Articles

All The Lonely People

In a time when we are more connected than ever before, it is hard to understand why so many of us are experiencing chronic loneliness.  Through social media, email and messaging apps, barely a waking hour goes by when we don’t reach out and touch someone.  Why is it then, that we feel more isolated and alone than at any other stage in our history?

Recent studies have shown that up to 50% of adults report feeling lonely sometimes or always.  When asked the question “how many people truly know you?” many respond with “no-one.”

Researchers, such as Johann Hari and Brene Brown, to name but two, have clearly shown the link between social isolation and depression, anxiety and even addiction.  In Brene’s words, “we are hard wired for connection.”  What is it then that is stopping us from forming and maintaining the types of connections we so desperately need?

Doped on Dopamine:

We have all heard of the hormone dopamine.  Dopamine is often associated with pleasure, however, it is more closely related to the reward center in the brain.  Every time we hear that ping announcing the arrival of a new email, or signifying a “like” has been achieved, our brains receive a little shot of the drug.  It lets us know that something good just happened.  It encourages us to try to do it again.

We chase these little rewards throughout the day.  Often to the extent that we ignore the real, human connections in our lives.  We sacrifice our most sacred relationships to answer the Siren call of our tiny devices.  When we hear the beep, we feel like we have won a prize.  We instantly abandon whatever else is going on to attend to it.  Even though, we know on a rational level that it is most likely spam.  Of all the hundreds of thousands of emails I have received in my life, exactly none of them have been telling me I have won a prize.

A simple way to mitigate this is to simply go through your apps and disable all non critical notifications.  Every single one of them is constantly vying for your attention, so cut them off at the pass.

Set rules for yourself.  No phones in bed is a good place to start.  Some of the most important conversations I have had with my husband have been just before we go to sleep at night.  Sometimes these are about serious topics, but equally important are the silly moments.  The ones when you nearly choke because you are laughing so hard, but can’t remember what was so funny.  These are the moments of real connection.  They seldom take place with a smart phone in hand.

Competitive Disadvantage:

Another unfortunate side effect of living in the digital age is our compulsion to compete.  Anything you can do, I can do better.  As I write this, it is Pancake Tuesday in Ireland.  The day before Lent begins.  Originally it was Shrove Tuesday, the last day of feasting and getting rid of luxuries from the home, before 40 days and nights of fasting.  Now, however, it is national day of showing the world how big and impressive your stacks are.

There are a couple of things that amuse me about this.  (That’s not to say I haven’t done the same myself, I have)  Firstly, pancakes need to be served hot.  Any time you spend faffing around with lighting and filters, will only serve to detract from the overall pancake experience.

Secondly, Pancake Tuesday is such an institution that it can be assumed you have had pancakes, even if you don’t tell me.  I don’t need you to tell me you have brushed your teeth this morning either, I will just give you the benefit of the doubt.

Lastly, does anyone really care?

This is a simple example but I hope it illustrates my point.  We are spending an inordinate amount of time highlighting how amazing our lives are, instead of just living them.  We seem determined to elicit envy from our “friends” at every opportunity.  It’s hardly surprising that in doing so we alienate people and create even more loneliness.

So, the next time you want to show someone how awesome your pancakes are, why don’t you invite them around to try some?

Yes, no and maybe:

I have spoken at length, both on the blog and on the podcast, about how important it is to be able to say no.  We are so overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities that we barely have time to draw breath.  It’s vital for our well being that we know when to draw the line, or we risk stress, overload and eventual burn out.

However, I fear we are saying no to the wrong things.  We do it automatically without considering the consequences.  Studies have shown that people will only extend an invitation to you seven times.  If you refuse the seventh invitation, they will be unlikely to ask you again.  Let’s face it, nobody is going to keep on putting their hands out to be slapped.

This could be your friends inviting you on a night out, or your colleagues asking you to join them for lunch.  The next time it comes up, before you refuse, ask yourself how you would feel if you weren’t invited.

Most of us have probably experienced the feeling of being left out.  I know I certainly have, and it’s awful.  If this is a situation you want to avoid, try to ensure you don’t unintentionally create it.  Make a habit of at least occasionally saying yes!

The road goes both ways:

I am someone who tries very hard to keep in touch with the people who are important to me.  I make an effort to send a message, suggest an event and generally reach out, especially when I am aware that it has maybe been a while.

Occasionally though, I find myself thinking that perhaps I am not being met half way.  I start feeling like I am doing all the running.  When this happens, I have two choices.  I can either continue to make the effort with that person, or I can disengage and see what happens.

What I decide to do will depend a lot on the person and on the situation.  If they have a lot going on in their life, or if they mean a lot to me, I can usually let it go.   But if I find myself feeling resentful of the un-reciprocated effort, it can be difficult to maintain the relationship.

If you have a person in your life and you are aware that they usually initiate contact, try to buck that trend.  Take action straight away.  When you find yourself thinking about the person, reach out.  If some one is important to you, don’t allow them to drift out of your life from sheer neglect.

I don’t claim to be an expert on avoiding loneliness.  But I am someone who has both experienced and researched it.  As the planet prepares to reach a population of 10 billion, is is astounding to me that we can still feel utterly alone in the world.  Be well, together xxx

 

 

Articles

Finding My Personal Legend

Write Right Now?

They say there’s a book inside everyone.  What they don’t comment on, however, is whether the book is any good or not.  Having spent the last number of years dabbling in blogging, with some degree of success, I decided to try writing fiction.

Short stories, I thought, would be a good place to begin.  Then when I had enough of them written, I could publish them as a book.  Super.  There was only one problem.  It turns out I am not terribly good at writing fiction.

I have made a couple of attempts, and so far the results have been fair to middling at best.  It is reminding me of the time when I first wanted to try to get fit.  I decided to try to attempt running.  Assuming that it would come naturally.  I had only made it about 50 meters, when I realised my folly.  With little choice, I swallowed my shame and returned home and back to the drawing board.

Writing, is proving to track a similar course.  I was so sure it would come easily to me.  That in a matter of months I would be on the best sellers list!  Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration, but you catch my drift.

Each story I have written as either been terribly generic or more auto-biographical than a short story should be.  I am beginning to wonder if I lack imagination, or creativity, or both.  Maybe it just isn’t for me?

Throughout the last few months, there has been no shortage of uncertainty in my life.  Writing, I felt, was the one thing I could rely on.  It was the one are in my life with plenty of scope.  The possibilities were endless and there was no shortage of potential.  Could I have been misguided?

The Hidden Legend

I have been listening to The Alchemist on audio book.  It is read by Jeremy Irons and his dulcet tones are so incredibly soothing.  The book itself is gorgeous.  It is a real work of art.  In it, Paulo Coelho, talks about your “personal legend.”  He counsels that when you really want something, the whole universe conspires to make it happen for you.  It is a wonderfully powerful message, but every time he repeats it, I want to scream “but what if I don’t know what I want?”  “What if I never find my personal legend.”

Surely, at the age of 37. I should have some idea of what I want to be when I grow up?  I have such envy for people I meet who have a clear purpose.  Those among us who know precisely what path they should be on.  Their personal legend might be leading them towards a certain career, a particular sporting ambition or even parenthood.  The destination is not important.  It is the sense of purpose that I crave.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to wake up every morning knowing what you would ultimately like to achieve.  How liberating it must be not having to think about it.  Not to spend sleepless nights worrying if you are doing it right.

Or could it be that this really is all there is?  Perhaps my destiny is playing out exactly as it ought to.  With a career in accountancy and a few entertaining, if ultimately fruitless, hobbies.  Is it “normal” to experience such crises of purpose?  Is it tied in to the onset of middle age?

The Next Thing Next…

For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with the “next thing.”  Always seeking out the next opportunity, the shiny new challenge.  Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me to stop.  To sit quietly.  To be still.  To allow the noise and the chaos to fall away, so that the answer might reveal itself.

It’s a strange dichotomy to be happy, yet unfulfilled.  It is something I have had a hard time reconciling myself to.  I have a good job, a loving husband, an amazing family and great friends.  Financial security appears to be within touching distance.  I have been blessed with good health and am privileged to have been born a white woman in a western country.  How dare I want more?  Who am I to seek my personal legend?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has come up several times during the course of my academic career.  I understand that is the self-actualisation need which remains unfulfilled.  I am aware that this can only present itself in the absence of all other need and as such I am grateful for it.  It is the very definition of a first world problem.

In The Achelmist, we meet a crystal merchant, who has an unfulfilled duty to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Although he has the money and the opportunity to go, he does not.  Understanding that should he tick that off his bucket list, he would have no reason to keep on living.  Perhaps it is that same phenomenon that keeps so many of us from achieving our ultimate goals.  (Those of us who are lucky enough to have identified them.)  How do we stay motivated to get out of bed, when there is no next thing?

As for me, I am not quite ready to give up on the idea of writing.  I am toying with the idea of taking a creative writing course, as soon as my schedule opens up a bit.  Hopefully in the second half of the year.  Until then, I will keep my eyes and my heart open.  Watching for omens and waiting for the king to direct me towards my treasure.  Be well xxx

 

 

Articles

When Nothing Goes Right, Go Lift!

Last week was one of the silliest, messiest weeks that I have had in a while.  There were no major catastrophies.  Rather a domino effect of minor irritations that all added up to a fairly “off plan” week.

The irony is that just the week before I had been busy congratulating myself on how I had it all going on.  My training plan was coming together.  My nutrition was on point.   Like it says on my pj’s I felt like the Queen of Everything!  Nothing could knock me off track.  Yeah, right!

Things started to go awry on Monday, when a half day from work due to a plumbling problem, meant I couldn’t get to the gym.  Tuesday and Wednesday I wasn’t feeling my best so no gym again.  I hadn’t planned on training Thursday anyway because I had an appointment with my therapist, which was then cancelled last minute.  By this time I was firmly in the “are you kidding me right now?” zone.

Friday eventually rolled around.  I was having the whole will I or won’t I debate with myself when it came time to head to the gym.  Rationalising that there was probably no point in going on a Friday when the rest of the week had been so bad.  Surely it was better to just start fresh on Monday?

Knowing that the much maligned double unders were in the workout did not serve to encourage me.  For those of you who might not know, double unders are when you are skipping and the rope passes around your body twice with each jump.  In my former iteration as a “Crossfitter” I cried many, many tears of frustration while trying to get to grips with them.  I didn’t think my new gym buddies were quite ready for that.

After a lot of back and forth, I eventually decided to go.  I was so glad that I did.  The workout was fun (by fun I mean it was really tough and made me feel like my lungs were on fire) and there was a super atmosphere in the gym.  Everyone seemed to have that Friday feeling and their energy was infectious.  I really enjoyed the session and I even managed to get a few double unders and there were no tears.

By the time I left the gym I had an entirely different prespective on my week.  I felt like it had ended on a positive note and that at least something good had come out of it.  I am not going to say that a workout will always do this for you.  However, if we are in a negative mindset, as I was, sitting in it is not going to help.  Nothing changes if nothing changes.

Good Vibes Only?

There’s so much talk about “positivity” and “good vibes” around these days.  To be honest, I don’t buy into it.  Nobody can go around being ridiculously happy all the time.  Bad days and bad weeks happen.  It is all part of a whole and authentic human experience.  My point is that in each bad day or crappy week, it is still possible to pick out a thing or two which was good.  Or at least better than the rest of it.

When I look back on last week, I still chalk it up as not being the best I have ever had.  Not every week can be the best after all.  But at least when I look back now, I can be happy about my Friday workout, and remember how energised I felt leaving the gym.  If I had been determined to write the week off, I would have deprived myself of that.

Perhaps more importantly for me from a mindset point of view is that I stopped the rot last week.  I am not facing into the new week with all of the carried forward negativity.  I can instead say to myself that yes, the Queen of Everything’s crown was a little crooked at the start of the week, but it was back in place before the weekend.  The gym bag is packed, the meals are prepped and I am ready to rock it.

So, if your Monday hasn’t been going according to plan, don’t worry.  Tomorrow has every chance of being a better day.  In the mean time, try to pick out something you can be happy about.  Even if it is just that you managed not to spill coffee on your white shirt.  Life is not all unicorns and rainbows, and that’s okay.  Be well xxx

 

Podcast

Fitty & Fatty Ep. 21

This week Fitty takes us through calorie tracking, while Fatty discusses gestational diabetes.

While tracking calories can be a beneficial tool for weight loss, it is not essential.  In the episode you will hear plenty of tips on how to go about it, should you decide it is for you.  You will also be advised on certain circumstances in which it is best avoided.

Gestational diabetes can be very scary for expectant mothers.  Fatty will out your mind at ease by dispelling some of the myths and scare mongering.

https://fittyandfatty.podbean.com/e/fitty-and-fatty-ep21-calorie-tracking-and-gestational-diabetes/

Articles

Being Enough

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.        –  C.P. Cavafy

Do you ever get the feeling that you should be farther along your path than you are?  Do you ever get frustrated by set backs?  Do you tire of hearing yourself talk about starting over, again?  Yeah?  So do I.

As I sit writing this, it is “Blue Monday.”  I am looking out at a black night.  Neither of these however, is the source of my malaise.  I feel depressed and down due to the sisyphus condition I find myself in.  The near constant roundabout of a little progress followed by a big backslide, has started to wear me down.  Just like in the Greek myth, I am beginning to wonder if I am destined to carry the same load up hill for all eternity.

I am not writing this because I want to host my own pity party.  Or to elicit sympathy from my readers.  Instead, I write because I promised you and myself, almost exactly three years ago, that I would always be authentic.  It is extremely tempting to show only the highlights.  To invite you in, only when my house is tidy and everything is in order.  However to do that, would be to fail to honour the relationship we have built.  The trust you show me, each time you turn up to read my words.

Late last year, I was invited to resign from my job.  I watched a career that I had spent over a decade building crumble in the space of a single conversation.  The words “you’re not right for the job,” have echoed in my mind many times since then.  Reverberating and repeating.  Their message clear, you are not enough.

I had always known that a lot of my self worth was tied up with my job.  I am a natural striver, always obsessed with the next thing.  An upward career trajectory was good way for me to channel this.  What I had not known, was that when the label of accountant, professional and general good girl was taken away from me, I would struggle to recognise myself.

I wish I could tell you that this was limited to my professional life, but sadly that is not the case.  I am routinely plagued by the curse of more.  If I am fit, I want to be fitter.  If I am thin, I want to lose more weight.  When I fail it is all my fault and when I succeed it has nothing to do with me.

Lately I been doing some writing for another blog.  A couple of weeks back, I did an interview with an up and coming athlete.  My editor messaged me the day after it was published to let me know it had been the most read interview on the site.  As a writer this should have thrilled me.  Instead I immediately started to catalogue all of the possible explanations for the article’s popularity that didn’t involve its author.  Conversely, when we publish an article of mine that doesn’t do so well, I am crushed.  My inner demons launch into a chorus of “you’re not good enough, why would you even try?”

Daring Greatly

I have a small library of personal development literature at home.  I have just finished Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  Rarely has a book so profoundly affected me.  I was literally moved to tears as I listened to her telling her stories.  Her struggle to connect with vulnerability seemed to mirror my own almost exactly.

In her book, she asks so many important questions.  But the one that struck me the hardest was this;  In a world where enough is never enough, how can we cultivate a sense of worthiness?  How can we learn to feel loved and lovable in a culture that values exhaustion and burn out over communication and connection?

I remember as a child and even into adulthood challenging both of my parents.  I distinctly recall screaming at them “Why can’t you just be proud of me!”  They would always assure me that they were.  As I look back, I can see that was the truth.  The chronic need for achievement came from inside me.  Any words of support and encouragement they gave me were at best, a temporary balm.

As I have gone through life, the need for approval, the desire to be seen has remained.  However, now it is not just my parents that I seek it from.  The need to be relevant, to feel like I am enough, has brought me to some dark and dangerous places.  I am caught in the vicious cycle of “I will be happy when… ” When my blog is a success.  It won an award and still I wasn’t soothed.  When the podcast reaches more listeners.  How many will it take?  When I am doing well at work.  I am now a finance manager, and “successful” by any objective measure, but still nothing.

It is slowly dawning on me, with the help of those supporting me, that the feeling of being enough will never come from outside.  It will not come from being athletic.  It will not come packaged in skinny jeans.  A good hair day, an orgasm, or a promotion will not conjure it.  It can only come from within me.  A truly terrifying prospect.

Becoming Enough

As I draft this post, the words of an Alanis Morissette song have been going through my head.

I’d be productive and still it would not come
I’d be celebrated still it would not come
I’d be the hero and still it would not come
I’d renunciate and still it would not come

I take comfort from knowing that if someone as wealthy, talented and accomplished as she can have these same sentiments, perhaps it is merely part of the human condition?  Maybe we all have demons to slay.  Perhaps the hardest thing is to set down the need for pleasing and perfecting, to just allow ourselves to be.

I know that I have a lot more work to do in this area.  I have enlisted the help of a therapist as I set about unlearning the habits of a lifetime.  Over the past few years I have driven myself to the point of exhaustion several times.  The “not enough” feeling is impossible to out run.  The only solution is to try to meet it head on.

I am committed to dealing with the shame that losing my job brought.  To shining a big, bright light on it.  Because shame loves the dark.  It delights in festering in unlit corners, gaining strength and power.  As I try to shed the pounds I gained when I was eating my feelings and too depressed to exercise, I am determined not to allow my self worth to depend on this.

At various stages of my life I have weighed less than 50kgs and over 80kg.  I was not happy with my body at any stage.  I am going to turn that narrative on its head.  If my weight can’t make me happy, why should I let it make me unhappy?  Brene Brown tells us that when we own our story, we get to write the ending.  That fills me with great hope.

I am imperfect.  I have flaws beyond counting.  But yet, I am worthy.  I am capable of giving love and receiving it in return.  I have gifts to offer this world.  I will enter the arena and fight.  Overcoming these demons may turn out to be my life’s work.  I will learn to be okay with that.  I will not hurry the journey at all.  Be well xxx