Be kind to yourself… more difficult than you might think!

Already the third month into this year and I feel as though I am dealing with a teething, vile toddler as I try to harness self-affection. Not only does it frequently feel disgustingly embarrassing but also infuriating to enforce.

I have decided to take a step back and if I can’t suddenly go into a full-flown love affair then I will have to cautiously flirt around being kinder to myself. Perhaps rewinding to the early days of the relationship, flirting a little – treating out more than expected before settling into a comfortable routine.

I try to remain heartened by the small victories:

  1. I walk to work a lot more than I did previously, I try to dodge the tube unless it’s really raining (…or I’ve perilously overslept)
  2. Since 2018 dawned, I have only purchased eco-friendly, ethical beauty products which are all natural ingredients. I am now the proud (and hipster?) owner of essential oil deodrant; Dr Bronner sulphate free shampoo; bamboo tooth floss and aloe vera tooth paste.
  3. I say yes to more outings rather than hide away at every opportunity
  4. I am actively trying to move away from support staff / secretarial into a role that I can feel more rewarded and intellectually challenged by
  5. I rarely drink coffee or black tea and sleep *so* much better for it

I continue to learn little lessons:

  1. I feel better if I invest a little more time in myself… i.e. must stop wearing my shabby 2011 reboks around the office and get a replacement handbag instead of the sports rucksack I’ve nabbed from My William.
  2. I’m better hydrated if I drink and walk. Sip-and-go is realistically the only way I’ll get through 2 x 750ml water, I’m just not the thirsty type!
  3. I have an addictive personality. I may be able to say no to drugs, booze and cigarettes but I am a fully certified sugar, bad TV series, pointless swipe smartphone game addict. I cannot be alone with these things or exposed to them in large amounts, because they will be consumed in excess.

I am grateful for:

  1. My resilience in trying to stick at being kinder to myself
  2. My William for his constant encouragment
  3. The privilege of living in central London

 

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Taking back my small space

Every morning, the same routine – hand stretching out and fumbling through the darkness in the search for the tinny chiming of the alarm buzzing somewhere on my mobile phone. Fingers scrabbling on a bedside table graveyard of dried up contact lenses, crumpled receipts, loose change, gunked up half-used samples…

The small space situation had gotten pretty bad.

My desk at work is a reflection of my stress level. When I’m on top of things, I’d venture it’s on par with the minimalist zen rock gardens of Kyoto. When the deadlines and to-do lists have started spiralling, it’s scribbles and stacked notebooks everywhere, horizontal phone messages colliding with vertical invoice workings out.

I’m actually quite house proud. Generally our London apartment is comfortably shy of immaculate – too much squared off cleanliness makes you feel like lounging on the sofa is scruffiness after all. However, this small domain that was solely mine was overflowing chaos.

The clean-up

First I took everything off and sprayed it down, suppressing a retch at the accumulated hair and dust. From there it was easy, half of it was rubbish anyway. Another quarter didn’t belong there and was relocated to its rightful home (tablets in the medicine cabinet, spare wires in the electrical drawer, cutlery back in the kitchen…)

For the remnants, I’d treated myself to a cute box from IKEA – it’s name ‘Tenja’ reminded me of the Japanese woodland spirits called Tengu). Somehow my small space had gravitated towards pink with my Himalayan salt lamp and lacquered dragonfly jewellery box. Although I don’t follow it too closely, I’m quite interested in colour psychology – how different colours can impact our moods. According to Google (whose facts can never be doubted, bien sur) – whilst pink has a calming effect and denotes affection and nurturing, in excess it represents a lack of willpower, self-worth and an overly emotional nature (more information here).

Especially with our standard rented accommodation magnolia colour scheme, it was a bit saccharine sweet.

Fortunately, according to the same site, the negative attributes could be counter acted with blue, blacks or greens. My intuition on the Tenja box was obviously right on.

I decided to leave out my Neals Yard pillow spray, face mist and sleep roll scent to go for the whole aromatherapy pre-bed ritual. The ambient negative ion lighting mixed with the heady scent of lavender… a ten minute evening dedication to myself to enjoy my small space before drifting off (inspired and guided by another HolisticHabits video – however little I agree with sharing a bed with a dog. Parasites people, parasites).

I’m surprised at how relieved I was after taking the 20 minutes to take my small space back. It makes me wonder what other little small spaces exist in my life that I’ve let get out of control and quietly sit in the background, niggling at my edges. Good to know it’ll only take around half an hour to tackle them when I decide to take a stand.

Small swaps – deodorant

When I returned from Japan with crazy acne skin and hair all over my face, my eldest sister showed me HolisiticHabits on YouTube and suggested I try the oil cleansing method. Now, whilst I don’t follow the lifestyle as arduously as some, one thing I did invest in was some organic, cold-pressed coconut oil. That was in April 2017 and I’m still on the same tub. I haven’t indulged in a fancy cleanser or moisturiser since, although I’m not an overall fan of the coconut scent.

With the new year rushing in, there was an accompanying sense of urgency to throw away all of the previous unhealthy, incompatible-with-new-lifestyle items. But I’m trying not to be too hasty, one because it goes against the whole Reduce Reuse Recycle mantra (with them running in priority, Reduction in waste being the most important). Two because I think a slow jog up to a goal has a better chance of success rather than crashing into it.

Even though I’m itching to get using healthier, more ethical products, I’m trying to whittle down my stocks and only replenish once I’ve genuinely run out of something.

Gleefully I noted my deodorant coming to the end of its mortal coil and so my first natural-based-eco-friendly research expedition began. It took a while to track down one I was completely happy with, but I finally went for Schmidts.

Negatives

  • A whopping £10 – that’s 10 times more than the branded roll on I was using
  • Feels a little bit like sandpaper when going on
  • Potentially leaves marks. I only noticed this once and perhaps I’d been a little overzealous in application. No problems since
  • Plastic container
  • I have not seen it in any health food shops like Revital,  Holland & Barretts or Whole Foods. I was able to order it here in the UK from Naturisimo

Positives

  • Smells amazing
  • Lasts all day – much better than my previous one
  • All natural ingredients – nothing I can’t pronounce or not understand where it came from
  • A little goes a long way – hopefully it should last a while and therefore reduce the £10 whack to the wallet

My first small swap!

The Year of Self-Love

My first instinct is to acknowledge how corny the title is and think of a comedic way to down play it or perhaps reword it. But I will endeavour to become comfortable with the statement and acknowledge that my embarrassment at such declarations stem from the default need to self-criticise.

As the Gregorian calendar came to its close, populations prepared their resolutions but an ill-timed cold has meant a groggy start out of the gates for me. So the yoga classes and creative output exercises I had promised myself did not happen. Again, the urge to berate and complain about my failure to improve. I suppose I shyly began to show compassion to myself by taking it slowly.

Yet, let not compassion turn to complacency! Realistically I could have indulged less in the trashy transformation TV series (BiggestLoser Season 9 devoured in 3 days…) and shaved my legs or done some colouring in or written on here… I should not proceed with guilt. I should proceed with change.

This is the post for all the perceived lame / corny / egotistic comments to come out! Let this be the year that I learn to state my successes and learn healthily, proportionately from my losses.

More than myself, I want to commit myself to altruism. I don’t think I’ve ever properly felt happy for another person to succeed. Truthfully, I either felt bitter that that type of person had succeeded or I felt ashamed that I hadn’t had the same sort of achievement. I look forward to congratulating someone without reservation.

And lastly but not leastly, I have decided to properly manifest my concern for the planet. Recycling is not enough, I know I can do more. A frequent day dream I have is that I open a recycling plant. I don’t know anything about the chemical or industrial recycling at the moment, but I’m excited to see what I can learn and what changes I can make.

If anyone is reading, these are my 2018 resolutions. If no one is reading, I write this for my Future Self – you have…

(break to lean round the back of the sofa and ask My William to dictate the inspirational quote he once told me when I was feeling down. Something about every individual being equally special, or each person being equally entitled to be exceptional… a few misquotes and amalgamations and we still don’t have it. I surmise that he said something original and I was so inspired I assumed it was from a profound text! He laughs and goes to prepare our bean burgers and I try to find some Youtube relaxing yoga music that isn’t in a minor key before facing the screen once more)

Where was I? Ah yes. Future Self, you are entitled to your happiness as much as your fellow man is entitled to theirs. You having happiness is not taking away their happiness and them having happiness is not them stealing yours, it is them owning what is rightfully their possession. Feel good. Love yourself. I (will) love you.

Ironing induced Brain Vinyasa

Only after two days sickness, a week annual leave and two weekends do I suddenly feel revitalised. Of course, at 20:47 on a Sunday night, it comes a little too late and will be wastefully expended on a 9-5 administration job from tomorrow. It might be the Italian artisan coffee I sampled earlier, but I’m swelling with a fizzing energy that has the capacity to achieve greatness or suddenly burst, an overripe fruit now just a sticky, slushed mess with the sole inevitable option of rotting.

Earlier, only twenty minutes after indulging in Amore’s caffeine stash, I was restless and set to ironing with a great ferociousness. Ironing is second only to hoovering among my disliked chores, but there is something about being swathed in steam and watching crease turn to smooth that forces my thoughts into order. Deeper, idealistic, magnanimous thoughts and for that short while it is as though through my mental force alone chaos will become order. Tangling with the caffeine took me to unexpected heights, the stuff of which I reckon even illegal substances would be unable to induce.

Out with the energy, out with the energy – some brain stretching vinyasa and suddenly I’d made that call I’d been meaning to, hammered out a letter I’d inwardly scribed ten times over on my commute and suddenly had a dozen plans for the future. It was only a shame that it was Sunday and past 5 o’clock elsewise I could have trail blazed both sides of the Thames river.

20:58 and this bundled up brain insideness snips away at my edges. There is so much knowledge I want to acquire. That’s what it is: thirst. I always think of hunger as a dull aching pain but thirst pinches so much more acutely. All these things I have to do and this energy is saying now, now, now.

A novel to write, weight to lose, history to understand, politics to make sense of, arguments to refute, a meaningful existence to plan and secure and act on.

Let me see what’s left of all this tomorrow. If, after a day of pouring my all into my office job (for all my characteristics I find fault with, my work ethic is not one of them – strictly German and Japanese merged), there is any excess that I can drip into personal betterment.

Vinyasa : to arrange in a special way. 

An escape to Bude : a jumble of days

As with all ventures, I begin with the purest of intentions and a powerful single-mindedness about the completion of the task. Reality, however, seeps in and I find it is already the penultimate day of the week away.

Perhaps a day by day account is, in fact, too linear. It does not reflect the way that time unwinds itself. Instead of the orderly routines of the day-to-day habits, things become hazy and undefined. One forgets to check the clock, count down until the end of the working day. There is the general sweep of light and dark. times when you tend to eat – the order reshifts itself and somewhere between the fragments, rolling parts you find a keener, but looser sense of self.

— I wish there weren’t building works going on behind our shed-come-chalet. The booming beep of a reversing digger, juddering thumps of mechanical arms shifting rubble and dirt. The rain should have driven them away but they resolutely continue, and I can only tut the annoyance out to myself and the whirring, buzzing fridge —-

I take a walk for a few hours a day and am now fairly familiar with the three parallel streets that make up the center of Bude. I picture myself as an Edwardian lady convalescing in a dreary coastal town, days filled up with writing postcards. I tend to entertain myself with such fancies. But I bloat with the indulgences into pasties and cream teas, everything here is ostensibly hearty and wholesome but it sits like a weight at the base of my stomach. Surely determined to drag me to the bottom of the sea.

Disappointment arises when I cannot find suitably disgusting, traditional fare. I hoped for something like whelks or jellied eels, something so quintessentially English that it was positively exotic. I dabble instead with a crab salad, an extortionate £14.50 but I swallow my pride and do my duty, allowing my nose to be pulled as a naive tourist. The local piccalilli too is a little too much vinegar, I abandon some fudge after finding it more grainy than I like. Paradoxically, this is the kind of disappointment I like. The small let down of things not being as idyllic as advertised: the chalet as a shed; the weather on the turn; the rusting civics parked by the job centre on the walk to Summerleaze Beach; the ice cream that tastes stale after sitting in a freezer with its lid off….

I catch sight of myself in a mirror. The clear air has swept out my ribcage, it’s true, but a healthy glow appears on my face as a ruddy, brown blush sweeping across my nose and cheeks. I have the unfashionable body of a woman now. My hips are wide and practical, the flesh of my waist teetering on the edge of my jeans. My arms are fleshed out, encased in sensible woolen wear and water proofs. My shoes are ugly and purposeful. Make-up free, hair lax and unstyled.

The vanity and attempts at creating its shell have somehow slipped away.

I always hoped for a future self that was taller, slimmer, angular. Classically styled and emitted a careless chic which any female worth her salt would appreciate took several hours cultivating. Yes, my mind always did run away with the artistic, stylised sense of things. But I become more homely and less comely as I approach the end of my twenties and I regret now those fierce days of passion I had, with the strength I didn’t know I had, when I had a chance to glitter and be beautiful just because I was young.

Those reserves dwindle, weighted down instead with the instant sweetness of jam and cloying of cream and the weight of a freshly made pasty – all tying me down to the earth. I am presently morose but not unbearably sad, matched with the grey sky bearing down.

Time to let the sea spray swirl away my thoughts and dash them to shards against the cliffs. It’s 10:01am.

An escape to Bude : Day 1

Between taking bites of my ham-piccalilli-cheese breakfast sandwich, slurps of lukewarm chamomile tea and being distracted by background radio (BBC Radio 6, a steady go-to for an escape from the repetitive oldies or terrible modern pop charts) – it is almost a struggle to recall Monday, although today is only Wednesday of the same week. When I say struggle though, the sort of struggle to free a leg from tangled covers, nothing too strenuous.

—– a pause to polish off the last of the brioche rolls and decide that actually trying to think with radio is too much. Off it goes —–

Monday began with me being distantly aware that my other trying and failing to find a constant shower temperature heat, the stifling heat of the blankets, a whisper of a kiss on my head and the door creaking too. At 10am, I was finally able to blink feebly and realise I had better get started if I wanted to enjoy this free time. I bypassed the shower, splashed my face with some water and pocketed an apple to walk with. The day was vaguely overcast, as though the clouds couldn’t quite commit to bad weather.

I wound my way down to Bude centre, trying to match up the night memories with the newly lit scenery I was taking in. Medium houses and clean roads, fresh air. There is some intrinsically cleansing about coastal air. I thought it would make me feel good but my lungs felt clogged, the residue of city smoke lay crouched and slicked to their sides.

Little pokey shops selling their bric-a-brac, made me wonder how they ever made a living – was there really a successful business to be built on selling shell studded jewellery boxes, gaudy trinkets, coconuts styled on John Lennon…?

—– I look outside, back in Wednesday again, and the sky is grey and low. It’s 10am, a pang of panic through me to think I’ll be inside with this screen when there is a scrape of a day to be had before the rain hammers in. The thermals are on, the mug is drained of tea, my hair is a patch too damp but I should lose no time really, in getting up to the cliffs on the north side —- 

An escape to Bude : ahead of Day 1

It was a last minute, thrown together sort of plan. The hotels were full (and expensive) but we managed to secure an Air BnB which was somewhat dubiously referred to as a chalet. London is still so new to me that most weekends still feel like like city-break getaways so I was surprised at the sense of relief as the hire car crept past Richmond and finally gathered speed on the A303.

The countryside is wonderful and I was glad for the last minute impulse I’d indulged to dive into my local library. I was loaded up with three Agatha Christie Poirot mysteries, a short introduction to Britain and the European Union, Moby Dick, three unknowns (against recommendation, I like to judge books by their covers), an encyclopedia on birds and finally some selected poems by Keats. This was a week for paper, not technology.

A (remarkably) good pizza place was open so we loaded up with food, ravenous from hours of doing nothing but bombing along A-roads and dwindling motorway and located the chalet. Really an ingenious use of wording because Google informs me that the literal definition is : a wooden house with overhanging eaves, (British) a small cabin or house used by holiday makers. It is more realistic to refer to it as a glorified shed.

There is faux wooden paneling and sticky laminate flooring, obligatory mismatched decor and some peeling window stickers. In the kitchen corner squatted a buzzing fridge and a microwave whose incorrect time blinked at us. It was about 9:30pm and any warmth had drained away, leaving numb fumbling fingers to work the small fake fire. I, personally, am a fan of the fake flames and I insisted on having them on whilst we wolfed down our La Bocca pizza.

The bed is a good soft foam but I found I couldn’t sleep comfortably. Having lived in the countryside I was expecting the absence of noise, missed and welcomed it. But the shed creaked, the fridge buzzed, of the two available I chose the wrong pillow. At 4:26am (I know, I checked my phone), I exchanged my pillow and conked out. Ready for a week of respite.

(the diggers are well and truly at work in the plot behind me, time to throw on my disintegrating Reeboks and poke about the town).

Happiness now

From the end of March up until now (or ahead, more precisely 3rd June) I bobbed along. I wonder whether it is more appropriate to think of myself as a jetsam or flotsam. The former being something intentionally flung overboard and the latter just something adrift… unintentionally, I guess. It just ended up there. Sometimes I think I must be jetsam, because I consciously chose to return from Japan and dive into the sea of inbetweeness. Then I fancy myself as flotsam, circumstances swirling around and sweeping me out into the distant reaches of the ocean.

Perhaps some of those words or metaphors have negative connotations. Maybe it felt like that at first. Rushing up and down the breadth of the country, my last pay packet withering away, always a welcome house guest but never feeling like I’d arrived home. To my home.

Amore and I headed to London. Caught in icy fistfuls of rainy spells, enduring hoity-toity accented estate agents around. It didn’t matter though. We steeled ourselves for a hard slog with the knowledge that this was going to be our place. It just so happened that our home was the second viewing we had. Old town house, looking out onto green, central, two (one and a half) bedrooms… even an outside terrace. Built in wardrobes, bath, separate washer and dryer, wooden floors, big windows, third floor… the rest of our allotted viewings were really more of a formality. We had decided.

So that was my anchor. It took me a little while to realise it but the pressure was off. This second run in Scotland has let me settle into my happy adrift bobbing. The difference now is that I know I’ve a harbor to return to, this great expanse of time is contentedness. Pleasant.

The air is thick and sweet, seems syrupy almost as I drink it in. The lawn is more daisies than grass, lambs bleat in the distance and starlings dart around the hedgerows. I spend at least an hour in the woods each day. Some days I start with the NHS couch to 5k runs, but my favourite part is bundling up the headphones and pushing them deep into the pocket of my red waterproof. Its sounds a bit 70s and obnoxiously ‘out there’, but I like the sensation of knowing I am a part of the earth. I get to take in things I might miss if I was rushing or bundled up: tiny fragile cases of broken shells, discarded from treetop nests; a red squirrel with tufty ears; birds of prey angling themselves against rising plumes of hot air… everything really.

I think about how much I love him and plan little things for when our life starts together in earnest. Towards the end of the walk, ambling along pine shadowed pathways and stepping through dusty shafts of sunlights, I always think about writing down this filling-up good feeling. I roll through different titles and decide to settle on perhaps ‘Happiness Ahead’.

I finally got round to it today and I’m not guilty about it at all. Writing needs to happen at precisely the right time. I’m sat bare footed at the garden table at the front of Mum’s cottage. I haven’t got any clothes prepared for this Scottish heatwave so it’s a horrific mismatch of a black and white speckled loose shirt and Adidas joggers. I don’t really care though (although who wouldn’t prefer being draped in flowing garments from Versace, Chanel, Gucci… I digress).

The main thing is when I pressed my fingertips to the keys, the title didn’t fit any more. Well, it did fit but it was an unfull true. There is happiness ahead. But it’s right and accurate to say that there is happiness now.

The Necessity of Doing Nothing

After all this time away in Japan, you’d think my world would have expanded. Instead it’s shrinking sharply. From the first sting of realising I had to return home to the numb gnaw of Gatwick International Arrivals empty of anyone to meet me, my world folded inwards like precision origami. It condensed so rapidly I was certain that the 7 times only rule was sure to apply: there was surely only a finite amount it could continue. But, as unflinchingly as Britney Gallivan, the initial few days disproved what I carelessly mistook for fact.

There was an ugly pit of anger as I stared down into my (as always) disappointing Costa soy latte. The good emotions are always the first to disappear. I’m left with the dull ache of frustration, annoyance. This is compounded by an hour wait as actually he got the wrong airport. I know it is an innocent mistake but it feels like proof of what is to come.

I didn’t realise how much I have always wanted to be greeted by a cardboard sign with my name on it. It is not the way my family has ever done things. There are no discernible occasions to mark life events. This in a sense turns them immediately into non-events. In an uncomfortably quiet drive back to Gloucestershire (uncomfortable for him because he thought I was angry at him being late – uncomfortable for me because I’ve just passed the 7th fold threshold), I developed the ability to see the future.

I saw immediately that I would walk into the house that nothing will have changed. The crushing sense that the worst thing is not that nothing here has changed but that I had not changed. It bundled tighter and tighter into my chest.

Then I whisked away to Scotland, to the Mother-Land. More flurries of the same. None of it should have hurt because none of it was new, but the snipping dsyfunctionalities furthered untethered me. Two sibling disagreements later, I find my routine has reduced to the following list:

Daily Positive Things (I scrawl, in black biro, on the back of an empty envelope)

  • Brush teeth x 2
  • Healthy brunch
  • Shower
  • 30 minutes Wii Fit

As an afterthought I add:

Extras

  • Wax 27/04
  • Ring doctors

Sometimes I watch Australian Masterchef. If it isn’t on the Sky whatever-it-is channel, then I watch a prerecorded Masterchef (UK). I don’t enjoy it as much since reading that Gregg and John don’t get along – although, this is not as distressing as the time I discovered that Jools Holland’s Hootenanny wasn’t live for the NYE countdown.

Mum and her partner flick over from Classic Radio (switching off mid-Baker Street sax solo – sacrilege) to a C-rate horror film they’ve recorded. There was a toss up between Attack of the Lederhosen-Zombies (yes, real) and Dark House. They’ve gone for the latter.

Next I’ll go and make a hot chocolate. Always in the oversized Simpsons mug, there’s some sort of pun about donuts. 5 teaspoons of mixture, boiling water to dissolve the powder, two thirds almond milk and one third water. Microwave for 1:10. I scoop out a teaspoon of nutella and suck on it like it’s a lolly pop, it’s a pretty good timer. Takes me until 14 seconds usually. Enough time to throw the spoon in the sink and grab a handful of little pink and white marshmallows to scatter on top. I’ll be honest, it doesn’t taste that good. The marshmallows turn to gloop and underneath is a watery imitation of hot chocolate.

Later I’ll sleep. And maybe tomorrow I’ll go through the same routine. Except with the lederhosen zombies instead.