The Survivors’ Guide to Early Autumn, Part Two

Well, I have been absolutely blown away by the responses to my last post, in which I garbled on incoherently about Autumn. It has generated a lot of chat about how we cope with the change of the seasons, and I shall be dedicating a post to your thoughts and experiences in the very near future. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed, it means the world to get your thoughts.

I’ve have a morning free whilst I wait for a missing scarecrow (don’t ask…) so I thought I would strike whilst the iron is hot, as they say.

And so, without further ado, I am delighted to present to you, as promised, (insert drumroll noise here) Part the Second (Letters M through Z) of The Early Autumn Survivors’ Guide (Without Mentioning That Scandinavian H Word) in Glorious Listicle Format.

*takes bow, with flourish*

 

M is for Meditation. Well, what did you expect?

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Meditation still often conjures up images of people in orange robes sitting omming in the lotus position; or can be marketed as something you need to invest time and money on learning from a mentor or there’s no point in it, or you might ‘do it wrong’. Fortunately, meditation is for everyone and is within everyone’s budget, whether you choose to look at some of the YouTube videos available that teach you the essentials and foundation of the practice, or you have the opportunity to attend meditation classes (which are becoming a lot more popular). I use the fantastic ‘Stop, Breathe and Think’ app for my phone (Android), and I know many others who love the Headspace app.

Taking time to meditate takes as long as you’d like to give it, or as long as you have. Sometimes I will have a session that will last thirty or forty minutes, sometimes I meditate for five minutes.

The longer sessions are a treat for my brain, a chance to really shut down my crazy-fast mind buzz and just float in the awareness of my breath. The shorter sessions tend to happen when I really need them, when I need a breather and a chance to refocus and regather so in many respects I think these frequent, shorter sessions are actually the most useful to me.

Meditation, for me, is a wonderful way of gathering my thoughts. I like to imagine my ‘busy’ brain as several big, tangled balls of yarn; and the act of meditation is me taking the chance to slowly and gently untangle all the balls of yarn. I tenderly tease the knots apart, untangle the thought-yarns and then make a decision whether to keep this yarn out for use, or pop it away into my mental stash-bag. The decision is mostly subconscious – I trust myself to make the best choice as to whether having a snooze is my most pressing mental need, or whether I should carry on with whatever tasks have been occupying me. Other people I know have described meditation as a ‘mental massage’, and I love that. You’ll come to find your own metaphors that will describe how it feels to you.

The most important thing to remember about meditation is that no, it doesn’t come naturally, so don’t worry if you feel as though your mind is pinging around your skull at a million miles per hour. Yes, you are encouraged to settle down and concentrate on your breathing and use that as a focus; but it is absolutely perfectly natural and absolutely OK if your mind wanders….just gently bring it back to your focus and keep going and, most importantly, enjoy it.

 

N is for Nature. 

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Recently, several scholarly papers have been published linking interaction with the natural world with a significant improvement in mental health and outcome and, I think for many of us, this is something we have known for some time. Pop ‘Nature and Mental Health’ into Google and you’ll be able to read experts telling us that getting into the great outdoors can have a huge impact on both our mental and physical health. There seems to be evidence that even looking out at a natural view can speed up physical recovery times in hospital patients; and even looking at paintings or photographs of land or seascape can have significant effects on mood.

I am a walker, and I will walk in any weather (though obviously I have my preferred walking weather). I favour wild places, but I have also become slightly obsessed with finding the wildness creeping back into our urban environment, or those tiny pockets of our pastoral past that has hung on whilst land all around it has been developed. For easy, low-level walking, canal tow-paths are a fascinating wander through our industrial past and are an intriguing natural habitat to explore.

I am, however, aware that not everyone is able to get out as much, or for as long, as they would like; so let us not underestimate the importance of bringing nature to us. A coffee on your back step, or just looking out of the window. If you live in a built up area, look up at the sky. If you have a garden, consider planting bulbs for the Spring. Do think about feeding the wild birds throughout the colder months, during the Winter the sight of so many birds thronging around our feeders fills me with joy however hard my day is being. If you don’t have a garden and are unable to find nature easily due to location or personal circumstances, don’t dismiss the power of beautiful photographs and paintings – Pinterest is absolutely fabulous for this. I can sit and gaze at a painting for ages, allowing myself to submerge myself into the image itself as though I am wandering through its landscape, sensing the weather, smelling the scents and absorbing the sounds. Make prints of images that resonate to look at when you need to, or take a few moments to try your hand at sketching them, or sketch your own perfect landscape. If you’re not particularly artistic (not that THAT matters), you could daydream a perfect walk; make it a place you can mentally retreat to when you need it.

 

O is for Open.

Be it. Throw off your preconceptions, look past what other people think and say, and do things FOR YOU (within reason!). Don’t listen to other people’s opinions as law, what’s right for them might not be right for you.

A good example of this is medication – I make no secret of the fact that I take both antidepressants and beta-blockers. I take these in the same way as I wear an insole in my shoes to protect my Achilles tendons, or I take warfarin to keep my blood flowing. Other people choose to go without medication and have different methods of dealing with things, and that is fantastic – but they are no ‘better’ than me.

We are all individuals, we all have our own complex issues and past experiences, and our treatment should be personalised to our needs. Maybe mindfulness and meditation isn’t for you, perhaps you think walking in nature is a waste of time, you might be thinking that we are poisoning ourselves with brain-numbing pharmaceuticals. We are all different, and that needs to be remembered when you are giving your opinion just as much as when you are looking for advice.

 

P is for Planning.

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When you’re having a truly crap week (and we all get them, you’re absolutely not alone), it can be really helpful to make some plans of something to really look forward to. Easy things that don’t have the potential to be a massive, depressing let-down are usually the best to aim for. A visit to a favourite restaurant, a wander around a museum, a catch-up with a friend, a film night, a night in with a good book. Don’t hold back on your planning, you could even combine them with lists (see last post).

 

Q is for Quiet

When was the last time you were enveloped in true silence? How often do you sit without music, a TV or radio, traffic noise or any other interference, however small? How much does other people’s noise impact on your life, without you even really noticing it on a day to day basis?

I’ll leave that with you. Quiet is worth seeking, even if it’s only for a couple of moments. Cut the chatter.

 

R is for Rest

Take it when you can. Nobody ever got a medal for battling through the day when they didn’t have to. Need a snooze? Listen to your body and have one. No time for a snooze? Try a ten minute ‘Bodyscan’ meditation where you relax your muscles in turn, you’ll feel refreshed afterwards, or just leave what you’re doing for a few moments and get a change of immediate scenery for a quick fix.

 

S is for Self-Care Package

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These are one of these wonderfully indulgent things that you’ll enjoy putting together as much as you’ll enjoy using, and everyone should have one. Ideally kept together in a box, it’s a wee treasure-trove of goodies for when you’re feeling as though you need a boost; and what you put in it is up to you – they can be as basic or as lavish as you’d like. Some popular items include: Favourite childhood books, nail polish, pampering skincare treats, sachets of hot chocolate, scented candles, magazines, cosy socks, lip balm, notebook, memory stick of music/photos, crafting kits, herbal tea.

These kits also make lovely gifts for friends who might be having a tough time and who might benefit from a big mental cuddle. The first one I ever received was from a beautiful friend F, who sent me a box of wonderful goodies when I had finished the West Highland Way with a wee card that made me cry. It was such a beautiful surprise and it remains one of the most wonderful things I have ever received.

I am very conscious that this particular tip is very ‘female’ – I’d love to hear what men would like in a self-care kit. Do please comment….

 

T – Is for Taste

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When the nights draw in and it gets dark so ridiculously early food takes on a new significance in our days, so why not head to the kitchen and try out some new recipes? Rediscover the joys of taste. Some of my favourite memories of wet Winter Saturdays involve baking with my youngest, the kitchen warm and cosy, smelling of cake and spices. What beats a hearty stew or a curry when it’s freezing cold and raining stair-rods? The importance of gathering together for food goes back many, many centuries. Preparing, cooking and eating food together with family and/or friends gives it a ritual, makes it an event, a memory rather than just a chore to be completed. Cook together, chat with your partner or teach your children something new to make. Turn off the TV and eat together, chat together. Give quiet thanks that we’re no longer storing our harvest to last us through until next year, be grateful for this time shared together and our bodies’ sense of taste meaning that meals can be a sensory experience rather than just an essential daily task.

 

U is for Unique

You are. Please stop comparing yourself with others. That is all.

 

V is for Volunteering

Another thing that is really good for mental well-being, and something I’m going to dedicate a whole blog post to at some point in the near future but, in the meantime, read this.

 

W is for Weather

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I live in Scotland so I feel well qualified to comment on this, living as I do with four seasons in one day. The great fellwalker and writer Alfred Wainwright once sagely said that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing and, as much as I want to headbutt him when I’m caught in the middle of a torrential downpour in a denim jacket because the sky was clear blue two minutes ago, he has a point.

If you invest in two things this Autumn, make it a decent waterproof coat and a pair of decent boots. I have walking boots, but I spend most of Autumn stomping around in my wellies. Why? Because I don’t have to be precious about my footwear and my wellies mean I don’t have to worry about my feet getting damp so it massively increases my potential areas of exploration.

Don’t let the weather hold you back from getting out in it. Rain can make for wonderful photographs of clouds, of raindrops, of reflections in puddles or sparkling, shimmering cobwebs.

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For further inspiration on the beauty of walking in ‘bad’ weather, Melissa Harrison’s ‘Rain: Four Walks in English Weather’ will have you donning your Gore-Tex and seeking muddy puddles.

X is for X-Ray your daily life

We spend so long assessing our physical state – our size, our hair, our skin, how we appear to others; we can often forget to check inwards. Take time every day to check in with how you are feeling. Are you tense in your shoulders because you’ve been hunched over with stress, or clamping your jaw because you’re tense? Are you jittery and nervy because of pent-up anxiety? Stretch, do some very simple yoga moves, get out for a walk round the block. Check into your mind and heart, because what’s happening inside shows on the outside.

Y is for Youth

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Oh, look at those happy, enthusiastic faces, would ya?

Your youth. Another thing I intend to blog about in the near future (get me, huh?) is the importance of not letting go of our youthful exuberance, our enthusiasm and wonder at the world around us; our desire to learn and develop. Becoming jaded and cynical seems to be the scourge of the modern world, when did we decide we were too old to believe in the power of beauty and the magic in the world? The beauty of a view, piece of music, a piece of writing. The magic of an evening out with friend, a delicious home cooked meal or an incredible night’s sleep. When was the last time we laughed at something so hard we thought we might burst?

Z is for Zip

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Zip it. When you’re on social media and it’s like International Whack A Troll Day, or when – shock horror – someone is wrong on the internet, then just take a big, deep breath and then move on. Don’t stress yourself out arguing however much you want to. It’s taken me months and months to resist rising to the bait but now I just move away and do something else. You’re not giving the trolls the oxygen of attention, which is what they crave; and arguments on the internet seldom change opinion – your passions are better suited to different methods of communication, so don’t waste your energy. Look, instead, for a way to use your energy to force real, positive change.

 

And there endeth my first alphabetical listicle and, I confess, I enjoyed it more than I expected I would. Join me next time as I let you into some of my friends’ secrets on coping with seasonal changes, things that make them happy and probably me adding two thousand words of pointless waffle.

Be lovely to each other.

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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!

Goodbye August, and thank you..

 

It is Friday the 31st August, and tonight I can smell Autumn in the air. The nights are fair drawin’ in, fires are already being lit and the morning lawns are wet with dew.

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As you know, I spent August in a retreat from social media, and also from alcohol. I found that both of them were encroaching on my life a little too much and were causing unnecessary stresses and problems. My intention was not – and is not – to be rid of either of these things from my life altogether, I’m a great believer in moderation in all things, but to use them more wisely.

And I did it! I survived weekends, a Scout Leader away weekend at Auchengillan and several times of stress without resorting to a cheeky vino or a pint of St Mungo, but did I feel better for it?

Hell, yes.

Will I be repeating it? Hell yes.

The social media experiment was really interesting. It was extremely difficult at first to stay away from it, to consciously stop that habit we all now have of posting so much of our everyday lives; and yes, there were times where I felt completely isolated and alone and as though I was missing some amazing, cliquey party that all my friends were at whilst I soberly perfected my warrior two on the yoga mat in a desperate search for my inner zen. It wasn’t long, however, before I’d shaken those feelings off and felt a real sense of freedom, almost a strange naughtiness that – hey, nobody knows what I’m doing! 

I didn’t miss the gang-fighting, nit-picking and aggression of Twitter, though I desperately missed those I follow who post about nature, ecology, art and literature. I hadn’t realised how much joy certain people on Twitter bring me, and I missed some familiar voices far more than I would have imagined. I did, however, go thirty one days with barely a thought of Brexit, so that was nice. I don’t think my blood pressure has ever been lower.

Surprisingly, I really missed Instagram – a platform I barely used eighteen months or so ago. I didn’t miss posting, but I missed people’s posts and it made me realise that I do get a lot of inspiration and all the happies from some of the people I follow.

So, other than being sober and doing yoga, what have I been doing this month? Let’s have a wee gander, shall we?

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I bought a tunic. It is a second hand Seasalt tunic. There is no way I could afford a brand new Seasalt tunic, but I have got quite good at bidding on that eBay. My Seasalt tunic has pockets. Here you have a photo of me demonstrating nicely how tunic pockets work.

We went East Coast for the day, unfortunately we chose the day of their Highland Show to visit North Berwick so the town was full of sour-faced glarers (no amount of yoga, it seems, can dull my ire towards rude people) and dodderers marginally worse at driving and parking than they were at keeping out of my f^ck&ng way. We gave the town a suitably wide berth and walked along to Tantallon Castle (upsetting some golfers en route) for a nosy, and then went over to Dunbar. Which I’m sure is a lovely place when not doing its best impression of a ghost town. I assume most of Dunbar was in North Berwick for the day.

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My teeny-tiny 5lbs 4oz Twiglet-Child started Grammar. It was only yesterday he was born, ffs. This is quite clearly witchcraft.

(He’s loving it, by the way)

 

We did rather bloody well at the Horticultural Show, though it seems I am more Bert Fry than Jill Archer (apart from the crochet).

My ‘Lost In Time’ shawl (in Scheepjes Whirl ‘Popin’ Candy’ – terrible photo, sorry!) won first in its group; my hot pineapple chutney got a third; my garlic and beetroot took seconds; and my carrots, parsnips and rhubarb won first. My carrot cake hit disaster at the frosting stage and didn’t get entered, but our Fin won third in the 9-15 year baking section on his very first attempt at entering.

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My husband almost bought me flowers. He spotted these reduced to 25p in Tesco and pointed them out to me. Proof, indeed, that love can be both, umm, romantic and practical. I bought these ten days ago at that amazingly reduced price and they are still looking beautiful. I do like a man with a keen eye for a bargain.

You know, I am going to try and explain all this ‘retreat’ stuff in more detail in later posts (as part of me feels in something of a permanent retreat now, I have enjoyed this month so much, it was such a worthwhile thing to do), but the angsty part of me was stressing about what on earth I was going to put in this first post – that ‘returning’ post, the bridge across that chasm between ‘then’ and ‘now’ is always a bitch to write, and I’ve been meaning to write update posts, but the writing-juices just weren’t flowing, regrettably. Now that this post is out of the way, the next should be far more straightforward. Shouldn’t it?

 

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This is what I look like after 31 days of no alcohol, daily yoga, plenty of walking and too much eBaying for wonderous clothing bargains. (This is another Seasalt tunic, but this one has only one pocket). As unfiltered photos go, I’ve seen worse. I’ve undoubtedly seen better, too, but hey. If I were perfect I’d be even more tedious.

Preparing to Retreat – Day 2 – I Create

This morning I worked. It’s a really enjoyable project that is unfortunately coming to an end, but today was pretty hard going, my head wasn’t in the best place for it. It’s because I’m worried about tomorrow and I felt that every time I spoke, you could hear the sigh hovering in my voice.

Alongside giving up social media for thirty days, I am also giving up alcohol. In my head, it’s all part of the same rut and my idea is that I need to shake up my evenings completely in order to push myself out of this hole I’m in. The problem is, I am a creature of habit, and it is going to take me a while to set up a new, healthier, happier routine for myself.

After work, I started making a few plans for rut-busting. I do so love a plan.

I have a few things (treats) coming in the post, like lovely new pyjamas and I spent a fair bit of outlay in ingredients to make my own organic, chemical-free bath and hair products. I will have the great outdoors on my doorstep as my chapel and my playground – my eldest has promised me use of his hammock so I can swing about in the woods. I have a few spots in mind perfect for meditating, I have a stack of books to be read, and some delicious, healthy recipes to cook. I have crochet and embroidery projects to work on, and too many drawers and boxes of arts and crafts materials to think about.

In addition, I felt it would be beneficial to have an emergency self-care kit for those moments where I just need to distract myself for a few moments, maybe an hour, to kill off a craving for a social media / glass of wine / social media AND a glass of wine.

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My kit contains:

Herbal tea bags – not shown.  I have plenty of these in the cupboard, but I am always drawn to them in the supermarket, and I am very interested in making my own from the herbs I have in the garden.

Yoga mat – Sometimes it takes me ages to drag myself to the mat. I often cannot complete a full session, there are many moves that are far too hard for my currently tight and unsupple muscles, but what I can do I greatly enjoy. I love Adriene Mishler’s yoga channel on YouTube, she has an infectious personality that never fails to cheer me up and she explains things so well I tend to be so blissed out I do most of the sessions with my eyes closed. She has also taught me that it is absolutely fine if I can’t get into runner’s lunge, or heel-to-floor in downward dog. I can do what I can do, and that is perfect for me. Next time, what I can do might be different. It’s no failure to not make every move picture perfect, it’s a success that I’ve brought myself to my mat and used this time for myself – and the feeling following a really lovely, deep stretch is absolute bliss!

My tablet – I’m hopeless typing on this because my fingers and hands are too small for the type-pad, so I only use the tablet for the aforementioned YouTube yoga sessions (and some Pilates sessions), my Spotify playlists (I have some gorgeous calming music saved to a playlist) and catching up with BBC Radio 4 (particularly The Archers or a really good drama).

Felt-tip pens and colouring books – I am a sucker for a colouring book, it is so calming and I love playing with colours and different combinations. I find it really helpful for when I’m planning colour schemes for crochet blankets. Colouring allows me to turn my brain off and just concentrate on being neat, creating patterns and having a good think about things. I have solved most of the world’s problems whilst colouring in an intricate mandala.

Logic puzzle book – You can stick your crosswords, I don’t have the patience for those. Wordsearches are boring. Give me a decent mug of coffee and a logic puzzle and I’m a happy girl. They remind me of laying on Cornish beaches with my family, laying listening to the sound of waves and the dull beach chatter of our fellow tourists. Remember those days where we weren’t all gazing at our screens constantly?

Epsom salts and essential oils and the compulsory scented candles – because bathtime is vital time. The bathroom is the only room in the house with a lock, for a start! I have a little stash of ingredients for making all manner of pampering lovelies so I can feel gorgeous on the outside, even if I’m feeling like a social-media deprived wreck on the inside.

Breathe Magazine – I love this magazine. I love the fact they are advert free, and they write interesting and thought-provoking articles on creativity, mindfulness, living simply and improving your mental health and wellbeing. They do this without the slightly cheesy and patronising ‘cheerleader’ approach you get from a lot of the American media who monopolise this genre, who seem to be more about product placement and expensive treatments and retreats far out of the budget of the majority of people.

Books – Books are unbelievably important to me. I don’t read terribly fast, as anyone who follows me on GoodReads can testify, because I believe good books should be savoured.( It also shows how busy I am doing other things that an hour a week to dedicate to reading is a marvellous treat!). I absolutely love nature writing; I have been hooked since reading John Lister-Kaye’s seminal ‘Song of the Rolling Earth’ a few years ago. I’ve been really lucky this year and read some absolutely wonderful books already, and I have vowed to do far more reading this month. I’m even moving outside my comfort zone and reading a book that fits more into the fantasy genre, which I usually bypass – Guy Gavriel Kay’s ‘Under Heaven’, and I’ll be interested to see if I am someone who might be converted! The Little Book of Buddhism is a perfect tiny read for carrying around and reading on the bus, on the loo, in the bath for when you need a quick hit of the wisdom of the Dalai Lama himself.

Crochet – I’m finishing off something to enter into the village Horticultural Show. I say ‘finishing off’ but I think it is actually finishing me off, I find that I am re-doing the same few rows over and over and not working out my mistake until attempt six; then forgetting what the solution was by the next time the same row repeats again; but it is a piece that I am doing for pure pleasure (and my goodness, the colours are beautiful!) and I shall cherish it, because my next few projects are all commission pieces.

 

So, here we are. Heading for midnight. It’s all very nerve-wracking, but I am also feeling like quite the intrepid explorer. Who would have thought, back in the days of internet chat rooms and forums, that we would be seeking advice on how to shut off from social media? I never thought I would become ‘that type’ of person. Never thought my life would pass me by while I got upset by other people’s dramas and I got angry with trolls I don’t know and would never in a million years invite into my house, but have let into my head. Is the old pre-Facebook/Twitter world still out there? Am I seeking something that cannot be returned to?

Today’s yoga mantra was ‘I create’.

I create a new routine for myself, or several routines if that suits me better.

I create a space for thinking for myself, for forming my own opinions.

I create a home where my children do not see me staring constantly at my phone whilst telling them not to stare at their laptops, under the pretence that my internet use is somehow more valid and useful than theirs.

I create a new today. I won’t worry about creating tomorrow until tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Preparing to Retreat, Day 1 – I Accept

retreat

 

So, on Wednesday August 1st I am going to be powering-down my social media usage for a month.

To clarify: I will still be using the computer, very occasionally my tablet, for certain things – yoga classes on YouTube, reading The Guardian, listening to the radio, grabbing recipes I have stored on Pinterest; but I will not be participating on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other ‘social media’ platform.

There are a number of reasons for this, but primarily it is because I feel as though I am stuck in a rut and social media is an important part of that. I almost cannot remember a time before social media and gawping at a screen, and I don’t really think it gives as much to my life as I’d like to think it does.

I am, essentially, taking a month to recuperate and take a restorative approach to my life, and there are going to be a number of significant changes I’m hoping to implement to benefit my family and myself.

Last night, very late, I deleted most of the apps from my phone. The games, the apps for the RSPB, The Woodland Trust, eBay, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram , YouTube, Spotify all gone. I have left Messenger, for emergencies; Map My Walk and The Met Office app. Facebook I had deleted months ago and not really missed.

I immediately felt freer. They was something deliciously decadent about pressing that ‘delete’ button. Of course, they are still there for the download should I require them back; but for now I am waving a languid hand at them. I don’t need you, I don’t want you. I shall walk my path unencumbered by the thoughts of others. Those who care for me will still care, whether they see me online or not.

Later on I went through my emails and unsubscribed from marketing emails from everyone but those who inspire me. This leaves mainly updates from Map My Walk and Race At Your Pace, and a handful of websites and literary periodicals such as Slightly Foxed, 404 Ink, Caught By The River and Elementum Journal.

I want to make my interactions with technology more valuable, thoughtful, more relevant, more life changing. Less wasteful.

I want ideas, creative inspiration. I want to be lost in words again, not distracted.

I started Adriene’s yoga camp. Day One was an affirmation that “I accept”.

I accept how I am now, in this moment.

I accept that I am at a crossroads.

I accept that I can move in any direction of my own free will.

I accept that I am happy now, but I accept also that there are things I can change, in time, to bring an even deeper happiness to myself and those I love, respect and admire.

I accept the next month and all its undulations.

Tomorrow, I am working in the morning. During the afternoon I shall be doing more yoga, and I will be creating my special Retreat Tool Box, my kit of things that I find comforting that will help me through when I’m struggling a little; and for whatever reason I can’t get outside to indulge in nature, my greatest joy.

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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.

blanket

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.