Quagmires, Self-belief and Sunscreen

Humans are contrary creatures. We spend our whole lives seeking happiness, meaning and validation, but in the process somehow manage to repeatedly get dragged into the toxic quagmire of anxiety, comparison and ‘never enough’ thinking.

I’ve been languishing in the quagmire again myself this week, worrying about my son’s health – as usual – but this time also about money. We are hardly on the breadline, but we are managing on one income this year. It was a decision we took together that we were – and still are – confident in, but nonetheless there are moments when we waver. Like when the bills are more than we’d anticipated, or when we check the account and realise that we’ve been more frivolous than we should have been for the past few weeks. We knew that moving back to London on one salary would be painful and so it is proving to be.

But it’s important to keep in mind the bigger picture. We made this choice because it’s best for our family that I become self-employed. And the career I have chosen – coaching – is one that is still largely unregulated and full of amateurs. To stand out amongst the crowd I need credibility, and to build credibility I need credentials. The path I have chosen begins with further study, which is why I am taking this year to return to my MSc in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology at the University of East London. It’s not been an easy road so far this year with my son’s ill health hampering my ability to study, but nonetheless I am managing to forge ahead. Some people have commented that perhaps it’s too much to have a one year old and study for a degree, but keeping up the momentum is critical for my confidence and self-belief.

On that note, I have a tattoo on my right arm which says ‘Believe’ (or ‘Belieber’ as my husband takes great pleasure in saying to wind me up, due to the curly script in which it’s written. But I digress..), in a nod to my writing ambitions. I got the tattoo some years ago when I took the decision to accept a four days per week role in order to devote one day a week to my writing. For a while it went well, I got some commissions for features, was shortlisted for a fiction competition and really felt I was on the right track. But for myriad reasons I got demotivated, lost my confidence, and before long my writing day had turned into an extra day of weekend. I have always regretted this, and, ironically thanks to my tattoo, now have a permanent reminder of what happens when you don’t believe in yourself. But you know what? It spurs me on to never make the same mistake again. This time around I’m older and wiser, and I know in my heart that coaching is what I want and need to do. It will take time and require sacrifice, but I am now in a place where I am able to accept and embrace those truths.

All that said, I still have moments of weakness and self-doubt. I’m only human, after all. But life has a funny way of showing you the way, if only you look for the signs. Take this morning, for example. After a bit of a rough night/morning with my son (bad conjunctivitis, yet another cough, pre-toddler mood swings) I got him to nursery later than planned and was running late for my Body Balance class at Studio Society (I know I sound like such a Hampstead Mum, but I cannot tell you how much this class sorts my head out, it’s literally balm for the soul). I was rushing along the road, battling with my brolly against the wind and the commuters, checking my watch every two seconds to see how late I was going to be and feeling general sense of stress and unease. Then I consciously took a moment to check myself, noting that checking my watch was pointless as it wouldn’t get me there any faster. I decided to let go of the anxiety and trust that my legs would carry me there as fast as they could. If I was a few minutes late to class, so what? The world would keep on turning. And in the end, not only was I only a couple of minutes late, but for the first time today the teacher was ten minutes late! There seemed a certain serendipity in that outcome, and certainly a life lesson.

I have one final point to make in this meandering but cathartic post. In 1999, the year I left school and started university (literally showing my age here), Baz Luhrmann’s song Sunscreen was released. In the years hence I have often found myself returning to the lyrics, and this morning was reminded of these ones specifically:

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
never crossed your worried mind
the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

When I’m in the quagmire of anxiety, comparison and ‘never enough,’ I try to remind myself that none of the things I am worrying about are actually significant. All that really matters in life, at least as far as I’m concerned, are love (loving and being loved by friends and family) and health. I’m at an age where it’s becoming harder to convincingly wear the cloak of invincibility. Several people close to me have experienced cancer in the past year, and right there are the real troubles that Baz Luhrmann talked about. So for as long as I’m fighting for my lifestyle rather than for my life, I will try to remember how very lucky I am.

sunscreen

Advertisements

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.

image

Proof of Life / Life Lesson

Last night I took my external hard drive from its safe spot in the bottom of the wardrobe, plugged it into the computer and switched it on, with the intention of finding a photograph of me and R to use on our wedding website. Minutes later, on being asked to do something, I jumped up, and, forgetting the wire was in in my way, walked into it and sent the hard drive crashing to the ground. My heart stopped. And, sure enough, when I tried to turn it back on the computer failed to recognise it. It also made a beeping noise (which, as I later read, is never a good sign). A brief call to a data recovery specialist confirmed that paying for professional help was not an option (500-800 Euros? You have got to be kidding me). In the end we whacked it in the freezer for good measure, on the advice of one website that admitted it was a dubious and last ditch method but might possibly work (yeah right), but it is with a heavy heart I am forced to accept that it – along with about five years’ worth of photos – has gone. And most galling of all is that I’ve been here before, having done the same thing a few years ago (and failed to get the data back after parting with 50 quid).

I feel ridiculous admitting it but I’m devastated. Last night I was inconsolable, and couldn’t stop crying. Rightly or wrongly, I value photos enormously. They are a means of remembering all that’s happened in my life, of connecting with my past and demonstrating how I’ve made my mark on the world. Perhaps it’s that last point that’s the most psychologically interesting. People sometimes tease me about how prolific I am on Facebook, and I have often questioned my need to share the details of my life on social media. However, I don’t believe I am a narcissist. My motivation in sharing pictures in particular is not about boasting, or at least my conscious mind disputes that notion. I suppose I do feel a strong need to make my existence in this world tangible, and posting pictures is akin to sticking a sign in the ground saying ‘I woz ‘ere’.

Photographs are, essentially, proof of lives that have been lived. Loath as I am to admit it, on further analysis there is almost certainly a link to my fear of death – of dying, and of people I love dying. I guess I feel somehow that by capturing images I’m keeping myself present, real, alive. And similarly, by capturing pictures of my loved ones I am keeping them alive, and if, God forbid, anything bad should happen, to me or any of them, at least those memories will exist and can be treasured. Is that morbid? Perhaps. But it’s also true.

But what’s done is done. I must move past the sadness, anger and frustration that I’m currently feeling. I’m glad I’m so prolific on Facebook now because I do at least have low resolution copies of the lost files; the memories are not gone forever. But even if they were, what’s most important is the fact I have my health and I have my loved ones – here, in the present, not in the past, which now no longer exists, except in my heart, my mind – and a few low resolution images on Facebook.

past-quotes-images-8-2f1801e1

Q: What do Gyms and Puppies Have in Common?

A: Like puppies, gyms should be for life – not just for Christmas (or, for the purposes of this blog post, January).

Over the Christmas holidays, as I was midway through my second helping of bubble and squeak (whilst simultaneously eyeing up the chocolate log and mince pies) my mother unsubtly dropped into conversation – with a meaningful stare – that her diary for that same day the previous year documented that I had completed an 11 mile run. I lowered my fork momentarily and glared at her over the mound of food between us, feeling thoroughly hard done by – I had, after all, had to pull out of the marathon I’d been training for with nine days to go, after suffering a prolapsed disc, so it was hardly appropriate to make me feel bad about it, especially at Christmas. Honestly.

But, much as I hate to admit it, Mum was right to bring my lack of exercise up. True, I did have a nasty injury that required several months of physiotherapy (although if I’m honest I can only blame myself, seeing as it was the result of overtraining – a concept that right now seems entirely alien), but the physio ended with the summer, and even my physiotherapist told me I was ready to get back to exercising – so why didn’t I? Because I was afraid – of how much I had lost my fitness, and of how much work I would have to do to get even a fraction of it back again.

Fortunately the new year has, for me as well as thousands of others, brought with it fresh resolve. No more the upward creeping of the scales, whilst my blind eye is turned the other way. It’s time to face my fears and get my thigh gap back. It is also, I have decided, the year I manage to prove my abdominal muscles really do exist – no small goal. There shall be no excuses, just regular exercise and a predominantly healthy eating regime. If I can train up to 17 miles for a marathon I can surely claw back some of that enthusiasm now?

So, I’ve joined a gym, which is conveniently located about a minute’s walk from my front door (greatly helping with the ‘no excuses’ side of things). And so far this year (today being the 12th of January) I’ve been a whopping SEVEN times (never mind that two of those times involved the sum total of about 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise – everyone has to start somewhere, right?) But this post is not intended as a gloat-fest, I actually wanted to discuss something that has been amusing me no end since I joined, and that is ll the New Year Resolution gym goers (I realise I could well be placed into that category given my recent hiatus, but trust me, I know I’m in this for the long haul).

I’d genuinely forgotten how hilarious these people are. The other day, for example, I saw a man on the step machine who, instead of using the machine correctly and stepping as if stepping on air, was just standing on the floor and lifting each step up in turn beneath his feet. Not far away another man was using a weight machine on the lowest possible weight setting (which would barely develop muscles in an ant), and another still (this one VERY overweight after the festive season’s over-indulgence) was cycling at the most leisurely pace possible on the sit-down bike – whilst reading his book.

My favourite new-year-resolutioner of all was the girl who came to the gym in full make up and an outfit that would have been more appropriate in a bar, and proceeded to spend ten minutes pulling the bar of the rowing machine with as much gusto as a weak fart, before getting up and leaving. It really is no wonder these transitional folk don’t last beyond the first couple of months of the year – with such minimal exertion they can’t possibly see any results. Maybe they’d have more luck with a puppy…

dogs

Doldrums

Today the carefully arranged mask of Zen which I discovered in my course last week and had actually started to believe could be my true and serene self spectacularly slipped aside to reveal a considerably less calm interior. Unsurprisingly this has led to an upsurge of those familiar feelings of failure and frustration I’d hitherto been doing an impressive job of burying somewhere in the back of my unconscious (along with jealousy, bitterness, anger, rage and all the other unwanted emotions that reside there – although those ones I have at least managed to batten down the hatches on again).

The most frustrating thing is that I know the way I’m feeling is in almost entirely self-inflicted. I spent the weekend over indulging, entirely neglecting my body and mind’s requirements for healthy food, sleep and nurturing (and, let’s face it, this body and mind aren’t getting any younger). As a result both body and mind became unbalanced, and it’s only now as I begin to recognise this and pay some recompense to both that the situation can begin to be resolved. It’s hardly rocket science – disrespect your body and it will disrespect you back (or something to that effect) – though it seems I’m failing in this most rudimentary of comprehensions.

But you know what? It may be how the day began but wallowing is most certainly not how I want this day to end. The plethora of ‘problems’ I perceive when I’m tired and emotional are First World problems; none have serious repercussions. Instead of letting my brain dwell on negative thoughts I shall, for the remainder of this day, embrace the positive ones – of which there are so many – and be glad. So what if I’m tired and a bit out of sorts? I had a great weekend with my friends – and it was worth every minute. Now if somebody could just pass the Berocca…

Forever young

I’ve never been a fan of beauty features, especially those interminable ones that harp on endlessly about the latest ‘miracle’ cream which most of us would have to sell a kidney to stand even a chance of affording. These days even girls in their early twenties are slathering on anti-wrinkle serum every night in the hope they will forever retain their youthful complexions. Whatever happened to growing old gracefully?

Lord knows I’ve done enough damage to my skin over the years through sunbathing and smoking alone. Fortunately I’ve now firmly knocked the smoking on the head, but I’m still partial to the odd high factor cream-less lay about on the Common, despite the regular health warnings we’re now subjected to (have the people making the announcements actually looked out of the window lately? It would be a miracle if the sun’s rays were able to penetrate the thick canopy of cloud that’s hung over us for the past few months).

But whilst many of my peers won’t use anything but the best on their skin to try and redress the balance of years of excess, I’ve always balked at spending over £15 on any single beauty product (with the sole exception of Boots No.7 Protect and Perfect serum, which is scientifically PROVEN to work, don’t you know). My mum, who’s in her sixties, still looks fantastic for her age and claims never to have used anything but soap and water, Oil of Ulay (as it was ‘back in the day’ – sorry Mum!) and E45 on her skin. So I’m praying to the God of Genes to keep me in good nick without a monthly shipment of Crème de la Mer.

What I have begun to fall victim to now I’m advancing further into my thirties is the latest tranche of fad food supplements. Only last week a packet of Spirulina powder plopped onto my desk (soon to be followed by a packet of Wheatgrass powder). Promising to “combat various forms of malnutrition, boost the immune system, protect against cancer, support detoxification, increase overall energy level, fight infections, counter obesity and relieve stress,” this is one SERIOUS super food.

The downside (because of course there is always a downside with these things) is that it tastes AWFUL. This morning when I mixed up my first dose with some apple juice and banana it smelt so bad I could hardly bear to raise it to my lips and take a sip. But I persevered, because if it does even half of the things it claims to do I might very well live forever – which will likely cost a fortune in skin cream, even if it is the £15-a-pop kind…

Ding ding! Round two

After only recently extolling the virtues of good health following a week of lurgy, today I fell victim to another bout. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, it’s some sort of gastric bug that had rendered me in so much pain by the time I arrived at work this morning that I fairly promptly had to turn around and go home again. After a few hours’ sleep the pain has now subsided and whilst I’m feeling far from 100% I’m hopeful that after a good night’s sleep tomorrow I will at least be back on some sort of reasonable form.

But despite two bouts of illness in a week I still feel lucky, because I know this phase shall pass-unlike the situation faced by thousands of people across the country (and indeed the world) who suffer with chronic pain. Can you imagine how horrendous it must be to exist in a permanent state of discomfort or, worse still, excruciating agony? Those of us who are fortunate to be in good health most of the time would do well to count our blessings, because that’s exactly what health is: A blessing. Though it’s easy to do, we should at least try not to take it for granted, because we never know how long it will last.

This photo taken on Maliangan island in Borneo on my Raleigh expedition always makes me laugh. Those of us on the left had all caught a stomach bug, and those on the right were at that point still healthy. By the end of the week only one person had escaped it. At least we kept our sense of humour!