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.

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.  

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.

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

Albufeira, Happiness, Mindfulness, Portugal

Stuck in a Rut

I find myself in a rut.  As you know, I retired a few years ago at the ripe of age of 44 and since then have been trying to find my place in the world.

Recently a number of things have happened, which have made me reassess the situation.  Sadly, a upsettingly high proportion of our friends and acquaintances have been diagnosed with advanced cancer, some of whom have been working so incredibly hard for a retirement they may never get to take.  That’s really sobering and is the one thing that really hit home for me.  I gave up work so that husband and I could enjoy retired life together whilst we both had our full faculties.  But I haven’t been doing that, I haven’t been enjoying retirement.  I’d like to be able to tell you what I have been doing – but I think basically it amounts to moping.  Moping and moaning. 

The thing is, I really don’t have any reason to moan or mope.  I have an amazing opportunity and, quite frankly, I am wasting it.  

Recently, as I flew home to Bristol for a hen weekend, I listened to Fearne Cotton interview Russell Brand on her podcast ‘Happy Place’ and it really struck a chord.  Brand has written a book ‘Freedom from our Addictions’ based on 12 step programme, of Alcoholics Anonymous fame, which, he argues, could be applied to any aspect of life.  But the absolute first step to changing anything is to acknowledge there is a problem / area of concern / area of development and to own it.  

So, I am stuck in a rut.  And I am moping and moaning.

This was followed by a run for a bus!  The bus stop is right outside the hairdressers, but, due to roadworks was suspended.  As I stepped out of the hairdresser the bus was just stopping at the lights to the roadworks.  This meant I had the time it took for the traffic going the other way to go through the lights and the time it took for the bus to get from its current position to the next stop to run for the bus.  If I didn’t catch this bus I would have had to wait 20 minutes for the next one.  So I ran to the next stop, probably about 500 metres further up the road.  I made the stop in time to reach the back of the queue and then quietly died.  I could barely breathe and it took a good 20 minutes of the 25 minute bus journey home.  This really shocked me.  Whilst I’ve never been thin, I’ve always regarded myself as being fit and have used exercise as a strategy for managing a range of health issues throughout my life.  

Scrap cushions!
This week, rather than waste time, I made these two cushions from scrap fabric I had at home.

So the blocks have been building:

  • I’ve been wasting an opportunity
  • I have an area of concern I’d like to address
  • Evidence would suggest that I am currently the least fit I have been in a long time.

I could make excuses:

  • I only respond to deadlines
  • I don’t have enough time
  • I don’t have the money to do the things I’d like to
  • I split my time between two places
  • Husband would rather I spent the time with him

All of them are total rubbish.

  • There are no deadlines and I am naturally inclined to put off to tomorrow – but it’s not an excuse.
  • I have more than enough time – I can waste time with ease.  I waste so much time it’s frightening.
  • The majority of things I’d like to do more of – like cycling, walking or running don’t actually require any money.
  • I can easily do the things I would like to in two places with minimal effort.
  • Husband would rather I did the things that made me happy and would be very upset to know I was using him as an excuse.

The key points of the day where I lose time are after lunch and dinner.  I get sucked into games (they are designed to do that – but still an excuse) and before I know it the day has disappeared.  I am going to try to be more mindful and when I spot the boredom or lethargy set in I am going to make a conscious decision to do something constructive.  There are a million and one things I could do in that time – sewing, knitting, crochet, swimming, cleaning,  ironing, baking, reading, learning, even writing blog posts. 

So, I owe it to myself, my husband and my friends to fully embrace this opportunity that I find myself in and throw myself wholeheartedly into retirement.  

Lunch with a view
This week, husband and I went to have lunch at Porto do Abrigo, an amazingly tranquil restaurant overlooking the fishermans marina