How to Keep Habits | The Parenting Diaries

I’ve been wondering recently, can I think of a new way to help me to keep my habits? I’ve decided to start by making it public, putting it out there and allowing you, readers, to ask me how I’m doing!

I realised that habits were helpful things and also a bit of a lifeline when I was ill with depression (I have a hormone condition which gives me episodes). When my brain was dead and fuzzy and I struggled to look human, wear earrings, work, talk or eat, I was still able to a) have a shower and b) go to my church.

This was because they were ingrained habits, that ran themselves. For instance, I’ve been going to Church every Sunday, for twenty years, so even when I felt like crap, I found myself trundling up the hill, which ultimately helped me with my mood and lifted the fog for a short while.

So I looked further into habits. I am a great fan of Gretchen Rubin, and she’s written a book on habit keeping and understanding your personality type and how best to keep habits going.

Better than Before – Gretchen Rubin

If you can lock in a habit for 21 days then you won’t need any self-control or discipline to keep it going. I wanted a range of daily, weekly, monthly and annual habits, that would help me work with my hormone condition and remain well. To have things I do, without work, that are good for my well-being and run themselves.

Steve Jobs and Barack Obama had a habit of wearing the same thing everyday as it was one less decision to make, and gave him headspace for more important things.

I’ve worked hard to identify the motivation behind my resolution to keep habits. This is covered in my post about my ‘Who I’m becoming’ life aims, which you can read here, if you’re interested to learn more.

My habit type, identified in Gretchen Rubin’s book is that I need external accountability to keep a habit. So I’m putting on here what my habits are, what ones I want to adopt and which ones I find impossible to keep (which are in pink)

Disclaimer – mum/women-type issues discussed below!

Daily Habits:

  • Glass of water when I wake up
  • No mobile for one hour
  • Make breakfast for Mike and Isaac (husband and son)
  • Half an hour of prayer and worship
  • Ok here goes the honesty…pelvic floor exercises on app (the one I find impossible to keep, even though they take, like, one minute!)
  • Habit I’d like to add to my day and struggle to do – short physical exercises for me and Isaac for PC muscles
  • Get up and dressed
  • Brush teeth (wish I could get discipline for brushing Isaac’s at this moment…)
  • Tidy kitchen, water plants, tidy lounge
  • Check my inboxes
  • Lunch with Isaac
  • Do some work/ have some me-time (might involve watching Hollyoaks) while Isaac naps
  • Go for a walk and see a human being in the afternoon
  • Dinner with Mike and Isaac
  • Clear up dinner (if it’s my week not cooking) straight after dinner. (Sometimes do this, sometimes not, always regret it the next morning when I haven’t done it…)
  • Clear up toys with Isaac (with the most wonderful ‘Tidy Up’ song (sometimes we manage this and sometimes we don’t…)
  • Put Isaac to bed and brush his teeth
  • Collapse. No not really. Well, a little bit.
  • Do something friend/ date night/ TV (doh) based. (Although I wish I could spend this time doing more enriching things like editing my photos, baking, painting my nails – how, how to do this when you’re knackered by this point? And when I do manage it, I feel so much better for it.)
  • Do mindfulness and Examen in living room (so as not to fall asleep so easily…)
  • No phone in the bedroom. I have an alarm clock. 5 – 10 minutes reading
  • I wish I could nail the habit to brush my teeth at this point – I confess I don’t always manage this…
  • Glass of water

Weekly Habits

  • Plan my week on Sunday night (sometimes manage this, always better when I do!)
  • Phone my mum
  • Phone my closest friends
  • Do housework and a wash (who am I kidding, this is most days…)
  • Water the plants
  • Change Isaac’s sheets
  • Do work on a Friday
  • Volunteer for Mind Charity Shop
  • I wish I could go to a weekly core group to share my faith with other Christians. Hopefully sometime soon.
  • Have date night with my hubby
  • Go through my budget
  • Go through my photos on my phone
  • Do Lifemin. Hit and miss.
  • Go to Church
  • Have some time for me.

Monthly Habits

  • See my Spiritual Director
  • See my best friend
  • Have a family day with Mike and Isaac

Quarterly Habits

  • Have a work retreat day. I sometimes manage this and sometimes don’t. My business and cash flow always benefits when I do!
  • Have my hormone injection
  • Have a mini-break with Mike and Isaac
  • Go to a Theme Park to scream my head off
  • Enjoy being outside in the Seasons – i.e. bluebells, the seaside, fireworks and winter illuminations
  • Go to a gig?
  • Take part or host an art exhibition to show and sell my art
  • Go to my hormone clinic
  • Go to training events to grow my knowledge

Yearly Habits

  • Go on a hot holiday just before the busy Christmas season
  • Celebrate mine, Mike and Isaac’s birthday
  • Go and see my Dad and my step mum in France
  • Go to Spring Harvest
  • Go to the Mind and Soul Conference
  • Have my ‘Thanks’ party in grey January

Here’s the point of this blog post…

The reason I’m writing this blog post in the first place is that try as I might, I can’t ingrain the habit of doing my daily pelvic floor exercises. I don’t know why, because they only take a short while.

My motivations for wanting to nail this habit are:

  • Jumping on bouncy castles
  • Jumping on trampolines
  • Going nuts in a ball pool
  • Dancing like no-one is watching
  • Not having a ‘problem’ when I get scared or surprised or fall down a step (or trip up, let’s be honest)
  • Not having a ‘big problem’ when I have a stinking cold and am coughing all the time

Here is me doing some of my favourite things that are a lot less carefree and more difficult these days…

Bouncy Castle Habit Motivation!
Bouncy Castle Habit Motivation!
Ball Pool Habit Motivation!

So, I’ve put it out there. Said what every mum and or woman is thinking, probably. I’d love encouragement, ideas, stories etc on how I can really nail this one elusive habit!

I hope you might find something useful in this post, too.

 

My Framework for Growth – ‘Who I’m Becoming’.

I’ve been reading a book by Bill Hybels, called, ‘Simplify’. One chapter is about your schedule (or diary). There is a quote which I have really taken to heart:

'Who I'm Becoming' Quote from Bill Hybels.
‘Who I’m Becoming’ Quote from Bill Hybels.

This means that we put in our diary not what is coming at us, but the appointments, meetings and events that will help us become who we want to be in the future.

With that in mind, I have created twelve ‘Becoming Tiles’, which are in order of importance, to help guide me in my decisions and what I allow in my diary:

 

1) Be Happy and Healthy.

This means, put my physical and mental health before anything else. If I go down with mental or physical illness, then the whole family goes down, my work and ministry is affected and I can’t care for anyone.

These things need to go in my diary:

  • Doing mindfulness every day
  • Taking time out for myself
  • Having boundaries with friends, family and work
  • Making time for God and Church
  • Making time to be with friends and family
  • Doing exercise
  • Eating well
  • Having days off and holidays
  • Dealing with issues promptly and directly.

 

2) Always put Mike and Isaac first.

This means putting my husband, Mike and my son, Isaac, above all the other items on my list and in my diary.

These things will go in my diary:

  • Spending family time together
  • Supporting Mike in his ministry
  • Taking Isaac places and showing him things that will help him grow
  • Championing my family
  • Spending enough time at home
  • Date Night.

 

3) Prioritising Mine and Isaac’s Character.

This means considering my character in my decisions, and also helping Isaac to grow in character. When he’s an adult I want him to be a catch, a good employee, friend and a polite chap.

Things like these will go in the diary:

  • Regular time with wise friends and family
  • Imput into my discipleship, such as Spring Harvest, training days and workshops
  • Attending the ‘Mind and Soul’ conference
  • Reading books and attending talks on parenting
  • Seeing my Spiritual Director

 

4) Being Fully Me.

I don’t want to be anyone else. I don’t want to water myself down for anyone. I want to be fully me.

This means putting things in my diary like:

  • Being inspired by art, design and style
  • Taking photos
  • Being silly and joyful
  • Going to Theme Parks
  • Seeing plays
  • Going to gigs
  • Enjoying the seasons outside
  • Going to water parks
  • Singing Karaoke
  • Trying new things
  • Spending time on my hobbies, like gardening, calligraphy and nail art.

 

5) Be a Leader and Mentor.

I might be a vicar one day…it might happen. I’ve lead what was really a church in Harrow, Get Together, with forty guests a week and enough laughs and problems to start a sitcom…I have several adult Godchildren, who asked me to be that guide in their life. I am a mentor in my work and also in my Church. I run my own business!

To keep going in this direction, these things need to go in my diary:

  • Attending events at the City Hall to consult around diversity in the workplace
  • Being a mentor professionally
  • Offering my services as a voluntary Mentor
  • Having connections with young people
  • Helping out Mental Health charities
  • Going to Theology talks and Leadership events.

 

6) A Loyal Friend and Relative.

I want to put my friends and family before my work. I want to invest in particular in those that I support, and also support me. I want to be there for important milestones and celebrations. I want to rejoice and commiserate with those I love.

I want these sorts of things to go in my diary:

  • Regular time with my most closest friends
  • Regular quality time with my parents and in-laws
  • Celebrations
  • Time to meet new friends
  • Planning time for special events and celebrations.

 

7) A Kind Advocate and Activist.

I am passionate about standing up for justice and I’m not afraid to speak up. However, I am also a communicator and educator, so it’s important I do this kindly, in particular with those who need education around certain issues. I want to have increasing impact and really make a difference where I am.

These sorts of things will go in my diary:

  • Putting on Kickass Women events (my women’s networking group)
  • Investing in equipping women with the Kickass Women Facebook group
  • Attending events around equality, diversity and women’s issues, such as Leap, Stylist, Red events and Mind events
  • Speaking with my coach to learn how to communicate more effectively and hone my skills.

 

8) Always Curious.

I love learning and I want to keep putting aside time to learn new skills for my business and clients and also just widening my mind and inspiring me.

I want to put in my diary things like:

  • Going to workshops to learn new things
  • Going to art exhibitions
  • Attending Red, Stylist, Figaro Digital and Council events to keep my learning up-to-date.
  • Reading relevant books and articles
  • Going on retreat each season to think how to develop Joy Factory.

 

9) A Lifelong Adventurer

I love going to new places and having adventures. Going on holiday is very important to me, for my soul, my art and deepening relationships with my family and friends.

I want to make time for:

  • A hot holiday in the winter months to raise my family’s spirits
  • Half-term breaks to refresh us
  • A yearly weekend break with my husband
  • A week in France with my Dad and Bean
  • Weekends with my mum
  • Trips with ECC (my rollercoaster club)
  • Crossing places off my travel list, like New York, Helsinki and Sicily.

 

10) Doing Meaningful Work.

It is important to me to do my work with Joy Factory. I want to be a witness to Isaac, my son, to show a woman can carry on the work she loves and is good at, rather than waiting till nursery. I enjoy my work and it’s good for my wellbeing. And I work to be able to pay for holidays for my family to support my husbands’ small income.

That said, any work I do I have to want to do, as I’m away from my son. And also, work I enjoy with people I like is usually more profitable anyway. I go away each season to review the work I’m doing, partnerships and where I’m going.

I want to keep putting in my diary:

  • Seasonal Retreats
  • Priority time with key partners
  • Time in the Harrow Work Hub
  • Meeting with new clients and customers
  • Time to review feedback from clients.

 

11) An Active Artist.

I want to find more time in my diary to make new art. I’ve realised that when I do any art, it’s on my phone, doing digital paintings. I’m usually rushing as I’m with my family! I miss time spent playing with new media and experimenting. I also want to do new exhibitions, so I can sell my work to encourage me to make new work.

I’d like these sorts of things to go in my diary:

  • Sketching days
  • Studio days
  • Putting on or taking part in exhibitions
  • Thinking about other revenue streams, like Etsy and creating prints, etc.

 

12) Hospitable

I love opening my home to people and I love parties. People who come to our gatherings always meet new people., laugh, eat, sing, share and feel at home.

I want to keep these sorts of things in my diary:

  • Celebrating birthdays
  • Having a ‘Thanks’ party in dreary, grey January
  • Marking Advent with Christmas prep then celebrating all twelve days of Christmas
  • Having dinner parties and playdates
  • Playing board games
  • Having movie nights
  • Having a big do at my mum’s once a year, to give people a mini holiday and a chance to dress up!

So there we have it. My ‘Becoming’ tiles and my hopes and dreams for them. I hope this might have inspired folks reading to maybe do their own. Feel free to ask me how I’m doing!

I plan on posting on Social Media about my ‘Becoming’ list as a focus for what I use Facebook, Instagram for etc and also to create a conversation. I also have Pinterest boards I’m working on, which you’re welcome to look at – just search for ‘joyfactoryuk’ on Pinterest.

 

Parenting Diaries: the Quest for ‘Deep Work’…

I just don’t *do* busy.

So, I am a mother of Isaac, a delightful seven-month old noisy mini-me with lots of energy, I have my own business, Joy Factory, doing marketing consultation, design and selling my art, I do mental health advocacy, I’m a business mentor, I volunteer at my church…people often ask me how do I manage to do it all. I’m not sure, but I think it might be because I’m not ‘busy‘, but ‘focused’.

Gratuitous cute picture of my son, Isaac (and my lovely hub, Mike)
Gratuitous cute picture of my son, Isaac (and my lovely hub, Mike)

I don’t do that word. I’m not being pedantic – I just believe the power our own words can have over your life. So, to me…’busy‘ is not a good state. It could mean a badge of honour, a way to feel important or successful but in my eyes it means I’d be stressed, over-worked, people pleasing and had a bout of not saying no.

What is ‘deep work‘?

So what is ‘deep work‘, then? Instead of ‘busy‘, I use the words ‘purposeful‘, or ‘focused‘ but the other day I read an article that just summed up what I’m aiming for. ‘Deep work‘ is that time where you get your head down and manage to work on projects, activities etc that align and work towards your values and mission. Not getting caught in the trap of nervously watching emails come in or social media notifications (that make your heart flutter), or going off on tangents or answering the door or phone.

Just say
Just say “no” – get more done!

Just say “no”

So how do you manage to get some deep work done? By saying “no”. All the things we say “yes” to, we are saying “no” to something we were going to do.

And we can also say “no” to ourselves. As a creative and organised person, I can easily be drawn off on tangents and do a whole host of things where I was just trying to do one, as my mind makes galloping leaps. (e.g. some thoughts from this morning… “Right, I’m just going to take these cups to the kitchen so I can finish this blog post. Oh yes, I must hoover the hall. Ah yes, those seeds on the kitchen counter there, must plant those. Ooh, only got two eggs, need some more to cook that cake…right let’s go to Waitrose…”)

If I think about my aims for that day, hour, week or even year, it focuses my thoughts and actions. It’s so easy though, to get whirled along by life, people, marketing etc etc and not manage to carve out the time to consider what actually matters. It’s so easy to just shelve that time you put aside to evaluate a work project, back up the laptop (hello, that’s me) or just have a day retreat.

But, as it says in ‘Seven Habits of Effective People‘, the most important tasks to complete are those that are ‘Important, and not urgent‘. Not…”oh the photocopier is broken, the delivery’s not come, we need more post-its” etc…those fire-fighting ones that take up the whole day somehow.

'Deep Work' - free from distraction.
‘Deep Work’ – free from distraction.

Stocking a ‘Deep work’ toolkit

So, how do I do this already? How could I do this better? Here are some thoughts and ideas:

Get things done with Evernote - free up at least an hour a day.
Get things done with Evernote – free up at least an hour a day.

Getting Things Done

My life is so much easier (and less stressful) now I use Evernote, with a ‘Getting Things Done‘ mentality. If this is new to you, then I promise implementing this system will open up at least an hour a day, and you’ll be less stressed and have more amazing ideas.

Mindfulness

It’s so important for me to take a moment or an extended amount of time out during the day, at the end of the day and periodically throughout the year to take stock, be grateful, critically review, play and make big plans. Otherwise stuff just happens to me I didn’t plan or want. I try to do just one thing at a time, and be fully present.

The power of habits, according to Gretchen Rubin.
The power of habits, according to Gretchen Rubin.

Build habits

Habit-building is something I’m doing more intentionally these days. I read the fab book, ‘Better than Before‘, by Gretchen Rubin. If you spend just twenty-one days working hard on a new habit, it will then run itself and you need no will power or self-control. I now have a strict routine each day, which includes a walk, mindfulness and even doing my Pelvic Floor exercises.

My hope is that if I got mentally ill again (heaven forbid) that these habits would continue. I realised that on even the very worst day of my life when I was depressed and anxious I still cleaned the shower screen because it’s an ingrained habit.

I hate to say it, but work ‘SMART’

I’m sure we all know this one; are our projects specific, measured, achievable, realistic and time-based? I have now made myself a checklist for my habits and also set myself some targets for the things I want to achieve, both personally, as a mother and in work.

I discovered through ‘Better than Before‘ that our success in keeping habits is determined by our personality type. I’m an ‘obliger‘, which means I can do things very easily for others, but not so much for myself. If I am accountable to someone, i.e. I say “please ask me about my pelvic floor practice, or have I been on the exercise bike, or have I had enough ‘me-time'”, I am far more likely to do these things.

Know yourself enough to say “no”

One amazing blessing that’s come from being depressed and anxious several times over the last few years has been the sharpening effect. When you’ve been through some of the worst days of your life and you come out of them, I’ve found that nothing really scares me anymore. I don’t have time to waste on toxic people, work I don’t want to do or things I don’t want to do. Life is short!

I think saying “no”, is hard because of the fear of upsetting someone or letting someone down and therefore how we will be seen by them. When you know yourself, and what you really want to do in life and what you care about, you can say “no”, politely though, with confidence. If the person is offended then a) that is their choice, their decision and their prerogative, and b) maybe I don’t need that person in my life.

Don’t chase people

So let’s say you make an invitation or offer (e.g. someone asks for a business card, you arrange to meet up with someone you don’t know very well, or you’re meeting up with someone who you are patching things up with). Then *don’t* chase it. Have some respect for yourself. Take a leaf out of ‘The Rules’. If your invitation or offer matters to the other person, they will get back to you. Then you don’t waste your time.

And lastly some random things (in no particular order of importance) I find helpful:

  • Post-its, my beloved label maker and my in-tray
  • Days off doing something I really enjoy, like Stealth!
  • Letting God into the problem
  • The Konmarie method: only keep in your life things that spark ‘joy’.
  • Google products
  • Just keeping on doing it, no matter who shows up or cares, if you believe in it then it’s worth doing
  • The Wisdom of Crowds and online forums
  • Just start, then ask for feedback, then do again (Agile project planning)

My last thought comes from my Bible study today. Time is the great leveler, we all have the same amount, we just spend it differently. I want to spend mine on the things that matter. Here’s the original article on ‘deep work’. Would love people’s thoughts and tips, please do comment.

Pregnancy and Parenting Diaries…puke, panic, perseverance and prayer.

Here is my story of my pregancy and first six months of parenting. It’s been a rollercoaster. I share this as a record for myself, to be honest about mental health illness and to shine the light on some awesome services.

So, I’ve been meaning to write this post for a very long time. Perhaps it will be like cheese or wine, it will have matured and improved with age?

Where to begin. Perhaps just under a year ago, in April 2016. I was entering my second trimester of a much prayed for and wanted pregnancy after four years of depressive and anxious episodes (due to a hormone imbalance condition) and I had weathered a dear friend disowning me, a stalker, difficult neighbours and lastly someone smashing into our car on our drive.

Oh and I might mention, Mike, my husband, being made redundant and searching and finding a new job, and moving church after 15 years…and being sick every single day. (puke)

So yeah, April 2016. Sadly I became low and anxious again. I was then ill on and off until two weeks before my son, Isaac was born, in August. I have to say, the mix of having come off all my hormone treatment and crazy pregnancy hormones, I experienced possibly the worst episode I have ever had and some of the very worst, most scary days of my life. However, over the years I have built up resilience and was able to cope to a certain level – still saw friends, still went to church, got up and dressed every day and made all my appointments. (panic)

Panic monster is coming to get you
Panic monster is coming to get you

Some things that happened in that third trimester and after the birth that weren’t particularly helpful or good:

I was referred to the mental health team and was diagnosed but could not access any therapy (which I desperately needed). I was stuck going around and around some MC Escher endless staircase where I was lead from psychiatrists to mental health services to doctors and back again.

Going round and round the mental health system...
Going round and round the mental health system…

I had appalling administration for my prenatal care (although the midwives themselves were awesome) like not being shown through my yellow folder, not followed through with the Jade team (mental health), sent to wrong hospitals, sent wrong dates, kept waiting for hours…I have forgotten a lot of it as it was so awful (although I suspect Mike remembers only too well.)

I got wrongly diagnosed with gestational diabetes (because I was highly anxious during the test) and had to prick my fingers and monitor my levels every day…not a great combo with obsessive anxiety and panic attacks. And Mike lost hundreds of pounds of consultancy pay having to come to loads of unnecessary appointments.

After being well for two weeks before Isaac’s birth (with the most bonkers nesting thing) and a brilliant hypnobirthing birth (genuinely no pain), sadly I got Postpartum Psychosis and ended up in a mother and baby unit called Coombewood for three months, on and off.

But it wasn’t all bad.

Me and Mike are out the other side of a very difficult, challenging time having grown stronger as individuals and as a couple. We are forming a Christian ministry around mental health that would never have materialised if it wasn’t for our experiences.

I have built resilience through some very testing times. I grew reliant on watching my negative talk, daily prayer, mindful activities like jigsaws, walks, seeing friends, making things and doing things I enjoy. And actually, the most mindful thing in the world is Isaac. Even at my worst, when I was at Coombewood, the love for him shone through the black fog of mental illness and I was able to care for him, even though every action was like wading through tar. (perseverance)

Gotta hang on...
Gotta hang on…

We had the most awesome, overwhelming, love-conquering support from family and friends. I am certain there were tens of dozens of folk praying and thinking of us every day. We were given home-cooked meals after Isaac was born. Friends came over with food, took Mike out to support him, phoned, texted, visited, sent thoughtful gifts. Great queues of people came to visit me at Coombewood.

I had some amazing times of prayer and grew in my faith, having to rely on God like never before. Even Isaac’s name is a blessing and promise. ‘Isaac Caleb’ means laughter warrior, and if you’ve met Isaac, I think you would agree he’s a little bit of a joyful and happy chappie! (prayer)

My laughter warrior, Isaac
My laughter warrior, Isaac

I am loving being a mum to Isaac. He is a total delight. He sleeps so well and is such a happy, smiley, chatty little boy. I have made some wonderful new friends, learnt to be even more mindful through adapting to Isaac’s time, not squeezing him into mine. I love reading to him, staring at him, chatting to him, showing him off and going on adventures together.

And lastly, but not least – the amazing Coombewood Mother and Baby unit. Mike and I simply don’t know what we would have done without the blessing of this place and the amazing staff there. Mike would have had to defer our course to care for me and Isaac. The nurses there taught us how to look after our little boy, while they looked after me. It always felt a safe and homely place to be, full of encouragement and hope.

The wonderful staff at Coombewood Mother and Baby Unit
The wonderful staff at Coombewood Mother and Baby Unit

I am aiming to crowdfund £500 (an amazing £220 raised so far) to help Coombewood to fit out their breastfeeding room. Well, it was the milk room and is now the place where mums breastfeed, but it has odd chairs, bleak walls and isn’t exactly made for relaxing breastfeeding at the moment. I want to give them money to kit out the room.

So…if you’ve been moved, or can identify with this story, or are grateful for the care Coombewood gave Isaac and me, then please do donate anything you can to help hit the target. After all, mental health illness affects one in four people (one in three women) so it’s likely you or someone you know has, is or will be affected.

If you want to, then go here. Thank you.

 

 

 

Three different ways to be mindful

What does the National Gallery, Thorpe Park and the sea have in common? Answer? Ways I’ve found to manage my hormone imbalance by being mindful, and fully in the moment I’m in. Did you know that we only spend *six days!* of our life in the present…the rest are scarily spent in the past or in the future. But…it is possible to see your whole life in HD after having a crappy TV, so to speak. This has been my experience.

I’ve  been studying and practicing mindfulness for over a year now. To my amazement, I have found it to be a really effective method to ward off depression when my hormone condition makes days a bit ‘wobbly’.

My study began with reading Ruby Wax’s book, ‘Sane New World’, where she shows and explains how mindfulness works for her, in the brain and how to do it. From there, I had some sessions with mindfulness coach, Shaun Lambert. He showed me how to ‘notice’ thoughts and realise they are not events. To take a step back, to consider, before leaping in.

From there, I read his 40-day study book, ‘Book of Sparks’, which really cemented this new way of thinking. I then attended MCBT (Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with a wonderful lady, Georgina, at my local hospital. This required an hour’s study every day.

If you’ve tried this stuff and it didn’t work, this is the key – the practice. I have found that this new way of being is so firmly rooted that I don’t have to think about it.

When wobbly days have come, instead of going, ‘Oh no, I’m going to be ill for three months…there goes the summer’, it’s more like, ‘Mm, that’s interesting. Ok. I’m feeling a little nervous but that’s ok. How about I take some breaths, go and see someone, do something I enjoy or do a mindfulness sitting?’

And to my amazement, over six seperate days in the last few months, the first whispers of ‘black dog’, had gone by the following morning.

So, back to my opener. Three things I have done recently where I have been fully present, all five senses taken up by the thing I was experiencing.

The first was Thorpe Park. I had a somewhat stressful day there recently for various reasons but I could forget all that the moment I strapped in to Stealth, took my hands off the restraints and spent thirteen seconds of bliss racing, my stomach lifting, wind in my hair, amazing view then jolting to a halt. I felt refreshed, and able to carry on with the day. Here’s some brave soul who filmed it (I wouldn’t do that!)

 

The second, was going to ‘Soundscapes’, the fantastic exhibition at the National Gallery. Six sound artists chose paintings in the collection, including Holbein and Cezanne, and through study and meditation, created sound art to accompany the piece. The poster read, ‘Hear the painting, see the sound’. The result was me seeing things in paintings and techniques I’d never noticed before.

'Coastal Scene' by Theo van Rysselberghe, soundscape, 'Ultramarine', by Jamie xx, at the National Gallery
‘Coastal Scene’ by Theo van Rysselberghe, soundscape, ‘Ultramarine’, by Jamie xx, at the National Gallery

My favourite piece by a mile was the painting, ‘Coastal Scene‘, by Theo van Rysselberghe and the soundscape, ‘Ultramarine’, by Jamie XX. The sound artist echoed the technique of pointilism by creating music that kind of turned to dots and marks, too, as you approached the painting. It was truely mesmorising and I could have been there all day. I wish I could have this piece in my house!

The third…was jumping in the sea with all my clothes on. Mindfulness means being fully present, not thinking about the future or the past. I went to visit my lovely friend Natalie in Brighton last Saturday, when it was so very hot. We finally reached the glimmering, sparkly sea and got that gust of salt air in our lungs. Neither of us had swimming costumes on, but we kind of looked at eachother and said, ‘Shall we?’ We egged each other on and waded into the water and finally made the leap, it was so refreshing and wonderful to just be floating, supported and looking up at the blue sky and listening to the sound of pebbles being washed up and down the slope by the waves. Here is a little video my hubby, Mike made of the moment.

 

I cannot recommend mindfulness highly enough. It has changed my life. I am calmer, more measured, more focused, assertive and more present. It has warded off the black dog! Here are some other activities I’ve found helpful to be mindful:

  • baking
  • volunteering
  • jigsaws
  • Heat Magazine and chocolate (insert your ‘guilty’ pleasure in here!’
  • doing my nails
  • talking to a dear friend
  • gardening
  • walking
  • flower arranging
  • being creative
  • eating
  • sorting
  • making mint tea from scratch
  • just. being. silent. (very hard for me, that one!)
  • writing this blog post (mmm, isn’t that inception, or something??)

So, there’s my two pence worth. I am most happy to talk to you more about mindfulness if this has piqued your interest. I hope I am a good advert, for those who have known me a while! Please do let me know your thoughts, tips and tricks in the comments.

Katie.

 

Reflections from Ffald y Brenin, 2015.

Something New
Something New

Much like a good wine or cheese I’ve been ‘letting my thoughts mature’ before posting about my wonderful retreat at Ffald y Brenin in Wales last week.

(N.B. Disclosure…there’s ‘God chat’ in this post as it’s kinda my diary/ milestone recording too, please feel free not to read if this would upset you 🙂 )

The main message I feel I received was about liberty and freedom. I expected the time away to be quite intense and tearful, but in fact it was anything but.

I found myself led by people I met (and was meant to meet), the landscape, passionate and inspiring chats with Mike over lamb shanks and picking up flotsam and jetsam on a sandy beach with whirls of changing, golden sand.

Footsteps in the Sand
Footsteps in the Sand

We’d spent a day at the prayer retreat in the chapel and heard a fantastic message on freedom and how some people can try to trap us with burdens but in fact we are not beholden to any human. I found myself studying Isaiah 43, which talks about leaving the past behind and looking towards the future. (Sounds rather a lot like mindfulness to me!)

Roy, the pastor, told a story of a gate at Ffald y Brenin, which was between the path from the house to the cross on the hill. It had fallen down and Roy felt that it meant the path is open. There’s no gate! No barrier.

The Gate is Open
The Gate is Open

So, after a great day, rather than staying, and feeling like I needed to pull a ‘holy face’ and stay there all day, I wanted to walk along the beach and talk to ‘him upstairs’ there. I really enjoyed padding over the sand and picking up rope and wood for some future art piece. I didn’t have to stay in the chapel and read fifty Psalms!

Here’s some pictures of the chapel at Ffald y Brenin and the beautiful countryside around it:

Snowy road to Ffald y Brenin
Snowy road to Ffald y Brenin
Ffald y Brenin Chapel
Ffald y Brenin Chapel
Stunning Newport Estuarty
Stunning Newport Estuary
Walking along Newport Beach
Walking along Newport Beach

The next day, I wasn’t sure what to expect, going to Ffald y Brenin with no agenda. I needn’t have worried. After starting the day with a delicious fry up in our B&B I settled down in the common room and started a jigsaw.

Breakfast
Breakfast
Jigsaw and a View
Jigsaw and a View

I met just the people I was meant to meet. A lady who was going through similar things to me around wanting kids (and she worked in media!) and a lovely, lovely lady called Rebecca, who we shared our lunch with and we chatted about mindfulness (after folk gave us their lunch yesterday.)

Mike met someone he was meant to meet, too.

After lunch, I wondered if I *should* go for a walk. I thought it through and decided I *did* want to go. As I wandered up to the fields I passed this pond, which I noticed was half-frozen.

Half Frozen Pond
Half Frozen Pond

I walked on past a wooden fort, that looked like a prison to me. (Sorry, no photo). Then up the hill, through the mud, into a stunning, open field, that looked out over the valley and to the cross on the hill. I felt like this was a metaphor: the half-thawed pond was like me, a work in progress, but having been freed from things here. The fort represented the things and people that had trapped me. The field represented a ‘huge, open space’, which I was now free to run around, explore and enjoy.

An Open Space
An Open Space

I left feeling, well, kind of like, ‘I’m not quite sure what’s happened, but *something* has!’, if that makes any sense? I feel empowered, free to keep on working with the causes I’m passionate about and fighting for justice, even if there’s a cost.

I brought home with me the daily prayer book, which has a morning, midday and evening prayer. I plan to carry this on, s-l-o-w-l-y, at home.

Ffald y Brenin Daily Prayer Book
Ffald y Brenin Daily Prayer Book

I want to come back here every year.

Time to Talk Coffee and Pamper morning: it’s time to end mental health discrimination.

Michelle ready to receive guests.
Michelle ready to receive guests.

On the 5th February, myself and my friend Michelle Kay (a stress management coach) hosted a ‘Coffee and Pamper’ morning, as part of the national ‘Time to Talk’ day. This is an initiative from Time to Change, whose aim is to end mental health discrimination, through giving people a chance to be educated about  mental health by learning from folk with ‘lived experience’.

I am extremely proud to be a Time to Change champion, which means I talk at events and stand at stalls to answer any question about mental health.

So, I hosted this event in my home to a) educate those who might not know about mental health illness and b) to pamper those who are having a tough time with it.

I was delighted to welcome folk to enjoy tea, cake, warmth (!) and some gentle prompts to talk about mental health illness. Time to Talk have fantastic resources, including this thingy we used to play with at school. Can’t remember the name!

Gill holds up her 'conversation starter'.
Gill holds up her ‘conversation starter’.

Michelle gave a fantastic talk about stress, it’s causes and how to reduce it. She led a relaxation time that was so relaxing, Barry and Marcia fell asleep!

We all had some good chats about different aspects of mental health, such as insomnia, being a carer, mindfulness, managing anxiety and relaxing.

I was really happy to do Gill and Marcia’s nails, to give them a taster of how it can be a relaxing experience.

Gill is pleased with her sparkly nails!
Gill is pleased with her sparkly nails!
Marcia is also pleased with her nails...and manicure.
Marcia is also pleased with her nails…and manicure.
John and Barry enjoy a Hot Cross Bun.
John and Barry enjoy a Hot Cross Bun.
Martin is the newest Time to Change advocate.
Martin is the newest Time to Change advocate.
Jason enjoys the cake.
Jason enjoys the cake.
Reece talks about his experiences.
Reece talks about his experiences.
David enjoys a sit down, cuppa and cake.
David enjoys a sit down, cuppa and cake.

Michelle was on hand next door to give folk relaxing chair massages. Reports were they were super relaxing. I can vouch for that!

Ahhh...Katie enjoys Michelle's relaxing chair massage.
Ahhh…Katie enjoys Michelle’s relaxing chair massage.

So in conclusion, a great day was had by all. People said they’d love events like this more often. If you’d like to find out more about Time to Talk and Time to Change, go to their website, here.

And…stop. Now what?

Welcoming Chapel Light
Welcoming Chapel Light

Today I write from snowy Wales. I’m on retreat, visiting a mysterious place called Ffald y Brenin, a Christian healing community, on the recommendation of my good friend, Rupal.

Me and my husband Mike drove down from Harrow yesterday and the peace and quiet still takes some getting used to. As we reached Dinas Cross, we drove down a road so narrow that there was about a centimetre of space on either side and we switched off the engine and listened to the bubbling brook. It’s snowed today and I enjoyed immensely the sound your boots make (kind of squeaky) when you tread in freshly fallen snow.

These observations…I might have missed them before my study of mindfulness. I used to come on retreat with an agenda, a plan, etc, but here…well, I’m just here. Don’t know what’s going to happen, but that’s okay. I can just be, one moment at a time.

I found myself drawn to this verse from Proverbs 31 again, this is the Message version:

A good woman is hard to find,
    and worth far more than diamonds.
Her husband trusts her without reserve,
    and never has reason to regret it.
Never spiteful, she treats him generously
    all her life long.
She shops around for the best yarns and cottons,
    and enjoys knitting and sewing.
She’s like a trading ship that sails to faraway places
    and brings back exotic surprises.
She’s up before dawn, preparing breakfast
    for her family and organizing her day.
She looks over a field and buys it,
    then, with money she’s put aside, plants a garden.
First thing in the morning, she dresses for work,
    rolls up her sleeves, eager to get started.
She senses the worth of her work,
    is in no hurry to call it quits for the day.
She’s skilled in the crafts of home and hearth,
    diligent in homemaking.
She’s quick to assist anyone in need,
    reaches out to help the poor.
She doesn’t worry about her family when it snows;
    their winter clothes are all mended and ready to wear.
She makes her own clothing,
    and dresses in colorful linens and silks.
Her husband is greatly respected
    when he deliberates with the city fathers.
She designs gowns and sells them,
    brings the sweaters she knits to the dress shops.
Her clothes are well-made and elegant,
    and she always faces tomorrow with a smile.
When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say,
    and she always says it kindly.
She keeps an eye on everyone in her household,
    and keeps them all busy and productive.
Her children respect and bless her;
    her husband joins in with words of praise:
“Many women have done wonderful things,
    but you’ve outclassed them all!”
Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades.
    The woman to be admired and praised
    is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God.
Give her everything she deserves!
    Festoon her life with praises!

I’ve come to this place to just give up on *my* plans for my life, for a family etc and *gulp*…this feels a bit like ‘coming out’ ;),  give them to Jesus. On paper, our dream of having our own children, combined with my hormone problems, looks unlikely, but I know that with God, ‘All things are possible’. So, here I am, for three days, to wait. And see.

The above verse outlines a ‘Good wife’ and I can see some of myself in this verse (and Mike agrees 🙂 ), as well as some things to work towards.

Here’s some pictures of this beautiful place, covered in freshly fallen snow.

Snowy peaks in Wales
Snowy peaks in Wales
Welcoming Chapel Light at Ffald y Brenin
Welcoming Chapel Light at Ffald y Brenin
Ffald y Brenin Reception
Ffald y Brenin Reception
Arriving at Ffayl y Brenin
Arriving at Ffayl y Brenin