Run for your lives

It will surprise no one to know that I have always leant towards the dramatic. “Run for your lives” was my childhood catch phrase. Oft repeated as I tore around the garden sporting a cape made from an old curtain and fully prepared to assist Wonder Woman in the foiling of dastardly plans.

I am the living embodiment of making a mountain out of a molehill and a drama out of a crisis.

Unashamedly.

I do really well in a crisis. I’m majestic under pressure. It’s the mundanity of daily life which I crumble under.

There is, isn’t there always, a downside. I am prone to panic. My imagination knows no bounds. Helped along by my extensive reading, watching and listening to post apocalyptic, dystopian and the end of the world fiction.

Should my long suffering husband be 10 minutes later home than expected he’s dead. No not in a threatening I’m going to hurt you way. In a horrible accident, police at the door, sobbing widow way.

Now a sensible person would use the tracking app thingy to locate him or phone to check in. I carefully and methodically begin planning his funeral. Agonise over how I am going to tell the girls. Break out into a cold sweat at the thought of navigating the parents in law without an ally. All because he’s stuck behind a tractor on the A96.

I am conscious that this probably isn’t terribly good for my mental health. Let alone my cortisol and adrenaline levels.

I have been attempting lots of mindfulness and distracting myself with gratitude lists and the like. It has had absolutely no impact.

About a fortnight ago I was having a bit of a wobble. In an effort to attempt to settle to sleep I put on radio 4, only to hear a news report about the escalating conflict between India and Pakistan in Kashmir. Immediately, I go straight to – do they have nuclear weapons? Shit I think they both do. I’m now navigating my way through the post-nuclear landscape to Tesco to get a shopping trolly and head out like in Cormac McCarthy’s Road.

Sleep was not going to come. I switched on the light and wrote. A big list of worries. It was a much easier list than those gratitude ones I had been agonising over.

Climate change.

Brexit.

School places.

The employment prospects of my eldest daughter – she’s 13 at the moment so I have a while to worry about this one!

Will we ever chose wallpaper for the bathroom.

India and Pakistan. Syria. Sudan. Yemen. All the other places where my limited geographical knowledge lets me down.

All featured on the list. The very act of writing them down released me of the need to continue to bounce them around my head. I slept better than I had in ages.

My new bedtime routine has me skipping to bed. Where I perch, pencil poised ready to list all the things that want to keep me up at night. I’m having such fun. As was my husband, laughing at me.

Although he shut up pretty sharpish when I threatened to put him in the blue suit when the grey suit looks much better open casket. It would appear that actually telling people you have spent large chunks of time planning out their funeral doesn’t lead to them sleeping quite so soundly.

Feeling the overwhelm: Could pleasure seeking respark your joy?

I work from home, only have two children and am fine with our house being clean-ish but chaotic. I should have hours to spend as I please. Time to spend on activities to revitalise, refresh and rejuvenate me.

Except I didn’t. I spent very little time doing anything which brought just me any joy. All my focus was on other people. All my joy was derived from the happiness of others.

I know that I’m not alone in this. My friends, sisters and the equally exasperated women I encounter are all saying the same thing “we never get any time for ourselves”.

But we do. An Oxford University study has shown that we have lost some leisure time since the 1970’s. But we’ve only lost 2.46 hours a week. Leaving us with 113 glorious hours of free time. So why are 81% of women reporting that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope?

An operation on my ankle, and a period bed bound, gave me an insight as to why this might be. With instructions from the doctor to rest, I was relieved of all household and childcare duties. I worked from bed but the rest of my time was my own. I was miserable.

I had no idea what to do to spark joy. I watched hours of Netflix, convincing myself that an opportunity to watch all of the box sets was a great thing. It wasn’t.

Being stuck in bed wasn’t the problem. I was so disconnected from what brought me pleasure. I had no idea how to spend my time when all I had to do was please myself.

I brainstormed all the things that I could do to make me happy and started seeking joy.

I wrote letters to friends and family, delayed gratification but the flurry of post in return was joyous. I read, 9 books in 3 weeks. I wrote lists, journal entries and even a couple of short stories. I phoned people, not text, actual conversations. In short, I did things that I claim I don’t have time for when I’m on my feet.

It was heavenly.

Of course, I had to get back out of bed. I wasn’t dreading it. An idea was starting to form. It isn’t about the time devoted to pleasure it’s about maximising the pleasure in whatever time you have.

It’s easy to prioritise the needs of everyone else and much harder to take control and say “I need”. So start small.

I set my alarm 5 minutes earlier. This way I have time to disguise the dark circles under my eyes and apply an eyeliner flick and some mascara. It brings me great pleasure to feel pulled together and not see a wisened old crone every time I pass a reflective surface.

I’ve stopped talking the dog on our ordinary, boring route and now factor in an extra 30 minutes so that I can get to the woods or beach where walking him is an absolute pleasure.

I bought my husband fancy headphones. It was a completely selfish gift to give me peace while he watches tv of an evening. I spend those blissfully quiet, child free hours reading.

I grab myself a take away coffee at the supermarket. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable the weekly shop is when I’m adequately caffeinated.

I haven’t managed to add a 25th hour to the day. But these wee nuggets of genuine, completely selfish, joy make my days. And as with anything the more you go looking for joy the more you find.

Kindness

I sailed through my early life blissfully ignorant of the power of kindness. I was lucky. Unscathed by life. Of course, life has a funny way of catching up and boy did it catch me.

Infertility, a gruelling and unnecessarily cruel adoption process and the complete life overhaul that becoming a parent brings left me a broken shell of my former self. Depression followed and I was left lonely, anxious and with my confidence in tatters.

G’s unfailing love and support was hugely important. But on the horribly bleak days it was often the kindness of complete strangers which lit my way.

The wonderful man who brought back the purse I dropped out of the buggy. He brought it to my house, with all the money still in it and wouldn’t even let me say thank you properly.

The wee lady who told me what a smashing job I was doing as my toddler screamed herself blue with rage in Tesco.

The scotrail employee who refused point blank to follow procedure and charge me a full days parking for a lost ticket. He said that I looked like I needed a break. Some days the Mum bun in unwashed hair, under eye luggage and obvious got dressed in the dark uniform will be your friend.

The mothercare staff who understood that a lost teddy was an emergency and pulled apart their stock room to find an out of stock bear. Then stayed after the store had closed while I drove like an eejit to meet them in the car park. My now teenage child is blissfully unaware that Teddy is actually Teddy II.

None of these acts are particularly grand gestures. None has taken people massively out of their way. Each also took place a decade, maybe more, ago. Yet the memory of each is fresh and clear. These small acts were/are massively important to me. Each shaped and defined the person I strive to be.

My main wish. My oft repeated rant is ‘Why can’t it just be kinder?’ Of course the it changes with the situation.

Why can’t the adoption process truly put the needs of the child above all else. Treat the child with kindness and it does.

Why can’t the school’s handling of bullying be less victim blaming and more restorative? Treat all involved with kindness and it does.

Why does getting help and support involve prostrating ourselves at the feet of the worthy and being left to feel weighed, measured and found wanting? Treat applicants with kindness and this stops.

Most problems I encounter are at least diminished in the face of kindness. Genuine empathy and treating people the way I would like to be treated. It’s a revolutionary act. I’m calmer. More forgiving, Open to the truth that most people are innately good, but distracted. Happier, it is uplifting and beautiful to see the good, to be positive and to hope beyond hope that maybe one of my small acts is the beacon in someone else’s day. That maybe something I do will still be clear and fresh in the recipients mind years later.

This is why I’m taking part in Proper Post’s 5 Days of Kind Challenge Whilst it is absolutely something I endeavour to do 365 days of the year a wee shake up and following some fun prompts can’t be a bad thing. Who knows where it will lead. If you fancy joining the revolution it isn’t too late. Sign up here

39

It’s my 39th birthday today. I’ve scheduled this post in anticipation of being far too busy unwrapping Tatty Devine boxes and eating cake.

I love my birthday. I’m the eldest of four and as a kid my birthday was the one day it was all about me. I’ve not quite grown out of my prima donna tendencies and relish the opportunity for a day where I am Queen of the Universe. Sadly, g refuses to entertain any of my delusions of grandeur and I will not be reclining on the sofa with him popping peeled grapes into my mouth.

What I will be doing is marvelling at the fact I’m 39. Do you not need to be a grown up to be in the last year of your 30’s?

I’m ok with ageing. I know that I’m not meant to be. I should be raging against wrinkles, battling bingo wings and saddened by saggy bits. Societal daftness about my needing to look like I’ve been dooked in the fountain of youth hasn’t taken hold here.

I like that my forehead advertises how much I frown when I’m concentrating. The crinkles round my eyes show off that I smile, a lot. The lines from my nose to corners of my mouth well they frame my choochy cheeks. I’m constantly disappointed at how few grey hairs I actually have, I’m desperate for long silvery locks. Previous bleaching disasters mean that I am waiting for Mother Nature on this one.

All that said, 40 is a very big number. It appears to have got me thinking. I’m approaching it with positivity aware that I want to be fabulous at 40. So I wrote a list.

40 things to tick off before next November. Some daft, some heartfelt and a couple of biggies. I’m not going to share them here, mainly because I doubt that you are reading this to cure insomnia.

But rest assured. Not a single one of these 40 things involves expensive anti-wrinkle creams, intensive exercise regimes or in any way trying to erase the story my face can tell.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows

It might have been because I was wearing my bright yellow jacket and mahoosive rainbow blanket scarf. But I hope that an acquaintances recent statement that I was a bit ‘Sunshine and Rainbows’ was more a comment on my sunny personality and steadfast determination to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.

For the purposes of this post we are going to assume she is not a serving officer of the Fashion Police and that my similarities to Pollyanna were being noted.

It is a description I like. One that I have every intention of putting to use the next time I need to describe myself. However, I’ve become aware that I’m guilty of vastly differing standards.

I will go out of my way to smile, chat and engage complete strangers. Make a conscious effort to remain positive and ensure that I am talking kindly and sending love and light out into the universe. Words are powerful, with the ability to help people soar or to tether. We manifest what we speak. The stories we tell shape. I am mindful that I want to project kindness not only to those I love but further, much further.

With one small, I previously would have said insignificant, exception. I treat myself like shit.

I criticise, admonish, disparage, undermine and downplay myself all the time.

I’ve only been aware of it for a couple of weeks and I feel so sorry for me. Hell, if a friend’s partner treated them the way I treat myself I’d be telling them to leave the bastard and helping the packing. I’d probably even put clean bedding on my spare bed and move them in. No, Mother-in-law the bedding would not be ironed, I still do not iron.

It’s hard to break a habit. I’m taking little steps, often. Refusing to beat myself up if I catch myself, well, beating myself up.

I’m writing daily gratitude lists to remind me of all the good in my life. Yesterday’s was:-

  • Surprise french fancy for the Bake Off. Best husband ever.
  • Denim pinafore and all the witchy brooches. Halloween is my favourite.
  • New make up contained an extra product that I wasn’t expecting.
  • Knowing that writing calms me. Thank flip I’ve got something. Today was tough.
  • Surprise Throne of Glass book. Might have forgotten that I pre-ordered that.

At least once a day I am making a conscious effort to prioritise myself over everything. It feels ridiculously decadent to say ‘sod it I’m giving myself a manicure’ when the house is a tip, the girls are engaged in guerrila warfare and the dog needs walked. It makes me feel like some kind of feminista rebel. One with beautifully filed nailed and tidy cuticles.

I am working really hard to speak to and about myself the way I would a friend. Remembering that just because it’s said to garner laughs does not make it kind.

The one causing the most hilarity is affirmations. To date I have done an awful lot of laughing in the bathroom mirror. I’m really visual I need to see myself as I repeat affirmations, hence the mirror. I am going to persevere until I can look myself in the eyes and believe

I am creative. I am powerful. I am confident. I am Sunshine and Rainbows.