A Celebration of Wellness

I’m currently on a train to Lincolnshire, travelling to my brother’s wedding, and instead of doing my usual train journey thing of eating followed by sleeping, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to grab a few minutes of quality writing time.

You see, there is something I have been meaning to write about, but I kept refraining from putting pen to paper (or letters to screen?) because part of me didn’t want to jinx it.

It is, essentially, a celebration.

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A celebration that I am in a good place, and I’m not going to take that for granted. Because I know that not so long ago I was in a terrible place and wondered if there would ever be a way out.

I feel so much better and, having felt stressed, angry, sad, irritable and all other shades of depressed for so long and not really known it, I now feel generally calm, happy, strong, rational, clear-headed and excited about the future, and have done for several months.

In my experience of managing mental health, I once read somewhere that it is a good idea to write down what it feels like for you when you are well. There might be a few reasons for this; one idea is to read it when you are down to reassure you that you can feel well (because when you are in the throes of mental illness it may feel like you will never feel well again). Another good reason for doing this is that you are able to identify how your body feels and what your emotional state is like when you are feeling good, and, by comparison, to recognise when you aren’t feeling so good. This kind of personal understanding of your own reactions and moods can be extremely helpful if you begin to feel ill again; you can then take steps towards wellness before it becomes worse.

So, what brought about this change in me? I feel so different, I almost feel younger (which must be a sign that I felt this hopeful and happy at a time in my past; I’m thinking of my final year at uni where everything seemed to come together and I was excited about graduating and what the future would hold).

It didn’t happen by accident, that’s for sure. It’s not like I woke up one day and was like, Oh, I feel well again! (which is kind of what happens after a few days of having the flu).

There are a few things I did, and am still doing, which have helped me to feel so good in myself:

  • I stopped taking the anti-depressants. Obviously, this may not work for everybody, but I realised that since I had been taking the pills, they had made my moods more erratic, and I had never had a feeling of being well. I had the dosage changed several times and nothing seemed to work. In the end, I decided I didn’t want them any more. I had actually felt better without them and thought that I would see how it went for me and if I needed something else, I would try that. It’s been a year now, and things have just got better and better. Obviously, if things had not improved, I would have probably tried a different type of pill. I’m not advocating coming off the drugs as a cure, I just had a personal feeling that they hadn’t helped me. I think it’s important to listen to your body in these situations. If you need them, take them; I know many people who have taken anti-depressants and it has worked for them, it just didn’t work for me.
  • I gave up caffeine. This one is so simple, but it had the most amazing affect! I started drinking decaffeinated tea and coffee instead of the usual kind, and it didn’t take long for me to notice a difference in my moods and general feeling of well-being. I’ve always been pretty sensitive to caffeine and had avoided coffee for a long time, but cutting it out completely was probably one of the best things I did to feel well again. Now, if I drink it by accident or when there’s no alternative to decaf, I instantly feel the effects on my body. To me, the effects of caffeine on my body mimic those of anxiety (fast heartbeat, feeling a little nauseous, feeling angsty) and are just unpleasant. Without it, I feel so much better, less anxious and highly-strung.
  • I had therapy. I did the NHS CBT counselling and it gave me some practical short-term strategies to manage anxiety and depression, but it didn’t go anywhere near deep enough for me. I saw a private counsellor instead. It was in central London, it was pricey, but it was an investment. I knew in the very first session that this counsellor was going to be a great help to me. I went to see her for around 9 months, every week to start with, then every two weeks when I felt better. Did I enjoy going? No. Did I always want to go to the sessions? No. But I did it because I knew it would be good for me. And it was.
  • I joined a choir. I feel like a member of Glee Club… I joined a choir which sings the cheesiest songs but it’s so much fun. Every Monday night, I go to the local Salvation Army Hall and sing classic pop tunes, such as ‘True’ by Spandau Ballet and ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ by The Beegies and Take That! It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and part of me is a little embarrassed, but the other part of me has so much fun I don’t care. I also feel part of my community and I meet other people so there are lots of good things about it. Plus the instructor makes me laugh from beginning to end. It is definitely good for my soul.
  • I stopped overreacting to little things. In hindsight, I can see how stressed and irritable I was, because little mishaps and annoyances used to upset me beyond belief. Now I often find myself laughing in the face of adversity. Sometimes I have to stop a negative or stressed thought in its tracks and consciously decide not to engage with it. It works. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s not worth the negative effect on your body and mind.
  • I stopped bringing so much work home. I realised that when it came to work, something had to give. It was a choice between my health and my job, and my health had to take priority (because, without it, I wouldn’t be able to do my job anyway). As a teacher, it is easy to take work home and the hours can stack up if you don’t notice. So I set myself some boundaries, made sure I stuck to them, and I really noticed a difference. I now feel like I have a much better work/life balance, which I once thought was absolutely impossible.

These are some of the main things I did which have helped me become a happier person in the last year or so. There are other little things which all add up, like making more time for friends, getting enough sleep, and maintaining a healthy diet.

There are so many parts of your life where changes can be made: your diet, your social life, your exercise, your work/life balance, your sleep patterns, and even if you start working on improving just one of these life areas, everything else somehow begins to fall into place too.

I am just so grateful that in the last year or so, I have made some amazingly positive changes in my life and feel so much healthier, happier and stronger. There was a time when I didn’t think this would ever be possible. I still get my moments of anger and sadness, that’s human, and they are just moments, not stretches of days or weeks like they once might have been.

I’m grateful to all my friends and family who supported me through this time, but also for my own strength and perseverance which got me through and I’m writing this partly in case I do ever feel down again; to tell myself, that yes I am strong and I can feel well and I can overcome depression and anxiety.

So, here’s to the future, and to finding strength, health and happiness.

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From London to Australia…

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Today is a big day. Later I will be catching my first ever long-distance flight and will be away for nearly a month. It’s going to be the biggest trip I’ve ever done. I’ve got a huge backpack and my passport. Everything seems ready.

I’m comforted and happy that I am looking forward to this trip and have been more organised with the planning of it than trips I did last year. One of the first blog posts I wrote on here (about 4 years ago now!) was called ‘Travel’ – simply about how I enjoy travelling; at the time I thought travel would always be something that made me feel excited, happy, adventurous.

However in the last year, I lost interest in travel and didn’t feel excited about trips anymore. I felt scared deep down, but on the surface it was like I felt nothing. I didn’t plan trips with anticipation like I had before. I can see now that maybe that is because I had lost interest in everything I had enjoyed. When I realised I’d lost interest in travelling, I felt I had lost a part of myself and I didn’t know if I would get it back again.

But after several months of positive changes (and lots of them, in all different parts of my life, including food, drink, house move, new hair cut, just generally taking more care of myself), it is like the Me That Travels is back!

And here I am, ready to go, I even prepared this map of my trip (it’s quite technical and I think you can zoom in to see things closer). I’ll keep in touch as best that I can, maybe not on here but perhaps on Facebook and Instagram! See you on the other side of the world 😉

Can your heart change colour?

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The Christmas period is  coming to an end, and for me, personally, it has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. But, during this time, I have felt so much love from my family and friends. For that I am truly grateful.

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In the last couple of years, for quite some time I had this feeling that some bad events had irrevocably changed me for the worse. I remembered the time when I used to be compassionate and willing to give much of my own time to help and listen to others. At school and university I had always been involved in voluntary work and it made me feel happy to help other people. But in the years after university, I sensed that I had gradually started to lose this compassion and, because of this, I felt that I had even lost a deep part of myself. Some difficult circumstances and my reaction to them seemed to cause a bitterness inside me, a deep unhappiness with myself and people I felt I should have been able to trust, perhaps also a latent anger.

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I realised this had happened, not from consciously articulating it, but just because I had this very strange but strong feeling, even a visualisation, that my heart, which had once felt big, had shrunk and turned black, or turned to a small black stone.

I know that might sound crazy, but that’s the image I had.

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I decided that I needed to try and change my heart back to its original size and colour. I tried to give more kindness by doing simple things, like making time to talk to others even when I thought I didn’t have time, by trying to speak in a nicer tone even when I felt stressed (although I didn’t always succeed at that!), by helping a grieving neighbour, by even letting myself not feel guilty about the fact I can’t help others as much as I used to because now I have a full-time job and I also have to make time to look after myself.

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Later in the year, I think it was just before I moved house in August 2015, I had another visualisation about my heart (perhaps it was a dream or maybe just a mental image). The image was that my torso had a zip in it, which I unzipped, reached inside the darkness for my heart which I then took out in my hands, cupping it like a baby bird. Then I put it back inside. I felt that it was gold and glowing a whiteish light.

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I don’t know why I had these mental images which seemed to really speak to me about what was going on with my feelings. After the second one, I sensed that I had started to heal the bitterness and that I was in control of how my heart looked or felt.

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I don’t know how common this kind of thing is… but if you have ever also had a strong visualisation or a mental image that has really meant something to you, don’t be afraid to share it by commenting below or messaging me. I know that to others the mental images I had might sound weird or crazy, but perhaps they were actually very intuitive and trying to tell me something I needed to know. I am just curious if others have experienced this as well, so let me know if you can.

I hope that in 2016 I can keep being kind and compassionate, because it’s a part of myself that I don’t want to feel I have lost.

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A Christmas Evening (O Holy Night)

It’s Sunday evening. Tomorrow I will be travelling back to the Lincolnshire countryside for a family Christmas… and I am anticipating some difficulty carrying all the family Christmas presents and my luggage onto the London Underground… but for now, that picture of difficulty (although inevitable) seems like something that can wait.

Right now, I am enjoying a moment of peace and tranquillity before the family Christmas madness begins. Don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to a nice get-together with my brother and sisters… but I’m sure there are many people who feel the same way as I do, that family time can get a little… intense.

This evening I really took my time over the wrapping, smoothing the paper, tying the ribbons, writing the gift tags. I like to make an effort with it – yes I know that it’s going to get ripped off in moments… but right now the gifts look sparkly and inviting. (And let’s hope they still do after that trip on the Tube) 😉 

The real inspiration for me writing tonight was just the simple beauty and peace I am surrounded by and have been all afternoon. As I’m writing, the lights on the tree are twinkling, there are candles burning softly, one inside a beautiful red holder, painted with snowflakes, another twirling a delicate windmill of Christmas stars, another with one of my favourite icons of Christmas – a little robin. There is something about the soft light that inspires serenity, that also cheers up the darkness of the long winter nights.

There is also a Christmas song that I have had to listen to several times today (a nice traditional one – before anyone starts thinking I have been listening to Wham on repeat). It’s O Holy Night. I don’t even know all the words to it, I just love the way it sounds. I’ve listened to several versions but I’m actually going to post the one of a young Charlotte Church singing it…

1. because I was a child when she became famous I never really appreciated how amazing her voice actually is

2. Her fashion in the video is a bit of a throwback (lilac eyeshadow… glittery lip gloss… glittery hair… yes I’m sure I did that too)

3. There is something amazing about how she went from singing that to ‘I’m a Crazy Chick’

and mostly because at the moment this is my favourite Christmas song (although that may change… tomorrow it may well be Wham, who knows?)

Christmas lights, Christmas songs – they’re so simple but can be so uplifting. Something to remember amidst all the chaos that can happen when rushing to the shops for last minute gifts or food for the lunch, or when the family time does get intense.

Whatever you believe about the Christmas story, whether Christian or not, you have to admit that it is an amazing story. The most humble of births and yet the most incredible.

So the little lights that inspired this post… yes they are humble… but they add a little magic to a dark evening. They inspire peace. They light up the night.

Forget about Enlightenment

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Hello readers… I feel slightly ashamed as I type this, that I haven’t written a blog post since August and the months have slowly passed by and my poor blog has been sitting here waiting for me to put words on the page.

I hadn’t forgotten about writing; in fact it was on my mind that I should write something (because writing and creating is actually an important outlet for me) but I felt as if I had no inspiration and to be honest, I still don’t feel inspired. There’s the thoughts that say You have nothing to write about and No one will be interested anyway and You don’t have time and simply, What’s the point? 

But listening to those thoughts and sitting around waiting for inspiration to come wasn’t getting me anywhere… so think of this post as me popping in to say hello and by starting to write, hopefully more inspiration to write will follow.

The kind of negative thoughts I was having about writing are not just limited to this area of my life; they seem to be a daily struggle, especially things like, You don’t have timeWhat’s the point? and a very common one, I can’t be bothered. It’s as if the thoughts are talking me out of doing the things I enjoy… and more often than not I do listen to them. But there are times when I know I have to ignore them, which isn’t always easy to do.

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This happened to me just yesterday, before I was about to go to my weekly yoga class. I absolutely love this class and I really do look forward to it. It is challenging but there is something about it that I just love and when it’s over, it’s as if I can actually feel the new suppleness of my body from the stretches. Often in the class, during the final resting pose, the teacher will offer inspirational thoughts, anecdotes or poems. At that point in the class, there is a feeling of openness, where you can almost feel each person in the room listening to her words and taking on their meaning in whatever way they personally need to.

So yesterday, at home before I left for yoga, despite looking forward to it beforehand, I had a very strong feeling not to go and to stay at home instead. I can’t be bothered and Just stay at home and You won’t enjoy it anyway made an appearance. I decided that they were talking rubbish and made myself go to the class. Of course I enjoyed it… and there was one more thing I took away from the class. This week, the final message was a poem called, “Forget about enlightenment” by John Welwood. Below are the words and I’ve also included a video if you want to hear the poem being read. Personally, the line about opening your heart to who you are right now struck a chord with me. But perhaps you will find it meaningful in another way that is personal to you. I hope you enjoy it.

Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be,
Not the saint you are striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You are already more and less
Than whatever you can know.
Breathe out,
Touch in,
Let go.

When Dreams Become Objects – What do you hold on to?

As I mentioned in my last post about my trip to Amsterdam, I felt very moved, yet also inspired, by my visit to Anne Frank’s house. I hadn’t previously read Anne Frank’s diary, but bought a copy from the gift shop, which I have since read; it opened my eyes and my heart to Anne Frank’s (and her family and friends’) experiences of the war.

There was something about reading the diary that made me want to read more, and I had on my Kindle a book that I downloaded about a year ago but hadn’t yet got round to reading, Lusia’s Long Journey Home. Like Anne Frank’s diary, the story focuses on a young Jewish girl’s experience of the war, yet Lusia’s story is one of ultimate survival. Lusia and her immediate family were able to survive the war by fleeing their home in Sucha, Poland, and undertaking a nomadic journey which led them to Ukraine, Siberia, Tajikistan, back to Poland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, and finally, America.

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Lusia’s memoirs of her life as a refugee child, constantly on the move throughout the war years, revealed a part of the history of WW2 that I hadn’t come across before. Like Anne Frank’s diary, the voice of the young girl comes through; by retelling what happened to her family, people today can learn and try to understand this aspect of European history.

There was a part of the memoir that stood out to me as I read it, which seemed to symbolise the human need to hope and dream, to trust in something in order to keep going. Lusia describes her father’s dream that the family would eventually reach Palestine and how his dream rubbed off on her too; she then describes that her mother carried this dream in the shape of a seashell.

It had been sent to her in Poland in the early 1930s by her best friend who moved to Palestine. Mama held on to it throughout the long and difficult years of the war. I have it still, and to this day, we all treasure the shell. If you tap it gently against a hard surface, you will hear the sound of the ocean waves.

There was something about this that really got me thinking about the objects we hold on to in life that become loaded with meaning. To Lusia’s family, this was not an ordinary shell; it was a dream of survival for her family and people. I am not actually very sentimental about objects and tend not to load things with emotional attachment, but who knows, maybe in adverse circumstances such as Lusia’s, there may be something that I would hold on to, that would come to embody my dream.

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Although there is no object I cherish as strongly as Lusia’s family cherished the seashell, there are certain things that I have been given that always bring fond memories to mind. For example, the sequinned star a friend gave me as a parting gift, that now lies on my dressing table; the list of ‘highlights’ of my time in Bratislava that I was given to help me remember the good times over the bad; the homemade personalised badge I was given as a ‘thank you’ by some of my students in Spain.

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the handmade badge

But more than objects, it is the caring things people have done for me that I have really cherished. There have been many times when I have been pleasantly surprised by kindnesses shown to me when I didn’t expect it. I might not be sentimental about objects, but I definitely get sentimental when I think about certain times that friends and family helped me to keep going. These moments and memories are my treasures; they are what helps me to keep believing and to have faith.

Where did January go?

It’s a good job I have 11 months left to achieve my new year’s resolutions because it seems that January whizzed by before I had time to blog or start all those sewing projects. You’ll be pleased to know, however, that I have started working on my transformation into Princess Elsa and will be striding up North Mountain with my sparkly braid flowing down before the year is out 🙂

January 2015 felt too fast and a little stressful, as if I’d smashed a sand timer and was desperately trying to catch the grains, but they just kept slipping through my fingers. There was a lot going on, and some of it was wonderful, but most of the time I let work take over my life, and my happiness. This weekend I decided to put the brakes on and I feel better for it, but having left it until the first day of February to take a step back, I can’t help but feel it is a shame to have felt so stressed for a month. I mean, today, I actually put the Christmas decorations away. It shouldn’t really have taken until February to do that, but I kept telling myself that I didn’t have time. Instead, I piled them in a corner and kept trying not to look at them… but I knew they were there, and it was another job I hadn’t done, just to add to the list.

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Photo Credit: Time Slips Away – Cheesov http://cheesoz.deviantart.com/art/Time-Slips-Away-394197227

So February is here and I’ve taken control of the time that felt so elusive to me throughout January. I’ve cleaned, I’ve organised, I’ve put the Christmas things back where they should be, and I’ve decided that I need to spend more time putting myself before my job. The question is how exactly to go about doing that. I’ll have to keep you posted on how that works out for me…

Because I haven’t blogged at all about January, and because some lovely things happened amongst all the stress, I have decided to write a brief list mainly just to remind myself that it wasn’t all a blur of work, work and more work:

  • I went to stay in the Tower at Scotney Castle with my wonderful girl friends 😉
  • I turned 27 and celebrated with cocktails and danced in my pyjamas…
  • I went for a delicious Italian meal to celebrate my, my sister’s and brother’s birthday with Mum and Dad
  • I generally had a lovely time with friends and family, who made me feel so loved and cared for (birthdays tend to make me a little sentimental)

So there was a lot to cherish about January 2015, and I just hope that February goes a little slower so I can enjoy it more, feel more peaceful, and appreciate it more as it happens.

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