Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Category: TWIG Posts (page 1 of 3)

The Twenty-Third TWIG Post (or how I’m learning that new love grows – even through loss)

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.”

Sigmund Freud

An hour and a half. This week K broke her lifetime record for the “Longest Time Ever Sitting on a Human’s Knee”.  I was so delighted by this change in behaviour, I had to immediately share the photographic evidence on my Facebook page.

You see, both my feline friends have never been what you’d call “lap cats”.  Likely taken from their mother too soon, they never seemed to grasp how to be cats in that way. Surprisingly, this bothers my partner, C, more than I. Used to his role as perma-cushion for our previous pet, I’ve heard him refer to D and K as somewhat of “a disappointment”!

Still.

 

Dave enjoying the garden

D, in particular, became the heart of our home. This, despite him stomping around the place, shouting his kitty head off like a tiny military dictator. A plus-sized personality in a pint-sized cat. D’s very existence on this planet could brighten my darkest days. C and I both couldn’t love him more.

Which is why, when we unexpectedly lost D a few weeks back, it hurt so much.

My beloved baby, D never took to sitting on knees; a crying shame given how he was the most ridiculously cuddle-worthy cat! I know I’m biased, but he was breathtakingly beautiful. His fur felt almost unreal, it was so soft. That cat came covered in a perfectly plush, fluffy layer of inky-black down. Perhaps if he could have learnt to relax long enough to sit still, maybe – eventually – he’d have made an awesome lap cat one day. I guess we’ll never know.

Aside from the occasional perch-in-passing, K has never been a knee cat either. Since losing D, however, K has definitely changed.

Siblings adopted together, they’d never really been apart so we weren’t sure how K might react to losing D. Though when he disappeared for a few days when they were younger, she became suspiciously happy. Whilst C and I sobbed in the streets as we stuck our “lost cat” posters to lampposts, K came along with us, prancing and dancing around our ankles!

In a strange twist of fate, without D, K is starting to come out of her shell. She’s much noisier, for example, her vocal prowess expanding to nearly fill the space D left behind. No longer having to share space, she seems more relaxed, sprawling across the carpet rather than scrunched in a ball. Most irritating – but super cute – K now meows to be let in via the patio doors rather than use her specially installed, unfeasibly expensive cat flap.

Keiko Bean

She’s essentially becoming Queen of the House. “Queen B”, I call her (for Bean – Keiko-Bean. Yes, I’ve become one of those nutters who have a million nicknames for my pets).

Coming home with a cold the other day, I was just about to make a brew and settle down for an afternoon of “Made in Chelsea” (we’re now onto Season 11, FYI) when I was joined on the sofa by K. I felt nervous about making her nervous and scaring her off so I tried not to move.

However as we both began to relax, K did a cat-version of man-spreading, rolling around as she made herself comfy. She even woke up mid-way through her marathon nap to have a bath – on me – before falling back asleep!

Reluctantly breaking the magic of the moment, an hour-and-a-half later – desperate for the loo and a brew by now – I gently moved my cat from my knee.

In a strange twist of fate, it feels as if K senses my sadness and is seeking to befriend me. Maybe K misses her friend, too, which is why she’s gravitating towards me. Even if she does prefer life as an only cat to sharing her home with an annoying little brother! C has noticed the change in her, too, as she’s become more comfortable in my company.

We’re getting to know each other, which is kind of beautiful, in its own weird way. My heart is broken, yet it’s also expanding; making more room so I can love K more.

Though I’m over-the-moon to become closer with K, I have to admit – it’s rather bittersweet. It’s like with D gone, he’s created space for our connection to flourish. As our love blossoms and grows, I’m even more achingly aware of what we’ve lost.

I miss D; my shadow, my friend.

Keiko and Dave

“What greater gift than the love of a cat?”

Charles Dickens

I have to remind myself that the pain of loss isn’t lessened by love. Loving K doesn’t mean I love D any less. It’s not possible. Instead, love soothes; it salves. It helps our hearts heal more quickly.

We’re a smaller family now – C, K, and I – but we’re stronger, too. A tighter crew.

And maybe – just maybe – one day, in the not too distant future, C will cave – and let us have a dog! 😉

Though I’m still drowning in a sea of snotty, teary tissues, I’m becoming better. I’m back to work and I’m here, writing again. Glad to get back to being grateful and sharing my week’s thanks.

This Week I’m Grateful for:

*Having a great conversation kick-start my working week. I’m not one for small talk, but this past Monday I stopped on my way into work to greet my colleague, J. Twenty minutes later I was surprised to find myself still talking.

Technically, it was “big” talk. We covered topics from side-hustling, building our online skills, and mental wellbeing and learnt we’ve much in common. I’m glad I stopped to make time to talk; I went into my office feeling happier and less alone.

*Making new friends – who also love Vietnamese bahn mi! This week I found myself genuinely looking forward to lunch at my favourite cafe with a (relatively) new friend. Having social anxiety, I typically dread in-person meet-ups. Therefore actually wanting to go out for lunch is a hugely positive sign that my mental health is on the mend.

*Building my braves by increasing my working hours. Much of my anxiety ties into feeling trapped. After a few hours at my desk, I definitely notice myself having a classic “flight or fight” response; an impulse to escape.

There’s nothing to be afraid of at work; I know this to be true. Yet rational thinking doesn’t eliminate anxious feelings. So rather than fight with myself, I’m practising acting in spite of contradictory emotions. It’s certainly not easy, but it is possible and I am progressing. By Friday I’d worked up to two-thirds of my regular hours which, given my recent anxiety levels, feels like a noteworthy achievement.

*Coming up with ideas for C’s birthday presents, currently hidden at home and ready for wrapping. It’s a massive relief to be prepared early. There’s something incredibly anxiety-provoking about gifting. Honestly, I hate buying gifts. The whole process – thinking of an ingenious idea and executing it – is frankly exhausting and doesn’t come naturally to me. Some people have a natural gift for, well, gifts, whereas others find themselves agonizing over whether it’s okay to just give gift cards. Now I’ve done my shopping, I can now relax and actually enjoy the occasion.

*Losing myself in a good film. Visiting the Curzon to watch “Venom” this weekend reminded me how much I love the feeling of sinking into a story so completely that I disappear. Movies can give me temporary relief from living in the chaos of my own mental mind.

Ironically, I turned to a film about an impulse-driven alien – “Venom” – that makes its home inside Tom Hardy’s head. In a weird way, I could relate to him living with a voice within that simultaneously saves and destroys; a dark side that serves some greater purpose.

*Positive comments from readers. Admittedly, I’m someone who needs reassurance and encouragement to keep going with my creative endeavours.  Hence why it meant so much to receive a Facebook comment recently from someone who’d been binge-reading my previous posts.

Similar to myself, this reader had also taken time off work for mental health reasons. They said it felt like finding a friend; reading my words helped them feel less alone. This is exactly what I hoped my blog might do: my words create a spark of something that resonates with someone else. It worked!

I’m therefore extremely grateful for this particular reader whose kind words inspired me to publish this post. I’m not yet entirely back to my best self, but I’m catching a glimpse of her and I’m beginning to get back by blogging mojo.

Thanks to all those reading this. I look forward to writing more soon.

H x

The Twenty-Second TWIG Post (or why we benefit by letting go of perfectionism and embracing a B-minus)

It dawned on me this week that I’ve a bit of a problem with publishing posts. 

As I write this there are precisely sixteen other articles languishing in my drafts, each in various stages of completion.

I’m the Queen of Drafts.

Behind the scenes of this blog, I’m writing more than ever. You’ll have to trust me when I say I’m writing my heart out.

Yet this clearly isn’t reflected in my rates of publications. Why?

One word: Perfectionismfullsizeoutput_609

It’s defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection”. (For anyone who lives under a rock, though even then you’re likely to worry about living under the “right” rock – ergo you already know what I’m talking about.)

In this particular situation my perfectionistic streak shows in my inability to craft my words to the level I’d like my writing to reach before I’m ready to share it with the world.

Apparently, I’m not alone in this quest for perfection. Reading Corbett Barr‘s post about how to “write epic sh*t” this week, I learnt that it takes “professional” bloggers far longer than I thought to write, edit, and publish posts.

What a relief! Knowing it can take Pat Flynn over eight hours to write a single blog post lifts at least some of the pressure off little ol’ me. If it takes time for the big-time bloggers to make stuff that matters, then it’s reasonable to expect it’ll take time for me, too. Therefore it’s probably pushing it to want to publish something long-form two or three (or more) times a week, plus put in the requisite hours for my full-time gig, and have enough time left over to take care of my body, brain, and boyfriend (in that order – sorry C).

Perhaps I’ve some rather unrealistic expectations for myself. Being a skeptical soul, I suspect it’s not only me who thinks this way.

Clearly, Steph Crowder of “Courage and Clarity” and “Fizzle” fame (in the world of  entrepreneurial podcasts) agrees. She recently wrote a Monday Motivation post in her Facebook group for female entrepreneurs about how what she terms “B-minus work” can change lives:

“If PERFECT is in your language, we gotta take it down SEVERAL notches.

Just. Show. Up. Give me your B- Work.”

Steph Crowder via Facebook

When it comes to us women (some blokes and non-binary persons, too, of course), what we as individuals deem our B-minus work – the stuff we’d label “acceptable” or at a push “good enough” rather than being ourtip-top best –  is often exactly what someone else needs to hear.

In case that doesn’t read too well, given my myriad mid-sentence interruptions, I’ll say it again:

When it comes to us women what we as individuals deem “acceptable work” is often exactly what someone else needs to hear.

In trying to achieve something “perfect” there’s at least a chance however small – we could be preventing someone from finding precisely the help, advice, or inspiration they need in exactly the right moment. Okay, so this isn’t scientifically proven per say, but I’d hedge my bets that most experts would agree with me on this one.  “Experts” being used here to refer anyone half-way intelligent who might ever have said something even slightly supporting the point I’m making here.

I’m a prime example of the problem at play here. I hold myself back because I believe that my writing’s not “good enough” yet for public consumption. Note here the words highlighted – in bolditalics, and underlined, in case you missed it.

In truth, my work is most likely already good enough. Even if it isn’t when I publish a post, then chances are I’d soon know about it and can make amends. You know, I can edit, rewrite, even delete if it’s that bad – or – wait for it – I can choose to let it be imperfect. Revelatory stuff indeed.

But no.

Instead, I continue to tell myself the same self-destructive story – that I’m not good enough, and anything I do inevitably won’t be good enough either. It’s a bit embarrassing to think that, in spite of this navel-gazing, I still make this mistake. It’s frustrating and disheartening to repeat the same errors.

And so I’m trying to become more comfortable with being a B-minus student sometimes, at least when it comes to writing. Easier said than done, I’m learning to let go and release my creative endeavours at least a little sooner. Hopefully, my efforts at getting comfy with being uncomfy will be rewarded when my words reach those who most need to read them.

Speaking of which, I better get on with my weekly dose of thankfulness while my writing’s still relevant!

 This Week I’m Grateful for:

IMG_3535

Guess where I was?!

TWIG #1: A Saturday afternoon out with C. Last weekend we went to Salts Mill, a former 19th Century industrial mill which now houses art, shops, and cafes at the heart of a model village in Saltaire, Bradford. It’s . After a quick stroll and a poke in a few antiques shops, C let me loose in what’s one of my most favourite bookshops.

Whenever we visit I come home with a new book or journal. This time, I ended up with both: “The Program” – young adult dystopian fiction by Suzanne Young – and two sketch books. I plan to use the latter for creative brainstorming, free of the constraints of their linear cousin, the notebook. Of course no day out would be complete without cake so we made time for tea.

TWIG #2: My growing confidence in my business competence.

(Try saying that when you’ve had a few!)

You likely know about my most recent mental meltdown, which makes everything more difficult, as depression is want to do. However this past week helped me see I’m more capable than I believed myself to be.

I’m from a business background, academically and professionally. Yet I’m reticent to declare myself expert in anything for fear of being “found out” lacking somehow. Like many other women I speak to, I’ve a chronic case of imposter syndrome, scared to step up and risk being seen for fear of public failure.

I’ve had enough of this self-doubt. So I’m intentionally collecting evidence to prove to myself that I’m already an intelligent professional. As you’ll see, I’ve gathered some examples already this week:

  • I’ve been consulting for a copy-editor – far further along in her entrepreneurial “journey” than I, sharing my ideas around content, copy, and design for her email opt-in.
  • I asked off-the-cuff questions during a Fizzle Friday coaching session, during which I was thanked by someone I admire for my contributions to the forum.
  • Other entrepreneurs have sought me out to specifically ask for my opinion on their business issues.

All of which shows that I have something of value to offer. The more I help othersthe more I recognise that I’m actually good at this stuff. Not only have I got a ton of relevant experience to share (I sometimes forget that I’m 34, not 14), but I’m also bringing my own creativity to the table. Somewhere down the line there’s potentially a business idea there, which feels super-exciting!

fullsizeoutput_5f7

K (left & back) and D (right at the front!)

TWIG #3: This utterly gorgeous photo of our cats!  They’d jumped onto the garage windowsill to steer clear of C reversing the car. They stayed put long enough for C to park up and then take this fantastic photo.

I think it captures their personalities perfectly. Typically cheeky, D’s pushed his way to the front. (He gets away with it for being so cute.) K is that bit more cautious, carefully contemplating things from a bit further back. She lets D think he’s getting his way, but it’s her slinky self that’s  actually in charge.

Unsurprisingly, this picture received the highest number of “likes” I’ve ever received for a picture on Facebook. If I wasn’t so enamoured of this pair, I’d probably take offence!

TWIG #4: The prospect of renovating our house is becoming real! Now we’ve nearly completed the sale of our old house we’ll soon have sufficient funds to start work.

I arranged for a builder to come give us a quote. Extremely chatty (I had been warned), he was enthusiastic about our ideas and advised us on the next steps. As such, we’ve since arranged for quotes from two window companies, a structural engineer, and a kitchen company in the coming weeks.

Best by far was our visit to a kitchen designer, who took C’s technical drawings (on squared paper, using laser measurements) and created a 3D-interpretation of my dream kitchen. Excitedly, it looks almost exactly how I imagined, which feels inspiring and motivating to move forward with making our dream home a reality.

TWIG #5: Going back to the gym. After a month’s hiatus (the first in four years or more), I checked my kit fit (it did!) and went to class last Tuesday. Turns out this wasn’t anywhere near as scary as I’d build it up to be in my head. I should have known; this is pretty much always the case with anxiety.

Still, it was a relief to keep pace with classmates, finishing on a bit of a high and feeling a hundred times better after class than before. Calorie-burning aside, I remembered why kept going to the gym in the first place. I’ve booked again for this Tuesday.

Okay, so I can’t take all the credit for getting back to the gym. There’s a chance I’d have headed home, except that my colleague F had coaxed me to class. She stood by my desk, waiting whilst I slowly shutdown my PC. Though having a bit of extra encouragement certainly helped me overcome my objections to exercise, I’m still proud of myself for making small steps in the right direction.

fullsizeoutput_608TWIG #6: Being able to feel loved by my family. That’s not a poorly-structured sentence (perhaps it is, but it’s not intentional) but is a genuine expression of gratitude on my part.

This is because depression disconnects. It puts up an invisible wall. When my mind is in a mess, this barrier between myself and others is especially impermeable. It’s hard for me to show love and it’s equally difficult for me to receive it. It’s painful on both accounts.

However since finding the right medication for me, I’m experiencing positive feelings much more often. This sounds dramatic, but anything that breaks through the kind of emotional numbness depression brings is nothing short of miraculous.

TWIG #7: I rescued a frog! 

Finally, on a far lighter note, I can proudly say I single-handedly rescued a frog this evening.

I heard the tell-tale chew toy squeak that I’ve learnt terrorised frogs make, so I rushed – okay, I was guilted off the sofa by C, who sent me out in my pyjamas – to the rescue! Our two ferocious felines had cornered the poor fella. Bravely, I shielded the frog with my bare hands until C came with an old ice-cream tub to transport our new friend safety to the neighbour’s pond.

I’ll conclude my gratitudes with this – my contribution to the safe-keeping of our local wildlife population!

x

The Twenty-First TWIG Post (or why I’m persisting with writing, despite depression making it difficult)

It’s felt like a hard slog to get grateful this past fortnight.

fullsizeoutput_5ebDepression has many negative side-effects, one of the most frustrating being an inability to fully focus. Admittedly, I can be a little scatter-brained from time-to-time. It’s likely just part of my personality. However when my brain’s not in great shape, my concentration is one of the first things to go.

My decision-making capacity disappears. Though limited at the best of times, tasks take me twice as long to complete when I’m depressed. I can sort of sense this is the case, though it’s not always obvious to me. C commented yesterday that it’s taking me twice as long to get out of the shower of a morning lately. We get up and out of the house mega-early, plus it’s the school holidays (less traffic), so it’s not a big problem, but it’s definitely noticeable, which has me on high-alert

In fact, this is my second attempt at writing my twenty-first TWIG post. The first is sitting in my drafts, half-edited. Though there was – is – good stuff in there, I felt so frustrated writing it – like I was trying to force the words out. I write to communicate – not only with the world, but myself. Thus it being such a slog – feeling so damn challengingwas very telling as to my present mental state.

Contrastingly, writing this today has felt fairly easy. It’s not my most poetic of posts, but it’s back to feeling natural once more. Though overdue, I’m here now to share the small (and not so small) things in my life for which I feel truly thankful.

This Week I’m Grateful for:

  • Tap water. As the water board are currently tampering with our supplies, I’m reminded of just how amazing it is to live in a country where we’ve got hot and cold water literally on tap. Given how many people worldwide struggle to find clean water, it’s pretty damn fortunate.
  • Being able to help the people we love. Our fabulous nieces moved to their new house five minutes around the corner this week. C took an afternoon off work to help his sister, S, unpack, and the weekend prior we doubled-up on grocery shopping to fill their fridge, too. Whilst it’s an exciting move for all of us, understandably the Family B are nervous in the face of such major change. Personally, I’m just thankful that we’re able to be here for our family when they need us. It feels lovely to be in a position to help make someone’s life that little bit better.

fullsizeoutput_5e8

  • C being incredibly thoughtful and buying the Family B fresh, crisp bedding for their new home. Whilst one of our nieces told him she actually prefers her existing Harry Potter bedding (!), the littlest was over-the-moon at her Peppa Pig duvet. I tell him often, but I really mean it when I say I’m proud of his kindness and generosity of heart. He’s so sensitive to other people’s needs, it blows me away sometimes.

 

  • Constructive help and advice on my ideas from the generous, inspiring people I’m connecting with on the Fizzle forum. They’ve boosted my confidence no end, not only in my writing, but in my pursuit of creating something meaningful to help others with mental health issues live their best lives. It would be easy to get disheartened and give up, but this group help me keep putting one foot in front of another. What’s more, I’m being approached for advice and feedback from others, which makes me feel like I actually know what I’m talking about here – at least, some of the time!
  • Finding my voice to write a blog post I’m truly proud to share. After struggling to write a weekly TWIG post last week, my “Ten Things” article literally came to me overnight. It sounds cheesy, but it just kind of flowed out of me. Sometimes words come to me so easily, writing is a real joy! After consistently blogging for seven months now, I feel like I’m finding my voice as a writer and that’s genuinely exciting!
  • Taking yet another day of leave. Having more holidays than C (sorry C) and no plans for a major holiday (other than a September break in Seahouses), I’m using my leave to make a shorter Summer. I love having a three-day weekend, and having the time to sit here and write whilst watching “Made in Chelsea” is blissful.
  • C having bought me freshly-squeezed orange juice from our local grocers. There’s this amazing machine which squeezes the oranges in front of you. It’s worth the expense just to watch the machine at work! I’m not a fan of juice (empty calories), but this stuff is delicious – like sunshine in a glass!
  • Morning and evening sleepy cuddles with C. As the weather turns cooler and Autumn approaches, I’m really thankful to be able to cuddle C without feeling claustrophobic and sweaty. I sometimes forget how important the little things, like cuddles, can be. When I remember, this feels like a lovely new discovery again.
  • Starting to feel better. As you’ll have picked up from my previous post, I’ve been dealing with depression which isn’t entirely unexpected – my mental illness is predictable, coming over me in wave – yet it’s always shockingly painful.

Curiously, I’ve noticed that the initial recovery process is often more uncomfortable than being in the illness itself. It’s disconcerting, living inside a mind where – all too often – I can’t trust my own thoughts.

Thankfully, the darkness is beginning to lift. In depression I lack energy, feel lethargic, and have a general sense of heaviness hanging over me.

I’m making steps towards becoming better, the most productive being what I’d call my Go Slow” Strategy.  I’ve learnt that, rather than trying to fight this feeling, I recover more quickly if I allow myself to slow right down and accept that I have to go at my own pace. I’m nowhere near as productive as I usually am, but that’s okay. Perhaps it’s my subconscious mind’s way of telling me to give myself a break before I break.

  • Being self-aware and recognising that right now, I need to prioritise self-care. Just typing this makes me roll my eyes – it sounds like “therapy-speak”.  The phrase “self-care” makes me think of bubble baths and scented candles, yet I know on a deeper level it’s so important. It’s crucial to maintaining my mental fitness. So I’m quietly proud of myself for noticing what I need.
  • fullsizeoutput_5eaSmall acts of kindness. For example, C making me a cup of tea without my having to ask, or him taking charge of making lunch or dinner, makes such a huge difference to how I feel.  These everyday gestures are what contribute to a positive state of mind.
  • New underwear. Nothing fancy; it just feels good to wear something comfortable under my clothes.
  • Feeling weirdly “free”. Despite gaining weight, I’ve noticed that I’m becoming less concerned with how I look, and more interested in how I feel. It’s not foolproof – I’m still uncomfortable in my skin much of the time – but it’s a definite improvement and one which I won’t shout about for fear of frightening it off!
  • My friend E coming to see me in my new house. She lives in another city, so has not only taken the day off, but taken the train and a bus to get here. I’m especially grateful for her making this big effort because I know depression makes me a flaky friend. I feel lucky to have people who know and love me well enough to tolerate my not always being in the best of mental health.
  • Being a Kitty Mama. Particularly on 8 August, which is International Cat Day, I’m especially grateful to have two fabulous feline friends. Whenever I’ve felt down, the cats in my life have played a hugely important part in lifting me up. This week K jumped from the first floor and gave me a scare, but thankfully she seems to be fine and well.
  • Being able to walk to work, three times out of four this week. Walking to work in the morning is one of the easiest ways lift my energy before I start my day. It takes about 45 minutes door-to-door, which is just enough time to get my heart pumping, and listen to a podcast episode. I’m much more positive during the day when I’ve made the effort to exercise first-thing.
  • My family being (literally) closer than ever. I now have my sisters, nephew, sister-in-law(ish), and nieces, all within an hour’s drive of me. It’s exciting to think I can be a part of their lives growing up. C and I are also rediscovering who our siblings are as people, and that feels rather strangely lovely.
  • Gorgeous roses in the gardens I pass as I walk to and from work. Watching “Gardener’s World” with C of a Friday evening (yes, we’re that cool), I’m surprised that there’s such massive variation in these beautiful blooms. One of my favourite places to visit in Sheffield – the Botanical Gardens – has an amazing rose garden. As you’ll have seen, I love to take photos to use on my blog.
  • Having fun with my whiteboard. I intended to use it at work, but found that there’s not enough space on my desk. Instead, I’m using this to share my gratitudes and write silly messages for C to find.

Phew! It’s a long list, but it feels like I’m making up for my previous week’s absence.

Until next week!

H

x

The Nineteenth TWIG Post (or why it having good friends and happy cats matters more than a flat stomach)

After much debate I’ve decided to go on hiatus from the gym. This has come as a bit of a shock – especially to me! For over four years now I’ve been regularly attending classes, reliably turning up, rain or shine (or snow) at least three times a week. But over these last few months I’ve skipped several sessions, too tired to be bothered.

fullsizeoutput_596I’ve lost my workout mojo.

With nothing specifically sparking this change of heart, my immediate worry went straight to my mind. As anyone who’s ever experienced depression will appreciate, that’s one place I never wish to return to, if I can help it. Still, I don’t think I’ve felt particularly down about anything of late. On the contrary, I’m more enthusiastic about life than ever: I’ve several exciting projects on the go, we’re about to conclude our house sale, and we’re enjoying our first long, sunny Summer in the new garden.

So why this sudden turnaround?

Why does the thought of a workout leave me feeling… well, meh?

Okay, so I have to point out the elephant in the room here: me. C would be really cross if he heard me be so self-flagellating, and I don’t actually mean it, but I’m acutely aware of having gained a few pounds. I can’t deny it when I look in the mirror, even if it’s only really noticeable to those closest to me.

Gaining weight obviously doesn’t make me feel great about myself – but neither has it brought me down in the way I’d have expected. My self-worth being tied so closely to my body image for pretty much my whole life, this apathy feels weird. I don’t care as much as I think I should and I have to admit – it’s unnerved me.

Overwhelmed by this gym guilt, I reached out to my colleague, M, to enquire whether she’d be attending class this week. Since my house is en-route to hers, she’s kindly been giving me a lift home and we’ve become friendly. Moaning about my lack of motivation, I learnt my fitness pal is actually recovering from an injury. After telling my tragic tale I felt myself blush, embarrassed to be making a massive fuss over nothing. After all, I wasn’t the one who was hurt, was I?

Well, actually yes; I was hurting. The difference being that my mind was the specific cause of my pain.

fullsizeoutput_54a

Emotional pain can be as acute as anything we feel physically.

Both reside within our bodies.

Whilst our capacity to feel physical pain is limited (admittedly, it can get pretty physically painful), our minds have no depth of darkness to which they cannot sink. 

Empathising with my mental health worries, M suggested I consider taking time out from workouts. A break might help me figure out my feelings about fitness; build a better relationship between body and mind. Whilst we agreed a regular routine benefits an anxious mind like mine, it’s sometimes healthy to step back and reassess things.

There’s no rule that says I have to do, or be, anything – let alone “make up” for my lack of interest in exercise just now. At least, none other than those self-imposed rules we use to hold ourselves up to impossible standards of perfection.

M suggested getting rid of guilt by thinking about how I’d prefer to spend my time. What matters most to me? A flat stomach or having fun with favourite fluffs? Given the brevity of their time on this planet, wouldn’t I rather spend more of it playing with my feline friends?

When I look at it this way, I’d much rather cuddle my cats than spend an evening sweating in a stuffy studio. Decision made, I cancelled my class, breathed a sigh of relief, and planned to head home.

Before I logged out for the day, M suggested we catch up over coffee and immediately booked a time in our calendars. As it’s me who usually has to make plans with friends, it felt good for someone to invite me out for a chance. I’d been feeling so bad, this small kindness actually brought tears to my eyes – despite my medication making crying a challenge!

fullsizeoutput_598

I’m touched and tremendously thankful that someone has seen my vulnerability, recognised my pain, and still wants to befriend me. 

Even talking about making new friends feels a bit uncomfortable. In our modern Western society it seems we’re conditioned to feel embarrassed about our having needs. Yet it’s in our nature to need human connection.

What’s more, as adults we meet fewer new people in general so making friends becomes even harder. Hence whilst I’m sure social anxiety will creep in when it comes time for that coffee, I’m thankful for the chance to  get to know my new friend.

This Week I’m Grateful For:

*The velvety texture of C’s hair when it’s just been cut. Running my hand the wrong way up the back of his head, it feels soft and spiky against my skin. For the next week it’ll look that bit too short, but it’ll feel fantastic. C has what he himself describes as Chinese hair: straight, dark and ridiculously dense. Unlike the majority of his peers, C’s got a full head of hair. – something for which we’re both grateful!

*Still another new dress from the Fat Face sale. It was meant to be two dresses, but it looks like perhaps my credit card has been saved by the other selling out. Oh, and a cardigan. You never know when I might need one.

*A mid-week Paperchase binge. Aware I’m nervous about the impending office move, my colleague K asked if I fancied a trip to town to treat ourselves to some new stationery.

She returned with lunch boxes for her little girl, whereas I came back with a whole new organisational system (in co-ordinated pastel shades, of course).

IMG_3383

My former desk buddies have returned home after seven years.

Given this chance to change my work space, I’m re-decorating. Going for more grown-up vibes, I plan to update my vision board.  To help me manage my mental health at work (where it inevitably sometimes gets stressful), I created my board to remind me of all that I have in life which brings me happiness.

I’ll be working on this for the next few weeks, collecting new inspirational quotes and images, and updated photos of all those whom I love. Next weekend it’s my nephew G’s first birthday, so I’ll take new photos with him, my sisters, and maybe even C. Our nieces will soon be moving into their new Sheffield home (it’s even got a treehouse!), so I’ll be able to add their pictures to the pile.

I have to admit, it’s kind of exciting, which leads me perfectly onto my next thanksgiving.

*Coming into work of a morning and finding postcards left  on my desk. Turning them over, I found a message from K bestowing positivity, love, and luck for our move. I’m so lucky to work with such kind-hearted people, and it’s times like this when I’m reminded to be thankful for my job.

fullsizeoutput_588

I found these on my keyboard. I think I can re-home them on my vision board. 🙂

*Building confidence in my business skills. Taking advice from those further down the road success, I put myself “out there” and offered my help for free. Volunteering to read, review, and feed back on other women’s work has taught me so much about my own strengths.

Creating anything of value takes confidence; something I sometimes admittedly lack. However helping other women make their businesses better actually helps me – and myideas – feel more worthy. It reminds me of the point of pursuing my passions and gives me hope that I’m moving in a positive direction.

*Being brave, I switched on my webcam for my first “Fizzle Friday”. I was anxious about asking my early-stage questions, given that most participants in these weekly coaching sessions are so much further ahead in creating their businesses.

Yet I need not have worried. Not only did Corbett reassure me that I’m on the right path,   but combining his comments with others’ feedback will help me make constructive, positive progress in the coming weeks.

*Freshly-squeezed orange juice. It’s impossible to ignore its delicious scent when walking into our local grocers. I have to admit – it’s incredible! I can’t recall when I last drank anything this good. We’ll definitely be keeping our refillable bottle to go back for more.

*Guido’s chocolate flapjacks. How the topping stays Nutella-like runny – never going hard – I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not sure I want to know! Still, they’re totally treacly and utterly umptious. Served in tiny fairy cake cases, they’re slipped into a paper bag, the flapjacks’ sheer stickiness turns it transparent.

*Magazines as my weekend treat. Ever since I can remember this has been one of my most favourite pleasures. Popping open the plastic, I love to smell their glossy pages packed with promise before anyone else has touched them. Odd, but true, I’m afraid.

*An extra day off this week. Whilst I’d prefer proper holidays with C, his lack of leave means I’m taking some time off work alone. Still, I’m feeling rather smug about having several extra-long weekends over these Summer months.

*C and I have booked our September staycation in Seahouses, Northumberland once again. Wearing waterproofs to wander across the sand to Bamburgh Castle, browsing the shelves at Barter Books, and cosying up in a pub sharing a bag of crisps: These activities may sound rather dull but for us, it’s one of our happy places.

*An unexpected visit from a rather smiley, sticky little boy, and his equally messy mother. My sister and my nephew, baby G, came for lunch today. I’m definitely biased, but I’m 100% convinced that G is the happiest, loveliest child in the Universe.

x

The Eighteenth TWIG Post (or how I’m happy despite having felt unwell this week)

I’m trying something a little different with my TWIG post this week.

I think I’ve been trying to do too much.

So rather than overloading you, I’m simply getting grateful. Instead I’ll share another story around becoming better in a separate post. I hope you’ll join me then, but in the meanwhile here goes…

IMG_3340This Week I’m Grateful for:

*Working with people who care about me.

Kindness is under-rated in our society, and yet it makes a massive difference to our quality of life. My anxiety now rarely shows its face at work (which is a gratitude in-and-of itself). However on the odd occasion it makes an appearance – like this past week – I’m thankful to have colleagues who make the effort to understand and accommodate my “quirks”.

Mental health issues are something even those of us with them struggle to comprehend. For people who haven’t personally experienced mental illness – and there are more of us than one might think – it must be hard to imagine. Not able to totally trust your mind to tell you the truth is, well, a mind-bending concept. It’s also pretty scary – to the point where many people choose to deny its existence rather than have to face the fact that, as Clare Eastham states so well in her book, “We’re all mad here”.

Fortunately for me, I have colleagues who try to understand. They care enough about me to make this effort. They accept that sometimes, I simply need to be alone. The world is too overwhelming. Like a turtle, I hide inside my shell until I feel safe enough to come back out and rejoin the world. What comes off as anti-social behaviour is usually my needing to take a little time away from the noise of open-plan in order to quieten the raging inside my mind.

I’m most grateful that they can “see” me, the person. It’s a real testimony to sensitivity and character of the people I work with that they can appreciate that “Heather” is the person I am underneath; the one who experiences these mental moments, as opposed to my being mental, per say.

*Being able to do what’s best for my health.

It’s not always easy to admit to feeling under the weather, but it’s even harder if it involves mental illness. For me, there’s usually a slow build-up to break-down that I can miss the early-warning signs of impending doom. Oftentimes, it eventually comes out as physical illness; my body literally acting to stop me in my tracks.

At times like this, I’m thankful that I work for a public-sector organisation that generally supports its people in taking the time to get well. Whenever I’m ill it’s a reminder to appreciate this anew. I know it’s not the case for many people, including C who works in a private company where taking sick days is penalised when it comes to bonus time. Particularly in light of my mental health, I count my job – and colleagues – as a blessing. Not everyone can choose to prioritise their health without worrying about the consequences at work.

*My partner, C, going out of his way to take care of me.

Being the sensitive soul he is, C picked up on my being out-of-sorts way sooner than I did. As such, he’s been extra lovely to me this week.

Examples of some small acts of daily kindness which make life much easier for those of us who have “wobbly” mental health include:

  • Cooking the dinner when it’s clearly not their turn.
  • Taking on more of the housework, which includes the intellectual (thinking) and emotional (feelings) work. Many women – myself included – unthinkingly shoulder the brunt of this without realising how tiring it can become (there’s definitely a future post in there!).
  • Keeping schtum when we zonk out on the couch in our PJs when we get in from work to watch a marathon of mindless TV (and I know this is not just me!)IMG_3341

My most favourite thing C does for me is making my supper cup of tea without my asking, simply because he knows I think it tastes better when he makes it.

Small kindnesses like this are often taken for granted in long-term relationships. We get used to them as they become habitual and routine; they’re just “what we do” for each other. Yet they’re often the things that mean the most when one of us is feeling off-colour, and so I’m focusing on feeling thankful for the small stuff – because they’re actually pretty big.

*My cats being so glad to have me home.

B.C. (Before Cats) sick days had been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, being ill generally necessitates some degree of discomfort. It’s either something painful or gross, and it’s usually some combination of the two. On the other hand, there’s daytime telly, extra tea and toast, and the rare opportunity to skip the shower and spend a whole day in my PJs. Still, there’s always that post-Doctors lull whereby the day’s officially more than half over. All the best terrestrial telly is over and you’re stuck watching re-runs of “Housewives” on catch-up.

Cats, however, have the unique ability to make a sick-day into a good-but-gross day. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re in-demand. Sitting next to D on the carpet to play with the feather toy made me feel so much better.  Making my cat happy makes me happy. Later I fell asleep on the sofa under the watchful eye of my buddy-boy.

Even just thinking about the fact that there are two creatures – mini-panthers – living in my home, wanting to hang out with me, tickles me. Such simple things can make me smile and totally change the tone of my day.

 *Love Islandtherapy

IMG_3360With my anxiety making a reappearance this week, it’s been a blessed relief to tune into the goings-on of this group of tanned twenty-somethings. It’s pure hedonism for this thirty-something with my mega-mortgage, a full-time office job, and the general gripes of  grown-up life. I’m only slightly serious when I say I wish I were holed-up in a Spanish villa for the Summer, my only responsibilities being to glam up, play Club 18-30s-style games by the pool, and partner up with whomever takes my fickle twenty-something fancy. #abitjealous? #100%!

Allowing myself this form of escapism is a literal holiday for my mind.  For some unbeknownst reason, this nightly dose of junk telly takes me out of my head for a while. It’s mental freedom –  exactly what the Doctor (Alex) ordered.  It’s proving the perfect remedy for an over-active brain which is why I refuse to feel guilty or ashamed of my love for the Island. #loyal

*C taking one for the team.

Let’s be clear about what I mean here: He removed the sun-dried frog found on our back doorstep and didn’t make me do it. There’s technically no proof it’s the result of either cats’ midnight madness but I have my suspicions that a certain kitty with a K might be to blame…

For some reason, the dead frog creeped me out way more than the three beautiful blue tits left for dead on the hall carpet. I can pick them up no problem (and I actually have a slightly macabre fascination with doing so). Something about the slightly shrivelled, sticky-looking amphibian corpse just grossed me out, so I was glad that C did the manly thing and “removed” it with the brush and shovel.

*Rehoming a pair of 1930s tulip vases.

At an antiques fair this weekend we lucked out by finding a pair of blue vases that fit perfectly with the style of our home. We’re still uncertain as to exactly how we want the house to look – I’ve painstakingly planned it on my Pinterest, but C’s yet to agree to the exact shade of Farrow & Ball blue I can use in the lounge.

Rather than sticking to any particular “look” or style we’re going instead with what we love. Definitely wanting to reinstall some of the house’s original 1930s features, we’ve also been on the look-out for items of the same era which appeal to our taste today.

For me, my taste is rather eclectic. I’m enamoured of angular Art Deco, an element of Victorian taxidermy, and masses of mid-century modern furniture. As the sale of our former home is almost final, the prospect of redesigning our forever home feels ever more real. I’m excited to have our own house and the opportunity to make it entirely us.

*Lemonade ice lollies.

Like all the other kids, C sent me off to the ice-cream van this weekend with the money to buy myself an ice lolly. Within moments of it being in my sticky mitts, I proceeded to down said popsicle, remembering how satisfying it is to bite through the ice. Frosty splinters stuck to my tongue, melting into delicious lemony numbness. On what was a ridiculously hot day, this was a small piece of sugary heaven.

*A chance chat with a charming child.

IMG_3369A young lad sat himself down – uninvited – at the same picnic table where C and I were eating lunch, resting his shaved head on folded arms with a sweaty sigh. Catching sight of a sparkly earring immediately got me thinking of the kids from“Shameless”. I planned on ignoring the interrupting, focusing instead on my food.

Moments later, his grandmother appeared with drinks and ice cream. I relaxed slightly: She looked like a nice lady and indeed she was, making friendly conversation across the table. I showed an interest in what they’d been buying at the antiques fair and the young lad sprang to live.

Showing me what he’d bought that morning, he spoke so thoughtfully, and with such intelligence, for what was clearly his passion.  He’d spent his hard-earned pocket money on militaria: a late twentieth-century army helmet, a WW2 artillery box, and an incredibly creepy baby’s gas mask-slash-cot.

C and I both rather fell enamoured of this lad. Noting his intense seriousness about his subject, he’s probably on the autistic spectrum but is also the most interesting and engaged young man I’ve met in a long time. Whilst I was drawn to his passion and enthusiasm, C could relate to being a similarly thoughtful kind of kid. It was a pleasure to meet him.

I absolutely adore kids and – for the most part – they seem to like me, too. I get so much joy from hanging out with my loved one’s offspring, it sometimes makes me question whether we ought to seriously consider having our own.

Yet when I come home to the peace and quiet – when I can sit here on my laptop typing away with no one to think about other than myself – no one I’m responsible for in that way – then I’m also grateful for that, too.

x

The Seventeenth TWIG Post (or how I’m happily handling feedback*)

Someone I admire reached out to me online this week. Seeing their name flash up on my screen made me jump. Why would they want to talk to me? I had no idea, but feeling both excited and nervous, I clicked on their message, hoping for something good.

IMG_3203Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be.

Much to my embarrassment, they wanted to ask me not to do something. I’m not great at receiving feedback. I automatically take it as criticism, and being what some might call sensitive, I can’t hide my emotions and take things to heart.

Taken aback, I re-read their message.

Something clicked.

I realised in that moment how my actions came across badly. I could feel my face heat up in shame. What they said made sense; I’d misinterpreted advice and applied it inappropriately. I felt terrible. Despite them being lovely and understanding I never meant to cause offence, I felt really sorry and apologised for my behaviour.

Being able to admit to making a mistake without jumping to the conclusion that I am a mistake is a new experience for me. It was somehow easier to accept feedback from someone I don’t personally know, but whose work I respect. Being open-minded and willing to listen, I was able to objectively analyse their comments.

IMG_3204

Mentally separating what I do from who I am empowered me to own up to my errors and make amends without apologising for being me.

Surprisingly, a potentially awkward interaction turned out to be a truly constructive conversation. It’s already had a positive impact. I learnt first-hand that this person has integrity; what they say is reflected in their actions. This creates trust, even in a very short space of time. Moreover, I made a decision to sign up for a service from a company that this person works with because of our brief chat. It gave me confidence that it would deliver on its promises, which thus far seems likely to be the case.

Most importantly this week, I learnt that feedback doesn’t have to be negative. Indeed it can be quite the opposite, which was a real revelation. It’s an opportunity to do something differently; something better aligned with my personal values. I’m genuinely grateful to receive this kind of feedback because it’s helping me to become better in unexpected, yet positive, ways.

 

This week I’m grateful for:

*Having a home that lets us host friends and family. Particularly when I think back to living in C’s tiny terrace, I’m grateful to have the physical space to welcome people into our home. I’d previously avoided inviting visitors, anxious not to be thought of badly for the clutter and chaos that comes from combining C, me, two raggedly black cats, and all of our collective possessions.

Since moving to our new house, one of our greatest joys is having family and friends stay with us.  Not only do we now have the literal capacity to cope with even last-minute lodgers, my mental attitude to having people in my personal space has also opened up.

Becoming better at accepting myself as perfectly imperfect has rubbed off on my feelings about my home. I genuinely adore our house, which gives me confidence to care less if others don’t feel the same way. Of course I want the people I love to love it too – but I no longer need their approval – which has freed me to simply be. And allow others to simply be in my space, too.

*Soon to be living in walking distance of our nieces, whose parents will be renting a house just twenty-five minutes’ walk away. It’ll be a new experience to have family close by for both C and I as adults. There are bound to be tears and tantrums at times – and that’s just C! Still, it’s exciting to think we’ll be a more regular part of the girls’ lives as they grow up. Also, as Aunty Heather comes high on the list of the girls’ top reasons to move to Sheffield, I’m hoping I’ll get an invite to hang out in their new tree house.

*Reading my book’s draft introductory chapter and feeling relieved to find some good stuff I can work with. An aspiring author, it’s rather embarrassing to admit how reluctant I am to re-read my own writing. Without sufficient distance, I cringe upon “hearing” my own voice and can end up over-editing.

Secretly, I started writing my book back in March. It didn’t take long for me to realise I was taking on too much at once. Putting my book project on pause, I chose to focus my energies on first building my blog. My logic being that as both book and blog work in synergy, I can reasonably invest time in one for the benefit of the other. For instance, some of the self-help strategies I experiment with in my life, and write about on my blog, might eventually make their way into my book. It’s all part of my same passion project – sharing how I’m becoming better, in the hopes of helping others do the same. IMG_3186

I felt reassured after hearing my heroine, Geneen Roth, say that her latest book – “This Messy Magnificent Life” – took her over six years to write. Upon reflection, it makes sense that creating something truly beautiful takes time. Having one of my favourite authors talk about the time and effort it takes to complete her writing project, I don’t feel the need to be in such a rush with my own. As someone who enjoys the editing process, having lots of lovely words to work with has to be worthy of giving thanks.

*Receiving emails of thanks from people who’d gone out of their way to tell me that my words matter; that by sharing my stories, I’ve let them know they’re not alone. Positively impacting another person’s life – in whatever small way – is a true privilege for which I’m grateful.

Selfishly, I started this blog for as an outlet for myself. I didn’t have any particular agenda, other than to put my thoughts “out there” rather than keeping them “in here”, running circles in my mind. Rationally I know that my experiences aren’t unique to me – we all face challenges throughout our lives, and many more than we know also have mental health issues. However I hadn’t realised that writing about my vulnerabilities would bring me closer to others. I’m creating new connections all the time, as well as deepening existing relationships with acquaintances who are fast becoming friends.

 

*Geeking out over my Fizzle membership. I’ve already talked a lot about what led to my decision to sign up to this service, but what I’ve not yet shared is how grateful I am  to really embrace the learning process once more. I can’t believe it’s ten years since I last formally studied for my Master of Arts in Politics!

I’ve loved learning all my life, so its unsurprising that I’d thrive as a member of a vibrant community of fellow thinkers and creators. I’m never happier than when I’ve got a project (or ten) on the go – and I can’t think of any more ambitious than developing my own business! Choosing to join this group of indie entrepreneurs made sense, and so far, it feels like an awesome decision. My racing mind is permanently generating ideas, and the Roadmap program provides the structure I need to move forward in a (relatively) linear fashion.

What’s more, I took part in the group’s Fizzle Friday live on-line coaching session for the first time, which far exceeded my expectations. Other “Fizzlers” (the name used to describe Fizzle tribe members) asked such high-quality questions, and I was blown away by Steph Crowder’s intelligent, considered, and constructive coaching. I can’t wait to take part again, and maybe I’ll feel confident enough to ask my own questions on camera.

IMG_3199

*A mid-week Chinese takeaway. On Wednesday it was coming up to eight pm and C was still at work. I knew this having checked out his location on my iPhone (I know; slightly stalker-ish but it doesn’t count when you’ve been together nearly a decade). Something must have gone wrong at work, which meant C was likely feeling stressed and exhausted. Attempting to make the remainder of our evening as pleasant as possible, I asked him to choose a carry-out on his way back. He picked Chinese, over which we chatted about our days.

I’m grateful to be able to change our dinner plans last-minute like this. Less than a year earlier, I don’t think I could have allowed myself to be flexible around food. Take-outs were restricted to weekends only, and as an Upholder, I don’t break rules; my own or anyone else’s. It’s do-able, but this degree of self-control is emotionally exhausting long-term. As such, it’s refreshing and a relief to be able to choose love over fear, and put C’s feelings before my own anxieties.

*An excuse to spend my afternoon in my favourite cafe.

When questioned earlier this week, C insisted he “had plans” on Sunday. After asking as to the nature of said plans, it turned out to involve repairing the toilet. Don’t ask what exactly he was up to – he’s told me a million times and I’m still no wiser. In any case, when faced with the prospect of several hours sans toilet, I decided to make other plans.

Luckily for me, an air-conditioned afternoon drinking tea and eating cheesecake is barely a hardship. I took myself off to set up office in the Vietnamese cafe, a short, sunny walk away. Fast-forward a few productive hours, and I’d written a couple of #MicroBlogPosts on my Facebook page, worked on my Fizzle Roadmap, and watched Simon Sinek’s “Why” TEDtalk.

Feeling just a little guilty about how lovely my afternoon had been – particularly compared with C, who was home, elbows up to the U-bend – I phoned on my walk home to invite him to meet me half-way at the pub for a post-plumbing pint.

IMG_3201

*Standing up against casual misogyny; namely, cringe-inducing comments on my vlog. Whilst I became accustomed to this being a regular feature of the nascent net (anyone else remember ASLing in AOL teen chat back in the nineties?), it’s my first experience of this as an adult. It brought back the uncomfortable feelings I recall from being a teenager; a confusing mix of shame, self-consciousness, and self-hatred at having put myself “out there” to be criticised.

Like most women and girls, my initial reaction to inappropriate male behaviour is of the “fight or flight” variety: ignore, block, and/or run away from the situation (i.e. close the browser). Speaking to other women online, this seems the standard response, protecting  personal boundaries and cutting communications cold.

Yet this somehow didn’t sit right with me. Since coming into my thirties, I’m more aware of how much young women still have to put up with. Working with some amazing twenty-somethings, this simultaneously provoked anger and sadness in me. Becoming an Aunty, I feel a sense of responsibility to do something more, determined to set a positive example.

Nervous, I contacted said person and in a polite, positive, and professional manner, asked them not to behave this way in future. I explained how it came across to me, and how it could potentially offend other women, too. Admittedly, it wasn’t received particularly graciously, but I felt empowered by having taken action. As someone who believes in the inherent goodness of people, I lived my values by giving someone the opportunity to change. I’m grateful to be able to make my own small contribution to standing up for women and girls’ rights to be respected online.

 

Until next time!

H x

The Sixteenth TWIG Post (or why my future now matters more to me than my weight)

fullsizeoutput_526

C snapped me without me realising he was there, so this photo – and the accompanying “bitchy resting face” is totally candid!

Sitting in my sun-drenched garden, it feels like being on holiday. Writing this post beneath my parasol, I feel happy. The midday heat hugs my body and wraps my skin in a cocoon of warmth. At the same time, there’s an unusually cool breeze finding its way to brush my skin. It feels utterly delicious, and reminds me just how wonderful it can feel to truly inhabit my body.

Yet sadly, I must admit to not having felt so good in my skin this week. Instead I’ve resented my body, which I irrationally feel has let me down by gaining weightParticularly in this heat, where the weather dictates dress-code, my body being literally exposed only magnifies my feeling self-conscious and sensitive about my appearance.

Ironically, deciding to relax around food and fitness is anxiety-provoking. My mind made an irrational link between my feeling vulnerable and working out. Uncharacteristically, I became increasingly nervous to where I made excuses to avoid going to the gym: the air-con might still be broken, the weather’s too nice to be indoors, I’ll go on my lunch-break tomorrow and head straight home tonight.

In a relatively short time, I found myself trapped in a cycle of anxiety-fuelled avoidance. By the time my – normally sacrosanct – Friday workout came around, I found myself not wanting to go. My anxiety had built to where I didn’t trust my own judgment around whether I genuinely needed a break from the gym, or if I was making excuses to myself to avoid confronting my body insecurities.

Suspecting my avoidance came from a place of fear, I decided to talk to people who know and love me. First speaking with my friend helped me get clear on why I felt funny about fitness, so I text C as the person who knows me best for his perspective. Knowing I wasn’t feeling quite right, C encouraged me to stick to my plan and go to the gym as usual. To seal the deal, he promised I could choose our Friday night take-out and  offered me a ride home. I’m lucky I have people who love me enough to help me see my own truth, even when I’d rather not do so.

IMG_2898Butterflies flapping in my tummy, I nevertheless determined to act in spite of my emotions and do what I know to be in my own best interests. To get myself there, I had to promise I’d only do what felt good in the moment. This turned out to be a long walk on the treadmill under the air-con whilst reading the latest Elle. I may have cut short my usual routine by skipping my regular weight-lifting session.

Today just getting myself into the gym was a huge achievement. By doing what I wanted in that moment, and finding the mental strength to confront my fears, my anxiety lifted and I felt quietly proud.

Rather than focus on the size of my butt, I’m instead channelling my energies into creating a happy, healthy, and emotionally wealthy life. Last Summer, I may have had a notable thigh gap but this Summer, I’m excited because I’m hopeful for the future, whose value is worth so much more than weight.

From this position of emotional strength, I share what I’m thankful for over the past seven days.

 

This Week I’m Grateful for:

*Being able to host family visits. I’ve said this before, and it feels appropriate to state once again as this weekend I’m happy to have had family over. My Aunty, Uncle, cousin and children drove over to spend time with us today. The kids had a great time playing games on the grass after failing spectacularly at cornering our cats, who are way too quick to be caught!

We enjoyed burgers on the barbie, courtesy of C (and Chris Beech’s butchers), followed by ice creams – delicious! Talking later, we’re both reminded that a part of the reason we fell for this place is because it’s perfect for hosting, whether for an afternoon or a few days. Tomorrow C’s sister and her husband are staying with us whilst house-hunting, and  I’ve invited my friend and her family over next weekend.  Again, I’m thankful we can open our home – and hearts – to those we love; to make opportunities to get together.

*New Summer clothes for this unseasonably hot spell from Fat Face, H&M, and good ol’ M&S.  I don’t like shopping – particularly at the moment – however I’m grateful I can afford to do so. I’m happy to have a couple of flattering new dresses, vests – and pants! – to survive the heatwave.

*Having stocked up on the sunscreen, what with the weather set for sun this coming week. Preferring to stay pale than risk burnt skin, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

*Accomplishing personal goals I made back in January. Over the past six months C and I have renovated our former home, successfully sold said home, and I’ve regularly written this blog for five months now. Opening my A3 sketchpad to see my post-it plans for the coming year reminds me how far I’ve come.

*Coming up with creative new ideas for work projects; namely, experimenting in the coming year with strategic use of social media and podcasting with my students. Not only do I have a genuine interest developing these relatively new marketing skills, as you’ll learn, I’m excited because I’ve found ways I can grow in my job.

*Kind words from friends and colleagues who’ve taken time to read my blog. Since sharing my writing publicly, I’ve been overwhelmed by the love and support I’ve received. When I started this blog, I hoped to build connections with strangers whose interests and experiences align with mine. Not only has this proven to be the case, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised that my opening up here has helped bring me closer to people already in my life. It’s been wonderful thus far.

*Discovering a supportive online community of women. Specifically, being a member of the Psychologies Life Leap Club Facebook group (a closed group for subscribers oftheir brilliant magazine)  has broadened my social circle and put me in touch with a plethora of intelligent, creative, and all-round wonderful women. On the recommendation of fellow Life Leapers, I’ve since become part of a couple of supportive groups for female entrepreneurs. Not yet venturing into my own business, just being around women who are killing it in business is so inspiring.

fullsizeoutput_52e

*Giving the Courage and Clarity podcast a try, on the advice of one of the aforementioned lovely ladies. I’m so glad I did, as from the get-go I’ve loved Steph Crowder‘s format, addressing both the courage (to follow one’s vision and passion) and the clarity (to plan and pursue success) needed to be successful in business.

“With a clear vision and a well-defined process, you CAN have meaningful work in your life.”

Steph Crowder

I’m making my way through the Courage and Clarity back-catalogue – and I’m learning so much! Clearly structured episodes, with Steph’s summary at the end of the interview, has proved super-helpful.

Thus far my favourite episode (10th) is entitled “Everything You Really Need to Know about Publishing a Book” with Cassandra Bodzak. Steph and Cassandra discussed not only the practicalities, like how to find an agent and secure a book publishing deal, but also the challenges of writing a book more broadly. Listening to this encouraged me to  take seriously my own dreams of becoming a published author. Already having the creative inspiration to write my book, I’ve also a realistic idea of how I might go about making this come true.

Episode six with Claire Pelletreau, a Facebook Ads Consultant, was another notable listen for me. Speaking on a subject about which I know relatively little, Claire and Steph’s conversation had me musing over my own future strategies for using Facebook ads to promote my work. In particular, Claire’s suggestions for how one might maximise a minimal budget (of $40 per month) has sparked my curiosity enough to want to give it a shot. As Gary V often says, Facebook advertising is currently disproportionately under-priced, but this won’t last forever.

So intrigued was I by Claire’s approach to Facebook advertising that I plan to ask my employer for support in learning more at my upcoming appraisal. Not only for my personal interest and benefit, but for that of the organisation. I firmly believe by having a strategic understanding of how best to use this low-cost marketing tool, I can help us take advantage of this window of opportunity.

*Having read Gary Vaynerchuk‘s original book, entitled “Crush it!. Though much has changed on the Internet since this book was written in 2009, the principles which underpin Gary’s approach to business remain as strong as ever:

IMG_2910

“[T]rue success – financial, personal, and professional – lies above all in loving your family, working hard, and living your passion. In telling your story. In authenticity, hustle, and patience. In caring fierce about the big and small stuff. In valuing legacy over currency.”

Gary Vaynerchuk: “Crush it!” (p.134)

I’ve spent a lot of time with Gary (virtually, of course, but time nonetheless), and getting beyond his “shock-jock” public image, I’m humbled by his emotionally intelligent approach to doing business. His priority is always people, and technology is merely a means of creating value and serving others. A self-taught social media expert, Gary’s work has helped me figure out how to make genuine connections with like-minded people. Thanks to Gary, I’m no longer so reluctant to engage with social media, instead gaining a newfound appreciation of its value as a communication tool.

*Coming home to Geneen Roth by listening to “This Messy Magnificent Life, her latest publication, on Audible this week. Borrowed from the small library held at my local eating disorder support group*, hers was the first book I ever read in the “self-help” genre. Hers was also the first “voice” that cut through my mental chatter and touched my heart. She understood me, and I’ve been dedicated to Geneen’s teachings ever since.

This is the first book of hers I’ve listened to before reading it in hard-copy, and thus far I’m enamoured. Spoken in the same eloquent, poetic manner as she writes, her familiar voice envelopes me like a warm hug. Once again her words remind me of what I already know to be true: essentially, I am so much more than my weight. Interestingly, rather than simply causing pain, my emotional issues around food provide a doorway through which I can gain greater self-knowledge and compassion.

My body-confidence wavering this past week proved perfect timing to return to Geneen’s work. Though I’ve heard her speak on women and weight many times, she never fails to move me. Once again I’m guilty of pursuing physical perfection despite knowing thinness doesn’t deliver happiness. Listening again to my longest-standing teacher talk on this topic, I’m grateful for coming home.

*Buying my own domain name. This past week I spent pennies to invest in my own virtual home on the net: projectheathered.com I’m a Dotcom! HeatherDuggan.com has already been bought (who knew there would be more than one of us?!), but this name feels more “me” somehow. I am my own educational project, working on becoming better and seeking to share this with others in creative ways. I kind of always have been this way, but it’s taken until now for me to be able to express who I am in words. Having my own place on the web where I can do this has cost me nearly nothing in monetary terms, yet means so much more! It’s truly exciting and feels like the start of something more.

IMG_3029*Having the confidence to take myself seriously in business terms. I’ve the seed of an idea (well, several seeds, technically) which I may be able to grow into a business. It’s exciting to think is might be possible to earn a living doing something I truly love. Particularly given my academic history, as a former business student, this whole thing feels rather exciting!

Never having seriously entertained the idea of entrepreneurship, t’s a whole new world that I’m only just starting to explore! I’ve thankfully found myself guided to become part of a couple of super-supportive, online communities of women. Other members’ success stories cannot fail to impress and inspire hope. Perhaps my passion projects could yield far greater results than I can presently imagine.

Putting my first-class honours where my mouth is, I’m applying my academic knowledge to explore my ideas further before I look to create business plans. At the same time, I’ve taken what I learnt from my month-long Role Model Challenge (for which I’ve a series of posts, starting here), seeking advice from new role models I’m meeting along the way. Thus far, I’m loving the positive, practical strategies put forth by Steph Crowder, Ruth Kudzi, and Angela Raspass, whose work on women in business resonates with me.

*Finding new ways of thinking about long-standing issues. Taking a slightly different angle, I’m also enjoying watching Lucy Sheridan‘s YouTube channel, who speaks from her perspective as a comparison coach. Not directly related to business, but having a huge impact on how confident we feel as women to step up and speak out, X takes a holistic approach to  support us to step away from comparison so we can be our best selves. I especially like her style, both in terms of how she presents her ideas, and also how she presents herself; her pastel co-ords complimenting her dove-grey sofa, upon which is often seated her gorgeous, tawny-toned dog!

*Being brave enough to dream. In the past year, becoming better and building my mental fitness has allowed me to reclaim my lost ability to dream.

IMG_2911

Looking ahead, feel hopeful, and making positive plans for the future is a precious gift.

It feels miraculous; magical, almost; the disparity between how I now feel and my former state, characterised as it was by depression and anxiety in turn. Mental illness robbed me of my imagination, and when it did permit me to dream, those dreams were mainly nightmares.

Aligning with the Universe (which I’m told always has my back) is creating opportunities to practise dreaming. Designing plans to renovate our home, exploring ideas around how to make money from my passions, and this – the writing process – in-and-of itself brings me masses of joy, happiness, and a huge dose of optimism. An unexpected gift from having mental ill-health is that of being unable to forget the feeling of having no conceivable future whatsoever.

Thankfully, my mindset has brought me to a place where I not only dare to dream, but to believe that they might come true. I don’t even have to try hard to trust in the possibility that something good might happen, because in many ways it already has. And on that happy note, I’ll sign off.

Have a wonderful week!

 

*I’d like to take this opportunity to say that if you’re also living within the South Yorkshire region and relate to my food issues, I cannot recommend SYEDA highly enough. I’m sure I’ll speak at length on this in future, but needless to say their help made a huge difference to my recovery. The support groups they run are affiliated with B-eat; the UK’s national eating disorder charity, and I believe similar groups are run across the country.

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.

Dave_240618

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.

Keiko_250618

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.

IMG_2985

 

  • 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.

 

IMG_0843

  • 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.

IMG_2926

  • 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 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.

DPSummer18

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.

IMG_2954

  • 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!

IMG_2942

  • 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.

IMG_2958

  • 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

 

 

Older posts

© 2018 Project HeatherED

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑