Monday, 28 December 2015

New Year, New Opportunity.

As the air becomes rife with both reflections and resolutions, it's clear that the chapter of 2015 is coming to a close. Whatever did or didn't happen this year simply can't be changed now, but we can begin to write our ideal drafts of the New Year's opening paragraph.

Looking back can stir up plenty of emotion depending on how we perceive the year we've just had. There may have been change, challenges, setbacks or triumphs - whatever there was, we'll likely be selective about how we're choosing to look at it. As with anything, I'd be an advocate of focusing on the positive and seeking out the learnings. Yeah I'm sure some or plenty of it wasn't ideal, but isn't it fantastic to know what you don't want to bring into 2016? Isn't it helpful to be able to identify stuff you want to work on?

The New Year is a brilliant time to start fresh, to awaken your eyes to its vast blank canvas and start thinking of how you want to fill it in. This isn't a time for beating yourself up or making unrealistic demands of yourself. This time is tailor-made for thinking about what you want and even what you want to leave behind. It's the time to grab your aspirations and scribble them valiantly across the pages of the months ahead. 

Why not think about what you actually want out of next year and get really curious about how to make that happen? Things that matter to you, not just stuff that everyone else is doing but the real substantial things that you believe will enhance your life. This is a chance to chase what is important and reap the benefits of putting your own values first.

Take that moment to actually write down what you want, where you see yourself in a year's time and how you're going to feel when you get there. I know it might seem a bit airy fairy but deciding to go after what I want has only ever shown me more of what I can potentially have. Shifting the focus from struggle to solutions removes the restrictive perspective of life that we can get so accustomed to. It means not settling for less when we want and know that there is more.

I wouldn't particularly recommend resolutions, but maybe just making the choice to take responsibility for getting the positives that you want in your life. 
Here's some suggestions to take into the new year: (essentially a variety of clichés that I've found to be helpful ;) )

Let Go or Be Dragged
  •  Sure we all make mistakes and yeah of course we might repeat them more than necessary but at some point we've got to take stock of the negative behaviours that could be holding us back. These are the bits of 2015 that maybe we want to Tippex out and these are the things that we want to let go of before we embrace the brand new year. If it's not serving you, why keep carrying it around? Let go of anything that no longer satisfies, recharges or nourishes you.

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway
  •  Maybe we want more adventure, fun and excitement in 2016 but Fear is stepping in and mocking our plethora of plans. If these are your goals, do yourself a favour and give more energy to your ambitions than your anxieties. Overcoming fear will only ever be empowering and it's pretty hard to argue with a bit of empowerment isn't it? Build up your strength against fear and you'll simultaneously build up your enjoyable experiences.

Get out of Your Own Way
  • Self-limiting beliefs can have a powerful ability to keep us pretty miserable. As fears and low confidence increase their volume, it's as though half of us wants to pursue our dreams while the other half is telling us how much of a waste of time that is. Silence that argument and just get on your own side. Stop putting up roadblocks and create stepping stones instead. The soundtrack of your mind becomes what you believe, so what do you want to be telling yourself on repeat? Use your own mind to create the pathway that you want.

Be Your Own Best Friend
  • It's fascinating how we treat the one person we'll always be with isn't it? Some of the things we say to ourselves, we'd never have the audacity to say to anyone else. We berate, put down and discourage ourselves on a daily basis and seem to think this is normal practice. Becoming a friend to myself has been crucial for me to embrace living life in the way that I want. Speak to yourself as you would a friend, treat yourself as you would a friend and advise yourself in the same way too. Give yourself the priority that you deserve in your own life. Take yourself to the places you want to go, use the fancy shower gel, get the dessert, go shopping. Get to know who you are, what you like about yourself and what you genuinely enjoy doing. Putting time into this is invaluable and holds immeasurable advantage.

Capture the Moments
  • One thing that I want to really take with me into the new year is capturing moments. The ones that make me smile, the ones that leave me in awe and the ones that make me see real beauty. I want to take note of those little nuggets of life that make me so glad to be a part of it. An idea I want to implement this year is writing down one lovely/memorable thing that happens each day and putting it into a jar or somewhere that I can dip into at the end of the year. I'll likely miss some days, but I want to make a point of capturing the moments that matter and being able to dip into a jar of smiles whenever I wish. Life is full of these but sometimes we forget to pay them the attention they deserve.

There are so many more possibilities for the year ahead, that given half a chance I'd go on about for ages but this is your new year so it's up to you to nail down what you want and need out of the upcoming chapters. Self care, credit, gratitude or connection could all play an incredible part in creating the year of You, or it could be something completely different; a creative project, a new hobby or just a commitment to change. The main thing is to let go of pressure and let passion guide you into your own pages of potential.


Friday, 25 December 2015

Dear You,

So the day has now arrived and I'd say this may be met with mixed emotions. Some of you may be counting down the hours til the damn day is finally over but others might be genuinely excited to see what's in store this year. Either way, this Christmas message is for you, because regardless how it is this year, I want each Christmas from here on out to bring more and more joy to your life.

Because that's exactly what they've brought for me and I couldn't be any more grateful.

I get that Christmas is a challenging time. I completely understand the dread, the depression, the desire to lock yourself up in your room for the day and stay away from everyone and everything. (Speaking from experience) I struggled hugely with it in the past and between the food, the people and the pressure I'd completely overthink and over-stress about it. My destructive mental state would dominate and suck every potential ounce of joy right out of my day.

This year, I've seen more than a few similar tales regaling how very tough this season is for people. But to me, that's limited in its helpfulness. While of course it effectively raises awareness of the challenges Christmas presents, I just feel that you don't heal a wound by constantly poking at it.  This blog has always and will always be about awareness of hope. So, I'm not going to go on about how hard it can be and how hard it was in my past. I just want to tell you how much better it can be and encourage that you gift yourself with the possibility of making it better for you too.

When I chose recovery back in a January a few years ago, I didn't even really want to. You can probably tell a bit about how that Christmas went, as I landed up seeking therapy within a matter of weeks. But from rockbottom, the only way you can go is up, so as reluctant as it may have been, it was still a choice that I made. 

Choosing to recover is a choice that is the most important gift I've ever given myself and it's one that keeps on giving. 

My life now bears little resemblance of that anxiety-ridden, self-loathing Grinch that I was before. It's hard to even put into words how much I've gained through working on myself and choosing to make my life better. It's been an up and down journey, of course it has, but I wouldn't change a single part of it. It's whole and it's mine and it's what has allowed me to get thoroughly and indulgently involved in life. 

I had no concept of how I could be when I began the path of recovery. I kind of thought I was always going to struggle, I just 'was that way'. I kept writing this story for myself of how useless I was and how I was plagued with this un-wellness that simply would not go.

Well it's gone now. And as much as I don't like being wrong, I'm delighted I was this time. I can't encourage you enough to also choose to write yourself a new story. Realise the potential that you have and go pursue it. This is the most crucial gift you can get your hands on. There is so much opportunity out there, there is so much laughter and connection and pure joy to grab with both hands. There's experiences, there's tears, there's challenges, there's all the elements the culminate to give a wonderful authentic life. When you genuinely release yourself into life, you're unstoppable. 

I always find times of the year like this so poignant; birthdays and special occasions remind me how different my perspective is compared to how it used to be. I just have an inexplicable gratitude for what I have now. When I realise how much I dreaded so many days in my life, from special occasions to the mere everyday, it's crazy to think how much more ease I can approach them with now. There's just no benefit from dread or any of that negativity, I get nothing from it and never did. It'd keep my mind busy and my life restricted. And that's not good enough for anyone, you and I deserve more.

This year, I'm content. Within myself and within my life. Food is just food, people are just people and Christmas is a day I'm going to enjoy. I'm so excited for the new year, for new changes and to continue to see what life has to offer me. 

It doesn't mean that my life is perfect but it means that I'm embracing it for what it is and finding the magic in the messiness.These feelings wouldn't be possible if I had chosen to stay stuck. They wouldn't be possible if I had given up. They wouldn't be mine to enjoy if I had decided that recovery just isn't for me. Recovery is for everyone, Merry Christmases are for everyone, even Merry Mondays are ours for the taking if we decide we want them.

Decide what you want. Decide to gift yourself with a life that you want to live.

Merry Christmas, I hope it's a a great one and the start of something new.

All the best,

Dare To Live 


Thursday, 24 December 2015

Tips From A Carer for Christmas

Being a carer of someone with mental health issues can be a tricky task at the best of times but Christmas in particular can be a very challenging time for all - both the person who is suffering from the illness and the people around them.

Christmas is such a time of festivities that when you're not feeling quite yourself it can be tough to cope with all the jollity and it can even bring you down further when you just don’t feel capable of joining in.

I have spent several years with my two daughters who have battled mental health issues and suicide ideation was particularly prevalent at Christmas time. During this period of time we put a few strategies in place in order to help them and then hoped for the best. Below are just some suggestions that might help you.

Ø We always let our children know that we loved them.

Ø That they were important to us.

Ø That we were there for them.

Ø We stayed in contact with them during the days and nights.

Ø We made sure we knew where they were going and who they were with.

Ø We had phone numbers of friends.

Ø They would contact us when on way home, so we knew what time to expect them.

Ø We would not leave them on their own in the house when they were particularly vulnerable..

Ø We would give them their space.

Ø We would bring the madness of Christmas down to a low hum.

Ø We would let new traditions be made if they couldn’t cope with the old ones.

Ø We would be available to talk to them whenever they needed to talk, day or night.

Ø We played games and watched films together, and if the person needed a time out by their self then that was ok. Pressure to continuously engage needs to be lifted from someone who is suffering from emotional distress issues.

Ø We let them know that we believed in them.

Both the girls suffered from an eating disorder so food at Christmas was also an issue and the way we combated this was by,  

  • Buying less food.
  • By having a Christmas menu that suited everyone. After all who's really mad about turkey and ham?!
  • Having food that was nutritionally dense and that they felt comfortable with. This food was then there for everyone and not just the person who was suffering with the illness. This way they didn’t feel different.
  • We respected that they may need to eat more regularly.
Give your loved one the time and space, the love and peace that they may need. Christmas does not appeal to everyone but everyone’s interpretation of Christmas needs to be respected.

Peace and Happiness to everyone during the festive season from a Mam, a Carer, a person who has been there. 

Sunday, 20 December 2015

10 Gifts to Give Yourself This Christmas

Conquering Christmas Week #4

The Christmas season is a fantastic opportunity for giving. A quick peek into any shopping centre this weekend would confirm just how eager we are to embrace this. We flock to the shops, lengthy lists in hand to seek out gifts for those special people in our lives. Hours go by agonising over decisions, joining never-ending queues and sitting in crawling traffic. 

It's no easy feat but we go through the rigmarole because we want to have something to give to others on Christmas day. We want to see them smile and we want to show that we were thinking of them. Not only do they benefit, but in the process of giving we end up feeling pretty good too.

But what about the most important person in our lives? Where are we on our lists? Considering the feel-good after effects, surely it'd make sense to give ourselves a bit of this love and thought too. Not only would we get to reap the beautiful benefits but it's even an easier gift to give because we know exactly what we need and want. No queuing, buying or sitting in traffic necessary.

Instead though, we can choose to be hard on ourselves, thinking we don't deserve anything or just trying so hard to please others that we forget ourselves. Under pressure and stress to take care of everyone else, we leave little resources to get ourselves the gifts we could actually really do with. 

So this Christmas, why not give yourself a stocking full of self-care? 
Here's some stocking filler suggestions, feel free to add to the list what you want from yourself this festive season.
  1. Kindness - How you speak to yourself and how you treat yourself could always do with an extra dollop of kindness. 
  2. Time - Allow yourself to take your time and ensure to make time for what you want.
  3. Space - If you need space, take it. Give yourself breathing space amidst all the hustle and bustle.
  4. Nourishment - Make choices that will nourish you, physically and mentally. Check in with your needs regularly and make sure you're nurturing them.
  5. Fun - Do something fun, something you really want to do and will enjoy. This is the perfect time to embrace a bit of fun. Take advantage of the ice rinks, movies, walks, sports, board games - whatever will make you smile is the gift you need to give.
  6. Connection - Instead of shrinking away from social situations, make the effort to give yourself the gift of connecting to others. Daunting as it may be, it usually turns out to be a lot less of a pain than expected. Now is a great time to catch up with people and really reconnect.
  7. Relaxation - it's the ideal opportunity now to slow down and take a restful break. Make time for relaxing and de-stressing in the way that best suits you. Light those scented candles, use up all the bath gift sets or turn on some music, whichever method will do it for you needs to be prioritised.
  8. Experience - what memorable experiences could you give yourself this Christmas? Use the time to go somewhere you want to go or do something you've been wanting to do. Make it special and make it yours.
  9. Forgiveness - the end of year can be a reflective time, so if you're looking back with guilt or regret, forgive yourself. Let yourself heal and move into the new year with a fresh slate.
  10. Breaking Free - Free yourself of limitations that have been keeping you stuck. Take stock of things that you might  be believing or doing that don't serve you and free yourself. 
The list could go on and on, so it's worth taking the time to think of what you could really do with at this moment in time. Don't keep it as a wishlist though, prioritise these gifts as you would any others. These are just as, if not more, important. 

Enjoy :)

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Conquering Christmas Week #3

Festive Fears

Most of our apprehension around Christmas time has its roots in a plethora of fears. Carol-singing, twinkle lights and gifts aren't exactly the most ominous, so what is there in a season of festive cheer that can actually cause so much dread? 

Fears are personal to us all, and whether we have few or many we're all familiar with that incessant uncomfortable feeling. It might be the foods, the people, our family, shopping, pressure, stress; the list goes on and on. There could be Christmas parties and social outings that we'd rather avoid. There's not exactly a one fear fits all to this time of year, so it's important to figure out what it is for you and how you plan to conquer it.

Regardless its origin, fear works in the same way once it rears its ugly head. But, that's my favourite thing about it - learning to overcome your fears is a transferable skill. What works for one fear will work for them all.

How do we conquer Christmas concerns?

1. Identify:

So, what is it that's causing fear to bubble up as the day draws closer? There has to be something that can be identified as the trigger, that persistent thought coursing throughout our minds. Different years for me presented with different fears. Sometimes it was the fear of festive food that boldly took centre stage, other times it was seeing people, some years it was even just the pressure to appear as if I was happy and enjoying the day when that was the last thing I was feeling. Even if it simply feels like a general sense of overwhelm, there is a key thought process creating the fear and that's what we need to seek out. Find it so you can fight it.

2. Question:

Once you know what you're dealing with, you need to cut it down at its roots. Fears manifest because we allow ourselves to fuel them. So stop the racing thoughts and throw out a curve-ball that questions the fear. Is this a real fear? What's the worst case scenario? Play the tape out and see in your mind's eye what would happen if your fear came true. Would you survive? Is the idea of the fear worse than the actual event itself? Fears are false evidence appearing real, that's all. Once they kick off, yeah it can be easier to blow them out of proportion than to actually let them go, but that pretty much just leaves us paralysed by panic. Questioning their logic will break them down bit by bit. Stay curious about the story that you're telling yourself and whether or not it's a true tale.

3. Change:

We have incredibly active minds and this is how the negatives can thrive so effortlessly - because we have the energy there to sustain them. In order to keep those waves of thought occupied, there has to be a change in what fuels the thought process. Everytime those familiar old fearful thoughts arise, stop them in their tracks and replace them with a thought of what you're looking forward to. Channel your anticipation into excitement instead of anxiety. Create your own change.

4. Focus on how you can prepare:

The day will come, whether we want it to or not. We can make a choice - to keep fearing it and avoid any enjoyment on the day, or to change how we're looking at it and embrace the festive spirit. We always have a choice and there is always a solution. Plan how to overcome the key challenges that keep cropping up. Take a step by step approach to minimise the fearful challenges into manageable parts. Give yourself the chance to work towards the day that you want it to be, free of fear and full of cheer. 

It's up to us how the day will play out, remember that you play a part in your own experience. Fear will only ever keep us stuck, keep us on the sidelines and keep us away from fully experiencing what life has to offer.

Don't let something with such feeble foundations ruin a day with such positive potential. 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Conquering Christmas Week #2

What is on your Santa list?

Like most things as we grow up, the magic of Christmas seems to sneakily simmer away, eventually leaving us in that terrible category of  'grown up' where we actually have to think about the less fun parts of the festivities. 

With no jolly big man in a red suit providing whatever we want, that space can quickly be filled with us providing whatever we can worry about. As a child, all we had to do was write down what we wanted, be particularly good and more often than not, we'd wake up on that special morning to a stocking that'd make us grin from ear to ear. But now, we fill our minds with all the stuff we don't want, what we're worrying about, what we 'should' do, all the stuff that 'has to' be done.

In any scenario where we're creating more misery than magic - it's time to change something up. Regardless how little you want to embrace Christmas, fighting it with a fistful of fears and worries isn't making it a more bearable time by any means. 

So why not write your own list to Santa this year? Get your pen and paper out and think about exactly how you want this year's Christmas to be. 

1. What you think about you bring about:

If you've ever watched the Secret or even checked out our Facebook page, you'll be aware of the phrase 'What you focus on grows'. This is one that I personally would strongly advocate. If you're constantly worrying about weight gain, alcohol, socialising, family tensions, loneliness or whatever the Christmas season is bringing up for you, then that's all you'll be able to see. You will actually begin to create that for yourself as a reality. 

Worrying about the problem does not create any solutions. We need to shift the focus.

Think about what you do want.

2. Get specific. 

It's comical sometimes how incredibly clear we can be about what we don't want. The amount of energy we actually put into creating our worst case scenarios leaves little to work with for our best cases. There's no point just deciding we want a 'good' Christmas or we just want to enjoy it. That means something different for everyone so we need to figure out what exactly it means to us.

If you want to enjoy the day by going for walk or staying in and watching a movie, decide. Decide where you want to go, decide what you want to watch. Think about it and how you'll feel when you do it. Think of all the things that could go right, who might be there, who you want to see and how you want to interact. Just let your mind go and visualise it until your picture is crystal clear, step right into that picture and keep revisiting it until it becomes real.

3. Forget the fear & doubts.

'There's no point thinking about what I won't cos it won't happen'. Can I please urge that you don't engage in thoughts like this?  If you actually want to enjoy yourself, negative thinking and doubts need to be shot down before they even finish their depressing sentences. 

To really bring about what you're thinking about, of course you need to believe in it. You need to invest in this image as much as you've invested in the miserable ones. Make it your business to believe in positive possibility.

Fears will crop up, because they are trying to drive the dread of what's ahead. They'll sneak in and whisper that it's not possible, there's no point, it's always the same. Shut them down and just hit back with the image you've created of your very own merry Christmas. Fears are simply false evidence appearing real, it's nothing really concrete to go on. You need to be vigilant for their bullsh*t and bat each one back out as soon as it comes whirling towards you. 

4. Do what needs to be done.

The difference between this Santa list and the one that you probably last wrote, is you're going to need to be your own Saint Nick this time. You need to deliver the goods that you've asked for. Get into the workshop of your life and figure out what you need to start doing to create what you've said you wanted. What steps do you need to take? How much time do you need to put in? Get hands on about getting what you want. Make it happen for yourself.

It can be tricky to tackle all the many worries that have been stacking up in the run up to Christmas, so we need to keep it simple. Christmas is not about them. The season is not about food or looking a certain way or pleasing everyone or having the best of everything.

It's about something different to everyone, even if that's not in the forefront of our minds, we all have some idea of how we'd like it to play out. Whether it might seem tangible or not, the dream is there. To me, it just makes sense to bring that dream to the fore of our minds and let it be the soundtrack to our festive season.

What would you put on your letter to Santa?

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Conquering Christmas Week #1

Become a Scientist of Your Own Experience.

Now that November is quickly drawing to a close, it's getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that Christmas is well and truly on its merry way. However magical and exciting the festive season can be for a lot of people, it can also be a seriously challenging time to others. 

Plenty of us know only too well that trailing right alongside all the fabulous festivity comes a significant splattering of stress, anxiety and loneliness. So much to do, so many people to face, a busy, crowded hubbub surrounds the day and as the countdown looms, some may be more inundated with dread than delight.

We don't need to take a look at the stats to know that some extra support at this time of year wouldn't go astray. So for the next few weeks on the blog, we're going to explore ways to provide this and challenge the various worries that crop up as Christmas approaches. 

As with any challenge, we can of course overcome it. We can find a way to even enjoy it, look forward to it and genuinely make the most of it.  

Personally, I prefer the word 'conquer' to 'cope' so this is the approach I want to take here. I want to encourage overcoming rather than just finding ways to get by or ways to avoid discomfort. Coping mechanisms can keep us stuck but conquering to me means taking the challenge head on and fighting the fear. Conquering is long lasting; it is strength and progression and means that we are winning, not just settling or avoiding. By conquering the challenges, we can cultivate new experiences of the same old things. 

Different worries arise for different people in the run up to the big day. But regardless where the pressure is rising from, it can always be tackled. 

I heard the phrase during the week to 'Become a scientist of your own experience'. So to kick off this little Christmas series, I want to ignite curiosity. We can't discover our own solutions without getting curious about what we're experiencing.

If we were to become scientists of our experience, how would we dissect our previous experiences of Christmas? Which bits could we experiment with to make them more effective for us? Is there different methods we could employ to get the results we actually want?

It's amazing how much certain special occasions can magnify our fears. The festive season is not really about food, or family, or shopping in excessive crowds or trying to act happy when you're really miserable - but when we're worrying about that aspect of it, that's the only part that we can see. The lights, the connection, and the joy fade away when the dark thoughts take over.

I get that we're not all about to fall into a Hallmark card of the perfect Christmas scene, but what we can do is create our own enjoyment around this time. We can identify what's bothering us and look for our own solutions. Action is the antidote to fear, so what actions can we take?

Ask yourself:

1. What is the most challenging part of the season ahead?

In general, in order to kick ass, we've got to know what we're up against. Square up to your opponent and figure out what it represents to you. Maybe it's the food fears, family tension, alcohol, social pressures, perfectionism, loneliness, anxiety. What is it that's giving stress strong enough legs to stomp its way through our minds? Become aware of the obstacles and turn them into stepping stones. Identify the fears and look directly at them. These are the challenges to conquer. When we zoom out a little and see them for what they actually are, they aren't as consuming. Sometimes they even stop making sense, the irrationality comes to the fore and we can find a way to dissolve their influence. 

2. How would I like to deal with this challenge differently this year?

In the face of fears, we can tend to clutch on to old coping mechanisms that may not always produce particularly helpful results. Hiding away in isolation, trying to avoid the season, or engaging in self destructive behaviours may swoop in as the familiar go-to solutions but these never contribute to effective conquering. They actually just create more challenges in the long run. Every experience presents us with an opportunity for learning so think about what learnings can be taken from previous challenges. What has been helpful in the past and what has kind of screwed us over? What tools have we gained, what patterns of thinking might help, what ammunition have we got against these challenges? How realistic are these fears? We know the answers, we just need to awaken them again.

3. How would I like Christmas to be?

Your experience is in your hands to create, at any time of the year. If you don't want Christmas to be a stressful, overwhelming ordeal, then take control and make it into something else. Think about how you'd like it to play out, how you can influence the day and how you'd like to feel about it. Maybe you just want to watch your favourite movie, hear your favourite song, visit someone special, or buy yourself a gift. Let your mind wander into all that your Christmas could potentially be, not just what you're afraid it'll be. Free yourself of the pressure to fit into someone else's picture of Christmas. Give it a chance to be exactly how you want it, visualise the experience, step into it, get comfortable in that picture of Christmas and find the way to bring it to fruition.

4. What can I get out of this season?

Christmas is a great time for connection. There's an excited buzz about it, energy is high and there is definite merriment to be felt. There's opportunity to see family, friends, to get time off to yourself, to recharge and to look forward to the year ahead. We all have different things we can get out of it. But know that there is something for everyone. Maybe it's an ideal time for giving, for being charitable, even giving to ourselves, there's a chance now to consider what you want out of this season. Embrace the opportunity to reach out to people, give something back, treat yourself. Dream a little and enjoy what you come up with. 

5. How can I support myself?

We can look around for support as much as we like but how often do we actually give it to ourselves? Yes reading things is helpful but we always need to apply what we take in. Learning to be your own support will only ever serve you well. Invest in supporting yourself this Christmas. Find out what you need and want in order to help yourself approach this season in a stronger place. Self care is crucial and self support stems from this. Nourish your needs and you'll be in a privileged position to conquer whatever comes your way. Be there for yourself, give yourself a chance and be patient, you can get through this if you've got your own back.

I love all things Christmas, yet for the years when I had an eating distress, it was a weighty pressure. With my mind tirelessly totting up caloric calculations and my brain fit to burst with guilt, shame and anxiety I didn't embrace the wonderful time of year that it is. When you don't want to be seen, it's hard to enjoy getting involved.

But there is always a solution. I now enjoy the bustle of town, although I know I don't like to be in it too much. I enjoy the cheesy tunes, the decorations, the time with people who are special to me. I love the lights, the chill in the air and the excitement that still surrounds the season. I like the bad Christmas cracker jokes and the dedication to a good game of Pictionary. I like catching up, getting cosy and recharging. I like the fact that it has so very little to do with food and stress, because I've conquered their influence on me.

Christmas time is what we make of it, what we choose to focus on and what we decide to let go of. Getting curious gives us the clues of what we could create. It allows a different picture to elbow its way in and show the fear who's boss.

So ask the questions and see what answers you can deliver for yourself this season.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Perfectionism: The Enemy of Good

'I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it's just terrified.' Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic.

Perfectionism. It's an all-consuming idea that can hold onto us with an iron grip, suffocating the creativity and enjoyment inside that is just itching to get out. It comes with a list of rules and a raised hand ready to strike at the first instance of imperfection. Growing up, it could be schoolwork where it would point an accusing finger at every flaw. Ninety nine out of a hundred was not good enough. Throughout the teenage years, it could spread into everything about us - what we're saying, doing, how we look, our bodies, our clothes, our life choices. Constantly chasing something that didn't exist. Which from experience, I can now wholeheartedly confirm, is a significant waste of time.

If I had to define perfect I don't even know what it'd look like, what words would fit the picture that I was frantic to find. The thing about perfectionism is that it's never enough. Regardless how many of its boxes you tick, more keep rolling out to mock you. It is simply not attainable.

Seeking perfection means seeking the enemy of good, real and fun. Whether it's writing, trying something new or creating, having perfection as a priority can often mean not even being able to start. With an end goal so far out of reach, beginning becomes a challenge in itself. What's the point, it won't  even be good enough? It's like censoring language that hasn't even had a chance to be spoken. We put off finishing and even getting started because of the fear that it won't be enough and in doing this, we deprive ourselves and others of the finished product. Not quite the perfect process is it?

When we're sensitive and prone to overthinking, perfectionism is often lingering nearby. It comes in the form of pressure, being hard on ourselves and not feeling good enough. We use it as a whip to try to be better and think it's genuinely going to help - make us more likable, more important, more worthy.

From someone with a past steeped in perfectionism, the only advice I have about it is to completely cut it from your mind.

As with any ingrained thinking, this can take time and persistence so here's some suggestions to help:

Embrace Imperfection

Imperfections are unique, they are the messy splashes of colour that separate us from the 'perfect' blank canvas. Instead of being boring and the same, we all have our own beautiful little imperfections. They make us human, they make us approachable and they give us substance. In our work, our relationships, our goals - fearing imperfection will only ever keep us stuck. Being afraid to come across as anything less than perfect stops us from coming across at all. Embracing imperfection means getting real, and putting ourselves out there even if we're not guaranteed an A+ for doing so. Imperfection doesn't make you any less, it actually contributes to what makes you whole.

Seek Authenticity 

I've said it once and I'll say it again, I love authenticity. I love the word and the concept and the unshakable real, natural, vulnerable quality that it has. People can connect to authenticity. If you think about it, it'd be pretty hard to connect to 'perfect'. I can only imagine it as being boring, intimidating and pressurrised. But being authentic is much more open to connection. It's an awareness of our imperfections and choosing to own them instead of scrambling to hide them. Trying to hide any part of ourselves is hard and unnecessary and it keeps others at a distance to who we really are. So seek to be real instead of being perfect and learn to laugh at your fabulous flaws, own your quirks and let people see the real you.

Value Finishing 

Avoiding completing something just because you can see perfectionism's threatening hand poised above you is a disservice to yourself. Of course you want what you're doing to be good, you want it to be liked and you want to avoid criticism. There's nothing wrong with taking pride in what you do, but take the pressure off. If I wanted everything I wrote here to be perfect, I'd never publish anything. Write unedited, try different things, allow yourself to mess up. Allowing perfectionism to dictate whether or not you finish isn't fair, because you miss out and others could miss out too. Forget about being flawless and just get started and get it done. You can't improve if you're afraid of seeing what you need to work on.

Learning From Mistakes 

Making mistakes is sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing but always key to progression. Without making mistakes, without doing things wrong from time to time, we stay stagnant. Mistakes show us exactly how not to do it. In my own personal journey, I made so many mistakes and I made them multiple times (just to be sure) and I wouldn't change a single one of them. Yes they were cringey, shameful and embarrassing and I don't look back fondly but I can look back and know that they taught me something. I wouldn't know what I know now without the experiences of being incredibly imperfect, especially during my quest for perfection. All you can do is forgive yourself, accept that you're human and seek out the learning. 

Forget Other People

What will people think? It's incredible how often we put thoughts in other people's heads, as though we can create the script running through their minds. Unless mind-reading miraculously becomes a thing, we'll never know what others think about us. If they're judging us for being imperfect, well that kind of says way more about them than it does about us. People will find fault with things all the time, because people have opinions. People have different tastes, perspectives and standards. Forget trying to please everybody because no one can or does. 

Just approve of yourself, care about what you think about what you do, whether you like it and whether it fulfills you. So many 'successful' people have been told 'no' over and over again. But when they know they're good, they keep at it because it matters to them. Be persistent in figuring it all out and breaking out of your comfort zone. The pretence of perfection is not impressive and it's not what people are looking for from us. More often that not, while we're so worried about what they're thinking, they're not even thinking about us, let alone critiquing our every move.

Exposure to our own imperfections isn't the most pleasant thing to be seeking out but its benefits will largely outweigh the discomfort. Not surprisingly, it comes back down to vulnerability again because being exposed as being flawed means we could incur criticism, we could feel shame or we could find ourselves actually being really real, not protected by the illusion of perfection. 

Brené Brown says it so well when she speaks about perfectionism as 'A 20 ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when in fact, it's the thing that's really preventing us from taking flight.'

And I want to take flight way more than I want to lug around a dead weight.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Create the Things You Wish Existed.

This blog post was written before Friday's tragedy in Paris, and I don't wish it to seem like it's insensitive, as it is a societal issue yet on a much larger scale. However the sentiment remains the same. We've got to positively promote what we love instead of bashing what we hate. We need to focus on the light even when there's darkness. 

What happened there and what is happening all over the world on a constant basis can definitely increase the feelings of hopelessness. I know I personally found it very upsetting, But akin to the blog post here, we need to focus on the positive; the sense of community and solidarity that spread across the world. After such violent darkness, there was such a beautiful culmination of light. People spread support and hope and the sense that there is so much more good in the world than bad.

It is tragic and scary and it can make the world feel very unsafe and unpredictable, but that's not all there is to be seen, there is so much more to the world that that...

The fastpaced world we live in nowadays could easily be called hectic, among a litany of other things - some more polite than others. To put it mildly; it's busy, it's stressful and it's a bit messy, isn't it? On a day to day basis, we can be inundated with information instantly - our heads fit to burst trying to filter which parts we actually need. There's messages incessantly seeping into every one of our senses about how to live our lives, how to get ahead and how to survive in this 'effed up' world.

Some of us might blame society for the messages we get that we don't really like. The ones that make us believe all the bad bits about life - that it is in fact a major headache, a stress we have to deal with or a challenge we have to try fight. Society is to blame for the stress, anxiety and depression sweeping across us, right? 


I'm not denying that it throws its challenges out at us, of course it does. There's a constant barrage of suggestions about how we should act and look and be. I for one have definitely gotten pretty p*ssed off with society on various occasions for its contribution to low self esteem, poor body image and making incredible people feel like they're never enough. But that doesn't mean we have to listen to these messages and it definitely doesn't mean we should let them affect us.

Thinking that way about the environment we live in is never helpful; it just doesn't fix anything. Getting irritated by injustices and pointing fingers of blame doesn't solve the problem. It just keeps us as victims. We become helpless to the power of the general consensus, to the media, to the marketing masterminds who play on our insecurities.  Instead of being participants in our society, we act like we're prisoners of it. But we're not.

Our stresses, struggles and hardships are not all society's fault - Because, guess what, we are society. We all contribute to the collective community that creates our society. So whether it feels like it or not, we actually do have power. 

One of my favourite quotes, and yes I do love an oul quote, is 'Create the things you wish existed' That's what I want to do as much as possible because for me, the alternative just means staying frustrated and hopeless. Instead of falling victim to the messed up messages, why not create our own that we actually like and can engage with? Throw out a counter argument to the stuff that grates on you. Why not create your own subculture? Create a society that you want to be a part of.

How can we do that?

- Use Your Voice.

We all have one for a reason. When you know that you don't agree with something, put value in what you do agree with. Speak up about what you believe in, what interests you and what you think is right. Everyone has different values and we're not meant to all think the same. Allow yourself to have an opinion that not everyone will agree with. Speak the truth even if your voice shakes and be part of the solution. Silencing yourself doesn't quieten anyone else, it just gives you less influence. Whether one person listens or a hundred do, it makes a difference. A small difference is still a difference. 

- Get Vulnerable

It's not always easy to speak up. It means dipping into a vulnerable place, where authenticity is rife and we might leave ourselves wide open to criticism. However, when we want to be saying something different, something inherently important to who we are then yeah of course it's raw. It's ours and it's personal. It might hit a nerve or bring out some emotion within us, but it's always worth it. Be strong in what you're passionate about, that energy and commitment will carry the ideas far. You won't need everyone to love what you're saying because you already love it.

- Stand by what you believe in.

Culture is created on 'characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.' Creating your own means being strong in your beliefs, knowing what matters and walking it in your actions everyday. You want to be oozing your values,  an unquestionable quality about you. What you want to promote will be something that you carry with you wherever you go, people can come across you with their own ideas but it doesn't mean that your own beliefs falter. It's just differences of opinion and your own remains intact.

The world is laden with things that I don't understand, that I can't change and that I may feel helpless about. But if I want to see more kindness in the world then I'll start by spreading kindness. If I want more understanding I'll try and understand. What you focus on grows so yeah of course, there's plenty to focus on that'll scare the bejaysus out of you and make you never want to leave your house. Or you can shift your focus and look for the hope. Look for the light. Look for the countries around the world who come together to show that they care.

It's not hopeless. 

This blog was created because of the message we wanted to spread. We'll speak about what we believe in whether one person listens or hundreds do. Because this is what's important to us. Hope is to be found everywhere, if you can't see it straightaway, seek it out.

If you can't seek it out, Create It.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

5 Ways to Love Yourself More

When the suggestion of self love is thrown out, it can be incredibly unappealing. Coming from a place of fluent self hate quickly diminishes the belief that loving ourselves is possible, let alone in any way tangible. I know I've definitely balked at this concept in the past, talking myself out of it with my stock phrases of self-criticism. Coupled with a connotation of cockiness, this topic is one that can be easily pushed down on the list of priorities; left down at the bottom gathering dust.

I can't stress enough the importance and value in brushing that dust off and giving self love a shot.

Being who you really are is an absolute privilege. But when we're not feeling great about ourselves, low self esteem and self doubt team up to deny us of that privilege. We become accustomed to seeking to be anybody but ourselves. We don't feel good enough or worthy, and risk losing our authenticity by trying to transform into whatever version of perceived perfection we have in mind. We can diet, drink, and escape reality as much as we like but without a basic foundation of self love, that will all come crashing down.

Make up, muscle or people pleasing is no substitute for realness. It doesn't last, it doesn't feel good and it never feels like enough. In reality, we're actually all enough exactly as we are right now.

So how do we connect to that fact and finally feel worthy? How do we begin to love who we are?

1. Awareness.

Bring awareness to the truth of how you feel about yourself. If you're anything like how I was, it's probably a recurrent thought - a depressing diligence towards disliking yourself. Think about how that thought makes you feel though - it doesn't exactly perk you up does it? It doesn't make you want to do the best for yourself or chase your dreams. It doesn't make you feel strong or content.

Become aware that feeling like this is neither necessary nor permanent. It's just a matter of changing how we think about ourselves. Play with the idea of what it could be like, to actually like yourself. Think about how you'd like to feel about yourself and get your skates on to catch that feeling.

2. Discover.

Dive head first into the journey of finding out about yourself. Get to know who you are. What makes you, You? Working on this creates a solid understanding of all that you actually have to offer. When it comes down to it, your struggles are not your identity, your fears don't define you and your 'flaws' are unlikely to be as bad as you think they are. Spend time exploring the person you are, what you like, what you think, your opinions, your quirks, your traits and your own unique idiosyncrasies. This takes time, but it's worth every single minute.

3. Listen. 

Realise that others quite probably do not see you the way you see yourself. I think we can become convinced in our negative narcissism that we are awful, unworthy people, yet, we somehow have people around us that can love and care for us... So there's a significant chance that we're wrong. It's time to stop brushing off compliments and start appreciating them. Everyone who's nice to you isn't a liar, take what they say on board. It's almost an insult to them if you don't. Collect their compliments like gifts and realise that people don't hang around you or care for you for no reason. Open your ears to the possibility that they see the good in you. Start looking at yourself through the eyes of others and explore what they're seeing in you.

4. Appreciate.

How grateful are you for what you've got? The way you think, your perspective, your qualities and personality traits are all worth appreciating. Each and every one of us has something unique to offer, we process the world in different ways, we dream about different things, different things matter to each of us. These are the gems that make the world so interesting; that make people attractive and intriguing. These are yours. But you've got to notice them and appreciate what you have or else they're a wasted gift. Take stock of all that you can be thankful for about yourself. Mix it up between body and mind and really consider the vast variety within that you have to be grateful for.

5. Treat Yoself.

If your inner monologue was played out loud in front of others, how would it sound? Is is harsh, critical, loud, stressful? Would you speak to anyone else the way you speak to yourself? This is an interesting point to really focus on because thoughts create feelings and feelings create behaviours. If we're being cruel to ourselves in our self-talk, how are we ever going to create feelings of love? 

Stop yourself everytime you notice a self-deprecating thought coming in and replace it with a positive affirmation about yourself. When we speak to ourselves, we've got to remember that we are listening. When we act in destructive ways towards ourselves it just chips away at the possibility of self love. Treat yourself with genuine self care, nourish your needs and take yourself out into life with a kind hand to hold. 

Becoming your own best friend is a process, but a truly fun and valuable one. When you tune into what you actually want, you get to provide that for yourself. You can go where you want, try what you like and meet new people without having to second guess who you are or what you're about or whether they'll like you. People may or may not like everything  about you, but it matters a lot less when you're completely secure within who you are. You create an unfaltering foundation. 

Recently, I heard the recovery process being compared to a love story and I thought that was brilliant. I would have been a bit allergic to such romantic ideals before but now I see how true it is. Treat yourself as though you're looking to build a relationship. Converse, ask questions, get curious about yourself. Go out on dates, treat yourself nice. It might sound strange, but if you can't even stand to be around yourself, how can you expect others to? It's an investment in yourself and future relationships, dreams and endeavours. Plus, we're actually neurologically hardwired for connection #science, so we might as well start with connecting to ourselves.

'I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”
Brené Brown

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

A Little Tail.

I was recently out walking with our little pup when the following came to mind...

Up to recently we had two dogs. A 14 year old collie cross golden retriever and a 3 year old bichon frise. The bichon, Alfie, was introduced 3 years ago to our family and had never been on his own, never slept on his own and never had to amuse himself. 

On the other hand the 14 year old, Sooty, had spent 11 years on his own. He was self-content and happy when we came home from school/work. He was intelligent, he was great company and he was cheeky - eating full chickens off the counter and half a Christmas cake on another occasion!

Embrace change.

But when the two dogs came together no one could predict what would happen. Would they embrace each other? Would Sooty reject this new little needy yappy pup; would there be jealousies or would they look to each other for strength and happiness?

For three wonderful years they looked to each other for fun, company, warmth and happiness. Alfie was quite a “scaredy cat” but Sooty was always there with him. Alfie looked up to Sooty all the time. When they were out walking, Alfie would walk on the sheltered side of Sooty from the wind. If it was raining, he would walk behind him, or in close beside him. Alfie would not walk through water no matter how small the puddle he would always skirt around it. Sooty on the other hand would plough straight through it. 

I would always bring them to a little stream for a drink and while Sooty would dive straight in, Alfie wouldn’t go near it. At night Sooty slept in Alfie’s bed and Alfie often slept on Sooty’s tail. But they never fought, they played, they respected and they loved each others company. Alfie actually gave Sooty a whole new lease of life.

Learn to trust other people. It is good for us to have other people in our lives. To learn from others, to lean on others and to be able to give as much as receive.

Then sadly Sooty became ill and the tables turned. Suddenly Alfie was the protector. He would growl and snarl at us if we went near Sooty. He was prepared to not eat himself if it meant leaving Sooty’s side. Sooty sadly passed on in July of this year and Alfie was distraught. He pined for his buddy, he struggled to sleep on his own, he missed his big bro.

Know that it is ok to be sad, it is ok to miss people who have passed on, it is ok to struggle for a while.

But now, once again he is a happy little guy, and yesterday completely of his own volition he walked into the river to get a drink and have a nose around. All of a sudden he has grown up, he is owning his own recovery of having lost his best friend and ally. He has moved on with his life and is now confident in himself. He has no problem in reaching out for help from us when he needs it. He will come to us when he has a sore paw or just doesn’t feel well. He will curl up on our knee when he wants attention and he will jump at or keep looking at you when he is due his food.  

Always look to recover and be prepared to move on. After all experiences in our lives are there to be learnt from. So embrace change!

In reality we can learn a lot from our pups. Alfie learnt from Sooty and likewise we can learn from our peers. We can lean on them and grow from their experiences. And then when the time is right we can learn to walk on our own two feet. Life throws us various curve balls and like Alfie, we too can over come them. We can move on in our lives if we allow ourselves to. 

There is nothing wrong with a grieving period, in fact it is an important part of letting go, but always make sure that you do let go and move on. Always know too, that there is nothing wrong with reaching out for help. 

Even the best of us need someone else from time to time to lean on.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Let the Past Pass.

Many of us go through recovery of some sort throughout the course of our lives. Whatever curveballs life chooses to throw at us, we have to pick ourselves back up each time and carry on. Be it the recovery of the passing of a loved one, the recovery from a physical illness, the recovery from a mental illness, the recovery from an addiction or even just a particularly rough night out.

Sometimes it's challenging to let go of the memories of how we were before recovery. Our behaviour, frustration, low mood or whatever we did when we weren't our true selves can reverberate around our heads long after. And not only that but we if we let ourselves consider those around us who saw us like that, the guilt coupled with cringing can be pretty crippling.

When we choose recovery, we choose to let the past go. But when it's been such a big part of our life, how we can do that?

Acknowledge - Bring awareness to the fact that yes, what happened in the past wasn't ideal but yes, it has happened. Any untoward behaviour, actions, choices or outbursts that came from ourselves during that time are out there. Ditch the denial and acknowledge that when we were under the influence of tough times, our intentions and actions didn't always match up. Insecurity, anxiety or depression impair our judgement. Instead of being ourselves we find ourselves in irritable intolerance for the world and of course that affects our actions.

Forgive - Once we acknowledge that what's done is done, we need to forgive ourselves. Maybe we wish we could take it all back, but the fact is that we can't. And even if we did, it'd change all the learning and growth we'd get out of it now so maybe it happened for a reason. The point is, holding onto guilt or regret weighs us down and like any good airline, we've got to restrict the baggage we carry in order to fly into our future.

Own your choice - Choosing to change is a solid committed choice. When we forgive ourselves for the past we can truly commit to taking control of our present. Recovery is the catalyst to discovering who we really are and transforming into our authentic, happier selves. If a thought comes in about your past let it bounce off the shield of your choice to recover. Stay focused on improving upon where you started, keep moving forward and working at making the past a distant memory.

Walk the Talk - If you're moving on, your actions better match that fact. Back up your words with what you do. If you want to prove to others that you're a different person now, don't try to convince them with talk. Let the recovery speak for itself. Let it ooze from you with the confidence and freedom of someone who has overcome their struggles. When you get really into your present, totally engaged in all that life has to give you now, you have no reason to beat yourself up with your past. Its influence becomes smaller and smaller.

F*ck the Begrudgers - People are always interesting in their reactions to our choices. Some may not believe or support your decisions. Some may not understand. Some may pass uninformed judgement. If others feel the need to bring up your past or doubt your authenticity, believe me it says more about them than it does about you. Move on with those who embrace your present and future and relish in your positive changes. Those that mind don't matter and those that matter don't mind. You know what you're doing.

Learn - The past is for learning. For some of us with colourful journeys, it's almost an encyclopedia of how not to do things, so there's plenty of lessons to be taken. The important thing is to apply these learnings. As the quote goes, 'insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results'. If we don't change anything, then of course nothing changes. Reflecting on the past is helpful when we know we're not going to linger there, we're just going to take the knowledge of our experience and enrich our present with it.

Grieve - As we're closing a significant chapter in life, there is a time where we need to grieve this experience. It's ok to realise that we've been through a hell of a lot and it's natural to get upset for the person we were when we endured that. When we look back and acknowledge what we've put ourselves through or some of the intense emotions we've felt, it's not to be taken lightly. It was dark and sad and now we need to let that part of life go. We need to let go of any guilt, anger or sadness and decide to move on, using the past as just a reference point, not a resting place.

Take pride in choosing to move on and embrace all that recovering will give you. We all have a past and that's what has led us to where we are now. There's no point using it as ammo against ourselves, it's there to teach us and our present gives us the opportunity every single day to write a new chapter of our story.