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!

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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.

 

 

 

 

Cheer up, goth.

So, dear reader, here we are again. Another post, another afternoon of sitting with a slightly anguished expression and another (probably unwise) coffee pondering on why someone who loves to write finds blogging so dreadfully difficult.

I wanted to write a piece on gratitude, and have managed to successfully procrastinate for several days on this particular subject, not because I feel I have nothing to be grateful for, you understand, but because I don’t know where to start without it all sounding rather twee and like I am giving you a lecture in stopping ruddy moaning and be thankful, thou churlish wretch. Which I would not want to do. No. Not at all.

So I shall just sit here and do the whole stream-of-consciousness thing and just type what comes into my head, or ‘doing a Virginia’ as I prefer to call it. Gratitude might certainly work its way into the whole word-soup eventually, it might not. It’s my blog, I can do as I please.

Shall we have a meme? One of those nice inspirational ones? Oh, let’s.

 

 

Oh, I don’t know about you; but I feel instantly 400% more inspired. Shall we have another? Shall we? Oh, OK then. If you insist.

 

There we go. That even has the ubiquitous brush-writing seen in every issue of Elephant Journal, every gift shop and certainly every branch of B&M Bargains in the UK. It would probably look pretty good on a mug, that, wouldn’t it? Maybe your Monday-morning-back-in-the-office-with-a-bit-of-a-hangover mug, the one that you really secretly want to throw at someone’s head. You’d read that and feel so overwhelmed with joie de vivre and a deep sense of oneness with the cosmos that you would leave a trail of eco-friendly glitter in your wake and a unicorn would come and fix the printer.

So yes, anyway. I was on the Facebook this morning and, as usual, up popped my memories from the days of yore – all those things that happened on this day in history (well, Facebook history). Shall we see what those things were, dear reader?

2016 – Ranty posts about David Cameron resigning, Brexit, more Brexit. Oh look, a barely concealed full-on panic attack about Brexit. Whinge about the children. A very real worry about chopping my fingers off with my new knife set (won in a pub raffle in Wales, in case you have always had a long-held desire to know where I get my knives).

2015 – Occupy Welfare wordy Nye Bevan meme cunningly disguising the fact I was panicking / ranting / have a sulky whinge about the cuts to the NHS. Something about the SNP opposing something (link no longer works and I have no clue what I was ranting about). Admission of being slumped on sofa for much of the day gripped with anxiety. Another moan about the children.

2014 – Moan about children, stress about indie referendum, uploaded some photos from when we were in Tenby (I complained that it was raining), comment about not having a very good day and ‘crashing to earth with a bump’. Brief interlude where I claimed to have enjoyed the Great Gatsby film.

2013 – Miserable semi-ranting about losing friends, why I shouldn’t have an opinion and having anxiety.

2012 – Ominous silence. That must have been when TalkTalk cut off our internet for no reason. Or I might have broken another laptop.

2011 – Was strangely upbeat and consisted mainly of friends posting up things with rude names on my wall. Yes, YOU, Emma. It was also the day I broke my ribs in a bizarre hanging basket accident, incidentally.

I think we’ll leave it there, shall we? I think we get the picture, don’t we?

 

I don’t think he does, yanno.

 

(Feel free to print that out and colour it in, if you’d like to. Mindful colouring is a thing, isn’t it?)

Next year, my Facebook memories from 2017 will include me asking:

Just been looking back on my memories, what a little ray of sunshine I have been all these years. Why didn’t anyone tell me to shut up with the incessant whining?!

And lots of lovely people telling me that I hardly ever whine, no, not hardly ever. Which was lovely and made me all smiley and a wee bit smug.

Thing is, though, it really rammed home to me today how much I took for granted, how I grinched my way through the days only commenting on the ‘bad’ things. The things that made me sad, or frightened, or frustrated or annoyed. Oh, there are mentions of the community garden, there are mentions of cooking, mentions of going out with the children.

But not one positive comment. Not one.

As someone who quite openly talks about the state of my mental health, and tries to advocate speaking up and shedding the stigma of mental health issues, I am not just shocked at my overwhelming pessimism in these posts, but also about my complete disregard for people reading who could have been having a far more awful time than me, and my complete and utter failure to link this pessimism and dissatisfaction with the state of my own mental health.

It would be easy to come out with something trite at this point like ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem’, but that might imply that people are to blame for their mental health issues and that people struggling as I do with, say, anxiety and depression are ‘just not trying hard enough’ to get through it. And we all know that is a crock of shit, to not put too fine a point on it.

However…and there is a however (as well as the usual disclaimer of your-mileage-may-vary, the nature of spectrum disorders etc), I can certainly see a paradigm shift in my attitude to life over the last twelve months or so. So, what has caused it? Why am I so much more relaxed and positive in both my assessment and appreciation of current situations and my perception of the future, despite there no doubt being trouble ahead?

I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s actually a number of things, all working together.

Firstly, my meds. The combination of beta-blockers and Citalopram seem to be doing the trick – I have the mental energy to get up and get out and be interested in things – and anyone who has ever experienced depression will instantly recognise that ‘lack of interest in things’ as a major warning flag. I am able, thank God, to leave the house and go for a walk in the woods. I am confident enough to chat to a friend and say ‘Yes, that would be fantastic, I’d love to go walking with you / call round for a cuppa / have you over so the kids can play together’. I have been reading voraciously again – when I’m ill, I just cannot concentrate on even the shortest factual articles on a website, never mind get lost in a book. I have rediscovered the joys of art – drawing, sketching, painting, embroidery, silk painting. I’m not terribly good, but I wasn’t very good at crochet once. I persevered with it, I practiced over and over and over again until I got better.

They’re not very good but the fun I had was reward in itself.

 

Getting outdoors – this is, in so many cases, entirely dependent on the individual and I absolutely loathe that well-circulated meme along the lines that ‘nature is an anti-depressant, whereas as medicines are shit’. Can we knock that notion on the head, please? And may I respectfully add that, if all your mental health issues were miraculously cured by a stroll in the park, then I suspect you are mistaking ‘having a bad day’ with ‘a serious mental health issue’. Nevertheless, I am a great advocate of if you can get outdoors, get outdoors.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs

I cannot express how much peace I get from nature. It doesn’t have to be a long walk (though I do love a good stomp, it’s marvellous for shaking the stress and worries from muscles and giving you thinking space), just sitting in the garden listening to the birds and watching the bees busying around can be equally beneficial. I have taken much joy this spring and summer in watching the wild meadow areas around the village, and photographing and looking up and learning about the wildflowers, it has become something of an obsession. It has staggered me quite how rapidly life cycles, how the meadows look completely different week on week as different plants bloom and seed, attracting different insects, birds and animals. Maybe this is my mindful thing, this slow, quiet contemplation of the cycle of Mother Nature as she moves through the year.

There are other things too. My new habit of slowing things right down, my use of social media, my work/life balance, the people who inspire me; but I feel these should be saved for another day, another blog.

Just writing this has made me realise, actually, how lucky and grateful I am that I am responding positively to the meds, and that I am able to do these things; and I am painfully aware that not everyone is as fortunate. I do hope that this hasn’t come across as a brag about how jolly well everything is going in my life at the moment – that was not my intention at all. I just wanted to share some of the things that have helped me see the beauty around us, and to find a sense a balance in an otherwise pretty crazy world.

 

 

With thanks to Phil, who inspired this blog post.

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.

 

 

 

Sixteen days in….

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Would you look at those happy, enthusiastic faces? That, dear reader, was March 27th, first day of British Summer Time and day 1 (as you can tell by our fingers) of the 5 x 50 Challenge / The Great Pootlathon and a very pleasant (though somewhat parky) walk around Strathclyde Loch….

 

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So, how has it been, considering I not only opted for a 5km walk, cycle or run every day but also decided to do it without the restorative powers of alcomafrol for fifty hellishly sober days? Well, we are on day 16 now and I must admit I am very surprised with – so far – how much I am enjoying it.

April hasn’t started off as the warmest I can remember, to be honest, but the weather has, on the whole, been kind and we’ve only had to contend with a couple of rainy days thus far (one, admittedly, was pretty torrential and even too wet for me to consider getting my trusty phone out for a madness selfie). I will usually be walking or cycling alone, armed with forementioned trusty phone with the MapMyFitness app and – when walking – BBC Radio 4 for company (OH MY GOD, THE ARCHERS! More about that at a later day, I’m sure….) because I am the sort of multi-tasking chick who likes to learn things whilst wandering aimlessly around the place (also, I learned through bitter experience of a completely wrecked knee last year that walking to music is no good for me as it leads to dancity-stomping and shin-splints, which then lead to stress fractures, wrecked tendons and damaged cartilage). However, Him Indoors and The Tiny Support Team have been absolutely wonderful in keeping me company on stomps recently – a big shout out to the TST who have racked up over 50km already just walking with their old maw. Considering I know many kids of their ages who couldn’t walk the length of themselves, I am really pleased and proud that I have two children who love the outdoors and stomping around in it.

For the record, I am eating pretty healthily at the moment too; and I’ve started up my yoga practice again (the Mindful Yoga lessons from Palouse Mindfulness can be found on YouTube – Part 1 and Part 2 are both nice, simple lessons in stretching and relaxing the body for the total beginner; and I am also working through Adriene Mishler’s brilliant 30 Days of Yoga which you can also access through the magic of YouTube – Day 1 can be found here. I’m also trying hard to remember to do my meditations – I use the ‘Stop, Breathe and Think’ app for Android the most because the meditations are quite short and very easy to pop into your day, but there are also some fantastic longer meditations on the Palouse Mindfulness website if you have a little more time to spare – I particularly like the Mountain and Lake meditations.

Physically, I feel fantastic. My clothes are looser, my skin is clearer, I am drinking much more water and herbal teas than I usually would and I don’t seem to be craving things like sweeties and crisps like I used to. The walking is toning things up nicely, and the yoga is stretching things out (you have no idea how excited I was to be able to do a forward bend and put my hands on the floor – I am the most unsupple person in the world!). I am also sleeping brilliantly – I’m finding myself wonderfully cosy and tired at around 10pm rather than keyed up and anxious at the back of 1am, and I’m falling asleep and waking up refreshed before the alarm goes off.

Mentally, I feel even better. I know that with me and my various ‘issues’, psychologically things may suddenly swing quite violently from one pole to the other, so I am enjoying this period of busy, pottering contentedness very much. I think I am the sort of person who thrives on a degree of routine with ‘treats’ for doing chores promptly and thoroughly, and I like to get my tasks out of the way early so I can indulge myself in things I adore to do, so working in the morning and then getting out for the walk and thus ticking the as challenge box early on as possible has let me relax and really enjoy time, well, pottering.

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There have been cupcakes baked…..

 

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….And brassicas sown in the polytunnel at the community garden….

 

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…much crocheting of the (now finished) Labour of Love Yarn Bag whilst swearing at Rob Titchener in The Archers…..

 

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….and much indulging in excellent bookage and fine cups of tea…..

Most interestingly of all….(is ‘interestingly’ even a real word? I’m not convinced it is, but hey, It’s my bloody blog), my horrible menopause symptoms have all but disappeared, with the exception of the hot flushes and night sweats, but even those have improved and are happening a lot less frequently. The crippling sudden exhaustion, bone aches, headaches, palpitations, nausea, sore eyes, water retention and hideous anxiety have all but gone, and long may that continue!

So now…a thank you, and a plea.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to Parkinson’s UK so far. I am absolutely thrilled to have raised just over £400 – that’s almost 50% of my target!

I might be enjoying this challenge, but it ought to be remembered that I AM doing it for a very good cause indeed. I know how blessed I am to have my mobility and to be able to do all these things without even giving them any mind.

We take so much for granted, particularly when it comes to our bodies and what we expect them to do, without grumbling or protesting, every day. People with Parkinson’s do not have that luxury. Even the simplest task, the thing we just do without even thinking about it, like putting on shoes or making a cup of tea, can be an uphill battle when you have Parkinson’s.

If you haven’t yet contributed, I would love you to consider donating even a pound to this very, very worthy cause. Parkinson’s UK aren’t one of these charities who jump on every passing bandwagon and fill up your Facebook feed at every turn, so they often get overlooked in favour of the bigger charities with the biggest marketing budgets and the social media specialists working for them – in fact, some of the bigger charities often ‘borrow’ smaller charities’ ideas and promote them under their own names until the smaller charity is all but forgotten. (Anyone actually remember who the Ice Bucket Challenge was originally in aid of before a certain charity hijacked it?).

My JustGiving page is right here. Thank you so, so much.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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