A gift of gratitude

Walking up to primary school in the morning gives me precious chat times with Child The Second, and the walk back gives me time to gather my thoughts for the day ahead.


Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, the TV’s full of adverts for all manner of tat. Social media is heavy with expectation, with plans for elaborate Christmas dinners and lavish gifts. It is also, of course, teaming with one-upmanship, with photos of expensive toys that are this year’s ‘must have’ item, with plans for elaborate ‘Christmas Eve Boxes’ (when did spending a small fortune on a special box for the night before the little smashers get a ton of other boxes become a thing?). Everything is gearing up for the obligatory pile-of-presents-look-how-much-we-love-them Facebook photo late on Christmas Eve.

I’m glad my children are older and are past the idea that the bigger the pile = the more they are loved. This year they have asked for experiences, of things they can do together or we can do as a family. These things don’t cost a fortune, can be spread handily throughout the year, and will give the gift of memories long after Toy of the Year is languishing, broken, in the bottom of the toybox.

There are many positives to the idea of experiences for gifts. We have chosen experiences that support local businesses rather than the multinational chains so we are actively putting back into our local community. Experiences have no plastic packaging that ends up in landfill, don’t exploit workers in other countries, don’t break and don’t make a mess in already full bedrooms. We will make memories, we will talk and laugh and learn more about each other.

It has also meant that we have, essentially, been able to shift the whole focus of Christmas away from the giving of physical gifts, and more to spending time and making plans as a family. This has freed up a lot of time I would have spent stressing about what to buy, when to buy it and where to store it; and I hadn’t really noticed before how anxious the run-up to Christmas had left me, to the point where I was mentally exhausted by the time the day itself arrived.

I’m fighting a virus at the moment that has been causing me considerable fatigue; but thanks to our ‘new look’ Christmas, instead of making myself more ill stressing out about having X, Y and Z ready, I can take valuable time to take things slowly, fight the bug, relax and recover. It was during one of my ‘resting my eyes’ sessions (read: ‘nanna-nap’) that I started mulling over gratitude and how, once you come to a point in your life where you are content with it as it is, that gratitude just grows and grows and – I hope – spreads to others as well as to other areas of your life.

Earlier this year, I had a Eureka moment where I was suddenly overcome, whilst on the Hawthorn Path, with an intense and overwhelming sense of deep contentment and happiness. I realised, in a moment, that my life is one of peace, harmony and love. Yes, of course there will be sadness, and grief, and struggle at times, as befall us all; but that I am exceptionally lucky to have what I do, to be who I am, and to have the people in my life that I do.

My husband and I – maybe now we are married I should just call him by his name – Richard – are not and never have been particularly materialistic. We replace things when they wear out. Some things, like the microwave, we decided we didn’t really need. We have t-shirts that are fifteen years old. A blissful holiday is a fortnight in the tent on a quiet campsite with few facilities with some good places to explore nearby. Although Richard has to fly down south for work fairly regularly these days, we’ve not been on an international flight since 2001. I am grateful that I am this type of person, that I’m not a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses type; that I won’t simply die if I don’t get my foreign beach holiday every year; or long for perfect shoes or expensive gadgets. It just takes so much stress out of our lives, that’s the wonderful thing about contentment.

Social media – particularly Instagram – is currently obsessed with being ‘perfect’ for the festive parties. The perfect figure (‘How many calories are lurking in that canape, you failure of a woman, you?’), the perfect make-up, the perfect dress. Insta is full of women who have used so much make up and filters they look chiselled from stone (why do so many 15 year olds obsess about looking like 26 year olds? It’s just weird). Facebook is full of people fishing for compliments or stressing out because they’ve put on some weight. It’s easy to fall into these traps when you’re surrounded by these impossibly perfect, highly manipulated images. A wee while ago, I would be eating salads and googling diets because a size 16 is deemed unacceptable by so many.

Now, loaded with this virus, I am grateful that I am strong enough to kick it into touch when I have seen it deck so many people. I’m able, and healthy, and can walk for miles and can appreciate the places I wander through. I have so many friends and family fighting with illnesses that mean they can’t do what I have just been blithely taking for granted.

“Enjoy the little things, because one day you might look back and realise they were the big things” – Robert Brault

The list goes on and on, with so many examples. But with gratitude comes peace, and when you suffer from anxiety and depression, peace is a beautiful thing to be treasured. Who could want a better gift than that?

So this year, cut yourself some slack. Look about you with fresh eyes and appreciate what you have now. Relax, and know you’ve done enough.

Give yourself the ultimate gift, the gift of peace. 

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The Survivors’ Guide to Early Autumn, Part One

Early Autumn. The leaves are just turning, the hedgerows are thick with bounty to be harvested, a fine dawn mist settles in the glens and, in houses across the land, people are rolling their eyes at the Christmas adverts, wanting to sell their children on eBay and  wistfully reminiscing about barbecues, warm lager and those few, brief weeks where Britain’s patio furniture wasn’t being carried down the middle of a rain-flooded high street.

It can be a tough time of year for everyone but the most hardened Autumn woodland pixie who loves pumpkin-spiced everything, Hallowe’en, Chris Packham in a sensible padded gilet and candles; so here is Part the First (Letters A through L) of The Early Autumn Survivors’ Guide (Without Mentioning That Scandinavian H Word) in Glorious Listicle Format

 

A – Is for Attitude.

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The attitude you wake up with is very often the attitude that lasts all day; so it stands to reason that the better a mood you can wake up with, the brighter the potential for the rest of the day, right? Just to get the boring old lady stuff over with straight away, yes, this means having a decent night’s sleep and waking up feeling refreshed. Everyone achieves this in a different way, but do please believe me (and all the experts) when I say that nobody finds a good night’s sleep at the bottom of a wine glass*. You might indeed sleep; but you won’t get the sleep you need. Believe me, I have several years personal research on this subject and chucking the evening tipple has improved my sleep and, ergo, my morning mood, more than I ever believed possible. Not having to get up in the night to pee is also a great help….

(*see also gin, vodka, lager, need I continue? Thought not. As you were.)

Set your alarm a little earlier than you need to – just a few minutes – and lay with your eyes closed and do a little early morning mental preparation. Don’t think about your work to-do list. Think about the good things that the day has in store. Don’t have any good things? Plan some. Just small things that you can really look forward to as little treats throughout your day – a real coffee instead of the usual instant; popping into the library to borrow a book; trying out a new recipe; something on TV that might be interesting to watch. We don’t have to try and change the world here, sometimes the promise of twenty minutes to ourselves to read a chapter of a book is all we need to change how we view the next few hours.

 

B – Is for Breathing.

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When I first started meditation – and I hear a lot of people say the same thing – I thought the whole concept of learning to breathe properly really quite ridiculous. For the love of God, I’ve been doing it since I was born, it comes naturally, money-for-old-rope quack self-help gurus and their fancy expensive books, yada yada yada.

Until I started learning to breathe properly.

Breathe properly, steadily, deeply and you can pretty much instantly step back from that dreadful anxiety that can creep up on you when you least expect it. The trick is, I think, to practice breathing regularly enough that you remember to employ it as often as you can; thus allowing yourself to slip into it before a full-on panic attack takes hold. Not only are you then already breathing more deeply and evenly (keeping adrenaline and cortisol at bay) but your mind is already concentrating on the process of breathing. This is actually how the ‘paper bag for hyperventilating’ works – it doesn’t do a thing other than distract the sufferer and encourage them to take deeper breaths because they think the paper bag is helping. True, dat.

 

C – Is for Create

OK, a lot of you reading this are already crafty wee buggers; that’s probably why we’re pals but, like me, you might notice that – when things get a bit gloomy – our creativity is the first thing to go. There are multiple reasons for this, I think – when our brains aren’t behaving it is very easy to do ourselves down, belittle our own abilities and compare ourselves, negatively, with others. Often, we consider creativity as something less important than all the vital, pressing tasks we have building up and so it gets sidelined to be picked up as some kind of luxurious treat when we feel like we deserve it.

I say bollocks to all that (and I speak as someone who taught herself to crochet to get through severe anxiety; and then had the unfortunate issue of crocheting actually triggering anxiety attacks as my brain must have been linking the two things together).

Your creativity – however you choose to express yourself – is part of you. You have part of your brain that absolutely needs to be fed, and without sustenance it will suffer.

We are ALL creative – it’s not just about art, writing, music. Unfortunately, due to the constraints of time and society, many people lose – or at least forget – their creative sides; and creativity and self-expression can often be portrayed as something rather luxurious, something selfish and indulgent. When you are already struggling with your brain telling you that you’re not good enough and that you’re wasting your time; the sense of guilt that you are indulging yourself in a pastime that could be taking your time away from something more pressing and important can be enormous.

You are not being selfish and indulgent. You are feeding that part of you that needs to express itself, however you choose to do that. Self-expression is ancient, it is not some modern evil designed to keep you from answering emails and filling in forms; and man has done it since man came to be.

If creating something, if expressing yourself creatively, brings you happiness and pleasure; then your happiness and pleasure will spread to others. Your immediate circle will benefit from your improved mood; you may at some point wish to join others in a social gathering or club, or even volunteer to teach your skills to others for the good of the community.

Do you have to be good enough? Good enough for what, exactly? Ask yourself that. Does it bring you pleasure? Do you lose yourself? Then that, my friend, is enough. Anything else is an extra Brucy-Bonus.

Don’t think you can do anything at all? Pick something, find some tutorials on YouTube. Have a go. Everyone starts somewhere! The book pictured above, Emma Mitchell‘s ‘Making Winter’ is also full of some gorgeous new crafts to try during these bleaker months.

 

D – Is for Disconnect

Social media is fab, isn’t it?

Except when it isn’t.

Not just social media, but rolling news channels, magazines, newspapers (if anyone still actually buys those anymore). Sometimes the world is a horrible place that seems to be full of horrible people and you just sit there helpless and/or angry at the injustices and the abject stupidity in the world; and then you look at social media and it’s full of kittens and trolls and people moaning and drama and……

TURN. IT. OFF.

Turn it all off. Start with an hour. Build from there.

Can you remember the time when we didn’t feel the need to tell the world what we had for breakfast and take some carefully filtered photographs of the neighbours’ wheelie-bins?

I recently took a month long break from social media. I did miss people, of course I did, and the first few days were very hard; but by the end of the month I had absolutely not missed all the negativity that bombards you, and I did so much more with my time. I honestly had not realised how much time I had wasted scrolling through feeds. More to the point, I hadn’t realised how detrimental the slow drip-drip of drama, negativity and hate from some areas had been to my mental health.

 

E – Is for Extra Time

This is Husband Dearest’s idea, and I confess that I loved it. I was also stuck on ‘E’.

Husband Dearest has, of course, got a wife that won’t sit still and tends to go slightly manic when her mood is on the wobble. Husband Dearest would like to stress how important it is to slow down and take extra time to do things.

I’ve just recently started looking into the whole ‘Slow Living’ movement as I stumbled across it on Pinterest and, to be honest, a lot of it is what we already do. Our family are superb potterers (hence the name of this blog) and whilst I am the undisputed queen of household multi-tasking, I do also like to take time doing things – a more mindful approach, if you will.

Cooking a lovely meal from scratch, gardening, preserving food, baking can take on a sense of quiet gentle ritual if you have the time to take things slowly and absolutely dedicate yourself to the task in hand. This has been a rather difficult process for me in many respects, as I am almost hardwired to try and do multiple things at once; but I have learned to take huge amounts of pleasure in these slow, gentle activities that are so absorbing and soothing to someone whose brain seems to gallop at a million miles an hour. I can see why blokes go fishing for hours and hours at a time, really.

 

F – Is for Forgiveness

Didn’t get up today? Drunk half a bottle of gin and texted a random stranger for a fight last night? Too anxious to leave the house? Burst into tears for no apparent reason?

It’s OK. This happens to everyone (OK, maybe not the texting bit, but…). The wheels haven’t fallen off, they just went a bit wobbly. Tomorrow is another day. There is nothing to be gained from giving yourself grief for it; but there is everything to be gained from accepting it as an experience you can learn and grow from. Had this never happened, you would never have gained this insight.

 

G – Is for Gratitude

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Sound the Cliche Klaxon, it’s gratitude time. Group hug, everyone.

Seriously though, it works. Use a little notebook or, for those of you who can’t drag yourselves off your mobile, you can get several apps that will prompt you to find something to be grateful for. Some of them even let you chat with a community of likeminded grateful types. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, and sometimes we do need to be reminded that we have so much more than so many others.

 

H – Is for Help

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“Ask for it” says person actually notoriously terrible at asking for it.

Also, keep your eye out for others who might be struggling and – whilst running up and shouting ‘Do you need help?’ is likely to scare them witless – an offer of a coffee, a chat, a stroll/bike ride or even just stopping for a cheery two minute chat might just be what they need. They might even put you in their gratitude journal.

 

I – Is for Instant Gratification

Sometimes a Starbucks Cappuccino or the shop’s biggest bar of chocolate or that gorgeous dress from Boden or that new Dremel multi-tool is the only thing that will hit the grin-spot. Fucking go for it.

 

J – Is for Jac Doesn’t Know Shit

I really don’t know much apart from my own experiences, and what I have learned through research and talking to friends; and you may well be screaming at this list in frustration and feel like I’m talking to you as though you’re six. GOOD!

It means I’m getting a response from you, so you go and write me a list of twelve things you would do, or how I could have expressed my list better.

And then we’ll collaborate, because writing lists of how to make yourself feel better is a bloody marvellous way of learning what might make you feel happier, and how to achieve it.

That was a trap, that was. Good, eh?

 

K – Is for Kindness

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Kindness to others, but also to yourself. 

If your children are giving you grief, as mine certainly are, remember that they too are possibly going through similar seasonal changes and uncertainties. Schools have gone back and many children are in new settings, with new goals and expectations. Some won’t have the experience or vocabulary to explain and express their thoughts and feelings succinctly and will instead bicker, fight, tantrum, sulk, flounce and deal with hormonal and emotional rollercoasters as best they can. Don’t rise to it, tough as that undoubtedly is.

Being kind, daily, to yourself is something that takes some getting used to when you are more used to putting others first and, like creativity, can at first seem self-indulgent and vain; but it really is vital. Put time aside to do things for you. A chunk of time once a week, five minutes in every hour, twice a day – the choice is yours and yours alone. You know what you need to make you smile, and we all deserve to smile.

Things I do to be kind to myself include:

Walking in the woods

Making lovely cups of tea in my lovely tea-pot and tea-cup for one set

De-cluttering the part of the room where I’m spending most time

Cooking something I’ve never made before

Yoga

Wandering round art galleries and museums

So they don’t have to be expensive or time consuming; just small things that make me smile and add to my gratitude journal.

 

L is for Lists

L had to be for ‘lists’, really, didn’t it? Not exactly a surprise, I grant you, but I think the usefulness of lists can be easily forgotten. When we are in an anxious, stressed mood with thoughts flying from pillar to post, writing lists is a quick and easy grounding technique that leaves you with – well, a list. But whilst you’ve been writing you have distracted yourself from anxiety (and may have staved off a panic attack, see ‘breathing’ above) and you have also reduced potential future anxiety by having created a list to refer to. Daily to-do lists (with timings, if you think that will help – it certainly does me) are fantastic anxiety-busters (plus you get that delicious feeling of crossing them out as completed); but lists can be for all sorts of things including longer term plans and daydreams. How about:

  • Things to do with the kids / other half / besties in October
  • Things I fancy cooking
  • Places I’d like to go on holiday
  • Items of clothing I no longer wear and could give to the charity shop
  • Bucket List of Dreams

 

Well, this post was only supposed to take thirty minutes and has actually taken almost three hours. I shall therefore chalk this one down as a fine example of ‘Slow Living’ and leave you with the promise of Part The Second, Letters M through Z to come soon. Ish.

In the meantime, what would you add to this list? Do you have any experiences that you would care to share? Any tips on getting through this peculiar time of the year? Do please feel free to comment, please!

Starting to unfurl

 

I wake each morning to the sound of the blackbird’s song. A song of future promise, of the seasons to come; but also a song of the past, hardwired into my brain over so many spring-times.

Whenever I hear the blackbird, I am instantly transported to the back garden of my family home in West Wales. I’m five or so, lying under the heavy canvas of the old tent my mum has erected for me to play in. It’s afternoon, I’m alone – I assume my sister was having a nap and my mum was busy in the house – and it’s hot. I’m smelling freshly cut grass and that familiar, comforting tent smell that even now I love so much; I’m watching the dappled shadows of the hedges dance on the roof of the tent; I’m hearing the blackbird and the low thrum of a petrol lawnmower in one of the gardens behind us.

I don’t know why that particular memory stayed with me so clearly; I can only assume that it was one of my life’s defining moments; maybe a subtle change in my cognitive abilities caused by some brain pathways meeting, who knows? It’s burnt into my memory now, and I cherish it. I can still smell that tent, feel the ground beneath me, see the shadows bounce and flicker on the canvas as though it were yesterday; and whenever I do I feel instantly wrapped in comfort and warmth.

When you suffer with anxiety, stress or/and depression; turning your mind off from the constant worry of the ‘what if?’ scenarios can be exceptionally difficult. Brains tend to race from one stress to the next, sometimes cycling rapidly and sometimes bringing sufferers to their knees with worry and despair, particularly if a situation appears to be, or indeed is, out of our immediate control.

Let’s face it, at the moment the world – and Britain in particular –  is not a great place for your average anxious depressive. If we’re not worrying about our children, climate change, the housing market, job security and the NHS; we can always fall back on the rise of the far-right across the West, Trump, Russian intervention, terrorism and Brexit for things to keep us grinding our teeth and wringing our hands into the wee small hours. Happy days!

One of things I learned several years ago in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and more recently when I studied Mindfulness starting with this free online course is that in many instances, worrying changes nothing. There is a massive difference between looking realistically and practically at issues that affect us and doing our best to make contingency plans; and moithering and fretting about things that, in reality, we have very little sway over.

I’ve no idea who said this, I have seen it attributed to everyone from Gautama Buddha to Ernest Hemingway (though to listen to the internet, Hemingway was responsible for 98% of earnest – see what I did there? – psychobabble memes) but

Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.

And thus, on Friday evening, I decided to dedicate my long weekend from Friday night through to Tuesday night (I’m on a three day week this week) to relaxing, going with the flow, and doing only things that made me happy. It was a rare weekend with only one or two plans in place, so seemed an ideal time.

The ‘rules’ went a bit like this:

  • If you want to do something (within reason!) do it.
  • Stop when you want to stop, whether that’s after five hours or five minutes.
  • Put your foot down nicely, and only do things that make you happy. If you don’t think you’ll get anything out of it, then be polite but firm and say no. Obviously, keep an open mind and assess what you might gain from it before saying no – that stint of volunteering in the rain might lead to an interesting conversation or the start of a new friendship; or that trip to Lidl might lead to 30% off a real nice cheese….you get the idea!
  • Be mindful of what you are doing, and make a point of looking for the lovely in whatever you’re doing; whether that’s pride at the increasingly large pile of beautifully ironed clothes or a freshly weeded vegetable patch; or drinking in the beauty of your surroundings whilst out for a walk or appreciating a fantastic song on the radio.
  • Write things down to look back on. I have a small journal I carry around and write down things I am grateful for each day.

 

Saturday was a stunning day, we woke early and lay in bed bathed in spring morning sunshine and drank coffee and chatted before heading off to our local environmental group’s Spring Clean. We’ve done this for years as a family, it only takes an hour or so of our time but when there are enough of us it makes a huge difference to the village and it’s a lovely way to meet new and interesting people.

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We were delighted to see the ponds absolutely chock-full of frogspawn and tadpoles…

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It was such a glorious day, we decided to go on a grand adventure; so we organised a couple of daypacks (always best in Scotland to pack for all eventualities, so we never go anywhere without waterproofs and food and a flask of coffee) and headed North, to Pitlochry. The town itself was buzzing with people, so we decided to drive up to Moulin and then walk back into Pitlochry along the route towards Black Spout; it was warm and the air was full of birds and blossom and I could feel myself start to unfurl, like a new leaf. It was magical.

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We stopped for chips on the way home from a lovely wee chippy just outside Stirling, this chips-in-the-car thing is becoming something of a family tradition after one of our grand adventures; but we eat pretty healthily the rest of the time so I’m not going to stress about a fish supper once every blue moon.

Sunday, being Mother’s Day, meant I was Princess for the day. Kid One had bought me a lovely rose scented candle and some pencils, and Kid Two had bought me a very sweet felt ‘Twitter bird’ key-ring from the Mother’s Day stall at school. (I had given them the money for this, so I actually bought my own presents, but we shan’t dwell on that minor point!). We went to Hobbycraft for supplies for this week’s Beavers’ craft activity, Bunny Bums for Easter and I was proud to go in for tissue paper and card and leave with tissue paper and card and not 56 balls of yarn, some silk paints and a polystyrene life-sized giraffe. We then spent the afternoon up in Airdrie visiting the not-husband’s mum, and we greatly appreciated her keeping an eye on the boys for a cheeky half hour so we could nip off to Morrisons and do the weekly shop without them, which was bliss as our children turn into maniacs the moment they enter a supermarket. The rest of the day was delightfully chilled out, and involved snoozing, The Archers and a delicious dinner followed by a walk and a truly stunning, blazing red sunset.

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Monday dawned gloriously – what a joy to wake to blue skies and birdsong – so I walked the kids to school and, rather than be fooled by my body telling me it’s tired and wants to go back to bed as usually happens on my days off, I decided to do the 5km circuit down past the entrance to Bothwell Castle , into Uddingston and home. It’s a route busy with walkers, and it was wonderful to share smiles and hellos with people as we passed. I listened to Radio 4, and just let the news wash over me – there is not much I can do to stop the triggering of Article 50 or hasten a second independence referendum, but I can remember to smile and say hi to people I pass.

I got home full of beans rather than feeling the exhaustion I have been feeling after the school run recently, and I went on to attack the ironing pile which has been getting somewhat out of hand. Though I did not quite reach the bottom, I have yet to find an undiscovered tribe living amongst the Minecraft t-shirts and odd socks, so I think I may have just taken action in time.

I spent the rest of the day pootling – I did a little crochet, a little embroidery, a little reading (Kevin MacNeil’s ‘The Stornoway Way’) interspersed with green tea drunk on the back step in the sun as my sheets dried on the line, and then decided to go up to the community garden and get our raised bed weeded and the strawberries tidied up and, my god, it was glorious.

I am so looking forward to getting growing this year, I found it hard to juggle my time last year what with my returning to work and my anxiety issues; and this year I am determined to make far better use of my time and remember that I view time spent in the community garden as a relaxing treat rather than a chore.

I decided to finish off a delightful Monday with a proper girlie pamper. I’m sure those of you who know me will agree that I am not the most feminine of creatures and can usually be found in a parka and wellies looking like I’ve slept in a hedge; but I am partial to the odd treat from time to time and I had just lavished a whole £12.00 on myself buying some Vitamin E creams and some face-packs from Superdrug whilst the boys were in Game at The Fort on Sunday morning. I locked myself in the bathroom, ran a bath full of bubbles and set about beautifying myself with an exfoliating face-pack, a body scrub, a soak and a read of the lovely Breathe magazine followed by a damn good moisturising. I came out as pug-ugly as I went in, naturally, but I was softer and smelled delightful.

It has been an absolutely lovely few days, despite having done nothing particularly special or even spent very much money; it was just time doing things that make me happy – even ironing gave me a great sense of satisfaction that I’d done some (and listened to Woman’s Hour at the same time, yay multi-tasking!). The key, I think, was that I chose not to worry about the things I cannot change. Whilst I cannot actually change many things, what I can choose to do is change the way in which I respond and react to them.

Welcome to British Summer Time. I hope you are unfurling too.

 

 

 

Imbolc, The Outrun and no Whiskers on Kittens

So, the wheel has turned. Depending on what you believe, and what branch of paganism you follow (if indeed you do) Imbolc – or St Bride’s Day – falls on either February 1st or February 2nd or, as some believe, when you see the first physical signs of Spring – usually snowdrops. If the latter is the case, I apologise – you celebrated Imbolc around three weeks ago up here, when I first noticed the much anticipated little white heads appearing through the dark, dank, rotting Autumn leaves.

Imbolc has dawned on a very different world to that of last year’s – I don’t need to laboriously hash out the details again; suffice to say that a time I usually welcome with open arms and a singing heart is a time that dawned heavy, laden with expectation but not much hope.

I don’t usually do much in January. I certainly don’t make resolutions. I count January as the last month of hibernation; the post-Christmas month-long trudge to the kitchen for more tea and more cheese and crackers (I swear our crackers have babies in the night, either that or Odin himself has blessed us with a crispy cornucopia, a cracker-box of plenty, as this thing seems never-ending); some gentle pootling (usually via a shop that sells wine) and that last, gentle stretch into the wheel-turn at the beginning of February.

This January has, for many obvious reasons, been one of worry. One of dark thoughts, wake-in-the-night panics, of grief and frustration. I listen to Radio 4 when I’m not working; listening with increasing annoyance, then anger, at articles on Donald Trump, on immigration bans, on the gradual dismantling of the NHS, on the omni-shambles vanity project that is Brexit. I mull and muse for hours on the grim realisation that Theresa May has few options now than to cosy up to what it looking to be the most horrifying leaders of the (free) world in most people’s living memory.

It’s not good for you, you know?

I battle with my conscience, of how much I need to be aware of to be able to do my best to educate and inform; against mindfulness and the idea that we cannot do more than live fully in the now. The latter starts to sound hollow, convenient. Lazy.

I have periods of clarity. I realise that rather engaging with news and current events, I am emerged – submerged – in them; they are sucking me under with more and more questions, more and more worries.

I seek solace in the things that bring me peace, things that I do where I can physically feel my shoulders and neck start to soften and the dark clouds, a constant dull ache in my head these days, part.

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The charity blanket continues to grow. I start to knit, too, as a project for this year’s village craft bomb. I am not very good at knitting. In fact, I am terrible at it and keep either dropping stitches or picking them up; but I am only knitting 30 stitch squares so I am just using the hours as a lesson in patience and technique (I am a loose crocheter, but a much tighter knitter, but I understand this is quite usual when you start – I have discovered that two rows of the ripple blanket in its loose, effortless treble stitch, seems to be enough to limber up my hands to keep my tension looser when I pick up the needles instead of the hook). I don’t have any photos of the knitting yet, because I haven’t actually finished a square. There is a photo on Instagram of a red piece, which got to full size and then I monumentally ballsed-up when casting off. Ho-hum!

outrun

I have curled up in my chair, or sought solace in a hot bubble-bath to read, to transport myself away from this grey, scary place; and this book has been a wonderful escape. It is, in parts, far from an easy read – Amy has lived a life that many might not have come back from; but this really is autobiographical nature writing at its most beautiful and, I’m relieved to say, its most accessible. I loved it so much, loved the pictures she painted and the way she beared her soul, that I forced myself to only read a chapter a day because I didn’t want it to end. When the inevitable end came, I was bereft, as though I were waving goodbye to a friend. Her life in London echoed so much of mine, a few years earlier, and I suspect it was luck, rather than judgement, that carried me away from the bright lights and the easy highs when it did.

We have been out – we didn’t hide in completely during January. In fact, my hormones (ha, you knew I would mention it at some point, surely?) were going so crazy in January that the malefolk would all be chattering around the three-bar fire whilst I stood on the back steps in a t-shirt, fully expecting steam to emanate from my person. So, where better to go when you really just want to feel cold?

Largs, of course! It always seems to blowing a hoolie in Largs, even in July; so off we drove in the teaming rain at the arse-end of January to be blown down a rainy beach. Remember the times when I used to moan about bad weather? Remember when I was cold all the time, even when we went to Lanzarote and it was three days of 90 degrees before I took my jacket off?

Those days, my friend, are a distant memory.

ferry

It wasn’t blowy enough in Largs. My hands were nicely cold, but I wanted the sort of cold that makes your face sting and your jaw ache and your earlobes thrum. Fortunately, for a bargain price, you can hop over to the lovely island of Great Cumbrae. Great Cumbrae has geocaches, cows, a marvellous view of the local nuclear power station, nosy old duffers in cars who yell at you because they think you’ve abandoned your eight year old (when in fact he was just having his own little adventure and being watched by us from a few metres away), and these bizarre road signs that say that the main town, Millport, is 1.5 miles away, regardless of where you are actually are on the island.

millport

Millport was, by the time we got there (we walked from the slip), mostly shut; but it seemed a lovely wee place with absolutely stunning views over to the snow-capped Isle of Arran; and we were delighted when a gentleman with a dog confirmed that the wee black heads we could see bobbing around in the sea were in fact seals. My face nicely chilled, my hands and ears frozen, my heart several tons lighter and my head considerably less scrambled, we walked up to the bus-stop by the pier and got the bus back up the road to the ferry, full of excited plans to return later in the year with our bikes, after getting a train up to Largs.

gratitude

The day was so lovely, it inspired me to get a wee gratitude journal to write in. As you’ll remember, I did the 100 Days of Gratitude on Facebook and felt I gained a lot from it in terms of actually stripping back what we need from life rather than what we desire, and giving thanks for and cherishing memories of the right things – health, peace, a day out adventuring, laughs, a kind word, that wonderful, warm sleepiness that comes from being physically, rather than mentally exhausted. I got this wee book from Amazon marketplace (where you buy direct from the seller), it is made by a women’s co-operative using sari cut-off fabric and recycled paper, and it really is a beauty; and small enough to fit in a pocket if needed. It’s an interesting exercise to go through your day looking for things to give gratitude for, rather than dragging yourself from gloom and doom ridden news report to news report.

As I said at the beginning of this blog-I-didn’t-think-I-had-the-wherewithal-to-write-tonight (and I’m very glad I persevered!), Imbolc dawned. The wheel has turned, and the light is returning. The world is going to feel like a dark place full of long, black shadows that we feel we cannot escape from; things we are too weakened to fight. I am reminded of the snowdrop. So small, so delicate, its tiny head bowed down not in submission but in determination. Determination to blossom and spread and bring beauty, whatever the still changeable, cold and uncertain days hurl upon it.

Whatever your belief, or whatever you don’t believe; I hope you can find beauty and determination in the dark.

snowdrops

PS: Sorry if you were expecting some terrible story about baby cats with no whiskers. I was just doing my Sound of Music thang. Again.

100 (well, 77 so far) Happy Days, or when I start spouting hippie psycho-babble…

Greetings, dear reader, and apologies for my absence. I have no particularly interesting reason for being so quiet in Blogland recently I’m afraid, just a nasty dose of perimenopausal anxiety and angst that, fortunately, seems to be lifting somewhat now.

(I am going to blog about early perimenopause at some point, as it does seem – even in today’s apparently enlightened society – something of the elephant in the room. But today is not that day, it’s something I will do in the new year once the festivities are over, the gaudy baubles are packed away and life has returned to slate grey.Because, you know, me moaning on about hormones is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face and a spring in their step….).

I have been mostly getting stressed and moithering about not blogging as much as I ought to; worrying about what to write, worrying that I couldn’t write, that nothing was coming out the way I wanted it to sound. I even asked friends on Facebook for advice (and got tons – it’s all been noted, thank you!). And then lo! There came a crashing realisation that it doesn’t matter how often I write, it doesn’t really matter what I write – it’s my blog and I will do with it what I damn well please.

I felt tons better after that.

So, today I’d rather like to talk about the 100 Happy Days thing that’s currently in vogue on social media.

As you can tell by the giveaway title, I am currently on day 77. As most of you know, I am also in the throes of perimenopause with massively fluctuating hormones which basically means that most of the time, things are a little bit like this:

nuclear-explosion-249x300

Unless, of course, I am huddled in a corner crying my eyes out at a film, or a memory, or a cloud, or even the new BBC One Christmas ident.

Yeah. I know.

Some of you will remember that, earlier this year, I did an eight week online course with Palouse Mindfulness. Well, I have, for the most part kept up the good work with daily meditations and almost daily yoga practice (a big shout out to the amazing Adriene Mishler whose ‘Thirty Days of Yoga’ YouTube videos are pretty much guaranteed to put a smile on my face, however grim I’m feeling when I drag myself to the mat – I’m still about a supple as a breezeblock but I have super-relaxed shoulders…) and I decided to do the 100 Happy Days project as a simple refresher, a re-connect to the very essence of Mindfulness, which is all too easy to forget when you’re feeling as though the entire world is getting on top of you.

Mindfulness teaches us to live in the moment, and to find beauty in the everyday. To make the unremarkable remarkable, to open our eyes to those things we are so used to seeing and experiencing that we take them for granted and fail to notice them. On a personal level, I found it a re-awakening – I experienced things like walks in the countryside as a child again, drinking in and marvelling in the sights and sounds and revelling in each and every sensation.

Deserve-our-gratitude-grateful-quotes

I find Facebook to often be a fairly depressing – and frustrating – place to frequent sometimes. One of the main criticisms on Facebook about the 100 Happy Days project was that it highlights how very lucky and pampered we are, and what an easy life we lead in comparison to, say, someone living in Aleppo or a child whose next meal is coming from a food bank. And yes, if you are the type of person who finds happiness in material worth then maybe some of your 100 Happy Days updates are going to seem to some people to be smug and self-satisfied.

Personally, I have not seen anyone posting anything along the lines of ‘Cruise of the Med is awesome, so happy’ or ‘Ugg boots FTW!’ as part of their 100 Happy Days. Even if they are made happy by making, or spending, money, these people are choosing not to share these as ‘Happy Days’, though I appreciate that this could be more about my Facebook friends than the world in general – birds of a feather flock together, and I can’t think of anyone on my friend list who seems overly materialistic.

What, I think, 100 Happy Days has done is to help a great many people – myself included – to look up from the doldrums occassionally and glimpse beauty. To find the cloud’s silver lining. When you suffer from depression and / or anxiety, life can seem so very bleak and grey and utterly hopeless.

That’s when it’s all the more important to open our eyes and look beyond, however fleetingly.

Too ill to get out of bed today? Perhaps think about how comfortable the bed is. How warm you are. Look out the window, admire the view. Study it. Look for birds, watch them. Is it raining? You’re indoors, in the dry.

Are you jittery and anxious today? Take time to stretch your shoulders out. Feel how wonderful if feels. It might not last very long, but it will be a few moments of stretchy release that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Go for a walk – even five minutes around the block. Breathe in lungfuls of air, feel how your skin responds to the temperature and climate.

For every negative, try to find a positive. For every status update on Facebook about how grim your day is being, go and look on YouTube or Buzzfeed for something funny and post that up too – you will bring a smile to other people. Nobody is saying ‘stop having down days’, but ‘try and brighten up your day in whatever tiny way you can’. Acknowledge the things that have cheered you up, made you grin. Share it with the world.

marian

Be more mindful of everything you do, and you will find happy moments everywhere. It sounds simplistic because it is simplistic.

Things that bring a little light into my days include mornings ironing to radio 4; watching the birds at the feeders in the garden; cold frosty mornings; pyjamas and hot chocolate after wet and windy walks home from school; sitting with my crochet in front of the fire; the boys giggling away at You’ve Been Framed or playing Minecraft together (they are making a world entirely of ostentatious swimming pools at the moment); my cafetiere; the scarlet berries on a holly bush on the walk to school; patches of bright blue sky between scudding winter clouds; pottering in the kitchen trying to create something from whatever is lurking in the salad drawer and reading in the bath. No, they don’t completely take my anxiety away, but they are like tiny candles in a darkened room. And it only takes one candle to make a room less dark.

A few things featured in my recent 100 Happy Days posts

A few things featured in my recent 100 Happy Days posts