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Just Say No!

I would consider myself to be a fairly articulate person.  I have always loved language, and with my degree in English to help me, I don’t usually struggle to express myself.  Except, in one particular situation.  When it comes to saying no.  It is such a simple and inoffensive word, yet it sticks in my throat somehow.  So much so, that I will tie myself in knots looking for ways to turn the no into a yes, even if it means attempting the impossible.

There have been times when I have ended up being so hopelessly over committed, that I find myself thinking “please just let me get through this day.” “Just let me survive”  “Just let me find the energy to do all the things I couldn’t say no to, and I promise not to take on so much next time!”  I used to think this was because I was a chronic people pleaser.  Afraid to say no. lest I should let anyone down.  A while back, however, an aunt of mine challenged me on this.  Her exact word were “I wouldn’t take you on!”  It’s not often that you get to see yourself through the eyes of another, but this was one such moment of clarity.  It began to dawn on me, that my fear of saying no is not about other people, in fact, it is all about me.

Firstly, I hate conflict.  Not many people love it in fairness, but I absolutely cringe at the thought of it.  I have this awful habit of trying to avoid it and invariably it ends up causing more awkwardness.  You know how it is, you should call the person, but you chicken out and send an email, and then they don’t respond so you end up having to call anyway and now you have made things even worse!  Yeah, I do that stuff all the time!

Secondly, I don’t like accepting my limitations and I certainly don’t relish having to admit them.  Vocalising the fact that I simply don’t have time to take on anything else is tantamount to admitting defeat.  Why can’t I squeeze one more thing in?  Why wouldn’t I want to explore the next challenge?  In a society where we seem to score points based on how tired and over extended we are, just saying no seems like you are not willing to play the game.

One of the great things about having good friends, is that they are willing to call you on your shit.  Even when (and especially when) you don’t want to hear it.  I was chatting to a friend of mine recently, and I was full of excitement about starting the new job.  He warned me to be prepared for it to be more demanding and to take more out of me than I anticipated and to plan accordingly.  I joked that perhaps I should delay my plan to learn Urdu, but in truth he hit the nail on the head.  No sooner had I accepted the job, than I was looking up gyms in the area and wondering if I could squeeze a Pilates class into my lunch break.  This is classic Arwen, why walk when you can run while stumbling blindly!

Another example of me being crazy happened a few weeks ago.  I got a message from a school wanting me to teach a Zumba class for them, in September, as part of their adult education program.  I didn’t want to take it on.  Not that I don’t love teaching Zumba, because you know I do.  However, I am already teaching 3 classes a week.  I am still pretty new to teaching, so learning the choreography and practicing takes up a lot of my time.  There were plenty of other reasons why I didn’t want to do it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say no.  The weird thing was, this girl had sent a text to ask about the class, I don’t know her and am unlikely to ever meet her.  All I needed to do was reply and say unfortunately I am not available, but I am not kidding when I say it took me days to build up to it.  I even thought, briefly, about saying yes and then trying to get out of it closer to the time.  Absolutely lunacy!  Eventually, I did reply to the lady, and told her I couldn’t do it.  Amazingly, nothing bad happened.  She was very sweet about it, in fact.

The one good thing about getting older I find, is that you learn to recognise when you are being nutty and even laugh about it.  The truth of the matter is unless I want to spend my whole life being over committed and stressed, I need to get a whole lot better at saying no.  I don’t want to feel like I am surviving my days.  I want to able to enjoy and appreciate each new experience and even allow myself some time to reflect on them, instead of being distracted by the next shiny thing.

Those of you who follow me on social media have probably seen me talking about Headspace.  It is a guided meditation app that I have been dipping in and out of for a couple of years.  I have set myself the challenge of meditating daily for 100 days, I am currently on day 9.  Posting my progress towards this goal helps me to stay accountable.  It only takes about 12 minutes, but there has been at least 3 occasions since I started when I have thought to myself “I don’t have time for this!”  The irony of course being, these are exactly the days when I need it most.  It has opened my eyes a lot to just how busy my mind can be.  How difficult it often is to just let it settle and rest.  This has really underlined how critical it is for me to resist the urge to fill every available portion of time with “stuff.”

Rudyard Kipling famously wrote “If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with 60 seconds worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it” I am starting to believe that the most important distance to run is the space between yourself and your peace of mind.  Be well xxx

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Holiday, Celebrate!

This week, my husband and I are heading off on a long overdue holiday.  We will be married five years in November, and this is our first trip abroad since our honeymoon.  We are heading to Portugal, and I genuinely can’t wait.  Normally, in the days and weeks before going away, I would be frantically researching everything from the cultural hot spots to the cuisine.  The past few months have been so hectic, however, that I really haven’t had an opportunity.  What is even more peculiar is that I really don’t care.  I am so looking forward to just taking some time out.  I am excited about lying in the sun (hopefully,) sipping Super Boc and eating Piri Piri chicken.  I may also indulge in my latest guilty pleasure, listening to true crime Pod Casts.

When we booked this trip, back in January, my plan was to lose about 3kgs before jetting off.  That didn’t happen.  Between weddings, celebrating my new job, and fretting over my sick doggy, I simply haven’t had the time, energy or inclination a serious cut requires.  I was expecting to feel disappointed about this.  I mean, nobody wants to be going on vacation with excess baggage after all, but to be honest, I don’t really mind.  This has surprised me a lot.  Looking back on pretty much every major occasion in my life to date, my weight was always a serious concern.  Something has definitely changed, and it isn’t the number on the scale.

A couple of weeks ago, I did something I haven’t done in over 15 years.  I bought, and fully intend to wear, a couple of bikinis.  Yes, I will admit trying them on was approached with a degree of trepidation.  I knew I probably wasn’t going to love what I saw in the dressing room mirror.  However, it wasn’t as terrible as I had feared.  I found a few that weren’t absolutely awful and managed to complete my purchases without anyone so much as raising an eyebrow!  Yes, I am sure I will feel self conscious when I brave the bikini for the first time, but I think the extra vitamin D will be worth it.  Plus it means I won’t have to wrangle myself out of a damp swimsuit every time I need to pee!

Maybe it’s because I am getting older, or perhaps I am gaining a little in confidence, but I don’t seem to be as bothered as I once was about how my body is perceived.  As I said, for 15 years, I wouldn’t have dreamed of donning a bikini.  This brings me to the realisation that for all of my 20’s and half of my 30’s I was body shaming myself!  Because the truth is, nobody else gave a second thought about my choice of swimwear.  I am not that important.  For a decade and a half, I let my negative thoughts about my body hold me back.  Not only did it stop me from participating in certain things, but it actually made me feel guilty for enjoying myself.  Every bite of cake or fruity cocktail needed to be earned or absolved.  I over analysed every situation so much that it took the fun out of everything.  There were so many things which should have been celebrated and weren’t.  I won’t get a do over for those, the opportunity has passed, but now I make it my business to celebrate every damn thing!

Last weekend I celebrated my best friends wedding.  She and I have been through so much together during our 20 year friendship.  I was incredibly proud and privileged to stand beside her on her big day.  I have been looking at all the photos her guests have been posting on social media over the past couple of days.  All I can see is how happy we all look and how beautiful a day it was.  For once, I am not fixated on finding flaws with myself.  I am not obsessing over how fat my arms are, or how many chins I have.  I can’t begin to tell you how liberating is.  I feel like I have set myself free to be happy and to enjoy my life, now, not in 3kgs time!

This isn’t to say I never intend to lose any more weight.  I have just shifted the focus.  It isn’t the most important thing to me anymore and it will not determine my happiness.  While I wouldn’t say that 2018 has been a terrible year so far, I would admit that it has been very full on, and at times it has been challenging!  With my new job starting in a couple of weeks, it doesn’t look set to ease off any time soon.  With this is mind, I am determined to make the most of my week away.  We have worked damn hard to make it happen and I am not going to let anyone, least of all myself, ruin it for us.

For many years, I was a deeply unhappy girl.  I used to think it was because I didn’t look the way I wanted to.  Lately, I have started to think that far from being the cause of my problems, the weight was merely a convenient scapegoat.  Assuring myself that I would be happy if I just lost x more kilos, saved me from having to address what was really going on.  I weigh exactly the same today as I did on my wedding day in 2013, but I am a totally different woman.  I laugh more easily.  I love more deeply.  I see joy everywhere and none of that has the slightest thing to do with my weight.

I have made a vow to myself that I will not leave it so long between breaks ever again.  This could prove easier said than done, as sadly these things are not always within our control, but we can try.  We can learn to recognise when we need to pause.  We can identify the feeling of needing to breathe.  We can accept help when it is offered and ask for it when necessary.  But, most importantly, we can celebrate!!  Be well xx