Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Tag: Writing

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 Writer’s Block Post (or why I’m giving my broken brain a break)

Writing is most definitely a skill. You write daily – at least, that’s the intention – and over time you become better at it. Even editing gets easier; the whole process speedier.

Persist with your practise a little longer, and eventually you find your own writing style. Something magical happens and you “sound like” you on the page.

It all sounds so romantic – and it is! When ^this^ happens, it’s the most wonderful feeling! This year I’ve fallen back in love with writing; I’m completely and utterly enamoured of it.

But like anything worth having, writing doesn’t always come easily.

Thus far I’m proud to have published here at least once a week. Oftentimes, I’ve simply shared a story around my weekly gratitudes, but I’ve kept my promise to myself – and you, my readers.

Regular posts have arisen naturally – I’m not holding myself to any publishing schedule. I haven’t needed to do so.

Writing itself makes me happy. It’s when I feel most connected with my “authentic self”; a “woo-woo” way of saying the version of me that feels most myself. Whether here on this blog, behind-the-scenes on my Google Drive, or on a scruffy piece of paper stuffed into my backpack, writing is how I sort through the contents of my mind. It slows down my thinking and brings me a sense of peace.

If that weren’t motivation enough, then there’s you – the reader. Sharing my story has created opportunities for connection that might otherwise have gone amiss. Relationships have grown – or in some cases, been rekindled – as a result of a single moment during which I felt brave enough to share Project HeatherED with the world. A world which, albeit, small, has grown exponentially, thanks to the power of the written word.

Which goes some way to explain my frustration of late at losing my publishing mojo. If you’re following along, you’ll likely be aware that I’m mid-mental meltdown. Held firmly by anxiety, and it’s close companion, depression, I’m not in the best frame of mind for making creative decisions. Writing – at least, writing for eyes other than my own – is its own challenge.

This beloved blog has therefore become something of a struggle. It feels like my broken brain is trying to break my heart, too, by keeping me from what brings me joy. I’m increasingly irritated when words won’t come, which ironically only makes things worse.

Like Keiko cat, I’m chasing my tail and getting nowhere quickly.

So after much internal debate, I’ve decided to give myself a bit of a break. Lift the pressure off. Like I said earlier, I’m not technically committed to regular publishing days or times, but I’m subconsciously setting standards. My perfectionist tendencies don’t need publication schedules to hold me to a habit. Used to writing weekly, my mind makes anything “other” feel like a failure.

Which is why I’m making a conscious decision not to publish here for the next month.
I recognise my need for clear boundaries if my brain is to relax, rest, and recover. Enforcing recovery, in a way, I hope will give me space and time recharge my mental batteries.

To do the actual work of recovery, rather than trying too hard to record the process as it happens.

It’s kind of missing the point, don’t you think?!

At the same time, I’ve literally just gone back to work. Five half-days, to be exact. I’m on “staged return”, which means I’m currently working part-time because my mental health issues leave me physically and emotionally drained. It takes a lot of energy to recover – yet another good reason to take it easy on myself.

And so I’m pressing pause on publishing posts. Just for a moment. I’ll take a few breaths, regroup, and come back better than before. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that, having decided to step back, my brain will step up a gear and find its way back to itself. I hope so. I’m kind of counting on it.

Because I love writing. Truly, I’m head-over-heels with the whole process! Beyond the mental peace writing brings, I’m creating honest, open-hearted connections with like-minded people like you. My world is bigger and brighter as a result.

Anyone who reads this blog will know how much it matters to me. It matters too much for me to ruin its magic by forcing myself to write when words aren’t forthcoming.

Which is why I’m hoping you’ll bear with me whilst I focus on recovering my mental health.

In the meanwhile, subscribe for my email updates by entering your address in the box at the top right of this page. You’ll be the first to know whenever there’s a new post on Project HeatherED. I’d also love you to connect with me over on Facebook.

I’ll be back soon to share more stories!

Heather
x

The First-in-a-Fortnight Post (or why I’m struggling to share my experience of a mental meltdown)

As anyone who follows me on Facebook already knows, I’m currently on sick leave for mental health reasons. Though there’s never a simple explanation for these things, in my case, depression and anxiety are once again on the scene.

It’s the first time I’ve ever taken time off work like this. It’s not at all like I expected.

I imagined that if I were to ever “give in” and stay home – and yes, that’s how I’ve thought about it; at least as it applies to myself –  I’d have to be at my very worst.

Emotionally uncontrollable; my life falling apart at the seams; borderline suicidal.

Closer to self-destruction than ever before. More so than even my twenty-something self who found herself standing at the platform’s edge at a Parisian station wanting so badly to put an end to her pain.

You’ll be pleased to hear that nothing so dramatic brought me to this place. I simply found myself overwhelmed and overloaded by everyday life.

Eventually, it’s like my mind simply switched off. Refused to reboot.

Long story short, I tried to carry on as normal. I briefly existed in a zombie-like state, staring at my computer screen. However I couldn’t keep up the pretence of being okay. After a meeting with my manager, we agreed I needed to head home, rest and relaxation to temporarily replace to-do lists.

Turns out that sick leave after a mental meltdown looks rather different from that of any other illness.

Unlike being home with the flu (or, more likely, a cold), being absent from work for mental reasons doesn’t mean you’re housebound. On the contrary, getting out and about is a sign of being en route to recovery. Coffee dates with friends, going to gym classes, taking long walks in the countryside.  In theory, I can do whatever I like, whenever I like, and go wherever I wish. Sounds idyllic!

Yet this is at odds with the reality, at least in my experience.  

Whilst I’m not technically limited as to what I can do, I’m mentally restricted by how much I feel I can handle. Which isn’t anywhere near as much as I’d like. Effectively burnt out, my brain seems to have gone into hibernation. Physically, I might not be tucked up in bed, but my brain seems to have retreated, metaphorically tucking itself in with a hot water bottle to wait this thing out. 

Like when a computer hasn’t been properly shut down, I feel like I’ve restarted in “safety mode”. Only the most basic programs are running , and even they have limited functionality. Sleep, eat, read, TV, repeat. 

Concentration compromised, I can only focus on one thing at a time. Single-tasking is the order of the day. This I’ve found to be frustratingly slow going. Like most women, I’m a prolific multi-tasker so it’s positively painful to have to relearn this skill – and it is a skill – which isn’t as easy as you’d think.

Even then, my brain refuses to entertain anything complex. This thwarts any ingenious ideas as to how I might maximise my time. Learning anything new (like much-needed skills in web design) falls to the wayside, requiring a depth of thought of which I’m not currently capable. 

Instead I’m forced to stick to the most simplistic, surface-level subjects. Superheroes series are proving to be especially soothing to my tired mind. I can escape into Marvel (always, over DC) movies for a few hours.

Reading about recovery from depressive illness, it turns out I’m unintentionally doing the best thing to give my brain a break:

“The answers are to find any way that you can of keeping your brain just idling, to avoid any challenging activities wherever possible and to do what you have to do in very small chunks. Best of all, be passive. The ideal would be an undiluted diet of Australian soap operas, if you can stomach that sort of thing. They allow you to sit and not ruminate – a sort of mental wallpaper, filling up the space and covering over the cracks.”

Dr Tim CantopherDepressive Illness: The curse of the strong

(2003, p.38)

 

Whilst I’ve zero intention of reviving my interest in “Neighbours” or “Home and Away”, I am partial to a bit of reality TV.  “Made in Chelsea” is currently topping the bill of tolerable TV trash, but other firm favourites include anything “Housewives”, and pretty much everything on TLC (“Say Yes To The Dress”, anyone?!).  This is one time when even C deems reality TV acceptable, though I’m saving him from the very worst of this by indulging during working hours.

On a more serious note,  I’m finding it frustratingly difficult to do the things I love most. Ironically, these are the same things that are most likely to help me heal. Take writing, for example. It’s taken me more than a fortnight to create something I feel comfortable publishing. This is the longest I’ve ever left between blog posts. Not feeling able to put words to my experience hurts more than just about anything when it comes to being mentally unwell. My throat tightens just thinking about it.

So, in an effort to overcome this particularly painful obstacle, I’ve pushed myself to publish this imperfect post today.

To give you an idea as to how challenging this has been, I started to write over a brew that C Kindly made for me before leaving for work. On a Monday morning whilst the rest of the world is working, I’m still sitting on the sofa, typing away on my Mac, unwashed in my PJs.  I finished the first draft around midday – over three hours later! Honestly, it’s taken me most of my day to create something that spans just a thousand words.

As you can tell, it’s frustratingly, painfully, s-l-o-w progress and it certainly isn’t the best piece I’ve ever written. (Those you can find here and here!)

However it’s important to me to write and share this with you. By putting my words into the world again, I’ve achieved something today for which I can feel proud. I’m not back to my best just yet, but I am making moves to counter my mental meltdown. I’m working towards become better, which is ultimately the essence of the recovery process.

In publishing this very post, I’ve taken a tiny step in a positive direction – and Reader: 

I’m grateful to have you with me. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2892My Seven Strategies to Stick-It to Stress

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

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

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

#2 Be mindful and stay as present as possible.

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

#3 Play up the positivity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 #5 Write my heart out.

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

#6 Get moving. Literally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly everything feels alright again.

 

 

 

 

The RMC Week 2 Post (or why I’m making happiness my #1 priority)

Read my introductory post to my Role Model Challenge (RMC), or if you’ve not yet caught up with my Week 1 findings, you can read the post here

Okay, so it’s week two of my RMC and I’m proud to introduce yet another awesome line-up of extraordinary people! My #RMCsquad2 looks like this:

It’s a pretty eclectic collection, and you might be wondering how I’m choosing my role models each day. As I come to the end of week two, it feels like I’ve found a natural sense of balance in this process. This results from a combination of luck, mindful intention and intuition.

The mainstay of my RMC is in reading a chapter from “Tribe of Mentors” (which I’ll refer to for brevity from here on as ToM). My first teacher for any given day is simply whomever’s chapter is next up in this book. The “surprise” element of my experiment, ToM connects me to inspiring people from a cross-section of society and culture that I might never otherwise have encountered.

Conversely, I intentionally select a contrasting daily mentor from Evan Carmichael’s YouTube channel. I generally choose someone whose background, career or world-view differs from whomever I’ve drawn from ToM. Sometimes it’s simply a case of following my heart and trusting my intuition, which explains the mash-up of some of the world’s finest business minds, scientists, entertainers and leaders that make up my #RMCsquad2.

Fundamental Finding #1: Prioritise happiness

Underpinning this week’s advice is the theme of happiness. Tony Robbins believes that “happiness is a choice” and it’s the responsibility of each of us to “decide to be happy”. Many mentors support this focus on in valuing happiness, from celebrities like Victoria Beckham and “The Rock”, to spiritual teachers like Gabrielle Bernstein. This got me considering what makes me happy, and whether I make “joy and happiness my top priority in life”, as Gabby advises us to do.

I’ve learnt that happiness is a more complex concept than that for which I’d previously given it credit. Rather than a permanent state of being, Tony sees it as a particular state of mind we can choose to step into at any moment. Alternatively Naval Ravikant sees happiness as  “..a skill you develop”, suggesting that not only can it be learnt, but there’s also room to increase our current levels of bliss. Khloe Kardashian emphasised how happiness is something we create for ourselves, rather than relying on others to do it for us.

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Happiness necessitates action. It’s a practise, and each day I choose to act in small ways that bring me greater joy. Consciously taking time for activities I love contributes to my overall feeling of well-being. Spending more time reading, playing with my cats, and learning to garden from my partner C generally makes life better. I’m also writing more because it’s what truly I love to do. I’m learning to make my passions a priority because they bring me genuine happiness.

Depression previously conditioned me to think that happiness was out of my reach. I believed my thoughts were somehow “pre-programmed” to have an underlying negative “tone”; that was simply the way I was. This week’s RMC has reaffirmed for me that this is not the case. Happiness is a decision we make and commit to on a daily basis. As a result of this week’s RMC I feel empowered to choose to live in a beautiful state of happiness more often.

Fundamental Finding #2: Put yourself first

We’ve all heard the advice to put yourself first many times. “Help yourself before you help others” is commonly cited in all kinds of situations, from emergency evacuation procedures on-board aeroplanes to preachers of all denominations giving sermons in churches, mosques and temples all over the world. I came across this exact phrase again just this week from Ayaan Hirsi Ali in ToM.

Depending on whom you choose to listen to, “put yourself first” can be interpreted in myriad different ways. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson defines it as being a “trailblazer” ; someone who steps out and leads the way, up-front and centre. Going first involves a significant amount of courage and self-assurance. In this respect, putting yourself first also involves a degree of risk and vulnerability which isn’t always easy to overcome. I know in my life this has held me back from fulfilling my potential on more than one occasion.

Tim Urban describes putting oneself first as choosing to “be a chef, not a cook”. By this he means us to direct our work and live life like a chef, heading up their kitchen and leading their team in experimenting with creative new ideas. Acting “like a cook” means working to realise someone else’s vision. It’s a perfectly fine career path, but it seems to me that being a chef in my own life is a wiser path to a more successful, fulfilling existence. Linked to last week’s musings about the difference between intelligence and wisdom, Tim reaffirmed my desire to become a wiser woman in my life.

Putting yourself first also requires standing up for yourself. Khloe Kardashian calls us to “ignore the naysayers” in our lives – and she should know! On the receiving end of brutal, frequent public scrutiny, Khloe is a true role model, proving it’s possible to handle extreme negativity whilst maintaining one’s self-confidence and self-esteem. If Khloe can handle the amount of sh*t thrown her way, then I’m sure I can cope with an odd off-hand comment thrown my way.

Another way of looking at the concept of putting yourself first is to put other people’s needs and desires after our own. Graham Duncan advises taking other people’s perspectives lightly. There’s no “right” point of view on anything, so why is it that so many of us prioritise others’ views above our own? Practising putting myself first this week, I’ve risked ridicule from not only C, who has a significant aversion to anything he deems “woo-woo”, but also myself for engaging in “magical thinking”. Drawing an inspirational card each day from my pack of Gabrielle Bernstein’s “The Universe Has Your Back” cards, this ritual reminds me to choose to think positively , which makes me happy.

Thinking deeply about what the idea of “putting myself first” really means, I realise that it can mean whatever I want it to mean. As such I’ve created my own definition of what this means to me:

Putting myself first means prioritising myself, in terms of my health, wellness and happiness, and also rating my own opinions of myself and what I do above those of others.

Thinking about it this way, putting myself first is a way of empowering myself to become happier, healthier, and generally better in any area of my life. At work I often play the role of “cook”, taking action to realise other people’s visions. In contrast, when I’m reading, writing or researching my own passions there are no limits to my creative thinking. I feel truly free. This week taught me that it’s okay to practise prioritising myself and my interests. By making time and space to write, for example, I’m more fulfilled and am a much nicer person to others as a result.

Fundamental Finding #3: Successful people are often readers and writers

Citing reading as a key passion in their lives, this week’s role models assured me that it’s actually pretty cool to be a reader. Naval insists we “read for love”; a phrase that stuck in my mind because it reflects exactly how I feel about reading. Coming back to books as an adult, I still feel a bit embarrassed to admit I’m happiest curled up with a book and a brew. I’d honestly rather read than go on a night out these days. With several successful mentors sharing my love of reading, I feel more confident accepting myself for who I am and what I enjoy.

Already a vociferous reader, I was encouraged this week to read even more. Matt Ridley suggests that I can increase the number of books I read by listening to audio books. Having recently re-subscribed to Audible, I’ve enjoyed listening to authors read their own books in their authentic voice. To me, it’s not like reading a book but is an entirely different experience. Whilst I generally prefer reading paper copies, I’ve actually found some books that I think work better as audio, like Robert Webb’s autobiography, for example.

This week’s thoughts leaders had plenty to say about writing, too. Up until I started this blog, I’ve been guarded about letting others know how important writing is to me. I hadn’t really shared my work with anyone before as I felt scared of being judged. However by publishing my writing on a regular basis and putting my work “out there” into the Universe, I’ve gradually gained confidence in my skills.

Specifically, I’ve begun to find my own authentic voice as a writer. I’ve taken the advice of mentors like Tim Urban, who suggests I “write for myself”, and Matt Ridley, who recommends specialising in writing about whatever most fascinates you. They agree that tailoring your creativity to appeal to the masses is unlikely to make you happy. Putting across my passion in my writing, it then requires that I trust those readers whose interests align with my own will eventually find – and love – my work.

Thus far, I’m grateful to have received some amazingly positive feedback from friends, family and even strangers on my blog. These kind words of encouragement and support drive me to positive action, where I’ve then found myself intentionally dedicating more time and effort to my writing. Of course, there are no guarantees my writing will connect with an audience in the way I hope. I know I’ll make plenty of mistakes in pursuing my writing. Yet I’m glad to have learnt to act on my passion for writing simply because doing so makes me happy.

Prioritising creativity isn’t easy when there’s so much else in life vying for our attention. However this week’s RMC encouraged me to take practical steps to make time for what matters to me. When I’m writing I lose all sense of time and I’m utterly in the moment. I know I’ve hit on something good because when I write is one of the rare occasions I even lose interest in food! Tuning out the radio, I put on my “mental blinkers” and focus on the words on my screen. I get in the “effortless flow of where I am”, as Graham Duncan puts it. Artists like Demi Lovato, Victoria Beckham, and Matt Ridley also commit to their work with this kind of intense concentration. Spending more time and energy thinking about writing has brought home to me quite how important it is to me.

Overall Observations: Week 2

Getting into a habit of selecting role models, I’m becoming better at identifying  those teachers and though leaders with whom I’m likely to instinctively connect. In the past two weeks, I’ve found that a positive connection is essential for me to really understand the lessons they have to share. For example, discovering Naval Ravikant in ToM and reading his eloquent, considerate responses to questions posed by the author, along with his love of writing and reading (of course!), made me like him immediately. Inversely, it’s nearly impossible to be unaware of the Kardashians. As a recovering reality TV junkie, Khloe was already my favourite of all the Kardashian “klan”, and so I was drawn to her success rules video. Subsequently I’ve a whole new level of respect for her. I aspire to attain even a modicum of her body confidence and unwavering self-belief!

Yet despite having access to a million motivating mentors at via the magic of the Internet, there have still been days where I’ve sought out guidance from familiar thought leaders. It feels comfortable and safe to engage with the teachings of people like Tony Robbins and Gabrielle Bernstein. I already have respect for them and their work, and I’m likely to return to them for inspiration time and again.

In virtually “meeting” such a broad range of successful people, I’m becoming better at being both intellectually open-minded and emotionally open-hearted. My mindset seems to be moving towards what’s called a “growth orientation”, whereby I’m willing to welcome wisdom from any and all spheres of influence. A good example of this is my gravitating towards Gabby Bernstein, whose spiritual teachings run contrary to my not having any religious leanings whatsoever. In this growth mindset I’m less likely to pre-judge and instead approach life asking myself: “what can I learn from this?”

Moreover, I realised the importance of maintaining a positive mindset if I want to learn as much as possible from my RMC.  One way I’ve achieved this is by continuing the priming process I taught myself to do whilst walking to work. It sets me up for a great start to the day by literally driving me forward to take action. Creating positive momentum, my RMC is thus far helping me grow in brilliant, yet unexpected ways.img_0743

 

 

 

 

Next up: Week 3 #squadgoals

Now half-way through this month’s experiment, I feel confident selecting mentors whose advice challenges me to become better. As I said at the start of this post (if you can remember that far back!), I’m following the order laid out in Tim Ferriss’ ToM book, accepting whomever he proposes as my first teacher of the day, then carefully curating a contrasting hero for my second.

In the coming week I plan to spend time learning from the legendary Steve Jobs. He’s quoted time and again by successful business people as having influenced their careers and lives. Being the self-help junkie that I am, I’ve heard clips of his most famous speeches, and seen many a quote of his when reading other people’s blogs. Yet I’ve not intentionally sought out his wisdom for myself before and think the RMC is a great opportunity to do this.

I also aim to continue seeking out strong female role models this week. In general there seem to be more inspiration videos of men online, so to address the balance I’ve chosen some women with whom I’m not especially familiar. Having learnt something from everyone thus far, I’m more open-minded to mentors whom perhaps I would have previously overlooked. This includes those whom I may have previously gossiped about, which is sh*tty behaviour on my part, I know, but I’m human and I’m learning to accept that I sometimes make these kinds of dumb mistakes.

By reserving my judgement and opening my heart to receiving wisdom from whomever I come across this next week, I hope to “meet” more brilliant role models in the second half of this challenge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anonymous

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

This Week I’m Grateful for:

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Beautiful, bargain blooms!

 

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

 

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

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

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