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!

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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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.

 

Reading, Well-being

My Imperfect Life

I’ve been very quiet recently.  Partly due to the fact I just didn’t know what to write next. So many ideas have been spinning around my head, so many books I want to read, so many things I want to try.  As a consequence I have achieved very little except an increasing feeling of being out of control – that my life was hurtling into the future and I had no control over its destination.  This past week a number of things have happened to reassure me that this is not a problem.

Hands Free LifeI’ve recently completed reading ‘My Hands Free Life’ by Rachel Macy Stafford.  In a previous blog I mentioned that I had found her website ‘Hands Free Mama…Letting Go‘ and how it seemed fate like that I was to find it.  I’ve loved reading the book and intend to go back through it again, but one aspect that really stood out for me was the constant need to strive for perfection.  This is me, to a tee.  Everything must be perfect.  My house must be perfect, my marriage must be perfect, my hair must be perfect – the only problem with all of this is I don’t naturally do perfect – I naturally do shambolic.  Despite my best efforts nothing will ever be perfect and I’m starting to realise that’s ok.  My best is more than good enough and will get me to where ever I need to be.

I never used to be like this.  I was the child that did just enough to get by.  I scraped through ‘O’ Levels and found myself at 6th Form.  I fared slightly better at ‘A’ Levels, but there were still a million things to do that were more interesting than studying, yet I found myself at university.  At this point, and much to the disgust of some of my peers, I discovered a natural ability to leave my work to the last minute and still get a really good mark!  I left university with a credible degree – not perfect – but it was good enough for me.

So what changed.  Where did the child for whom ‘that’ll do’ could be applied to every aspect of life become so obsessed with perfection.  I’m afraid to say, I think it was education and the impact it had on my life.  I was a good teacher, in my own way.  Not for a second did I fit into the ideal image of an outstanding teacher, but in my own way I was very successful.  I found my niche and was promoted very quickly to Head of Faculty.  However, this came at a price.  In order to do well at school, the remainder of my life collapsed into a heap.  Literally.  I had the biggest pile of ironing you have ever seen.  I shut doors on rooms to hide the mess – I couldn’t manage a full time teaching role and keep on top of my domestic affairs.  In the end I traded ironing and cleaning in return for paying for my mum to go to a nice salon to have her hair done.

The Four TendenciesI’ve also recently started reading ‘The Four Tendencies‘ by Gretchen Rubin.  I am an obliger.  I will always strive to meet external expectations at the cost of internal desires.  I am an obliger with aspects of a rebel, which means I don’t necessarily like or want to meet the external expectations, but I will do them to the point of explosion – what Rubin would call an ‘Obliger Rebellion’.  As the years in education went by, the pressure to conform became greater.  Lessons had to be taught in a certain way, lesson plans had to be written in a specific way, children became the colours of traffic lights instead of individuals, and my perception of what made a good teacher became more and more out of touch with my every day reality.  This constant pressure to be the perfect teacher spilled over into every aspect of my life.  Lessons had to be perfect, resources had to be perfect, marking had to be perfect, my house had to be perfect, yet I continually failed in every aspect.  My desire to meet external expectations drove me to achieve that perfection on a daily basis – whilst inside I was screaming, increasingly aware of my natural inclination or natural ability to fit into the very square boxes I was expected to inhabit.  I can say without any shadow of a doubt that I can’t remember any of the moments in my career where I achieved perfect, but I can tell you a whole range of amusing stories about my experiences in the classroom, about friendships I built with amazing colleagues. Eventually, something had to give if I was to achieve the role of ‘perfect teacher’, and sadly, it was my health and my relationship with my husband.

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Random things!

Since leaving education, I have continued to try and find my place in the world – but the pressure for perfection has continued.  My home has to be perfect, perfectly clean, perfectly tidy, perfectly decorated – but as ever – to my mind I have failed.  My home is at best ‘shambolic chic’.  Nothing particularly matches and we have a lot of ‘clutter’ – this is particularly apparent as we have recently downsized from a home with far too much storage space to one with barely any.  I, in particular, have a range of completely random ‘things’ that I have chosen to keep – but each one has a story attached to it.  I can tell you who bought it, where it came from and why it is special to me.  This small shelf of ‘stuff’ epitomises me – a little bit odd, a little bit quirky and certainly not perfect.  Slowly I am growing to realise that it is this which matters.  Home isn’t meant to be perfect, home is meant to be the place where you share smiles, and build memories.

So rather than striving for perfection I am going to reconnect with my younger self for whom doing ‘just enough to get by’ suited me just fine.  I plan to enjoy myself, my time with husband and embrace my imperfect life.