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The Productivity Trap!

One of my husband’s oldest friends is getting married in May.  This week saw the lads all jetting off for his stag in Lanzorote.  We are still struggling to get Annie’s seizures under control and I decided to take the time off work, so that she wouldn’t be left home alone for too long.  We have a busy couple of months ahead, with three weddings, a hen party, some renovations in the house and our own summer holiday all happening at once.

Seeing as I was going to be off work for three days, it seemed like as good a time as any to get some “stuff” done.  We were getting new carpet fitted so being here for the fitters early Wednesday morning was the first thing on the agenda.  Alas, it wasn’t the only thing.  There was so much to be achieved, in fact, that I decided to make a list.  The problem was, every time I ticked one item off the list, I added at least two more.  It was becoming a little overwhelming.  I joked to my friend that I had enough on the list to fill three weeks, never mind three days!

No sooner had the carpet guys left, then I was on to the next thing.  Getting my badly overdue hair done.  With the crazy weather we have been having the last few weeks, it’s like everything is having to happen out of sequence (this does nothing for my inner control freak.)  When I got home from the salon, I had to deal with the mess the carpet fitters had left.  Two huge bags of off cuts were waiting in the hall for me to deal with.  They were never going to fit in the wheelie bins, and I knew if I stashed them somewhere for the “time being” that they would still be there the next time we get carpet!  A trip to the dump was the only thing for it.

Now, a sane person would have just thrown the two bags in the car and made her way to the landfill.  But not me, oh no!  I decided to go to the shed to see what else was in there that could do with being dumped.  Our shed was packed to the rafters with crap, which we had put there for the time being, throughout the decade we have lived here.  So, I began to load up my car with empty bottles, broken blinds, Styrofoam from every appliance we have ever owned, or so it seemed.  It was only at the point when I was trying to stuff an arm chair into my already full Fiesta, that I started to think perhaps this was ill advised!

It struck me that the armchair into the Fiesta debacle was sort of an apt analogy.  Our 21st Century lives are incredibly full.  We balance demanding careers, family, running a home, our health and fitness etc., etc.  However, instead of standing back and congratulating ourselves for achieving so much and managing to keep all the plates spinning, we constantly ask ourselves “what else can I fit in?”  How can I do more?  How can I be more “effective?”

We never seem to be satisfied, and social and main stream media don’t help.  Any time you log on, someone is extolling the virtues of the next thing we should all be doing.  This week it could be journalling, next week it might be meditation.  Practicing gratitude and colouring in were the big ticket items last year, along with finding fun new ways to use coconut oil and tumeric!  It’s so easy to get caught up with it all.  It’s easy to feel like if you haven’t been up since 5am to do a sun salutation and drink a green smoothie that you are somehow failing.

We even wear devices to track and monitor our sleep.  Both the quantity and quality can be measured.  Anyone who knows me can tell you I love my bed.  All my life I have been told I can sleep for Ireland.  So, imagine my surprise when at age 36 my FitBit tells me I am doing a crappy job!  I rarely get more than an hour of deep sleep a night.  Surely this can’t be enough?  How can I get more?  How can I do it better?  Rationally I know worrying about this is ridiculous.  Sure, I can TRY to control how much sleep I get, but the quality of that sleep is a little more complicated.  But my distress around this poor metric really underlined our obsession with personal effectiveness.

Are we taking it all too far?  Have we forgotten how to just be in the moment?  Do we even know how it feels to be relaxed anymore?  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good list as much as the next girl.  I have dozens of notebooks (some of them are too pretty to actually write in, but that’s another story.)  I believe in setting goals and strategically, methodically doing the work required to achieve them.  However, I am increasingly aware of how important it is to have some time to just chill!  Your day off shouldn’t feel like harder work than a day at the office.  We are so addicted to being busy, that we are afraid to admit we take our foot off the gas, even for a moment.

As human beings our time, energy and inclination are all finite resources.  The irony is that I took this time off work so I could be with my puppy, but on Wednesday evening I was so exhausted that I found myself being impatient with her.  The people, and puppies, in our lives deserve the best of us, not whatever is left over when we get to the end of our list.  Personal effectiveness is, of course, important, but even dynamos need a day off.  Be well xxx

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No Business Like Snow Business!

This time two weeks ago, Ireland was bracing itself for the arrival of Storm Emma and “The Beast From The East!”  Just like when a tornado meets a volcano, it was to be a perfect storm.  For three days the country was hit with the most severe snow storm in a generation.  Huge drifts left roads impassable and very many of us were housebound for the duration.  Panic set in as people cleared the stores out of bread and milk.  Some households lost power, others were without water.  In fact some areas are yet to have their water supply fully restored and curtailments are still in place.

As for me, I was without the gym!  Before you accuse me of having a pity party, or being down right nuts, let me give you a little context.

Just over a year ago, I was diagnosed with hyper mobility in my hips and back.  I had been having pain in my hips for a long time (which I had steadfastly ignored) before eventually reaching out to a physio for help.  The guy I went to was great.  He gave me exercises to do and before long, I was free of pain.  He also explained to me that because my hips are essentially too loose, I don’t have the stability required to do some exercises, namely anything involving a squat!

At the time I was in a Strength and Conditioning gym, doing Crossfit style training.  Anyone who done or even watched Crossfit will know that not being able to squat safely, rules out a huge number of exercises.  The trainers at the gym were really understanding, but after a few months of constantly having to modify workouts, my frustration got the better of me and I decided to leave.  It was torture seeing everyone else taking part in workouts I was excluded from.  I felt like a kid not being allowed to play with any toys!

I joined a local leisure centre and started taking fitness classes there.  I was also doing a little bit of strength training, “my own thing” as I called it.  However, it was very unstructured.  I didn’t have the confidence to start squatting again without someone watching me carefully.  Whatever else happened, I knew I didn’t want to risk another injury.   Meanwhile, I was getting more involved with Zumba.  The more time it was taking up, the less I had available for my own training.  With the limited time I had, I was happy enough tipping away with what I was doing.

Fast forward to this year.  My Zumba classes are up and running and although learning new choreography will always take time, it is not as all consuming as it once was.  I found myself with the desire to focus again on my own fitness.  This time, I knew I needed the help of a professional.  So, I booked in with a personal trainer.  I explained all of my issues (that took a while) and told him exactly what I was hoping to achieve.  I wanted to build strength in order to support my activity, I couldn’t afford to risk injury and eventually I wanted to be able to get under a barbell again.

The trainer, to his credit, was completely undaunted by this.  He told me to come back in a couple of days and he would have my program ready for me.  True to his word, when I returned, it was all set.  We ran through everything and I began to get really excited.  All I had to do was follow his instructions and before too long, I could get back to “proper training.”  I left the gym that lunchtime feeling relieved and elated.  I had honestly given up hope of ever being able to do all of the fun stuff, like Olympic lifting, that I had loved in the past.  I had been in denial about just how much I missed it.  I was so grateful to not be injured anymore, but had no idea how to bridge the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be.

I was so happy I practically skipped to the car.  I managed to do one more session that weekend and then BOOM!!  Snowed in!  Are you actually kidding me right now???  Once again, I felt like I had taken one step forward and two steps back.  Is it too much to ask for just a little momentum?  Okay so in my rational mind I knew this wasn’t a big deal.  A few days watching Netflix and eating chocolate never killed anyone, right?  But I couldn’t help feeling that this interruption to my newly budding regime was coming at the worst possible time.

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All in all, I think we made the most of the snow-cation.  We took Annie on adventures (she was in Heaven) and we ate as well as we could, apart from the chocolate and beer!  By the Monday enough of the snow had cleared to allow us to go to work and by Tuesday I was back at the gym.  I ran into my trainer and he asked how I was getting on.  I explained that I hadn’t been able to get in and I think he could sense my frustration.  He just looked at me and said “but you’re here now.  Most people would have said screw it and never come back again!”  He was probably right.

You see the thing about me is I don’t like waiting.  I want everything to be happening right now.  When I commit to something, I go all in and I don’t deal well with my efforts being thwarted.  I am a control freak, but alas, even I cannot control the weather.  What I can control is how I react to it.  Do I allow the snow to bury me, or do I brush it off and move on as best I can?  Loath as I am to admit it, there are always going to be things that come up and get in the way.  Sometimes we are able to go through them, sometimes we have to go around.  Still other times, we just have to settle in and wait for the thaw.  Be well xxx

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How Getting Sick Was The Best Thing For My Health!

I first embarked on my weight loss journey back in 2010.  My first stop en route was Weight Watchers.  Since then, I have tried lots of different diets and plans, adopting a kind of trial and error philosophy.  I have spent a number of years experimenting with Paleo and other whole food approaches and I considered my diet to be fairly “healthy.”  I had eliminated or reduced a lot of different foods throughout the years.  Refined grains and sugars predominantly.  Don’t get me wrong, I still ate bagels and birthday cake, but they were definitely what I called “sometimes foods!”

I have had a long history of stomach problems.  I was originally diagnosed with IBS in my early 20s, but in truth, I had never had an easy time with my gut.  I would frequently experience abdominal cramping, bloating and other symptoms I will spare you the details of!  I could probably write an entire post on IBS, and perhaps some day I will, but for now, let’s me just say it isn’t pleasant.  Having gone through a battery of tests, I was eventually advised by the hospital to try the FODMAP diet, late last year.

This diet is essentially an elimination diet.  It not only calls for the exclusion of know gut irritants such as gluten and lactose, but also lots of fruits and veggies (garlic, onions, apples, butternut squash to name just a few.)  It was a tough diet to adhere to, but anyone who has experience of IBS will understand that I was happy to try just about anything if it meant no pain.  So off I went with my list of banned foods, determined to stick to it rigidly and looking forward to feeling better!

For the first week or so that was exactly what happened.  I had no stomach pain and I really felt like my insides were working properly for once.  However, towards the end of the second week on the diet, I got sick, and pretty much stayed sick for 3 months.  As discussed in The Winter of My Discontent!

I am not a good patient and I was getting really fed up with feeling crappy.  I was also quite indignant!  I look after myself, I eat well, I exercise, drink water etc.  How can my body be doing this to me when I am so “healthy?”  Except, wait a minute.  Surely if I am sick all the bloody time, that means I am NOT healthy?  As the days in pajamas passed, I had a lot of time to think about what might be going on.  Could it be that I had eliminated too many foods from my diet for it to be providing adequate nutrition?  Could it be that in my quest for health and wellness, I had pushed my body in the opposite direction?

By the beginning of January I had had enough.  I had a wretched cough which had been driving me and everyone else nuts for weeks.  I was on an antibiotic, which I knew was going to run me down even further.  Something had to be done.  I spoke to my sister and mother at length and came up with a strategy.  Firstly, I was going to start on a strong Probiotic (I take BioKult) to try to restore the balance in my gut.  Secondly, I was to start taking a “tonic” as we we have called it growing up (I was advised by my mother to try Revive Active, and mother knows best)  Thirdly, and perhaps, most importantly, I was going to reintroduce most of the foods I had eliminated.

This didn’t mean going gangbusters in the bakery aisle.  Instead it meant bringing back foods which I know to be nutritious, and which don’t seem to cause problems for my stomach.  So for example, apples are still out because I have identified them as triggers.  But all the vegetables I had been avoiding came back.  That very day, I got the recipe from my sister for a chicken stew.  Packed to the brim with veggies, and chicken cooked on the bone, it not only tasted amazing, but I could actually feel it doing me good.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, I think that stew may have saved me, or at least sped up my recovery.  Since then I have been experimenting with more stews and casseroles.  Good healthy, whole foods, just like mom used to make.  It has been a couple of months since I finished my antibiotics and I am happy to report that I feel great.  Like my old self again.  Furthermore, I feel fortified and resilient.  Confident that I can fight off any little nasties that come my way.  Even the Beast from the East doesn’t scare me, with a pot of stew on the go!

I have always said that healthy lifestyle is about trial and error.  What works for someone else, might not work for you.  What worked for you in the past might not be what your body needs now.  If something is not working for you, change it.  I clung to my ideas of what a healthy diet looks like, long after it was clear that it wasn’t working, and it was to my detriment.  My illness forced me to reexamine everything and I am so glad that I did.  As the saying goes “Don’t hang on to a mistake, just because you spent a long time making it.”  Be well xxx

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My Tribe, My Vibe!

“Embrace your duality!”  This was some very good advice I received at a workshop I attended recently.  What the speaker meant by this, is that often we can have two seemingly opposite sides of us, which both need to be acknowledged at different times.  So, for example you might be very confident and self assured in the work place, but shy and reserved in social situations.  Neither of these is more valid than the other.  In order to avoid conflict within ourselves, we need to acknowledge and accept all of our many facets.  Easy, right?  In theory, yes.  In practice, not so much!

I have always been a fiercely independent person.  I enjoy my own company and usually gravitate towards solo activities.  Nothing makes me happier than curling up with a cup of tea and a good book.  I love taking long walks with a Podcast and the pupper.  I recognise that time spent alone and quiet is vitally important to allow me to restore and renew, especially at those times when it feels like everyone wants a piece of me!  Even when I was a little girl, I would often retreat for hours.  Infinitely more comfortable alone, or in small groups, than in the crowd.

A few years ago, I went through a rough time.  I was starting out in my career, and in typical Arwen fashion, I was determined to do anything I could fast track it.  I left a job, which was close to home, to work somewhere farther away, because I felt it was a step up.  I saw it as a necessary evil.  The country was deep into a recession and opportunities were few and far between.  In making the change, I was also leaving behind so much familiarity.  I was walking away from friends and colleagues I had been working with for years.  I was leaving the little pond to go be a little fish in a much bigger one.

When I started the new job, it was immediately apparent that it might not have been the “right” decision.  The commute was hellish and the workload was insane.  It was nothing overly complicated, I was simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work.  It wasn’t long before I was skipping lunch and bringing work home with me in a vain attempt to catch up.  I was in college at the time too and I honestly felt I was spending all my whole life working, studying or driving.  I had no time to see friends or do any of the things I enjoy.

However, this wasn’t worst part of it.  I am not afraid of hard work and I can usually gut out most difficult situations.  The thing, which impacted me most negatively was the people.  I DID NOT fit in.  The girls I worked with were cliquey and unfriendly (think Mean Girls)  I enjoy a gossip as much as the next girl, as long as it’s harmless.  Theirs wasn’t.  So, in order to avoid getting drawn in to the nastiness, I kept contact to a minimum.  I would often go through an entire day without having a single conversation that wasn’t work related with anyone.  It was awful.

I couldn’t understand why I was so upset by it.  It wasn’t like I was looking for a new best friend.  It took me a long time to understand what I was feeling.  I was lonely.  Desperately lonely.  Even someone was happy in their own company as I am, needs some level of human interaction during the day.  Going from 7am to 7pm each day without even a chat about what was on TV last night is extremely difficult.  If you don’t believe me, try it for a few hours.  I was totally isolated and felt like I had been sent to Siberia (think Erin Brockovich)

Thankfully, I wasn’t in that situation for too long.  I changed jobs again and met a whole load of like minded people.  I relished in the sense of camaraderie I had so sorely missed.  I joined a Strength and Conditioning gym where I made a lot of great pals, and began feeling so much better.  I was connected!  I had found my tribe!

Since then, there have been so many changes in my life.  New jobs, new gyms, new business ventures etc.  There have been times during all of that when I have felt disconnected and alone.  Feeling lonely is, at least for me, a difficult thing to recognise and an even more difficult thing to admit.  Especially when it seems like I have no “reason” to feel that way.  I am getting a little better and I have started to notice a things which trigger it.

I have experienced these feelings most acutely when a situation or dynamic changes.  For instance, when I went from being one of the team to being a “manager.”  This small change put a huge distance between myself and those reporting to me.  Even the transition from Zumba student to Zumba instructor hasn’t been an easy one.  It has set me apart from the rest of the tribe and I have found myself feeling like I am on the outside looking in!

Obviously these changes are a normal part of life and anyone who wants to forge ahead will probably experience these periods of loneliness.  Times spent wondering where, if anywhere, you fit in.  Times when you don’t feel part of a tribe at all.  In these times, it’s important to remember than everything is transient.  If you feel lonely and isolated now, remind yourself that you won’t feel like this forever.  Try to reach out to those who know you best and draw them closer to you.  It’s okay to say “I feel lonely.”  It’s okay to admit that you are struggling and need help.

I try to avoid regret, but I do honestly wish I had done something, anything differently when I was in that awful job.  I wish I hadn’t been afraid to let me friends know how much I needed them.  I wish I hadn’t seen it as a failure to say “I don’t fit in.”  It was many years later before I was able to tell anyone what I had been going through.  Those Mean Girls were definitely not my tribe, and I now realise how lucky I was to have avoided being indoctrinated!  Be well xxx

Tribe

 

 

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The Winter of My Discontent!

Last October I got sick.  It started with a stomach flu, which lasted a couple of weeks.  No sooner was I recovering from that, when I caught the seasonal flu.  That hung around all over Christmas and really put a damper on things.  New Year came and my dose had morphed into a nasty chest infection, which needed an antibiotic to clear up.  I finished the medication and started feeling a little better when I caught a bloody cold.

Long story short, I was sick for the entire winter.  Nothing serious, thankfully, just a few years worth of common illnesses all in one go!  I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything.  And just as I didn’t want to physically spread my contagion, neither did I want to risk infecting my wonderful readers with my malaise!  My energy levels were at an all time low.  I couldn’t get excited about anything and honestly felt I had lost touch with myself.  Who was this person full of negativity?  I wasn’t sleeping well or eating well.  My “self care” amounted to showering and the occasional fresh set of pjs.  I was just a mess.

During this time there was a lot of other stuff going on in the background too.  My poor dog started taking seizures.  (We have started her on medication and thankfully it seems to be settling down, but I was beside myself with worry.)  It was a very busy time in work, with budgets, audits and year end all demanding their fair share of my dwindling resources.  Christmas itself is always hectic with shopping and visiting.

I was also trying to get Zumba with Arwen off the ground.  It was hugely frustrating not to be able to give that 100%.  I had planned that over the Christmas break I would be able to learn all new dances and start the year with a bang.  As it turned out, I didn’t dance one step between finishing classes mid December and starting back in early January.  I literally couldn’t.  The first class back was like a near death experience!  I was still on antibiotics and truly thought I would pass out at about the 45 minute mark.  Mercifully, we all got through it, and I am not sure anyone even noticed.  Each class has gotten easier since then, and I have even managed to get a few new numbers into the play list.

In early January, I was approached by a company looking for me to lead a corporate wellness program for their employees.  I had worked with them the previous year and at any other time I would have jumped at the chance.  This time was completely different.  Full disclosure, I did everything I could to get out of it.  Months of illness with no training and comfort eating (more on this in a future post) had left me out of shape.  I am regularly plagued by impostor syndrome, but this time was worse than ever.  I felt like a complete fraud.  Who was I to offer lifestyle advice to other people when I couldn’t even get my own health on track?  I literally had nothing to give.  Or so I thought.

Luckily for me, the organiser of the program is a good friend of mine and she would not take no for an answer.  Between us we managed to come up with a way of running the program to maximise the benefits for the participants, without stressing me out of my mind.  I will be eternally grateful to her for giving me that push.  The lifestyle challenge ended up being a great success and I feel privileged to have been a part of it.  I think it was me who actually got the most out of it.

The last couple of weeks, as the days get longer and brighter, I have FINALLY started to feel like myself again.  I am no longer shrouded in darkness.  Once again, I am taking pleasure in preparing healthy food, and taking walks.  My Zumba classes are a huge source of joy in my life and I look forward to them with impatient anticipation.  As I have started to take care of my nutrition and get moving again, naturally my weight has started to come down.  I am confident that I will be back to my fighting weight before long, but I am not putting pressure on myself to get there.

I have learned so much through the long, dark winter.  I will fill you in on all of this and more in the coming weeks.  I am sorry to have been away for so long.  I didn’t feel I had anything to give, and you guys have enough going on in your own lives, without listening to me moaning!

It is definitely true to say that 2018 did not start the way I wanted it to.  I was not where I wanted to be physically, mentally or emotionally.  Part of me feels like the year is already a write off.  But a bigger part of me knows this to be completely false.  I know I shouldn’t need the symbolic turning of the year to reinvigorate me, but in the past it has always served as a source of motivation.  So, I have decided to celebrate Chinese New Year on 16th of February.  It is the Year of the Dog, after all!  My audit is finished and 2017 closed out, so I can finally shift my focus to the year ahead.

Happy New Year!  Be well xxx

 

 

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Green Friday?

I have great affection for America.  I spent a year living in California as a child and it proved to be a very formative experience.  In fact, I credit my time there with being at least partly responsible for some of my “out there” personality traits.  I also spent a summer working in Michigan on the beautiful Mackinac Island.  I adored every second of it, and treasure the memories made there.

I also love Americana.  Diners, coke floats, Thanks Giving Parades, you name it.  One thing, we Europeans seem to have adopted from our cousins across the pond, which I don’t love, however, is excessive consumerism.  This is prevalent all year round, but of course, never more so than on the run up to “The Holidays.”  It is the middle of November and I have lost count of the number of emails I have received from retailers, telling me about their Black Friday Week sales.

There is so much wrong with this, I almost don’t know where to begin.  Firstly, to state the obvious, Friday is a day NOT a week, so can we please just nip that in the bud?  Secondly, can we at least acknowledge that this is utter nonsense.  All these retailers want to do is clear their old stock and extend the festive spending period for another week or so.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a bargain as much as the next girl, but we have to draw the line somewhere.  Don’t we?

Over the last week or so, I have been literally one click away (several times) from spending hundreds of euros, I don’t have, on stuff I don’t need.  We get swept away with it all.  “Oh, that coat would be lovely for Christmas morning,” or “my mother would love that bag.”  All it takes is a momentary lapse of will and they have you.  Hook, line and sinker.

I have spoken on the blog before about seasonal overspend.  This year my family have decided to do a Secret Santa, and on the face of it, it should solve a lot of problems.  Each person only has to buy one gift.  There is a spending limit in place, and each person should receive one nice, well thought out gift, instead of lots of little things.  Perfect!  Except, ironically, it almost seems as though the stress of not spending is worse than the stress of spending.

I worry about the gift I am going to buy.  Will the person like it?  They better had, as it will be the only one they receive.  Can I really arrive on Christmas morning with only one gift?  Is that going to be weird?  Yes, it probably will feel strange at first.  But if anything, it will mean that we can take the emphasis off the gift giving, and put it on to spending time together, and the food of course!

It is no secret that marketing companies are designed to make us feel inadequate.  They make money by making us feel that we are lacking something, and that their product can fix it.  It is absolutely everywhere and I fear we women can even more easily fall victim to it.

I recently attended a beauty workshop hosted by Suzanne Jackson.  Anyone who knows me could tell you this isn’t really my bag, by my pal asked me to go with her, and the promise of afternoon tea proved too tempting to resist.  The day was essentially an advertisement.  Hour after hour spent listening to which products we simply cannot do without.  I left the event feeling very peculiar.  I mean, if I don’t use 200 make-up products, fake lashes and fake tan, am I even a proper woman?  If my wardrobe lacks designer labels, am I just not doing it right?

It would have been so easy to get sucked into it.  I was on the brink of booking myself onto a make-up course and learning how to contour for once and for all, God damn it!  Hair extensions were being ordered and I was trying really hard to figure out how I was going to fit all this crap into my tiny bathroom!  Then the word Botox started being bandied around, and it finally brought me back to earth.  I looked at my friend and we both just laughed.  It is another world, and one which will have to do without me as a citizen!

As some of you may know, my mother and sister do a lot of work with Dublin’s homeless community.  (Check them out on Facebook A Welcome Place.)  They run a weekly soup kitchen and work tirelessly in the background to make sure they have all they need, to feed those less fortunate.  I am incredibly proud of the work they do.  They stand on Grafton Street, in often hideous weather conditions, every Thursday night, putting the needs of others before their own.

Having spent an evening or two working with them, I feel like I have some understanding of what goes into it, and how much it takes out of them.  It is utterly appalling to see people trying to survive on the streets.  It is difficult to imagine having nothing and nowhere to call you own.  So yes, I am so very proud, but I will admit that it also makes me feel guilty and conflicted.

How can I even consider buying another pair of shoes, when there are people whose whole lives fit into a rucksack?  How can I, in good conscience, spend €75 to listen to some chick tell me about lipstick, when there are people without facilities for basic hygiene?  I am really struggling to reconcile this.  Is it selfish of me to want nice things?  I want a comfortable home and a reliable car.  I am not prepared to sacrifice these things for others, yet their suffering deeply troubles me.

I have no idea what the answer to this is.  I can, however, think of a few things I can do.  I can stop buying into Black Friday and all the other consumer concepts.  I can stop fueling my own feelings of inadequacy, while lining the pockets of big business.  I can commit to spend less and save more, so that I might someday be in a position to actually help someone.  I can give thanks for all that I have, which is what this week in November is supposed to be about after all.  Be well xxx

 

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Another Run Around The Sun!

It’s my birthday next week, again!  Birthdays are always a time of mixed feelings for me.  A period of reflection on the past year and of planning for the coming one.  But this, my 36th birthday, feels very different.  When I look back on everything that has happened in the last 12 months, I actually can’t believe it.

The last year has seen me taking lots of small, seemingly insignificant steps, which have somehow accumulated to bring me so much closer to my “dream life” than I could have thought possible when I was turning 35!  Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I have begun to change.  So here’s the run down!

I started coaching nutrition clients!  Even as I type this, I almost can’t believe it.  After all the training, the research and my own trial and error, this year it was finally time to take the plunge.  I was wracked with impostor syndrome.  I felt sure someone would interrupt my presentation to ask “why should we be listening to you, what do you know?”  Surprisingly, this did not happen.  Naturally, I was very nervous during that first presentation, but I think I relaxed in to it.  Six weeks later when I was closing out with that first group, it felt like no big deal anymore!

The other big thing that happened is that I qualified as a Zumba instructor and recently began to teach classes.  I have spoken about this in previous posts, so suffice is to say, the nerves and anxiety were back with a vengeance.  Even attending the training I felt like a fraud.  I didn’t have the right gear, I wasn’t as good as the other girls, I wasn’t fit enough, etc., etc., etc!  Of course, this was ridiculous.  Both training days were a complete blast.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a day than dancing with 50 like minded ladies.  I have even signed up for another course in December.

When it came to teaching that first class, I was so nervous, I thought I was going to throw up.  The things I came up with to fret about!  I was terrified of my mind going blank and forgetting all the steps, even though I had spent countless hours practicing.  I was nervous people would question my previous experience.  What was I going to say if people asked how long I had been teaching for?  Would it make me less credible if I admitted that this was my first class?  What if nobody turned up?  What if too many people showed up?  What should I wear?  On and on it went.  I can confidently say that my mind ran though every possible eventuality and even a few impossible ones!  My over thinking kept me awake at night.  For the weeks leading up to the maiden class, my walks, drives, showers and even dreams were all done to a Latin soundtrack!

The night eventually came, and although my performance was far from flawless, we all got through it.  I fumbled a few steps, but I think I got away with it.  I followed the advice of my own Zumba instructor who said “keep it simple and don’t forget to smile!”  The ladies were lovely and not one of them asked to see my credentials.  Even better, they all came back the following week!  When I woke up the morning after, my body felt like it had been run over.  It was only then did I realise just how tense I had been.

Another big change lately, has been starting the low FODMAP diet.  After more than a decade of struggling with digestive problems, I am excited to think that maybe I can “fix” it with dietary and lifestyle interventions, as opposed to medication.  I am only two weeks in and it’s really too early to tell if it’s working, but I will definitely be writing a full post about it in the coming weeks.  Ironically, the IBS issues combined with my struggles with my weight, have been what has inspired the other big changes in my life.

I trained in nutrition initially, so that I could help myself.  I was deeply frustrated by reading and listening to conflicting advice, so I resolved to become my own expert.  I figured nobody would have more of a vested interest in my health and fitness than I would, so it was ultimately up to me.  The reason I wanted to coach others, is so that I could give other people the type of help I wish I had had all those years ago.

It was a very similar story when it came to Zumba.  At the very beginning of my fitness journey, it was there.  Providing a fun, non threatening and body positive way for me to get a sweat on.  For the first couple of classes I lingered at the back, trying to make myself invisible.  As the weeks went on, I could feel myself coming out of my shell, and although I never became a #frontrowdiva, I definitely grew in confidence.  I want to give that to other people.  I want to empower women to reconnect with their bodies and to feel sexy and gorgeous, even if it is only for an hour!

If this year has taught me anything, it is the importance of Why.  If you can search inside yourself and be honest with why you want to do something, it can be extremely powerful.  I warn you, such close examination of your motivations can be painful.  I spent ages getting close to it, and then backing away.  The truth of it is this.  In my twenties, when I struggled with my weight, was unfit and unhealthy, I needed someone.  I didn’t need a nutritionist or a trainer necessarily, what I needed was for someone to say “I know you are sad now, but you won’t always be.”  I needed someone to show me there was light on the other side of the darkness.

This is what motivates me to try to help other people.  It might not be glamourous or exciting, but it is honest.  I believe that when I stand in front of people and ask them to trust me, the authenticity of my motives comes though.  While having years of experience is invaluable, being passionate and authentic is just as important.  For me, it isn’t about money, or social media “fame.”  It is about taking a chance that I could reach even one person, who might be feeling like I was back then.  I want to tell them you won’t always be sad xxx

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The Wild Atlantic Way!

Last week, my husband and I spent a few days in County Donegal.  We took Annie, our German Shepherd with us, and rented a cottage in a remote area called Gweedore.  The cottage was very close to vast, unspoiled beaches and I was so looking forward to experiencing the wilderness effect.

The weeks leading up to the trip had been extremely stressful.  Work had been nightmarish and between running my nutrition group and trying to get ready to start teaching Zumba, it was all systems go (as usual!)  I felt completely exhausted.  It was to the point that I went to the doctor for blood tests.  I was convinced there must be something wrong with me.  Surely it couldn’t be “normal” to be so bloody tired all the time.  I was spending all day dragging myself around.  Dying to get to bed at night, only to lie there looking at the ceiling instead of being asleep.

Thankfully the blood tests came back all clear.  I am the picture of health, if only I felt it!!  The only thing the fatigue could be down to was either a hormonal issue (a change in pill was prescribed to try rule that out,) or stress/burn out.  The week of the trip my mouth erupted in cold sores.  A sure sign that I was run down.  I felt fragile and tearful.  I can honestly say, if I had had to last another week in work without a break, I may have had a break down!

Finally, the departure day arrived.  Even packing seemed like such an effort.  I made the decision to leave my make-up bag and hairdryer at home.  I claimed this was a nod to minimalism, but it was more that I couldn’t be bothered trying to sort that out.  It was all I could do to throw some clothes in a bag, grab my doggy and hit the road.

No sooner were we on the road, when I felt myself beginning to unwind.  A whole wonderful week lay ahead of me with no work, no gym, no housework or responsibilities.  Imagine, an entire seven days with no schedule to keep.  The thought of it made me giddy, or it would have if I hadn’t been so drained!

We arrived at the cottage just as dusk settled.  Stepping out of the car, taking a big stretch after the long drive, I took a deep breath.  As air scented with turf fires and sea salt filled my lungs, I began to wonder when was the last time I had done that?  When was the last time I had really allowed myself to breathe?

The few days we spent in Donegal were pure bliss.  Waking naturally, enjoying a leisurely brunch while planning the day’s adventures.  We spent hours tramping the beaches with Annie, watching her running through the surf.  Laughing at her jumping into boggy water and seeing her delight at how dirty she was getting.  We spent a lovely afternoon in Glen Veagh National Park, wandering and exploring.   We walked for hours every day, my FitBit was on overdrive.  The evenings were spent just hanging out, watching movies we had already seen, and enjoying not having anywhere to be.  I slept better than I had in months.

We drove up to Donegal in the rain, and we drove home in the rain.  In between journeys we were blessed with bright sunshine and clear blue skies.  We couldn’t have asked for more.  The sea air and wild terrain were such a tonic.  As the days wore on, I felt like a weight was being lifted off me.  I began to feel myself relaxing for the first time in I don’t remember how long.  For the first time in ages, I was content just to sit and do nothing.

The best part of the trip, for me, was seeing how much fun Annie was having.  As a 35kg German Shepherd, there aren’t too many places we can let her run wild and free.  But along the deserted coast lines we were able to do exactly that.  It was amazing to see her come to life and embrace her new found freedom.  It made me realise that I am not entirely unlike her.   I spend all my time restrained and restricted.  Adhering to schedules and rules.  Just like my puppy, I am beginning to understand that I too need time to be wild and free.

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Coming back to reality this week, I have made myself a few promises.  Firstly, I have vowed to never go that long without a break again.  I have also promised to be more aware of the signs of overload and to take steps to avoid ending up feeling the way I have recently felt.  I am committed to exploring more of this beautiful country of ours and to take advantage of the wildernesses on our doorstep.

The trip away has proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered.  In the isolation, I was able to find my way back to myself.  I love being around people and would consider myself very social.  I had forgotten just how important time spent alone and quiet can be.  I didn’t even miss my make-up.  Be well xxx

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A to Zumba

I was first introduced to Zumba in 2012.  I had finished my accountancy exams the previous December, and by the time the results came out in February, I had watched as many Soaps as I cared to.  I was overweight, unhappy and bored.  I knew something needed to be done.  So, like many others, I joined my local leisure centre.  I had my new runners, my training gear, the whole bit.  What I didn’t possess was any confidence.  I trembled at the thought of looking foolish on the gym floor, when I clearly had no idea what I was doing.  So, I sought sanctuary of the studio!

Within 20 minutes of starting my first Zumba class, I was in love.  My instructor Angela was amazing.  She had the perfect body (when she danced nothing moved) and she was so energetic, confident and passionate.  I had a total girl crush.  I didn’t care that I was hopelessly uncoordinated and was at no stage doing the same moves as anyone else in the class.  I just loved moving to those Latin beats and learning to sweat for the first time.  What made it even better was that the class was on a Friday night, making it the perfect gateway to the weekend.  Before long, I was truly hooked.

I remember thinking how amazing it would be to become an instructor.  However, I quickly dismissed the idea.  How could I ever hope to inspire anyone as Angela had inspired me?  I definitely was not confident, I wasn’t a dancer or a personal trainer, and believe me when I tell you that when I danced, EVERYTHING moved!  I buried that secret dream way at the back of my mind and focused on other things.

Time passed and I moved away from Zumba to try my hand at other forms of training.  I did Crossfit for a while and strength and conditioning after that.  However, a spate of injuries meant I couldn’t get any momentum going and I became increasingly frustrated.  Earlier this year I made the decision (with a heavy heart) to take a break from that style of training.  So, back I went to the same local gym.

This time I felt so much more confident.  It didn’t bother me (as much) to take my place in the weight room or to do my thing on the gym floor.  But, I still loved the classes offered.  Spinning, TRX, HIIT and of course Zumba.  Anything that gets the heart pumping and the endorphins flowing, I found impossible to resist.  It didn’t take too many Friday night classes before I began to wonder again… Maybe, just maybe I could teach this?  Maybe it wasn’t as crazy as I thought it was?  I decided to check it out.

I went on line and saw that there was an instructors’ training course taking place just a couple of weeks later.  Was it a sign?  Not knowing how regularly the courses came up and terrified of missing my chance, I booked it!  Almost immediately panic set in.  Who the hell was I trying to kid?  I am an accountant FFS.  I have no business standing in front of a class.  I would be immediately exposed as a fraud.  Eventually, however, I convinced myself to go to the course.  I talked to my instructor and she assured me that I would emerge unscathed (thank you Audrey!)  I figured I had paid for it, so I may as well go, and sure what’s the worst that could happen?  GULP!

So, off I went and honestly, it was amazing.  I had such a brilliant day, met lots of cool people, learned so much and generally had a blast.  #Zumbaislife!  Until Monday.  Inevitably work and the day to day took center stage again, and all thoughts of embarking on a new adventure were relegated to the realms of pipe dreams.

The problem is, I have this friend.  Every time I saw her she would ask me “so, what’s happening with the Zumba thing?” and every time I would offer some lame responses, “I’m still looking in to it” or “I’m just so busy at work right now.”  Seriously though, she was relentless.  It got to the point where I agreed to contact my local community center about holding a class there, as much to satisfy her as anything else!  Imagine then, my horror, when the community centre agreed to host me!  I was completely overwhelmed and daunted.  Not only about the actual class, but also the logistics of marketing it and even getting people to show up.

As luck would have it, work got crazy and it looked like I was going to be spending a significant amount of time travelling.  I wasn’t going to be able to commit to teaching a class at least until things settled down.  There was no choice but to cancel it.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little relieved.  No sooner had I emailed to cancel the class, when the work situation changed again.  Just like that I had neither the exciting work adventure or the Zumba class to look forward to.

I was flattened, and horribly conflicted.  One side of me is Arwen the accountant.  Who has spent a long time building a career and doing a pretty good job.  But the other side of me wants to be writing, teaching and coaching.  I had always assumed that this conflict would eventually resolve itself.  One side of me would naturally become dominant and that would be that.  At this particular time both personas had suffered a huge blow and I really struggled to know what to do for this best.  I felt utterly lost and confused.

I was still in this state of mind when I found myself at The Better Life Project’s Empowered Women Workshop.  During the course of the day Sarah spoke about feelings we often have.  Voices in the back of our minds saying “who am I to do such and such a thing?”  This really resonated with me.  It was the exact question I had been asking myself for so long.  “Who am I to try to teach Zumba?”  “who am I to assume I can coach people?”  I don’t have the perfect body, I don’t have a dancing background, even after two training course and hundreds of hours of practice, I still trip over my feet at times.

Sarah advised us to re-frame these questions.  Instead of asking who am I to do it, ask who am I NOT to do it.  Oh wow, talk about a light bulb moment.  She was so right.  Who am I not to use the training and education I have gained to try to help others on their fitness journeys?  Who am I to take the motivation and inspiration I have gotten from my own instructors and not pay it forward?  Who am I to sit on the sidelines of my own life, waiting for something to happen?

The drive home that Saturday was long, and I had a lot of time to think.  I mulled over the events of the past months and began to realise I had missed a golden opportunity.  I had been standing on the precipice of my dream future and backed away from it.  What an idiot!  Resigned to the fact that I couldn’t do anything about it and determined not to dwell, as I parked my car I decided to put these thoughts away too.

The very next Monday, I received an email from a woman looking for a Zumba instructor.  Before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, I replied with an emphatic yes!  I feel so blessed to have been given a second chance to pursue this.  I appreciate how fortunate I am, and I am determined to not let anyone down.  The count down is truly on and this day two weeks, I will be pressing play on a long awaited adventure.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!

So many people have influenced, inspired and at times even bullied me into making this happen.  I am so thankful to each and every one of you.  If I could offer one small piece of advice to anyone who wants to take the first step towards their dream, it’s this.  Get after it!  Be well xxx

 

 

 

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Snakes & Ladders!

If you asked me to describe how 2017 has been for me so far, in just one word, that word would be “funny.”  The months have simply flown by.  There have been some periods of intense learning and growth.  During these times, I felt on top of the world.  Training and nutrition were dialed in.  Work was challenging and busy, but not difficult.  On the flip side, there have also been periods, like the one I find myself in right now, which were the complete opposite.

During these times, nutrition is a daily battle, when I manage to train everything feels hard and heavy.  Just getting through the day at work seems to sap all my energy and creativity.  It’s enough to make me feel like giving up entirely.  But you know what, sometimes it’s okay to do just that!

The last few weeks in particular have been very strange.  Nothing catastrophic has happened as such, but there has been just enough upheaval and lack of routine, to completely throw me off my game.  There has been lots of eating out and sleeping in. Plenty of missed gym sessions, and very little getting done to help me to achieve my long term goals.  I have put on weight, and I am pretty sure my FitBit thinks I am dead.  In short, there has been a definite back slide.

I can’t tell you how strong the urge is to beat myself up about this.  Words like “stupid,” “pathetic” and “failure” come to my mind unbidden and it takes so much effort to repress them.  My rational mind knows that progress is always non-linear.  It’s normal to take two steps forward and one backwards.  Sometimes we hit that snake and slide all the way back to where we started!  But, even that, when it happens is not is not a tragedy.  We bring all the knowledge and tools we have acquired back to square one with us.

I have given these back slide periods a lot of thought over the past while, and I have come to the conclusion that they might just be necessary.  We all know that a healthy body means a healthy mind.  However, I can’t help wondering if the opposite can be true sometimes.  Maybe the thing the mind and soul occasionally needs, is to let go of all of it.  Perhaps it yearns to stop worrying about every calorie and stressing about missed workouts.  Maybe if we truly want to nurture the soul, we should give the body what it wants, instead of what it needs, from time to time.

Another question I have pondered, is what brings on these phases.  Could it be that the change in seasons has prompted a sort of mini-hibernation?  Maybe it is that I know the next few months are going to get crazy again, so I am trying to build myself up?  Who knows!  What I do know, is that they come, and when they do, there is very little I can do to guard against them.

So, here I am, on another Monday, starting from scratch AGAIN!  Anyone who has been in this position, knows how difficult it is to start over.  Easier by far, to continue the self destructive behaviours.  The one thing that makes it easier, is knowing that I haven’t slid all the way back to square one.  Even if I put back on every pound I have lost, I still wouldn’t be back to where I started.  I have learned so much, and grown so much as a person since this journey began.  I have confidence now, that the sad, miserable and frightened girl I was then, is gone forever.

I really didn’t want to write this article.  It comes so much easier, when everything is going well.  I want to be able to sit here and tell you all about my successes and the progress I have made, but that wouldn’t be real.  I made a commitment to bring you guys with me on this journey, so that means showing you the lows as well as the highs.  The goods news is that I think I have slid as far down the board as I am going to, for now.  Here’s hoping I roll a 6 and find a ladder or two.  Be well xxx