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.

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A life well lived

When I look back on my life (hopefully as an old woman), what will I want to share with my loved ones before I go? This is the question I am asking myself, as I venture into the unknown with my life writing project.

Will I want them to know my favourite colour? What and where I liked to eat and drink? How about the things I liked to read, the places I travelled to, the things I did as hobbies? Or would I rather they knew about my friendships, how deeply I loved, and the way it made me feel to watch the sun set and and birds swooping over the sea?

My heart tells me the latter. What good is it to know the surface attributes of a person? They are nothing but veneer and gloss. You have to scratch a little of it off to find the soul that’s underneath, and to get to the one thing – I would argue the only thing – that really matters: love.

Maya Angelou summed it up beautifully when she said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, [they] will forget what you did, but [they] will never forget how you made them feel.”

So, with that in mind, what would you tell your loved ones that would impart just a fraction of the way you made others feel during your lifetime, and the way they made you feel in return? What questions could you answer that would tell them who you truly are, that would leave an imprint of your essence long after you are gone? I’d love to know.

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Smile, love and be kind

Although I never met her, I have been following Emmy Coates’ battle with cancer ever since she bravely announced it, hoping beyond hope that science would find a way to save her from its clutches and keep her reunited with her childhood sweetheart Jake for longer than the all-too-short time they had together. The sad news of her recent passing at such a tragically young age, and the incredible poise, eloquence and honesty of her grieving husband in the immediate wake of what must have been the worst time of his life have affected me deeply.

These two people and their bittersweet love story (quite honestly, they achieved more in the last year than most people manage in a lifetime, which is surely testament to their jaw-dropping positivity and utter amazingness-if you haven’t been following their story get yourself over to their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ejtandemonium/ immediately and catch up-thats an order*) epitomise what it means to live life fully and in the moment, to cherish the very existence of love and appreciate that, in the end, nothing else matters.

Emmy’s catch phrase of “Smile, love and be kind” will stay with me forever. As will Jake’s words in the blog he bravely wrote after her passing, when he said:

“I wish with all that I am, that I could have just one more day with her. To laugh with, to hug, to kiss, to hold tight.

So make me this promise. Go out. Go to your husband or your wife. Your partner or your lover.

Tell them that you love them. Embrace them. Hold them that little bit longer. Squeeze them that little bit tighter. Whisper sweet nothings and try to forget, just for a moment, those small irrelevant worries. You’re only here in this world for the shortest time and you never know when it might all disappear.”

We take so much for granted in this life, and spend so much time worrying about things that likely won’t even happen – or, as in Emmy’s case, might eventually happen but there is nothing that can be done about it anyway.

In response to Jake’s blog, therefore, I for one promise both Jake and Emmy that I will carry their positivity in my heart for ever, and that I will try my best to not take those I love for granted.

God bless Emmy, you were a shining star in this world and I’ve no doubt you will be a shining star in the next one too.

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*If, like me, Emmy’s story has touched you, I would urge you to make a donation to the Royal Marsden hospital, for whom Emmy and Jake tirelessly fundraised. You can do it through their fundraising page: http://ejtandemonium.com

Yellow Mist Rising

Emotionally, it’s been a difficult start to the year. Admitting that feels indulgent and dramatic, because it’s hardly as if I have any ‘real’ troubles in my life like homelessness, illness or loneliness to contend with. But, nonetheless, there it is.

To give it a name, I have been struggling once again with my old adversary anxiety. It’s been a while since it reared its ugly head. Last time was a couple of years ago and I sought help through counselling, which proved to be an effective intervention. This time I’m going to deal with it myself, drawing on what I learned then.

Without wanting to go too in depth about the reason for its resurgence, the source is uncertainty, and the feeling – perceived more than real – of lack of control. There are things I am doing that I desperately don’t want to be doing but right now I feel I have no choice, and therein lies the disconnect. There are also things I will soon be doing that I want to be able to give all my attention to but fear I will have little to spare, and this is another stressor to add to the mix.

Objectively I know this phase will pass, and that I will come out the other side stronger and wiser for it. It’s just right now I am struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and my impatience for that light is growing with each passing day.

But I know at times like this the best thing to do is unplug, connect to the breath and to nature and remind myself not to sweat the small stuff. Sometimes it seems so overwhelming, but in the end none of it matters. Not really. All that matters is those we love, and staying true to the values we hold dear.

C0124487 States of Mind: Ann Veronica Janssens.