Food and drink, Healthy living, reflection, Well-being

Lent 2022

So, Easter has arrived and Lent has come to an end.  And I have largely given up cake and chocolate for 47 days.  I say largely because there were some special occasions when I did have cake:

For example:

  • A friend came to visit me in Albufeira and we always celebrate with a visit to the fabulous Riviera cake shop.
  • Another friend came to visit and we also met up for a walking tour around Faro followed with a coffee and a Portuguese tart
  • We went fo a couple of nice meals which came with dessert included
  • My sister came for a visit.  I’ve not seen her in person yet this year and we went for a walk with a cake stop.

What has gone by the wayside is the following:

  • a daily biscuit, chocolate bar or piece of cake at around 11.00 am
  • a nightly bit of chocolate watching TV
  • having a cake every time I go to a coffee shop to meet a friendIt meant that I was usually having chocolate and / or cake at least once a day.  That was what I wanted to stop.  And I have.
  • Sneaking a bit of chocolate out of the fridge

What I am learning about giving things up is it comes with a raft of questions surrounding the behaviour in the first place, which I do find quite fascinating.  Why do I drink wine when I know it will make me feel awful? Why I feel the need to eat chocolate and cake every day?  What need was it fulfilling?  What factors are affecting the choices that I make? Thinking about my childhood I can’t really identify any connection with comfort eating, or chocolate as a reward.  We did always get a finger of fudge and another bar of chocolate on Tuesday and Thursday when our Grandparents came to visit.  But beyond that, I can’t really say that there was ever any emotional attachment to cake or chocolate that I was aware of.  I just liked it.  Better than anything else – or so I thought!

I also can’t really say that anything ever triggered a real desire or need to eat chocolate or cake once I’d left home.  I suspect that more than anything there have just been ‘things’ that came up over time that created habits that then became ingrained.

I do know that there was an association between break time and eating a snack when I was teaching.  I do quite genuinely struggle to get timings of food right sometimes.  This has always been a feature of my life.  I remember sometimes at school as a child I’d ask to go to the toilet during lessons, when in actual fact, I was going to get a biscuit off my mum in the office because I was having the shakes through hunger.  When I went in to teaching I became conscious of the fact I could only eat at specific times of the day and if I didn’t eat then, there was potential for it to go wrong later in the day.  The only problem was I got caught up in a habit of eating something with a cup of tea at 11:00am.  That something was usually a chocolate bar.  Everyone in my last school knew I had a latte and twin during morning break – to the extent that sometimes a kind student would buy them and deliver them just as be bell for break was sounding.  Unfortunately, when I was working in a school where I was unhappy, I did start the habit of a sneaky bag of Haribo Tangfastics in the car on my way home.

Photo by Alena Koval on Pexels.com

Then, I do also know that our nightly habit of eating chocolate in front of the TV was a consequence of lockdown.  We lived very close to an M&S food hall and they had some seriously cheap chocolates during the first lock down.  We had the mother of a chocolate stash!  Unfortunately, once lockdown was over we carried on the habit of eating chocolate every night.

So.  Back to Lent.  I have managed to break these two habits and can see now that they were primarily habits.  There is no real emotional attachment, just habit.  I make a cup of tea at 11:00 (ish) and reach for a chocolate biscuit or three.  I sit down to watch TV after dinner, and my brain equates that with chocolate time.  During lent husband has also cut down on his chocolate consumption.  Not because I asked him to join me in lent, but because he’s realised he too is bored of chocolate every night.  It’s no longer a treat.  Eating chocolate and cake to this degree cannot be good for you.  

I have, however, discovered that there is a emotional element to my eating habits – even though I hadn’t thought there was one.  At the beginning of lent it was really hard.  At those habitual times I struggled not to eat chocolate or cake.  But the emotional eating was hard too.  I realised just how much I did turn to chocolate, cake and biscuits for every emotion.  If I was happy, sad, irritated, cross, tired, bored, if my hormones were raging – every time my first instinct was to reach for a sweet treat.  But there wasn’t one to be had.  There was no sneaky pieces of chocolate, no sneaky jelly babies.  The options available were few and unappetising!  I found that most often I reverted to:

  • A walk
  • Sitting and meditating for a while
  • Sitting and watching the feelings and letting them subside
  • Having a cup of tea
  • Doing another activity I do enjoy, like writing or knitting.
  • The occasional meltdown!

All of which worked.  All of which made me realise how much of an emotional eater I was.  Never did I eat something else instead.  You see, I wasn’t really hungry, I just wanted the emotion to go away.  I wanted to feel better and I was forced to find alternative ways to achieve that.  I realised that the chocolate and cake was never making things better, it was just putting them off for another day.

Sadly, I have not lost one pound in weight as a consequence of giving up chocolate and cake, on top of the wine I had already given up.  Husband says that I have been eating far more than I usually do at meal time – which I hadn’t realised – and which provided another  opportunity for pondering and reflection.

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

With each passing thing that I’m giving up, it brings other behaviours and habits into the spotlight that I hadn’t appreciated were there. I realised I don’t enjoy wine and prefer being able to do other activities instead of drinking and that I don’t need the wine to enjoy socialising.  I have also realised that I don’t need cake or chocolate.  When we have been out for dinner during Lent I’ve not actually wanted desserts that have been offered and it’s made me consider why it was I always ordered one.  I’ve registered that I am full.  Previously, I would always have managed three courses.  It turns out I don’t have a pudding stomach after all. This has gone a bit further when I realised that I am never hungry.  I rarely wake up hungry, I rarely eat a meal because I’m hungry. I certainly don’t eat snacks because I’m hungry.  Most of the time I eat because a meal has been placed in front of me.  Because it’s time to eat.  

I realised I no longer recognise hunger signals.  I am so used to just eating that I don’t know what a hunger signal feels like.  Sometimes I skip straight from not hungry to too hungry and so then have to eat something relatively quickly.  Between the two is a point at which I must be hungry and I need to recognise that.  I realise that I rarely stop eating when I am full, I eat the plate of food in front of me – not because I have to – not even because I want to much of the time, but because it’s there.  I went out with my husband for our wedding anniversary earlier this week, and it’s the first time in a long time that I registered that I was too full – and that I wasn’t actually happy with the amount of food I had eaten.  The food was beautiful and we’d go back to the same restaurant again, but the portions were just too big and I really didn’t enjoy the over full feeling I came home with.  In the past I would have carried on regardless and eaten dessert as well, and repented at leisure the following day!  

So.  Over the last 3 months or so I have cut out wine, cut out chocolate and cake – to the extent that I don’t actually want to rush out and eat cake and now I am starting to recognise that I over eat and am starting to be more mindful of portion sizes and when I am actually full. I have become aware of the emotions and habits that lead to me choosing to eat chocolate and cake – it’s habits that have been formed over the years that I hadn’t realised were happening. I can understand more fully how it is that people can turn down cake, or how my sister can just eat a few squares from a chocolate bar.  It’s just chocolate. 

For the foreseeable future I will continue as I am, and pay closer attention to what I’m eating, why and when.  Am I hungry?  What does that feel like? It’s actually quite exciting to learn to understand my habits and find ways to improve them, or in some cases get rid of them completely.  This is a very welcome side effect of Lent that I had really not anticipated and I look forward to finding out more about myself and enjoying food again. 

Photo by George Dolgikh @ Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com
Exercise, Healthy living, Well-being

It’s not OK, I’m not ‘just fit’

Recently, whilst at a Nordic Walking class a fellow walker was commenting on how much the Nordic Walking was hurting their arms.  So we discussed why that might be.  Then they said ‘It’s OK for you, you’re fit’.

I suppose compared to the average person I am quite fit.  On the scale of fit people, I’d put myself towards the lower end.  But that’s not the bit that struck me.  It was the whole ‘It’s OK for you, you’re fit’.  Is that generally what people think – that fitter people are just fit?  Do they not realise the level of effort involved in being ‘just fit’?  Do they not understand the choices that fit people make on a daily basis?  There is no fit person I know that is ‘just fit’. I can’t imagine that there are many people who are and is this generally a myth that people believe, that some people find being fit and healthy an easy choice.

Taking myself as an example.  Everyday I try to complete some form of exercise.  Even if it’s a short walk and a bit of stretching, a short fitness class, or doing exercises from the physiotherapist.  Because that’s what I need to do to keep the pain at bay, to manage a prolapse, to keep my body moving as best it can as I mature.  I am (hopefully) doing the best that I can to enable me to continue to be fit and active for the next 20 years.  This does not come easy to me and it never has, I am not a natural athlete.  I would very much like to be able to sit all day and not have to bother with exercise.  But I must.  How I would love not to.  I also make choices everyday about what to eat and drink.  Again, these are not easy choices.  How I would love to eat as many crisps, chocolate, cake as I liked.  Or drink as much alcohol as I liked.  But I can’t.  It’s not good for my physical and mental health and impedes the exercise I need to do to keep me moving freely and keep my brain sane.  These are not easy choices.  They do not ‘just’ happen.  I am not ‘just fit’.  This is a daily commitment to my health and well-being. 

Walking in Clifton, Bristol.

During the past week I have carried out some very low-scale market research to find out if anyone would consider being fit to be an easy option.

Looking at my husband, he will be the first to admit that he is at the obese end of the weight scale.  But what people don’t see is he is currently at the lowest weight he has been for over 20 years.  What people also don’t see is the 12,000 steps he takes every day.  They don’t see the food choices he makes every day.  They don’t see the level of effort he puts in to make sure he doesn’t move further towards the obese end of the scale.  They make judgements based on his appearance and assume that he  must be fat and lazy – he is neither.  He is currently struggling with a problem with his hip which has impeded his ability to complete his steps.  This has been devastating for him, both mentally and physically.  Not being able to achieve his daily step count has knocked his mental health and he is becoming increasingly frustrated at his inability to maintain what fitness he had.  Like me he makes daily choices around food, exercise and drink.  This does not ‘just’ happen.

For the last 6 months or so I have been doing online fitness sessions with Fitter Food Lover.  Slowly I have increased the weights that I use and am seeing improvements in my strength, fitness and general well-being.  I asked the personal trainer and other members of the group if they would consider being fit an easy choice.  Not one said that it was.  Each one makes a daily choice around diet and exercise and each one has their own reasons for doing so:  to maintain fitness and flexibility as they mature, to be fit and active parents to their family, to feel better about themselves generally.

I asked members of the Nordic Walking group that I belong to.  I even asked two women who had just finished a run and were heading to the café for a well earned cup of tea if they found being fit easy or enjoyable. It was a resounding ‘no’.

I also asked my sister if she would consider herself just fit.  She is a physiotherapist and works alongside Help the Aged running fitness groups for the elderly, enabling them to maintain their mobility, and therefore, their independence as they age.  She cited many reasons for maintaining fitness including building core strength and keeping your pelvic floor as healthy as it can be.  But no, she agreed that it’s not easy. It’s a choice people make and a commitment they make to themselves – to be the fittest version of themselves they can be – for as long as they can.

I asked each of these people five questions:

  1. Do you consider yourself to be ‘just fit’?
  2. Do you look forward to exercising?
  3. Do you enjoy exercise?
  4. Do you enjoy the benefits of exercise?
  5. Do you find any aspect of diet and fitness easy?

No one really considered themselves to be ‘just fit’.

Some did look forward to exercising.  Some less so.  Personally, I rarely look forward to exercise.  It’s always a challenge for me to drag myself to classes, to the swimming pool, or out for a walk. I would always choose staying at home and doing nothing.  It helps me if I know there are other people expecting me to turn up and it also helps if I have paid for the sessions in advance as that forces me to go along.

Most people said did enjoy the exercise once they got going and once they got there and that the biggest battle was getting to the class, or stepping out to run in the first place.

Everyone that I asked said they did enjoy the benefits of exercise.  They enjoyed the feeling that being fit and exercising gave them and it’s this that spurs them on.  Personally I love that when I have exercised I feel tired in a ‘worked hard’ sort of way and not a ‘lethargic about life’ kind of way.  I love the way I can feel my body toning up and that my core is getting stronger.  I love that I am able to manage my prolapse through exercise and haven’t, as yet, had to resort to other more invasive methods.  I like waking up having enough energy to make it through the day without having to have a ‘Nana Nap’.  I really enjoy not being in pain and want to maintain that for as long as I possibly can.

Nobody really found it easy.  Some found it easier than others, largely dependent on other commitments that they needed to fit around their exercise. Some found it easier the more consistent they were and if, for whatever reason, they had fallen off the exercise or diet wagon found it hard to get back up again.  I know that this is true for me.  The more consistent I am, the easier I do find exercising.  I also find it easier if I have a specific goal, which is why I tend to like a challenge of some kind. My personal trainer did say something which I found really interesting.  ‘If it was easy there wouldn’t be an obesity epidemic.  It’s our nature as a species to conserve energy and take the easy route.  Our ancestors were fitter and healthier because they had to do things to get food.  Now all we need to do is press our phone screens and it’s there’.

I found this really thought provoking and it made me think about my own Grandmother.  She didn’t drive.  She lived a good 15 minute walk away from the nearest food shops.  She walked far more than I have ever had to in order to complete basic chores throughout the day.  The diet that she ate was generally healthier then the diets that people eat today and it took time for her to cook a meal every evening.  Fast food and convenience food didn’t exist – there was not alternative choice.  Even if I think about how things have changed during my life, I can see how much more I sit still every day than I did 20 years ago.  There is increasingly no real reason to move and so it’s even more important to create times in the day when you do.  This is not an easy choice.  I recently listened to an episode of ‘Happy Place‘ podcast where Rangan Chattergee raised the point that people who do choose to make healthy choices are increasingly considered outcasts, the ‘not-normal’, despite the proven benefits of a healthy diet and daily exercise.  Where along the line did it become unusual to live a healthy life-style? Or unusual to include exercise in our daily lives? We have more free time than our ancestors, so at which point did we choose to spend that time doing as little as possible? Apparently this is part of our genetic wiring, to conserve energy for when we need it. The problem is that nowadays we are conserving energy for a danger that we are unlikely to face and the consequence is a population that is becoming increasingly sedentary and finding exercise to be something for other, fit, people.

I concluded that being fit is a scale.  Some people are naturally more predisposed to exercise and have a natural talent for different types of exercise.  Some people do enjoy exercise more than others and find it easier to fit into their daily routine.  Some families are more exposed to exercise than others – and an active family will more than likely produce children who enjoy exercising, or taking part in team sports.  But I’m not sure than anyone would say that they find exercise easy, whatever their level of sporting prowess, nor would I say that anyone is ‘just fit’, it’s a daily choice they make to include fitness as a part of their lifestyle.  The one thing they would all have in common is the benefits and rewards they enjoy in return for the effort spent in exercising.  

Cycling in Albufeira, Portugal
Exercise, Happiness, Healthy living, Mindfulness, Well-being

The Wheels on my Wagon go Round and Round

It’s been a month since my last glass of wine, so it goes to follow that its also a month since my last wine induced migraine.

I cannot believe the difference one month has made.  Not so much in how I feel physically, or look, and certainly not how much I weigh, but in terms of mental health the change has been huge.

The old me is making an appearance.  The me that inhabited the world until c.2009.  The me that twirls through life, is distracted by flowers and sparkles, sees hope in the worst of times and whose job it is to smile and make people laugh (mainly at me).

Before moving to Bristol (BB) I was alcohol free.  I exercised.  I wasn’t 100% healthy and struggled at time balancing my health and work but for the main part I was happy. I enjoyed my job and the school I worked at.  I was in a small department with three fabulous men and the office was usually filled with inane boy banter:  football, music, tv, what we had for tea last night.  There was no gossiping, there was no keeping score, just a generally calm, supportive working environment.

After moving to Bristol (AB) my life fell apart pretty quickly and it’s not until I look back that I can appreciate that fact.  I worked with challenging students on a daily basis with little by way of support and it took its toll – on my mental health, my husband’s mental health and our relationship.  It was then that I first started to drink, not, I now realise to deaden the pain or to deal with the stress of the situation, but to try to find the spark, the part of me that I knew was still in there.  The part of me that had gone into hibernation.  It’s hard to function in the world when you know a significant part of yourself is missing. It’s like permanently wading through treacle, trying to present a version of yourself to the world, hoping they can’t see the cracks. More often than I would like to admit, the cracks became chasms and I did struggle with life.

Slowly over the past 12 months I have started to crawl back out of hibernation, to unfurl my wings and take tentative steps back into the world as me.  Not the me that people think I should be, but the me that I used to be – Before Bristol. I like this version of me and feel sad that she has been hidden away from the world for such a long while.  Giving up wine is the final step in this process.

There’s always a flower to be found!

I’ve rediscovered the delight of exercising with good friends and the feelgood feeling that it gives me.  Once again my priority is my health.  Eating healthily feels normal and natural, I’m not on the rollercoaster of ups and downs that comes from drinking, feeling bad, eating sweets to cope, feeling bad, and have stopped making consistently poor choices.  I’m not perfect, but due to lent I am making further progress as I have given up chocolate, biscuits and cakes which is forcing me to pick healthy snacks – which, I’ll confess, are nothing like as tasty but I’m hoping it will be worth it in the long term.

I am starting to love socialising again.  I do love going out. I love the banter and the energy of an evening out.  Bizarrely, I prefer it sober.  I found having to drink quite stressful as I knew that there was always going to be quite a severe consequence, despite drinking a minimal amount and to know that I can go out, have fun, and wake up headache free, filled with energy and ready to take on the day is amazing.  I have re-found my love of life.  I love life, everything about it and I’m starting to enjoy it again, to spot the flowers by the roadside, to hear the birds singing and I no longer feel like I am dragging myself from one day to the next.  It feels like there is a purpose to my days again. I am laughing again.

The wheels are well and truly back on my wagon, they are well oiled and ready to trundle on their merry way, safe and secure.  I might even get around to pimping my wagon!

Happiness, reflection, Walking, Well-being

February 2022

February has been and gone.  Here in Albufeira, there are signs of spring and of the holiday season beginning.  Most bars and restaurants will be open by the end of March and there is spring cleaning going on all around us.  I anticipate that this year will be busier than it has been for many years.  Whilst on the one hand I have enjoyed having the town to ourselves, the Algarve needs the money from tourism.  The businesses desperately want the British tourists to come and spend their money, and I know the British are equally desperate to go on holiday, so it is nice to see people arriving for their holidays and short breaks.  You can spot a British tourist a mile off.  They are the ones in shorts and flip flops whilst the rest of us are still in jeans and sweatshirts!

Anyway, back to February.  I really didn’t make that much progress on my list of 22 things for 2022 during the month.  Primarily to a raging headache, initially caused by two glasses of wine at dinner.  I spent one week getting rid of the headache, and a second week getting rid of the headache caused by the painkillers I’d taken for the first headache.  So it was the sort of month where I just laid low, did what needed to be done and accepted that was the way it was going to be.  This is a new departure for me.  In the past I would have battled on regardless, but it is a sign of progress that I actually did just stop and spend time tackling the headaches and their root cause.  This has also led to my actively avoiding alcohol and I am currently at 16 days without a drink.

There are signs of spring across Albufeira

The only area where I really did make progress was towards my target of walking 1000 miles in the year.  I am now up to 322 miles.  My current aim is to divide the year into quarterly chunks and increase the target for each quarter by a smidgette!  What I love about walking is even on the lowest of days I can still manage something, even if it’s only a gentle walk to the end of the road to look across the beach.  I am still having to remind myself to walk rather than sit at home, particularly when we are in Portugal.  When we are in Bristol I have a Nordic Walking Group that I go along to and that enables me to maintain my distances – that tends to go by the wayside a little in Portugal as I definitely need an incentive to get up and out.  This is really quite frustrating as I do feel so much better for exercising.  During the past week or so I have been very lazy and can feel my body start to seize up – it definitely wants to begin moving more frequently again.  

For one of the list of 22 – listen to a new album each month – I changed the remit slightly. In her book ‘Quit Like a Woman’ which I read in January, Holly Whitaker recommends creating a playlist of music that calms the mind.  So whilst I didn’t listen to a specific album I did spend the month listening to Spa Music, which is a definite departure from my usual choices.  My theory was if it’s good enough to have a massage to, then it must be calming and relaxing to have on in the background.  And I have to say that I have really enjoyed it.  When I’m studying, when I’m showering I have the music playing in the background and it is genuinely calming.  Even husband has commented on how much he enjoys having it playing in the background.  I’m going to go back to listening to a specific album during March, but will definitely keep playing the spa music at certain times of the day.  The album for March is ‘Aladdin Sane’ by David Bowie.  I’ve never really listened to much of Bowie’s music, and know very little about his earlier albums, but when I asked a group of friends for album recommendations they all agreed that this one was a must.

Even a short walk lifts the spirits when the sky is this blue!

I also didn’t make any progress on reading fiction.  I’m not entirely sure I read one complete book in the month.  The first fiction book I opened my kindle at the beginning of the month was ‘The Imposter’ by Damon Galgut.  I think it was an Amazon recommendation that I got for next to nothing.  It’s not really my cup of tea and I probably should have abandoned it and started something else instead.  But I am at the 80% point now, so I really don’t have any excuses not to complete it within the next few days.  I am going to set aside a few minutes each day to sit and read and get it finished.  For part of my Creative Writing module for my latest degree they recommended reading a range of genres and authors to widen my repertoire.  I have done that with this book and won’t be rushing back to read another one!  I’m hopeful that March will see a return to enjoyable reading!

March also coincides with lent and so I am going to embrace the opportunity!  When I completed Sober October, I found a ready made excuse does make giving something up far more easy.  Nobody questions your motives.  So, I am giving up cakes and chocolate for lent.  As much as anything, I’d quite like to see what difference it does make to my weight and general sense of well-being.  A few years ago I was listening to ‘Thought for the Day’ on the Radio 2 Breakfast Show and the guest speaker was saying that lent isn’t just about giving up and doing without.  It’s about making a commitment to something – so that could be a daily walk, reading for 30 minutes a day, anything really.  So as well as giving up sweet treats I am going to commit to the daily writing practice I set for a target at the beginning of the year and see if I can maintain that commitment for the period of lent.  

So there we have it.  Another month completed and I look forward to making more progress towards my 22 for 2022 throughout March.

Healthy living, Mindfulness, reflection, Well-being

What are your non-negotiables?

I’ve recently finished reading ‘Quit Like a Woman‘ by Holly Whitaker and I can highly recommend reading it.

It’s primarily about quitting alcohol and although I don’t drink a vast amount, I have struggled to knock drinking on the head altogether, there are moments where I still get sucked in.  Beyond that there were several recommendations that I felt would work in my life in general, one of which was to identify my three non-negotiables.  Those 3 things that I will do every day, even the worst of days, no matter what.  

1.  Exercise.  For me this is huge.  Even if all I can manage is a walk.  We were sitting at home recently and I was feeling guilty about leaving husband to do decorating on his own, again.  But he said he’d realised how much difference exercise does make to my overall well-being and so missing out on my Nordic Walking in this instance was non-negotiable.  That had to happen.  Exercise is the one thing that I prioritise in my diary.  No matter what.

2.  No alcohol.  This ties in with #1 and it absolutely has to be a non-negotiable.  If I drink I feel dreadful.  Even the tiniest bit makes me feel dreadful. Just this past weekend I had a couple of classes of wine with dinner.  During the night the crushing headache arrived.  At one point as the headache moved down my face, into my sinuses and my teeth I began to wonder if I was actually having a stroke.  As a consequence, I missed my Monday morning exercise class.  Instead I slept.  Then I  feel even more dreadful.  Which makes me more tempted to drink, or eat sweets.  Which makes me feel a bit more dreadful and so I carry on in this downward spiral.  The exercise goes out of the window and it takes a mammoth effort to get back on track again.  So better all round if I just don’t bother with the alcohol in the first place.

3.  Meditation.  I’ve always been a bit slapdash when it comes to meditation.  I do it for a few days, then not.  I’m making a concerted effort to make meditation a daily commitment and making it a non-negotiable will help with that.  Much like exercise, it makes a big difference to me.  I normally aim for 15 minutes twice a day.  Sometimes I just sit in the quiet, sometimes I use a guided meditation, but I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter too much how I do it!  But it does have a really positive impact on how I feel during the day.

Besides these 3  non-negotiables, the book recommends a toolkit of about 10 things that you can draw upon to help you navigate those tricky moments.  I have:

1.  A cup of tea.  Very British I know, but you can’t beat a good old cup of tea.  I suspect because it simply makes you stop for a while and address what is causing the problem.  Or to sit quietly and just reflect.  Or sit and look out of the window at the world going by for a moment.

2.  My husband.  He is very good in the moment.  I can tell him what is going around in my head.  90% of the time he tells me it’s stupid and 80% of the time he’d be right.  But I know that I can safely say what’s in my head, as bonkers as it may be.  Just being able to say it out loud in a safe place gives me space to realise just how bonkers the thoughts are and it is the first step towards finding a solution.  

3.  My sister.  After husband has mopped up the initial anxiety driven trauma, my sister is superb at providing impartial, practical solutions.  No judgement, no making me feel stupid, just straight forward practical solutions. 

4. Tapping (EFT) This is a relatively new find for me and I’ll admit I thought it was totally out there the first time I tried it or heard about it.  It works with the central nervous system and the meridians. Basically you tap on various points on your face and body whilst repeating certain phrases and the combination of both helps restore your equilibrium.  

5.  Mindful Moments.  I’ve set a series of alarms on my phone for every 2 hours.  When it goes off I stop for a few minutes.  If I’m out and about I tend to do a few minutes heart coherence.  Or if I’ve been sitting studying for a while I use it as the opportunity to walk and stretch a little.  The idea being that it brings to back to the present.  Initially I thought it would be an intrusive nightmare, but it’s really quite pleasant!

6.  Deleting Facebook.  This probably sounds like a bizarre one.  But I cannot tell you the difference it has made to me, not being on Facebook and avoiding that particular rabbit hole.  I don’t know what it is about my brain that means I can’t take part in this particular activity – but I can’t.

7.  Making things Anything really!  There is nothing that I lose myself in quite like making something.  It absorbs me totally.  I do want to make a dress that fits and I have a bit of a bizarre obsession with crochet scarves and wraps at the moment. I always have something on the go, so whenever I find myself feeling a bit low, or there is potential for me to get sucked into something that might not be so good for me, then I can pick up whatever it is I am making and sit enjoying the process for a while. I have the world’s longest list of things I want to make so it’s unlikely I’ll ever find myself at a loose end.

8.  Music.  As the song says ‘Through my times of trouble my music sees me through’.  Listening to music, playing an instrument.  I don’t play my clarinet as often as I should, but there is nothing quite like it for bringing me into the present moment.  I’m trying to widen my music repertoire and am listening to different types of music, but I have to say that in the moment you can’t beat a bit of Katy Perry!

9.  Sitting on a bench. This is a topical one!  Ricky Gervais has just placed 15 benches around the UK based on the one he uses in the show Afterlife.  The theory being that you sit there and someone comes to chat to you and might just save your day.  I don’t very often get to sit and talk to anyone, but quite regularly a short walk to a local bench is all I need to settle my mind.  To sit quietly and watch the ocean, or watch people walking by, to hear the birds singing, the children laughing.  You can’t beat a good old bench.

10.  Other people.  This is a bit of a catchall.  I don’t have a ‘crew’ as such and I am still trying to find out what works best for me.  One thing that did resonate with me from the book is that different people will come into your life at different times.  Some stay, some don’t, some you may not ever meet in real-life.  But this is an evolving thing.  There have been many people over the years that have made a difference to me.  In the past year it has definitely been my physio and chiropractor, but I can see how I may move on from them now that physically, I feel so much better.

So there we have it.  My 3 non-negotiables and my toolkit of 10.  These may both evolve over time, but what I have found interesting is that it helps to be prepared.  It helps to be consistent and practice techniques day in and day out.  I appreciate that for many people this is not even necessary.  What I do know is that starting my day with non-negotiable #1, the chances of me even needing to delve into the toolkit of 10 is significantly reduced.  

Bristol, Exercise, reflection, Sustainable Living, Well-being

January 2022

Well, it would be fair to say that I have already failed on one of my 22 for 2022.  That of writing a blog post once a week.  January has passed me by in a blur.  Here in Bristol it has been fairly mediocre!  The weather hasn’t really added up to much and there have been some days when leaving the house felt like an effort too far. In a way it was good to have this list of challenges, because it did actually make me do something other than watch the month pass me by.

It felt like a mammoth achievement to make it to Christmas with daily covid testing, husband testing positive for covid over the Christmas period, cancelled Christmas plans and the quietest Christmas for many a year.  Just making it as far as the New Year seemed enough and like many people we have pretty much hunkered down for January.  It was nice not to go out, not to worry about going out, but to spend cosy evenings in front of the TV. Not helped by the weather – which has been particularly gloomy.

In addition to that we have been decorating our home.  It’s only a one bedroom flat which means it has been impossible to empty a room, decorate and then move everything back in.  It became quite wearing in the end, permanently living in some version of chaos.  That too has come to an end as we had the deadline of the last week of January to get as much done as possible prior to having carpets fitted throughout.  

I’ve also had a deadline for the Open University.  Like buses.  Everything came along in the last week of January!  It’s a relief that everything is out of the way.  I have concluded that there will never be a convenient time for an assignment deadline – that’s just the way these things work. I suppose it’s a relief that January is out of the way.  For me February represents hope that spring is just around the corner and the worst of winter is behind me.  

One thing I have really enjoyed about January this year is no resolutions.  No self imposed restrictions that have become unrealistic 10 days into the new year.  I have also continued to enjoy not being on Facebook.  It has made such a difference to how I feel and has meant that I have engaged more fully with real people in real life, completed more crochet projects and generally felt more calm and grounded.  It’s probably the most hopeful January I’ve had in many years.  

I have made progress on some of the items on my list of 22:

#3    I haven’t bought any new clothes.  I have bought a few things from my local charity shop, but they have been things to alter or to use the fabric for other projects.  I’ve never been able to alter clothes and so have been using charity shop finds to practice on, rather than destroy pieces I already have in my wardrobe.  So far, so good!  The bigger achievement for me is not going shopping in the winter sales.  I do love a bargain and so it’s huge for me to pass them by.  It’s also made me realise just how much I do already have in my wardrobe and so shopping isn’t necessary at all.  There is the obvious bonus of saving money too!

#4  Reduce single use plastics.  I am in awe of just how many toiletries I have stashed in my cupboards – particularly shampoo.  I seem to have a never ending supply of shampoo which I am determined to use prior to replacing them with plastic free versions.  Whilst any plastic isn’t great, recycling empty plastic is preferable to throwing away filled plastic containers.  So, as yet all I have replaced is one handwash, and one shower gel – both with a good old fashioned bar of soap.

#7 Walk 1000 miles.  I am currently 202.1 miles having started on 14th December.  I suspect I might have to amend the challenge at some point in the year, in order to make it more of a challenge than it currently is. 

Walking with Bristol Nordic Walking

#8 Eat one piece of fruit a day.  Another fail!  I have been increasing the amount of fruit I have been eating, but haven’t quite managed that one extra piece per day.  But it’s a target to aim for.  I’ve recently been reading ‘Quite Like a Woman’ by Holly Whitaker and taking on more than one thing at once isn’t advisable, better to change things one at a time – so I shall keep this as a target and hopefully by the end of 2022 this will be a daily habit.

#9 Read 12 Fiction books.  I have achieved this.  In fact, during January I have read several books, although only two were fiction books.  The books I have read are:

  • ‘The Couple at Number 9’ by Clare Douglas – a Crime book.  I enjoyed the read and finished it (which is unusual for me) but not outstanding.  I didn’t put it down and think I must go and read her other books.  
  • ‘Mother Loves Me’ – a psychological thriller and for the first half of the book there were times where I was scared to turn the page, but then it sort of fizzled out towards the end, which was disappointing.
  • ‘Spectacles’ by Sue Perkins.  I love Sue Perkins and so when I saw this on the shelf at the local charity shop I had to buy it.  A great, entertaining read.
  • ‘The Wrong Knickers’ by Bryony Gordon.  Again, I love Bryony Gordon and her posts on Instagram showing a real down to earth approach to life.  So this was a delight to read and a real honest insight into the reality of life as a twenty-something in London.
  • ‘Once Upon a Time in The West Country’ by Tony Hawks.  A gentle story chronically Tony’s move to the West Country.  The best part without doubt is when he takes a pig for a cycle ride across Devon.

#11 Make a dress that fits.  The items of clothing I have altered have helped me with this as I am starting to get a better understanding of the shape of clothes and how they fit together.  I usually just follow the pattern, but my body is a bit of a queer shape, so understanding the construction of clothing is probably going to be as helpful as following a pattern.  That way I can work out what to adjust rather than just blindly follow along.  

#16  365 days of writing.  I have tried.  This is another habit that I have found to be a struggle, especially on days when I have been studying.  The thought of spending more time at my laptop blows my mind a bit.  I did try writing by hand, but find that I think more clearly when I am typing.  I also found some of the prompts a little un-inspiring and so ended up writing waffle. There was one day that I wrote a poem, which I did quite enjoy and came as quite a surprise to me. This is another habit that I hope to have incorporated in to my life on a daily basis come the end of 2022.  Especially as I hope to have started a module on Creative Writing by then!

#17  Listen to 12 New Albums.  My album choice for January was ‘Hand Cannot Erase’ by Steven Wilson.  Which I have quite enjoyed and is certainly different to anything that I would normally choose to listen to.  What has been most interesting has been finding out from different people which albums they recommend.  I’m still on the hunt for about 6 months worth of recommendations, so please do feel free to share your favourites.  If there was one album you think I should listen to, what would it be? 

That’s all of the progress for now! I’m hoping that during February I make a start on some of the other items on the list, specifically cycling from Albufeira to Vilamoura and I am going to try again with the daily fruit and creative writing habits.  

Durdham Downs in the Sunshine
Happiness

22 things for 2022

As in previous years (didn’t bother for 2021) I have put together a list of things I would like to do in 2022. I’ve tried not to include too many habits, although there are a few and I have tried to include things I would really like to do, not things I think I should.

  1. Paddleboard on the sea
  2. Cycle from Albufeira to Vilamoura (and back again).
  3. Don’t buy new clothes.
  4. Reduce single use plastics – specifically with regard to toiletries
  5. Publish a crochet pattern in a magazine
  6. Enter a flash fiction competition
  7. Walk 1000 miles
  8. Eat one piece fruit every day
  9. Read 12 fiction books
  10. Take a photography class
  11. Make a dress for myself that fits
  12. Go to a Grand Prix
  13. Visit Scotland
  14. Visit Wales
  15. Grade 1 saxophone or Grade 7 Clarinet
  16. 365 days of creative writing
  17. Listen to 12 new albums
  18. Long distance walking challenge
  19. Write a blog post every week
  20. Ride a Horse
  21. Snorkelling Trip
  22. Visit my friend in Dresden

This has taken a bit thought than usual! I don’t generally plan things. One thing that was on and off the list quite a bit was not drinking alcohol for 365 days. But that felt like a bit too much of an ask! But we’ll see how I get on with that one. So here are the reasons for my choices:

1.  Paddle Board on the sea.  I’ve wittered on about this for years.  This year I’m going to do it, and if I spend most of the time in the sea than on the board, well then never mind! I have spent some time swimming in the sea in 2021 so my fear of falling off the board into the sea is hopefully less of a thing.

2.  Cycle from Albufeira to Vilamoura and back again.  It’s about 50 kilometres there and back. There are really good cycle paths around Vilamoura – I just have to get there first to cycle on them.  This could take some achieving and probably a bit of planning, especially as I’ve not cycled for a while.

3.  Don’t buy any new clothes.  I have far too many as it is.  This does include not buying things from the charity shops. I volunteer in my local St Peter’s Hospice shop and it’s a nightmare. So much really good stuff comes in and it’s really hard not to buy it all. One thing I would like to add to this is to personalise clothes a bit more. Add a decorative flourish here and there! There is a bit of a caveat with this one – things like undies and socks when needed!

4.  Cut back on single use plastics in toiletries:  When you look at the recycling bins both in Portugal and Bristol, by far the most full is the plastics.  I’m a sucker for buying toiletries when they are on offer – but so much of the packaging isn’t actually recyclable.  The labels are misleading – some of them literally mean ‘they can be recycled if the right facilities exist’ and in so may places the ‘right facilities’ don’t exist.  So I’m going to try to find a way to reduce single use plastics and toiletries.

5.  Publish a crochet pattern in a magazine:  I just need to get off my backside really!  I’ve published a few patterns to Ravelry, I just need to crack on and try this. My excuse is always that I’m in the wrong country and don’t have access to the wool needed, but that is just an excuse and I am going to give it a try. Every time I buy a crochet magazine I think ‘I could have designed that’ but I don’t. Much like many other things, I just don’t get off my arse!

6.  Enter a flash fiction competition:  I started another degree in 2021 and as part of it discovered I’m actually quite good at Creative Writing.  Flash Fiction is a form of creative writing – generally between 500 and 1000 words.  And there are competitions – so I thought I might try entering one to see what happens!

7.  Walk 1000 miles:  I walk 10,000 steps most days, so this shouldn’t be too difficult!

8.  Eat one piece of fruit every day:  I am rubbish at eating fruit and veg and thought this would be quite a simple way to make sure I at least got a bit more fruit into my diet.  

9.  Read 12 fiction books:  Part of the creative writing course is based on reading fiction with a readers mind and looking at the way in which authors write.  I haven’t really read much by way of fiction for quite a while – so thought one per month was a good place to start.  I’m going to add to this by only reading fiction books that I already have on my Kindle.  A bit like clothes shopping, I have loads, so there is absolutely no need to buy any more.

10.  Take a photography class: In 2020 it might have been my husband bought me a new camera because we were due to to quite a bit of travelling to new, unusual places that we were definitely only going to visit once. Obviously, that didn’t quite happen. But I do enjoy using the camera, I just don’t really have much of a clue what I’m doing with it. So I’d like to do a course to learn a bit more about the camera and the kinds of things I can do with it.

11. Make a dress for myself that fits:  I love dresses and I love sewing.  But the two have never really panned out that well.  So I’m going to take my time and actually make a dress that fits.

12. Go to a Grand Prix:  Covid allowing. We were meant to go to one last year, and the year before, but they didn’t quite happen.  So hopefully 2022 will be the year. Currently wondering about Barcelona or Budapest.

13. Visit Scotland:  Last summer we had a lovely trip to the North East of England.  We have some friend that has recently moved back to Scotland so hopefully we will make it up to visit them.

14. Visit Wales:  This seemed like it was worth a shout as I was going to try Scotland, why not add in wales too! We do also have friends that live just over the bridge in Newport, so no excuses really!

15. Grade 3 saxophone:  I can play the clarinet and got as far as grade 6.  Option A was finish Grade 7 and 8, option B was to start again at the beginning with saxophone.  I’ve ordered a metronome and will make a start with the clarinet – as my saxophone is currently with my dad and so I can’t actually play it at the moment – although that would be by far the easier option! My sister thought I’d finished Grade 8, but I never really got there!

16. 365 days of creative writing:  I bought a book as part of my degree course with a daily creative writing prompt.  It starts from January 1st.  I tried starting the book in May and just got confused – so I’ll start again at the beginning of the year and follow the book along.  I’m really rubbish at committing to things like this, so this will be a real challenge for me.

17. Listen to 12 new albums:  1 per month.  Back in the day I would have brought a record / tape / CD and listed to all the tracks, warts and all.  Nowadays I tend to just listen to songs – like many people.  I love music and have a friend who recently recommends full albums to listen to.  So I’m going to start listening to them, and I might even branch out.  Maybe try a bit of jazz. I might also listen to some of the albums I probably should have listened to years ago – a bit of Bob Dylan or something like that.

18. Long distance walk.  I see these advertised every year and think that I’d quite like a go at one.  I quite fancy going to the peak district.

19. Write a blog post every week – as much as anything to keep track of the 22 things! I do enjoy writing, but I just get side-tracked. I am going to endeavour to not get side tracked this year.

20.  Ride a horse:  I nearly did this last year but kept wimping out and finding excuses not to.  But if it’s on the list, it needs to happen!  I even got so far as messaging a stables near Albufeira to find out what I needed to do.  

21.  Snorkelling trip:  This is another one that I meant to do in 2020.  A family friend wanted to go snorkelling in Portugal and I said I would go with her.  But it never happened.  So this year, I’m going to go ahead and do it.

22.  Visit my friend in Dresden (Germany, not Longton):  This is another one that has been moved time and time again.  We first met in the early 90s in America and life has taken over. It’s been a really long time since we saw each other in the flesh. This year, I really hope that I make it to Dresden to visit her.

Mindfulness, Well-being

A month without FaceBook

Just over one month ago I took the decision to de-activate my Facebook account.  Sadly, I couldn’t totally delete facebook because that means you also lose messenger, and like it or not, it is a great way of keeping in contact with people.  So I did the best I could and de-activated my account.

Why?

Because I’m not really all that sure that it’s all that good for my mental health.  The problem isn’t the pretty pictures of other people who are living fabulous lives that might be more fabulous that mine.  No.  It’s the adverts.  The sneaky adverts.  Especially adverts for things like planners, or based on spirituality, or a quick fix for mental health.  Then I’m off down a rabbit hole, researching, reading, buying another book, trying to work out what this person can do to help me, that the last one couldn’t, when in actual fact none of them can help me because I’m stuck in this rabbit hole and actually just need to come up to the surface and take a breath.  Take a look around.  Take a rest.  Just be myself for a bit.

So.  Facebook went.  And what have I learned?

I learned just how much time I spent on Facebook.  How many times I just reached for my laptop and before you know it a good hour or two had disappeared into oblivion and I had achieved precisely nothing.  There are still some days, especially after lunch when I do still sit and wonder what am I going to do now – how am I actually going to fill this eternity of time that is ahead of me. I no longer have the Facebook drug and I’ve come to realise that I used it in much the same way as you might alcohol, or shopping, or cake, or chocolate. Something that fills the void, something that papers over the cracks. I’m starting to spend more time peering in to the cracks and acknowledging what’s there.

This month has also seen me travel back from Portugal to Bristol for the Christmas holidays.  I wanted to spend them here this year.  So for the first 10 days or so of my Facebook detox I started to take a walk in that post lunch slump. The time when I am most likely to reach for the laptop and peruse Facebook  The weather was still beautiful but cooler and so all activity no longer had to be crammed into the first two hours of the morning. So I walked, not far, but far enough to get out and have a change of scenery. Since we have been back in Bristol, this has taken a bit of a back seat and I do still find myself reaching for my laptop after lunch. Getting out for a daily walk is definitely an activity I need to re-introduce as it keeps me sane and perks me up in the afternoon.

Walking in Albufeira

As ever, I’ve read a book ‘Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It’ by Kamal Ravikant. He recommends using a mantra that you repeat to yourself over and over, during meditation, while you’re out and about, when you’re in a sticky situation. I chose ‘I trust and love myself’. I’m not sold on this, but happy to give it a try! Besides that he recommends:

(a) simplifying everything (and boy do I need to simplify) and stop overcomplicating life.  Life doesn’t need to be anything like as complicated as I can make it.

(b) being consistent (not a strength of mine). Pick one or two things to do each day, but do them, every day, consistently. Stop hopping from one thing to another in the hope that it will magically resolve everything in an instant.

(c) Focusing on the self as a means to heal, I suppose.  Not in a selfish ‘all about me’ way, but from the point of view of if I feel good then I feel well enough to get out there and take on the world, without being dragged down into the rabbit hole of doom. So for me that means getting out for a daily walk, going to Nordic Walking classes, turning up for online HIIT sessions, listening to music, eating as well as I can, not going onto facebook.

(d) Ask yourself in the moment, or before saying ‘yes’ to a request, ‘Is this something I really want to do?’ ‘Is this something that will build me up and make me feel fulfilled?’ ‘If I really do trust and love myself, would I choose to do this?’ If the answer is no – then don’t do it! I am a nightmare for saying yes, then thinking ‘nope, bad idea’. An example of this is I recently applied for a temporary Christmas job at Next. I knew by the end of the first shift that it was a really, really bad idea – but I’d been swept away by the excitement of it all. If I’d just taken time to think things through and really considered ‘if I trust and love myself would I choose to do this?’ then the answer would have been no.

Throughout the month I have found myself in the moment thinking ‘why am I doing this’, whatever this was.  If I really do trust and love myself, would I actually do this?  Would I eat this cake? Would I drink this wine? Is sitting on my laptop achieving nothing for an hour a good use of my time? Facebook would have gone into the no bracket.  So, there have been some things that I have thought, no, not really and others that I’ve thought, actually, yes.

And what were those things?

– I like to listen to or watch something whilst ironing and had taken to listening to podcasts based on fixing myself (still down in the rabbit hole of doom).  Instead I watched Dirty Dancing, Chesapeake Shores, Modern Love.  I have a thing (much to husbands chagrin), whenever we hear ‘that’ song from the end of the Dirty Dancing playing in the bars in Albufeira (and we hear it a lot) I have a bit of a dance up the street!  So I had a bit of a dance whilst I ironed.

– I’ve started to eat a bit of fruit every day.  I’m not a fan of fruit, but do appreciate it is good for me, so I’ve started to make the effort to eat an extra bit everyday.  

– I’ve been doing some crochet.  I’ve actually designed, made and published patterns for two winter cowels, using wool I found in Poundland of all places. If you’d like to try making the patterns they can be found here.

– I’ve read a fiction book.  I can’t tell you the last time I read any fiction.  

– I’ve started listening to music more, and I’ve ordered some sheet music to practice with my clarinet. Music always makes me feel better.

Two cosy cowls

There are elements of Facebook that I do miss.  I miss seeing what certain friends who live a distance a way from me are up to and it does have value in finding out what is going on in and around Albufeira.  It is the way that many ex-pat groups promote themselves and share valuable information.  One aspect of Facebook I thought I would miss is groups that I was a member of.  There were two in particular that I loved being a part of.  But as the month has gone on, I can see how they were also feeding my need to be fixed and were also a part of the obsessive behaviours around health. Only this morning I was wondering again, would it hurt, really? Would it hurt if I just reactivated my account and had a sneaky peak? In that moment, I had to remind myself of the reasons I had deactivated it in the first place and did some crochet instead!

I do think that at the end of this first month I have started to regain some balance in my life.  I’ve had time to focus on things that I do enjoy, without constantly thinking I should be doing more.  I realise just how much I was using Facebook to avoid doing other things and using it as an excuse to explain why I wasn’t doing them. I’ve started to notice a little more those moments where I am slipping down the rabbit hole of doom and been able to understand a little more what’s causing them and how best to resolve them.

I am starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel and I have two fabulous new cowls to show for the month. It’s a long time since I had something concrete to show for a month of my time.

Mindfulness, Well-being

Angelica Anxiety

This past week hasn’t been one of the best.  Equally, it hasn’t been one of the worst.  But as the week wore on, it became more and more apparent that the only way things were really ending was with a bit of an anxiety induced meltdown.

In the end it turned out to be a really positive experience, as the wealth of support and knowledge that was directed my way was amazing.  So many friends reached out to offer support and to share their experiences. Which I suppose is why I am so honest about my experiences – it my help someone else along the way to understand that whilst they might feel completely lost and alone, the reality is somewhat different, there are so many people who are willing and able to help.  

I posted about my experience initially on Instagram and Facebook.  Almost immediately I received a message from a friend with a link to the NHS mental health website which offered a range of techniques to help manage anxiety.  Some I’d tried before, some I hadn’t, some just didn’t do it for me.  One I had tried during the week was breathing. Constantly breathing, follow the breath, in out, from the heart, radiate good feelings, find the good feelings, why can’t I find the good feelings, back to the breathing.  At which point the technique designed to combat the anxiety was creating its own form of anxiety.  

There is an 8 minute Yoga Nidra practice on the NHS ‘Every Mind Matters‘ website which I decided to give a whirl.  I’ve tried Yoga Nidra before but only in the yoga studio, so I admit I was a bit sceptical.  I didn’t actually realise the 8 minutes was up, as I was so busy concentrating on relaxing the various parts of my body, so in the end I’d probably been lying on the floor for nearer 20 minutes.  So, I interpreted that as a positive result.  Unfortunately, the Yoga Nidra was followed by the breakdown.  I’m not sure if the relaxation had just released all the pent up emotions, or the kindness of a friend or why it happened then, but the meltdown I had worked so hard to avoid all week eventually came.  By the bucket load.  But I didn’t want the meltdown.  I didn’t want to be anxious, I wanted to fix it without reaching that point.  It turns out that, as ever, the meltdown was required for me to move forward.

Another technique recommended on the NHS website was to keep an anxiety diary.  Sort of ‘What Angelica did today’.  I’m not generally a fan of this as I feel I just end up with a really negative journal, a list of everything that is going wrong.  I can see the rationale behind it, but I don’t think it’s really for me.  Increasingly though, I think it needs to be for me and I need to try to find a way to make it happen.  One of the first books I read about mental health was Ruby Wax’s ‘Frazzled’ and in that she recommends naming the different beasts that invade your brain – hence Angelica Anxiety – but to go further than that and give them a persona.  What do they look like?  How are they dressed?  In my head Anglica has wild curly, untamed hair, with the look of someone caught like a rabbit in the headlights.  That slightly startled, terrified look of someone who doesn’t know which way to run.  The idea is that you start to spot the arrival of this beast, Angelica, and so you can start to smooth her down before things get out of hand.  This is where the diary comes in to play.

I started to think about where this particular bout of anxiety had originated.  In the moment, I blamed the fact I was doing Sober October for MacMillan Cancer and I didn’t have the alcohol to mask the symptoms.  But it dawned on me that this wasn’t really true.  I don’t drink all that much alcohol – so whilst I might occasionally use it as a distraction it’s not that much of an influence.  As I looked back over the past month or so I could see patterns – that if I’d kept a diary I would recognise by now.

We came back to Albufeira in late August and since then it has been pretty full on.  I would say every week people have been visiting the town on their holidays.  Some we knew about, some were pleasant surprises.  We are incredibly fortunate to have a wide variety of friends that we enjoy spending time with and quite frequently they are only visiting Albufeira for a short period of time and so we like to catch up with them as much as we can.  None of them stay with us and appreciate that we live here and so make very few demands on our time.  The problem is that I feel we should do all we can to meet up with them and I do have very bad FOMO! Unfortunately, it reached the point where I was struggling to cope with the number of times each week we were going out with other people and the cracks started to show – but at that time I didn’t realise it – or if I did chose to ignore the signs.

When I was a teacher, I worked in a school with two deputy heads who had two totally different approaches to work / life balance. The first appreciated that on a week to week basis he had very little control over the direction his week would take and so the last thing he wanted was additional commitments outside school.  He wanted to be able to go home and enjoy that time with his family.  The other was determined that school would not get in the way of their out of school activities.  So, she could be found at the swimming pool at 9:30 at night, because she liked to swim every day.  Or would carry on going to a weekly evening class, even though she was shattered, because school was not going to stop her enjoying her beloved past-times.  I tend to fall into this camp.  So, whilst all of our friends have been coming to visit I have done very little to alter my life to make allowances.  I have continued to meet with other ex-pats for lunch, I’ve taken up bowls, I’ve continued to walk a minimum of 10,000 steps a day, I’ve started to do online fitness classes and even dabbled with swimming in the sea – I’ve even tried to set up a Nordic Walking Group, alongside starting another Open University module.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out this was going to end badly.

I know, more than anything, that I need to exercise and eat well to feel good about myself and that it is a major contributor to maintaining my mental health.  So that is non-negotiable.  The exercise is happening.  Thereafter I needed to start to say no.  I needed to start to prioritise my own health and to be more selective about how often I went out and which other activities I carried out.  Had I kept a diary about my anxiety I would have noticed at this point that I was starting to get ‘fraught’ and a little bit panicky about how I was going to fit everything in.  But I brushed it under the carpet.  I don’t want to be that ‘anxious’ person who can’t keep up – but the thing is I am and the best way to handle that is to learn to say no.  To learn to spot the signs of impending meltdown and put my health and the sanity of my husband before other people.  I’m not very good at that – so say yes to everything – then end up bailing on arrangements we’ve made anyway because I am just too exhausted.

In an attempt to tackle the increasing anxiety, I decided to take part in Sober October.  In my head, I decided that this was going to solve the problem.  But it didn’t.  I was still going out just as much as I had been previously, probably 4 to 5 days a week.  The only difference was I wasn’t having a glass or two of wine.  So, I’d actually gained nothing and still wasn’t addressing the primary issue of over committing myself.  I was just doing too much and placing the needs of others before my spiralling anxiety.  By this point Angelica was getting a bit more shambolic in appearance and definitely needed a good hair wash to tame those frazzled curls.

One of the tell-tale signs for me that my anxiety is out of control is playing Candy Crush.  The time I was spending doing activities that are both productive and calming reduced.  The time spent on the games increased.  I know this because husband was asking ‘Are you still on that game?’  I know that once he’s started noticing that I’m on the games the situation has got out of hand.  And I was spending hours at a time on the games – playing them up until bedtime, which then disrupted my sleep, which then meant I was tired and anxious the next day.  Eventually I spotted that I was doing that and deleted them off my tablet.  This is a recurring situation.  The anxiety increases, I download the games, the amount of time I spend on the game increases, I delete the games as a means to control the anxiety that I’d wanted to control in the first place!  

So, as I look back, I can see the triggers were there and I can also see the mechanisms I use to avoid admitting it were there.  Had I kept a diary I might have been able to address the arrival of Angelica sooner, more effectively and avoided the meltdown situation.  If I’d just written down ‘Downloaded Candy Crush’ I might have recognised that the situation was starting to get out of hand and the other techniques recommended on the NHS website might have worked.  Breathing might have worked.  Going for a walk on the beach might have worked.  Talking to husband might have worked.  I’m going to give keeping a journal another try – I just need to find a way to jazz it up a bit and avoid it being too morose. 

Happiness, Mindfulness, reflection

Evidently, I’m angry.

Over the weekend I had a row with a neighbour over the bins.  Admittedly we had parked in her parking space, which is always annoying, but despite apologising and moving the car straight away she wouldn’t give up with the shouting.  So, in true grown up fashion I shouted back.  About the bins.  About the fact that the people who rent her AirBnb apartments use the wrong bins.  All. The. Time.  But that wasn’t enough.  I kept replaying the conversation in my head, finding ways to prolong the drama.  I knew I was doing it, but I just couldn’t stop myself.  I could see the negative behaviours, and I could feel how it was affecting me.  

So I turned to a friend and asked her, is it enough just to spot the behaviour, or is there a way of working out why?  Why did it happen? Why was I feeling that way? Her response, “Is there a part of you that wants to lash out at something / someone else and you don’t feel safe to do so”?  And there it is.  Hit the nail on the head.

We’d just returned from visiting friends and my parents’ and we’d hired the car.  I don’t like driving but wondered is it the driving that’s the problem or the destination I am driving to.  I fill my time around my parents with visits to friends, anything to avoid staying in the family home for longer than is absolutely necessary.  

My childhood wasn’t completely awful.  I have some good memories.  But there were some aspects that just weren’t that great.  They have never been addressed.  We’ve papered over the cracks and moved on, whilst pretending to the world that we have a loving family.  It’s a home filled with arguments, bitterness, jealousy, blaming others and worst of all boxes.  Mental and physical boxes, that I’m expected to fit in to, because we must maintain the public image at all costs.  That of the loving family that we are.  But we aren’t and I feel the contrast between my family home and that of my friends.  I feel it to my core.  

So yes.  When I came back from the visit I was angry.  So very angry about everything and I needed to lash out.  But I cannot lash out at the people that I want to.

  • I feel guilty about not living nearer to my family home – I used to and believe you me, it was much easier.
  • I feel guilty about not caring about the fact I don’t live closer to my family home.
  • I feel guilty that my parent’s neighbours are doing their shopping and mowing their lawn because I don’t live closer.
  • I feel angry that those lovely people probably have thoughts and opinions about me not being there to do those jobs.
  • I feel angry that my parents are more than likely going along with that and playing on the sympathies of neighbours who only see the image that has been so carefully curated over the years.
  • I feel angry that I still can’t be myself in the family home.  That I’m still expected to fit into boxes.  Appropriate boxes.
  • I feel angry that my parents blame the world and his dog for the fact I rarely visit rather than accept or acknowledge any responsibility.
  • I feel angry that I didn’t get the family experience that I see my friends have with their families
  • I feel angry that the benchmark of success is what you have and not who you are.
  • I feel angry that I feel guilty
  • I feel angry that they can’t see how their behaviours have impacted choices I have made throughout my life.
  • Mostly I feel angry that I can’t tell my parents any of this and that it still impacts my life today.

You can safely say there was something / someone that I wanted to lash out at!

I’m generally very happy now, I have found my contentment with the world, so these flare ups do stand out more so than in the past when I was just plain angry and scared.  The thing I am noticing increasingly is the effect that this tension has on my body. I’ve been in Bristol for the past three months and have cleaned up my act.  I’m exercising daily. Doing exercises to help keep my body moving.  Eating and drinking better.  I have a belter of a physio who is peeling away the onion layers that is my body.  I am pain free.  

During this past week my body started to cease up again.  The soreness returned to my back.  My left-hand ribs are so tight I’d begun to wonder if I had a problem with my bowels.  My diaphragm is tight and needed massaging to release it.  I know myself that when I tense-up I suck in my chest and lift my shoulders. When I don’t deal with these minor things they progressively get worse and I end up in pain.  But at least now I can feel it happening and respond before things go too far.  I’m reading a book called ‘Bliss Brain’ by Dawson Church.  In fact. I’m only one chapter in, but one passage caught my eye,  ‘When your body knows it will be listened to it can speak quietly.  A little rumble here.  A slight pain there.  We hear the message and take care of its needs’ (p27).  

Slowly, I am beginning to hear what my body is saying and to understand how the tension and stress is impacting what it feels.  I can notice the tension building and have some strategies to deal with it, a better understanding of what does and doesn’t work.  I still need to find ways to deal with the anger, to not let it simmer in my body and find ways to release it more effectively than shouting at the neighbours, but finally I feel like I am starting to make progress and to join up the dots.  I don’t know that I will ever resolve some of the issues that are making me angry – but with time I hope that I can lessen their impact and move on.

Albufeira, Happiness, reflection

I have Invented the World I see

I’ve been reading ‘A Course in Miracles’, which is a bit hard going and much of which goes over the top of my head.  There is a workbook to go alongside it, which is basically a statement a day which you ponder upon.  One of which was ‘I have invented the world I see’.  Like most days my initial thought was ‘don’t be so daft, of course I haven’t invented the world I see’.

But as the day wore on, I had moments of ‘oh, perhaps I have’.

  • Like my dad, I have an Olympic standard ability to spot the negative in everything that I see, so it’s highly unlikely that I will ever see a positive version of the world.  Why go with the positive when you can glean a negative out of a situation.  I assume the worst in every situation which means you don’t often get disappointed!  Likewise, I very rarely get excited by anything.
  • I also have a habit of projecting into the future – of how things might turn out – sometimes in technicolour and mostly with a negative flourish.  Oddly, things never quite pan out like I envision and I certainly haven’t won the lottery and believe you me I know what that would look like, and, how different situations will play out.
    Until fairly recently I was mildly terrified of the world due to my anxiety, but I never let that stop me from doing things.  I rarely think, I just do which is how I found myself on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean about to go para-sailing.  Clearly, if I’d thought about it, I wouldn’t be doing it, but where’s the fun in that!
  • Despite being so negative I do have an unfailing belief in people and their ability to be nice and do the right thing.  Often, I am disappointed, but my default is always that there is good in everybody.

All of these are factors which influence the world I see, or the world I have invented.  My initial reaction also went along the lines of ‘as if I’d invent living in lockdown’, but realised it’s not necessarily about Covid and other events beyond my control, it’s as much about how you deal with those events 

Albufeira Marina

I think I might be overthinking and getting carried away, but also thought about how choices in my life have led to this point and how that has enabled me to invent the world I see.  How many choices do we make in life that lead us down a path and that path is a version of the world and influences how we view that world?

So, I am currently coming out of lockdown in Portugal.  In an apartment near the ocean.  An apartment that husband and I chose after looking at several.  In a town that we chose after coming on holiday here.  As a consequence of that choice when I finished teaching, we were able to spend more time here and as a consequence of Covid we decided to try spending even more time here.  This is just one of many choices I have made in life, some very good, some not so good, a few that were downright ropey, but they have all led me to this point and the version of the world I see.  I read a book ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz, one part in particular really struck home:

“We only see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear. We don’t perceive things the way they are.  We have the habit of dreaming with no basis in reality.  We literally dream things up in our imaginations” (Ruiz, p64) 

All of us have a different version of the world we see, and our choices have created that version, some deliberate choices, some choices that have been forced upon us.  For example, I didn’t choose not to have children, but as a consequence of that I made other choices: to go into teaching, to move back to Stoke-on-Trent for a while.  If I’d had a child, it’s unlikely I would have met my current husband and if I’d not met him, we wouldn’t now be sitting out Covid in an apartment in Portugal.

It’s not very often we think about the choices we made.  I was chatting to my sister recently and I was telling her about my latest degree.  I signed up with the Open University to study a degree in Classics but might swap to English Literature.  The thought of either made my sister’s toes curl – but for me the thought of studying science and maths makes me weep – and this goes right back to school.  I chose essay based, flouncy subjects at A level in particular, she chose maths and science.  It follows on then that she qualified as a physiotherapist and I did a degree in History and Politics.  She lives in the countryside, I am a city girl.  We’re from the same family, but due to choices we’ve made our versions of the world are very different.   

Then off we go down the rabbit hole of life.  But I found it quite fascinating.  How many people there are on this planet and each one sees the world differently.  That’s a lot of inventing.

Exercise, Healthy living, reflection, Well-being

March in Review

Another month closer to 50!  Two more months to go.

At the beginning of March I set myself three goals:

  1. Not drink alcohol
  2. Cut out sweet treats
  3. Try to increase activity levels

It would be fair to say that I achieved mixed results!

With regards to the alcohol, I did manage to cut down the amount of wine that I was drinking.  As I’ve mentioned before I’m not a great wine guzzler, but I don’t handle it particularly well.  I wanted to see if it did have that much of a difference on my general health and pain levels.  It does definitely have an impact.  Does it cause my pain?  I don’t think so.  But if I am in pain, it really doesn’t make things better – it makes painful days more painful but it’s not the sole cause of the pain.  It also makes hot flushes hotter!  During the two weeks that I had no wine at all the hot flushes didn’t stop – but they were noticeably less intense.  We are also heading into summer here in Albufeira and I do know that I don’t manage wine with the heat, I get very dehydrated very quickly and so would say that from here on in, I am unlikely to drink much by way of wine. Equally, if I am going out for an evening for a meal with friends, I won’t totally avoid wine, but drinking wine for drinking’s sake is at an end.  One thing that I have realise is how much sitting still causes pain, particularly through the night.  I suspect in the past I have blamed the wine – but in actual fact it is sitting still for prolonged periods that is the main culprit.

Cutting out sweet treats was an epic fail.  There is no other way to describe it!  On top of the odd twix here and there, I also did some baking during March.  I do love baking but find eating it all a bit overwhelming.  This month, however, I had the opportunity to bake and share my offerings which made it all a bit more manageable.  As we leave lockdown, I expect the opportunities to bake will stop – but having said that, the fabulous cake shop in Albufeira may well re-open and it would be a shame not to partake!  So, I am going to try a bit harder this month to cut down on the number of sweet treats I eat.  Obviously, it is Easter this weekend and so I will have a chocolate egg to savour, but once that has gone, I will try really hard not to snack on chocolate so much and save it for special occasions.

Increasing exercise was a bit of a mixed bag.  I did complete the 500 sun salutation challenge, which was a real plus considering I only managed 10 last year.  I’d like to say I enjoyed it, but that would be a lie!  I’m not even that sure I learned all that much about myself either.  By the end of the month, I was finding breathing with the moves easier and I am definitely a bit more flexible, but that’s pretty much where the benefits have ended.  Having said that, I may well carry on doing 10 a day for the next while just to see if there is a difference over time.  I did find that doing 10 sun salutations in the afternoon is a great energy boost and lifts you out of the post lunch slump really effectively.

I’ve also maintained 15 to 30 minutes a day of yoga and started doing the Lift Program for prolapse with Fem Fusion Fitness.  I have had a prolapse for about 3 years or so and am in a bit of a cycle.  I do the exercises and get to the point where I feel really well, then don’t bother with the exercises, the prolapse gets worse again and so I return to the exercises!  I should just learn to carry on doing the exercises!  It does also really help my back as it also strengthens my core.  Not in the six-pack version of core exercises, but the deep core muscles that help to keep the pelvis stable.  I’ve reached the point where I am doing 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, including the yoga.

Earlier in the month, I did have a bit of a set-back.  A week where I just wasn’t really able to motivate myself, much beyond the sun salutations and the 15 minutes of yoga in the morning.  It wasn’t until I started to come out of the slump that I realised quite how bad it had been.  But I did keep on going with the sun salutations, which I am quite proud of and I didn’t totally give up.  However, my daily walks did go out of the window and I haven’t started them back up as yet.  Hopefully, during April I will be able to reintroduce those and get back to achieving 11,000 steps per day on top of my other exercise.  It’s taken me a long time to reach the point that I am able to accept set-backs and to listen to my body rather than force it to complete things that it just isn’t well enough to do.  I suspect many of the problems I have with my back are exacerbated by running in the past, as I forced my body to compete in a sport it wasn’t really capable of!

Besides that, I have made progress in other areas and as I leave lockdown, I am very excited about what lies ahead of me.  In the past I often said I would just like the world to stop so that I could get off and rest for a while.  Covid has allowed that to happen and I feel in a much stronger place mentally as the world opens up again and I have a better understanding of what matters to me.

I have started another degree with the Open University.  I’m currently doing an introductory module with a view to studying Classical Studies, however, I might change that to English Literature as I am enjoying that aspect of the course far more than I anticipated

I have also just started Portuguese lessons.  My language skills are fairly ropey, but I am quite determined to learn and hope that hearing the language on a daily basis will help me to pick it up sooner rather than later.  

Finally, I am hoping to start doing some voluntary work at a local charity shop.  It’s taken quite a while for me to reach this point but finally I am starting to regain the zest for life that has been missing.  There is so much I want to try and get involved with and slowly I am making steps in the right direction.  

I am very excited to see where I am by the end of April!  

Happiness, Healthy living, reflection

The Guilt-Pain Connection

Apparently, there is a correlation between guilt and pain and in order to release the pain I feel, I need to let go of the guilt.  I am more than willing to try anything in order to achieve a pain free life, but this is at the limits of my beliefs, if I’m going to be honest.  But, in the interests of research (or something like that) I thought I’d give it a blast.  After all, what could I possibly have in my life to be guilty about? 

  • I feel guilty about not living closer to my parents.  Especially during lockdown, as I feel I should be the one doing their food shopping and not relying on next door neighbours.  So there’s an added level of guilt over the next door neighbours.  The thing is, if I was in Bristol rather than Albufeira, I still couldn’t get to my parents as non-essential travel is not permitted.  My Dad excels at laying on the guilt factor, always has and always will, so that doesn’t really help the situation!

I would say that was probably the only sensible thing on the list.  Thereafter it all went a bit pear-shaped and gives you some idea of the nonsense that rattles around my head.

  • I feel guilty for not spending time with my husband.  That’s right I feel guilty if I go and spend time doing something I enjoy and which helps my mental health.  But then on the other side of the coin, if I spend all my time with my husband I feel guilty for not doing the things that bring me joy, make me smile and make me feel good about myself.  There is a no-win situation with this one!
  • I feel guilty for not going to work.  We all have that dream, that conversation, what would you do with your life if you didn’t have to work.  I’m guessing most people wouldn’t come up with ‘feel guilty and waste the opportunity’.
  • I feel guilty for having two houses.  Rather than being grateful for this incredible opportunity and making the most of it, I spend my day feeling guilty and trying to brush my good fortune under the table, lest I offend people.  Then I’d feel guilty for offending people.
  • One thing I am very guilty of is doing things for other people because they will like it, whilst I am quietly dying inside!  For example, I offer to take friends to the local shopping centre because I know they really enjoy it.  But after I’ve spent an hour in Primark, I do lose the will to live – it’s then that I start thinking about what I could be doing instead – like cleaning the floors, anything other than be in that shop for a moment longer!  I do it because I’d like to hope that somewhere along the way, someone would do the same thing for me.   Apparently, doing good things for others that destroys your own self-worth is a big no, no. Doing things for others is meant to make you feel better about yourself, not worse!
  • I feel guilty about being brighter than average.  This is a belter.  Nobody likes a smart arse, and rather than just be myself and admit what I am capable of, I dumb myself down.  I am particularly good at dumbing myself down to make people feel better about themselves, so that they can shine.  As a consequence, I put myself in the position of being the stupid one and then get upset because people think I’m stupid!  
  • Then there’s feeling guilty if I do drink or if I don’t drink.  If I do, I’m not looking after my best interests, if I don’t, I’m not joining in.  And so it goes.  But I am getting increasingly bored of putting the desires of others before me and am reaching the point where I no longer care if I am offending you by drinking fizzy water instead of wine!

This is not a recent thing.  As a child, when the teacher shouted at the whole class for not doing their homework (even though I had) I felt guilty about that.  As a teacher when we were shouted at at the beginning of term because of poor results, I felt guilty even though my subject specific results were oftentimes better than the overall results for the school.  I’d go home and work out how I could make my teaching better.  So, I was always going to be the sibling that felt the guilt card more readily and I suspect my parents know this about me!

I decided the best way to approach this was to take each in turn and started with being brighter than average.  It was fairly short lived!  I realised that for that particular trigger and several of the others that I no longer feel particularly guilty.  So, I’m brighter than other people in many regards, I’m also a lot less capable than others in some regards and it’s about the balance.  I don’t need to make myself look dumb to fit in.  I just have to be me, and eventually I will find the place where I naturally fit in.  This logic also applies to the alcohol.  What works for me is all that matters, and I’m not prepared to make myself feel guilty so that other people can feel better about themselves any longer.  

Some of this has taken time to overcome.  Especially the not going to work thing and the two houses.  The ex-pat community is a bit of a strange one.  People are generally thrown together through a common language, so you end up creating friendships with people you probably wouldn’t back in the UK.  From my perspective, it’s not particularly supportive, people tend to be jealous, or gossipy, and seem to look for the cracks.  I suppose it’s a bit like OFSTED coming into a school – they aren’t there to find out what you do well, they are looking for ways to pull you down.   I suspect I haven’t helped myself with the dumbing down thing, but slowly I am finding my own way through the ex-pat world and finding like-minded people to enjoy spending time with.

This has also helped with guilt around husband.  We both know that I am happier if I do different things throughout the day.  It’s fairly obvious if I skip things like yoga and meditation and instead spend the day moping around – I am moody, cranky, irritable and miserable.  It doesn’t create a particularly pleasant environment for either of us.  Better to spend less time together which is filled with happiness than spend extended periods of time together being miserable.  I still feel like I am a burden much of the time, but slowly I am working on that.

So, that really just leaves the guilt about not being nearer to my parents during Covid.  There is nothing that I can do about that currently and I appreciate that there are many people in a far worse situation than we are.  We do Skype each other once a week and speak regularly on the phone.  Until things calm down, I can fly back to the UK, rent a car and life is generally a little more normal the best thing I can possibly do is stay healthy so that once we are able to meet up we can. 

Photo by Gary Barnes on Pexels.com
Alternative Therapies, Healthy living, Mindfulness, reflection, Well-being

Three Months to 50!

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

In exactly 3 months time I will be turning 50.  I understand now what people mean when they say that life slips by in the blink of an eye.  On the whole, I am very happy with where I find myself on the approach to my 50th birthday.  I’ve experienced all kinds of things during those 50 years, travelled to more places than I’d imagined given my dislike of flying, ticked several things off my bucket list and achieved far more than I’d ever imagined I would.  That’s the great thing about not being a goal setter – any achievement is a bonus!  There is just one thing during those 50 years that hasn’t quite been as tip top as I’d have liked and that has been my health, but I’ve tried really hard not to let it stop me.  As I go beyond this milestone, though, I would quite like to see the end of the niggles and embrace life with vigour and verve.  I quite intend to grow old as disgracefully as I can.

I am a big believer in using alternative remedies and diet to manage health conditions.  Obviously, not in place of allopathic medicine, especially in the case of severe ill-health, but for the every day, not so great niggles I do believe they have their place.  This time last year I was in a position where I struggled to walk for any great period and was in pain for most of the time.  Having had every test known to man the medical profession was none the wiser and popped me off with some painkillers.  During one of the consultations with my GP he asked me what was I doing to manage the situation myself.  I love it when I GP asks this question.  So I reeled off all the things I was doing:  yoga, meditation, walking and he recommended that I keep on doing those things.

Fast forward a year and I have maintained a daily yoga practice.  It is only 10-15 minutes per day, but it is daily.  I have reached the point where I can walk 3-4 miles a few times a week and not be in agony and be able to walk the following day.  I have also maintained a daily meditation practice.  But there is still that last bit of pain.  What I have found interesting is that during periods of lockdown the pain levels have been significantly lower than when I was out of lockdown – when I put my party hat back on and let it all go.  Don’t get me wrong I am significantly better, to the point that I have been able to come off the painkillers and it is a minor inconvenience, but for once, I would just like to know what it feels like to be pain free.  For a whole day.  And if that could be for multiple days then that would be even more amazing.  

So.  I have three months to achieve my goal of pain free living!  Apparently if you believe things hard enough they can happen – thoughts become things.  I have a bit of an outline.  I’m not great with plans, so no point making one of those as I won’t be sticking to it!  But I am going to try my very best to:

  • Not drink alcohol (again).  I’m not very good at this!  I tend to get swept along in the moment, but I am really going to try not to.  I just want to see what happens if I don’t drink for 3 months.  Obviously, this is helped in part by being in lockdown and so socialising at bars isn’t happening at the moment. Will it make any difference to my pain levels?  It may, it may not, but if I don’t try I will never know.
  • Cut out sweet treats.  This is a real killer for me, but added sugar is really quite bad and it is an inflammatory food.  It may be that I treat myself to one cake per week, just to keep me sane, but again, if I don’t cut it out, how do I know if it does or doesn’t impact the pain that I feel.  I have a strategy for this.  Each time I feel the desire to eat something sweet I will get a piece of fruit to eat instead.  I’m not a fan of fruit, so suspect that the majority of times I’ll have nothing!
  • Try to increase my activity levels.  During March I am going to attempt 500 sun salutations and am going to try one or two full length exercise classes per week.  And I will continue with my daily walks.  At the end of the day, it’s not like I am short on time and in general, the more I move, the less I hurt.  It seems to be sitting still that causes the most discomfort.

But I guess the key thing is that I believe it can work.  Husband isn’t really onboard with all the voodoo joo joo to quite the same degree I am, but he understands that I think it works and with many things, that is half of the battle won.  I’m going to try using affirmations.  I’m going to try turning negative thoughts into positive thoughts.  I’m going to try living with an attitude of gratitude.  I’m going to try going into each and every situation with an attitude of love rather than fear.  We’ll see how this all pans out, I may well be mad as a box of frogs, but at the end of the day, I’m willing to give it a try and embrace the idea of pain-free living.  Wouldn’t it be exciting if by my 50th birthday it had actually worked and I could dance the night away with no fear of how I’m going to feel the next day.  

Happiness, Healthy living, Well-being

De-Activating Facebook

This past Saturday evening (19th September 2020), I de-activated my Facebook account.  I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, but was doing an online course that had a corresponding Facebook group and I wanted to see that through.  It’s not been an easy decision.  I am a member of several groups that are excellent sources of information and that have become my go to reference points, particularly about life in Portugal.  Then there are the friends that I have known for many years, some I’ve known in real life, some I’ve only met through Facebook, but these are all people that I have been able to keep in touch with, which is important for me as I live in a different city to many of the people I am friends with, so it means I can maintain a connection with them over a longer distance.  People ask ‘Well, why can’t you just go straight into the groups and ignore your feed”?  This brings me nicely to the negatives!

The constant adverts, the ‘click-bait’ that seems to roll around the FB feed.  Then there’s my issue with the feed you actually see.  I’d go and look for friends because they’d been quiet for a while and it turns out they hadn’t necessarily been quiet, but I’d not had their posts on my feed, because the algorithm had decided for me what I was or wasn’t interested in.  I’m not having a pop at the algorithm here – I don’t know enough about how it works, but all I do know is that I wasn’t seeing pictures and posts from friends that I would have really liked to see, whilst seeing a whole heap of ‘stuff’ I really didn’t care about.

Then there is the issue that Facebook was essentially designed for people like me!  Those that do say ‘Oo – look at that lovely red blob in the corner, I wonder who’s posted today’?  Those that do click on the adverts because “those shoes are pretty”.  Those who get sucked in to chatting to people and realise that a good hour has passed me by – achieving precisely nothing.  I know, I know, doing nothing is good for you – but I can think of a whole heap of ‘doing nothings’ that are actually more enjoyable for me.  I had done as much as I could to be rid of Facebook in my life – I had deleted it off my phone that I couldn’t use it when I was out and about, but still it ‘called’ to me!

This next negative is all about my head!  I still have in my head that I should be earning money, that I should be making a living and so many people seem to use social media to get ahead.  The vast majority of crochet designers have beautifully themed Instagram and Facebook pages which they use to display their creations.  There are a few issues with this – I can’t crochet that quickly and to be frank, I can’t really be arsed with taking all the photos!  I love taking a photo – but rearranging the furniture to get an arty looking backdrop to take a picture of my crochet to post to the world to say ‘look what I did’ ….. I just can’t be arsed!  I have a certain sympathy with my parents.  There are oodles of pictures of my sister as a baby and a toddler – when it was my turn, very few were taken.  And then there was my Nana who believed that photographs removed your soul and so should be avoided at all costs – so all in all my photographic heritage is a bit hit and miss!  So, every now and then, I get a great idea, a burst of energy to photograph my work, or the things I am doing with my day, or my sustainable life, or things I am doing to keep fit, but after a week, the novelty wears off.  Obviously, there is also the problem of the more you post, the more time you spend on FB, so the more you get sucked into FB land and the more of your day / live goes down the FB plug hole.

So.  Back to this past Saturday night.  I decided to go for it and de-activated my account.  It took my very clever, sleuthing sister precisely 24 hours to spot this and message me.  What occurred as a consequence of that message?  I spoke her her, in real life.  Result!

The first 24 hours were a breeze.  I did loads of things, I cleaned, I crocheted enough to fill a feed for a good week, I chatted to husband, I wrote in my journal.  It was fabulous and evidence if it were needed that I did not need Facebook in my life.  Day 2, however, was not quite the same.  Instead of being on Facebook I played Two Dots.  So now I’ve had to delete that too.  I picked my laptop or tablet up at various points of the day, looked at the news, played Two Dots, looked at my email (yawn) and generally whiled away time doing nothing in particular – generally being bored.  It was like I just had to have the tablet in my hand, because that was going to be the answer to my boredom prayers.  I was also so incredibly tired.  I don’t know if the two things were connected, I very much doubt it, but I was so very tired and for me that’s precisely the time that I would spend on Facebook.  When I’m just too tired to contemplate anything else.  

I appreciate that sometimes doing nothing is the thing you should be doing, but not all the time.  The daft thing is, there are a million things I could be doing instead:

  • Yoga
  • Meditating
  • Reading or doing an online course for fun (yes, I do that)
  • Sewing
  • Crochet
  • Writing a blog post
  • Walking on the beach
  • Astronomy GCSE
  • Learning embroidery
  • Chat to my husband whilst drinking a cup of tea
  • Write a letter!

This list does bring to mind Glennon Doyle’s book ‘Untamed’ where she discusses having a ‘reset’ list.  There are all of those things we could do, that are easy and so accessible – like sit on Facebook, play Two Dots, go and get a sneaky stick of chocolate from the fridge.  But in the long term the easy things don’t bring about the joy that the things on your reset list do.

I do even have specifics at the moment!  I have bunting to make for a friend’s granddaughter and a seat cover to make for another friend’s garden bench.  But even that couldn’t force me out of my reverie.  But the truth is, that for some reason, I just can’t be arsed.  To. Do. Anything.  In the end, I decided to write about my experience during the first 48 hours.  I have been quite shocked at how often I just reach for my laptop, followed by the dawning realisation that it’s not there.  My quick fix is not there.  I am really hoping that as the days go by, I become more inclined to do all the things on my list and less inclined to sit and reach for my lap-top in the hope it provides me with a quick fix.

Day 3.  Oh my goodness.  I don’t know how many times I trotted off to the fridge/cupboard to look for something to eat to fill a big 2 or 3 minutes of my time!  I had multiple cups of tea!  Today was definitely about filling the time doing anything – I read, meditated (twice), did yoga, did some work on an EFT course I am doing, read emails, looked at the internet, did some crochet – anything other than just sit still.  I am very surprised, to be honest!  I had thought in my mind that I had given social media a break in the past, but clearly, just deleting it off your phone whilst still having it on your laptop isn’t the same.  I am really quick shocked at how difficult I am finding this.  I also found husband very irritating and felt very irritable all day.  I was dying to go out for the evening, just to do something different to fill the time, as just sitting was really, really difficult!

But then….. Later on in the day Boris did a televised speech about re-tightening rules regarding lock-down in England.  Because I had de-activated my Facebook account I could not go on to Facebook and could not get wound up by people deliberately mis-interpreting the rules to suit themselves, or the raging conspiracy people, or just the general chit-chat surrounding the whole situation.  So I could prepare for bed with a light heart, without a million voices fighting for attention in my head.  What a blessed relief!  

Day 4.  A much better day!  It started in a park doing a yoga class, a bit of sunshine and a bit of rain, and the highlight, opening my eyes after savasana to see clouds floating across a blue sky through the leaves of the tree.  What more could you want.  The day continued with a positive theme; I sat and chatted to husband (I even got a chance to sit in the manchair), drank a cup of tea whilst doing nothing else – that’s it, I just sat and drank the cup of tea and let the world pass my by for a few minutes.  I wrote a pattern for a crochet submission, possibly the most tedious part of crochet design!  I still struggled with snacking, but the desire to pick up my laptop or phone to fill time was greatly diminished.  I believe I may have turned the corner!  

Day 5.  Today didn’t really count.  I had a raging headache and took to my bed for a significant portion of the day!  But other than that, it was the first day when I didn’t think about Facebook or looking at it.  This has continued for the remainder of the week.  There have been the occasional moments when I’ve picked up my laptop, read the news and then gone on to type facebook into the search bar, only to remember I don’t have an account any more – but that has happened once or twice over the course of 3 days, so definite progress.

So, what have I achieved this week other than ridding myself of Facebook?  I have finished off a crochet shawl that I have been working on for a few weeks.  I have started another crochet project, just for fun and not one that is going to be sent for submission as part of the crochet diploma.  But more importantly than that, I have felt so much more content and relaxed, I’ve read more, definitely chatted to husband more, looked out of the window aimlessly a bit more, and actually started to enjoy my own company again.  I’ve started to listen to and hear my body.  I will admit that I have missed seeing the photos of friends, along with the opportunity to comment – but I know they are at the end of a phone call or a message.

Happiness, reflection, Spirituality

How Deep is your Faith?

To use the words of the fabulous Robbie Williams, ‘I sit and talk to God’.  On a fairly regular basis to be honest, passing the time of day, discussing what’s going on.  For a long time I have avoided this topic as I know it turns many people off. But, as part of an online course I’ve been doing, I’ve been encouraged to speak my truth – just put it out there – because what’s the worst that could possibly happen?  Much like my Grandparents, I have a deep, rich faith that guides me in everything that I do, like a core of steel that runs through my middle.  I will also admit for a few years now I have tended to avoid it, and pretend it’s not there, and treat it as an inconvenience, not something to be cherished.  I have reached the point where I want to own it and share it.  I’m not going to stand in the middle of the town with my microphone pretending I’m on speakers corner!  I must admit, and I probably shouldn’t, that some of the best comedy moments in the centre of Bristol occur as a result of such speakers.  There is normally an avid audience of drunk, surprisingly knowledgeable homeless people sitting watching and giving their thoughts on the various points raised.  Nor, am I going to try to convert anyone!  For me faith is a quiet, private thing, that just fills my being, makes me who I am and influences how I live my life.

There have been various moments in my life when this has been evident.  The main one was in November 1997 when I found out it was highly unlikely that I would have children.  I knew in that moment, with a certainty right through my being that this was meant to be.  I don’t think I have ever been so certain of anything in my life.  (The day I met my current husband probably ranks up there as well, but that’s a whole other story).  I was never offered IVF, nor did I request it, but I’m afraid I knew and still know that there is a reason for everything and whilst I’m not sure I will ever know the reason why, having my own child wasn’t going to be a feature of my life.  Obviously, not agreeing with IVF is a difficult path to tread and so I tend to steer well clear.  As the saying goes ‘different strokes for different folks’.  But when I got asked the question, which I frequently did, as to why I didn’t have children and why I hadn’t gone for IVF, I got more than a few raised eyebrows when I said I didn’t believe in it!  Yes, I know I could have adopted too – but it’s not quite that straight forward and at the time when I was of an age where I would have considered it, I wasn’t in the ideal situation to adopt, further evidence that for whatever reason, children weren’t meant for me.  My favourite discussions on this topic were with children I taught.  I never shied away from the facts of why I wasn’t a mother but the best thing I ever heard from a student was ‘Well, that’s a shame Miss, you would have made a great mum’!  Unfortunately, as the years have gone by I have begun to doubt my initial reaction, with the constant questioning (because apparently, as a woman, the only thing in life that matters is having children) the constant bombardment of family focussed living, the numerous friendships that ended because our lives were headed in different directions – nobody’s fault, it’s just the way life is. Gradually as I found myself increasingly isolated I did begin to question my faith and my initial certainty that being childless was meant to be.

There is also the issue of having a purpose in life.  I won’t be leaving my mark on this world in the way most people do – that of having a child or grandchildren to remember them by.  This is where a lot of my seeking and searching stems from, that I must leave my mark on the world.  Like it or not, there is still so much pressure on people who don’t have children – people say there’s not, but 9 times out of 10 they have children.  So much of life today seems to be based on making your mark, making a difference, having a purpose, achieving your true purpose in life.  I have probably tried my hands at most things since I stopped teaching in 2015, trying to find that ‘thing’ which will give me a purpose in life.  But when you don’t know what that might be, it all becomes a little bit tricky.  If you add in very bad FOMO and raging impatience it all becomes even harder!  !  I struggle with trusting and waiting.  I want to know now!  I want to know why I didn’t have children, I want to know what my life’s purpose is and I want the answers now.  So, I seek and seek and seek a bit more to try and find the answers – rather than just sit and trust and enjoy where I am now.  I start a million things, but finish very few. I do very much fear that I’ve missed out on having a purpose, I might have already done it – maybe teaching was my purpose, maybe it’s yet to come – who knows, but I really, really would love to know and find trusting that I will know very difficult and incredibly frustrating and exceptionally slow!

As a consequence of not having children I’ve had to develop other ways of engaging in conversation with other people. You know how the conversation goes. ‘What’s your name?’, ‘Where do you live?’ ‘Do you have children?’ ‘No’. Oops, drawn a blank, move on. So, I can now talk to anyone, about anything and it doesn’t have to relate to children.  It’s not really a skill I realised I had until I was chatting to a friend recently who said, ‘It’s all right for you, you never had children, you can talk to anybody about anything’.  Whilst I ignored the ‘not-so-subtle’ slight at the start of the sentence it did make me realise that actually, I can do that, I can chat to anyone about anything and I am not particularly intimidated by walking in to a room full of people where I know no one.  Handy hint, football gets you a long way in this world and if you listen to the headlines on Radio 5 you will find out all you need to know about what’s current in any sport!  I have also done so many things that I wouldn’t have done if I’d been a mother – I wouldn’t have been a teacher, I wouldn’t have competed in triathlons, or run half marathons or visited any of the places that I’ve been fortunate enough to go to.  I wouldn’t have learned to make my own way in the world.  I have had to face up to my fear of the world every day and just get out there and get on with life.

Before we left Bristol for Portugal I gave the Coffee Boys who had kept us going through lockdown a thank you card.  Husband commented at the time that not many people would have bothered with that.  But I felt it was important that they understood the difference they had made to us at a difficult time.  The Coffee Boy was a bit bemused when I gave the card to him, but then after I’d explained what it was, his face lit up.  There was another chap that went to the coffee hut occasionally.  A lovely chap, and in keeping with my ability to chat to anyone, one day I asked him if he’d like a cup of coffee.  He was so shocked that a stranger would offer a cup of coffee and bizarrely I was the second in that week – so he clearly had something about him!  But sometimes that’s all you need in a day, a stranger to talk to you, to offer you a cup of coffee, just to know that someone noticed you that day – it turned out that he did live on his own and he came to the coffee hut, just to get out and see somebody different.  We spoke to him regularly after that, but I never did get to buy him a cup of coffee – but he did give me a thank you note which I stuck in my journal.  I also wrote letters to people during lockdown – so they had a nice piece of post coming through their letterbox to brighten their day.  

Perhaps that is my purpose in life, just to make someone smile every day, and do you know, I’d be happy with that.   Perhaps it doesn’t have to be grand at all. I also need to trust more, trust myself, trust that everything does happen for a reason and that I am in the place that I am meant to be.  Trust in my faith, trust that it will stand me in good stead in both the good times and the bad, and I also trust that when I do talk to God, he doesn’t laugh at my plans.  I just wish he’d be a bit quicker with the answers!  Although, as a friend of mine recently said, ‘God does seem to work to tight deadlines’.

Happiness, reflection, Spirituality

Should Says …..

Should says many things.  We live in a world of should and over the years the words of should have echoed in my ears and constrained the way I have lived my life.

  • I should try harder
  • I should work harder
  • I should be a mother (sadly I’m reaching an age where I should be a grandmother)
  • I should be quiet and I should also be louder or at the very least I should speak up more
  • I should sit still
  • I should grow up
  • I should be a good wife / daughter / sister
  • I should put the needs of others before my self
  • I should have a bigger house, car, TV, better phone
  • I should want more yet at the same time I should be content with what I have
  • I should be more ladylike
  • I should behave appropriately whilst I should also let my hair down a bit – I’d probably be more fun if I did
  • I should exercise
  • I should be thin
  • I should be on a diet
  • I should drink less and I should also drink more
  • I should expect less whilst I should aim high
  • I should have a successful career but I should also be nice
  • I should be a senior leader
  • I should be outstanding
  • I should be faster
  • I should look a certain way. I should have long hair. I should wear longer and shorter dresses.
  • I should get a tan, get a bit of colour
  • I should let go a bit, let my hair down, have a good time
  • I should be on social media. I should post 3 times a day for optimum engagement.
  • I should have more money of which I should donate more
  • I should get a job and I should volunteer
  • I should care less what other people think

It’s that last point that brings me to where I am today.  I’ve wrapped myself, no, I’ve bound myself, with all of these ‘shoulds’ that have bombarded me, and sadly, are becoming bigger and faster and more frequent in this modern world and I’ll be the first to admit myself that I’ve struggled to work out what matters and what doesn’t.  I have tried so hard to be everything I should be to everyone I should be.  Over the past month I’ve been doing a course with an Intuitive Guide that I found quite by accident at the beginning of lockdown and I find myself at this point, where I realise that in by focusing on should I have actually neglected who I am and what matters to me.  I’ve reached the point where the ‘shoulds’ that have bound me have been torn apart and my heart is poking through to say hello to the world.

I can name on one hand those people who have made it through the binds that wrapped me up so tightly.  The people who have laughed with me, cried with me, run, (cycled and swum) slowly with me, drunk soft drinks and Prosecco with me, sworn with me, eaten cake with me (and often encouraged me to eat more cake), talked with me, filled my head with fascinating facts and discussed things with me, explained things to me when my maths brain couldn’t cope, travelled with me, who haven’t cared if I was fat, thin, tall, short, that have encouraged me to be more, do more, aim higher, have more of what makes me smile.  Those people who’ve taken the time to find out more, to understand more about me, to go beyond appearances and dare to find out what it is that makes me tick.  Those people who’ve seen me at my worst and at my best.  Those people who really don’t understand what goes on in my head at times, but are still there, regardless.  Those people who’ve shared the best and worst of their lives with me and who still continue to inspire me every day.  

For a bit there I taught sociology to A Level and I will never forget the words of Erving Goffman who talked about the stages that we perform on throughout our lives and that we are never truly alone.  There is always someone that we are performing to and if we are not performing we are rehearsing for our next performance or critiquing our last performance – so even when we are alone we struggle to be ourselves.  The world of should feeds this and with the onset of social media and the internet, we are bombarded with a constant stream of ‘shoulds’, even down to how clean your house should be and things change so quickly, so regularly, life is temporary, throw away. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to be yourself, or stand out from the crowd, or even disappear from the crowd!  The props of life seem to be getting more and more and at the same time seem to be increasingly more important that life itself. 

So, what happens to a person who doesn’t want to live in a world of should.  I shall tell you. They are ridiculed, they are made to feel lesser than and bullied, as if there is something not quite right with them.  They are encouraged to change, to be more normal, to fit in a bit more, not draw attention to themselves quite so much, reign it in a bit, essentially to stop being who they are – primarily because it makes life easier for other people.  I remember I was running with some friends once, we were chatting away at the back of the pack, but careful to be in front of one woman who we always had to be ahead of and a chap commented that if we stopped chatting we could knock minutes off our times.  But where’s the fun in that?  Why should the only reason for entering a race be the result, why shouldn’t it be about the chit chat, the good bag at the end, the cup of tea and the cake!  The most fascinating people I know and have met along the way are those who quite regularly put two fingers up to should – who dare to be bold and dare to live life on their terms – and how often I’ve wished I could be more like them, but the bounds of ‘should’ were wrapped so tightly I couldn’t quite see how I could ever break free.

I’ve set myself a challenge.  To step out from the world of should, to let my heart shine, to do those things that make me smile, that truly make my heart sing and to finally stick two of my own fingers up to ‘should’.

  • It will be noisy and quiet in equal measure
  • It is both exciting and terrifying
  • It will involve the sand, the sea and the stars
  • There will definitely be music and dancing and laughter (and probably the odd tear or two)
  • There will be a yoga mat and a meditation stool
  • There will be swimming and cycling and God willing a bit of very slow running
  • There will be science and spirituality (although my brain will more than likely be a bit challenged by the science bit)
  • There will be writing and making and creating accompanied by swearing
  • There will be dreaming and twirling
  • There will always be cake

But most of all there will be more of me.

 

Happiness, reflection, Spirituality

Surrender

During lockdown I underwent a bit of a spiritual journey.  I’ve always been a bit inclined towards the spiritual, as I have mentioned before, but lockdown provided me with more of an opportunity to read and to reflect.

I’ve read about Archetypes, received Intuitive Guidance, Intuition, Yogic philosophy along with some science based, meta physics theories such as the Heart Math Institute.  I’ve always been a bit of a seeker, which according to Caroline Myss in her book ‘Sacred Contracts’ refers to a person ‘who searches on a path that may begin with earthly curiosity but has at its core the search for God and/or enlightenment ….. in search of wisdom and truth wherever it is to be found’.   This clearly explains the books I have read, picking one up, reading it, then reading something else on a tangent, each time trying to find the answers – to what exactly, I don’t know. The shadow of this archetype me describes to perfection, especially since I finished working in 2015, ‘the ‘lost soul,’ someone on an aimless journey without direction, un-grounded, disconnected from goals and others’.  

I guess there has been a part of me that has been looking for a purpose, for answers, for direction, for a lightbulb moment that would tell me I’m on the right path, but equally I have been looking for a quick fix and rather than get off my increasingly ample backside and put some effort in to something I’ve continued to seek to find the answer somewhere else.  It has not gone unnoticed, that If I’d actually put some effort in 5 years ago, rather than trying to find the easy solution I could well be a millionaire by now!

I have found one piece of evidence in my defence.  In Yanik Silver’s Cosmic Journal he brings up the topic of books – that certain books arrive on your radar at certain times and they themselves lead you on a voyage of discovery.  Whilst one specific book might not be the one for you, it leads you to read another book, which might be more of interest to you.  I am clinging on to this with dear life, as I have read some belters recently, that really aren’t worth re-visiting!

Essentially, they all boil down to much the same thing.  That any decent person, worth their salt, approaches life from a perspective of love rather than fear and is conscious of the role that their ego, and the egos of those people around them play in every day life.  It does become quite an enjoyable past-time as well as giving you space to breathe and consider your own response to a situation as it unfolds.  For example, you might be the victim of road rage.  We’ve all been there, we may even have been the road rage champion, I know I have in the past!  You are driving along quite happily and then for some reason you are been beeped at, or on the receiving end of an obscene gesture.  Rather than responding in kind, just take a moment, step back and consider the ego of that person.  What is happening in their day to make them this unhappy and fearful?  What is happening in their home lives or their lives in general that they consider this is an appropriate way to behave?  Whilst it may appear a little airy-fairy, it does genuinely help in the moment to stop and consider that.  If you can throw in a bit of Ho’oponono as well, then that’s even better! 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But I digress!  Whilst I’ve been doing all this reading and seeking the same thing keeps coming up time and time again, just surrender, just let it go.  Husband is regularly asking me ‘Why does it matter?  Why does it matter how somebody else is behaving, it has no impact on your life, so why do you care’?  Last week I went to a meditation class here in Portugal and at the end of the class pulled a card from ‘Whispers of Lord Ganesha’  and the card I picked was surrender, again.

Part of the problem is I don’t know how to surrender.  Surrender to who?  Surrender to what?  How do you even begin to surrender?  Whilst I whole heartedly believe in the universe and that there is something bigger than me out there – I’m not in a position as yet where I am ready to call it God.  God Consciousness is about as close as it gets.  I listened to Russell Brand interviewing Ricky Gervais earlier this week and felt I was in a similar boat – for me God = organised religion = indoctrination and doesn’t reflect my beliefs in the slightest.  As I look back on my life, however, I can see a consistent inability to surrender to anything.  I’m the bull-at-a-gate type.  Jump in with both feet first, guns blazing and then stop to think.  Anger first, stand your ground, don’t give in, fight your corner.  I realise that I am continually tense, continually expecting the next battle – assuming everything will be a battle rather than just taking things as they come.  I’m constantly anticipating the next crisis, getting involved in the latest gossip, trying to muscle my way in to things to have some level of influence, some level of control.  I’ve always been like this, as a child, my sister used to ask me ‘Why can’t you just let things be, why do you always have to cause an argument?’.  I suppose I was trying to stand my ground, fight my corner, especially in the face of what I perceived to be an injustice.  I was much the same as a teacher, constantly fighting for my students – for some reason I have turned life into a battle – my ego in overdrive and this has become the norm.  Fighting is my normal.  So, this is where I need to surrender, to stop the fighting and just let go, just be, let people behave the way they want to, but I don’t have to turn everything into a battle, nor do I have to be involved in everything.  Even when I do a full body scan meditation, I have no feeling in my arms, it’s like they are constantly prepared to fight.  I also know, from research about my physical body that being tense is no good for you – it causes inflammation in the body and all sorts of minor ailments that build up to a bigger whole over time.  I’m fairly confident that my fibromyalgia / back pain is actually down to my pelvic floor being too tense and as a consequence the muscles in and around my lower back just aren’t functioning or moving as smoothly as they might.  

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

I also believe that I am a ‘victim’ almost of the western lifestyle.  I should be successful, I should be earning money, I shouldn’t be content to just be a wife, I should be working hard, I should be achieving, and so I am constantly seeking, striving for something more, something better – but I don’t have any idea what that might be, so I am just feeling my way through the dark just hoping that something will come up that gives me purpose, that gives me direction.  There are so many things I love to do and make me very content – but they aren’t the types of things you ‘should’ be doing in life and they are certainly unlikely to generate an income any time soon.  My own ego is totally wrapped up in being successful, but in my heart, success for me is just being content and happy with what I have, but it seems to be increasingly at odds with the world around me.  Only this week, Body Shop have announced they will be launching their Advent Calendars on 25th August – what’s that about?  Since when did we even need a Body Shop Advent Calendar, let alone in August.  So, I battle with myself – between my ego which is wrapped up in should and have, and my heart which is just content to stay at home and crochet. In my heart I really do struggle to understand the desire to have more and more ‘stuff’ as evidence of success in life. What’s wrong with just being content with what you have.

So, I have to try to surrender, which sounds a bit odd and like I am even turning this into a battle ground!  I am trying to surrender.  When I feel myself tensing up or getting ready to fight, in the instance I do the Micro Method from the Institute of Intuitive Intelligence to identify the fear and turn myself from a state of fear to love.  It’s amazing how much in life is carried out from a position of fear, but the ego thrives on the drama of fear.  I try Heart Congruence, I try to turn the situation around and see how I might approach it from a place of love rather than fear.  I find Ho’oponopo works really well, especially when applied to a large group of people behaving in a way that I find challenging, such as the continual queue outside Primark, or the madness that is Christmas, or the skateboarders who seem to revel in destroying the environment around them.  I try to understand why it is I am so enraged in the first place – it always stems from a place of fear, of learned behaviours over time, so that fighting has become my norm, even in situations where there is absolutely no reason.  I guess the key thing is I am learning to find ways to turn off the anger switch and just consider, for a moment, that there might be an easier and better way to navigate through life and that I can’t actually solve all the problems in the world.  There comes a point where you have to surrender, and just let it go.  Or, as Adriene Mischler would say, from Yoga with Adriene, ‘Just trust the process’.  

Mindfulness, Well-being

A Journey out of Lockdown

So, here in England lockdown restrictions are now easing.  I’m not too sure what the rules are any more, as they change from day to day and there is very little clarity, but that is by the by.  All I know is that from Monday 6th July restrictions lifted to the point that you can now go and visit other households and stay over with them.  Result.  I haven’t seen my parents since February – just before lockdown as I remember my Dad telling me what a load of old rubbish it was and no-one was ever going to make him stay inside.  We’ve been through a bit since then, including my shouting at them to tell them they had to stay in – whether they liked it or not – and all through the guilt of having their neighbours doing the shopping for them because I live two hours away.

So.  I booked my train ticket from Bristol to Stoke-on-Trent to visit them, before we fly back out to our apartment to Portugal.  I thought it was all fine and dandy.  I thought it was OK for me to go and see them.  I didn’t see the problem with it, nor did my Mum.  I had a good chuckle at the National Rail website which asked me if I was absolutely sure I couldn’t cycle or walk.  I guess I should have realised when I couldn’t hire a car, that things weren’t quite as normal in reality as they were in my head.

I always struggle going to stay with my parents.  It’s not something I particularly enjoy doing and have a tendency to build it up into more than it is and get myself into a dither beforehand at the best of times.  This time I thought I wasn’t doing that.  I thought I was managing it all really well.  I was doing my yoga and meditation every day, I was reading all the right things and I was trying to live from a viewpoint of love rather than fear, I was trying to maintain a high vibration.  Only I wasn’t.  I was actually just going through the motions and papering over the issues and thoughts that I probably knew were there, but I was failing to see them – or I didn’t want to see.   If I am honest, I was conscious that I was getting anxious – all of a sudden the flat was too messy and it had to be tidy and I do recall a moment of clarity when husband said he could see me getting quieter and quieter and was getting quite worried about me.  Sadly, husband has to watch me go through this each time I go to visit my parents as I build it up so much and get myself in such a state.  But what I hadn’t factored in this time was the cherry on the top of the cake that is Covid_19.

I knew I’d been living in a bubble.  I always knew there would come a point when I had to leave the bubble and it might not go so well, but I hadn’t connected that event to this trip – which in hindsight is more than a bit dim.  I wanted to be that person that breezed through the next phase of leaving lockdown without a care in the world.

The trip started out really well.  It was great.  I arrived at Bristol Temple Meads.  Got my water and magazine, found a coffee stand.  I should have worked it out at this point.  There was only one coffee stand open in Temple Meads – there are normally lots to choose from.  I made my way to the platform, which was empty and a bit odd, then got on the train, which was empty.  There were probably about 10 people on my carriage – the dream world of train travel – all of the perks with none of the drawbacks!

A very empty Bristol Temple Meads

Then I arrived at Birmingham New Street.  If you’ve never been to Birmingham New Street then it is normally packed.  There are usually people everywhere.  It’s loud, it’s busy, it’s a challenge to get to the platform for your next train within the time frame just because of the number of people.  There was nobody.  There was nowhere to get a coffee.  Nothing was open.  It was just myself, lots of staff and a handful of other daft people who were thinking that train travel was a good idea.  It was at this point that the panic started to seep in.  What was I doing?  Why was I here?   What was I thinking?

What I was thinking was that I hadn’t seen my parents since February and they were keen to see me and according to the latest rules it was safe to do so.  Why I was here was because I’m off to Portugal at the end of the month and won’t see them in real life for another 4 months or so.  I thought it was the right thing to do.   It was also at this point that I developed a cough.  I have hay fever and often have a bit of a tickle in my throat, but all of a sudden the desire to cough increased tenfold.  My mind was off.  I was taking the virus to Stoke-on-Trent, I was going to infect my parents.  All of the coping strategies I thought I had developed went out of the window and all I could think about was the desire to cough and so I started crochet like a mad thing to keep my mind occupied as much as possible.  For the first time during the Covid_19 pandemic I had a coronavirus meltdown.  

An even emptier Birmingham New Street

I got to Stoke-on-Trent and I could have cried when I got off the train.  The nice lady at the station had let my mum through the barriers so she could meet me on the platform.  Nothing quite prepared me for my mum who is of an age when leaving the house with full make up is a must, standing with her mask on.  It’s probably the first time I’ve ever thought of her being old – and following the rules so closely that she bumped elbows with me.  Although I did have to laugh at all the lipstick smeared all over the mask.  We lost Dad – which is fairly tragic in a 2 platform station, but we managed it – and then it really hit me that he wasn’t ready for me to visit.  He looked apprehensive, and uptight and not at all comfortable with the situation.

Although he denies it, my Dad has suffered with anxiety all of his life and as I’ve become older I can now appreciate that much of what caused his behaviours and actions as I was growing up were due to off the scale anxiety coupled with OCD.  Like me, he also likes to have an element of control – I think we all do, but that means different things to different people.  He really likes to be in control and struggles if he doesn’t.  I now also see that my main problem as a child was that I wasn’t easily controlled and fought against it at every opportunity.  At the minute control for him means cleaning everything to within an inch of its life with antibacterial wipes every day – including inside the car.  Going for a walk every day – just to get out of the house and keep himself busy.  He’s painting every surface in the house that will stay still long enough.  Then he cleans down with the anti-bacterial wipes again.  He picked up on my tickly cough within about 10 seconds.  ‘How long have you had that cough’? ‘What’s caused that?’  I told him it was hayfever, but by this point my desire to let out a hacking cough every 10 seconds had reached crisis point. 

We went for a walk to Trentham Gardens – Dad went for a walk around the Gardens, Mum and I went to look at the shops and had a cup of tea, outside and had a nice chat.  She was so thrilled I was there, an unexpected treat.  But my head was in full on panic mode by this point – there were too many people and I was going to give the virus to everybody – not just my parents.  The thoughts had taken hold of my head and they were rampaging.

I knew it was happening.  I knew it was out of control.  What I didn’t know was how to stop it.  All of the techniques I’ve learned went out of my head and didn’t seem to work.  I tried to ‘bag it’ for later, but it was too big to put into the bag.  I tried Tara Brach’s RAIN technique – but it was far too out of control for that to work.  I tried identifying the dominant fear, but that didn’t help either.  I was out of control – like an out of control train hurtling to the end of a very short track.  There was nothing for it but to crash.  Meanwhile the controlling the cough was becoming increasingly difficult.

The only workable solution was to phone husband, who was still in Bristol.  That isn’t ideal, having your wife in bits 125 miles away, but that’s the only solution I had to hand.  I know that getting the thoughts out helps.  I know that he helps me work through the thoughts and regain some sense of equilibrium – which in this case required some very sensible figures and probabilities around catching and spreading Covid_19 given the current levels in both Stoke-on-Trent and Bristol. Which he did and we decided that the best solution was probably for me to come home after the one night rather than staying for two – what I didn’t consider and probably should have was I could have booked a room at the local hotel, not half a mile away!

I managed the one night.  I managed to get through two lots of my parents taking their temperatures, to check they don’t have the virus.  I got through a night of repeats of quiz shows, where I knew a surprising number of the answers.  I actually slept, which is unusual when I am at their house, I made it through breakfast and another round of wiping down with antibacterial wipes.  I managed to control the cough as much as humanly possible.  The sigh of relief when I got out of the car at the train station was palpable.  Whilst mum was thrilled that I’d been to visit, I’m not sure it was really worth the impact on mine and my dad’s mental health.  He was in cleaning overdrive, and I was not in the best place either.  

So, what did I learn from this?  That I still have my moments when I can’t cope and can’t work out what to do.  But now I can spot the moments, and although I was worse than useless, at least I knew it was happening and that I needed to do something.  I was listening to Eckhart Tolle with Russell Brand on the train, and Eckhart Tolle said that being aware is a great step in the right direction – it shows some level of awareness.  Even if you can’t resolve the situation effectively, being able to see it and know that it’s a situation is a start.  I learned that whilst this did happen, the time between this meltdown and the last one is longer – I can’t actually remember the last time this happened, so I know that I have made progress.  I learned that I still have to work harder on my coping mechanisms in the moment.  This actually sounds more brutal than I mean it to – I clearly have to identify one thing or method that I can fall back on which is more beneficial than others.  At the minute I have too many and none worked effectively.  I learned that my husband is still my greatest supporter and back room staff all rolled into one.  I learned that I need to control the situation as much as my Dad does.  Again, according to Ekhart Tolle, the things that most upset you about other people are the things that are most dominant in yourself.  Whilst my version of control is very different to my Dad’s, I have been controlling my reaction to Covid_19 as much as he has:  I’ve been doing yoga and meditating; he’s been cleaning anything to within an inch of its life, but for both of us, being taken out of that comfort zone when we weren’t quite ready was a disaster in the making.  I learned that life has to be a lot more near normal before I try this again and next time, I will definitely hire a car and stay in a hotel, so we can manage seeing each other more effectively for all involved.   I learned that train travel on an empty train is a dream.  

What of the cough?  The one that was going to kill me and most of the inhabitants of Stoke-on-Trent.  Within a few hours of being back at home, it had gone. 

Bristol, Happiness, Healthy living

Lockdown Days

So, we are still in lockdown in the UK.  Rather than staying safe, we are staying alert, whatever that means and is open to interpretation.

For me, it means relatively little has changed.  I still can’t visit friends at their homes, I still can’t go for a swim and I still can’t visit family, especially as they are shielding as part of the most vulnerable category, however, we are allowed to meet with a friend from another household as long as we maintain social distancing requirements.  We can now go out more than once a day and we can go and visit places for exercise that are more than a short walk away.  The only technical hitch we have, is that we have been instructed to avoid public transport.  As we don’t have a car, this pretty much means we are still limited to the immediate area.

Husband and I, however, have established a new kind of normal and probably have more of a routine than we’ve had for years.  In an attempt to improve my sleeping habits and create a more regular routine I had already started to set my alarm for 7.30am and I have maintained that habit.  That is probably where the similarities between life before Covid_19 and life with Covid_19 end.  During this enforced period at home I have been reading a number of books based on spirituality, in particular the belief that we are all made from the same stuff as everything else in the universe.  What I particularly like about the books I’ve been reading is that it is based on science, specifically quantum physics.

So, after waking up at 7:30 my day pretty much follows the same outline every day

I start with scraping my tongue, and splashing water on my face – a practice based in Ayurveda.

I then have a cup of hot lemon water, with ginger, turmeric and cinnamon which I keep in ice cube trays in the freezer.

Following this I have breakfast – usually porridge with seeds, and berries, occasionally yoghurt with seeds, nuts and berries, or oat biscuits with peanut butter.

After breakfast I do a short yoga routine.  Due to my fibromyalgia this is a bit of a work in progress.  I am up to about 15 minutes per day.

I follow this with time on my meditation stool, some days I do a mantra, some days I do some breathing exercises, I usually include a period of heart coherence and most days I will also do a short meditation.  I’ve started to do the guided meditation of the day on Insight Timer, as much as anything to embrace new things and not get stuck in a meditation rut. My favourite so far, that I would never normally have tried, is meditation to poetry.

All of this takes about an hour, but the difference it has made to my well-being is immense.  This is the one thing that after lockdown will be staying.  I would not have made time for this under normal circumstances, but now I have embraced the opportunity, I would be very sad to miss it.  On days when I am short of time in the morning, I still make sure I at least do the yoga and a short meditation, as it does genuinely set me up for the day. 

Usually husband goes out to do the food shopping whilst I am doing my daily practice, but during the remainder of the morning time is spent doing chores, doing crafts, reading and going for a walk.  More often than not, the walk takes in a rather lovely little coffee hut by the side of the water.  This coffee hut has kept me sane!  I’m not so sure now if it’s the coffee or the time spent on the bench watching the world go by that matters.  I live in an apartment with no outside space, so that time sitting outdoors is invaluable. During these walks we have found some amazing things around Bristol, including a beautiful rose garden at Temple Gardens.

The local coffee hut is a very welcome distraction!

Afternoons vary, depending as much as anything on levels of pain or energy, what I fancy doing, or which free course I have signed up to!  I spend this time watching videos, reading, doing more creative crafts, writing letters to friends and family.  Later on in the afternoon I do a bit more exercise.  I am a big fan of moving little and often, so I will do some Qi Gong and we often go for a second walk in the local area.  The afternoons are definitely busier than the mornings in the centre of Bristol and it is nice to see some signs of life, from a safe distance, of course.  I will also spend some more time sitting on my stool, more heart coherence, more meditating – whatever takes my fancy to be honest!

Our evenings are more often than not spent in watching the TV.  We don’t watch a vast amount of television – we watch Points West, the local news, the One Show on BBC1 and then normally watch one other programme during the evening.  Besides that I’ll do a bit more crochet or some more reading.  Once a week we have an online meet-up with our friends over a glass of wine and share news from the week. As with many people, this time spent with friends has been huge and makes you feel part of the world again, if only for a short time.

And there’s my day!  So very simple, but incredibly enjoyable.  Once a week I go to volunteer at one of the hotels hosting homeless people in Bristol and three times a week I go out for a Nordic Walk.  I’m following the NHS Couch to 5k programme.  I daren’t run due to my fibromyalgia, but by using the poles, I do get more of a full body workout and walk faster than I would normally.  I’m up to week 3 now and as yet have not been too badly affected, so I am hopeful that my battered body will withstand the pace!  If not, I’ll just have to walk slower.

I’ve spent a lot of time crafting, (and drinking tea), getting back into my crochet course.

As with the spiritual practices, if you’d told me two months a go that I would be so content with such a simple quiet life I would have thought you were totally mad. Normally, I am constantly on the go, filling my days with busy-ness, can’t sit still, hate doing nothing.  Now I find myself frequently looking out of the window watching the birds.  True, I only have a choice of pigeons and sea gulls to look at, but I am back to just watching the birds and am more content to just sit and be.  I’ve also become more productive, rather than busily trying to do a million and one things I can just sit and focus on one thing at a time.  I’m back to enjoying my crochet course, and I am so close to finishing it.  

I’ve had time to reflect, time to contemplate, time to wonder (much to husband’s annoyance as he frequently gets dragged into my wondering).  I’m beginning to see signs of the real me that got pushed aside and dragged under by my last years in teaching, I’m starting to enjoy the process and not be so concerned by the outcomes, which no longer have to be so perfect.  I’m starting to laugh a bit more.  I’m starting to sleep better.  For me, this period of time spent with my husband, just the two of us, has been a blessing.  Days with him are still the sparkliest of all.  I am hopeful that when we are allowed back into the real world, that the things I have learned will hold me in good stead and I won’t find it quite as intimidating as it was before.  

The roses at Temple Gardens, Bristol

Bristol, Walking, Well-being

Life in Lockdown

As many other people across the world, I am in lockdown, or quarantine, or whatever it is you happen to call it.  I am in the British version of lockdown, as one thing I have discovered throughout this, is one country’s version of lockdown is very different to another. 

  • I am allowed to go out for essential trips, to the pharmacy or supermarket as infrequently as possible.
  • I cannot meet up with people from other households
  • I am allowed to go out for exercise once a day.

I have been quite surprised at how well I have taken to the lockdown.  Prior to this situation I had been doing quite a lot of work on remaining present and strategies to enable me to remain present, remain mindful, and to find joy in the simple.  It also coincided with an increase in a spiritual faith (which, apparently, is often a knock on effect of developing a daily meditation practice).  Don’t ask me to explain exactly what form that ‘faith’ takes as it varies from one day to the next!    One thing that I have always had running through me like a steel core, is hope.  People often say, if I was a stick of rock, I would have something running through me.  For me it is hope.  Even in my hardest, darkest moments I have always had hope that tomorrow will be a better day.  Recently I went to watch The Book of Mormon, and there is a song in it ‘Tomorrow is a Latter Day’.  All through this lockdown I have been humming to myself ‘Tomorrow is a Better Day’.  If you’d asked me 12 months ago, how I would have responded to this situation we find ourselves in, it certainly wouldn’t have been humming songs!

I do, also appreciate, that I only have myself and my husband to think about, and that relatively there has been very little change to the way we live our lives, as I have been a Stay at Home Wife for 5 years in May.  We are very fortunate, in that we have no financial worries, or work worries, neither of us is a key worker and so relative to many other people we do have little by way of stressors to affect us at this time.

St Nic’s Market

It has also coincided with my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia and so I was already in a position where I wasn’t able to exercise and needed to sit down and take stock of life a little.  This has literally forced me to sit down and reflect on who I am and where I am.

One of the key benefits of the lockdown is, as yet, I haven’t been bored, although I do realise there is more than an element of busy-ness about my days and avoiding periods of quiet.  Filling my time with stuff and chocolate, rather than face the quiet.  I haven’t once panicked about picking up the virus.  I have shouted at my parents for not following the rules, but this does seem to be a common trend with my friends with older parent.  I do have about a million projects on the go, or that I am dying to start.  I have taken advantage of so much free ‘stuff’.  30 day yoga challenges, meditation challenges, Qi Gong routines, Kundalini Yoga, you name it, it’s arrived in my inbox and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve tried it all, some of which I’ve really enjoyed, some of which I was really glad it was free, because that was really not my cup of tea.  I even have a friend from school who does a gig from her lounge at the weekend, which really lifts our spirits. There have been some down days, but these have been more of an exception.

I have finally been myself.  My battered, weary, worn-out self.  I haven’t had to pretend to anyone that I’m someone or something I’m not, I haven’t had to fit in, or be someone else’s idea of the person I am.  I’ve been me.  I’ve done a daily (ish) Facebook live for my friends and not once have I bothered about my hair, or makeup and have worn my favourite slopping, staying in jumper for most instalments.  My friends have seen the real me, who I now realise, is the person that most of my older friends already knew. It is my newer friends, those who encountered the navy wearing version of me, the one a quest for perfection, the one who strived to be something I’m not, that may be a bit more surprised by what they see.

Banksy’s Girl with the Diamond Earring gained a mask

As with many people I have embraced technology and am spending quite a bit of time chatting to friends on line.  Monday night is Mum and Dad, Tuesday and Friday is spent the with the ladies from the Menopause Movement and Saturday evening is ‘Girls Night In’ with my friends from the local hostelry.  I think without these I might have gone insane.  I always thought I was a bit of a misfit and that I could take or leave other people, however, as time has gone on I realise that actually I do really need people, I need to chat, I need to laugh and smile and as much as anything I really need to get out and see people in real life!

I think I am quite fortunate that I am living in a bubble.  We are right in the centre of Bristol and all the shops are shut, all the car parks are shut, there is absolutely no reason to be here.  It is the strangest thing, and I wonder if in all of its history, Bristol has ever seen anything like this. As a consequence there is little by way of people, or traffic, there are no queues at the local supermarkets and M&S is doing some great bargains on food.  I’ve had way too many of their Easter Eggs at knock down prices.  We also have access to a selection of take-away food as several of the local independent restaurants have found ways to continue trading.  Our morning walk takes us past an independent coffee shop, we’ve eaten Korean street food, Caribbean food, pasta dishes, burgers.  A couple of times we have ventured further afield, south of the river and have been shocked by the sudden increase in traffic and the number of people, and the queues, the queues, at the supermarket.  The only downside to our bubble is a lack of outside space, so as a consequence, we take our daily exercise very seriously, as it is our opportunity to get out and experience something different.  This being Bristol we have had some amazing sights on our walks, every day spotting something different, from updates to Banksy street art to a rainbow appearing in the windows of the council house.

Hopefully, this coming week, we will get some news as to whether or not we can leave our bubble at any time soon.  On the one hand, I am ready to get out and meet people, on the other it comes with a massive concern about the impact. I also don’t know if I’ve ready for people to invade our bubble. Seeing Bristol so peaceful during lockdown, having time and space to breathe has been a real treat and a privilege and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to share it again!

Bristol Council House with it’s rainbow for the NHS

Fibromyalgia, Well-being

Fibromyalgia, it would appear.

I’ve been a little quiet again, but this time it was deliberate, as I hunkered down to spend time focussing on fixing what was wrong with me. I am, at heart, a bit of a fixer!

As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts I’ve been having some difficulty with exercising.  Going for longer walks that have left me physically unable to walk for up to a week, finding that I was hurting an unrealistic amount after yoga.  I’d been doing a bit of voluntary work at a cafe for the homeless people of Bristol and after one shift, I literally couldn’t walk another step due to the pain. Eventually, the pain became so severe, so much of an inconvenience that I gave in and went to see a physiotherapist.

Upon examination, it appeared I had a problem with my lumbar spine and sacroiliac joint.  Excellent news, this was something that could be fixed.  Unfortunately, it didn’t fix it – well it did and it didn’t.  My back and sacroiliac joint are now working just fine, thanks to a mixture of manipulation and acupuncture, but I was still in pain; still getting tingling in my feet; still waking up in pain and feeling very stiff; still not able to exercise without causing myself pain – and not forgetting the ever present fatigue that accompanied it.  The measures I’d taken to cut out certain foods and alcohol had not given me the energy that all the evidence suggested I would have, nor had my sleep patterns improved to any great degree.

And so, off to the GP.  I had a trainee GP, who I suspect did far more tests than a fully qualified GP might have done as she was so keen to learn and understand what my symptoms might be.  At this point I was still 100% confident it was just the menopause and that I would get over it eventually!   But then she mentioned MS and Rheumatoid Arthritis – which was the time when I decided to just take a step back, avoid google, but just take some time to understand a bit more what was going on with my body and see where I was headed and perhaps take this all a little more seriously.  Whatever the outcome, it was not going to be a quick fix after all.  After a million and one different tests and scans, all the results came back clear – and so, I was prescribed a very low dose of Amitryptilene.

I’m not a medical person, not a clue about what going on that drug meant, all I knew was it was meant to help with neuropathic pain.   I really wanted to avoid drugs if at all possible, but I reached a point where I just needed a break from the pain and time to gather my thoughts.

A short visit to Dr Google later and I discovered it is a recognised treatment for both Fibromyalgia and MS.   Not great, but a million times better than where I had started from at my first GP appointment.  My first reaction was one of disappointment.  Like many people, I thought Fibromyalgia was a bit wishy washy – primarily because of so many people that I’ve met who apparently suffer from Fibromyalgia and who also happen to be a bit wishy washy, along with the number of people who’ve read the list of symptoms and have decided that’s what they are going to have.  I really didn’t want to be one of ‘those’ people.  Not a great start!

As I read the list of symptoms, however, I found I could place a tick next to each one of them. 

  • A constant feeling of extreme fatigue
  • Flu like pain, that cane be severe at times
  • Several tender body areas that hurt
  • Overall body aches
  • Feeling very anxious
  • Muscle stiffness and pain
  • Chronic back pain
  • Insomnia and disturbed sleep
  • Worsening pain after physical activity
  • Mental malaise and confusion (fibro fog)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Headaches
  • Allergies
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Irritable bladder
  • Restless legs
  • Numbness and tingling

Fibromyalgia is also recognised for the fact there is no test for it, but it is generally diagnosed as a consequence of each and every other test coming back clear.  It looked like I had my diagnosis.   Although I suspect the supervising GP still has his doubts about whether or not it is MS and has given me a list of symptoms to watch out for.

On the one hand I felt a huge wave of relief.  I had something; there was something wrong; there was something I could start to fix.  On the other was disappointment.  In my heart of hearts, I probably knew there wasn’t going to be a quick fix, but I really wanted something that they could put right in the next few months and I could step off in to a pain free, energy filled future.

As I look back though, I can see that it’s probably been brewing for a long time, certainly 10 years.  If I look just at the levels of exercise I used to be capable of and where I am now, the deterioration has been quite dramatic.  Even getting to the point where going to yoga three times a week was too much for me.  I’ve always struggled with fatigue, even in my twenties I slept most of the weekend – not because I’d been partying, but because I needed to do that just to get the energy together to make it through the working week.  Sometimes, when I was teaching, I’d have aches in my body so bad that I thought I had flu coming, and actually took Cold and Flu tablets to get me through the day.  I’ve definitely had irritable bladder since my early twenties, but never realised it was even a ‘thing’ until now. The thing I am most grateful for at this time is that I am a stay-home-wife, as I’m fairly confident that I would have reached the point where I was missing work on a regular basis.  

So … what next.  Everything I have read so far, points to diet and exercise as building blocks for managing fibromyalgia, so those things I started doing in December to improve my health haven’t been in vain.  They are a good starting point.  Thanks to my sister and Moving Medicine, I also have an exercise plan in place, setting small achievable goals (and I mean small), which mean I can progress with my exercise pain free.  I can swim, I can cycle, I can do some yoga and slowly I can build back up to the point at which I can go back to a yoga class, I have some exercises for building up my deep core muscles to support my lower back in the years to come.  I’m keeping moving, all the time, I even have a timer to make me move every hour, so my exercise is spaced over short chunks throughout the day. For the first time in a very long time I also have hope that tomorrow will be better.

Sustainable Living, Well-being

One Month of Sustainable Living

So this is the end of my first month of trying to be a little more sustainable, or at the very least buying less.

It’s not been particularly difficult, primarily as I already have so much stuff that I have to use up that there has actually been no need for me to think about buying things, which I admit is a bit of a cheat.

It was also far easier for the first part of January as we were in Albufeira and there is nothing to buy and I mean nothing.  It’s a small town that focusses on the summer tourist trade, so the shops that are open sell the same tat all year round.  Tat that you wouldn’t want to buy, or need to buy on your summer holidays, so in the middle of winter it becomes really pointless.  There’s not that much need to a pair of flip flops, or a sun hat in the winter months, let alone a back scratcher!

Coming back to Bristol was more of a challenge, particularly as we arrived back towards the end of sale season and so the bigger, final discounts were starting to appear.  This is not made easier due to the fact we live right in the centre of town, Primark is my local store!  It’s made me realise just how often I ‘popped’ to the shops to fill time.  There have been a couple of times when I’ve been pacing around the flat at a loose end, having to force myself not to walk out to the city centre and just have a mooch around the shops.  Instead I’ve had to force myself to walk in the opposite direction towards the harbourside.  Either that or occupy myself in a more productive manner!  What is it about shopping that draws you in?  

Me:  I’m bored

Me:  I know, why not walk to the shops and spend money you can’t afford on things you don’t need.

Me:  Good idea, I’ll put my coat on

What is that about!  

There have been more frequent visitations to coffee and tea shops, rewarding myself for getting out and walking, going in the opposite direction rather than to the shops.  It also has the advantage of being infinitely more sustainable and also a tonne cheaper!  Especially at the local library where its still just £1 for a cup of tea!!!! The library has become a real life saver! I do love going there and perusing and can lose myself there for hours. Already, this month, I can see how it’s going to play a bigger role in helping me avoid the city centre!

Visiting the coffee shops is a cheaper alternative to shopping

I have brought some things.  A few kindle books, a couple of second hand books and a few things related to improving my general health.  I suppose that I’m generally trying to live a cleaner, healthier lifestyle and unfortunately, there were a few bits and pieces that I wanted to buy to help me on my way.

So I brought:

  • a dry body brush
  • a tongue scraper
  • a couple of essential oils

There were also a couple of more outrageous purchases one of which was an accidental tub of body butter from the Body Shop when I wasn’t thinking.  This was disappointing for several reasons:  I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic containers I buy, I’m trying to use up what I have before I buy more and I’d really like to try making my own using essential oils and other ingredients!

I did also buy a pair of slippers.  These were a need.  I’m not a great fan of slippers, I’d rather walk around in my socks, but especially on the tiled floors of Portugal I just wasn’t getting my feet warm at all and it was becoming quite challenge and a real nightmare.  When we returned to Bristol I was dying for a hot bath, just to get my feet warm for the first time in a month.  So slippers.  My need for warm feet was a priority!

I’ve also had a great time making things using materials that I already had.  I made three pieces of Valentine’s day bunting, using material and felt I had in Portugal and binding I had in Bristol, all of which were donated to the local charity shop.  I also made a crochet brooch, a carnation, using thread that I already had in my stash.  

Valentine’s Bunting using existing materials

I do appreciate that as the months go by it is going to become more of a challenge as I need to start replacing things that I use up, which will then present me with a range of dilemmas, but also options to investigate!  Randomly, I have found not buying magazines a real challenge! Like many things, I don’t suppose I really registered quite how often I bought them until I thought about whether or not I needed them. At the moment, I am finding it very satisfying to see how I can make use of what I already have rather than automatically thinking I need to go out and buy something new. 

City Breaks, Joy, Walking

Walking in Innsbruck

This past week we have been on a city break to Innsbruck.  Yes. you heard that right, a city break to Innsbruck.  Earlier in 2019 husband and I decided we’d like to go somewhere with snow and I always love a mountain.  A quick google search later and we discovered that Innsbruck is, in fact, one of the up and coming city break destinations.  Add in ridiculously cheap flights, for some reason we never did work out, and we were good to go.

Highlights

For me the main highlights included the trip up to the top of the Nordkette mountain  This involved a ride on the Hungerburg funicular, from the centre of Innsbruck itself and two further cable car rides to take us up to the top of the mountain.  The weather whilst we was there was just beautiful and the views at the top made the journey up well worth while.  And it was quiet, so very quiet.  I had assumed that once we’d left the city centre and hit the ski-ing areas it would become much busier, but it was beautifully serene, with barely a soul to be seen on the ski slopes.  We weren’t there to ski, I love it but husband isn’t a fan.  Either way, I’m not sure that my back would have been up to the challenge at the moment anyway, so it was best to stick to walking and admiring the views.  The walk at the top of the mountain was quite challenging, but well worth it to experience the views across the Karwendal Nature park.

Views at the top of Nordkette

I also loved our train trip into Seefeld which we took on our last day.  Just a 30 minute ride out of the centre of Innsbruck and it was like being in another world.  I have always loved being up in the mountains since my first school holiday – a ski-ing trip to Italy.  This, for me, was paradise.  I’d passed through Seefeld once before.  30 years ago, my family went on a coach holiday to somewhere in Austria!  After we’d been on the coach from London for about 60 million hours, the first stop was in Seefeld!  It was more how I’d remembered Austria, with the Tyrolean chalets.  We had a lovely walk around the Wildsee frozen lake and through the town.  What I particularly loved about it was how active everyone was.  Within the space of 100 yards we saw ice-skating on an outside rink (with real ice, obviously), curling and cross country ski-ing over the golf course.  Everyone was there – older people just out to stretch their legs, right through to competitive skiers who were taking it very seriously.  It made me sad that we have nothing similar in the UK.  We don’t have that general outdoorsy attitude towards life.  I appreciate rain soaked Bristol isn’t quite sunny Asutria, but I’m sure more could be make available to enable people to get fit and active.  We had a fabulous lunch in a typical Tyrolean cafe, sitting out in the sunshine, surrounded by snow.  Just perfect.

Walking by the frozen Wildsee lake in Seefeld

Innsbruck

Innsbruck itself grew on us.  Initially I think we were both a bit underwhelmed by it, not helped by less than perfect accommodation, but it’s definitely a grower.  On our first morning we did the good old ‘hop on, hop off’ bus which gave us a great idea of the layout of the city.  We stopped off at the Bergisel ski-jump and took the lift up to the very top.  My dad was right with his memories of that trip, you do look straight down the jump into the cemetery of.  Quite what possesses people to hoist themselves of a small metal seat down a slippery slope into oblivion is quite beyond me – certainly not for the faint-hearted! But well worth the visit just to get an idea of the insanity!

We stopped in a suburb of Innsbruck called Hotting which meant we had a good 20 minute walk or so into town, which we did for several days and provided us with great views of the River Inn and the original buildings of Mariahilf.  Eventually we discovered just how easy the bus service was to use and that our Innsbruck Card included free travel on all public transport, which really opened up the city to us.  If you do ever visit Innsbruck, I highly recommend getting the Innsbruck card as it is amazing value for money.  There are also a number of useful apps, one ‘Innsbruck’ which is basically a tourist guide of the city, but also one for the buses and one for the trains, which were easy to use.  My knowledge of the German language is nil, but I found that I was able to navigate my way around them to find out the information I needed.

Walking alongside the River Inn with views over to Mariahilf

As ever, we tried as much as we could to find smaller, less touristy places to eat and weren’t disappointed.  We had been given to believe that Austria would be expensive when we got there, but we found that it was similarly priced to Bristol, if not a little cheaper, but much of that may be because we actively seek out places to eat that are a little off the beaten track. We ate a fabulous Turkish lunch in the Marktplatz, overlooking the river, which besides having traditional market stalls, also has a range of smaller eateries ranging from pizza to fish and more traditional Austrian food options.  I was determined to eat as much authentic Austrian food as I could and wasn’t disappointed.  Two restaurants that we particularly enjoyed were Weinhaus Happ and Stiftskeller, where both the service and atmosphere were great.  Whilst both are in the more touristy area of the old city, there was a good mix of tourists and locals in both establishments!

Swarovski Kristallwelten

Innsbruck has been the home of Swarovski Kristallwelton for 25 years.  Swarovski has been producing crystals in Innsbruck since the late 19th century.  I have to confess that I’d always assumed they were made in America as that’s where I’d seen most stores and to my mind that was the over the top, shiny market it mostly appealed to.  We went along because we had the Innsbruck Card, so the shuttle to Kristallwelton and entrance were included.  I wasn’t expecting much from the visit, but as it was included it seemed rude not to give it a try, and anyway, crystals are sparkly so what could go wrong?  Like most modern art museums, some of the pieces I really loved.  I didn’t quite understand what they meant, even after reading the information, but some were just lost on me.  My favourite was walking through the forest – although it was a bit nerve-wracking as you really couldn’t tell where the pathway through was.  The Chandelier of Grief of Yoyai Kusama, although lovely, is much like the Northern Lights, the photo I took looks far more dramatic than the reality! I also loved the ‘clouds’ outside.  As we had such beautiful weather, they really did sparkle in the sunshine.  As you would imagine, there is a shop, a very big shop.  At which point I did remember why Swarovski is lost on me.  I’m not a dazzly, jewellery sort of girl and it would be fair to say, nothing that they sell is understated!  As it was included in the price of our Innsbruck Card, I’m glad that I went, however, I would have been disappointed had I paid full price for the entry tickets.

Chandelier of Grief of Yoyai Kusama

By the end of the 5 days we spent there, we had fallen in love with Innsbruck and would visit again, especially as there are still parts of the city we’d like to walk around.  It was quiet, I’m not sure if that’s because it was January, it was relaxed, it was flat and so easy to walk around, the people were friendly and welcoming and eager to help out where they could.  If you’re looking for a different place for a city break, with far fewer tourists than you’d expect, I’d highly recommend a visit.  It doesn’t have any ‘wow’ monuments or museums like many other cities, but the overall experience and the atmosphere around the city more than makes up for it.  Having said that, what more of a ‘wow’ do you really need than being surrounded by snow capped mountains in every direction that you look.

Food and drink, Healthy living, reflection, Well-being

Going Cold Turkey

One month ago, on 16th December 2019, I went Cold Turkey on everything.  By everything I mean:

  • Alcohol
  • Processed meat and red meat
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Cake
  • Pastry
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate

Yes, I went Cold Turkey on anything ‘nice’ in the run up to Christmas, but with different degrees of success?

After 1 week I posted a picture of myself on Facebook.  I plan to post weekly then monthly photos of myself over the coming weeks and months, as much as anything as a form of measurement for myself as you how I am doing.  I don’t own a set of scales, so weight isn’t any indication of progress and anyway that’s not what the motivation for doing this is.

As I posted that first photo I had a range of responses including:  giving up everything would be just too boring; why would you give up everything that is nice; why not just over indulge and diet in January.  Here’s the thing, I had over indulged.  We went back to Bristol for the first two weeks of December and by the 15th December I was bedridden, exhausted, in pain, discomfort, unable to function.  Looking back I think I was also coming down with a bit of a bug, but even so, I was in no fit state to continue.  This is not new and this is not unusual; it is something I have managed for as long as I can remember.

Why am I giving up ‘nice’ things?

So, this is how it goes.  We get invited for an evening out.  The day of the evening out I have to sleep in the afternoon in order to have the sheer oomph to get through the evening.  Then I get ready, we go out and ‘sociable Steph’ arrives.  I drink, normally Prosecco or white wine and normally, two or three glasses – I don’t drink vast amounts because of how poorly it makes me. I eat the food: a starter, a main course and a dessert.  We may go on for a night cap after the meal.  Then we go home and go to bed.  Within the hour I am generally back up, feeling uncomfortable and ready to burst.  The discomfort grows and grows over the next few hours until all the food and drink vacates my body by any means at it’s disposal.  Then finally, I go to bed in the early hours of the morning and sleep.  As a consequence I do not function the following day, as I am sleep deprived and sore, my body aches from head to toe.  So, in fact, we have to set aside two days for me to go out for a meal with friends, one day to summon up the energy and one day to recover.  Most people chortle that we have to be home for my husband to have his afternoon nap – in reality I’m the one that does the napping – I’m the one that places limits on what we can do in a day.

Why, might you ask, do I put myself through this?  Because, by and large, this is what is expected.  Because this is what is considered normal.  Because I really don’t want to let people down.  Because, just for that moment in time I can join in.  Because sometimes it just becomes too hard to have to explain.

The problem is, when we went back to Bristol at the beginning of December we did this for 10 nights out of 19.  There weren’t enough ‘off’ days for me to actually recover.  So my body imploded, I was bedridden and I decided, enough was enough. 

A life within limits

Generally, this has been the picture of my life, I went to work, I put all the energy I had into going to work which meant at home I had nothing. I do blame having mumps as a child for leaving me with some fatigue issues.  Back in the 1970’s things like Chronic Fatigue didn’t exist, you just got on with life.   I also tend to avoid labels as to my mind, once you have a label your brain starts to think you are ill, and I don’t want to be going down that rabbit hole!  I have had pockets in my life when it wasn’t like this.  As a student, during which time I was tea-total I was fine, and everybody’s mate as I was a non-drinker in possession of a car!  I had another period of time between 2000 and 2007 when I lived in Stoke-on-Trent and socialised with many like minded people for whom alcohol was irrelevant.  I also exercised regularly and made sure I didn’t allow myself to get stressed, luckily I worked in an environment which was well managed.  I went to a nutritionist and ate a healthy, varied diet which excluded most ‘nice’ foods and I was happy – not 100% healthy but the closest I’ve ever been.

When I moved back to Bristol in 2009, I lost that all important support network, the job I went to was stressful and the school was badly run.  Consequently, I started to make poor choices regarding diet and health, I stopped exercising as regularly and over the years have become less and less like myself.  My social life also changed in Bristol and became more focussed around bars, eating and drinking – but my stressed self enjoyed it, it provided a welcome release from the grind of the day job.  But I was back to sleeping for most of the weekend.  Back to putting all my effort into other people, other things and being a transparent version of myself at home.

So, to December 2019.  Finally I woke up.  Four years ago I gave up work to spend time with my husband, to do our retirement thing, to travel and spend quality time together.  But we haven’t been doing that.  In many respects, and on bad days, my husband has essentially become my carer.  He is the one that gathers me up after we have been out.  The one who has had his sleep disturbed because I’ve been ill throughout the night.  The one that makes all the meals and tries so very hard to make sure they are as healthy as they can be.  The one that turns a blind eye to the messiness of our home because he understands that I just don’t have the energy to tidy up.  The one who does the washing, the ironing, doing as much of the housework that he possibly can, just so that I don’t have to.  The one that pushes me out of the door to exercise as he knows that although I am exhausted it will help me later on in the day.  The one who sits quietly and reads while I sleep during the day, all so that I can go out in the evening and be sociable, to have a drink or two, share a meal and to behave ‘normally’.  

What next?

I don’t want that life anymore.  I want to have the energy to enjoy time with my husband.  I’m tired of using all my energy on other people rather than my marriage. I want to be able to exercise when I’d like, not on the odd day when I actually feel well enough to bother.  I want to go to bed safe in the knowledge that I won’t actually be ill throughout the night.  I know this works, I’ve done it in the past.  I know that eating healthily, and making the best choices I can will enable me to function on a day to day basis.  I owe it to my husband and our retirement to give this my everything as I am tired of missing out on days and opportunities with him to appease others.

It took a good two weeks for me to recover any sense of equilibrium after going cold turkey.  For some reason that I can’t explain on January 1st, 2020, I decided to have a glass of wine.  Maybe because our New Year’s Eve didn’t happen as husband had proper flu.  Maybe it was just because I wanted to see what might happen if I did have that one glass of wine with lunch out with my friend.  It was tragic!  I lost two days as a consequence of that one glass of wine.

I’ve not been perfect this month and I wasn’t successful in giving up sweet treats.  There has been so much chocolate in the house and a friend of ours made us the most beautiful Christmas Cake that just had to be eaten.  I am writing this last part of the blog on the plane from Faro to Bristol, exactly one month from the day I went cold turkey.  My plan for this month is to tackle the sugary snacks and the desserts when we go out for meals.  Quite often in Albufeira, restaurants offer an all in price for 3 courses and it seems a shame not to have the ‘free’ dessert.  I am ready to stop eating them, ready to try cutting them out and see what the effect is.  I think this is my alcohol, I know I am really going to struggle with this, but I have to try.

Healthy living, Reading, Well-being

My Recommendations

My life has changed quite dramatically over the past 18 months as I have made a concerted effort to focus on improving my mental and physical health.  I won’t lie, there have been a few dead ends that I’ve travelled along, a few toe-curling moments, but equally some flashes of inspiration and resources that have made a real impact.  I’m not a fan of taking tablets.  Husband and I have discussed this at great length.  Whilst taking antidepressants would manage the episodes of depression, they also lessen the enjoyment of happy times.  So whilst life may be a roller coaster, I’d rather be experiencing the full spectrum of ups and downs rather than floundering in the middle somewhere.  This approach does require effort, and some sacrifices, some of which people don’t understand, but for me life is for living and I have to give it my best shot.

Whilst I am in the fortunate position that I don’t have to go to work and so have the time to spend researching different areas that interest me, I don’t have a bottomless pot of money to spend.  So I am careful to find things that are free, or cheap, or at the very list provide me with what I consider to be value for money.  

I love seeking out a bargain, especially when it comes to books.  More often than not, you can find a used version of a book, for pennies.  Equally, I am a great fan of the library; I regularly borrow a specific book and then decide whether or not it is worth spending my husband’s hard earned pounds on it!

I thought I’d share some of my favourite finds with you, things that I do use over and over again.

This is my favourite go to website, youtube combination.  I first came across Dr Bri when I was travelling in Barcelona and my pelvic floor was particularly flimsy!  I came across her Lift Series which I could start there and then and start to regain some control over the functioning of my body.  Dr Bri advocates a holistic approach to living.  In order for one part of your body to work effectively, all of the other pieces need to be functioning correctly as one cohesive whole.  Too frequently (and I have been at the wrong end of this) medical practitioners put right the problem that you have presented with and send you on your way, without considering what else might be going on in the vicinity that could be contributing to the situation.  Dr Bri looks at it all and provides some really simple and attainable life style changes that you can make to begin to get yourself on the right track, and because of her I have discovered essential oils and more recently Ayurveda.  What I particularly love about her is that she is a qualified women’s health physical therapist, but equally goes to great pains to point out that she isn’t your local practitioner and that in an ideal world, you would use her programmes alongside treatment from your local practitioner.  I found this really refreshing in a world where everyone is an Instagram expert.

I’ve become a great fan of podcasts.  I’m not the greatest flyer, but a good podcast helps the time go by and also frees me up to do some sock knitting at the same time.  The main problem with podcasts, for me, is just finding the time to fit them all in!

I love Fearne Cotton.  I’ve also got her books ‘Happy’ and ‘Calm’.  On her podcast she interviews a range of people including sportsmen and actors and discusses their mental health journeys.  It’s a bit more light hearted than some, and she has such a beautiful interviewing technique that she is able to drawer the best out of her interviewees.  I’ve found that my enjoyment varies depending on who she’s interviewing, but that’s the same with all chat shows.  Obviously my favourite was her interview with Ruby Wax.

Dr Rangan Chattergee: Feel Better, Live More

I love this podcast!  I love that he is a GP who is trying to advocate alternative methods to support patients in the UK and hasn’t just gone down the route of chucking a drug at everything.  I’ve learned so much from this podcast.  I’ve found out about Cal Newport and his Digital Detox which has changed the way I use my phone.  I’m not perfect, but I’m much better. On my last flight I listened to episode #84 ‘Why Walking is the Superpower…’, with Professor Shane O’Mara which was just an eye opener and helped me understand why moving is so important.   It was episode #85 with Andy Ramage that planted the seed of my giving up alcohol for a while, just to see if it would make a difference to my health and well-being.  He discusses such a wide range of topics and each one leaves you eager to learn more, find out more and in some cases just to google whether or not that can even be true!  

Russell Brand: Under the Skin

I have to confess that this is the podcast that I least expected to take to, but it is just fascinating.  The level of knowledge that Russell Brand has on such a wide range of topic areas is just insane, and I have to confess that on a number of occasions I have been totally lost!  I listened to this in the first instance because I really loved the person he was interviewing, to the extent I thought that putting up with Russell Brand for a bit was more than worth the effort.  I was blown away.  Again, the range of topics that he discusses and the variety of guests that he has on his programme is extraordinary and every episode leaves you wanting more.  There are several that I’ve listened to more than once, just to fully understand everything that was discussed.  The slight downside with this is that Russell Brand has recently moved to Luminary, a paid for podcast platform, but he does still have a great you tube channel and occasionally shares an episode to free to listen platforms.

Sometimes, there is just no substitute for a book.  I’m having to get used to using the Kindle more, as it is a far easy way of transporting books.

I’ve read all of her books.  She’s fantastic, going from comedienne to Neuroscientist, as you do.  I remember showing a clip of her on YouTube when I was teaching, chortling away throughout, thinking it was the best thing ever, only to realise that not one of the students in my class had a clue who she was and didn’t find her the least bit funny!  Her books are really accessible and humorous and help you make sense of a serious situation.  She removes the fear and gives you hope that there is a way to get to a better place.  There are number of stories she tells which make you feel ‘well, at least I was never that bad’, primarily because so much of what she did was in the public eye and at the very least I could fall apart in private.

Eckhart Tolle: A New Earth

I first came across Eckhart Tolle via another book that I read, Dan Harris ’10% happier’ (also worth a read).  I admit that at that time, I did order ‘The Power of Now’ and decided it was not for me.  I came across ‘A New Earth’ via Oprah Winfrey’s Soul Sessions podcast.  I am a big Oprah fan.  Anyway, she has a chapter by chapter review of the book, where she interviews Eckhart Tolle and discusses what each of the chapters mean and as with many things, she was able to put it into normal everyday language, so that you understand more clearly what the book is getting at!  Technically, this book is about spirituality, but I found it more useful for my mental health.  It helped me understand why I needed to be more present and offers suggestions on how you might be more present.  It provides and understanding of why your thoughts might be the way they are, where they may come from, but equally important for me, where the thoughts of others might originate from.  I’ve always been a nightmare for creating negative interpretations of the way other people might view me.  This book helped me to stop, consider and even watch how other people are behaving and to understand they have their own chatter in their own minds, which determines how they behave towards me – it’s actually got nothing to do with me at all.  This has been a revelation to me, and incredibly freeing.  This is a book that I go back to time and time again, to refresh my mind and remind me to stay as present as I can.

This is my favourite app.  I’ve dabbled with various meditation apps, but this one has won me over, primarily because of Matthew McConahys sleep story. Sadly, given the purpose of the sleep stories is to send you to sleep I don’t actually know how the story ends!

This is a paid for app and one of few things that I have paid full price for, but I love it.  I’m not the best at meditation, but it has guided meditations, daily meditation practices, music to relax to and help you sleep.  It has a brilliant 7 day introduction to meditation which isn’t the least bit scary.  It’s definitely worth the free trial if nothing else.

I am learning and reading all the time.  I am currently reading ‘The Idiot’s Guide to Ayurveda’ by Sahara Rose, who also has a podcast.  And so I am off at another tangent, investigating other ways to support my health and well-being.  If nothing else, it keeps me amused!

Healthy living, Mindfulness, Sustainable Living, Well-being

One Year of Sustainable Living

I’d intended for this blog post to be about 20 things I was going to do for 2020. I started 19 things for 2019, but admittedly, lost enthusiasm half way through the year. But, I thought, 2020 has a nice ring, so thought I’d dust my list off and try again. But then I started wondering as I pondered over my list, trying to find 20 things to do this year, ‘Is this actually the way to go’?

As my alter ego, Poppytoft, I like to do crafts, to make things, specifically using knitting, crochet and sewing. I enjoy designing quirky clothes for children and coming up with ways to customise existing clothes and give them a new lease of life. A week or so ago, as I was walking through Seville, I saw a small girls cardigan in a shop window and as ever my immediate thought was ‘I could make that’. But then from somewhere I had a second thought, ‘could I make it using sustainable materials’? I have an insane ‘stash’ of wool and fabric at home, there is absolutely no need for me to go out and source something new. You name it, I probably have it in my craft cupboard. But what if I haven’t got the ‘perfect’ fabric? There are at least 5 million charity shops in Bristol, and several in Albufeira, all of which sell pieces that could be used as fabric or could be upcycled into a new piece. I’m fairly confident I could manage to source all the material, wool, ribbons, even buttons, from the charity shops of Bristol, it will just take a bit of creativity.

The Stash: Part 1
My first make, from ‘The Stash’

But then that got me thinking. If I can design and make new clothes from old for children, then what’s stopping me doing that for myself. I can’t imagine that I’m the only middle aged woman in the world who is looking for imaginative ways to update or upcycle dated pieces. I have way too many clothes in my wardrobe, there is absolutely no need for me to buy anything new – not for a very, very long time. Yes, I might be a bit tired, or bored of some, but I am also able to change them, or update them and bring them back to life.

I think like many people, I have become increasingly weary of ‘stuff’ and where that ‘stuff’ will eventually end up. I moved home a couple of years ago, downsizing in the process. There is nothing quite like downsizing to make you re-evaluate exactly what is necessary in your life. Much of the ‘stuff’ I had, I wondered why I’d actually believed I’d needed it in the first place. There were some boxes I’d moved from Stoke-on-Trent to Bristol and remained in the shed, un-opened, for 8 years, so, clearly, the ‘stuff’ in those boxes wasn’t necessary. We tried as far as we could to donate, recycle or sell our things, but ultimately a lot of it just did end up in the bin.

Then this got me thinking a little more. If I could create clothes and accessories using what I already have, where else could I apply the same logic and stop buying? I already started cutting down on things during 2019. Instead of having multiple body lotions to choose from after a shower, I’ve been using (and buying) one bottle at a time and am far more particular about the packaging. I’ve started using a hair shampoo soap ( I currently use Lush Montalbano) and am working my way through bottles of shower gel to be replaced by soap when they are all empty.

In addition to this, I am also interested in finding more healthy ways of living. Not only am I concerned by the amount of packaging that I am using and trying to recycle, but I’m increasingly concerned by the chemicals I am consuming, either through food or through my skin. You read all of these ingredients on bottles, but are many of them actually beneficial? What are the long term implications of putting these chemicals on, or in to my body. Is there a way I could actually make my own lotions and potions, thereby reducing the amount of packaging I use, but also understanding more fully exactly what it is that I am using? Just this morning I listened to a podcast, Highest Self Podcast Episode 227, which discussed the impact of chemicals within our food and our surrounding environment on our long term health.

So, rather than doing 20 things for 2020, I’m going to attempt one really big thing. I’m going to try to live as sustainably as I can for the year and minimise the amount of new things that I buy. I would say I am like many a sustainable campaigner at the moment, I think I know about it, but in actual fact, I suspect I have no real idea and that I have much to learn! I haven’t got a clue how this will pan out, but if nothing else, if I am in the least bit successful, my husband’s bank balance will be much happier at the end of 2020!

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com
Friends, Happiness, Well-being

Looking backwards, and forwards!

I recently did one of those Facebook game things, the ones that you do in insane moments of utter boredom. It was my 2020 horoscope based on my Chinese birth sign, which is evidently the Pig. According to the horoscope, 2019 had been a poor year and 2020 would be much better. It was incorrect, 2019 has been fabulous. If nothing else it saw me cross off two, yes two, things on my bucket list.

Bucket list item number 1: a trip to Iceland to see the northern lights. I’ve shared my photo with you, and I swear that is the northern lights. Sadly, I didn’t have a camera up to the job, but they were there and I saw them. As for the stars, for me and my aspirations of being an astronaut, that was almost as exciting as the lights themselves.

But Iceland itself is such a magical place. The scenery is just out of this world. My favourite visit of the trip was to a small village, Eyrarbakki, to the south of Reykjavik. We stayed at the home of a friend, and I can without a shadow of a doubt say that evening was the best of my life, the views, the horizon was so clear, the sea, the snow, being cosy by the fire, eating authentic home made food. It was so special, that Iceland has now gone on to my husband’s bucket list.

Bucket list item number 2: Paddleboarding. Less Jennifer Aniston and more hippo on a wobble board, but I did it. In the salubrious surroundings of Bristol Harbour. To be fair, the views from the board were fabulous and it was great to see the city from a different perspective, but it’s not the most welcoming water ever! The one thing I wish I’d done differently was fall in. I think if I had fallen in and removed that fear, I might have gained confidence more quickly. I’m definitely going to do it again.

Paddle Boarding in Bristol

Parasailing in Albufeira

Highlight of the summer: parasailing. I’ve always wanted to have a go at this, but never found anyone daft enough to do it with me. Enter an old family friend who let slip she’d give it a try. As ever, I bounced on to the boat, thinking this was great fun, and only at the point of lift off did I start to consider where I was and what I was doing! It was fantastic. It was so quiet and peaceful, with great views of Albufeira from the sea. The only downside was that even from that short ride we could see pieces of plastic floating in the ocean.

Special occasions: two weddings. Absolute belters. Both so completely different, but both relaxed and definitely about the love of the two people getting married, rather than the actual wedding day itself. One in a field in Staffordshire, one on a boat in Bristol. One spring wedding, one autumn wedding. It was a real pleasure and privilege to be invited to them – they will be hard to beat.

Travels around the UK: we flew to Belfast for a friend’s 60th birthday party, which included a food tour of the city. If you’re ever ,looking for a good traditional Irish breakfast, the restaurant in Belfast City Hall is the place to go. I’ve been fascinated with Irish History since I did my first degree, so to be able to visit the city was a real treat for me. We did a Black Cab tour and the knowledge of our driver was second to none.

We also embarked on a tour around the North West of England, specifically Burnley and the Lake District. I’ve never visited Burnley before and was pleasantly surprised. Despite the weather being awful, the scenery surrounding the town was just stunning and our hosts were so incredibly welcoming that poor weather did nothing to dampen what was a fantastic weekend. As ever, the Lake District didn’t disappoint. We stayed in Bowness and abandoned our car for a few days, using buses and boats to travel around this fabulous part of the UK

Townley Hall, Burnley
Trentham Gardens

2019 was also a great year for catching up with old friends. I’d found myself in somewhat of a slump at the beginning of the year and said yes to more opportunities, throwing myself into them with gusto. I went on a fantastic hen weekend to Bath, it was actually great to stay in the city for a few nights rather than just pop over from Bristol for a day trip. I met a friend that I’d not seen since we left school and spent a lovely afternoon catching up on news during a walk at Trentham Gardens. I met another school friend for a coffee in Bristol that lasted for a good few hours, as we too caught up on 30 years worth of gossip. And I reconnected with an old family friend and her family. Again, we’d not seen each other for about 25 years, but it was like no time had passed at all, and it was this re-acquaintance that provided me the opportunity to go para-sailing.

But perhaps the best thing for me in 2019 is I finally started to get a grip on my mental health. It’s been a long time in progress, but finally I can say I am in my happy place. I am content, and I have actually started to look forward, rather than wallow in the past. My initial reaction to anything isn’t panic first act later, I’m starting to get my head around a calmer response to events and to take things a little more in my stride. I’ve realised that I don’t have to be perfect at everything all of the time; that I dont always have to enter insane challenges to prove I can do something, that I dont have to have a proper qualification for everything I do. I still have a long way to go, but finally I am enjoying meandering along the way, looking at the sights, rather than staring solely at the destination.

So, bring on 2020! If it’s anything half as good as 2019 then it’s going to be a wonderful year.

Exercise, Walking, Women's Health

Learning to walk

It would appear that I’ve been doing it all wrong.  You might wonder, how hard walking can be, but seemingly it’s harder than you think!

As you know, I’ve been having a few issues with a bit of a flimsy pelvic floor, but I’ve also been struggling quite a bit with sore hips and a bad back, particularly after long walks.  I’ve found some great exercises on the internet, but am always wary about getting too engrossed in videos on the internet just in case you get the technique wrong.  I have recently become quite scared of exercising, which is frustrating because I love it, but I am terrified of doing some more damage to the lower half of my body.  Whilst we were in Bristol, I made an appointment to see my Kinesiologist, who recommended I also saw her daughter, a physiotherapist that specialises in muscular skeletal conditions.  I was keen to know where the pain was originating from, was it my feet, my hips or my back.

As it happens it was none of the above.  The problem stems from the sacroiliac joint.  Who knew it could cause such chaos if it’s not working correctly!  On top of that it would also seem that as well as having a flimsy pelvic floor and a core that is shot to bits, I also have little by way of any kind of action in my glute muscles.  It would appear that my joints have literally been hanging off my ligaments and my muscles have not been doing any of the work at all.  As a consequence, my joints have just been merrily grinding against each other, causing the stiffness, pain and soreness – and why I look like an elderly lady most mornings before I get moving.

photo of person walking along seashore
Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

Exercising pelvic floor muscles aren’t going to resolve this.  This requires some hard core back to basics to get my body functioning in a way that will support me for the years to come.  I need to learn to walk again with proper posture and alignment, I need to learn to use my glute muscles so that they do the job they were designed for.  These are tiny, tiny muscles that need to be worked – not the big showey offey muscles, but the deep muscles that support the body and enable it to function correctly.

It would seem that the pelvic cavity is like a bucket.  You need to keep the bucket level, if it’s not, then things spill out.  In order to get the bucket level, you need to tuck your pelvis under and keep it level when you walk!  This, apparently will help my spine to stay straighter and avoid lordosis in my spine.  Then while I’m keeping the bucket level, I need to engage my glutes with every step.  I need to try to stop over working my joints.  How hard can this be?!?!?  I am mildly terrified that I will get it wrong and create other imbalances in my body which will need to be corrected at a later date.  

photo of woman wearing pink sports shoes walking
Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

In the short term I’ve been provided with some stretches, some simple exercises, have been encouraged to try swimming, cycling on a stationary bike, walking on the flat and in particular avoiding hills and cobbles – so Albufeira with its cobbled hills is going to be a bit of a challenge!  I’m also not too sure how my beloved yoga is going to fare, even there I think I need to go back to the beginning again, hyper mobility in my joints has also meant that I’ve not actually been stretching or strengthening muscles, more grinding the joints, which is never a good thing.

Husband is a big believer in there being something that is a trigger for change.  The fear of premature arthritis in my hips and sacroiliac joint is enough of a trigger.  Since I’ve started the stretches, the pain in the morning has already started to subside, so at least I do know there is some relief on the horizon.  I suspect it’s going to be a bit of slow journey, and I also suspect I’m going to have to make several visits to a physiotherapist to make sure that I’m not doing myself further damage.  It’s always nice to know where you are, where you are starting from and the positive steps you can take to bring about change.  Fingers crossed 6 months from now there will be some progress, the pain will have subsided and I may be able to increase the amount of exercise I can do – correctly.

So … when I originally set up my blog I called it ‘Walking Back to Happiness’ because I’d had to give up running as I had just too many injuries to carry on through.  It seems the title is more appropriate than I’d ever imagined as I have to go right back to the beginning, walking little and often, this time treating my poor, damaged, body with a little more love and tenderness!

Food and drink, Healthy living

Partied Out…..

… and it’s still over a week until Christmas.

I once worked with a chap who turned vegetarian at Christmas.  Not because of some great ideological turnaround, but because he just ate far too much meat and couldn’t face eating it ever again.  I think I might have arrived at that point.  I may manage some chicken, and some fish, but red meat is definitely out.  Joined by cheese and wine.  If I never eat red meat or cheese, or drink Prosecco or wine again, I will be very happy!

How has this state of affairs come about?  This year, rather than spending a chunk of time in Bristol during Autumn, we decided to split it into two smaller chunks, one at the end of October, during which we went to a wedding, and another in early December to provide us change to visit friends and family in the run up to Christmas.   Don’t get me wrong, it’s been lovely to catch up with everyone – we didn’t manage to fit everyone in that we wanted to see, but the endless cycles of dinners has taken it’s toll.  

shallow focus of white icing covered cake on white ceramic plate
Photo by Dmitry Zvolskiy on Pexels.com

I’m not a big drinker – maybe one or two glasses of wine with a meal – but even that is too much to face.  I am, however, a dessert and cake eater, I’m one of those people with a pudding stomach, yet I can’t face another dessert this side of Christmas!  I don’t even think I can face my beloved Mousse de Chocolat when we are back in  Portugal.

It got me thinking about the difference in food between Bristol and Portugal.  I’ve tried, I swear I’ve tried, to eat as healthily as I can when we’ve been in restaurants.  I rarely order meals that involve chips only had one turkey dinner (which was a belter at the Lazy Trout at Meerbrook), but it’s the sauces.  I had Seabass at Alton Marina in Stone which was just devine – but it came with a ratatouille based sauce.  At Cote’s in Quakers Friars Bristol I had salmon, again divine, but again with a ratatouille sauce.  Everything comes with a sauce and I like plain!  Portugal plain!  Where the fish is the star of the plate! 

In light of recent, over eating events, I am also going to try introducing a 12 hour fast.  I first heard about this on Rangan Chattergee’s, podcast ‘Feel Better, Live More’ with Professor Satchin Panda.  If I think back to my childhood ‘tea’ was on the table at 5.00pm – primarily due to evening activities which my sister and I took part in which required us to be back out by 6.00pm.  After that the kitchen closed. We weren’t the sort of family that did supper, a milky drink before bed but that was it.  Occasionally we’d have a biscuit or two in the evening, but that largely depended on how recently the food shop had been done!  Breakfast was usually about 7.00am, so that meant we’d ‘fasted’ for up to 14 hours between meals.  Apparently this is good as it allows your body to digest the food properly, before you go to bed and stops the digestive problems that come with eating too late into the evening.  Outside of that 12 hour window, you still eat normally – it’s just that the long break between dinner and breakfast helps the body along.

I’ve also googled steps you can take to minimise the effects of over-indulgence.  According to US News the best ways to manage a food hangover are

  • Fill up on water and other clear liquids.  I know I don’t drink enough water and am trying really hard to drink more water.  I’ve added some peppermint oil to the water too, hoping that will get my system moving more quickly.
  • Eat healthy meals, avoid missing meals and try to get back onto an even keel as quickly as possible.  Getting back to Portugal will help with this as the food is far more plain.  Husband is also a superstar at cooking meals that will make my insides smile!
  • Eat fruit and vegetables; increase your fibre intake.  Again, I know I fall short here, particularly with vegetables
  • Include some exercise – don’t go mad but introduce some exercise to get digestion moving.
  • Think about habits.  This is key for me.  To think about what habits led to the situation in the first place and identify things you would like to change.  What I’d most like to change is my lack of will power, how easily I give in when people ask if I’d like a Prosecco, or if we’re having dessert.  I have got to start doing what suits me, not other people.

I cannot quite explain just how bad I have been feeling, I felt death was inevitable, or at the very least my stomach might explode.  I slept for an entire day as I was certain I had flu coming, I had shakes and I ached from head to toe.  Whilst I have tried to eat as well as possible in restaurants, it’s been the habit of eating extra bits that have made the situation worse.  The odd chocolate during the day from the tin in the middle of the coffee table, the odd chocolate chunk shortbread from Starbucks, the odd pastry from a bakery because I’m only here for a couple of weeks, the odd desert with meals when we have been out.  All in all, it probably amounts to eating fairly badly, between meals, for the past two weeks.  This is the habit that needs to stop, especially as I already know that white flour in particular makes me feel fairly lousy.  

close up of salad in plate
Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

I’m not going to bother with a plan.  I’m pretty rubbish at making and keeping to plans – I always forget to look at them.  I am equally bad at tracking food too! I’m just going to take each day as it comes and try to do the best that I can.  But in the short term I am going to aim for:

  • Avoiding alcoholic drinks
  • Avoiding needless cakes and chocolate
  • Avoiding red meat
  • Avoiding cheese

I’m not saying I will never have these things again, I’m not going to go mad and exclude things for ever, but I’m going to try my very best to take a break from them and see how it affects my health and overall wellbeing.  At the moment the mere thought of eating any of the above makes me nauseous, but either way, I really cannot go on feeling quite as bad as I do at this moment in time!  I don’t own any scales so I can’t monitor any weight loss, so it will all be based on feeling – how I look, how I feel, the energy I have and how I fit into my clothes.  If at the end of the day I can give myself a green tick in each of the 4 areas above then I’ll consider it a good day.  Once I have mastered those I might think about adding other things in, or re-introducing them to see what the effects are.  

Menopause, Well-being, Women's Health

Back to Basics …. Again

I’ve been suffering with a bad back this past week.  It sort of ‘went’ a week or so ago.  I say sort of, as this time there was no real big twang moment, more of an increasing sense of unease and restricted movement.  Eventually it did reach the point where it was too uncomfortable to really move, at which point I decided to go to yoga.  My thinking behind this was that I’d not been to yoga for a while, with one thing and another, and that I just needed a bit of a stretch.  It was also a case of kill or cure – it can safely be concluded that it was a kill and not a cure.  At all.

I’ve reached the point with slow movement, a bit of stretching, a bit of resting and a bit of sitting cross legged in the chair to keep my back straight that I’ve started to mend.  I had hoped that it would sort itself out of it’s own accord and that I wouldn’t have to have any treatment on it.  I was fairly confident that it was my glutes and hamstrings that were the guilty party, being tight enough to snap.  I decided a massage was just the thing to get me sorted and at the very least get me back on the road to recovery in the most pain free way!   I went to the amazing Art of Touch in Albfeira, where I also go for my yoga classes.

I’d like to say it was enjoyable, but that would be a big lie.  Anyone that’s had very tight muscles massaged will tell you that it doesn’t really go into the relaxing, enjoyable bracket – more something to be endured whilst you try your very best to breathe through it, understanding that it is all to the benefit of your body in the long term.

woman relaxing relax spa
Photo by Pixabay

Sadly, I was correct – my glutes and hamstrings were to blame.  This was established early on, with there being no pain in my back, but I hit the roof when my glutes were set upon!   It transpired my quads, hips and pelvis weren’t in such great shape either.  So, basically the whole of my lower body – between waist and knees is stuck together in a heap.  The final death knell was the weak core.  Not the fancy dancy abdominal muscles that everyone wants to mould into a six pack, but the really important, stabilising, deep core muscles.

Here’s the rub.  I don’t have those muscles – well they are there, but they are a bit saggy and torn.  They were destroyed a long, long time ago.  Never at any time, did I realise the impact that the destruction of those tiny little muscles would have on the functioning of my body for the remainder of my adult life.  You see, I’ve had 6 relatively minor operations on my pelvic area, but with each operation I was merrily blown up like a balloon and deflated again within the space of 60 minutes.  During the last operation, besides being blown up, I also had my insides hoovered out.  This has left me with very weak core muscles and a somewhat saggy undercarriage!  To say I was devastated by my weak core coming to light again, would be a bit of an understatement.  I’ve had these problems since I was about 14, with my insides being stuck together in a sticky, messy, heap.  I have never really had a comfortable pelvic area and prior to my hysterectomy was in pain to some degree on most days.  This alone, has impacted my posture as I have tried to stand or walk in a way that reduced the pain, which isn’t necessarily the correct way to stand.

Photo by Breakingpic

It seems that basically what I’ve been doing for many, many years is forcing those parts of my body that do work to do the work of those parts that don’t.  However, for the first time EVER, I left my massage with some hope.  I was shown some exercises to do to help improve the function of my deep core muscles.  The purpose of exercising and strengthening these tiny, tiny muscles was explained to me.  I’ve been given breathing exercises to do, been advised on the type of yoga that would help me recover, ideas on how to sit, how to manage my body during the day, things that are good and bad (sadly knitting and crochet are out for a while) and told definitely not to overdo things and take time to repair.  There is a fab women’s specific Personal Trainer on YouTube – Dr Bri at FemFusionFitness who does a whole course in regaining some function in a saggy undercarriage and moves aimed at protecting the core – from lifting, to toilet training and how to stand correctly.  So there is help out there, it just takes some finding and at least now I know what it is I’m looking for.

I’ve entered the London Moonwalk in May 2020.  It is a bucket list item and I really want to make it to the start line.  This alone is enough to make me listen, to go back to basics and to get some strength and stability in my core.  At the end of the day the walk cannot happen if I don’t do that.  I’ve always worked on the premise that if I push my body hard enough I can prove to myself and the world that it isn’t the total let down I believe it to be.  But it seems I have pushed myself to the limit now, and I need to stop, slow down and start to fix it, to show it some love and encourage it to smile again – possibly to smile for the first time in its life.

Happiness, Healthy living, Uncategorized, Walking

The end of Summer

Since I last wrote, much has happened. As you know, I’d started to get myself stuck in a rut. For some reason I cannot comprehend I get majorly stressed out by social media, and feel myself being sucked into a rabbit hole. Consequently, I’ve taken a break and focussed on me and trying to remain present as much as I can – keeping the black dog at bay. It does make a difference and during this time I have been really quite busy, ticked a few things off my bucket list and done a lot of walking.

The walking was primarily inspired by Diabetes UK Million Steps Challenge; to walk a million steps between 1st July and 30th September. What was lovely about this challenge was my husband also joined in with me, we actually achieved the million step target on 17th September and my total for the 3 month period is 1,146,574. We needed to target 11,000 steps per day to achieve the goal and I don’t mind saying that at the end of the first week I’m not sure either of us thought it was achievable, given all the aches and pains!

The challenge encouraged us to walk in situations where we may otherwise have driven or caught the bus. I’ve done the classic parking at a car park further away, getting off the bus a few stops early and generally just investigating the world around us. We’ve discovered walks around the centre of Bristol, found new coffee shops and also improved our fitness levels. There have even been evenings spent pacing our apartment to achieve the desired 11,000 steps in a day.

Castle Park, Bristol

Luckily for the main part of the challenge we were in Bristol, so whilst it wasn’t a cold, wet summer in Bristol, it was cooler than Albufeira and made the challenge that bit more achievable. It’s also provided the opportunity for us to investigate other parts of England.

In July we went on a road trip via Oxford and Stoke-on-Trent up to the North East of England. I met up with an old school friend in Trentham Gardens and chatted away the 30 years since we had last met, and stopped off in Burnley to visit friends. We were treated to a lovely morning at the beautiful Townley Park, with the sun coming out later in the day providing stunning views across the surrounding hills. Further north, in the Lake District we parked up for a few days and travelled on my boat, bus and foot.

Trentham Gardens Lakeside Walk

I made my annual trip up to Morecambe for a crochet course. I loved it, it was so classically British! It was raining, it was blowing a hooley, children were wearing their winter coats and bobble hats, but everyone turned out for a free music festival where I was treated to a performance by Toyah,who was fantastic and a real blast from my teenage past! You really can”t beat the British seaside, in all of its mad glory! The crochet was good too, however, this time I was introduced to crystal healing and you cant beat a bit of voodoo joojoo!

A walk through Ambleside

We included a brief visit to Goucester Quays to meet up with friends who’d travelled down from Birkenhead. We were quite pleasantly surprised at how nice Gloucester was, helped by the most amazing classic car show which filled every street in the town. It was real trip down memory lane – although quite why anyone would have kept a Morris Marina in pristine condition escapes me!

At the end of August we returned to Albufeira, with our target of a million steps in sight and pleased that by this point, we were confident of achieving our goal. It remained surprisingly busy well into the middle of September, but the crowds are just starting to leave. The temperatures are returning to a more manageable level for my very English skin and you can feel the collective sigh of relief around the town as things calm down.

Walking in Seville

Our walking challenge ended in beautiful Seville. We try to visit as regularly as we can and as ever, it didn’t disappoint. With the weather being a tiny bit cooler it was perfect for strolling around soaking up the atmosphere, people watching,drinking coffee and enjoying the vast choice of tapas on offer. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten anything so delightful as the beetroot and feta gazpacho!

So what next? I for one, have really regained my walking mojo. It feels wrong to just sit and do nothing and we’re now in the routine of two walks a day. The pressure to achieve a daily target has gone, but we’re trying to focus on a weekly target, to avoid sliping back into our previous, more idle, ways. I’ve also entered the 2020 Moonwalk in London, so need to start building up my speed and distances in preparation for full on training in the new year. Clearly, I’d read many articles about how good walking is for you, how getting out of the door for a few minutes walk every day makes you feel better and brighter. Oddly, it seems they are right!

Albufeira, Happiness, Joy, Mindfulness, Reading, Well-being

Where is the joy?

As I have mentioned previously I am doing the Happiness Project Experience this year.  June is the month of Play!  As adults play becomes less acceptable and becomes lost in the detritus of life, but having read around the topic for the past couple of weeks I can see how important it is, and particularly what a difference it makes to me and my engagement with the world.

yellow pink and blue party balloons

This is perfect timing for me.  Many of the books I’ve read on anxiety and how to manage it have focussed on being ‘with’ the anxiety – acknowledge it is there, without judgement and appreciate it is a part of me.  The problem is I have been ‘with’ my anxiety to too great a degree and I have actually been spiralling further into its dark depths.  I’d already started to think that this had to stop and I had to engage with life in a fuller and more light-hearted way.  Although, I have to confess I had no idea how much had been written on this subject and I have well and truly been sucked down a bright, joyful rabbit hole in my desire to learn more!

I pulled a book off my shelf, ‘Living out Loud’ by Keri Smith.  As with all the other books I’ve read it asks the question ‘What did you love to do as a child? What activities allowed you to lose all sense of time and space’?  For me it was make-believe, dolls-houses, Sandy dolls, cars (my mum’s mantel piece made a great multi-storey car park), painting, colouring, making anything with my Grandad and as I got older knitting and sewing.  Quite often the start of a school holiday meant a visit to Bratt & Dykes in Hanley for some fabric and a pattern.

It’s almost as if the cogs of the wheel were lining up to fall into place, to point me in the direction of play and with it, joy. As I flew from Bristol to Portugal I listened to Fearne Cotton interviewing Maisie Williams on her Happy Place Podcast.  Maisie referred to a book ‘Ikigai‘ by Hector Garcia.  I’ve not read the book (yet), but the way she explained it is that there are 4 aspects of life, when they overlap you will be happy.  One of the four – and the one that most resonated with Maisie Williams was to do something that you love every day.  It got me thinking. What do I love to do and how can I fit it in to my everyday life.

Finally I started reading ‘Joyful‘ by Ingrid Fettell Lee.  She has identified 10 ‘aesthetics of joy’.   I’m not yet halfway through the book yet but the things that have stood out for me are:

Abundance:  Not as in having too much of anything, rather, having variety.  One example she gives is that of a small child who chooses their own outfit – spots, stripes, bright wellies on a sunny day – you get the idea!  An example of my own is a day on the beach – the sand, the sea, the umbrellas, the people laughing, people in the sea, boats, the waves, the people on the bouncy inflatables – there is always something happening that involves most of your senses at that time and provides multiple reasons to laugh out loud.  I could spend hours just sitting watching the world go by.

One aspect of Abundance I found interesting was the relationship with food.  More often than not, when you turn to food it is because your brain is lacking stimulation.  I have decided to use this approach with online games – I know when I am playing them it’s because I’m bored and I also tend to start snacking at the same time.  So I’ve started to put the tablet down and to pick something up that I know will bring me joy – make a cup of tea, read a book, do some crochet, make something – something that I really will lose myself in.

colorful umbrellas
Photo by Katelyn on Pexels.com

Colour:  I used to love colour – in everything.  Most of my clothes were those taste-transplant clothes that you see in the shops that no one in their right mind would buy!  It was me – I bought them!  Somewhere, when my need to fit in was at it’s peak, the colour seeped out of me and I became Mrs Navy & White.  Colour changes everything, in your wardrobe and your home.  The current trend is for muted tones in homes, and it would be fair to say that I haven’t quite mastered that one!   Our home is mis-matched at best, but since we recently downsized, everything we do have provides us with joy.

Play:  Play means different things for different people.  Some things that people love to do, I really don’t enjoy, but likewise there are things I love to do that other people don’t.  I’m not a fan of big dinner parties, but I love eating out with small groups of friends.  I love playing in orchestras and bands, but hate playing solos.  When I look back to my childhood it didn’t really matter to me if I was on my own or in a group – it was the activity I was involved in that was the cause of joy – that allowed me to lose myself in the moment.  Play is increasingly being identified as something that people need – sadly it would appear that the age at which children stop playing, or believe that it is in appropriate, is getting younger and younger as the pressure to achieve academically is increasing.

So, how can I introduce more play, more joy into my life?
I’ve started by posting on instagram one thing each day that brings joy into my life.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary – things can bring joy.  Marie Kondo is on to something here!  Where it goes pear shaped is when you start to buy things for the sake of buying, for the gratification you get from buying it (generally, short-lived) rather than the joy it brings in the long term.  Equally, you can get joy from the world around you – the one thing that brings me joy more than anything is looking at the stars at night.  This is having the knock-on effect of encouraging me to look around me – what are those things that bring me joy – so I am engaging more with the world and people I’m with.

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I’ve started to listen to music every day.  As the song says, “Music was my first love”.  When I worked I got ready to the radio every morning, had the radio on in the car to and from work and generally listened to music far more than I do now.  So I’m making a point of listening to music every day, trying new music, singing along to old classics, even throwing in the odd move or two.

I’m trying to bring more colour into my life!  I’m trying to move away from the navy and white, by adding in little additional bits of colour with scarves, ear-rings and bold coloured shoes or bags.

I’m trying to make something every day.  I love making things.  I spot things all the time in shops that I think I could make just as well.  This month I am having a go, rather than just thinking the thought.  I’m practicing calligraphy; I want to learn how to copy dress patterns from the Portuguese pattern books; I’ve seen some key-rings that I thing I could copy, make and leave as gifts for people stopping at our apartment this summer; I have some beautiful fabric that I brought in Seville that I’d like to make into a dress.

I’ve realised that I love yoga.  Play can mean anything to different people, as can exercise.  For me, yoga and exercise counts as play, it’s something that I do and that I love.  I don’t consider it a chore, but a key part of the day and something that brings me joy – I’m not particularly good at it, but I really do love it and embrace it with gusto!

Obviously, I’m still drinking cups of tea!  Nothing brings joy quite like a nice cup of tea!

I have to say, that after only 2 weeks it has made a difference to the way I feel.  Rather than continually looking in, I am looking outward and seeing the joy in the world.  I am looking for opportunities add joy and play to my days and I have to say I am enjoying myself!  For the first time in a long time, I can honestly say I am enjoying myself!

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Mindfulness, Well-being

My Anxiety

If you’ve not watched Nadia Hussein, ‘Anxiety and Me’ on BBC iPlayer then I totally recommend that you do.  Watch it if you suffer from anxiety yourself, if you have a partner, a child, a parent or a friend who suffers from anxiety.  It provided the best explanation of anxiety I have ever seen or heard and put it into a real life context.

I spent the whole programme shouting at the TV, ‘That’s me, that’s what I do’.  It clarified a lot of things for me and enabled me to discuss some of the issues that arose with my husband.

Apparently, it’s not normal to have a voice in your head all day, every day, replaying every minute detail of the day that went wrong and how you might otherwise have managed it.  Apparently, it’s not normal to have a voice in your head anticipating every last event on the horizon, creating worst case scenarios and how you are going to manage them, in such intense detail.  Apparently, it’s not normal to fill every moment of your time doing something, anything, just to try to keep that voice at bay – even for just a little while.  Apparently, it’s not normal to miss amazing moments in your life as you create ways in which it might go wrong or why you shouldn’t even be there in the first place.  Apparently, it’s not normal to go from a slight problem to impending death in one step!

It also helped me understand why some of the steps I’ve taken to manage my anxiety have not worked.  At all.  Take flying – those of you who have had the misfortune to be on a plane with me know that I hate every minute of it.  I have a very swift reaction to turbulence.  Turbulence = death, I am going to die and it will happen shortly.  In a way, it was reassuring to learn that it’s not just me that has this instant stress reaction from a minor event to death in half a second!

However, what I have always done about it is one of two things.  Firstly, I try to breath into it. Apparently, your body can only do one thing at a time and if it is breathing it can’t panic.  What I didn’t realise is this can actually exacerbate the problem – especially as I was breathing into the exact part of the body where I feel anxiety – my stomach and my chest.  So breathing into that space makes the situation worse creating a greater sense of panic – so death was a racing certainty!

I have also tried a mindful approach to turbulence.  Close your eyes.  Feel the contact between your bottom and your seat.  Feel the contact between your feet and the ground – but there is no ground – the nearest ground is 37,000 below my feet which are currently shaking because the tin can I am travelling in is bouncing around through turbulence = death.  I’ve learned to just cope, and I have got better over the years and I won’t let my anxiety stop me flying – but it’s not a pleasant experience – for me or the people who have the misfortune to be sitting with me!

 

This week we flew from Bristol to Faro and I tried the technique that I briefly saw Nadia using in her programme – which was to face the panic and not run away from it.  Being realistic and logical about this – what actually was happening and what actually was likely to happen – and I guess, what is panicking going to achieve?  We were flying through turbulence, the plane was bouncing a bit, the wings were doing their job (I won’t explain the 12 foot flap – just in case you’re a nervous flyer) and we were moving forward.  What was likely to happen was that the plane would fly through it, bouncing through the pockets of air, just as a boat bounces over the waves, back into smoother air and then we were going to land.  Death wasn’t realistic or logical. I reminded myself that the anxiety is a feeling – it’s not who I am, and to recognise it as the feeling that it is.  Giving into the panic was only going to make how I felt worse, both physically and mentally.  No the situation wasn’t nice, but I felt I was more able to manage it – only slightly, but a slight improvement is better than nothing at all.

It’s not just flying.  OFSTED inspections were a fast track to being sacked, a bad observation = being sacked.  Good inspections weren’t an option – under what possible circumstances could I possibly be judged good or outstanding.  No, the only outcome from any OFSTED inspection was that I was going to get sacked before the week was out.  There is no logic to how anxiety manifests itself in the head and it is always, always negative.  Like Nadia I can find a reason to be anxious in pretty much every situation that presents itself.  I’ve read several times in the past that if you really want to get a job you should apply the technique of imagining yourself there, what it will be like to work there.  I did always wonder why that was a recommendation – I was there, I knew which cup I’d be taking in, everything – little did I realise that this isn’t normal!!!!

Flying aside, one thing that Nadia’s Anxiety did show me was the progress that I have made in the last 18 months.  The CBT therapist on the programme goes to lengths to explain that there isn’t a quick fix that you need to work on managing your anxiety every day.  It can improve, it can get better, but you have to put the work in yourself, every day to reap the benefits.  I realised that I have become better at stopping the voice and bringing myself back to the present – although many times it does get very carried away.  I also realised how fortunate I have been in my ability to stand up to it and still do things anyway – I went to live in America at the age of 21, I did an MA although I was too stupid to pass, I went into teaching even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to control a class, I learned to swim so I could do a triathlon (and yes, swimming in open water = death).

I have two things I’d like to work on.

  1. Believing people when they compliment me and not let the negative voice in my head tell me all the reasons why that’s not true and how people are saying nice things because they have to and they don’t really mean it.
  2. I’d like to finish a cup of tea.  I don’t think I’ve ever finished a cup of tea – even as a child my mother despaired at how many half drunk cups of tea she threw away!  Another aspect of anxiety that came out of the programme was that you can’t sit still, you always have to be doing something.  I can’t sit still, I can’t just read a book, I can’t just watch a film, I have to be doing something all the time as that keeps my head slightly quieter.  So I’m going to set myself the target of having one cup of tea a day – and doing nothing else other than have the cup of tea.  Not read, not look at social media, not crochet, nor knitting, or cleaning – just the cup of tea!  I might even try meditating again, now I understand a little bit more about the nature of the voice in my head.

peppermint tea on teacup
Photo by Mareefe on Pexels.com

Bristol, Food and drink, Friends, Happiness, Portugal

Marvellous May

What a month it turned out to be!  It’s absolutely whizzed by and I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

At the start of the year I signed up to Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project Experience and have been half heartedly following it through.  The theme for April was friends – and I kind of poo-pooed it as ‘not-for-me’.  During May, however, that came back to haunt me in a big way! It’s not only Gretchen Rubin that advocates friendships, there’s a lot of research that supports the view that friendships are key – especially real life in person friendships, not the social media kind.

I suppose, if I’m honest, that I’ve largely spurned friendships in the past, thinking I’m not really the sort of person people would want to spend time with, which is largely a result of anxiety, but one thing that this month has proven is I have friends in abundance and my thoughts on the matter have been completed incorrect.

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My marvellous month started on May 1st with lunch in Albufeira.  Just my friend and I.  She is my sort of mate – the sort that you know is there for you, but you don’t have to check in every day.  The sort that really doesn’t care what you turn up in as the point of the lunch is the talking and the laughter, not the colour of your lipstick or whose shoes you are wearing.  In a way that makes it even better, because when we do go out for lunch we have loads to catch up on and we laugh from start to finish.  We also went out with our husbands for a beautiful lunch next to the old marina in Albufeira.  My friend and I have been several times without husbands who decided they were missing a trick.  Having been with us they now understand how we can take 4 hours over lunch!

Then there was the Wine Festival which takes place during the first weekend of May every year in Albufeira.  We’ve always been away for it in the past, so this was our first attempt!  I tried really very hard to be sensible about it – I really wanted to find a nice Rose that I could drink – rather than Casal Mendes or .  What I did discover was that there are lots of beautiful wines available in Portugal, so why the restaurants all serve the same ones, I don’t know.  I also learned that after tasting a few wines they all merge into one, making a choice very difficult.

This was closely followed by a walk around Faro with friends from my first teaching post in Staffordshire.  I’ve done this walk before and it’s just perfect for showing people a taste of Portugal in a relatively short space of time.  It was a fabulous morning walking in the sun, catching up on news and finished off with a pastel da nata with coffee at the O Seu Cafe.  I always find it very peculiar when I see friends in Portugal – so to have three of them all at once was a real treat.

Faro walking tour

Prior to our return to Bristol we went out for dinner with a group of friends we have met in Portugal – some expats and some who holiday regularly in Albufeira.  Over the years we have been spending time in Portugal, we have made some really lovely friendships and very much look forward to people coming out to visit.  We do also travel the length of the country to return the visits when we are in the UK, so we are off to Burnley in July.

It’s always lovely returning to Bristol as it provides us with an opportunity to catch up, which generally happens on a Friday evening at our not so local pub.  At the start of the football season we’d had a friendly wager on how high up the Championship league table Bristol City would finish.  Our first Friday home was the presentation evening which was taken very seriously, complete with food, speeches and awards.  This is what I would call typically silly British behaviour – but it’s the sort of banter that makes an evening and a friendship.

We’ve been out for dinner, with yet another couple that we love spending time with, to a superb restaurant in Bristol, Pasta Loco, one of the many independent restaurants that are now so popular across the city.  We’d been wanting to go here for a long time and were always too late to book – this time I booked three months in advance and it didn’t disappoint, providing yet another evening of good food, good wine and amazing company.

And finally!  The wedding!  The mother of the bride was one of my friends that had visited Portugal earlier in the month.  I’ve seen her 3 times in 2 months, in 3 entirely different locations, and it’s been wonderful.  Whenever I go back home, the bride and her mother are always the first people I contact to arrange a time to catch up.  Each time, it’s like the months since the last time we met up haven’t mattered, we just carry on from where we left off.  I can honestly say that this is the best wedding I have been to – if ever there was a wedding you wanted to be at – this was the one.  Everything about it was just stunning – it was true to the bride and her husband and it was perfect.  It was held in a place that was special to the bride and it just oozed love in a way I have never experienced at a wedding before.  From start to finish, it was about the love of two people (and their daughter) – and that shone through every moment of the day.  It was a real honour to have been invited to share in the day.

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In amongst all this there have been so many other things I have done with good friends.  I went shopping, I’ve been for coffees, I’ve been for dinners, for lunches, walked alongside the River Avon, been along to watch Take That and danced the night away.  I even popped into school in Uttoxeter on the day prior to the wedding.  In the past I wouldn’t have done this, thinking there would be no-one who would be interested in seeing me.  This time I went in and spent a lovely hour catching  up with old colleagues – followed by a Saturday morning drinking coffee in a sunny garden wondering where 10 years had disappeared to.

I am incredibly fortunate and so very grateful to have such a wide circle of lovely, loving and loyal friends around me – of all ages and inclinations.  I am also so very grateful that I have finally woken up to appreciate what is there in front of me and to take the opportunities to spend time with friends that I feel in the past I have either taken for granted or just plain ignored.  The research is correct – real life friendships matter.  It’s a long time since I have laughed so much in the company of good friends and I look forward to many more happy times.

 

 

Alternative Therapies, Complementary Health, Menopause, Well-being

My menopause and I!

Oh it’s back – well it never really went away – but my menopausal symptoms seem to be back with a bang.  This time I am more determined to do something about it.  If procrastination was a degree course I would have sailed through years ago.  Sadly, it’s not – but what it has done has stopped me making any progress.  Apparently, procrastination is, in fact, an emotion regulation problem.  According to this article from the New York Times, procrastination has just as much to do with self-doubt as lazyitis!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve read too many books on the subject of self help, by too many people and at the end of the day they all say the same thing – at some point in time you’ve got to get off your arse and help yourself.  Like many lazy people, I like to hope that there is a magic wand, or a quick fix just around the corner that will instantly turn me into a svelte, toned, tanned goddess, but sadly not.  I just have to get on with it.

I’ve carried out very extensive research on HRT (I asked my two mates at the pub) and have concluded it’s not for me.  They had both tried, for very different, specific reasons and neither of them found it was right for them an in both cases it didn’t fix the thing they had most wanted it to.  Both also said they had put on a lot of weight very quickly, which they have struggled to shift since stopping taking the tablets.  I have experienced that myself, in 2005, when I was given some drugs to control bleeding.  The bleeding was controlled, but I also put on 2 stone in weight in the space of a month – a good stone of that has never shifted and I am loathe to experience that again.

I did also go to the library and found a fascinating book, ‘Your menopause Bible‘ by Dr Robin N. Phillips – husband has been thrilled to learn some menopause facts he never felt he needed to know!  One thing that I have learned is that HRT and Endometriosis don’t go well together.  Although I have had a hysterectomy, any endometriosis deposits still wallowing around on my bowel or bladder will respond to the hormones in the HRT as they would have were they still inside the womb.  Basically taking HRT risks firing up the Endometriosis again – and I really don’t want that to happen.

What I have found fascinating is the heap of symptoms that can be attributed to menopause.  I knew all the obvious ones like hot flushes, sore boobs, weight gain, menopause brain – but have been quite shocked at others!  Dry eyes, for example – what’s that about!  It would appear that pretty much anything that goes wrong with a lady of a certain age can be attributed to menopause.  I can only be thankful that post hysterectomy I don’t have to deal with some of the more painful physical symptoms alongside the emotional fiasco that I have become!  Insomnia is still the worst – some days I do just feel like I’m wading through treacle!

So – I have thrown the kitchen sink at it!  As a consequence I won’t really know what it is that has worked the best and why, but there we are. I have:

  • Started taking Menopace night time multi-vitamins to help with sleep.
  • Started using magnesium body lotion before bed every night – apparently magnesium aids good sleep and there is method in your granny’s madness in having epsom salts in your bath every day.
  • Started using an essential oils mix of ylang ylang, clary sage and thyme in fractionated coconut oil which I massage into my stomach, thighs and ankles four times a day.  I got this remedy from FemFusionFitness.  Dr Bri is a qualified women’s health physiotherapist who is herself investigating a natural approach to menopause and has all sorts of nuggets of advice and information
  • 2019-05-29 18.05.25Diet – not as in diet to lose weight – but as in making choices to support my body and avoiding those foods that I know upset me.  I find this really difficult as I don’t want to be that awkward person that everyone rolls their eyes at in a restaurant when they say ‘I can’t eat that’.  As I said before – I’ve been waiting for a magic fix – it doesn’t exist, so I’ve just got to crack on!  I have to say the big struggle for me is giving up my Soya lattes!
  • Made up a Bach Flower remedy containing mimulus (for known fears), aspen (for unknown fears), walnut (for change) and hornbeam (for can’t be arsed).
  • Set myself the target of walking 10,000 steps a day as a form of gentle exercise alongside yoga – I do generally enjoy exercise so this is giving me a focus and hopefully is something I can still manage in Bristol and Portugal.
  • Entered the Midnight Walk for St Peter’s Hospice as a focus for my walking and to give me a commitment to keep to.  I’ve entered with a friend – which always makes a difference for me and we’ve entered the 10mile version – so I need to be fit and able for it!
  • Started taking Pukka clean Chlorella – not a clue what that does – but it’s high in vitamin B12 and D – which apparently is good for menopause!

So there we are – off on the menopause roller coaster – I’ll get back to you on how I’m progressing.

 

 

Albufeira, Bristol, Happiness, Walking

Changeover Week!

But these weeks are also very exciting as we remember what it is that we so love about each of the places we are fortunate enough to live in.  I have talked about the contrasts between the two places before – but this time coming from Albufeira to Bristol seems to have been more extreme.

Two lots of cleaning, it’s a bizarrely northern thing I suspect.  I spend hours cleaning one apartment so that it’s nice to come back to, and then spend the first day back cleaning – even though nothing has happened in the apartment whilst we were away.  This time the cleaning took on additional focus as a relative will be staying in our Portuguese home whilst we are in Bristol – so I have discovered yet another level of clean – ‘relative that isn’t your parents, sister or nephews’ clean!

The last time we came was for a flying visit so that I could go on the Hen weekend in Bath, so I barely had any time to spend in Bristol and so didn’t fully appreciate it.  This time we have come back for the wedding – which I am very excited about and we are here for a few weeks.  Husband did ask me last week what it was I was most looking forward to about being here and it was the wedding.  Now I am back here, I realise there was so much more that I miss about Bristol.

Coalport Wedding Bouquet
Coalport Wedding Bouquet

Bristol is home.  Despite my best efforts to make our Albufeira apartment as homely as possible, without moving lock, stock and barrel, there are ‘things’ in Bristol which make it home.  For a start there is my wedding bouquet which I made from Coalport brooches; then there are my Grandad’s books along with his certificates proudly displayed on the wall, as they have been since 1945 I imagine; my Nana’s vase and balloon lady; the dog’s radio (the dog passed over 2 years ago now, but for some reason that radio which never gets used survived downsizing); the gifts I received from good friends at my first wedding and were the treasures I took with me when I left; the daft bits and bobs that my sister has bought me for Christmas over the years.  It’s not just about me, there are ornaments from my mother-in-law’s home, things that she loved and which are of sentimental value to my husband.  There are other bits and pieces that represent our life together as well as those we separately bought to our home – silly little things that make a home.

Of course, there are our friends.  We were fortunate enough to have lots of friends visit us during our stay in Albufeira, including the mother of the bride at the forthcoming wedding and it is so lovely to be able to catch up with them again.  Or last meal in Albufeira was at an excellent restaurant, The Country Cockerel Kitchen, with our good friend Graham Evans amongst others. We also have reservations at a couple of beautiful restaurants in Bristol during this stay, along with a visit to the ‘Mighty Gate’ to watch Take That!  Food, in particular, is one thing that both husband and I genuinely miss when we are in Portugal.  The choice in Bristol is immense and so varied.  Already this week we’ve eaten falafel from Eat a Pitta, (nothing in Albufeira has come close to the standard of these falafel) had Caribbean food from the Friday street food market outside St Nic’s market, gone along to the farmers market on Whiteladies Road.  Whilst the food in Albufeira is lovely and there is a wide choice of good quality restaurants, nothing really compares to the variety on offer in Bristol – much of which is relatively cheap and of outstanding quality.

Bits that make a home a home
Bits that make a home a home

Bristol is generally a fantastic, vibrant, diverse place to be.  There is no ‘normal’ that I can identify.  People are just themselves, content in the knowledge that it’s ok to be who you want to be, but nobody bats an eyelid, nobody feels the need to conform.  Vintage and second hand shopping is as popular as high street shopping as people hunt for unique pieces that will set them apart from the crowd.  I know that I myself feel more relaxed here and under less pressure to fit in.  I’ve recently watched a programme on Netflix, ‘Call to Courage’ with Brene Brown.  One thing that really struck a chord with me is that fitting in isn’t the same as belonging.  When you try to ‘fit in’ you change aspects of yourself to make yourself more acceptable, more popular, more normal.  When you belong, you can just be yourself.  I belong in Bristol, I ‘fit in’ in Albufeira and that, in a nutshell is the key difference.  I’ve always been a bit quirky, a bit of a lone wolf and during the last years of my teaching I lost my individuality a bit.  It’s beginning to come back now, and when I am in Bristol I truly feel I can be myself, without judgement, no matter how bonkers that might be.

Yesterday, I had a fantastic morning walking the length of one of the main routes in Bristol.  From Wild Oats, a health food shop at the top of Whiteladies Road, right down to the library on College Green, past the beautiful Will’s Building which dominates Park Street.   Along the way I encountered most of what Bristol has to offer, including a walk for Crohn’s and Colitis, and a motorbike rally raising awareness of Soldier F.  Bristol is loud and busy, with a constant soundtrack of cars, buses, sirens, skateboarders, late-night revellers, the slush puppy wheelbarrow man, all set in a backdrop of the old city.  I love it here and would be sad not to be able to experience it any more.

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Wills Building

 

City Breaks, Happiness, Mindfulness, Well-being

Getting there!

It’s hard work, this sorting out your shit malarky.  But slowly I am getting there.  Husband has, on more than one occassion, wondered if it is making any difference.  But he can’t see inside my head.

If he could he would see that on the whole I no longer stress about every little thing and manifest it into a huge disaster in the space of three seconds.  

 

Take, for example, my recent trip to a hen party in Bath.  The facts of the situation, I had been invited to a Hen Party in Bath by good and exceptionally lovely friends that I realised I have known for over 15 years now.  I was due to stay in a house with 10 other ladies and had only met one before.  Queue meltdown – or so I thought – but it didn’t happen that way.

Not long ago I would have had the meltdown:

  • What if they didn’t like me
  • What if I had nothing in common
  • I certainly wouldn’t have had any sleep – I don’t sleep well at the best of times, so I certainly wouldn’t sleep in a house of 9 other ladies I barely knew.
  • What was I going to to do when they kept me awake all night in the hot tub.

Sadly, I can also see now, that I would have behaved in such a way – quite subtly – to ensure they didn’t like me and I achieved my objective.  Very similar to the children I have taught who behave badly, they know they are going to get thrown out of the class at some point, so they fast forward the whole process to ensure that happens sooner rather than later.  That’s what I did.  I projected my anxieties about situations and achieved the end result.  

This time was very different.

  • I knew I was going to spend the weekend with lovely people who make me laugh, a lot.
  • I explained my concerns about my sleeping in advance, rather than have a tantrum at the time, and was earmarked with a single room, so I could potter about to my hearts content.  As it happens I barely spent any time there – due primarily to shocking sleeping habits!
  • I took advantage of the fact that I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep until the house was quiet by making sure I was the last to bed!  In this one step alone I felt myself turn from miserable party pooper to really enjoying every moment of the weekend.
  • I threw myself with abandon into each of the activities that had been arranged – wore the tiara with pride and had a thoroughly good time!

This wasn’t easy for me.  I would be the first to admit that I find the meditation bit hard and have not been doing it for a while now, however, I have maintained one aspect of it.  Returning my brain to the present.  What’s happening now.  Don’t create a future that isn’t real, don’t create stories around what might happen, how people might behave, respond to what is here now.  Generally, nothing has ever been as bad as the scenario my head has created, so I have had to start trusting what’s happening now.

The worst part was actually the train from Bristol to Bath on a Friday afternoon – the world’s biggest queue waiting to get on the world’s smallest train.  I had to remind myself that this service runs every 15 minutes or so – so it really wasn’t a disaster if I didn’t get on the first train.  I met up in Bath with two lovely ladies that I’d never met before and that was it – I had arrived at the Hen weekend and from that moment on I had a ball.

I do, however, still have my down moments.  We had some visitors staying with us last weekend and I really struggled with having someone in my home whose basic ideas of housekeeping vary so much to my own.  Someone who manages to press all of my buttons without even realising they are doing it – and so a consequence the negative monsters reappeared back in my head.  I’ll admit that I very much lost the ability to remain in the present, or to see the positives in the situation and so I realise that there is still much to be done.  But on the whole I would say that I am making progress, that the down days are much less frequent than they used to be.  

Things that I do find are really helping me are yoga and exercise.  I am a bit of a nightmare if I don’t do at least a bit of exercise in every day.  In addition to this I am slowing starting to realise that I don’t have to like everyone and everyone doesn’t have to like me.  Nor do I have to take part in what everyone else is doing.  One aspect that I loved about the Hen weekend was I was with likeminded ladies – and I had an absolute ball – it really confirmed for me that I do have a place in the world.  It may not be mainstream – but who wants to be mainstream – but I do have a lot to offer other people and if they don’t get what I’m about, or are dismissive, then that’s just the way it is.  Move on!

But slowly – day by day – I am getting there and am starting to spot the positives in the situation before the negatives.

Albufeira, Bristol, Food and drink, Portugal

Compare and Contrast

I am in the very fortunate position of spending my life living in two amazing places; Albufeira in Portugal and Bristol, United Kingdom.

We are often asked how it is we can bear to live in such a busy place as the centre of Old Town in Albufeira, especially as it gets busier in the summer months.  It gets louder – with music from the bars going on into the early hours of the morning.  There is more traffic and there are way more people.  Yes, our home is in the middle of all of this, but it’s set back on a little side street, away from the hustle and bustle – so we are sort of in the midst of things, but also out of it, on a small one way street that leads to nowhere.  We consider it relatively quiet, especially when you compare it to our home in Bristol.

Rua Henrique Calado

You couldn’t really get more of a contrast.  We have made our home right in the centre of town, in about as busy a spot as you could probably find.  Buses run all day and also through the night.  We are surrounded by office blocks and student accommodation and often when we are awake in the night are treated to the most amazing choirs.  Most of us have belonged to such a choir at some point in our time – the choir made up of people on their way home from the pub, confident in the knowledge that they are the best singers EVER!  We’ve had Oasis, Aha, The Three Tenors, you name it, we’ve probably heard it and each time, you just can’t help but smile!

In Albufeira we have the beaches.  One right on our doorstep, but then other smaller, secluded beaches all along the coast.  We have the changing colours of the sea, the differences in the waves and the tides, every day is a different view – something will have changed.  When the tourists arrive all with their different coloured beach umbrellas it brings a real sense of excitement to the town, particularly at the beginning of the season.  Then in Bristol we have the harbourside.  So busy and bustling, with the brightly coloured boats, floating happily besides great boats such as the Matthew and the SS Great Britain.  We have Gromits, Gorillas and Shaun the Sheep standing to attention, there is even a crocheted crocodile in homage to the crocodile of Bristol that apparently makes his home in the harbour!

 

In both locations you have the old next to the new.  One of my favourites in Bristol is the view of the Church of St John on the wall, part of the original old city walls, right next to iconic pieces of street art, ‘Where the Wall’ and ‘The Vandal’.  Obviously we also have Banksy.  So much so that I don’t even notice them anymore – they are just part and parcel of every day life.  Clearly not in the same league, but in Albufeira several of the electricity boxes have been covered with pieces of street art which reflect the heritage of the town.  Our apartment sits within the original city walls, yet within 5 minutes you are right in the centre of the newer square, and all of the bars and restaurants.  One of my favourite times of year in Albufeira is Easter.  It’s still very much a religious festival in Portugal with processions all across the Easter weekend – through the hoards of tourists there to enjoy the sun.

And as for food!  Both places provide a huge variety of cuisine that vary in Italian, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Vegan, Tapas.  In Bristol we have the added benefit of street food, that really does cover every nationality, including Caribbean.  In Albufeira if you dig deeply enough – well actually – not all that deeply at all, just leave the main tourist areas you can find some outstanding food at reasonable prices.  You might not get a wide choice, but the quality is something else.  Likewise in Bristol, there are just some amazing restaurants, popping up all over the place, some of which are housed in small cargo sheds.  In Bristol it’s really hard to find middle of the the road chain restaurants, we are a picky lot and like our food to be high quality and independent and we will pay.  Equally in Portugal – you can find the middle of the road, microwaved meals, but walk around the back streets and you will find so much more, fantastic little independent restaurants, run by families who are so very enthusiastic about their food and your experience with them really matters.

So, all in all, the two places aren’t all that different – barring the weather obviously!  I’m incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to experience the contrasts.

 

Portugal, Walking

Walking around Faro

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to go on a guided walk around Faro.  A ladies craft group that I am a member of, PALS, suggested that we meet up to do the walk with a small company that offers FREE guided walks of 2 hours around the city.

This is the first time I’ve really done a guided walk around a city as I’ve never been overly convinced that they add much value to a visit. I’ve spoken to several people who have been to Faro, enjoyed it, but not found it to be any more interesting than Albufeira, but I have to admit, having a guide really did add to the value of the walk and he was amazing.  The walk lasted two hours and took us around the older parts of the city of Faro from the arrival of the first settlers in the 8th century BC right up to the modern day.  Faro itself, has seen numerous name changes over the years dependent on who was in power at the time.  It’s also seen invasion by Romans, Moors, Jews and Christians, and the influence of each is reflected in the architecture around the town.  Obviously, being a Historian at heart, I loved every minute and especially hearing about key historical events from the point of view of the Portuguese.  They have a totally different interpretation of the Spanish Armada, for example!

IMG_20190114_105145298_HDR.jpgObviously, I can’t include every aspect of a 2 hour walk in a short account, but there were a few points of interest that I’d like to share!

The vast majority of the city was destroyed in as part of the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the epicentre being in Sagres, not Lisbon!  Following that, the vast majority of the city was destroyed and rebuilt and much of the current architecture dates from that time.  Buildings tend to by only 2 stories high as they are more likely to withstand the impact of   an earthquake.  Despite that, there is still evidence of the original city all around.

One aspect of the history of Faro, and Portugal that I was particularly interested in was that of the period 1467 to 1501.  Very specific, you might say!  That is the period of history I taught at A Level, specifically focussing on the history of Spain – from the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand in 1469 through to the death of Isabella in 1501.  Why is this of interest, you might ask?  Isabella and Ferdinand were experts at marrying their children into influential families across Europe.  Katherine of Aragon, for example married King Arthur and then Henry VIII.  Their eldest daughter (also Isabella) married Prince Afonso of Portugal who unfortunately died.  She subsequently married Manuel I of Portugal – but would only agree to the union provided all Jews and Muslims were expelled from Portugal – heralding the arrival of the Spanish Inquisition in Portugal.  Up until this point, all the various religious denominations had lived happily side-by-side.

img_20190114_120132944_hdr Every town I have visited in Portugal has a street named 25th April.  Obviously, I worked out quite early on that this must have some significant meaning – but didn’t know what.  It is the day of the revolution in 1974 when the dictatorship that had gripped Portugal since 1930 finally came to an end.  This is also known as the Carnation Revolution, due to how peaceful it was.  I was quite surprised that the dictatorship had lasted so long, and also, that it had only ended relatively recently.  Portugal is a very young democracy – which might also explain why some aspects of the country and its infrastructure seem so backward in many regards.

The beginning of the revolution was heralded by the playing of a song, ‘Grandola, Vila Morena’ written by Zeca Afonso.  A number of his songs were banned under the dictatorship as he was vociferous in his opposition and so once his music began to be heard again, that sent the signal that things were beginning to change.   His house still stands in Faro and is currently undergoing renovation, and a portrait of him is painted on a wall in Lisbon.  There is an alternative version!   1974 was the year that Cliff Richard won the Eurovision Song Contest and that the song to herald the start of the revolution was, in fact, ‘Congratulations’.  Now, I could be biased, but I know which version I believe!

zeco afonso

Another sweet story that we learned on our walk was the history of the prevalence of custard in Portuguese cakes.  The current archeology museum occupies the site of the 16th century convent of Nossa Senhora da Assunção (Our Lady of the Assumption).  It would appear that the nuns used egg whites to starch their habits – leaving a high proportion of egg yolks which needed to be used up.  These were used to make the custard for cakes and pastries, many of which are still popular in Portugal today.

There is so much to talk about, the stunning architecture, the history of the pavements, the storks that sit proudly atop many of the buildings, the chapel of the skulls, the history of the theatre.  But you really need to do the walk yourself to understand the rich history of this beautiful city.

One thing I did discover is that free walks are much better than those you’ve paid for.  Our guide’s tip (essentially his only payment for the two hours) was based on the quality of the walk he provided.  As a consequence the quality of the walk and the information provided was outstanding.  I definitely recommend this walk for anyone who is visiting Faro and for those who may already have visited.  It was interesting and entertaining.  There was so much more to Faro than I had anticipated and I will be going back shortly to re-visit some of the buildings and landmarks I heard about throughout the walk.

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If you are interested in a free walking tour of Faro, the company we used was Faro Free Walking Tours.

Happiness, Healthy living, Reading, Well-being

What makes you truly happy?

And here it is!  A new month in a New Year.  I’m not given to New Year’s resolutions, but unfortunately, this is the time of year that courses tend to be launched and I do like a course.  I’ll admit that I’ve signed up for some howlers in the past, and so I now set a limit on how much money I am prepared to spend and also tend to stick to people that I have followed for a while, or who have certified credentials.  I also like people who don’t take themselves too seriously.

do more of what makes you happy

So, this brought me to Gretchen Rubin‘s Happiness Project Experience.  A twelve month programme aimed at identify what makes you happy and increasing the amount of happiness in your life.  I’ve listened to Gretchen’s Better podcast for a while now, and have read her books, Better than Before and the Four Tendencies and much of what she discusses makes sense and is practical in nature.   I can understand how I could easily adapt some of her strategies in my life.

 
The Happiness Project Experience is based on her book The Happiness Project, which charts her own experiments with increasing the levels of happiness in her own life.   One aspect of my personality which I would love to change is the negativity.  I can place negative spin on to absolutely everything – in the blink of an eye.  It’s incredibly wearing for me, so I can’t imagine to understand how waring it is for those around me.  So when I saw this project I decided to give it a try.

The year is divided into 12 different topic areas – which I will discuss in detail each month as they pass.  The key objective is that in analysing each of these 12 themes you should have fun – this is about bringing more happiness into your life, more positivity so there is little point in introducing something that may well make you miserable.

So the theme for January – Self-Knowledge.  Use the month to explore things to reflect on the type of person you are, the types of things you might like to try “one day”, who am I and what truly makes me happy?

I had a list.  A very long list of things that made me truly happy, which I discussed with husband, and which we concluded was, in fact, a list of things I like doing.  That’s not necessarily what makes me truly happy.  I found it a really difficult question to answer.  Partly because I’ve never really considered what makes me truly happy, life tends to get in the way, bills, mortgages, going to work a whole list of things that you should do and are probably right to do, but don’t necessarily make you happy.

After a lot of thinking and also questioning what I would do if I didn’t have to go to work (I don’t have to go to work, but bear with me) I settled on the following:

  1. img_20181223_124320681Learning.  About anything, but primarily history and astronomy
  2. Doing things with people!  I’ve had a great month doing more things with real life people and have thoroughly enjoyed myself.
  3. Health and well-being.  Exercise is very important to me, as is alternative medicine and finding ways to be the healthiest version of me (within reason – who’d want to give up chocolate) that I can be.
  4. Making things.  I love crochet, sewing, making cards – you name it I enjoy making it and the time just disappears.

I wasn’t too sure where to put music – but it can reasonably placed into all 4 categories, so decided it was covered!

I’ve also spent the month re-reading ‘Better than Before’ to help me best understand how I can introduce new habits into my life, with the possibility that I might actually stick to them.  In addition, I’ve started to use the Gratitude app, which does what you’d imagine! There are loads of different ones to choose from.   Each day I’ve written a few things to be grateful for in a day, or things that have made me happy.  The reason I picked this particular app is because I can add a photo memory of the day too.

So, all-in-all, I’m looking forward to a happier and more positive 2019!  There are no big goals, no resolutions, just a commitment to introduce small habits aimed at improving my overall happiness and well-being.

 

Mindfulness, Well-being

OCD and Me

It would appear that I have OCD characteristics, which has been a revelation to me.  It would appear, however,  that it was obvious to most people other than me!  I’d always thought that OCD was about lists, obsessively cleaning, washing your hands, and spreadsheets.  It appears it’s more than that.  It can also be obsessive thoughts, more often than not based on health, that just go around and around and around in your head with no let up.  It is possible to have just the obsessive bit, and not necessarily the compulsive bit.

background balance beach boulder

It would be very easy to write a blog about all the fabulous things that happen in life, but I’m not sure that necessarily helps other people, a perpetual stream of fabulous pictures of fabulous lives.  Life isn’t always fabulous and oftentimes is just plain messy.  Earlier last week I had a bit of a meltdown, not quite a panic attack, but equally as ugly.  I’d been worrying for a few weeks now about a discomfort I had in my left side.  Obviously I’d obsessively trawled the internet to find out what this might be.  I’d obsessively read aromatherapy books to see what I could use to aid my digestive system.  I’d eaten enough liquorice to put me off for life to see if that would help.  I’d started taking a pro-biotic to see if that would fix it, but nothing seemed to be working.  I was writing down everything I ate, everything I did, to see if I could spot any connections, causes or triggers.  I was trying to meditate and see if I could improve it that way.  

But worst of all, by far the worst of all was I was starting to obsess about everything I ate.  I couldn’t have white carbs because they were bad, I couldn’t eat or drink anything with sugar in, because that’s bad. I’d signed up to an Alcohol Free group, because drinking is bad.  All that was good to eat was pretty much fruit and vegetables.  I’d even started worrying about what to do when I visited my sister.  She usually makes a pudding with lunch and often there’s a bit of cake knocking about (very nice cake, too) and we usually go for afternoon tea somewhere.  I’d started worrying about how I was going to get around eating the cake.  This isn’t me – I’m normally the one running to get the first slice!  I’d also started to become a bit agitated about cleaning – and anyone who knows me will know that this is just hilarious as I generally seem to have bypassed any cleaning gene!

chocolate cupcakes

You’d like to think that from this summary I might have worked out before now that I have obsessive traits – but no!  

I’m pretty certain I do know what caused this recent episode.  I had started an online course based around understanding triggers around food and diet and how to start accepting your body how it is.  It would appear that rather than understanding triggers, it layered day upon day a different potential trigger.  Do you eat dairy?  Do you eat sugar?  Do you eat meat? Do you exercise enough?  Where did your thoughts and ideas towards food and body image come from?  I personally believe, that this daily drip feed of things to think about built up and I had no outlet, no way to safely handle the issues that were coming up and instead they were just building up in my brain where I started to play them on a permanent loop, and the stress of that created the tension stomach ache.

I’m not sure what triggered my latest meltdown, but then I don’t really remember much about the past few weeks other than food, and fixing my digestive system, but the impact was quite shocking.  I wonder if it has just become too difficult to keep the thoughts going, or that I had reached a point where I knew it had to stop and this was the only solution.  Whatever, within an hour of it happening, the discomfort in my stomach had started to subside and although I didn’t have a perfect night’s sleep, I did much better.  I had the shivers and really had to wrap up to go to bed as I felt so cold.  I woke the next morning feeling like I had been hit by a bus, but the discomfort was gone.  It was almost like I’d had a permanent tension headache, but it had been a tension stomach ache.  I don’t know if such a thing exists and I’m not about to google and find out.  

As ever, husband has had to stand on the sidelines and watch this build up, knowing that the explosion was inevitable.  We have discussed the mindfulness.  His theory is that it clearly isn’t working because I wasn’t able to stop these obsessive thoughts.  My theory is that it has worked as this is another layer of the onion that I have peeled back.  I initially started mindfulness because I got so angry, so quickly over things that didn’t warrant such a response.  My mindfulness helped me understand that this was a reaction to anxiety.  Now I can see that the anxiety is a consequence of obsessive thoughts.  What was so frustrating throughout all of this is I knew I wasn’t quite myself, I knew I was having obsessive thoughts and I was trying so hard to employ the methods I had learned but they just weren’t working.  I had gone too far into my head to be able to find a way out.  I went to watch Ruby Wax do a talk recently and she re-iterated something she’d written in her book ‘Frazzled’.  Her depression hasn’t gone away, in fact, she took a break in writing that book because she was hit by a bought of depression.  What mindfulness helps her to understand is that the depression isn’t permanent, it isn’t what defines her and that it will pass.  Just to let it be.  

agriculture basket beets bokeh

It appears my main obsession is my health.  I find this incredibly frustrating as I have watched my dad obsess over his health and it drives me up the wall.  I thought I was learning and just enjoying my learning.  Since my most recent episode, it has been pointed out to me that this isn’t really the case.  I only ever want to learn about health related things.  It may be complementary health, but it’s always ways to improve my health.  And I don’t just have a bit of a google, I buy books, borrow books, read research articles, anything to try and understand how I might use that therapy to improve my health.  I haven’t just taken up yoga, I’ve been going to unto 5 classes a week. I looked at myself as a bystander might, and I saw so very clearly how it looked, this crazy lady obsessively looking for a magic cure to an imagined problem.  

So I now have another character to add to my growing list.  This is another mindfulness technique, give the emotion a name and a character – so that you can watch them as an outsider and not get quite so drawn in.  Clearly I still have a long way to go.  I try to base my emotions on fictional characters and so far have:

  • Bellatrix Lestrange – for when I am getting bit angry and a bit mad!
  • Piglet – for when the anxiety creeps in
  • Monica – for when I start to obsess over things.

So, in discussion with husband, I have identified steps that I can take to help me manage this more effectively in the future.

  1. Don’t do online courses relating to health.  Doing them with a health care professional is one thing, doing an online course because you fancy the look of it, isn’t really a good idea for me.  In fact, just don’t do any courses related to health!
  2. I can pick one complementary medicine and practice what I’ve learned.  I pick Bach flower remedies.
  3. I am banned from looking at anything health related on the internet – so I actually haven’t googled OCD or how to manage it.  Nor have I googled if a tension stomach ache is an actual thing. I have also removed myself from any Facebook groups that may trigger obsessive thoughts related to diet or health.
  4. Just see where each day takes me, don’t plan for it, don’t make expectations of it, just see where it goes and enjoy it.
  5. Carry on with the mindfulness, especially the meditation.  I enjoy it and it makes me feel calmer even when my mind is like a hurricane.  But I don’t need to read every book that was written about it!
  6. Eat what feels right at the time.  And if that’s a bag of jelly babies, then so be it!  
  7. Don’t journal anything!  I’m not a fan, I find it difficult – so this won’t be hard to manage!

berries berry blur close up

Alternative Therapies, Aromatherapy, Complementary Health

Essential Oil essentials

I’ve recently begun investigating Essential Oils.  As you know, I do like a bit of voodoo joojoo and this is right up my street.  I also love learning and have been doing an online Aromatherapy course.  So all in all, what’s not to love?

white and purple flower plant on brown wooden surface

It has been a bit of a learning curve – I didn’t jump straight in with using the oils but took some time to understand more about aromatherapy.  Besides the online course, I have also borrowed a couple of books from the local library to help me understand more about what they are and how they can be used.  When I did take the plunge I bought a small introductory kit from DoTerra.  I was first introduced to the brand by my kinesiologist who prescribed the peace blend to help with poor sleep and anxiety.  DoTerra are everywhere, pretty much every google search you use for Essential Oils brings them out at the top.  Their products are beautifully packaged and very well marketed.  DoTerra products seem to do wonders, so many people swear by them and I have to say I was hooked.  I could see the potential for addressing my sleeping problem and digestion issues.  On top of that, as they operate as an Multi-Level Marketing company (MLM) I could see earning potential and was starting to get really excited.  Eventually, my very English and very cautious brain kicked in.

selective focus photo of bottle with cork lid

My first question.  Are DoTerra products organic?  I make a big fuss of making sure that facial and body products that I use are free from everything known to man and as far as possible, organic.  And here I was willy nilly using products that I couldn’t be certain were organic.  They themselves state that they cannot guarantee that their products are organic.  Part of this is because every country has their own rules regarding organic certification, it would be impossible for them to achieve organic status across the world.  I understand that, but unfortunately, knowing the oils I buy and use are organic is important to me. 

The second thing that had me wondering was the use of DoTerra oils internally.  Every other brand of essential oils that I could find were labelled ‘for external use only’.  So why could I take DoTerra internally.  I have to admit, whilst I was drinking a glass of water with a drop of Lemon in I did question my sanity.  Surely, if I wanted lemon flavoured water then I could just squeeze some fresh lemon into to glass.  When given instructions to use the oils internally DoTerra recommend that you use a glass or steel container, as plastic ones disintegrate over time.  Which did also have me questioning how safe they were for internal consumption.  It would appear that I am not the only person with this question.  I found this article from Empowered Sustenance which explained the current situation well.  They aren’t totally scathing of DoTerra and the products that they produce, but do point out that as yet there is not enough scientific evidence to support the claims that you can safely use essential oils internally.  Whilst I might well love the voodoo joojoo, if what science does exist, isn’t backing it up 100% then it’s not really for me.  I do appreciate that I am a little fastidious in this and am sure I am being over-cautious!

photography of purple flowers

The third thing that caused some concern was regulation.  I do like a bit of regulation.  Much as I like to try complementary therapies I do always ensure that those companies and products that I use belong to some kind of organisation to ensure quality, high standards and, I suppose, are as safe as they can possibly be.  Aromatherapy, like many complementary therapies doesn’t have an official ruling body, so you do have to be careful. In the UK, however, there is an organisation, the Aromatherapy Trade Council which does monitor the industry and the standard of the essential oils that are sold here.  It isn’t compulsory, companies that produce essential oils don’t have to be members of the ATC, but it seemed to me that any company that was prepared to meet the standards laid down by the ATC, would be more interested in providing a good quality product that was safe to use.  

Here in the UK we also have the Soil Association, who are the standard for all things organic.  Many organic suppliers and producers aspire to achieve the soil association standard, and it is a good indicator of the quality of a product if it displays the soil association logo.  So I had two ways to enable me to find good quality organic essential oils.  I double checked this by visiting our local health food shop and sure enough, they only stocked brands that appeared in list of those products with both ATC membership and certified by the Soil Association.  Even if some of the oils weren’t organic, the companies are able to guarantee the sources of the essential oils and are able to state that they are ethically harvested.  

The final thing which concerned me about DoTerra was setting myself up as a salesperson for aromatherapy oils.  I don’t have a qualification on this, I’m doing a bit of an online course, for my own interest.  This doesn’t qualify me for handing out advice to other people, or making recommendations for how people can treat themselves.  I appreciate that as an advocate for the company I wouldn’t be making people buy the products, that is their choice, and consumption or use of essential oils does come with a certain degree of risk, but it just felt like a can of worms I really don’t want to be opening.  I don’t know that I want to take that risk myself.

 

So the list of companies I have identified for my use, those that are members of both the ATC and the Soil Association:

aromatherapy beautiful blooming blurNeals Yard

The Aromatherapy Company

Absolute Aromas

Materia Aromatica

Aromantic

Not the longest list ever known to man, but certainly enough to keep me interested in learning about how I can include essential oils as part of my own health and wellbeing routines and certainly easily accessible to me here in Bristol.  I also know that by using products from these organisations that I am also supporting British companies.  So for the time being, DoTerra isn’t the brand for me, it’s not a no, just a not for now.

Alternative Therapies, Complementary Health, Menopause, Mindfulness, Well-being

Dreaming of sleep

I tend to go at everything like a bull at a gate.  I have to do it now, I have very little patience and can’t really wait for the reward.  If I have a parcel through the door, I have to open it straight away, I struggle with learning golf because there is no discernible progress from one week to the next.  I like to be successful now!  How I ever managed to learn musical instruments or how to swim is quite beyond me!  

The same is happening with my year to fixing myself.  I want to do it all now.  I want to take all the supplements change my diet habits and to make myself better now.  Unfortunately, this will fly completely in the face of what I set out to do and to find out slowly what it is that might make me feel better.  

I have reached the end of my second month.  So far I have learned:

  • Alcohol does make my hot flushes at night worse.  It also gives me restless legs.  Now, if it weren’t 10,000 degrees in the UK at the moment, I might not be suffering from this quite so much!  I researched restless legs and the heat – the heat doesn’t make the restless legs worse – but more than likely does reduce the capacity to cope with them.  Either way, this alone is enough to stop me having a tipple!
  • I don’t drink enough caffeine as to make a difference.  I probably have two or three cups of coffee a week and otherwise drink green tea and a wide selection of herbal teas.
  • I love exercise and am grumpy on the days I don’t do it.  In addition it does improve my chances of sleeping.  I have managed to maintain my commitment to exercise and including walking have exercised a minimum of 5 days per week.  My mileage for the year is currently 922 miles, so I’m hoping to achieve my target of 1000 miles during August.  I’ve also really enjoying trying a range of different exercise classes at my gym.
  • I haven’t given up anything that would cause me any inconvenience, nor have I tried introducing something that I might struggle to commit to on a daily basis – I’ve gone for the easy option!
  • Gradually I am starting to change.  When I go to the fridge to get a snack I am tending to reach for healthier options as I increasingly feel awful if I eat junk.  I’ve also started to spurn cakes, as shop bought cakes just tend to be too big and too sickly.  I’m not sure if this change is due to being more mindful in my choices, or because I am writing a daily food diary and so am more aware of how foods are making me feel, but generally I would say I am starting to make better food choices.
  • Daily meditation does make a difference.  I feel calmer and more in control of situations as they arise.  I haven’t yet worked out how to manage the situations, but at least I am more aware of them as they happen!

I have done some research this month about being a lady of a certain age and the effects it can have on your body.  I’ve also read about the different supplements you could introduce.  However, I have decided that approach for the next few months is to tackle those things that I believe affect me the most. Exercise is a must, but besides that, the things that currently annoy me most are:

  • Sleepless nights – bit chicken and egg, not sure which comes first, the hot flush or the sleepless night, but the combination of both with the added bonus of restless legs drives me to distraction
  • Slugglish bowel habits – a bit too much information there!
  • Brain fog – it’s like I’m in a permanent daze – a prime example is putting my mobile phone on to charge and then five minutes later searching high and low, even ringing my mobile from the landline because I can’t for the life of me think where I might have put it.  If I’ve forgotten to take it off silent, the problem is compounded.

alarm clock analogue bed bedroom

As a consequence, I have decided that I would like to tackle sleepless nights next – to my mind having a decent nights sleep will improve the brain fog situation, if nothing else.  And so, I have researched what I need to do to improve my chances of getting a good nights sleep.  I referred to a book ‘New Natural Alternatives to HRT’ by Marilyn Glenville who recommends:

  • A good quality multivitamin for women of a certain age
  • Magnesium supplement – I was given this many years ago by a nutritionist who tested my magnesium levels, so it didn’t surprise me in the least that this could be a contributory factor
  • Valerian – to be taken alongside the magnesium one hour before bed time.
  • A camomile based hot drink prior to bed.
  • A hot bath with a lavender based bath oil – I might have mentioned that it’s currently 10,000 degrees in Bristol, so this isn’t currently an option!
  • Placing an essential oil on your pillow!  Lavender is a popular choice, but I do already have DoTerra Peace blend which was recommended to me by my kinesiologist.

aroma aromatherapy aromatic basket

This does also fly in the face of only trying one thing per month.  If I do all of the above, how will I ever know which was the one that helped me sleep.  I have to admit, I don’t really care!  I am so desperate to have a good nights sleep that I’m quite willing to throw the kitchen sink at it and see where it takes me.  By my thinking, if I sleep better I will be better able to cope with the brain fog, I might not even get it, and it is also a contributory factor to a healthy digestive system – so a winner all round!  I also so keen to get in to a regular sleeping habit that I have reached the point where I am quite prepared to take the supplements on a regular basis, I am quite determined to see the month out and am quite positive about the results.  I know there will be many doubters who think it’s all a load of nonsense, but at the end of the day, if I believe it will help me and I believe it will improve my life, then that’s all that matters.  It would be interesting to learn other people’s hints and tips for achieving a good nights sleep.  

Bristol, Cycling, Exercise, Walking, Well-being

Loving Exercise

I love exercise.  I’d forgotten quite how much I do enjoy exercising.  I’d also forgotten quite how much I  enjoyed using my bicycle for my commute to and from work in the past.  I’d forgotten that in a city like Bristol, more often than not, cycling is the most sensible (and quickest) form of transport.

Long Ashton Cricket Club

Take going to the gym.  It’s currently taking me in the region of 20 minutes to cycle there – depending on the heat and whether or not it’s before or after a gym class.  It regularly takes me this long to drive, particular the journey back into the city.  The majority of the cycle takes me along cycle paths, past a cricket pitch, providing a break from the busy city and beautiful scenes of a traditional Bristol.  I wouldn’t have found this gem if I hadn’t taken to my bicycle and needed to find an alternative route avoiding the A370.  It’s hard to believe such a busy main road is only 100 yards away from this peace and quiet.

I’m loving being back at the gym and having a wide selection of classes to choose from.  Whilst reading around Yoga I have investigated whether or not it counts as weight-bearing exercise (it does) and whether or not I still need to do cardio exercise.  There seems to be some debate over this, but I suspect that depends on how much yoga is going to become a way of life vs an additional form of exercise.  All I can say, is I can see myself how my cardio fitness has fallen off since I have been focussing more fully on yoga.  My benchmark was rowing 1000m on the rowing machine.  In the past, I have completed the distance in around 5 minutes.  This last week it took me 5 minutes and 43 seconds.  Evidence, if it were needed, that my cardio fitness has declined, and so according to my simple brain, just practicing yoga hasn’t maintained my fitness levels.  I’m hoping that through cycling more around Bristol and adding in additional classes at the gym I will start to see an improvement.

Unfortunately, the best way I can really judge whether or not the exercise has been of benefit is by a change in weight – or more specifically, a change in how my clothes fit.  I am also going to repeat the 1000m row each week to see if I can improve on my time.  And I still have my ultimate goal – to complete one un-assisted pull up!!!!  I don’t know why I have this goal, I just think it would be an awesome thing to be able to do!

According to the UK Government, the current recommended daily exercise targets are:  

Physical activity guidelines

I have also been doing research on exercise and menopause.  It would appear that strength training is recommended and so I am making sure I do one strength session per week.  Sometimes I have been doing my own thing at the gym and other times I have been going along to a conditioning class.  One thing I have learned over the years is that variety is vital to maintaining enthusiasm.

An added benefit of exercise, is that it does seem to help with my sleep.  Given the exceedingly hot weather conditions in Bristol at the moment, a decent night’s sleep is a bit of a struggle at the best of times, however exercise does seem to improve the amount and quality of sleep I am getting.  I am now also 95% certain that drinking wine has a huge impact on the quality of sleep I am getting, specifically, it seems to increase the incidence of hot flushes and restless legs, neither of which are particularly welcome when temperatures are in the very high 20s!

I am still managing to walk quite a bit.  I’ve walked 856 miles towards my 1000 mile target for the year.  I am using this year as a benchmark to be honest and so am not particularly pushing myself.  I have increased the number of steps in a day up to 12,500 as I was achieving 10,000 most days without really having to make that much of an effort.  By adding the extra steps it is forcing me to do some additional walking to achieve the target.  Although, it would appear that a steps target isn’t necessarily the best method to use.  Current research suggests that three or four 10 minute bursts of brisk exercise getting your heart racing is far more beneficial than achieving a steps target.  I am trying to combine both and hopefully achieve the maximum benefits I can from walking. 

At the moment, in Bristol, there is the added incentive of Gromit Unleashed 2.  The exhibits this year are fabulous and it feels like they’ve built upon the previous trails in the way it is organised – including availability of the replica models.  They definitely bring a smile to people’s faces and it’s amazing how many people just sit next to Wallace on a bench just to pass the time!  The only hiccup I’ve discovered thus far is that the app doesn’t work too well inside so I’ve not been able to register that I’ve visited a couple of the statues.  It’s great fun to do the trail and well worth visiting Bristol to take part, should you get the chance.

 

 

Bristol, Mindfulness, Well-being

What’s the story?

 

Everyone tells stories.  Stories to children to fire their imaginations, stories to friends and families about events that have happened in our lives, all of which are very positive and enjoyable.  But what about those stories that we might tell which aren’t so positive?  What about stories we tell others to cover up our own insecurities, or worse still those stories we tell ourselves which determine the direction our lives will take.

Earlier this week I returned to the Mindfulness course run by My Awareness, here in Bristol.  During one of the meditation sessions we were asked to focus on something which we found challenging.  Not so challenging that it would be impossible to tackle in a short space of time, but something which challenged us to some degree at this time.  I chose to focus on my hot feet!  Since this heat wave started I have had permanently hot feet.  I normally suffer from cold feet and so have been finding hot feet somewhat challenging to say the least!  Another affliction I suffer from is escalating a minor problem into a major problem in the space of 3 seconds.  So, quite clearly, I don’t have hot feet, due to the insanely hot weather, I must have something far worse than that – my hot feet must be an indicator of an underlying, far more serious problem.  I even googled hot feet – which every doctor I’ve ever met says is the worst possible thing you can do.  (Apparently, it convinces the brain you have something and so makes the situation worse).  My search did indeed support the fact that I had hot feet due to hot weather – just suck it up!

aged ancient asian buddhism

But back to the meditation, this was my chosen ‘challenge’ to focus on.  Away we went, through the usual motions until we reached the point where we were asked to focus on our challenge of choice.  And then the questions started.  ‘Is this you?’ or more precisely, ‘Is this your story’?  As we delved further into the investigation of my hot feet.  Where had my reaction to this challenge originated from?  What stories had brought me to this point?  At which point I definitely wobbled on my stool as I realised that no – this is not my story – this is my father’s story – the story of seeking a negative out of every situation!  Unfortunately, this has become my story and is the story that constantly runs around in my head, the story that I constantly respond to – rather than just accept things as they are I tap in to this story – ‘The worst case scenario’ story.

In some ways it made me quite sad – I don’t have my own story to tell.  I am stuck in a story from the past and one that has no bearing on the way I choose to live my life now.  Nor do I listen to husband’s story – which is infinitely more positive than mine.

person wearing pair of brown leather loafers

The good thing about mindfulness, as I discovered this week, is these stories don’t have to define where I go next.  I can’t change what I am now – this is the situation I find myself in.  I’ve arrived here due to stories I’ve received through my life, from family, friends, colleagues and even the media.  What I can do is change how I react to the stories, I can choose where which direction to take next.  When I hear myself repeating a story I can stop it, notice it, look at it as an outsider would and decide what I’m gong to do with it.  Is this my story?  Is this me?  If not, what am I going to do to change it today?

On top of this I have learned this week that technically I am classed as healthy.  At the gym I attend there is a Bodytrax machine.  I have to admit, I didn’t really understand the results it was giving me, and I don’t imagine for a moment that it’s 100% accurate, but this week I took the time to ask what the scores meant.  It would appear that weight is pretty irrelevant.  What are more relevant are the visceral fat measurement, which provides an estimate of the level of fat around your vital organs, and what percentage of your overall weight is fat.  My visceral fat score has been consistently at 6.  A quick search of the internet revealed a healthy figure is 12 or below.  For a lady of my age, a healthy percentage of fat is considered to be between 23% and 34%.  Mine currently lies at 32.5%, which is again within the healthy bracket.

the last bow book

Yet I consistently tell myself the story that I am too fat, that I am an unhealthy weight, that I need to change.  This, as much as anything, has shown me that the stories I continue to live by are outdated and no longer relevant.  In 5 or 10 years time, I’d be disappointed if I were still telling myself the same stories and really hope that I have replaced them with new more positive ones.  Of a life well lived, of opportunities taken and accepted, of laughter and love.   To be the healthiest version of me that I can be, but at least now I realise that I don’t have to strive for the impossible, I’m already healthy enough, whatever else I achieve will be an additional bonus.

Menopause, Well-being

Reflections on Alcohol

As June comes to a close and I embark on a new month, I thought I’d reflect on my month of cutting down alcohol.  I didn’t manage to cut it out completely, however I did cut down quite significantly.

  1. People are very disconcerted by someone who doesn’t drink.  I get lots of strange looks, as if I have multiple heads.  Followed by the obvious questions, ‘Why don’t you drink’? ‘Where’s the fun in not drinking?’ or statements along the lines of ‘oh, you’re very good’ or ‘Oh I couldn’t do that’.  Many people continue to justify to me why they drink, and tell me more often than not that they are the black sheep of the family and that no one else in the family drinks as much.  No one as yet has made a positive comment about the fact I am choosing not to drink.  It’s not generally the bar owners, they have been amazingly supportive, in fact, one bar that we frequent in Portugal has made virgin cocktails to brighten up the monotony of sparkling water.  Both of our favourite bars add a variety of fruit, or put sparkling water into a nicer glass so that it looks more special.  It’s generally the other customers who seem to have a real problem with a non-drinker in their midst.  This has got me wondering what would the situation be if I was genuinely an alcoholic.  This is a choice I have made because alcohol makes me feel a bit rubbish, it’s not an addiction I am trying to quit.  Are people generally so lacking in understanding that they think it’s acceptable to grill someone on their reasons for not drinking?  I can easily understand why anyone who was struggling with an addiction to alcohol would choose to avoid bars as it’s an incredibly tough environment to be in as a non-drinker.
  2. Generally, the choice of non-alcoholic alternatives in bars and restaurants is fairly rubbish.  Don’t get me wrong, many places do offer a full range of alternatives:  soft drinks, fruit juices, even virgin cocktails, however, these are usually fully laden with sugar.  Whilst sitting waiting for friends in a local restaurant I ‘googled’ sugar content of drinks – many alcoholic drinks have lower sugar content than non-alcoholic drinks.  Yes, I can hear you shout, what about the diet versions?  But what about sweetener – the effects of which are equally as bad, if not worse, than sugar.  So taking all of this into account, I am pretty much left with sparkling water.  You might argue I am being too picky – but I don’t see the point of going to all the effort of cutting out alcohol, just to replace it with a different version of bad (in my eyes).
  1. Drunk people can be rude, insensitive and invasive.  Some, not all.  For some reason, after some people have had a drink, it becomes their prerogative to interfere in all aspects of your life – suddenly no topic is off limits.  They know everything about you; they know everything you have done and have done it at least a million times better; they know what you need to do to fix / improve every aspect of your life; they become incredibly nosey and ask the kinds of questions that they wouldn’t dare ask when they are sober.  All of a sudden they are experts on each and every aspect of your life.  Now, this could be because I am now sober in the bar – but my capacity for dealing with this has diminished and I can feel my frustrations rising.  I can well understand that previously, I didn’t really hear, or really didn’t care due to the wine I had consumed myself.

As yet, I can’t say that there has been a startling improvement in how I feel or look.  In particular, I have been looking for improvements in hot flushes, tiredness and quality of sleep, all of which can be attributed to menopause.  As I mention previously, weight loss isn’t as high a priority for me as feeling and looking healthy.  

barefoot basket blooming blossoming

Hot flushes:  there has been little or no difference in the number / intensity of hot flushes, particularly over night.  Now, it is super hot in the UK at the moment – but still – no change.

Exhaustion:  I still have days when I feel utterly exhausted, like I am walking in treacle.  Clearly, having a glass of wine didn’t improve them, but it would seem they weren’t caused entirely by wine consumption.  I suspect they are more related to hormones and I need to continue the research to find a solution to this.

Sleep:  Still rubbish, and still very intermittent.  I still haven’t managed to sleep through the night without interruption, although I’m not sure how much the weather has been a contributory factor in this.    

There have, however, been some improvements:

  1. The restless legs have calmed down.  I haven’t been quite so plagued by my legs kicking through the night.
  2. I feel a little brighter in the morning when I wake up.
  3. I’ve recovered a little sense of myself.  I feel a little more like the old me, and am increasingly confident about walking into social situations knowing I am going to order non-alcholic drinks.  Because I feel more at ease, I am more relaxed and generally a happier person to be with.  I’m not putting myself under pressure to be someone I’m not, and as a consequence am enjoying going out much more than I was before.

aroma aromatic art artistic

I’ve decided that each month I will cut out one more thing and add in one thing.  As I only started exercising properly at the beginning of last week, I’m going to continue increasing the level of exercise throughout July.  The temptation to add in something else is immense, but I’m keen not to take on too much at once, which is something I find particularly difficult.

So, beside continuing to cut alcohol out of my diet I am also going to cut out caffeine.  Apparently, this is another contributor to hot flushes due to menopause, so we’ll see how this month goes!  Clearly, if the weather continues they way it is, it may not be the best month to be judging how effective it is to remove caffeine from my day! 

Cycling, Exercise, Well-being

Introducing Exercise

I said I wasn’t going to introduce more than one thing at once.  I lied.  Last week I had a bit of an epiphany.  I’m currently doing a coaching course called Living a Bigger Life, with Julie Creffield, and this week we were focusing on fears.  What it is that holds me back?  Previously, I’ve spurned this week of the programme, as I don’t believe I am fearful of anything or that anything holds me back.  So why is it, that I’ve spent the last 3 and a half months doing no exercise to speak of and increasing the time I’ve been spending on my backside doing precisely nothing.  If that’s not a fear thing then I don’t know what is.  I still can’t put my finger on exactly what it is I fear but there is clearly something that is stopping me getting out and exercising.

And that got me to thinking.  If you’d asked me 5 years ago, ‘If you didn’t have to work, what would you spend your time doing?’  In a flash I would have said, train for an Ironman and do voluntary work.  Since giving up work, I have dabbled in voluntary work, but I certainly haven’t trained for anything other than the sofa Olympics.

I used to do so much.  I used to go to work full-time, and train for triathlons, after work and at the weekends.  I used to go to a running club once a week, meet up to run on a Saturday morning for a breakfast run, and entered numerous races.  But when I moved to Bristol that all changed.  Yes, work was difficult, but I also struggled to find my tribe.  I had the best group of people to exercise with in Stoke-on-Trent, at a similar fitness level and with a similar reason to exercise and I had a great time.  We had amazing meals and picnics after races – exercise was about sharing time with each other – getting a PB was an added bonus.  I tried several different clubs in Bristol, but they were all just that bit too competitive, the social aspect seemed to be lacking and it was just not as much fun. There’s only so many times you can be left at the back of the pack before all motivation to continue is lost. On top of that I sustained an injury running the Stafford Half Marathon a few years back, and the minute I started to push my pace or increase my distance my ankle started to flare up.

close up of arrow symbol on road

Having said that, in my first job in Bristol I did cycle the commute to work.  It didn’t take long for me to work out that it was actually quicker to cycle the 5 miles to and from work than it was to drive it – and the school had really good showering facilities for staff.  That daily commute meant I maintained some level of exercise.  I have also maintained a gym membership whilst I have been living in Bristol, but haven’t really made the most of it, until this past year when I have started attending yoga classes on a regular basis.

In addition to the problems mentioned above, movement between Bristol and Portugal has also impacted my exercise.  I tried running here – but the difference in terrain played havoc with my ankle.  I’m a typical English Rose and really can’t cope that well in the extreme heat, so exercise is a bit of a no, no, unless I go out very early or very late.  I struggle to get up and exercise at 6:00am in the morning – the connection between brain and legs doesn’t seem to function that early in the morning!  I’ve tried cycling here – but besides the issue of the heat I also struggle with confidence on the roads – from packs of wild dogs to idiotic drivers!  I fail to maintain momentum in exercise in Portugal and this time, it’s been really quite extreme.  It’s also taken me a long time to find a yoga class that I really enjoyed going to.  As a consequence, since I arrived here in March, I have only been to 11 yoga classes, 2 sessions at the swimming pool and 1 bicycle ride.

athlete exercise fitness leisure

So, this week’s realisation that I do actually have the time to train for an Ironman was quite thought provoking.  Due to logistical issues, some health issues and financial constraints, I can’t really train for an Ironman at the moment and it may well remain one of those dreams that never turn into reality.  But if I have the time available for that amount of training, then I have more than enough time available to exercise for a minimum of an hour a day.  I can still cycle, I can swim, I can Nordic Walk (I have a bag of poles in the garage – another story), I can practice yoga – and there are no excuses.  Everything I have written about above is, in fact, an excuse.  No, I can’t run – but I can still do other forms of exercise.

So today I went out on my bicycle for the first time since arriving in Portugal at the beginning of March.  Tomorrow I am going to go for a swim.  The temptation to leave doing anything until the end of the week when I am back in Bristol was immense – but I’ve put off exercise for over 3 months now – the time has come to move.  I have a few days mid-week where exercise will be difficult, but by the end of the week I will be back in the position where I can do some exercise every day.  My only problem is going to be not overdoing it!

Menopause, Well-being

A Year to a Healthier me.

On 28th May I turned 47, which I concluded is a bit of a non-descript age – too old to be in my mid-forties, but too young to be ‘nearly 50’.  However, it did make me realise that I only have 3 years to go to the next big milestone birthday and got me thinking.  The best way to describe myself is ‘fair, fat and forty-something’.  I don’t want to be ‘fair, fat and fifty’ – clearly there is not an awful lot I can do about the fair and the fifty part!  Over the past week I’ve been reading ‘A Year of Less‘ by Cait Flanders, the premise being to live a year of spending less money and really thinking about what she is spending money on and why.  This got me to thinking – what could I change between now and my next birthday to try to tackle the ‘fat’.

Being realistic – I’m not hugely overweight, as like many people I could do with losing a bit of weight – but my major complaint is that I do feel unhealthy.  Often I feel quite sluggish and as if I’m walking through treacle, some days I really struggle to get going and I am fairly confident that what I put into my body is a key factor in this.   I know I could be healthier and my birthday was the trigger to change.  And there is not getting away from the fact that I am a woman of a certain age and the big ‘M’ word is looming on the horizon!

 

Unfortunately, in the two weeks since my birthday I have changed precisely nothing – and so I am starting again from today – 11th June!   Husband is a great believer in doing things one step at a time.  There is little point in my changing everything at once – how will I know what works, what made me feel better, if I do it all at once.  During the course of the year I am going to try cutting out certain foods and drinks, adding in other foods, increasing the amount of exercise I do, taking different supplements and also trying some alternative therapies to see what the impact is on my general health and wellbeing.

Obviously – in order to measure this I need a benchmark!  I don’t use scales so can’t use that as a measure, but do have other variables that I can monitor.

  1. I drink one large glass a day, five days a week
  2. I eat cake or have a dessert three or four times a week.
  3. I eat a single chocolate stick (e.g. one twin stick) most days of the week.
  4. I exercise once or twice per week – mainly yoga and swimming.
  5. I walk an average of 3 miles per day.
  6. I have one cup of milky coffee first thing in the morning
  7. I probably have one piece of fruit a day.
  8. I probably have one or two portions of veg per day.
  9. I don’t eat much by way of bread or pasta.
  10. I take a multivitamin sporadically.
  11. I go for reflexology and / or kinesiology once a month.

Clearly, this list is not exhaustive and I suppose describes the average person – not particularly unhealthy but not particularly healthy either.

This month I am focusing on cutting out alcohol – and thus far have not done a very good job at it!  I really don’t drink vast amounts – but the impact on my body is as though I do.  This past Friday I had a glass of wine with my lunch.  We went out in the evening and I had one cocktail and two large glasses of wine, interspersed with a few glasses of sparking water.  I lost most of Saturday because of how awful I felt – as in bone crushingly awful – I had a headache, I ached all over, I had no energy and just wanted the day to pass me by.  Why, therefore, do I do this to myself?  I genuinely wish I knew the answer.

I know that I went all the way through university without drinking a drop.  Followed by time spent in America, followed by getting married and settled at home, followed by a subsequent divorce and moving back to my home town.  All of this was achieved without drinking a drop of alcohol.  I knew what the consequence was and chose not to drink.  I can even remember key events where I was persuaded to drink and how they were ruined: a friend’s hen night which I missed because I had one glass of champagne early in the evening; another friend’s wedding where I spent the evening familiarising myself with the ladies because I’d had wine with the meal.  Even now, I have crushing headaches as a consequence of drinking one or two glasses of wine.

I’ve given this some thought – and I don’t like to continually blame teaching for everything – as clearly I have a choice in the matter.   But I increasingly turned to the odd glass of wine (and more than the odd packet of Haribos) as a mechanism to cope with the pressures of the job, particularly in one challenging school.  At that point I can only think that I really didn’t care what the impact was on my health – or that I was in so much of a fog anyway that I didn’t really notice the effects of the alcohol.  Either way, I was drinking an increasing amount.  Again, it’s not huge amounts, it probably amounted to one bottle of white wine per week – but the consequences of that wine on my body, it might well have been one bottle per day.  But then, I think it became a social thing – I finally ‘got’ why people drank when they got to the pub, and how it does make an evening more enjoyable, but each and every time it came with a consequence.  A consequence that I’d now like to banish.

 

IMG_2650Husband has another theory – that you have to reach a point that you want to change – if you’ve not reached that point then there is little point in trying as more than likely you will struggle to succeed.  My 47th birthday was that point.  I don’t want to feel like this at 50.  Julie Creffield of The Fat Girls Guide to Running also has a theory.  That you must have accountability – that you have to put yourself out there loud and proud for the world to see.  So writing this today is me being visible and me being held accountable.  I do genuinely want to see what the impact is of these changes and experiments on my health and well-being.  I anticipate some will make no difference whatsoever and some may have more of an impact than I ever thought possible.  So, besides giving the alcohol a miss for a while, I’m also going to commit to posting more photographs of myself, being visible in my own life.  Hopefully, that will also serve as a measure of my journey from here to healthy.

Walking

Walking back to Happiness

How have I ended up here?  Every time I exercise I seem to end up injured.  Just this week I did a power walk and ended up with a sore back and excruciating hip, both of which kept me up at night and once again scuppered my plans for a week full of exercise.

This has been the cycle of me and exercise since 2009 – to be exact – since I ran the Stafford Half Marathon in a creditable time of 2 hours 15 minutes, but sadly I’ve not really run since.  Oh, but I love it.  Sadly it doesn’t love me.  I also dabbled in triathlon and I dream of completing an Ironman, but in order to do that I have to be able to run.  I have been forcing myself through a constant cycle of exercise and injury just to get back to a moment in time when I could run.  I get so far, but as soon as I start to add distance or pace to my running, something ‘goes’.  An ankle, a hip, a back, a knee.  What I really loved about it was that it was quick.  I could come home from work, get up in the morning and spend 30 minutes or so exercising and get a really good workout.  Everything else just seems to take so long.

I have to admit defeat.  For whatever reason, running is not for me at this time and so I need to find an alternative.  I also have to get out of the exercise, injury spiral.  Back in the day I trained as a Nordic Walking Instructor because I loved it so much and I’m not entirely sure why I stopped doing it.  At the end of the day I can try to find reasons but it just boils down to the fact that since I gave up work I have become fairly lazy.  I have the time for exercise, so it should be easy for me, but should never usually takes you to where you want to be.

Where I want to be is enjoying exercise, pure guilt free exercise.  Not going to a gym because I’ve paid for it, so I should.  Not entering races because I should, and then failing to make the start line.  Most importantly I need to do something that I enjoy; maintains my fitness levels; breaks the injury cycle; but most importantly, something that makes me feel good about myself.  In the run up to Christmas last year I did actually and un-intentionally lose weight – through walking.  I had a job that meant I walked an average of 6 miles a day.  It didn’t feel like exercise.  Living in Bristol it’s often easier to walk than drive due to the trauma of parking.  So every day I walked and I felt great.

According the the NHS ‘Walking for Health‘ website, ‘Regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers’. Researchers at New Mexico Highlands University have recently found that ‘although there is lighter foot impact associated with walking compared with running, walking still produces large pressure waves in the body that significantly increase blood flow to the brain’. In addition they maintain that ‘While the effects of walking on CBF were less dramatic than those caused by running, they were greater than the effects seen during cycling, which involves no foot impact at all’.  So it seems that evidence is on my side, although I have pretty much spurned walking as dull and dreary it seems it can benefit me as much as other forms of exercise.  And the best part, I might actually enjoy myself whilst I do it!

Earlier this month I set myself the target of walking 1000 miles in a year.  I do like a good spreadsheet and I spend ages creating a beauty.  With three days to go I achieved this month’s target.  It’s the first thing I have achieved with regards to fitness for a very long time.  I have a plan (you can’t beat a good plan), a good pair of trainers and I’m off out of the door to walk my way back to happiness.