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, 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’.