Agenda Item no. 2: Self-care, self-love and self-indulgence!

The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt over the last few years is that I have to look after myself. Nobody else is going to do it for me. This is one of those hard lessons that I keep having to learn over and over. I think for a few years there the universe was trying to teach my this with a feather (symptoms of stress and exhaustion in my early uni days). I didn’t listen, so it sent a brick (chronic fatigue and a range of other illnesses). I still didn’t listen. So it sent a sledge-hammer (thyroid cancer).

From them on I knew I had to look after myself. Still, self-care was a hard skill to master. I haven’t mastered it yet but I’m waaaaaay better than I was. I think partly that’s just a growing up thing — there comes a time in a young person’s life when they move out of home and get a full-time job and have to actually ‘be a grown-up’. And it can be really tough. The pressures of simply keeping up with adult life (bill paying, grocery shopping, home/car maintenance etc) on top of the craziness of my work life and my delicate health were very difficult to adjust to. I still often remark to various family members that ‘being a grown-up is hard work sometimes.’

I think it’s even more difficult when you life with housemates than when you live alone, because at least there is no guilt associated with leaving dishes in the sink overnight when you live alone. Having said that, there is also no-one to share the load of housework. I am so glad I live alone right now, but one of the ways I’ve coped with that is the hire a cleaner every month or so just to help lighten the load for me. It’s an expense, yes, but one that saves my sanity enough to be worth it. Some might rather save the $50 and scrub the bathroom themselves but for me, it’s worth it to have the flat properly cleaned semi-regularly. It’s another tool in my self-care kit.

Fortunately, I have learnt enough of the basics of self-care to strike a pretty good balance most of the time. There is always more I could do, but I am pretty proud of how far I’ve come, in general. I am working on fine-tuning my diet at present (more on that in upcoming posts) and I’m sure that will continue to help improve my wellbeing but overall I’m fairly satisfied with my current level of self-care skills.

Self-love is the next step on my journey. I believe it is a step above self-care, although the two are interrelated. It’s more than just the care of my basic physical and most essential emotional needs. It’s further up the Needs Hierarchy. A quick Google search defines it as ‘regard for one’s own well-being and happiness.’ I see it as being more pro-active than self-care. Self-care is about maintenance, whereas self-love is about seeking ways to further improve one’s situation.

For me, self-love also crosses that line into body and self image. It’s about countering the negative self-talk, critically examining the messages I am fed by the media and actively promoting acceptance of myself and my body. As cringey as it makes me feel to admit (why is that, I wonder?), affirmations have been helpful for me here. The one that has hit home lately is one I adapted from something in Brené Brown’s book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ (absolutely life-changing book, by the way. Will review it in time):

I am enough. Already and always. 

This is particularly helpful to me when I’m feeling unworthy and inferior in social situations or in my relationship. Often those feelings are separate from body image issues, but other times they  are inextricably linked. At Christmas time when I had a full-body rash, my feelings about my red, blotchy skin were playing out as feelings of being unworthy of love. Now that I write that it seems so illogical, but the feelings were powerful at the time. The affirmation above, with particular emphasis on the word already really helped remind me that in reality, people weren’t about to stop loving or talking to me because of a temporary, non-contagious skin condition.

I think many women in our society struggle with body image in one form or another. Two things have really helped me in my journey with body love and self acceptance. Firstly, is gratitude for all the parts of my body that do what they are supposed to. Secondly, changing and challenging my old thought patterns around how bodies ‘should’ look and ‘should’ do things. A revolutionary thought for me, further than expanding my idea of ‘what is attractive’, was to actually question the need to feel attractive in the first place. Why do I let society dictate to me that my body’s purpose is to be aesthetically pleasing for someone else? Why not focus more on function? I guess that goes back to the gratitude again!

This self-acceptance has been a slow process but seems to have clicked up a notch lately. I believe reading the blogs and Facebook pages of a number of bloggers involved in the body-love movement has really helped here. One woman in particular constantly posts statuses that challenge my thinking around my body and I guess, eventually, it has sunk in. It’s a constant process, I believe, but I think I’m finally seeing (and feeling!) the benefits. One of these days I will link a few of the women I look up to and who post some amazing, encouraging, mind-expanding stuff that will help you challenge your own self-limiting and negative beliefs.

Lastly, I’ve begun to explore the concept of self-indulgence recently. In our society I think we generally think this is a dirty word, but it doesn’t have to be. Although it does have a bit of a connotation of being about excess and unhealthy patterns, I have been looking at it more from the perspective of allowing myself to do things that I enjoy more often, for no other reason than that I enjoy them. As long as I’m not hurting anyone or procrastinating/avoiding something, I actually see it as very healthy to seek out small moments of indulgence whenever possible. And to that end I’ve vowed to have more massages this year. One per month, in fact. This is part of my plan to de-stress and care for my body, but also to just do things I like simply because I can. I am also going to have a bath by candlelight more often, and cook my favourite meals and go to bed early instead of staying up late doing paper-work (but getting nowhere because I’m too tired to concentrate properly). And read romance novels and wear my favourite underwear and enjoy the beauty of a sunset or the hilarity of a funny cat video.

I guess all of these things come back to the idea of treating myself with kindness and gentleness and respect. We don’t have to deny our own needs in order to be there for others. It isn’t selfish, it’s actually responsible. If we give to ourselves, we have more to give to others in turn. There are so many ways we can all treat ourselves with more kindness. 

How can you take care of yourself a little better in the week to come?

Remember, you are enough. Already and always.

My story

“My name’s Dale Kerrigan, and this is my story.”

No, wait, that’s a quote from the movie The Castle.

My name is Ellen. I’m a twenty-something hypothyroid music teacher. I am passionate about health and well-being, personal finance, happiness, work-life balance, productivity, relationships, personal growth, learning, self-love and acceptance, spirituality, café breakfasts and my cat Crinkle.

I want to be a writer. I have always loved reading, and in particular my favourite genres are romance, personal finance and self-help. I dabbled in sci-fi, fantasy and other fiction genres when I was growing up. I still enjoy them, but I find if I read that sort of thing I can’t put the book down. Then suddenly it’s 2am, I have to get up in 4 hours and I still have 100 pages to go until I finish the book and there is no way sleep is happening until I do. And since I love sleep and feeling well (more on that soon) I gradually stopped reading that type of fiction. And, surprisingly, I haven’t missed it.

Romantic fiction is the exception to my fiction rule, mainly because they are slightly more predictable and less suspenseful (i.e. I can put them down and go to sleep, safe in the knowledge that they will, in fact, get together in the end!). I have always loved romantic fiction. I remember being introduced to Harlequin Mills and Boon by a friend in the summer of Grade 8 and falling head over heels in love with the genre. It’s not high-brow but I don’t care. It makes me happy, I have about ten thousand characters and plots in my head and one of these days I’m going to actually write one! So this blog is partly about helping me develop the skill and habit of writing, so that I can fulfil this dream of being an author.

In the past few years, I have read mostly non-fiction and mostly on topics that I find interesting (pretty much all those listed above). I love learning and what started as a few blogs, pod-casts and books about productivity and personal finance, quickly grew wider into a whole range of self-help/personal growth/life improvement topics. At the same time, I’ve been on and am still on a real personal journey (aren’t we all?). I’ve done a lot of self work, I’ve had a lot of epiphanies and learnt some lessons the hard way (sometimes more than once) and I really want to share all of what I’ve learnt with the world. Or, at least, with a couple of people! I have become really passionate about making the most of life and living what Oprah calls my ‘best life’. I have a bit of a dream to be a life coach in the hope that I might help others on their journey too, but for the moment that remains a dream. So, in part, this blog is about sharing my knowledge, creating a community of like-minded people and helping readers to improve their lives the way I’m trying to improve mine.

In between all of this reading, I got a university degree, experienced an episode of major depression, travelled the world (well, parts of it!), battled heaps of viruses (glandular fever, cytomegalovirus, chronic tonsillitis, whooping cough and chronic fatigue syndrome), loved my family and our pets to bits, learnt to be grateful, learnt two languages, had some toxic relationships (romantic and otherwise), moved all over the state, deepened cherished friendships, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, fell in love with a lovely man who actively loves me back, played and listened to a lot of music, walked with depression a couple more times, began my teaching career, got into debt, explored different religions, had 4 operations, became permanently hypothyroid, struggled with full time teaching, worked myself sick repeatedly, paid off a lot of (but not all) my debt and climbed Mount Fuji! That list is not in any particular order, and a lot of it is just general growing-up and ‘finding your place in the world’ stuff, but you can probably see why I am now quite passionate about health and wellness.

Through my experiences with depression and a touch of anxiety, I have developed greater knowledge and compassion for myself and the human condition. My parents both have counselling experience, so there were a lot of healthy patterns and practices that I was taught growing up, like the importance of positive self talk and counting blessings not worries. But I still had to learn the hard way. Repeatedly! Sometimes that’s the only way to really learn something.

I have also learnt that mental and physical health are inextricably linked. It is so easy to feel depressed when you are physically ill, be it for 3 days or 3 years, and if you are depressed it is very easy to make poor choices regarding your physical health. Health and wellbeing are also strongly linked with the health of your relationships and also your finances. This is not to say that if you have no ill-health your relationships or finances will be perfect, or that if you do have an illness that your finances and relationships will automatically break down. But an issue in any of these areas has an impact and flow-on effect on other areas of life.

Through my experience with physical illness over the last 8 years I have learnt to listen to, trust and respect my body. I have learnt to research and understand my conditions, and to seek a second opinion if I am not happy with the current medical practitioner. I have learnt that the modern world doesn’t have time for you to be sick or slow down. I have learnt that it is really expensive to be sick and it is expensive to get and stay well, but not as expensive as not caring about health at all. I have learnt that time really is money and that sometimes money isn’t worth the sacrifice of time you will never get back. I have learnt that there are no instant fixes and the price of well-being is diligence and discipline, which is really, really difficult! So this blog is about helping me stay disciplined on the path to good health and well-being, and to share the tips and tricks I have learnt along the way.

And lastly, this blog is to be a constant reminder to myself of my goals: I want to be a writer. I want to be well. I want to get out of debt, build my net worth and work towards financial independence. I want to enjoy my life and appreciate the good things while they last. I want to continue reading, learning and exploring my beliefs. I want to be creative and thoughtful. I want to work hard but not at the expense of my health or relationships. I want to be fit and fuel my body with delicious and wholesome foods. I want to cook and eat whole foods. I want to tread more gently on this earth and treat my body gently and with compassion. When I make changes I want to take them one gentle baby step at a time so that new habits form and actually stick. I want to be of service and help people. I the world a better place, even if it is just my little pocket of it. I want to have time to spend with myself, with loved ones and with nature. I want to slow down and get off this treadmill that our society is constantly running on. Ultimately, I want to make the world a better place, even if it is just my little pocket of it.

I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

 

And the first item on the agenda is Gratitude

One of the themes of this blog (of my life!) is gratitude. I plan to post frequently about things that I am grateful for in my life, for my own benefit but also to hopefully remind readers to take stock of the things they are thankful for in their own lives.

Why? Because gratitude changed my life. I haven’t yet shared my whole story, but I have walked with depression at several different points in my life. The simple act of noting things that I am grateful for on a regular basis helped me come through the most difficult year of my life (2008) and the difficult times since with a new perspective on and appreciation for all the things that had happened.

Psychology and neuroscience have confirmed what religions and wise (wo)men have known for millennia: counting blessings not sorrows is a much happier, kinder and more productive way to live. It changes your perspective and focus, so that things no longer appear quite so bleak. It is not the same as living with rose-coloured glasses on. In no way does being grateful for blessings in life mean ignoring the sorrows. But it can help people cope better and allows reprieve, if only momentarily, from life’s troubles. And when there aren’t any major sorrows occurring, the act of gratitude helps people let go of the minor issues and brings more joy to their lives.

I have made it a habit that often when I am feeling really down about something, I write a gratitude list. I have been known to write lists 50 items long and once I get going I frequently feel like I can’t stop. While these days I consciously try to feel grateful for things when I am feeling sad, lately I have got a bit lazy about choosing gratitude on the ordinary and even the good days. This is a shame because by procrastinating my gratitude lists, I am actually procrastinating joy. And why would anyone want to procrastinate that!?

So, let this be the first of many gratitude lists on this blog. I like to keep it simple: I strongly believe that the things we take for granted are some of the things we should be most grateful for, especially in this world of ‘first-world problems’.

  1. I got up early today and went for a big walk.
  2. It was a beautiful, sunny morning.
  3. I explored a part of my town I’d never been before – and it was beautiful!
  4. I can walk! This is something I take for granted most days.
  5. My cute cat, Crinkle, hung out with me all day.
  6. I watched the last three episodes of Gilmore Girls and shed a small tear. I love this series and I have been working through all 7 seasons over the last 6 months, rather intensely for this last month while I’ve been on holidays. I feel a bit bereft now that it’s over but I’m glad it happened. And I can always start at Season 1, episode 1 again tomorrow…
  7. Hash browns. Yum!
  8. Good coffee! I shouted myself a cafe breakfast this morning and the coffee was delicious.
  9. I enjoy my own company. Solitude is a wonderful feeling. I had a lovely, productive day at home and spoke to hardly a soul all day — which was good for this introvert’s soul!
  10. De-cluttering is nearly complete! It is such a cleansing, calming experience.
  11. Tomorrow is set to be a great day filled with friends, food, a facial and a massage and then dinner with my love. It’s so nice to have things to look forward to 🙂
  12. Holidays! I have one week left until I go back to work and I am going to savour every minute!
  13. Podcasts. I love them and I have listened to some excellent and really interesting episodes today. I intend to share podcasts, books and blogs I like from time to time.
  14. My blog is up and running! That’s pretty exciting for me as it has been a project I’ve been dreaming about for a while, so I’m really thankful that I have had the time, energy and resources to get it going.
  15. I didn’t have a headache today! How often we take for granted not being in pain and only remember when we are again in pain, which is too late to enjoy it.
  16. I can type really fast, which is a pretty useful skill.
  17. Literacy! So many people, women especially, in this world today are not blessed with this skill. Typing is cool, but being able to read and write is a glorious gift, and yet another thing we take for granted. Look at all the words I produced in mere hours today! How amazing! And if you are reading this, you are literate too! Cool, huh?
  18. That clean, bright feeling I get after I wash my face. It’s nice 🙂
  19. The internet! It’s an amazing, scary, awesome place.
  20. Love. Awwwwww corny. But seriously, I am so thankful to have love in my life, in all its various forms.

 

And I think that’s about enough for now (but I could probably hit 100 things if I kept writing!).

What are you grateful for in your life? Write a small list (even just 3 things) and see if you don’t feel a little bit better, I dare you!

Choose your own agenda!

What do you want?

What makes you happy?

Perhaps more importantly, what makes you unhappy?

These are important questions that I think too many of us sail through life without really, deeply contemplating. So many of us are stuck on the treadmill, caught between the demands of work and family/friends and what society expects of us. Don’t get me wrong, I think a lot of the time we enjoy many of these things. But do we question them? Do we ever stop to ask what the alternative is? I know I didn’t.

For a long time, although I was definitely on a search for what made me happy, I continued to make choices out of fear of what other people would think, or because that is what was expected of me, or because that’s just what everyone else was doing. And, as I will explain in upcoming posts, a lot of the time the results didn’t serve me. Sometimes, they really hurt me.

In my journey of self-development and exploration these last few years, the one thing I’ve begun to realise is that I am the one who makes the choices and has to deal with the consequences. But the fantastic part of that is that I am the one who makes the choices and has to, no, gets to deal with the consequences. I am the one, me! If I don’t like it, I can change it!

This might seem rather obvious, but once I had realised it I started to do things differently. It wasn’t a ‘hit-me-like-a-tonne-of-bricks’ epiphany either. It has been a slow burn, building over the last threesix, twenty-six years. I have realised that I don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. I don’t have to buy the thing the advertisement tells me I ‘need’. I don’t have to do things just because that is what society expects of me.

(Within reason, of course. I’ve seen those ‘random breath test’/’air port security’ reality shows. If a police/customs officer asks you to breathe into the breathalyser or take your belt off before you go through the airport scanner, you should do it. Although, that too is a choice….but it never ends well for the people who run away.)

Here are some more important questions:

What would you do if you had all the money/time/resources in the world? What would you do if anything were possible? How is that different from what you are doing right now?

Now, I’m not at all saying ditch everything and everyone in your life. I don’t hate my life. I don’t hate my job or my family or anything like that. But there are a lot of things I think I could improve upon, while still being grateful for the wonderful things that I have been blessed with.

My realisation was simply this: don’t let other people’s agendas dictate your life choices. Think deeply about what you want and don’t want, feel deeply grateful for the life and lessons you have had and dare to dream about a future that includes more of what you want and less of what you don’t want. It’s your life, so live by your own agenda.

There is a line from my favourite Dr. Seuss book, ‘Oh! The Places You’ll Go’ that perfectly sums up what I mean:

You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose.

And you can! So why not choose your own agenda?

The Harmony Agenda

What is ‘the harmony agenda’? Well, first, let’s define each word*.

harmony / noun (pl. harmonies)

  1. (mass noun) the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce a pleasing effect
  2. the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole
  3. the state of being in agreement or concord
  4. an arrangement of the four Gospels, or of any parallel narratives, which present a single, continuous narrative

agenda / noun

  1. a list of items to be discussed at a formal meeting
  2. a plan of things to be done or problems to be addressed 
  3. the underlying intentions or motives of a particular person or group

I like these definitions. They sum up perfectly all the things I am trying to achieve in my life.

Firstly, the harmony. Well, I’m a music teacher, so obviously I like it when simultaneously sounded musical notes are pleasing to the ear! But this blog is about more than just my life as a music teacher. It is about my life. Full stop. My life, that I would like to form a ‘pleasing and consistent whole’ and to be ‘in a state of agreement or concord’.

The last part of the definition I particularly like because it was new to me but it actually perfectly fits with what I want to do here on this blog. I want a record of the different parts or narratives of my life (physical, emotional/spiritual, professional, financial etc.) that ultimately create a single, continuous narrative. Obviously all of these put together are the main aspects of my life. And there are a number of goals I have that correspond with each section, and things about each part that I would like to improve, to ultimately improve my life as a whole. That is my agenda, my plan of things to be done or problems to be addressed.

So, this blog is to help me reach those goals, to hold me accountable and I suppose in a way, it’s a type of ‘meeting’ and these are the list of items that will be discussed here: the agenda.

But it’s more than that, and this is really why I like the word ‘agenda’. As I move in various professional and social circles, and as I pay attention to the interactions between people and the way sometimes their words don’t align with their actions, it becomes increasingly clear that many people have ulterior motives to the actions they take in life. Not always, but often, those motives are less than positive, perhaps even somewhat shameful, which is why people try to hide them behind flowery words or outright lies. This is also why the term ‘agenda’ has a bit of a negative connotation. But, as I reflected on the ‘underlying intentions or motives’ of certain people, or at least, what they seem to be to me from the point of view of a sympathetic observer, I began to ask myself what my own agenda was for my life.

I realised that I want to cultivate my own life’s agenda based on my own terms, not those imposed upon me by parents or bosses or friends or the media or society. I am very fortunate to have a very supportive family who happen to have generally excellent active listening skills. But it isn’t their job to constantly validate my every thought, opinion and feeling. I also get extremely frustrated when people further afield in my professional and social circles dismiss or misunderstand my opinions or life choices, and tell me what decisions to make based on their own agendas. I don’t necessarily expect validation from them, but dismissal and totally ignoring my point of view still hurts.

The realisation I have come to, though, is that it’s my life and they are my choices, so I need to validate myself. Generally I make my decisions regardless of others opinions, but if I feel dismissed by them all that happens is that I am cross and cranky with that person, not that I actually change my mind. So what I want to achieve here is to record and hold myself accountable to my goals, and validate myself in choosing said goals. If others read it (and hopefully enjoy it and take something useful away from it!), well, cool! But if it’s just me and the infinite void of internet-land, then that’s ok too.

The agenda for this blog is essentially to help me create more harmony in my life. Here I will discuss the list of items and the plan of things to be done in order to form my life into a pleasing and consistent whole. This includes improving my health, my finances, my relationships, my mind, my work and my sense of calm and contentment. I want to live in agreement and concord with myself, my goals and my values. I will do this by focusing on each separate aspect or ‘parallel narrative’ in my life (professional, spiritual, financial, physical etc), which in turn will present a single, continuous narrative — my life!

Ultimately, this blog is about my underlying intentions and motives to live the life I want, to figure out what exactly that is and how to get there. If I can help others work out their own agenda and reach harmony in their lives too, so much the better.

That is my ‘harmony agenda’. What’s yours?

 

*Definitions taken from the Dictionary app on my Macbook.