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Run Baby Run!!

My Crossfit workout today involved running. That was it, just running. It consisted of intervals of 1,000, 800, 600, 400 and 200 meters, with three minutes rest in between. What could be more straight forward?

Anyone who knows me, will know that to say running isn’t my jam, would be a fairly sizeable understatement. I hate it and it hates me right back. Up until very recently, and I am talking like yesterday, I would have done anything in my power to avoid doing this workout. I would have either skipped training entirely or if I had gone I would have come up with 101 reasons (read excuses) why I “couldn’t” run.

That has been my default stance since I began strength and conditioning many years ago. I have lost count of the number of times I have told anyone who would listen that I can’t run. Of course, what I actually meant is that I can’t run fast. It is not a strength of mine. It isn’t in my wheelhouse as they say in the biz!

You see, I have this innate fear of coming last. I am mortified at the thought of my glaring weaknesses being exposed and of letting people know just how much I suck. This has led to me sidestepping occasions where I think this could potentially happen. Not exactly the best mindset for growth.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that I am wonderful at all, or indeed any, other aspects of Crossfit, but nowhere do I feel more exposed and vulnerable than when I am running. Huffing and puffing and being overtaken by little old ladies out walking their pugs. It’s a struggle, and it’s painful but it’s also the only thing that has even the slightest chance of making me a better runner.

At the beginning of the summer I had started going out for some runs. But before long I had picked up a tiny injury. I wasn’t hurt so badly that I had to stop training, thankfully, but it was just enough to completely knock my new found confidence. Within a week or so the old thought patterns and self limiting beliefs had taken hold again.

It is extremely difficult to break a habit that you have had for a lifetime. It requires stepping out of your comfort zone again and again and again. Eventually it gets easier, but not over night. It isn’t a case that you face your fear one time and it never rears it’s ugly head again.

All week long I had been dreading today’s workout, and only half jokingly said it was giving me anxiety. I kept playing it out in my head. Forcing myself to feel the shame of being last to finish before I had even started. Talk about setting yourself up to fail!

When it came time to actually do the workout, it wasn’t so bad! Yes, it was a struggle and as predicted, I finished last. I would still say it wouldn’t be a workout I would choose, but I got through it, and also predictably, nothing bad happened. As Pat Sherwood would advise, I high fived some people and made it the best hour of my day.

I have always said that comfort zones are for resting in, not for living in. I believe that you should push yourself sometimes in your training and be prepared to leave your comfort zone. Because that is where growth happens. However, there is a pretty big caveat to this. Your training environment needs to be a safe space. You need to feel supported and empowered enough to allow yourself to risk failure.

If you are made to feel ashamed or humiliated every time a workout doesn’t go to plan, you will never take risks. If the atmosphere is super competitive, you will only want to do the workouts you know you are good at. I am so fortunate that I have great coaches around me and incredibly supportive team mates. This has been the biggest game changer for me this year. Knowing the guys and girls are rooting for me and genuinely want to see me progress, even when I am dead last makes a huge difference. Now if I could just get out of my own way…

Be well and keep putting one foot in front of the other xxx

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Think P!NK

Last weekend my best friend and I boarded a Ryanair flight from Dublin to Glasgow.  We were on our way to see P!NK.  We had tried and failed to get tickets for her Dublin show, so my friend’s husband treated us to tickets for the show in Scotland.

The trip was organised months ago, and I should have been eagerly anticipating it.  But, as often happens with these things, the closer it got, the more the little gremlins inside my head started piping up.  Saying things like “work is so busy right now, I can’t really afford the time off.”  Or “my house is a tip, I could really do with getting it sorted out.”

There was never a chance that I was going to cancel, but these nagging thoughts threatened to ruin the experience for me before it had even begun.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go.  It was that anxiety or apathy was trying to find an excuse for me to stay home.  Because let’s face it, that’s always the easier option!

As soon as we arrived at the airport and ordered a drink I started to relax.  All the annoying niggles began to fade away.  The weekend was a great success.  The show itself was amazing, and we had a blast for the whole weekend.  We sampled Glasgow’s gay bars and casinos.  Neither of which we had actually set out to do.  Furthermore, it reminded me of a few important things.

Something old

My travel companion has been my best friend since we were 16.  That’s not today or yesterday!  We have literally been through everything together.  From family drama to being bridesmaid at each other’s wedding.  She knows me better than I know myself at times.

In recent weeks, I had been feeling a little sad.  There wasn’t anything specific I could put this down to.  But I suspect being in therapy had made me a bit raw.  Last week in particular, I was struggling and the only way I can think of describing it is as being heart sick.  The feeling of unexplained loss and unnamed longing.

Spending 48 hours in the company of someone who knows me so well and loves me warts and all has been like a balm.  As we stood among tens of thousands of people, singing tunelessly and drinking Tennants out of plastic glasses, I began to feel like myself again.

It’s becoming obvious to me that when we are at our lowest, being around people who just get us is so important.  They don’t need to do anything or say anything, other than offer to hold your drink while you pop to the loo.  When you feel that you are barely able to recognise yourself, it helps to be reassured that you are still who you used to be.

Something new

As we waited to board our flight home yesterday evening, I was tired from two late nights, and perhaps a tiny bit too much alcohol.  But deep down I felt revived.  Being in a new city, having a change of scene and getting away from it all, had restored me.  Had we gone to the Dublin concert, it would have been the same artist, and the same show.  The effect, however, would have been different.  It would not have been a “new” experience and could not have been so uplifting.  The mind loves novelty and it thrives on it.

Also, we often underestimate how much confidence can be gained from doing something new.  Navigating a strange city and managing the logistics can make you feel very accomplished.  (Remind me to tell you about getting lost in Rome another time!)

Girls just wanna have fun

One of the reasons I am in counselling is because I am having what I am calling an “Existential Crisis.”  I am trying to figure out my purpose in life and what I want to do when I grow up.  I find myself thinking “there has to be more to life than this” on a regular basis.

This issue is exacerbated by my awareness that I am not getting any younger.  I will be 38 this year, and I can’t help feeling like it’s all getting away from me.  I am sure a lot of people go through this as they approach midlife, and it is a season that will eventually pass.

Until that happens, it is really nice to be reminded that I am still capable of having fun.  That I am not too old to try new things or to enjoy myself.  It was so lovely to see traces of my younger self alive and well.  Maybe it’s not too late?

It turns out that as much as I tried to talk myself out of this trip, it was exactly what I needed.  The next time you find yourself thinking that you can’t be bothered to do something fun, or telling yourself it’s too much hassle, ask yourself, “is this my anxiety talking?”  “Am I stuck in a rut?”  Try to figure out what exactly is making you feel that way.  If you genuinely don’t want to do the thing, that’s fine.  However, if it’s a case that avoiding adventure has become your default, challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone.

Unfortunately, when we are struggling, we are often tempted to pull away from people and avoid trying new things.  This only leads to greater feelings of isolation and boredom, which in turn breed further struggle.  It’s a vicious cycle and one that can seem impossible to get out of when you are in the middle of it.  I try to think of it is as bicycle wheel spinning.  All it takes is a small rod in the spokes to interrupt it.

Of course two nights away hasn’t solved all my problems.  I still don’t have the answers.  However, I have been given a glimpse of what lies beyond this, and the assurance that if I can keep persuading myself to put one foot in front of the other, I will eventually get there.  In short, I feel better and you can’t put a price on that.  Be well xxx

 

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Feminism is Not a Dirty Word

For the longest time, I resisted identifying as a feminist.  I felt it was almost a dirty word.  The label seemed to suggest an instigator, a trouble maker, a boat rocker.  None of which I wanted to be known as.  Besides, who was I, in all of my educated, white privilege to bemoan my lot in life?  How dare I cry bias, when I was afforded opportunities, so many others are denied?

Growing up, a strong sense of fairness was instilled in me.  A belief in meritocracy.  When I started my career, I had no reason to doubt that if I kept my head down, I would be rewarded.  Surely effort would be recognised above all else?  Anything else defies logic.

I have come to learn that this belief is so common among women, it has been given a name.  Tiara syndrome.  Lots of women believe, as I did, that if you work hard, and keep your nose clean, good things will be bestowed upon you.  We shouldn’t need to kick and scream for what we deserve.  “Be a good girl, try a little harder,” as Alanis would say.

Furthermore, I had the idea that if I should ever speak up about gender issues, either for myself or on behalf of my female colleagues, that I would be vilified.  So, I put up far more than I should have.  When my male boss called me a “smart cookie,” I let it slide.  I played small and made nice.  Never daring to ask for the raises or vie for the promotions.

In my first ever “grown up job” I was harassed by a male colleague.  He persistently made lewd comments and behaved in a way that made me so uncomfortable, I dreaded going to work.  When I eventually plucked up the courage to complain, my request was simple.  I just didn’t want to sit within ogling distance of him.  The complaint was handled badly.  I was made to feel like it was my fault.  That I had encouraged him, or that I should have just kept quiet.  I was only 21 when this happened and it was an early lesson that speaking up won’t get you anywhere.

Over the last few months, I have spent a lot of time reading and listening to audio books.  Two titles that have made me re-evaluate my stance on feminism are “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg and “That’s What She Said” by Joanne Lipman.  Both of these excellent books tackle the thorny issue of gender equality, and it is important to note, neither bash men.

Working my way through these books the seed of an idea began to take hold in my mind.  Equal does not have to mean the same.  We can accept that there are differences between the sexes, and still insist on fair and equal treatment.  We can begin to see these differences as complimentary rather than contrary.

Both authors also converge on the idea that in order to close the gender gap, we need men.  Women cannot go it alone.  Without the advocacy of men, we are on a road to nowhere.  We women are in a double bind.  By not speaking up, we get nowhere.  But when we do speak up, we risk reciprocity.  It kind of reminds me of the movies when the sane person is accused of being crazy.  Anything that he says or does to prove his sanity after that, only serves to make him look crazier.

It is an awkward dichotomy for me personally.  I want to play with the big boys, but I don’t want to be there simply to make up the numbers.  This issue came up recently, when there was a social media kick back about a nutrition conference.  Of the panel of ten speakers, only one was female.  This incited a lot of backlash in the community, with several people threatening to boycott the event.

My feelings about this were really complicated.  I must admit that when I initially saw the promotional posters, I failed to notice the male to female ratio.  I have been telling myself that it’s a non-issue for so long, I have become blind to it.  When I started to become aware of the outrage it had caused my reaction was “who cares whether the speakers are male or female?”  I want to listen to the most qualified and influential people in the industry.  It matters not a jot whether they are men or women.

However, my thinking was fundamentally flawed.  My argument would only be valid if speaking opportunities were awarded on merit alone.  The level of heterogeneity among the panel would suggest this is not the case.  Apart from the single white female speaker, the rest of the panel is made up of white men.  It would seem statistically unlikely that the best and the brightest in the field, all fall into this category.

This situation is not unique.  From orchestras to operating theatres, women continue to be under represented.  I am the first to admit I don’t know what the answer is to gender inequality, but burying my head in the sand and pretending it’s not my problem, certainly isn’t going to help.  I once heard someone say “if you’re not an activist, you’re an in-activist.”  Every time we see inequality and ignore it, we widen the gap.  I know I have been guilty of this in the past and I want to apologise to the next generation of women for failing to forge a path for them.  I will do better.   Be well xxx

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Dear Florida Man – America’s Gun Violence Epidemic

Straight out of the gate, I am going to let you know that this is not the type of article I usually write.  Normally, I am very careful to avoid voicing my political opinions on this blog.  I try to stay in my lane as it were.  Gun violence is definitely not my usual scope.  However, a headline caught my attention this morning that made my heart hurt.  It had such an affect on me, that I cannot stay silent.  It was this.

“Florida lawmakers to approve bill allowing teachers to be armed.”

There is so much wrong with these ten words, that I scarcely know where to begin.

Gun violence is a huge problem in America.  It’s a problem I thought I understood the scale of, until I went to research this piece.  In the month of April alone, there were 35 mass shootings.  That is more than 1 per day.  I struggle to wrap my mind around this, as I scan the seemingly unending list of numbered but unnamed victims.  So far this year, 120 people have lost their lives in mass shooting events.  Hundreds more have been injured.

I don’t know why this phenomenon has come about.  In the 20 years since Columbine, mass shootings have become literally a daily event.  I can’t tell you why this is.  Neither can I speculate as to why this seems to be a uniquely American problem.  I don’t know what the answer is.  I do, however, know what the answer is not.  More guns.

The idea that the solution to gun violence is more guns, is akin to thinking the obesity crisis can be solved with more cheese burgers.  It is ludicrous.

As I read this story on the RTE website, I felt my stomach turn.  My morning coffee soured on my tongue.  I experienced a deep sense of foreshadowing, and all I could think was how long will it be before we see a headline reading “Florida teacher shoots unarmed student.”

I understand that, as Americans, your right to bear arms is protected under your constitution.  Similarly, I understand that a lot of you are fiercely protective of this right.  For many American people guns are a part of life.  But what about your child’s rights?

Surely a child’s right to be educated without terror should be just as inalienable.  It makes me incredibly sad to think of the lasting impact the trauma of gun violence will have on the survivors.  However, the ripple effect goes far farther than I think we realise yet.

The kids in school now are the first generation of children who have had to deal with this crisis as part of their reality.  They are the first who have had to practice drills, and make their way through metal detectors.  They are constantly reminded that the threat of violence is very real.  I honestly cannot imagine trying to survive in such a high stress situation.  Let alone trying to learn in it.

These kids are in their formative years.  The time spent sitting in classrooms and fooling around in the hallways will absolutely shape the adults they will become.  How can they hope to grow into trusting, whole hearted adults when they spend the years between 5 and 18 facing clear and present danger every single day?  Your children are growing up in a warzone.  Unfortunately, there will be no refugee status for them.

On March 15th, New Zealand had a mass shooting incident of its own.  Within one week, their Prime Minister had taken steps to ban automatic weapons.  America, and in particular Florida, seems to be taking the exact opposite approach.  Putting guns in the hands of those who may never ordinarily have owned them.

Teachers, educators, those responsible for nurturing your young child’s mind and imagination.  Those responsible for empowering your son or daughter to reach their potential, will now be able to literally end their life.  I have dealt with angry, bad tempered teachers in my time, but I never had to worry about them shooting me.

It is not a question of if an innocent child gets caught in the crossfire, or if a stressed-out teacher mistakes a child reaching for a cell phone for an attack.  It is a question of when.  Under the new legislation, teachers would be required to undertake 144 hours of training before carrying guns, but that doesn’t reassure me.

The internet is littered with “Florida Man” memes.  We all like to joke about the crazy, surreal things that go on there.  Somehow, I don’t think that particular Florida Man headline would evoke the same response.

There is a saying that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second-best time is now.  Some would argue that American gun laws should have been tightened up on April 21st 1999.  I would count myself among them.  However, it’s not too late.  The time to to speak up and take whatever action we can, is now.

This outrageously wanton loss of life is becoming part of our culture, we cannot allow ourselves to be numb to it.  We need to stand up and fight for every child’s right to come home from school.  We owe them that much at least.  Be well xxx

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You’re a Liar!

Did you ever have a day when you just feel bleuch?  You look in the mirror and you don’t like how your clothes fit, how your hair is sitting or basically anything about your appearance?  I am willing to bet you have.  Even people who have sky high confidence and positive body image can have these sorts of speed wobbles.

Last week, I experienced this very thing.  It was the Tuesday after the Easter weekend.  Between having a bit too much to each and drink over the bank holiday and having missed a couple of weeks of training due to illness, I just felt like a whale blob.

I looked in the mirror getting ready for work and struggled to find one thing I was happy with.  Panic started to set in.  It was a little over three weeks until I would be setting off on a sun holiday.  You know what that means.  Bikinis (or any swimwear,) shorts, little dresses etc. etc.  How could I feel happy and confident baring all, when even my office attire wasn’t doing the job?

Realistically I knew that even the most extreme diet and training program wasn’t going to bring about any sort of “transformation” in such a short period of time.  But this was no time for realism, I was spiraling.  Instead of looking forward to the holiday that has been booked for almost a year, and that I have saved for, I began to dread it.

I started to berate myself.  Why hadn’t I tried harder to lose weight?  Why hadn’t I cut out alcohol, tracked calories and done all the myriad other things which I know would have helped me look slim and slinky on the beach?  Why, why, why!  By the time I was driving home from work that evening, I was that upset, I was ready to cancel the whole thing!

But then, some little things happened.  I went to teach my Zumba class and I had a few minutes alone before the ladies got there.  Time enough for me to practice some gymnastic movements I have been struggling with.  Weirdly, they felt easier than usual.  Then I did my 50 burpees that were part of my April challenge.  By the time the girls arrived, I was glowing and energized.  The class was awesome, and when I got home that night I felt a renewed sense of positivity about my body.  Maybe my body didn’t look the way I wanted it to, but damn, it could do some pretty amazing things.

These little dominoes continued to fall as the week progressed.  I got back into the gym and felt more and more like myself each day.  I even tried, and loved indoor rock climbing.  Truly terrifying for someone who isn’t a fan of heights!  Towards the end of the week I was getting dressed in front of the same mirror.  The girl reflected in the glass hadn’t changed, but how I felt about her had started to.

The thing is, how we see ourselves is never objective.  It is coloured by every single thing going on in our world.  When we are down because we have been sick, or haven’t slept well, we project that negativity on to the image before us.  The opposite is also true.  When we feel happy and confident, we find it easier to see something we like in the image before us.  In short, we lie!

I have struggled with body image for as long as I can remember.  It’s not as much of an issue as it once was for me, but the little gremlins are still there.  Lying in wait.  Sensing the perfect opportunity, when my defenses are down, to slink out of the shadows and undermine me.  Theirs are the voices who say “you’re too fat for the beach,” or “you should have lost 20lbs by now.”

I may never be able to silence these monsters completely.  However, each workout I do, healthy meal I eat, relationship I nurture helps keep them at bay.  Every hour I spend in my therapist’s comfy armchair, puts another layer of sound proofing between them and me.  My body is so much more than how it looks, and so is yours.

Any of you who regularly read this blog will know that the last 12 months have been tumultuous to say the least.  When I take a step back and think about it, I feel should congratulate myself for doing as well as I have in the circumstances.   Even though, I will admit it feels extremely uncomfortable to write that.

The first part of 2019 for me has been a season of preparation.  I have been getting to grips with a new and challenging job.  Getting used to commuting again, which I hadn’t been doing for 3 years.  Perhaps most importantly I have been putting a lot of work into my mental health.  If, as the song says, there is a time to reap and a time to sow, perhaps this has been a time of tilling the earth.  Doing the heavy lifting so that what gets planted in the coming seasons has a chance to bloom.

Truthfully, I do wish I was a bit closer to my fighting weight heading away, but there’s no point in crying over it now.  If I keep beating myself up over not reaching some arbitrary weight, it will only serve to make me miserable and ruin my holiday.

This holiday will come and go, but my overall health goals will remain.  A week in the sunshine, relaxing and reflecting will serve to help me focus on my return.  I think we sometimes look at holidays and events as finish lines.  We can think to ourselves “I didn’t reach my goal by that deadline, so there’s no point to keep going.”  More lies.

A good friend of mine talks a lot about peaks and valleys.  Often it is only in hindsight that we gain the perspective to tell the difference between the two.  With my training and nutrition this year it has been very much 1 step forward and 2 steps back.  But imagine where I would be if I hadn’t kept at least trying to move forward.

I look forward seeing what the next season will bring.  I hope that it will be a period of calm which will allow me to get dial things in.  However, if it doesn’t pan out that way, I will roll with the punches.  If the past while has taught me anything it is that I am more resilient than I once thought!  Be well xxx

 

 

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Can You See Me Now?

“As a child, which parent did you crave love from the most, your mother or your father?”  Easy.  My Father, 100%.  “What did you have to be to get that love?”  I had to be exceptional.  Anyone who has seen Tony Robbins documentary “I am Not Your Guru” will recognise these questions.

I am painfully aware of how much I craved my daddy’s love as a child, and indeed as an adult.  However, it has taken a lot of soul searching and a good smattering of therapy to get to the truth of how deeply this has affected me.  Before I continue, I want to clear something up.  I know my father loves me on an intellectual level.  However, this is not the same thing as feeling it.  Neither is it a substitute for feeling seen or heard.  Recognised or acknowledged.  I ask for your love and patience gentle reader as I attempt to shine a light on my truth as I have come to know it.

In The Beginning:

My parents met as teenagers, and they loved each other in the way you only can when you are that age.  Passionately and irrationally, in very much an “us against the world,” kind of way.  They were still impossibly young when they had me and three years later, my sister.

By the time my mother was 21 she found herself married and raising two children in a country which was in the grips of a recession.  To this day I am in awe of how good a job she did keeping us alive.  We were fed and clothed.  Our mother kept us insulated as best she could.  She was determined to prove that despite her tender years, she could be a great mother, and she was.  She still is.

There wasn’t a huge amount of time for cuddles and kisses in her life.  Having not grown up with them herself, they seemed unimportant.  Dad was different.  He was definitely a hugger, and so, although he probably spent one tenth of the time with us that mom did, it was his lap I coveted.

Achievement, especially academic, was highly praised.  I remember to this day how my father would boast about how his daughter (me) could read the Irish Times by age three.  You would swear I was publishing the thing myself the way he went on about it.  I learned from an early age that excellence would be rewarded.  If I could bring home first the gold stars and later the As, I would (maybe) receive the cherished hugs and praise I so desperately needed.

I learned at age 37, how much this desire for recognition, this need to be seen, has shaped my life.

The Good:

In Tony’s documentary he says that we can’t blame the past for the bad things, without also thanking it for the good.  So here goes.

For most of my school life I was an over achiever.  I loved to be praised and commended.  If there was an award to be had or a prize up for grabs I wanted it.  In fact, during the time of greatest disruption in my life, the year we spent living in California, I was awarded with the President’s Award for Academic Excellence.  Fancy huh?

This continued on into my working life.  From my first job in a newsagents to this very day.  I always wanted to excel.  It didn’t matter how high or low the stakes were, I was compelled to win.  I remember my McDonald’s days.  On busy Saturdays the managers, who were just a few years older than I was, would run competitions.  They would challenge us to see who could serve the most customers in an hour.  The prize was usually a chocolate bar.

Of course, I knew this was an irrelevant honour.  I was pretty sure we were being manipulated into trying to clear the queues faster, but I didn’t care.  I had to win.  Every week there would be a similar competition.  Each time I would do my damnedest to take home the chocolate.

As the years passed, chocolate bars were replaced with employee of the month plaques and promotions.   My competitive edge continued to be sharpened.  Recognition was a drug to me.  Without this addiction, I doubt I would have continued to claw my way up the career ladder.  The dopamine hits fueled my ambition.

The Bad:

The downside of wanting to be brilliant at everything you do, is that you get disappointed a lot.  There are many things I have attempted and promptly found out I suck at.  This is, of course, normal.  Very few people are naturally gifted at even one thing, let alone everything they try!

The problem with me is, I don’t have the patience for learning.  I want to go directly to Mayfair.  If I can collect £200 on my way, even better.  Seriously?  What do you mean I have to practice for hours and hours just so I can play Twinkle Twinkle.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.  Nobody will celebrate that achievement, not even me.  I will still be in withdrawals.

This has lead to me developing a very bad habit.  I drop things which I don’t immediately perfect.  Which, let’s face it, is most things.  As a child I begged my mother to enroll me in activities.  She would sign me up, pay the fees and buy the accouterments.  Only for me to quit as soon as I realised I wasn’t going to be the best.

As I have gotten older, I have become a little better at sticking with things.  After all, I can’t exactly up and quit every job just because I haven’t mastered it on day one.  It is still struggle though.  I still want to be perfect every time.  I hate failing, finishing last and God forbid having to ask for help.  That dopamine rush still hits me anytime my coach high fives me, or my boss says good job.

The Ugly:

Here we are at the part of the story I really didn’t want to write.  This is the part which makes me experience hot shame when I think of it.  That only means it is the part that most needs to be told.

I cannot deal with being ignored or given the silent treatment.  For most of my life I have only felt I existed when I was being seen by other people.  This has caused me to act in ways that I am not proud of.  It has caused me to allow people to treat me badly.

When I was a teenager, I had a group of girlfriends.  All the other girls seemed to constantly be in relationships.  Although I dated a lot, I always ended up single.  I was desperate to have a boyfriend.  I wanted someone special in my life.  Someone to truly see me.  I suffered many humiliations during those years.  I attempted to make myself as appealing as possible.  Tried to be “low maintenance.”  Not asking for too much.  I am sure that I am not unique in this.  Many young women (and men) have probably had similar experiences.

One of the most crushing examples of this came in my first year of college.  I was attending a City Centre college and there were always social events being organised.  One such event was a traffic light ball.  The idea behind it is that each attendee wears a coloured badge.  Green if you are single any ready to mingle.  Orange if you’re open to meeting someone.  Red if you’re not looking.  Needless to say I was GREEN!!

The night was drawing to a close and I was yet to hook up with anyone.  Disconsolate, I sidled up to the bar to order myself another Smirnoff Ice.  To my complete shock, the barman started chatting to me.  His name was Tony.  He was absolutely gorgeous.  Totally out of my league.  At the end of the night he asked for my number and of course I gave it to him.  He called soon after and we began dating.

Tony seemed so cosmopolitan.  Not only was he working in a nightclub, but he was living in an apartment in town.  I was quickly besotted.  We had been out a few times when we met one day for lunch.  After the meal we went back to the apartment he shared with a few people.  (If memory serves, there were about 6 of them living in a one bedroom flat, maybe not so glamourous after all.)  We spent the afternoon kissing on his bed.  I was in heaven.  I felt like one of the Sex in The City girls.

His roommates began to trickle home and he introduced me to them.   Then said he needed to go get his hair cut and that I should wait in the apartment.  “Okay,” I said.  Time went by and I began to get uncomfortable with his unfriendly roommates.  About 2 hours later, his female roommate took a phone call and excused herself.  When she came back in she looked at me and said “that was Tony, he’s not coming back.  He said you should leave.”

I will never forget the way she looked at me.  “Poor cow,” was written all over her face.  I managed to get out of the flat without bursting into tears, barely.  Throughout the hour long bus journey home, I cried.  Trying to ignore the inquiring glances from strangers.

I wish I could tell you that was the end of the story.  That I managed to retain the last shreds of my dignity, but alas that was not the case.  I called him and text him incessantly.  I needed to hear him tell me why.  How could he just abandon me like that?  How could everything be great one minute and over the next?  I couldn’t wrap my head around it.  In my quest for “closure.,” I am surprised the poor guy didn’t file for a restraining order.  It was totally over the top.

Many years have passed since Tony’s haircut, but I am not much better at handling these types of situations.  Silence and withdrawal are the most painful things for me to deal with.  They feel like the ultimate betrayal.

My husband is definitely not the shouting type.  When we first started dating, we had disagreements like every couple getting to know each other.  His response was to walk away from the row, clear this head, be rational.  Mine was the total opposite.  The more silent he became, the more I raged.  I would shout, scream, throw things and ultimately do whatever it took to get a reaction.  Whatever it took to be seen.

Here and now:

If I am to be completely honest about it, this need to be seen, to be acknowledged, has been at the root of almost every action I have taken in my life.  It is what drives me to try to be successful in my career.  It is the motivation behind this blog and my podcast.  The need is also what causes me to flirt, dance on bars (literally,) chase after people who have zero interest and a whole host of other unhealthy and destructive behaviours.

For most of my life, I have been like the Emperor’s New Clothes.  Existing only through the eyes of others.  If you see me, and respond to me, no matter how negatively, I am real.  When you ignore me and overlook me, I am not.

There are many reasons I have cited as to explain why I decided to start therapy.  I wanted help with my anxiety.  I wanted to gain clarity on my purpose in life.  A little more confidence would be good.  All of these reasons are valid ones, but they are not the whole truth.

What really drove me to reach out for help, was being exhausted.  Tying so much of my self worth into other people’s opinions of me and actions towards me, was wearing me out.  I was sick of letting other people control whether I had the best day ever, or plunged into despair.  I wanted to feel like I exist, independently.

There have been so many tears.  Sometimes I feel in danger of dissolving as I try to work my way through all of this.  But slowly, I am beginning to feel like it might just be working.  Little by little I am focusing less on others.  I am less reliant on them for validation and acceptance.  As the weeks unfold, I am beginning to see myself.

It is absolutely terrifying.  At times I feel so vulnerable I could throw up.  Like a butterfly emerging from her chrysalis with still wet wings, I am desperately unsure of myself.  One thing I am sure of however, is that what I had been doing before now was not working for me.  I was harming myself in a million tiny ways.  It is time to stop that now.  Time to try something new.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given is “if you keep doing what you’re doing, you keep getting what you’re getting.”  There is great power in those words.  If we don’t like the path we are on, we have the power to change course.  A deviation of a single degree, can have a massive impact on your destination over time.

Be well.  I see you xxx

 

 

 

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Eat Your Cake and Have It!

For many years, I was one of “those people.”  You know the type.  The ones who never taste a bite of birthday cake, because it isn’t Paleo.  Your colleagues who always pass on team lunches, because they are doing Whole 30.  The ones who think their discipline might inspire others, but in fact it makes them uncomfortable.  They sit on the sidelines, sometimes smug, always separate.

In fact, much of my professional life has been spent on these sidelines.  By the time I passed my final accountancy exams, I was already marching towards disordered eating.  I was a sad, lonely girl.  Desperately seeking connection.  Wanting so badly to belong to a tribe.  To be a part of something.  Along came “clean eating.”  Without giving much, if any thought to the ramifications, I decided that this was what I was going to be doing now.

Out the window went refined grains, sugar, most dairy and even sweetcorn.  Not only did this radically impact my diet, it also changed the way I identified myself.  I was no longer someone who ate things like cake and cookies.  I was no longer willing to be spontaneous with food.  I couldn’t afford to wing it.  Everything needed to be tightly controlled.

Before long, I had fallen into the common trap of all or nothing mentality.  I was either eating clean and doing Paleo, or I wasn’t.  There was no room for maneuver.  Absolutely zero flexibility.   It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that this did nothing for my social life.  Instead of finding connection and camaraderie with my growing team, my lifestyle choices only served to isolate me.

I stopped taking coffee breaks, and avoided eating lunch with my peers.  Partly because I was under insane pressure in work, but also because it was tough pretending to be satisfied with yet another salad.  Even when, on the rare occasion I did join the lads for a Friday trip to Subway, I dared not deviate from the plan.  For anyone who might be wondering, eating a salad in Subway, while the guys are tucking in to foot long subs, tastes like misery and despair.

I am not for a second saying that there isn’t merit in following eating plans.  But I have learned the painful lesson that it is important to have at least a degree of flexibility.  If for no other reason than to preserve your sanity.  If 80-90% of your eating is supporting your goals, you can afford to have fun with the remaining portion.

Last year I went through so much upheaval that I was forced to reevaluate everything.  It seemed like nothing was going right.  As hard as I worked to keep everything tightly controlled, it still eventually went to pot.  As difficult as 2018 was, and loathe as I would be to repeat it, it taught me a lot.  Perhaps most importantly, it taught me that even I cannot control everything.

There will be times when work is a nightmare and you are at your desk 16 hours a day.  You will have times when there is conflict in your family and just keeping yourself upright is all you can do.  There will be illnesses and injuries and all sorts of other stuff that will prevent you from getting to the gym.  No amount of neurosis can control for this.  We can however, control how we deal with it.

We have the choice to allow these occasions to derail us.  Or instead we can think of them as part of the process and move on.  Progress is never linear.  If you read the autobiography of anyone you consider to be successful, I can almost guarantee that it wasn’t all plain sailing.  Dealing with adversity and learning to make allowances is what strengthens us.  I am desperately trying to resist using a cliche here.  But it is true, flexible people can bend and sway and are resilient.  Rigid people crack under pressure.

When I came back to work last year after a thankfully brief lay off, I made a decision.  I was going to eat cake.  You see, I now manage a team of ten people.  As important as it is to provide them with supervision and training I feel it is far more crucial that my team feel supported and empowered by me.  I never want my guys to doubt that I am in their corner.  How can I hope to do that, if I won’t even celebrate their milestones with them?

When the birthdays come along, I am the one singing the loudest (and most tunelessly.)  I am first in line to dish out hugs and accept cake.  It seems crazy to me now that I ever didn’t do this.  Since I started here in December, there have been maybe 5 or 6 birthdays.  That’s 6 pieces of cake, or as my brain likes to work it out, less than 2,000 calories.  Over the course of a year or a career, I promise this will make exactly no impact on my overall health goals.

It will, however, allow me precious moments of connectedness with my team.  It will give me an opportunity to show the people reporting to me that I am a human person.  I still don’t eat cake every time I see it.  I don’t ingratiate myself into other teams birthday rituals either.  However, I am beginning to understand that loosening up a tiny bit, will harm me very little, if at all.  Furthermore, it has the power to enrich my life.  Plus, as it turns, I actually really like cake.

For 37 years I was an all or nothing girl.  Like any muscle that hasn’t been stretched in a while, flexibility is hard won.  I am still learning to be less rigid and have a long way to go.  I do know one thing for certain, I don’t want to spend another moment on the sidelines of life.  Happy birthday and be well xxx

 

 

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Sister Sister

You have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Hardly surprising.  I was just three when mom brought you home.  For 34 years you have been the one constant.  As kids, you were my shadow.  Even though I bemoaned you “breathing on me.”  As we grew up, we fought like cat and dog, but we always made up.  There were times when I screamed that I hated you.  Times when we drove each other to tears.  We certainly haven’t always agreed.  But I always knew you would be in my corner when push came to shove.

For much of the time growing up, it was just us two.  Our mother described us as chalk and cheese.  Totally dissimilar in every way.  However, whether we were jumping on the bed, planning our future business empire or trying to figure out how to get out of trouble, we were always in it together.  I thought of you as an extension of myself.  I figured I knew you inside and out.  How wrong I was.

Eight months ago we went for our routine manicures.  Afterwards, you sat me down in your living room and told me you were going to have a baby.  To be strictly accurate, you gifted me a mug with the word Auntie on it, and watched as I struggled to connect the dots.  I couldn’t process it.  I had always known you would have kids someday and I had no doubt you would be an incredible mother but, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.  My baby sister was having a baby.

In the weeks and months that followed, I watched you embark on an amazing adventure.  It was an absolute privilege to be allowed to be on the periphery as your life was changing in such a profound way.  At each stage of your pregnancy you were presented with new challenges.  It was a strange dichotomy.  One half of me wanted to be able to do it for you.  To take the pain and uncertainty away, even for a little while.  The other half was blown away by how strong and capable you were.  How unflinching.  To put it simply, I was in awe.

Don’t get me wrong, we still had a few sharp words and disagreements.  It’s hard to break the habit of a lifetime after all.  But it was wonderful to see you so full of passion and purpose as the new life grew inside you.

In time we found out that you would be having a baby girl.  That was the icing on the cake for me.  (At last I would have an outlet for my Hello Kitty obsession.)  Of course, you knew I wouldn’t have minded either way.  I really just wanted you both safe and healthy.  However, I appreciate you thinking pink none the less.

As your due date approached, we were all full of anxiety.  I still couldn’t really believe that you would actually be having a baby soon.  We all eagerly awaited your daughter’s arrival, and if our impatience made you feel pressurised, I am truly sorry.  With everything you were going through, you never flaked on our project and as much as it must have been a giant hassle you kept me in the loop every step of the way.

I made the decision long ago not to have children of my own.  I almost feel like there was an unspoken agreement between us.  You unselfishly allowed me to be as involved as I could be.  Knowing it would be the closest thing to a baby of my own.  I will be forever grateful to you for that.  Even when you went into labour, you went out of your way to keep me in the loop.  I needn’t have worried about being the last to know.

When at last Amelia was born, she changed all our lives forever.  I was given the privilege of being among the very first to meet her.  I would not be surprised if I am being referred to as Arwen the usurper in some circles.  As I held her the first time, I felt such as rush of love for her.  So much love can only be accommodated by growing a new heart.  I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for you.

Your daughter is incredible.  Perfect in every way and strong like her mother.  It’s amazing to watch her little personality begin to come through.  No words will ever be able to describe how proud I am of you and of her.  Our little tribe has a new member.  My dearest wish for her is that she always feels as loved as she is.

Be well xxx

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Don’t Forget to Breathe!

When I was a little girl, maybe 7 or 8, Santa Claus brought me a Sony Walkman.  It was the late 80’s and every kid wanted to emulate Marty McFly.  The portable cassette player was the must have accessory.  To accompany it, my grandmother bought me the “Get in Shape Girl” fitness program.  I have no idea why.  Looking back, I suspect the Book Club might have had something to do with it.  Regardless of her rationale, I loved it.  It made me so happy to play the cassette and jump around my bedroom like an Olivia Newton John wanna be.

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I remember that while I was feeling the burn, the recorded instructor would give me ques.  She would urge me to “keep smiling,” and “don’t forget to breathe.”  I distinctly recall thinking to myself, even at that young age, how utterly ridiculous this was.  As if you could forget to breathe!

Throughout my life, in my attempts to get in shape, I have encounter numerous fitness instructors.  Many of whom have extolled the same advice about breathing.  Every time, I shrugged it off.  Surely it is just something they are trained to say?  Similar to how they like counting to eight all the time.  But lately, my attitude is changing.

A few months ago, I started working with a counsellor.  (I will talk more about that, when I am further along the path.)  In my very first session with her, she said something incredible.  I was talking about my issues and what I am hoping to get out of going to therapy.  She listened intently.  When I was finished speaking, she said “do you know that you hold your breath when you are deep in thought?”  I had no idea.

Since she said that to me, I have noticed myself doing it more and more.  Every time I concentrate on anything.  Whether that is work, or a game of solitaire.  I hold my breath so tightly that when I eventually do let it go, I feel like I have an elephant sitting on my chest.

My therapist also asked me a question that I am only beginning to understand the answer to.  She said “what is going on between your mind and your body, that your brain can override the most basic biological function.”  This has raised so many other questions for me.  I have begun to try to understand how my mind and body have become so utterly disconnected.  What work will need to be done to restore synchronicity?

The main reason I decided to go to therapy in the first place, was because I had been having anxiety attacks with increasing regularity.  I have always been an anxious person.  However, since things started to go wrong with my work life, it had been getting out of control.  Every time I had a quiet moment, thoughts would start racing through my mind.  Before long, I would begin to experience the familiar tightness in my chest.  The feeling of not being able to draw a complete breath.

I am wondering now if I was inducing this state by forgetting to breathe while I was trying to organise my thoughts.  Could I have been doing it to myself?  Since I have become aware that I do this and have caught myself in the act lots of time, I have not had a single attack.  There must be something to it.

Those of you who have been following the blog will know that I have been practicing meditation for a while now.  I use the Headspace app, and honestly, without it I would be an even bigger basket case!  No matter what pack I am working on, whether the focus is on stress or sleep, the narrator Andy always comes back to the breath.  He reminds us that the breath is what anchors us.  Frightening then to think how far we can drift off course, when the breath is not there to guide us.

When we listen to our breath and become tuned in to it, it can tell us a lot about what is going on in the body.  Our blood pressure and heart rate are difficult to monitor on an ongoing basis.  However, the breath is one indicator we do have of our physiological state.  If we can but hear it.

There is great power in the breath.  If you want to see this for yourself, the next time you are in pain, or you are struggling in the gym, try to actively breathe through it.  Imagine yourself breathing in calm and tranquility and breathing out pain.  It really does work.  Whenever my IBS flairs up and my colon goes into spasm, I employ this technique .  It is the ONLY thing that gives me any relief.  There’s a reason why labouring women are coached so much about breathing.

The weird thing about breathing is, your body knows what to do.  It knows how to breathe.  It is only when the brain gets involved that things get screwed up.

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As I continue my journey towards a healthier, happier self, I am beginning to make a realisation.   Unless I can master my breath, it is all for nought.  Until I get to the stage when inhaling and exhaling come as readily as nature intended, I will never be able to harness my true power.

It’s going to take more than a few therapy sessions to unlearn 37 years of behaviour, but I am determined to try.  Even as I write this, I have noticed my breathing stop completely on more than one occasion.

My fitness journey is not unique.  There have been and will continue to be peaks a valleys.  Times of progress and times of frustration.  Breathing, however, is something that apart from conscious awareness, will take little effort and is bound to yield great rewards.  Be well and don’t forget to breathe xxx