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Dear Millennial…

Typically each generation will lament that the one coming up behind them “don’t know how easy they have it.”  We will talk about walking to school in the rain, five miles, up hill in both directions, and what it was like to know the value of money.  My own generation is no different.  The technological advances I have seen between my teens and my thirties are nothing short of astonishing.  Even having to stand at a bus stop and just wait, hoping the bus might arrive at some stage, is a thing of the past.  We have unlimited information and entertainment at our fingertips now, but has it come at too high a price?

My generation may have been the last mugs to have to stand, shivering at the mercy of public transport, but we were also the last to enjoy certain freedoms.  I made plenty of mistakes and poor decisions in my younger days (I am still making them now) but my indiscretions were contained.  My transgressions were not captured on film and disseminated to the masses within seconds.  Any teenager doing a stupid thing back then would have had to face the shame of school on Monday morning, but would have been safe in the knowledge that it would have been blown over before the bell sounded on Friday afternoon.  Not so now.

Young people now are afforded no such reprieve.  Their every move is documented and subjected to the judgement of not just their inner circle, but to pretty much everyone.  I can’t imagine how stressful that must be.  Especially at that age, when everything feels so big and your peer group is all important.  When I was growing up, if you had a falling out with your pals, as inevitably happened, no matter how nasty it got, you could go home, close your front door and if not forget about it, certainly escape it.  Again, not so now.  Thanks to social media, bullies and begrudgers have access to their prey 24/7.

Even more sinister, dangerous and potentially devastating are two phenomenons my peer group definitely did not have to deal with.  “Revenge porn” and “slut shaming.”  In the digital era, everything is on demand.  Instant gratification is what it’s all about.  A quick selfie sent to a partner or potential love interest can come back to haunt you.  A lot of us have been there.  You get caught up in the moment and it seems like a good idea at the time.  However, as soon as you press send, that image is no longer within your control.

It is not only young people who are falling victim to this.  I am hearing stories with increasing regularity of men and women of all ages falling victim.  Often times these images, sent during times of intimacy or even love, can be used to blackmail and control victims.  The difference between teenagers and older victims, is that usually older people have developed better coping mechanisms.  They have had past experiences which have taught them that there is life after this.  Not matter how unbearable it may seem, you can and will get through it.

There is so much advice I want to try to pass on to those coming up behind me.  The truth however, is that I am probably ill equipped.  I haven’t had to deal with the challenges that face you.  From the outside looking in, however, I will offer you these words.

You are not your social media profile.  Please do not allow your likes, follows, comments etc. to impact on your self worth.  You have been put on this earth for a reason, one which may not become clear to you for many years, but I promise it is almost certainly not to become an “influencer.”

You are beautiful.  Your 18 year old body does not need surgical enhancement, your gorgeous face does not need to be filled.  Your uniqueness is the key to your beauty.  Nothing makes me quite as sad as seeing you all trying to look the same.  The ironic thing about our beauty is that we often don’t appreciate it until  years later.  You will have to trust me on that!

You will make mistakes.  Your life will be messy and sometimes your shame will be on display for everyone.  You will feel like you can’t possibly survive it.  I promise you, you can.  Hold your head high and keep going.  People have short attention spans and the focus will be on someone else before long.  You might even laugh about it someday.

Be safe.  When I was in my teens and early twenties I took so many risks.  I was depressed and although I never contemplated suicide, I wasn’t doing a whole lot to ensure I stayed safe and alive!  Looking back on that time, I think someone must have been watching out for me because nothing terrible happened.  I rolled the dice and miraculously escaped relatively unscathed.  Don’t be like me.  Don’t take chances with your life and your health.  Even if they mean little to you now, someday they will be everything.

Lastly, smile.  Don’t take life too seriously.  In reality, most of us are just winging it.  99% of the decisions you make now will not have a catastrophic impact on your life.  Adopt the rule of 5.  If you are not going to care about something in 5 years time, don’t spend more that 5 minutes worrying about it.  Take the time to smell the roses and appreciate not being stranded at the bus stop.  Be well xxx

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Anti-Social Anxiety?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Just Say No!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Productivity Trap!

One of my husband’s oldest friends is getting married in May.  This week saw the lads all jetting off for his stag in Lanzorote.  We are still struggling to get Annie’s seizures under control and I decided to take the time off work, so that she wouldn’t be left home alone for too long.  We have a busy couple of months ahead, with three weddings, a hen party, some renovations in the house and our own summer holiday all happening at once.

Seeing as I was going to be off work for three days, it seemed like as good a time as any to get some “stuff” done.  We were getting new carpet fitted so being here for the fitters early Wednesday morning was the first thing on the agenda.  Alas, it wasn’t the only thing.  There was so much to be achieved, in fact, that I decided to make a list.  The problem was, every time I ticked one item off the list, I added at least two more.  It was becoming a little overwhelming.  I joked to my friend that I had enough on the list to fill three weeks, never mind three days!

No sooner had the carpet guys left, then I was on to the next thing.  Getting my badly overdue hair done.  With the crazy weather we have been having the last few weeks, it’s like everything is having to happen out of sequence (this does nothing for my inner control freak.)  When I got home from the salon, I had to deal with the mess the carpet fitters had left.  Two huge bags of off cuts were waiting in the hall for me to deal with.  They were never going to fit in the wheelie bins, and I knew if I stashed them somewhere for the “time being” that they would still be there the next time we get carpet!  A trip to the dump was the only thing for it.

Now, a sane person would have just thrown the two bags in the car and made her way to the landfill.  But not me, oh no!  I decided to go to the shed to see what else was in there that could do with being dumped.  Our shed was packed to the rafters with crap, which we had put there for the time being, throughout the decade we have lived here.  So, I began to load up my car with empty bottles, broken blinds, Styrofoam from every appliance we have ever owned, or so it seemed.  It was only at the point when I was trying to stuff an arm chair into my already full Fiesta, that I started to think perhaps this was ill advised!

It struck me that the armchair into the Fiesta debacle was sort of an apt analogy.  Our 21st Century lives are incredibly full.  We balance demanding careers, family, running a home, our health and fitness etc., etc.  However, instead of standing back and congratulating ourselves for achieving so much and managing to keep all the plates spinning, we constantly ask ourselves “what else can I fit in?”  How can I do more?  How can I be more “effective?”

We never seem to be satisfied, and social and main stream media don’t help.  Any time you log on, someone is extolling the virtues of the next thing we should all be doing.  This week it could be journalling, next week it might be meditation.  Practicing gratitude and colouring in were the big ticket items last year, along with finding fun new ways to use coconut oil and tumeric!  It’s so easy to get caught up with it all.  It’s easy to feel like if you haven’t been up since 5am to do a sun salutation and drink a green smoothie that you are somehow failing.

We even wear devices to track and monitor our sleep.  Both the quantity and quality can be measured.  Anyone who knows me can tell you I love my bed.  All my life I have been told I can sleep for Ireland.  So, imagine my surprise when at age 36 my FitBit tells me I am doing a crappy job!  I rarely get more than an hour of deep sleep a night.  Surely this can’t be enough?  How can I get more?  How can I do it better?  Rationally I know worrying about this is ridiculous.  Sure, I can TRY to control how much sleep I get, but the quality of that sleep is a little more complicated.  But my distress around this poor metric really underlined our obsession with personal effectiveness.

Are we taking it all too far?  Have we forgotten how to just be in the moment?  Do we even know how it feels to be relaxed anymore?  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good list as much as the next girl.  I have dozens of notebooks (some of them are too pretty to actually write in, but that’s another story.)  I believe in setting goals and strategically, methodically doing the work required to achieve them.  However, I am increasingly aware of how important it is to have some time to just chill!  Your day off shouldn’t feel like harder work than a day at the office.  We are so addicted to being busy, that we are afraid to admit we take our foot off the gas, even for a moment.

As human beings our time, energy and inclination are all finite resources.  The irony is that I took this time off work so I could be with my puppy, but on Wednesday evening I was so exhausted that I found myself being impatient with her.  The people, and puppies, in our lives deserve the best of us, not whatever is left over when we get to the end of our list.  Personal effectiveness is, of course, important, but even dynamos need a day off.  Be well xxx

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My Tribe, My Vibe!

“Embrace your duality!”  This was some very good advice I received at a workshop I attended recently.  What the speaker meant by this, is that often we can have two seemingly opposite sides of us, which both need to be acknowledged at different times.  So, for example you might be very confident and self assured in the work place, but shy and reserved in social situations.  Neither of these is more valid than the other.  In order to avoid conflict within ourselves, we need to acknowledge and accept all of our many facets.  Easy, right?  In theory, yes.  In practice, not so much!

I have always been a fiercely independent person.  I enjoy my own company and usually gravitate towards solo activities.  Nothing makes me happier than curling up with a cup of tea and a good book.  I love taking long walks with a Podcast and the pupper.  I recognise that time spent alone and quiet is vitally important to allow me to restore and renew, especially at those times when it feels like everyone wants a piece of me!  Even when I was a little girl, I would often retreat for hours.  Infinitely more comfortable alone, or in small groups, than in the crowd.

A few years ago, I went through a rough time.  I was starting out in my career, and in typical Arwen fashion, I was determined to do anything I could fast track it.  I left a job, which was close to home, to work somewhere farther away, because I felt it was a step up.  I saw it as a necessary evil.  The country was deep into a recession and opportunities were few and far between.  In making the change, I was also leaving behind so much familiarity.  I was walking away from friends and colleagues I had been working with for years.  I was leaving the little pond to go be a little fish in a much bigger one.

When I started the new job, it was immediately apparent that it might not have been the “right” decision.  The commute was hellish and the workload was insane.  It was nothing overly complicated, I was simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work.  It wasn’t long before I was skipping lunch and bringing work home with me in a vain attempt to catch up.  I was in college at the time too and I honestly felt I was spending all my whole life working, studying or driving.  I had no time to see friends or do any of the things I enjoy.

However, this wasn’t worst part of it.  I am not afraid of hard work and I can usually gut out most difficult situations.  The thing, which impacted me most negatively was the people.  I DID NOT fit in.  The girls I worked with were cliquey and unfriendly (think Mean Girls)  I enjoy a gossip as much as the next girl, as long as it’s harmless.  Theirs wasn’t.  So, in order to avoid getting drawn in to the nastiness, I kept contact to a minimum.  I would often go through an entire day without having a single conversation that wasn’t work related with anyone.  It was awful.

I couldn’t understand why I was so upset by it.  It wasn’t like I was looking for a new best friend.  It took me a long time to understand what I was feeling.  I was lonely.  Desperately lonely.  Even someone was happy in their own company as I am, needs some level of human interaction during the day.  Going from 7am to 7pm each day without even a chat about what was on TV last night is extremely difficult.  If you don’t believe me, try it for a few hours.  I was totally isolated and felt like I had been sent to Siberia (think Erin Brockovich)

Thankfully, I wasn’t in that situation for too long.  I changed jobs again and met a whole load of like minded people.  I relished in the sense of camaraderie I had so sorely missed.  I joined a Strength and Conditioning gym where I made a lot of great pals, and began feeling so much better.  I was connected!  I had found my tribe!

Since then, there have been so many changes in my life.  New jobs, new gyms, new business ventures etc.  There have been times during all of that when I have felt disconnected and alone.  Feeling lonely is, at least for me, a difficult thing to recognise and an even more difficult thing to admit.  Especially when it seems like I have no “reason” to feel that way.  I am getting a little better and I have started to notice a things which trigger it.

I have experienced these feelings most acutely when a situation or dynamic changes.  For instance, when I went from being one of the team to being a “manager.”  This small change put a huge distance between myself and those reporting to me.  Even the transition from Zumba student to Zumba instructor hasn’t been an easy one.  It has set me apart from the rest of the tribe and I have found myself feeling like I am on the outside looking in!

Obviously these changes are a normal part of life and anyone who wants to forge ahead will probably experience these periods of loneliness.  Times spent wondering where, if anywhere, you fit in.  Times when you don’t feel part of a tribe at all.  In these times, it’s important to remember than everything is transient.  If you feel lonely and isolated now, remind yourself that you won’t feel like this forever.  Try to reach out to those who know you best and draw them closer to you.  It’s okay to say “I feel lonely.”  It’s okay to admit that you are struggling and need help.

I try to avoid regret, but I do honestly wish I had done something, anything differently when I was in that awful job.  I wish I hadn’t been afraid to let me friends know how much I needed them.  I wish I hadn’t seen it as a failure to say “I don’t fit in.”  It was many years later before I was able to tell anyone what I had been going through.  Those Mean Girls were definitely not my tribe, and I now realise how lucky I was to have avoided being indoctrinated!  Be well xxx

Tribe

 

 

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The Wild Atlantic Way!

Last week, my husband and I spent a few days in County Donegal.  We took Annie, our German Shepherd with us, and rented a cottage in a remote area called Gweedore.  The cottage was very close to vast, unspoiled beaches and I was so looking forward to experiencing the wilderness effect.

The weeks leading up to the trip had been extremely stressful.  Work had been nightmarish and between running my nutrition group and trying to get ready to start teaching Zumba, it was all systems go (as usual!)  I felt completely exhausted.  It was to the point that I went to the doctor for blood tests.  I was convinced there must be something wrong with me.  Surely it couldn’t be “normal” to be so bloody tired all the time.  I was spending all day dragging myself around.  Dying to get to bed at night, only to lie there looking at the ceiling instead of being asleep.

Thankfully the blood tests came back all clear.  I am the picture of health, if only I felt it!!  The only thing the fatigue could be down to was either a hormonal issue (a change in pill was prescribed to try rule that out,) or stress/burn out.  The week of the trip my mouth erupted in cold sores.  A sure sign that I was run down.  I felt fragile and tearful.  I can honestly say, if I had had to last another week in work without a break, I may have had a break down!

Finally, the departure day arrived.  Even packing seemed like such an effort.  I made the decision to leave my make-up bag and hairdryer at home.  I claimed this was a nod to minimalism, but it was more that I couldn’t be bothered trying to sort that out.  It was all I could do to throw some clothes in a bag, grab my doggy and hit the road.

No sooner were we on the road, when I felt myself beginning to unwind.  A whole wonderful week lay ahead of me with no work, no gym, no housework or responsibilities.  Imagine, an entire seven days with no schedule to keep.  The thought of it made me giddy, or it would have if I hadn’t been so drained!

We arrived at the cottage just as dusk settled.  Stepping out of the car, taking a big stretch after the long drive, I took a deep breath.  As air scented with turf fires and sea salt filled my lungs, I began to wonder when was the last time I had done that?  When was the last time I had really allowed myself to breathe?

The few days we spent in Donegal were pure bliss.  Waking naturally, enjoying a leisurely brunch while planning the day’s adventures.  We spent hours tramping the beaches with Annie, watching her running through the surf.  Laughing at her jumping into boggy water and seeing her delight at how dirty she was getting.  We spent a lovely afternoon in Glen Veagh National Park, wandering and exploring.   We walked for hours every day, my FitBit was on overdrive.  The evenings were spent just hanging out, watching movies we had already seen, and enjoying not having anywhere to be.  I slept better than I had in months.

We drove up to Donegal in the rain, and we drove home in the rain.  In between journeys we were blessed with bright sunshine and clear blue skies.  We couldn’t have asked for more.  The sea air and wild terrain were such a tonic.  As the days wore on, I felt like a weight was being lifted off me.  I began to feel myself relaxing for the first time in I don’t remember how long.  For the first time in ages, I was content just to sit and do nothing.

The best part of the trip, for me, was seeing how much fun Annie was having.  As a 35kg German Shepherd, there aren’t too many places we can let her run wild and free.  But along the deserted coast lines we were able to do exactly that.  It was amazing to see her come to life and embrace her new found freedom.  It made me realise that I am not entirely unlike her.   I spend all my time restrained and restricted.  Adhering to schedules and rules.  Just like my puppy, I am beginning to understand that I too need time to be wild and free.

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Coming back to reality this week, I have made myself a few promises.  Firstly, I have vowed to never go that long without a break again.  I have also promised to be more aware of the signs of overload and to take steps to avoid ending up feeling the way I have recently felt.  I am committed to exploring more of this beautiful country of ours and to take advantage of the wildernesses on our doorstep.

The trip away has proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered.  In the isolation, I was able to find my way back to myself.  I love being around people and would consider myself very social.  I had forgotten just how important time spent alone and quiet can be.  I didn’t even miss my make-up.  Be well xxx

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Snakes & Ladders!

If you asked me to describe how 2017 has been for me so far, in just one word, that word would be “funny.”  The months have simply flown by.  There have been some periods of intense learning and growth.  During these times, I felt on top of the world.  Training and nutrition were dialed in.  Work was challenging and busy, but not difficult.  On the flip side, there have also been periods, like the one I find myself in right now, which were the complete opposite.

During these times, nutrition is a daily battle, when I manage to train everything feels hard and heavy.  Just getting through the day at work seems to sap all my energy and creativity.  It’s enough to make me feel like giving up entirely.  But you know what, sometimes it’s okay to do just that!

The last few weeks in particular have been very strange.  Nothing catastrophic has happened as such, but there has been just enough upheaval and lack of routine, to completely throw me off my game.  There has been lots of eating out and sleeping in. Plenty of missed gym sessions, and very little getting done to help me to achieve my long term goals.  I have put on weight, and I am pretty sure my FitBit thinks I am dead.  In short, there has been a definite back slide.

I can’t tell you how strong the urge is to beat myself up about this.  Words like “stupid,” “pathetic” and “failure” come to my mind unbidden and it takes so much effort to repress them.  My rational mind knows that progress is always non-linear.  It’s normal to take two steps forward and one backwards.  Sometimes we hit that snake and slide all the way back to where we started!  But, even that, when it happens is not is not a tragedy.  We bring all the knowledge and tools we have acquired back to square one with us.

I have given these back slide periods a lot of thought over the past while, and I have come to the conclusion that they might just be necessary.  We all know that a healthy body means a healthy mind.  However, I can’t help wondering if the opposite can be true sometimes.  Maybe the thing the mind and soul occasionally needs, is to let go of all of it.  Perhaps it yearns to stop worrying about every calorie and stressing about missed workouts.  Maybe if we truly want to nurture the soul, we should give the body what it wants, instead of what it needs, from time to time.

Another question I have pondered, is what brings on these phases.  Could it be that the change in seasons has prompted a sort of mini-hibernation?  Maybe it is that I know the next few months are going to get crazy again, so I am trying to build myself up?  Who knows!  What I do know, is that they come, and when they do, there is very little I can do to guard against them.

So, here I am, on another Monday, starting from scratch AGAIN!  Anyone who has been in this position, knows how difficult it is to start over.  Easier by far, to continue the self destructive behaviours.  The one thing that makes it easier, is knowing that I haven’t slid all the way back to square one.  Even if I put back on every pound I have lost, I still wouldn’t be back to where I started.  I have learned so much, and grown so much as a person since this journey began.  I have confidence now, that the sad, miserable and frightened girl I was then, is gone forever.

I really didn’t want to write this article.  It comes so much easier, when everything is going well.  I want to be able to sit here and tell you all about my successes and the progress I have made, but that wouldn’t be real.  I made a commitment to bring you guys with me on this journey, so that means showing you the lows as well as the highs.  The goods news is that I think I have slid as far down the board as I am going to, for now.  Here’s hoping I roll a 6 and find a ladder or two.  Be well xxx

 

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Work to Live?

The last few days, have been some of the most challenging of my professional life.  Without going into too much detail (it’s a long and boring story) I was faced with huge disappointment.  A promise, which had been made to me, was broken and I felt utterly bereft.  In the hours and days which followed, I found myself questioning everything.  Was it my fault somehow?  Did I deserve to be treated this way, after all I had been waiting for the other shoe to drop!  Was it “normal” to feel like this, or had I simply over invested in this opportunity?  Had I put too much of my heart on the line?

You see, that’s the trouble with me.  When I commit to something, I go all in.  Whether I am crunching numbers, teaching a cookery class or coaching nutrition clients, I put my all into the work.  In the words of the great Kahlil Gibran, “Work is love made visible.”  I have always believed this, and so I take my work extremely personally.

A few months back, I had had a particularly arduous day.  I had spent the day making a presentation to a nutrition group, and taking back to back appointments with one to one clients.  The evening was spent teaching a cookery class.  By the time I got home, my head was spinning and my body exhausted.  Tired and wired, I collapsed into bed for what would prove to be a sleepless night.  I remember talking to a good friend about it and saying “I wish I could do these things, without putting so much of myself in to it.”  Of course, he and I both knew this was not the truth.  I simply don’t have the ability to phone it in, or go through the motions.  With me, it is all or nothing.

I received the disappointing news when I was parked in front of the gym.  Immediately the tears began to flow.  Like a tidal wave, there was no controlling it.  I sat there, red faced and soggy, desperately trying to resist the urge to ask strangers for a hug.  I was frantically texting everyone who knew about the situation, looking for comfort and advice.  I am so thankful to everyone who was there for me in that moment.  Most especially, I am grateful for the text which just said “go train.”

So, that is exactly what I did.  I dried my eyes, kinda, and went and did a workout.  I had no plan, and I would probably struggle to tell you what I actually did.  I just kept doing rep after rep, set after set until the tears stopped threatening.  By the time I was finished training, I was numb, depleted and really ready for a glass of wine!  I spent a lot of time over the weekend reflecting, and comfort eating.  I gave myself licence to lick my metaphorical wounds.  My sister had suggested dipping cookie dough into peanut butter, while sitting in my “depressing gown,” but I thought that was a bridge too far!

As many of the great philosophers say, we are not judged by what happens to us in life, but by how we respond to it.  My initial response, and one which I am still drawn to, was a desire to curl up in a little ball and cry about how unfair it all is.  My secondary impulse was to say “screw them,” and adopt a work to rule policy.  You know, do what is required of me, no more, no less and leave on time every night!  The irony is, that enticing as these action plans are, neither of them would serve me very well.

I have decided instead to be the bigger man.  I will continue to do my job as well as I am able, and conduct myself in a way I can be proud of.   I realise that in a few months, this situation will not seem as big or as important as it does now.  It might even turn out to be a blessing in disguise, who knows.  Another important thing for me to try to remember, is that I am not a victim, powerless to withstand the corporate machine.  I am not trapped.  I have choices and that is extremely empowering.  Even if my choice is to do nothing, to let the dust settle and the emotion die down before rushing to judgement, I am still doing that on my own terms.

Every one of us is unfortunately going to experience set backs in life.  Whether they are career related or not.  Being upset and disappointed by them is not a sign of weakness, it merely means you were invested and you trusted.  Curve balls will be thrown at us in our relationships and with our health as well, and learning to adapt to them, without compromising yourself, is a difficult lesson indeed.  As Rudyard Kipling counsels “If you can meet both triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”  Events in life don’t happen to us, they just happen!  It is up to us to decide whether to let them bolster us or break us.

As for me, I am very much in wait and see mode.  A naturally emotive person, this is a struggle for me.  However, if I act in haste, I am sure to repent at my leisure.  Watch this space.  Be well xxx

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Round Table Nights!

My husband and I are approaching the tenth anniversary of buying our house.  Looking back on it now, we were impossibly young.  We were completely overwhelmed by all the decisions, which needed to be made, and in our haste to get it all “finished” we made plenty of terrible choices.

One such choice, was with our dining set.  I wanted one with 6 chairs.  I was moving away from my home town, and was worried about being lonely, so imagined we would be thronged with visitors!  We had originally ordered a 5′ table, but when it arrived (and was assembled) we realised they had sent us the 6′ one in error.  Not wanting to cause a fuss, I convinced myself that it was “fine.”  It wasn’t!  The thing is completely enormous.  Totally unsuitable for two people (and one very large dog.)  I have hated it from day one and have lost count of the number of bruises its corners have bestowed upon me.

Last week, I made the decision to replace it.  I have ordered a small, round table (no more corners) and four chairs.  I am delighted.  I know the new one will be far more suitable for our limited dining needs.  The space it frees up in the kitchen will be invaluable, especially when trying to wrangle a muddy, wet dog coming in the back door.  Why then, do I also feel guilty?  Why do I find myself trying to rationalise the decision?  Even if I didn’t hate the original one, replacing it after a decade can hardly be considered frivilous.   So, why am I having such a hard time letting it go?

There will be times in life when such objects no longer serve us.  They don’t necessarily need to be broken or worn out to have outlived their usefulness.  Learning to recognise when this has happened, and how to let these items go, is definitely something I am going to have to work on.  For me, I think it is a fear of appearing wasteful, wanton and ungrateful, which causes me to hang onto things longer than I perhaps should.  Marie Kondo advises that when we come to make these decisions, we should thank the items for their service to us, and let them go.  Yes, it sounds a little silly, but I truly think it helps.

It is a similar situation when it comes to our habits and even our relationships.  There will be times when it no longer makes sense to do something, which we may have been doing for years, or even decades.  If we remain open to learning and growing, we will inevitably come to understand that maybe the path we are on is not the best one. Perhaps it never was, or maybe the landscape has shifted since our journey began.  Either way, allowing yourself to change direction is an extremely empowering thing.

Not for a moment am I suggesting that we should change course willy nilly, but being rigidly fixed on a set point, can really restrict us.  I remember being in University.  I absolutely hated it.  For the entire time I was there, I was miserable.  It had such a negative affect on me that by the time I graduated, I was physically and emotionally in a terrible state.  I became deeply depressed and more or less gave up eating.  Not through a desire to lose weight, but because I simply couldn’t have been bothered.  Most days I would eat one meal, consisting of a fried egg, two slices of toast and half a tomato.  By the time I approached my final exams, I weighed just 46kg (102lbs.)  I firmly believe that this phase in my life is where my chequered relationship with food began.

I recall, at the time my mother saying to me “Arwen, you have more staying power than anyone I have ever known.”  I thought to myself that this must be a good thing.  Surely setting a course and sticking to it no matter what is admirable and right?  It is only with the benefit of hindsight that I understand how wrong I was.  It was cowardly to continue to bang my head against a brick wall with something so clearly wrong for me.  It would have been far braver to accept I had made a mistake, and walk away with my mind and body in tact.

Even with our relationships, knowing when to walk away is a skill worth learning.  In all human relationships, there needs to be give and take.  Obviously this ratio will fluctuate during the course of the relationship, depending on where both people are in their lives.  However, if you get to the stage with someone where you feel like it is completely one sided, it might be time to ask yourself “what am I getting out of this?”  That might sound completely selfish, but if the alternative is that you end up feeling hurt, resentful and angry then the hard questions need to be asked.

If the person is important to you, then tell them how you feel.  They might have no idea that have been taking you for granted.  Asking for what you need from people is a mature and grown up thing to do, but it is never easy!  If you don’t feel able to address it, perhaps the only thing to do is walk away.  This doesn’t mean you need to have a huge confrontation and fall out with them.  You can simply stop being the first to text, call, or visit.  To put it plainly, if they want you, they know where you are.

I am a sentimental soul at heart, and my connections to people, places and things have always been important to me.  I find letting go extremely difficult.  However, I am beginning to learn that being overly attached to the past, can only serve to prevent me from moving forward.  My new table arrives on Monday and I am so looking forward to it.  It will serve as a daily reminder that sometimes it is okay to leave the past behind.  After all, even King Arthur knew that a round table was better!  Be well xxx

 

 

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Lost and Found

For the last few weeks, I have been getting ready for my trip to Rome.  I am going away with one of my oldest and dearest friends.  She and I have been through a lot over the two decades we have known each other, and I am so looking forward to getting to spend time catching up.  As well, of course, as checking out all that the Italian city has to offer (read pasta, coffee, gelato, pizza!)

On the run up to my Roman Holiday I can’t help noticing that I feel really good.  I am in a good place with my health.  I feel reasonably happy with my body and self-image.  I haven’t had the usual nightmare in work, trying to get everything done before heading off.  I don’t even feel under as much financial pressure as I normally would before a trip.  In short, all is well.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever felt so good going away before.  Even my usual anxiety has not reared its ugly head.  At least not so far!

All this feeling good, has lead to some very strange happenings.  I am finding myself doing things I never would have thought of doing in the past.  Small, seemingly insignificant things really.  Like buying dresses, shorter than I usually would.  Or daring to try red lipstick.  Even just baring my legs on hot, summer days, would have been something I would have balked at previously.

The weird thing is, the more stuff I do, which is totally unlike me, the more like myself I feel.  It’s almost like the red lipstick wearing woman was stuck inside me, and has been waiting 35 years to finally make an appearance.  I feel as though I am beginning to find myself.

I wonder how much of this is a natural part of life.  As we come of age, do we unfold and stretch and become a truer version of ourselves?  Or could it be that as I have grown in confidence, I have gained the courage to try all the things I wanted to, but was afraid of?  Or maybe it is simply that I stopped giving a f$ck what other people think!  I walk down the street in a bright yellow rain coat.  I have no problem singing out loud in work or in spin class.  If I get funny looks, I just shoot them back a smile, and think what a shame it is that they have no magic left.

Being ambivalent about what other people think is the most liberating thing I have experienced.  Sure, I still care what my family and friends think of me, and certainly don’t go out of my way to upset anyone.  However, I no longer fall into the category of chronic people pleaser.  I do things now because I want to, or because they make me feel good, not because it is what is expected of me.

If you haven’t reached this point in your own life yet, don’t worry, it will happen sooner or later.  At some stage, you will reach a point where you have had enough of trying to make everyone happy, at the expense of your own joy.  When this happens, it will feel like your life has begun in earnest.  You will start discovering what it is that you like.  You will gain a new understanding of yourself.  And best of all, your mind will be freed of all the agonizing, paralysing overthinking, which comes from trying to do the “right thing” all the time.

I spent a lot of time as a girl feeling like the ugly duckling.  I was the typical teenager with acne and braces.  Painfully self-conscious and awkward.  All my pals were beautiful and had boyfriends and I always felt inadequate.  Even into adulthood, these feelings stayed with me.  I never felt like I fit in anywhere.  Never had quite the right outfit, or said quite the right thing.  I was always a little lost.

I don’t feel like that anymore.  I am going to be spending four days in a beautiful city, with one of the most gorgeous women I know, and I can honestly tell you, for the first time, I feel like I am enough.  I am like a kid experiencing the world for the first time.  I have no idea what is going to happen next, but I am very excited to find out.

As I was thinking about writing this post, the words of an Avicii song have been playing in my mind.  “All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.”  I wonder now if anyone ever feels themselves truly found?  I guess I will soon find out.  Be well xxx