Phoenix

Facebook memories threw up the blog post I wrote this time last year.

https://wp.me/pZ0Jd-qQ – if you want to see it.

I was facing a time of first anniversaries of months of hurt and limbo and I floundered as I wavered between attempts to bravely move forward and the past refusing to let go.

I had etched a phoenix into my skin to remind me to rise again and above is how she looks a year later. Forgive the fact she is upside down, I am writing this at the breakfast table. I hadn’t planned this post, but it felt too important not to mark that progress.

I now have two more tattoo’s planned, one as a symbol of growth and remaining grounded, one as a defiant reminder to my self to keep my name. I’m just not sure where to put them as I like being able to see these markers and reminders.

Time moves on and so do I. It feels very fitting that today, the day this post arrives to show me how much I was still hurting and grieving this time last year, today I sit at a hotel breakfast table before heading to university for my third week of a foundation science degree in Rehabilitation Work. A course, a job qualification that will hopefully open possibilities and chances for me, allow me to move, to buy a home, to earn more money, to specialise and build a career in care and support and teaching. A course that I set my ship to and made happen.

I have a plan and a direction. Stars to sail my ship by. I’m open to the currents pulling me to unexpected shores, but this ship is under my control and while I can’t see the destination yet, I keep her moving forward. My future is mine and my gaze is forwards now.

There is a reason the phoenix is my symbol. I crash and burn sometimes. The wrong decision or the lack of any can land me in a crumpled heap.

And I always rise and fly again.

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Self Care – how do you practise it?

So we looked at what Self-Care means to people, what stops us taking care of ourselves. Then I asked –

“How do you practise self-care if/when you do?”

Now there’s a case to be made about what is self-care and what is nurture, because the two things aren’t the same… I see them as occupying similar places to surviving and thriving.

We need Self-Care to survive – drink enough water, eat enough food (and hopefully more towards the nutritious end of the scale), get enough sleep, take your medications, keep clean, be in contact with supportive people, check in yourself and see how you’re doing.

It connects to the base 3 layers of Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs (No, not the one with WIFI drawn in!).

Nurture seemed to connect more to the higher 3 levels, with connection to others being the overlap.

What Guidance for Approaching Learning Is There From ...

I looked at what people sent me, and wondered, is this self-care or nurture?

Does it matter? Well it might do to people who are very short on time, energy or struggling with mental health. On days where the duvet weighs a few tons and the world is dark, looking at a list of creative pursuits and listening to birdsong might seem daunting or frivolous.

And that’s not what I want these posts to be. I want to find ways of slipping Self-Care in through the chinks in our lives for when we most need it. Of starting up a Self-Care routine from just one deep breath, just one instance of asking yourself how best to be kind to yourself today, and knowing from that little droplet, if we keep dropping it, ripples will start to spread.

The most common answer I got was some form of “slowing”, of reconnecting to ourselves and what we need in that moment. How people did that depended on their lives. Some were able to use being outside, looking at nature, being away from dependants. Many mentioned being able to take time for themselves or realising that this was what they needed if possible – what people did with that time ranged from nothing at all to being physical and active, creative and crafty, focusing on nature rather than people/work/city, avoiding TV/Computer, reading fiction of choice, meditation, connecting with self by writing or talking with trusted friends, healthy or indulgent food choices (maybe depending on what the norm is?).

I’ve read a few things lately regarding how toxic some self care articles can be, how they are actually about nurture with an unspoken message that if you aren’t doing an hour of yoga every morning before your organic home cooked breakfast well it’s no wonder you’re like this! And I’m trying so very hard to not do that.

You are you. You live your life. And you need a specific set of Self-Care Tools in your toolkit.

And it’s alright to start with the small easy tools that fit.

Take a single deep breath.

Ask yourself how to be kind to yourself today.

See if there’s an answer.

If you can do more, do.

If you can’t. That’s a start for today. The ripples will spread.

 

 

Self Care – What gets in the way?

What stops you practising self-care if/when you don’t?

My lovely friends helped me answer this question too.

While we can understand what Self-Care is and why it’s important, many of us struggle to either make it a regular part of our lives, or to include it at all. Usually at a time when we need it the most. We all harbour doubts over how much we sleep, what we eat, how active we are, how much we support the important people in our lives. We all struggle to do (or not do) things that we know will actually help us feel better.

Why?

There are many reasons and all of them valid. This post isn’t about guilt tripping anyone who finds Self-Care difficult or impossible, but hoping to acknowledge and understand why and see if we can work within the restrictions that life or our brain (or both!) impose on us.

If you find Self-Care tricky, know that you’re not alone.

Many people find that they feel guilty or selfish if they take time out for themselves – there’s always a big pile of stuff that needs doing, that task list doesn’t get smaller by itself! There are friends and family, younger and older people who need your love and attention and care, some of whom simply can’t do without you.

Sometimes we are simply too busy, there’s just too much to do and it’s real and pressured and important and we are not able to stop.

We get exhausted and ill (both physically and mentally), Self-Care can take time and energy and effort, which we simply do not have at times.

Sometimes low moods or mania, anxiety or full on depression can convince us that we simply aren’t worthy of Self-Care (or don’t need it) and that insidious voice is so loud and persuasive that we can’t argue against it, let alone take the extra step of taking care of ourselves.

Maybe we just don’t know anymore what Self-Care is for us. We just know that we don’t have room for it, or the time to investigate further.

Sometimes we’ve tried Self-Care, but perhaps we’ve overwhelmed ourselves by trying or expecting too much too soon and we burn ourselves out. We can’t keep up the regime we set ourselves and believe anything less isn’t worth it.

Or we look at the amount of information out there and get lost vacillating between healthy nutrition and indulgent treats, walking in the fresh air and allowing a duvet day. Am I practising Self-Care or being a lazy pig? And the brain gremlins perk up their ears and rattle the bars of their cages…

There are so many reasons why Self-Care is difficult or even impossible and that’s okay. Life is full and busy and chaotic and it just doesn’t stop.

So just know one thing.

Your reasons are valid.

They don’t make you a bad person. No one else can tell you how, when or if to practise Self-Care. No one else lives your life or has your priorities. Only you can know what time and energy you have (if any!) and what will work for you.

Allowing yourself to have the intention of Self-Care may allow little spaces in your brain where Self-Care can creep in. A positive thought here, a deep breath there, sounds like nothing probably, but every task big and small starts with the intention to start it. Allow yourself to start wondering what might make some positive difference to you, and maybe the first step is to let yourself accept just how tricky this is and letting that be okay.

Recognising what stops you practising Self-Care is important. Recognising that those things are real and valid is important. You, your life and everything in it, are important.

Self Care – What does that mean to you?

I’m doing some research on Self-Care for a series of workshops and talks designed around helping people develop their own Self-Care Toolbox. I decided to ask some friends for their thoughts, feelings and opinions. This post is concerned with the first question I asked:

“What does ‘Self-Care’ mean to you?”

For many people it meant taking time for themselves. Self-Care was an amount of time with their own well-being as the priority. Slowing down the pace of their life in order to think and reassess – being mindful of their life, the world and their place in it. Stopping and checking in with themselves about what they needed, then if possible, supplying it. The first step was to stop and ask “what do I need?”

For many parents, that took considerable effort and planning so wasn’t something that felt it could be done often or regularly, or sometimes at all. Simply not putting yourself last, self preservation.

The concept of self-care was offered as looking after yourself so that you are in turn able to look after others. Or anything that made them feel healthier in mind and/or body – including just feeling happier. The main reason given for Self-Care was in order to de-stress (being happier often being part of that). Suggesting that Self-Care didn’t kick in until we were stressed enough to have to do something about it.

It made me wonder, is it possible to put an element of Self-Care in place to reduce or avoid stress? Of course life can thwack us unexpectedly around the head and stress can never be completely avoided, but can Self-Care come into daily life rather than being applied as an emotional sticking plaster?

Self-care often seemed to be focused on the foundations of well-being:

  • Washing
  • Dressing
  • Taking medications/vitamins
  • Eating nutritiously (if possible), sometimes, just eating.
  • Drinking water
  • Exercise/moving/fresh air

Self-care could be seen as something that felt mildly indulgent or even selfish sometimes.

I have to say, that made me a little sad. Self-Care should be seen as essential and necessary. Like breathing, water, food, taking care of ourselves is part of that package.

It’s also something that’s fluid and changing, sometimes it was taking the break that your body and mind needed, sometimes it was kicking yourself up the butt to get something finished or started.

“It isn’t being nice to yourself, it’s being kind, and in some cases that means practicing self discipline. It’s also different for each person.” Kate, 24, Cambridge.

Kate’s words said exactly what I wanted to, so I asked her permission to use them verbatim.

So Self-Care is different things for different people, and also different for the same person.

The common element is taking a moment to ask yourself what you need right now. What is essential to get done, what will help you de-stress and be happy. Also, what is possible. Life is busy and full and tough and we need to find ways of slipping Self-Care into the chinks available.

The first step in building a Self-Care toolkit is wanting to.

Have the intention.

Find a time when you’re alone – in the bathroom/shower in the morning? On the work commute? Waiting for the kettle to boil? – a minute, 30 seconds – and think something along the lines of, I want to be kind to myself today, how do I take care of myself today, what do I need today and what’s possible? Whatever words are best for you.

That’s the first tool for your toolkit. The tool of intention.

Try it, see what you think and let me know.

Next post is about how Self-Care is practised.

Facing the New Year

I am fond of deadlines and boundaries. They give me a focus. I self impose them all the time, but if I don’t have to, that’s great.

New Year is a big one. It allows me to shake off the emotional detritus of the past months and draw a deep fresh clean breath as I look ahead. It allows me to let go of things and reach for the new. Fresh sheets on the emotional bed.

Yes, I could do this at any time. Sometimes I do. But having the ritual and tradition of a date embeds this practise into the very core of me, so I embrace and use it.

If you’ve read this blog, or simply know me, you’ll know it’s been a tough old time this last year or so.

In the interests of closure, I will finalise something left hanging – I’d been avoiding caffeine as I underwent some tests to check out a funky heartbeat. Luckily it’s nothing to worry about. There’s a thing called ventricular ectopic beats which are common if a little unsettling at times. Keeping an eye on caffeine intake (luckily not having to avoid it altogether!) and stress levels (hear that, 2018, you’re under doctor’s orders!) and all should be well. This is actually a useful weapon against those pesky brain goblins who often dislike me “doing nothing” as they view resting.

The death of my grandad shook me deeply, while not unexpected, it was the first family death I’d experienced for three decades, the first grandparent I’ve lost (knowingly as I don’t know my paternal grandfather) and it rippled on a number of emotional and existential levels. It also toppled the psychological box I’d been stuffing unprocessed grief into as I told myself I was coping and moving forward and out tumbled all the feelings I’d pushed aside as I tried to build up a new life. I was emotionally running before I could stand. I’ve learnt that lesson and slowed down. Back to clearing the ground before building my foundations. I don’t have to reach the sky yet. The first bricks are still waiting to be laid.

So as I look ahead to the new year, almost ironically, the first task is to let myself fully grieve for all that’s gone, all the changes that have happened and everything I’ve experienced. To allow myself to be still and rest. To breathe and just BE for a while. Part of my duties moving forward has to be taking better care of myself, not pushing myself as hard as I was. Not trying to have everything NOW. Ensuring I receive the nurture I give out; whether that’s from myself or close ones. Make the time set aside for rest and recuperation just as important as time spent building a new social life in my new town and making my work life what I need it to be.

Slowly the year will unfold around me in it’s own time. I have the confidence to know that I will get out there and experience it. The fear of isolation is just a fear and unfounded. I will explore my new home town more fully. I hope to branch out socially with new activities and reclaim the yoga and bellydancing classes that I dropped in recent months due to exhaustion. I hope to have time for my creative projects, time for meditation and mindfulness, for health and fitness. Time for friends, both old and new and those yet to be made.

Exploration and nurture seem to be my keywords for the year ahead. I like those words.

If I forget, please remind me of them. Especially the second.

wolf

Anniversaries

“Bear with…” as Miranda’s friend would say…

It’s a time of anniversaries.

I hope it won’t last, I hope this time, this first time, is an anomalous dip. But I’ve now come through my difficult year and have entered the anniversary stage, the “this time last year” stage and for a while, it’s going to be painful.

I won’t allow myself to wallow, but neither should I forget. Forgetting means I don’t allow myself to recognise how far I’ve come, how much I’ve built, how brave and strong I’ve been.

And, how far I’ve yet to go, how much is yet unexplored and undiscovered in this new life of mine, this new version of me.

This time last year I was only just facing up to the decisions I had finally admitted I needed to make, but the pain of making them was still too great to bear. I only prolonged it.

This time last year I had balked against the idea of needing such major surgery and was waiting on a specialist to gently tell me that was the only option I had. While the physical effects are mostly healed, even my scar is fading into celebratory silver, the odd ache and twinge is echoed in a strange emotional reaction. While I was utterly content with my decision to not have children, while I have no reason to believe I would ever have changed my mind (especially having reached my early 40s), to have that decision, that choice, removed from me… that shook me to a depth I had no idea existed.

This time last year, my entire life was limbo for months to come.

So bear with me as I move through these next months. I may be erratic in my emotions, I may cope one moment and feel overwhelmed the next. I may speak up or withdraw.

I’m still grieving for all that I lost, all that I walked away from, the choices that were taken away or never really existed.

But there’s a reason I had a phoenix inscribed on my skin this last week. The image that sits after the semi-colon, the next part of my sentence.

We will rise. And fly.

phoenix

Of Internet Dating – my experience in screenshots.

Finding myself single at 42 for the first time in over two decades, I found myself wondering how I went about meeting new men…

Internet dating wasn’t really a thing in the mid-nineties, certainly not in the way it is now, and not something I’d ever tried. The last time I was single was 1996 where I got exceedingly drunk at a Halloween party, sat on someone’s lap and suggested he took me home. That relationship became a marriage and lasted 20 years. So it was with a lot of thought and no little amount of trepidation that I decided it give dating sites a go this year and see what happened. While not looking for a committed relationship, I did want to create a wider local social circle and, well, a girl gets lonely sometimes. Company is nice. I wasn’t discounting anything, I also wasn’t promising anything. No expectations. No restrictions.

We all hear the stories…. I decided I would publish some of the less appealing offers I received.

For every picture you see, there were others that weren’t explicit, disturbing or funny enough to screenshot and publish, but were still uncomfortable to receive, made me feel like part of a numbers game rather than a person they wanted to know. One that I wish I’d screenshotted before blocking him answered my polite “no thanks” with his penis size… as if that would change my mind.  There were many messages that put a toe just over the boundary line with a mock innocent expression – not enough that you could call it out, but enough to make it was clear they weren’t interested in my sparkling erudite personality. Which is a shame because they’re missing out on a treat there.

So onto the screenshots –

This person had messaged me before and got a polite no thanks. I then took a break and hid my profile, meaning it couldn’t be found unless someone accessed it via a previously sent message:

Sometimes a simple request gets a simple answer:

Not enough coffee in the world for this. Dude. It’s barely morning:

Not even Instagram was safe! I rarely post selfies on Instagram, it’s more about my craft projects, but every now and again a girl feels good and wants the world to know it.

And for the record, there are tons of cute larpers – if you can’t find them they are clearly hiding from you:

My attractiveness has nothing to do with the fact that your age is not a defining factor in wanting to meet you:

For the record, I am exceedingly sexy and kissable, however I suspect the type of friends you are wanting to be comes with benefits and those are earned not given after one message:

Spelling and lack of poo emojis will go a long way:

Absolutely because meeting a complete stranger who’s only interested in proximity is my only requirement in dating. Oh wait. The other thing:

Only with plenty of lube:

The conversation had genuinely been going well until this point:

Sometimes no answer IS your answer. Take it and move on:

Amongst all this were the decent conversations and a few people that I’ve kept in touch with. But there were also conversations that while not warranting a screenshot, were… just off… in their tone. And I consider I got off lightly, while also hating that I’m set up to think this way.

Of bellies and dancing

I did it.

I went to the belly dancing taster.

Something I’ve been wanted to try for decades and never found the confidence. If ever there is a time for faking it till I make it, it’s now. I also figure what better way to regain core strength and confidence after my hysterectomy than with something so intrinsically and fundamentally feminine?

New town. New home. New life. But not a new me…. a more me. A deeply strongly confidently solely me.

This week was about being big and brave. Diving straight into that deep end. Finding a yoga class, starting the deep work with my counsellor, discussing a new project and this. Dancing. Belly dancing. New people. New place. Several things that alone make me anxious and here am I combining them.

Tonight was a demonstration raising money for some charity or other, then a chance to try it out.

The setting was incongruous – an old man’s fishermans club so I felt so incredibly self conscious with a fair amount of people sat round watching, but still I did it. I did make sure I was close to the stage furthest from any audience. 

I’d started talking to a woman outside while we waited to go in, someone who looked as nervous and as unsure as me. She was in a similar position – always wanted to try it and never before had the confidence. We agreed to look after each other. We sat together and chatted while waiting for things to get started, shared a bit of our life stories, found some similarities. 

What she failed to tell me was she knew several other people who were also turning up, so all of a sudden I’m introducing myself to several new people and being unexpectedly social! Everyone was friendly and included me in their social conversation without a second blink. 

The demonstration thrilled me with the rich vibrant colours and the flowing silky or chiffon fabrics, the glint and the ting of golden discs and the fuck your conventional body shapes sexiness.

Then it was our turn. 

I have fuck all core strength, not much balance (you need core strength for that it seems) and I swear I used to have some coordination and dexterity. Which arm goes with what leg again? Oh, we’re turning now. Oops, other way!

I felt awkward and exposed and vulnerable. 

But I also felt a glimmer of what it could be. 

The power. The strength. The confidence.

One of the women in the dance class (not the sea gypsies performance group who were also there and performed) approached me and started chatting. A mind blowing 62 years old (does not look nor act it, I want to be her), she was so friendly and made it easy for me to take down the details of the Tuesday night class (I’ll have to swap yoga to Thursdays…) and agree to go along. The lady I’d got chatting to outside is planning to go too. I made her promise.

I was checking what to wear, admitting I loved the outfits and the lovely dance lady gave me a coin belt. One I’ll wear to my first class.

At that point all the emotions came up to say hello and I don’t want to walk home alone too late in a city I’m still learning so I excused myself and left.

Laughter and tears mixing as I walk home.

I did it. And I can’t wait for Tuesday. 

Shopping for Counsellors

Choosing a counsellor is an important process. However it’s one that we often don’t get to have, or one that perhaps we don’t feel we can do.

Counselling is a deeply individual process, and much of it’s success depends upon the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client. It has to be a good “fit”.

We very rarely buy clothes or shoes without trying them on to check the fit and how we feel in them, yet how often do we allow ourselves to have introductory or initial sessions with a number of counsellors to see how we feel with them? Even if we are in a position to do so. If our counselling is via the GP, or NHS, then a choice of counsellor may seem impossible. But it’s still important.

We rarely continue friendships with people we don’t feel comfortable with, we don’t open up to them in the way we do to others – so why think a therapeutic relationship with a counsellor would be any different?

It can feel odd to “try someone out” and then reject them and choose someone else. We’re kind of taught that that’s not really a nice thing to do in relationships – even one where we are paying someone to listen to us and entering into what is essentially a business relationship. We aren’t making a new friend here, even if the counsellor may end up knowing up better than most of our closest friends.

If you have the opportunity, take introductory sessions with counsellors. Some do this face to face, some over the phone or skype, often at a reduced rate, occasionally even free. Maybe this would be useful even if you’re entering into a situation where you don’t get to choose your counsellor – it can give you a sense of what type of situation and person works for you.

Try counsellors of different modalities, unless you know what modality is your cup of tea. Psychodynamic is very different to Gestalt, open-ended person-centred is different to short term Solution Focused.

You need your personal unique fit, to your emotional curves, bumps and dimples. How you feel with that person is important. Do you feel safe, do you trust them, can you be honest with them, can you allow them to challenge you, can you be vulnerable with them?

What is your instinctive feeling during that first session?

Sometimes we just like people, or dislike others. Sometimes they remind us of someone, and this can help or hinder the process. Sometimes we can’t pinpoint where our feelings of yes or no come from, but it’s important to listen to and take notice of.

One counsellor does not fit all.

It’s okay not to get on with one and want someone else.

Don’t run an emotional marathon in ill fitting shoes.

Self Care is Sexy

So I last wrote about lists and tasks and getting things done and how important that is in my fight against the Goblins of Anxiety.

And sometimes it’s not enough…

Sometimes the most important thing to go on the list is Self-Care.

Amongst some of my dearest is the saying “Self-Care is Sexy”

Because we think that self care gets a bad deal. Plus we need reminding ourselves. We’re fine with telling others to look after themselves, but frankly a bit shit at taking our own advice.

Self-care can take many forms. From a duvet day, to seeing friends, from a decent meal, to getting away for a holiday, to a bubblebath, to a nice glass of wine or steering clear of substances for a while to appropriately prescribed medications. All dependent on what’s going on, what you will allow yourself to do and what time/energy you have available.

Self care is personal, just because someone else swears by meditation, running, the gym, crafting while watching trashy telly, doesn’t mean it will work for you. You need to experiment and be honest with yourself about the results.

self-care

I really like that tree from – https://imaginethatyou.wordpress.com/ – while not everything on there is on my self-care list, I like the idea of having a “Self-Care Tree” like this. May have to do this!

There’s also a list somewhere along the lines of – have you eaten, have you slept, have you drunk some water, have you got some fresh air, have you washed – which can be handy when those goblins are running rambunctiously in our minds.

After a number of days of not getting enough sleep, heart palpitations and my digestive system shutting down to the point that I lost 4lbs in as many days, I phoned my doctor and after a chat about what was going on and what I was experiencing, received a prescription for a low dose sedative as a temporary measure.

I’ve been medicated a few times to varying degrees and for various lengths of time. And while I’d rather not, I have no problems with it. It’s like I’d rather not take paracetamol because I don’t want to be in pain to begin with. But if the pain is there, I’m damn well going to take the pills – and look at why I’m in pain and try and address the cause. Natch.

So self care then! Put on your own mental health oxygen mask first before helping others. Healer, heal thyself (then the rest of the D&D party if they ask nicely).

It’s not selfish, or arrogant, or lazy or indulgent to do self care. It doesn’t mean you’re failing.

I’m also not doing the “if you would only have an organic flax seed smoothie every morning and meditate for an hour then you’d not need medication” bollocks, because frankly shut up with that crap.

Whatever works. As long as it doesn’t actively harm you, or others, go for it. If there are things that absolutely must get done, get what support you need to do them. Push anything that can be pushed back by a period of time, and treat yourself.