Sink, Swim or Self-accept

Self acceptance is a wily old beast. I’ve been chasing it around for years with no success, lying in wait to ensnare it. But it’s always a step ahead, just out of reach. Tonight, though, I had a breakthrough. Because, just as it came barreling past me (as it is wont to do, teasingly), I reached out and grabbed its tail. Just for a second. I let go, obviously, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is I managed to touch it, to make it tangible and real.

Last week I wrote a list of all the things that make me feel guilty. It was long, with the obvious (obligatory) entries about health and diet and exercise. It also mentioned my penchant for a bit of crap TV from time to time, my lack of discipline to write and my lack of ambition.

This week work is ramping up. I’ve been given more responsibility, a new client and the chance to earn a promotion. I didn’t think I was ambitious, yet all of a sudden I feel hungry for it. In two days I’ve racked up several hours of overtime, but instead of feeling downbeat, put upon and weary, I feel calm, confident, happy. Why? Because I realised earlier that it is possible to just let things go; to not worry about coming home late, eating cake, not having time for the gym, not writing, occasionally watching something crap on TV (once in a while, I’m not advocating an unhealthy lifestyle, everything in moderation).

Almost none of the things I guilt over incessantly really matter. In fact, in those rare moments when my vision clears I realise that beneath the layers of guilt I am actually profoundly serene. The things on my to do list can wait until the weekend. I don’t have the mental capacity to worry about all of that as well as working this hard. I can’t do both. Or maybe I can, but I don’t want to. I choose not to. Because ultimately everything in life is a choice. And choosing to accept yourself, with all the foibles that make you who you are, is the best decision you can make.

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The Baby Monkey Metaphor

This is an honest post about an emotion that clings to my back like an orphaned baby monkey every day of my life. That emotion is guilt.

To give examples, here are some of the myriad things I feel guilty about on a daily basis: Not working hard enough; Not being ambitious enough; Not being a good enough fiancé; Not being a good enough daughter; Not being a good enough friend; Not writing; Not pursuing my life goals; Watching too much crap instead of writing/pursuing life goals; Caring too much what people think about me; Being so privileged when so many are not; Not appreciating being so privileged when so many are not; Never being satisfied/always wanting more; Eating badly; Not going to the gym; Not being mindful; Worrying about everything/sweating the small stuff; Being too apologetic; Wasting too much time on social media. I could go on. In fact, I daresay I could fill ten pages with all the things that I feel guilty about from one moment to the next. But I won’t (because I’d only feel guilty about the time I wasted writing it). It’s a depressing (if somewhat exaggerated, for the purpose of this post) truth that the only time I don’t feel guilty is when I’m sleeping, although if I remembered more of my dreams I wouldn’t be surprised if I felt guilt in most of those as well.

It never fails to amaze me how humans can be so intelligent and yet so utterly stupid at the same time. Unless felt in a justified context, for example when we have genuinely done something to upset another person, guilt – like worry and anxiety (which I could also fill a small tome about, let’s not go down that road here) – is a useless emotion. After thirty four years of living with it I can vouch for the fact it does not increase productivity – far from it, it is productivity’s antithesis. It also doesn’t improve personal relationships, or indeed help other people in the slightest. I wouldn’t go so far as to label it a selfish emotion, because it is usually underpinned by a sense of duty towards others or towards our true (non-egotistical) selves, but it sure is good at making a person introspective to the point of being boring.

So in the spirit of the age old ‘new year, new me’ mentality, it’s time to face the truth: the baby monkey on my back, whilst cute, has never led me anywhere positive; in fact, it has only led me into procrastination, anxiety and paralysing self-doubt. In short, cute or not, it’s time to ditch the monkey. Life is too short to be paralysed by useless emotions. It’s time to start fostering the useful ones.

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The Inevitable Resolution Post

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions – primarily because I’m not very good at keeping them – but given that my wedding is now fast approaching (six months? Where did the last nine go?), it is imperative that I start as I mean to go on where health and fitness are concerned, because, funnily enough, I’m not that keen for people to remember my fat arms more than anything else from my wedding day. Having spent most of the festive season stuffing turkey, roast potatoes and mince pies into my face at staggeringly frequent intervals – all washed down with cirrhosis-inducing quantities of alcohol – I am actually feeling ready for the challenge.

What I am less ready for is the inevitable January gym scrum, but I suppose that goes with the territory. Given my current bad back situation, however, it may be a while yet before I’m doing sprints on the treadmill and lifting my own weight on the LAT pull down machine. Hopefully a few chiropractor sessions and some gentle exercise and Pilates will do the trick, because I’m not enjoying feeling more like 94 than 34, and it depresses me no end that last year I was training for a marathon and now it hurts to stand up and walk to the toilet. But hey ho, we all have our crosses to bear.

Where food is concerned I am aiming to keep fresh and healthy as much as possible in 2016 (or at least up to the wedding in June, after which I’ll have nabbed him and can pile the pounds back on – only kidding, my love). Last night I managed this admirably, whipping up a quinoa rice pilau with dill and roasted tomatoes for dinner, as well as a mackerel, quinoa and watercress salad for today’s lunch and overnight oats with red berries, almonds and chia seeds for breakfast. As tasty and virtuous as this is, I can’t deny it was a struggle getting everything prepared. Dinner wasn’t ready until 9.30pm, and once the oats were boxed up and put in the fridge it was 11pm and time for bed. Healthy eating, it would seem, is not conducive to having a life. Hopefully I’ll get better at it with practice…

And then there’s booze. We all know it’s the devil (albeit an alluring one), but I can’t quite bring myself to partake in the misguided (in my opinion) saint-fest that is Dry January, so instead I will be sticking to one tipple for the whole of this month – red wine, whose wide-ranging health benefits have been widely touted in official studies like this one. So there.

And finally, there’s my biggest nemesis: Procrastination. To kick off the year in the right frame of mind I have unsubscribed from all the crap emails I receive daily into my Hotmail account which my FOMO had until now prevented me from doing (it’s all very well being kept abreast of the latest pop up tiki bars and arty plays in your favourite corner of south west London, but when you now reside permanently in another country, it’s kind of pointless continuing to receive a stream of constant updates about them). I’m not quite ready to eschew social media, but I do plan to cut down in my eternal quest to make room for writing. I’m sick to death of making promises on that front, but I really hope that 2016 is the year I get my head back in the writing space once and for all. There is already one exciting project in the pipeline (more on this tomorrow), so I am at least starting as I mean to go on.

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You are what you eat

Whilst waiting for the special ‘feminist edition’ of Bookslam, featuring Hadley Freeman and Caitlin Moran, I read this article in the Standard about Mimi Spencer, author of the 5:2 fasting diet – and also, it’s worth noting, the Standard’s fashion editor – about how her diet’s revolutionised her life. Not only has she dropped two dress sizes from a perfectly healthy size 12 to a skinny size 8 as a result of radically cutting down her eating two days out of seven, she’s also clearly rolling in cash, as her recent holiday to Madagascar is held up to prove.

The timing of my reading the article was ironic, given that both Hadley and Caitlin would soon after read passages from their new books that were chosen specifically to demonstrate that women shouldn’t feel they have to look, feel or act a certain way in order to be a success. Both women would talk about the objectification and suppression of women not only by men but also by the ever-burgeoning women’s magazine market and even their own bodies (Caitlin sharing some particularly graphic details of her first menstruation, and commenting that it was no wonder women struggled to wave the feminist flag before the advent of sanitary products when they were forced to spend vast swathes of their time washing blood-soaked knickers – a fair point).

Whilst many converts of the 5:2 diet will no doubt jump to Mimi Spencer’s defence, it’s hard (for me at least, and I speak as a woman whose love of food cannot be overstated) to imagine really being bothered enough to change your entire lifestyle for the sake of dropping a couple of dress sizes. Take going out for dinner as an example. Does being on the 5:2 diet make it necessary to rearrange every social occasion to fit in with which days you’re starving yourself and which you’re not? Or do you just sip water as your friends devour delicious morsels of tapas washed down with red wine?

But it’s not the 5:2 diet specifically I wish to criticise in this post, it’s more the point that Hadley and Caitlin were getting at; that women should be able to be who they are, without feeling the constant pressure to be thinner, prettier, better in every way. Why shouldn’t we eat what we want, when we want, as long as we appreciate the fundamentals of a balanced diet and a balanced life? Why should we starve ourselves two days each week because the women’s magazines tell us it will make us happier? How can cake deprivation make anyone happier, EVER?

My opinion, for what little it’s worth, is that life’s too short for fad diets. Of course we should eat healthily, but there are limits, and starving for two days a week must surely be one of them? I know proponents of the 5:2 will wax lyrical at this stage about the many health benefits of the diet (concentration allegedly being one of them – now I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’d be able to concentrate all that well after eating half a carrot and a dry Ryvita for my lunch), but in case they hadn’t noticed there are also rather a lot of health benefits to the ‘everything in moderation’ approach – not least to our mental wellbeing.

I’ll close with an apt quote from G.K Chesterton, who had some sage words on health:

“The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.”

Quite – now pass the Dairy Milk.

Slightly hypocritical of me to post an article slagging off fad diets whilst commencing a wheat and gluten free period, but my dear friend Sian (who attended Bookslam with me last night) assures me it will revolutionise my life. And, er, make me look better…Oh.