Back to Basics

I have somehow managed to put my back out. Again. The frustration is almost too much to bear, though I know I need to put it into perspective. It is not (yet) as bad as the last two times, which means that if I’m careful there is a chance it could recover without going into full blown paralysis mode. And although in the current (acute) phase, it is somewhat debilitating, it is far from a life threatening condition. I must, I know, stay positive, although when you’re not yet 35 and it takes a full three seconds to straighten up each time you stand, plus you have shooting pains down both your legs when you walk, it’s kind of hard to keep that top of mind. Still, I must try, because nobody likes a whinger – least of all me.

I’m realising now more than ever the correlation between physical and mental well-being. When I’m feeling stressed with work or life it doesn’t take long to manifest itself in my body. This time has been textbook. Two boozy weekends, a patch of work stress and a ridiculous ongoing drama with our cleaner (of all things) have taken their toll on me mentally, and bang! There goes the back. I have also, I admit, become complacent with my core strengthening exercises of late, doing increasingly watered down versions each morning to afford myself additional, precious moments in my bed. This, combined with increasingly prolonged periods of desk sitting, has once again proved to be a recipe for disaster.

I know this is my body’s way of telling me to sit up and take notice, to find a way to redress the imbalance that has been created. My recently ended counselling has helped me to clarify the things that are important to me. Now I need to start taking active steps towards achieving them. Because if I don’t, I fear back pain will be but the tip of a very big iceberg.

So it’s time to make some changes – physical and mental. Firstly, I must get the stand-up desk my boss sanctioned weeks ago that I haven’t got around to sorting yet. Secondly, I will sign up for the eight week mindfulness course I have found, to try and get my mind back into alignment with my body. Hopefully with a bit more commitment and a bit less complacency I can get back to full health more quickly this time around.

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Therapy Talk

At the beginning of 2015 I had a strange and unsettling episode that harked back to my days as a stressed out third year in university. It was a panic attack, full blown and frightening. Brought on, I think (it’s always hard to pinpoint), by a lack of direction in my life at the time. I had moved to Brussels with my boyfriend and was loving life in Belgium, but my nine month maternity cover job contract was coming to an end and I didn’t have anything else lined up. I was also conscious that my status as a girlfriend rather than a wife in this international setup was somewhat lacking in security. And so, after weeks of internalising my emotions, they built up and burst out of me in a tidal wave of fear. I hyperventilated myself silly, cried and panicked for the best part of an hour. Fortunately my then-boyfriend (now-husband – as it turned out I didn’t have to worry about that part) was on hand to offer words of support and encouragement. I calmed down. But I knew something inside me had awakened, and that I would need to find the courage to face it.

And so I did something I never thought I would actually do: I found a counsellor. And I went to my first session feeling embarrassed and stupid, like I was wasting her time and my own. And thinking surely counsellors are for people with real problems, not women whose biggest issues are which job to choose next and whether their boyfriends will decide to pop the question. But as I sat and talked, in the first session and the next, I realised this was about so much more.

We humans are like onions. When you start to peel away the layers you find layers you never knew existed. Each represents experience, and emotion. And until you have uncovered them all it’s hard to appreciate why you are the way you are, why you interact the way you do with others, with the world. And, most crucially of all, how you can adapt your behaviour to bring about positive and lasting change.

Almost eighteen months later I had my final session. It was tonight.

My counsellor asked me what three things I had learned from our sessions. I said, firstly, I’ve learned how to get some perspective. When I feel myself getting anxious, I now have the tools to dissociate myself from the stressor – even if just for a moment. I can then ask myself how big the problem is, really. If it will matter in three weeks, three months or three years. If it’s worth fighting or losing sleep over. And the answer, of course, is usually no. Secondly, I said I’ve learned some valuable coping mechanisms in response to specific situations. The best one was the victim-perpetrator-rescuer scenario, which I have used successfully to navigate occasional tricky patches in relationships. Finally, I’ve learned to be more empathetic towards others, to appreciate they have layers of their own (layers sometimes even they don’t know about). I have a propensity to be oversensitive, but now I have the capacity to realise that people don’t do things with the aim of upsetting me. It’s just the way they are, the way they have been conditioned. Just as my response to their behaviour is the way I have been conditioned.

It’s been a great experience.

I’ve learned a lot: About the person I was, the person I am and the person I want to be.

Now it’s time to take back the reins.

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Why Life Can’t Always Be Fun

Discipline is not my friend. She never was. When the class was lining up against the wall at the end of break time (clap, clap, clap went the teacher’s hands), I was knee down in the dirt digging up sticks to light my imaginary witch’s cauldron (I’m not a witch, to clarify, that was just a phase – one of many).

Imagination was my friend. She painted rainbows in my mind every day. She was both distraction and muse. Sometimes she shone so bright a light upon me that it radiated out of my pores, rendering me translucent. Other times she disappeared like in a game of hide and seek that only she was playing.

Years passed. Despite our differences, Discipline held onto my coat tails as Imagination danced around me. Both persevered, in their own inimitable way. But there was a new player in the game.

Fun was shiny and bouncy and new. She knew exactly what she wanted, and would stop at nothing to get it. She laughed in the face of Discipline, who was always far too serious. She toyed with Imagination, in the way a cat will play with a fly – until it deems it time to eat it.

At some point Discipline gave up. Imagination, too, became tired of playing games that didn’t go anywhere. Fun took the wheel and drove. And for a while, things were just fine.

Now Fun is getting bored of driving, and Discipline and Imagination are nowhere to be found. I’m going to look them up on Friends Reunited. It’s time to make amends.

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Two Weeks to Wed: Panic Stations

If I could give one piece of advice to future brides to be it would be this: don’t leave too much to the last minute. It’s easy to tell yourself in the weeks and months leading up to the wedding that it’s important to stay calm and level-headed, and that you still have plenty of time for the details. But those are the excuses of lazy people, and trust me, when it’s two weeks until the big day and you are crazy busy at work with barely a second to think about anything else, you will rue the day past you slammed the wedding spreadsheet shut in favour of an episode of Made in Chelsea.

Yet despite the pressure we aren’t doing too badly. It is fortunate that, whilst I am prone to rumination and panic (usually in that order), R is using his work skills to keep me on the straight and narrow efficiency track. We’ve had a few run-ins along the way, but I challenge you to show me an engaged couple who haven’t. Ironically it seems minor arguments are par for the course when planning a life union to the person you love most in the world.

A piece of advice given to me by a past bride was not to worry too much about the details. She painstakingly spent days preparing intricate flower displays for the tables, only to find weeks after the wedding that nobody could remember them at all. I’ve taken this to heart, primarily because it’s a convenient excuse for my inherent laziness and near-total inability to craft. We are preparing some small touches to make the occasion unique, but have spent far more time focusing on the really important things, like making sure there will be enough booze, and good music to dance the night away to.

In the last few weeks it has felt like time has moved into warp speed. I can’t believe in fewer than 15 sleeps I will be a married woman. Even though I’ve had 15 months to mentally prepare it still feels a bit scary. I haven’t even thought about changing my name on all my official documents yet. That task will have to be left until later. For now it’s back to the wedding spreadsheet and full steam ahead that track of efficiency, all the way to the end of the aisle where my husband to be will be waiting🙂

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Five Weeks to Wed: Reflection on Youth

By the time I was seven I had the whole marriage thing wrapped up – my husband would be tall (at least a head taller than me), dark and handsome, I would be bedecked in lavish jewels and wear a big meringue dress (almost exactly like the one Jennifer Connelly wore in Labyrinth – see below). The ceremony, no less lavish than the dress (naturally), would take place in a beautiful church, with the reception in a grand country mansion. Guests would eat plentifully (mostly chocolate), and I would spend the remainder of my days tripping the light fantastic and dancing on sunbeams with unicorns. Or something like that.

Fast forward 27 years (ouch) and the reality isn’t so far from the dream. My husband to be is indeed tall (not quite a head taller, but let’s not, if you’ll excuse the pun, split hairs) and handsome, if not quite dark (but red haired will do nicely). The lavish jewels are out (clearly my seven year old self had no concept of money), the dress thankfully not quite in the meringue league, and the ceremony will not be in a church (this part I’m sad about, but as we are not Catholic we weren’t allowed to marry in the on-site chapel, and will instead do it outside on the lawn, weather permitting…). And much as I’d have liked a meal made entirely of chocolate, my 34 year old self has to acknowledge it’s not to everyone’s taste. But on one front I’ve trumped seven year old me entirely, for we are not getting married in a grand country mansion, but an actual bona fide castle (albeit because our original, far less grand and ergo far less expensive venue cancelled, but still..). And in Austria, land of stunning lakes and mountains.

With five weeks to go the nerves are kicking in, not about the marriage itself (fortunately), but rather about the plethora of things still to be ticked off the to do list. And the weather. Such a thing shouldn’t matter, of course, but as putting up a marquee will cost us an extra grand I would dearly love to see a forecast devoid of rain when it comes to marquee decision day (two days before the main event). And also, given that our loved ones are making such an effort to be there on our special day,  I would love to have sunshine as much as for them as for us. But what will be will be. I’ve learned a lot during this process about not stressing over things you can’t control. It hasn’t always been easy but it’s another part of growing up. And on the whole, I think we’re both doing pretty well. Next stop: tripping the light fantastic and dancing on sunbeams with unicorns. Bring it on.

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The Bridal Brassiere Debate

Weddings are expensive, I get it (trust me, after a year of planning my own, I really get it). And for the most part I also get why. If you’re fortunate enough (as we are – just) to not have to sell a kidney to pay for the event, it’s really jolly nice to have a ceremony, slap up dinner and after party with your nearest and dearest, in honour of your most auspicious and romantic union (which, all being well, will be a once in a lifetime occasion).

If you want to seal the deal in a hotel, assuming that hotel is on the nicer side of decent and you aren’t best mates with the owner, it’s going to cost a pretty penny. Fine. Everyone expects to spend a bit on the location, right? Same goes for the food, the booze, the dress – I could go on. But when it comes to what the bride wears underneath her dress, well, I’m afraid that’s where you lose me on the wedding sympathy scale.

Not that I’m keen to go into details of my smalls drawer in a public forum such as this, but for the sake of argument I’ll admit: I’m not big on underwear. Not in the sense I don’t wear it (what do you take me for? I’m not some sex starved, hormone-addled teenager), more that I don’t spend swathes of cash on expensive matching sets of it. Never have, never will. Don’t get me wrong, I like a nice bra and pants, and if M&S have got an offer on I’ll bite their hand off on a 3-for-2 deal (especially if the bra straps are detachable – instantly doubles the practicality rating). But whilst I like to look nice for my man in the bedroom as much as the next girl, I just can’t bring myself to waste money on something that so rarely sees the light of day.

So you can imagine my horror when, last weekend, I set out on a mission to find my bridal underwear at a cost that wasn’t eye watering, only to discover that EVERY set of bridal underwear in the whole of Brussels apparently IS. I started with two high end boutiques, knowing full well these would be the upper end of the scale. The sales staff were all smiles to begin with, but as soon as it became clear they weren’t making an immediate sale (200 Euros for a BRA? I don’t think so, love) turned sourer than off milk. One woman even replied to my comment about wanting to consider other underwear with ‘but we have everything here, why would you go somewhere else?’ So far so bad.

Next up, the ‘mid’ (ha!) range stores, slightly upwards of high street but still with a boutique feel. Here I found one bra that I really liked, with pretty lace detailing. But when the shop assistant told me the price – 160 Euros for the bra alone, and a further 60 for the scrappiest ‘thong’ I’d ever laid eyes on – I just couldn’t swallow it. I also failed to see the romantic element to the pair of ‘wedding night’ knickers she brazenly tried to flog me, with their less than alluring HOLE in the back (refer to previous point about not being sex starved teenager – am also not sex whore).

So, off I went to the Brussels equivalent of Debenhams, confident I would at least find something suitable and within my price range there. Within the price range, yes, suitable? No. Out of an entire department of lingerie there were just two possible options, neither of which looked particularly nice on. Feeling dejected, I began walking home, and, on a whim popped into Etam, which I remember fondly from (the irony) my teenage days. And guess what? There, in prime position, was a brand new range of satin underwear in a lovely selection of suitably bridal colours, with a set of underwear retailing at the princely sum of 50 Euros. AND it was buy one get one half price. Needless to say I snapped up two sets and a few extra pairs of pants to boot. Total price: 117 Euros.

Take THAT snooty top end boutique bitches.

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Solitude

It’s been a long old while since I’ve practiced meditation, or indeed any form of mindfulness; two of the many things I mentally flagellate myself about daily. This weekend, therefore, has been a blessing. Not because I’ve done either of those things (obvs), but because I have had the chance to spend some quality time with myself, and with nature. And because, as cheesy as it sounds, it has given me a much needed opportunity to reconnect with myself.

Life rushes by at such an alarming rate – especially, as I’ve discovered in recent months, when you have a wedding to plan. Lately (or, to be truly honest, forever) I’ve felt so time poor it’s taken all my effort just to get home from work at the end of the day, run a bath and crack on an episode of Eastenders (weird new guilty pleasure – clearly a sign of stress) before falling, exhausted, into bed. Meditation? Ha. As if. I’ve never felt less calm or more busy.

But then, last week, the soon-to-be-husband (eep!) announced he would be going back to the UK this weekend, sans moi (well, I had the choice to accompany him, but after last week’s boozy and nocturnal antics in Las Vegas the thought of spending 16 hours in a car only to hold a paint brush all weekend – they are renovating the family home, yes, I know, I’m a selfish cow – was too much to entertain). At first I was put out (see previous selfish cow comment), and sad at missing the opportunity to spend a quiet weekend together. I hastily scrambled some social options together in case I needed back up, and prepared to bunker down for a weekend alone with the bottle of Chianti hubby-to-be bought me to soften the blow (a welcome gift, and further proof, it it was needed, that he’s a keeper).

Yesterday (Saturday), I lazed around in the morning then went shopping all afternoon. So far so good. In the evening, feeling more confident about being alone (Jesus, you wouldn’t think I’ve travelled alone for months at a time in the past would you?), I declined all social plans, heated up a Marks and Spencer ready meal (God how I’ve missed those – totally forgot an M&S opened up here a few months ago. Result) and downloaded a gratuitous chick flick from Amazon. But it wasn’t until today that I felt a change occur. Yesterday was enjoyable, but in a shallow way (not that there is anything wrong with that, in my opinion, at least from time to time). I was gratified by material purchases and ‘guilty pleasure’ TV consumption, but that was as far as it went. Today I somehow knew as soon as I woke up it would be different. And it has been.

My recent back injury having put paid to any hope of a pre-wedding gym comeback, I have to make sure I still get some exercise each day. I decided, therefore, to go for a walk, the timing of which was fortuitously impeccable. It had just rained heavily, and the sun was beginning to nudge the clouds aside. I walked to Tenbosch Park, just ten minutes from home. I don’t know what it is about that place, but as soon as I get there I always feel an overwhelming sense of calm descend upon me. It’s so beautifully kept, unusual in that it is both small and spread over several levels – sort of landscaped over a small hill – and feels to me like a secret garden, a tiny oasis amidst the sprawling metropolis. I just love it, and after visiting today by myself my mind feels clearer than it has done in weeks. I spent a while just standing and listening to the birds tweeting, watching as a parrot (yes, really, apparently Brussels is famous for them) flew overhead from tree top to tree top. It was wonderful, and a welcome reminder that even if I’m not meditating every chance I get, it’s still possible to find a little piece of peace in this frenetic world.

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