A gift of gratitude

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give yourself the ultimate gift, the gift of peace. 

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Seventeen things that absolutely ARE worth your time

Welcome, friends, to winter.

Let me just say here, I don’t care if you think it’s not winter until December 21st, until the first snows, or the Christmas tree goes up. For me, winter starts when the sun slides below the trees at the primary school before 3pm and you hurry home before the night slams down on the village. It doesn’t seem to gradually darken here at this time of year, it’s like a lamp being extinguished. It still shocks me with its suddenness.

I’ve been quiet of late. My dislike of, and worry about, these colder months is well documented and I don’t fear about speaking openly about them, particularly if my experiences might be a help to someone else. I have, however, found myself at something of a loss at what to say that might be useful and not sound trite. To be honest, I’ve been coping. Getting my head down, doing my tasks – volunteering at the school on a Tuesday, leading our Beaver Scout colony on a Wednesday (and all the planning that takes), working three mornings a week. Anything else is a bonus – a bonus I am so glad of that I am enjoying myself to much to want to stop doing it to write about it. I have been doing things that have made me feel so contented I sometimes just want to purr.

The only thing casting a shadow on the past few weeks is the concern that I ought be writing about it – and other things, besides.

As part of my Coping With Winter plan, I have been collecting oddments of beauty, inspiration and words of wisdom and storing them on Pinterest. I could literally lose months to Pinterest, so I have to ration myself. After a while you realise that most of the lifestyle/mindfulness how-to guides are all very much of a muchness, thousands of Instagram-ready, perfect home dwelling lifestyle bloggers all preaching from the same hymn sheet. I find this both infuriating and comforting – they don’t have anything new to say, either!

I stumbled across this post – 17 things that aren’t worth your time and yes, whilst I agreed with it, I thought that now is maybe not the time to look at things so negatively, and instead look at 17 things that absolutely ARE worth your time.

Walks: I’ve not felt great, physically, for a while now. I feel as though I have something working away at me, slowly, sapping my strength. I think it’s winter to blame, but massive stomps are a thing of the past. I still get out for a wee walk every day though. I take my time, listen to the radio on my headphone (Radio 4, bit addicted!), and even if it’s just a stroll to the school gates, I feel so much better for the fresh air. Even when it’s pouring.

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Books: Three amazing novels I’ve read recently – Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, Melissa Harrison’s All Among The Barley and Polly Clark’s Larchfield. I’m currently reading Malachy Tallack’s The Valley At The Centre of the World. I haven’t felt so warm, contented and happy curled up with a book since Friday evenings as a child, just back from our tiny local lending library, eagerly clutching a new selection of Enid Blyton or Arthur Ransome to devour.

Coffee: Make time for good coffee. We only have a wee cafetiere, nothing fancy at all, but I like to have a coffee I feel I deserve after completing something. After a morning of work, household chores or a long walk, it’s become something of a ritual to steer away from the jar of instant and indulge myself in something a little more special. Favourite mug, check. That wonderful smell of the coffee when you open the packet, check. Water just before boiling, check. Waiting just long enough before pushing down that plunger-thing, check. Sitting on the back step, eyes closed, hands wrapped around a mug that smells divine and tastes even better is one of life’s tiny pleasures that shouldn’t be denied.

Crap TV: Whatever it is, if it takes you away from worry and buggering about on social media for a wee while, indulge yourself. I watch very little TV, I prefer the radio, but in the run up to Christmas I do love a truly dreadful Christmas movie to escape into. It’s a treat. It doesn’t hurt anyone else. Don’t feel guilty.

Early nights: Early to bed is the new staying out late. Really it is.

Spotify playlists: I live for these at the moment. I get freaked out by how spot-on their algorithms are for being able to tell what I’d like, but maybe I am just depressingly predictable. Spotify always give me new things to listen to and fall in love with though, so I never get bored.

Cake: Making, particularly. Also eating. Cakes are calorie-free when the weather is cold.

Hot chocolate: With an extra sugar, lashings of squirty cream and a scrunched up Flake on top. Because to hell with Type II diabetes.

Friends, real-life ones: Reach out beyond social media. Plan a week-night get together for dinner and a chat, if you can. Pub quiz? Bingo? Walk? Whatever floats your boats. We are too reliant on social media these days, but nothing beats a good chinwag catch-up.

Hobbies: Whatever they are. Crochet, cake decorating, cheese-rolling, bog-snorkelling. Does it make you happy? Yes? Then do it more. Even if you’re not very good at it. Four years ago I was utterly hopeless at crochet, I couldn’t even chain, but I decided I was going to teach myself and I wasn’t going to stop until I had learned. Why crochet? Because everyone else in my family are good knitters, but can’t crochet. I’m a trend-bucker like that. Also, my knitting is bloody atrocious.

Sending kind words to someone you think a lot of: For no reason other than that your life is better for having them in it. Send them a text, a Twitter DM, a card. Just say it.

Politeness: It costs nothing. Smiling and remembering your pleases and thank yous sounds like something you’d remind a five year old; but you’d be amazed how many people don’t think it’s important anymore.

Turning off the news: I like being informed. I have children who often ask me difficult questions and, as a parent, I owe them an answer – or at least a discussion on a subject. But there is nothing to be gained from watching 24 hour news or dwelling over headlines. We can do what we can do – we can educate and inform and share advice and resources. Worrying and getting paranoid and upset about what the news decides suits their agenda helps nobody, and only distracts from what we can do.

Buying local and buying from craftspeople: Going out for something to eat? Go to a local restaurant/cafe run by people in your community rather than the big chains. Buy your veg at the greengrocer, your trinkets, cards, jewellery from crafters not production lines in China. Help support a local business or a talented craftsperson. Yes, you will pay £40 or so for one of my crocheted baby blankets, for example, but they will be a quality you can pass down as an heirloom and every stitch will have been made – by hand, not machine, with care and love, because I love my craft.

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Volunteering: I’m going to write a more detailed post about this soon, so I shall just say that volunteering has brought me so much joy and personal satisfaction, as well as great talking points for my CV, that I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. Whatever you like doing, would like to learn, or cause you support, you will be able to volunteer to help. Do it!

Cooking from scratch: I find cooking is brilliant for anxiety. The slow, careful preparation and weighing of ingredients, the combining, the cooking, the watching, the clearing up (I am an ‘as you go’ person rather than an ‘at the end’ person), there is something mindful and meditative about it, and whenever I’m feeling at odds with the world, I take great pleasure in the whole process, from planning and buying to the finished dish. I know I’m really lucky to have the time to do it, I’m not rushing in from work and juggling taking kids to various after-school activities, but if you can find an hour in your week to potter about in the kitchen, you won’t regret it.

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Plans: When the nights are long, nothing feels nicer than making plans for the future. Whether that be plans to budget for your summer holiday, plan what you want to do to your house, plan your new career or – my personal favourite – plan what I’m going to grow for food next year, now is the time to get everything down and see how you can convert them into more than just dreams.

I hope you’ve been able to take something from this wee listicle; it’s certainly helped me to get something written after weeks of beating myself up for not being able to do so, and I thank you for reading it. I have my fingers crossed that it won’t be so long next time!

 

 

Blue Monday, 2017

Happy / Grumpy / So-So / Dreadful (delete as applicable) New Year, my dearest reader. Why yes, I do appreciate that is already past the mid-point of the first month of this, the year of Our Trump – sorry – Lord, 2017, and this is the first I have typed; but surely you know by now that I am a champion procrastinator and whilst there was a wall to be stared at or snoozing to be done, nothing else of note was going to appear from me.

I am, nevertheless, ready to rejoin the world and return to something of a routine. With my usual dark humour, I have chosen Blue Monday – the most miserable day of the year – to hurl myself enthusiastically back into the blogosphere and dazzle you all with my sparkling wit and literary genius.

Just as Virginia Woolf needed a room of her own; all I need is a cheapy drop-leaf table from the local Christian charity furniture warehouse and more felt-pens than is probably healthy of a woman of my age (23. Again).

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I am currently channelling my inner Virginia by wafting around the place in Tesco pyjamas and slippers with animal faces on whilst looking for a clean wine glass for my bottle of Co-Op Spanish Red; and trying not to think about hurling myself into a river. So far, so good.

As you know, 2016 wasn’t really the greatest for me; culminating in a pretty impressive breakdown at the end of it (how delightfully Virginia!) and I will confess that I have spent the last couple of months doing the absolute bare minimum, mentally; getting through Christmas and Hogmanay; and just building up my strength so I’m more prepared to face what we have to deal with in 2017. The tablets (Citalopram) are definitely working, probably better than I expected, to be honest, and now is the time to start plotting and scheming and planning ways to successfully get through the next challenges we face, if I don’t decide to slope off for a wee nanna-nap first.

(I think my cortisol levels were so high that I was like a coiled spring the whole time. I told my GP that I felt as though every single cell in my body was trembling in fright, awaiting something horrible to happen at any second; and when I think back now to how long it has been like that – over two years – I don’t mind that the Citalopram seems to have led to a bit of a ‘shut-down’ and that I am permanently exhausted, because I’m sure I could actually physically feel my brain relaxing, then my muscles loosening. I felt what it was to be still, with my mind at peace, for the first time in so, so long. It suddenly dawned on me that it felt as though my brain hadn’t slept for two years; that even when I physically slept, my hormones kept my brain racing, processing and over-processing and over-analysing and over-exaggerating and spreading its poisons far and wide. So, you know, pardon me if I need to take it slow and heal.)

With this in mind, my plans for this year have shifted somewhat. I just want to work on feeling better, on finding the old me – I know she’s in there somewhere. She’s a bit older, a lot greyer and thicker around the waist than she used to be, but she’s there.

I want to write more, too. I rediscovered one of my old, long forgotten blogs recently, and I forgot that I was, on rare occasions, actually quite funny. (That strange parping sound is the sound of me blowing my own trumpet, incidentally). I always loved writing, sharing words and stories, dreams and fears, tears and laughter, but anxiety and depression silences you. It undermines you, it calls you stupid. It mocks you as talentless, as a no-hope. It smacks eager fingers from keyboards. It doesn’t, after all, want you to talk about it. It wants to stay the terrifying, snarling black dog lurking in the shadows ready to bite. It doesn’t want to be understood, far less does it want to be tamed.

New Lanark (my photo with Prisma filter)

New Lanark (my photo with Prisma filter)

 

I shall spend this year doing more of what I love. Writing, walking, watching the changing of the seasons, embracing everything that nature has to offer. Celebrating the beauty in each month, the new growth, the metamorphosis as the year’s wheel turns without dreading what is to come. I have learned, since moving to Scotland, to love the Winter, to embrace the cold, crisp days that make your cheekbones ache but also to embrace the low cloud and drizzle that helps to bring forth the new greenery, to cosy up in the current buzz-word of ‘hygge’ – we have long had our own sense of hygge with after-school onsies, hot-chocolate and boardgames and laughter on dreich and dismal days followed by bowls of wholesome broths and stews with homemade bread; I’m not entirely sure why it is suddenly ‘a thing’, but that’s a rant for a different post.

This year I am going to love my brain, and I am going to do whatever I can to make it as well as it possibly can be. Anything else, well, that’s a bonus.

Watch this space.

 

Falls of Clyde. My photo with Prisma filter

Falls of Clyde (my photo with Prisma filter)