Happy Holidays… but why its ok if they’re not.

Autumn is a magical time of year. Everything turns golden, the heating comes on. People don’t look at you strangely for wearing big chunky boots with your pretty dresses… the best mornings are full of blue sky and steam that rises from inside your lungs when you breathe. You get to smell woodsmoke in the air, cook stews and casseroles to come home to. Leaves crunch under your feet or the mud squishes underneath your wellington boots as you meander through woodlands that smell of damp and earth and allow you to feel completely grounded and at one with nature.

It is also the prelude to December… I was born a week before Christmas and I normally look forward to that special week – full of family and friends, twinkling lights, good music (Smith & Burrows’s Christmas album will always be a favourite), amazing food and of course the presents, although I’ve always been much more of a giver in that respect. It’s wonderful…

Until it isn’t.

Until the tiredness snakes its way into your bones, or the kitchen gets too hot whilst you are cooking what feels like your eleventh thousand Christmas dinner. Your bank account is looking sorry for itself, you’ve forgotten to buy your husbands aunties cat a Christmas present (true story), you need to write a heap of cards for the neighbours or people at work, you need to have dinner with your extended family and you know that the noise of eating, the amount of food, the anxiety around getting it ‘just right’ and the feeling of being too full are all triggers to your own issues with food. Maybe you count on work as a distraction and routine to keep you sane and the thought of an enforced holiday scares you more than you would like to admit. Perhaps you are breaking bread with people that don’t understand your sexuality, maybe you would love to be spending your day with a loved one but can’t because you need to spend it with family who don’t understand. There is alcohol, so – much – alcohol, and that can be incredibly hard for so many reasons. It’s not an easy time. Last year I wrote on another platform about how we can never fully understand how hard Christmas can be for each other and this year I’m feeling the truth of that even more so. It could be the first Christmas without someone, or the last Christmas we know we’ll have someone with us. And it’s merry and jolly and bright because it’s Christmas… but in reality, it’s not at all jolly and bright… it’s hard, and it’s a struggle and that is ok.

It’s ok because it is ok not to be ok. It’s ok to find all of this too much – all of this preparation and buying stuff and thinking about food and making arrangements with people you haven’t spoken to for the last 11 months. It’s alright to go to a quiet place and just sit and do nothing, or to cry, or to scream into a pillow. It’s healthy to get the lead on the dog and whisk him out of the door faster than his paws can touch the ground because you just need to get out and away and breathe the fresh, cool air into your lungs for 10 minutes, by yourself, for yourself.

These few weeks are stressful. They are stressful for people who seem to have everything together and they are stressful for people that let us all know about it when they don’t. Most of us still have to do the everyday stuff – going to work, keeping ourselves healthy, care giving, paying bills, looking after kids – and then we have this big day looming on the horizon which everything has to be perfect for, which we need to be perfect for.

But we don’t. Not really.

Because it’s a day.

Just a day.

Take it hour by hour, remember to breathe. Meditate, go for a walk, sleep. Look after yourself and be considerate to those around you.

The season of goodwill to all men.

That includes yourself

❤️
Main image credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Thank you for reading.

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Codependent

Image credit: Dominik Vanyi @ Unsplash

Codependency was a word that I never fully grasped; it was something I never fully understood and something that – even now – I struggle to spell!

And yet, I was it, I was it to the letter. If anyone wanted an example of what a co-dependant person looked like, they could just bring me forward, with my phone firmly planted within my hand and my attention off elsewhere, and show me off as a good and fine specimen of someone who has fallen into that trap…

I hadn’t become this way intentionally of course, I hadn’t even become this way consciously, but I had become it all the same. It had happened over years, namely with one person, but there are little glimpses and tell-tale signs with others too. However, with this one person it was powerful, it was overwhelming and it was becoming very, very damaging.

This was a person who I had never met and who I had no real intention of meeting. He was a man who I had met online years ago, our conversations had started out regarding a shared interest in mental health and we had formed a friendship of sorts. Sometimes it is easier to talk about the hard stuff with someone if you don’t have to look them in the eye… and so, we gradually opened up to each other. He told me things that he had (allegedly) not told anyone else and I listened and advised the best that I could. When I suffered dips in my mental health, I turned not only to my husband and closest friends, but also to him. He always replied, always acknowledged my feelings… and then always reciprocated with his own.  

This isn’t a writing about how a friendship turned sour though, far from it. We don’t talk now, after a very difficult conversation we decided to have some time apart and whilst I admire him in many ways and still sometimes feel like I have lost a huge pillar of strength within my life, I also know that he has to address his own problems before we could ever hope to build a healthy relationship.

I also know that I need to address mine.

Because co-dependency doesn’t just spring up from nowhere. I became co-dependent because I had a need for something, something that was lacking and something that even now I struggle to identify. My over whelming desire within this friendship, was to fix; I wanted to make everything better, I could see the damage that was being done by my friends behaviours, but I could also see the things that would help him and I could see such potential – if only he would listen!

But he was listening, wasn’t he? We would have these long conversations; we would talk our way round the same situations day, after day, after day. He would ask me ‘What do I do?’ and I would reply with logic and compassion. I harnessed everything that I had learnt in therapy, everything that I had read about mental health and addiction. I would read articles online to try and improve my knowledge of the specific things he was struggling with. I would talk to my best friend – a qualified mental health nurse – and relay information, I would find song lyrics that resonated with his struggles and send him the music so he didn’t feel so alone. I would speak to him first thing in the morning and last thing at night, I would engage in behaviour that was damaging to my own mental health, in order to prevent him from either a) getting what he needed in that moment from someone who was potentially dangerous for his mental health or b) hurting someone else. But this was friendship, right? This was helping him, surely?

No, and no.

I remember very clearly the moment that it all clicked. It was on a day off, so I had been at home by myself all day and, yes, talking to him via text for a good part of it. I was feeling pretty tired – this was at the end of last year, so very much still combating my own medication withdrawal and Fibromyalgia symptoms. I ran a bath, loaded up Insight Timer and I saw a talk on the homepage by Michelle Chalfant about codependency…

I led in the bath and listened to her describe the behaviour I had been exhibiting, for years. Not just ‘oh, that kind of applies’ but every, single, item on that list I could identify and relate back to something I had done. I realised that I was not ok, if he was not ok – and he, was never ok.

It was like my empathy with this man had gone into overdrive, I wanted so desperately to make everything better for him that I had completely neglected myself in the process. He hadn’t specifically asked me to, he hadn’t directly put this stipulation on our friendship that I must behave in this way or he would leave – but I kind of felt that way all the same. I am learning the reasons now why I did that, I am working through my own feelings and my own motives for that behaviour – but it’s not easy.

We carried on talking for a while after that, but something had shifted. Truthfully, I was scared, I was scared to let him go because if I didn’t have him to ‘help’, then what would my purpose be? I was also very scared that actually, he wouldn’t care. That he would just say ‘ok then’ and go and I would end up with the weight of rejection upon my shoulders. I was also scared that all of this, all of these conversations, all of this kindness, this empathy, this care that I had willingly and freely given over months and years would be for nothing.

I was scared that it made me selfish.

Co-dependency is complex. My motives for my behaviour came from a number of different places – from the need to be heard, to my need for validation and also my natural desire to help and to empathise. The times that he would say ‘yes, this makes sense’ were the glimmers of light and the behaviour he continued to exhibit that went against that very same piece of advice, extinguished those sparks. But he would learn from that for next time, right? So I kept on, persevered and tried to be a good friend. In the end it just exacerbated those ingrained feelings and beliefs of being unheard, but to me, that was familiar and so it was ‘safe’. It was known behaviour so it was comforting even though it stung like ripping off a sticking plaster each and every time. I found that I couldn’t trust him, and yet I confided in him still. I found that I got angry with him, but it felt more like being angry at a child. I found that I was sinking into his problems whilst my own screamed at me from the surface…

Letting him go would also mean I didn’t have a distraction from my own problems anymore.

Eventually, it was my decision to end contact with him. It wasn’t pre-meditated, it wasn’t a thought out ‘I am going to have this conversation and it will be resolved by X, Y and Z’. It was a row – it was an insensitive comment made by him about my husband on a day when I was feeling depressed and in pain and having to brave it out at work. It was the argument that ensued and this voice that bubbled up inside me and screamed ‘this is not ok!’.  I had been ignoring this voice, my own voice that said repeatedly, for months, ‘I am done…’ but I should have listened to her; my inner child may be small and gentle but I was doing her no favours by not hearing her – eventually she screamed, a scream of pain, a scream of frustration and a scream so powerful that my decision was made in that instant. I was done.

Afterwards, it felt worse than any romantic break up that I had ever endured. I spoke to friends about it; I spoke to my husband and my therapist about it. I meditated on it, I questioned what I had done, and I checked his social media profiles to see if he was ok… but I didn’t go back.

One thing I noticed in those first couple of weeks was how much time I had! I wasn’t tied to my phone anymore. I also noticed that my confidence improved – I wasn’t hiding behind someone else’s problems. Yeah, sure, this meant all of my problems came to the surface but I could own them now. I tried to turn some of that care and affection back onto myself – and some days I manage it, some days I don’t, but at least I am trying. It’s something that will take months, if not years because it isn’t straightforward and this type of behaviour has roots that are buried deep.

I still miss him. I still wonder how he is, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I am learning the importance of boundaries and the importance of true friendship. I am learning to listen to the voice of my inner child because she knew what was up before I had even registered it. I am learning to forgive – both him and myself and I am learning that we cannot, ever fix someone else.

We can love them, we can support them, we can validate their feelings and we can send them all the articles and song lyrics in the world.

But we cannot fix them, for that is a path they must walk alone.

Making the Bed

Photo credit: Jen P @ Unspalsh (talesbyjen.com)

I make my bed now.

I make it, because it serves me. Its my place of rest and of calm. It holds me whilst I sleep and before that, whilst I relax and read and meditate.

I make it, because it’s important. It was never really important to me before. It was just a place that I poured myself into after yet another tiring day and dragged myself out from, bleary headed in the morning. I didn’t waste time making it, I threw a cover over it maybe, if I remembered, just in case the dog got up on it whilst we were at work, but that was all. It was all effort, energy I just didn’t have.

But something has changed, something is changing, within me. I can feel it.

When I moved into where I live now, I moved in with my then boyfriend and his dad, miles from my hometown. A few weeks later, his dad decided to move in with his girlfriend (nothing I had done, we get on well, it was just the natural progression of things) In doing so, he left us with  a house full of his stuff that he couldn’t take with him because he was moving into a tiny cottage.

14 years later, he took his stuff. And we took the rest to the tip.

What was left, was our spare room. It was green – but not a nice soft green, it was green. It had pink carpet that had never been properly fitted around the outside of the room and that sat upon another pink carpet because the previous occupants had never seen the importance of underlay. A defunct – and probably dangerous – night storage heater was under the window. Damp snaked its way into the room from the corners, various pins and nails adorned the walls that someone had very kindly thrown filler on about 25 years ago and painted over the top.

We closed the door and ignored it, probably for another 6 months or so. I wasn’t very well, life got in the way – we’d poke our heads in and look at the green and grumble that we probably should paint it, but… yeah, not this weekend.

When we got around to it, it took us a whole week. The walls were worse than we had anticipated, the floor needed repairing. Paint to prevent damp takes forever to dry… we bought curtains and realised they were the wrong size, I was also coming off of an anti depressant medication I had been on for 8 years so was prone to bouts of tears, or irritability or worse, nothingness.

But when we finished, it felt wonderful. The walls are now a soft grey, there is carpet – actual proper wool mix carpet, with underlay! It’s not fully finished – we’re being a bit picky about a lightshade and we still have a mirror and pictures to go on the walls, but it’s now our bedroom. And it feels so peaceful.

It feels peaceful, because it’s not full. There is space to move around the bed, to stretch or perform yoga if so inclined in the morning. There is nowhere to pile clothes up on, the walls are light, the curtains thick and heavy. The bed is in the centre of the room, ready, waiting to give its support.

I have a candle by the bed which smells of smoke and amber. I light it when I’m reading before bed and it soothes me. I only have to have a small inhalation of it now and my racing thoughts calm, I’m reminded to take slow and deep breaths, I am reminded not to panic, that I am in a safe space, that nothing bad is going to happen here.

Meditation has definitely helped – I try to meditate in the morning when I wake and at night before sleep, usually in my bed but sometimes also in the bath. It is a daily reminder to find some quiet and some calm – even if it is just for ten minutes it is time that is put aside just for my well being. It has become a part of my routine, just as making my bed before I leave the house has become something I don’t even think twice about – it goes alongside drinking my coffee and putting my make up on – and that feels good. It feels like I’ve done something to take care of something that takes care of me.

Because taking care of myself is important.

And the realisation of that, is what is changing.

Thank you for reading 🙂 If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me on my following social network pages to see my new posts and daily musings:

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Enough

Image credit: Ales Me @ Unsplash

How many times do you excuse a behaviour before saying… enough?

How many nights of worrying do you endure before you realise that you are not responsible for the actions of of someone else?

How many times do you allow yourself to be hurt or confused by someone before you realise that you are not the one at fault?

How many times can someone accuse you of being too sensitive before you realise that sensitivity isn’t a negative character trait?

How many reasons can you find to justify someone else’s faults?

How many snippets of advice do you give before you realise that they are falling on deaf ears?

How many circles do you want to travel around?

I have found my number.

Thank you for reading 🙂 If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me on my following social network pages to see my new posts and daily musings:

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Curator Required: Apply Within

Ok, so it’s not a job ad.

I tried doing that thing where the entire article was written like one – but I was a bit stumped when it came to ‘Location’, because this way of thinking is big and therefore hard to pin down. The ‘Salary’ I had sussed, and I even whacked the word ‘exponential’ in there, which for 08.25 on a Tuesday morning with only one coffee in my system, I figured was pretty impressive!

But yes, this is about a way of thinking and a way of living. It’s about curating your own life so that the best, possible, you can grow, think, dance, explore, laugh, sleep and eat better. Pretty big claims, huh? Well… yes, but all entirely possible.

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘You are what you eat’? And how many times have you felt that to be true? It’s no surprise that if we eat junk for a few days, we begin to feel like junk, all sluggish and tired. Change the word ‘eat’ to ‘consume’ and you can start to see how the consumption of junk anything can begin to have an impact.

And I mean literally… anything.

Social Media

In our current climate, this is perhaps the most obvious one. In 2018 adults in the UK spent the equivalent of over one whole day a week online, and I think anyone that has a Facebook account has found themselves mindlessly scrolling. It’s the same with Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIN etc etc, but because it’s perhaps the most common, I’m going to stick with Facebook.

Everyone seems to have a Facebook account, from your youngest relation to your oldest, from that person you met on holiday when you were six to your best friend – and for a long while it was the way we all connected with each other. I think my attitudes to it have changed a lot over the last eighteen months or so, and I feel that the tide is turning globally somewhat – partly because it’s kind of a vicious circle; everyone is on there so it’s great to be connected, but everyone is on there, so it’s feels like you are always connected.

However, we all still use it. I’m as guilty as the next person for scrolling down my feed whilst not really absorbing what I’m reading (not consciously anyway), and recent scientific research has shown that it is a little more complex than simply being bored or looking for a distraction. Dopamine and Opioid – two different compounds that are found in our brains neurotransmitters, have us hooked. This is an article on the subject which is quite an interesting read, but put simply – social media can give us the same hit as sex, or chocolate, or a hug. Even the ‘drive’ or the need to get those likes, messages and friend requests is driven by our innate need for dopamine.

Is it any wonder then that we spend so much time scrolling, and that we are also so undisciplined when it comes to taking time away from the site?

Recently though, I have made a little deal with myself. I am not ready (yet) to deactivate Facebook – however, what I can do is make it a nice place to be. When the option to ‘follow’ people came out, I must admit I was a little sceptical and wary – I didn’t want to be followed, I tend to keep my personal Facebook account pretty tight with security settings, so I quickly found a way to switch that option off! But, a good thing that has come out of having that option is that you can also unfollow people, people who are already on your friends list.

Now, I know that sounds terrible. Why have them on your friends list if you don’t want to see what they post? Weeeeeeeeellllll yes, I get that, but some people would be difficult to remove, for various reasons and it’s not that I dislike that person, or I’m not interested in them – it’s just that perhaps we hold wildly different views on something (that isn’t going to change), or perhaps they remind me of a part of my past that is difficult and I need to be in the right frame of mind to have those memories come up. Perhaps they are at a different place in their journey and some of their posts can be triggering to my particular sensitivities at a particular time or maybe it’s just as simple as they are obsessed with a TV series and I haven’t caught up yet and don’t want the spoilers. Maybe they constantly post memes, or cat videos, or links to sites that I don’t find interesting (these are all just examples, I have nothing against cat videos) but you get the idea. You can follow and unfollow at will and I’m not ashamed to admit that sometimes I do just that. I also only follow pages that I am interested in – the 2007 me that ‘liked’ every page going on this wonderful new site is, after all, somewhat different to 2019 me.

I see it as an act of self-care. We are each responsible for our own well-being and if I felt despair every time I scroll through Facebook because I have read 6 posts in a row about Brexit or Donald Trump, seen a few pictures of the Yulin dog festival or a fox hunt, watched an advert for new diet pills, read about a horrific murder from a news site and been reminded that I still have 3 episodes of that hour long drama that I now know the end of to catch up on then… I’m going to be feeling pretty crappy. I’m not saying we should turn a blind eye to things; the news is important, awareness is important, activism and politics – they are all important and we should all be very aware of what is going on in the world we live in. But – and this is the crux of it – if they are not on our Facebook feeds, then we can choose when we read about them. By choice, I read a newspaper and I keep up with current affairs, but at times when I choose to, when I feel like I can deal with what I am reading, and this is rarely just before I am about to go to sleep or within the first 10 minutes of waking up – I’m an awful procrastinator when my alarm goes off, let’s just check Facebook quickly, eh?.

So, learn to curate your feed, and don’t be ashamed of it or think too deeply about it. I have zero judgement for what other people post – for some, it could be informative and I am well aware that some people are sensitive to things that others are simply not. Like how some people can watch gruesome horror movies and some of us hide behind a cushion and still have nightmares! But, I am able to control what I consume from Facebook, and the rest – and so can you.

Music

Playlists… I love them, I am slightly addicted to them – and no, I’m not going to tell you to only listen to positive songs and to not listen to songs about heartbreak or loss or infidelity or confusion, because some of the best songs written are about other people’s heartbreak. But, be mindful about when you do listen to what you listen to.

Sadness, anger, fear and despair are very real emotions and we do need to feel those things, blocking them out and pretending that they don’t exist isn’t going to help us in the long term. Music can be very cathartic; it can be very cleansing and can evoke wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful) memories. Music can make you feel less alone, it can bring comfort and joy and motivation when its needed most – many a time I have given my dog an entire rendition of Beauty and The Beast or Evita whilst cooking a Sunday roast, because it’s so much more fun to prance around the kitchen pretending to be Lumiere and offering him imaginary cheese soufflé, than it is to just hum along to the radio whilst peeling the eleventy billionth Brussell sprout.

I currently have a Power UP playlist – which is made up of songs that make me feel good and motivated; some are embarrassing, some are pretty powerful, some hold some wonderful memories – and there are a couple of power ballads and musical numbers to screech at the top of my voice in the shower. If I need to get shit done, I put this on. If all I want to do is curl up and nap but I know I need to do something, I put it on. If I’m cold, I put it on and prance about.  

I also have a Slow and Calm playlist. This has the sadder songs; the heartbroken indie boys, the music from sad movies, the instrumentals that pull at the heartstrings and songs that get you right in the feels, it also has perfectly happy songs, but ones that are a little gentler. Sometimes, I listen to this on the bus either to or from therapy; sometimes in the bath if I have had a rough day and sometimes just if I want a good cry!

I have also started to create a playlist that has more meditative music on – chants, nature sounds and gentle instrumentals. This I listen to when it’s still dark outside and I’m getting ready for work. It helps to wake me up and sets my frame of mind for the day. Power UP is too much, Slow and Calm might not put me in a great mood – but something neutral, something gentle and that I relate to relaxation and calm and setting good intentions, is a good way to wake up to the world.

You will know what works for you and when it works for you – but again, like with Facebook and social media – it comes down to options and giving ourselves the choice and knowing when we can handle certain things and when we just can’t. For me, if Mary Lamberts Sum of Our Parts’ and Phoebe Bridgers You Missed My Heart played one after each other – I’d be an emotional whirlwind!

Company

‘You are the company you keep’…. Well, yes and no. Kind of? I’m very on the fence with this saying. We are all our own people – for example, just because someone I spend time with is of one political persuasion, doesn’t mean that I am. Perhaps it is not meant quite so literally, but I like to believe that most of us have courage in our convictions and that sometimes it is our differences that bind us. However, I do know and appreciate that different people can have very positive or very negative influences on us.

This can be dependent on many factors and it can vary from situation to situation. It also won’t always be glaringly apparent, someone doesn’t have to make you feel angry, or upset for them to have had a negative impact on you. They could perhaps leave you feeling just a little unsettled, or under-confident. Perhaps you are more tired after spending time with some people than with others? Certain people may trigger uncomfortable memories or emotions – either because they are part of our past, or they exhibit behaviours and tendencies similar to those that we have experienced before. Maybe certain people encourage you to behave in ways that afterwards leave you feeling embarrassed or like you haven’t been in control…

It isn’t always possible to curate the company we keep. Workplaces, extended friendship groups, families – they all contain people who could potentially be difficult for us to spend time around. But, we can observe our own behaviour and our own reactions to uncomfortable situations with other people, also, in observing our behaviour it is also important to check in with ourselves and ensure that we are not the negative influence. It can be an easy trap to fall into, especially if we have been spending time with people of that ilk. Perhaps it’s easier to recount the six things that went wrong at work, rather than that one thing that went right (we all do it!), maybe our minds have been elsewhere and we haven’t picked up on certain cues that have told us that someone is feeling uncomfortable, or we have inadvertently spent the last 45 minutes talking about ourselves and not let anyone else get a word in edgeways.

We are all made of energy – and physics 101 tells us that we have positive and negative energy at play in the world around us, constantly. As humans, this energy is no different and it can have a big impact on us as individuals. Recently, someone who I feel has quite a negative energy about them spent some time in my home and afterwards I physically cleansed the space; I opened windows, I cleaned, I washed the clothes I had been wearing and the sheets I slept in afterwards. I used sage to clear the air and I meditated to a very calming, positive guided meditation to ground myself and take back some control over the energy in my home. It helped me feel like that encounter was fully over, it had finished and I could move on from it.

It would be wonderful if we could all float around burning sage and meditating at the drop of a hat – but, sadly, we are not there yet. However, there are small things that we can all do every day to keep our own frequencies on track and to minimise the impact of these negative emotions.

Grounding is very important – I will write more fully about this over the next couple of days, but this can be done quietly and calmly if needed. Meditation is also a very handy tool, as is just repeating certain mantras to yourself, even if it is silently. When I was  growing up, my mum had a close friend and if something was beginning to upset her, she would quietly say to herself ‘I will not receive this’ and envisage herself holding up her hand as if to halt whatever was coming her way.

But, if you can, it is perfectly ok to quietly and calmly move away from these people. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good, who want the best for you and who you can learn from – I promise you, they are out there.

What else?

Well… everything else! Once you start making positive choices and decisions about how you spend your time and who you spend it with, you will open up a whole new world of possibilities. Healthy choices are like throwing a stone into a lake – the ripples spread outwards. Just as it would be nonsensical to do an hour’s worth of cardio and then eat a burger, it would also make little sense to create positive energy around you and then go and participate in an activity that you know will drain you and leave you feeling depleted. What we read, eat, watch and say becomes us over time – and it doesn’t even have to be the things we say out loud, it can be that little internal dialogue, the curious and constant thoughts that fill our quieter moments. Curating what we consume allows the positivity to flow freely, it brightens our minds, expands our thoughts and builds our connections with others, it also helps to keep us as the wonderful individuals that we are and were always meant to be.

So do it with passion and without shame, look at it as a radical form of self-care and of protecting that little ember inside of all of us that keeps the fire going – and one day you may just find yourself ablaze with light.

Thank you for reading 🙂 If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me on my following social network pages to see my new posts and daily musings:

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