by her decision to write a novel based on her own family dynamics, despite the pain it caused her relationships. Neither option seems particularly appealing to me, but I can appreciate how being brave enough to stand by your beliefs can mean mean making difficult decisions.

Brave act #3: Stepping out of our comfort zone

Matthew McConoughey demonstrated this kind of bravery by taking time out from the film industry to reinvent his career. It takes courage to turn down lucrative job offers and risk not working again in what’s a notoriously difficult industry to break. Yet this brave strategy worked out in the long-term. By stepping out of his comfort zone, Matthew’s career as a serious, dramatic actor blew up and took him down a totally new path.

For me, writing this blog is stepping out of my comfort zone. I’ve read other people’s blogs forever and longed to start my own, but had no idea where to begin. Having a spark of an idea earlier this year pushed me to face my fears of judgment and start to publish my writing publically. I believe that sharing my story and speaking my truth might help someone else to become better, hence why I’m working on getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. After all, it’s only by taking brave action that we move forward.

Fundamental Finding #3: Prioritise self-care

My final finding this week relates to the subject of self-care, which I broadly define as paying attention to our needs and acting in our own best interests. There are physical, emotional, and psychological approaches to self-care which Neil Strauss described as doing “…anything healthy that gets you out of your mind and into your body.”

Like many mentors, I deploy a range of strategies to ensure I’m my happiest, healthiest self. Some of my examples include:

  • Getting enough good-quality sleep.
  • Working out with like-minded people.
  • Reading for fun.
  • Time with the people (and feline friends) that I love.
  • Consistently taking my medicine.
  • Organisation strategies whereby I prioritise and plan projects, both at work and at home.

I notice that most self-care strategies fall into categories of organisation, balance, relaxation and seeking support.

Self-care strategy #1: Organisation

IMG_2912Organisation requires planning and preparation that most mentors acknowledge is key to success. By planning ahead to take care of our present and future needs, we’re literally directing our lives. Being organised is psychologically beneficial, reducing stress, helping us sort any mental clutter, and creating the headspace to better handle whatever life throws at us. It also permits us to prioritise how we use our time.

Self-care strategies often work best when we use the most appropriate organisational tools. This week’s mentors recommend using Post-its, notepads, and techie tools to apply their favourite self-care techniques: Journalling like Richa, list-making like Veronica Belmont, and Post-it planning like Mel all of which make sense to me as a writer. Putting my thoughts out of my head and onto paper (or screen) is a great way for me to slow down and clear my mind.

Planning in time for self-care is essential for me. I take action up-front to give myself the space, time, and energy I need to relax, have fun, and connect with the people I love. For instance, I schedule my workouts for the week in my calendar, generally go to bed at a decent time, and use task lists to help me focus.McConoughey refers to this organisational approach where one plans and executes as much as possible ahead of time as “creating your own weather.”He can “…then blow in the wind – or at least appear that way.”

This gave me a different perspective on those whom I envy for having their sh*t together; for making life look so easy. If hugely successful actors like Matthew are hustling behind the scenes, then it’s pretty safe to assume others are also having to work hard to get what they want. It’s worth remembering that all I’m seeing is them blowing in the wind.

When I think of it this way, I consider being organised the most important act of self-care. Not only does the process of planning and preparation help me feel a greater sense of control, but it allows me to create the balance that’s right for my own life.

Self-care strategy #2: Balance

It seems I’m not alone in seeking balance. Many mentors took this macro-level perspective of self-care, speaking about their individual approach to work-life balance. It was refreshing to hear such extraordinarily accomplished people talk about striving for balance in their own lives. For example, former First Lady Michelle speaks openly of her belief that balance matters more than status:

“I’ve never been the kind of person who has defined myself by a career or a job. I just never have.”

Michelle Obama

In a capitalist, Western society it’s hard not to define ourselves by how we pay the bills. Even when we meet new people, one of the first questions we typically ask is  “so, what do you do?” I relate to Michelle in not seeing myself in such limited terms.

Having a strong, successful female role model like Michelle gives me confidence in creating a balanced life on my terms. For instance, family is always her highest priority but it’s also important that she can pursue her passion for social projects. Whilst this isn’t my idea of balance, I respect her self-awareness in recognising what’s right for her.

Reviewing my own work-life balance, I’m grateful to have clear boundaries between my paid work and my free time. Managing this time is still a work-in-progress. There’s so much I want to do, like pursuing my passion for writing and connecting via social media, spending quality time with my loved ones, and importantly, taking care of myself. This can feel a little overwhelming, but I’m excited and feel inspired to enjoy the balance I’ve built into my own life.

Yet there’s also a misconception that a balanced approach to self-care should come easily. In reality  it takes work and requires our focused attention – much like anything else worth doing in life. As Veronica says:

“My downtime is just as valuable as my uptime, and I have to schedule it in accordingly.”

Veronica Belmont

Taking an organised, holistic approach to managing our time is important in creating balance. This is something Lewis Cantley mentioned this week. Acknowledging that doing what you love requires energy, he thinks it’s important we don’t spend it all on work. I’ve never had much trouble keeping my work and personal life separate. However as more of my free time is taken up by personal projects, the lines between work and leisure are becoming a little less clear.

Self-care strategy #3: Relaxation

Crucial to our physical and mental well-being, relaxation is closely linked with organisation. In fact, planning is what creates the space and time this element of self-care requires. Relaxation-focused self-care generally refers to those activities which promote health, fitness, and general well-being. It’s essentially what most people think of when they think about what self-care comprises.

Examples of relaxation strategies from this week’s mentors include Richa’s recommendation to take regular breaks, or to walk the dog like Veronica as a way to unwind.  Being with animals is something I personally find therapeutic. My recent zoo adventures and my obsession with my cats probably gives this away. Whilst they sometimes drive C and I up the wall, for the most part they’re a huge reason to be happy and relaxed!

An interesting lesson from my #RMCSquad4 is that acting in our own best interests sometimes means not doing something. Neil Strauss describes the mind as like a computer, with overwhelm a sign that our memory is full and we need to shut down, recharge and reboot. Richa explains how she handles this; by going on a life or career detox:

“A life detox is me delegating my responsibilities to an assistant or manager for a while, and seeking help, before I turn off my phone and wander and think and relax. A career detox means I turn my phone off, don’t read about how my films, shows or plays are faring, and be a regular person.”

Whilst most of us don’t have the means to follow her advice exactly (!), we can all adapt Richa’s detoxification strategy to suit our circumstances. For example, if we’re over-reliant on devices, we can switch off and undergo a digital detox. When work takes too much time and energy away from our relationships, we can realign with our values and adjust the balance accordingly. Admittedly, prioritizing my mental wellbeing and knowing when I need to step back and take a break is still a challenge. While I’m getting better at understanding where my head’s at, this week’s RMC has got me thinking about what’s important and my mental health is most definitely up there!

Self-care strategy #4: Supportive community

Finally, my #RMCSquad4 seem to view self-care as building connections and seeking support.  Richa wasn’t the only person to speak of the importance of having someone to turn to for help; Mark Zuckerberg is also unsurprisingly in favour of developing strong social bonds. He believes friendships matters so much that our education systems ought to reflect this, developing social skills alongside academics.

Being naturally shy, I’d have likely benefited from adult support in building my confidence, creating and nurturing connections. As an adult I recognise I’m not so much shy as I am introverted. I’m a confident, eloquent public speaker, but social situations leave me easily exhausted. Recognising when my energy is low allows me to apply the relaxation recommendations I discussed earlier in this post.

Taking this idea further Neil believes “the secret to change and growth is not willpower, but positive community.” He explains how being part of a group has helped him achieve his best-ever physical shape. Returning time and again to classes for the sheer fun of it helped Neil maintain this healthy habit. Getting to know my fitness classmates these past few years, meeting like-minded people with whom I’m comfortable – even in Lycra! – helped me make fitness a regular part of lifestyle. Being around the right people makes a huge impact upon my mindset.

Overall Observations: Week 4

If you’ve been following my RMC week-by-week, then you’ll likely have noticed how much I’ve grown in the short time I’ve spent modelling my mentors. Regardless of their industry or path to success, each and every thought leader has taught me something of value.

Specifically, during this fourth week I’ve become better at noticing nuance in my mentors’ advice. Even when hearing from someone or something I think I already know, I’m learning to identify what’s new to me; those things I’ve perhaps overlooked or not yet tried. Moreover, I’m intentionally seeking out fresh facts, tricks, and tips to apply to my own life.

Reflecting on this challenge, I can confidently say that this month has been one long exciting, eye-opening experiment. I’ve learnt so much that I think my final conclusions deserve their own post (plus I think I’ll likely lose the plot – or you will – if I keep writing!). My plan is to return with a “special edition” post in a few weeks’ time, once I’ve had time to step back, gain a little perspective, and muse on my findings.

Until then, thank you for joining me for my second month-long challenge. I look forward to experimenting with something new in the not-so-distant future!

x

The Thirteenth TWIG Post (or why it’s lucky to be a black cat)

We’ve reached the thirteenth week of my public gratitude practice. Some might say thirteen is an unlucky number, which seems to have been the case this week for my cat, D, who came in last Sunday evening with a limp. He made a rather sorry sight hopping his way into the living room for supper, trailing behind his fully-functional sister, K.

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Doing his best Brian Cox impression.

Immediately my heart ached for my feline friend. Witnessing someone  – anyone, regardless of species – suffering sometimes hurts me more than if it was me in pain.  It’s easier to tolerate pain myself than it is to see an animal or small child injured. Instantly I could feel the anxiety start to creep its way under my skin. I got flashbacks to when we’d last taken a poorly black cat to the vets – and the outcome back then wasn’t good.

Thankfully in recent years I’ve developed a good sense of self-awareness. Recognising that D’s injury is a prime trigger for my anxiety – it’s “Kitty-Mama Kryptonite” – I turned to C for advice. My rational, sensible other-half suggested we wait twenty-four hours to see if he might recover. After all, it made sense he’d not want to stand on his foot if he’d hurt it.

Learning to take a positive perspective on life is an unexpected gift to arise from writing this blog. Putting my faith in my boys, I waited. Monday morning arrived and D was still tripod-ding his way around the house so I reluctantly left for work.

“Living a miraculous life takes commitment… Choose love or choose fear.”

Gabrielle Bernstein

I made an important decision that morning: to choose love over fear. This is something I learnt from Gabrielle Bernstein. Consciously choosing to act from a positive place, I walked to work and continued with my Hour of Power ritual which I’ve learnt to rely on to lift me up. Understandably with D on my mind, it was harder to concentrate than usual. A few times I had to hold back tears as I felt the familiar panic rise in my chest. By the time I arrived at my office, though I was still worried about my cat ,I’d successfully avoided a panic attack by myself, using only kind words and self-compassion.

The next day when D’s foot was no better, C and I put our plan into action and took Hop-a-Long to the vets. I’m fortunate to work for a boss who’s kind-hearted enough allow me to work from home. Whilst we waiting on our appointment, it dawned on me that D seemed rather oblivious to his injury, other than washing a little more frequently and not being able to get about as fast as he’d like. He was handling it just fine; it was me who felt emotionally distressed by his pain. Every time I looked at his furry little face I felt guilty and heartsick, despite his injury not being my fault.

“See things as they are but not worse than they are. Your problems are really just invitations to step through fear.”

Tony Robbins via Forbes.com

With C’s help and support – and these wise words from my self-help hero – I was mentally prepared to handle this situation. It’s a fact of life when you’ve got pets that they’re going to get sick, injured, and eventually… Well, you know… In any case, not allowing myself to get carried away with unhelpful story-telling is a sign of my emotional growth.

Being a somewhat lucky black cat, sixty English pounds, a shot of antibiotics, and a dose of cat Ibruprofen later we arrived back home. Thanks to the magic of modern medicine, miraculously he he was walking normally within the hour. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought he’d faked it! Later that evening we watched the cats play-fight, chasing each other across the lawn. A wave of relief and joy came over me, and it felt like the world was right again. Though even the best of feelings are fleeting, in that precise moment, I couldn’t be more happy.

On that note, I’ll go straight into giving thanks.

This week I’m grateful for:

  • D’s leg getting better, first and foremost.

 

  • An extra day of leave, making the weekend just gone into yet another long weekend. Even better because I’d forgotten about it until I was reminded by a colleague, this day off work is just one of many as I’m using my holiday allowance to extend my weekends over the Summer.

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  • My MacBook, which arrived yesterday. Not someone who gets excited about technology under normal circumstances, even I have to admit it really is a thing of beauty.  C’s more of an expert on functionality, but I can confidently say its aesthetics – right down to the expensive minimalist packaging – is second-to-none. I’m apparently easily seduced (so says C), and I must admit to loving my new computer instantly. What I can say for sure is that, as a life-long Windows user and fairly recent iPhone convert, I’m adapting to Apple surprisingly quickly. I think this could be the start of a brand-new friendship!

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  • Gardening; my new hobby of choice. For the most part, I’m on weed-and-moss demolition duties, leaving C to the more delicate tasks of pruning and planting. However, inspired by a recent episode of BBC’s Gardeners’ World, I fell head over heels for the Himalayan blue poppy. Deciding we’d grow some from seed next year, C and I were surprised to see them in full bloom at our local park.   As luck would have it (or perhaps the Universe had my back), they were on sale in the hot-house! Cue an afternoon digging a hole to re-home this gorgeous fairy-tale flower. Excitedly, when I came home from work this evening it looks to have put out new flowers!

 

  • Buying bargain antiques. Venturing into a local antiques warehouse led to C and I impulse-purchasing furniture for our new house: an Art Deco 1930s-era bureau (an old-fashioned desk-slash-storage unit), a (more-or-less) matching lamp stand, and a brass coffee table. They cost less than most modern furniture which is never as well-made as these real-wood pieces.

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  • Rehoming an original painting. On a high after the antiques shop, we walked around the corner and were drawn to a pastel-coloured painting in a nearby art gallery. Mysterious, melancholy, and rather magical-looking, it turned out to be local artist Doreen Lowe’s abstract, named after the etherial ballet “Coppelia.” (At present, it’s waiting to be reframed before we hang it on our bedroom wall so I haven’t yet got a picture.)

 

  • Wise words from even wiser women. Messaging M, my work-out buddy, before class last week, I mentioned feeling frustrated with myself over my digressions around food and fitness. Whilst I’ve made progress in that I’m not spinning into a self-hate spiral, I must admit to being less comfortable in my skin of late. M helped me to remember what’s way more important than weight; namely our fur babies! Love, as always, trumps fear – even fear of fatness.

 

 

  • Audio books, in general, and “Crushing it!” by Gary Vaynerchuk in particular. Devouring this book within a few days (mostly in the garden or at the gym), I learnt so much about how it’s possible to make it as an entrepreneur in today’s world of social media-based marketing. True to his word, the content of this book is much the same as that found in Gary V’s free You-Tube videos. However for me the value of this audio book was in its structure and pace. A speedy speaker, Gary slows down in recording this book. Explaining his thinking in a logical, step-by-step fashion really helped me to absorb his guidance on a much deeper level. So much so I then bought “Crush it!” in paperback to fully immerse myself in Gary’s business philosophy.

 

  • Upgrading my Audible membership to buy twelve credits so I can choose new audio books whenever I’m ready to “read”. I’ve started listening to books at night when my eyes feel too tired to read, or when the cats wake me up prematurely wanting their breakfast.

 

  • Taking a risk and being brave by sharing my blog with friends, family, and colleagues – as well as with the rest of the world! Probably more a point of pride than a gratitude, but I am thankful that I took action on this now. Having published my blog quietly for a few months now, I was still nervous about how my very personal, heart-felt writing might be received. However I was blown away by the positive comments, encouragement, and support from people who I’ve known forever and those whom I’ve never before met.

 

  • Making my HeatherED page live on Facebook. Taking inspiration from Gary V, I set up a Facebook page a few weeks ago. However I found myself waiting for it to be “ready” before I asked people to like and follow me, putting off making myself vulnerable to the judgment of others. Realising that there’s never a “right” time to make a move, I took a leap of faith and pressed “publish” going all in and asking people to “like” it and support me. Which leads nicely to my final gratitude…

 

  • The many positive comments, conversations, and messages of support I’ve received this week. Turns out that Brene Brown was right: it’s worth making myself vulnerable and risking rejection for the mass of love I’ve received in return. I’ve been particularly touched by remarks referencing this post because it’s a topic that’s so close to my heart. Speaking out around mental health and focusing my energies on positivity, I genuinely feel like I’m making a difference in the world. I’m doing what I believe I’m meant to be doing and following my passions. 

I’ll end on a this high as I don’t think there’s much more I can say, other than thank you for reading this. I am incredibly grateful to have you here.

x

 

 

The Mental Hall of Mirrors Post (or why I’m working on body acceptance)

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Source image

So, a little while ago, this happened during an appointment with a physiotherapist about a persistent back pain:

[Mid-diagnosis] “…and when you’re petite this injury tends to happen more often…”

I instantly felt myself blush. I had an urge to correct her; to tell her she was mistaken – I’m not a petite person! She must be thinking of someone else.

Instead I bit my tongue and walked away from the appointment feeling confused, proud and ashamed – all at the same time. Her words kept playing on my mind long after I left the GP surgery.

And then not long after this incident, this happened:

During a routine check-up the nurse asked me to “hop on the scales” so she could check my weight. After asking whether I shouldn’t take off my coat and shoes –  and being told it didn’t matter –  I stepped cautiously onto the “sad step“, as Joe Wicks (AKA The Body Coach) calls it.

Cheerfully announcing its verdict aloud, she tapped the numbers into her computer before gently inquiring “whether my weight fluctuates very much?” It took me back a moment. When I mentioned having lost a considerable amount of weight these past few years, I saw her breathe a sigh of relief.

Congratulating me on my success, the nurse proceeded to ask questions about how I’d changed my food and fitness habits. She seemed genuinely pleased for me; interested in how I’d achieved such a dramatic lifestyle change.

 

And yet.

Whilst on the surface I was part of this seemingly sunny, light interaction between two almost-strangers, inside I was squirming; cringing because the number she’d so casually “thrown out into the air” had come back and smacked me full-on in the face.

Being told I’m just a few pounds heavier than the scales say at home made me feel instantly uncomfortable in my skin. My mind immediately reinterpreted these both of these strangers’ well-intentioned remarks, twisting them into criticisms and negative judgments. Rather than accepting the positive compliments being offeredby people for whom there’s no feasible agenda (other than being kind), I fell into a mental black hole.

Years after recovering from disordered eating (at least, as far as I believe one can recover from such things), it bothers me that a number on a scale, or a well-meaning comment from a stranger, still has the power to affect my day, and how I feel about myself. I jump on it as proof that I’m not good enough, instead of seeing the truth: that I’m still a work-in-progress, like every other human being who ever walked the planet’s surface.

It’s frustrating and disheartening to recognise that inside my mind, there are times when I still walk through a mental hall of mirrors, my distorted image reflected back to me from all angles.

However. No more.

I cannot emphasise strongly enough how much hard work it’s taken to recover. There was no quick fix; just years of graft and a lot of therapy. I’ve gained and lost over a hundred pounds in the past ten years or so. My body and I have been through a lot of sh*t together! Still, I’ve become so much happier, healthier, and more emotionally resilient in this time that I’ve decided:

I’ve had enough of feeling bad about myself.

I’vehad enough of not feeling good enough.

Evoking the spirit of my self-help guru, Tony Robbins:

“If you want to change your life you have to raise your standards.”

Tony Robbins

Though I’m becoming better, I’ve continued to hold myself to the wrong kinds of standards; those which prove unhelpful and out of alignment with my beliefs and values.  Instead I need to raise my standards of self-acceptance, which requires intentionally tuning into the myriad positive influences which already surround me. I don’t need to accept negativity – not from others, and certainly not from myself.

And look!

Despite everything, here we are – body, mind, and soul – writing this post and feeling pretty damn healthy and happy! When I consider how much progress I’ve made in improving my relationship with food, fitness, and body image, I want to celebrate – not denigrate – my achievements.

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In the spirit of vulnerability, I’m daring to publish this minimally made-up post-gym selfie of myself

Hence why today I’m sharing my “Declarations of Sheer Fabulousness”; my personal manifesto of why I’m proud of my progress in the area of health and fitness. Even just putting the word “proud” in the same sentence as “health and fitness” makes me cringe a little and that’s precisely why I’m making this public statement: I believe that we all deserve to speak out about our successes rather than pointing out our own imperfections. In so doing we’re modelling to the next generation that it’s perfectly okay to be happy with who you are, and what you’ve accomplished; that we’re all already enough.

 

HeatherED’s

Declarations of Sheer Fabulousness

Declaration #1: I’m inspiring because I’ve become my own role model

After spending the month of May working on my Role Model Challenge (RMC) I’m thinking about modelling success more often. Listening to Ashley Graham – who happens to be a model professionally – recommend we work on becoming our own role models, I now feel confident saying that I’m becoming this for myself. When I stop to consider all I’ve achieved, I’ve set myself some pretty stellar examples of how to become better; there’s a positive precedent for future me.

Mentally and physically I’m a fit, healthy, and happy thirty-something woman. My body and mind are my own creation; the result of my personal efforts, determination, commitment, and hard work. I’m incredibly proud of myself for having sought out support to help me get into great mental shape, and at the same time working on getting into great physical shape, too. Independent of any weight-loss group, personal trainer, and definitely no personal chef (!), over the past four or five years I’ve taken action and radically improved my lifestyle.

Still, in situations like those described earlier I’m uncomfortable with how I think strangers see me. Other people only see the end result; not the graft that’s gone into getting to my goals which is what can frustrate me. What’s more, they only see the physical stuff. They don’t even begin to see the effort that’s gone into becoming mentally better. Yet by focusing on being a positive example for myself, I know what I’ve done and that’s enough.

Declaration #2: I’m fabulous because I’m a body builder

(Like Arnie. Sort of.)

As I’ve said, I’ve literally built myself a “new” body this past few years. It’s taken time, and by no means have I achieved perfection, but what I have done is sculpt a slim, muscular, and feminine body. Through fitness I’ve discovered I’m a strong, powerful woman. I’m excited when I lift heavy at the gym because I know I’m becoming better. I can walk up steep hills that previously left me breathless (and not because I was loving the view…). I’m actually proud of what I can do in this body rather than focusing solely on what it looks like.

I’m giving myself permission to take the full credit for my transformation, so to speak. Having taken responsibility for my prior failings around food and fitness, it seems unfair not to give myself the credit for the good stuff, too. This process of learning to accept my accomplishments is phrased poetically by Geneen Roth; my most favourite writer on women’s relationships with food, fitness and body image:

“You will never stop wanting more until you allow yourself to have what you already have. To take it in. Savor it. Now is a good time to do that . . .”

Geneen Roth

 

Declaration #3: I’m amazing because I’ve learned to love the process. 

Essential for long-lasting change, I’ve learned to enjoy the process of being healthy and fit. In the past I’d pursued wellness only as a means to an end; that end usually being to become as thin as possible. I believed that thinness equalled perfection, purity, and somehow would make up for my never feeling good enough. This is a  faulty thinking pattern often found among those with disordered eating habits, but also surprisingly common within the population at learge.

After repeatedly falling into this particular mental trap one time too many, I was delighted to find myself falling in love with fitness for its own sake as I hit my thirties. Genuinely wanting to exercise because it makes me feel good, and not simply because it fulfils my eternal quest for thinness, is a completely new experience for me. I luxuriate in the day-after aches that signal a good workout. I appreciate how great it feels to push my body, testing its limits in a healthy way.

Learning to love the process of becoming fitter and healthier is a gift of greater self-confidence. I stand taller, less afraid of making mistakes and secure in the knowledge that if I can improve my skills in one area, I can improve in every area of my life.

 

 

Declaration #4: I’m powerful because I’ve achieved the Holy Grail of balance. 

Okay, so let’s caveat this by saying I’m by no means perfectly sorted, but in general terms I’m pretty balanced in my approach to wellness. As someone naturally inclined to extremes, I’m proud of toeing the line on this one. No longer a couch-potato , nor coming from the “clean-eating” brigade, I’ve learnt to occupy the middle ground. In pursuing this path, I’m pleased to say that not only am I becoming mentally fitter, but my body is also finding its own equilibrium.

In all honesty, it’s a bigger challenge for me to live a balanced lifestyle than it is to exist at either end of the healthy-living spectrum. Without over-indulging I don’t get the (temporary) relief that comes with giving in to a binge. Without heavily restricting myself, I don’t get the (equally temporary)  sense of pride that comes from demonstrating a superior capacity for self-control. Practically-speaking, at least for me, it’s actually harder to execute the carefully calibrated control needed to make balanced choices. It’s a struggle to stop myself leaning towards either extreme and instead hold the middle position.

However having tasted life either side of the fence, I truly believe that greater personal power comes from creating a balance that works for you. Accepting that I’ll never again be in my teens or early twenties, looking like a “Love Island” contestant in my bikini, is actually more freeing than it is disappointing.

My body’s not perfect, yet I’m still perfectly happy with who I am.

I’m working on loving my perfectly imperfect self, which I reckon means I’m already successful at taking a more balanced approach to life.

 

Declaration #5: I’m true to myself because I keep my promises. 

Being honest with myself about where I’m at is something  recovery taught me to practice. Some refer to this as authenticity or being true to yourself. As I’ve already said, appreciating who I am in the here-and-now is a lesson I’m still learning, but one thing I am grateful for is being able to trust that I will keep promises I make wholeheartedly to myself.

Trust is something that must be built. I’ve broken my body’s trust a million times in my life, and therefore it continues to be a long, slow process of rebuilding. Yet having already fulfilled my commitment to myself to make healthy, positive changes to my body (and my brain, come to think of it), I’ve re-started this process of trust-building. I’ve shown that I can rely upon myself to take my promises to heart. By repeatedly taking action over time I’ve made steady progress towards my health goals. Step-by-step I’ve achieved my ambitions and kept my promise that I would take better care of myself. It’s a massive achievement (pun totally intended)!

 

Declaration #6: I’m awesome because I’m becoming the master of my mind. 

In my experience, mental mastery proves significantly more challenging than physical change. There seems to be a time-lag in adjusting mentally to significant physical shift. When I first developed an eating disorder I’d see myself as far bigger than I truly was, whereas when I was overweight I frequently went into a state of denial as to how poor my health had become. Taking a more balanced approach to my well-being has necessitated giving my mind the time it needs to catch up and learn to see things from a more realistic perspective.

Not only is it challenging for our minds to play catch-up in this way, but our mental habits also prove significantly harder to break than their physical counterparts. I don’t think I’m alone in piling on the criticism, and judging myself way more harshly than anyone else ever would. Particularly when it comes to my body, I’m my own worst critic and can pick myself to pieces in record time.

Knowing how my mind works, I made a conscious (albeit reluctant) decision to loosen my control around food this year. I’ve a huge fear of fatness and worried that if I let go a little, I’d become immediately overweight. Specifically, I’m afraid the negative emotions I associate with “fatness” (such as depression, anxiety, and rejection) will come flooding back the moment I cease to control every aspect of my diet. At the same time, it takes a lot of time and energy to maintain a strict food and fitness regime; precious resources I could be investing in other important areas of my life like my relationships and in writing extremely long blog posts like this! Acknowledging the impact I have upon the people I love, I once again took Gabrielle Bernstein’s advice and chose love over fear.

Understandably then, I expected to feel devastated if – and realistically, when – the scales crept up, however slight that movement may be. In fact all the mental work I’ve done this past ten years to build my mind muscles has paid off. Speaking truthfully, whilst getting into better physical shape was and is a fantastic accomplishment,  what I really needed was to reshape and rebuild my mind. I needed to prove to myself that I can both do and be more than I ever thought possible, and the field of food and fitness has been a great place in which to practise this.

An awesome example of how I’ve become mentally fit is via working on my physical fitness. When I first attended a Body Max class as my local gym I hoped for a better body, but what I didn’t expect was to train my mind. I became a regular because I found a supportive environment; people with whom I felt safe to try and push myself, even if the first few (hundred!) times I fail. The pride that comes from doing my first proper push-up, or completing a hundred tricep dips alongside my classmates, makes me feel a million dollars! As I’ve become physically stronger, so too is my mind. Working out has given me faith in my own strengths, to be unafraid to things a try, and has ultimately helped me build emotional resilience. By mastering my physical health I’ve also mastered my mind, proving that physical and emotional fitness are intrinsically, positively linked.

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The first roses opening their petals to the Summer sun inspire hope in me.

Phew! That’s one heck of a declaration to make!

So to bring this post to its conclusion, I’m working on making my mental hall of mirrors a little less scary. Though I still occasionally doubt what I see, more often these days I catch a glimpse of  my true self. I’m even starting to think I look like someone I might like to befriend.

One day I hope I won’t notice casual comments on my appearance. Perhaps I won’t be taken by surprise the next time I’m thrown an image-related curve-ball.  Until then, I’ll focus on how proud I am of myself – my body, mind, and spirit – because I made me – and I’ve done an exceptionally amazing job of it!

In sum, I’d stand by this beautiful quote from Geneen:

“It’s never been true, not anywhere at any time, that the value of a soul, of a human spirit, is dependent on a number on a scale.”

Geneen Roth

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The Twelfth TWIG Post (or why self-care is most definitely not selfish)

Unusually hot and humid, the first week of June has been a weird weather week. I’m pretty sure that offices across the country are stuffed with sleep-deprived, grouchy, and uncomfortable staff. I know mine’s been no exception; despite a shorter working week we all agreed it felt incredibly long and arduous.

fullsizeoutput_369For some unbeknownst reason, I’m particularly sensitive to changes in temperature. Hence this week’s left me feeling especially tired, irritable, and dispirited. You seen I’m not physiologically built for extremes of weather. In Winter I get Raynaud’s Syndrome, my hands and feet becoming numb when it’s cold out. In Summer I’m prone to heat rash, putting a damper on many a holiday.

More importantly, my not feeling too great exacerbates my psychological propensity towards burnout. I feel more susceptible to this kind of mental pain in the Summer months after having an anxiety-fuelled breakdown a few years ago. It left me hyper-vigilant for any signs of stress because I really don’t want to sink that low again. Hence my consciousness around the potential need to do something to prevent this kind of emotional breakdown happening in future.

Recognising my vulnerability this week I took immediate action. On an especially miserable morning, I decided I’d look at my remaining holiday allowance for the year and plan in my breaks for the next few months. Unlike C’s employer, mine has a generous holiday allowance which means I can take more paid time off. I used some of my leave to create a series of long weekends throughout the Summer, and made plans to visit my teacher sister (and gorgeous nephew, of course) during her long break.

Pre-planning periods of rest and recuperation made me feel instantly more relaxed. Knowing I’ve booked days off work gives me something positive to look forward to. I’m excited to have time to myself to do the things I love. For example, I can’t wait to take my new MacBook (more on this later) to my favourite cafe to write. Even rolling up my sleeves and getting stuck into the gardening sounds preferable to being stuck in a stuffy office.

Knowing C will have to work whilst I’m taking time off does make me feel somewhat guilty. I want him to have what I have, or at least to be able to share in my good fortune holiday-wise. Thankfully in reading Brene Brown’s book, “Rising Strong”, I’ve a new understanding of what it means to feel guilt and shame. I recognise whilst it’s irrational to feel guilty for something outside of my control, it’s a learned response for which I can show myself compassion.

Prioritising my well-being means not permitting uncomfortable emotions to stop me from acting in my own best interests. For example, though I can’t control C’s holiday allowance I can control what I do with mine. I can be grateful for what I have and can choose to use this gift of time to my advantage. Putting my money where my mouth is, I made a last-minute decision to take an afternoon off work this week. Turns out this was exactly what I needed. Those couple of hours to myself made all the difference to my mood, meaning that by the time C brought family home for dinner I felt re-energised and relaxed. I was better able to enjoy spending an evening with my excitable nieces.

fullsizeoutput_364Taking steps like this towards self-care proves I’m becoming better at recognising when I need to step up and take responsibility for my well being. To be the best version of myself I have to acknowledge and respond to my needs. It’s not always easy to work out exactly what that is and how to give it to myself, but the more I practise, the easier it becomes. Hence I’m thankful for this opportunity to exercise my self-care muscle this week.

Speaking of thanks, I think it’s time I share my gratitude list.

This Week I’m Grateful For

  • Taking self-care seriously by booking an afternoon off work. As I’ve spoken about this in length already, I won’t repeat myself here. Still, it’s important that I acknowledge that prioritising my well-being is a personal achievement of which I can be proud.

 

  • Online supermarket shopping. It’s not always the cheapest way to buy groceries, but it’s an absolute life-saver when it comes to catering for last-minute family visits. This week was a prime example – within less than twenty-four hours I’d stocked up on supplies without once having to step into a shop. When I look back to my student days of struggling to walk home with overstretched bags, I’m especially thankful for the privilege of having my groceries delivered direct to my door.

 

  • Free cake! Always a bonus however it comes about, it’s the second time I’ve received free cake from Ocado because the frosting had been smudged in transit. As neither my nieces nor I mind a squished bun, it didn’t matter that they were a little less elegant than intended. Still, I was happy that the kind delivery man didn’t charge me for these delicious treats !

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  • Being with my nieces. A last-minute visit to view houses meant hosting C’s sister, her husband, and our two fantastically fun nieces for the night. Despite a very early start to catch their train and a whole day walking, I had two delighted little girls bouncing round my garden because they were happy to make it to Aunty Heather’s house. I can’t express strongly enough how much I love being a part of these little lives!

 

  • An excuse to get me cooking! Having relied heavily on Dominoes to cater for previous family visits, this time I felt it necessary to cook a meal from scratch. Surprisingly, rather than feeling stressed and under pressure, it felt really good to create a healthy, homemade dinner. I felt proud that I’d made something delicious for the people I love. Reminded that cooking itself can be enjoyable – when I give myself the time and headspace for it – I’m feeling motivated to do it more often. Instead of seeing cooking as a chore, I’m grateful for this reminder that it’s actually an act of love I can regularly show to myself and others.

 

  • Securing a place in my favourite gym class. It’s been a challenge of late to book classes, but I’ve now made three bookings in a row. Having worked hard to embed fitness into my lifestyle, I’m thankful for this because classes help me keep up my momentum. With my instructor pushing me on, and with the support of the other regulars to my class, I lift heavier and go harder than I would on my own.

 

  • Working out despite my body wobbles (both literal and figurative). As I’ve tried to become less controlling over my food and fitness, I’m eating a bit more and exercising a bit less intensely. This has lead to my gaining a little weight, which isn’t unexpected but is uncomfortable and unnerving. I’m tempted to shy away from the gym, avoiding myself in the mirrors and not wanting others to see I’ve changed. Yet I’m proud of myself for not allowing my wavering self-confidence to stop me from working out. Doing what I know is good for my mind and body is my way of showing myself that I am enough; I am worthy, whatever the size and shape of my body. I’m grateful to have the resilience to overcome my insecurities and not let anything hold me back.

 

  • Fresh cut flowers. It’s a real privilege to be able to cut flowers from my very own garden and bring them indoors. It feels really special to see my beautiful blooms take pride of place on the mantelpiece, and know that they were grown just outside my window.

 

  • Having French doors has felt like a real luxury of late, letting the breeze cool us down and also bring the scents of Summer into our house.

 

  • Getting into flow. Since writing regularly I’ve been lucky to get into a “flow state”, by which I mean being so absorbed in what I’m doing that not only does time fly by but I also forget to eat or drink. Losing myself in something so completely feels fantastic and it’s proof positive that writing is good for me.

 

  • Buying a MacBook! Arriving sometime next week, choosing a new laptop turns out to have been more exciting than I’d have expected. Technological purchases are generally more C’s realm, but I’ve been enthusiastically seeking out perspectives of just about everyone I could think of who might be able to offer helpful advice. With C’s support, I decided to invest more than just money in my MacBook; I’m investing my faith and hope in myself, my writing, and my creative ideas for an exciting future.

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  • Last, but by no means least, we’ve accepted an offer on our house! Aware that house sales can fall through at any point, we’re happy – and relieved! – with the price and hopeful that we’ve found the right buyer for the house. It matters to C that we do right by the house and our neighbours because it’s meant more to him than just a good financial investment. It’s where he grew up, because if we’re honest, most of us only really start becoming adults once we’ve left formal education and have to figure out how to take care of ourselves and those we love. I’m therefore really glad the buyer put in a sensible offer that C feels happy to accept; one that reflects the two to three months of time, effort, and sheer graft we both put into renovations. Not only am I glad we can start to make plans for updating our new house, I’m also happy to know that someone who loves the house and the local area will bring new life to the place. She’s even bringing two feline friends with her, so I just know she’ll fit in!

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