Recharging

Hello and a belated Happy New Year!

It has come as a surprise how much Blogging enhanced my life over these last few months, mainly because it has reignited my passion for creativity, writing and photography. The ability to connect to so many inspiring people was the biggest bonus, I didn’t realise what a fantastic community would be at my fingertips.

I’ve been really frustrated with myself as I’ve not managed to get into my stride as a blogger yet. My chronic fatigue, family commitments, and the run up to Christmas has stopped me from blogging the way I had planned.

You might have noticed that I have not written for a few weeks. I got to the point before Christmas of pure overwhelm and with so much to do I could no longer focus on blogging. Once the holidays began I decided to switch off and focus on spending quality time with my family and friends. I am so glad I did as it was a wonderful time where we really got to cherish what we had in our lives.

Now we are eight days into January and I still feel that I need to take time to PAUSE, BE, and to BREATHE. I think it is time to allow myself to fully commit to recovering my health and RECHARGE instead of rushing ahead on adrenaline and pushing myself to achieve.

In late December I began to reflect back over 2015, with the help of Susannah Conway and her Unravelling the Year Ahead workbook . The exercises helped me to reflect on the highs and lows of the past year and it gave me insights into what I want for myself in 2016.  This also helped me realise that this month I need a little more space/time away from blogging.

January will be a DETOX for my mind, body and soul. I shall be healing, journaling, nesting, decluttering, and practising yoga, mindfulness and gratitude, as well as working on my plans for the year ahead.

I look forward to returning to this space again soon where I will be blogging with more VITALITY, INSIGHT, FOCUS and WISDOM!  🙂

 

Christmas overwhelm!

Christmas overwhelm!

I have a confession to make, I am really struggling with Christmas. I know for some people it is the most exciting time of the year, but for others like myself it is a time where I feel totally out of my depth, physically and emotionally.

The increased pressures of getting things arranged, organised, gifts to buy, events to attend, preparing for guests, and family occasions… I worry about what to buy for people, what to cook, what to wear. The expectations feel so high and I never feel that I can achieve this perfect family Christmas that I believed exists, I dreamed of but have not yet experienced.

I sit and ask myself; ‘What is wrong with me? Why can’t I immerse myself fully in the Christmas cheer?’ Along with the feeling of overwhelm I also carry the guilt of feeling down as I ‘should’ be filled up with more joy. With the pressure I put on myself to create a magical Christmas I’ve ended up dragging myself about with no energy to enjoy the season or I’m ill with a virus, all of this not helping with my recovery journey from Chronic Fatigue. 

Of course there are still moments at Christmas where my heart is filled with love and joy of the season of good will. My children’s excitement and joy of Santa’s visit, the amazing experience of my son in his first nativity play, and my daughter reading the words and singing christmas carols for her first Christmas carol performance. These of course are undeniably fantastic Christmas moments that I will treasure, but unfortunately these moments are often overridden by the onslaught of preparations.

This is the first time I’ve reflected on my personal feelings and experiences around Christmas and truly acknowledged them. I felt that perhaps writing about my struggles with the season would help me to unravel the issues I have that are connected to Christmas time.

This overwhelm isn’t something new; I have felt it for many years. When my husband and I first got together we realised we couldn’t deal with the family politics of who to spend Christmas with, so we managed to deal with this by taking ourselves away from everything and heading up to Scotland, the beautiful coastal area of Dumfries and Galloway. It was very romantic, pure escapism from the chaos of London life. We would hire a little one-bedroom cottage with an open log fire and spend time reconnecting with each other and with ourselves. It was something I looked forward to each year as there was no real pressure. Of course with having two children our lives have drastically changed in the last five years, but I will always treasure those times.

Growing up as an only child with West Indian immigrant parents, we didn’t have the traditional English family Christmases my husband and many of my friends had. My early memories are of spending the morning time with my parents opening my many, many gifts, and feeling very spoilt and special.

I don’t have a memory of sitting round the table with a turkey dinner, although I’m sure we might have done, however it didn’t leave a lasting impression. My Christmas memories are of myself my Mum and Dad spending time at my parents friends houses where we were welcomed into their homes as extended family. I remember their friends houses being filled with love, laughter and warm spicy Caribbean food filled with soul. The benefit of going to other peoples houses was that I got to be part of a large family and play with other children. The downside being that I left with a feeling of being on the outside of a ‘real’ family looking in. Perhaps this is because of my parents fractured relationship, we always did things with other families never just the three of us. From a young age I would be sent on holidays to visit my grandparents in the Caribbean, or go alone with family friends and their children, or I’d go on outings separately with either parent, but never both.

Like many people who have lost loved ones, Christmas time can bring about a huge sense of loss. My big realisation this year is that the sprit of Christmas holidays was never the same again since my father died from a brain tumour when I was thirteen years old. As I mentioned, from early childhood I already felt slightly detached from Christmas, but after his death I was left with a deep void that my mother would never be able to fill. My Dad was the magic of Christmas, the one that knew my wishes and dreams, my Father Christmas. Since his death I felt even more disconnected from the feeling of being in a family, we still visited the same people but my Mum and I were just guests interrupting someone else’s Christmas Day.

Since having children I’ve been learning to rewrite our my Christmas experiences. It is a journey and slowly I am recognising how to create new experiences and memories.

Last week I wrote about my holiday values manifesto. This has been a very helpful exercise to put in place and I have managed to keep things very simple.

I now want to create new Christmas traditions and so this year along with the Christmas Manifesto I have started to write down what we would like to describe as our Christmas holiday traditions – these are in line with our Christmas Values.

I do feel that next year I will be more mindful of my emotions at this time and the feeling I have of being overwhelmed and wanting to run away and escape might not disappear, but in accepting it I can learn more about ways to deal with this time.

Christmas Holiday Values

After my experience last week of Black Friday and Cyber week I realised that for me the true spirit of Christmas is being overshadowed by the material consumerism. I decided to take some time and think about (a) how to bring about my child-like wonder and magic of Christmas, and (b) the true meaning of Christmas and the values it brings to the time of year.

I feel that now that I have my own family I needed to have some guidelines to follow. I didn’t want the true Christmas message to disappear and so I created a Christmas holiday values manifesto that I will pull out each year. The list will be something we can refer to as a family when the children are older. For now they would be held by myself and my husband.

Our Christmas Holiday values manifesto 

We will make Christmas meaningful and about more than material gifts and treats. We will teach our children the true meaning of Christmas as well as the spiritual values that we have around this time. With the hectic pace of everyday life Christmas will be a time where we slow down, unwind and appreciate what we have in our lives.

We will acknowledge that the importance of family, friends, giving and gratitude, and caring about the world around us is the biggest gift that we as parents can give our children.

We will also:

Share the true message – The story of Jesus’s birth, retelling the story and having festive decorations and ornaments that symbolise the Christmas story: a nativity set, books with the Christmas story. We will do this so that we remember the essence of the Christmas story.

Spending time together as a family  – Not booking in too much; keeping it simple; share the reasons why we love each other and value each other; have fun together by playing games and watching movies; have more relaxation, and take time to eat together as a family and go out together as a family over this holiday period.

Teaching and practicing gratitude –  Take time to appreciate all that we have; share what we are grateful for, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. Inspire our children to be thankful for all the wonderful gifts they have received at this time and also to be thankful for the non-material gifts they are blessed with such as family and friends.

Spread Christmas joy with Random acts of kindness – Practice giving and sharing with people we know and don’t know, to our friends and charities that give to people in need. Make an effort to appreciate friends and family not just through gifts but thoughtful acts.

Slow and simple – Decrease stress and Christmas anxiety by remembering to stop, pause, and breathe. Let us appreciate the simple things in life and slow down and take stock of what the values of Christmas are all about.

What family values do you wish to share at Christmas time? The website I used to get organised last year and which has a guide to help each year to keep your values in check is  Organised Christmas.

Here are some questions from their worksheet:

What values will your family’s celebration serve? Bring the season into focus by answering these questions about last year’s events. Use a second sheet to record responses from a family meeting.

1. What went well for your family last year? Did you make innovations that made you more organized, calmer, and more centered?

2. What stresses did your family face? Were there too many activities on the calendar? Did household systems fall apart with the season’s faster pace?

3. Was your family spiritually invigorated by the holiday celebration? Did you participate in appropriate service, worship or giving activities?

4. Did inappropriate influences enter your home? Were decorating, clothing or gift-buying decisions motivated by competitiveness or insecurity? Was the celebration over-focused on gifts and getting? Did the hectic pace of the season take precedence over family closeness, family values?

5. What would you have done differently?

Next time I will be looking at the Christmas holiday traditions we have and would like to focus on. These new traditions will be created from our heart and carried forward each year bringing a sense of meaning and spirituality that can often get lost in the external  pressures of Christmas.

Black Friday

I have been totally distracted over the last week. I guess you could call it my pre-Christmas overload. I had believed I had learned from my previous Christmas mistakes of leaving things to the last minute and getting stressed and burned out by Christmas Day. I had vowed to start getting myself organised around Halloween in order to take it all in my stride. But instead I got completely sidetracked by the new phenomenon of ‘Black Friday’.

At first Black Friday was all about the great gifts I would buy for others. It was the last week of November and I felt a sudden panic that it was nearly a month after Halloween, and I still hadn’t started my Christmas preparations. I also feared I was going to miss my window of opportunity to ‘bag’ a great deal.

By Tuesday of last week it seemed that there were so many bargains that I couldn’t keep up. I started to write down all that we might need so that we wouldn’t miss out on the ‘bargain of a lifetime.’ From 15% off here, to 20% off there, and up to 50% off high price items, I was like a kid in a sweet shop. My head was awash with products that I wanted, needed, or might want or might need, and of cause not forgetting the Christmas gifts that I could buy for all those friends and relatives. It was in hindsight totally addictive.

I spent hours on the internet searching various high street department stores, designer brands, and my favourite online only stores. From homeware, makeup, to kids clothing, I had to cover all my bases. Finally on the Saturday night the high of my Black Friday madness started to fade and I started to come down. I began to get annoyed with my husband, frustrated he was not getting on board with the Black Friday fever. I’d started bombarding him with questions “Peter, what clothes do you need at the moment? Peter what you need is some… or Peter have you ordered anything yet?” My frustration was with his lack of motivation and urgency.

By Sunday I was totally washed out and with little to show for all my efforts. Mostly the hype was ‘to good to be true’ and there was nothing that was the ‘deal of the year’.

Finally I said to myself ‘never again will I be suckered into this sickening mass-consumerism’ and today I woke up thinking; ‘Yes it is over!’. But no: I awoke to the news that it was now ‘Cyber Monday’ and I spent the day holding myself back from searching out for the last final offers of this exhausting and endless retail sales marathon.

By 8pm the emails were still rolling in, with retailers trying to entice me with headers such as ‘Tick tock. Have you seen our cyber savings?’

I felt that it had to be the end of the last offers. The onslaught of advertising had to end today. But we shall see what tomorrow brings.

I never used to be this way, I used to hate sales. I think it could be since having the large expense of kids that has changed my ways. Or maybe I have inherited this habit from my Mum, she loves sales and rummaging about for deals. I go in her house and she has mountains of products that were 3 for 2 and wardrobes filled with bargains that she has never worn. I never wanted to be that person. I want quality over quantity, and to buy only things I truly love. But I also know that I do not want to be paying over the odds for something. I now just can’t purchase anything without googling for voucher codes. I suppose it is just getting the right balance.

Prior to the onslaught of emails and TV radio and banner adds I had been looking forward to organising a new tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving in my household and teaching the children about gratitude.  In fact, I had begun to prepare a blog post telling you about my ideas and enthusiasm to adopt Thanksgiving for the values it could instil before Christmas. Unfortunately my plans got overridden by various household duties, unwell children and the biggest distraction of all “BLACK FRIDAY.”

Please return here next year and I promise you I will have my priorities straight.

 

Learning to love myself enough – the journey from Chronic Fatigue

I was feeling sorry for myself over the last week. I came down with a cough virus which I’d caught from one of the children. It’s winter and kids do love to share their germs.

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Feeling very rough I managed to cope for a few days with our usual daily routine. But in the end my body felt as if I was being held hostage by the virus and it rendered me incapable of doing anything. I had to take to my bed for a few days.

I felt pure frustration at my incapacity, having to be bedridden, leaving my husband (who by the way is very kind and supportive) in charge of the kids and the home.  But with a fever and blinding headache all I could do was impatiently surrender. It was so difficult to lie there waiting to recover. Annoyingly, instead of thinking of getting myself well, all I felt was a huge pile of guilt: the piles of laundry; empty fridge and fruit bowl; the fluff and crumbs on the carpet and washing up stacked by the sink; the children’s TV channel on all afternoon; beans on toast for kids tea. It all symbolised to me my failings of not doing my job as a ‘homemaker’.

Mainly I was annoyed and disappointed that I’d got ill in the first place. This is the judgmental part of me, telling me it’s my fault, to get over it and not to moan. That mostly I deserve it, especially as I hadn’t kept up my health regime that I started as a New Year resolution in January after being very unwell around the same time last year.

Lying in bed, my mind couldn’t rest, my ‘gremlin’ inside saying:

’You didn’t look after yourself’

‘Did you take your vitamins? ‘No’ Well then what do you expect!’

‘Have you been eating those green drinks and veggie smoothies everyone raves about? ‘No’ Well then!’

‘In the evening have you had one glass of red too many? ‘Yes,’ There you go!’

I’ve had a low immune system since falling ill with M.E in 2006. I was in the process of building my coaching and training business which I had set up in 2004. It was a time I felt that there was so much potential. I was happily married and flying high with my new found career and success.

The chronic fatigue illness crept up on me; I didn’t realise how bad it would get. It started with me feeling exhausted after I’d do a corporate training session or see a coaching client. Soon I found it hard to multitask; I became overwhelmed with even the simplest of tasks. I would wake up from ten hours sleep exhausted and it felt like I was walking around with a mind fog that wouldn’t clear, my concentration was reduced, my muscles constantly ached, and my glands were swollen.

I struggled for about a year, reducing my workload and taking up studying to ease my stress, until one month I got a flu virus that I couldn’t recover from. At that point I was seriously unwell, and in the end I was mostly bed/sofa ridden for many months. My life as I knew it was taken away; I had to give up my work, my hobbies, and my social life. Everything got put on hold as I struggled day to day with even the simplest of tasks that we take for granted; from walking up the stairs, washing my hair, to getting up and making myself something to eat.

Finally I got diagnosed with M.E in 2008. With no understanding from my GP I managed through sheer determination to significantly recover from this chronic illness. With the support of private M.E specialists I tackled my body with nutrition, reflexology, yoga and other alternative treatments, and for my Mind I had therapy. In the end after using what energy I had to work on myself, I had a strong belief that I could learn from this life-changing experience and come through the other side with a greater knowledge of my life-purpose. By the middle of 2009, although I am still living with the condition, I was fortunate enough to have recovered to a point that I could start a family.

But knowing this doesn’t help. Living with the knowledge I could relapse should make me more disciplined, more careful with my nutrition, but instead I feel that when I am well I forget and I let all my rules lapse, knowing I am heading for a disaster. But also I say to myself, ‘just have fun, love life, live for now’.

These regrets are like a hangover; ‘Never again!’ I send myself into my personal ‘health rehab’, getting out my list of vitamins and supplements and reviewing my program for maintaining strong health. The idea of putting myself on this regime felt restricting and brought back a feeling of being an unwell person, someone with a disability, part of me still in denial and unwilling to change. In fact writing this has been hard, I realised I have blocked out so much of that painful time in my life.

Starting this blog is giving me insight, and my power back. It is time I stopped attacking myself and treat my body with the care and respect it deserves.

The ‘airplane procedure parent’ puts on their own oxygen mask first so that they can care for their children. I need to take this on-board. I need to look after my health as a priority; not beat myself up, but love myself enough.

I want to live wholeheartedly. To do this I have to:

  • Learn to surrender
  • Be vulnerable
  • Stop holding onto control
  • Let go of scarcity and fear
  • When I am overwhelmed I will breathe, and breathe again.

Lesson #2 Finding a fresh perspective… when I’m in a funk!

Driving in the rainThe day just started out miserable. As I looked out of the window I was greeted with thick cloud, howling wind and pouring rain. To top it off I had also woken up full of my son’s cold/cough.

It was last week Half Term holiday, and we were visiting my husband’s parents in the picturesque Lake District for a few days. The four of us had driven for five hours two days before, and it had rained constantly since we had arrived. Waking up to the knowledge we had a five to six hour car journey back to London suburbia in the rain filled me with dread, causing my mood to be as heavy as the clouds. To top it off I had to go on an hour round trip to a ‘Steam Train Museum’. Could my day get worse?

I admit, my attitude was poor. I huffed and puffed as Peter drove up into the mountains towards the museum – in torrential rain. The children oblivious to my mood, wriggled and giggled in their back seats, excited to be able to see real trains like Thomas the Tank Engine. With tension filling in the front seats I put some music on.

“Why should we bother in this rain? Why can’t we just turn around and go home? What is the point? We’ll only get stuck in rush hour traffic later, on our way back home.” I muttered to myself.

I was never sure Peter heard my whiny comments, but to deepen my self-righteous mood, Peter, not listening to the sat nav directions took a wrong turn, which then added another twenty minutes to the journey.

IMG_4010Finally we pulled in to the old railway station and met up with my in-laws who had come separately in their car. First impressions were bad; an empty puddle filled car park with an old carriage and single large shed, which we presumed were filled with train engines. Rain pelting down, we headed for shelter in the cold damp-smelling shed.

Seeing the children’s excitement as they saw the old steam trains, I thought. ‘How can I turn my mood round? What can I get from being here?’

As the children ran around with glee, I took out my iPhone to take photos of the them with the train carriages. It was then I began to see how interesting the train carriages looked on camera. The colours and patterns of the trains looked great. My mood instantly changed. Suddenly everything seemed more vibrant interesting and positive, and before long I was as inspired by steam trains as the children were.

After seeing the old steam trains we noticed crowds of people starting to fill the platform. There was great excitement as the old steam train pulled in full of tourists.  As the whistle blew the train slowly departed with more people on board. With the noise of the engine, the glowing coal fire, and the smoke and steam, the atmosphere was electric.

I asked myself; ‘How could you ‘not’ fall in love with steam trains?’.

Lesson # 2 Finding a fresh perspective and inspiration when I’m in a funk!

We all know part of being a parent is being selfless and putting the children’s needs above our own. Often we turn off our childlike curiosity and see things in black and white, and as something to just get through, to grin and bear.

iphoneography on this day was my saviour, creating a distraction and a project to see everything in a more positive and creative light. So now, when my old eyes get tired and worn down with day-to-day grind, the iPhone can give them a fresh colourful new perspective.