Project HeatherED

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

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

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

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

IMG_3340This Week I’m Grateful for:

*Working with people who care about me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*My cats being so glad to have me home.

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

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

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

 *Love Islandtherapy

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

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

*C taking one for the team.

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

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

*Rehoming a pair of 1930s tulip vases.

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

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

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

*Lemonade ice lollies.

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

*A chance chat with a charming child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

x

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

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

IMG_3203Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be.

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

Taken aback, I re-read their message.

Something clicked.

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

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

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

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

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

 

This week I’m grateful for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Until next time!

H x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This Week I’m Grateful for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steph Crowder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Vaynerchuk: “Crush it!” (p.134)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a wonderful week!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson #2: It’s not about me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me on nicely to…

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

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

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

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

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

So what did I do?

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

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

 

This Week I’m Grateful for:

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

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

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

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

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

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D: Least cat-like cat ever

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

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

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

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

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

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K: Making of a murderer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to my story.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

This week I’m grateful for:

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week I’m Grateful For

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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):

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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:

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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.
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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 Tenth TWIG post (or how I’m speaking my story of thanksgiving in 2018)

I’ve reached a milestone this week: I’ve published my first ten TWIG posts – that’s ten weeks where I’ve put my gratitudes out into the Universe!

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Whilst having a gratitude practise isn’t new to me – I’ve been making lists I’m my journal for a few years now – being publicly thankful is new to me. As you’ll know if you followed my first challenge (it starts here, if you’re interested),  this year I began to practise speaking my gratitudes aloud as part of my morning walking to work ritual.

At first, voicing my reasons to be grateful felt false, and more than a little awkward.  I cringed inwardly whenever I audibly uttered my thanks, checking over my shoulder for whether anyone was within earshot. I was anxious about being overheard for fear of attracting judgement. When I realised I’d been self-censoring, I had a choice: hold myself back, or go all in, risking a bit of embarrassment. Committing myself to writing about my experiences for this blog, I chose to care more about my opinion of me than that of a stranger.

With practise, thankfulness has become my new norm in a relatively short period of time. I’ve found that, much like depression, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle: the more thanks I give, the more thankful I feel. The greater my gratitude, the more I find for which to be grateful. As I hear myself articulate my thanks, and the more I see my positive perspective published here, the more connected I feel to this side of myself.

Gratitude has quite literally changed my mind. It’s moved from residing in a predominantly negative place, to resting most often in a state of positivity. I’m seeing life through a different lens. When I look to the world, I’m generally searching for reasons to be glad. Despite how this sounds, I’m still no Pollyanna, but this “Happy Heather” version of myself is no longer a stranger. I hear her voice when I talk to myself on my morning commute, and also through her words here. I’m even starting to genuinely like her. I mean, me…

Giving myself permission to be happy is a process, much like anything worth pursuing in life. Still, by slowly allowing myself to become more openly optimistic I’m learning that it’s okay to be okay, and that’s… well, it’s more than okay.

In celebration of reaching this tenth TWIG post, I’ve written a top ten gratitude list for this year to share today. Admittedly, we’re not yet half-way through the year, but I feel like this is a timely opportunity to look back and see how far I’ve come. As Fatboy Slim said in his 1998* hit “you’ve come a long way, baby!”

*I have to just point out – this song is now twenty years old! I’m starting to feel really old, guys…

My Top 10 Gratitude List of 2018 (so far)

As it’s the tenth TWIG post, I thought I’d add a little “bonus” TWIG list and share with you my top ten things I’m grateful for this year (so far!). Here goes (in no particular order).

  1. YouTube. 

PurpleFlowers230518Okay, so I know it’s been around forever and I’m coming late to the game, but I have to speak out about YouTube, which has proved itself to be an awesome resource. For a self-help junkie like me, it’s like having free access to an online university featuring the most inspirational speakers, leaders and teachers in the field of self-improvement.

What’s more, YouTube integrates extra learning opportunities into my daily life. Playing videos in the background (often listening to them, rather than watching the screen), I’ve learnt loads whilst getting sh*t done. It’s turned daily chores like washing up, weeding, and even washing my face into opportunities for growth. I’ve even discovered new role models, thanks to the site’s ability to suggest videos I might like based on my viewing history.  I’d highly recommend YouTube as a tool for curating your own “University of Life” education. Just make sure you’re on WiFi (or have unlimited data) before you go all in!

2. Tony Robbins’ and my Hour of Power (HoP)

No, not a new Harry Potter spin-off series; it’s only the most useful tool I’ve build into my life this year!

My HoP is essentially the priming process which Tony speaks about a lot in his work, and which I’ve already talked about it detail in this post.  It’s down to personal preference as to what’s included in a priming ritual, but for me, I follow Tony’s advice to:

  • Move my body;
  • Change my breathing patterns;
  • Express gratitude for all I have;
  • Dream big about what I most want;
  • Plan for a positive day;
  • and finally, speak out my daily incantation.

I’ve got my HoP ritual down to perfectly fit my forty-five minute walk to work, and there’s never a day that goes by where I’m not glad to have taken the time to give myself this motivational mental massage!  It works so well for me that I feel confident in saying that Tony Robbins is an absolute hero. He insists in his Netflix documentary that “I am not your guru“, but he’s definitely one of the biggest influences upon me.

3. Spending our first year in our new house.

It feels like a million years since I bought my first-ever house with my partner C, but it was actually only late last Summer when we spent just fifteen minutes viewing the biggest purchase we’re ever likely to make. An empty bank account and seven months later, I can honestly say it feels like home.

And I’m so grateful for it! Every day when I look out of the window, I see more gorgeous flowers and plants coming into bloom. I hear birdsong and can open our French doors to let the outside in, and wander in the grass barefoot and in my pajamas! We no longer have to squeeze around one another because the new house has terrifically tall ceilings. We’ve tons of room for our things in a four-bed house with just us two (and the cats), so I’m no longer stressed about space. It’s perfect for us to host friends and family, and we’ve already had several people to stay. Whilst it’ll be a huge undertaking to renovate and make it into our dream house, I believe it’s already proving to have been worth every penny.

4. Getting to know my family.

Partly as a result of moving house, and partly down to intentional effort (on all of our parts), this year I feel like I’m getting to know my family better. Spending more time with my baby nephew, my two nieces, and with both C’s and my respective siblings has proved to be a real blessing.

I’ve learnt that whilst friends are the family we choose, I can choose to creative positive friendships with family. Getting to know my own two sisters has been a pleasant surprise, in that we’ve all got so much more in common as adults than we ever did when we lived together. We’re all way more alike than I’d have ever realised, had I not taken the time now to spend time with them. I appreciate how we can all accept each other as we are today, unlike when we’re with our parents and they generally refer back to us as we were as kids.

I’m also thrilled to be a part in the lives of the next generation. I absolutely adore being an Aunt! I never expected I would be that fussed, but it turns out that I am a natural children’s’ entertainer – though I suspect that’s partly down to my willingness to make an absolute fool of myself to get laughs. Not having children ourselves, and not knowing whether they feature in our future, I think both C and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to play a more hands-on role in the lives of the littlies than perhaps our own Aunts and Uncles played in our own.

5. My physical health.

This year I have a new appreciation for my body, knowing that people we love and care for are having to handle some serious health problems.

My body has been my personal battleground for many years. During times when I’ve fought with myself, I’ve essentially been seeking relief from emotional and mental pain. Using food and fitness as my weapons of choice, I’ve conducted this battle with my body through either self-harm or self-control.

However hearing of those whose bodies are suffering from ill-health has given me pause for thought about my own body. I’m grateful that my worries are merely superficial. I realised that it’s actually really hard to hate my body when it’s doing everything I ask of it. In objective terms, my body has worked hard to remain healthy, despite periods of self-inflicted abuse and neglect. Like most people, I take my healthy body for granted sometimes, because it’s easy to do whilst you have good health. Not so easy when you’re faced with illness and the very real, very difficult challenges this poses. Knowing of others in this position, I’m reminded of my good fortune to have my health, and also to appreciate what I don’t have, as well as all that I do.

6. Learning to let go of perfection.

YellowWhiteFlowers230518Okay, so I can’t take all the credit on this one, because in truth, I’m not entirely sure I made it a conscious decision to ease up on myself. Yet somehow I’ve let loose a little, specifically in the area of  food, fitness, and my body. As I’ve already said, this is a challenge for me, and one in which I continue to work on becoming better.

After reflecting on this, I believe this to be the result of a practical change in life circumstances (i.e. moving house),  and a slowly dawning realisation that my constant striving for perfection – and not my body –  is limiting my happiness.

Rather than allowing myself to be driven by fear, I’m trying to choose to act according to what will make me happy. That’s to say, not shaping my life around what will “guarantee” that I maintain a particular number on the scales, but instead seriously considering what my heart wants. It’s not comfortable – I’m not sure when , or if, it will become so – but I do feel happier. I’m braver, I feel more beautiful and I’m emotionally stronger today than when I was last at my “fighting weight”. I feel in my heart, as well as (intellectually) in my head, that I’m genuinely less attached to the idea that my worth is tied up in being thin. That is a perfectly imperfect accomplishment, in my book.

7. Spending more quality time with C

Making a major life decision – like buying our first home together – necessitates change.  Practically-speaking, living in a new place means tweaking my daily routine, which has been challenging for us both. C has to drive a new route to work,  learning to traverse the winding country lanes, finding new short-cuts (and traffic jams) en-route.

For me, it’s been more of a mental shift, and one that’s taken a little time to adjust. Realising the impracticality of attending my regular Sunday fitness class, I made the decision to stop going and incorporate more exercise into my working week. Having religiously shown up to class for a good few years now, it felt hard to give up. At first, I missed it a lot and found it hard to adjust to a weekend with no formal fitness.

Instead, I spend my Sundays with C and I think this time has been one of the most valuable investments I’ve made this year. If I’m honest, at first it wasn’t so much fun. From February, our weekends were filled with a seemingly endless stream of cleaning and DIY as we worked on “Project 171”; the renovation of our old house in preparation for its sale. However I now believe that having this joint project brought us closer together. In spite of the moments of frustration, annoyance and general tiredness, I learnt a lot from C and (I hope!) vice versa.

Now our old house on the market, we’ve reclaimed our weekends – and it’s amazing! Whiling away our newfound time together we’ve been pottering in our beautiful blooming garden; having family and friends to stay, and simply spending our days together visiting places we love. When I really think about it, such a simple change of routine makes such a huge impact on how connected I feel to my partner.

This year has confirmed to me the value of investing quality time and energy into my relationship. I already knew this to be the case intellectually. However seeing in practice how much happier we both are as a result of changing my routine has me reconsidering my priorities. I’m therefore in the process of learning yet another major life lesson this year: making my relationship – our love –  a priority.  Already I’m thinking about designing another month-long challenge, and I suspect it will focus on this area of my life.

8. Learning new skills

PurpleDaisy230518Since completing “Project 171” I feel a new level of respect for my partner C. I mean, I knew he was a smart cookie – I wouldn’t have held out ten years had he not been more than a pretty face – but what I don’t often get to see is how he is in a “work-like” environment. It reminded me why I instinctively felt safe and trusted him from the get-go; he’s a quiet but brilliant teacher and leader.

Working on this project, I took the role of project planner, but as I don’t know anything about DIY, I had to rely on C’s instruction to actually get the work done. In a couple of months, he taught me all sorts of new skills, from how to prepare walls for painting to how to regrout tiles. His hard-working attitude carried us through times when my attention had long-since waned (normally when the cake had run out). My positivity, enthusiasm and energy was balanced by his rationality, consideration and patience, not only with the project but with me, too, as a newbie on the DIY scene!

Another new skill I’m learning this year is to garden. Having poured our life savings into a house with a massive mature garden, it’s kind of a must that I get involved in its maintenance. However I’m genuinely surprised to be finding this much pleasure in it! Being outside amongst the rainbow-coloured flowers, surrounded by green grass and blue skies (my favourite colours of late) makes me feel happy and relaxed. When I came home from work this week feeling a little stressed, I decided I’d spend an hour or so scraping moss (don’t ask) in the sun, and it totally recharged my body and mind.

9. Feeling happier at work.

Retuning my mind towards the positive has enabled me to become better at my job. I’ve embraced my strengths and in so doing, I’m more inclined to seek out opportunities in which to use my best skills. Speaking out at meetings front of senior colleagues, leading training seminars, and using social media to motivating those I manage in their work, I feel like I’m really making a difference in work these days.

Being more fulfilled in my day-job has given me a greater level of confidence in pursuing my personal passions outside of work. I’ve got more faith in my own talents and abilities, which has helped me gain momentum in writing this blog. I’m even using my down-time more productively – not simply surfing the web, or scrolling Facebook!

And last, but most certainly not least…

10. Writing this blog. 

Perhaps the thing that’s given me the most joy to date is writing this blog! It sounds rather dramatic, but I feel like I’m becoming the person I was meant to be. Whilst publishing my writing makes me vulnerable to public criticism, it made me more determined to keep my commitment, not only to the blog but also to myself. Finding the thing I truly love to do, I’m no longer willing to let myself down. I’m keeping my promise to myself, writing often, which gives me pleasure and has a positive cyclical effect, meaning I’m spending more time writing and creating.

Through writing I’ve found my personal passion: sharing what I’m learning to help myself and others become our best selves. Motivating me to pursue my personal ambition of becoming better (by which I mean becoming happier, healthier and emotionally wealthier), this is an invaluable discovery that’s improved my quality of my life.

Since publishing my writing, my mind’s opened up to being more creative generally. Working on the blog inspired me to start writing my book, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. Inspired by the creative momentum of writing regularly, I’ve even had several new ideas for potential business ventures!

As we approach the middle of this year, I’m feeling optimistic about the coming months. I’ve a lot to be grateful for so far. Whether I do that when marching to work out loud to myself, or in sharing my thoughts in posts like this, I’m excited for what the future holds. I’m learning that positivity is a genuinely good feeling and I think I’ll stick to this positivity malarkey a little while longer.

x

 

 

 

 

The Ninth TWIG Post (or how I’m defeating my fears by choosing love)

After taking an extra-long May Bank Holiday break, having to go back to being in the office – even for just two days – felt like the longest (short) work week ever. This was amplified by my shockingly sharp slide into a state of depression. Heavy and dark, it felt like someone had thrown a thick Winter blanket over my head on a hot Summer’s day. With lethargy, hopelessness and despair tugging at my sleeve, it took all of my energy to get through the day. Slowing down to where my body felt like lead, walking to the bus stop took an extraordinary effort. Even  being outside in the sunshine felt painful.

Even to me, this description sounds overly dramatic, but I intentionally use these words because that’s exactly how it feels. In my experience, depression is incredibly dramatic and makes me behave in a seemingly self-centred way, which only adds to the feelings of shame that come with being afflicted by this negative mental state.

Waking up the next day with only a mild anxiety hangover as proof of the previous day’s drama, I started thinking about how different my emotional life is today. Most days, I wake up happy, without worry, and believing that I have future that’s worth living for. If I were a religious person (which I’m not), I’d cite this as miraculous; the polar opposite of my experience living in depression for most of my life.

I’ve learnt that our mindset is a choice.  It’s a choice available to all, and we can choose to change at any time. By choosing to have a positive and optimistic mindset, by practicing choosing love and happiness over fear, then this is the state in which I find myself most of the time.  I’m a different person because I’m making different choices. 

Reminding me how awful life feels with depression, this week I’m thankful to have had the opportunity this week to prove to myself how emotionally resilient I am.  Still, knowing for certain that these particular feelings would pass – that I can have a few “wobbly” days and return quickly to a state of  happiness and joy – is still a miracle to me.

So, in this spirit of renewed appreciation, here’s my thank you list to the Universe for this week!

This Week I’m Grateful for

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Getting up close with a herd of zebra, like you do.

  • Being a zoo keeper for the day again! After an incredible experience taking care of the giraffes last year, my Dad kindly gifted me another day as a keeper at Chester Zoo. Working alongside the rhino team, I had the opportunity to get up-close and personal with some of the world’s most endangered species. I had the privilege of hand-feeding two rare Bongos, of which there are just 150 of these beautiful deer-like animals in captivity, and only around the same number in the wild. I also got to hang out among zebra, and make friends with a rhinoceros named Benny, who happens to be the same age as me. Scratching a rhino behind the ears, I had to wonder – how many people in the world are lucky enough to be able to say that?!

    Heather&Bongo

    Feeding a rare Bongo (I hadn’t heard of these before either) with cabbage.

  • Having a super short working week.
  • Being committed to fitness as a lifestyle. Determined to re-establish my exercise regime – regardless of how many times it’s been disrupted of late – I went to the gym after work on Friday. I appreciation of how crucial working out is to my mental and physical fitness, so whilst I don’t want to go to the gym in the moment, I do it anyway. I felt good about acting in my own best interests, and doing the next right thing.
  • Publishing my Week One Role Model Challenge (RMC) post. Unusually for a blog, it’s a long-form article and I was inspired by Tim Ferriss to have confidence in my own style and the readers would come. I’m really proud of it as it’s so authentically me, I didn’t care whether or not people liked it because I like it.  I was therefore delighted to get positive feedback from readers. It made my day!
  • Having the confidence to take up the feminist cause. This week I came across a man whose attitude towards women at work was positively prehistoric. Grateful not to have to work alongside him myself, I was acutely aware of the young women who do. This drove me to speak out today so that other women don’t have to put up with this kind of sh*t in future. Now in my mid-thirties, I feel capable of standing up to misogyny. I’m proud to have the emotional strength to handle any fall-out from complaining about the immature behaviour of a grown man.
  • Being with a man like C, whose kindness, compassion and consideration for me, and others, seems to be above and beyond that of most ordinary humans. Despite terrible toothache (resulting in a painful extraction – ouch!), he put me and my he my (mentally) fragile state ahead of his needs by cooking us chilli for dinner, boiling my breakfast eggs for work, and downloading a superhero film for Thursday night movie night. I suspect he even made me my supper cup of tea (because tea always tastes better when someone else makes it). These seemingly small individual acts of love helped massively to get me out of a depressive state and confirm for me that he’s my hero – just don’t tell him I said so!
  • Receiving an invite to my nephew’s first birthday party! It’s not for a couple of months yet, and I’m already excited to be part of his first birthday celebrations.
  • Making plans to spend more time with my sisters over the next year. Already having spent more time with them this past year than I have for most of my twenties, as I’ve said in previous posts, I really appreciate the chance to get to know each other as friends.  We’re creating experiences and memories together, which is priceless.
  • Writing all Saturday afternoon. Having this time to myself to write was a real treat. Borrowing C’s mega computer, with its clinky-clunky noisy keys, I really enjoyed getting into my “flow” and accomplishing my goal of publishing my latest blog post.
  • Fitting into my leather jacket. Okay, so this is a slightly superficial gratitude, but bear with me here. Not having put this on since last Summer, I was afraid it might be too tight for me after letting go of the super-strict food and fitness regime I’ve lived by for the past four or five years.  I’m proud of myself for seeking greater balance, and as a result I’m happier and more relaxed. As a consequence, I’ve gained a few pounds and in all honestly, I’m not entirely comfortable with that. It’s brought back painful old stories of my being not thin (read:good) enough. Slipping on my jacket to find it fits fine helped prove to me that being a little heavier doesn’t equate to my being fat.
  • Receiving my Psychologies magazine in the post. Arriving this weekend and as if manifested by magic – this month’s issue features the very topic of working on rewriting our stories in an empowering way.
  • Rediscovering Brené Brown via her TED talks this weekend, it feels like the Universe is working to bring me that I need as I came across her work at precisely the right time.  I needed to hear her message about vulnerability being a sign not of weakness, but of courage and strength. I bought one of her Kindle books after the Universe called me to action. Feeling inspired by her videos, and debating whether to buy her book, my Kindle appeared on the bed out of nowhere – I’ve not read on it in weeks! I take this to be a sign from the Universe and went with my intuition to invest in her work. After all, buying a book is never a bad purchase.

    StreetMarket13May18

    Sunny Sunday at the street market

  • A sunny Sunday morning at a local street market. In perfect pottering weather, C and I visited a new local street market for the first time. Collecting a ton of business cards and ideas for our creating a terrarium for my garden living room, I came away with a tiny knitted turtle (to live on my desk), home-made cake and C bought some local art. We also ate delicious Caribbean street food, and I even had peanut butter and jelly gelato for dessert!
  • The pleasure of a good charity shop find. We bought a green glass vase and a small ceramic pot for under £2.50, which perfectly fit with my vision for our garden room. I filled the vase with bluebells from our garden, and it looks beautiful.
  • A glass jellyfish paperweight ornament. It sounds bonkers, but it’s a truly beautiful find.
  • Tea and cake on our patio of a sunny afternoon.

    HerbGarden13May18

    Our herb garden and my very first attempt at grown-up gardening!

  • Filling my home and garden with plants. Neither being an indoor or outdoor gardener by any means, I adore being surrounded with greenery and thus am taking steps to become more of a horticulturalist. This weekend I began to realise my vision of a plethora of plants overtaking our back living room by buying its first few potted plants. This room we refer to as the “garden room” because its French doors open up onto the garden, and I’m excited about bringing a bit of the outdoors in.

Let’s hope for another week of sunshine!

x

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