Happiness, reflection, Well-being

What if there is no plan?

I’ve never had a plan.  

I do understand that you need some element of planning on a day to day level, to make sure that you are fed and clothed and the house gets cleaned.  I do understand planning at that level.  But not long term planning.  I’ve never really understood that kind of plan, and I’ve never had one.  Nor has husband

Not a five year plan, nor a 10 year plan.  Nor a life plan.  No lady plan.

Whenever I get asked that question, an interview classic, ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years time’?  I don’t know.  I have never known.

There have been no plans.  In fact, the only plan I can ever recall following was a half-marathon running plan and even that was loose.  I never planned to run a half-marathon, a friend suggested it and I thought ‘why not’?  By the finish line I had a clearer understanding of why not!

I have also never really had goals.  Apparently you need a plan, in order to successfully achieve goals.  Beyond getting up and seeing where the day takes me.  Generally, that has been my approach to life – see where it takes you.  What adventures might come my way?

I have dreams.  Lots of dreams. Some of which came true.  Some of which didn’t.  

I dreamed of being an astronaut, which was an epic fail.  

I dreamed of having a 3 bed semi-detached house. Which sort of came true, as it turns out all I wanted really was a home that was safe and welcoming.

I dreamed of going to Iceland to see the Northern Lights and it was the best experience, far exceeding anything I’d imagined.

On the beach at Eyrarbakki, Iceland

I still have many dreams:

I dream of going on a yoga retreat, of going on a paddle board on the ocean.

I’d like to watch a grand prix in Abu Dhabi.

I wonder about being some kind of speaker.

Or of writing some poetry and seeing where that takes me.

Of bringing cheer to people’s days and making the world a brighter place.

Everywhere I turn there seems to be apps, diaries, journals all aimed at how to plan. How to be more productive, how to achieve more in a week  Year long planning journals.  90 day planning journals. Each one with a guarantee that their planning method is better than the next one.  How to plan your social media feed so that it’s more effective at generating income, generating followers.  How to plan your time so that you achieve more, waste less, fit more into a day.  How to identify your 3 key targets for the day.  How to measure them against your goals.  How to manifest everything that you want.  How to plan your life in accordance with the moon. What success looks like, what it doesn’t look like.  If I plan I will be more successful than I can possibly imagine

I used to think that my lack of a plan was some kind of failing.

Or that it was some kind of self defence mechanism.  If I didn’t have a plan I couldn’t fail and I would never be disappointed.  But I wonder if it really is a bit more straightforward than that.

Without a plan I was able to take advantages of opportunities that presented themselves to me as I went along.  If I was glued to a plan I might have missed some of those things.

I might have missed the opportunity to go into teaching when I was made redundant for the umpteenth time.

I might have missed the chance to live in America as an Au Pair after finishing university.

I might not even have gone to university in the first place.

I didn’t plan to be childless but even that opened up a whole raft of opportunities I might never have experienced otherwise.

I wouldn’t have moved house twice in the space of 4 years.

I definitely wouldn’t have retired at the age of 44.

I doubt I’d be living in an apartment near the beach in Portugal.

I’d have played the oboe instead of the clarinet.

I never imagined I’d have this beach on my doorstep

Recently, I’ve become embroiled in the idea that I should have a plan.  I should have goals.  I need to be successful.  I need to have achieved measurable success.  But I don’t think my kind of success can be measured.  I don’t know that you can plan to be happy, it’s just what it is. It’s taken a bit of work to get to this point, none of it planned. How can it be? My version of happy is different to everyone else’s so how can I follow someone else’s plan to achieve that.

I can’t really imagine how having a plan would make life all that much better for me.  

I now realise that my unhappiest moments have been when I’ve been planning, when I had goals. When I had plans foisted upon me.  Any teacher will tell you that lessons that haven’t been planned all that well often go better than those that are planned to within an inch of their life.  There’s something freeing about just going along with what may be.

What if there were no plans.  No goals.  What if the only goal of each day were to be happy. Content.  Happy and content with what you have, here and now.  What might that be like?  What if, you don’t need a plan?

The advantage of having no plans is that you can’t really fail. The disadvantage of having no plan, is that you are made to feel like a bit of a failure. Which is both sad, and terrifying in equal measure.    

All I do know is that an unplanned life has worked for me.  There may well be opportunities I have missed.  But there may well be opportunities I’ve enjoyed and might have missed because they weren’t part of any plan.  I’m currently considering which modules to do next for my Open University degree.  I’m torn between Creative Writing and Latin.  There is no plan.  There is no pros or cons list.   But I’m sure it will work out just fine, and if not, then no harm done.  It will all come out in the wash.

I will admit that sometimes things just don’t get done. I’ve wanted to make a dress and a couple of brooches for a while now, but they never seem to quite get completed.  I’m not the least bit consistent with posting blogs. Largely because other things come up – like writing, or reading, or exercising, or crochet, or staring in to space.  I can see where an element of planning could be useful and do wonder if it might be a good idea after all. But I also like to think that it something is important enough or is meant to be, it will happen, with or without a plan.  

So.  For now, I think I’m going to carry on living a life with no plans.  It has served me well, to date.   Who knows where it might just take me?   I do understand that for some people this approach really would not work, but for me it means that everyday is an adventure; it allows for something a little bit more extraordinary and unexpected to come along. 

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.

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.

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.