Articles

We’ve Been Sent Good Weather!

Wow!  How about that sunshine!  It has been glorious for days and it looks set to continue.  I joked to my husband that only in Ireland would “it’s a sunny day” make the 9 o’clock news.  As the heat wave stretches on, the temperature is the topic on everyone’s lips.  As a nation, we love chatting about the weather, and the last few months have given us plenty to talk about.  Between Hurricane Ophelia, The Beast from the East and now the highest temperatures for a generation, we have had one “extreme” weather event after the other.  We Irish are more used to a moderate climate and we find it a struggle to cope with anything outside the usual range.

Nowhere is this struggle more obvious than in our clothing!  Typically transitioning to a summer wardrobe requires nothing more than ditching the winter coat and putting the boots in storage.  Not so this year.  Most of us are finding ourselves rooting through the holiday clothes to find something half suitable for work.  (What do you mean I can’t just wear a bikini and a sarong?)  We Irish never expect to encounter 30 degree heat without a drink in hand and a pool in close proximity.  We aren’t used to having to actually function in it.  We “can’t cope!”

Despite this, it has been fantastic, especially after the snow in the early part of the year.  It is just what the country needed to give us a lift, and help us to forget that Ireland are not appearing in the World Cup.  People are smiling and having fun.  Everything (apart from sitting in the car) is easier and more enjoyable.  We are truly getting a taste of how the other half live!

One thing that I have noticed both in myself and in others is that we are letting go of our inhibitions.  I am wearing things to work that I wouldn’t have dreamed of in the past.  I live in dresses as I am too short to get trousers to fit, and before now tights would have been considered a must.  This hot spell has allowed me to dispense with that rule and bare my pasty legs.  Staying cool and comfortable, or at least trying to, is winning out over modesty!  I don’t know if part of this is because as I get older, I seem to care less about these things, but the weather definitely has a role to play.

As our dress codes have relaxed, so too have our attitudes.  The vast majority of people seem determined to make the most of the sunshine, even if that means leaving chores undone.  Annual leave has been rescheduled and even the busiest and most conscientious among us are sneaking out of the office as early as possible.  I find myself wondering if maybe it takes something extraordinary to help us appreciate the ordinary?  Are we all so busy trying to make a living, that we need to be reminded to make a life?

I am also noticing that I am a lot less self conscious at the moment.  We are all in the same boat and this sense of collective experience seems to have softened our approach to each other.  People seem less judgmental of each other, at least where fashion is concerned.  As well as this, I am a lot less regimental about everything, which has been a refreshing change.  Even little things like stopping in for a 99 while out walking with Annie have made a huge difference.  It has underlined to me the need to let go.  I don’t need to hold on to the reins so tightly all the damn time.  If and when I loosen my grip, nothing bad will happen.

Suffice is to say, getting back on track with my weight has been postponed for another while.  It is just too heavenly to be adding unnecessary stress.  I am not going completely crazy with my eating, but I am not in the right frame of mind for tracking and counting right now.  I am teaching a couple of classes a week and I have found a cool yoga place around the corner from my new job.  If offers one lunchtime yoga class and one Pilates class per week.  I have been doing both classes pretty much since I started here.  So, my activity level is high enough.  I do want to get a little of this extra padding off, or my jeans won’t fit me when it gets cool enough to wear them.  I know what needs to be done and how to do it.  It will involve cutting down on alcohol and eating less!  Easy!  But the truth is, I want to enjoy this beautiful summer for as long as it lasts.  There will be time enough for cutting when the rain is back.

My advice to anyone out there who might be in the same situation, is just relax, for now.  There is a season for everything after all.  Enjoy the good weather, be sun safe and stay hydrated.  Get out for a walk in the cool of the evening.  Absorb all the Vitamin D you can.  But most importantly, be sure that in years to come when people talk about the “great summer of 2018” you will be able to honestly say you enjoyed it.  Don’t waste a second feeling self-conscious or guilty.

I will be starting a 100 day MyFitnessPal challenge very soon, and I would love if you would join me in doing it.  More on this to follow.  Until then, be well xxx

 

 

Advertisements
Articles

Anti-Social Anxiety?

We are approaching the half way point of 2018 and I find myself pausing to reflect on the past six months.  It has gone by in a blur and to say it has been hectic would be an understatement.  It seems like every weekend there has been something happening.  I was actually shocked when I looked at my diary today and saw a blank page where the upcoming weekend’s activity should be.

Between April and June we had three weddings to attend as well as my God Daughter’s christening.  The weddings were all beautiful, and each very different.  The first was my sister in law’s.  Next up was my best friend, I was her bridesmaid.  Last, but by no means least, was a very good friend of ours.  As I was getting ready to go to the third wedding, it stuck me that I was incredibly wound up.  Much more so than I would have expected to be.  After all, this was the third one in a six week period, it should have been old hat.  As well as that this wedding was the closest one to our house, a mere 15 minute drive.  Neither of us had a “role” in this wedding either.  We just needed to frock up and rock up.  So why did I feel like I was on my way to a job interview with an exam at the end?

I didn’t have much time to ponder this anxiety right then, I got in the car, and once at the hotel, with a drink in hand I started to relax.  It was a brilliant day and we had so much fun catching up with everyone.  In the days that followed, I started to feel pretty ridiculous.  What was causing this tension?  Was I suffering from some sort of social anxiety?  I had felt the same thing before the other two weddings, but I could kind of explain it away.  It’s natural to want to be at your best for a family wedding, right?  And of course being a bridesmaid is a big responsibility so my fears were perfectly rational, yeah?  But that doesn’t help explain why I was tense and snappy the morning of our friend’s big day.  Full disclosure, there may have been hair style related tears!

So what was causing this?  In truth, I have put on some weight and I am definitely not feeling as slim and slinky as I would like to, but this is not the reason.  I have felt like this at my biggest and at my smallest.  I have experienced it in designer dresses and in Penney’s best.  The only way I can describe it, is as a fear of being judged and found wanting.  I was chatting through this with a very good friend of mine last week and I likened it to the feeling you might get before going to a school reunion.  Worrying about how I would measure up.  Stressing about every detail of my appearance, and more irrationally, my life!

During the course of this conversation, I was amazed to hear my friend tell me that she often experiences the same thing.  She seemed all too well able to relate to my craziness.  She is one of the most together people I know.  If I had to give you an example of a woman with her ducks in  row, she would be top of the list.  I started to wonder, if she is feeling this way too, is everyone?  Are we all being plagued by the same feelings of inadequacy and dread when we are supposed to be having fun?  Are we going through an epidemic of anti-social anxiety?

The hilarious, and tragic, thing about the situation is that nobody really cares!  Most people are not going to give you or your outfit more than a cursory glance.  They certainly aren’t going to waste their time doing a full critique of your life.  Because, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter.  The proof of this is in my own experience.  While attending three weddings and one christening in close succession, I must have seen 300 people all dressed up.  Honestly, I would struggle to describe a handful of outfits, and as for hair and make-up, forget about it!

So, how do we prevent this feeling?  I wish I had the answer.  I wish I could tell you to dismiss it, put your best high heeled foot forward and have a blast, but that hasn’t worked for me so far.  The only thing which has helped me even slightly, is to recognise the feeling when it comes, and say to myself “Arwen, you have felt like this before and everything worked out fine.”  So, when it came to my gorgeous God Daughter’s christening, I did exactly that.  I was still carrying the extra weight.  Plus I had a huge cold sore on my lip, which was uncomfortable and prevented me from being able to wear my armour (lippy.)  However, I was determined to be truly present for my darling’s big day and not trapped in my own head.  So, I strapped on my big girl panties and off I went.

We all had a wonderful day and I know that when I look back on it, I will remember how happy we were and how honoured I felt to be asked to stand for her, not that my dress was a little snug.  Be well xxx

 

Articles

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

Articles

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

Articles

Pain is Built To Last?

For the last few months, I have been having trouble sleeping.  Not insomnia as such, just difficulty drifting off.  I have been putting it down to having a lot on my mind, and too little down time.  On the nights when I teach, I am always pumped full of adrenaline and can have a hard time coming down.  It isn’t a huge problem, but for someone who loves their sleep as much as I do, it can prove hugely frustrating.

While my husband was away, I was convinced I would have the best sleep ever, but sadly that wasn’t the case.   I tried my side of the bed, his side of the bed.  Inside the covers, outside the covers.  I practiced breathing techniques and meditation.  Nothing worked.  Lying alone, in the dark, replaying every bad decision and awkward conversation of my life, I became aware that the position I was lying in wasn’t just uncomfortable, it was actually painful.  It struck me as odd that I was so in my head, I had failed to even notice what was going on with my body.  Since then, there have been several other occasions when I have noticed the same thing.  Whether it be sitting in work, or standing funny and generally being oblivious to the signals my body is giving to me.

It made me start to wonder just how often we put up with discomfort or even pain?  How many times have you ignored that niggling tooth?  Are you guilty of down playing injuries in the hope they would magically resolve themselves?  Have there been times when you have postponed a trip to the GP, which eventually became unavoidable?  I know I certainly have!  Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we should run to the medical professionals at the first sign of discomfort.  Not many of us have the time or money to allow us to do that, even if we wanted to.  What I am hinting at, however, is that our bodies are probably smarter than we are.  Pain is a sign that something is wrong.  Dulling it and ignoring it, are not long term solutions.

Physical pain isn’t the only thing we are experts at compartmentalising.  We often sweep psychological and emotional issues under the giant rug as well.  We put up with shitty relationships, unfulfilling jobs, and even terrible friendships for far longer than we should.  I know for me, the reason for this is usually stubborn pigheadedness.  To walk away from something, even if it isn’t working, feels like admitting defeat.  It makes me question myself “what is wrong with me?” “why can’t I fit in like everyone else?”  This examination is so uncomfortable, it’s often easier to just ignore the elephant in the room.

The biggest example of this in my own life is probably my academic career.  As a child, I was always told I was bright and clever.  Destined for great things.  It was pretty much preordained that I would go to University.  So, I got in and off I went.  The trouble was, when I got there, I absolutely hated it.  I studied English, which is my first love, and absolutely enthralled me, but college life definitely was not for me.  I didn’t fit in.  I didn’t make friends.  The ten or so contact hours a week, were far too few to keep me engaged.  In short, I was completely miserable.  Determined to be “successful” at it, I stuck it out.  Three years later, I achieved my degree (which I have never “used”)  By that time, I was also deeply depressed, and looking back on in now, I believe this time to be the root of my disordered relationship with food.  But that’s a story I not quite ready to tell!

To this day, I strongly believe in the merits of follow through.  It’s so important to do the things you say you’re going to do.  I can’t stand flaky people and find them essentially impossible to deal with.  A friend of mine once gave me the mantra “Decide, Commit, Succeed.”  I think she borrowed if from some gimmicky exercise program, but I identified with the message.  However, the older I get, and the more experience I have dealing with uncomfortable situations, the more I realise “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away and know when to run.”  Walking away from something which no longer serves you, is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.

This philosophy of mine has been tested lately.  I was offered a new job.  The new role sounds exciting and challenging.  It presents opportunity for growth and development, as well as stimulation.  The trouble is, I am comfortable in my current job.  It’s close to home.  My gym is around the corner, which means I can train on my lunch break.  The people are lovely and there’s no conflict.  However, it doesn’t present the same opportunities.  Should I sacrifice my current comfort for the sake of potential future growth?  It was a really difficult decision.  As is always the case with hard choices, there was no obvious “right” course of action.  There was an opportunity cost associated with both options.

In the end, I decided to accept the new job.  I am excited to get started and really looking forward to the challenge.  Of course, there are a few other things going on!!  Impostor syndrome is kicking in.  My inner critic is shouting so loud, she is almost drowning out everything else.  She is telling me I won’t be able for it, and who do I think I am to even try!  She’s a bitch!  There is also a tiny seed of doubt in the back of my mind.  Questioning if I am doing the right thing.  Wondering if I will live to regret my decision.

The thing is, it really doesn’t matter.  I fully expect the new job to be awesome, but if it turns out to be a complete disaster, who cares?  I am not entering into indentured servitude.  If it’s not for me, I can go back to the drawing board and try again.  We all have within us, the power to reinvent ourselves as often as we want or need to.   I think it is really important that we make time to check in with ourselves on a regular enough basis.  Ask yourself how everything is going.  Is there any area of your life that needs to be changed, or even just given more attention?  It is so easy to keep going through the motions and not even notice that there is a stone in your shoe.  Be well xxx

Articles

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

Articles

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.

20180313_193802

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

Articles

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

Articles

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

 

 

Articles

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