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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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.

Learning to let things go…Week 1 of ‘The Retreat’

Disclaimer: If you’re reading this on social media, it’s because WordPress cleverly posts for me without me having to be there.

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It’s 1pm, I’ve just finished work for the day. It’s a new project, a new client, and I’m just finding my feet; but that’s me done for today. I’m sat at my desk, the August afternoon sunshine is bright and deliciously warm through the window. Outside, children are playing, a lawnmower sounds in a nearby garden. Clouds – a combination of fluffy white meringues and darker, more ominous grey forms, both threatening rain – drift past. Washing hangs on the line, blowing gently in the same breeze that rocks the plum tree and causes a few thirsty leaves from the oak across the way to drift gently, silently to earth.

I am calm, I am quietly planning the rest of my day. This in itself has come as something of a daily surprise, as usually at 1pm I am mentally exhausted, unable to keep my eyes open and desperate for a nanna-nap.

It’s so difficult to try and explain how different this past week has been – a week without the lure of either social media or alcohol – and how much I feel as though seven short days have started to change me. I’m not known for being particularly superstitious but I will confess that I am frightened to death that too much early crowing may, indeed, throw the proverbial spanner in the works; so, for the time being, I will share what I have learned so far.

Learning to breathe

As ridiculous as it may sound, I have learned to breathe. You might indeed consider this a quite ludicrous statement and, a couple of weeks ago, I would have been inclined to agree. However, daily meditation, and a daily session of at-home-yoga with the amazing Adriene on YouTube have taught me not just how to breathe properly, but how badly I breathed before. Why? Anxiety. Major causes of anxiety: social media (friends bickering, the dramas, the bitching, the one-upmanship, the upshitting, Brexit, more Brexit, trolls, Brexit, ignorant numpties, Brexit), wine, not enough sleep. Reasons for not enough sleep: social media, wine.

Never, ever underestimate the power of breathing properly. It’s incredible. Also, yoga with Adriene. That’s incredible too. I am learning to love downward dog and plank, honest.

I really like sleep.

I mean, REALLY like sleep. No more the 2am winehound dragging out the last few sips of wine whilst scrawling through the various dramas on social media, I have been tucked up in my bed by 11pm with a book. I have (mostly) slept brilliantly and been up and raring to go early rather than dragging my sorry arse out of bed at the last possible opportunity. I even got up at daft o’clock on a Saturday morning to go on an eighteen mile stroll with a pal, and I wasn’t crying for a sleep come midday. In fact, I had an amazing time and I cannot wait to go again.

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Saturday 9am, Loch Ard. It’s been a while since I saw 9am anywhere on a Saturday

My dreams, I should add here, have been mental. Who needs alcohol when you can control meteor showers using the power of your mind, have blazing arguments with everyone you know, dismantle an escalator, give birth to twins on a Ryanair flight, divorce a man you never married, deal drugs to Prince William and set fire to a china shop? Note: Any amateur psychologists might want to stay quiet about any dream analysis they are thinking of conducting, thanks-all-the-same.

Evenings and weekends are much longer without wine and/or social media

Genius, huh? It’s quite amazing what you can get done when you’re not involving yourself in someone else’s drama, arguing with trolls, verifying someone else’s well-intentioned ‘facts’ or getting upset about politics. It’s even better without wine because you can:

a) watch things on TV and actually remember them, therefore possibly even learning something.

b) not worry about spilling anything on pyjamas / laptop / duvet / floor

c) eat chocolate / gooey desserts without guilt because you’ve saved valuable calories you’d have wasted on wine.

d) Be able to get up early the following morning with a spring in your step and no mascara on your chin ready to have another fantastic (and amazingly long) day doing all the things*

*you may also end up clearing out kitchen cupboards, de-filthing children’s bedrooms, pruning roses and ironing. You have been warned.

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Tea. Is fab.

I’ve not been unhappy in a week

I know, right? Oh, there have undoubtedly been minor frustrations, arguments, headaches, grouchiness (hi there, week-early period!) and the odd wobble of nerves; but nothing at all like I have become used to over the years and considered quite normal. This, of course, is probably a combination of things – giving up social media and alcohol has meant that I’ve been sleeping much better, doing more interesting things, drinking a lot more water, eating more healthily and doing a lot more exercise – including yoga – and I think the cumulative effects of these have led to me massively reducing my stress-load and being able to handle life’s little wobbles a lot more calmly and effectively.

My relationship with alcohol definitely needed to change

I’m going to say it here, because it’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s taken far too long for me to come to this (some might say startlingly obvious) conclusion:

You might not consider yourself as having a ‘drink problem’. Like me, you probably don’t need to drink every night, or drink vast quantities, or drink at odd times of the day or to ‘settle your nerves’. You might not (you probably won’t) have the shakes, the black-outs, red face. You won’t be clutching a paper bag in the park or eyeing up the cooking sherry.  Forget the old cliches – the cliched image of the drink-addled jakey sitting in a park is what the drinks industry, and their various hangers-on (advertisers, marketers, PR bods etc) want you to think of as someone with a ‘problem’.

It’s not about what you drink, or how much you drink. It’s about how that drink makes you feel, whether you feel artificially happier, bolder, stronger with it; whether you feel unhappy, angry, guilty or anxious during or after it (not to be confused with a raging hangover). It’s whether it is stealing your joy.

Here’s one for the women (not exclusively, but certainly predominantly). Take a look at social media. How many times do you read ‘HURRAH FOR GIN!’ or ‘IT’S WINE O’CLOCK!’ or ‘PROSECCO TIME!!!!!!’. It’s normal to drink. It’s normal to blame / thank your day by having a drink. Bad day – wine. Good day – wine. Naughty kids? Commiserate with gin. Good kids? Celebrate with gin. How many people do you know post almost constantly about being spangled/shit-faced or joke that they need a drink? How many people seem happy to promote a particular type of alcohol with their personality as though it is the most vital part their personality? Why do we do this? Do we realise what effect we might inadvertently be having on someone who might be desperately looking to cut down or stop drinking as we advertise the glory of being at one with the bottle of joy, as we glamorise it into something luxurious we deserve? Can you imagine if the same glamour, the same coolness, was still applied to having a cigarette? “Ooooh, it’s Berkley Menthol Time!!!!!, time to indulge in increasing my chances of developing cancer, what a crazy kid I am!”

Anyway, that’s an aside. That’s just something to think about when you’re next scrolling through social media. That’s why I have chosen to take a few weeks away from social media. What I actually want to say is this:

If you do actually worry about how much you drink, you’ve got a problem with alcohol. Problems can be fixed.

That’s what I have started to learn this week. I stood at a crossroads with an off-licence in one direction and the hills in the other.

This week, at least, I chose the hills. And, my god, they were glorious.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Preparing to Retreat, Day 1 – I Accept

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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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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