This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week and the Mental Health Foundation’s focus for the week has been ‘Nature’. I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health over the last year, and especially these last couple of weeks as I’ve been on furlough for the first time.
Throughout the pandemic I’ve tried to make the most of the nature around me by spending time walking and visiting parks and natural spaces, but it hasn’t always been easy. Sure, I love walking, but when walking is one of the only things you can do when you leave your house, it can become a bit of a chore. It’s fine if I have a purpose, like I might walk the long way to the shop and back to combine exercise with an errand, but there have been plenty of times over the last year when I’ve really had to drag myself out for a walk just to make sure I haven’t sat inside at home on my own all day (and there have of course also been plenty of times when I have sat inside all day on my own).
When I went on furlough I was worried that I might not feel inclined to keep going out for walks to the same places and could end up staying home feeling bored and lonely, but actually so far I’ve been pretty busy and have managed to get out a lot because I wanted to, not because I had to.
As we both live alone, I’m in a support bubble with my mum, who lives a few hours away down in Bognor Regis. Given all the free time I had on my hands, I decided to take the opportunity to go and visit her this week so we could enjoy some walks and nature together. It’s been hard for us both, living alone and having limited options of where we can go, but we’ve both found that walks in local green areas and by the water (sea for her, harbour for me) have helped a lot through this crazy year. Although we both have some close friends to share these walks with, there’s nothing like sharing our favourite places with each other.
So today we went to visit a local nature reserve, Bersted Park, and I have to say it was like medicine for the soul. Sitting on a bench sipping local coffee and listening to the birds chirping in the trees, spotting swans through the tall grass, breathing in the fresh air, marvelling at the sculptures made of wood and positive messages painted onto stones set into the path. It may not sound like much to some – it’s hardly a wild party or a massive adventure – but this simple burst of nature was just enough to calm and realign me, ready to face the world again.
Read more about Mental Health Awareness Week here and if you have the chance, do try to find the time to connect with nature. If you can, go outside, listen to the birds, look at some flowers, breathe the fresh air. Make the most of this moment, of those around you, and of what you’ve got. It doesn’t have to be grand. Spotting the beginnings of a simple flower on your houseplant may be enough to bring some much needed nature, and hope, into your life.
furlough/ˈfəːləʊ/noun – leave of absence
Most of us had never even heard this word just over a year ago. I’ve been really lucky, working as I do in the travel industry, to have been able to keep working all this time whilst many of my colleagues have been furloughed, and of course many people (not just in my industry) have lost their jobs. It’s been a tough year though, and I don’t mind admitting that I did like the idea of having a break when things were really stressful, but it wasn’t feasible at the time.
I first brushed with furlough a few months ago when I was told I would go from 5 to 4 days a week and be ‘flexi-furloughed’ for one day. It took a little while to get used to this bonus day off, but to be honest I quite like a 4 day week. Then came the big one – a month of furlough. My company is doing the right thing, making the most of the support available, and I guess it was inevitable that I would be furloughed eventually. So, here I am, about to start my stint of furlough. A month off work.
It’s strange, now that everything is starting to open up in the UK and many people are going back to work, to suddenly find myself with time on my hands. At first I freaked out and in my panic started making a mental list of all the things I would have to do during this time to make it worthwhile. Pole, stretch, dance, do Couch to 5k again, walk 12,000 steps a day, tidy everything, read all those books that are piling up… the list went on and my brain hurt. Then I stopped. Literally, in the middle of the street as I was pacing about. I stopped and realised I don’t need to be a superhuman. I don’t have to prove anything
But I know how my brain works, and I know what’s best for my mental health. I need some kind of structure, and I need goals, even little ones. So, here’s my furlough plan:
- Relax and enjoy some downtime. Don’t feel guilty if one day I watch a lot of TV, or another day I take a book to the park and sit and read all day. It’s about time I had a bit of a break and time to recharge.
- Work on my pole, fitness and flexibility goals, but listen to my body as I go. It’s not possible or sensible to train hard every day – I need time to recover too.
- Spend time outside – whether it’s walking, running, or sitting, I want to get out of this flat and see something other than these four walls!
- Cook! It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, but use this time to cook nice things. I’ve found when I’m busy or stressed I still turn to convenience food (and there is so much yummy vegan convenience food!) but I do actually love to cook, so now’s the time to dust off those recipe books.
- Just be. Every day doesn’t have to be full of achievements or Instagram-worthy moments. Some days it’s perfectly fine to just be. See some friends. Go for a walk by myself. Read. Dance in my kitchen. Whatever makes me happy.
None of this is to say that you won’t be seeing a bit more of me on Instagram and maybe even here in this blog over the coming month. I will be learning new pole things, I am doing a running challenge, and I will hopefully cook something worthy of taking a photo of at some point. But I don’t want to obsess over the numbers and the achievements. When the first lockdown happened last year and lots of people found themselves on furlough, there was a huge amount of pressure on everyone to achieve. Is this the time to write that novel I’ve always dreamt of publishing? Maybe, but probably not if I’m honest. Is this the time to enjoy some (hopefully!) nice weather and have a bit of a break? Yes. And is this the time to simply do what feels good? Definitely.
Let’s see where the month takes me…
I started yoga a few years ago when my company began offering cheap classes in our lunch breaks, and before and after work, with a local instructor who came in to our office. I had tried yoga a few times before that, but I’d never really got on with it. I wanted to be the kind of person who did yoga (you know, the Instagram version of a yogi), but I feared that I wasn’t. Or at least, I was made to feel that I wasn’t by some of the scary teachers (and intimidating participants!) I encountered. Luckily, the local instructor we had at work was fantastic, and her relaxed and happy-go-lucky demeanour made me instantly warm to both her and the practice.
When lockdown happened a year ago today, I knew I was going to have to form some kind of routine, so I decided to make yoga a part of that. Initially I started with one of the Yoga with Adriene 30 day programmes, and I practiced every working day (so generally 5 days a week). When I finished the 30 days, I randomly selected a different Adriene video every day, sometimes practicing for just 10 minutes, other days closer to an hour.
I’ve stuck with Adriene this whole time, doing a little bit of yoga every week, even if not every day. When restrictions eased and I briefly had other things to do, it was harder to fit it in, but I always came back to it.
This year on January 1st I started Adriene’s latest 30 day programme, and since then I have followed her free monthly calendars, practicing every single day so far (82 days of yoga!). I may not be super flexible, and I’m certainly not that Insta-yogi I once thought I wanted to be, but regular yoga practice has really made a difference to my lockdown life. No matter how stressed I am, or how much I want to stay in bed, getting up and showing up on the mat always makes me feel better. It’s a chance to breathe. To move. To stretch. And, as Adriene says, to find what feels good.
New year, new me? Hell no! I’m fine as I am, thank you. New year, new experience though…? Now you’re talking!
If you had said to me 5 or 6 years ago that on 7th January 2020 I would be attending a pole dancing class, wearing short shorts, with a couple of girls I hardly know, I would have laughed in your face. No way could 32 year old me conceive that 38 year old me would have that kind of confidence, or at least the right kind of fake it til you make it attitude. But apparently I do…
Tonight, along with a couple of girls from salsa (who I know a whole lot better now!), I went along to a pole dancing taster class in Bedminster, Bristol. 360 Pole Dancing‘s studio is tucked away in a warehouse type building down a street I had never really noticed before. I was nervous – I always get that way with new places, new people – so I was glad to be going along with someone I could get lost and make mistakes with. As soon as we got in the building I saw another trio of nervous looking girls, and soon more arrived. I was probably the oldest in the group, but that didn’t bother me. The things I was most scared of were not being physically able to do anything… and getting my legs out.
The website said to wear shorts, and I was relieved to see everyone was. In fact, the teachers were simply wearing knickers. I tried to avoid direct eye contact with the mirrors (and the teacher’s stunning arse) and summoned my inner mermaid, then soon realised no one gave a shit about my wobbly thighs.
I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy. And there were moves I didn’t quite have the strength for (yet). But you know what? It was awesome fun! We ran through some of the starter moves, wrapping ourselves round the pole from various angles and attempting to leave the ground. In one of the more advanced moves the teacher seemingly levitated as though she had employed some kind of witchcraft, whilst I struggled just to cross my legs around the pole and grip on with my thighs without smashing into my lady parts too much. We learnt how to get up gracefully (ish!) from the floor, arse first of course, and even did a little bit of sexy sliding about on the floor (I was reminded of the ‘sexy worm’ move we once created in a bachata dance class some years ago when practicing body rolls against the wall…). With a little assistance, I even did one incredible spin, which made me feel like a goddess, and I will hold on to that slightly rose-tinted memory as inspiration for the weeks to come.
Yes, you heard me right. I’ve signed up for a 6 week course. Why not? It was incredible fun, a great workout, and hopefully something that will help to build my strength – both physical and mental.
Have you tried anything new yet this year? Go on… give it a go! 😉
Find out more about 360 Pole Dancing on their website, Facebook and Instagram. This post is not sponsored – I just like to shout about cool, local businesses and all the great stuff there is to do in Bristol.
“What do you mean, you don’t drink?”, they sometimes say. “Why?”
I made a decision around this time last year that I was going to stop drinking. Like most diets and New Year’s resolutions, I thought it would probably be a January thing, and that come February I would drink again.
I’ve never been a massive drinker, often making one or two drinks last the night or opting for soft drinks, but around this time of year I would usually drink more – doesn’t everyone? Christmas parties, birthday parties, New Year’s parties – all of that socialising so often revolves around the idea of ‘going for a drink’.
It’s been a long time since I drank so much that I had a hangover or felt sick, and I think I’ve only once not really remembered what happened the night before (and that was back when I was a teenager), but over the last couple of years I’ve been noticing that drinking just doesn’t make me feel very happy. Alcohol is a depressant, and it seemed to me that drinking was just bringing out the gloomier side of me (and goodness knows I don’t need any help with that!).
So, I decided to stop.
I haven’t drunk anything since last New Year’s Eve, and that was only one or two glasses of Prosecco if I remember correctly. When midnight came, I put the glass down, and that was the end of that.
I know that for some people quitting drinking is a massive challenge, so I don’t want to belittle the efforts of others by saying that for me, it wasn’t so bad. I didn’t have a problem – I never used drink to cope with life or hide from my problems, but I know many people do, and I wish them well on their journeys. For me, the hardest part of quitting has been explaining to others that I don’t have a problem – I’m just choosing not to drink.
You’d be amazed how many people seem to care so much about what another person consumes. At times it can be quite alienating, when everyone around you is drinking, and especially when they try to get you to join in.
Luckily, my main hobby – dancing – is not one which is attached to a strong drinking culture. Generally, drinking doesn’t make your ability to dance any better (I know this, having tried a whole class of double turns practice after two-for-one cocktails in the past), so it’s often avoided in the salsa community. In fact, my main salsa home is in a church hall where alcohol isn’t even allowed.
I’ve also been lucky to have been welcomed into a local group – the Sober Circle – which organises alcohol free events and meet-ups in the South West. It’s a supportive group of people who are all coming at sobriety from different angles, all open to hearing each other’s stories and listening when someone needs it. Sometimes we meet for coffee and cake, and it’s nice to just chat to some different people with one common choice.
Is sober life dull? Hell no. I’m just as social as I’ve ever been, with a clearer mind and a slightly healthier body. There are plenty of alcohol-free options out there these days and, you know what? Water actually tastes pretty good too.
So, if you’re thinking of giving up alcohol, even if it’s just ‘Dry January’ or cutting back a bit in the New Year, good luck! I raise my glass of Nosecco to you!
Around this time last year I decided I was going to give Veganuary a go. Veganuary is a charity and a movement which encourages people to go vegan in January and supports them in their vegan journey throughout the month and if they choose to keep going. As a pescatarian and former vegetarian who hasn’t really eaten meat for the best part of 25 years, I planned to just go vegan for January and then go back to eggs and fish at least. Dairy I wouldn’t miss – it didn’t always agree with me anyway – but I didn’t really think I would be able to give up eggs and fish as they seemed so essential to my diet.
My main reason for giving Veganuary a go was for the culinary adventure. I wanted to get back into cooking and try some new food, and I wanted to get out of some of my stale habits. There are lots of reasons one might choose a plant-based diet, and if the focus is to be plant-based rather than vegan, the reasoning is more likely to be health and diet. That being said, I ate a lot of amazing vegan junk food and cake in January, so I don’t want anyone reading this to think it’s all lentils and chickpeas! I also don’t want to give any wrong impression that veganism or choosing to eat plant-based is a ‘diet’ in the sense of it being a plan with which to lose weight. It’s not, although there can of course be fantastic health benefits to any change in what one chooses to eat, and cooking more from scratch and eating more vegetables and pulses can only be a good thing in terms of health.
So, it was all about food to start with. I was excited by how big Veganuary was this year – all the supermarkets had lots of exciting new things to try, and of course there was the Gregg’s vegan sausage roll too!
However, as the month went on I began reading, watching documentaries and educating myself, and I learnt more about the other reasons one might choose to be vegan. Of course, the main reasons are usually the environment and animal welfare. Although I’ve always been someone who likes animals and cares about the environment, I didn’t think eating a bit of fish and a few eggs were that big a deal. What did it matter if I put a bit of honey on my porridge or my shoes were made of leather? I never thought about the plastic my food and beauty products came in, and I certainly never checked to see if my products had been tested on animals or contained animal products such as lanolin and collagen.
But at some point early this year, perhaps even in the middle of January, just a couple of weeks into my vegan journey, I made a decision that this wasn’t going to be just a month-long experiment. It was like I took a good look inside and found a label that said ‘vegan’. It was a light bulb moment of ‘oh, this is what I should have been doing all along!’. I didn’t know I was a vegan, but suddenly it all made sense and I couldn’t imagine living any other way.
The definition of veganism according to the Vegan Society states:
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
During my journey this year I have cut out all animal products from my diet. That was instant, and coming from being pescatarian I can honestly say it wasn’t difficult at all. I haven’t craved anything or missed anything really, and there have only been a few odd occasions where I have had trouble finding something to eat or have felt a bit left out. But, on the contrary, there have also been some lovely moments where I have felt so included; where friends or colleagues who aren’t vegan have made deliberate choices to provide a vegan option because they know I will be there, and that makes me so happy.
Making changes in other areas of my life is more of a process and not something that can happen overnight. As I use up a beauty product I try to replace it with something vegan, cruelty free and with as little plastic as possible. I’ve made the switch from bottles of shower gel to solid bars, and other products are slowly being switched over as I can. When I’ve needed to buy new clothes I have tried to look for vegan and sustainable options too – who knew a pair of trainers could be vegan! I just never thought about it before.
Above all else, this year has made me think so much. I just never considered whether it was right or wrong to use animal products, and I didn’t know about the exploitation of animals in order to provide us with everyday products like a pint of milk or an omelette. The environmental impact of eating meat and fish had never really occurred to me, and I was used to choosing the simple and fastest option, without thinking about how sustainable it was.
So, this was the year I discovered I was a vegan. I’m not writing this to preach at anyone else – you do you – but I do want the world to know I’m a vegan and I’m proud. I will continue to shout about it on Instagram, because I want people to see the delicious food a vegan can eat, to see how healthy I am (not protein deficient!) and to see the choices I make which make less of an environmental impact. Perhaps my choices can help to inspire another person’s choices, and that’s all I can ask.
I know this blog has been silent for over a year, but I’m back! Watch this space for more adventures as I continue in search of my ikigai…
I know, it’s been a while since I posted, but I started this year, and this blog, with the attitude of writing when I wanted to, and when I had something to say, so that’s what I’m doing.
I have something to share with you, but first a little story. Last time I posted, back in June, I had just attended a wellness brunch at my favourite cafe, Foundations. Not long after that I went on a whirlwind trip to Japan, and then just as I got back I attended another workshop, this time with the theme of Body Positivity and Food Freedom (more on that soon).
That workshop was my first glimpse into the world of Body Positivity, and as I left the cafe with this brand new concept spinning through my head, I happened upon a stall selling colour changing bikinis at the Bristol Harbour Festival. I wasn’t in the market for a bikini at all. In fact, this year, I had bought my first ever bikini (yes, at the age of 36), and yet still hadn’t had the nerve to wear it. I had always had the thought in my mind that “people like me” probably shouldn’t wear bikinis. That bikinis were for “skinny people with perfect bodies”, not “fatties” like me. That’s what I told myself.
So why did my attention get drawn to a stand selling bikinis? It was the poster that did it. Mermaid in England, it said, and what I saw on the poster was a group of beautiful, REAL women. Women like me. All shapes and sizes, colours, ages. REAL women wearing bikinis, proudly, happily. It was an image like this:
The image was like this, very similar, except this image above was taken only a few weeks ago… and I’m in it. That’s me, bottom left, punching the air with joy, having the time of my life with a group of amazing women, wearing an itsy bitsy, teenie weenie, colour changing red bikini!
You see, on that day at the Harbour Festival, I didn’t buy a bikini, but I had a chat with Antonia, the face behind Mermaid in England, and I put my name down on a list, just in case Antonia was ever looking for models in the future. But I still told myself it probably wouldn’t happen, and I would never have the nerve to wear a bikini for a photo shoot. People like me didn’t wear bikinis, certainly not in public. That’s what I thought anyway…
But you know what? People like me do wear bikinis. And people like you. In fact, this myth of the “bikini body” is no more real than an actual mermaid. It’s time to love ourselves in the bodies we’re in. You only get one life, one body, one chance. Make the most of what you’ve got, look after it. Don’t hate your legs for a bit of cellulite – be grateful that they help you to run and dance. I’m not saying it’s easy, and believe me I’m still going through this process of learning to love myself, but let’s try. ❤
After a bit of a rubbish week it would have been so easy to take my grumpiness into the weekend. I’ve been feeling stressed out and overloaded, and it’s at times like this that I usually turn to comfort food and spending my time in a way that doesn’t really benefit my health. But not today. Today I chose to start my day with a Wellness Brunch at my favourite Bristol cafe, Foundations.
Although the event was taking place in a space in which I felt comfortable, and I knew I would know at least one person there, attending an event like this was still a little bit out of my comfort zone. But, as I learnt today, sometimes it does us good to step just a little way out of our comfort zones and into our ‘stretch zones’; it’s good to push the limits a little bit.
I hoped to find myself in a room of like minded individuals wanting to think about health and wellness, and I knew that if nothing else, at the end there would be waffles.
As it turned out, there was so much more than waffles!
Cat Taylor of Nudge Yourself was brilliant. She ran the event with a perfect balance of looking inward and looking forward, laughter and mindfulness, breathing and punching. Yes, there was boxing, and there was also drawing with pencil crayons. What better way to start the weekend?
We thought about happiness more than anything else, and what it takes to achieve this.
After the workshop, boxing gloves off and pencil crayons down, we enjoyed a healthy brunch and had a good old chat. I met some lovely women – really interesting people, all very much on the same wavelength. We talked about journeys, and it was inspiring to hear other people’s stories and to meet some strong women, following their passions, trying to live their best possible lives.
Because that’s all we can do really, isn’t it? Live each day in the best possible way, get up when we fall down, and just BE HAPPY.