Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Tag: cats (page 1 of 2)

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:

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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!

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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.

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  • 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 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 Musical Chairs Post (or how I’m coping with change at work)

IMG_2966On Tuesday morning I got a lift into work with C, feeling slightly sick at the prospect of the day ahead. It’s been a while since I felt this bad about going into the office. I felt disappointed in myself, irrationally so, and then got cross with myself about that, too.

So why was I worried when I woke up? Well, we had a team meeting scheduled for that morning. Nothing unusual about that, but this particular meeting was to discuss our upcoming office relocation announced last week.

The prospect of imminent change to my “work home”, so to speak, has triggered my anxiety.  After five years’ sitting at the same desk I’m literally moving up in the world. Currently divided over two floors of our building, my colleagues and I are destined to go higher and join the rest of our team. A move has been on the cards for some time – so long, in fact, that I’ve settled into my space over the years.  As such, I presumed talk of reuniting my team was simply another public sector promise; a “nice to have one day” but not likely happening anytime soon.

Anxiety is a funny thing. Admittedly, it’s not so funny when you’re in it. However by “funny” I mean that it’s strange how anxiety appears and disappears so quickly. Sometimes coming on suddenly, and at other times, it seems to sneak up and catch me unawares. Like fire, anxiety rises seemingly out of nowhere. Also like fire, if left unchecked it can cause some real damage. I’ve already spoken about this on a previous post where I talk about my worst Summer ever.

Though this nascent nervousness around moving desks is relatively mild on the anxiety scale, I’m conscious about needing to take care of myself. In writing about my most acute anxiety attacks a few Summers back, I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have turned out had I been better prepared to take positive action earlier on.

As you’ve probably picked up on by now, in creating Project HeatherED I’m looking for ways to become better, which I define as becoming happier, healthier, and emotionally wealthier.  Drawing upon my experiences with stress management strategies over the past ten years (well, thirty four, technically, but you catch my drift) I made it through what could have been a really rough day relatively unscathed.

Reflecting back on what I did to achieve this, I’ve devised the following plan of action for anyone looking to become better at managing their anxiety. This is exactly what I did in the space of twelve hours to work through my own anxious feelings around my upcoming office move. I hope this helps whomever else might be reading this and feeling similarly stressed out.

IMG_2892My Seven Strategies to Stick-It to Stress

#1 Tell someone I trust how I’m feeling.

This was the very first thing I did. Only slightly from a place of of panic, I carefully crafted an email to my managers to tell them I felt worried about the pending move. I think I managed to come across professional (I read, re-read, and edited before pressing send). After that terrible, anxiety-filled Summer, I made a resolution to be honest abut my feelings, with myself and others. Basically, I learnt that I must stand up and risk sharing what I feel – and what I want to feel – if I wish to be helped in the precise way I need.  

As expected, my managers have been nothing but supportive and kind. I received a thoughtful reply from the big boss later that day, which straight away helped me feel loads better. Rationally I understand that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ is correct in saying “change is the only constant in life“, however this knowledge doesn’t seem to get through to my nervous system. As anyone with anxiety knows, reassurance only does so much to stem the nerves. It’s a temporary fix and it doesn’t take long for the unease to resurface.

#2 Be mindful and stay as present as possible.

My personal experience of mental illness is that it takes me away from the present moment. Depression dwells on past mistakes, whereas anxiety makes negative assumptions about what the future may hold. As yogis and modern-day “mindfulness gurus” like to remind us (frequently condescendingly IMO), the present is the only moment that counts. Reminding myself of this as often as necessary helps me from wandering in the maze of my mind. If I do disappear, then as soon as I’m aware of this, I can choose to returning my attention to the here-and-now. This whole “bringing yourself back to the moment” is the essence of mindfulness. No candles, incense, or mantra required.

#3 Play up the positivity.

Admittedly, it sounds cheesy (because it is cheesy), but I have repeatedly make a conscious choice to adopt an “attitude of gratitude”. Contrary to appearances, I’m not a naturally “glass-half-full” kinda gal. Of course, if you’ve known me for some time, you’ll be guffawing as you read this blog, or watch my vlogs over on Facebook, and wonder what’s happened to me. I get it – it still surprises me at times – but I’m learning that underneath the veil of mental illness, I’m much sunnier than I ever really knew. I’m discovering new elements to my personality; things like my inherent hopefulness, positivity, and gratitude for the small things in life.

IMG_2900Getting back to the whole office move scenario that prompted this post in the first place, one of my best strategies for neutralising my nervousness is to intentionally focusing on what’s good about the move. I came up with the following within a few moments of seeking out the positives:

  • sitting near my best work buddy again,
  • a fresh start at keeping my workstation clean,
  • a reason to clear out my clutter (which inevitably helps me get into a better headspace),
  • I’ll get to know the girls upstairs better by proximity,
  • an opportunity to redecorate – to go for a more grown-up look and update my cork board with pictures of the people I love, and symbols of my hopes and dreams,
  • and, being higher up, we’ll have better views of the park.

There’s always more than one perspective we can take on any situation and we can choose to take the most positive. Consciously focusing on the positive assures me that there’s plenty of good to be gained from my move, too.

#4 Take my medication. That’s what it’s for, after all.

Prior to our Tuesday team meeting, I took an anti-anxiety pill which I carry in my purse for such occasions. Again later in the day I took another. It sounds overly dramatic – to medicate for meetings. I feel silly even talking about it, envisioning eye-rolls from those who might reasonably wonder why I’m medicating to manage general life situations. My partner, C, would have been with them, too, before he took one of my meds (without asking me or his doctor – not to be recommended, folks) seeing the effects for himself.

Medication helps me. Accepting this has helped me learn to ignore the voice of the inner critic so I can do what works for me. I still clearly worry about what others might think of me, but it doesn’t prevent me from acting in my own best interests. These days it’s a rare occasion when I need to take one, but knowing there’s medicine I can take which will “lowers the volume” on my physical symptoms is a real life-saver in emotional emergencies.

 #5 Write my heart out.

When I feel anxious one of the things I regularly rely on to help is to write things down. Writing is an excellent tool that works well for most people as a way of untangling thoughts and feelings, likely because there are so many ways of making it work. For me, I journal by hand, type thoughts online at 750 Words, or list gratitudes. It’s another tool which helps me stay mindful, taking copious notes in work meetings (that I’ll never need) to focus my mind on the here-and-now. Bonkers maybe, but it works.

#6 Get moving. Literally

Quite frankly, I’ve been pants at sticking to my regular workout routine of late. Not so unusual – pretty normal, in fact – for most people whose commitment to their monthly membership peaks and troughs with the seasons (i.e. upping their game before Christmas party season and Summer swimwear). However for me, I’m usually at the gym to where it borders on obsession and so I’m feeling a bit out of sorts.

Having habitually attended class on a Tuesday after work for four years, I try to turn off my brain and follow my feet. This way, I’m getting into the gym at least once and it’s helping me to remember why I go in the first place: for fun, friendship, and freedom from my racing mind. Logically I know that once I’m there I feel fine. Chatting with classmates beforehand puts me at ease and helps me get into a happy headspace.

Unlike so many other experiences in life, I’ve never regretted a workout and this week was no different. Coming back to what I know works, exercise genuinely calms both my mind and body.  It’s a healthy way of channeling nervous energy into something productive, releasing muscle tension along with any frustrations. Back home I’m tired – but no longer wired – and I feel grateful for having trusted in what I know at heart is in my best interests.

IMG_2914#7: Let go of perfection. I’m perfectly imperfect.

Giving myself permission not to be perfect is one of the most important acts of self-care and compassion I can imagine. It seems so simple – and it is – but it’s certainly not easy and, for me at least and recovering perfectionists like me, is a perpetual practice. It’s an on-going challenge to scale down my expectations and be happy with “good enough”. This makes ever-more sense in reading “The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin. I’ve learnt that I’m an Upholder personality type, meaning I live up to the expectations of myself and others pretty easily. It’s great for when I have to get stuff done, but not so much for engendering a sense of personal happiness and fulfilment. I’ve always got that nagging feeling that I could do or be more. Choosing to consciously release myself of this perpetual pressure – particularly when already anxious –  is another way I can practise being kind to myself.  

Still shaken by the prospect of changing desks, I decided I’d allow myself to eat whatever I wanted for my post-gym dinner. Rather than eating a pre-planned, balanced meal of an evening when I’m anxious, I instead find it soothing to turn to childhood comfort foods. Namely, eggs, soup, buttery toast, rice pudding, kids’ cereal, chocolate, and  – of course – cake. Admittedly this doesn’t sound particularly grown-up and healthy-minded of me, and it’s probably not.

There’s a part of me which still feels guilty for not making a “proper” evening meal. I’m hesitant to admit to having these 1950s mental mantras of “I’m a poor excuse for a housewife”, “I’m neglecting to care for my man”, and “what kind of woman are you?!” amongst others playing on repeat.. Despite C being a way more capable cook than I, on days when I’d rather eat cereal these kinds of thoughts inevitably race round my mind.

Still, I went with my gut – literally – and had eggs on toast for Tuesday tea. Fighting the feeling that I’m somehow letting C down, I knew it felt like the right thing to do for me in that moment. Over time I’ve learnt that sometimes when I have a mini-mental health wobble – which will happen, no matter how hard I try to prevent it –  being a little bit selfish is okay. Indulging in a self-centred whim once in a while releases feel-good hormones, providing a much-needed quick-fix to feeling happy.

So there you have it: My seven strategies to stick-it to stress. When used together this helped me better handle my anxiety around our upcoming office move. I’m sure I’ll need to refer back to several steps of this self-care strategy to staying sane. Hence having it here – in writing – will undoubtedly act as a reminder for me, as much as I intend it to share what works with you.

Perhaps sensing that something was up (I’m terrible at keeping my feelings to myself), C offered to pick me up from the gym; an offer which I gratefully accepted. Throwing my bags into the boot, I sat beside him and began to tell him about my day.

When we pulled up the drive, I could see D running from the far end of the back garden to greet us. Shouting in his loudest kitty voice (don’t ever underestimate the power of a 4.2 kilo ball of fur with teeth), he shared his kitty news, pleased to see us home. As much as he’s a pain in the furry butt, that cat brings me so much joy I couldn’t help but feel better.

IMG_2890I came home feeling pretty pleased with how I’d handled my nerves around the whole change of scene at work. Yet still, something felt off; I didn’t quite feel myself. Hair sticking to my neck, my overheated, lycra-clad limbs just desperate to get out of my gym gear and jump in the shower, I understandably felt icky. So much for self-care strategies, eh?

As I walked in the door, bags sliding off my sweaty shoulder, there C stood, his arms wide open and welcoming. “Come here,” he said in a tone I recognised as being genuinely sympathetic, pulling me in for a bear hug.

It was perfect; turns out a hug from the person I love most was exactly what I needed.

Suddenly everything feels alright again.

 

 

 

 

The Worst Summer Ever Post (or my experience of living with acute anxiety)

Two years ago I experienced the worst bout of anxiety in my life. It started with my (not unreasonably) becoming upset at what I later learnt were massive, allergic reactions to flea bites which appeared all over my body. Thanks to an unfortunate combination of humid weather that Summer, and Frontline’s failure to work in an area overpopulated by cats, not only was I in physical pain but I was also hurting mentally.

IMG_3018Much like my body, my mind itched and burned. I felt like there was always something irritating me; prickling just under the surface. As I scratched my brain trying to figure out what was causing these hideous hives, I tied myself in knots with worry. It wasn’t long before this grew into a series of regular panic attacks. I recognised them from their occasional appearance during my university years, only this time the anxiety was on a whole, new, nasty level. Not only did I feel sh*t, but I then developed obsessive tendencies which made my anxiety all the worse.

OCD for me was an incessant need to check and re-check, assure and reassure, and then start again because I couldn’t trust my own judgement.

It was unlike anything I’d been through before. I was permanently tired, it was so mentally draining.

As is often the case with mental illness, mornings especially became nightmarish. Waking up already dreading the day, the first words to run through my head -before I’d even really opened my eyes – were “oh God…” At the time I couldn’t imagine not feeling that way at the start of the day. Frequently C would have to coax me to the car, me frantic, late getting out of the front door.

Simultaneously crying and trying desperately to keep my mascara from running (“waterproof”, my arse!), I’d drag myself out of his car and into the office. It hurts my heart to say it now, but C would sometimes have to literally push me out of the car door so he could get to his work.  I know for a fact he felt terrible about it. It was a hellish time for us both. For me, worse still than how I felt was knowing the effect I was having on the man I love, and yet feeling utterly hopeless about being able to stop it.

Once in the office I wasn’t much better. At least, not until the day got going and I was able to imitate some semblance of normalcy. For the best part of a year I couldn’t speak first thing for at least a half hour. It took time to choke out even simple words like “hello”. “How are you?” would send me into meltdown. Some days I cried for an hour before I opened an email.

I mistakenly believed that I had to push myself to keep going in. No matter how much it hurt – both myself and those around me – I felt pressured to keep showing up. Like many people who are mentally unwell, I was afraid of what other people might think were I to “give in” and take time out. Buying into the rumours, I was terrified that being signed off for “mental health reasons” would somehow blacklist me as a hopeless case.  I had a sinking feeling that, if I were to stay home from work, I might never go back.

IMG_3032It took a long time for me to recover from this particular episode. From the bites alone, my skin took a few months to start to heal. The house took us at least a month of exhausting, repetitive, after-work cleaning routines to get it back to normal. My mind took months to feel something like my own again. I was prescribed anti-anxiety tablets to be taken three times a day for several months to restore my “fight or flight” response back to something resembling a regular reaction to stress.

Unfortunately, it’s only in retrospect that I can see just how unwell I had been. In my last round of therapy with a rather special NHS therapist I finally understood what happened. I’ve since been able to articulate to C what I felt at the time; he regretfully says he should have seen it coming – especially as he’d through similar experiences with a previous partner.

However it isn’t so easy – mental illness is cruel that way. From the outside you seem to be alright much of the time, and yet you’re incapable of decision-making. I’d be processing millions of pounds worth of payments at work, and would break down over whether to have cheese with my beans on toast.

What I hope he now knows – and indeed anyone else going through something similar – is that it’s almost impossible to see a mental breakdown coming until it’s well and truly here. It’s an incremental process whereby those closest to us are also often unable to see it happening. Still, it’s important to remind him – and others – of the role they played in my becoming better. Testing their patience and kindness often, I look back and feel lucky, knowing so many lovely people genuinely care for me.

Even so, I wish I’d had the wherewithal to be able to see that I needed help sooner. Specifically, I needed someone to help me to allow myself the time, space, and patience to recover. I dug my heels in and insisted I kept going “as normal”, despite being anything but. Well-meaning colleagues tried to persuade me to take time out, but I couldn’t hear it. Sadly, in my anxious state of mind I wasn’t able to differentiate between a suggestion and a recommendation. I felt blinkered to anything other than what was most obvious.

 

It took longer than necessary for me to recover, but I did recover and I’m here telling you this tale in the hopes I can help someone else become better, too.

To give this story it’s sort-of happy ending, I’d like to share some of the lessons anxiety had to teach. Despite the darkness around this particular life phase, there are still several positive take-aways I’d like to share. Thankfully, there always are.

Regular readers of this blog may have been a bit thrown by the tone of this piece. If so, I hope this will bring you back on board. As you know, my becoming better sees me looking for gratitudes in just about every area of life. As such, I’ve come up with the following:

IMG_3037The best of things I learnt from the worst of times

#1 Never give up. If you look around you’ll see that us humans are capable of awesome achievements. Whilst mental illness undoubtedly sucks a**, it’s possible to come out of this period of time. Not only this, but it’s true that our struggles shape who we become and the influence we go on to have in the world. Had I not had such a sh*tty time with anxiety, I’d not be writing this blog, which brings such happiness and joy to my life today.

#2 Trust in the inherent goodness of people. Given half a chance, most will do their best to be kind and supportive. You just have to give them a chance, forgiving the stupid mistakes we all make as we fumble through the mental health minefield. My mind told me that people were only being nice to me because they felt they “had” to do so. Yet my mind wasn’t well, and so why was I listening to it?! Instead, I could have taken others by their word, accepted their help, and felt grateful, rather than guilty.

#3  If you can’t make a decision, then don’t. Ask for help. Like I said, when you’re mentally unwell – however that may look for you – it’s only rational to place your trust in those whom you believe to be more emotionally stable than yourself just now.  The pressure to choose often threw me off, proving the last straw in a day filled with last straws. If you’ve got people you love and trust around you, then let them love you and trust them to help you choose what’s in your best interests for now.

#4 Act. I implore anyone in the kind of mindset I was in to take action and do something – anything – other than stand still, and to do it as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter how small the action to begin with – small is good; it’s a great start. Just don’t let it go on without trying to change the situation, and if you can’t see how, then ask for help. It’s everywhere if you’re looking for it – so look!

#6 Take your health seriously. No matter how much you love your job, your family, your home, it’s no good if you’re falling apart. Before you can truly live, you need to make sure you’re at your mentally most fit, and doing that might mean taking time out from regular living. Whether it’s a visit to the doctor, regular therapy, a holiday, or being signed off sick for a while, it’s worth considering all available options and leaning on whatever help you can get to decide what’s best.

#7 Also, consider how much you’re willing to tell your employer about what’s going on for you. Despite having my manager present during times I was falling apart, I’ve never formally gone “on the record” with my own mental illness. I feel embarrassed admitting to it, but I’m still nervous as to what the implications may be. However I’ve known people who’ve sworn by it as having helped them to get back into work after some tough times.

#8 Finally, a practical tip: Always go for the prescription flea treatment and buy from the vets. Seriously. It’s worth the extra money and effort it takes to go pick it up every few months. We spent weeks – months! – spraying the house with Indorex and vacuuming like crazy people (literally) to get rid. Whilst it did the trick in the end, it was exhausting. Add this to the pain of being bitten, fear of sleep, and shame at being covered in ugly blisters, coming home from work to clean the house top-to-bottom over and again was truly testing.

So that was my most terrible Summer. Pretty sh*t, if I say so myself. What’s most sad to me is that C and I spent that time together, and yet apart, lost in our own minds. Changing the past isn’t an option, and in truth, I don’t actually regret it having happened this way. What I learnt that anxious Summer ultimately played an important role in my becoming better. In time, I hope I can use my experiences to help others live happier, healthier, and emotionally wealthier lives, too. Or at the very least to remember not to scrimp on their pets’ flea treatments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson #2: It’s not about me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me on nicely to…

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

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

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

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

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

So what did I do?

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

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

 

This Week I’m Grateful for:

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

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

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

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

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

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D: Least cat-like cat ever

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

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

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

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

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

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K: Making of a murderer

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

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

The Eleventh TWIG Post (or why money matters)

At long last I’m finally sitting down to write my eleventh gratitude post after a busy couple of weeks. I’ve therefore more to give thanks for today; a twofold increase in my happiness quota, which is a welcome bonus of publishing this post later than originally planned. 

As I head out of this Bank Holiday weekend straight into the run-up to pay day, I’ve been thinking about the links between money and happiness. I’ve been asking myself whether there’s a monetary price on happiness, and if it is something we can buy, can it ever be morally acceptable to do so? This sounds like I’ve spent my weekend engaging in esoteric philosophical debate. Yet in all honesty, what I’m specifically musing on is whether or not to buy a MacBook laptop. #firstworldproblems #shameonme

It’s often said that money can’t buy happiness. Many leading thinkers have been quoted as saying that the things which truly matter in life cannot be bought. This generally refers to our relationships with others, that we have with ourselves, and the degree to which we feel personal fulfillment in our lives. It’s ultimately how we feel about each of those things which determines our experiences of them, and whether or not they are happy ones. Being uniquely subjective, happiness in itself isn’t easily valued, at least not in monetary terms. Both relative and intangible, happiness as a concept is difficult to define. As an amateur psychologist, my clumsy attempt at a definition is that happiness can be most closely understood as an overall positive emotional state of being, and is thus unavailable for direct purchase.

Following this line of thinking, it makes sense to me that pursuing financial wealth will not necessarily result in a happier self. Instead there’s truth in the old adage  that it’s often the small things which bring the most happiness, or that which claims that some of best things in life come for free! Having spent most of my Bank Holiday Monday catching up on Gary V’s podcasts whilst scraping moss from our patio (my poor excuse for gardening), I feel tired but genuinely happy. Doing no-cost activities like these not only help to alleviate anxiety and stress, but also give me emotional satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

“Money is not the only answer, but it makes a difference.”

Barack Obama

Yet it’s undeniable that the value of money goes way beyond its literal financial worth. Obama refers here to the power and influence that money can afford;  the “fiscal lubrication” which accelerates the pace of change. The idea of money “greasing the wheels” of action is probably most notable in the political sphere, but also applies to our personal lives, increasing the speed with which we can take positive action towards our goals.

“Wealth is not about having a lot of money; it’s about having a lot of options.”

Chris Rock

Having access to finance opens up opportunities. Comedian and actor Chris Rock makes this clear here, in that money gives us access to creative solutions to problems that otherwise may not be possible, but it also gives us a means to buy into  experiences which add value to our lives, as is most obvious in education. Personally, I’m re-thinking my relationship to money to be a tool by which I can potentially create more happiness. Probably the best example to illustrate how I’ve recently spent money to make myself happy is in purchasing this incredible antique collection of exotic insects (note: there’s no filter on this image; I wanted to show you their natural vibrancy):

BugBox

My not-so ugly bug ball!

 

Instantly captivated by this Victorian-era artifact, I was enchanted by its ability to evoke contradictory feelings of amazement and disquiet simultaneously. I fell in love with this unique piece of history, speculating on the tales of the brave Victorian adventurers who brought home these specimens; forever frozen in all their glory to travel across time and space to reside above my mantle piece. I’m hit by waves of humility and awe whenever I look at it. Proving I can wield my personal power by using money to buy something worth more to me than its monetary value, it’s got me thinking about the potential “happiness factor” of any future purchases..

Say, for example, if I were to consider my current dilemma of whether to buy a shiny new MacBook. Despite this deeper understanding of what money can do in terms of helping me create greater emotional wealth, I’m still uneasy with the idea of “buying happiness.” I maintain the belief that using money to buy something that makes me happy suggests I’m lacking in the emotional capacity to be happy with less. It seems shallow and selfish to chase after material possessions when so many people in the world have nothing to speak of, and yet experience an enormous amount of happiness.

“Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it.”

Benjamin Franklin

It’s an up-hill battle, but I’m working on eliminating shame around spending. Instead, I’m consciously enjoying and appreciating those purchases that make me happy. I’m not “buying happiness”; I’m simply using the tools at my disposal to increase my overall happiness. Unless I’m prepared to give away all worldly goods (I’m not that altruistic, I’m afraid), then not spending money and keeping it in the bank doesn’t impact positively on anyone else. Ergo investing my money in something with the potential to bring significant happiness gains isn’t an inherently “bad” thing.I’m working on getting that straight in my head.

As of yet, I’m still undecided as to when exactly I’ll invest in a MacBook, but I’m pretty certain it’s the best writing tool for me. I’m working out whether to buy now or later, depending on our current levels of disposable income, which is something C and I can figure out together. Seeking advice from those in the know (namely, other writers, colleagues, C and his techie work buddies), I’m confident that the MacBook would prove it’s worth, improving my experience of writing, making the most efficient use of my time, and generally making the writing process more fun!

I’m actually proud of myself for even contemplating such an expensive purchase. It’s a sign that I’m opening my mind, heart – and wallet! – to making investments in my emotional well-being, which is far more valuable than cash. In this spirit of being more openly grateful for all I have, today’s lists are an amalgamation of thanks from the past fortnight.

 

Last week I’m Grateful For:

DaveBig

As always, I’m grateful for this handsome fella!

  •  I’ve talked about this a lot already, but for the geekiest among you, you may be interested to know that my “bug box” is part of a collection from French entomologist Charles Oberthur, who died in the twenties in possession of the second biggest collection of insects in the world. In time, my tiny piece of his mammoth collection found its way to the Natural History Museum in London, and from there has relocated to live with me. It’s just amazing!
  • Creating renovation plans for our home. I’d already planned on painting the living room a dramatic shade of Farrow & Ball blue, but my bonkers bug buy fits perfectly with the eclectic explorers theme I envision. Filling the space with bonkers artefacts, vivid colours, and unique touches, we’ll eventually relocate the TV to this room and create a kind of “luxe cinema” vibe. I’m excited to curate a room that inspires fun, energy, and smiles (or gasps!) that will ultimately become our cosy Winter den.  In contrast, we plan to redecorate what was originally the dining room (but has become a second living room) as a calm, neutral, nature-themed space in which to read and relax. Overlooking the garden, it’s perfect for sitting and appreciating how fantastically lucky I am to have my dream home.
  • Buying new Summer clothes. As is always the case, it gets to this time of the year – too warm for Winter workwear – before I realise I’ve nothing appropriate to wear.  Somehow every single year I end up feeling frustrated at my lack of inter-seasonal planning – but not this year! Thankfully this past weekend I not only bought a box of bugs, but I also made another happy buy courtesy of FatFace: a capsule wardrobe that’ll see me through the coming months comprised of a couple of summer dresses, trousers and shirt. Job done.
  • Locally-made, delicious Thai food C  and I rediscovered recently. We’ve eaten at this restaurant a couple of times already, but had forgotten just how lovely it is to eat home-cooked food at a family-run restaurant. As a couple we spend a disproportionately large amount of our income on food, and I feel a little less guilty if it goes into local businesses.
  • Having the opportunity to practise reframing. A commonly-cited CBT technique whereby I consciously seek out the positive in any situation, I’ve been exercising this mental muscle in the past few weeks as booking my favourite gym class has become increasingly frustrating. Focusing my attention on enjoying the freedom that comes from being able to organise my fitness regime around my life, rather than the other way around, has helped me to feel cool, calm and in control.
  • Reclaiming the weekends! No longer doing DIY in every spare moment means that C and I can finally go on fun days out! This feels like a real treat, and I enjoyed spending my free time walking round sunny Bakewell this past weekend. I’m looking forward to a Summer of day trips, exploring the countryside that’s on our doorstep, and pottering in our beautiful garden with the cats.
  • Finding bargain books. Perhaps one of my greatest joys in life, sourcing second-hand books in charity shops brings an inordinate amount of pleasure. In donating money to a worthy cause, I’m also adding to my self-help collection. It’s win-win.
  • The swell of pride and love that comes from seeing my gorgeous nephew G learning to walk on video.  He’s only just coming up to a year old, and seeing just how much he’s grown and changed in this short window of his life is incredible to witness. I’m a seriously proud Aunt.
  • A positive prescription review with my doctor. This is something I’ve debated about discussing on my blog, but I feel strongly that it’s important I’m open and honest if I want to influence positive change in the public discourse around mental health. Whilst I’ve had periods of mental ill-health since my teenage years, it’s only been around a year since I started taking medication for my depression and anxiety. A complex of reasons held me from seeking this particular form of help, not least of which was the stigma associated with taking “mental meds”.  Attending my annual medication review, my doctor was so pleased with my progress that he said I could consider stopping taking my pills if I felt ready. He thinks they’ve probably done their job by now; chemically “resetting my brain”, so to speak, and he assured me I’d be fine without them. Still, with my doctor’s full support I’ve chosen to stay on medication for now at least. Memories of how I used to feel remain that bit too raw to feel entirely confident in living without additional chemical support. I did, however, feel safe in the knowledge that I’ve got the right human support system in place for me to ensure I’m taking exquisite care of my mind.
  • Embracing a new hobby: gardening! After my introduction to planting last weekend (and with just the one casualty in our herb garden), I’ve seemingly caught the gardening bug. A couple of times this past few weeks have seen me take up my trowel and gloves, and turn to the turf as my newest means of stress-relief. In my (sort of futile) quest for weed-free crazy paving, I’m making a whole new job for C (who gets the pleasure of re-pointing). Yet being in touch with the soil, taking in the scent of the earth, I feel happy and reconnected with the world.
Chives

Garlic chives grown in my own garden

This Week I’m Grateful For

  • Positive health news from family members who are now thankfully cancer-free. This is a gratitude way bigger than I can express here, but it’s safe to say that this has brought a massive sense of relief and happiness from their loved ones.
  • Completing my Role Model challenge! Four weeks earlier I set myself a month-long challenge to seek life advice and inspiration from the world’s most successful people. Reaching the final chapter (literally!) of this experiment was a real achievement and I’m excited to share the results in the coming weeks. For now, you can catch up via my introduction, week one, two, and three posts. I’m currently writing up what happened in week four, so watch this space!
  • Making plans for family to move nearby. C’s sister and her brood sold their house this week, meaning my nieces are definitely coming to live round the corner from us over the Summer. Never really having family live nearby as an adult, it’s really exciting to see this come to fruition. Having the space in our new place to be able to host a last-minute visit from C’s sister, S, this past weekend was fantastic. I’m thankful that we’re able to support her in making their move a reality.
  • A long Bank Holiday weekend, including an extra afternoon off work.
  • The opportunity to wear a new dress to work. The weather stayed sufficiently sunny to be able to rock my new denim dress. Feeling like Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”, it was amazing the difference I felt in wearing something totally different than my usual skinny-jeans-and-jumper uniform. Demonstrating my new dress by means of giving people a twirl, it was fun to feel girlish and cute – and unbelievably comfortable!
  • Yet another opportunity to wear my other new dress of a sunny Sunday. Being able to slip on a cotton sundress and enjoy feeling the heat on my skin was almost as delicious as the Bakewell tart-flavoured ice cream I ate this weekend.  I felt super glamourous and pretty, channelling fifties summer vibes in my straw hat.
  • Indulging in my biggest weakness – home-made cake! A slice of spicy carrot cake covered in lashings of sugary buttercream made my day.
  • Making a mini-speech at a work social took a few braves this week. Although I knew I’d be fine when I did it, I was a bit nervous beforehand. Bringing myself to this event, I even went as far as to use the word “love” in a work environment which for me, is a personal achievement of sorts.
  • Reflecting on my life experiences to help others came up this week as something I feel glad to be able to do. With the gift of time, it’s possible to use what I learnt from my own past failures to help someone else make progress in their own lives. Supporting one of our students to prepare for his job interview, I felt really positive about passing my life lessons onto someone for whom it may make a difference.
  • Genuinely feeling happy at work. If you’d asked me some years back when I was experiencing crippling anxiety, I’d have struggled to name a single positive thing about my job. These days, however, I can have a string of awesome days! Being able to relax and bring my whole self to my work has made a huge difference in terms of what I get out of it. Choosing to take a “can-do” attitude and determining to act from a place of love (rather than fear) has made such a positive impact on my working life, which rubs off on those around me.

Phew! A mega-post, as promised, so I’m truly grateful if you made it to the end with me!

x

The Eighth TWIG Post (or why I’m excited for a week of firsts)

It’s just been the first weekend of May. Unusually for a British Bank Holiday, the weather was absolutely perfect! As my friend D says, it’s like being on holiday. It’s also the first time since February that C and I haven’t had to spend our free time renovating our former home.

Yet despite having a glorious long weekend to look forward to, I felt frustrated with myself and my inability to simply relax and enjoy it. On one hand, I’m thrilled at the prospect of five days to rest, relax, recuperate and rhino-sit (I’ll explain this in a future post!). On the other hand, I’m anxious about making the most of my time. I’m feeling disappointed that, even after many years working on self-improvement, my mind still sometimes wanders into dark places.

As luck would have it, I came across the exact guidance I needed for this weekend whilst reading “The Universe Has Your Back” by Gabrielle Bernstein:

“Projection is perception. This means that whatever stories you’re projecting in your mind are what you’re perceiving in life.” Gabrielle Bernstein

Gabby’s words reminded me that I have the power to alter my mindset. I have a choice in my perception (how I want to see things), which dictates how I feel. I can therefore control my emotional state and choose to feel differently at any moment. As such, I made a decision to make a new, empowering choice about how to feel this weekend:

I choose to feel happy in the present and give thanks for all I have. I choose to let go of anxiety, and instead allow myself to feel excited about the future.

In this positive spirit, I’m happy to share my eighth TWIG list.

This week I’m grateful for:

  • Five days off work. ‘Nuff said.
  • Amazing weather! Hotter than Spain in some places, apparently.
  • Free books! I’ve been cleverly ordering items on Amazon Prime to maximise the free credits I receive for opting out of next-day delivery. I’ve then enjoyed buying cheap Kindle books from my Wish List and indulging my passion for reading at no additional cost.
  • Having freshly cut and coloured hair. It makes me feel “done”, even when I’m slobbing about in my pajamas (which happens far more frequently than it probably ought to for an adult woman with a job).
  • Walking to work without my coat on for the first time this year. It’s a mini-miracle for the weather in the UK to get good enough to be able to take off my jacket outdoors before 8am.
  • Spending a day working outside of my office. Lat Thursday I had back-to-back meetings, so took advantage of the opportunity to work from different locations in-between times. Feeling very much the Millenial iPad nomad, I relished the freedom to do a spot of people watching while I worked. What’s more, I was able to make the most of my time after work to pursue my passion for writing before C picked me up to go and vote. Bonus!
  • My manager’s faith in my skills as a speaker and leader. She told me that she was glad I’d offered to help with the first event of our agent conference. I was asked to lead the first session, as she wants a confident and clear speaker to get things off to a good start. I felt super proud, and I’m happy to do so because I genuinely enjoy public speaking, weirdly enough. It’s also a chance for me to hone my speaking skills, which might come in handy if ever I decide to make my own podcasts or vlogs.
  • Going hard in the gym. After staying up late last Friday to get a spot in my favourite class, I gave it my all on Tuesday. I lifted the heaviest weights I’ve done so far, and came away feeling powerful, strong and accomplished.
  • Our former home is finally for sale. C’s home for over twenty years (five for me), it’s important to us that we give it the “send-off” it deserves. We’ve invested our hearts into making this a beautiful home again, which we hope will generate an offer worthy of our time and efforts. We’re keen to be able to invest the proceeds in our future, so it means a lot that we maximise our returns.
  • Seeing C happy and relaxed. I love seeing him come alive when he’s outside, working in the garden. The sun seems to recharge his batteries, and it’s really heart-warming to see how much joy our new garden gives him. It makes me feel good too, as it’s full of beautiful surprises and is changing every day. I feel very glad that we bought this place when I see C so contented.
  • Hanging out in the garden with our cats. The level of enjoyment they derive from their human buddies spending time outdoors with them is infectious! My cat D follows my feet as I walk barefoot in the grass, rolling over my toes and purring with delight at my being with him outside. Though I didn’t see K most of the day, in the afternoon I noticed the heather plants moving. She’d been sleeping in the shade and was happy to see we were still there post-nap time.
  • Take Two: Movie Night with C. We’ve done this two Thursday nights in a row now, and I’m counting this as our taking steps to build a positive, relationship-enhancing habit. The cinema-sweet popcorn is also delicious.
  • Living amongst trees, flowers and wildlife. I’m fortunate to have nature quite literally on my doorstep in my new home. In the past week, C bought himself a wildlife camera and captured footage of a fox and a badger visiting our garden in the early hours. It appears we have regular night-time visitors! We’ve also noticed the garden itself blossoming this past week, coming into its own for Spring. There are so many beautiful flowers! We’re also lucky enough to live in an area where there’s a plethora of ginormous trees, not only in our garden but in those around us. We’re privileged to now live on one of the last streets before the start of the Peak District national park, and driving around this weekend, I’m reminded how close we are to nature.
  • A Sunday of firsts in my home. It was the first I’ve sunbathed* (*read: dipped in and out of the shadows with my milk-bottle legs) in my garden; the first time I hung out washing to dry on our line; and the first (and second) time we used the new barbecue. To celebrate, we had burgers for lunch and dinner. Eating dinner outdoors in itself is a real pleasure; but burning meat in the sunshine is true bliss!
  • Having family moving onto our doorstep. This week we received news that our nieces (and their parents) are moving to live in our city! From the Autumn, we’ll have my sisters within an hour’s drive, and C’s sister living round the corner. We’ll go from no one nearby, to lots of people who love us a short drive away. I’m excited to play an important part in our neices’ lives in the years to come. From being able to help pick them up from after-school club, to attending their Christmas plays and have the girls sleep over, we’re going to be able to make a positive impact on their little lives. I can’t wait!
  • Spending time with my nephew G. Since I last saw him, he’s got new teeth, can clap his hands, and he even waited to crawl for the first time ever in front of me! As this technically occurred on a pub table, I’m sure at his eighteenth we’ll be teasing him about going on his first pub crawl before he turned one! Splashing in a washing-up bowl in the back garden, my heart ached with love for him! He’s such a happy boy and I’m so glad we have him in our lives.
  • A Bank Holiday walk with my sisters, ending with a pub lunch and a Magnum. It sounds like such an ordinary thing to do, but I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to now do these kinds of things together. In depression, I distanced myself from my family in general, but they never gave up on me. I feel lucky that we can build a friendship as adult women, as well as our being sisters. It’s really lovely to see how alike we’ve grown over the years, despite our different life experiences. We even enjoy a lot of the same things these days, thanks to the men in our lives. It’s a joy to get to know each other, as well as getting to know the men who love them.

I’m late in posting this week, thanks to the lacklustre WiFi connection in our back garden. Technically, I could add in a few more gratitudes from today (Tuesday) but I’ll save them for next weekend. I’ll have a few more exciting things to share by then, too!

Until then, enjoy the sunshine!

X

The Sixth TWIG Post (or how I’m working on feeling happier this week)

After what felt like an emotionally challenging week, I was determined to approach this week with a more positive mindset. I figured this would be an easy feat, given that I had Wednesday booked off work to look forward to, as well as the promise of plenty of sunshine!

However, as in this infamous quote from Scottish poet Robert Burns, it didn’t quite go as I’d hoped.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Working from home on Tuesday, I called my Dad to let him know that our new sofas had arrived. He’d kindly gifted us some money towards their purchase, so I wanted to thank him. I was really looking forward him visiting me at the weekend to see my home for the first time, especially now we have a comfortable seat to offer!

However as I put down the phone, angry and upset, I regretted my decision to call. During our conversation, he said some things that hurt me deeply.  Over the next forty-eight hours, I went through a process not unlike that of grief, whereby I experienced a period of numbness and shock, followed by anger, shame and eventually sadness.

Having lived for two days in this negative emotional state, I decided I’d had enough of feeling terrible, and I wanted to get into my Vortex – as Abraham-Hicks would put it.  I understand this as being in total alignment with who we truly are at heart, and therefore feel our happiest, most joyful and positive self.

So I took action to change my state. In seeking support from others – asking and being open to receiving help – I gained a different perspective on my situation. I was able to re-frame my thinking, and in so doing, totally change my own mind. As I’ve learnt many times over since the start of this year, when I change my mindset to one of positivity , the world around me also changes for the better.

“Your mind is a powerful thing, when you feel it with positive thoughts, your life will start to change.”

Anonymous

So in the spirit of the school of thinking that is the Law of Attraction, and looking for the good in the world, I hope you enjoy my sixth TWIG post!

This Week I’m Grateful for:

  • Our gorgeous new sofas! They’re the most expensive single purchase I’ve ever made (other than our house), and it feels fabulous to finally invest in something special for our new home. I’d forgotten what a difference having a real sofa makes! Having lived with second-hand sofas which were destroyed by our kittens for the past few years, I didn’t mind moving into the new house and making do with occasional chairs and a sofa bed. However my life has improved 10x since the arrival of upholstery from Heaven!

    DaveSofa

    D’s making himself at home on the new sofas, too

  • Working from home: the Holy Grail for an open-plan office worker like myself. Having an occasional day whereby I can get on with tasks according to my own agenda, without the perpetual interruptions of my (mostly) well-meaning colleagues.  Being able to burn scented candles, listen to my radio aloud and, simultaneously, get to the bottom of the washing basket – it feels great!

 

  • A perfect day of my own.This week I treat myself to a day’s leave, whereby I spent the whole time on my own, doing what I love best. Taking myself for a long, lazy lunch in my favourite cafe, I spent hours reading and writing, over hot drinks and delicious food. Full of tea and cake, I walked home, chatting on the phone with my best friend. Arriving home to glorious sunshine and two happy cats, I got to wear shorts and go barefoot in our parkland of a garden for the first time ever. It was an utterly perfect day, during which I felt truly grateful to be me.

 

  • Writing my own book! Reading someone else’s manuscript this past week, I felt inspired. I’ve been secretly wanting to write for years, but couldn’t figure out exactly how to put my ideas into words. This week, something clicked and I’ve written over 11,000 words so far. There’s much work yet to do, and a ton of reading and research ahead of me –  but that’s what’s so exciting! I feel like a real writer!
  • Not-so secret scruffiness. This is the pure joy of being able to wear my shabbiest clothes and slob out (in the relative privacy of my own home and garden). After a long day at work, there’s nothing more satisfying than slipping on a fresh pair of PJs the moment I get in. And I know I’m not the only one who does this; there are many secret scruffs the world over! Gretchen and Elizabeth recently tried to address this habit on the Happier podcast, but for me, this is a guilty pleasure likely to outlast any attempt to dress like a more glamourous grown-up.

 

  • Filling my house with flowers. I bought myself a bunch of sunshine-yellow tulips, and one of unusual-looking star-shaped daffodils (double daffodils, according to Monty Don), to decorate my house this weekend. Dad brought me a rainbow-coloured bouquet from Aldi to add to my collection which, ironically, look set to outlast the more expensive ones we’d recently received from a florist!

 

FlowerDad

Beautiful, bargain blooms!

 

  • Creating calm by tidying my home environment. I really appreciate the feeling of mental and physical relaxation that comes over me when the space around me feels organised and orderly. Taking an hour to put things where they belong, and to run the hoover round, makes me feel virtuous. Having long-since accepted that we’ll never live the Scandi Dream – the minimalist lifestyle is not one to which C and I adhere, I’ve settled on hiding the clutter collected in cupboards. Living in the largest space we’ve ever had, I can luxuriate in its “empty” spaces.

 

  • Finally being ready to sell our old house. After months of hard work during weekends and evenings, C and I have finished renovations on our former home and are in a position to get it on the market. Having been C’s home for twenty years, it’s important to him that we find the right buyers and get the best possible financial and emotional return on his investment. Being the first home we’ve shared together, I’m also attached to the place. It’s where C and I – and our cat at the time – became a family, and where we “raised” our current kitty monsters. I’m sure I’ll feel a little sad, as well as relieved, when we do sell it, but mostly I’m thankful for the home it was for us and look forward to someone else making it their happy home, too.
  • A successful family visit this weekend. After the telephone conversation earlier this week, I wasn’t exactly brimming with enthusiasm at the prospect of him dropping by. Truth be told, I nearly told my sister not to bring him over. However having received some incredibly thoughtful advice, I was able to change my mental approach to his visit and treat my Dad as I would any other older person; with kindness, compassion and patience. As a result, I was much more relaxed, and the visit went really well. My Dad was really positive about my house, and I think taking a different approach to him being in my space enabled me to  soften my heart and welcome the visit. I know his intentions, and mine, come from a place of love, which is really all that anyone can ask.

And on that note, I wish you a happy week!

x

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