Articles

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

 

 

Articles

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

 

 

 

Articles

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

 

 

Articles

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.

s-l300

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.

013118_Oxygen-1024x1024

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Articles

100 Lessons, What Have I Learned?

I started teaching Zumba a little over a year ago, and since then I have taught over 100 classes.  That’s over 100 times that I have had the privilege to do something I had wanted to do for a long time, but I thought was beyond my reach.  It is over 100 times that students have come to me, given me their money and their trust, and allowed me to share with them something I am truly passionate about.  I have always loved dancing, but am not “professional” by any stretch of the imagination.  Standing in front of people was a giant leap outside my comfort zone and for the first few weeks, I felt sure the adrenaline would completely overwhelm me.

Gradually I relaxed in to it and began to enjoy it more and more.  I love teaching and it never feels like work.  No matter how tired and sore I am, or how much of a crappy day I have had, as soon as the music comes on, a new energy starts flowing through me.  It has been such an amazing experience so far, and I have learned so much.  I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this and share with you a few of the lessons I have learned.

Expect The Unexpected:  I am a classic over thinker.  In the weeks leading up to my first class, I must have run through a million different scenarios in my mind, desperately trying to anticipate every eventuality.  At one stage I had myself in a state worrying about not having enough €2 coins to give people their change.  I mentioned this to my husband and he said “I can’t believe this is what you’re worrying about,” to which I replied “I think I have already worried about everything else!”

The truth of it is, as much anxiety as I caused myself, you simply cannot be prepared for everything life, or teaching, can throw at you.  All you can do is be ready with your brightest smile if/when disaster strikes.  Laugh it off, even if inside you’re screaming at the universe “why are you doing this to me?”  Over the past year some crazy things have happened, none of which I had mentally run through, but I lived to tell the tale!  I never did run out of €2.  In fact, I am inundated with them and every time I bag them up I am reminded of my own silliness.

Ego is Not Your Amigo: I have read enough philosophy, both ancient and modern, to understand intellectually that Ego is The Enemy (thank you Ryan Holiday) however, that doesn’t stop me getting caught up with it in the heat of the moment.

I wasn’t teaching long when a new student came to my class.  She was a German girl, and I asked her, like I ask all new students, if she had done Zumba before.  I wasn’t at all prepared for her to say, “Yes, I’m a Zumba instructor.”  I can’t begin to describe to you the level of panic I experienced in that moment.  I was convinced she would judge me and worse yet, find me wanting.  In reality, this lady just wanted to come and dance.  She was very sweet and after a little while my nerves subsided.

A couple of weeks later, she was in class and we were dancing to Tip Toe by Jason Derulo.  She was getting really into it and clearly enjoying herself.  I found myself almost competing with her, as irrational as that is.  The more energetic she got, the more intensity I put into my own moves.  I ended up tweaking my calf and having to disguise my discomfort for the rest of the class.  It was a painful reminder of the damage that ego can do!

Don’t Take It Personally:  This particular lesson has been hard learned.  Sometimes people come to class once and never return.  In fact this happens quite a lot.  In the beginning I was convinced that this was some failure on my part.  Truthfully, it is still very tempting to think this way.  When I look at it objectively though, it is easy to see that there are a million reasons people stop coming.  They get busy.  The time doesn’t suit them anymore.  Their friend stops coming and they don’t want to come alone.  Maybe they can’t afford it, or maybe Zumba just isn’t for them?   None of these reasons have anything to do with me or any other instructor.  Simply put, I am not that important!  Ego, again!  All I can do it create a safe environment so people know they are welcome to return anytime.

Some students find it easier to watch another student than the instructor.  This can be because they have positioned themselves in such a way that they don’t have a clear view.  It can also be because the instructor generally faces the class to teach and the students mirror him/her.  Some people just have a hard time following this.  Again, this is absolutely nothing to do with the teacher.  The first time I noticed this happening, I was highly put out!  But I quickly got a grip.  Seriously Arwen, as long as the students are moving, sweating and having fun, it doesn’t matter if they are looking at you, each other or their own feet!

There’s No Way to Speed Up Experience:  I am a very impatient person, especially with myself.  I want to be an expert at everything I attempt straight away.  I don’t have time for the whole learning thing!  When I first began teaching, just remembering the steps was about all I could manage.  Any little thing could distract me and throw me off.  It didn’t matter if it was someone walking in late or people laughing (or grimacing,) it would immediately make me forget where I was.  This frustrated me so much.  I just wanted to get to the stage where it all at least appeared to be effortless, even if it really wasn’t.

As I got more experience under my belt, these interruptions fazed me less and less.  I am now at the stage where I can dance, sing, smile, cue and count all at the same time.  Just last night I had a lady straight up free styling in class, and I was able to appreciate how brilliant this was, and laugh with her, without missing a beat.  I promise you, if you are struggling with something now, as long as it’s something you actually want to do it, stick with it.  It will get easier.  It will happen so gradually, you may not even notice it, but then one day you will be screaming “look Ma, no hands!

Mistakes are a Part of The Process:  There’s a saying in our industry “There are no mistakes in Zumba, just unexpected solos,” and it’s very true.  In the beginning of my teaching career, I was terrified of making mistakes.  When I missed a step or lost my place, I would berate myself, convinced that the students would A. Notice and B. Care.  When, in fact, most times, they do neither.  When I look back on classes I attended as a student, I don’t remember the instructor making a mistake that anyone talked about.

I still don’t like making mistakes, obviously, and I do everything I can to avoid them.  However, just like in all other aspects of life, they happen.  The best thing to do is just to try to get over it as quickly as possible.  Take whatever learnings there are from it and move on.  Nobody is perfect in this world, and I think sometimes it can even help students to see their instructor make the odd mistake.  It takes the pressure of them to try to be perfect.

I have learned so much about myself in the past year, I really can’t put it all into words.  I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me, either by attending a class or by giving advice and encouragement.  It means the world to me.  I have so much more to learn and I am still excited to see where this adventure will lead me.  Be well xxx